Doctor Who (2005) - Series One
Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper
Written by Russell T Davies
Produced by Phil Collinson
Directed by Joe Ahearne
This is the first of six consecutive "Doctor Who" (2005) episodes to be written by Russell T Davies. It's a remarkable run, demonstrating an incredible breadth of styles, tones, and approaches, reveling in the flexibility of this series. By the time these six consecutive episode have run their course, the show will be in a very different place, but it will also be thoroughly entrenched as a modern television institution.
But this episode, along with "The Long Game", is often cited as one of the weak links of this first series. I understand why this is the case, but I don't agree. It's a low-key episode, a budget-saver without actually being a bottle episode1. So while the premise of the episode sets-up the threat of a giant nuclear explosion in the center of Cardiff, and the resolution provides plenty of noise and spectacle, the bulk of the episode is very talky.
I really like that about it. I can't imagine what kids must have thought, but I suppose there's enough in there to keep them satisfied if they can be patient through the middle. But for me, it's the middle that I really love. After discovering that one of the Slitheen from "World War Three" escaped and has become Lord Mayor of Cardiff, the Doctor (along with Rose, Jack, and Mickey) quickly captures her. But he can't take her back to Raxacoricofallapatorius until the TARDIS finishes refueling off the energy in the Cardiff Rift. That gives them several hours to spend together, waiting.
Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen, aka "Margaret Blaine", explains to the Doctor that she is to be executed, and pleads with him to show her some level of mercy. What follows is a wonderful conversation about the death penalty, the possibility for redemption, and the moral implications of clemency. It's rare that an American series will tackle a controversial social issue like the death penalty quite so directly. You usually get parables or metaphors or superficial pablum. But then, I gather the death penalty is a lot less popular in the UK than it is in the US.
The other major arm of the episode involves Mickey and Rose. She's left him twice now to travel with the Doctor, and she makes it clear that she'll be leaving again. But she also made it clear that she wanted to see him. So she's got some mixed feelings. I think she's genuinely torn between incompatible desires, and (perhaps a bit selfishly) is trying to have her cake and eat it too. But nobody ever said that Rose was perfect. Despite her shortcomings, or perhaps because of them, she's still a compelling character.
One last this I need to mention. This episode explicitly draws attention to the whole "Bad Wolf" thing for the first time. It's a chilling moment, but ultimately, it's just foreshadowing. People tend to call this a story-arc, as if "Doctor Who" was actually "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" instead of just being influenced by it. That's wrong. It's not a story-arc. It's a random bit of foreshadowing seeded throughout the series to build intrigue and suspense, and it works, but a story-arc is more than that.
1 It would very difficult for "Doctor Who" to do a real bottle episode. With such a small regular cast and only one standing set, it would be difficult to make a story work under such limitations. Difficult, but not impossible, and I'm disappointed that the new series still hasn't really tried it.