How do you reinvent a TV series, originally screened
over forty years ago, for the Internet and mobile phone generation? How
do you take something quintessentially British and try and sell it to a
nation and a world that has changed beyond recognition since it was last
broadcast? Is such a resurrection a good thing, or is it best just to let
sleeping dogs lie?
I think all of these questions and more must have been eating away at the
back of my mind as the time approached for the first broadcast of a new
TV episode of Dr Who in nearly sixteen years. I had read some damning reviews
from fans that’d managed to find this episode on the Internet, but to balance
this out were some cracking trailers in the last couple of weeks before
kick-off. But still, a little lump of anxiety was buried within me as the
time came to finally see the finished result. No chance of appealing to
dodgy production values of pirated copies now, I thought.
The title sequence was encouraging; there was the familiar Ron Grainer/
Delia Derbyshire soundtrack, jazzed up a bit for stereo broadcast. The imagery
of the Tardis flying through the vortex was somewhat reminiscent of the
Sylvester McCoy era although the spirit it portrayed was frenetic as opposed
to self-satisfied. The opening shots of Earth from space and then plunging
down into Rose’s bedroom were also a nice touch. This set the viewer up
nicely for meeting the new assistant.
A good start then.
is very different from the Doctor’s previous assistants. She
works in a department store and has a boyfriend called Mickey who dotes
on her in his own way. The nearest equivalent to her would be Alison, the
assistant to Richard E. Grant’s Doctor in ‘Scream of the Shalka.’ Both are
ordinary working class women who are bored of the humdrum lives they lead
on Earth. Both have very wet, annoying boyfriends and with Rose there is
also her mother, played brilliantly by Camille Coduri. Jackie has brought
Rose up by herself and they live on a council estate in London, she is always
looking out for Rose in ways which are uniquely her own. When Rose escapes
from the department store she works at after the Doctor firebombs it, Jackie
is adamant that she should sue for compensation for traumatic stress.
Then there is the Doctor himself, played by Christopher Eccleston. I must
admit I was apprehensive when I saw the publicity stills: He just didn’t
look like the Doctor I thought. No woolly scarves or Edwardian Frock Coats
here, just a beaten up leather jacket and a pair of jeans. I needn’t have
worried; Chris Eccleston’s Doctorishness comes out in his personality instead.
This Doctor, as fits the pace of the show, is acerbic and frenetic by turns,
but not condescending in the way Pertwee’s Doctor was for example. He stumbles
across Rose whilst in the middle of a mission to stop the Nestene consciousness
from taking over the Earth. He comes across as very disparaging and a little
scary at first: “Don’t tell anyone about me as they’ll only end up dead,”
he tells Rose, shortly before detonating a bomb on top of her work place.
Rose cannot help but tell others about the Doctor and after another couple
of odd encounters she searches out stuff about the Doctor on the Internet.
(A little parody here, surely!) She comes up with a site run by a conspiracy
theorist called Clive. “Doctor Who? Have you seen this man?” Clive is married
with children but Mickey insists on waiting outside in the car whilst Rose
goes to visit him, ‘just in case’. The irony of this is well played out
as it is a prologue to the by now notorious scene of Mickey being eaten
by a wheelie-bin.
Rose is greeted at the door by Clive’s sarcastic son who announces that
‘another one of your nutters is here to see you!” Clive tells Rose that
the Doctor is a mysterious character who pops up throughout history in times
and places where trouble is about to strike. Here I have to agree with the
critics that the photo-shopped picture of the Doctor at Kennedy’s assassination
is awful. But, like most of the criticisms levelled so far at the show so
far, it is misplaced: For I think it gels well within the context of the
scene. Rose is dubious about Clive and naturally alarmed when he tells her
that he believes the Doctor to be an alien from another planet. Dodgy photo
shopped pictures would seem appropriate from someone whom she sees as either
deranged or a charlatan. She returns to the car telling Mickey that he was
right after all and that he was a nutter.
Mickey meanwhile has been replaced by an Auton double after being eaten
by a wheelie bin. Many have criticised this scene for having poor CGI and
for being unconvincing. I think these people need a sense of humour transplant-
is there any special effect in the world that would make a wheelie bin look
fearsome? And the follow up, where Rose sits next to a shiny reproduction
of her boyfriend is actually very funny as well as disturbingly weird. I
think the comedy elements work better than the horror elements and given
the pace and the fact that it was a complete story meant that there was
little time for tension to develop.
The plot is really just a loose framework around which the Doctor and Rose
are introduced to us and to each other. In this way the use of shop dummies
that come to life as the first monster to be confronted was an astute one.
The Autons facilitate the transition from the ordinary to the extraordinary
in the story line and provide a continuity link for the new Doctor.
Opinions about Eccleston’s portrayal of the Doctor seem to be mixed at the
moment. For example, at my work place today one of our admin workers was
saying how she enjoyed the show but wasn’t completely taken with Chris Eccleston
yet as he is so different from previous Doctors. I remain optimistic however.
There is a wonderful scene of the Doctor explaining to Rose how he can feel
the Earth turning beneath his feet, can feel the planet racing through the
universe at thousands of miles per hour. Some of this seems reminiscent
of Paul McGann and then there are other parts where he reminds me of Sylvester
McCoy. But I think he is a more compassionate Doctor than Sylvester’s; he
at least tries to reason with the Nestene before destroying them. He doesn’t
trick them into blowing up their home world, but pleads instead for the
people of Earth. I think this is important, it shows that despite the action
heavy plot there is still some room for the Doctor to retain some heroism.
One cannot of course have the Doctor without his Tardis and it is interesting
how Russell T. Davies introduces us to the famous blue telephone box. In
the original series the Tardis is first seen in a scrap yard, here it is
left parked on a housing estate. Rose, unlike the characters in the original
Who story, does not know what a police telephone box is. The Doctor explains
what it is to her; ‘a disguise’, which amuses her given its general incongruity.
When she first enters the Tardis she runs straight out again and then does
a circle round the outside in disbelief. This was interesting to me as I
grew up with the middle period of Doctor Who’s history, where the concept
of bigger on the inside was already well established. It was fantastic to
watch this concept being delivered a new.
The inside of the Tardis is very impressive, a major departure from not
only how it was portrayed in the original series but also the TV movie.
The Tardis really is huge inside and seems very powerful and alien. It handles
short trips better than it used to, the Doctor uses it very much like a
car in this episode. ‘Its not just a London hopper you know,’ he says
to Rose near the end. “Did I mention it travels in time?”
This last bit is enough to tempt Rose to take up the Doctor’s offer of a
place in the Tardis. In this way she is like the audience, being invited
to come on a journey. This first story was in the classic science fiction
mould of ‘they come to us’, now we are being invited out to visit them in
return. And you know what, I think I might just take them up on the offer!