‘I mean, you lot; all you do is eat chips, go to bed, and watch telly, while all the time, underneath you, there’s a war going on.’ I’m still impressed that Davies, Gardner and Tranter chose to make this a continuation of the 1963 series. In retrospect, it’s a genius move – franchises like Star Trek benefit from their ability to pull on a hinterland of heritage material – but at the time reboots like Battlestar Galactica, retellings like Smallville, and even stripped back prequels like Enterprise were much more the norm.
I love the way Russell T Davies takes the basic template of An Unearthly Child and twists it. This time, it’s not Ian and Barbara pushing their way into the Doctor’s world, but Rose dragging the Doctor (quite literally) into hers. His entrance into the Tyler flat comes at about the same point as Ian and Barbara’s entry to the TARDIS, and through the episode his concern with the ‘turn of the Earth’ and chatting galactic politics with the Nestene Consciousness is given no more significance than Rose’s concern for her boyfriend or her mother.
The ninth Doctor is as aloof and high-handed, in his own way, as the Hartnell version, grumpily snapping at Rose when she’s more worried about Mickey than the Auton invasion. But, like Hartnell, he’s softened by the end. Like An Unearthly Child, this hints at a wider backstory, with mention of a war about which the Doctor clearly feels guilt (his flip from swaggering about demanding an audience with the Nestene to plaintively defending his own part in the war). Alongside the sequence where Clive paints a fairly dark picture of who the Doctor is – ‘a legend woven through history. When disaster comes, he’s there. He brings the storm in his wake and he has one constant companion… Death’ – there’s ambiguity to the character which is very Hartnellish.
Despite some TV Movie influences (the opening titles and the TARDIS design) this is much more like Scream of the Shalka, which also offered up a haunted Doctor, a companion with a boring job and a useless boyfriend. The difference is the relationship between the ninth Doctor and Rose is central in a way the Shalka Doctor and Alison’s wasn’t, and because Rose genuinely saves the day (the anti-plastic is just a device, it was the bronze gym certificate that was important). Unlike Scream of the Shalka or the TV Movie, we don’t get any scenes of the Doctor wandering about on his own, he only turns up when he’s interacting with Rose.
Now we know the series went on to be a great success, it’s easy to see Rose as a triumphant relaunch. And, of course, it is. At the time, given how many times we’d abandoned hope before, I was hypersensitive to the bits that didn’t quite work. The “I can feel the turn of the earth” scene feels like it was written for the trailers rather than the characters, and Rose’s inability to recognise Mickey has been taken over doesn’t really make sense given Clarke’s performance and makeup.
However, in the end there was nothing to be nervous about. The overall sense, rewatching it now, is delight that all the important bits of the show are here: a mercurial Doctor, a strong companion (and her family), the TARDIS, the monsters, the cliffhangers (well, the Next Time trailers doing as good a job at hooking me for the next episode). This is fantastic.
Next Time: The End of the World
The blog is moving to three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) from The End of the World to allow me to keep up with the longer episodes.