Written by Russell T Davies
Transmitted 26 March 2005
Rose Tyler’s day started like any other. But when she was chased through a department store by living plastic mannequins only a stranger in a leather jacket armed with a screwdriver and a bomb stood between her and certain death. Rose met the Doctor and her life was never the same. After she witnessed the shop she had worked in for ages blown sky high, she was in a daze, unsure if any of it had even happened. Then the Doctor returned, tracking a rogue plastic limb back to her apartment. The Doctor deactivates the limb after it attempts to kill him, explaining that it was under the control of an alien intelligence. He tries to swan off, but Rose is like a bad penny and follows.
Investigating the Doctor online, Rose meets Clive who has been collecting evidence connecting the Doctor to historic disasters including the sinking of the Titanic, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and more. While she confers with Clive, her boyfriend Mickey is replaced by a plastic replica. The Doctor comes to Rose’s rescue once again, but it is Rose herself who not only manages to locate the transmitter used by the alien consciousness to control the plastic Autons, but also save his life.
The Doctor is clearly on the run from a past that has changed him into a pariah, a dark and mysterious figure. While he is in touch with the movement of the universe he is no longer the dashing hero of old. This Doctor is a scarred and tragic figure who just happened to find Rose, a girl who could guide him into finding new purpose and rediscover his true persona.
It had been fifteen years since the familiar sound of the TARDIS had graced the TV screens in a new adventure. Still regarded as a national icon, the program had been considered for a return in various guises (from a cable series starring Rutger Hauer to a feature film with Dudley Moore and even a cartoon) over that duration but Russel T Davies is the man who brought Doctor Who back to the small screen and introduced it to a new generation.
Casting the Doctor was a challenge but former collaborator Christopher Eccleston (who had previously worked with Davies on The Second Coming) was a surprise choice. An established actor and a private man, Eccleston wasn’t a fan of the program, admitting in interviews that he felt alienated by the posh upper class approach and preferred playing out in the yard. Convinced by Davies’ reputation, Eccleston hoped that the modern Doctor Who would appeal to a family audience and provide intelligent, progressive and exciting entertainment.
As the Doctor, Eccleston brought plenty of presence, but seemed painfully out of place during moments of forced comedy. The quirkiness of the Doctor never sat well with him. However, the chemistry with co-star Billie Piper was strong and he managed to breath life into the dialog which made what could have been an embarrassing and silly program a roaring success.
A relative unknown (aside from a brief stint as pop idol), Billie Piper was an ideal actress to play the companion, providing a perfect foil to Eccleston’s Doctor. She was feisty, opinionated, sensitive and brave, charging headlong into danger. Viewers of the classic program could easily see hints of Ace in this companion, but the major difference was that she brought with her a supporting cast of characters from her mother to her boyfriend. Doctor Who was no longer just a science fiction/fantasy adventure series, it was also a situation drama.
When it was first broadcast, Rose was a major media event but still appealing to a core audience. It did not have the strong following it does today and viewers were almost entirely unprepared for such a program. After each episode of Doctor Who, a ‘confidential’ special followed that chronicled the classic 1963-1989/95 episodes along with the production of that night’s adventure. It was a novel idea that hammered home that this was not just any other program, it had a legacy.
I still remember the excitement that I first watched Rose through a dodgy connection on my PC. Just hearing the signature theme was a thrill and seeing the classic Autons return (complete with the same sound effects) was wonderful. But there are some painful moments in this premiere that haunted it throughout its second life. The reliance on pop culture references (Heat magazine) felt cheap and out of place. The special effects ranged from impressive to woeful (the wheelie bin burp still rankles) and the script was clearly not finished (the ‘lots of planets have a North’ line making no sense at all as former script editor Christopher H Bidmead was happy to point out).
But Rose was something entirely new in 2005. This was a different time, back before we knew Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, back before it was cemented that this was a continuation of the classic program. The premiere feels a bit unsure of its identity, in my opinion. In its defense, in 45 minutes Rose combines moments of humor, drama and fantasy. The contemporary setting of the council estate is the only touchstone with the familiar. In Rose, a curtain is pulled back revealing a world of wild horror and only the Doctor can defend us from it.
2005’s Rose rejuvenated Doctor Who in ways that even the production team did not imagine possible (Davies figured that it might last for a series or two at most). Rose was such a hit that it was not long before the BBC saw it for what it was and the initial 6 part series was lengthened into one 12 part long series… a double bumper year’s worth of stories!
After witnessing the danger that surrounded the Doctor, Rose raced into the TARDIS to experience the unknown. ‘The trip of a lifetime.’
10.5 million overnight viewers (10.81 including recordings), a 44.3% share
(Note: I’m revisiting these episodes thanks to the Doctor Who: Series 1-7 Limited Edition Blu-ray Giftset which presents the first four series in high definition for the first time and I heartily recommend it. It also comes complete with a nifty sonic screwdriver remote control!)
Next time: The End of the World