A teenage shop assistant named Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) is chased by living mannequins in the basement of Henrik’s Department Store. Suddenly, the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) pops up just in time to save her. After ushering her out of the building, he blows it up, cancelling the threat. The next day, he visits her at her home, where he is attacked by the plastic mannequin arm that she brought home. It takes both the Doctor and Rose to subdue it. Rose meets Clive (Mark Benton) who has been tracking the Doctor’s appearances on Earth throughout history. He tells her the Doctor is dangerous. Rose’s boyfriend Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke) is kidnapped by a plastic garbage wheelie and replaced by a plastic doppelganger.
The ersatz Mickey takes Rose to lunch and begins questioning her about the Doctor, but the Doctor shows up and defeats the doppelganger, then takes Rose and the plastic head to the TARDIS and tries to use the head to locate the signal controlling the plastic monsters. The TARDIS takes them to the London Eye Ferris wheel. The Doctor explains to Rose that the fake Mickey was an Auton, controlled by a signal from the Nestene Consciousness. He has seen it before. He has a vial of anti-plastic than can destroy the creature. He realizes the London Eye itself is the transmitter. Rose and the Doctor descend into a cave below where they find Mickey, alive and bound, and the Doctor speaks to the Nestene Consciousness.
All the Autons at a shopping arcade are activated, scaring the bejesus out of shoppers, including Rose’s Mum Jackie (Camille Coduri), and shooting some of them with bullets fired from their fingers. The Doctor is attacked and held by two Autons, but Rose rescues him. The anti-plastic drops into the vat where the Nestene Consciousness resides, killing it, and all the Autons collapse. The Doctor takes Rose and the stunned and disoriented Mickey home, then talks Rose into coming with him to anywhere she wants in space and time.
The Autons first appeared to Jon Pertwee, the Third Doctor, in 1970. The Original Doctor series ran from 1963 to 1989, when it was cancelled in its 26th season, then brought back for one TV movie in 1996 with Paul McCann. The BBC began discussions about bringing it back again in 2002, in a 45-minute format, inspired by series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville. It was created in season-long story arcs around and appeared on screen in 2005.
Christopher Eccleston sought the role to shed his image as a serious actor, but only for one season His simple black leather jacket signalled that he was an action man, unlike the earlier, more cerebral Doctors who wore special costumes. He was not seen regenerating. He just appeared after being incommunicado during the Great Time War, though this was only revealed later. He had not regenerated from the Eighth Doctor, though Paul McCann offered to appear for the scene, but from John Hurt’s un-numbered War Doctor, as we learn much later. He looks at himself in the mirror, criticizing his ears, as if just getting used to his body, but he had appeared in this guise during the launching of the Titanic in 1912, the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, and the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883.
Billie Piper as Rose Tyler also had a working-class vibe as well, and rather sexier than the earlier companions, who were more like children following a father-figure Doctor, and they often had boy’s names. Billie Piper had a #1 singing hit at the age of 15. By the time was 16, she had four songs in the top three. She was 19 when she took on the Rose Tyler role, and definitely not a little girl. The Autons were one of the scariest monsters of the entire series, as ordinary, everyday objects come murderously alive. The TARDIS looks more organic than industrial inside, and the Doctor has a new Sonic Screwdriver. Nicholas Briggs is the voice of the Nestene Consciousness. Later, he would voice Daleks and Cybermen.
The Doctor Who revival, of which this was called the First Series, was well received, and is still going strong, through four more Doctors. The widescreen format, faster pace, and much improved special effects helped a lot. This first episode was a little tentative and largely played for laughs, the Doctor’s prominent ears and sometimes goofy grin reminding me of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman at times, but he becomes serious and a bit scary during his showdown with the Nestene Consciousness, hinting at the Doctor’s fine madness I love so dearly.