Season 1, Episode 1
It’s March 2005. An excited man in his late 30s is sprinting home from the pub. His show is about to start.
It’s been fifteen and a half years since his hero was placed in suspended animation by the evil Lord Grade of Uranus. His expectations oscillate. It will be wonderful! It will be awful! His mind spins into a one-man Stadtler and Waldorf routine. This is becoming entirely unbearable.
He takes to the sofa, TV on. Five minutes early. Damn! Get on with it! This is not a TV show, this is a life event. Hurry up!
And then it comes. The adrenaline-addled man watches the whole show on the edge of his seat and when it’s all over there are tears of joy in his eyes. The Doctor is back and all is good. He watches it three more times just to make sure and retires in a wonderful mood.
So how does this person feel about the episode fifteen and a half years later? It was a wonderful event, but was it a wonderful show?
It has an awful lot to do in just 45 minutes, it has to introduce a new Doctor, a new companion and hopefully, tell a story. In the old days, you’d have at least 100 minutes to do that. It’s a big ask.
On reflection, the story is perhaps, a little slight but there’s enough of it to keeps thing moving. It was a good move to bring back a less used enemy from the classic series. It gave a bit of continuity without resorting to Daleks or Cybermen. Somehow, that would not have been right.
First, we meet Rose. Here is our new touchstone, a noughties incarnation of Ace, perhaps. She’s an attractive, vivacious, working-class Londoner and she’s about to take us down the rabbit hole to end all rabbit holes. There’s a nicely directed transition from Rose’s humdrum day to the first action scene and finally, there’s the man we’ve all been waiting for.
Unsurprisingly, there’s no regeneration scene or any mention of regeneration. This is, after all, Season 1 not Series 27. I’m not sure that anyone had really decided whether he was “8” or “9” back then.
The Doctor is suddenly here and he’s on the case. In a huge departure from both later and earlier incarnations, he’s dressed in contemporary clothes. He could walk down any street and not be out of place. There’s nothing flamboyant about his appearance beyond a rather spectacular grin.
Dropping him into an action scene allows for a slow and steady introduction to the new Doctor. He’s a little bit more macho than his predecessors; a little less loquacious and more inclined towards the short-sharp quips of the action hero. He’s quite definitely from another planet but we’re not told where.
He’s doesn’t channel any of the classic players, he’s just treats it as a blank canvas. And it works.
The main mission of establishing a new Doctor and companion is actually accomplished quickly and effectively. They’re sparking off each other nicely and it’s not too long before we’re feeling quite attached to them and the affection continues to grow. We also get the companion’s boyfriend and mother, both of whom will return in subsequent adventures. And if that’s not enough, there’s a cracking joke about the Doctor’s newly acquired northern accent which remains one of my all-time favourite lines from any period of the show.
Rusty has hit a home run, and the rest is a bonus. What we get is a fairly lively romp, albeit with not too much meat on its bones, but enough to turn the episode into a complete show.
In spite of the rather striking sight of the Doctor being backed by a healthy budget, the show feels like it has its feet firmly planted in the original Whoniverse. At the same time, it manages to bridge the missing years in Earth time quite painlessly.
The direction by Keith Boak is spot on and Murray Gold’s music is excellent. The Doctor is back and back in the present day (I haven’t been out too much since) and it delivers something quite wonderful to newcomers and old fans alike. All in all, it’s an absolute triumph.
Viewed as an episode, it’s still pretty good – maybe a seven out of ten. Considered as one of the hardest reboots in history, it goes up to eleven! There can be no doubt that Russell T. Davies deserves a knighthood for this.
This is the first in a series of mini-reviews as I take a break from my Tom Baker DVDs and re-watch the 21st Century episodes in order. Some, I have watched many a time but there are many that I haven’t seen for a good while. This will be a journey that will take me through various states from euphoria to despair. You will, no doubt, be exposed to relentless ranting about chronic screwdrivers as well as gushing praise for Matt Smith.
The first episode has certainly been a happy revisitation and I’m looking forward to watching The End of the World for the first time since it was first aired. I seem to remember that it involved the Restaurant at the End of the Universe – I’m off to find out …