Doctor Who: Rose (2005)

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It’s been a funny few weeks in Doctor Who fandom! First we had some long-awaited trailers finally hit the airwaves, then the “leaks” happened. It seems somebody figured out how to access BBC worldwide servers in Florida, and discovered scripts and a few “screener” episodes left unsecured. Don’t worry folks, I don’t plan on downloading the leaked Peter Capaldi episodes, much less writing about them, mainly because they aren’t full episodes and have no special effects (or so I’ve heard). There was one time where my willpower wasn’t as strong, and I immediately remember what the Doctor Who community was going through almost NINE years ago (it doesn’t seem like that long ago). Take a walk down memory lane with me, as we discuss Rose, as the first in a series of “backlog reviews” to fill in my review catalog.

Way back in 2004, I joined a now defunct Doctor Who message board to fulfill a nostalgia trip I was having. As a small child, I absolutely LOVED Doctor Who. It ran on my local PBS station late at night, and I always looked forward to staying up late with my mom and watching one of the most exciting TV shows I had ever seen at the time. This eventually faded, as PBS stopped airing the show around 1990 and Star Trek: The Next Generation became “my thing”. It wasn’t until college when I started seeing tapes of various episodes coming into my college retail job, that I thought “hey, I miss that show!”. I started renting DVDs and joined this message board to see if the show was still continuing in some way. I had no idea that there were audio dramas, comics, books, and all the other material that populated the “wilderness years”. Then I learned it was coming back!

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Flash forward to 2005, and I find myself downloading a “leaked” copy of Rose on Bittorrent. As I recall, I excitedly woke my (now) wife up at some alarming time like 8:00 am on a Saturday (I’m a night owl) and basically forced her to watch it with me. I had secretly found out about it the night before, and wanted to surprise her. It was like Christmas morning for a small child, I simply could not wait any longer to dig into my presents. The leak of Rose, The very first Christopher Eccleston episode of the show, was one of those things that I suspect everyone on that forum did secretly, then pretended they did not online. I have no regrets for doing it as I ended up getting even more excited for the show’s return, and downloaded all the rest of the episodes. This was before the show was airing in America, before it was one of the more popular nerdy fandoms over here.

With Doctor Who coming back, there was a lot of pressure on the show to perform. Not too far from 2005, the whole idea of the show was something of a laughing stock after it was unceremoniously divorced from the BBC airwaves. Rose had two things that it absolutely HAD to get right for the show to succeed. Firstly, it had to introduce a new sidekick character, a person we would be viewing the show through. He/She had to be good enough to attract the old fans back to the show, and attempt to gain new fans – namely the criminally overlooked female market. Some might say that such a character isn’t wholly necessary, but I disagree. The Doctor NEEDS someone to talk with, teach, learn from etc. Secondly, and more importantly, Rose had to re-introduce the concept of The Doctor himself to a whole new generation of TV viewers, many of which were probably not even alive when the show was yanked off the air in the late 1980’s!

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Rose is essentially a second part of a two-parter that we do not see the beginning of. When we join up with Rose herself, she is going about her typical day at a retail clothing store, only to find something strange going on. She notices an army of walking plastic mannequins in the stores basement, and is almost attacked if it wasn’t for the appearance of a strange man calling himself “The Doctor”. It seems that something bad is going on regarding the window shop dummies, and he needs to blow something up on the roof to stop them. Rose escapes just in time, only to see life explode right in front of her eyes, as The Doctor presumably destroys her workplace. From here on, Rose is left with what we can see is an unsatisfying life. Her boyfriend would rather be at the pub watching a game than spending time with her, and her mother is somewhat classless and controlling. Rose perhaps puts it best herself: “I’ve got no A-Levels, no job, no future…” The only bit of excitement left is attempting to figure out exactly who this “Doctor” is, and why he’s doing the things he’s doing.

As a character, Rose is fairly atypical for the female lead in Doctor Who (up to that time) , and in many ways she isn’t all that similar to those that came before her. Both are from lower-class upbringings, and both have the “street smarts” that some of the other, more refined companions may have lacked. That isn’t to say all previous companions were the often-stereotyped “screaming girl that gets in trouble/twists her ankle”, but he large majority ended up that way. Unlike Ace, Leela, or even The Brigadier, she isn’t a warrior by any means, but she’s determined and brave. She feels like she has nothing to live for, so being with The Doctor is her escape.

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I recall being less than enthusiastic about Billie Piper‘s casting, as she was presented to me as “The UK’s answer to Britney Spears” according to various message boards and magazines. To me, she sounds like any other 90’s pop singer that was trying to copy the popular vibe of the Spice Girls and failed at it. She reeked of “stunt casting” and that sort of thing never usually works out very well here in America. Many TV shows make a habit out of jamming popular singers into cameo roles that they have no business taking part in, Justin Bieber comes to mind for one of the more egregious examples. At least for me, this fear was put to rest pretty early on in Rose, as I felt the character was something refreshing to the show, and Piper was doing an adequate, if not pretty good job portraying the character.

Rose is joined by a few characters that aren’t really companions, (at least not yet) but exist to keep her grounded on Earth in some capacity. Not only does this give The Doctor and Rose a group of recurring characters to work with, but it helps explain why his adventures had a tendency towards taking place in London rather than the other nearly infinite amount of places he could have been traveling. One will immediately look back to Jon Pertwee‘s tenure on the show for an older example of this, but in the case of the 2005 series of the show, I can only assume that budgetary limitations were the main reason behind this. In the case of Rose, these characters are a bit different from agents of a military organization that The Doctor is working for, because it’s Rose’s own family we get to see a lot of. Camille Coduri plays Jackie Tyler, Rose’s own mother, and Noel Clarke plays her somewhat estranged boyfriend Mickey.

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There isn’t really a whole lot of big special effect showcases in this episode to write home about, and the few instances of computer generated effects or creature make-up we do see is somewhat average at best. Things like the Auton costumes (the aforementioned mannequins) are hard to be wowed over because it’s just a guy in a mask walking like he’s made of plastic. The Nestene consciousness is a blob of CGI in a pool, and things like a fake Mickey that pop up are decent, but not great. Later episodes in this season have amazing special effects, so it seems the production staff kept it reigned in a bit for this first outing.

The only issue that I have always had with Rose is it’s tendency towards childish slapstick. Being ever so close to the eighth season of the show as of this writing, looking back at this first season is sort of jarring. Once David Tennant really got a few seasons in the can, and especially with Matt Smith, the show itself took a far more serious turn. That isn’t to say this season is “fluffy”, it’s just a bit weird in tone. One can see that Russell T. Davis was attempting to play all of his cards to see what stuck, and that means we get some “kiddy stuff” occasionally.

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One scene in particular is pretty rough, and it’s an infamous one involving Mickey being eaten by a sentient trashcan. It seems the Autons place a possessed garbage bin at the front lines in their battle with The Doctor, and it decides to eat Rose’s boyfriend to gather intel. This already sounds dumb on paper, but it gets worse when the whole thing is punctuated by a cartoonish “burping sound” once Mickey enters the bin. Luckily, the second half of this season finds a better balance between comedy and drama.

Earlier I compared Rose to a Jon Pertwee episode, and there are many reasons I get this vibe and keep making such comparisons. First and foremost, this episode stars the villainous Autons. The Autons are a race of living plastic creatures, last seen in a few Pertwee episodes and most notably his very first serial Spearhead from Space. I think the Autons worked better in the 70’s as a commentary on commercialism, but it’s cool seeing them once again so many years later.

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Rose is basically nothing more than an average episode of Doctor Who, but it is elevated quite a bit, as it is arguably the most important “average episode” produced since An Unearthly Child. I don’t actually like using this episode to introduce folks to the show due to it’s all over the place tone, and almost embarrassing trash can scene, but it still holds a warm place in my heart. I will always remember waking up early, only to watch a pirated copy of a leaked episode of the show, as stupid as that sounds. I have a better memory of this than other things that folks are expected to remember vividly, things like watching Star Wars for the first time. Nine years on, Rose is still one of my favorite episodes of this new series.

Notice how I didn’t even mention Chris Eccleston’s portrayal as The Doctor? Check back next time, and I’ll chime in when I’m talking about The End of the World!

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Video: All Regenerations From Hartnell to Smith (Including Hurt and McGann)

Here is a fitting tribute to the one time every few years that Doctor Who fans both dread and anticipate the most – The regeneration. This video includes ALL of the regenerations minus the fake-out one with David Tennant where he displaced the energy and simply healed himself. That’s right, you see both John Hurt and McGann in here! I am confused by the inclusion of Matt Smith’s Doctor and his “death” at the hands of “The Impossible Astronaut”, but I didn’t make the video. And without further ado…

 

Doctor Who: Invasion of the Dinosaurs

“Where is everyone? The third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) find London nearly deserted after dinosaurs return to terrorize the earth. Racing against time, the Doctor unmasks top-level conspirators, just before they kidnap Sarah Jane.”

For years I’d heard that Invasion of the Dinosaurs was nearly unwatchable by quite a few people; usually because of the special effects. The CSO (green screen) effects are often cited as being atrocious, the dinosaurs are said to be bad sock puppets, and the whole thing is always shrugged off as a total mess. I only recently got to watch this story on DVD and I have to say – it’s not that bad. In fact, I think it may be one of my favorite Pertwee era stories! I think this serial may be the victim of the often misguided fan smear effect. If enough fans figuratively crap on something, enough to where it gets said to be “the worst..” of anything, many folks go into it with all kinds of baggage that keeps them from liking it.

I know that I may be in the minority of fans, in that I hadn’t seen this episode prior to it entering my DVD tray, but the special effects didn’t bother me at all. In fact I’ve seen much worse in later 1980’s episodes; ones that are lauded in a total opposite way that Invasion of the Dinosaurs is shot down. I’ll agree that the puppets of the dinosaurs aren’t anything special, but the creatures themselves aren’t even the focus of the show. In fact, they are barely in it for their name to be so prominently placed in the title!

The reasons in which I like this serial are many, and it all begins with the general mood within. When the Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive in London, presumably to drop Sarah Jane off, they soon realize that something is amiss. The streets are vacant, debris is strewn about, and there seems to be a great military presence. They soon find out that martial law has been declared, and they end up on the wrong side of it. Being a huge fan of post-apocalyptic stories, I loved the scenes involving the deserted London. The fact that the director woke up at 4AM to film these scenes (illegally!) was a great thing to find out about in the special features, and this detail really sets the scene for the story. In my reviews for Survivors, I talked about the disturbing sense one gets when they see such a sight, especially if there is a noticeable landmark in it. This worked in Survivors, Day of the Triffids, I am Legend, and many other bits on film and TV to the same effect – isolation, desperation, and terror.

We also have U.N.I.T. playing a prominent role; including a furthering of the “fall from Grace” that we have been slowly witnessing Yates succumb to. It was cool to see The Brigadier in a role as a “politician” of sorts instead of the “Doctor’s yes man” that he appears to be in some other stories. The way he deals with General Finch is nothing sort of great. At first he goes along with his superior, assuming that he knows what is right, only to discover that the Doctor was right all along. We get to see the rare “badass brig” in this situation, and it is truly awesome. U.N.I.T. combined with Sarah Jane is basically one of my favorite “companion teams” and I truly enjoy them all when they appear.

Since this is really Sarah Jane’s real episode as a “companion”, it was good to see her get a good portion of the episode to do her own thing. Her side-story involves the second half of a zany conspiracy the bad guys are hatching that involves opening holes in time (where the dinosaurs are coming from) and bringing back a “golden age” to which a group of “astronauts” are involved. Since Sarah Jane does her job of snooping around a bit too well, she finds herself kidnapped and placed with these “astronauts” onboard a spaceship that will help start this new “golden age”. These two stories seem not to fit together, but are the two complimentary halves to the overall bad-guy plan going on, and it’s nice to see a story with enough room to flesh it completely out.

Overall, I loved this story, and felt the DVD is a nice package. It comes packed with a nice offering of special features including one about Sarah Jane, one about the special effects, one showing deleted scenes, and your typical “then and now” stuff. Aside from this, the DVD also has commentary track, but I’m not really into listening to those to be honest. Despite a bit of mediocre color restoration on episode one, This DVD is a solid package, and a great addition to any collection. That is unless one is too immature for bad CSO and sloppy Dino-puppets.

Review – Doctor Who: Fearmonger

Big Finish Audio “Quick Review”

Synopsis: One would-be assassin is in a mental ward. Another’s on the run. Their intended victim is stirring up the mobs. Terrorists are planning a strike of their own. A talk-radio host is loving every minute of it. A Whitehall insider whispers about a mysterious UN operative, with a hidden agenda. Everyone’s got someone they want to be afraid of. It’ll only take a little push for the situation to erupt – and something is doing the pushing. But you can trust the Doctor to put things right. Can’t you?

One of the things that I have yet to actually get around to doing is reading any of the Doctor Who: Virgin New Adventure books produced in the early-mid nineties.  I do know that conceptually I do not agree with the general tone of the books based on what I’ve seen, and some of the fandom that came from them.  As a first “true” introduction to the format, these plays based on the Virgin New Adventure books, are equally as problematic to me.

The actual audio drama that I am looking at reviewing here is called the Fearmonger and stars Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred reprising their roles from the latter era of the original series.  Immediately we find The Doctor and Ace hot on the heels of some kind of monster that may or may not inhabit the body of a crazed right wing political group leader.  At least this is what a man who regularly calls into a Fox News styled pundit show seems to think, and says that he plans another assassination attempt on her, as a previous one (that the play opened on) went south.  We find the Doctor commandeer the radio show and egg on the “crazy” man, basically saying “yeah! There is a monster” which riles everyone up.  This leaves Ace and the Doctor to investigate the situation themselves in order to get some answers.

The right wing political party in question, The New Britannia party, is a pretty rough group of characters who base their entire political stance on racism.  They basically want to throw out anyone who isn’t white and sherilyn Harper, their leader, doesn’t help with her rhetoric.  Against them is a terrorist group trying to end the hate ironically with assassinations and bombings.  Immediately you may notice that the back-bone of this story is very dark, and that is honestly a big problem with it for me.  While things like nationalism, jingoism, racism, immigration and politics have always featured in Doctor Who media, the show was at least clever enough to try to keep it toned down.

With this new tone, the storytelling loses its fun and clownish charm, instead going for preachy social commentary.  This was a trend in the 1980’s McCoy episodes as they ham-fisted things like racism into episodes that did not need it in the plot.  Remembrance of the Daleks comes to mind with a few scenes of black segregation in the 1960’s that served no purpose other than to make the watcher feel bad, and cluttered up the over-all narrative.  This bleak and preachy take on the Doctor is not my favorite to be honest.

I guess it may be my problem as a listener, that I need to differentiate the show and these audios more in order to really enjoy them, but as a fan of the classic show rather than a series of books, the themes in here clash with my preconceived notions of what the characters should be doing.  Aside from my gripes, the acting and production on this play are VERY well done, and to be honest it is the best produced play from Big Finish so far.  I know my opinions on the McCoy era may not be the most popular, but I will try to look at the other Virgin New Adventure stories with a more open mind.  We’ll see how that goes.

My Rating 3.25 out of 5