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Tardis Party: Doctor Who episode close-up ~ Rose (New Season 1/ 2005)

November 8, 2013

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Run! With his crew-cut, leather jacket, trendy v-neck and gritty pace, Christopher Eccleston’s incarnation of Gallifrey’s favourite son was undoubtedly a Doctor Who for the new millenium

Once in a while – actually, very rarely, if we’re being honest with ourselves – something really rather wonderful happens that’s so wonderful it disguises itself as unassuming and we don’t realise it’s exactly that at the time. One evening over the Easter weekend back in 2005, one such occurrence took place when BBC1 screened a three-quarters-of-an-hour of fantasy adventure drama named Rose.

For this, yes, was the opening episode of the revamped Doctor Who (1963-present). Little did we know then, of course, that this more than pleasantly satisfying if not utterly earth-shattering slice of television would lead to the monolithic-like darling of modern Beeb drama that’s the ‘NuWho’ phenomenon. But it did. Yes, everything has to have a beginning – and like An Unearthly Child (1963) was for the ‘Classic’ series – Rose verily was that for ‘Nuwho’.

So here it is then, peeps, the latest in George’s Journal‘s celebratory series of posts marking the Who Doctor’s half-century anniversary, the close-up/ review of the fittingly rose-tinted Rose

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Doctor: Christopher Eccleston (The Ninth Doctor)

Companion: Billie Piper (Rose Tyler)

Villains: Nicholas Briggs (The Nestene – voice); Alan Ruscoe, Paul Kasey, David Sant, Elizabeth Fost and Helen Otway (Autons)

Allies: Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler); Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith)

Writer: Russell T Davies

Producer: Phil Collinson

Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner and Mal Young

Director: Keith Boak

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Season: New Season 1 (first episode – 45-minutes-long)

Original broadcast date: March 26 2005

Total viewers: 10.8 million

Previous episode: Doctor Who: The Movie (1996)

Next episode: The End Of The World

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Londoner Rose Tyler wakes up on a normal weekday, leaves her council estate flat she shares with her mum Jackie and goes to work at Regent Street department store Henrik’s. During the day she meets up with her boyfriend Mickey Smith for lunch in Piccadilly Circus and at the end of the day she descends to the store’s basement to deliver cash to a colleague for that week’s lottery tickets. Only she can’t find the colleague and is spooked when she’s sure she’s seen a mannequin moving of its own accord. Suddenly the mannequin – and more of its plastic humanoid-like ilk – definitely do move, so much so they menacingly begin to chase her, only for the hand of a leather-jacketed, crew-cut-haired man to grab hers and demand she ‘run!‘.

The man orders her to escape from the building, the top of which he claims he’ll have to destroy to kill the ‘mannequins’. Are they aliens? Is he an alien? What the hell’s going on? Rose does as she’s told, carrying away with her one of the would-be-mannequin’s arms that came away in a struggle. The top of Henrik’s explodes; the threat seemingly extinguished and the man nowhere to be seen. One thing’s for sure, with Henrik’s gone up in smoke she’s now out of a job.

Returning home, she throws away the ‘mannequin arm’ in a bin outside her flat and is mollycoddled by Mickey and irritated by her mum’s fussing, news of the explosion all over the TV news. Next morning, she’s stunned to find the head of the man who saved her appear through her flat’s cat-flap; apparently he’s traced a signal of more of last night’s ‘aliens’ to her address. He comes in, briefly meeting her enamoured mum, as Rose makes him tea. As she does so, though, he’s attacked by the ‘mannequin arm’ that’s leapt from the bin, entered through her cat-flap and is trying to throttle him. Helping free it from his throat, she watches as the stranger deactivates it with a screwdriver that makes an electronic noise, claiming he used his device’s ‘plastic function’.

Following him out of her flat, her curiosity is piqued as to who he is, even though she’s naturally apprehensive – whoever he is, he’s clearly very dangerous. The man confirms he’s an alien and named ‘The Doctor… just The Doctor’. Before he walks away, he advises her to go back to her Earthling life and forget him, but it’s obvious there’s no way Rose will be able to do that.

Surfing the Internet on Mickey’s computer, she discovers there’s online speculation over whom this weird chap is – clearly he’s been spotted and caused great curiosity before. Convincing her boyfriend to drive her to the address of a man behind a website about her stranger, she’s informed by this conspiracy theorist-type that there’s traces of ‘The Doctor’ throughout history, and ‘her one’ (for he appears to have had different faces at different times or his name’s been passed on through generations) has been recorded witnessing both JFK’s assassination and preventing a family from boarding the Titanic, thus saving their lives. Could he be a time-traveller? One thing’s for sure, there’s one, single, constant companion of this mystery man… death.

Somewhat dismissing her new acquaintance as a nut, she returns to Mickey’s car, unaware while she’s been away her boyfriend has been dragged into a wheely-bin and replaced with a robotic-like plastic duplicate the bin seems to have created. In fact, she’s still none the wiser she’s not with the real Mickey until his replacement begins behaving very oddly (including demanding of her information about The Doctor) while on a restaurant date with her that night. Just in time, however, the Doc appears and saves Rose again by pulling the Mickey-duplicate’s head off as they and other diners scarper from the restaurant.

Rose: If you’re an alien, how come you sound like you’re from The North?
The Doctor: Lots of planets have a North!

Realising she’s in danger – and London’s other inhabitants too – this time she’s not going to leave The Doctor’s side. Indeed, she flees after him down an alley and into a most unlikely hiding place – a narrow blue police telephone box from the 1950s (so inexplicably out of place in her ’00s world she doesn’t even recognise what it’s supposed to be). Its interior certainly isn’t what she expects: a highly technological yet organic looking room with a central console, whose expanse is far bigger than should be physically possible.

Stepping out of the box with the Doc, she discovers they’ve moved through space to the city’s North Bank, just across from Westminster. The latter explains the box is his mode of transport and called the TARDIS. Urgently, though, he stresses that, like him, the mannequin-like creatures are aliens (actually Autons, although he doesn’t name them – not seen in Who since 1970’s Spearhead From Space and 1971’s Terror Of The Autons). Unlike him, though, more of them in space above the Earth are about to launch a full-blown invasion.

Obviously, he attests, those already in London have a base somewhere in the city, from which they’ll be about to signal their spaceship the invasion can commence. But where are they? It must be somewhere nearby with a giant, circular structure that could act as a satellite dish to transmit the signal. Rose points out that just across Westminster Bridge is the London Eye and, grinning, the Doc rushes off – she’s located their hideout. Rose dashes off after him, swiftly calling her mum (who’s out shopping) to go home as she’s in danger.

Finding a way into the hideout beneath the Eye, the Doc and Rose climb down into a cavernous space, the bottom of which is filled with a great oozing, malevolent fluid – this, The Doctor explains, is what controls the ‘mannequins’, the Nestene Consciousness. Instantly, he’s grabbed by two of the Nestene’s mannequin guards, while Rose discovers the real Mickey cowering in a corner. Understanding the Nestene’s language, the Doc anxiously explains that the explosive device the guards have found on him was something he wasn’t planning on using; he’s come here to negotiate with the fellow alien – Earth mustn’t be invaded; the human race deserves to be left alone to develop. The Nestene isn’t convinced and determined to invade the planet, oh, and kill The Doctor.

Meanwhile, the invasion is starting. In the shopping centre where Jackie is located, Nestene-manipulated mannequins break through shop windows and begin firing on people via guns disguised behind their ‘hands’ (like in Spearhead From Space). Back in the hideout, Rose realises this is her moment – she may have ‘no job, no qualifications and no future’, but she does have junior gymnastic skills she learnt as a child. She grabs hold of a dangling chain and swings across to The Doctor, knocking away his guards and freeing him to drop his device into the Nestene Consciousness. The Doc, Rose and Mickey escape from the hideout, exploding behind them, while the invasion halts; without the Nestene’s control, the ‘mannequins’ resort to inert, harmless plastic.

The danger now passed and the adventure over, the Doc returns Rose and Mickey to their estate. Standing in the TARDIS doorway, he invites her to come travelling with him; confirming his blue box is a spaceship. Rose, reluctantly it seems, turns down the offer, explaining she has to stay to look after her loved ones. The TARDIS dematerialises… and then instantly rematerialises, the Doc opening the door to add that it’s also a time machine. This is too much for Rose; she doesn’t need a third invitation and rushes through the door and back into the extraordinary machine.

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Rose‘s credentials as an essential episode of Doctor Who surely can’t be doubted – in fact, given it was tasked with kicking-off the new-millennium relaunch of Who, it’s easy to argue it’s the most important story in the show’s entire history save the one that kicked-off the whole thing in the first place, An Unearthly Child. Everything and the kitchen sink was riding on Rose proving a success but, broad-shouldered as it is, it’s an episode that delivered exactly what was asked of it – and more.

Of course, ‘NuWho’ has a hell of a lot in common with the ‘Classic’ series (not least the protagonist, his transport, his eye for a pretty female companion and his uncanny knack of getting into all sorts of scrapes here, there and everywhere/ when). Yet, don’t doubt it, ‘Nu Who’ also has a good deal that willfully distances itself from ‘Classic’ Who – and, in many ways, it’s the thoroughly satisfying execution of these tenets that makes Rose work so well.

Taking its title, as it does of course, from the Doc’s would-be companion, it actually doesn’t follow The Doctor as he discovers her but Billie Piper’s Rose as she discovers him; from her waking up on the day his actions will make her jobless, via her saving the day with her only claim to fame – up to this point, of course – her gymnastic skills, right up to his invitation to join her on his travels at the end. Rose is Rose’s story then; the Doc merely an enigmatic, incredible, dangerous, charismatic stranger from the stars. We discover him through her eyes; the snippets we learn about him come thanks to her curiosity (not least her checking up on his ‘recent’ past thanks to X-Files-y amateur sleuth Mark Benton of Strictly fame).

Now, sure, we’d discovered new Docs via companions before (the Sixth via Peri, for instance, and especially way back at the very beginning the First via Barbara and Ian’s snooping around in Totter’s Lane), but never had the show placed the companion quite so front and centre; the Doc seen quite so sideways on. It’s different, refreshing, rather breezy, very effective (nicely reintroducing the show and the Doc character to a new, post-millennial audience) and, thus, very ‘NuWho’.

Let’s also consider Rose as a character. In an era of supposedly Blair-Britain classless capitalism, endless soaps and fly-on-the-wall documentaries, Rose is instantly recognisable. She’s less an EastEnders (1985-present) or Shameless (2004-13) chav; more the blonde down the chip-shop who swears she’s just seen Elvis – or rather The Doctor. We all know her (we all know her chatty, good-time-loving mum and useless boyfriend too). Therefore, having the Doc meet her in this urban, multicultural, fast-moving, petty, ironic, mouthy, snarky, Internet- and mobile phone-switched on, BBC News 24-viewing Blighty grounds this new Doctor Who instantly. We recognise her world – it’s a mostly light, heightened version of the Britain in which (on a good day) many of us like to think we live. And, maybe most important of all, it helps to stress just how different – how alien – The Doctor is when he lands in it.

And, don’t doubt it, this Ninth Doctor is certainly alien and very Doctor-ish – but like everything else going on around him, he’s quite the breath of fresh air too. His prickly and argumentative but, by turns, cheery and conversational personality is reminiscent of the Fourth and the Sixth Docs, for sure; yet unlike them, there’s no fey theatricality. With his dynamically no-nonsense appearance (a Doc in a leather jacket and with such short hair felt very new back in 2005) and sharp Lancastrian accent, he’s a hero as much cut from the cloth of harder, modern crime dramas as he is a Time Lord from Gallifrey. As so often with the casting of new Docs, Christopher Eccleston‘s was boldly out of left-field then, but for the launch of ‘NuWho’ sort of a statement of intent and so pretty much spot on (following the huge success of David Tennant and Matt Smith, it’s easy to overlook that).

I’ll never forget when Rose was first broadcast and thinking right from the off just how much more urgent, à la mode and polished (importantly with much improved production values and effects) it was contrasted with the ‘old Doctor Who’. And, most significant of all for a pilot, just how much it promised for the future – for, yes, delightfully there was a whole series to come.

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Given how long it had taken Doctor Who after its 1989 cancellation to return to screens with ’96’s The Movie, it came as no surprise to anyone it took even longer to return again in the shape of Russell T Davies‘ ‘NuWho’. However, during this (second) long lay-off, the show was far from the victim of TV power brokers sitting on their hands.

Following The Movie‘s successful UK broadcast (more than nine million viewers) but less than stellar one in the US (just over five million), the hoped-for US-made regular series for which it had been planned as a pilot didn’t materialise and the rights for Who returned from part-owned US hands to the Beeb entirely in 1997. And, owing to The Movie‘s popularity in Blighty suggesting there was a chance Who could be en vogue once more, BBC big-wigs began discussing a relaunch of the show proper.

An early stumbling block, though, was the fact the corporation’s commercial arm BBC Worldwide had for some time been planning a big-screen Doctor Who film (an idea that US backers had been keen on in the early ’90s before The Movie made it to the small-screen), but by 2003 the controller of BBC1, Lorraine Heggessy, had persuaded Worldwide to ditch their idea as she and her colleagues had approached and had their offer to re-launch the show accepted by a die-hard fan. This, of course, was creator/ writer of Channel 4 hit Queer As Folk (1999-2000) Russell T Davies, whose new Who series, it was announced on September 26 2003, would be made by BBC Wales in 2004 and hit screens in 2005.

Doctor Who was back then at last – but actually its triumphant return for the BBC had almost been trumped just weeks before this announcement. For the Beeb’s new online wing BBCi was confusingly about to screen an animated Who adventure for the show’s 40th anniversary. Entitled The Scream Of The Shalka (and featuring Richard E Grant voicing the Doc – later to appear as The Great Intelligence in Season 7 of ‘NuWho’, of course – and Derek Jacobi voicing The Master, whom would sort of play the latter in 2007’s Utopia), the  episode went live in November 2003, but was instantly doomed not only as a one-off – albeit interesting – enterprise, but also as a non-canonical pariah. Why? Because BBCi’s promotional boast that Grant’s animated Time Lord was the official Ninth Doctor was obviously made redundant when Davies confirmed that in his new – and official – series the companion would be played by former teen popster Billie Piper and the Ninth Doctor by Christopher Eccleston.

The first ever Who episode shot in widescreen, Rose went before cameras in July and August 2004, with filming mostly taking place in and around Cardiff (as would be and still is the case for much of ‘NuWho’), while interiors were shot in BBC Wales’ studios. The primary set was the new TARDIS console room; a coral-meets-steampunk interior for the space- and time-machine that seemed to fit the angsty and edgy Time War-time-locking ‘last of the Time Lords’ that Eccleston’s (and to less of an extent Tennant’s) Doc of the ’00s was.

Doctor Who‘s ‘New’ Season 1 went on to win the 2005 BAFTA Award for Best TV Drama Series

In addition to Eccleston, Piper and the aforementioned guest appearance from Mark Benton, Rose introduced the Davies-era allies Camille Coduri as Rose’s mum Jackie and Noel Clarke as Rose’s boyfriend and comic foil Mickey Smith – Clarke would later achieve acclaim for starring in the self-written movies Kidulthood (2006) and Adulthood (2008), the latter of which he also directed. Meanwhile, Rose also fittingly marked the first appearance in ‘NuWho’ of its voice-actor-in-residence Nicholas Briggs, whose tones have since been relied on for many a Dalek and Cyberman, yet, being an über-fan, had been for years before (and remains still) a driving force behind a plethora of Who spin-off media.

Obviously, none of the production staff on Rose – including Davies and fellow executive producer/ Head of BBC Wales Drama Julie Gardner – had worked on Doctor Who before; although, like his fellow future writers on the show such as Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, Davies had previously written unofficial Who novels during the show’s hiatus. Actually, though, that first fact isn’t true – there was one, single chap who worked on both Rose and the original ‘Classic’ series, model unit supervisor Mike Tucker, a contributor then to the show’s all-important, impressive visual effects.

The episode, of course, proved a huge hit when broadcast (helped not least by a publicity blitz; a particular memory of which for me being a gigantic print ad at the far end of Waterloo Station’s concourse). Screened on Easter Saturday at 7pm (and followed on BBC Three by the first edition of the so sadly now departed behind-the-scenes revealer Doctor Who Confidential), it pulled in a whopping 10.8 million viewers, ensuring it’s one of the most watched episodes of ‘NuWho’ and making the Beeb’s statement just days later a second series had been commissioned an utterly predictable step.

Yet controversy arose when weeks before the broadcast canny Net-heads discovered it had been leaked online and, much worse, almost instantly after the episode’s screening the BBC announced Christopher Eccleston would be stepping down from the show following the end of the series. Initially, fans were dismayed, but it later emerged it had always been the thesp’s intention only to do a single series; most of all out of fear of typecasting, no doubt, but (it emerged much later) maybe also because owing to practically none of the series’ crew having worked on a fast-moving, stunt-laden adventure drama before, Eccleston hadn’t been too impressed by, well, its health and safety practices. In the end, who knows why he walked. It’s a bit of a shame in my eyes, for a second season of his Doc would have been interesting, but few Who fans have shed many tears as it resulted in four whole years of Tennant’s hugely popular incarnation.

In any case, Rose was a roaring success, ‘NuWho’ was out of the traps, BBC1 had a stalwart on which to build its Saturday prime-time schedule again and BBC Worldwide had an enormous cash-cow in the offing – Doctor Who was Auton-matic for (all) the people once more.

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Next time: Blink (New Season 3/ 2007)

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Previous close-ups/ reviews:

Doctor Who: The Movie (1996/ Main Doctor: Paul McGann)

The Caves Of Androzani (Season 21/ 1984/ Doctor: Peter Davison)

The Five Doctors (Special/ 1983/ Main Doctor: Peter Davison)

City Of Death (Season 17/ 1979/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

The Talons Of Weng-Chiang (Season 15/ 1977/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

The Deadly Assassin (Season 14/ 1976/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

Pyramids Of Mars (Season 13/ 1975/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

Genesis Of The Daleks (Season 12/ 1975/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

The Ark In Space (Season 12/ 1975/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

The Dæmons (Season 8/ 1971/ Doctor: Jon Pertwee)

Inferno (Season 7/ 1970/ Doctor: Jon Pertwee)

The War Games (Season 6/ 1969/ Doctor: Patrick Troughton)

An Unearthly Child (Season 1/ 1963/ Doctor: William Hartnell)

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