Doctor Who: Series 1

In 2003 it was announced that Doctor Who would be revived, under the stewardship of Russell T. Davies. Produced largely in Cardiff by BBC Wales, the first series of the revived show came out in 2005, starring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler. The series featured a loose story arc centred around the repetition of the phrase “Bad Wolf”.

This ended up being Eccleston’s only season as the Doctor, because he felt the conditions that cast and crew were expected to work in were unacceptable(external link). In response to an enquiry shortly after the first episode aired, after rumours had started spreading that Eccleston was due to leave, the BBC released a statement without his consent, claiming that his decision to leave was due to a fear of being typecast. They later had to backtrack and apologise.

On the rest of this page I’ve written up some thoughts on each of the episodes I’ve rewatched since December 2022. Below are some links so you can skip ahead to any episodes you’re particularly interested in.

  1. Rose – ☆☆ – watched 1 Dec 2022
  2. The End of the World – ☆☆☆ – watched 2 Dec 2022
  3. The Unquiet Dead – ☆☆☆☆ – watched 4 Dec 2022
  4. Aliens of London – ☆☆☆ – watched 5 Dec 2022
  5. World War Three – ☆ – watched 8 Dec 2022
  6. Dalek – ☆☆☆☆☆ – watched 9 Dec 2022
  7. The Long Game – ☆☆ – watched 11 Dec 2022
  8. Father’s Day – ☆☆☆☆ – watched 22 Dec 2022
  9. The Empty Child – ☆☆☆☆☆ – watched 23 Dec 2022
  10. The Doctor Dances – ☆☆☆☆☆ – watched 26 Dec 2022
  11. Boom Town – ☆☆ – watched 27 Dec 2022
  12. Bad Wolf – ☆☆☆ – watched 28 Dec 2022
  13. The Parting of the Ways – ☆☆☆☆ – watched 28 Dec 2022

1. Rose

So of course, this is the episode that has to introduce the show to a brand-new audience. The focus is on introducing the companion, Rose, a working-class young adult from a council estate in London. I thought she comes across pretty well in this episode, except for the part where she couldn’t tell Plastic Mickey apart from Real Mickey (seriously wtf). Real Mickey and Jackie, not so much – Mickey comes across as a seriously cowardly dweeb, while Jackie is just… gah. I guess her character suffered from that hideously awkward moment that came out of nowhere where she tries to hit on the Doctor when he comes to Rose’s flat. IDK why RTD thought that was a good thing to write in, because it was cringey as.

The actual plot of this episode is pretty thin on the ground. The villains are the “Autons”, who apparently were in the classic series too (I’d forgotten) but they seem to be like, animated plastic? And their grand plan was to set up a giant transmitter to animate all the shop mannequins (and a few other things, like a wheelie bin) to attack humanity, for some reason. The story’s focus is definitely more on Rose trying to figure out who the Doctor is, and making the decision to join him on his travels.

Some other thoughts: I don’t think I’ve rewatched this in 15 years or more, haha. Funny how time passes – all the location shots seem so old. Like, all the 1990s cars everywhere! And of course the CGI hasn’t stood the test of time, and the fashions aren’t modern fashions, etc., etc.. I don’t think this makes the episode bad quality or anything, it’s just it really feels like an episode of a show that was made a long time ago.

2. The End of the World

Overall I thought this was a better episode than “Rose”, although it still had its problems. Jabe, the tree lady, ended up being more of a companion this episode than Rose herself, who spent a lot of the episode locked up in a room. Honestly Rose had such a rough time this episode that it’s hard to believe she actually turned down the offer to go home at the episode’s end. The villain was also annoying with a plan that seemed pretty threadbare and stupid (it was about collecting on hostage insurance or something?). Plus, despite being an episode set at the end of the world, it still didn’t manage to avoid being dated, with the villain describing a jukebox as an “iPod” even though in retrospect I’m pretty sure the heyday of jukeboxes lasted longer than the heyday of iPods.

As for what was good about this episode – Eccleston’s performance was great. In this episode it was revealed that he’s the last remaining Time Lord and his planet is gone – his sense of grief was palpable, and I also liked the “darkness” of how he just let the villain die (even though the villain’s death itself was basically out of nowhere). Rose’s sense of overwhelmedness at all the aliens and “the end of the world”, etc. was also pretty convincing and I liked the part where she reached out for a friendly chat with the maintenance worker, as something more familiar, haha.

3. The Unquiet Dead

So, this was far and away the best out of these first three episodes. It’s a great creepy horror story set in Victorian-era Cardiff, and just really well-told. I liked how, once again, Rose gravitated straight to a working-class woman in the setting she landed in. I also kind of liked how hardnosed and utilitarian the Doctor was about giving the Gelth bodies to inhabit, even if it set off all Rose’s “ew yuck” alarms. The reason I have to say “kind of” is that it was extremely predictable that the Gelth would turn out to be evil, to the point that the Doctor came out looking a little dim. Did not really appreciate the tokenistic inclusion of Charles Dickens but whatever, this show has had worse inclusions of historical figures. Overall, this episode was really good and dark and creepy and I enjoyed it immensely.

4. Aliens of London

People usually review the two-parters together, but I’m going to give reviewing them separately a go. This episode was a “part 1”, covering Rose’s return to home after an accidental year away and the beginning of a Slitheen invasion. Overall I thought the episode was decent – Mickey came across way better and more sympathetic (whereas the Doctor picking on him seemed really petty, considering he’d been suffering ostracism and police harassment for a year as Rose’s likely murderer), and the whole UFO crash-landing turning into a Slitheen invasion plot seemed fine. I didn’t love the ridiculous stuff that seemed included mainly to appeal to children, like all the damn fart noises… and the pig was pretty unbelievable, although Eccleston acted the hell out of those scenes to salvage it. But whatever. Overall, not bad.

5. World War Three

Genuinely thought this episode was pretty boring, and ended up having to find something to multitask with while watching (I was just too restless). A lot of it is just running around and around being chased by the Slitheen. The Slitheen’s plan is revealed and then they’re defeated with a missile fired straight at 10 Downing Street (but just a little one, so it’s OK). The Doctor gives us some heavy-handed exposition about Harriet Jones that I’m pretty sure got retconned later anyway, and then he refuses to attend the dinner Rose’s mum is planning to host for everybody because I guess he just feels like being a bit of a contrarian dick. IDK. The next episode is one of the all-time greats, so I’ll just look forward to that.

6. Dalek

Amazing episode. The Dalek is actually terrifying, and Eccleston’s performance is superb (again). This episode gives us more information about the Time War, confirming that it was between the Time Lords and the Daleks, and that the Doctor had thought he’d been the sole survivor – until now. His rage and determination to “finish the job” is great. Then there’s the supporting characters, who are also great. Henry Van Statten is an American billionaire with this macabre private museum (complete with torture chambers…), his assistant Diana Goddard, and even Adam. I know in the subsequent episode Adam is depicted as some selfish asshole unfit to travel in space and time, but in this episode there’s no indication he’d make anything other than a fine companion. Piper’s performance, where she balances Rose’s terror with her compassion for the Dalek, is also well done (even if it’s a little questionable by the point that the Dalek has already killed 200 people in cold blood). I found what happened to the Dalek at the end a bit unbelievable but that was the only blemish on this story. Overall this is recognised as one of the best episodes of the whole New Who era, and for good reason.

7. The Long Game

There are two major plotlines in this episode: the struggle against the monster of the week, the Jagrafess, an ugly slimy giant alien covertly running all the humans’ news in the year 200,000, and then the new companion, Adam, deciding to go to get a forehead implant and send information back to his own time. I read that originally, Adam’s quest for information was supposed to be because he wanted to find the cure to an incurable disease his father was suffering from, and IMO the episode should have kept that part of the plot because it would’ve made everything more believable. As it was, it just felt like Adam was the victim of some serious character assassination, after he’d been a pretty normal (just nerdy) character the previous episode. Also, there would’ve been a more interesting moral dilemma in play, as opposed to what actually happened which is obscenely boring. I couldn’t help but feel that Adam was put onto the TARDIS for literally no reason and then anything that might have made him anything less than a complete waste of screentime got left in the editing room in the process of making this episode. Just deeply unsatisfying.

The other major plotline was actually OK. The Jagrafess itself was a bit dumb, but there was some interesting stuff there about the manipulation of news media to keep humanity docile (and opposed to immigration!). Cathica was a great supporting character. Simon Pegg was wonderful as the main antagonist. I don’t really understand why it helped the Jagrafess to have all those dead bodies connected to the computer system but it did make for a creepy vibe. I guess it’s a shame about the Adam stuff, because it really brought down the episode.

8. Father’s Day

This is the episode where Rose Tyler saves her dad’s life, on the day he was supposed to get killed by a hit-and-run driver in 1987, and in so doing brings the wrath of some “time sanitising” monsters on the entire human race, apparently. It’s an episode that hits its emotional beats really well – there’s conflict between Rose and the Doctor, as the latter is outraged by the former’s impulsiveness; there’s Rose’s disillusionment as she realises her dad wasn’t as successful, and her parents’ marriage not as harmonious as she’d thought… and Pete’s ultimate decision to sacrifice himself, and therefore put time right, is very moving. The Reapers feel a bit weird because you’d think something like them would’ve come up earlier (or appeared, y’know, literally ever again afterwards), and there are a few other “lore” points (like wtf is going on with the TARDIS) that seem at odds with the rest of the show, but whatever. It’s a good episode.

9. The Empty Child

Penned by future show-runner Steven Moffatt, I think this is rightfully considered one of the best episodes from series 1 (together with its part 2). I’m pretty sure I remember how this two-parter concludes (update: there was one important plot point I had forgotten), and even if I didn’t I think you can put the pieces together pretty easily from what you’re told in this episode. Still, it’s really good. It has a strongly-depicted setting in Blitz-era London, it’s super creepy (that part where Dr Constantine’s face becomes transformed!), and Jack Harkness makes for an entertaining B-plot.

10. The Doctor Dances

When this episode first came out I remember not liking it as much as “The Empty Child”, but I disagree with that opinion now. It was a really good part 2. Tense and dramatic but with plenty of banter. The flirting between the Doctor and Rose was uncomfortably icky1, but thankfully it didn’t take over the whole episode. Jack Harkness continues to be entertaining, and Nancy is an excellent character. The ending feels more like magic than science fiction, but considering the usual standard of Doctor Who endings it’s good. This two-parter together became so iconic for New Who in general – the gas masks, “Are you my mummy?” and “EVERYBODY LIVES!” – and it’s for very good reason.

11. Boom Town

A very average episode set in contemporary Cardiff. The last surviving Slitheen, alias Margaret, has hatched a plan to ride home on a pandimensional surfboard, powered by The Rift™, which she intends to open by blowing up a nuclear power plant on the site of Cardiff Castle, but the arrival of the TARDIS renders that plan unnecessary. (Apparently the TARDIS is better for this purpose than a nuclear disaster.) The bulk of this episode consists of quieter, character-building scenes – it’s pretty obviously a “shit we need to claw back some budget” episode – and those are pretty mixed, IMO. I really liked Mickey calling out Rose on how shittily she’s treated him. On the other hand, the scene between Margaret and the journalist went on forever. Then the scenes between the Doctor and Margaret felt overacted (on Margaret’s side) and meh, despite some lines that sounded good in theory. I did not love that the Doctor got to neatly sidestep the “moral dilemma” about whether to return the Slitheen to her home planet for execution (not that the Doctor seemed to think it was much of a dilemma at all) by having her randomly revert to an egg after staring into the heart of the TARDIS. Jack Harkness didn’t really do very much this episode, except participate in some insufferable banter with the other two (I did also like Mickey pointing out how insufferable they all were being, lol). Actually, another good thing, compared to the Slitheen two-parter: way less farting this time.

12. Bad Wolf

If I could suspend my disbelief long enough to believe that in the year 200,100 they’re still watching painfully mid-2000s game shows and reality TV, I think this episode would be a lot more enjoyable. It definitely gets a lot better once the Doctor and Jack escape their reality shows and Rose gets “killed”. The other stuff going on on the space station is way more interesting. Rose’s “death” is very well done (dramatic!), security is suitably menacing and the cells aboard grim, and the franticness of that woman hooked up to the computer during the solar flare sets us up for an intriguing episode end. Look, actually, thinking back on it, if you exclude the lame reality TV pastiches this is a good episode. I think they’re just so cringey that they put me in a sour frame of mind for the rest of the ep.

13. The Parting of the Ways

A lot better than I remembered, actually. I’m still not entirely sure whether the plot was hard to follow or whether it was just so thin on the ground that I feel like I didn’t follow it because I’m grasping for more than actually existed. The Daleks’ plan seemed very unsophisticated (step 1: turn up, step 2: somehow process game/reality TV show losers into new Daleks, step 3: invade Earth) but what’s new with them. At least they were still menacing here instead of laughable. Mostly I was a bit puzzled by the logical leaps that meant the heart of the TARDIS = time vortex = complete reign over all of life and death. I think I feel happier understanding it as magic instead of science fiction, and looking at it that way it’s actually kind of contained and self-regulating: the reason you don’t just draw on this power every time is that the consequences of using it are really severe (you die, or someone sucks the vortex out of you, and then they die). It’s also not really a deus ex machina because the end of Boom Town set it up for us (although it was a deus ex machina then). Also, in keeping with the theme of magic, it’s not totally controllable; after all, Margaret Slitheen looked into it and all she got was turned into an egg. It’s kind of like Rose channelled the gods, calling on them to judge her worthiness, and things could’ve gone any which way depending on the gods’ whims at that time.

Despite my feeling that the plot was a little thin (and the Doctor’s lack of a good plan for the entire episode also contributes to that), the characters were all portrayed well here. Even the serial-specific supporting characters – “Lynda with a Y” and the two Game Station employees – were sympathetic and their deaths were moving (although you have to put the Game Station employees’ complicity in the deaths of all those game/reality show contestants out of mind, I guess). I feel like all Jack Harkness’ character development happened off-screen but his character has clearly grown a lot since his first story. Rose continues to be a realistically-written and skilfully-acted character, much as I think she’s an unlikeable person (so incredibly self-centred!). The fact that even in the middle of all the drama she’s wasting energy feeling jealous of Lynda, OMG. Then the Doctor tricks her into being returned home, and she pitches a fit in a take-away shop declaring melodramatically that there’s “nothing” for her back home. Jackie and Mickey prove themselves way less self-centred characters, by helping Rose open the heart of the TARDIS to return to the Doctor on Satellite 5. It turns out to be a good thing that she did, because the Doctor’s only plan to defeat the Daleks also involved killing everyone on Earth and he doesn’t have the stomach for that, so Rose saves the day. But as mentioned, taking on the time vortex is going to kill her, so the Doctor sacrifices himself and has it kill him instead, forcing him to regenerate. (Something that was a weightier consequence back before the retcon that Time Lords have more than 12 regenerations…) Overall, this is a really good episode, and an epic season finale.

  1. I REALLY hate this ship, considering how often the Doctor talks about Rose as a literal animal or a pet and the obvious, completely unbridgeable power imbalance between them – and it makes me mad that RTD clearly strove to make it as canon as the BBC would let him get away with. ↩︎