Shiny Shelf

Doctor Who: Rose

By Mark Clapham on 29 April 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

‘Rose’, the first episode of the BBC’s much-hyped ‘Doctor Who’ relaunch had to not only bring ‘Doctor Who’ up to date for a 2005 audience, but also re-introduce a genre British TV hasn’t seen for a while.

All-in-all, ‘Rose’ is a very successful revamp, a tremendously entertaining 45 minutes of scares, jokes and action that sees London shopgirl Rose dragged into the Doctor’s battle with fiendish alien monsters. It’s a journey for the audience as well, from standard chirpy working-class soap (think a Children’s BBC version of ‘Shameless’, the rougher edges rendered squeaky clean, stage school vowels showing through the estuary accents) to science fiction with CGI monsters. New Doctor Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper, who plays Rose, have a casual warmth which is more natural and contemporary than the theatrical BBC house style of old, making them characters a modern audience can relate to. It’s clearly ‘Doctor Who’, but also very much in line with the best BBC popular drama. As a programme for children, it has the feel of the slicker, bouncier, more exportable British shows of recent years, with something of the pace and humour of a Kim Fuller (‘Miami 7′ et al) script.

This is all the more impressive for the sheer extent to which British TV is not set up to make this kind of thing anymore. The Americans have a television industry that is used to churning out shows with special effects and shoot outs, while the average BBC drama rarely has even so much as a punch-up. Family-oriented fantasy has been out of action on British TV for quite a while – there’s serious drama, which is expensive and on after nine, and then there’s magical kids stuff like ‘Shoebox Zoo’, which is on when adults aren’t watching. Really, there hasn’t been anything like ‘Doctor Who’ on TV for a while, and in some ways programme makers have ceased to believe a generation-uniting show like this could be done.

There are a couple of points in ‘Rose’ where British TV’s lack of experience with this kind of thing shows – when the malevolent mannequins go on the rampage through London at the end of ‘Rose’, neither director Keith Boak nor most of the actors seem to know how to cope with a chaotic action scene. There’s no wide-eyed terror, no terrified people desperately scattering – instead Camille Coduri (Rose’s mum) staggers around as if she’s just read some mildly distressing gossip. Equally, the framing of the scene where Rose swings to the Doctor’s rescue is a little off, another indication of directorial inexperience in this area.

Hopefully as the series goes on, the production team will find it easier to pull off big action set pieces, and will cast actors who – like Eccleston, Piper and guest star Noel Clarke this week – can give the right physical performance to ’sell’ the threat. There’s no inherent reason why British television can’t ‘do’ action or science fiction, it’s just very, very out of practice. This is what makes this new ‘Doctor Who’ a risk for the BBC, but one worth taking – if ‘Who’ succeeds, it will have demonstrated that it is possible to create a series that the whole family watches, and that there’s room for family-friendly action and escapism among the bitter grind of soaps and reality shows.

The BBC clearly wanted ‘Doctor Who’ to be big – its success could have even bigger implications for the kind of programme the British television industry produces.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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