Doctor Who is one of Britain’s biggest cultural phenomenons and needs no introduction. With stories spanning all of time and space, encountering an infinite variety of locations, species and scenarios, and promoting the universal right and desire for everything to co-exist in peaceful harmony, along with the ability to regenerate the lead character using different actors, the series has a scope and versatility unlike any other. And the adventures, characters, drama, humour, special effects, music and other elements have all come together to make the show continuously exciting to watch.
Of course, everyone has their own favourite (and least favourite) Doctors, companions, enemies, stories, writers, showrunners, etc, even if we don’t all agree on which ones. For many Whovians, the first Doctor they watch becomes their favourite Doctor by default, because you form a special connection with the one who hooks you into the show to begin with. That won’t be the case for every fan, but it certainly is with me.
Christopher Eccleston is therefore my favourite Doctor, with David Tennant a tightly close second, while Billie Piper as Rose Tyler is my favourite companion, and Russell T Davies is my favourite showrunner. But I’ve continued to enjoy the show very much since they all departed, and I’m always happy to give new people a chance. Whilst every change takes a bit of time to bed in and get used to, I like seeing the show evolve with new faces, places and ideas, as it helps to keep it fresh and interesting. After all, it would get boring if it always stayed the same.
But it’s still a joy to see former stars returning too of course. And so this year, for the big 60th anniversary, I’m delighted to see David Tennant is back as the Doctor for a special trilogy. And it’s great to see Russell T Davies as showrunner once again, 18 years after his big revival of the show in 2005.
Therefore, given the special circumstances, and because I’m a huge fan of the modern era of the show, I figured it’s high time I try and do detailed reviews for each of the modern series, which I own on Blu-ray. It’s certainly a good excuse, as if one’s ever needed, to rewatch the episodes and extra features yet again. So for this post I’ll be going through the Series 1 Steelbook Edition Blu-ray, as well as mentioning the music soundtrack and a few relevant items online. I’ll never be able to mention absolutely everything to do with the show, nor would I want to. I just want to pick out the things that stand out to me, of which there are many in this first series.
I won’t complete all the series in time for the 60th anniversary of course, but I want to try and tick off the old Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant episodes by then if I can. And I fully intend to review the other Doctors beyond that as well. So we’ll see how far I get.
This first post is a particularly lengthy one, because I discuss how I got into the series, explore the 13 episodes and the various Blu-ray extras in depth, and express a lot of admiration for Christopher Eccleston as he was my first Doctor. And there’s an associated playlist on my Youtube channel with clips, music, interviews and other things relating to the series. So I hope you enjoy!
- My Introduction to Doctor Who
- Series 1 Introduction
My Introduction to Doctor Who
I grew up after the original Classic era of the show, as I was only 6 years old when it ended in 1989, and thus far too young to have any awareness of it at the time. And I never watched any of the old episodes during the rest of my childhood either, as I didn’t have the opportunity or interest to do so.
In fact, it wasn’t until 2013, having been enjoying the modern revival for 8 years by that point, that I finally put time aside to watch some of the Classic era material to mark the 50th anniversary. I finally got to see An Unearthly Child (the very first Doctor Who serial) when it was repeated on BBC Four. And then on Netflix I saw a few Dalek-themed stories (Genesis, Resurrection, Revelation & Remembrance Of The Daleks), along with the 1996 TV movie. Those were the only Classic era adventures that Netflix had at the time, and they’ve long since vanished from the platform.
I haven’t got around to watching any more old episodes since then, and even the ones I saw a decade ago have faded from memory after all this time. But I know I ought to have a proper dive into the Classic era at some point, and maybe I will one day. It’s just that finding the time to watch several hundred episodes is a daunting prospect (as I’ve got enough to watch already), plus I don’t want to sign up to BritBox to see all the ones they have (as I pay enough subscriptions as it is), and I do have the natural concern about how dated they’ll seem (as the modern style is what I’m used to).
But I’m not worried about any of that. Right now I’m more than happy to just focus on the modern series for the 60th anniversary, which will keep me busy for some time!
Despite never watching an episode of the Classic series during my childhood, I still became well aware of Doctor Who and what it was about during that time, because it wasn’t entirely absent from our screens. Its impressive 26-year run had irrevocably cemented the show in British culture, so there continued to be references to Doctor Who in all forms of entertainment and the arts. It was completely unavoidable, even while the series was off-air for 16 years.
In particular, there were a couple of spoof adventures made for charity, which were my introduction to the Doctor’s world growing up.
First there was Dimensions In Time, produced for Children In Need in 1993 to mark Doctor Who’s 30th anniversary. The first part was broadcast during the telethon itself, with the conclusion on Noel’s House Party the following evening. This crossover with Eastenders featured Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker & Sylvester McCoy reprising their roles as the Doctor, along with several of their original companions.
A phone vote was held after Part 1, to decide which Eastenders character would save the Doctor in Part 2, and those calls raised £101,000 for Children In Need. The special also tried to have a 3D feel using special glasses (which are useless to me with my dodgy eyes) and camera movements spinning around the characters (which is a bit dizzying to look at).
Dimensions In Time has never been released in any video format, as everyone involved gave up their time for free, on condition that it was never repeated or sold for profit. So we can be grateful that a few people have uploaded their recordings for prosperity.
6 years later, The Curse Of Fatal Death was a brilliant parody made for Comic Relief in 1999. It didn’t feature any of the original Doctors or companions, but had a very impressive cast nonetheless, with Rowan Atkinson playing the Doctor, Jonathan Pryce as the Master, Julia Sawalha as companion Emma, and regenerations of the Doctor played by Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant & Joanna Lumley.
It’s a lot of fun, and has a lot of significance as well. It was written by Steven Moffat, who went on to become a writer and showrunner in the modern revival, and made occasional little references back to the sketch in his stories. It was also the only live-action special made between the 1996 film and the 2005 revival, it featured effects by The Mill (who later worked on the revival), it marks Roy Skelton‘s last performance as the longest-serving voice of the Daleks, and it has the first instance of a female Doctor (Joanna Lumley). Executive Producer Richard Curtis also wrote a proper episode later on (Vincent and the Doctor), while Richard E. Grant went on to play the Great Intelligence in Series 7.
This special was released on VHS in September 1999, and later sold digitally via the UK iTunes store. It was also repeated on UK Gold during the 40th anniversary celebrations in 2003, and is available for free on the Comic Relief Youtube channel. It’s never had a DVD release, though it hasn’t been ruled out as a possibility.
The Doctor Who theme tune is one of those pieces of music that seemingly everybody knows, irrespective of whether or not you’ve seen any episodes. And Delia Derbyshire deserves a lot of credit for bringing Ron Grainer’s composition to life in such a clever way, thanks to her work at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. They could never have predicted just how iconic it would become!
There have been many variations of the theme tune and title sequence over the years, my favourite of which is the Peter Howell version from the 1980s. I have the full version in my music collection from a BBC World Of Sound CD I bought in the 90s, along with a couple of older versions from other theme tune compilations.
Plus there’s a multitude of other reworkings and remixes out there, some by big-name artists. I have Hank Marvin’s guitar cover and Doctorin’ The Tardis by The Timelords (KLF) in my music collection, plus I like the live versions of the theme performed at the 2005, 2010 & 2013 BBC Proms (I’ll mention some special Doctor Who concerts in later posts), Tim Minchin’s performance at the BBC Comedy Proms & Bill Bailey’s amusing Belgian jazz version, among others.
Check out my Youtube playlist for those examples and many more, where you’ll find the official themes and title sequences, plus a few interviews, and some of my favourite covers, remixes & mashups. It’s not a list of everything that’s out there, obviously, it’s just a selection that I think are interesting or significant.
Series 1 Introduction
When Russell T Davies brought the show back in 2005, not only were many long-term fans overjoyed after its 16-year absence, but the first series also attracted a keenly curious legion of new devotees, including myself.
It’s enthralling and exciting to watch because of the engaging variety of stories by Russell and his fellow writers, the great mixture of drama and action with fun and humour, Christopher Eccleston’s fantastic and moving portrayal of a clever but lonely and vulnerable Doctor, Billie Piper’s excellent performance as a human companion we can all relate to, the very capable supporting cast and big guest stars, and the interactions and relationships between the various characters (which are at the heart of the show really, more importantly than the sci-fi aspects).
And it’s all enhanced by many other people, including Murray Gold’s sublime score, which was entirely synthesised, including orchestral elements, and occasionally had powerful vocals from the Crouch End Festival Chorus (especially relating to the Daleks). I love his fantastic arrangement of the theme tune, which accompanies the very cool title sequence, where the Tardis flies from the past (the blue vortex) and heads into the future (in red). Those visuals were done by CGI masters The Mill, who created 1,300 effects shots for the first series. There were also other special effects by Any Effects and detailed prosthetics by Millennium FX. Plus there are contributions of countless others. It all comes together perfectly.
Given all those contributions, it’s no wonder the first series of Doctor Who won several accolades. For example, at the 2005 National Television Awards, the show won Most Popular Drama (awarded by David Cameron and David Davis), while Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper won the Most Popular Actor and Actress awards respectively. And at the 2006 British Academy TV Awards the show won the BAFTA for Best Drama (with a Dalek on stage) and the Pioneer Award.
And the show has kept me tuning in ever since, even during its weaker moments. There will be die-hard fans of the Classic era who prefer that of course, and others who have dropped out during the modern run for one reason or another, and that’s fine. But I’m still a happy, regular viewer of the series.
DVD Tardis Box
When I bought the first series on DVD, it came in a very cool Tardis-shaped box. Not ideal for putting on a shelf alongside other regular DVD cases, as it took up a lot of space, but it still looked very nice, and I still have it as a souvenir.
The DVD releases of the next few series had some nice lenticular box covers, whereby the image on the front would change slightly depending on which way you looked at it. And there were nice booklets with all the early series as well. But after Russell T Davies left, the packaging became simpler and the amount of extra features lessened over time, which was a shame.
In more recent years, since the leap to Blu-ray, all of the modern episodes of the show (apart from a couple of specials) have become available in steelbook editions, as have some Classic Era stories too. These are a little bit dearer than the versions in standard plastic cases, but are worth it, as each steelbook is covered with a nice piece of artwork of the Doctor and other relevant characters. And on the inside there’s a photo that you can uncover by taking out all of the discs.
Each steelbook is held in a cardboard pocket that has a full-length back with the details of the set, but just a small section at the front with the title of the set, so you can still see the front of the steelbook. So by taking off the cardboard sleeve, you can unfold the case to see the full artwork without any writing on it (apart from the small logo and series number on the spine), which is really nice.
So the Series 1 steelbook has the Doctor and Rose on the front of the case, while on the back there are Daleks surrounding the Tardis, which has Bad Wolf sprayed on it. And if you take the discs out inside, there’s a shot of the Doctor and Rose standing in the Tardis.
Generally it’s easy enough to get the discs out of these steelbooks too, although there are occasional releases where they’ve piled a few discs on a slightly taller spindle, so you have to take discs out to get to those that are underneath. And you only get thin, double-sided, easily-creased flyers listing the episodes and extras instead of nice booklets (so I’ve kept the booklets from the early DVD editions). But otherwise I do like this style of release from a visual and space-saving perspective.
For the Series 1 Blu-ray, all of the episodes and extras are on 3 discs, whereas on the previous DVDs everything was spread over 5 discs. And the menu on each disc is nicely animated, using a snippet of the title sequence to take you through the time vortex with a bit of the opening theme music, to the console inside the Tardis where the Doctor’s theme plays. You can play all of the episodes on the disc, select a specific episode, watch the extra features, choose between the main audio or the commentaries, and turn on subtitles if you need them. You can’t select specific scenes within an episode from the menu, but they all have chapter points you can skip through.
Visually the episodes have been upscaled to High Definition from their Standard Definition originals, as they didn’t film the show in HD until the 2009 special Planet Of The Dead. I don’t have decent enough eyesight to do a thorough assessment, but they look pretty good to me, I’m happy with it.
Meanwhile the audio is provided in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, which again I can’t assess fully as I’m not an audio expert and I don’t have a surround sound system, but it packs a decent punch through my soundbar. I have seen complaints online that some of the music is mixed too loud for the dialogue to be heard, but I’ve only really noticed that one or two occasions, and otherwise it hasn’t been an issue for me. Maybe it’s the way my soundbar’s set up, I don’t know, though I haven’t done anything special with it.
The beautiful and powerful music composed by the magnificent Murray Gold sounds amazing in any case. I’ll be referencing some of his contributions throughout my episode reviews, including tracks on his 2006 album of music from Series 1 & 2 and The Runaway Bride.
The album tracks are re-recordings by the BBC National Orchestra Of Wales, instead of the synthesised tracks used in the show, so they do sound different to the broadcast versions. And I wish we had a much more comprehensive album dedicated purely to Series 1, as a lot of his music cues from the series have never been officially released. But the tracks we do get are still really cool and evocative, I never get tired of listening to them.
There are also some unreleased music cues on a few fan channels on Youtube (presumably extracted from the DVDs and Blu-ray audio tracks) – e.g. Tom Mason, DoctorWho Unreleased2015, EMS Productions & Jackardy to name a few.
The one thing that is missing from the Series 1 Blu-ray, however, is audio navigation and audio description. On the original DVDs there was audio description from Series 1 onwards, while audio navigation was first introduced with Series 2 to help visually impaired people use the menus. So I had rather hoped they would replicate that on the Blu-rays, and perhaps even add audio navigation to series 1. But sadly not. In fact, both features don’t appear on the Blu-rays until Series 6 for some reason.
I don’t tend to use those features for Doctor Who personally anyway, as I can usually follow the show well enough without it on my big screen TV, and I can pause to look at things if I have to. But for those who really need AD it’s a big disappointment that the BBC haven’t given much consideration to accessibility with these Blu-ray editions.
There are 13 episodes in the first series, around 45 minutes each, consisting of 7 single-episode stories and 3 two-parters. But they’re not entirely stand-alone adventures, as there are strong connections between some of them, along with seeds planted throughout the series that pay off at the end.
All of the stories are set on Earth or on space stations orbiting the planet (not least because it makes production a lot easier and cheaper), but that isn’t a problem given the wide variety of adventures that take place across different time periods. And in later series the Doctor does take us into the far reaches of space sometimes, so this first series is just a warm-up for what’s to come, which is quite something considering how much goes on here as it is!
- Writer – Russell T Davies
- First Broadcast – 26 March 2005
Considering this is the first episode of Doctor Who to be made in 16 years, under a lot of pressure and expectations, it came out really well indeed.
It was a wise move to tell the story from Rose Tyler’s perspective, setting it in the present-day real world, so that we could be introduced to the Doctor alongside her, before taking flight with him to pastures new. The human companion has always been one of the big strengths of Doctor Who, as they’re an important gateway for the audience into the crazy complexities of the Doctor’s world. The Doctor has to explain things to their companion, and in doing so is clarifying things to the audience as well, so it’s a simple but useful plot device when any exposition is required.
Meanwhile the Autons in this first episode make you look twice at plastic mannequins and wheelie bins when you go out and about, which is an effective way of ensuring the show sticks in your mind. As Russell mentions in the audio commentary, the show has always been great at making ordinary, everyday things scary. So the Autons are freaky yet amusing, and therefore not too terrifying, certainly not compared to some other villains that the Doctor encounters in later adventures.
They make good use of the London Eye too, it’s fun to see that landmark having a prominent role. And there are other nice visuals as well, including the shop explosion, the Nestene Consciousness, and the wheelie bin that swallows up Rose’s boyfriend Mickey. Some of the special effects aren’t very realistic – the shop explosion is clearly CGI, and it does feel strange that Rose doesn’t spot the fake Mickey for instance – but even so they still look very good overall. And some scenes are touched up by CGI in ways that are completely unnoticeable, as noted in the audio commentary. Sometimes the best effects you see and hear in shows and films are the ones you’re completely unaware of.
But everything in this episode is really just a means by which to bring the Doctor and Rose together, and it’s the moments between them that are the most memorable and important. There are a couple of occasions when he holds her hand, for instance, first telling her to run with his debut line as he saves her from the shop basement, and then later when explaining how he can feel the world spinning.
That scene in the basement was somewhat ruined in the original broadcast though, when a technical error meant viewers heard cheering and Graham Norton’s voice from Strictly Dance Fever over the top! I still remember it happening, and it’s also discussed during the commentary, as it sent the production team into a panic. Much to everyone’s relief, however, the invading audio was silenced just before the Doctor’s first appearance.
Russell recreated the interruption during a 2020 online watch-along of the episode with fans. What’s more, this wasn’t the only time that Graham got in the way, because he inadvertently interrupted the cliffhanger of a Matt Smith episode some years later as well, which he took in good spirits on his chat show. So he’s technically been in the show twice without being invited or having to act!
Anyway, to mention another iconic moment that thankfully wasn’t interrupted, the look on Rose’s face as she first runs into the Tardis, with her eyes roving around before making a hasty and bewildered retreat, is really nicely done, as it feels like a realistic response and teases you just a little bit longer as to what she might have seen. As noted in the commentary, that wasn’t the original intention – she was just going to run in and we’d see it straight away, which would have been fine, but I think the way they did it in the end is better.
And interestingly, when she does enter properly, with a great camera move that pulls back across the gorgeous console room for the first time, the musical motif in the background is one that we later hear again as the heartbreaking Doomsday melody when Rose leaves at the end of Series 2. It’s a lovely way of bringing things full circle. It’s one of many examples where Murray Gold repeats elements of the score as callbacks to great effect, which sometimes you only notice and fully appreciate when rewatching the episodes with concentration and the benefit of hindsight. I’m not going to try and mention all such cases in these reviews, as I’m bound to miss some, but there are always new details to discover when revisiting old episodes, and the music is one such aspect.
On that note, pun intended, it’s important to honour the other music used during the episode as well, which includes:
- The theme tune – Apart from the wonderful opening titles, there’s also a little nod to the theme tune when Rose dashes away from the shop explosion, failing to notice the Tardis in the shadows. You don’t often a variation of the theme tune used as part of the incidental score, so it has extra impact when it does appear.
- Westminster Bridge – This enjoyably catchy tune is used in various ways throughout the episode, including a version in the opening scene where Rose goes to work, and another when she and the Doctor are crossing the bridge. It also pops up again in various other episodes.
- The Doctor’s Theme – We get our first little taste of this beautifully haunting theme as the Doctor returns to his Tardis after a long walking chat with Rose. It becomes much more prominent in the next episode and later in the series, and becomes the motif for any Bad Wolf moments (more on that later).
- Seeking The Doctor – This is also a really nice piece, when Rose is using the Search Wise site to find out more about the Doctor.
Russell has also written additional material in relation to this episode. Firstly, in 2017 he published a Target novelisation of the story. I haven’t read any of the Target novels relating to the show, but inevitably they differ from the televised versions in various ways, as in this case. It also includes a cheeky little nod to the Graham Norton interruption discussed above, as Rose can hear an Irish comedian on a tinny radio before she enters the room.
Then in March 2020, to mark the episode’s 15th anniversary, he posted a couple of mini-stories online (which gave us something fun to look as we were going into lockdown). Doctor Who & The Time War is a short written prequel to the episode, while Revenge Of The Nestene is a sequel to the story that follows on from the end of the 2017 novel, and was recorded by Jacob Dudman. The sequel is easily interpreted as making an amusing reference to Boris Johnson, even though he’s not specified by name.
2. The End Of The World
- Writer – Russell T Davies
- First Broadcast – 2 April 2005
Rose is introduced to time travel and being in space in this episode, when the Doctor takes her 5 billion years into the future, to a special observation station called Platform One, where important people are gathering to watch the sun engulf the Earth on its final day. We see the Doctor use his psychic paper for the first time to pretend they’ve been invited, he upgrades Rose’s mobile phone so she can call home across space and time, and the plot convenience of the Tardis telepathically translating everything to English is briefly explained. So we’re learning more of the basics of travelling with the Doctor here.
The villain of the story is Lady Cassandra (played really well by Zoë Wanamaker). She claims to be the last ‘pure human’ – although, as challenged by Rose, she looks nothing like one, having gone so far with surgery that she’s now just a piece of skin in a frame. And Cassandra has arranged for some metal spiders to sabotage the ship so that everyone dies when the sun explodes, in order for her to profit off their assets afterwards. So there’s plenty of action as things go wrong and the Doctor tries to save the day.
But, as with the first episode, it’s really the developing connection between the two main characters that lies at the heart of it all. Rose is quite overwhelmed by the sight of so many different aliens, and the dawning realisation that she’s just flown off with a complete stranger, leading to the first big argument between the two of them.
And the Doctor is still heavily emotionally scarred from the Time War, so he’s angry that more innocent people are losing their lives, especially the sentient tree called Jabe who sacrifices herself to help him in this particular story. Rose then has to watch uneasily as a ruthless Doctor lets Cassandra explode in front of him, when he could have helped her, stating quite firmly that “Everything has its time and everything dies”.
Yet, despite all of that, Rose is enthralled by the Doctor and the possibilities that lie in store by travelling with him, and there’s a slight hint of deeper feelings developing with her casual joke that he’s a bad date when they’re heading off to get chips at the end. The Doctor and Rose go on quite the journey, in terms of their relationship as well as their adventures, over the course of the first couple of series of the show.
Beyond that, it’s also worth noting the presence of The Face Of Boe in this episode. Although he’s in the background and doesn’t really get involved, this huge head reappears in a few later episodes with increasing significance, leading to a huge revelation in Series 3 that links him to a major character. And talking of background details, we also get our first Bad Wolf reference of the series in a bit of background chatter, but I’ll mention that when talking about the big finale later on.
The Mill also deserve particular credit for this episode, as it contains a whopping 203 visual effects shots, the most of any episode in Series 1, and it’s claimed that no episode had more than that for at least 6 years thereafter, if not more. It’s so complicated because of all the work required on the space station, the constant views of space and Earth, Lady Cassandra, the metal spiders, the descending sun filters, the giant fans, etc. So it’s great that a producer from The Mill takes part in the audio commentary to give a sense of the amount of work involved. It all paid off, as it looks really nice. And I like how, in the dialogue, the Doctor deals with the fact that Earth apparently looks the same as the present day, by saying the National Trust shifted the continents back to a ‘classic Earth’ design.
As for the music in the episode, we hear a much clearer version of the Doctor’s Theme a couple of times (when he’s passing through the fans and when opening up to Rose), and we hear the equally beautiful Rose’s Theme for the first time (when she’s phoning her mother and then returning home). Both of those are two of my favourite pieces of music in the entire modern era of the show. Clockwork Tardis also gets its first outing, for the duo’s first trip in the police box, and the gentle Cassandra’s Waltz feels very apt for an observation ship floating in space. There are also a couple of commercial tracks played on Cassandra’s jukebox (which she calls an iPod), namely Tainted Love by Soft Cell and Toxic by Britney Spears, so they add a fun bit of variety as well.
3. The Unquiet Dead
- Writer – Mark Gatiss
- First Broadcast – 9 April 2005
Rose has met the Doctor in the present day and has been to the future with him, so of course the logical next step is to head to the past, which she finds an exciting prospect. This is the first occasion where the Doctor has to admit he can’t always travel through time with perfect accuracy, as instead of Naples in Christmas 1860, they end up experiencing the festive season in Cardiff in 1869.
Here they meet renowned author Charles Dickens (played brilliantly by Simon Callow), much to the Doctor’s delight. But they also encounter ghostly apparitions that are bringing corpses to life and hiding in gas pipes at the premises of local undertaker Gabriel Sneed (played by Alan David, who I also recognise as Llewellyn from Only Fools And Horses spin-off The Green Green Grass).
As the mystery is unravelled, we also learn about the rift in space and time in the centre of Cardiff, which servant girl Gwyneth is able to bridge across using her clairvoyant powers, to contact the Gelth and let them through (only to then give her life to stop them when their real plan becomes apparent). What’s more, the actress playing Gwyneth is the marvellous Eve Myles, who would later play Gwen in the Torchwood spin-off, which is set around the rift.
So it’s an enjoyable historical adventure. It’s particularly fun to see Dickens struggling to accept the reality of what’s going on in front of his very eyes, and his joy at the end when he finally embraces how much more there is for him to discover, and gleefully watches the Tardis vanish in thin air. Meanwhile, Rose finds herself arguing with the Doctor again, as she objects to people’s corpses being used as host bodies for the Gelth, and he berates her for not being as open minded as him. But the Doctor also finds himself considering for the first time that he might have pushed Rose too far, when they’re trapped and he believes she’s about to die (until Dickens saves the day). It’s not the first time he fears for her life in this series either.
So the conflicting complexity of their relationship is still apparent and developing. They both love having adventures together, but are also learning a lot about each other and themselves. The Doctor has his darker side, for instance, and there are times when that makes Rose uncomfortable, but she’s already starting to have an impact on him as well.
4 & 5. Aliens Of London / World War Three
- Writer – Russell T Davies
- First Broadcast – 16 & 23 April 2005
Yes, this is the one with the farting aliens, let’s get that out there to begin with! In this first 2-part story of the series, the Slitheen family from Raxacoricofallapatorius have been masquerading as politicians and emergency personnel by disguising themselves in the skins of people they’ve murdered. They’ve had to use compression technology in order to fit inside those skins, resulting in gas exchanges that have to be released somewhere. It’s childish, you may argue, but the show is aimed at a family audience after all, so the kids will like it. And even as an adult it is amusing sometimes, as it’s not overdone to the point of tedium.
The Slitheen then get the attention of the human race by crashing a ship into the Thames, clipping Tower Bridge and smashing through Big Ben on the way. It’s a very cool sequence, though in the commentary they admit that the model shot of Big Ben was flipped to make the ship fly through at the correct angle, so if you look closely you can see that the clock face is the wrong way round. There is then quite a bit of mystery and drama as the Doctor investigates who the aliens are and what their plan entails, and try to avoid being killed while they seek a way to stop them.
Meanwhile news reporters are also keen to find out what’s happening – including the BBC’s Andrew Marr, and another reporter who at one point talks about how quiet the streets are with everyone forced to stay at home (which was hard to imagine back in those long ago pre-Covid days!).
The story is also significant because it’s the first time that Rose has returned to present-day Earth. This happens a few times during the series, enabling us to see the impact that her absence is having on her mother Jackie (played by Camille Coduri) and boyfriend Mickey (played by Noel Clarke), which is important as it helps to keep things grounded, and reminds us that her travelling isn’t without consequences.
In this case the Doctor has miscalculated again, and Rose has been away for 12 months instead of 12 hours, causing Jackie to call the police and issue appeals for her return. So when they do return, she gives the Doctor a big slap across the face! But by the end of the story Jackie is aware of who he really is and has had a brief glimpse inside the Tardis. She still pleads with Rose not to go off with him, as she’ll miss her daughter terribly and doesn’t trust the Doctor, but she has to begrudgingly accept it.
Mickey, meanwhile, met the Doctor in the first episode, but couldn’t tell anyone while Rose was away because nobody would believe him. And the Doctor doesn’t think too highly of him to begin with either. But there’s a newfound respect between them after Mickey helps to save the day.
Firstly, the Doctor gets him to break into the website run by the military agency UNIT (the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce). The Doctor has worked with them before, and this is their first mention in the rebooted series, but we don’t see them in action until the first Christmas special.
The name got the producers into trouble though, because the website created for use in the story was also available for fans to play with, and the United Nations took severe exception to their name being used. So they took legal action against the BBC, who then changed the name to the Unified Intelligence Taskforce from 2008 onwards. The website does still exist but no longer works properly – much like the other websites created to tie in with the series – so it’s a lot better to view it on the Wayback Machine, though even there it still has limited functionality.
Anyway, under the Doctor’s further instructions, Mickey then hacks into the Royal Navy to launch a missile. This is a really fun sequence in the show, because there’s emotional turmoil for the Doctor as he’s putting Rose’s life at great risk (“I could save the world but lose you”), and there’s a great bit of action music underscoring it (indeed, there’s a lot of good music in both Aliens Of London & World War Three, including the Slitheen theme that was included on the soundtrack album). And it all leads to Mickey being invited to fly as another companion, but he’s not ready for that. The Doctor graciously helps him to conceal his fear from Rose though.
The other significant character in this story is MP Harriet Jones, played by the delightful Penelope Wilton, who I’ve also enjoyed in Ever Decreasing Circles and After Life. Desperate to get one of her policy ideas on the table, she soon finds herself working with the Doctor and Rose to bring down the Slitheen – and it is quite impressive from an acting and writing standpoint that those 3 characters achieve a lot while trapped in one room for most of the second episode. Harriet returns to the show later on as Prime Minister, so it’s not the last we’ve seen of her.
And apart from all that, we also learn that the Doctor is 900 years old, he gives Rose her own Tardis key (with Starman by David Bowie playing in the background on her estate), and there’s a nice little callback to the northern accent joke from the first episode.
So there’s a lot packed into this epic story, and being a 2-parter gives it much more time to breathe, including several moments of character reflection and development among the chaos and panic (some of which were added to pad out the episodes to the right length, as explained in the commentaries, but they’re worthwhile and important additions).
- Writer – Robert Shearman
- First Broadcast – 30 April 2005
Christopher Eccleston is really at the top of his game in this episode, when the Doctor meets the last surviving Dalek, which had fallen to earth before being imprisoned and tortured in an underground facility in Utah. We had already seen a ruthless side to the Doctor when he stood back to let Cassandra die in Episode 2, but this pushes it much further.
Here the Doctor gleefully revels in the fact that the Dalek is powerless, taunting it for being the last of its kind – only to be subdued by the Dalek’s words as he’s reminded of the grim reality of the Time War, where he was forced to wipe out not only the Dalek race but also his own. So he too is the last of his species as a result of killing millions, a fact he is still having deep trouble coming to terms with, as it goes against everything he stands for. But he also realises he has the upper hand, and takes out his angry revenge on the Dalek by attempting to electrocute it, before security bursts in to stop him.
Rose, on the other hand, has no knowledge of the Daleks, and doesn’t see the Doctor’s conversation with it. So when she learns of an alien being tortured, she persuades a handsome young employee called Adam Mitchell (played by Bruno Langley) to get her into the holding cell to talk to it. But the Dalek takes advantage of her caring nature, and tricks Rose into placing a comforting hand on it, whereby it takes a copy of her DNA and uses it as a spark with which to repair itself.
It then goes on a killing spree, which is easy because it’s invincible, dissolving all the bullets that are fired at it. And stairs are no match for it either, as it can hover and fly up them. It’s not the first time a Dalek has ever done that in the series – that was a cliffhanger moment back in 1988’s Remembrance Of The Daleks – but it’s still a horrifying discovery for the characters nonetheless.
What makes the Dalek particularly scary here is that it’s slow and deliberate in its actions. It could easily have fired its gun directly upwards at the humans watching it on the stairs, for example, and it could have just vertically flown up the stairwell instead of following the winding path of the steps. And it could easily fly around the corridors at high speed if it wanted (as we see many of them doing in the series finale). But it doesn’t need to do any of that. It knows it can’t be beaten, so there’s no need to rush.
And it makes the Doctor watch in horror as it massacres an entire room of guards with electrified sprinkler water, leading to a violent outburst of phlegm-flinging anger as the Time Lord shouts at his nemesis to die – only for it to respond by pointing out that he would make a good Dalek with an attitude like that, which stuns the Doctor into silence again for a moment.
Likewise, when the Dalek finally reaches a part of the building where it can see the sunlight, and opens up its armour to reveal the inner creature, Rose has to step in to stop the Doctor from killing it. Because, by this point, the Dalek has found itself changing, after being contaminated by Rose’s DNA, and takes its own life rather than suffer the ‘sickness’ of becoming like her.
So the Doctor is being made to think twice and look at himself more closely, by both the companion he loves and the enemy he despises. The interplay between them all throughout the episode is fascinating to watch. And the Doctor even has to contend with the thought that Rose has been killed at one point, after a moving goodbye moment between the two of them, only to then be surprised and relieved to find out that she’s safe. So the Doctor goes on quite the rollercoaster of emotions in this episode, which Chris portrays perfectly. And it’s not the last time this series that he thinks Rose has perished.
All in all, therefore, it’s a fantastic episode, including great effects and Murray Gold’s music (including a beautiful track called The Lone Dalek). It’s a great way to reintroduce the Doctor’s biggest enemy, by showing just how much power a single Dalek can have, which makes their reappearance in the finale all the more terrifying.
Writer Robert Shearman published a Target novelisation of the story in 2021, which has some differences to the broadcast version.
And as a final little bonus, here’s a very funny video on Youtube called The Last Metaltron by Joe Vevers, where he takes clips from the episode and edits them with new Dalek videos. It’s worth looking through all of the Doctor Who videos on his channel, they’re pretty good.
7. The Long Game
- Writer – Russell T Davies
- First Broadcast – 7 May 2005
This isn’t one of the most impressive or exciting episodes of the series for me, but it’s still fun, and it plays a key role in setting up the series finale, although it’s not obvious at the time of this particular episode.
For this adventure, the Doctor and Rose – with Adam in tow from the previous episode – are on another futuristic space station hovering above Earth. Not as far ahead as the one in Episode 2, but still a very long way off, in the year 200,000. But the Doctor can tell that something’s wrong, because there are only humans on board, and no other species.
It transpires that the space station is broadcasting carefully controlled and heavily edited news in order to influence and control the thoughts and behaviour of the human race, so there are deliberate parallels to some areas of the present-day media as well. On the space station it’s all run under the direction of the editor (played by Simon Pegg), who himself takes his orders from a huge alien called the Jagrafess that is embedded in the roof of the station. The old sci-fi trick of not revealing the monster until near the end is used to great effect here, as just hearing it adds to the mystery and tension very well.
The employees of the station are also used as human extensions of the central computer, with some able to click their fingers and reveal an opening in their forehead, into which compressed information is streamed and processed. Others then have chips that help to transmit the information to the population at large. And they’re all oblivious to how they’ve been manipulated, apart from two. There’s Suki (played by Anna Maxwell Martin), whose infiltration as a freedom fighter doesn’t end well, and Cathica (played by Christine Adams), who is eventually woken to the truth by the Doctor and helps to save the day.
But the Doctor isn’t just angry with the controllers of the space station. Having wandered off by himself, Adam ends up getting a forehead implant, and uses Rose’s mobile phone – which she had foolishly lent him – to send home an audio recording of the information stream being fired into his brain, so he can try to analyse it later. But because revealing things about the future is highly dangerous, the Doctor destroys the recording when he takes Adam home, and doesn’t make any attempt to remove the implant from Adam’s head, meaning he’ll have to lead a very quiet life so nobody discovers it (though his mother does see it at the very end).
So it just goes to prove that not every companion is suitable for the role, and violating the Doctor’s trust has consequences. Adam has never appeared again in the TV series, which isn’t a concern as he wasn’t an amazing character that I’d want to see again anyway. But he was in a follow-up story in the 2013 comic book series Prisoners Of Time, where he tries and fails to get revenge on the Doctor with the help of the Master. I haven’t read that or any other Doctor Who comics though.
8. Father’s Day
- Writer – Paul Cornell
- First Broadcast – 14 May 2005
In this beautiful and very emotionally charged episode, Rose nearly loses everything she holds dear, including her family and the Doctor, when she changes history by saving the life of her father Pete. Her understandably impulsive yet dangerous action rips into the fabric of time, through which Reapers emerge and start killing people to sterilise the wound.
So the Doctor, Rose, her parents and the still-surviving friends of her family are forced to lock themselves in a church, where they had gathered to attend a wedding. And the Doctor, who is furious with Rose to begin with, is forced to admit to her that he hasn’t got a plan, especially as he’s lost access to his precious time machine. There is a glimmer of hope when the Tardis makes contact with the Doctor and tries to materialise inside the church, but that’s scuppered when the baby and adult versions of Rose come into contact, causing a paradox that lets a Reaper into the church. The Doctor then allows himself to be killed by the Reaper, and the Tardis vanishes as well, leaving everyone trapped in the church while other Reapers continue to try and get in.
It thus falls to Rose’s dad Pete to put things right, and the interactions between him and his daughter throughout the episode feel very real and powerful. She naturally finds it extremely difficult not to tell him who she really is or why she’s there, but he soon picks up on various clues to figure it all out, and is overjoyed to meet his daughter from the future.
She also observes him falling out with her mother Jackie, over his business ideas and allegations of him cheating, which comes as a surprise to her. But it’s clear from the flashback scenes with Rose as a child (played silently by an adorable girl called Julia Joyce) that Jackie loved Pete dearly. Their eyes say it all in those moments, showing how much Jackie and her daughter both miss him.
Indeed, for all the action and speech in this episode, it’s the facial expressions that really hit home throughout, including the Doctor’s anger and Rose’s mourning. Even being partially sighted I can still clearly see what’s going on, thanks to my big screen TV and the quality of the acting. The most memorable moment comes when Pete is looking out of a window at the speeding driver, who keeps appearing around a nearby corner. With the camera lingering on him for quite a while, actor Shaun Dingwall perfectly conveys Pete’s thoughts with just a look, as the pieces fall into place in his mind, and he resigns himself to what has to be done to put everything right again.
The subsequent scenes of him saying goodbye to Rose, showing such gratitude for the extra moments he’s had with her, and then making the ultimate sacrifice for his daughter, are amongst the most moving of the entire series. Even in a show aimed at families at tea time on a Saturday night, Doctor Who doesn’t shy away from some tough, thought-provoking scenes and storylines, and all credit to them for that.
And let’s not forget the music. Murray Gold’s score throughout the episode, including the Father’s Day track from the soundtrack album, is absolutely sublime. And there are pop hits as well, including the very apt Never Can Say Goodbye by The Communards in the background when the Doctor and Rose first leave the Tardis. That cover song was released in 1987, the year in which the story is set, as was the chart-topping hit Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley, which plays on the stereo in Pete’s car. But because of the way time is splintering, it’s suddenly replaced by Don’t Mug Yourself by The Streets, which Rose is rather surprised to hear as it wasn’t released until 15 years later. And talking of popular culture, there are also nice fleeting references to a couple of my favourite sitcoms, with Pete being likened to Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses, and a nod to the Lamb & Flag pub from Bottom.
So ultimately it’s a heartbreaking but beautifully told story, about an ordinary man saving the world and his child without the Doctor’s help. One of the very best episodes of the series without a doubt.
9 & 10. The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances
- Writer – Steven Moffatt
- First Broadcast – 21 & 28 May 2005
This enjoyably scary two-part story, set at the height of the Blitz in World War II, is particularly memorable and special for two reasons.
Firstly, there are the freaky children in gas masks asking for their mummy. Anyone they come into contact with ends up with the same gas mask appearance, the same physical injuries and start acting in the same way. So it gets suitably horrifying as more and more of these zombie-like people converge on our heroes, and also when they make contact through devices like radios, typewriters and the disconnected Tardis phone to broadcast their pleas.
It can all be traced back to a boy called Jamie, who was seriously injured when a mysterious object fell in London, which the Doctor and Rose had been chasing in the Tardis. The only people in London aware of this strange ‘plague’ of physical injuries are a doctor at the local hospital (played by the legendary Richard Wilson), and a clever but anxious young lady called Nancy (played by a wonderful actress called Florence Hoath, who loved her time on the show but left the acting profession a few years later).
Then, alongside all of that, we’re introduced to another time traveller called Captain Jack Harkness (played fabulously by John Barrowman). And Rose (bedecked in a Union Jack t-shirt) falls for him – quite literally at first, when she slips from the rope of a barrage balloon and he catches her in a tractor beam, and then also when he flirts with her, showing her his ship and his gadgets. But once he’s introduced to the Doctor, he’s forced to admit that he’s a conman from the 51st century, who had thrown the mysterious object at the Tardis to get their attention, in order to sell it to them and take the money before a German bomb falls on it. And this object turns out to be the cause of the strange plague affecting everyone in the area.
Jack has great chemistry with the Doctor and Rose, adding a fun new dynamic and energy to the mix, which continues for the rest of the series. We also learn that he’s very much a Jack-of-all-species when it comes to getting pleasure out of life, so to speak. And he gets a lot of amusing lines too, though all the main characters get their funny moments.
For instance, I like the scene where the guys are comparing their tools, as Jack teases the Doctor for having a sonic screwdriver instead of a blaster. That always makes me laugh, as does any line where the programme’s title is shoehorned into the dialogue, such as in this story when Rose tells the Time Lord: “You don’t have a name. Don’t you ever get tired of Doctor? Doctor Who?”.
And there’s both humour and intrigue in the Doctor’s casual throwaway line near the end of The Doctor Dances, when Rose observes that he’s beaming like he’s Father Christmas – “Who says I’m not, red bicycle when you were 12?” The show has never addressed that remark since, and many viewers may even have forgotten it. But there has been fan fiction about it, and a proper explanation was apparently given in a short story as part of an anthology called Twelve Doctors Of Christmas, as explained on the Bleeding Cool website. It just goes to show how keen some people are to pick up and expand on the many small details in the show!
Anyway, the whole ending to the 2-part Empty Child story is really nice, with the Doctor overjoyed that nobody dies for once (especially after all the pain he’s been through with the Time War), Jack being rescued from his ship (or the ship that he stole to be precise), and the Doctor dancing with Rose to Moonlight Serenade and In The Mood by Glenn Miller in the Tardis.
While we’re talking of music, the other song performed in the show is a cover of It Had To Be You by the nightclub singer (Kate Harvey). And in Murray Gold’s fantastic-as-always score, it’s fun to hear a variant of the Doctor Who theme during the pre-titles chase in The Empty Child, and then more clearly when Jack is straddling the bomb in mid-air in The Doctor Dances. And the music for the “Everybody lives” moment is beautiful too.
It’s also notable that this is the only two-part story in Series 1 where the “Next Time” trailer at the end of the first part appears after the closing credits, instead of immediately after the cliffhanger (as happens in the two double episodes by Russell T Davies). It was Steven Moffat’s suggestion to move the trailer in this instance, and I do prefer it when it’s done after the credits in this way. It gives you a chance to process what you’ve just seen while enjoying the theme music, and then you can choose whether you want a tease of the following week’s show or to switch away before you get any spoilers (which I tend to do these days, as I prefer not to know too much about what’s coming).
Anyway, for the second time this series, the Doctor now has 2 passengers in the Tardis. But unlike Adam, who was rightly dumped after just one journey, Captain Jack would stick around for longer than anyone expected, not just in the Doctor’s life but in his own too…
11. Boom Town
- Writer – Russell T Davies
- First Broadcast – 4 June 2005
Boom Town is the closest we get to a ‘filler’ episode in this series – i.e. one that was relatively quick and cheap to make, with less action and special effects, and is generally less intense or exciting compared to a regular episode.
However, it’s still a fairly important story. It’s what I would call a ‘bridge’ episode rather than filler, as it’s designed to highlight, develop or introduce a few vital elements of the overall narrative arc of the show, to pave the way for the series finale and beyond. And by focusing on characters more than action, it provides a moment of calm before the ninth Doctor’s last high-octane adventure. So while it’s not one of my favourite episodes in the series, relative to the high bar set by some of the others, it still serves a useful purpose and does it well. There’s some nice music in it too, as demonstrated by the short suite on the soundtrack album.
The story sees the return of Margaret the Slitheen (played by Annette Badland), who had teleported away from her failed mission in London 6 months previously, while the rest of her family were killed (much to her sadness, as we see in this episode). Having since become Mayor of Cardiff, she plans to build a deliberately unsafe nuclear power station on top of the rift in space and time that we learned about in The Unquiet Dead, so that when it explodes it takes the planet with it, while she surfs away on a pan-dimensional surfboard. However, the Doctor, Rose and Jack catch her easily, and intend to take her back to her home planet of Raxacoricofallapatorius.
Margaret then challenges the Doctor to think about whether it’s right to take her to a planet where she’s guaranteed to receive the death penalty, and she reminds him of the death and destruction that has occurred on many of his adventures. Whether or not it’s right for him to decide who lives and who dies has come up several times during the series, especially as everything he did and lost in the Time War has been preying heavily on his mind, and it comes up again in a big way in the finale. So it makes for an interestingly awkward discussion between them.
The impact of Rose’s travels on her boyfriend Mickey also comes to a head as they try to enjoy an evening together but end up falling out. And we see that Jack has quickly become a trusted member of the crew, to the point where the Doctor is perfectly happy to let him tinker with the Tardis while he’s away from it. The Doctor’s magnificent time machine also has a huge impact on Margaret, when she sees straight into the living heart of the ship and experiences its infinite power. It’s nice that she’s regressed to an egg at the end, so she can start her life afresh, as there wouldn’t have been an easy moral solution for the Doctor otherwise.
Plus of course there’s the first big acknowledgement of the mysterious Bad Wolf that keeps following them around, and at long last we’re about to find out why…
12 & 13. Bad Wolf / The Parting Of The Ways
- Writer – Russell T Davies
- First Broadcast – 11 & 18 June 2005
This spectacular two-part finale takes place back on Satellite 5, 100 years after the Doctor’s previous visit in The Long Game. Far from his actions back then saving humanity, it turns out that they actually made things worse, much to his horror. And the space station has been using its transmissions to hide the presence of the Daleks, whose plan to destroy everyone on Earth and make the planet their own is about to take place.
So the first episode starts with amusing futuristic variations of Big Brother, The Weakest Link and What Not To Wear, with Satellite 5 now called the Game Station. But things soon take a dark turn when it transpires the losers of the games are turned to dust – including Rose when she’s vaporised by the Anne Droid. Christopher Eccleston’s face says so much without a single line of dialogue, as the pain and anger of losing Rose becomes evident.
Then later, after being overjoyed to discover that Rose is still alive after all, deep anger fills his face when he discovers the Daleks survived the Time War after all and have her as their captive. But he’s absolutely defiant despite their threats, and promises Rose that he’ll rescue her (accompanied by a great music cue called I’m Coming To Get You), providing a powerful conclusion to the first part.
As with his previous two-parter, the “Next Time” trailer appears immediately after the cliffhanger, which annoyed some viewers at the time. But, as Russell explains in the commentary, it’s not technically a cliffhanger, as you know they’re going to war anyway, so seeing clips of it isn’t a surprise, as you don’t see the resolution to it. It’s the trailer itself that has the cliffhanger really, with the mysterious voice at the end (who turns out to be the Emperor Dalek). I would still prefer it to come after the credits, to give the choice of whether to see it or not, but I understand his reasoning.
The final episode then brings the series to a close in action-packed style, as our heroes prepare for battle before the Daleks invade the space station and Earth, slaughtering everyone they come across. The CGI animation of the Daleks and their ships flying through space is absolutely stunning, and there’s even a fun little moment where a Dalek pauses mid-flight and looks around before continuing on. The Mill really worked their socks off to make the effects as epic as possible, and it shows.
One of the victims is the sweet Lynda, who the Doctor had rescued from the Big Brother house. It’s a pity really, as she could have been a fun returning character or even a companion in the future. Rose had even got visibly jealous when she saw the Doctor getting on so well with her.
And Jack also bites the dust, standing up to the Daleks to the very last moment, to buy the Doctor as much time as possible. But as well as being a fighter (which is why he was introduced, as the Doctor isn’t one), Jack also has several amusing moments across both of these episodes, including his scene with the Trinny and Susannah robots, and the way he flirts with people he meets. And his line “Do I look like an out-of-bounds sort of guy?” while holding up his 2 big guns always makes me chuckle.
And, incidentally, it’s also interesting that Torchwood – which is an anagram of Doctor Who and became a spin-off series with Captain Jack the following year – is an answer to one of the Weakest Link questions in the Bad Wolf episode. It had also been used on early production material for Doctor Who, instead of the real title, to avoid any secrets about the show getting out. And it also gets plenty more references in later series as well. Furthermore, John Barrowman was a contestant on a special Doctor Who edition of The Weakest Link in 2007, where the real Anne Robinson unplugs her droid so she can present it.
Anyway, the Doctor is determined that Rose won’t come to harm, and the scene where he gets the Tardis to take her home moves me every single time without fail. Chris conveys everything and breaks your heart with just a look, as he runs out of the Tardis, stops and turns, and then sadly activates it with his sonic screwdriver.
Then there’s Rose’s panic and grief as she realises what’s happening, and the Doctor’s hologram message to her. The moment when the hologram turns to look at her, and he wishes her a fantastic life, really hits you, because he seems to know where she would be standing, plus they’re powerful sentiments, and his voice really pops out as a result of the audio effects deliberately being removed at that point. And Murray Gold’s music during this sequence – a mixture of the Hologram and Rose themes that were published on the soundtrack album – makes it even more powerful still.
The Doctor is then left alone, ready to launch a delta wave that will wipe out not only the Daleks, but all of mankind as well. And when challenged by the Emperor, the Doctor is forced to admit that he would rather be a coward than a killer, and accepts that his time is up.
Or so he thinks, because then we finally get the resolution to the Bad Wolf mystery. During The Weakest Link earlier, Rose had learned that the Game Station is run by the Bad Wolf Corporation, and recalled some of the references to it. Because it’s been mentioned in almost every episode in this series, sometimes more obviously than others:
- The End Of The World – If you listen carefully after the steward is killed, The Moxx of Balhoon can be overheard telling The Face Of Boe that “This is the Bad Wolf scenario”. It’s easy to miss this one if you’re not concentrating.
- The Unquiet Dead – When servant girl Gwyneth is reading Rose’s mind, she stumbles back in horror as she sees “the big Bad Wolf” in the darkness.
- Aliens Of London – A child sprays “Bad Wolf” on the side of the Tardis (as seen on the steelbook cover art), and the Doctor makes him clean it off in the next episode.
- Dalek – A pilot announces “Bad Wolf One descending” when landing his helicopter.
- The Long Game – A screen on the space station shows a programme on the Bad Wolf channel, where the Face of Boe has announced he’s pregnant with baby Boemina (which, given what we later find out about Boe, raises all sorts of questions!).
- Father’s Day – I only found out about this one after the episode first aired, as it’s very easy to miss if you can’t see well or don’t pay very close attention. “Bad Wolf” is scrawled across a yellow Energise poster with a smiley face on the wall, which you see briefly when the camera pans past it to the Doctor and Rose around the corner on two occasions.
- The Doctor Dances – Another tricky one to spot, but it is pointed out in the audio commentary. The German bombs (including the one that Jack catches at the end) have “Schlechter Wolf” on them (“Bad Wolf” in German).
- Boom Town – Margaret’s planned nuclear power station is called “Blaidd Drwg”, which the Doctor observes is “Bad Wolf” in Welsh.
So after the Doctor returns Rose to Earth in the present day, and she sees Bad Wolf graffitied everywhere, she realises it’s actually a message telling her that she can get back. And given the knowledge from Boom Town that the Tardis console can be forced to open up and enable contact with its inner heart, she manages to persuade a reluctant Mickey and Jackie to help her, including an emotional moment where Rose reveals to her mother that she met Dad (in the Father’s Day episode). Murray’s track I’m Coming To Get You is used again here to great effect, when they’re using the recovery truck to rip the Tardis console open.
Once Rose has connected with the Tardis, she’s then able to travel back to the Game Station, wipe out the Daleks and bring Captain Jack back to life. And she scatters the words Bad Wolf across time and space, leaving a message to herself to come back to that moment, creating a paradox in the process.
So Rose Tyler is Bad Wolf. And that phrase has lived on since then, occasionally reappearing in later series. There was even a TV production company founded with that name in 2015, by Doctor Who executive producer Julie Gardner and former BBC Controller of Drama Jane Tranter. So it’s a big hallmark of the show, and whenever it’s mentioned you tend to get The Doctor’s Theme played as the motif to highlight it.
But it’s the Doctor’s resolution to Rose’s actions, and the pain the time vortex is causing her, that’s most poignant. It is extremely rare that a scene in a TV show can move me to tears, but this always makes me well up, even more so than the hologram scene. Not to the point of crying, but it still very much ‘gives me the feels’, as I believe is the modern parlance.
I just love his words “I think you need a Doctor”, the long-awaited kiss between them when he absorbs the energy of the time vortex, the way he smiles and accurately says he was fantastic with his final line, and the regeneration itself (accompanied by the majestic music that was released as the second half of the Hologram track). It just gets me every time, it’s so well done. It’s a celebration of victory after everything they’ve been through together, combined with the fact that he’s made the ultimate sacrifice in giving up his life for hers.
I think it also still pulls at my heartstrings after all these years because it was my very first experience of a regeneration, and in the process losing a character I’d formed a strong attachment to – especially as Chris had only starred in one series, when I dearly wanted him to do more, so it felt really unfair (although I do understand why he didn’t continue, as noted later in this post).
So it will always be one of the most memorable and special of the regenerations for me (along with David Tennant’s a few series later). But with every regeneration of the modern era, I’ve also learned to accept the cycle that many Whovians go through – really not wanting the current Doctor to go, wondering who on earth the new one is and what they’ll be like, not being overly keen on them at first, growing to like them, then being sad when they have to go too. It happened with David Tennant back then, and it’ll happen with Ncuti Gatwa in the near future I’m sure. Eccleston and Tennant will always be my favourite Doctors, but I’ve enjoyed watching all the others since then too.
But anyway, it was an incredible end to Christopher Eccleston’s short stint at the Doctor, and I still miss him greatly. He did what he set out to do, relaunching the series for a new generation, so every Doctor following in his footsteps owes a huge debt to him.
The Blu-ray set is jam-packed with extras across its 3 discs, all carried over from the old 5-disc DVD set (with one minor exception for the Confidential series). The BBC got much less generous with their bonus offerings in later years, so it’s worth making the most of what was supplied for the earlier series.
Every episode on the Blu-ray has an entertaining and insightful audio commentary featuring members of the production team and a few of the actors – with the notable but understandable exception of Christopher Eccleston, given his reasons for leaving the series.
During these discussions we learn a lot about the writing, studio filming, location shooting, editing, music, sets, special effects, problems they had to overcome, decisions they had to make about important and iconic moments, things that worked best or didn’t work so well, and so on. And it’s clear they all loved making the show.
My favourite commentaries are the ones involving Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner, Billie Piper, John Barrowman and Steven Moffatt, as they’re all lively, honest and passionate about the show and have a good sense of humour. But all of the tracks are worth listening to. The contributors are:
- Rose – Writer Russell T Davies, producer Phil Collinson and executive producer Julie Gardner.
- The End Of The World – Producer Phil Collinson and visual effects producer Will Cohen (from The Mill).
- The Unquiet Dead – Writer Mark Gatiss, director Euros Lyn and actor Simon Callow (Charles Dickens).
- Aliens Of London – Executive producer Julie Gardner, visual effects producer Will Cohen (from The Mill) and actor David Verrey (Joseph Green / Slitheen). This commentary was recorded on 5 July 2005, the day that London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics.
- World War Three – Producer Phil Collinson, script editor Helen Raynor and actor Annette Badland (Margaret Blaine / Slitheen).
- Dalek – Writer Robert Shearman, visual effects supervisor Dave Houghton, Dalek voice artist Nicholas Briggs and actor Bruno Langley (Adam).
- The Long Game – Director Brian Grant, and actors Christine Adams (Cathica) & Bruno Langley (Adam). This is the weakest commentary, as much of it is just Brian explaining the plot in almost every scene, which you already know from watching the episode, so it does get a bit irritating. But it does lead to other bits of chatter as well, which is sometimes a little more interesting, though there’s nothing really substantial.
- Father’s Day – Actors Billie Piper & Shaun Dingwall (Rose Tyler & her dad Pete), writer Paul Cornell and producer Phil Collinson.
- The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances – Actor John Barrowman (Captain Jack), writer Steven Moffat and visual effects supervisor Dave Houghton.
- Boom Town – Actors John Barrowman (Captain Jack) & Annette Badland (Margaret Blaine / Slitheen), and producer Phil Collinson.
- Bad Wolf – Writer Russell T Davies, producer Phil Collinson and executive producer Julie Gardner.
- The Parting Of The Ways – Actors John Barrowman (Captain Jack) & Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), and executive producer Julie Gardner. In the absence of Chris, it’s wonderful that they were able to get John and Billie together for this final episode. It’s a really enjoyable discussion, with Billie giving her reactions as she watches the episode for the first time, interesting insights into the filming and effects, nice reflections on the storyline, and some amusing banter between them.
Doctor Who Confidential
I miss this show. Doctor Who Confidential was an excellent behind-the-scenes series that aired on BBC Three each week, straight after the related episodes of Doctor Who on BBC One.
We don’t get the full episodes in the box set unfortunately (which are available on an unofficial Youtube channel), but Disc 3 has 13 cut-down versions that add up to just over 2½ hours altogether, in which we get insights into the filming of the episodes, and interesting discussions about key aspects of the series.
It features interviews with Russell T Davies, Christopher Eccleston, other major cast members, guest stars, writers, members of the production team, effects specialists from The Mill, the editor of Doctor Who Magazine (which I’ve never read) and more. And it’s narrated by Simon Pegg. The bits that have been cut out are often callbacks and comparisons to the old Classic episodes, and other little things that aren’t too important, so we do generally get the best and most relevant parts on the cut-down versions.
The original DVD box set for Series 1, released in November 2005, also included a bonus Confidential episode called Backstage At Christmas, giving a teasing behind-the-scenes preview of David Tennant’s upcoming festive special that year. But for the Blu-ray releases that episode has been sensibly moved to the Series 2 set where it belongs.
Discs 1 & 2 have a further 2 hours of excellent bonus material between them. They’re not organised in sections as set out below, I just thought I’d group them here in a logical way for clarity.
- Making Doctor Who (15:32) – A production diary with Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner, where they talk about writing the episodes, and we see behind the scenes from the early days of filming, chats with a few people on set, and the construction of the Tardis.
- On Set with Billie Piper (19:04) – Billie takes us along with her as they film several episodes from the series, demonstrating how much fun it was to do.
- Waking the Dead (18:10) – A writer’s diary by Mark Gatiss, documenting his evolving ideas and ongoing progress for The Unquiet Dead, as well as meeting a few other writers and seeing his episode being filmed.
- Christopher Eccleston: BBC Breakfast Interview (11:44) – Here Chris talks about why he signed up, the key qualities and styles of the show, the monsters, the psychology in the stories, the old Classic era, and the fans, but he’s careful not to reveal that he’s leaving. And this wasn’t his first time on the show, as he appeared back in 2004 when he was first announced as the Doctor (when he was in a play written by Murray Gold, who then became the composer for Doctor Who). And in 2005 he also promoted the show in various other ways, by appearing on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, (Part 1 & Part 2), Blue Peter (which also included an on-set chat with Billie), a Doctor Who edition of Mastermind (presenting the trophy) and Top Gear (driving around the race track).
- John Barrowman: The Adventures of Captain Jack (8:31) – An interview with John about his character, with clips from the show. He also mentions that he would love Captain Jack to have his own series, a wish that came true a year later.
- Mark Gatiss: Laying Ghosts (8:25) – An interview with Mark about his episode The Unquiet Dead, which follows on nicely from his video diary.
Models & Effects:
- Designing Doctor Who (20:52) – This takes a close look at the interior of the Tardis, Satellite 5, the lone Dalek’s prison cell, the Dalek spaceship, the Emperor Dalek, the Gallifreyan language, Jack’s stolen Chula ship, World War II posters, and other work by the incredibly talented art department.
- Destroying the Lair (3:23) – How the effects team built and blew up a miniature version of the lair of the Nestene Consciousness, to be combined with the live-action shots.
- Deconstructing Big Ben (4:52) – How a model was created of the Big Ben clock for the Slitheen’s spaceship to crash into, and why the shot had to be flipped.
- Mocks of Balloons (5:32) – Mike Tucker tells us about how they built and filmed a model of the barrage balloon that Rose hangs from.
- Launch Trailers (2:46) – 4 brief teasers, followed by long and short edits of the Trip Of A Lifetime trailer, where the Doctor walks around the Tardis as he invites the viewer to join him, interspersed with clips of him running away from a fireball in a corridor. That trailer’s also interesting because it uses an early version of the theme tune. Finally, there’s a promo with Rose talking about the choice of staying home or travelling with the Doctor, which is quite an easy decision.
- Launch Trailer Storyboard (0:47) – Hand-drawn sketches for the Trip Of A Lifetime trailer.
- Launch Trailer Easter Egg (0:56) – Disc 2 has a rare alternative cut of the Trip Of A Lifetime trailer as a hidden extra, which doesn’t have the montage of clips from upcoming episodes near the end. To find it on the second Blu-ray disc, go into Special Features, highlight the Trailers option and tap Left to reveal a hexagon. Or on the old DVD set, insert Disc 4, highlight Set Up and press Down.
- Other Trailers (3:30) – Promos for Aliens Of London, World War Three and Dalek, countdown teasers for The Parting Of The Ways, and a final series montage to announce the countdown to The Christmas Invasion.
The fact that the show is still going strong nearly 20 years after its revival is in very large part thanks to Chris laying those solid foundations in the first place, hooking me and millions of other people into the show. From silly and funny, to angry and determined, to vulnerable and emotional, he was faultless as the Doctor in every episode, and several stories in this first series remain among my favourites in the entire history of Doctor Who.
It is therefore a great shame that he only did one series, but his reasoning is totally understandable. In short, based on what he’s said in a few interviews and convention panels, he fell out with Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner and Phil Collinson over how the production was run. He hasn’t gone into any detail as to why, nor would we expect him to. But he agreed to leave quietly and not reveal anything bad in the publicity he was doing for the show. And he kept to his word, only for the BBC to then announce his departure without consulting him, falsify a quote from him about being exhausted, and blacklist him for a few years. So he had to take legal action over the quote, forcing them to retract it with an apology.
Thankfully his career wasn’t badly damaged in the long run, but he still hasn’t forgiven them, and you can’t blame him. Considering he helped them to relaunch one of TV’s most popular and enduring franchises to critical acclaim, it beggars belief that they treated him so disrespectfully.
He therefore stepped away from the show and stayed quiet about his absence for a long time. But during the last few years he’s returned to the world of Doctor Who by briefly talking about the show in interviews, recording some audiobooks for Big Finish as the 9th Doctor (which I haven’t found time to listen to yet), and doing Q&A panel session at conventions (where he’s been more open with the fans about his reasons for leaving).
A few examples of his appearances since leaving the show include:
- An appearance on Junior Mastermind in 2006, talking to a child who had the 2005 series as his specialist subject. It was very kind of Chris to do this for one of his young fans, considering that he was rather keen to distance himself from Doctor Who, and David Tennant was now in the lead role.
- Brief 50th anniversary chats from 2012 with Graham Norton & Red Carpet TV.
- Interviews with Lorraine Kelly in 2017 & 2020.
- Interviews in 2018 The Guardian & BBC Radio 2.
- Big Finish interviews for their podcast in 2020, the Doctor Who channel in 2021 and with Nicholas Briggs in 2022. I haven’t got into the Big Finish audiobooks, purely because I don’t find the time to listen to books much in general. But I would love to go through them one day, for the modern Doctors I’m familiar with.
- Convention Q&A panels from Rose City Comic Con 2019, NYCC 2019, GalaxyCon Minneapolis 2019, Salt Lake FanX 2021, Fan Expo Canada 2021, Dragon Con 2021, Emerald City Comic Con Seattle 2022 & FedCon 30 in 2022. I haven’t watched all of these, naturally, but I have seen a couple in full, and have skimmed through a few of the others. Chris is very entertaining, funny, honest and interesting in these sessions, and he’s clearly both surprised and grateful for the high regard in which he’s still held by fans. It must be quite something to see so many adults getting giddy with childlike excitement when they get to meet him, often because they were kids when his series first aired. I was in my twenties by the time it started, but even so I know I’d feel the same way in that situation!
So Christopher Eccleston really left his mark with just 13 episodes. His Doctor still means a great deal to many people, including me, and we owe him a huge debt of gratitude. So while it remains extremely doubtful that he’ll ever return to the TV show (though we can always live in hope), it’s really wonderful to see him getting involved with Doctor Who again in other ways, and being welcomed back so warmly by the fan base. I have a lot of love and respect for him.
And that’s it. The first series of the relaunched Doctor Who was the first time I had watched the show, and it reeled me in with ease. And 18 years later, it still does, it’s fantastic. I’m sure there will be devotees of the Classic era, and people who analyse the show in far greater depth than I ever could, who see a lot more issues or weaknesses with it. But for me it’s simply a lot of fun, and I miss Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor a great deal.
The next series was the first starring David Tennant of course, and he was a complete unknown to me at the time. Indeed, every new Doctor has always been played by an actor I’m unfamiliar with. At best I might have vaguely heard of them, but I’ve never seen their other work before. However, I think that’s a good thing, because it means I can’t pre-judge and compare them in relation to their other performances, and thus don’t have any expectations of them. They feel as genuinely new to me as they do to the companions in the show, which helps me relate to the story.
In fact, it’s got to a point over the years where I do my best to avoid news reports, social media posts and trailers about Doctor Who as much as possible. There’s no way to avoid absolutely everything of course, but I do very well. For instance, I know that Ncuti Gatwa will be the next Doctor after the 60th anniversary, but I don’t know (or want to know) who the new companion is or who plays them. I did accidentally scroll past the information a while back, in either a news headline or a tweet, but as it was so fleeting it hasn’t stuck in my mind. And that’s good. I want the series to surprise me, that’s part of the fun of it.
So I hope you enjoyed that look back at the first series. You can check out my Series 1 playlist for many of the clips and music tracks I’ve mentioned in this post, and various other bits and pieces as well. And I’ll see you soon for my review of Series 2!