« DOCTOR WHO: Season 1, Episode 4-6 | Main | Oooh wii uuuuu... »

DOCTOR WHO: Season 1, Episode 1-3

Before we begin, a little primer on how I'm going to do this.

Number one: this is not going to be a good way for people who have never seen the show to follow. I've seen and discussed the show, its episodes and storyarcs  a lot over the years, and I will give spoilers to everything that's happened in the show so far. That means that I will, in my review of a random season one episode, suddenly write about the season five finale, or the big cliffhanger in the middle of season three. I am writing these reviews from my perspective of already having seen the show, and I will write about storytelling, writing and every damn other thing I want.

Number two: these are not going to be recaps, but reviews. I am not interested in writing long "this happened, then that happened, and because of these things that happened". I will write opinions, discuss the show, how it tells its stories and what Doctor Who is. I, and you if there's anyone out there, aren't here to read about what happens on the show, we're here to discuss it. During these posts, hopefully we can find out what makes a classic Doctor Who-episode.

Number three: some of these posts are going to be short.

On rating and ranking: I will rate and rank every episode made of Doctor Who as we go along. The episode-rating will show up in the posts where I review the episode, the season-rating will show up in the post where I review the season finale. After each season, I will rank all the episodes in it in a seperate post. I will count Christmas Specials as the first episode in a season, except for after season four when they're going to be a part of "The Special Season" or whatever you want to call it. "The Hiatus Season" maybe. When I'm done with it all, I'll post a list ranking all the episodes in the entire show, if I bother. I hope I will.

With that out of the way, let's get this cracking.



ROSE. Season 1, episode 1.

 I love pilots and beginnings. I love seeing those storytelling cogs start up. Everything after flows from a beginning, and that beginning is always fascinating, even if it's bad. It's not always up to the standards of what comes after, as pilots have quite a lot to do, but I do enjoy seeing a story engine start up.

Science fiction-pilots are their own beasts. A normal pilot has its characters, their relationship and a setting, in addition to telling what I call a "blueprint story" - it's supposed to give you an insight into what kind of stories this show will tell and how it will tell it. Science fiction-pilots do all that, but in addition they're supposed to introduce and explain elements that are alien, otherworldly and strange, and they're supposed to do this in a seamless way. The characters have to inform the story, the story has to inform the universe, the universe has to be presented; both what you can do, how things work and how things WON'T work - though this last part is often ignored or saved for later.

"Rose" has even more to do. When this first season starts up again it's been sixteen years since the last episode of the show aired. People in Britain still remember the show, its stories and villians, not to mention The(ir) Doctor. So in addition to being a normal pilot, this episode needs to bring the show into the modern age, introduce The Doctor and his universe to a new audience without being to dull for those who already know. It needs to tell a story that's entertaining, tells you what type of story you'll see told in this show AND reminds its old viewers of typical Doctor Who-stories.

Having never seen any of the old show, I can't comment on how well it reminds viewers of old Doctor Who (I would think that some of its audience wanted a Dalek-story right away), but I think everyone knew they were in good hands the moment that theme and logo first rolls across the screen. It's such a classic theme, so otherworldly and alien, different really, while still being beautiful. It makes me feel like I've come home. It feels like an invitation; "Come here. A little closer. There you go. Let's have an adventure together."

We begin, aptly enough, in space. We see the moon, stars, Earth, England, London, we zoom in further down, into... Rose's bedroom. And then the synth pop begins. The terrible, terrible synth-pop.

As we see a well-written visual representation of Rose's dull existence (basically get up early, work, lunch, boyfriend, work, bed), the awful music drones on; the first fault of the episode already apparent. Giving the show a modern feel is absolutely the way to go, introducing Rose as a working class-woman, but it all comes across wrong here. Rose's mom is awful (and as much as I dislike Rose, I despise her mother), Mickey is annoying and overall it feels a bit like the show is jumping up and down, saying "look how modern we can be!". It goes further with the lenses and lightning, which make the show look incredibly cheap. It looks like something Disney Channel produced sometimes. You can almost feel the sets.

But back to the montage, which not only introduces Rose's life but also foreshadows this adventure's threat;  the dummies. It's a typical Doctor Who-idea - something that's all around us being used against us - but the episode has so many interesting things going on that the dummies, plastic and Nestene Conciousness get lost in the mix. They never feel particularly threatening, even if some shots of them are wonderfully creepy - the children dolls walking out of the toy store, for instance.

The episode is effective though; it only takes six minutes from meeting Rose until The Doctor comes bumbling into her life, taking her hand and saying "Run." I love that this is his first line and that it over the course of the series becomes a running (heh) gag. It never fails to make me grin.

Six minutes and The Doctor and Rose have met. Six minutes and we've seen Mickey and Rose's mum. Ten minutes and the threat is (sort of) defeated by blowing up the shop. We've had some scary and tense scenes, some silliness and some good fun already. Which brings me to the tone.

Russell T. Davies, having written this episode and nearly countless others, along with running the show for the first four seasons and some specials, aren't really my favorite Doctor Who writer by a long shot. I feel like he nails the dialogue of these characters, being witty and funny and delivering classic Who-lines such as the "Lots of planets have a north", but he pulls far too many easy solutions (we'll get to that in later reviews) and the tone he strikes is far too silly and hammy for my tastes (something we'll also get to in later episodes).

Russell T. Davis (RTD from here on out) for me, struggles with the tone of the show. Doctor Who has an incredibly difficult tone to nail, basically being funny and silly and scary and terrifying and suspenseful, but RTD just takes one step too many in the wrong direction for me. Mickey getting swallowed by the burping trashcan is a good example of this, as it's actually a pretty creepy scene until the trashcan burps. It undermines the horror with a cheap joke that's there for no particular reason. I get that the show is for kids and adults and teenagers, but this is too close to fart humor for my tastes, and it undermines the threat of the episode, making it silly instead of threatening. Every time the show does living plastic after that, all you see is the burping trash can.

Which, yeah, the villains. As I've said, I feel that this basically gets lost in the mix of the episode, as it's more about Rose and The Doctor than defeating the Nestene Conciousness, when you get right down to it. Sadly, making the villains something akin to a throwaway idea in the episode results in a feeling that there's not really that much going on here. Rose and The Doctor seem to be on an afternoon stroll, there are close to no stakes for most of the episode until suddenly it's the end of the world and Mickey's in danger, and this all happens in the span of the last five minutes.

This is because of the switch. Rose, like all the other "introduce companions"-stories, tells two stories; how the Nestene Conciousness attack Earth and how Rose and the Doctor meet. The first part of it presents us to Rose and her life, then we get into the Nestene Conciousness, before the episode switches toward The Doctor and starts building up the mystery surrounding him. I think that's a good idea. I like that they put him on the sidelines and focus on Rose, because you just know that later he's going to take hold of the center stage. I like Clive and the idea behind him, but ultimately there's too little going on here for large stretches of time. The villains are a good idea, but they get lost in this mix and only return for a last "Doctor talks alien villains out of their invasion plans"-scene.

The early days of Doctor Who is plagued with looking cheap. I commented on the lighting and the fact that the show feels like you're looking at sets, something which the show is usually better at. It's gotten a higher budget over the years, of course, but I always felt like there's something about the lenses and the way these early years are shot that makes it look really cheap. Whenever it tries to use digital effects it fails miserably, and while physical effects on the show usually work much better, Plastic Mickey in the car is terrible. It seems like the show doesn't know when to pile on and when to stop, as the dummies could've used a more creepy look while the "face" in the lava, the representation of the Nestene Conciousness, could've been spared. It would've been much scarier if it just exploded upwards and bubbled, boiling in its rage, featureless.

After the Nestene Conciousness is defeated, the world is saved and The Doctor and Rose have properly met, the episode ends with a classic Doctor Who-scene that I love; The Doctor talking a companion into joining him. The moment ending this episode - Rose running into the Tardis - is one of the show's strongest; you can feel the excitement and it's such a "fuck yeah, the adventure's just started!"-moment, leaving you wanting more. Discovering The Doctor and the Tardis with a new companion is always fun, with the "bigger on the inside" and the "Doctor who?"-lines being a joy to hear.

CONCLUSION: It's an alright episode, the dialogue and relationship of Rose and The Doctor being the best part, but the story is too simple, the suspenseful parts aren't suspenseful and the whole thing runs on mystery. There's also untapped potential with an interesting and classic Doctor Who-concept (plastic coming alive) that it doesn't really do much with, focusing instead on Rose and The Doctor's relationship.

RATING: 3.5 of 5, 7/10 or B-.


 - I love how this show makes fun of the actor playing the Doctor. Here, it's "big ears".

- Sherlock-shot of London in the opening montage.

- This is the first time one of the companions' romantic relationships have been turned into plastic. The second is in season 6, with Amy and Rory. Weirdly enough, NO ONE noticed it then... Not even The Doctor.

- I love it when the Doctor makes random references to things he's been through. "The assembled hordes of Gengish Khan couldn't get through that door. And believe me, they've tried."

- I'm liking both Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston this time around.

- The Shadow Proclamation is mentioned here. Can't quite remember if that turns into a plot-arc, but I do like how it goes with some space-operatic politics and such.

- The Doctor tries to get away from Rose the first couple of times he meets her. He had the right idea.

- "It's the end of the world." No Rose, that's not until episode 2. Silly.

- This episode relies heavily on explosions. That's weird, as Doctor Who often keeps its focus on cleverness and knowledge instead of weapons and things going BOOM!

- This show is so incredibly mean to Mickey. We're going to have to talk about "The Mickey Problem" one of these days.





THE END OF THE WORLD. Season 1, episode 2.

 Often with a new companion, the first episode is devoted to The Doctor meeting them, with the threat being a neat idea that's ultimately thrown away to focus on the budding relationship. If there are aliens in the first episode, they're usually just evil and nothing more; they have large goals, like invading the Earth and/or killing the human race. Then, in the companions second episode, they get introduced to concepts like space instead of Earth (though it is Earth-related here) and a variety of aliens, both good and bad.

This structure makes sense, as plunging a character into The Doctor's midst, then introducing all sorts of aliens during a visit in space... might be a bit much for a normal person. I'd like to see it once though, maybe with a Doctor who's nastier; him nearly driving a person insane by shoving all this onto them.

With Rose's second episode, it's time for some aliens in space. And the era of Rose's stupidity begins with a rather simple line; "He's blue." Rose is my least favorite companion, as she seems so slow and I don't like any of her relatives. I do get it her "stupidity" here, however, as she's is ripped away from all she knows, brought face to face with aliens and is about to see Earth die. No wonder she goes a bit depressed and sad, five billion years from home and about to see everything she knows wither away. And as much as I dislike Billie Piper, she really nails the emotions in this episode while being put a bit on the sidelines.

Rose's line about not arguing with "the designated driver" made me think about how dependant these companions really are on The Doctor. That's quite scary to think about, really, and I'm surprised there hasn't been a story about it yet. Maybe we get it soon, as "The Name of the Doctor" teased hard times ahead for our titular hero, as does as Moffat's teasing surrounding season 8.

From Rose to The Doctor; Eccleston is easily my least favorite of the three Doctors I've seen, though both him and Rose aren't really so annoying this time around. Christopher Eccleston plays The Doctor like a soldier with PTSD; he's in control, he's willing to stand by while bad people die, yet not above making a cheap shot at the deep south. He's more of a haunting figure than Tennant and Smith, and I really feel like he nails it. That said, he looks so incredibly bored operating the TARDIS.

The plot is again shoved to the sidelines as the episode focuses more on the emotional turmoil of seeing your home blown up, as well as being so far from your own time with a stranger. It deepens Rose's character, but again I feel like there could've been more going on. The little spider robots are a great science-fictional detail, but they don't get much out of them, they're easy to deactivate and they're not really that scary. Cassandra really works as a villain though, being in turns silly and scary. Sometimes it goes a bit broad, like the jukebox, sorry, "iPod" playing "traditional ballads" like Britney Spears' Toxic (seriously, what jukebox has Toxic in it?), but her motivation being money is a masterstroke.

I don't know if the "iPod" is a representation of Cassandra's inability to care about anything but herself, but it's such a cheap shot and, like the burping in Rose, undermines the episode's celebration of humanity by basically shitting on our history. It comes off as more than a little weird.

On another technology-note, we have Rose's magical time-travelling cellphone. I hate it so much. It makes absolutely no sense. One thing is the phone in the TARDIS, but here it anchors the companion in two places, making it impossible for them to return before the phone call reaches them. Plus, how do they decide when it reaches them? Is it how many days they've been gone? What about time zones? I have so many questions about this that I really wish it wasn't here. Couldn't she just have called from inside the TARDIS instead?

The effects are still campy and when it tries to go digital it ends up looking quite weird, but the physical effects here - particularly on the blue sitting alien and the sentient trees - are quite something.

It's another episode that's light on plot, but it gets by on Rose's strong emotions and teasing The Doctor's ancestry. Plus, it's anchored by a few typical Doctor Who-ideas; when people set their differences aside, they can achieve anything, and the blatant celebration of what it means to be alive. It's an episode full of hope and wonder, even if it does feature the first example of many episodic characters giving their lives for The Doctor.

Which brings me to the fact that people do die a lot on this show, don't they? And often in quite horrific ways. I mean, Cassandra basically blows up in a pool of goo. It's a bit strange for a children's program, even if it is all in good fun.

The music here shows Murray Gold in fine form, as the Bad Wolf-theme makes its first appearance. It's such a haunting and epic theme that makes even its scene here - The Doctor passing a rotating blade - feel like incredibly more than it is. Gold really nails the feel of the show going forward, and I look forward to experiencing that again.

CONCLUSION: The episode nails the big ideas, the importance and the history of Earth and humans. In those terms it's a classic. It has a ton of great monologues from The Doctor, a big beating heart, some good reveals (time lords and his planet gone, the war) and a pretty alright story.

RATING: 4 of 5 stars, 8/10 or B.


 - Psychic paper. It's been a while.

- Ah, The Face of Boe. I don't think RTD really knew the eventual reveal of his identity, especially seeing as Moffat created Captain Jack Harkness.





THE UNQUIET DEAD. Season 1, episode 3.

And so we're here. The first episode of the series not written by RTD and, coincidentally (yeah right) the first real classic.

Mark Gatiss is in fine form with the witty, clever and very British script, crafting what starts out with a brilliant cold open with the very first shot foreshadows one of the episode's reveals - the gas. It goes from there to setting up the mystery, being both creepy, funny and scary all in a few short minutes. Alan David's uttering of "oh no" when he sees what's happened is simply wonderful, just as many of the other lines and delivery here.

We're introduced to Gwyneth (GWEN COOPER!) and Charles Dickens (CHARLES DICKENS!) as we're taken to Christmas 1869. (It's so strange that this isn't a Christmas Special.) The show gets philosophical with The Doctor and Rose before they go out into town, on an adventure that contains some masterfully playful lines and performances. Simon Callow as Charles Dickens is a standout, but they're all on incredibly fine form here.

This is classic Doctor Who. It's creepy, funny and terrifying, with a plot combining gothic horror, ghosts and zombies, before revealing the science-fictional reasons behind what's happening; another thing that happens regularly on this show, revealing supernatural occurances to be scientific in nature. In addition to the plot, we have arcs for both Dickens and Gwyneth. This is the first episode where there's just so much going on at once and it never stops. It does character work, it's funny, it creeps you out - this is also the first time the digital effects really work, with the blue and spectre-like Gelths really coming alive - and it's excellently acted by everyone involved. It's just one of the absolute greats.

Once the reason behind the hauntings are revealed, the episode switches from gothic horror to a science-fictional morality tale; should they use the dead bodies to save the Gelth? With The Doctor being at his most assertive here, taking control of both the situation and being dedicated to solving the mystery, it's a great thing to see Rose and him get on each other's toes a bit.

And then the episode turns again, spinning into an alien invasion story by the way of a zombie-flick (dead people coming alive in the cellar, characters being trapped with no way out). It's a classic Doctor Who-tale disguised as a gothic ghost/zombie story, and it is, quite frankly, brilliant.

Gwyneth becomes the second character to sacrifice herself for The Doctor, and with the episode having built her as a fully realized character, it beats the heart of The End of the World. This episode has the gravitas and wonder to make it both heartwarming, bitter and wonderful at the same time. It's an incredible ending to what is definitely one of my favorite episodes of the first season.

CONCLUSION: It's a brilliant Doctor Who-episode, full of plot, character-work and hilarious wonderfully playful lines. Here's a few of the best;

DOCTOR: "I'm a fan."
DICKENS: "In what way do you resemble a means of keeping cool?"


SNEED: "It's not my fault the dead won't stay dead." (The delivery of this line is what makes it so perfect; a little sad and pitiful.)

DICKENS: "The dead don't die on schedule.

DICKENS: "What the Shakespeare is going on?"

SNEED:"Mind you, [the ghost stories] have been good for business."

ROSE: "Who's your friend?" THE DOCTOR: "Charles Dickens." (Eccleston's delivery is brilliant; a mix of childlike glee and a sense of pride.)

THE DOCTOR: "I think it's gone a little bit wrong.

DICKENS: "I hope that this theory will be validated soon... if not immediately."

RATING: 5 of 5, 10/10 and A.


- I am so glad they stopped changing the costumes after the time-period. It's much more fun when they just don't care about it. It also poses a problem when they go to the future.

- They drug Rose. With chloroform. Best. Episode. Ever. (it happens in the previous episode to, but there she gets in danger afterwards. Here it's just for fun.)

- Eve Myles' line delivery reminds me of Michelle Fairley's as Catelyn Stark in Game of Thrones. But maybe that's the Scottish.

- The seeds of Father's Day, one of the worst episodes ever, are planted here, with The Doctor saying that time can be rewritten. Strangely, that comes back six seasons later in Moffat's A Christmas Carol, based on Dicken's story, who appears as a character in this one. This stuff is one of the many reasons I love Doctor Who.



There. I think that's enough for today. I'm off taking watching and taking notes on the first two-parter and one of the show's worst stories; Aliens of London and World War Three. The review will be up tomorrow, hopefully along with Dalek.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>