We open with a shot from space to establish the scope of the show (and to set up the revolving world thing later). Then we see Rose getting out of bed and heading off to her job at a downtown department store with a casual dress code. She’s got a boyfriend (Mickey) and they seem happy enough together. Their lunch break is a brief scene, but establishes their relationship pretty solidly for me. He’s willing to act the fool in public for her, I’d say he might be a keeper. I’d seen Mickey in bits of other episodes, but he always seemed like an afterthought until now.
White mannequins have been finding their way, ever so innocuously, into several shots. I appreciate this level of subtlety. One of the nice things about TV is you can easily stick a plot point this casually in the background, whereas in print you have to be really careful if you want to slide something past a savvy reader.
Energetic music has been playing through all this, to let the viewer know that this is going somewhere, so bear with us, there is a point to all this. Rose gets stuck doing something after hours, and as she steps out of the
elevator lift, I’m ready for James Bond to rush up to her and hand off the Star of India for safekeeping before exiting stage right, pursued by henchmen with machine guns.
Instead, standard suspenseful wandering around begins, so the action music runs off and hides. You’ve got your person who isn’t responding, your shabby corridors, your unsettling noises, your suddenly finding oneself locked in, all that jazz. And then: one of the mannequins surrounding Rose turns its head in her direction. Dun dun dunn! It looks like I’m only about four minutes into the episode, so good job getting through the Rose introduction efficiently. Rose backs off, hoping it’s a prank, which I guess it could be in this case. But then she manages to get herself backed up against a wall, and adopts the standard reaction of giving up, because whenever a monster corners you it’s made of contact-poison lava, you know. The Doctor pops in from some direction that Rose could presumably have run in, and he hauls her away. More on his appearance later, but for now I will say that he could have been the one showing up with the Star of India and not looked out of place.
Anyway, Rose is now introduced to an essential Who activity: running for one’s life. The mannequins are in fairly good shape for being mannequins, but they’re no match for human muscles. There’s a mildly creepy bit when one gets its arm through the lift door, and its bland face gazes in as the Doctor pulls the arm off.
The Doctor seems like he’s in his element right now (as he should be). He explains that the mannequins are remote-controlled living plastic, then shoos her out so he can save the world without distraction. As a shaken Rose pauses on the other side of the street, the building blows its top off.
Next scene, Rose’s mum is on the phone, talking about Rose’s wonderful escape as the fire rages on the telly. Rose refuses to talk about what happened, even turning down an interview with Michael Jackson. Her mum (Jackie) starts to scold her before getting immediately distracted by a call from another friend. Jackie does seem to enjoy talking. Honestly, I’m not sure Rose would have said much to anyone even if the Doctor hadn’t warned her to keep silent. Mickey comes in with some awkward dialogue and an awkward hug, then leaves, taking with him the arm the Doctor pulled off. He tosses the arm into a garbage bin. Dun dun dunnn.
Rose now has no income. Jackie has evidently decided that her life’s work is to remind Rose of this 24/7. This seems in line with what I know of her personality. Desperate for a distraction, Rose looks at some nails or screws on the floor near the door. She looks through the cat flap, as the word Staywell materializes on it for absolutely no discernible reason, and catches the Doctor looking at it from outside! She insists he come in and ‘splain himself. Jackie immediately hits on the Doctor. This is definitely in line with what I know of her personality. (I’d like to have seen Tom Baker’s take on this whole scene.)
Then we have a dubious moment. The Doctor is wandering around the living room, showing off his Alien Powers as Rose shows off her hospitality, and he looks in a mirror and apparently sees himself for the first time. This does set up the regeneration principle for new viewers, but . . . he’s giving off an aura of Snappy Dresser, yet he hasn’t bothered to look at his new self until now?
There follows a comic/horror scene as the stray arm attacks first the Doctor, then Rose. Like all evil disembodied body parts worth their salt, it can ignore physics. The Doctor deactivates it with his sonic screwdriver.
Rose tries to dig information out of the Doctor, but he’s had way too much practice at keeping information to himself, and she blows a chance at a “Doctor who?” So he just enjoys fencing with her, tries to freak her out a little, then tells her to go home again as they near the TARDIS. The dialogue here is fast-paced, maybe a little too much so, but that’s modern Who for you. As
Gillian Rose walks away, she hears a strange noise behind her, but sees nothing when she turns back.
Rose uses Mickey’s CRT computer to search the WWW for “Doctor” and gets less than 18 million results. I get 227 million on Google. Oh Internet, you were so tiny back then. Further searching returns a fuzzy mugshot of Eccleston and a page title: Doctor Who? (ding!) Obviously Rose is going to have to check out this Clive person.
Mickey now further demonstrates his merit by driving Rose to her meeting in a bright yellow Beetle. He seems a little overdressed for the apparent weather, but this is England. The sunshine probably caught him off-guard.
Clive is keeping track of scads of references to the Doctor, just to remind us that there’s a lot more where this came from. Eccleston in particular has been turning up in proximity to some of the most famous disasters of history (and staring eerily into any cameras that are pointed at him); I guess the Time War turned his tastes morbid. You’d think there would have been plenty of mirrors on the Titanic. Anyway, this is an unusual, but realistic, perspective on the Doctor: the idea that his appearance signals great danger, not just for the baddies, not just for a few guest stars who are going to get munched, but for everyone in the area. We’re used to seeing it the other way around: Something bad is already happening, and the Doctor shows up, sorts out what’s going on, and helps save the day.
Meanwhile, a garbage bin tries to sneak up on Mickey. He’s not quite dumb enough to fall for that, but he does head over to see what’s inside. He only wishes he got a rabid raccoon in the face, as the bin sticks to his hands and growls before sucking him in. Rose comes out to find a cartoonish version of Mickey waiting for her. She rides off with him despite looking right at him, so she deserves whatever happens to her next.
What happens is that cartoon!Mickey grills her on the Doctor. The Doctor himself shows up, and wackiness ensues. Rose follows the Doctor into the TARDIS out of desperation, looks around from the entrance, and steps out backwards. Luckily this is only the pilot episode, or else the headless monster would have been right there to catch her in its arms. I don’t have a preference for one TARDIS interior over the other, so no commentary here. It looks fine, moving on now.
The Doctor tries to explain the TARDIS, but Rose is upset that the plastic head of her boyfriend is melting. The Doctor is upset that the receiver for the signal is melting. He pulls some levers, and when they pop out the door again they’re at the waterside.
More conversation reveals that the big baddie this week is called the Nestene Consciousness, who was/were attracted to Earth by a bunch of toxins. Rose points out a big Ferris Wheel as a potential transmitter, and they run underground to find the pool of Consciousness, all glowy like molten iron. Rose assumes (with the viewer) that it’s time to go in for the kill. But the Doctor, while apparently too jaded by the War to care about Mickey, still wants to save this dude. Collection of dudes. I’m not sure. He opens communications, while Rose spies Mickey and rushes off to hug him. The Doctor shakes his head in disgust at her. Seriously? Was she supposed to stand there and hold Your Ladyship’s train off the ground whilst you chit-chatted with a giant blob of alien plastic? The Doctor tries to tell the Nestene thing to get off the planet, but before he can try bribing it with chocolate milk, a couple of Autons discover he’s carrying some anti-plastic. This causes negotiations to break down. The Consciousness has brought the TARDIS here, the Doctor admits he couldn’t save any planets during the War, and Rose is told to get out yet again.
Jackie now phones her to tell her that everything’s okay, Rose will get money, and now Jackie’s off to shop downtown. Uh-oh!
The signal goes out, and the plastic rampage begins. Clive gets a moment of vindication before being shot. Poor guy.
Rose finally decides she has nothing to lose (Mickey begs to differ I’m sure), hacks a chain loose, and swings through the air, allowing the Doctor to get free and causing the anti-plastic to fall into the Nestene. Jackie is saved in the nick of time, fiery explosions occur for no clear reason, and the Autons dance in the streets to celebrate their freedom.
The Doctor offers Rose a chance to travel around, but Mickey’s feeling a little possessive right now and Rose turns him down at first, but when he mentions it travels in tiiiime she jumps in. And where will he take her first? Straight to see the final death of the only planet she’s known, long after the human race as she knows it has gone extinct. Yeah, his tastes have gotten pretty morbid. He’ll probably drop her off to watch one of her parents die next.
The special effects are effective, aside from the fire right after the explosion and the champagne popper sproinging into cartoon!Mickey’s forehead. The score is pretty good too, no question. This is a case where music adds to an episode rather than carrying or hindering it. The music when Rose first surveys the TARDIS interior had a very unexpectedly creepy feel to it.
A mostly solid start to the series, accessible for old-timers and newbies alike. There were plenty of lighter moments to balance out the more serious parts. It’s unusual in that it’s entirely from the companion’s perspective, with the audience even farther behind the Doctor’s train of thought than normal. I’m sure the prospect of introducing the Doctor to a whole new audience gave TPTB that idea. My main complaint is in the Doctor’s attitude toward Rose being upset over Mickey. It seems pointlessly unpleasant.
Rating: 3 disembodied Auton hands out of 4
Favorite dialogue: Doctor: “What are you doin’ here?”
Rose: “I live here.”
Doctor: “Well, what’d you do that for?”
Rose: “‘Cause I do.”
Number of large splashes of TARDISy blue not actually part of the TARDIS: at least 9 plus a bike rack
So, this was the big kick-off of the new show. Let’s talk about what they did from that perspective. Also part of my purpose of going into so much detail is to figure out the characters.
First off, there’s the standard female companion to balance/draw in demographics. And Rose Tyler is pretty standard right now. She basically exists. She’s a generic Everywoman, with few standout characteristics. She works/ed in a department store, she has a boyfriend of friendly but unclear standing, she has a certain amount of brains and bravery (which she needs anyway in order to be a Companion), she gets her love of pink from her mum.
Mickey seems like a good guy who doesn’t take himself seriously. He tries to get her to relax at the pub so that he can catch the end of a (football?) match, but at the same time his concern for her seems genuine. He feels more fleshed out than Rose at this point. They certainly have some chemistry. All the leads have chemistry really.
Then there’s the Doctor. I’ve said before that, as ridiculous as it may be to say, Eccleston does not look like the Doctor to me. He’s too slick, too modern/contemporary, even too action-heroey. Too little hair. But I’m sure the Ninth Doctor’s look was intended to send a message that this show would not be stuck in the ’60s. No eccentrics wandering around a super-cheap set here! So, nothing wrong with it per se, and Eccleston’s performance is quite good, it’s just that the Ninth sticks out like a top-hatted canary in a coal mine, and my brain rebels just a little as a result.
At the same time, the Autons of course tie back into the old series, going all the way back to the first Third Doctor story (which is a good one, I think). The Autons are a good enemy to pick, being old-school creepy, and then you can bring a big name in later without having to spend time on introducing the leads. And, you know, either the Cybermen or the Daleks could have come across as old-school cheese to a new viewer anyway.
The Doctor is . . . not actually dark, but he seems willing to go darker than I’m used to. The banter always has an undertone of seriousness. He scoffs at Rose for caring about her boyfriend and twice basically dismisses contemporary humanity, basically out of nowhere, as stupid apes. He was stressed both times, but that’s a far cry from, say, Tom Baker’s big speech in “The Ark In Space” where he marveled at humanity’s eternal will to survive. Possibly Eccleston sees humanity’s failures more sharply because they remind him of his own failure to stop the Time War peacefully. Possibly he’s too burned out by the War and other losses to care about individuals right now. Possibly TPTB just wanted something darker and edgier to go with the times. Still, the Doctor has often been impatient with those whose petty concerns get in the way of him saving the day, but scoffing at compassion is a new one on me.
I like the modernized theme music well enough. The title sequence is fun, although the streaks of green feel out of place. But the logo (JJ Abrams’s eye, amirite?) is likely my least favorite of the franchise.
This was originally posted July 27, 2014.