Shiny Shelf

Doctor Who: Rose

By Eddie Robson on 29 April 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

It’s funny – I knew that this new series of ‘Doctor Who’ was going to be aimed squarely at new viewers. I knew that its top priority was to secure the attention of the kids who’ve never even heard of it. I knew this and I vocally supported this approach all the way. Yet I didn’t fully appreciate what this meant in dramatic terms, instead thinking of it in terms of not relying on the character’s vast history, of not allowing what had gone before to obstruct what could be done now.

This meant that I was unprepared for the structure of the first episode of Brave New Who, ‘Rose’. The title should have tipped me off, as should the production team’s frequent comments that Billie Piper’s character was just as central to the stories as the Doctor himself. And I even had some forewarning that the Doctor was going to be introduced to us via Rose. This all seemed sensible, and yet still I was surprised.

‘Rose’ is an adventure in which a young woman named Rose Tyler becomes tangentially involved. It’s all told from her point of view and she becomes aware that there is a larger story going on of which she is only a part. But, at the end, a brilliant piece of improvisation on her part saves the day and the man who seems to be at the centre of the whole thing – the Doctor. He’s clearly impressed with her and invites her along for more adventures.

The reason why I found this quite odd to watch is that it’s nothing like the structure of any previous ‘Doctor Who’ episode. Except – and excuse me whilst I slap my forehead and shout ‘D’oh!’ – the very first one from 1963, ‘An Unearthly Child’. Which the Doctor isn’t even in for the first ten minutes or so. Then he turns up and you’ve got no idea what his game is or what he’s on about.

The difference between ‘An Unearthly Child’ and ‘Rose’ is that the former gives the viewer no idea what ‘Doctor Who’, the weekly television adventure series, is going to be like. Is he going to baffle a couple of random people who’ve walked off the street and into the TARDIS every week? Hence, ‘Rose’ is fast and action-packed, with Doctor Who saving the world. It says quite clearly, This is what you can expect on a regular basis.

At the time I felt the denouement was a bit abrupt – it seemed like the plot had only just got going. But then I realised that I was looking for the wrong things from this episode. Having seen a great deal of ‘Doctor Who’ in my time, I was looking for the Doctor and waiting for him to solve the alien plot, so I couldn’t always get a grip on the story.

However, the new viewers were happily wrapped up in this likeable new character, Rose, and intrigued by the weird bloke who periodically turned up to baffle her. Meanwhile, I was away fretting about things that didn’t really matter. Which is a shame, but only for me. As far as your average viewer is concerned, this was very intelligently handled and makes me glad that I wasn’t in charge of bringing ‘Doctor Who’ back because, much as I’d have loved to do it, I couldn’t have done a tenth as good a job as this.

Here’s another thing I knew: that I wouldn’t be able to watch this thing normally, like it was an episode of any other TV series. But I think I’m over it now. And I can’t wait for next week, when maybe I’ll be able to enjoy it a bit more.

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By Eddie Robson

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