So the first episode of Doctor Who, Season 1: Episode 1 is called Rose and not Pilot, like I thought 😂 It’s alright, grab your fez and a cuppa, because we’re about to cozy up to one of my all-time favorite shows: Doctor Who. The namesake pun of both my blog title and my external hard drive (Clara), this show shares cherished ground in my heart, nestled right alongside Star Trek, Star Wars, and the sands of Arrakis.
We can’t quite start at the beginning of the show, because the series began in 1963 and I only began watching the “New Who” seasons in 2005. Season 1 of the new episodes begins with the 9th Doctor, sixteen years after the 8th doctor wraps up Season 26, and that gives you a tiny introduction to the mental gymnastics you end up embracing with this show. But if you give it a shot, you might fall in love with the characters, and later on, the ridiculously good story arcs that span entire years – Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat are brilliant writers. Plus, you’ll find all your favorite British actors from other shows and movies tucked into Doctor Who – one of the Doctors is a baddie in Harry Potter for example, and season seven’s The Great Intelligence tries to mack it to Downton Abbey’s Countess of Grantham. It’s a real hoot.
This IGN article gives a proper, comprehensive introduction to the Doctor Who Universe (the Whoniverse), but in quick summary, Doctor Who is a show that follows the adventures of The Doctor, an alien from the race of the Time Lords of the planet Gallifrey. The Doctor travels through time and space in his TARDIS, a phone-box looking spaceship, and like all Time Lords, he has two hearts and cheats death by “regenerating” rather than dying (hence the 8th, 9th, 10th, etc. Doctors). He retains all the memories of his previous iterations, and because he’s already a few thousand years old, he doesn’t prefer to travel alone – this brings us to his companion, who, in Rose, conveniently functions in the same role as the viewers; innocent humans just along for the ride. I didn’t realize this was an actual literary device, but wikipedia says it’s a narrative technique called audience surrogate. Who knew!
Truthfully, this first episode falls short of the apex glory Doctor Who achieves in its later seasons, but they’re trying to accomplish a lot in 45 minutes. They introduce us to the concept of aliens that look and sound like us; the Doctor’s Manchester accent is explained by “lots of planets having a North,” for example. There’s some hilarious throwbacks to the desktop computers and the interwebs of yesteryear, and an unfortunate reminder of the eternally unforgiving lowrider jeans that are presently threatening to make a comeback. We get to meet Rose, your average young woman working at Harrods with a nice boyfriend (Mickey), doting mother (Jackie), and predictably boring life. We meet the TARDIS (it’s bigger on the inside!), a whole character in her own right. We meet our first baddie, the Nestene Consciousness, who has furtively invaded planet earth because it loves all our plastics and pollutions (it is also provides a perfect sample of some hilariously bad CGI). We hear this Doctor’s catchphrase (each iteration has their own – fantastic!), and we get to peek into the compassion that lies beneath his cleverness; even when presented with evil, he doesn’t want to destroy it outright, but holds out for redemption until there’s literally no other option. We hear the first reference to a “time war,” which ends up being really important throughout every season, even if you don’t know how yet. And we see the first reference to “Bad Wolf,” one of my favorite arcs in the entire series. By the end of the episode, Rose more than proves her worth and her chops – she saves the Doctor (and the world!) despite having “no A-levels, no job, and no future,” and in return, he offers her the chance of a lifetime; to travel on adventures through time and space with him in the TARDIS.
The first few episodes are a wee bit slow to warm to; when I fell in love with Doctor Who, it was with the eleventh doctor because my husband introduced me to the show beginning with Season Five (and who can help loving Matt Smith!). But after winning my affections, I fell in love with all the Doctors (except our present one, I’m so sorry Jodie) and I can now re-watch the first season for all its nostalgia and enjoyment. Plus, episode two has tree people. TREE PEOPLE. And Madam Hooch from Harry Potter! Ride out the first few episodes with me, you’ll be hooked in no time 😉.