Sunday, 21 July 2013


I don't know why I haven't written much about Doctor Who. I've nearly written lots of things, but they never made it out of draft. It's never been the right time, possibly. But don't worry, that's all about to change.

At some point I may have to explain my lifelong relationship with what is, let's face it, merely a daft but occasionally brilliant bit of telly. When I think of a way to do that that doesn't make me sound like a defensive obsessive, I'll let you know. 

But I can say that, although the original show was a personal, almost private, wonder, its rebirth is something I have been able to share wholly with my children. William, our oldest, was born the same year the announcement came that Russell T Davies was typing away. Then Christopher was born just a few weeks before the first new episode aired in 2005. (And yes, it is entirely coincidental that they share their names with the first and (then) current actors to play the Doctor; honestly, there is no way I could have consciously smuggled that past my wife, although I did, obviously, manage to subconsciously smuggle it past myself.) Most importantly, having given up hope that the show was ever going to return, I was delighted that my children would grow up in world where Saturday night TV meant Doctor Who.

And grow up with it they have, living their young lives alongside those of the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. Now William is ten, Doctor Who is fifty and the Twelth Doctor is about to materialise, we thought it was the right time to do something we've been meaning to do for ages: the three of us are going to sit down and plough through all of the new series, in order, and we're going to stick the results on here because fun is to be shared.

Rose was a big deal. Brand. New. Doctor Who. It's fair to say I was a little tense. It being Easter Saturday, we watched this with my parents-in-law and that didn't help because it just made me all the more keenly aware how much DW needed, how much I needed, the approval of the Not-We. What if it was rubbish?

The boy's have no memory of this first screening of course, and I don't blame them at all. They were both very small, (William not even three, which is what I was when I my hazy memory of Destiny of the Daleks Part One was formed) and there was some talk, if I remember correctly, about the fact that DW might be too scary for them, which is just silly; not because Rose isn't very scary, but because the scariness is part of the point of DW. The experience of watching the show is, or should be, that of someone taken beyond their comfort zone and made to confront the alien, the other. That is what happened to Ian and Barbara in November 1963, and that is what happens to Rose Tyler here.

I remember in an interview RTD saying that they had toyed with the idea of a pre-credits sequence for Rose. It would have worked brilliantly because those first zippy moments that establish Rose's life represent our world as it was without DW. It's only when she takes the lift down to the basement of Henrik's department store and paces through the Auton-filled shadows that Rose begins a journey into the universe of DW, one that ends with her running into the TARDIS in the closing moments.

Rose is a funny thing. On the one hand it is so carefully done, the re-introduction so gingerly made: the seemingly innocuous Police Box on the pavement, the mournful off-screen dematerialisation, both teasing, building up to Rose's eventual incredulous TARDIS entrance. This episode is desperate not to push away the casual viewer, to draw them in. All the while, these strange things are presented as happening in a very familiar setting. Rose and Jackie could be characters from Eastenders and RTD has them mention all sorts of friends and acquaintances - Derek, Wilson, Debbie-on-the-End, Beth, Greek-looking Arianna, Jimmy Stone - we never see them but they suggest a community, a wider world that helps cement our association.

On the other hand, Rose is a radical piece of Doctor Who, rewriting the show's rules and backstory - though we don't know that yet. Eccleston's Doctor might appear initially unconvincing (the forced jollity for one thing), but it is not the performance which is suffering. Rather it is the Doctor who is not himself, injured and traumatised by the as yet unnamed Time War. It's an astonishing weight to add to the character, but it works: crucially, it makes the Doctor more real to us, more understandable and more believable. The downside, dramatically, is that, not for the last time this series, the Doctor is impotent during the story's climax, paralysed and unable to commit the final act that saves the day. He has become instead a catalyst for heroism, an enabler, and here it's Rose with her bronze gymnastics medal, who is prompted to swing into action.

For me, the big surprise were the scenes depicting the Autons' awakening. It may be concentrated in the Queen Street shopping centre but compared with some invasions we've been shown, this is full on, dense with explosions, shattering glass, screaming victims and careering cars. It's an intense few minutes, but one that doesn't seem to have much impact on my boys as we rewatched: neither of them thought this was scary at all. They did both laugh quite a bit though, squealing at the Auton arm shenanigans, and again at Eccleston's London Eye pantomime. There was some nostalgia too (you're never too young to reminisce) for the old titles and music. On the other hand William didn't think much of the animation, criticising the wheelie bin in particular, and Chris wasn't sure about Billie Piper - so what would they, now the nascent show's key age group, score it out of ten? William offered a 7 and said it was a lot better than he remembered. Chris gave it a 9 and maybe, compared to Timelash, that's about right. I might not be quite as generous. The traditional invasion plot is slight, but rightly sidelined in order to focus on re-introducing so much. Like An Unearthly Child, Rose has a significance that outweighs its dramatic qualities. Unlike the original first episode, Rose is not intended to explain everything - more of these characters will be revealed over the coming episodes.

When the Doctor appears at her front door, almost intruding into our own reality, he asks Rose, "What are you doing here?" "I live here," she says. His pained reply, "What do you do that for?" is not only the best line in the story but a perfect explanation of the show's premise. Why sit at home when you could go... anywhere? And why put up with ordinary television when you could watch Doctor Who?


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