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Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Doctor Who: Rose

Written by Russell K Davies

Those of you know me in real life are probably beginning to wonder if I’m OK. Why? Because it’s been four days now since the new episodes of Doctor Who started airing in the United Kingdom and I have yet to mention anything about them.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a huge Doctor Who fan. I stumbled across the show close to 20 years ago and it’s been an obsession of mine ever since. The show ran for 26 seasons in the UK before taking a short 16 year break and now, it’s back. Three weeks ago, the first episode of the new series leaked out onto the Internet. Many of my good Doctor Who friends on-line made me aware that I could preview the episode early.

But, I decided I’d have will power. I’d wait for the episodes to play here in the United States. Surely some network executive would see the light of picking up new episodes of the greatest television show ever made and airing it. Alas, that hasn’t happened yet, proving once again that most network executives are idiots.

My will power lasted all of five seconds. Within seconds, I was getting the software needed and pulling down a copy of the first episode. I couldn’t wait to see it. I watched the little percentage meter throughout the day as it slowly scrolled up and up. Finally, I had the entire episode.

I burned it to CD and sat back to take in the first new Doctor Who I’d seen since the 1996 FOX movie.

Starting it up, I have to admit I was a bit nervous. For years, Doctor Who has existed and been kept alive by the fans. There have been novels, audio stories, all kinds of fan fiction. And the best part was—if an audio story or novel didn’t jive with yow you saw Doctor Who, you just ignored it. You said—it’s not a TV episode, so that doesn’t count. But now, we’ve got a new series, one that is run by an admitted fan of the show. The biggest danger is that the vision that producer Russell K Davies has for the show might not be the same one I have—or that a zillion and one other Whovians out there have. This could be very, very dangerous.

Also, I have to admit that while I love Doctor Who, I’m not necessarily the target audience anymore. Much has been made of the fact that Doctor Who is made for the intelligent 12 year-old. Yes, there are things for the older crowd in there, but I’m long past the age where I’m a target audience for my favorite show. So, while I was happy it was back, I was also taking the approach that the show wasn’t being made for just me, the way I wanted it. It was being made for a new generation of fans. Let’s face it—they had me watching just because it said Doctor Who. The real challenge was going to be bringing in the new Doctor Who fan.

All this was going through my mind as I sat down to watch the first episode of the new series.

Well, that and “Cool! New Doctor Who!”

The prospect of new Doctor Who just thrills me to the tips of my toes, to be quite honest with you.

So, I’ll admit I went into the first episode of the new series with cautious optimism. I was determined to give it a fair shake, but hopefully not be too gushing of a fanboy about it. But I also didn’t want to dismiss it too easily if it didn’t meet up to my huge expectations for it.

One episode into the new series and I think we’ve got something here.

Wisely enough, Russell K Davies spends the first hour of the new Doctor Who re-introducing us to the universe of Doctor Who. How?

By introducing us to the companion first.

Over the years, the best way to get to know a new Doctor is through how his companions or friends react to him. This was, in my mind, one of the huge shortcomings of the FOX movie back in 1996. It not only had to get us a new Doctor, but also a new companion as well. As an audience, we had no way to know much about the new Doctor because we didn’t know much about anyone he was interacting with.

This time around, Davies takes care of that. The episode is called “Rose” with good reason. It focuses on the new companion, Rose. We follow her around and see her life, her various interactions with the new Doctor and her learning more about who the Doctor really is. The new Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston, is on screen for about half the episode, if not less. The only times we see him are when his path crosses with Rose. I love this for a couple of reasons. One is that for years the central mystery of the show was just who is the Doctor. That sense of mystery has returned a bit with this storyline. Also, by establishing Rose a bit, we the audience have a way to get to know and understand the Doctor. We get a few hints about the new Doctor—he seems a combination of Tom Baker, Patrick Troughton and Sylvester McCoy. But Ecceleston brings something of his own to the role. What it is yet, I’m not quite sure. There is a definite chemistry between the Doctor and Rose—in that the new Doctor seems to need an audience for his brilliant feats and his defeat of alien monster. Rose seems to fit that bill and I like the give and take between the two. It feels like some of the best Doctor/companion teams for the original series.

That’s not to say “Rose” is really all that original a story. It’s not breaking a lot of new ground. It’s a re-telling for the classic Pertwee era story “Spearhead from Space” which introduced us to the third Doctor. That’s not exactly a bad thing. If you’re going to emulate a good first story for a Doctor, you might as well go for one of the best. “Rose” borrows heavily from “Spearhead from Space” even down to the main villain of the piece, the Autons. And just like in the 70s we see the real terror of the Autons is that they can make normal every day things made of plastic become scary. Back in the two original Auton stories, things like phone chords, plastic flowers and policemen became scary. Here it’s trash bins and shop dummies (also used in the original). And it works. The Autons work well as villains and monsters—even taking over Rose’s boyfriend at one point and making him one of them to lead her into a trap and flush out the Doctor.

They know the Doctor can stop their invasion, by defeating the Nestenes. In the end, the Doctor does this by using a bit of “anti-plastic” No technobabble here. The Doctor, typical to the Pertwee era, just comes up with some stuff that defeats the enemy and saves the day. We need no long-winded ground in hard science explanation. The Autons use plastic as a weapon, so the Doctor uses anti-plastic to defeat them. Makes sense to me. Just in the same way that mushrooms can clean up toxic waste and defeat giant maggots. It makes sense within the context of the story.

So, overall, the story is a nice one. It’s not great, but it’s still twenty times better than the story that started the McCoy years with “Time and the Rani.” It shows some potential. It’s left me curious and wanting to see more. It’s done what a good pilot should do—hook you into the characters, the series and the premise and left you wanting for more. I am hopeful that as the next twelve or so episodes unfold, it continues to build on all this.

All I know is that, for now, I'm satisfied. The new Doctor Who is exactly what I'd hope it'd be. And the most exciting part is that next week, we get a new installment. It's been 16 years since I could look forward to new Doctor Who for any length of time (the FOX movie doesn't count for me since it was a back door pilot for the show in the U.S. and never got picked up...all I could do was cross my fingers and hope). I can't wait for next week to see what happens, I mean...until they pick it up in the U.S. to start airing it. Yeah, that's it!

posted by Michael Hickerson at 3/30/2005 03:59:00 PM | |
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