Saturday, 31 March 2018


Chapter The 82nd, in which a TV programme comes back from the dead at Easter-time.

Late one evening after the end of her shift at a department store in London, Rose Tyler goes down to the basement to deliver the staff syndicate's lottery money to the Chief Electrician, Wilson. As she walks around, the shop window dummies in storage down there come to life around her. Backed into a corner, she is surrounded and they come in for the kill. A Manc fellah in a leather jacket saves her just in time, and they escape in a lift. He blows up the roof of the building just after she gets clear. Before disappearing off, he introduces himself as 'the Doctor' and explains that the dummies are living plastic, brought to life by an alien intelligence transmitting a signal. The Doctor then turns up at Rose's house the next day, trying to track the signal. Rose presses him for answers, but he isn't forthcoming, and goes off again, seemingly into a mysterious disappearing big blue box.

Intrigued, Rose researches on the internet, and meets up with a conspiracy theorist, Clive, who has been combing history for signs of the Doctor, and believes him to be an immortal alien who brings death in his wake. Rose's boyfriend Mickey waits outside Clive's house in case Rose is in any danger from this man she met on the internet, but the plastic wheelie bin nearby has been taken over, and swallows him up. He's replaced by a slightly unconvincing plastic duplicate, who questions Rose about the Doctor later when they're out for dinner. But the Doctor has tracked them to the restaurant and rescues Rose when plastic-Mickey starts smashing the place up. They escape into the blue box (called the TARDIS) which is bigger on the inside than the out, and the Manc fellah turns out to be a space-wizard, and grumpy to boot.

Tracking the source of the signal to an underground chamber beneath the London Eye, the Doctor and Rose rescue the real Mickey. The Doctor confronts the Nestene Consciousness - a big vat of talking gloop - but is captured, and a signal is sent using the Eye's structure as a transmitter. All over London, shop window dummies come to life, and attack people including Rose's Mum Jackie, who survives, and Clive, who is killed. Rose uses her childhood gymnastics skills to swing on a chain,  knock over a couple of dummies and free the Doctor; in the confusion, the Consciousness gets destroyed, the signal cuts out, and the mannequins become inanimate once again. The Doctor invites Rose (but not Mickey) to travel with him; she hesitates at first, but on the second offer runs into the TARDIS leaving Mickey behind.

The random number generator method used to select which story to watch next for the blog settled on Rose, an intriguing choice with lots of associations; this was good, as I'd been busy and it had therefore taken me ages to write up the last story for the blog; something to inspire me to write with more efficacy was to be welcomed. I also happily realised it was a perfect blog post to publish during an Easter weekend, it being the biggest episode ever broadcast at Easter, and one that started a tradition that lasted for a good few years afterwards that the kick off of a new run of episodes should debut on the Saturday following Good Friday. This in turn reminded me that in the year when Rose first aired, that Saturday had also fallen towards the end of March. It then dawned on me that the 13th anniversary of that historic broadcast was the very day on which I was having all these thoughts, the 26th of March, and if we started watching in the next few minutes it would be bang on to the exact minute. Hurry, hurry.

As it was, it took a while to gather the interested parties together in the living room, and we started at 7.08pm, eight minutes later than Rose had started in 2005. Close enough, unless you're some weirdo obsessive about these things (hush). Anyway, the interested parties in question were all the kids (boys of 11 and 8, girl of 5) and the Better Half who, hearing the urgent preparations, joined us as the title sequence was rolling. We watched from the DVD, and there was a lot of visible evidence that it was doing what it was supposed to do: the youngest was scared by the quiet bits, the middle child was jumping up and down during the exciting bits, and even the cynical eldest pre-teen said "this is the Doctor I like the best", only to be corrected by his sister: "He's not called the Doctor, he's called Doctor Who". Based on the credits of Eccleston's era at least, this was quite accurate of her. The eldest was also taken by Clive's son when he said "Dad, it's one of your nutters". There's clearly something in the story for everybody!

First-time round:
There was immense build up of interest before Rose's initial BBC1 broadcast. It is mirrored somewhat by what's happening now in anticipation of Jodie Whittaker's debut series, with little teasers (new logo, hero images, snatches of audio) released months before the really big marketing push. When things really got going in 2005, it was verging on the ridiculous - stupid great billboard advertisements, talking points on review shows, special edition Mastermind tie-in episode. I wonder what sort of hoop-la we'll see this Autumn. Things peaked when Rose was leaked early in March, a little under three weeks before it was due for transmission. I read about the leak, but resolved to be strong. The next day, however, a colleague and friend at my day job of the time, Lee -  that guy one knows in every office who has an evangelical belief that copyright is an affront to personal liberties - came in and handed me a DVD-R, then walked away without a word. I was not strong enough to resist, and started watching it on my laptop during the working day. In the evening at home, I showed it to the Better Half, and rewatched it again more than once before the Easter weekend.

I saw the live broadcast with the Better Half, my sister and her partner James, in my sister's old flat in Worthing. My sister, never the biggest Doctor Who fan, was hosting us with such enthusiasm, even down to providing bowls of jelly babies, that I couldn't bring myself to tell her that I'd already watched the story multiple times. I don't regret it, though; the version I saw first didn't have an audio interruption from Graham Norton spoiling the most tense bit.

At the time, the BH and I were living in Kent, so had to stay over; I went out in Worthing early afternoon on Saturday 26th March 2005 as I needed to buy something, rushing as I didn't want to risk missing a minute of the pre-match build up including that Doctor Who: The New Dimension show narrated by David Tennant (whatever happened to him?). While I was out, I saw the front cover of a red-top rag, I forget which, bigging up the competition for Saturday night audience between Who and Ant and Dec. I had a sinking feeling: what if it bombs?! Luckily, the ratings revealed the next day were stratospheric; they didn't quite sustain at that level, so there must have been many curious souls in Rose's audience that decided it wasn't for them. One of these was my university friend Mark - the least enthusiastic whenever we had a video watching session in Durham - who texted me at 7.45pm on that Saturday to say "It's still shit".

There's only one way I think one could be disappointed by the story Rose, and that's by stubbornly assuming its plot is supposed to be about Autons, which it clearly isn't, and thereby accusing it of having a thin plot, which it doesn't. Just look at the synopsis above - there's lots of story beats, they're just not centered on defeating aliens. Sure, anyone can dislike the show because of its tone, or production values, or the performances of the leads. But if you disagree with the plot being structured around the person with an ordinary life getting pulled into the mysterious stranger's orbit (or 'turning Doctor Who into a soap', as it was called by online crazies ad nauseum) then you have to seriously think about what would have happened had it been done differently. This outside-in approach is the only viable option to bring the show to a new audience. It's how it was done successfully in 1963, and the opposite of how it was done unsuccessfully in 1996. Paul McGann's TV movie is the epitome of an inside-out approach: start with the Doctor rather that the audience identification figure, alienate some of your viewers, and add swathes of narration to paper over the cracks. Avoiding this is a big reason the show is still running to this day, allowing many different types of story to be told, including many big 'defeat the aliens' plots for traditionalists (though not ever a proper rematch with the Autons, curiously enough).

I never understood the soap opera accusations at all. It's not exactly brutal realism, nor even a misery-fest confection like Eastenders (the comparison most often made by the online crazies). All the tourist biscuit tin shots of red buses and the houses of parliament clue us in that we're watching a somewhat heightened version of reality. I miss this bright, fun adventure look and feel, which has got progressively gloomier over recent years of Who's new episodes. What I feel many don't like, but can't bring themselves to say, is that Rose, Jackie and Mickey are common - if they were realistic and the centre of the narrative, but were middle class professionals (like Sarah Jane Smith) I think some people would have less of a problem with it. But never mind those people - it's all about the characters, and these characters are great.

Like many of the stories in the 2005 run, all the surrounding spectacle belies the deliberately small nature of the story. There are only five significant roles in this piece - the two regulars, the two semi-regulars, and a nice guest performance by Mark Benton as Clive - and their interactions drive the story forward. All five are expertly cast, and perfectly performed. Noel Clarke has been harsh in reflecting back on his choices in these early episodes, but as part of his overall arc throughout the season, I can't fault his work here. Camille Coduri gets the best lines: "Skin like an old bible", "I know she is Greek, but that's not the point" and so on. Her brief scene with the Doctor in her bedroom was the funniest thing there'd been in Doctor Who up to that point. Eccleston and Piper are so good, I can't really express it without being dull, they are too good if anything; while not looking like as well-matched pairing as, say, Tennant and Piper, they have bags more chemistry. They are another two big reasons why Doctor Who took off again.

It's not quite all there from day one. The music is not yet enhanced by real recorded orchestral parts, it's all synthesised, and now sounds a little tinny and cheap in comparison to what came later. There's a few parts where they haven't quite got the tone exactly right, but they're brief, a few seconds of the running time in all, and the show would get better very quickly at this. Piper's treatment of Mickey at the end jars a little, but not as much as it did first time I watched. It's not exactly subtly expressed that Mickey is not a good boyfriend, and Davies has gone on record of not wanting Rose to be too perfect, but her kiss off line is just the wrong side of cruel for me. When it comes together, though, it's magic. There's one glorious moment, a tiny thing that you could blink and miss: just after the plastic Mickey's head's been pulled off and the male diner has screamed, there's a look on Eccleston's face of madcap joy, like he adores the chaos all around him.

One other thing I noticed this time, because I'd so recently watched the first first episode of Doctor Who, was the parallels between the debut deaths in the twentieth and twenty-first century versions: Old Mother and Clive are both prophets of doom, and probably the wisest non-Gallifreyans to appear in their respective stories; they try to warn other characters in the narrative that they're in danger, but in the end it's they who come a cropper. It's an interestingly bleak theme of Doctor Who that might be inadvertent here, but is picked up deliberately elsewhere too: you can be as clever as you want, but without the Doctor, you'll never be safe.

Both Rose and The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky are Russell T Davies era earth-based stories involving invasions by slightly reworked monsters from the original series. In both, the Doctor confronts the aliens at the end with a MacGuffin device that will destroy them, but won't activate it until he's given them a chance. In both instances, he can't bring himself to do it, and someone else has to intervene.

Deeper Thoughts:
Who Knows Part Three. Well, a few weeks back I'd have said that another of those mysteries of Doctor Who to which we might never get answers was what exactly happened between Christopher Eccleston and the production team in the early days of filming the return series of Doctor Who. But he's only gone and spoken about it, thirteen years on. He must have finally got frustrated with people asking him over and over and/or thought that, as so much time has passed, he could share some details. From small comments made in the intervening years by many parties involved, it's consistently clear that whatever happened to cause Christopher Eccleston to quit happened in the first production block (covering Rose and the two-part Slitheen story, all directed by Keith Boak). It's been hypothesised that Eccleston fell out with Boak, or producer Phil Collinson, or many other people on the senior production side; his interview suggests he fell out with all of them, including Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner. As he puts it: "They lost trust in me, and I lost faith and trust and belief in them".

Eccleston felt the weight of being the most seasoned member of the cast, yet in a role that was out of his comfort zone; the part was one he felt required "a natural light comedian" which is not how he saw himself. His resultant insecurity made it a stressful experience. From other testimonies about this time, though, it's clear nobody knew what they were doing; there was no frame of reference for making a show like Doctor Who's 2005 model, as there hadn't been anything quite like it done before, certainly not in the UK. With a lot riding on it being successful, it's not surprising everyone was stressed. There were many issues and delays; the planned schedule was clearly inadequate, as it's been reported they were something like three weeks behind after only a day of filming. This was not an atmosphere conducive to on-set harmony. But if the producers really lost faith in Eccleston's performance, as he seems to have done himself, then this viewer at least thinks they're dead wrong. If he was out of his comfort zone, he used it to spur him on to something special. It makes sense: the Doctor is a character putting on a brave face while inside he's not enjoying himself as much as he appears; that's a pretty good summary of Eccleston himself as he did it.

Where even Eccleston's acting wasn't good enough, was the publicity drive after the series had wrapped. He’d made an agreement with Davies not to damage the reputation of the series, and he did his best; but, as anyone who saw those interviews and appearances can testify, he couldn't help but come over as awkward and defensive. I hope getting the negativity off his chest in this recent interview has helped him. A good sign is that he has agreed for the first time ever to attend a sci-fi convention, with an appearance at London Film and Comic Con planned for July. It's just a shame he's charging an arm and a leg (and two hearts and a respiratory bypass system) for an autograph.

In Summary:
If the kids don't like that, then the kids don't deserve to have any television ever shown to them again.


  1. Eccleston is still my favourite Doctor of the "new" era; I don't mean that he is my favourite actor to play him but the Doctor he playspla my favourite. So far that is.......

  2. "playspla"? And I've only had three GnT's too

  3. :-) Good stuff, Trevor, have had a few wines myself. Happy Easter!