Welcome back to my Doctor Who rewatch! Recently we completed the classic television series, and it was great. Twenty-six years of television yields a show with a wealth of lore and background. But, what happens when that show is cancelled, only to be revived sixteen years later? Let’s find out!
To that end, I’ve decided to continue on into the revived, 2005-era series of Doctor Who. This series, while connecting nicely to its predecessor, is really a different animal, and those differences are going to count in this review. For one, I’ll be using the preferred modern term “Series” instead of “Season” as I did in the classic series—“Series One”, “Series Two”, etc. Obviously that gets a bit confusing with regard to the television series as a whole; for that I’ll probably switch over and just say “show”. It’s necessary, though, as the numbering system resets; we wouldn’t want to confuse Series One of the revived series with Season One of the classic series. For another change, the format is different now; where the classic show utilized a serialized format, with multiple short episodes per story, the revived show tends to limit stories to one forty-five-minute episode, with occasional two- or three-parters. With that said, we get more stories per series than we did with the latter two-thirds of the classic show. In light of that, I won’t be able to do an entire series per post; they would be far too long, and I’m already verbose enough. I expect to do about three episodes per post; at about thirteen episodes per series, that’s a comfortable rate that should let me post once a week. As I’m also reviewing audio dramas, I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew.
This week, we’re looking at Series One, from 2005, and covering the first three episodes: Rose, The End of the World, and The Unquiet Dead. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen these episodes! (I should have been saying that all along.)
After a long hiatus (nine or sixteen years, depending on your point of view), Doctor Who returns with the simply-titled Rose. It’s not a deep story, but it moves fast! Nineteen-year-old Rose Tyler works in a shop, hangs out with her boyfriend Mickey Smith, and argues with her mother, Jackie…until the shop dummies start menacing her in the basement at her job. Everything changes, though, when a strange and compelling man grabs her hand and says, “Run!” It’s non-stop from there, as her encounter with the Doctor and the menacing Autons takes her further from life as she’s known it. In the end, she leads the Doctor to a confrontation with the Nestene Consciousness that controls the Autons, and saves his life…and flies away with him.
We get some new characters here, including Rose, her mother Jackie, and her skeptical and protective boyfriend Mickey…but none more fascinating than the Doctor. This Doctor is a brand new man, possibly literally; there’s a scene where he looks at his reflection as though he’s seeing it for the first time, though that’s been debated hotly ever since. The BBC and showrunner Russell Davies made the decision not to bring back Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor—first seen in the 1996 movie, and popularized since by the audios, novels, and comics—instead choosing a clean start with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor. It really is a clean break, as well, as we immediately get the startling revelation that he is all alone—his people, the Time Lords (not named here) are gone. Longtime fans would have been stunned at that revelation. Eccleston’s Doctor is clean-cut and spare compared to McGann’s; no more Victorian costumes, no more long hair, instead he prefers simple clothing, a black leather jacket, and a buzzed head. He’s spare in personality, as well; he’s blunt and forthright (“Is it always like this?” “Yeah.”), and honestly, offensive sometimes. He can be rude, but not in the flamboyant manner of the Sixth Doctor; he’s more of an immovable object, hard and unforgiving.
Of course, there’s a good reason for it, though we don’t know it yet: He’s just survived a war. The massive and far-flung Last Great Time War—not named here, but we’ll get there soon—has been time-locked and therefore wiped from the memory of much of the universe; but the Doctor remembers. He can never forget. In a very real sense, he has post-traumatic stress disorder; he doesn’t scream or lash out, but he keeps himself buttoned up tight, because he knows the man he could be if he let it out. Opinions of Eccleston may vary, but there’s absolutely no question that he was the Doctor for the hour, here, and he is—to borrow his favorite word—fantastic.
The Autons and the Nestene Consciousness are the villains here, for the first time since The Auton Invasion. They’re interesting to me; this is only their third appearance onscreen, but every appearance has been a season/series premiere, and twice it’s been the premiere for a new Doctor. They’re similar to their previous appearances; you can’t do much with shop dummies, I suppose. However, we do see them in other forms here; anything plastic they can control, so we see them control a garbage bin, and even produce a speaking duplicate of Mickey. They’re defeated with anti-plastic, a corrosive chemical, but it won’t be the last we see of them. There’s an interesting reference to their worlds having been destroyed; it’s not spelled out, but understood later that they were destroyed in the Time War.
Other noteworthy things: The new sonic screwdriver appears, and it’s beautiful. If this is, as the theory goes, the Ninth Doctor’s first adventure, then it really is a brand-new screwdriver; it differs from the one the War Doctor will eventually be seen to carry at the time of his regeneration. The Shadow Proclamation is first mentioned, and the terminology makes it sound more like a treaty or declaration than an organization; I suppose this could be metonymy, the idiomatic practice where a thing becomes identified by one of its features. The Doctor first uses his “I AM TALKING!” line which will be more common under Matt Smith. Rose makes the first in a long line of “bigger on the inside” comments about the TARDIS (she actually says “The inside’s bigger than the outside”). The Doctor calls humans “stupid apes”—something he will do often in moments of anger—and then makes his famous “Lots of planets have a north!” line. The TARDIS interior can be seen through the open doors, something the classic series could not do convincingly, and mostly never tried.
I wanted to say a bit more about the question of whether this is the first adventure of the Ninth Doctor. I like to think it is; the scene with his reflection seems very clear to me, though some staff for the show have said otherwise. I feel that the existence of photos of the Ninth Doctor at past events, does not mean they happened earlier in his lifetime; they could easily be offscreen adventures in the future. To that end, it’s worth mentioning that he briefly dematerializes the TARDIS without Rose before taking her with him; it’s been suggested that some offscreen adventures take place without her during that gap. Certainly there’s precedent for it; the Fourth Doctor most likely visited Leela’s homeworld for the first time while Harry Sullivan was knocked out in Robot (we see him returning in the TARDIS). Nevertheless, if anyone disagrees, that’s fine as well.
Rose’s first real adventure in the TARDIS takes her to The End of the World, literally. After brief stops in the years 2105 and 12,005 (which the Doctor states to be the New Roman Empire; note that this is after the time frame of the Earth Empire seen often in the classic show), they land in the year 5.5/apple/26, five billion years in Rose’s future. It’s the day the Earth is to be destroyed by the expanding Sun, which technically should already have happened. (The Sun has been held back by gravity-controlling satellites.) It’s not the furthest in time we will ever go—multiple adventures will take the Doctor to the end of time itself—but it’s still impressive, and not often beaten. We land on Platform One, a hospitality and viewing station which will be used to view the death of the planet.
At this point in history, pure humans are considered to be mostly extinct; or rather, they’ve interbred and/or genetically engineered themselves into related but dissimilar races—it’s played for comedic effect when the Doctor gets hit on by a human tree (no, really). The Lady Cassandra O’Brien dot Delta Seventeen (I’ll dispense with the symbols for convenience’s sake) is considered to be the last pure human, and even she has surgically altered herself to the point of being unrecognizable—she’s essentially a tank of organs attached to a face of stretched skin (or as Rose puts it, a “bitchy trampoline”; they will have a short rivalry hereafter, which is arguably Rose’s fault, as she starts the fight). Of course, later episodes—especially Utopia–will establish that pure humans exist nearly all the way to the end of time. I see no contradiction; the universe is a big place, and it’s not impossible that other pure humans exist elsewhere, but are unknown to the bulk of the populace.
Cassandra proves to be the villain here, as she attempts to extort the guests for money to fund her continued body modification. She is thwarted by the Doctor at the last second, and appears to die; but she’ll be back.
We’re introduced to the Face of Boe, who will figure significantly into the Tenth Doctor’s life (and might be Jack Harkness!). The architecture of Platform One is very reminiscent of the Imperator’s ship in Nightmare in Silver, which is still several years in our future. There’s no clear indication of when that story takes place, but I’ve always felt—based on the advanced state of the Cybermen and other technology—that it must be far in the future. It’s stated to be a thousand years after the Cyber-Wars, but I don’t believe they are the same Cyber-wars as have previously been noted to be in the 26th century; in that century, the Earth’s populated range of worlds was small, but these wars are said to involve many galaxies. Therefore I would submit that Nightmare in Silver is contemporary with The End of the World, or close to it.
The Doctor shows an intimate grasp of time, possibly even slowing it by force of will so that he can step through the final fan even with his eyes closed; perfect timing or not, that fan was moving too fast to allow passage otherwise. (Never mind that it visibly doesn’t reach the floor, and he could have crawled under.) The Time War is first mentioned here, but not by name; it’s evident that some people remember it, but many do not. We first see psychic paper here. The Doctor cries for the first time in either television series. Also, the phrase “Bad Wolf” makes its first appearance, in an offhand remark by a background character; we’ll see it often this series. I like this episode a lot; it’s one of the earliest NuWho episodes I watched (although in reruns), and I’m fond of it.
The Unquiet Dead takes us on Rose’s first trip into the past. It’s Cardiff at Christmas, 1869; the Doctor was aiming for 1860 Naples, Italy, but missed—hardly an uncommon occurrence. Though set at Christmas, it’s not a Christmas special; the wiki states—and I am inclined to agree—that it’s the closest thing Eccleston has to a Christmas special, as he left before the 2005 Christmas season. We get our first mention of the time-space rift at Cardiff, which will become a major plot point for the Torchwood spinoff. By coincidence, Eve Myles, who plays the housemaid Gwyneth here, will later play co-lead Gwen Cooper in Torchwood; in-universe, Gwen, who grew up near the rift, was sort of imprinted with Gwyneth’s features as a side effect, though they are not actually related.
Charles Dickens appears as a character here; his experiences here are a reference to his short novel, A Christmas Carol, but not the inspiration for the book, as he has already written it. His experience here is eerily parallel to that of Vincent Van Gogh in Vincent and the Doctor, even to the point that both characters will die within a year of their experience with the Doctor. I’ve also compared this episode previously with several others, including Hide and Ghost Light.
The plot begins with the dead reviving, causing problems in town, and especially at a local funeral parlor. The dead are being possessed by the disembodied Gelth, aliens from a doomed world who have come through the rift; their world was destroyed in the Time War, here named for the first time. However, most of their survivors are trapped on the other side of the rift; they need it opened to come through, and the serving girl Gwyneth—who has a form of telepathy—can open it. As soon as she does so, however, the Gelth reveal their true colors—literally—and their greater numbers, and attempt to wipe out humanity so as to claim the Earth. Gwyneth sacrifices herself to close the rift and destroy them.
Gwyneth gives us our second “Bad Wolf” reference, in regard to Rose’s thoughts. The Doctor makes a groaner of a pun, stating that “I love a happy medium!” in reference to Gwyneth. Dickens makes a funny line when he shouts “What the Shakespeare?!” in an obvious play on the phrase “What the dickens?”—which, incidentally, predates him and has nothing to do with his name. This foray into the past arguably puts the idea into Rose’s head to visit her deceased father (Father’s Day). And finally, Dickens concludes with “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Even for you, Doctor.” Which just about sums up everything you need to know about Doctor Who and why we all watch it.
Next time: Aliens of London, World War Three, and Dalek! See you there.
All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.