This is long, because it's both a really important episode and one I like a lot. Others, I suspect/hope, will be much shorter.
For this particular episode, it might be helpful to have a little background on where I was coming from.
I watched Doctor Who on PBS when I was a kid (well, my older brother watched and I somehow got sucked in). It was an on-and-off interest through childhood and adolescence; sometimes I was very into it, reading all the novelizations from the library and even some nonfiction, and other times it was just an old show I'd mostly seen already. In college, I read a few NA's and got excited about the TV movie. When it became apparent that no series would result from the movie, though, I gave up on the possibility of new Doctor Who ever being made again. Years passed. I was aware of the animated thing, but only watched the first couple of minutes. Some time later, I ignored yet another rumor that the series might be resurrected; I'd heard that one before.
And so it happened that a whole new series was made and aired, and I didn't know it was real until after the fact. When I did hear about it, I was a bit wary. I did a little research, saw a picture of the new Doctor and thought, "WTF? He looks like a British guy. The Doctor is not supposed to look like some ordinary guy off the street." I'd heard they had jettisoned Gallifrey and the Time Lords, which sounded like cheap, obvious drama (ooh, he's the last Time Lord. What, he can't be special unless he's the only one?). I think I had a vague impression that it would be an "adult" re-imagining along the lines of Battlestar Galactica.
Even with that ambivalence, it was kind of inevitable that I would watch when SciFi began airing the new episodes. I wasn't living so far under a rock that I hadn't heard that reviews were generally good. But I had no real idea what to expect.
And that, then, is how it came to be that I (a) think "Rose" is one of the most incredibly brilliant things ever created, and a fantastic introduction to the new series and (b) didn't really care for it the first time I saw it. It was hard for me to sync up my brain with the tone of the new show, get on its wavelength. I kept expecting it to be more serious or more silly (although, to be fair to me and my baggage, the show spent a good few episodes finding its own balance there).
But on to the bullet points!
- While I have to admit that the Rose's-life-as-music-video beginning didn't instantly make me fall in love, compare it for a moment to the start of the TVM. "Skaro, Master, Daleks, Doctor, Time Lords, Gallifrey!" And that's before the credits. "Rose" introduces exactly one of those concepts, and has the sense to do it gradually, through the eyes of the companion, who -- despite the long neglect of the concept -- is a handy viewer-identification device (the TVM, again: starting inside the TARDIS? With a Doctor you're going to kill within five minutes, so we can also tackle the concept of regeneration right off the bat? WHY?). "Rose" doesn't even name the Autons, much less go into the Doctor's history with them. The episode concentrates on a few basic points, and it lays them out beautifully.
- But I really hated the Exciting Action Synthesizer music.
- I still think the Doctor's introduction -- "Run!" -- is brilliant.
- I like Rose's quick recovery from the Auton attack and her assumption that the whole thing was a student prank. She's really written very strongly here, practical and quick-thinking and not liable to take crap from anybody.
- I get a little goosebumpy when we first glimpse the TARDIS. But again, it's pretty subtle, and we see it around a bit before they take the concept any further.
- Mickey and Jackie are drawn a bit more broadly here than they will be in future episodes (Mickey especially). Still, Rose seems to have a decent life. She wants more, sure. But she's already got family and friends and a job, she's confident and happy, and I'm a little uneasy boiling that down to "nothing ever happened" by the end of S2. True, it's not the most exciting life in the world, and there's no doubt that she's set up to take advantage of the opportunity to broaden her horizons -- especially since the Doctor, y'know, blew up her job and all.
- "Honestly, give a man a plastic hand." I can't help it. I thought it was funny. It then proceeds to go a bit over the top, yeah, but I'm easy.
- I so utterly love the entire conversation after the arm incident, where the Doctor tries to take off and Rose follows him, demanding answers. I think the 'Earth turning' speech may well be my favorite moment of Doctor Who. It's a little stagey, I suppose, but I just don't care. I love it. I do wish the string section would shut up, though. I would like to HEAR WHAT HE IS SAYING without the soundtrack jumping up and down and telling me how awesome this moment is, because I am telling you, I know. (And then, afterward, when she finally lets him walk away, they pull out this quiet, eerie little piece of music that they should have been playing during the speech, argh. But I still love it.)
- Clive is one of the less compelling bits of the episode. I rarely like science fiction's portrayal of geeks (oh, "Love and Monsters," little did I know), and it feels overly expository. And apparently we need sound effects to explain to us what is happening in pictures. (I did feel for him at the end, though, when he faces death with a sort of tired resignation – Wow, everything I imagined is true! And now it's going to kill me.)
- And meanwhile, MICKEY IS BEING EATEN BY A GARBAGE BIN, in what has got to be the most mortifyingly awful moment in the entire series. From the summit to the depths, I guess. It's cheesy and ridiculous, the special effects are awful, and God help us the thing burps afterward. It's a good thing that they proved five minutes before that they're also capable of brilliance, but it's a bit early to be testing our forbearance.
- The interior of the TARDIS. All is forgiven. I like that they show us Rose's shock and still hold off a moment on actually showing us what she's looking at. And it's worth the wait. I loved the eerie atmosphere of the dim console room lighting back then, though the place doesn't look bad these days either. (The sickly yellow period around "Fear Her" was another matter.) I love the way you can see the "Police Box" sign lit from inside, I love the walls, I love the green console lights, I love the coat rack. I am absolutely silly over the TARDIS. (But if the assembled hordes of Genghis Khan couldn't get in, how did Rose? The door closed between the Doctor's entrance and hers, and I don't recall a remote release on the console ever being demonstrated.)
- Also, I love the little conversation the Doctor and Rose have here, quickly settling that he's an alien and it's okay.
- But Billie Piper got way better at crying later.
- Then things start happening pretty quickly (the running-across-the-bridge scene is another favorite). The Doctor is curiously ineffective in the big confrontation, letting himself be restrained by Autons because he apparently didn't think to look behind him. Thematically, we were always building up to Rose saving the day, and I find it incredibly cute that her childhood gymnastics award was a bronze, but the specifics of the plot resolution feel a little awkward. Meanwhile, they establish that the Doctor was in a war and couldn't save the Nestene Consciousness's planets. They still haven't told us about the Time Lords or Gallifrey; it's a very deliberate reveal of a small dose of background. (Of course, it would've helped to be able to hear it over the score.)
- And the invitation scene is another lovely one, despite the massively overwrought Mickey, who is cringing embarrassingly and clinging to Rose's leg. Yes, he's overwhelmed, but he's not a bloody cartoon character. But this is really between the Doctor and Rose, and I love both his little look of disappointment when she turns him down and the way he returns, gives her a second chance, and then leaves the door open for her.