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1 January 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 732: Rose

Dear diary,

Two years ago today, I sat down to watch An Unearthly Child; the very first episode of the original Doctor Who. Now, I’m setting off on another adventure - the ‘revived’ series that started in 2005.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to reaching this point of the marathon. Long-time readers of the 50 Year Diary will know that my first dabble in the world of Doctor Who was a VHS copy of Invasion of the Dinosaurs in late 2003, and while that raised my interest a little bit in the programme, it was really this first series in 2005 that turned me in to a fully-fledged ‘fan’.

I can remember sitting down to watch this episode in the living room, with my mum and stepdad, and watching it again today brings back a lot of the feelings I had about it first time around, and even a few of the comments that were made in the room during that broadcast. That’s why I’ve been so looking forward to reaching the 21st century series - for the first time in this marathon, I can recall my feelings on watching these stories for the first time. In some cases, that equates to the only time, too. I’ve never been someone who can watch Doctor Who over and over on repeat, so there’s lots of these episodes that I’ve not seen in a long time. Thinking back, the last time I watched this episode, for example, was probably when the DVD set of this season came out - which is a little over nine years ago now!

Since then, a lot has changed for me, and in ways that I’ve been assuming will impact the way I watched these stories. I used to tell myself - round about the time of The Last of the Time Lords - that I would one day live in Cardiff Bay. It was the home of Doctor Who, after all, and of Torchwood, and I’d grown so used to seeing it on screen that I’d sort of made up my mind that I’d make my home there. Fast forward to 2011, and I really did find myself moving to Cardiff. In reality, it transpired that I didn’t move to Wales simply because of the connection to my favourite Time Lord, but because that’s the way life moved. I spent a few years living just across the water from the Bay area, and now live less than a four-minute-walk from the Torchwood Water Tower. It means that watching the series now is a slightly different experience. Just on the walk between my house and Tescos, I pass a tonne of locations that have most recently turned up in Series Eight - from the Italian Restaurant and Victorian streets of Deep Breath to the run down buildings of The Caretaker, and the entrance to the Bank of Karabraxos. I seem to live my life in the Doctor Who world now, and that does change the way you look at things.

To use some examples for today, while the Doctor was making his speech about the turn of the Earth, my thoughts were split between ‘isn’t Eccleston great’ and ‘That street is less than half a mile over there…’. As Jackie found herself caught up in the terror of the Auton attack, I was musing that she’s coming out of the door leading through to the post office, and finding myself distracted by the fact that the doors don’t quite match up with the insides of the location. They’re silly things to be pre-occupied with, I know, but I’ve not seen the story since I made these places my home, and it’s going to take a few days, I think, to get over the sudden shock of seeing the episodes again now that I know the place so well.

So. Anyway. What’s my reaction to watching Rose now, after all this time? It’s more-or-less the same as it was first time around - it’s alright, but it’s never going to win an award as being the best bit of Doctor Who ever made. Something I’d completely forgotten until about three seconds before it happened here is that it wasn’t the episode itself which really hooked my interest in the series - it was the trailer for The End of the World. I can suddenly remember really thinking that was a subject which fascinated me, and making a mental note to make sure I’d be watching the following week. That’s not to say that this is a bad episode - it’s far from that, but it’s very much an episode with a function. Introduce Rose. Introduce the Doctor. Introduce the TARDIS, and the world that this series takes place in, and all the danger and excitement and fun that goes hand in hand with it. A few days ago, I commented that the TV Movie and Rose both have similar jobs - introducing Doctor Who to a brand new audience - but that they’re by no means doing the same thing. The TV Movie feels like the more complete story, whereas this episode has another twelve to come which can allow us to explore the scope of the program further.

Something I do want to draw attention to while making a direct comparison, though, is the introduction of the TARDIS. I meant to bring it up during the movie but then got distracted. In the opening titles to the TV Movie, we find the police box flying through a space/time vortex. It’s an unusual image, especially if you’re not familiar with Doctor Who on the whole. We then cut from this to some kind of gothic Jules Verne library, where a funny little man in tweed is settling down to read a book. There’s absolutely no proper indication that the large space we’re now seeing is supposed to be inside that blue police box. In this episode, though, it’s set up brilliantly - first by having the box crop up a few times in the background, then setting up the idea that it can vanish, and then the actual moment when Rose crosses the threshold for the first time is one of the best directed bits of the episode. She runs inside, and we see her enter… but we hold on her reaction. You don’t get to see what she’s looking at, only the back of the doors and the look on her face. She ten heads back outside to check that it really is a blue box, and then we follow her inside and get a proper look at the scope of the room. It’s quite possibly one of the best ‘first entrances’ to the TARDIS we’ve ever had, and it’s the ideal way to set it up for a whole new audience. I think it also serves to show how Rose introduces such elements far better than the movie does.

What’s surprised me, though, is that I’ve enjoyed this episode less than the TV Movie. For years and years now, I’ve always thought of this as being the more successful of the two, and therefore, to my mind, the better of them. When I suddenly realised the other day just how much I liked the TV Movie, I decided that they’d probably end up sitting on the same level as each other… but it just hasn’t quite worked out that way. I think the fact that I’m so looking forward to the next episode, and indeed knowing that there is a next episode for these characters, has actually harmed this one in my mind, whereas I really had to savour everything about the Movie.

All this sounds like I’m being incredibly negative, but that’s not the intention at all. I think it’s more that I’ve spent so many years thinking of this first season as being absolutely perfect in my mind that it’s never going to quite live up to the image I’ve built up for it. People mock John Nathan-Turner for his comment that the memory cheats, but I think there’s a lot of truth in there. The episode has gone down in my estimations because it’s never going to be as good as I remember it being! Oh, but there I go sounding negative again. It’s such a culture shock to be at the new series - you’ll have to excuse me a few days while I adjust.

There’s lots that I do like in here, so let’s touch on them. The design of the Autons is great - by far my favourite from their various appearances over the years. I love how quickly we go from that opening montage of Rose’s everyday life into the creepy atmosphere of the basement. Her whole life changes just as that music stops playing out in the background, and it’s only about three minutes into the episode. The CGI explosions ion the Nestene lair hold up better than I was expecting them to. Eccleston and Piper are great right from the start, and you know what? I actually ‘get’ Jackie this time around, whereas it took me a while on first viewing!

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