New Beginnings: Comparing Companion Entrances (Part 1)
Guest contributor Ben Strachan compares the companion entrance stories of new Who.
In October, I wrote an article about companion closing stories. This is the first of a two part article that is its polar opposite, one that discusses the openings of New Who. I will express my first opinions on the companion, how they measure up to the previous one, and write an analysis of the episode.
1. Rose Tyler – ‘Rose’
‘Rose’, for me, is the trickiest episode to write about. This is because the first Doctor Who episode I ever watched was ‘Dalek’, so if ‘Rose’ wasn’t my first episode, I can’t write my first impressions, that would involve me lying, which I don’t really want to do. Also, because she was the first companion I ever watched, I can’t compare her to the previous one.
However, I will still write about my opinions of the episode. It was good, really good; it was the perfect start to not just the series, but a whole new era of Doctor Who. I believe if I was older and already a fan of the show, I would have been pleased with it. It was funny, such as the scene where the Doctor fails to see the similarities between the London Eye and the device the Nestene Consciousness is using to control the Autons. But there is also a hidden moral behind it: even though the Doctor is probably the smartest living being in the universe, when in a new environment, he can be as slow as anyone.
It wasn’t just funny; the episode had many good assets, such as marvellous music, two classic villains and the acting, which was superb from the two leads. Billie was perfect for playing the young girl desiring a better life. Chris was fantastic as well. Just like David and Matt, he seemed to fit into the role of the Doctor perfectly. My personal favourite scene from the episode is the one where the Doctor talks about him feeling the turn of the Earth. There is something brilliant about that scene I can’t quite illustrate. It just adds a new layer to this mysterious character; I haven’t seen this accomplished with any classic series serial I have been able to watch. It turns him from the god that just randomly saves the day into a just a normal alien. I find that much more interesting to watch.
However, it wasn’t perfect, a majority aren’t. The infamous Mickey Duplicate would’ve been great, if it was identical looking like the Romans in ‘The Pandorica Opens’. Anyone intelligent could’ve at least questioned his normality; the design was too horrendous for it not to be so, even a Sontaran could tell the difference. And what about the burping bin? Russell went a little too far with the humour there; it was out of place and pathetic. But I suppose he had to try and get toddlers as fans as well. (At least he didn’t write an episode with farting aliens…oh) Overall, a good episode and I’m sure if it was the first episode I watched, I would’ve instantly became a Doctor Who fan, as I did when I watched ‘Dalek’.
2. Donna Noble– ‘The Runaway Bride’
Donna Noble is one of my favourite companions, which is ironic, because her opener was unquestionably the worst. In the final scene of ‘Doomsday’, she ruined one of the most heartbreaking ones of New Who, I, and many others probably wouldn’t be her biggest fans without some convincing on why we should. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. We weren’t showcased the loveable funny character she became in Series 4. At the time, I made a comparison. Rose: the love sick puppy, proven she had compassion, and could point to Germany on a map. Donna: couldn’t point to it, shrieks all the time, and doesn’t seem to care about anything. Rose won easily, so I am glad Russell got it right when she returned and that she proved she could become better.
Russell most-likely intended her to be a comic relief, and this worked for some of the jokes. But very soon, she became irritating and brainless. When Lance said she couldn’t even point to Germany on a map, I pondered, how could this be the Doctor’s new companion? (I was unaware Freema had been cast at the time.) She steadily got calmer, but two minutes of her not bellowing at the end didn’t erase the first fifty eight of it. This episode made me really worried when I heard she was coming back, something no opener should do.
I still enjoyed ‘The Runaway Bride’; it’s just the worst possible opener for Donna. The villains were adequate but with great concepts. Pilot Fish: a species always working for others in return for protection, and the Racnoss: a mother trying to awaken her children after they were slaughtered by the Doctor’s own species, the Time Lords. As well as the concept, the design was very good, however the execution was poor. The Racnoss could have been so much more than the laughing, hissing stereotypical villain you find on other shows, and you would think an advanced mechanical race would’ve developed voice boxes.
David gave a great performance as the Doctor, showing a distraught lonely side that wasn’t really explored during Series 2. It wasn’t all Catherine’s fault for how Donna turned out, I thought she gave a good performance; it’s just bad characterisation. Action sequences such as the attacking Christmas tree and the motorway chase were directed wonderfully by Graeme Harper with great special effects, and the music was up to its usual great standard by Murray Gold. In conclusion, ‘The Runaway Bride’ was a satisfactory episode and an excellent Christmas Special, but as a companion opener, very poor.
3. Martha Jones – ‘Smith and Jones’
After the Doctor-obsessed Rose and the shrieking Donna, a new companion wasn’t just a desire, it was a necessity. The amount I enjoyed Martha as a companion was a dip, she started brilliant, got steadily worse, and then went back to her original excellence. But I am not going to examine her in the whole series, only her introduction, one of two times she was at her best. The first impression of her that the episode offered was she is a model companion: she was smart, enough to become a ‘proper’ Doctor. She is calm in perilous circumstances, the Doctor indicated this when they are first transported to the moon. And other than Rose and Donna, she actually seemed to care about her family and the people around her.
As well as being the perfect introductory episode, ‘Smith and Jones’ in my opinion is an underrated treasure. David, as normal, gave his standard funny and enthusiastic performance as the Doctor, and Freema proved she was just as capable to play his assistant as Rose was two years prior. My favourite scene in the episode is where the Doctor tries to convince her he is a time traveller. I like it most because of the way it brings the whole story into a full circle, and something that seemed strange at the start made perfect sense at the end. It just adds a little something extra to the episode that most fail to achieve.
The Judoon were great, a product of Russell’s creative side. Space police seems like such a simple idea, you would think it was done before. This idea should have been utilised more. Think of the endless possibilities Russell could’ve done involving them. Stories similar to ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, the Doctor forced to work with them, or a feud between them and an alien crime family (the notorious Slitheen would be sufficient.) Talking Rhinos should be a ridiculous; nevertheless something about them seems right. It’s such a shame that they have yet to appear again in nothing more than cameos since.
The Earth invasion plot technique Russell has used frequently was turned upside down in this episode, because this time instead of the Judoon invading the hospital, they brought the hospital to them, due to Earth not being part of their jurisdiction. Because the Plasmavore (a clever Doctor Who take on the clichéd Vampire) has a heavy price on its head, they were willing to do anything to get it. This allowed Russell to fracture the restrictions on the production team of only creating Modern Day Earth openers. With their restriction lifted, we were treated to a brilliant, action-packed, funny episode with some brilliant-looking settings. In a nutshell, this underrated treasure proved that after the average ‘New Earth’, Russell was still capable of writing a good series opener as well as the perfect introductory episode for Martha.
I hope you enjoyed reading the first part of this article. Please comment which opener has been your favourite, from ‘Rose’ to the ‘The Snowmen’. Like in my last article, I am looking forward to discovering your personal favourites. (At the end of the second article I will convey mine.)