I revisit Doctor Who Season 1, starring Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper, and written by Russel T. Davies.
I’m The Doctor, by the way. What’s your name?”
“Rose. Rose Tyler.”
“Nice to meet you Rose–run for your life!”
In 2005, Russell T. Davies did something fantastic. He brought back one of the longest-running science fiction shows of all time in a spectacular fashion that pleased most of the old fans as well as appealing to new ones. After sixteen years being off air, it was up to Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper to work the magic that Davies had created, and it worked incredibly well, or at least – for the most part. There are a few downers here and there but above all, the first season of Doctor Who is a success. It provided a daring, new take on the series that handled the dark and humour elements very well. Sure, Season One may have gone overboard with the humour in some parts – for example, the farting aliens and the human-swallowing rubbish bin, but overall, it paid off. Doctor Who was back on our screens and it did not disappoint, providing thirteen episodes of entertainment that made way for one of the best if not the best seasons to date.
The Doctor himself is dealing from the aftermath of the Last Great Time War, where he wiped out the Daleks and his own people in order to save the universe. Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor, whilst displaying some moments of humour, is a lot darker than those of Tennant and Smith. He’s trying to make up for the death of his people, and it’s very interesting to see just how well Davies works with these characters. Whilst his storylines may not have been the best you can’t help but argue that the characters in the Davies era were almost always a success – a few missteps here and there but above all they were pretty strong indeed. The chemistry between Eccleston and Piper is played out well before our eyes, and it’s interesting to witness these two characters grow over the course of the season. Whilst Rose never may have been the strongest companion, she can hold her own weight against Eccleston’s Doctor and provides a good way into the show. Also, Davies brings in a sort of soap opera feel to the series in the first season, introducing Rose’s extended family – mother Jackie Tyler, and boyfriend Mickey Smith. It’s interesting to see how these characters react to The Doctor interfering in Rose’s life and how they are all inevitably drawn into the series is although not the show’s finest moments does allow for some fun scenes. Particularly early on, the interactions between The Doctor and Jackie Tyler are entertaining to watch, even if they may be few and far between.
The first season largely sticks to Earth as its setting, with all thirteen storylines taking place either in the past or the future. Rose, the first episode – takes place on present day for example. Then, The End of the World takes place in the future – where Rose is brought by the Doctor to witness the destruction of the Earth by the Sun, and also be introduced to a wide variety of alien species on the way, and it isn’t long before their first trip into the past takes place with a fun and entertaining historical romp that’s Mark Gatiss’ best episode to date, The Unquiet Dead, pitting The Doctor and Rose, along with Charles Dickens, against the ghost-esque aliens known as the Gelth. There’s even a brief appearance for eventual Torchwood star Eve Myles in this episode, playing a different character to the one that later gets introduced in the spinoff series.
There are some episodes that really work. The two part episode of The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances by Steven Moffat is easily among the scariest of all the Doctor Who episodes that we’ve had to date, where the Doctor and Rose meet John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness for the first time. Barrowman’s addition to the cast is welcome and allows for an even greater chemistry between the leads, even if he doesn’t stick around for more than a few episodes. Other characters along the way are less notable, for example Adam, the companion-that-wasn’t, isn’t as executed as well as he could have been even though he did appear in Dalek, the episode that brought back the Doctor’s arch nemesis and gave us easily the scariest Dalek episode to date, with some great emotional scenes for Christopher Eccleston and proved just how well they could be handeled if done right. Paul Cornell also steps in to deliver another strong episode in the form of Father’s Day, which provides a strong dilemma for Rose to face and one of her biggest tests as a companion – if you could go back in time, would you save your father from death, and what would be the consequences? It’s a good episode for sure, and one of the better ones of the series. And then, there’s the two part series finale, Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways. It’s Christopher Eccleston’s final two episodes in his brief run as The Doctor and he pulls them off very well indeed. Even if the first part – providing a satire take on British TV may not be the strongest it’s The Parting of the Ways that really shines, being a great swansong for Christopher Eccleston.
There are a few missteps here and there though. The farting aliens incident has already been mentioned, but can be found in Aliens of London/World War Three, in a waste of a two part episode that fails to entertain. There’s also the disappointing The Long Game that whilst is notable for the guest-starring Simon Pegg, is a poor showing and not one of Pegg’s finest moments. And Boom Town, whilst an improvement on Aliens of London/World War Three, reminds us just why the Slitheen haven’t been seen again in the seven seasons of the series so far. And when you also take into account that the show didn’t have the biggest budget, there are a few scenes that don’t work well because of that problem. The decision to have mostly Earth/London based episodes this early on might not have been the best decision.
Overall then, despite a few weak moments, Doctor Who Season 1 is one of the best seasons of Doctor Who so far. It suffers from a few weak moments that have already been touched upon but overall is solid and entertaining. If you’re looking to get into Doctor Who and don’t have time to start with the classic series then this is the perfect jumping on point, and as a result the show comes highly recommended.