Monday 30 March 2015

Rose, ten years on

(This was meant to post on the actual anniversary but for some reason all the posts I queued just didn't go up.)

Its funny to think that Doctor Who has been back for ten years now and not just in the “Bloody hell, I was twenty-one when this started” sense. I suppose its because I fell into this fandom in the early Nineties when the show was not only dead but a cultural joke remembered for its wobbly sets and wobblier acting (not entirely unfairly, mind). I watched repeats when they were on, bought the videos when the repeats stopped and eventually started reading the Virgin-era novels which I was the perfect age to appreciate (i.e. 12, so the sex and violence really did seem “mature” to me). There were the two Pertwee-starring radio dramas but that petered off into nothing because of awfulness. Doctor Who was great but, sadly, it was probably never coming back to TV.

Then 1996 happened and it definitely wasn't coming back after that.

Ah yes, the TV Movie. I didn't read Doctor Who Magazine then so I missed all the hype and only heard about it when the trailers started a few weeks before it aired. I watched it, taking in every second because my favourite thing in the world was back on TV where it belonged and I'm not ashamed to admit I loved it then. The excitement of it drew me in and it wasn't until later that I started picking holes in it. With adult eyes I can see why it didn't go to series, which is to say the script was terrible and it did an amazingly poor job of introducing the series' core concepts to new and casual viewers.

Then, just to add insult to injury the BBC used it as pretext to snatch the novel license away from Virgin.

It wasn't the last false dawn, either. There was a rumoured cartoon series a few years later that came to nothing, the Death Comes To Time webcast with its baffling desire to be Star Wars which was followed by Scream Of The Shalka which even gave us a “Ninth Doctor” in Richard E. Grant. None of them were very good, none of them came to anything. The BBC novels dribbled on and Big Finish was producing original audio dramas so it seemed Doctor Who had found its retirement home.

Then 2005 happened and it was really, genuinely back.

I watched Rose almost grudgingly, I must admit. I was at university by then and whilst the mockery of my love for this old, creaky dinosaur of a TV show had moved from malicious schoolyard stuff to the fond ribbing of fellow geeks I knew if this was bad I was going to hear all about it in the bar on Sunday.

So imagine my surprise when it wasn't bad. In fact, it was good. Suddenly, all the false dawns had gained a purpose other than wasting my time because Russell T. Davies had obviously watched them himself and noted down all their mistakes. In Rose, time and money weren't wasted on a fan pleasing regeneration, instead the issue was dealt with in a throwaway line; there was no attempt to radically retool the concept of the Doctor to modern tastes other than dumping the ostentatious Edwardian clothing for actual clothes; the new Doctor had a solid personality from the start instead of just writing a generic Doctor and hoping for the best; and the companion...

I'm not going to mince words, Billie Piper was great. I admit she was the one part of the experiment I worried about, mainly because I was at that age when you really start regretting the musical choices of your adolescence, but she blew it out of the park in that episode and most of the others she was in. If nothing else, I can say she absolutely earned being the only returning companion in the 50th anniversary special.

Yes, the plot of the episode itself is thin, the anti-plastic an absolute cop-out MacGuffin but that was never the point of the exercise. The point was to have a light adventure plot for Ecclestone and Piper to have chemistry against. The whole episode is designed to give its two leads big moments, both together and separately, that people will remember and want to see more of. Using the Autons (already veteran villains of Doctor Who relaunches past) was a stroke of genius: silent, faceless and not liable to get in the way of the heroes getting over with the audience.

I'm not an unabashed Davies fanboy (or an unabashed Moffatt fanboy either, for that matter) but having watched, read and listened to so many awful to mediocre attempts to resurrect the series I was so grateful to see lessons had been learned. Yes, like the TV Movie I was picking holes in it by the next morning but it turned out that light plots were a hallmark of Davies' approach to opening a season, getting people's attention with the Doctor and companion's chemistry rather than flashy plot.

And, you know what? As odd as it was at the time I do wish the DVD had an audio option to insert Graham Norton's unscheduled guest appearance, I feel that was an part integral of the experience. 

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