Friday, September 7, 2012

Doctor Who Series 1 Ep1: Rose

"Who are you?" -Rose Tyler [not singing The Who]-

"Fantastic!" -The Doctor [not describing the franchise but he could be]-

This is always the problem you see. What is my muse? Watching science fiction of course. I watch it to enjoy, which is quickly followed by a desire to write about it. I can't help myself. On a whim I decided to jump ahead from the Fourth Doctor to the Ninth Doctor and start catching up on the new (well, not so new now, but you know what I mean) Doctor Who via the revived Series 1 [2005].

Of course, this is new Doctor Who when contrasted to the likes of doctors William Hartnell [1963-1966], Patrick Troughton [1966-1969], Jon Pertwee [1970-1974], Tom Baker [1974-1981], Peter Davison [1982-1984], Colin Baker [1984-1986] and Sylvester McCoy [1987-1989]. Obviously everything is relative and we are talking absolutely new when compared to William Hartnell. So, yes, on a whim I decided to start running through some new Who and lo and behold, like Yoo-Hoo, the new Who was a deliciously irresistible taste treat.

I always love me some vintage Tom Baker Doctor Who, but when you arrive at watching the completely reloaded, regenerated, revitalized Who you can't help but ask, where the hell have you been all my life? It's a wonderful surging rebirth. Classic Doctor Who may have ended with Season 26, but the reboot begins here. Doctor Who, Series 1, Rose introduces a new Doctor in the incredibly intense, fit and gifted actor Christopher Eccleston and a voluptuously beautiful new companion in the feisty Rose Tyler played by former, minor UK pop singer Billie Piper. She would later feature in Secret Diary Of A Call Girl [2007-2011].

Thankfully, to steer the ship right, set the proper tone and let existing fans know the franchise was in very capable hands, longtime Doctor Who fan, screenwriter/producer Russell T. Davies would handle the writing chores on eight of the thirteen Series 1 episodes. Future showrunner Stephen Moffat would handle one episode.

Taking the reins it seemed fitting Davies should honor the great world of Who with an episode that partners the companion's name for the episode title, Rose, just below the series title, Doctor Who itself. The magic of the series has always centered on the Doctor and most always, the equally formidable female companion. What a beautiful tribute and kick start to the essence and spirit of this science fiction franchise to honor the roles together. You quickly discover in just thirteen short episodes that Davies means business and faithfully understands and recreates the world and spirit of Doctor Who while reinvigorating the series with new life and a new energy never fully realized in the days prior to CGI or more importantly bigger budgets, because we still get a delicious share of prosthetic and make-up work on creatures. It's not merely realized through computer technology. It still breathes magic into tangible enemies whether its Autons, Daleks or Slitheen.

An image from a positively affecting sequence from the Doctor Who opener. Davies and company returned to the Doctor Who franchise after a nine year hiatus when Paul McGann last took the role for a one-off film in May 1996 as the Eighth Doctor. It was a joint production between the BBC, Universal and Fox. Before that, Sylvester McCoy breathed life into the Doctor role way back in December 1989, seven years earlier as the Seventh Doctor.

Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic looks back at Series 1 through the eyes of an old school Doctor Who fan. You're never too old to enjoy Who even if you may be too young to appreciate Classic Doctor Who. I can only say Davies had me at hello Rose.

Sexy, sweet, voluptuous companion Rose is very much your contemporary, feisty and fearless heroine with a thirst for adventure. The show also pays more attention to the world surrounding the companion here with Rose's mum, Jackie Tyler, filling the role of oblivious, over dramatic, sex kitten/cougar with slight priority issues to great effect. Rose even has a clingy, overly needy boyfriend named Mickey Smith. Rather effectively we learn a bit more about the psychological make-up of Mickey and the formative days of this personality in Episode 8, Father's Day. Mickey comes off as mildly unlikable but that steadily changes throughout the season, at least for me. Camille Coduri and Noel Clarke, as Jackie and Mickey respectively, fill out their supporting roles magnificently. Even Mark Benton as Clive, a Doctor tracker of sorts with his own Who Is Doctor Who? website, is a delight. But honestly, did Clive have to die? Writer Davies spares no expense to ensure this is a well-rounded Doctor Who world and packs a great deal of information into a briskly-paced genre tale.

So along comes Eccleston with his quirky but original and refreshing new touch for the Doctor. Both Piper and Eccleston seem to be channeling companion Elisabeth Sladen and doctor Tom Baker respectively, at least in spirit, injecting their own bit of feisty and peculiar with genuinely likable abandon. Don't get me wrong, the lively, spunky, vivacious Billie Piper feels a little more fearless than Sladen who seemed to walk the line between fearful and reluctant hero like no other, but the essence of that wide-eyed innnocence is there. The companion is indeed new to this alien world. Eccleston's alien Doctor is an odd ball while Baker was an odd duck. They both bring something off to the role in a wonderful way and yet both are extremely cool. Isn't that why we love the Doctor? These particular Doctors manage to walk the tightrope of geek chic and cool action hero better than stars of just about any science fiction franchise. Even Stargate SG-1's Michael Shanks as Daniel Jackson is a different animal to the wonders of the good Doctor not to compare apples to oranges unfairly.

The Doctor is just such a special creation. The British catch a lot of heat for its television and film output, but America has often begged, borrowed and stolen ideas along the way [The Office, etc.]. Doctor Who is one of a kind and the BBC have got this one down to a science. It's a smashing success with good reason. It's fresh, colorful, fun, inventive with writing that thinks outside the Tardis [box].

The first entry in the series, Rose, kicks off with a terrifying lilt in the spirit of Doctor Who straddling the line of its finest moments of science fiction and horror in the mold of something like Pyramids Of Mars. In London, Rose is attacked in her department stores basement by the Autons. Instead of mummies we have mannequins, an alien race called Autons, who are brought to life and eager to take over the Earth. They are controlled by the Nestene Consciousness (taking residence in the London Eye), which the Doctor and Rose must locate and destroy otherwise all artificial creations could potentially spring to life, even "breast implants." That's never good, and that is Doctor Who - irreverent, good, smart fun.

Initially, the Doctor saves Rose. We are introduced to the recurring secondary characters throughout the series. Rose and Mickey turn to Clive, a conspiracy theorist seeking the Doctor's existence through time.

Mickey is kidnapped and replaced by an Auton. The Doctor saves Rose once again. Together they locate the Nestene Consciousness which blames the Time Lords for the destruction of their homeworld during the fabled Time War [first mentioned here]. Efforts to negotiate dissolve and Rose must save the Doctor and destroy it. Mickey is saved too.

So when the new Doctor essentially channels the idea of those immortal words "Have I The Right?" from Genesis Of The Daleks, Eccleston's doctor makes it clear he too does not plan to destroy the Nestene Consciousness. He even cites the "peaceful contract" of Convention 15 of The Shadow Proclamation [see The Stolen Earth (2008)]. He tries to be diplomatic.

Being the Doctor he is able to communicate in a variety of different languages and a series of grunts and groans from a lava mass forces the Doctor to make it clear that this is indeed "an invasion plain and simple" and Rose and the Doctor are left with no alternative.

The artificial lifeform that is the Auton first appeared in Third Doctor's [Pertwee] Season Seven, Spearhead From Space [1970]. It was the first Doctor Who alien to appear in color. The Autons returned for Pertwee's Season Eight, Terror Of The Autons [1971].

The simple tale of the Autons would launch the revitalized Doctor Who with Rose signalling their return to the mythological world of Who. They would reappear in Love & Monsters [2005] and The Pandorica Opens [2010]. The Autons demonstrate the capacity to go replicator a la Stargate SG-1 able to move from their plastic, mannequin-like appearance to a more human form with a plastic sheen. Certainly other alien lifeforms have been known to evolve and demonstrate humanoid form within and without Doctor Who.

Again, there is a cracking energy about the Series 1 opener, Rose, and it moves along at a breakneck pace as it essentially established the Doctor and Rose as a team and offers her an invitation to adventure.

My biggest gripe with Rose would have to be the score by Murray Gold and it's no reflection on his music. To be precise, it is mixed so loud and with so much bass that it often overwhelms, overcomes and drowns out the dialogue in a distracting fashion. Music implemented to move or drive the physical action is one thing, but overwhelming the nuance of the dialogue and other sound effects is unfortunate and unwanted. Again, it's a minor quibble, but there are moments throughout these first few episodes where the soundtrack simply dominates and one needs to raise and lower the volume accordingly. I'm sure the creators were still working to get it right at the time and growing pains were to be expected for sure. In fact, only when the music stops, for example when Rose is alone in silence in the store basement, are we allowed to really immerse ourselves into the moment with the character and genuinely feel vulnerable. Music is added gradually here and it's subtle only enhancing the mood of the scene to brilliant effect. Having said that, fear not, the mixing of the series does improve and some of Gold's scoring to the episodes is positively beautiful and note perfect.

But generally speaking Rose is a crackling good time that took all of the things I loved about the old series and infused those ideas with a greater production value and God knows Classic Who needed a greater production value. But the things I did love about the old series - the monsters, the aliens, the terrific performances of doctor and companions alike, good humor, and the spirit of adventure combined with genuinely frightening thrills are all here and then some. Here's a terrific sampling of that sparkling dialogue in the series.

The humor. There's no short supply of those moments.

The genuine, natural emotion that builds on character. It's all there.

Speaking of the production value, the new interior of the fabled Tardis [Time and Relative Dimension In Space] and the beloved Police public call box of the 1950s is truly something to behold. Big and lit with real fluorescent power it puts to shame the simplicity of the old Tardis interior of the Tom Baker years, but we did love that interior anyway didn't we? And still do. But yes the Tardis, of course, is to Doctor Who what the U.S.S. Enterprise was to Star Trek: The Original Series. And yes, Davies and his team have lovingly restored the concept of the Tardis delivering great detail to this important component of the series. It is an especially magical box.

Unfortunately, four days after the airing of Rose, the BBC announced Series 2 was commissioned and also announced that Eccleston would, surprising to many, not be returning. With some impropriety, the BBC indicated Eccleston feared being typecast. The BBC had commented inappropriately without Eccleston's knowledge or consent for the press. It's unfortunate the BBC would admit it had broken contract/ agreement by disclosing such a release. In 2005, it was also falsely reported to The Daily Telegraph by actor/ comedian Alan Davies that Eccleston was "overworked" and "exhausted" to which Eccleston once again rebutted as untrue in The Daily Mirror days later. Ultimately, at least by the end of it all, Eccleston indicated his experience on Doctor Who was "mixed." He reported to the BBC News that he "didn't enjoy the environment and the culture that the cast and crew had to work in", but was proud to be part of it. Russell T. Davies penned in The Writer's Tale that the possibility of renewal was still not a foregone conclusion originally and that the BBC did have its doubts in the early going, which could certainly account for growing pains and Eccleston's own decisions early on.

Fortunately, we have the pleasure of one full season of Eccleston at the helm and what a terrific take on the Doctor it is. It's hard to believe some find fault with Eccleston. He may not be the best ever in the role. These things are always debatable, but he certainly holds his own among the best. Harry Venning (The Stage) actually found Eccleston "unsuited to a fantasy role." Perhaps he had a change of heart following the entirety of the series.

Doctor Who recaptures mythological plot points concerning the ageless doctor in a series of Where's Waldo-like Where's Doctor? photographs across time. Delving into Doctor Who history and linking to past series never hurts. Those classic concepts, villains, generally delicious visuals and that wonderful Tardis are all backed most importantly with Davies' wonderful characters. Through our immediate connection with these people he capitalizes on those wonderful existential moments the series has always offered as well as moments of genuine sincerity. Rose asks, "Who are you?" of the Doctor when she might as well be asking herself or any one of us watching that very same question.

Rose is a tremendous opening yarn (no yawn here). It's filled with emotion and likability and strong in the details. Rose is a truly glorious start to an already wonderful franchise that makes it clear this new launch was set to blossom. The episode is absolutely packed and it moves ["Run for your life!"]. Most importantly Rose proves Davies persevered and somehow assembled the very best and got the BBC to greenlight the return of the Doctor and his companion. And thankfully the voices of millions joyfully sang together once again in unison. The science fiction poetry of Doctor Who had finally returned and in a big, bold way.

Rose: B+. Writer: Russell T. Davies. Director: Keith Boak.
Monster/Aliens: The Autons.
For those keeping track, The Mighty 200 listed in Doctor Who Magazine places Rose at number 63.

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