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Doing it for the kids

Now that the first episode of the new Doctor Who series (“Rose”, or “Rose1.avi” to give it its proper title) has leaked on to the net, it would obviously be ethically wrong, not to mention a waste of an enjoyable surprise, to take advantage of the opportunity for a sneak preview. Doctor Who should be savoured in the traditional manner: sat cross-legged in pyjamas before the TV on a Saturday evening, perhaps with another interminable installment of “The Duchesses of Duke Street”, “When the Boat Comes In” or the football results preceding it.

On the other hand, it’s only a bloody TV show. BB didn’t agree with all that faux mystique and pompous embargoing when the last Harry Potter book came out, and we’re not about to go along with the hype now.

Besides, I might be hit by a bus tomorrow and die never having seen it, and that would be a great tragedy. (Yes, I am the kind of person who turns to the last page of a book before finishing the first chapter.)

Read on for a review and probably lots of spoilers.

Apparently, this is a rough cut. The title sequence obviously lacks the new theme, and I guess the special effects and incidental music will be tuned up before broadcast. On the other hand, it’s too late to fix certain aspects.

Kids are going to love this show (why are you looking at me like that?). If you don’t like it, it probably means you’ve grown up in the meantime; maybe this is the day to throw out that shelf of Doctor Who novellas and move on? Read some proper fiction, watch a decent sci-fi series - you do remember this is a kids show, right? It’s pacey with plenty of action; the first five minutes are a breakneck rush, with scary monsters, a big explosion and Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor frenetically battling cosmic evil once more. Either the Bond movie setpieces have become less impressive, or the BBC’s capabilities have improved massively; we suspect a bit of both, which is all to Who’s advantage.

The new Doctor The dialogue is mostly excellent, with Russell Davies dropping in some amusing, contemporary lines about students, Heat magazine and predatory older mothers. If there’s one quibble here, it’s that he never knows when to hold back on the humour. This might be bearable, except that Eccleston too often overplays the comedy. At these moments, he looks and acts distressingly like one of the Chuckle Brothers which, however much children might overlook a more subtly-nuanced performance, is pandering too far to them. Hopefully, he will develop a lighter touch over time and come to inhabit the role as deftly as his illustrious predecessors. (Admittedly, the burping wheelie bin is entirely Davies’s fault.)

He’s more at home with the serious moments, where his undoubted and welcome talent shines, although when he said “Nestene Consciousness” in a Salford accent, I half-expected his companion to wipe spittle off her face. From interviews, Eccleston appears to have a bug up his bum about being a “working class lad from Manchester” who couldn’t relate to previous Doctors because they were some kind of posho twats with funny accents - “authoritarians”. But arguably it’s not for him to drag the role down to the streets. He overlooks the significant fact that his sidekick Rose is a teenage girl with a black boyfriend who lives in a council high-rise with her single mother - that’s who today’s youth will identify with. The Doctor, by contrast, is supposed to be slightly other-worldly and should definitely stand out in a crowd, rather than dress like the neighbourhood drug dealer. (It’s always got to be about class with some people, hasn’t it - particularly if it means upsetting the middle classes. Right on.)

That minor rant aside, almost every other classic aspect is present and correct: the TARDIS (not a big feature here, but looks interesting), the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor’s essential humanity and the mild scares. Thankfully, the accompanying plot holes are easily overlooked in the overall heady rush. In contrast to Eccleston, Billie Piper’s performance as Rose, an appealingly modern day companion, is excellent throughout; agreed, she has the easier part but she also has less experience. And as someone on Slashdot said after posting a picture a picture of Chris Evans, “we’re all in with a chance!”

This is obviously an introductory story, whose main purpose is to set out the stall afresh to a new audience; the alien invasion is thus merely a background affair to impart some overall direction. Unfortunately, at its climax, the writing surrenders to the same failing as the old series - lots of ad-lib emoting and alleged urgency during which nothing happens. The actors spend what feels like minutes giving reaction shots while the director treads water through several blank pages of script: Rose and Mickey cower against the TARDIS, the Doctor pretends to struggle uselessly in the grip of his assailant, as the Autons “rampage” through a shopping centre seemingly without harming or killing anyone. “Yes? And?” thinks the viewer. We’re supposed to be waiting for Rose to gather her nerves and resolve to do something, but sadly the requisite tension is missing. Her eventual action neatly saves the Doctor, kills the baddie and ends the invasion, but one can’t help thinking that Buffy, both the show and the character, would have handled the situation with a little more flair.

It might not seem so after reading the above, but BB actually thought it was a jolly good show (sorry Chris, we meant “Fookin’ top, bro’!”) that improves with repeated viewings. The shortcomings could all be addressed in later episodes (or series), or might simply matter less as it gains in familiarity. It’s hard to conceive that it won’t be a massive hit with kids, unless Ant & Dec really are the anti-christs. Parents will probably enjoy watching it with them too. Whether adults would bother on their own unless they were already fans is another question, although my Glamorous Research Assistant and imminent mother of one, not a noted Who fan, ignored her pregnancy aches to sit through the entire thing on an uncomfortable office chair in front of a monitor. BB looks forward eagerly to the next episode leaking on to the net this weekend.

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