“It’s a disguise!” the Doctor exclaims gleefully, without a hint of irony, as he looks affectionately upon his spaceship disguised as 1950s police box. Rose suppresses an amused snort.
Rose was the first taste of Doctor Who that a generation of Whovians would experience. It was a high-stakes enterprise, rebooting the dusty old cult show for a whole new generation. In my humble opinion it did so superlatively. Rose, in any other circumstance, would be a fairly mediocre story. London is invaded by walking mannequins. The Doctor chases the mannequins around London. The Doctor finds the mannequin-in-chief (a giant blob of molten plastic) and kills it. It’s not a particularly imaginative or exciting plot. But that’s not the point–like The Eleventh Hour, five years on, Rose was not trying to be a gripping plot, its overwhelming object was to introduce a rebooted Doctor Who to the audience, not just new characters, but the whole franchise. It answers the questions: who is the Doctor? What is the TARDIS? What is the universe of this show? What is Doctor Who? To my mind, there is no doubt that it achieved its objective, and did so magnificently. Everything new viewers needed to know about the show was conveyed stylishly, as was what existing fans wanted to know.
The Ninth Doctor and Rose make a highly watchable team, and the chemistry Eccleston and Piper have together is unmistakable. The introduction of the Doctor was done admirably. In New Who, the Doctor has always been a more enigmatic figure than he was in the original run, although the precedent for this was set at the end of the original run, in the McCoy era. This I think is a good thing, putting the Doctor at the centre of the show, and was a stroke of genius for Russell T Davies to take up this device from the get-go. Rose, too, was introduced effectively, the show establishing literally from the beginning that the revival would be a companion-centred show. Rose, almost in this one episode alone, was more fleshed out than any companion from the original run. Rose is presented as an ordinary girl from London, albeit extraordinary in her own way: it’s not just any 19-year old girl who would swing from a chain to save a man she barely knew from walking mannequins. The viewer truly forms a strong bond with Rose over the course of this episode who remains, despite everything, the archetypal New Who companion.
Although, as I said, I’m willing to overlook (for the most part), the uninspiring plot, I have somewhat less tolerance for the kind of juvenile humour this episode (and other episodes in Series 1) indulged in: the burping bin, plastic Mickey, even the Doctor himself, to some extent. I appreciate that the show was trying to find its feet anew with Series 1, straddling, as it always has, the divide between children’s entertainment and serious science fiction, but I struggle to recall anything Classic Who ever did as cringe-worthy as the burping bin (or something even worse in a later episode). The original Season 1 was directed towards children, but it didn’t patronise those children at all. I think the inclination on the part of Russell T. Davies and the producers to go in for this kind of juvenile humour was an error of judgment which, even in the circumstances (which do mitigate the seriousness of the offence… somewhat), could have been avoided with prudence.
Nevertheless, overall, a very positive start.