Saturday, July 5, 2014

From The Moment He First Takes Her Hand, The Grand Romance Begins Between The Doctor And “Rose!”

The Good: Decent acting, Interesting initial characterizations, Good humor, Decent sense of menace/mood
The Bad: Somewhat silly plot premise.
The Basics: In “Rose,” an alien Time Lord grabs a shopgirl to save her life and, in the process, starts an adventure with her that will bind them through time and space.

Now that I have completed my reviews of the final episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise (reviewed here!), I have exhausted the entire Star Trek franchise for reviews! If one had told me that I would then go on to review all of the (modern, at least) Doctor Who, I would have told them that they were crazy. My wife, however, has become obsessed with the new Doctor Who and now that she has picked her fandom, I figure it’s time to give it a fair shake. The new saga of Doctor Who begins with “Rose.”

“Rose” is the name of the new (Ninth, though now with the retroactive creation of the War Doctor, technically the Tenth Doctor) Doctor’s primary companion. The title character of Doctor Who is The Doctor, a Time Lord who has visited Earth over many decades in his time machine known as the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), with different faces, personalities, and wardrobes in each incarnation. In “Rose,” The Doctor is introduced with surprisingly little fanfare, but the show works hard to be instantly accessible to new viewers and most everything is explained in “Rose” the way one might want it to be. In fact, in “Rose,” there is a strong insinuation (by The Doctor seeing himself for the first time in a mirror) that this latest incarnation of The Doctor is still a very new one.

At 7:30 in London, Rose Tyler wakes up in her apartment (actually, her mother’s) and goes to work at the department store, Henrik’s. Her day is spent working, hanging out with her boyfriend (Mickey) and she gets to the end of the night when she has to close the shop. On her way out of Henrik’s, she is tasked with bringing lottery money to the basement. In trying to get Wilson the shop’s lottery money, Rose Tyler ends up in the basement . . . surrounded by mannequins that move about and menace her. Backed into a corner, someone takes her hand and urges her to run. Together, they run to safety.

The man is The Doctor and after urging Rose to get herself to safety, he blows up Henrik’s. Rose takes a mannequin’s arm The Doctor tossed at her back to her apartment where her mother is worried about her, as is Mickey. The next morning, The Doctor tracks down the plastic arm and, inadvertently, Rose. After saving her from the animated plastic arm using his sonic screwdriver, The Doctor tells Rose that there is a war going on on Earth that humans are oblivious to and that the plastic that has come alive is simply being manipulated by an alien force. In investigating The Doctor, Mickey is replaced by a plastic facsimile that takes Rose out to lunch and pumps her for information on The Doctor. Rescuing Rose yet again, The Doctor uses the faux-Mickey’s head to try to find the signal that is controlling the plastic. Together, Rose and The Doctor hunt down the transmitter in London in search for the entity that is controlling the plastic with a sinister agenda against humanity!

“Rose” has moments that are genuinely creepy, though the basic concept is somewhat ridiculous. In the first adventure, aliens invade Earth to use their plastic because they have depleted theirs in a war that is only alluded to. As a result, most of the point of “Rose” is to establish the conventions of Doctor Who. The Doctor presents a great deal of exposition in “Rose” and a lesser actor than Christopher Eccleston would have completely botched it. Instead, The Doctor is immediately characterized as a smart guy who has a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and a protective instinct for humanity.

The Doctor is a highly ethical character who has regret over his actions in the war that left the plastic creature as a refugee eager to shunt itself to Earth. Unlike something like Star Wars where military solutions seem inevitable or the point of the series, Doctor Who - despite its campy qualities even in “Rose” – strives for something smarter and more evolved. As such, The Doctor arrives at his alien nemesis, armed with an anti-plastic bomb, but refuses to use it in his first interaction with the creature. Instead, he just wants to talk with the entity and get it to leave humanity alone.

Rose is a likable character right off the bat for multiple reasons (not the least of which is that she is not an American size zero blonde). Rose is generally fearless and she lives in a very real world: when she tries to bring Wilson the lottery money, she walks around a mostly darkened basement not concerned about phantasms or things that go bump in the night because they do not exist in her world. Rose is willing to accept such fantastic things as sentient plastic and alien life forms (as well as the TARDIS, which appears to be the size of a phone booth on the outside, but is actually quite a bit bigger on the inside) when she encounters them and has empirical evidence to their existence.

Like The Doctor, Rose is smart. She reasons initially that the moving mannequins are students and the Doctor praises her as clever for the deductions. Moreover, Rose is not an inactive sidekick or a damsel in distress. While The Doctor rescues her, by the end of the episode, Rose has rescued him at least once as well. While the character’s inquisitive nature is alluded to in the way she hunts down Clive (a man who studies all things related to The Doctor) early in the episode, it is not presented as a driving aspect of her personality enough to make the episode’s climax be entirely credible.

That said, “Rose” works despite having a ridiculous plot and nothing in the way of truly developed themes or purpose (this is an exposition-heavy story that is very much a pilot episode) because of the quality of the acting. Christopher Eccleston is a genius character actor and his quirky, loose-body language for embodying The Doctor is distinctive and easy to watch. He is able to sell The Doctor as a goofy, lonely character who nevertheless cares deeply about humanity and, by the simple act of taking Rose’s hand, Rose. Billie Piper plays Rose well, though many of her reaction shots have her simply staring at The Doctor and looking somewhat amazed. Even so, Piper and Eccleston have pretty wonderful banter and under the direction of Keith Boak, “Rose” does not look or feel like a pilot episode. There is nothing clunky about the acting (save some of the reaction screams, most notably from Camille Coduri, who plays Rose’s mother, Jackie Tyler) and that makes the episode much more accessible than most pilot episodes.

“Rose” is also a rare episode of television that replays better with multiple viewings. Initially, the episode seems like it has a lot of potential for camp and that it could seem exposition-heavy. But, unlike some pilots, like the one for The X-Files (reviewed here!), “Rose” does not have any unnecessary scenes and it transitions well from creepy to self-mocking back to menacing. While I always wish for shows to have a sense of theme and meaning to them, “Rose” suffers because it is so busy defining the terms of this new Doctor Who that it does not develop beyond that. Fortunately, there is an entire season for the show to create more than just moody, science fiction with fast dialogue. But to establish the Ninth Doctor in “Rose,” creepy, momentarily ridiculous, and deceptively smart science fiction is all that we’re able to get. And it is enough.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sole season with the Ninth Doctor here!

For other works with Christopher Eccleston, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Thor: The Dark World
Unfinished Song
G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra
Heroes - Season 1
28 Days Later . . .


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

[*I agonized on the rating for this episode. While my initial reaction was to put it around a 7.5/10, the episode replays exceptionally well and there is enough to the episode that makes it worth watching multiple times for all of the things one catches upon repeat viewings. While better than The X-Files “Pilot,” “Rose” is not really strong enough on its own to merit an 8.5/10. I realized that my suspension of disbelief and patience with the show upon rewatching the episode came more from foreknowledge of where the season was going than an inherent hook and quality of the episode itself. Thus, 8/10 – solid acting, interesting characters, absurd plot, and an episode that truly means nothing bigger than itself thematically – is how the episode lands viewed on its own.]

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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