The Great 'Doctor Who' Rewatch Begins: Rose

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Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper as the Doctor and Rose (Photo: BBC)
This is not a drill:  The Great Doctor Who Rewatch is here at last! I realize that I’ve been promising to get to this series for months and months now, so I’m pretty excited (and oddly relieved) to get started on this thing finally. Thank you to everyone that’s hung in there waiting for me to not quite be so excruciatingly slow, and double thank you to the people that have asked me when I was ever going to get around to doing this thing. Harassment generally works, so make a note of it.

Ever since we finished the Great Doc Martin Rewatch, I’ve been itching for something new to watch and write about. I ultimately decided that  The Great Doctor Who Rewatch seemed to be an obvious choice for one of these reap series here on the blog – several readers have expressed interest in chatting about it and we’ve been airing the series (well, onward from the 2005 “reboot”) on WETA UK, so it feels like a good fit. Plus, as I know I have mentioned ad nauseum by now around here, it is my favorite show. Finding ways to talk about it is never going to be the problem. 

So, here we are, done dusted and official, the Great Doctor Who Rewatch begins right now. But first, a bit of history: Doctor Who holds the Guinness World Record as the longest running science fiction television program in the world. It premiered on November 23, 1963 and has pretty much just kept going ever since. However, the show did take quite a substantial break after 1989 (with a small break for a television film in 1996) until it was re-launched in 2005 under showrunner Russell T. Davies. This is known in some Whovian circles as the “reboot”, and it’s where our Great Rewatch will get started. (I love all things Who but even I’m not sure if I could get us through every episode of both the new AND classic series. Maybe someday!) The 2005 re-launch featured Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth incarnation of the Doctor alongside companion Billie Piper, and, well, it’s been pretty successful ever since.

So, sit back, relax, and let’s chat about a time traveling alien, his human companion(s), and their adventures through time and space in a blue police box. 

What may end up being most interesting about this series is that unlike my trip through Doc Martin, I’ve seen Doctor Who before and I’ve watched some of these episodes many more than a few times. Maybe this will make me more insightful! Here’s hoping. Luckily, if Rose happens to be your first foray into the world of Doctor Who, this episode also functions as a bit of a second pilot, giving you an easy point of reference to jump right in to the series. It will introduce all the characters, explain a bit about the Doctor and his history and tell you what TARDIS stands for. It’ll be fun, I promise. 

Meet Rose Tyler. The show opens with Rose Tyler, a young girl who appears to be running late for work. We spend a quick montage of her day with her where she does what appear to be very ordinary things – she lives with her kind of annoying mother, she works in a shop, she has lunch with a guy we presume is her boyfriend, she looks bored at her job, she either wears or owns a lot of pink things.

I’m not sure quite what we’re supposed to make of the preponderance of pink in this episode; either [insert your own “A Study in Pink” joke here, Sherlock fans]. Rose runs about dressed all in pink, her bedroom looks like a Pepto Bismol bottle exploded all over it, and she apparently works at The Pink Shop, since all her coworkers seem to wear some shade of that color and that’s possibly all the place sells.  I mean, we get that her name is Rose and that’s a kind of pink, okay, show?

Anyway, Rose is asked to give a coworker the group lottery money at the end of her shift –and of course said coworker’s office is in a completely creepy and poorly lit basement that’s completely removed from the rest of the shop, because don’t we all just suffer from that problem on the job – but the fun really starts when Rose is attacked by some mannequins that have come to life. (The fact that this just happens as though it’s something that is a very real possibility in your normal day will never stop amusing me.) Rose is subsequently rescued from the freakish mannequins by a strange man in a leather jacket and her life is changed forever. Then the running starts. (There really is an awful lot of running in this show.)

I love Rose so much, it’s ridiculous. I know that companions, generally, are one of those flashpoint “Your mileage may vary” issues about Doctor Who, particularly as we get into later seasons, but I figured probably best to just put my biases out there early. I love Rose. So much of what I love about Rose is laid out in this very first episode and I just think she’s awesome, as characters in general go. Plus, she’s an excellent audience stand-in for those who may never have experienced this show before. 

Meet the Doctor. The leather clad gentlemen who encourages Rose to run for her life is the Doctor – he’s a Time Lord, an alien species with the ability to travel through space and time (with a bit of technological help) and also to regenerate if they are harmed/near death. This is the Ninth incarnation of the Doctor, and one gets the feeling – judging by his interest in his own appearance in the mirrors in Rose’s flat – that he hasn’t been in this particular body very long.

Another bias I should put out there early: Most people who love Doctor Who tend to have “their” Doctor, a particular incarnation of the character that drew them into the show in the first place and is a big part of the reason they love it. Eccleston (and Nine) is my Doctor – and while I also love Ten and Eleven (and Four and Five and I’m growing quite fond of Two) – Nine is the nearest and dearest to my heart and sadly, my feelings about him are not always rational. (I will get less overtly fangirlish when we get to David Tennant and Matt Smith’s turns, promise.)

Anyway, back to our story. The leather-clad stranger rescues Rose from the creepy attacking mannequins and the two of them sort of have a meet cute in the elevator for about twenty seconds. The man introduces himself as the Doctor, explains that the mannequins are a kind of living plastic (duh), then waves a bomb at Rose and tells to her run for her life. He then proceeds to blow up the building where she worked. Welp. At least Rose doesn’t have to get up early anymore and can maybe get rid of that obnoxious alarm.

Meanwhile, Back at the Flat. Rose’s mother, Jackie, is holding court with a variety of her friends about her daughter’s horrifying shop explosion experience and trying to sell Rose on doing interviews with the papers to make money now that she doesn’t have a job to support herself anymore. Mickey, Rose’s ostensible significant other, shows up to offer some concern and comfort, but then heads off to the bar to watch the match, because he’s not exactly the best boyfriend ever. On the way out he takes the mannequin’s arm that Rose has for some inexplicable reason carried home with her and tosses it into a nearby trash bin. (Plot point alert!)

Obviously, the Mannequin Arm Isn’t Really Gone. The next morning, Rose has not got rid of her obnoxious alarm, but Jackie tells her she might as well stay in bed because she doesn’t have a job to go to anymore. The Doctor arrives at Rose’s flat unexpectedly – only he doesn’t know it’s Rose’s flat and is surprised to find that she lives there. He’s equally surprised to find out that the living plastic mannequin arm has made its way back into her home through the cat flap on the door, which he discovers once it starts choking him. It also attacks Rose, but the Doctor saves the day by zapping it with his Sonic Screwdriver (which I don’t believe we actually officially know is a sonic, but, well, yes we do). The Doctor takes the arm and leaves the apartment; Rose follows, asking about a billion questions per second. 

Rose threatens to tell the police what happened if the Doctor doesn’t explain what’s going on. They walk back through the estate lots and the Doctor deflects most of her questions. They’re really adorable together from the get-go during their rapid back and forth, and Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper just have wonderful chemistry.  The Doctor tells Rose that the living plastic wants to destroy the world, because, obviously. She doesn’t really believe him, but he points out that she’s still listening despite that fact. She asks once more who he really is, and we get our first glimpse at the sort of incomprehensibleness that is the Doctor, as he explains that can feel the turn of the Earth, every minute, that we’re falling through space all the time, and that that’s who he is. (Props for the crazy metaphor, dude.) He then tells Rose to go home and forget she ever met him, before disappearing into a blue police box.

What’s lovely about this scene, isn’t really that it tells us a terrible amount about the Doctor, because it only scratches the surface of all the plot exposition we’ll have to get through – we learn that he’s an alien, that he has known great grief, that he’s a time traveler – but rather about it says about this version of the Doctor particularly. There’s such an air of loss, of sadness and loneliness and eternity about Eccleston’s Nine, that even though he seems completely alien, you already sympathize with him and want to know more. He’s not necessarily someone you want to be BFFs with instantly (Tennant’s Ten often has this effect on people), but we certainly get the sense that he is, in most senses of the word, ancient. 

Rose Does Her Research. Rose decides she needs to know more about this mysterious Doctor, so, as anyone would do in this situation, she turns to the internet. She googles a few Doctor-related phrases before stumbling on a website asking if anyone’s seen a particular man (who of course, happens to look just like Nine). Rose and Mickey go visit a man named Clive, who has a pile of research in his garage about the Doctor and a definite “internet conspiracy theorist” vibe. Clive’s “nutter” files contain photos of the Doctor at the Kennedy Assassination, before the launch of the Titanic, before the explosion of Krakatoa. Clive says that the Doctor is a legend woven throughout history whose constant companion is death, so if Rose has seen him that means something very bad is about to happen and everyone should probably start panicking.

Mickey is Possibly Too Dumb to Live. Meanwhile, Mickey is waiting for Rose in the car outside Clive’s house. The plastic trash can in front of his car starts to move suspiciously and of course Mickey gets out of the car to investigate, because Mickey is an idiot. His hands become stuck to the lid after he touches it, and the plastic becomes a sort of tar-like substance. Eventually, the trash can appears to eat Mickey, complete with a loud belch. Ew.

Best Date Ever? Back in the house, Clive tells Rose he thinks all the photos are of the same man, and that the Doctor is an alien from another world. Rose smiles and nods, obviously trying not tp provoke the crazy person, and promptly leaves. She gets back to the car to find Mickey in the driver’s seat sporting a particularly plastic-looking complexion, but doesn’t notice. She tells him he was right and that Clive’s basically a wack job.

The two of them go to dinner and Rose has a very quick moment of clarity, where she realizes that now with no job her life’s not quite where she wants it to be and she considers going back to school. (We also learn that she didn’t finish because of a boy.) Mickey awkwardly asks her about the Doctor and wants details on how she met him and what his plans might happen to be. Rose gets annoyed and wants to know why she can’t talk about herself for five minutes ever. Mickey keeps asking about the Doctor and stumbling over his terms of endearment and, well, generally acting like someone who’s possessed by plastic. It’s quite creepy and honestly says kind of a lot about what sort of things Rose must put up with from Mickey in the first place. Plastic!Mickey says he needs to find the Doctor so he can find out what he knows.

Wherein We Must Remember Sometimes That This Is A Kid’s Show.  A pushy waiter shows up just at this moment, offering Rose and Mickey champagne. They refuse it but, of course, the waiter turns out to be the Doctor, who has arrived just the nick of time to save Rose from her plasticized boyfriend. He pops the champagne cork straight at Mickey’s face, whose newly chemically enhanced forehead simply absorbs it. Plastic!Mickey realizes the jig is up, transforms his hands into large clubs and gets into a fight with the Doctor, who wins by pulling his head off. His headless body then proceeds to stagger about the restaurant destroying things. Rose, who is actually quite resourceful, pulls the fire alarm and gets everyone out of the building.

It’s all very awkward and silly and slapstick – the sort of thing that you kind of feel weird about your friends seeing after you’ve just spent twenty minutes telling them how wonderful and deep and full of meaning Doctor Who is. Which, it is, but it’s also nominally a children’s program and a British cultural institution and this means we have to deal with headless boyfriends made of plastic wandering about and trash cans that burp. This does become a bit less frequent after Series 1 (and I will complain about this more loudly later on), but considering how many really thoughtful themes this show manages to incorporate in its episodes, the more juvenile humor does come across as quite jarring.

Rose meets the TARDIS. Rose and the Doctor hide from Rampaging Headless Mickey in a blue police box, which of course is the TARDIS, the Doctor’s ship. (It stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space.) As always, it’s bigger on the inside, and Rose’s reaction (and immediate decision to run out back outside) is wonderful. The Doctor admits that yes he’s an alien and so is the TARDIS and so is the living plastic that’s trying to destroy human life on the planet. Rose gets emotional for a second because she assumes that Mickey’s dead and that she’ll have to tell his mother what happened to him, and then yells at the Doctor for not considering that an actual person has died because she met him. (A sign even very early on that, yes, the Doctor does need someone with him, to remind him of such things, or he becomes cruel and closed off in a lot of ways.)

Another thing that is wonderful about this sequence is Rose’s reaction to the Doctor admitting he’s an alien. Her “Yeah” conveys so much – a bit of disbelief, of what am I even doing here, but mostly not even an ounce of surprise, as though she already to some extent likes and trust this person, even if he is something she’s never encountered before. (Ugh, I just love them, I’m sorry, I promise I’ll have this out of my system by next week.)

The Doctor says they have to find the main transmitter that’s controlling the plastic because that’s where its consciousness will be and wonders where something that large could be hiding in London. Rose asks what it looks like, and he says it would be a huge metal circular structure. She figures out that it must be the London Eye and the two of them join hands and run across Westminster bridge to investigate. See? More running. There’s something incredibly joyful about this tiny segment, even though they’re purposefully heading toward aggressive aliens and possible death. Watching the two of them running toward danger and the unknown with purpose and big smiles and cheesey adventure music is just. Well, let’s just say it makes me smile too, no matter how many times I see it.

The Doctor Tries to Negotiate. They find the Nestene consciousness (i.e. the fancy alien name for the head bit of plastic) underneath the Eye, but the Doctor says he can’t simply kill it, he has to try and reason with it first and give it a chance. This is a big thing about the Doctor – he’s largely a pacifist, and though he is capable of great darkness and rage, he does generally try to give even the creepiest sorts of aliens the chance to choose the right path. Rose finds Real!Mickey cowering on a walkway and learns that the Consciousness has been using his real body to maintain the “copy” version of him out in world, so he’s fine. The Doctor seeks an audience with the Consciousness and they have a back-and-forth in Nestene-speak wherein he attempts to reason with it – saying that humanity has only just started and has so much potential to do great things; thusly, it should be spared. The Consciousness rattles back something at him in its own language and two mannequins appear from nowhere to grab the Doctor. They find the bottle of anti-plastic in his jacket (a way to destroy the Consciousness) and he argues that it was only there as insurance and he wasn’t really going to use it against anyone. The Consciousness doesn’t believe him, then reveals that it also has his TARDIS and says something which makes the Doctor very upset. Nine exclaims that whatever it told him wasn’t true, that he’d fought in the War and hadn’t been able to save anyone, neither the Nestene’s people nor his own. Eccleston does a wonderful job here conveying that there’s so much going on with the Doctor that we don’t yet know, that he carries some sort of as-yet-undescribed loss with him that makes him the way he is. And it makes you want to know, too. Because whatever the secret is, it seems like a pretty bad one.

The Consciousness still doesn’t believe him and initiates the “final solution”, which is to wake up all the plastic in London and have it attack people. Mannequins come to life all over the city, and the Doctor tells Rose to run.

Rose Saves the Day. Rose tries to get back in the TARDIS but realizes she doesn’t have a key to it. She watches the Doctor struggle as Mickey tells her to leave him. Rose shares a long look with the Doctor and then runs to a wall. She cuts a chain free from the wall and says that while she has no A-levels, no job and no future, but she does have the bronze medal from her time on the school gymnastics team as a girl. She swings down and knocks the mannequin holding the anti-plastic into the Consciousness, while the Doctor throws the one holding him into the pit. Viola, Rose saves the day!

This – this right here – is when I knew I loved Rose Tyler. She’s not happy with her life, she feels that she has no direction and no future and is no one of any account at all. She’s never done anything except go to work and eat chips, as the Doctor would say, but she finds it in herself to be clever and brave and do something that she never would have thought herself capable of. She saves the Doctor and saves the world and learns to believe in herself a bit at same time. Just herself, an ordinary girl who really isn’t anything special, and who’s mostly exactly like the rest of us watching. She’s awesome.        

And the Adventure Begins. The Doctor takes Rose and Mickey back home. Mickey scrambles out of the TARDIS freaking out and generally being a ginormous wet blanket, although I suppose we should be nicer to him since he did just think he was going to die. The Doctor says the Nestene Consciousness was easy to handle in the end. Rose points out that she saved his life. The Doctor says that yes, she did, and he thanks her. There’s an odd sort of gravity to this moment, as though perhaps it’s not something that happens often, and there’s an interesting quiet beat that passes between them that says a lot without saying anything.

The Doctor says he has to go – but then shrugs like it’s no big deal when clearly it’s a huge deal and asks if Rose would like to come with him. He says she can stay where she is and fill her life with work and food and sleep or she could go, well, anywhere. There’s something especially lovely and the tiniest bit awkward about Eccleston’s delivery here, as though this isn’t exactly an offer the Doctor’s made in a while and he’s not entirely sure how it’ll be received. The Doctor’s grin gets huge when Rose asks if it’ll be dangerous and I start to wish the plastic had actually eaten Mickey because he’s literally hanging on to Rose’s legs and whimpering at this point and why she’s not already on a couch in the TARDIS somewhere I don’t know.

Rose looks conflicted but says no, that she has to find her mother and that someone has to take care of “this stupid lump,” meaning her clearly about to be ex-boyfriend who has devolved into a five year old before our eyes. The Doctor looks sad for about a second and then says okay and that he’ll see her around. The two of them stare at each other for quite a long time without saying anything, then the TARDIS doors close and the famous Vworp Vworp sound kicks in as it disappears.

Rose stares at the space the TARDIS used to be in for a second before helping up Useless Mickey and turning for home. They make it a couple of steps before the Vworp Vworp noise is happening again and the TARDIS is back. The Doctor’s head pops out of the door and he says “By the way, did I mention – it also travels in time?” Rose smiles at him and he smiles back at her and this holds for a long second, because we all know that this time she’s going to say yes, because when something amazing like this happens in your life, well, you say yes to it. The Doctor moves from the doorway, Rose says a quick thank you and goodbye to  Mickey and then runs to the TARDIS with the biggest, most joyful smile on her face (in super cheesey slow motion even, but it doesn’t matter because it’s awesome).

And there we are: the adventure begins.

A lot of the Rose episode is set-up: introducing a new Doctor, a new companion, a new incarnation of the series to those that know it, and an entirely new kind of show to those that don’t. There’s a lot of exposition and the plot is a bit silly at some moments, but the acting and the character work is lovely and Eccleston and Piper really are fantastic (to steal the Doctor’s word) together. For a pilot – because in a lot of ways that's basically what this – you can't ask for a lot more. By the time the episode is over, you love the Doctor and Rose a little bit (or a lot) already and you want to know where they’re going to together and what sort of wondrous things they’re going to see. I couldn’t wait to go with them. (Heck, I still can’t, and I’ve seen it before.) Stick around, it only gets better from here.

Thoughts, folks? What did you think when you first saw this episode?