Mickey the Idiot seems like a twerp.
He gets gobbled up with a wheelie-bin burp.
But Doctor Who’s back and we’ve waited for years,
And number Nine’s brilliant (even the ears).
The following was my initial reaction to the episode, written on the evening of first broadcast. I haven’t changed my opinion of this episode much since then, so here is most of the original review, and then I will add a few afterthoughts below.
It sure has been a long sixteen years, but it’s finally back. Once again we have the thrill of Doctor Who on the cover of the Radio Times, that feeling of a nation sitting down together to be scared, excited and entertained, and of course the masses of press coverage. Actually, come to think of it, Doctor Who has never really had this kind of attention or promotion, so does it live up to the hype?
The Autons are an excellent choice of monster to launch the new series. The Daleks would have been the obvious option, but this would have been a mistake. Doctor Who is not just about Daleks. Thirty-five years ago, the Autons launched the era of a new Doctor in a manner that seared itself into the public consciousness, and they have done it again. The Auton masks are not as frightening as the originals, but the inclusion of a bigger variety of shop dummies is a good idea, and adds realism. Of course, the Autons effectiveness as a Doctor Who monster is doubled by the Nestene’s ability to animate anything as long as it is plastic. In the 1970s this led to some of Doctor Who’s most memorable scenes: a chair swallowing a man, a toy coming alive and a daffodil shooting a plastic mouth covering to suffocate its victim, for example. Now we have more great scenes to add to the list: Mickey being swallowed by a wheelie bin, an Auton hand attacking the Doctor and, best of all, the Doctor’s fight with the replica of Mickey. Purists may object to the wheelie bin scene being played for laughs, but it could not really have been done any other way.
The new TARDIS set does not quite match the TV Movie version in terms of scale, but that was always going to be a hard act to follow. It is, however, a more intelligent concept for the design, with an organic feel. The hanging wires are reminiscent of the TARDIS interior from the Sixties movies, as are the interior doors. As impressive as those big white doors were in the original TARDIS set, they always presented a problem in that there was no direct connection between the TARDIS interior and exterior – it was obvious that the actors were walking into the prop, and then appearing in studio. The police box doors on the inside as well as the outside make far more sense, plus we can now see the TARDIS interior from the outside, and vice versa. It is seamlessly done.
There has been much reworking of the theme music over the years, some more successful than others, but Murray Gold’s version must surely be the best yet. It is a richer, fuller sound than the original, with a stronger air of menace. This is one of many examples of Russell T. Davies’s Doctor Who keeping the best of the original and modernising it, with the wonderful cliffhanger ‘sting’ reinstated. The title sequence is also very impressive, with its three-dimensional lettering.
There is no doubt that Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper were the perfect choices for Doctor and companion. Eccleston has always been known for ‘serious’ acting, and a desire to move away from this was one of the things that drew him to the role of the Doctor. He plays the part with plenty of humour, but still has the ability to do the quiet, serious stuff when required. Like the best of the actors the play the Doctor, he brings out the alien quality to the character, in particular his wonderment at the universe and everything it contains. In one scene with Rose, she asks who he is, and he responds by explaining how he can feel the world moving under his feet, and hurtling around the sun – a perfect definition of his character. Billie Piper gives a wonderful performance, and one scene really stands out: her first look inside the TARDIS. She doesn’t need to say anything – the utter bewilderment on her face does the talking – surely the greatest of all the companion debuts. Both Eccleston and Piper play their roles with wonderful enthusiasm, and their final scene in this episode is magnificent, surely guaranteed to have people tuning in next week.
So, to answer the question: yes, it does live up to the hype, at least based on this first episode. With its spectacular London (and Cardiff as London) location filming, near-perfect special effects, and wall-to-wall action and excitement, I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say that Doctor Who is back to its very best. It is also very funny, particularly the Doctor’s exploration of Rose’s flat. A beautifully written, brilliantly acted and meticulously produced piece of drama. Let’s hope this is the beginning of at least another twenty-six years on BBC1. Welcome back, Doctor Who.
So that was my gut reaction to the episode at the time, and I think, 12 years later, the episode still stands up well. I was perhaps a little too keen to overlook the shortcomings of the episode, but they are pretty minor really in the main, with some love it or hate it moments such as the wheely bin. But how on Earth does Rose not notice that the Auton Mickey is different? His hair looks like it has been painted on and his face is shiny. It has the unfortunate effect of making her look a little bit dopey in her first episode, which is not ideal for a new companion. But the only major criticism I have in retrospect is the Doctor’s put-down ‘every stupid ape’, because even though that’s applied to humans in general, well… there’s no getting away from it. At that moment the Doctor comes across as racist. Racist on an alien, inter-planetary scale maybe, but still racist. It is a reminder of the worst tendencies of the Silurians, and we don’t want the Doctor to be like that, even in his post-Time War grump. Apart from that, I still love the episode, and we have now had 12 years of Doctor Who on our screens, on the back of the success of this one episode. Because this was a crucial moment in Doctor Who’s history. This episode needed to be a success, and we should all be very grateful that Russell T Davies got it all so right. RP
The view from across the pond:
The following review is taken from the original Doctor Who Review website (explanation here):
I’ve been reading some of the reviews here and decided it was time to re-watch the series and offer my take, for what it’s worth. First and foremost, the opening music is electrifying, catching the audience without preamble. This is followed by 2-3 minutes of a day in the life of Rose Tyler. The “desperate soap opera” creates a backdrop to what is otherwise a very ordinary life for a fairly ordinary girl. She has a job, a dip-stick of a boyfriend (if anything can be said by the way he eats a sandwich or dances in the street!) but ultimately she is down to earth and lives like so many other people her age. The fact is brought further to light when Rose is in the basement with the Autons and does not even think there’s anything unearthly going on as mannequins start walking towards her. My only gripe here is that, when she initially thinks she gets locked in the basement, she doesn’t take out her phone to contact help before everyone leaves! Oh, well… bad reception, no doubt!
The Doctor’s arrival is as well-timed as any Time Lord could be. His brief introduction to Rose (“I’m the Doctor… run for your life”) is typical of his age-old eccentricity. When next we see him, he is chasing an arm through a cat-flap. Where I take the greatest issues with the episode are here: 1) The Doctor is seen to kneel on the couch to see if Rose has a cat – take careful note fellow Whovians, the couch is against the wall when the Doctor kneels on it: how is there enough of a gap for the arm to come rocketing out? Clearly when the arm comes out, the couch is NOT against the wall; did The Doctor shift the couch in an off-camera moment when he gets up? 2) The Doctor finds a mirror (just before the arm incident) and comments on his ears. This leads us to believe the latest regeneration has happened relatively recently; but according to Clive he has been in that form long enough to get on the Titanic, to visit JFK (an awesome reference to the day that Doctor Who premiered in ’63), and elsewhere. Now, while in Clive’s past, this could still take place in the Doctor’s future, and unless a book is written, for those who watched the whole of the 2005 season, we know that it doesn’t happen in the televised stories… so this means that the Doctor never got around to looking himself in a mirror since the last regeneration or someone wasn’t paying attention to details. Ho hum…
Incidentally, the pictures Clive had should have been used to reaffirm the series that came before: pictures should have indicated other Doctors (McCoy, McGann, Bakers, etc). That would have been a neat thing for the long time fans and an item of mystery for the newer ones. Moving on…
Jumping forward, who puts an empty garbage bin out on garbage day? But even the dolt who does this, doesn’t think a rubbish bin is more frightening than a daffodil, does he? Back during Terror of the Autons, we had some truly scary notions: frankly, the trash bin was not scary; in fact, courtesy of a “lowest common denominator” moment, the bin becomes a symbol of idiocy. Why did we need a burp? In this day and age, I would think parents would want to discourage such grotesque behaviour… It was a ploy to be funny for the kids, no doubt, but it worked against the whole.
Those moments that best capture the episode, and the show on a whole, are the moment when Rose enters the TARDIS and the dialogue that follows: “… are you alien?” coupled with the music. Why they have not released a soundtrack is anyone’s guess, but the music in this moment, and the earlier talk when the Doctor explains who he is (“Now forget me Rose Tyler…”) is just, to coin a phrase, FANTASTIC. Chris maybe inadvertently flashes back to Tom Baker’s “What’s the use in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes…” outside the TARDIS thus once again showing the alien-ness of the Doctor. (Don’t get me started on the McGann episode!) His moods are not like our own. His excited, Baker-esque “Fantastic” when he finally realizes the wheel is the transmitter… he is a product of his past! The Davison-esque “I’m not here to kill it…” mentality once again gives long time fans a chance to see the other Doctors still present in this incarnation.
Lastly, the departure with Rose at the end has sent a chill through my spine since the first time I’ve watched it. This episode is not perfect. But it does lay the groundwork: it sets the players on the board. It needs polishing in some areas while others could not have been better. Eccleston is fantastic. Even his attire, which I was initially against as it lacks the eccentricity of his former selves, eventually grew on me. Piper is amazing. I love the fact that when she hugs Mickey, she does not look stick thin; she’s REAL! The chemistry between the two rivals that of McCoy and Aldred, Baker and Liz Sladen… it’s amazing! Perhaps 5 stars is a little lofty, but how can you not give it high marks when the last image is of Rose in a slow motion dash for the TARDIS, with a gigantic smile beaming all the way????
Welcome back, Doctor! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The End of the World