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Mar 26, 2005

"Lots of planets have norths..."

The downloadable screensaver from the official website which until seven o'clock tonight has been counting down until the start of the new series of Doctor Who now simply says 'The Invasion Begins...' Somehow I don't think it means the brief sound bleed of Graham Norton creeping in from BBC3 just as new companion Rose was being menaced for the first time by the Autons (who oddly weren't named this time out). It was an own goal from the BBC on what is one of the most important broadcasting nights of the year. But you know what I'm willing to forgive them.

Because he's back. He's bloody back. Bless him.

To be honest considering how much has been written about the new series off and online, all the tv and radio documentaries, the actual first episode, Rose, felt beside the point. As the busy new title sequence swished by part of my brain wondered if I was actually watching another trailer. But as Billie Piper strolled into view, and camera overcranked in Trafalgar Square during her lunch date with her boyfriend, my attention snapped back into view as I realised that it had started, I was there and nine years of wait were over.

Actually I think the plotting would have come as something of a shock for anyone who hasn't been catching the Doctor's adventures off screen in the gap. Atypically, The timelord already knew what the problem was and how to solve it even before the episode began (it was a bit like turning up for the last episode of a six parter in the old series). The Nestene Consciousness was using a transmitter (the London Eye) to control all the plastic in London in preparation for invading the Earth, with the help of shop dummies. The Doctor had a vile of anti-plastic, which he could use to destroy the Consciousness if needed to. It's exactly the sort of thing you'd find in one of the many short story anthologies (Short Trips etc) which been published in the interim.

This was clever move number one. Because just like best of the classic series, we were seeing him through the eyes of the companion, Rose Tyler -- she became our eyes and ears during the mad adventure. We needn't understand what it all meant, because she didn't really -- for her it was about going with the flow, enjoying the spectacle and the adventure -- much as it was for us. Like a prologue or opening act, it's about introducing the concepts and ideas to a new audience and reintroducing them to the old, and show what's changed to those who've never gone away. The was absolutely nothing in here which could alienate fans, well not this fan anyway.

HaloThe next clever idea was casting Christopher Eccleston. I think it was Tom Baker who said that the series is actor proof, that anyone could play it. That may be true, but its playing it well, and in a way which carries on the tradition. Eccleston's playing was just spooky; look into his eyes and you can see the other eight incarnations looking out at you. The moment on the bridge when he explains to Rose about the TARDIS moving around and says that she 'wouldn't understand' was just like grumpy old Hartnell. At the other end of the scale, as he fought the ships control panel as it melted the fake Mickey's head, McGann was back with us briefly. He's energetic, funny, sober, philosophical yet authorative when he needs to be. Standing over the the Nestene Consciousness trying to negotiate a truce using galactic law was just amazing.

Also amazing was Billie Piper. I don't think I was quite prepared for how much charisma she has, having not seen her in any of her previous acting roles. There is a real spark to her, an instant likeability. There is an edge of vulnerability in there, that kind of Alyson Hannigan (Willow in Buffy) huggability -- you really care if she gets hurt and I imagine they'll be playing that card somewhat as the series progresses. As a character, Rose Tyler is absolutely the right choice. Everything will be new to her, and there is that sense of wonder which was missing too much from in previous companions.

The tone was also just right. Some will no doubt knock on about the humour, especially in the scene when the Auton arms comes to life and attacks the Doctor without Rose noticing, or the wheelie bin burp, but I that's not much better or worse than John Pertwee's cleaning lady, or any number of Jelly Baby scenes. It's an important part of the series and in the Whedon age, vital other it would all look a bit ernest and silly. The episode's director Keith Boak hasn't 'done' sci-fi before (depending on your opinion of NY-LON) and was no doubt chosen because this is a story very much grounded on Earth, and these elements, quite right felt like they were intruding on the setting. Photographer Ernest Vincze, comes from a film background and that showed. At no point did the visuals feel flat; the moment when the London Eye created a halo around The Doctor, as well as feeling like a sneaky Second Coming reference (in that Russell T Davies series Eccleston played the new Christ) offered a perspective you don't often see on tv.

And yet. It wasn't perfect. Murray Gold's music was annoying. Considering how good his work has been in Casanova, here it just feels misjudged. Some sections felt desperately late Eighties. Every now and them there would an excellent spot effect, then a drum beat would clatter in and ruin it for everyone. We can't all be Alistair Locke or Dudley Simpson (both great incidental musicians from different eras of the show), but it just felt out of place somehow. That said, his mix of the theme is very good, but Delia Derbyshire's version was perfectly fine no matter what he and Russell might say about it seeming 'a bit sad'. Also, and I hate to single out any actor like this, but what did Noel Clarke think he was doing with that performance as Mickey. Yes, the character's a sap, he needs to be, otherwise Rose would shack up with The Doctor in the TARDIS, but why did he feel the need to play every scene as though he was auditioning to replace Craig Charles aboard Red Dwarf? Perhaps he settle down as the series progresses -- we'll be seeing more of him in later weeks as there as re-occurring characters this time around ... oh yes ...

But if that's all I can think of then something must be very right. This isn't another Phantom Menace. I keeping asking myself why I'm so excited about a new television series when there is still lots of other really good Doctor Who going around. It's about hope. It's about the fact that if enough of the right people care about something, and enough of those people are in the right position to doing something about it, wonderful things can happen. If that doesn't make you choke up, you must be an Auton.

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