Doctor Who: what Russell T Davies would change about Rose

In June 2009, in brilliant Doctor Who correspondence book The Writer’s Tale, Russell T Davies reflected on series 1 opener, Rose…

Anyone with an interest in screenwriting and/or Doctor Who most likely already has a copy of A Writer’s Tale, a book composed of Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook’s email correspondence over Davies’ final two years as the Doctor Who showrunner. If they haven’t, then they need one. It’s that simple.

Of the many things A Writer’s Tale has to offer (how often does an opportunity come along to follow the million-miles-a-minute whirr of a creative brain commenting on its workings with honesty and humour?), one gem in particular is contained in the final pages of its extended 2010 reprint.

In 2009, just as Davies was packing up to move to LA after handing over the reins to the BBC series, Cook asked him to re-watch Rose four years on, and write him a critique of Doctor Who’s first TV episode in sixteen years.  Davies duly did so, and below are a few of his thoughts. (To read the rest, you really need A Writer’s Tale copy of your own. Off you go now. The fresh air will do you good. Bring us back a bookmark).

As part of this Den Of Geek week celebrating the tenth anniversary of Rose’s first broadcast, here’s what, years later, its writer and executive producer would have changed about the episode…

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“Rose’s bedroom is horribly pink”

Undeniably so. After the universe zooms in from outer space on the Doctor’s new Companion, we first meet Rose Tyler as a bed-headed Billie Piper emerges from underneath a pink duvet, next to pink walls, pink curtains and well, you’d have to call that carpet a sort of mauve, wouldn’t you?

“We fixed that in later episodes” writes Davies.

The pink motif isn’t just contained to the bedroom, but continues across the flat’s decor and the Tylers’ wardrobes in the opener, from Jackie’s satin dressing gown to her daughter’s hoody. Well, the episode wasn’t called Rose for nothing.

“I wish we’d cut Mickey’s improvised dance”

Here’s attention to detail for you. For all of three seconds in the wordless scene of Rose and Mickey mucking about on their lunch break in Trafalgar Square, Noel Clarke busts out some impromptu moves. Mickey spins, Rose laughs, and years later Russell T Davies, presumably, flinches. “I’m bemused to think how reticent I must have been back then, in the edit, not to have demanded its excision.”

“You can’t see Nelson’s Column!”

Well, it is a family show.

Davies notes that in the same Trafalgar Square scene, aside from an establishing shot, the location’s most famous landmark isn’t visible. Rose and Mickey are perched on the fountain’s edge with their backs to the National Portrait Gallery and looking in the direction of Nelson’s Column, but the audience can’t share their view. “Nowadays I’d just march up to the camera and turn it around,” writes Davies, “Oh, I’ve become a monster.”

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“…a see-through plastic bag”

You can see why, earlier in A Writer’s Tale, when Davies was pondering whether his extreme workload on Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures was caused by the job or merely his dedicated approach to the job, he came to the conclusion that it was the latter. If he’d worked in Gregg’s, Davies concluded, he’d have stayed late at work every night trying to get the lattice-work on the pies perfectly aligned.

That approach goes some way to explaining “the tiniest, daftest niggle of all” to bother him when rewatching Rose in 2009. It was the bag. The see-through plastic bag in which the Henrik’s security guard handed Rose the lottery money to pass on to poor, doomed Wilson.

“I don’t believe you’d ever do that,” wrote Davies, “I’m sure the script said ‘envelope’. It’s simply not the sort of bag you’d collect lottery money in. After that, we learnt to discuss every tiny prop in the Tone Meetings.”

Jackie Tyler’s coffee table

Remember Jackie Tyler? We love Jackie Tyler. Not the sort of person whose coffee table you could smash to bits without her ever mentioning it again though, is she?

Davies remembers “worrying for months – months!- about Jackie’s coffee table.” When the Nestene Consciousness-controlled dummy arm is causing havoc in Jackie’s front room, Rose and the Doctor crash into the glass-topped coffee table in the struggle to release Rose from its grip. The table breaks, but does Jackie ever mention it again? No.

“It really bothered me,” writes Davies “If a woman like Jackie stepped out of her bedroom to find her coffee table in pieces, she would never stop banging on about it. […] I went through all sorts of options (when Jackie is late-night shopping later on, should she say that she’s after a new coffee table? No, really?!), before I learnt to simply let go. […] Move on! Leave the wreckage behind you! And I never stopped doing that.”

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Less a ‘something he’d change’ and more a teachable moment, that one.

“A visible ripple!”

The first time the Sonic Screwdriver pops up in new Doctor Who, a special effect is used that was dropped for the show’s subsequent episodes: “Chris whirrs the sonic against a lock – and there’s a visible ripple!” writes Davies.

It never happened again because “it would have eaten up our FX budget”, says Davies, who clarifies that the ripple isn’t a niggle, but instead “rather sweet. I like it.” Despite producer Julie Gardner regularly moving heaven and earth to find Doctor Who more money, as detailed in A Writer’s Tale, a whole new book could probably be written about the scenes and effects that would have happened were it not for budget limitations.

And finally, not a damn thing

Justifiably, considering all that’s achieved in the episode and afterwards by the show it electrified back to life, Davies’ final words on Rose in A Writer’s Tale ring of confidence and pride. “Most of all, it hit me, watching Rose, that this show is exactly what I wanted it to be – and it is, in its first 45 minutes, exactly what it is now.”

The threats to Earth becoming publicly known (“a spine of the entire series”), the Companion’s – and by extension, our – stifling world “demanding a Doctor to rescue you”, the comedy, the sexuality (the word ‘gay’ appeared on Doctor Who for the first time when Eccleston’s Doctor picked up that issue of Heat magazine), and most of all, the cast (“What really amazed me, watching Rose again? Chris and Billie. […] I could watch those two forever”), Rose had them all, right from the very start.

“We’ve got so used to doing interviews in which we talk about the horrors of production,” writes Davies, “being thrown in at the deep end, the amount that we had to learn, and the steepness of the learning curve, etc., that we’ve forgotten: this was good. This was great! Actually, it’s BRILLIANT!”

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You know what? We’re inclined to agree with him.

This week’s celebration of 10 years of new Doctor Who continues tomorrow.

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