Doctor Who: revived show (season one and two review)


Click here for introduction page
Click here for season one episodes
Click here for season two episodes

“She’s gonna smack you if you keep calling her ‘she’!”
Rose: ‘Dalek’ (s1 e6)

“Some of the old stuff, the patriarchal know-it-all and his helpless companion, that’s been got rid of.”
Christopher Eccleston

To be clear about this, the new Doctor Who is the same as the old show; it has simply been updated in certain areas to make it work now. It’s neither better nor worse. It’s just more digestible for audiences today. The doctor is much the same as he always has been. He’s not the frequently disapproving (old fashioned) patriarchal figure as portrayed by William Hartnell, Jon Pertwee or Sylvester McCoy, but he is just as bad tempered, just as manipulative and just as much of a know-it-all as he ever was.

Rose: “You think you’re so impressive.”
The Doctor: “I am so impressive!”
Rose: “You wish!”
‘The End of the World’ (s1 e2)

The previous companions were not all quite as helpless as is sometimes suggested (“You know how they are, the weaker sex and everything, twisting their ankle on behalf of the little ice-cream cone,” as Frank Zappa once said), but the show was very much of its time and in this post-‘Buffy’ era we have, perhaps, taken a few faltering steps away from all of that.

“Piper is perfect in the role of Dr Who’s sidekick Rose Tyler, conveying a winning mix of streetwise pluck, cool glamour and a kind of been-there, done-that savvy.”
Craig McLean, Daily Telegraph 25 November 2005

It could be argued, in fact should be argued, that the most important feature of the new Doctor Who is the writing of Russell T Davies and his colleagues, but there are all sorts of reasons why the show has been such a huge success. Billie Piper and the character she plays, Rose Tyler, forms just one part of that, but it’s a big piece of the overall jigsaw.

Despite the claims of a small but vocal minority that she is awful and wooden, Billie Piper really can act. Perhaps more importantly, she projects a very real likeability in her performances. I was certainly guilty of being doubtful of the casting when it was first announced. However, it was immediately evident from the first episode onwards that I had been very wrong. I think she may well be the new Queen of Blub – some of the episodes are real emotional rollercoaster rides!

The evidence of her very real talent is clear for everyone to see, not just in Doctor Who but also in ‘The Miller’s Tale’, ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘Spirit Trap’, a film in which Piper makes the most of a largely threadbare script.

The old wobbly sets and laughable special effects never bothered me and I can still happily watch old Doctor Who episodes with the glow of nostalgia.

When I was twelve-years-old, watching the show in the Jon Pertwee era, I thought it looked fantastic. Later on, when there was no longer any denying the cut-price quality of it all, it still didn’t bother me in the slightest. It’s all part of the charm of the show and, in fact, they did a tremendous job with next to no resources. It’s the story that counted and during the various times down the years when I was watching I always found it endlessly interesting. The new show apparently has, by BBC standards, a very generous budget, something that is immediately apparent. The sets aren’t wobbling these days like they used to.

I was a bit worried that the “improved” special effects might detract from the charm of the show but that hasn’t been the case. The writing is too good to allow that to happen. The characters and the story is what continues to make it so good.

In the season two episode ‘The Satan Pit’ the doctor discovers a seal deep inside the core of an inhospitable mining planet, a remnant of an ancient and long forgotten civilisation. This is one of several examples of an episode that appears to have its roots in a ‘Buffy’ storyline. As an example, in ‘The Unquiet Dead’, the third episode of season one, a young servant girl is the mystical key that can open and close a rift in time and space, allowing gaseous creatures to pass through from their dead world to the planet Earth.

Rose Tyler is nineteen-years-old and lives with her mum Jackie in a high-rise block on an anonymous council estate. She works on the shop floor of a department store and has a boyfriend called Mickey. When the store is blown up and she finds herself out of a job, Jackie variously suggests that she claim for compensation for traumatic shock, sell her story to the Daily Mirror and get herself a job in the local butchers.

“Well, it might do you good! That shop was giving you airs and graces,” Jackie reasons.

Rose wonders if she should apply for a job in the canteen of the local hospital or go back and take her A-levels. “Is that it, then… dishing out chips?” she says to Mickey.

There are a couple of clever pieces of dialogue in the first two episodes that immediately establish that Rose is not going to be a “helpless (read “brainless”) sidekick. The first one, in ‘Rose’, occurs immediately after her first encounter with the doctor when he has rescued her from a bunch of killer mannequins in the basement of the department store.

Rose: “Very clever, nice trick! Who were they, then, students? Is this a student thing or what?”
The Doctor: “Why would they be students?”
Rose: “I dunno…”
The Doctor: “Well you said it.”
Rose: “Cause… to get that many people dressing up and being silly… they gotta be students.”
The Doctor: “That makes sense! Well done.”

The doctor is patronising, but the point is clear and it quickly becomes evident that Rose isn’t about to “twist her ankle on behalf of the little ice cream cone.” As the show progresses we learn that she’s very inquisitive and independent and perhaps has been stifled by her life up until now. As she says in the voiceover that opens ‘Army of Ghosts’, the penultimate episode of the second season:

“The first nineteen years of my life, nothing happened. Nothing at all. Not ever.”

In ‘The End of the World’, the second episode of the first season, the doctor, trying to impress her, takes her five billions of years into the future to the day when the sun expands and the planet Earth is destroyed.

Rose: “But, hold on, they did this once on Newsround Extra - the sun expanding - that takes hundreds of years.”
The Doctor: “Millions. But the planet’s now the property of the National Trust. They’ve been keeping it preserved. See down there? Gravity satellite. That’s holding back the sun.”
Rose: “The planet looks the same as ever. I thought the continents shifted and things.”
The Doctor: “They did. And the Trust shifted them back. That’s a classic Earth. But now the money’s run out, nature takes over.”

This scene, and two others later on in the episode, forming the three parts of a trilogy, is important to establishing a theme for the season. It also tells us a great deal about Rose. This is her very first trip with the doctor and has followed immediately on from the events of the opening episode.

As the second episode progresses she does become overwhelmed by the situation she finds herself in. As she tells the one person she can relate to, a young female worker on the observation platform, with increasing alarm in her voice, “I just, sort of, hitched a ride with this man. I didn’t even think about it… I don’t even know who he is… he’s a complete stranger…” However, she is not overawed by the idea of travelling into the future and seeing this incredible spectacle. To use something the film director James Toback once said, she’s restlessly inclined to new discovery. She might get her information from Newsround Extra, but it’s the right information, she remembers it and she constantly questions things. She isn’t prepared to just accept what is spoon-fed to her.

‘The End of the World’ is an episode that gets better each time I watch it. There is a theme running through the season that doesn’t become entirely clear until the end of all thirteen episodes. It means that each episode unlocks new information and subtleties in the writing on each new viewing. We learn that the doctor fought on the front line of the last great time war, which saw his people wiped out. He is the last remaining Time Lord and travels the universe on his own. He is war-weary and jaded, possibly even shell-shocked. He carries around an enormous amount guilt and anger inside. He can be callous and cruel, but his compassion is still present, as is his lust for adventure. Rose gives new meaning to his life.

At the end of the second episode Rose is upset that nobody actually saw the Earth being destroyed because they were too busy saving themselves. The Doctor takes her back to her own time and they stand in the middle of a crowded street, while he confesses to her that he is the sole survivor of a terrible war. He asks if she wants him to take her home.

The Doctor: “You’ve seen how dangerous it is. Do you want to go home?”
Rose: “I don’t know. I want… Oh! Can you smell chips? I want chips!”
The Doctor: “Me, too.”
Rose: “Right then, before you get me back in that box, chips it is… and you can pay.”
The Doctor: “No money.”
Rose: “What sort of date are you? Come on, tightwad, chips are on me.”

Rose falls in love with the doctor (“Quite right, too,” as he tells her during their final emotionally traumatic meeting at the end of the season two finale ‘Doomsday’). That much is clear, although she occasionally tries to deny it, continues to cling onto her boyfriend Mickey, has a brief fling with a boy called Adam and is very flirtatious with Captain Jack.

Captain Jack: “Tricky thing, psychic paper.”
Rose: “Yeah… can’t let your mind wonder when you’re handing it over.”
Captain Jack: “Oh, you ‘sort of’ have a boyfriend called Mickey Smith but you consider yourself to be footloose and fancy free.”
Rose: “Wha…”
Captain Jack: “Actually, the word you use is ‘available’.”
Rose: “No way!”
Captain Jack: “And another one - ‘very’!”

The doctor’s feelings are sometimes more difficult to gage. At the time of their very first meeting he is patronising and simply wants to be rid of her.

“I’m going to go up there and blow them up and I might well die in the process. But don’t worry about me, no. Go home… go on! Go and have your lovely beans on toast.”

However, he is clearly very lonely and he constantly tries to impress her.

Rose: “Who are you?”
The Doctor: “I told you. The Doctor.”
Rose: “Yeah, but Doctor what?”
The Doctor: “Just the Doctor.”
Rose: “The Doctor?”
The Doctor: “Hello!”
Rose: “Is that supposed to sound impressive?”
The Doctor: “Sort of.”
‘Rose’ (s1 e2)

Having taken her forward in time in ‘The End of the Word’, the doctor continues to try to impress her by taking her back in time in ‘The Quiet Undead’.

The Doctor: “I got the flight a bit wrong.”
Rose: “I don’t care.”
The Doctor: “It’s not 1860, it’s 1869.”
Rose: “I don’t care!”
The Doctor: “And it’s not Naples.”
Rose: “I don’t care.”
The Doctor: “It’s Cardiff.”
Rose: “…Right…”

Later on in the same episode, his feelings are more open.

Rose: “We’ll go down fighting, yeah? Together?”
The Doctor: “I’m so glad I met you.”

‘The Unquiet Dead’ sees Rose once again form a bond with the person she most identifies with, a young scullery maid called Gwyneth. Having given Sneed, the owner of the funeral parlour where Gwyneth is employed, a piece of her mind, “First of all you drug me, then you kidnap me, and don’t think I didn’t feel your hands having a quick wander, you dirty old man,” she is quick to protect Gwyneth in the face of the doctor’s apparent insensitivity.

“I’ve told you, leave her alone. She’s exhausted and she’s not fighting your battles.”

Having said that, it doesn’t mean she is impervious to making judgements of her own.

Rose: “I don’t care. They’re not using her.”
Gwyneth: “Don’t I get a say, miss?”
Rose: “Look, you don’t understand what’s going on.”
Gwyneth: “You would say that, miss. Because that’s very clear inside your head that you think I’m stupid.”
Rose: “That’s not fair!”
Gwyneth: “It’s true, though. Things might be very different where you’re from. But here and now, I know my own mind.”

This is an interesting episode because it’s a good example of the theme of ethical responsibility that weaves its way through the season, as the doctor’s mix of carefree adventurism and dark introspection is constantly brought into sharp focus and Rose is left to question his apparently very alien sense of morality. It doesn’t hurt, of course, to have an actor as good as Christopher Eccleston in the central role.

Rose: “It’s just… wrong! Those bodies were living people! We should respect them… even in death.”
The Doctor: “Do you carry a donor card?”
Rose: “That’s different, that’s…”
The Doctor: “It’s different, yeah. It’s a different morality. Get used to it or go home.”

The doctor is very callous and his reasoning is deeply suspect because he is driven by guilt. The gaseous creatures begging for his help have manipulated him, using his guilt to trick him into serving their purpose. However, it isn’t quite that simple, because only one thing can close the rift and whatever he does, ultimately he must condemn Gwyneth to death.

The doctor has become embittered by the war, but Rose helps to restore his faith in humanity and he is increasingly forced to question his own moral centre, something that is particularly relevant in season one episodes like ‘Dalek’, ‘Boom Town’ and ‘The Parting of the Ways’.

It is looked at in a slightly different way near to the end of ‘The Doctor Dances’, when he shouts out, “Everybody lives, Rose! Everybody lives!” It is one of the very few occasions when the choice is so easy and it focuses attention on the difficult decisions he constantly has to make.

A theme that is present throughout both seasons is the conflict Rose constantly faces between the adventure with the doctor and her old life back on Earth, as viewed through the eyes of her mum Jackie, her boyfriend Mickey, and her own internal feelings of loss and grief about her dad Pete, who died when she was just a baby.

Near to the beginning of ‘The Quiet Undead’, when the Tardis has materialised in what they think is Naples, Rose says:

“That’s so weird… it’s Christmas. But, it’s like… think about it, though. Christmas. 1860. Happens once. Just once and it’s gone. It’s finished. It’ll never happen again. Except for you. You can go back and see days that are dead and gone and a hundred thousand sunsets ago… no wonder you never stay still.”

Going back to the opening episode, ‘Rose’, as the episode comes to an end the doctor says, “Right then, I’ll be off! Unless, uh… I don’t know… you could come with me.” Mickey, who is terrified, crumpled to the ground and clinging onto Rose for dear life, exclaims,
“Don’t! He’s an alien! He’s a thing!”

Rose: “Is it always this dangerous?”
The Doctor: “Yeah.”
Rose: “Yeah, I can’t… I, um… gotta go and find my mum and, um… someone’s gotta look after this stupid lummox… so…”

Mickey is initially presented to us as being rather hapless, easy going but seemingly without any ambitions and quite content to simply drift along. The ninth doctor (Christopher Eccleston) constantly winds him up by calling him “Ricky” and the tenth doctor (David Tennant) takes to referring to him as “Mickey the Idiot”. Without question, this condescending attitude is partly driven by jealousy. What is clear is that Mickey genuinely cares about Rose and while his willingness to always wait for her might, on the surface, make him appear to be rather weak, he adds an interesting dynamic to the narrative.

“You left me! We were nice! We were happy! And then what, you give me a kiss and you run off with him and you make me feel like nothing, Rose. I was nothing! I can’t even go out with a stupid girl from a shop because you pick up the phone and I come running. I mean, is that what I am, Rose, standby? Am I just supposed to sit here for the rest of my life, waiting for you? Because I will.” ‘Boom Town’ (s1 e11)

Rose’s mum Jackie is, much like Mickey, initially presented to us as a slightly comic figure, but as we learn more about her in later episodes she evolves into a much more substantial character.

In ‘Rose’, after the department store where her daughter works has been blown up, she revels in the attention it brings, gossiping with friends on the phone.

“I know! It’s on the telly! It’s everywhere! She’s lucky to be alive! Honestly, it’s aged her. Skin like an old bible. Walking in now you’d think I was her daughter!”

In the same episode she has her first encounter with the doctor (she has no idea who or what he is) when he turns up at the flat.

Jackie: “I’m in my dressing gown.”
The Doctor: “Yes, you are.”
Jackie: “There’s a strange man in my bedroom.”
The Doctor: “Yes, there is.”
Jackie: “Well, anything could happen.”
The Doctor: “…No…”

However, there is one thing above all else that must remembered about Jackie. She brought up Rose on her own and the person Rose has grown up to become rather speaks for itself. There is a very interesting conversation between Jackie and her daughter in ‘Army of Ghosts’ in season two.

Jackie: “When I’m dead and buried, you won’t have any reason to come back. What happens then?”
Rose: “I don’t know.”
Jackie: “Do you think you’ll ever settle down?”
Rose: “The doctor never will, so I can’t. I’ll just keep on travelling.”
Jackie: “And you’ll keep on changing. And in forty years time, fifty, there’ll be this woman… this strange woman… walking through the market place on some strange planet a billion miles from Earth. She’s not Rose Tyler. Not anymore. She’s not even human…”

There is never any question of the love Jackie feels for her daughter, or the love that Rose has for her. In ‘Aliens of London’, the fourth episode of the first season, the doctor and Rose return for the first time since the events of the first episode. By the doctor’s calculations, twelve hours have passed. However, as is so often the case, a theme long existing in the show, his calculations are wrong and, in fact, it has now been twelve months.

Rose has been missing for a whole year and her mum and friends have been left not knowing where she is or what has happened to her. Only Mickey knows the truth and his knowledge that she has been “abducted” by an alien isn’t helping him. He is the main suspect connected to the disappearance and is ostracised and worse on the estate.

Mickey: “You disappear. Who do they turn to? Your boyfriend! Five times I was taken in for questioning. Five times. No evidence, of course. There couldn’t be, could there? And then I get her… your mother. Whispering around the estate, pointing the finger, stuff through my letterbox… and all ‘cause of you!”
Rose: “I didn’t think I’d be gone so long.”
Mickey: “And I was waiting for you, Rose! Twelve months. Waiting for you and the doctor to come back.”
Jackie: “Hold on! You knew about the doctor? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Mickey: “Yeah, yeah, why not Rose, huh? How could I tell her where you went?”

This is something the show paid little more than lip-service to in the past, the consequences of leaving a life behind to go off with the doctor, but Russell T Davies made it clear it was paramount to the story he wanted to tell.

The Doctor: “Nine hundred years of time and space and I’ve never been slapped by someone’s mother.”
Rose: “Your face…”
The Doctor: “It hurt!”
Rose: “You’re so gay!”

Doctor Who is targeted at a family audience and Russell T Davies clearly states that he writes it primarily for the children watching, although there is a sizeable adult audience of people who grew up with the show and remain loyal to it. It is estimated that the core adult “online” fanbase, those people who remained committed when the original show came to an end, routinely buying the monthly magazine, the various novels, the audio tapes, videos and DVDs, as well as tuning into the radio productions and the 1996 film, amounts to about eight thousand.

The new show has an average audience of about eight million, or 13.5% of the total population of the UK. It’s shown on Saturday teatime. It’s a show about a Time Lord who travels around in time and space and has lots of adventures in which he encounters a variety of weird and wonderful (or silly) aliens. It is not a hugely complex character study and yet that is exactly what is happening. The revived show features everything expected of Doctor Who, but the stories are very much character driven.

Christopher Eccleston’s doctor is almost a kind of ‘Ethan Edwards’ type character and Eccleston is a perfect actor to portray someone like this. All of his guilt and anger and fear and darkness comes spilling out in the sixth episode, ‘Dalek’.

The Doctor: “Get out of the way! Rose, get out of the way… now!”
Rose: “No, ‘cause I won’t let you do this!”
The Doctor: “That thing killed hundreds of people!”
Rose: “It’s not the one pointing the gun at me.”
The Doctor: “I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to end it. The Daleks destroyed my home, my people. I’ve got nothing left.”

Rose: “It couldn’t kill Van Statten… it couldn’t kill me. It’s changing. What about you, doctor? What the hell are you changing into?”

Rose will question and challenge the doctor, but equally she is not perfect. The more wrapped up she becomes in the adventure, the more she is inclined to take her mum for granted. She clearly cares for Mickey, but her treatment of him is questionable and she certainly doesn’t give enough regard to his feelings.

In ‘School Reunion’, the third episode of season two, the doctor is unexpectedly reunited with Sarah Jane Smith and K9, while investigating strange occurrences in a school, something that interestingly he and Rose have been alerted to by Mickey. There is immediate antipathy between Rose and Sarah Jane.

Sarah Jane: “You can tell you’re getting older. Your assistants are getting younger.”
Rose: “I’m not his assistant!”

Rose: “I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but who exactly are you?”
Sarah Jane: “Sarah Jane Smith. I used to travel with the doctor.”
Rose: “Oh! Well, he’s never mentioned you.”
The Doctor: “Oh, I must have done! Sarah Jane… Mention her all the time.”
Rose: “Hold on… sorry… never.”

: “Look, no offence, but could you two just stop petting for a minute? Never mind the tin dog, we’re busy!”

Mickey takes great delight in all of this, telling her, “See, what’s impressive is that it’s been nearly an hour since we met her and I still haven’t said, ‘I told you so!’ Although, I have prepared a little ‘I was right’ dance I can show you later. All this time you’ve been giving it, ‘He’s different’… when the truth is, he’s just like any other bloke!”

The episode has already seen Mickey on the receiving end of the doctor’s dismissive and condescending attitude towards him.

Mickey: “Sorry! Sorry, it was only me. You told me to investigate, so I started looking through some of these cupboards and all of these fell out of them.”
Rose: “Oh my God! They’re rats. Dozens of rats. Vacuum packed rats!”
The Doctor: “And you decided to scream?”
Mickey: “It took me by surprise!”
The Doctor: “Like a little girl?”
Mickey: “It was dark! I was covered in rats!”
The Doctor: “Nine, maybe ten years old. I’m seeing pigtails, frilly skirt…”

When Mickey’s chance comes to give the doctor a taste of his own medicine, he grabs it with both hands.

“Ho, ho, mate! The missus and the ex. Welcome to every man’s worst nightmare.”

But the truth finally hits him.

Mickey: “So, what’s the deal with the tin dog?”
Sarah Jane: “The doctor likes travelling with an entourage. Sometimes their humans, sometimes they’re aliens and sometimes… they’re tin dogs. What about you? Where do you fit in the picture?”
Mickey: “Me? I’m their Man in Havana. I’m the technical support, I’m… Oh my God! I’m the tin dog!”

The truth is also beginning to dawn on Rose.

Rose: “How many of us have there been, travelling with you?”
The Doctor: “Does it matter?”
Rose: “Yeah, it does, if I’m just the latest in a long line…”
The Doctor: “As opposed to what?”
Rose: “I thought you and me were… but I obviously got it wrong. I’ve been to the year five billion, right, but this… now this is really seeing the future. You just leave us behind. Is that what you’re going to do to me?”

Rose does display a rather callous attitude towards Mickey, constantly flaunting the doctor in front of him and allowing her feelings to be known, while still giving Mickey reasons to cling onto the hope that she might return to him. She persuades Mickey to travel to Cardiff to see her on a false pretext in the season one episode ‘Boom Town’, but when he arrives he discovers that she is now not only travelling with the doctor but also Captain Jack. As Mickey quite reasonably asks, “What are you Captain of, the Innuendo Squad?”

Mickey (talking to Rose): “You look fantastic!”
Captain Jack: “Aww, sweet, look at these two. How come I never get any of that?”
The Doctor: “Buy me a drink first.”
Captain Jack: “You’re such hard work.”
The Doctor: “But worth it.”

When Rose is tricked by the doctor in ‘The Parting of the Ways’ and sent back to Earth to save her from a certain death, honouring a promise he made to Jackie, she is distraught and once again she tramples all over Mickey’s feelings.

Mickey: “You’ve got to start living your own life. You know, a proper life, like the kind he’s never had. The sort of life you could have with me… … Rose, if you go back you’re gonna die.”
Rose: “That’s a risk I’ve gotta take, ‘cause there’s nothing left for me here.”
Mickey: “Nothing?”
Rose: “No.”

At the very end of ‘The Parting of the Ways’, the final episode of the first season, the doctor regenerates into his tenth incarnation. The immediate aftermath of this is dealt with in a mini-episode shown as part of the BBC ‘Children in Need’ appeal and then immediately continues when the Tardis crash lands on the council estate where Jackie and Mickey live on Christmas Eve at the beginning of the episode ‘A Christmas Invasion’.

Rose: “Send him back. I’m warning you, send him back right now… … Can you change back?”
The (New) Doctor: “Do you want me to?”
Rose: “Yeah.”
The Doctor: “Oh.”
Rose: “Can you?”
The Doctor: “No.”

As ‘A Christmas Invasion’ begins Jackie is decorating a Christmas tree. She sits down and holds a wrapped present in her lap, a sad and pensive expression on her face. The gift tag shows that it is for Rose. The last time she saw her daughter, she was taking the Tardis back into the distant future in a desperate attempt to save the doctor, stop the Daleks and prevent the Earth from being destroyed and all the people on it wiped out. The likely scenario was that Rose would die and her mum and Mickey were left behind with no way of knowing what had happened. The show does deal with the consequences of the big adventure.

Of course, Russell T Davies is also fond of his ‘Carry on Doctor Who’ moments. The doctor spends much of ‘A Christmas Invasion’ in a comatose state, lying on a bed in Jackie’s flat. Rose checks that his hearts are still beating.

Rose: “Both working.”
Jackie: “What do you mean, both?”
Rose: “He’s got two hearts.”
Jackie: “Oh, don’t be stupid!”
Rose: “He has!”
Jackie: “Anything else he’s got two of?”
Rose: “Leave him alone!”

The 2006 Christmas special, ‘The Runaway Bride’, kicks off the third season that will then premiere with the first episode proper sometime around March 2007. This will be the first season without Rose, Jackie and Mickey.

It’s the way the show has always been, but Rose will be a hard act to follow. There is a real case for saying she might just be the best fellow traveller yet – although, of course, Sarah Jane was a hard act to follow and the show managed that. The new companion (sorry, I’m just used to the term) is a character called Martha Jones. Her family - parents, brother and sister - will all feature in season three.

Rose’s story was brilliantly told and two seasons is just right, leaving us wanting more. She will never run the risk of outstaying her welcome.


No comments: