*THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*
(ahh, how I have longed to type those words!)
"Well, needing some space now on One, it’s about time he returned, with a few bigger-on-the-inside-than-they-are-on-the-outside plot-holes… Oh my giddy Time Lord! - it’s the long-awaited rematerialisation of… (proudly) Doctor Who!"
Well all right, the BBC-1 continuity announcer didn’t quite say that on the beginning, but in the UK that’s just the sort of pun-binge they're continuitally force-feeding us! (Did you get what I did there? 'Continuitally'? Ay?)
And logically you couldn’t have faulted an intro like that – just for a change Doctor Who actually was back on... but how true to the much-loved original series would this new relaunched version prove to be? Would it faithfully follow straight on? Or would it ignore the original and be completely new? Or would it just stand ambivalently between the two, blankly trying to decide which direction to go in?
As if to answer my question, the new series led off with a remake of the very first colour story Spearhead From Space, perhaps to make the similarities easier to spot.
After all, both stories take a while to introduce the new Doctor, both feature a doppelganger, both are about the Nestene Consciousness taking over Earth using plastic mannequins, both feature said mannequins breaking out of shop windows, both go out of their way to emphasise that the woman’s as capable as the man, and both demonstrate this point by having the companion save the Doctor at the end.
Still don't believe me? Look -
Doctor Who: Spearhead From Space (1970):
Doctor Who: Rose (2005):
(which do you think looks more real?)
If this had been written from scratch, then an alien that could control plastic would surely have just strangled everyone with their mobile phones.
Other than that, this was, as expected, a fairly by-the-numbers tale to establish what is ‘normal’ in the world of Doctor Who.
- Companion has unique London accent found only in episodes of Doctor Who – check.
- Character alone in darkened cellar at start of episode one with some incredibly long monologue about thinking one of their friends is “mucking about” by pretending to disappear, when they're actually dead – check.
- Alien zombies turn their heads to use their non-functioning “eyes” to “look” at things – check.
- Alien substance can whizz about flying with great force, yet chooses to take on human form so it can instead just walk. Very. Slowly. Check.
- Companion walks all the way around outside of the TARDIS to establish its relatively small size – check.
- Acronym – check.
- Can go anywhere in time and space – check.
- Aliens take forever to menacingly approach before changing their minds at the last moment and firing instead – check.
- Alien develops a face and starts talking in one scene only for reasons of exposition – check.
- Aliens wait until after capturing the Doctor before executing their final masterplan – check.
Yeah, yeah this does seem to be the same show.
So – the differences then:
Well, first of all the interior of the TARDIS has been redesigned to look somewhat danker. I can understand a new version wishing to update the technology, but really – who wants to live in a grim cold metal dump like that? So much for the warmth of home that the old place had.
There were also lots of funky CGI effects and digital editing which, it must be said, didn’t half make for a fuzzier picture. The 70s looked sharper than this.
And of course the lead actor has been recast. Can’t really blame them for that – the old Doctor - Paul McGann - hadn’t wanted the role back, but it’s a significant concern that such a big name was never even asked.
McGann’s absence is made particularly painful by the opening scene, which looks as though it was written for him. It begins with the Doctor getting blown-up and maybe killed. When he returns a few scenes later, there’s no explanation as to how he survived, and he even implies that he’s just regenerated. Given the episode's air of mystery, there is absolutely no reason why he couldn't have been played by the outgoing actor in that first scene. You wouldn't even have needed to explain it. The revelation that this 'Doctor' character was in fact the same guy who’d died at the start would have been a great surprise-hook for new viewers.
Really – it’s the one thing that makes me go "It would have been great if only..."
Also, to establish that the Doctor has a history, Rose does something that few previous characters have, and looks the Doctor up on the internet. Incredibly, she finds the site she wants right at the top of her search-results. What's the name of that search-engine she’s using? Dozen?
So Rose goes to visit this conspiracy-theorist at his house, and sees lots of photos of the newly-regenerated Doctor throughout history. So if he’s just (as inferred) regenerated, these must be from his future then. Good - let’s hope that future episodes respect this.
Inexplicably, Rose’s boyfriend Mickey doesn’t enter the house with her, but stays behind in the car outside. Oh dear, I sense character-motivation taking second-place to moving the plot along. Sure enough, while patiently waiting for her, he gets eaten by a plastic wheeley-bin. (complete with comedy burp)
In fairness though, Mickey was a stroke of genius. He was so annoying that he distracted you from disliking Rose, who was irritating in her own way, but less so next to him. Shrewd move that.
And Christopher Ecclestone? Nah, he's not the Doctor, not yet anyway, although I liked the line about lots of planets having a north. I will say this for him though - you can really see the masked disappointment in his eyes at the end of the episode, when Rose turns him down.
Having said all that, the final lines ruined the characters. The Doctor steals Mickey's girlfriend. And just how nasty was she when she dumped him?
Mickey: "For what?"
I can't root for 2 people who'd do that, especially to a terrified innocent.
Top marks however do go to the surreal opening scene, which featured Rose encountering a crowd of faceless shop-window dummies, who whilst silently surrounding her suddenly began cheering in ecstasy. Then, boxing her in to kill her, they began happily chatting to themselves as though it was just another day. Scary stuff indeed.
In fact, this was all just because, during broadcast, a BBC transmission controller had accidentally faded-up the live feed from the studio audience of Graham Norton’s upcoming show.
Now that sort of thing never happened in the old days.
But this episode's real highlight was also provided by BBC continuity - yep, the "Next Week On Doctor Who" trailer at the end, which looked like great fun!
Anyway, overall I enjoyed it, although it didn't feel like Who. (which the McGann movie did) Everyone says that Russell T Davies' writing is brilliant, but on the strength on this one I'm really not convinced. The climax was sort of messy - both in terms of script and editing. Still, I always thought that when the show came back, the first episode should be about the Cybermen having a secret base underneath Waterloo Station, so the Autons hide-out under the London Eye was certainly close enough!
So yes I enjoyed it, but it in no way made me feel like I was watching Doctor Who. A movie, yes, but not Doctor Who.
Still, on the way home from work this evening, I passed a plastic wheeley-bin in the street. Then I took a second glance at it. Then I realised what I was doing.
Which is definitely good.