New Who in conversation: Rose (S01E01)

Watching New Who – in conversation with David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely

David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 6 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all. We’re going to work our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, as our blogging points. Just for fun!

ROSE – Season one, episode one
The Doctor – Christopher Eccleston
Rose Tyler – Billie Piper


So, as you know I have been waiting long time to start watching the “New” Who, and it was with a mix of excitement and trepidation I sat down and pressed play. It is always dicey going back to something that you grew up with, in case it turns out that it isn’t as good as you remembered (that evil Suck Fairy!) but this was even more fraught with potential problems as this was an attempt to bring Doctor Who to a more modern audience, which could have gone terribly wrong if they had tried to make too “cool”.


I have been listening to friends talk about New Who for years, and it never really occurred to me to try to watch it, until Neil Gaiman went and wrote an episode. Well I couldn’t just watch THAT one, and so started on Season 5 (on the plane back from the Aurealis Awards!) and was pretty much instantly hooked. I remember watching Doctor Who as a kid (frequently from behind the couch with my hands over my eyes!), when Tom Baker was THE Doctor, but really have few memories of actual episodes. Daleks and the Tardis, the curly-haired Doctor – extent of my knowledge!


Whereas I watched “Rose” right back at the beginning, when the episode was leaked on to the internet a little while before its actual release – and that was when Australians had to wait months and months and MONTHS to get a terrestrial showing, so I had to wait a very long time to see the rest of this season. For nearly half a year, New Who was basically “Rose” – and it didn’t disappoint.


It’s been a while since I have watched any Who so, while the theme music may have been updated slightly, as soon as it started playing it took me back immediately, a lovely sensation.


The music hits you straight away! It’s totally iconic 🙂


The thing that struck me from the start was the frenetic pace, they really hit the ground running.


I love that the first word you hear the Doctor say is “Run.” Completely encapsulates what it’s like to be on the ride with him!


I couldn’t imagine what a New Who was going to be like – the pace and music both add the contemporary tone. It’s all a bit dated now, but not too much. When it first screened, it just screamed ‘2005’ at us. Though as an Australian some of the ‘now now now’ cultural references were a little lost on me. The colour palette was also a bit of a shock to the system. So much colour! And not Colin Baker colour, either, but the episode was bright, brash and vivid.


I liked Rose from the start, and she kept growing on me. I don’t know enough about England to know whether she is a terrible stereotype, but she is certainly entertaining, and definitely not just an accessory of a companion, but a strong character in her own right.


I have to confess, I’m not a huge Rose fan. She kind of irritated me from the start and never really stopped being kind of annoying. But probably this isn’t the place to talk about that!


I love Rose. Season 1 Rose much more than Season 2, but that’s a conversation for another day. This early version of Rose grabbed me, and I liked that the story revolved around her and her point of view. Rewatching it recently with Raeli, I was interested to see how fast she fell in love with Rose as a character, and I found myself losing some of my cynicism that had built up over the RTD (Russell T Davies for the newbies!) season the first time around.


The Doctor was a little jarring at first, sort of how I would imagine Guy Ritchie interpreting him, and then becomingly increasingly manic but by the end of the episode, I had warmed to him as well.


I really didn’t know how to take him – I’d come to Season 1 off the back of a season and a half of Matt Smith, so it took me a few episodes to warm up to Eccleston’s version of the Doctor. Even watching this episode a second time though, I don’t think he was fully in the Doctor headspace yet. Was still good though.


He had me at ‘Run.’


As soon as the mannequins were shown, even before they started moving, I thought … “AUTONS!”. What an interesting choice as the bad guys for the first episode, out of all the possibilities!


I’m a huge fan of the Autons, and the Pertwee era as a whole. How odd to think that they hadn’t been seen since the early 70s – they’re really a perfect classic monster to reinvent, as they’ve always represented current culture through the use of plastic. The cool thing about them is that they have less baggage than the more famous Doctor Who baddies, and that you can explain the concept behind them super fast, which suits this rock video of an opening episode. Living plastic – bang! Of course it does also give us what I’ve always felt were the cringiest aspects of this episode – the wheelie bin and the plastic Mickey scene. Though Raeli laughed her head off at those bits, so I feel better about them now.


Had no idea that the mannequins were from Classic Who! It’s one of the problems with not having seen a lot of the old episodes (or remembering them, anyway) – I never know when something is genuinely new, or has been seen before!


But it’s so cool you didn’t know that – that the idea didn’t feel old or dusty. You certainly don’t need to have seen anything of the old show to get New Who – largely because emotional arcs, they were not a thing! All you need to know about the Doctor is right there in his lovely speech to Rose about the world turning.


The only disappointment was that they didn’t use one of the images that will always stay with me, the flowers that shoot the film that covers your face. I thought that was a great concept, something that terrified me as a child, anyway. They did a great job with the Autons, mannequins are creepy at the best of times, but they way that they come to life is quite chilling. The scenes in the streets are one of the strong points of the episode, I think. Their death scenes did look like a Midnight Oil film clip, true, but other than that they were very well handled. I actually quite liked the duplication of her boyfriend, he is completely “off” and not convincing, but that just emphasises Rose’s preoccupation.


But the flowers only worked because plastic daffodils were a thing in 1971! Apparently too much of a thing, as it turned out way more households than the production team guessed. I did like that they mirrored that experience through the hand trying to suffocate Rose. But the wheelie bin is the 2005 equivalent of an innocuous plastic item made deadly. It is kind of hilarious that Rose is so not into Mickey that she doesn’t notice he’s been replaced by an Auton, I will admit, even if it does make her look supremely dumb. I thought they conveyed the unsatisfying nature of their relationship very well through some subtle interactions – they are great mates but so obviously in a rut and taking each other completely for granted. Not the sort of issue we were used to seeing dealt with in Doctor Who in the old days!


It’s interesting to see how quickly the Doctor adopts his companions – and how he tears them away from everything they’ve ever known without, it seems, so much as a thought for what they’re leaving behind. I like that this is sort of dealt with in later seasons, but it struck me quite a lot here.


This is a major theme of New Who – and one that is definitely in conversation with the show’s past. From the original companions, Ian and Barbara, who are returned to their time two years later, all the way through to 80’s teenager Ace, the show largely ignored the consequences of what time in the TARDIS did to the lives of the companions. I know we’re not planning to discuss the Slitheen two parter, but one thing I love about that is the way we see Rose return home for the first time since she left with the Doctor, and they’re a year late, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Her mother has had a year of thinking she was dead, her boyfriend came close to being arrested for her murder, and her family will never entirely trust her again. That’s huge, and shows how relationships and emotions are being treated seriously in this new version of the show.


And I think it’s something we’ll probably come back to as we work through.


Speaking of her mother, while we’re discussing episode one, what are your thoughts on Jackie Tyler?


It’s hard to talk about Jackie having seen where she goes, so David’s thoughts here will be interesting. I love that she’s all “There’s a strange man in my bedroom,” and the Doctor is “Yeah, there is,” and then totally shuts her down! Hilarious! I actually really like Jackie, even back here where she’s so self-absorbed and blinkered.


I love the comedy she brings, and the fact that she so obviously sees herself as Rose’s sister rather than her Mum. I enjoy the interactions between the Ninth Doctor and Jackie every time I see them – they are both so very rude to each other!


Despite the fact she is, as Tehani says, completely self-centred it becomes obvious that she does really care about Rose and there is no actual malice in her. It’s an interesting contrast, on one hand you have this woman who is presented as being completely wrapped up in the day to day world and unable to see anything beyond her own wants and pre occupations and whose biggest ambitions seem pretty limited. Then, on the other, you have Rose who seems to be stifled by her life, and be dreaming of a bigger Universe and yearning for adventure.

Touching on the Slitheen episode, Jackie is understandably protective of Rose, and asks some very well warranted questions about the Doctor’s motivations and whether he has thought about what some of the consequences for Rose might be, so I think Jackie is more complex than we give her credit for.


I agree that there’s a lot more to Jackie than you might assume at first – and Mickey too, of course. The emotional issues that they represent are hugely important and of course, not wanting to spoil you, they’re both going to arc towards their own kind of hero moments. I very much like that Jackie is selfish and petty and bitchy, but also right a lot of the time. And you never doubt her love for Rose.


I think that’s one of the things that I love about the new series – there’s a lot of complexity in MOST characters, even the minor ones. Just wait, David!


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