Ten years ago today I was basking in the afterglow of Rose, the pilot episode of the revamped Doctor Who series. Late night internet chats about the show and, more importantly at the time, the additional surprise of Doctor Who Confidential, were abuzz. When I think back, the return of Who was a much bigger deal than the night the ’96 TV movie was simulcast, and vastly more exciting than the complacency with which I watched Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred walking off into the sunset in search of tea and chocolate hobnobs.
My review on livejournal had brief, confirming that the addition of the music music and special effects were a marked improvement on the famously leaked CBC flashcut which had been leaked some time earlier. That leak had spawned my initial review, which focused on the new Doctor – I had been surprised at Eccleston’s casting, given that he liked change and hadn’t really stayed with anything before. Prophetic perhaps, but the rumours of him being a short term Doctor were already circulating. I could see why Russell T Davies had chosen him, and commented that Eccleston’s “Manic Manc” routine worked well as an in-yer-face introduction to the information overload that the pilot story needed to give to the audience. I could also see why Eccleston took the role. I had hated every performance he’d ever given until this one. In advance I had rented out Revenger’s Tragedy to try and get a handle on him, and I had found myself switching it off half way through. But to see Eccleston as the grinning -but-tormented Doctor who hides his pain and his ability to manipulate with a smile, he was great.
I wasn’t 100% certain the costume, and even with all the War Doctor retconning we got later on it still stands out as… well i described it beck then as making the Doctor inconspicuous rather than noticeable. I had always assumed that the ever-flamboyant costumes were a way to distract attention away from the companions, rather than a means of accentuating the Doctor’s quirks. Then again, he’s been around the universe so many times I conceded that he could probably do with a dose of inconspicuity.
My thoughts Rose were, with hindsight, more sceptical than I remember. I called her the chav companion – a deliberate cross between Buffy and Vicky Pollard. Wow, that makes Little Britain over ten years old as well. I did concede that Billie Piper brought credibility to a cultural generation I never quite understood, and she certainly felt like a 19 year old trapped in the wrong world. Her final jump into the TARDIS also felt right, although having the foreknowledge that she would keep in touch with home throughout her adventures with the Doctor felt weird. A decade on the whole thing seems normal – as normal as when Sarah Jane was a companion – but it somehow felt different back the . Wrong almost.
Of all the companions, despite her ties, Rose looked like the girl most likely to not look back! Well, besides Ace.
The TARDIS looked great, if a little functional and claustrophobic. I got the feeling the Doctor didn’t hang around inside it much anymore. I did like the connection between the inner and outer doors though, the coral-over-girders effect and the Angel of the North chic worked well, and i wasn’t pining for stark whites or even the Vernian makeover of ’96. Even better, I could actually can tell that it was inspired by the drawings of Bryan Hitch, although i wasn’t so enamoured of the wobbly hand rail and the big gas-bag over the time rotor though.
The Plot – it reminded me of the last episode of an old four parter, and so far as I could tell it was more about Rose than about the Autons, who were incidental. The plot therefore didn’t stand up much, but then I knew that’s wasn’t really the point and found myself quite forgiving. It also set us up with a hint about what was to come – in the form of the Time War war and all that followed.
Overall I was impressed. I had my moment of dread (the burping wheelie bin), and I recalled how that fear of cheap child-friendly gimmicks stayed with me throughout the entire first season. Such hindsight tells me that the settling down of such inconsistencies was the main reason series two felt so much more comfortable, even though it was series one that delivered the big punch I and Whodom had been waiting for.