by Luv Mehta
One fine day, my sister decided to force me to watch Doctor Who. I had the show for a long while, but the episode count had turned me off beforehand, but she was bored and decided to give an episode a try - which became five episodes, then a season, then the series itself. And, of course, she had to see whether I’d like it as well.
Spoiler alert: I did.
It’s quite fun looking at Doctor Who with absolutely no preconceptions or knowledge of the most iconic elements or moments, so I’m going to write a series of articles on the new 2005 series and focus on one season per article. Do I like your favourite episode, or do we end up at a completely different conclusion for the same story arc? Let’s look at each episode and find out.
S01E01 - Rose
For me, Christopher Eccleston is the first Doctor I’ve ever seen, and I like his performance a lot, simultaenously showing off a joie de vivre, a deep sense of guilt and PTSD due to his past in the war, and an alien sense of morality that hampers his empathy. However, people are quick to tell me he’s the weakest of the new Doctors, since he’s too different from how the Doctor’s character is supposed to be.
Ah well, I still like him.
This episode is named after the new companion, Rose, and she makes a good enough first impression (that single-take scene with her and the Doctor immediately after he finds the mannequin hand in her house is pretty impressive) but the same can’t be said for her mum Jackie or her boyfriend Mickey, both of whom sound extremely grating. Her proactiveness, resourcefulness and curiosity immediately make her very good co-traveller (apparently called “companion”) material. She’s very quick to abandon her world and her boyfriend, though, when she’s offered a chance to explore all of space and time.
The villainous plot is okay, but the real fun’s in seeing the show not shy away from killing off the main villain by pouring chemicals on it and making it (presumably) blow up, instead of waxing lyrical about the morality of disposing of a person hell bent on conquering the world.
My sister tells me the show doesn’t have a problem with murder and death, which is already quite surprising given its generally happy and campy feel, and I can very well see that even now.
S01E02 - The End Of The World
Quite a provocative place to take someone new to time travel to, don’t you think? I love how there are so many unique and fun alien lifeforms in this episode, and how there are quite a lot of fleshed out characters among them, even if some of them are given a few minutes of screentime.
We also get to know that the Doctor’s part of an alien race called the Time Lords, and he’s extremely reluctant to mention that to other people because he can’t handle talking about being the last of his species. My sister tells me it happened somewhere between the classic and new Who series, though, so it’s a fairly recent development.
By this episode, though, I’ve concluded that Doctor Who is a straight-up genocidical show. We get a lot of deaths in this episode, again, and they aren’t even peaceful deaths - the tree lady gets BURNED ALIVE trying to help the Doctor, and we can hear her dying screams! And when Cassandra (that uncanny looking flesh coloured upright trampoline with a face) dies, the Doctor simply watches, despite even Rose asking him to help her.
S01E03 - The Unquiet Dead
Ghosts! Zombies! Charles Dickens! The Doctor fanboying over Charles Dickens!
What’s most notable about this episode is the explicit depiction of the Doctor’s alien Blue And Orange Morality and how he thinks far beyond our own limitations and fears - as well as the affirmation that it may not always be advantageous. Again, we see two named characters die because the Doctor decided to try and play saviour to another alien race by any means necessary.
On a separate note, though, it’s quite traditional for ghost stories to have an arc dedicated to a sceptic learning to overcome their limited viewpoint, so it’s quite fun seeing the Doctor just straight up tell Charles Dickens to shut up when he starts expressing his own disbelief.
S01E04 and S01E05 - Aliens Of London/World War III
This is the first two parter in the series I’ve watched, and coincidentally, the first couple of Doctor Who episodes I’m very divided about.
Let’s start off with the positives -
And then, we have the negatives.
S01E06 - Dalek
My sister tells me the Daleks are the biggest threat the Doctor has ever witnessed, and I find it hard to believe that, since all I see is a glorified mechanical salt shaker. Even then, it’s hard to deny the brilliance of this episode, the first great one of this season, in showing the ruthlessness, anger and efficiency of the Daleks - as well as our Doctor.
Christopher Eccleston shows a full display of his serious acting chops here, going from sorrowful and scared to vengeful and terrifying. His anger at the Daleks make him go to dark places in this episode, actively trying to goad, insult and kill a lone captured Dalek, right up until he has to face his own actions. He basically sacrifices Rose in his desperation to kill a Dalek, and once she does turn out to be alive, he opens the door out of extreme guilt at his decision.
I hear that a lot of people don’t like Eccleston’s performance because he’s so grim and serious compared to other Doctors, but I can’t really understand them, in part, due to this being my introduction to his character. For me, he’s supposed to be a jovial alien suffering from loneliness and trauma, and the Ninth Doctor completely sells it for me.
S01E07 - The Long Game
A step down after the last episode, this is still quite an entertaining episode, even if much of the motivations of the main villain don’t make sense (why does the main villain even have a stake in controlling humanity? What does he get out of it, a cool ceiling?). Simon Pegg is in this episode, though, and that’s enough to make me biased towards it.
Adam, the temporary companion, is mostly a waste of screen time and space though, but if the show wanted us to feel like Rose was a natural fit as the Doctor’s companion, they sure got it right.
S01E08 - Father’s Day
This episode is perfect.
We’ve got so many great character moments here, from the Doctor realizing why Rose actually agreed to accompany him, to Rose’s interactions with her surprisingly perceptive father (who gives an absolutely brilliant performance), to the Doctor telling the bride and groom that their mundane lives matter much more than they realize, to him and Rose making up.
More importantly, though, it works absolutely fantastically as a tragedy. A great characteristic of tragedies is to build up to a foregone conclusion through a series of subversions and reconstructions (Will it happen? It definitely will. No, it might not. Yes, it will. Will it?) and have it feel natural, and the episode hits it right on the nose - and in the feels.
And while Eccleston is great, this is fully Billie Piper’s episode. For a plot based entirely on her massive mistake, she completely sells her bit, and as we inch closer to the foregone conclusion, her performance becomes even more heartbreaking.
S01E09 and S01E10 - The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances
Another duology of episodes, this one is fantastic. Shot like a horror movie mixed with a WWII drama, it’s got Captain Jack Harkness (who’ll apparently be a companion now as well, which is actually pretty swell) with a very good character arc, showing a cool and dashing demeanour that is immediately blown to bits once the Doctor starts taking his case. It also shows Rose trying to get the Doctor to loosen up a bit more, owing to all the horrors he’s witnessed that have clearly left him quite grim (and we also get a sense of affection between the two, especially with the Doctor’s clear jealousy).
More than that, though, it brings about a crushing sense of despair due to the central antagonistic figures, being shown as unstoppable and unrescuable. It’s quite a tradition by now, seeing named characters being killed off by the droves in every episode. So when we finally get a happy ending, it sticks even harder.
“Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once, everybody lives!”
S01E11 - Boom Town
Much more localized than that previous couple of episodes dealing with the Slitheen, this nevertheless feels much better. For one, they cut down on the fart jokes by a huge amount. They also deal with the fallout of Rose and Mickey’s relationship pretty well, highlighting how Rose’s recklessness and Mickey’s possessiveness can’t really gel.
The best part of this episode, though, is the restaurant scene with Margaret and the Doctor.
“That’s how you live with yourself. That’s how you slaughter millions. Because once in a while, on a whim, if the wind’s in the right direction, you happen to be kind.”
“Only a killer would know that.”
I’ve seen lots of stories play out, with lots of bloodthirsty killers ultimately suffer a change of heart and be given a second chance because they happened to let one victim go, out of love or pity. To have the Doctor call that out feels great, and to have Margaret call his own darkness out feels natural as well.
Even if the ending is very, very weird, this is still an episode I wouldn’t mind rewatching.
S01E12 and S01E13 - Bad Wolf/The Parting Of The Ways
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this two-parter, again. On one hand, it’s got a lot of great moments, like the Doctor’s bold proclamation of saving Rose and exterminating the Daleks (and that promise ultimately failing), his deception of Rose by sending her into the past, the hopelessness of the war, Rose’s own deus ex machina saving the world at great cost to herself, and the Doctor’s ultimate regeneration. It’s also interesting to see the Dalek emperor, and the Daleks gone insane due to their survival depending on their humanity, ultimately relying on religion (which also gives quite a fun insight into the creators’ own interpretation of religion as a concept).
...and yet, the ultimate resolution does take place through a deus ex machina. The reality show angle, too, seems like an incongruous choice to start such an apocalyptic high-stake story.
Even then, it’s a fitting end to the season, and with that ending, I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the series.
Looking back on this season, the major theme of the stories involved have been one of post-traumatic guilt and redemption. It certainly seems no accident that much of the stories revolved around war and the imparting of justice, and the Doctor’s character arc goes from vengeful to peace-loving, with him declaring to the Dalek emperor that he’d rather be a coward than a killer.
If I had to make a top 3 for this season, it would probably be
Next up, season 2. Stay tuned!