The Doctor: Run!
Production Code: 1.1.
Doctor Who Season: S27 (Ep1).
Story Number: 157.
What is Doctor Who actually about?
At the various times the show’s been relaunched – say, Spearhead from Space, The Leisure Hive, The 1996 TV Movie, The Eleventh Hour – the first few scenes of each “starting story” give an idea, and also a flavour of the new era.
With The Eleventh Hour and Spearhead from Space, it’s the Doctor tumbling from the TARDIS. With the The Leisure Hive, it’s a long stylish opening tracking shot on Brighton beach – though the Doctor and TARDIS and companion are soon after. With The 1996 TV Movie, it’s some old cobblers about the Doctor helping with the endpoint of the Dalek judicial system. Rose is different though – after the swooping vista of Earth, it’s bedhead Rose that appears and her “regular” life (with Mickey) is sketched long before the Doctor is onscreen.
The Nestene are a backdrop really to the interaction of the characters – the plastic monsters provide scenes of high drama, but it’s the character moments that make this story. The Doctor offering Rose his hand – “Run!”. The Doctor’s reaction to Jackie Tyler’s overtures – “No.”
“Don’t mind the mess. Do you want a coffee?”, “Might as well, thanks! Just milk” – there’s no great infodump of who or what the Doctor is, and his alienness is conveyed in subtle ways. It’s a huge contrast to how Grace in The 1996 TV Movie meets the “new” Doctor – “two hearts”, the idea of regeneration, the TARDIS and the Master, Gallifrey and Skaro are all explained by about halfway through that story. (Which is about the runtime of Rose. A better comparison timewise to the TV Movie would be a doublebill of Rose and The End of the World, which sketches in more of the “world” of Doctor Who, but still lightly.) The Doctor examining his presumably new-to-him visage is a nod to long-time fans e.g. this is a newly regenerated Doctor.
Instead of heavy continuity to tie the show back to the earlier stories, the story Rose tries to establish the character of the Doctor. For example, with the extraordinary “turn of the Earth” scene – “I can feel it. We’re falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world. And, if we let go… That’s who I am. Now forget me, Rose Tyler”. The backstory of the Doctor, the idea that he’s a legend that’s been doing “this sort of thing” for a long, long time is further filled in – but in an abstract way – with the “Doctor Who fan” analogue, Clive, explaining to Rose that she’s joined a longer narrative.
Rose started the story being with Mickey – over the course of the 45 minutes he gets literally “chucked”, he’s in the bin (complete with THAT controversial Nestene burp). The iconic shop window dummies from Spearhead from Space are again merely providing a backdrop for the character moments: Rose swings into action and makes a decision about her life. She chooses the Doctor over Mickey. “By the way – did I mention, it also travels in time?” She runs to the TARDIS.
By the end of the story, we’ve been introduced to this new TARDIS duo of Doctor and companion, but with this “starting story” the companion is just as much the lead character as the Doctor – the storytelling is spare but effective and races along at a pace appropriate for a 45 minute Saturday evening drama in the 21st Century. A very good start.