“Rose” – Review: Redux

“It’s like when you’re a kid, the first time they tell you that the world is turning and you just can’t believe it cos everything looks like it’s standing still.  I can feel it.  The turn of the Earth.  The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour, the entire planet is hurtling around the sun at sixty-seven thousand miles an hour and I can feel it.  We’re falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world, and if we let go… that’s who I am.  Now, forget me, Rose Tyler, go home.” The Doctor

Rose

The 26th of March, 2005. This is one date within the near fifty-year history of Doctor Who that is, arguably, its most significant. Everything in Doctor Who is arguable, in case you didn’t know, but few would dispute the fact that re-launch of the series on this day was one of its definitive make-or-break moments. This was the point that, had it broken, might well have have confined televisual Doctor Who to a nostalgic retirement home, visited only by hard-core fans as they occasionally fired up their classic DVD collection when they get bored of new telly. Failure would’ve meant that the two attempts (in 1996 and 2005) to bring the show back had been unsuccessful and TV execs for evermore would surely have never given it the chance for a third strike. There was belief ingrained in the whole production team that they could create something special but even so, they had still expected viewing figures of about 5 million, some had probably hoped for viewing figures of 6 million and the more wildly optimistic folk may even have whispered of 7 million plus. Any fears proved to be misplaced though as 10,800,000 Brits tuned in to watch “Rose” on that Saturday night, re-inventing family television, and branding Doctor Who onto the collective hearts of a nation. 

As I approach the fiftieth anniversary, I am not minded to go all the way back to 1963, for the moment I will leave that to others, but instead as we approach that Golden moment, I will be taking a look back at the relaunched series with the benefit of eight years hindsight and re-reviewing the episodes that made me fall back in love with Doctor Who. 102 episodes have been made from “Rose” all  the way through to “The Name of the Doctor” and I am going to be re-watching them, one-a-day, for the 102 days leading up to 23rd November 2013. I will trawl back through this old blog of mine and add some comments, correct some typos, give the reviews that I’ve written some context, change my mind, contradict myself and generally see how I feel about Eccleston, Tennant, Smith, Piper, Agyeman, Tate, Gillan, Coleman, Davies, Moffat et al. Of course, being a fairly slack blogger, I have gaps for episodes that I have never reviewed (about 25% of them) that I hope to be filling as well. Some will be short, some will be long, many might be terribly written, but who cares? This is my little attempt to celebrate fifty wonderful years and publish something that illustrates my love affair with a little, British institution.

Following 16 years in the television wilderness (save for 90 minutes of the TV movie, which some may argue was all part of that “wilderness” as well), the return was an astonishing success. The concept of family viewing had long since been consigned to the bottom of the BBC filing cabinet labelled “In The Old Days…” but  but those viewing figures, 44% of the TV-watching audience, changed all that. This was a number of viewers that only major sporting events and soap opera deaths could hope to attract. Sometime later in 2005 (at the Galactic Dinner charity event in aid of Children in Need) I had the pleasure of meeting Russell T Davies, Executive Producer of the show and evangelist of all things Who, and asked him how he had felt when he’d heard how many people had watched. He replied that it was an amazing feeling for about 2 minutes before he began to question how on Earth he could maintain the momentum and success for the second episode as he feared that the only way was down. That complete lack of complacency was the perfect attitude for the show-runner and underpinned the RTD-era.

It was way back in 2003 that Lorraine Heggasy had announced that Doctor Who was to return and the media immediately pounced on this to begin their wild speculation. Most of it was nonsense, of course, (remember the “Paul Daniels to play the Doctor” story?) but over time it all served to re-introduce the soul of the show into the public consciousness. As announcements were made and news leaked out of BBC Wales, who had been charged with the job of producing Who, there seemed to be a growing feeling that it could be something special. Eventually, on New Year’s Day 2005, just after The Vicar Of Dibley, viewers got their first chance to see a clip of the show, a simple effects shot of the TARDIS materialising. It was back!

In the week’s leading up to transmission of “Rose”, the marketing blitz went into over-drive. A glamorous launch party, interviews, TV spots, Radio discussions, magazine covers and features… it was everywhere. Oh, and that wonderful trailer with Christopher Eccleston asking “Do you wanna come with me?”. And everyone did. Some folk even got involved a little too early and downloaded the BitTorrent that some unscrupulous employee of a third party partner in Canada had leaked online a couple of weeks before transmission. Such was the interest in Doctor Who, and so it remains to this day, that such faux pas remain part and parcel of being a fan.

On screen, the title’s rolled (there was no pre-credit sequence that we would become used to in almost all subsequent stories), the classic theme music was back with some punchier undertones added by Murray Gold and, after a quick shot of the Earth from orbit we plummet down to London to meet Rose. We got to see a day in the life of this insignificant shop assistant to a thumping, relentless soundtrack (that reflected the heartbeat of many a fan, old and new) and it was clear that the pace of the show was immeasurably faster than anything in Doctor Who before. As Rose took the lift down to the basement of Henrik’s department store, the bell sounded, the doors opened, the music stopped and the fear factor stepped up as Rose searched for Mr Wilson amongst the junk and mannequins in the basement. If it hadn’t been for the still vaguely unbelievable cock-up of the sound bleeding in from Graham Norton’s studio, the tension of the scene would have been even higher. “Run!” was first word the Doctor said to Rose and, as the Doctor himself reflected in the Children In Need special months later, they never stopped.

The frenetic pace continued throughout… Henriks exploding, the plastic arm attacking the Doctor and Rose in the flat, Auton Mickey rampaging through a restaurant, Rose’s first trip in the TARDIS, racing across Westminster Bridge and the Auton attack on the shopping centre that was intercut with the Doctor and Rose facing off against the Nestene Consciousness, all at a hundred miles an hour, all genuinely exciting. There were a few other key scenes worthy of note, the brilliant writing of the “The world is spinning” speech is one of my favourites from the whole series, Mark Benton’s appearance as Clive was a great bit of casting but on the flip-side of all this goodness there was the “Wheelie Bin Scene”. There was no dialogue during it, so it’s hard to know where to point the blame (writer, director, producer, who knows?) but the execution was terrible with its dodgy looking not-so-special effects looking highly rushed, and then the poorly thought-out belching denouement. I won’t say that it spoilt the episode for me but it was certainly left tarnished by it.

“Rose”, rather unfairly I feel, often ends up nears the bottom of the list when the fans rank or rate their favourite stories of the new batch. Perhaps it is because the Doctor is not the focus or hero of the tale, or because the story hardly illuminates Camille Coduri or Noel Clarke’s acting talents in their most favourable light, or may be because of the wheelie bin after all, but it is what it is and I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way. Doctor Who, completely re-invented but exactly the same as it had always been. It’s borderline miraculous. No-one could’ve predicted what the next seven days of the Doctor Who story would bring, let alone the next seven years but that I shall save that for the next review. For now, and for all its faults, Doctor Who was back and it was brilliant.

Highlight: “Run!”

Lowlight: The Wheelie Bin

Talking Point: How did you feel when Graham Norton’s voice bled through?

Demon’s Run Rating: 13 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 26th March 2005

Marathon Status: 1 down, 101 to go

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  1. That’s a great way to make the wait more bearable! I’m going to join you in watching an episode each day, while I work embroidering the designs of the 12 Doctors on my Doctor Who quilt. Yes, November 23rd will be here in no time…sigh

    • Thanks for the kind words, Gisela. You’re right, the 50th will be here before we know. it. And good luck with that quilt. Kev

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