Wednesday, 06 April 2005
Fittingly enough for the fast-paced revival of a time-and-space spanning adventure series, the Ninth Doctor's very first word in last week's debut story, "Rose," was simply "run." With that he took his new companion's hand ? already a charming trademark of this TARDIS team ? and they were off and running. And so were we.
The second episode picks up just as Rose has run into the TARDIS at the end of the premiere, eager to begin her exploration of the universe. And is she thrown in the deep end! When the Doctor asks Rose if she?d like to go into the future or the past, she opts for a peek at what lies ahead. Their destination: the year five billion, about 40 minutes before the final death of the Earth as the sun engulfs Rose?s home planet. But one of the wealthy alien visitors on observation station Platform One (set up to allow the ?great and the good? to witness this event while enjoying drinks ? how Hitchhiker?s Guide) has a dastardly plan in motion?
Unfolding more or less in real time, this installment pulls out all the stops with a parade of alien beings, a stellar array of CGI effects and some stunning camera work. In an accompanying documentary series running concurrently with the new episodes, executive producer Russell T. Davies notes that they decided to fill the second episode with aliens and big special effects and ?live or die? by that decision. Looks like they?re not only going to live, but live well.
But the glitz shouldn?t distract from the excellent performances by Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose, who in only two stories has shown herself to be quite capable of conveying amazingly subtle shifts in emotion. Her overwhelming culture shock when faced with so many bizarre creatures, her touching phone call home across the chasm of time, and her choked-up final conversation with the Doctor that slides easily into a warm familiarity ? all of these and more show us just how valuable a part of this new series Piper really is.
It?s not all Roses (heh heh) - there are a few variable pacing issues. The Doctor solves the thin sabotage subplot too quickly, but when it?s time to make that last dash to save the day, what should be a fast-paced action scene is too drawn out. And whoever designed the climax with the Doctor trying to run past enormous swirling fan blades must not have seen Galaxy Quest, which put paid to that hoary old sci-fi cliché.
Although the Doctor saves the day (that?s not spoiling it for you, is it?) lives have been lost, including a couple you might have really grown to like during their short screen time, which is another tribute to this episode?s economical but well-crafted script. The Doctor?s final confrontation with the villain might strike some purists as shocking and perhaps even remarkably un-Doctorish, but given the current state of the Doctor?s own psyche ? he?s a recent survivor of a devastating war that robbed him of his home planet and race - it?s not surprising that he might have a bit of a crueler edge lurking under that obviously forced joviality. In two episodes, we?re already discovering what a complex Doctor this is, and on that topic?
There is an undeniable sexual undercurrent running throughout this episode, from the opening scene in which the Doctor revs up the TARDIS while grinning at Rose like a teenager with a hotrod eager to impress, to the overt flirting between the Doctor and the alluring tree being, Jabe, to the final powerful moments between the Doctor and Rose. While some might seek refuge in the notion of a father-daughter relationship, I think we have the clearest case of mutual attraction in the history of Doctor Who. Not only is he drawn to her, but she?s clearly fascinated by this exciting, scary man. Being an impressionable 19-year-old, Rose?s desire to run off with him isn?t difficult to understand.
But the more profound emotional impact of this episode?s last scene can?t be overstated. In a few minutes, this series does more to impress upon the viewer the enormity of what Rose has seen and the perspective it has given her ? and us ? on life in the ?here and now? than we ever saw in the old show. Arm in arm, our two travelers face the future? which lies in the past?
Next week, we head back to 1869 for a visit with Charles Dickens and a phantasmagorical historical! A-