This is the one which rebooted the series by cleverly not rebooting the series whatsoever. This may seem contradictory-wictory, as the Tenth Doctor wouldn’t say, but bear with me.
What a lot of Newbie Whovians don’t know or appreciate is the sheer chasm of non-televised Doctor Who that there was. Not for them the delights of the books or the early audios of Big Finish. Not for them the comic book version that came to us monthly via a handful of pages published in Doctor Who Magazine.
Think on that for one moment. Then think on this: the Time War, the Doctor’s death, half of everything you have watched since 2005…it all started in this gap between the mid-nineties and 2005. Authors wrote this fiction and then wrote for the series, ideas speculated upon became fact (well, fact as far as the in-house continuity of the show is concerned, ahem).
This does not detract from Russell T Davies’ vision of the show, oh you had better believe it. Because what he did revolutionised the show while, at the same time, keeping it exactly the same as before. He rebooted the show so that the previous Classic Who, as it became known, was the backstory that viewers could, if they wished, delve into. See how clever that was? There was baggage to go along with the show but it was baggage you could decide to open or not to open and this analogy is getting away from me, sorry.
So how does this episode start? It starts a little like this…
Big shot of planet Earth, we are rushing towards it like a cat on a cheesecake. We have just enough time to see that America has awoken to morning…which is weird since when the camera zooms into London and a block of flats, it is clearly morning. Already we have flaws of logic and the way the Sun works, but hey, this is Doctor Who, if you want flawless logic, you should go and grok Spock.
It is morning in London, despite it also being morning in New York, and a golden-haired beauty with the features of a living goddess wakes up for the work where she… What? Am I laying it on a bit thick? Sorry.
A girl, who was much more attractive when she was in those late 1990s Smash Hits adverts on TV, wakes up. She is Rose Tyler and she is late for work almost. Oh, and she is the cat’s miaow.
She manages to catch the bus and she arrives at Henrik’s. This is a department store where half a dozen gormless shop girls wander around trying to avoid making eye contact with customers in case they are asked awkward questions such as “How much is this?”, “Do you have this in a size 48?” or “I was measured as being a size 12 in 1973 but this size 12 dress does not fit, why is that?”
At the end of the day, having avoided all the questions and managing to have not handled a single banknote, Rose Tyler makes a dash for the exit until she is stopped by a security guard. Has she been shoplifting? No, she is required to do a small piece of work and no amount of pouting and foot-stomping will get her out of this: she has to deliver lottery winnings to Wilson, an electrician.
Rose Tyler goes down to the basement where all the electric gubbins is kept but Wilson is not there. She is vexed. Rose Tyler is moving through one of the many rooms of junk, this one containing mannequins and out-of-fashion clothes, when something happens. The shop window dummies start moving and threatening her by raising their arms and stumbling like drunks. At first she thinks this is all a joke, a prank being pulled by some ITV ‘comedy’ show or a remake of the 1987 film Mannequin but she ain’t no Kim Cattrall and the rough navvy who grabs her is sure not Andrew McCarthy, thank god…
The navvy, having got grip of her dainty porcelain…ahem…hand, and says to her, “Run!” Run, Rose Tyler, run! And she does, with the stranger, straight into a waiting lift which is slightly smaller on the inside than the outside. They are followed by the dummies who stumble and bump their way slowly to the lift. Unluckily, the lift doors are slower to close than the quickest mannequin and just as it reaches for them, the navvy pulls the arm off the plastic carcass and gives it an almighty wallop.
The shop window dummies are Autons. They are not referred to as such during the course of the episode but that is what they are. For the older fans, this was a “Squee” moment, believe you me. I will therefore refer to them as Autons unless I can of something witty or funny to call them which doesn’t seem likely.
As Rose Tyler and the navvy go up in the lift, he explains to her that Wilson is dead and that she should spend the lottery winnings on a holiday to Bognor Regis. As the lift shudders to a halt on the ground floor, the navvy holds up a bomb and tells Rose Tyler that he is planning on bombing the place she works in a bid to stop the Autons. He then introduced himself. It is the Doctor! The Doctor! The navvy is the Doctor! Oh, and he tells her to run for her life. So much running in this modern series.
Such a different age this was shot in. Given the terrorist attacks in London between 2005 and now, would the BBC nowadays allow the Doctor to brandish a bomb willy-nilly? Dunno, but the BBC is more careful about not offending people so who knows?
Run, Rosie, run, Rosie,
Run, run, run.
Here comes the Autons with their gun, gun, guns.
Rose Tyler skedaddles from Henrik’s like a cat on its way to the cream factory. WHOOSH! She still has the plastic arm. Keepsake? Reason for the Doctor to reappear? Spoilers!
Outside, she watches the department store as it blows up. KA-BOOM! As she flees again, this time to a bus, we see a mysterious blue box on the street. I wonder what that can be?
Back home, Rose Tyler’s boyfriend Mickey Smith checks up on her to make sure that she is alright. Being a great boyfriend, he shuffles back to his place to watch football which is of more importance than his girlfriend. But he does take the plastic arm with him, so brownie points for that.
The plastic arm is dumped in a bin and leaves this story never to be seen again. Adiós, Señor Auton Arm.
Another day, another morning, and Rose Tyler gets up only to remember that her workplace went kablooey last night. She is about to settle down and read James Joyce’s Ulysses (yeah, right!) when she hears the cat flap. Has a stray moggie crept in? Surely not! Her mother, Jackie, screwed it shut, didn’t she?
Rose Tyler goes to investigate the felonious cat flap-fluttering feline only to see the face of the navvy peering at her. It is the Doctor! She opens up the door to the man who bombed her workplace, as you do, and goes to make him some tea as he waffles on about tracing a signal, blah blah blah. The Doctor does some funny stuff in this scene but for fear of splitting your sides with laughter I have decided not to mention what he does.
One bit which is funny but also a little horrific, is where the arm springs at the Doctor and tries to throttle him. Strangulation has never been so hilarious. Ho ho ho! Rose Tyler comes in and she is attacked too. Such fun!
The Doctor whips out an e-cigarette, wait, no! It is the sonic screwdriver and it has a blue light on the end! He points and clicks the Auton arm off. Pausing only to throw the limb at Rose Tyler, he runs out of the flat.
Rose Tyler follows him. What else was she going to do? She wants answers from this leather jacket man (yes, the Doctor wears a leather jacket, deal with it). He tells the blonde lass about living plastic and how it wants to take over the Earth and destroy the human race.
There is a good speech at this point…
ROSE: Tell me. Who are you?
DOCTOR: Do you know like we were saying, about the earth revolving? It’s like when you’re a kid, the first time they tell you that the world is turning and you just can’t quite believe it ’cause everything looks like it’s standing still. I can feel it, the turn of the earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour. The entire planet is hurtling around the sun at sixty-seven thousand miles an hour. And I can feel it. We’re falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world. And, if we let go…
ROSE TYLER gawps at him.
DOCTOR: I can also sense when a sparrow farts.
Rose Tyler, workshy as she may be, cannot let this lie. She uses Mickey’s computer and googles him. Doctor Bombay (come right a-way), Doctor Doolittle, Doctor Finley (and his casebook blog), Doctor McCoy, Doctor Seuss…and Doctor Who, she has found him!
The Doctor has been tracked by this weird conspiracy geek called Clive. When Mickey drives Rose Tyler down to see him, she is taken into Clive’s shed (first rule of conspiracy nuts: own a shed). She is shown photographs and pictures of the Doctor (the version she knows of) that have been taken/drawn throughout time. There are photos of him watching the assassination of John F Kennedy, rocking out at a Wyld Stallions concert, playing Scrabble with Wittgenstein etc. Essentially, Clive just warns her off, saying that death is the Doctor’s constant companion.
Mickey, in case you have forgotten him , during all this business with Clive, has been eaten by a wheely bin. Yes, a wheely bin. This is a comedy moment and is played for laughs. As such, it isn’t really that funny. Just mildly amusing. More CBBC than BBC.
When Rose Tyler leaves Clive’s house, she and Mickey go off to have a pizza. But this not the real Mickey, this is a shiny-skinned Auton duplicate. Not that Rose Tyler notices. She can think of only one thing at a time, and her brain is occupied by pizza.
Rose Tyler and Plastic Mickey go to the pizza emporium and are enjoying a nice romantic time. Not quite. The Auton wants to know all about the Doctor. Every time he speaks, he makes weird electronic noises. Yet his girlfriend doesn’t notice this. Yeah, this couple will last forever…not.
It is only until the waiter, who has disturbed them twice, uses a champagne bottle as a makeshift gun that Rose Tyler realises that something is up with her boo. Oh, and the waiter is the Doctor. Surprised? Not as surprises as Rose Tyler when Auton Mickey’s head takes the impact like a chubby dog on a trampoline and pops it back out of his plastic mouth.
It is at this point where the body of Auton Mickey goes bat-crap crazy and his hands turn into paddle/blocks with which to chop and slice at everything and everyone. The Doctor and Rose Tyler promptly hightail it out of the building with Auton Mickey’s cussing head. “Razzum frazzum,” he goes.
Rose Tyler and the Doctor have escaped to a weird area at the back of the pizza place. The blue box is here. What could it be? A snogging booth? The Doctor enters and Rose Tyler, with no alternative of escape from this area, follows. Then she gets back out, walks around, waves her hands in the air, goosesteps up each side, and then hops back into the blue box which is bigger on the inside than the outside. Her mind is blown although admittedly her mind would have been equally blown if she had won third place in a wooden fork lookalike contest.
Rose Tyler thinks that the headless Auton Mickey might be able to get in but the Doctor reassures her by saying, “Hah! Not even bailiffs could get in here. They’ve tried!”
The Doctor connects wires from the TARDIS’ console to the plastic noggin but all that happens is that Jazz FM starts blaring out from Auton MIckey’s mouth. The Doctor is grooving around when Rose Tyler tells him that the head is melting like the Wicked Witch. This ain’t good. The Doctor is using the polyturnip to locate the Big Bad – the Nestene Consciousness – but with Auton Mickey melting all over the console, he only knows the general vicinity of the gooey plastic alien.
When the TARDIS reappears from the time vortex, Rose Tyler is surprised to find herself by the river Thames. The blue box moves! She then sees a man using a lighting a cigarette and she falls to the floor, rocking backwards and forwards, muttering about, “…man make fire with his fingers, breath smoke…”
There is a comedy bit here which is funny-ish. The Doctor is waffling about some kind of transmitter, a big and round one. Rose Tyler spots it. The London Eye (a Ferris wheel) is big and round and the Doctor’s inability to see or notice this is a funny situation. This is obviously the transmitter and the entrance must be somewhere near.
Our heroes (yes, that is what they are) run across Westminster Bridge in an iconic manner which, if they had been so prolific then, would be GIF bait. Rose Tyler spots a door marked ‘Not Base of Insidious Alien Lifeform, honest!’ Base found. Mischief managed!
The base looks like an abandoned factory. It is full of Autons. Not good. Mickey is in a corner, whining to himself. On the factory floor, glowering like a malevolent cup of soup, is the Nestene Consciousness.
The Doctor speaks to the soup but the soap ain’t having it. A couple of Auton henchdummies grab him as they detect superior technology, the TARDIS! (The Autons have teleported the TARDIS into the base) They also detect a vial of anti-plastic that he had stashed in a pocket in case the negotiations with the Nestene Soupiness did not pan out. They didn’t pan out and now the soup monster wants to bring its invasion plans forward. Uh-oh!
Rose Tyler, not being too concerned about the Autons breathing down her neck (so to speak), calls her mother who is shopping. Unluckily her mother is busy minding her own business when the Autons start jumping from the windows of the shops – smashy smashy – and shooting people.
Clive (remember him?) is also there. He is on a rare trip out from his shed. When he sees the shop-window mannequins shooting people, he realises that all the Doctor-related conspiracy rumours that had he read online was correct. Unlike Adric, Clive dies knowing that he was right.
Back at Nestene HQ, Rose (I am dropping the whole ‘Rose Tyler’ running joke since I am not sure anyone will get it), sick and tired of hugging her pathetically sobbing boyfriend, decides to do something stupid. She grabs a chain, swings down while screaming, “Weeeeeeeeeee!” and kicks the Autons away from the Doctor. In the kerfuffle, the vial of anti-plastic drops into the Nestene Consciousness and kills it.
Rose’s mother, Jackie, is safe from the Autons. They all collapse and stop when the transmitter goes down. I just thought I would let you know in case you had invested some sentimental attachment to her.
The Doctor, Rose and Mickey escape into the TARDIS as Nestene HQ blows up around them. Having watched way too many repeats of Inspector Gadget, the remains of the Nestene Soupiness screams, “I’ll get you next time, Time Lord!”
Outside the flats where she lives, the Doctor asks whether she would like to travel with him. Anywhere in the universe as long as it is somewhere humans exist. Rose refuses. She refuses! He shrugs his shoulders and leaves her to cuddle Mickey who has already had to change his boxer shorts twice. Wimp.
Rose hears the wheezing, groaning noise of the TARDIS again (makes a cool ring tone, trust me) and it rematerialises in front of her and the gibbering Mickey. The Doctor pops his head out and says, “Oh, it travels in time as well, Rose Tyler. As long as it is a Saturday. Wanna ride?” This time, Rose runs straight into the TARDIS without a care for Mickey and the years of counselling that he will need.
The TARDIS disappears and the adventure starts. Hurray!
Is that it? Yup, ‘fraid so. Now to talk about the actors.
Christopher Eccleston is the new Doctor. A Northern Doctor. All planets have a north but all planets also have a Milton Keynes so swings and roundabouts, eh? Is he a good Doctor? I don’t know. When I first watched the episode many centuries ago, I was undecided. Now? Less so. I liked Eccleston as the Doctor. He has a rugged vulnerability that was missing from previous portrayals of our Gallifreyan hero…although John Hurt matched him in equal measures in the rugged/vulnerability stakes.
Billie Piper as Rose ‘Rose Tyler’ Tyler is better than any of us suspected her to be. I won’t say much about her acting here but she doesn’t set a foot wrong. Further judgement will come in later episodes.
Camille Coduri plays Rose’s mother with surprising skill. I only remember her from her previous role as the female lead of King Ralph so I had no expectations from her. She makes Jackie human. In any other hands this character might have become a stereotype but Coduri subverts the role while playing it as straight as possible. The scene where she interacts with the Doctor in her flat is wonderful.
Should you watch this story. Yeah, I should think so.