1.1 – “Rose”

DW Series 1 - Rose

London shop girl Rose Tyler is rescued from plastic monsters by a strange man who identifies himself only as “The Doctor”. But Doctor Who?

“Rose” was the first BBC-made episode of Doctor Who for 16 years and, as such, it is difficult to contextualise. Reviewing it now from the impossible vantage point of nine years, seven seasons and four Doctors later, it would be very easy to take it to task for not being quite perfect. That it comes as close is remarkable. So many things work about “Rose” but the key element is, of course, Russell T. Davies’s script. It is, to borrow a phrase, fantastic.

When we meet The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) he’s stripped back to being a man who fights monsters. Slowly, bits of his mythology begin to come through; we learn that he is an alien, possibly immortal (according to Doctor-spotter Clive anyway) and has a machine called the TARDIS, that can travel anywhere in space and time. This stands in stark contrast to the 1996 TV movie, where all the exposition was clumsily dumped on the audience in the first five minutes. Here, it follows the template of the best ever episode of Doctor Who, 1963’s “An Unearthly Child”, having a couple of humans gradually drawn into The Doctor’s world.

Rose really shouldn’t be a novel concept for a companion – a bored, working-class young adult, thrilled to be traveling with The Doctor – and yet, somehow, the show has never actually done this before. What’s also new is that she is not defined in isolation. Genre shows have a tendency to have relatives and old friends of leads be made up on the fly from week to week as the exigencies of plots require. That’s simply not a danger with Rose, as we meet the most important people in her life right there in episode one of the new series. Billie Piper isn’t just playing a part, she’s got a role.

And she is fantastic (there’s that word again). The dynamic between Piper and Eccleston is what this episode is all about. It works. It works so well that people don’t even notice it working, instead fixating on what might not even be the third largest part in the script, Rose’s boyfriend Mickey (Noel Clarke). Yes, Clarke is doing a different type of acting here, but it’s far from one-note; he makes the real and Nestene duplicate Mickeys distinct. And perhaps Mickey’s initial discomfort and fear at touching this other world is what puts us off him.

The script had seemingly bold requirements for something intended to be shot by BBC Wales. One of the best gags uses the London Eye and Rose’s flat is firmly localised to a real estate in Kennington. None of this though is a requirement of the plot. It would take ten minutes with a biro to put it in Cardiff instead. Similarly, under the Eye, there is an impressively big location, but they could just as easily have used a small studio set. This sort of budget benefits the episode no end, but that’s not what makes it great. It’s the writing and the acting. If you sent that script back in time, you could have made “Rose” in any other year and have it smell as sweet. But it couldn’t have been written earlier.

“Rose” is, if anything, under-appreciated. So many things that modern Doctor Who relies on were just effortlessly invented in this story. It is close enough to perfect that taking a mark off seems petty. The script combines with Eccleston and Piper’s chemistry to make something really special. The Doctor returns at last with a 10/10.

Written and edited by Abigail Brady


One Response to “1.1 – “Rose””

  1. I’ve chewed this over for a week and I have to say, I do find it difficult to accept this being rated as a 10. Yes, it’s an underrated episode, yes, it economically sets up most of the premises of NuWho, which with hindsight we can see to have been responsible for a glorious decade of our favourite show back on our screens. But I think for this it deserves a medal, not a “flawless” rating.

    In many ways this is the same problem I have with the traditional review of serial A, way back in 1963. “The first episode is perfect! 10/10! And then there’s some boring caveman stuff that I’m not going to bother engaging with! Let’s talk about the first episode some more!” But the first episode isn’t really an episode of all, it’s just the concept for the show. *Obviously* the TARDIS, and the Doctor, and the companions, and the ability to go anywhere in time and space is 10/10. Similarly with Rose. NuWho’s foundations are solid, this Doctor and his new companion and her family unit are going to work out just fine, 10/10. But that stuff belongs just as much to the rest of the season as to this episode… Extricated from the celebration of new beginnings, is “The Ninth Doctor and the Nestenes” an adventure than which no better adventure can be conceived? Or perhaps we should take our cue from the episode title and recognise that that boring old 20th century stuff isn’t what’s important any more. I still find it a pretty big elephant in the room, though.

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