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OPINION: Doctor Who Retrospective - Series 1

13 Jun 2020

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Disclaimer: Please note that the views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpoilerTV.

I’ve been revisiting Doctor Who lately. It’s a show that I’ve always loved; right the way back to watching Rose when I was younger on television in 2005 when it first aired as my first introduction to the Time Lord. So I thought, to bide time between Series 12 and the next special, whenever that’ll be, why not return to where the current era all began and deliver a retrospective review not just on every series, but every episode?

I’ll be reviewing each episode a paragraph at a time, ranking them using the same format that I use like my A Month at the Movies feature – in fact; it’ll be just like that, but for Doctor Who. I had so much fun writing my Throwback Thursday for The Curse of Fenric that I couldn’t resist jumping at the chance to write more about The Doctor – and where better to start than my favourite Doctor of them all? Every fan has their favourite Doctor and Nine is my Doctor, for me, the one who made me fall in love with the show itself, which is something to bear in mind when looking at my criticism of these episodes: I have a strong, in-built nostalgia for them, even the weaker ones of this season. So without further ado, let's get this show on the road.

1.01 Rose
Directed by Keith Boak & Written by Russell T. Davies

As far as excellent introductions go, “Nice to meet you Rose, run for your life” is as classic as they come, with Eccleston grounding the series from the even-sillier days of the Sylvester McCoy era that proceeded it (which I love dearly). Whilst there’s some cheesy moments like everything to do with Mickey and the bizarre plastic bins subplot which is still good campy fun at the end of the day, Russell T. Davies nails the introduction of The Doctor, seamlessly updating him for modern audiences, updating the Autons for a classic post-regeneration special akin to the all-timer of a post-regeneration serial from the days of the Third Doctor, Spearhead from Space in the process. Christopher Eccleston naturally fits into The Doctor; his comedic moments are as on point as the darker ones, and the supporting cast of the likes of Billie Piper and Noel Clarke are seamlessly introduced, putting character over story, and like in the way that best pilots do – it gives you a reason to care. B+

1.02 The End of the World
Directed by Euros Lyn & Written by Russell T. Davies

The Doctor and Rose go on their first date to the end of the world, several billion years into Earth’s future. This episode packs a couple of emotional punches: Rose realising that her mother’s long since dead after calling her in the past is a really powerful scene; especially when coupled with the ending that sees her and The Doctor return to present day Earth after solving the mystery. Davies is a master of making you care about supporting characters, even the most minor of them, before killing them off one by one in such a short screentime and I do believe this really works for much of this episode, especially with the first appearance of the Face of Boe who would play such a huge part in Doctor Who lore. There’s a brilliant set-up in the mystery concerning just who The Doctor is as well; with the audience learning what happened to Gallifrey and the first hints of the existence of the Time War. Cassandra may be as hokey a villain as they come – but she adds a bit of fun humour to the show that further helps capture Davies’ unique style of writing even if the cheese-factor does go a bit too far at times. And the bits about pop music being relics of classic Earth are always a treat. Imagine that: Tainted Love in Doctor Who! C

1.03 The Unquiet Dead
Directed by Euros Lynn & Written by Mark Gatiss

Mark Gatiss arrives on the scene with his first and one of his best scripts for Doctor Who, setting the bar high for a historical romp through 1800s Cardiff. Featuring an early appearance from Eve Myles before Torchwood and Charles Dickens himself (who is absolutely wonderful), The Unquiet Dead is a delight. The ghost/zombie/alien story is fantastic, fleshing out links to the Time War further in a fast-paced, fun story that nails its atmosphere and mood. I was surprised about how much I’ve forgotten about this one that continues to excite and entertain even all these years later. The conflict between Rose and The Doctor is great – establishing their different moralities, views on human life and existence, and their flaws as characters – and their strengths - early on with an effective resolution that puts The Doctor in mortal danger early on. From the start, I always preferred the historical stories to those set in the future or even the present day. B-

1.04 Aliens of London (Part 1)
Directed by Keith Boak & Written by Russell T. Davies

Aliens of London! The Slitheen are one of the campier and sillier monsters from the Davies era of Doctor Who but are no less fun to see and the build-up for this is handled really well - and full disclosure here: when I was younger, I loved them. The episode in question does a good job at showing the unpredictable dangers that come with travelling with The Doctor – you’re never sure whether you’re actually going to wind up back where you started when you leave with the Time Lord (I love Mickey’s rivalry with The Doctor and learning that the TARDIS has sports channels!). Davies' exposition through news montages have always been on point – one need only watch Years and Years for an example of it as its perfect best. The distraction of the pig alien from the real threat is a good way to build up the tension (aliens faking aliens!), and the show also introduces – or reintroduces, depending on how you look at it three veterans going forward: Harriet Jones, UNIT and Torchwood's Tosh! I'd forgotten how many characters for the spinoff were introduced in this first series, and it shows a perfect example of just how good the world-building on display here is. As a result this episode feels very much like a set-up part for what's to come, and I admire it for that. B

1.05 World War Three (Part 2)
Directed by Kieth Boak & Written by Russell T. Davies

Remember when Doctor Who destroyed Downing Street? Cheesiness of the Slitheen aside, World War Three wraps up the first two-parter in the modern era of Doctor Who in style with a firm commentary on the War on Terror, hitting the emotional beats perfectly (“I could save the world but lose you”). It’s by no means a classic episode; and that’s mainly due to how the monsters themselves are handled and the fact that the main characters aren't fleshed out well enough yet (that'll come later) for audiences to properly get to know them, but I mostly bought their threat and it remained for a riveting watch thanks in no small part due to Davies’ mastery at escalation how to raise the stakes, with a fun base-under-siege type storyline using Downing Street as an excuse for The Doctor, Rose and Harriet Jones to run around in, even if it wasn’t quite at the level of its predecessor. Penelope Wilton continues to be a delight as the future Prime Minister; whilst Camille Coduri and Noel Clarke add some much-needed hilarity and emotional depth as Jackie and Mickey as their side-plot comes to an effective resolution and they become more understanding of Rose's role in the TARDIS and what The Doctor does for a living. C

1.06 Dalek
Directed by Joe Ahearne & Written by Robert Shearman

In the distant future of… 2012, Dalek is a masterpiece and one of the finest hours of Doctor Who. Robert Shearman’s script is fantastic – Eccleston delivers his best performance yet as someone who is not only legitimately terrified by The Daleks but also as a Doctor who is still healing from the Time War itself in a perfect character piece. He’s someone who hates The Daleks and wants to destroy them no matter what the cost, so it’s the words: “you would make a good Dalek” that hit home the most in a devastating finale that really illustrate just how great Doctor Who is at adding depth to key characters. The captive Dalek itself is terrifying once unleashed after tricking Rose into setting itself free – Nicholas Briggs’ voice-acting irreplaceable. The supporting cast – whilst no Jackie/Mickey/Harriet Jones, are given the right amount of attention: Corey Johnson’s Henry Van Staten is the textbook example of late-stage capitalism at its absolute worst, and enter: Bruno Langley’s Adam Mitchell – one of the show’s most short-lived TARDIS companions. It's also an early example of just how good Murray Gold is as a composer, his score for this really is the right amount of bombastic; adding the threat of the Daleks to another level entirely, arguably making the lone Dalek even more scarier than it already is, aided by the reveal that you know is coming but is no less terrifying: they can't be stopped by stairs. A+

1.07 The Long Game
Directed by Brian Grant & Written by Russell T. Davies

Some people aren’t just cut out to be companions. Everyone thinks they’d make the perfect match for The Doctor, but what happens when they’re faced with the same situation that Adam’s faced with, the chance to massively advance yourself with future knowledge in the present day? Davies uses his character as an excuse to show why Rose deserves to be there – and that Adam hasn’t got what it takes; in a fun set-up of a sci-fi series that sees the TARDIS team travel to what should be humanity at its peak in the Great and Bountiful Human Empire, but instead turns out to be a gritty dystopia. Simon Pegg is this week’s guest star, but his charisma can't make up for the ultimate exercise in wasted potential: the political commentary isn't as powerful as it could have been (this was crying out for something more akin to The Happiness Patrol), with Rose and The Doctor taking a back seat for much of this episode that's overset by the CGI being at its most dated; which hurts this episode a lot especially as the storyline is overly reliant on two crucial CGI scenes that just don't work. Unfortunately; the worst episode of Series 1. D

1.08 Father’s Day
Directed by Joe Ahearne & Written by Paul Cornell

I love Father’s Day, so, so much. Paul Cornell’s first Doctor Who script hits all the feels and the influences from Back to the Future are clear for all to see in this mostly grounded; under-appreciated episode. Rose goes back in time and saves her father from dying, triggering a paradox creating the Reapers, which create the fascinating prospect of putting The Doctor in such a powerless position that he can essentially do nothing and is forced to rely on the help of others around him. This was such an emotional episode that succeeded in delivering on all the stakes – even if the Reapers themselves have not aged too well with their creature design – they still feel like a formidable threat when you learn that even The Doctor can't beat them. It’s a shame that given how much Doctor Who would go on to create wounds in time like this one - you’d think they would have shown up again! A-

1.09 The Empty Child (Part 1)
Directed by James Hawes & Written by Steven Moffat

Are you my Mummy?” Steven Moffat’s first script for Doctor Who is still to this day: one of his best. The Empty Child is an excellent first parter of a story that takes The Doctor back to the Blitz where they stumble across a frightening child-like monster asking for its Mummy, never ever stopping. The Doctor’s storyline is mostly serious – focusing on unevacuated children left behind during The Blitz having to salvage from people’s homes for food during bombing raids whilst the house’s owners are in the shelter, all with the building tension in the background – whilst Rose’s storyline is more light-hearted but eventually paves way into The Doctor’s arc. Rose wearing a Union Jack T-Shirt during the middle of World War 2 may not have been the best of choices – but her time with John Barrowman’s charismatic Jack Harkness is more than worth it, with Barrowman bringing so much charisma to the role that he’d eventually get his own spinoff thrown in there as well; Torchwood. This is Doctor Who going all out with its horror narrative and holding nothing back, showing just how scary it can be – it’s no surprise out of all of the episodes from the first series, this one stuck with me the most when I watched it for the first time growing up. Frightening, in part - due to just how authentic, real and fleshed out the locations are. A

1.10 The Doctor Dances (Part 2)
Directed by James Hawes & Written by Steven Moffat

And we have The Ninth Doctor’s defining moment: “Just this once Rose, Everybody Lives!” in The Doctor Dances which ups a notch from the first part of the storyline as everything comes to a head: we learn that Jamie is Nancy’s son, not her younger brother, and Jack joins Team TARDIS for a temporary trip that allows for a really exciting dynamic. The early few minutes are incredibly eerie and unsettling from the off with its homage to The Shining on the typewriter, and the hospital escape keeps up the tension throughout. And then, in true Moffat fashion; we get the impeccable, emotional finale, which showcases this Doctor’s first true victory, unmarred by sacrifice or loss – even during the middle of the Blitz itself. This episode has everything that I love about Doctor Who summed up in, give or take, forty-five minutes. A+

1.11 Boom Town
Directed by Joe Ahearne & Written by Russell T. Davies

Boom Town is something that shines mainly on the strength of its characters rather than anything else: the short-lived Mickey/Jack/Doctor/Rose dynamic is one of the best TARDIS teams, although I expect I’ll be saying that a lot going forward. The bit where they’re sitting in the cafĂ© talking about past adventures is great with the chemistry between the team being so clear for all to see - and although the concept of a Nuclear Power Station in the middle of Cardiff is somewhat insane with the storyline taking a darker turn than expected; it allows for the return and a reappraisal of the Slitheen. Davies gives Annette Badland some of her best material yet in a surprisingly emotional storyline that also contains a lot of set-up for what’s to come. Quieter, but no less watchable than Aliens of London, Boom Town is the calm before the storm. C+

1.12. Bad Wolf (Part 1)
Directed by Joe Ahearne & Written by Russell T. Davies

And this is where things get interesting. The Doctor wakes up in a Big Brother House, Rose on the set of The Weakest Link and Captain Jack in the middle of an extreme makeover, the parody elements of this episode and arc feel really strong in execution as it makes the otherwise harmless reality television storylines incredibly scary to witness, with Davies doing The Hunger Games and Black Mirror before The Hunger Games and Black Mirror in a brilliant satirical take on the concept that never feels dull or tiresome: there's something about the idea of putting The Doctor in The Big Brother House that just feels like it works, and as a more refined version of The Long Game, Bad Wolf reuses ideas from that episode in order to up the stakes and keep the series connected as it brings the series-long arc and the mystery of the titular words together under the banner of the sinister Bad Wolf corporation. Bad Wolf manages to find way to keep the stakes high; fleshing out its supporting cast well and giving them the right amount of attention whilst raising the stakes throughout. Performances from the cast are incredibly strong in this episode - the TARDIS crew don't really take the game-shows seriously at first and their disregard for the rules and confusion is shocking their fellow contestants before they wake up to the true horror of the stakes that they are in. A+

1.13. The Parting of the Ways (Part 2)
Directed by Joe Ahearne & Written by Russell T. Davies

The culmination of Bad Wolf is handled really well for a Doctor Who series finale – syncing up the arc words in style in style, building up to the Ninth Doctor’s regeneration, the death and rebirth of Captain Jack Harkness and The Doctor facing a choice between being a coward or being the man who wipes out an entire Dalek race becoming just like them in the process. It’s a tough watch; all the characters that we’ve come to grow accustomed to in Bad Wolf are wiped out one-by-one and the odds for the TARDIS team don’t look great at all - to the point where The Doctor recognises this and puts Rose's survival above his own; sending her back to the present day and telling her to have an excellent life without him. Whilst ultimately I don’t think The Parting of the Ways is quite up to the level of Bad Wolf itself, as it lacks the threat and the Daleks themselves suffer from the problem of too-much escalation and aren't as terrifying as the lone Dalek that we met a few episodes ago. Don't get me wrong though - they still feel visually intimidating and Davies works wonders with the small CGI budget, making this episode stand as one of the best series finales that we’ve had to date: Rose’s struggle to get The Doctor back only to cost Nine his life works as a great send-off for Eccleston’s Doctor thanks in no small part due to how terrific the acting is (seriously, just go back and watch Eccleston in this episode if you don't think he was the right part for The Doctor, coupled with his "Rose, I'm coming to get you" speech in the previous episode, he's *insanely good* here). It's just an episode designed as a perfect emotionally-charged hour that sets up Tennant’s arrival on a high-note; whilst making sure that audiences will still miss Eccleston even twelve series later. A

What are your thoughts on the first Series of Doctor Who and the Ninth Doctor as a whole? Let me know in the comments below.

Author's Note:

1. For US folks - I'll be referring to each Season of Doctor Who as a "Series" rather than a "Season" as this is how Series 1 was labelled as originally during its UK run.

2. I'll be reviewing The Christmas Invasion as the first part of the next Series Retrospective.