Reviewing Who – Rose

Doctor: Christopher Eccleston

Companion: Billie Piper

Script writer: Russel T. Davies

Producer: Phil Collinson

Executive producers: Russel T. Davies, Julie Gardner and Mal Young

Director: Keith Boak

Originally aired: 26th March 2005

Meet Rose Tyler. She’s a nineteen year old Londoner who lives with her mum on a housing estate and does not have the qualifications to do anything even remotely exciting. Existing in a repeat cycle of chips and tea and entrenched boredom, the most remarkable thing about her life is that she is allowed to wear a hoodie and jeans to work in an inner city department store.

Then one night she stays late, venturing into the cavernous basement to deliver an envelope of lottery money. Rose is a little annoyed, but not scared. Not until the doors slam inexplicably shut and a roomful of abandoned shop dummies come to life. At first Rose is angry, assuming this is someone’s idea of a prank, but the dummies don’t stop. They don’t laugh. They advance inexorably, backing Rose up against a wall, a plastic arm raised to strike –

And someone seizes her hand. Someone with a black leather jacket, a sonic screwdriver and a bundle of explosives. GUESS WHO. “Run,” he tells her, and they run like hell.

They head for the lift. When one of the dummies reaches for them through the closing doors, Rose’s rescuer wrestles wildly with it and to her shock, its arm breaks off entirely. The doors shut. With determined bravado, Rose demands to know what’s going on. Is this a student thing?

DOCTOR: Why students?

ROSE: To get that many people dressed up and being silly, they got to be students.

DOCTOR: That makes sense. Well done.

DOCTOR: They’re not students.

They are, in fact, creatures of living plastic, controlled by a relay on the roof, and the Doctor is here to blow it up. “And I might well die in the process,” he informs Rose casually as he bundles her out the door, “but don’t worry about me, no. You go on. Go on, go have your lovely beans on toast.”

Mr Charm, Doctor No.9 is not.

Rose is left alone on the street with snide advice and a broken plastic arm, but not for long. The door is yanked open again just as she turns to walk away. “I’m the Doctor, by the way, what’s your name?” “Rose.” The Doctor beams. “Nice to meet you, Rose. Run for your life!”

And Rose runs, back into the real world of buses and shoppers, nearly getting herself run down by a passing cab. On the other side of the street she stops to look over her shoulder and before her eyes the top of the department store explodes, glass shattering, flame billowing outward. The Doctor has made good on his word.

In an alley behind Rose, a blue box stands waiting in the shadows.

She returns home in a state of shock, to be alternately coddled and scolded by her mother Jackie, who is more interested in fielding melodramatic phone calls about the explosion than asking questions about what caused it. Her boyfriend Mickey is equally preoccupied. His cure for shock is a few drinks down at the pub and maybe the end of a match…Rose, relaxing despite herself, doesn’t want to go anywhere, but she does want that plastic arm gone. Mickey claps it to his throat, miming strangulation, then tosses it carelessly into a bin on the street. What could be scary about a broken hand?

As Sarah Jane Smith could tell you: A LOT.

The next morning Rose wakes up unemployed. She wanders into the kitchen, where she hears a rattle at the door. Something is trying to open the catflap. Which used to be hammered down, only all the nails seem to have spontaneously fallen out. Rose kneels down and defiantly pushes it up, to find the Doctor kneeling on the other side with his sonic. “What’re you doing here?” he asks, indignantly. “I live here,” Rose retorts. She drags him inside. It’s time to get some answers.

As he passes her mother’s door, the Doctor is propositioned by Jackie. It’s a cringey moment, its sole purpose being to redefine the Doctor’s romantic potential, i.e. that he has any. We’re not on Gallifrey any more, K-9.

Rose, meanwhile, is making coffee and plans in the kitchen. She wants to go to the police, but they need to get their stories straight, especially as she hasn’t got the faintest idea what’s going on. The Doctor roams around her cramped, cluttered living room, not really listening, poking at things and tossing them around like the first word in bad news. A rustle behind the sofa suddenly catches his attention. He goes over to investigate, and the disembodied arm comes flying straight for his throat.

This is the point when Rose comes in with the coffee cups. She sees the Doctor struggling with the plastic hand but just rolls her eyes, assuming this is more arm humour. Abruptly, it lets go of him and flings itself at her face instead. Rose stumbles back, suffocating beneath its hold. The Doctor quickly sonicks it and the hand falls off, abruptly inanimate.

Next minute, the Doctor is out of the flat and down the stairs, Rose once again running to catch up. After nearly dying twice, she feels she is owed some sort of explanation. He feels otherwise. The arm wasn’t even after her, he explains disdainfully, she simply blundered into the wrong place at the wrong time and was mistaken for a bigger player. The plastic is being controlled by the Nestene consciousness; they want to overthrow and destroy the human race. The Doctor is trying to stop them. The best thing Rose can do, as far as he’s concerned, is go back to her ordinary life and pretend this hasn’t happened at all.

Rose is having none of that. She follows him down the street, grabbing whatever bizarre scraps of explanation she can. They end up on one side of a parking lot, where a blue box stands incongruous and alone. The Doctor starts off towards it. “Who are you?” Rose calls, a little desperately, not really expecting an answer. But he stops, and turns around.

“Do you know like we were saying about the Earth revolving?” he asks, walking slowly back to her. “It’s like when you’re a kid. The first time they tell you that the world is turning and you just can’t quite believe it, because everything looks like it’s standing still. I can feel it.” His fingers wrap around hers, as if at that moment she can feel it too. “The turning of the Earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour, and the entire planet is hurtling around the sun at sixty seven thousand miles an hour. We’re falling through space, you and me. Clinging to the skin of this tiny little world and if we let go – “

He releases her hand. “That’s who I am. Now forget me, Rose Tyler. Go home.” This time he walks away without looking back, and Rose is doing the same when a wind rises from nowhere and a strange wheezing makes her run back – but the Doctor is gone, and so is the blue box.

Rose is a 21st century girl. She knows how to deal with weirdness. Heading straight over to Mickey’s place, she ransacks the internet for clues, and though her first searches come up empty the words ‘Doctor Blue Box’ bring a website up on her screen. Its homepage is a picture of the man who saved her life twice, the man who says he can feel the Earth turning underneath his feet.

It is run by someone called Clive. The next day Rose goes to see him, Mickey very reluctantly providing a lift. He waits in the car (which is a delightful Bessie-esque yellow) as a rear guard while Rose goes into the house. Clive turns out to be a passionate conspiracy theorist with a shed full of research into the impossible phenomenon that is the Doctor. He shows Rose pictures of the same man dating back more than a hundred years. “The Doctor is a legend woven throughout history,” he explains. “When disaster comes, he’s there. He brings the storm in his wake, and he has one constant companion: death.”

Which is exactly what you want to hear when you’ve just met the man and he’s smashed your coffee table while prising a murderous disembodied hand off your face!

In the car, Mickey is getting bored with playing sentinel. When a rubbish bin comes rolling down the street towards him, he gets out and goes to throw it open, thinking it’s a joke. To his surprise, it’s empty. Then he tries to pull away, and finds that the plastic doesn’t intend to let him go.

Rose is still trying to unriddle the Doctor. She has accepted there is something strange about him, but Clive’s theory – that it is the same man, that he is immortal, that he isn’t even human – is too much for her. She retreats to the car, dismissing the encounter as internet crazy. Her boyfriend is still waiting for her…or something that looks like her boyfriend, anyway. Blank-eyed and alarmingly shiny, he drives her to a pizza restaurant and pumps her for information on the Doctor with an excess of endearments that finally makes her realise something weird is going on.

A bottle of champagne appears at her elbow. They have not ordered champagne, but the waiter is terribly persistent, and also wears black leather. She looks up to see the Doctor firing a cork into her boyfriend’s forehead. The plastic swallows it whole. A second later, the fake Mickey spits the cork onto the table, throwing away all pretense at humanity. It and the Doctor  lunge at each other, and to Rose’s horror the Doctor triumphantly tears off its head. Not that that stops an Auton. Its hands transforming into axes, it proceeds to destroy the restaurant. Rose hits the fire alarm, evacuating her horrified fellow patrons, and races with the Doctor into the courtyard outside. The blue box stands there, as unlikely as ever. While Rose shouts for him to get the chained gate open, the Doctor strolls casually inside.

As far as she can see, he’s just taken refuge inside a wooden box while the Auton smashes down a metal door. On the other hand, any hiding place, even a stupid one, is better than being cornered in the open, so she follows, and finds herself in a vast console room that throbs and glows with an almost organic life. Utterly freaked out, she backs away, only to dash back inside away from the pounding of the Auton.

The Doctor is hooking the plastic head up to various wires, intending to follow it back to the source of its signal. That done, he turns his attention on Rose, who’s gone in one side of shock and out the other. She’s in a box that makes a mockery of the laws of physics? Okay. With an alien in a leather jacket? Sure. It’s the sight of Mickey’s head melting on the console that breaks her down, and the Doctor’s none too happy either – not because he gives a damn about her boyfriend, but because that means they’re losing the signal. The TARDIS hastily dematerialises, reappearing on a bridge across from the London Eye. From there, they are on their own. 

Wrapped up in his own problems, the Doctor largely ignores Rose’s amazement, her grief and her anger, though he brightens up when called upon to explain the appearance of his TARDIS. “It’s a disguise,” he beams, patting a door fondly. He assumes the Nestene consciousness is similarly hidden. How else could a huge round metal transmitter be concealed in central London?

Rose looks over his shoulder pointedly. You thought infiltrating Madame Tussaud’s was bad? Hah! The aliens have taken over the London Eye.

The Doctor whirls on her, grinning infectiously. Together they run down the street, hand in hand, a temporary team. Rose finds a manhole for the Doctor to sonic open and they jump down into a hellish underground lair, the light coloured red from a vast roiling vat – quite a downgrade from the nice purpose-built tank of the 70s. The Doctor has a plan, this time rather better than a bundle of wires cobbled together overnight; he has brought a vial of anti-plastic that is like poison to the creature in the vat, but first he has to give it a chance at surrender.

“I seek audience with the Nestene consciousness under peaceful contract,” he calls, “according to convention 15 of the Shadow Proclamation.” When did the Doctor learn diplomacy?

Rose, at least, isn’t listening: she’s found Mickey, alive and well, if terrified out of his mind. She is with him when a pair of Autons emerge to seize hold of the Doctor. Searching him, they discover the vial and the Nestene consciousness flares with outrage, making the Doctor recoil at an accusation only he can hear. “I fought in the war, it wasn’t my fault!” he cries out, almost pleadingly. “I couldn’t save your world, I couldn’t save any of them!”

The Nestene consciousness is scared. Technologically, it is outclassed, but it has captured the TARDIS and the Doctor and now it sends out the signal for a full scale invasion. The Doctor shouts to Rose, telling her to run. She doesn’t. She grabs her mobile and calls her mother instead, who is naturally out for a spot of late night shopping and doesn’t catch a word of Rose’s warning. She’s not the only one; Clive and his family are in the same centre when the dummies jerk into life, smashing through shop windows and stepping down to face the shocked crowd. In that moment Clive finally has confirmation – he was right, he was right all along – and the next he is dead, the first victim of an Auton’s gun. His family run screaming. Jackie, arriving to a scene of terrifying chaos, does the same.

The streets of London are overrun with living plastic and the Doctor is pinioned between Auton guards, unable to do anything about it. For a moment, his frantic eyes meet Rose’s. She is the girl who fell across him by accident, who wasn’t even meant to be here – but she is here, and she’s not going down without a fight. Seizing an axe, she hacks a chain from the wall and uses it to swing feet-first into one of the Autons that are holding the Doctor. He uses the distraction to hurl the other into the vat, and the anti-plastic with it, then catches Rose as she swings back. “Now we’re in trouble!” he tells her gleefully, and they dash for the TARDIS, dematerialising just as explosions rip the place apart. On the street, the Autons collapse, falling apart with the failure of the signal. All plastic, only plastic.

When the TARDIS materialises in a quiet street, Mickey hurtles out and throws himself on the ground as far away from it as he can get. Rose, already an old hand, follows with her mobile to her ear, ringing her mum again. Confirming that Jackie is alive (actual conversation can wait) she turns to the Doctor, who is smiling smugly at their success. “You were useless in there,” she points out. “You’d be dead if it wasn’t for me.”

The Doctor acknowledges this, with something of an effort. “Right then,” he adds, awkwardly. “I’ll be off! Unless, I don’t know…you could come with me.” Mickey is definitely not included in the invitation, nor does he want to be. He throws his arms around Rose’s waist, practically catatonic, and her answer is a reluctant no, Mickey being the evidence of her real world and its commitments. Visibly disappointed, the Doctor disappears into the TARDIS, the wind of its departure whipping back Rose’s hair and leaving behind a hole, an unexpected emptiness where adventure could have been. Quietly, she gets Mickey up. They are halfway down the street when the sound of the TARDIS reappearing makes her whirl around.

“By the way,” the Doctor calls, “did I mention, it also travels in time?”

Rose just looks at him for a second. Then she kisses Mickey lightly on the cheek and runs, leaping aboard the TARDIS, leaving her old life far, far behind.

The Verdict: The return of Doctor Who in 2005 was heralded, by me and my friends at least, with a sort of hopeful trepidation. Would they get it right? Would they get it spectacularly, appallingly, just-like-the-promos wrong? If they were looking for the perfect monster to get me on board from the word go, though, someone was psychic, because there are few antagonists in this show that I love more than the Autons. Also, how many TV programmes kick off with a  teenage girl saving the world?

Look, I had my issues with New Who and still do; I can never quite forgive Russel T. Davies for killing off the Time Lords, which in a single blow transformed the Doctor from a rabble-rousing Gallifreyan rebel into the Lonely God, Oncoming Storm and all sorts of other ominous sounding legends. But he brought back the show. He gave it a bright, beating, manically energetic heart and I will always be grateful to him for that, as I will always be grateful to Eccleston for being the first Doctor of a new age. He will never be my Doctor, but I like him better with every rewatch. He’s a bookend to William Hartnell: arrogant, insulting and unhelpful, impatient with the stupidity of humans but delighted with them at the same time, broken from too many tragedies but still chasing marvels in a great big universe of crazy that’s just waiting to be explored.

Join me in November for the penultimate post of my 50th anniversary rewatch, when Eccleston’s successor David Tennant lands in the greatest library ever made, meets a time-travelling archaeologist, and discovers that running won’t save you when what you’re trying to escape from is darkness itself…

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