'"Are you alien?" "Yeah. Is that all right?" "Yeah."'

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Oh. My. God. It's back. He's back. And it's good.

That's good we said, mind you. Good as in not perfect. Good as in room for improvement. But hey, good is great. We're relieved, we're happy and we're grateful.

Let's get to the important stuff first. What about the Doctor?

Well, our vote was for Bill Nighy as the new Doctor, but when the casting was announced we had no complaints. We've always really liked Christopher Eccleston (we think his most stunning performance was in Elizabeth, but he's never been anything less than terrific in any of the roles we've seen him in.) He does dark particularly well, and since we're big fans of woe, tragedy and crushing despair, we thought he'd make a wonderfully dark Doctor.

And even though he's grinning like a loon through much of Rose, we still think that. What's more, despite all the bounding around and puppyish enthusiasm, there are enough hints dropped in Rose to make us conclude that a dark Doctor is exactly what we've got. Which is fortunate, because in the grinning and bouncing bits Eccleston's as unconvincing as we've ever seen him: those pasted-on smiles make our faces hurt. It's only when we start to glimpse the more serious side ("Are you OK?") that the character catches fire.

Are we worried, though? Nah. We're betting all that uncomfortably forced mania's going to be toned down in future eps. And it's not as if we'd want to get rid of it altogether: after all, unrelieved grimness would get pretty tedious pretty fast. But a friendly, cheerful facade which cracks to reveal the agony of a tortured soul beneath? As a certain tin person of our acquaintance would remark: "Ex-cellent!". We don't really feel we know him yet, but we can't wait to find out more.

We've always preferred the Doctors who let their alienosity show: this Doctor's very clear on the fact that he's not from round here, and we love it. Nor are we even remotely miffed that he's sometimes critical of humans. So what? Why shouldn't he be? Just because he likes to help people doesn't mean he has to think said people are faultless. He calls 'em as he sees 'em, which we applaud, and the big fat point is that criticism or no criticism he's there to help when things turn hairy. 

We would have been happier, though, if that help had been a wee bit less useless. It’s great to have a smart companion and all, but did the Doctor have to be quite so thick about the London Eye? And let’s face it: it’s true that if it weren’t for him the Nestene would have been able to carry out its nefarious whatever-it-was-it-had-in-mind-we-never-were-quite-sure, but on the other hand if it weren’t for Rose that all would have been for nothing. The Doctor’s peacenik tendencies, admirable and all as they are, leave him dangling over a fiery pit of sentient, um, something, and if it weren’t for Rose he would have gone down with the rest of us. We’re hoping he’ll be just a tiny bit more effective in future.

What else? We like the outfit: very uncostumy, which is definitely the right direction to head in. And we have no objection to the Northern accent either, although we did wince at the laborious "other planets have a North" explanation. If you have a problem you think the audience is going to object to, either get rid of it or ignore it, because while trying to explain it away seems like a terrifically clever solution, all it actually does is make the audience groan. (Sorry to go on about it, but we're writers ourselves and this kind of thing gets right up our nostrils.)  

What about Rose? We were gobsmacked when they announced Billie Piper as the new companion (Billie? Piper?), but we take it all back. She's brilliant: independent, resourceful, all that stuff other companions have had in bits in pieces but never all at once. We can't think of a single negative thing to say about either the character or the performance. Long may it last.

The episode's called Rose, and for a good reason: not only is it essentially about her rather than about homicidal plastic, it's from her perspective, and in a way we haven't seen for years. Although a lot of previous Doctor Who episodes were supposed to have been from the companion's viewpoint, the real viewpoint wasn't the companion's at all - it was the viewer's. That's why so many previous companions haven't reacted very realistically to all the bigger on the inside stuff: they're not very surprised because the viewer isn't surprised and doesn't want to sit through yet another round of awe and wonder. Nor have we in the past seen much of the befuddlement that would actually occur if the Doctor breezed into your life and out the other side. Rose fixes both of these but good: it's the truest representation of what it's like to encounter the Doctor's sheer weirdness that we could have hoped for and is one of the episode's triumphs.

And the rest of it? The plot's tissue-thin, but this is a character piece and tissue-thin is plenty in the new restricted time frame. We would like to have seen an entirely original monster, but if we had to have a re-run, the Autons are a terrific choice. They’ve always been our favourite villains, so it’s good to see them again: the initial basement scene is memorably creepy, and the shopping-centre slaughter is horrifying, with a very modern terrorist-invoking resonance. It doesn’t touch Spearhead From Space for either suspense or terror, but then it’s not really trying to. 

As for the comedy Auton material, meh. All that burping rubbish bin stuff sits very oddly with the deadly dummy scenes, and the Auton Mickey scenes are an even more uncomfortable fit. The initial sight of him in the car is deeply scary, as is the bit where he’s rampaging around the restaurant, but the sheer stupidity of Rose not noticing that her boyfriend’s gone animatronic, not to mention the ghastly comedy cork, seem to have come from another script altogether. Benny Hill? Anyway, probably the same one where they got that horrible fighting with the arm stuff, which could very well be the oldest joke in the universe.

Poor Mickey gets a rough deal all round: he seems like an OK enough bloke at the beginning and at the end is a not-entirely-unjustifiably snivelling mess, but none of that seems to us to warrant the somewhat nasty brush-off Rose gives him. Yes, he wants to leave the Doctor to his fate and run away, and he doesn’t like the fact that the Doctor’s different (Doingg! Moral Message!), but that still isn’t enough justification to deem him a complete waste of space as Rose does. We’re all about the girl power, but we’re rather fond of men too, and this seemed like a bit of bashing we could have done without.

Other things we could have done without: the mother. (Horrendously irritating.) The armless joke. (Ouch!) And while we like the new, Eighth Doctoresque TARDIS, we HATE HATE HATE that you can see the back of the police box doors from inside. No, no, no! It rips some of the magic out.

As one of us said at the end: “I feel quite weird now.” It’s going to be odd to give up bemoaning the stupidity of the BBC in not bringing back Doctor Who, not to mention all those discussions of how they should bring it back were the scales to fall from their eyes. Strange times: we’re living in a world with new Who. Not that we’re complaining, and we’re particularly not complaining about Rose. It’s not the perfect Doctor Who episode by any means. But it does its job, which is to introduce the Doctor Who universe and its two major characters, very well indeed. We can’t wait to see where we’re going next.

MORAL: Never put off until tomorrow what you could have done sixteen years ago.



What's with Russell T Davies and the name Rose? He has another series (Bob &, er, Rose) with a lead character called Rose as well.


So these Autons aren't handmade like the last lot - they're just ordinary shop dummies, yeah? So where'd the guns come from? And why are they solid instead of hollow? And if all the plastic was supposed to come to life, why did we only see the dummies?


It's a lovely visual moment when Rose gets into the lift to go down to the basement. Small square box that moves. Ringing a bell somewhere...


When Rose is in the basement trying to get away from the Autons, she tries the door and find it's been locked. Who locked it?


There are male and female dummies in the basement, but only the males attack Rose. (Later we do see the Bridezillas, though, as well as the inspiredly terrifying kiddie Autons.)


Just when we thought it was safe, there's that bloody sonic screwdriver again. Far too much of a Get Out Of Jail Free card, as are the Doctor's other mysterious devices. That's lazy writing crossed with fanwank. Bad scriptwriter! No biscuit!


Don't the Doctor and Rose hold hands a lot? How sweet.


Those historical photographs of the Doctor are so hideously Photoshopped that we thought it was going to be an incredibly subtle plot point. No.


"She? She's read a website about the Doctor? She's a she?" Hmph. Excuse us if we don't find the mix of women, websites and the Doctor altogether astonishing.


The Doctor's discussion with the Nestene Consciousness about clauses or whatever was, however worthy, a bit of a snorer. We had horrible flashbacks to the trade agreements in Phantom Menace.


If the Doctor can't break the grip of the Auton who's holding him, how does he manage to bend down and disengage himself enough that Rose's kick doesn't send him over the edge as well?

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