DOCTOR WHO (2005) series 1, episode 1
WRITER: RUSSELL T. DAVIES
DIRECTOR: KEITH BOAK
AIR DATE: March 26 2005
Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) is leading a perfectly normal life in London, living at home with her mother Jackie (Camille Coduri), coasting along in a non-committal relationship with boyfriend Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke), and working in a busy department store in the city centre. Her mundane existence is disturbed one evening when the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) arrives and rescues her from the Autons, an army of brought-to-life mannequins which the Doctor demolishes with a bomb, along with the department store building where Rose works. The Doctor turns up at Rose’s home the next day where he is attacked and throttled by a mannequin’s arm. After a fierce struggle, he immobilizes the arm and then departs, leaving Rose with a horde of unanswered questions.
Rose decides to track down her mysterious rescuer and arranges to meet Clive (Mark Benton) who has been tracing the Doctor’s appearances throughout history. Clive tells her that whenever the Doctor appears, danger follows. Meanwhile, Mickey who has been waiting for Rose outside Clive’s home is abducted and replaced by a plastic doppelgänger. Plastic Mickey takes the unwitting Rose for a pizza to interrogate her about the Doctor. At the restaurant, the Doctor turns up and provokes fake Mickey into violent action, which ends with the Doctor decapitating the creature. In the TARDIS, the Doctor uses the plastic head to trace the source of its power, and he and Rose travel to the London Eye.
In an underground area beneath the iconic landmark, the duo find the real Mickey tied up. There they also come face-to-face with the Nestene Consciousness, an alien entity whose hulking form and elastic features swirl below them in a large vat of molten plastic. The malevolent creature has been using the Eye as a makeshift transmitter to raise an Auton army to conquer Earth. Angry words are exchanged as the Doctor commands the Consciousness to cease from world domination and holds a vial of anti-plastic solution over the enraged creature, who blames the Doctor for the destruction of its home planet during the Time War. Two Autons sneak up behind the Doctor and grab him, holding him captive. The Consciousness then activates some mannequins at a nearby shopping arcade, turning them into a lethal swarm of Autons. In the ensuing chaos, many shoppers are shot dead, including Clive. When Rose sees that the Doctor is in serious trouble, she instinctively launches into action and saves him while swinging at the end of an industrial chain, knocking the Doctor’s Auton captors and the anti-plastic vial into the vat below, killing the Consciousness. With the Consciousness dead, the Auton swarm collapses lifelessly to the ground. The Doctor takes Mickey and Rose home in the TARDIS and, with the promise of exciting adventures, he convinces Rose to join him as his new companion.
Back in 2005 as a life-long fan of Doctor Who, news of the time-travelling hero’s return - appearing in his ninth incarnation after a 16-year hiatus from our TV screens (discounting the 1996 TV Movie) - was a really big deal. With the passage of time and the hubris of that glorious comeback a distant memory, I am able to review this seminal episode with a greater objectivity than I would have back then. Having watched it several times over the years, it was and remains a very fine episode, a solid series opener hinting at greatness ahead. However, in a less flattering post-hubris light, some aspects of its production now feel a little bit underwhelming. In particular, the villainous Autons come across as a little bit bland, lacking the essential creepiness of their 1970 counterparts, who were the bane of the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee)
. Perhaps seeing mannequins running fast in the manner of ordinary people has diluted the eeriness, or perhaps their faces were not quite as sinister as those of their 1970 cousins. Indeed, some of the mannequin faces with their square-shaped and sharp-ridged features unfortunately reminded me of Kryten, the droll android from the UK sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf. Whatever the problem, I found the tone to be slightly off and the magic spark consequently missing.
That gripe aside, there is much else to enjoy here. Near the start of the episode, watching the Doctor save the day using a bomb, rather than resorting to his trusty sonic screwdriver, is a refreshing moment and a nice introduction to a very modern Doctor. Some early scenes in Rose’s home are highly amusing, including the Doctor curtly dismissing Jackie Tyler’s sexual charms and Rose regarding the Doctor’s deadly tussle with a mannequin’s arm as nothing more than a bloke-ish prank. There’s also a fantastic speech, delivered with gravitas by Eccleston, about the fragility and wonder of human life, positioned as it is on a giant spinning rock in the vastness of the cosmos, that really grips the listener. Billie Piper, a one-time, short-lived pop sensation in the late 1990s, is also an unexpected joy, bringing feistiness to the role of Rose and refusing to tread the antiquated and clichéd path of damsel in distress. At one point she reverses roles with the Doctor, magnificently rescuing him, Lara Croft-style, from the Nestene Consciousness. In that one defining moment, we sense that Rose is going to be awesome, neither playing it safe nor playing second fiddle to the Doctor.
Overall, then, it’s an excellent start to the Doctor’s new adventures, despite the undistinguished nature of the Autons. Christopher Eccleston, in particular, shines with his brilliant mixture of conviction and clowning, channelling a little bit of Hartnell and a little bit of Troughton, while marking the role with his own unique stamp. And with an equally charismatic performance from Billie Piper as Rose, it feels like we are in safe hands for the road ahead.