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One thought comes to mind after watching writer Russell T Davies' new take on Doctor Who: how natural he makes it seem that Doctor Who should be this good. How natural that we should get a near-flawless mixture of Tom Baker era jokes and Pertwee style scares.
But of course, the 1996 Paul McGann Doctor Who pilot was nothing of the sort. It was appalling: too American, too much crime show violence, no feel for the show at all. This isn't like that. It's very British, and still has that low budget charm.
The introductory episode focuses on Rose (Billie Piper) a young shop girl who is menaced in her storeroom by living plastic dummies. Yes, old school Whovians will know what's up: The Autons are back! And so are the Tardis, the old theme tune, the rubbish effects, and most of all the Doctor himself (Christopher Ecclestone).
Ecclestone plays the role as a gruff, no nonsense working class Northerner, with just a touch of quite childish weirdness about him. It's a very different approach, but it works very well. He's given some great one-liners, and on this evidence, the new Who is a truly compelling character. I loved the moment where Rose asks, 'Are you an alien?' and the Doctor snaps back: 'Yeah. That all right?' Rose is a less interesting character, she often just feeds the Doctor lines, and while Billie Piper is good, she's definitely not in Ecclestone's league.
For those viewers new to Who, the story gives a basic introduction of the Autons, mixes in some humour that pokes a little fun at the geeky image of the show, and offers up the plastic monsters' greatest scene, where the dummies come crashing out of a shop window. Davies makes the scene play like a junior-level Dawn of the Dead, and makes us care for the characters: Rose's mum is caught up in the ensuing mayhem. Telling the whole story in one episode makes for an exciting show, although there's more than a touch of the Batman movie syndrome: where villains with a long history are reduced to their best bits and then too-quickly destroyed. It also begs the question of whether Davies can create an original villain of similar appeal.
But that's a question for later episodes to answer. For now, the faithful fans should rejoice over this, and for me, I'll definitely make sure I watch, the first time I'll be watching BBC1 in quite some years. I've no idea if today's kids will watch; they might be annoyed by the dismissal of Rose's irritating young boyfriend, the only weak link in the cast. If they can get over that, they'll find what promises to be the best use of the licence fee in quite some time.
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