Aired 26 March 2005
Following the failed TV Movie in 1996, the chances of ever seeing Doctor Who on screens again seemed miniscule, novelizations and audios the only ongoing sources of new adventures for the erstwhile Time Lord. In the early 2000s, though, dramatic series with a sci-fi/fantasy twist really started to resonate with audiences looking for an escape, with franchises like Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer proving immensely popular. Spurred on by the persistence of Russell T Davies, a massive Doctor Who fan who had already made his name with hits such as Queer as Folk and The Second Coming, the BBC executives finally greenlit the production of thirteen new episodes of Doctor Who to air in 2005, hoping to recapture the magic that had originally made the franchise so popular while giving it a much-needed update for modern audiences.
As the first episode of the new era of Doctor Who, ‘Rose’ sets off to do the seemingly impossible: reintroduce the Doctor and the TARDIS, bring aboard a dynamic new companion, and tell a story with the traditional alien presence that keeps audiences engaged and interested. Featuring a snappy 45-minute format for its self-contained episodes, the programme put its trust in its new leads Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper, and ‘Rose’ finally went out on 26 March 2005.
‘Rose’ wastes no time in setting the scene and jumping into the action. Within a minute viewers are taken from a panoramic view of Earth from space to Rose’s bedroom and whisked through a day in her life as she wakes up, says goodbye to her mother, goes to her department store job, leaves for lunch and to spend some time with her boyfriend Mickey, and then goes back to work until five. This is a huge amount of backstory in a short time, but it clearly shows what her life is and explains why she may be so open to change later in the story. It is this sense of daily life, however, that would prove to be a contentious point among viewers and fans. Rose’s life on Earth would continue to demand a lot of screen time throughout the series, calling for frequent visits back to modern-day Earth, and while that approach at times does detract from the main storyline, there is also no denying that it makes Rose one of the most well-rounded companions in the show’s history and allows for a very nice contrast between ‘normal’ life and the Doctor’s.
There were two approaches that could be taken for the introduction of the Doctor- either to focus on mythology and show a regeneration like the TV Movie or to just throw viewers into the middle of an adventure and piece together history as the story progresses. Wisely, Davies chooses the latter approach and the first scene with the new Ninth Doctor is simply him yelling “Run!” to a frightened Rose being pursued by a group of plastic mannequins. In fact, all of the information garnered about him is that he is a man with a large blue box that seems to periodically appear throughout time when impending doom is present. Right from the start, though, it is apparent that this is a no-nonsense version of the character as he sports a battered leather jacket with no sense of eccentricity his predecessors had often outwardly adorned. He also proves to be quite difficult to read as he could instantly switch from amiable to morose and condescending, prone to angry outburst and not showing patience with Rose’s mother and boyfriend. There is a dark sense of comedy present in the characterization early on, but this is clearly a Doctor burdened by his past who just wants to get on with the business at hand. Considering the range of emotions needing to be displayed so effectively at such pace, there is no denying that Eccleston makes a very strong debut.
Doctor Who has never been just about the Doctor, though, and so the duty of playing a captivating companion was fulfilled by Billie Piper as Rose. Quickly shrugging off doubts about her acting ability due to her pop background, Piper instantly infused Rose with a combination of intelligence, wit, fearlessness, and loyalty to both the Doctor and her family, making her character a perfect match for the Time Lord. As mentioned, though, with Rose came her mother Jackie and her boyfriend Mickey, played by Camille Coduri and Noel Clarke, respectively. While at this point neither is given much to do aside from some expected clichés- both showing some degree of distrust and jealously to the Doctor and Mickey’s apparent fearful and angsty shortcomings brought to the forefront- both are solid casting choices that would pay big dividends down the road.
The classic run of Doctor Who was famous for how much it could achieve with such a limited budget, but Rose quickly allayed fears that that would be the case with the new series. Accompanied by a bold score, the camerawork, direction, and visual effects are all on-par with some feature films. The set pieces in front of the London Eye, running through the streets of London, and fighting the final battle are all very well-realised. Even the returning plastic Autons- from the subtle mannequin movements in the shadows to the all-out public attacks- and Nestene Consciousness are effectively brought to life, easily their most believable and overtly terrifying appearance. Sure, some of the moving plastic effects with Mickey and the garbage bin are a bit too overt, but they are nothing that detract too much from the overall narrative.
All in all, ‘Rose’ is a superb opening to a new generation and style of storytelling. Effectively introducing its dynamic two leads and bolstered by a blistering script and big-budget visuals, it’s easy to see why the episode captured the public’s imaginations and successfully began the revitalization of the brand.