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Doctor Who Series One Review

Updated: May 22, 2020

The ongoing lockdown has impacted everyone’s lives in different ways. It has its restrictions and negatives of course, but it also provides opportunity. Opportunity to learn, to read, to discover, and to reflect, as well as to progress. For us at Fogo’s Free Tours it has brought about a long held ambition to create a Doctor Who walking tour in Cardiff, including filming locations, places you think are London but are actually Cardiff, where major events in the stories occur, and so on. While the programme has taken on world wide fame like never before in the 21st century, it is very much rooted in modern Cardiff and probably the city’s most popular export, after Gareth Bale of course.

Regarding the tour, it might still be some time coming. There are over 150 episodes of modern Doctor Who to dissect, and of course we still have no idea when tourism may be able to resume. Therefore, watch this space for more information. In the meantime, let’s use this opportunity to reflect on each series of new Who, review characters, stories and episodes, note some favourites, and perhaps look at some obvious and not-quite-so-obvious Cardiff buildings and streets.

Let's start with a bit of context first. Doctor Who had been off the airwaves for 16 years by the time it returned to our screens in 2005. The cult classic of the 1960s, 70s and 80s had been deemed a bit too silly and cringeworthy by the time it stopped in 1989. Despite that, especially into the new century, there was a growing clamour for a return, led by Swansea’s own Russell T. Davies. A lifelong Whovian himself, he had a vision to transform the show for a new generation, scaling things back initially to one Time Lord due to the Time War story, centralising locations and stories around Earth, particularly London, and humanity in general, while shortening stories but making individual episodes longer. Other changes came about too, of course, like sets and filming locations, tone and atmosphere, and BBC Wales very much stepped in from that perspective.

Welsh connections to the Whoniverse don’t end with Davies though. A Cardiffian, Terry Nation, created perhaps the second most iconic characters in the programme’s history, the Daleks. Often considered the best thing about Doctor Who in its very first incarnation over 50 years ago, their comeback was almost as highly anticipated as the Doctor himself.

Doctor Who series 1

A new generation needed a new Doctor as well. Christopher Eccleston took on the role and didn’t disappoint. Something of a surprise choice, especially considering the possibility that it may have been Alan Davies or even Bill Nighy at the time. However, it was a wise decision, as new Who needed not only a charismatic presence but also a strong actor that could carry the show. This is perhaps more evident 15 years later, as we can look back on his 13 episodes now and sometimes laugh at the quality of the costumes and effects and its low budget relative to later years. However, his constant charm, force of nature performances, wacky grin and dynamic relationships with other characters, most obviously Rose Tyler, gave each episode extra gravitas and carried it through the first year.

Which brings us to Billie Piper, who played Rose Tyler for a lot longer than Eccleston stuck around as the Doctor. However, her relationship with the Tenth was never as strong as with the Ninth, even if the show’s own writers wanted us to think otherwise. Rose is the quintessential noughties, working class, girl next door, supposedly ‘chav’, teenager. She is the audience’s eyes and ears, our voice and a fish out of water just like the rest of us. If anything, our journey is hers rather than the Doctor’s in that first year. Billie Piper would have been a questionable choice for the part, with no significant acting pedigree and more well known for marrying Chris Evans than anything else. Her casting even seemed like a move to pander to a younger audience and bridge the transition between old fans and new. Luckily, it worked wonders as she surpassed expectations, became a fan favourite, and a perfect foil for the Doctor.

The first series develops around this dynamic. If the Doctor/Rose relationship is not convincing then the show would fail. Thankfully, it succeeded in this regard, and then some. There was arguably not a single disappointing episode in the entire season, and if anything it went from strength to strength as the stories, characters and relationships got stronger along the way. It is a tough task to analyse the series however, as it was 15 years ago, it is certainly of its time and lacking the budget, glamour and effects of future installments. So, in the context of what has come since, and even what happened in the decades previously, it’s tough to reflect on 13 episodes without considering the hundreds before and since. However, more than any other it is something of an outlier, being the first, having a singular-series Doctor unlike any other since, and serving as a starting point. It can almost be taken as a stand-alone year in its own right, which is something many other seasons can not claim.

Therefore, let's get into the episodes as best we can...

The opening episode, ‘Rose’, is aptly named, establishes our heroine, her personality, her youthful exuberance and lust for adventure among the humdrum of her current life. Ultimately, she saves the Doctor from the mannequins of Queen’s Arcade, setting them up for further adventures with this charming, intelligent, manic and weird Doctor figure.

‘The End of the World’ brings our first adventure to outer space where Rose is very much the fish out of water, questioning why she is even there and facing almost certain death for the first and second times. We get an early look at a couple of characters we’ll meet again, The Face of Boe and Casandra.

‘The Unquiet Dead’ was something of an ode to the very first Who episode in the 60s in its name, while also serving as our first step into horror, as well as history with Charles Dickens. This is where we see Rose’s empathy and humanity come to the fore for the first time and begin to take a hold of the Doctor, particularly her encounters with Snead’s servant, Gwyneth. Also the first episode to be at least set in Cardiff (despite being filmed mostly in Swansea), and introduced The Rift.

The Slitheen played the main antagonist in 'Aliens of London' and 'World War Three'