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Pre-New-Who:

A couple of days before the first episode of the Moffat-era, it’s instructive to look back on the early episodes of the RTD years to see if they hold any clues as to what might be upcoming.

The first RTD episode had an awful lot of work to do. As well as introducing the new Doctor and the new companion, it arguably had to introduce the whole idea of the show to a new audience. I don’t think we can be surprised that it was such a pigs-ear. The new show doesn’t have that much work to do and as it has 20 minutes more than the equivalent episode, I think we can reasonably expect it to not be as rushed.

I find the second episode of Series 1, “The End of the World,” to be more of a template. It introduces a lot of elements which later became tropes of the show. There’s the contrast between the fantastical (the viewing platform at the end of the world) and the mundane (Rose’s soap opera life on the Powell Estate), connected by the amazing mobile phone that can get a signal wherever you are, in whatever time. There are the cultural references that date more quickly than any of the old episodes (this episode has a reference to the iPod, and a Britney Spears tune).

We’ve also got the first hint of the backstory. “I’m a Time Lord,” Eccleston says at the end of the episode. “I’m the last of the Time Lords.”

Unfortunately we also get to see that Davies hasn’t got a clue about plotting. There’s a big red off button that the Doctor has to hit, protected pointlessly by half a dozen whizzy decapitatey fans. But whilst he demonstrates that he hasn’t got a clue how to plot 45 minutes of TV, he does remind us that his strength is characterisation.

The final couple of scenes in this episode remain my favourite of any that Davies scripted. Rose is upset that the Earth has died, and that nobody could be bothered to watch it. “Come with me,” he says and they exit to the Tardis. The doors open, Rose is back on present day earth (presumably Cardiff impersonating London)

There’s a hum as people go about their business. A baby cries, we hear laughter, and a Big Issue seller trying to persuade people to buy his magazine.

“You think it’ll last forever. People, and cars, and concrete. But it won’t. And one day it’s all gone. Even the sky.”

It captures the two characters perfectly. The Doctor, bitter and bereft after the death of his planet. Rose, hungry for adventure and for chips.

Watching it now, it reminds me how lucky the show was to get Eccleston. Tennant may have taken the show to new heights of popularity, but Eccleston was always the better actor and although I will always be disappointed that he didn’t get to do more than thirteen episodes, he did his job and left the audience wanting more.

Five years on, and we’re at a similar point. The main reason we have to be optimistic is that Moffat’s career has been based on his plots. From Press Gang, to Joking Apart, to Coupling, to Blink, he’s demonstrated time and again that he can bring disparate elements together in a way that makes perfect sense without insulting the intelligence of the viewer. He doesn’t sacrifice sense for spectacle, and whilst the new series may not attract the same huge audiences as the later years of David Tennant, I’m hopeful that it won’t be as empty.

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