Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Nine Days Of the Doctor - Day 9

Here it is finally, Nine Days Of The Doctor - Day 9

Christopher Eccleston: 2005

Companion: Rose Tyler (Billie Piper)

Comments: The first thing I have to say is WOW! The second thing I have to say is that Christopher Eccleston is a bloody idiot for giving up this job, although to be fair a recent report indicates that the BBC was aware when he took the part that he didn't intend to go beyond one year.

The first episode focusses on Rose Tyler. Rose is a clerk in a department store who starts out having a not so bad day. She's got a good job and a boyfriend and so what if she quit high school. But when the security guard gives her the money to take to the guy who buys the group lottery tickets things start to go a bit badly. "Wilson" is supposed to be in the basement but instead of finding him she finds a bunch of living shop dummies, and an odd sort of bloke in a black leather jacket and tight jeans who proceeds to get her out of the department store and then blows the place up, but not without telling us that he's called The Doctor. Rose is so intent on getting away that she doesn't notice an odd blue telephone booth.

The first episode is very much structured as a way to introduce new viewers to the show while still keeping long time fans involved. By focussing on Rose and her attempts to deal with what she's experiencing the viewers get a comprehensive introduction to the characters. Besides her boyfriend Mickey, Rose has a rather eccentric mother who brings more than a little comic relief to the situation. Through a character named Clive Finch the mystery nature of The Doctor is brought into focus. Clive's an Internet conspiracy nut but he's got a real one this time, full of cryptic mentions in ministerial diaries and of course pictures. Pictures of the Ninth Doctor at the Kennedy Assassination, with a family who did not board the Titanic in 1912, and a drawing that washed up on the shores of Sumatra after the explosion of Krakatoa. When Rose asks him what he thinks The Doctor is he says that he thinks The Doctor is an immortal, an alien and that his only companion is Death. Well two out of three ain't bad. The point is that Clive is our introduction to the mystery that is The Doctor, a mystery that Rose is already immersed in and doesn't really know it. This isn't to say that we don't see a lot of The Doctor, but we only see the layers of his character revealed gradually. At first he seems like a "nutter" but in time Rose comes to realize that he isn't crazy and that he really is alien. Unlike previous Doctors, he seems - initially at least - to want to keep his distance from Rose and humans in general. There are lots of nice touches for him as well. It's fairly clear that he's only recently regenerated; when he looks into a mirror at Rose's home he comments on his new face and particularly the ears. His explanation of who he is has all the charm mystery and wonder that you could ever expect from The Doctor telling us about himself and leaving us no wiser than we were before. It's his big thing - he's charmingly mysterious and always has been.

The selection of the villain in the first episode is perfect. The Nestene Consciousness, working through it's plastic agents the Autons (the shop dummies, equipped with guns in their hands) is an old villain, having appeared twice during Pertwee's time in the role. It's familiar a dangerous but not major foe like the Daleks, the Cybermen or even the Sontarans. Better, this time they gave the Consciousness a reason for its actions, which has also provided us with a tantalizing glimpse at what has been going on since the last time we've seen The Doctor, and it's not pleasant. There's been a war and the Doctor fought in it. The war destroyed the Nestene's food planets. Earth is ideal.

The dialogue is absolutely spot on, a mix of technobabble, nice speeches and plenty of sharp banter. Russell T. Davies, who wrote most of this season (he's written 11 episodes; Steve Moffat who create Coupling wrote the other two), got the mix just right. The banter in particular was nice. After telling Rose about all the things the Consciousness will be able to control to attack humanity - the shop dummies, the telephones, the cables - Rose adds "The breast implants." Earlier Rose asks The Doctor why he sounds like he comes from the North (Eccleston has a pronounced Lancashire accent) to which he replies "Lots of planets have a North." In terms of effects the show is a massive step up from the old continuing series. The interior of the Tardis is no longer the old "white room" but looks convincingly alien, and there are plenty of CGI explosions if that's your taste.

I have a few quibbles. First, I'm not convinced that the one episode stories will work as well as the old half-hour serial format. I'd much rather they tried to find stories that will work over a two hour arc with a cliffhanger in the middle rather than forcing them to be self-contained. I understand that there are some later stories are like that, but would rather see that be the norm rather than the exception to the rule. Another problem I have, and I know it will probably affect many North Americans is the accents. Between Billie Piper's East Enders accent and Eccleston's Lancashire voice it can be a bit hard to pick up on what they're saying. Eccleston has a line where he describes Rose as "blonding" into something. It took Close Captioning for me to realize that he meant "blundering" into something. Other than that I pretty much liked the whole thing, even the re-orchestration of the classic Ron Grainer theme. To steal from Ebert and Roeper, two very emphatic thumbs up!

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