Generally it’s better to start watching a series from the beginning. It allows you to follow the plot properly and identify with the journey of the characters. However, with Doctor Who, you can pretty much start with whichever series you want and be able to work out what’s going on. Rose isn’t the best example of the show at it’s finest. The preceding episode The End Of The World is a vast improvement; having more sci-fi elements that are typical of the show. So if you want to avoid spoilers for the whole series, start with episode two and then go back to this episode afterwards to see how the two main characters met. Alternatively ignore me and watch all the episodes in order, just bare with it for a while and know that the best is yet to come.
Established Queer As Folk and Casanova writer Russell T Davies was the man who re-established Doctor Who after an eighteen-year hiatus. It’s clear from the opening scene of Rose that it’s going to be more of a character-orientated episode, rather than a really cleverly thought out sci-fi epic. In fact during the first three minutes, you’d probably dismiss it for a soap opera or something of that equivalent. Ironically, the first clip I ever saw of the show was a very soap-like scene in a later episode. It was a scene between Rose and her Father in Father’s Day. This confrontation was transmitted on BBC Three in the time slot before British soap Eastenders.
The opening panning shot of the Earth signifies that this series of the show is going to be much more human based, compared to the more alien-centred pre-2005 series. Fast music plays as we see a montage of shots of a normal teenage girl experiencing various social norms; being nagged by her mother, having a part time job and a rocky relationship with her boyfriend. She’s instantly relatable to not only teenage viewers but families as well. I imagine she also appeals to ‘the dads’, exhibiting a confident, Buffy-like quirkiness. The only relevant demographic left is that of the Classic Who fans (who watched the original series which aired between 1963 and 1987.) The success of the show depended on how the writers would re-establish the character of the central protagonist, The Doctor.
The decline in audience ratings Classic Who experienced in the late 1980s was blamed on Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy’s incarnations of the Timelord. For example, Baker’s sixth doctor was often (and still is) dismissed as being written as too violent and selfish towards his companions. For the show to have had as much as success as it has, the writing had to be top notch. Davies had to persuade the viewer that this character was in fact still the same man and the heart of the show itself hadn’t changed.
Christopher Eccleston portrays the nine incarnations of The Doctor brilliantly in this first episode. There are a lot of comical scenes where he has some great one-liners and convinces me that he is really an alien. The scene in the flat where he battles with a plastic hand is hilarious, directed brilliantly as he’s thrown around the room behind an oblivious Rose.
Eccleston and Piper can do serious just as well as the soap-like and comedy scenes. The stand out scene of the episode for me is The Doctor’s speech to Rose about how he can feel the turn of the Earth. That bit on it’s own is a great introduction to The Doctor’s character and the plot of the whole show. Just like the Earth he describes, the whole episode seems to pause and all you concentrate on are his words and Rose’s reaction to them.
The character of Clive (Mark Benton) is used brilliantly in this episode for background information on The Doctor. Even though he’s basically just sitting Rose down and telling her information, the scene is full of suspense and mystery. Her disbelief is realistic, as she believes him to be crazy. His own son answers the door and upon seeing Rose calls to his father, “Dad, it’s one of your nutters” Rose’s mother Jackie and boyfriend Mickey also provide a lot of the comedy in this episode. Jackie’s insistence about getting compensation after Rose’s job at the shop blew up is typical of a soap mum’s attitude to their daughter being sacked from the café. Mickey has a very childish attitude, playing around with the plastic arm and threatening Rose with it. You can see why she’s suddenly so intrigued by The Doctor if this is what she is used to living with.
By the time the plot climaxes, The Doctor’s established as a flawed hero. It’s him that gives the big speeches and comes across as a-know-it-all, yet it’s Rose who saves the day. Billie Piper is able to give a believable performance thorough-out the episode; her stand out scene being when she walks into the back of the store is attacked by the Autons. After the frantic beat used in the montage scene, the music stops completely to show the juxtaposition of the atmosphere. As she shouts out for the shop electrician Wilson, she seems genuinely worried. Piper was previously known for her pop star status and had only appeared in a few BBC One dramas before Doctor Who. Her portrayal of Rose was embraced and she is a popular favourite companion amongst fans.
The Doctor’s spaceship the TARDIS has it’s very own introduction scene. It’s a magical moments when Rose runs inside, confusedly exits and runs around it before returning to the entrance. The camera finally reveals that her shock came from the fact that it’s bigger on the inside. Eccleston’s Doctor then explains that he’s an alien and Rose barely has time to take this all in before the story has to move on to the objective of defeating the episode’s villain.
The simplicity of the plot is what lets this episode down. The Autons are classic Doctor Who aliens who first appeared in the third doctor’s era. Their evil plan is the same as it has always been; to destroy the human race through the use of plastic. Although this is samey and not a brilliantly complicated epic scheme, their haunting appearance in shop windows as manikins reinvents them as threatening villains. Fear of the uncanny blends in with the comedic way that they walk and the comment from Rose that they’re “trying to take over Britain’s shops”. The CGI of the Nestene Consciousness (the substance which creates the Autons) once they enter the lair at the climax of the episode falls flat, although the earlier scenes with Mickey’s plastic head are hilarious.
The episode is really just good for comedy and background on Rose’s character. It showcases her need to be anything more than ordinary. She’s represented as a strong female character, who ends up saving The Doctor with a Buffy-like swing across the lair. As she leaves Mickey and runs into The Doctor’s TARDIS at the end, it’s exciting to think how their relationship might change and what adventures she might be taken on. The teasing dialogue at the end is that she only says yes to travelling with him once he says it travels in time, not just space.