TV Without fail, one of the questions Doctor Who writers are asked is, “Where do you get your ideas from?”
Some have clearer answers than others. It's a bit like that film/book/other Doctor Who story I'm a fan of. There's also a bit of recycling. Apparently, Terry Nation was entirely unaware until producers Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts pointed it out to him, that his script for Planet of the Daleks had a few familiar elements to it.
Rose is a mix of everything. Having apparently thought about it for most of his life, Russell T Davies managed to turn out a first episode which, even if it’s not perfect as a piece of television, was perfect as a way of introducing the revival.
Most of it is a reaction to the TV movie. Just as that had loads of continuity references, this has barely any. Whereas that has a complex figure like the Master as the foe, this has the Auton, who’re an interesting if fairly generic monster familiar to plenty of non-fans due to their iconic entrance in the 1970s, smashing through shop windows, updatable for 2005 because now you can actually show them smashing through those shop windows rather than subliminally cutting away. Plus there’s a relatable companion and the story is told entirely through her eyes.
But we still ask. Why the Autons? Why choose the Autons?
A couple of weeks ago I was glancing through some back issues of Doctor Who Magazine, when I began reading one of those contextual pieces which used to fill up the periodical in the wilderness years.
It’s called Swap Shop (and yes it uses the logo!) and it ponders what gives each of the eras its ineffable quality and how stories might have changed if they’d been produced in a different era. There’s a rather lovely illustration of the First Doctor and Steven and robot dog.
In the middle, there a box-out page, Exchange and Mart, which looks at some stories in detail. It’s prognosis for The Underwater Menace in Season 17 is that it would have still been rubbish but would at least have seen Romana turned into a fish. At the very end, there’s this:
My goodness. Apart from not shifting the whole thing over to San Francisco (or the Canadian equivalent) and lack of military, that’s Rose isn’t it? A bit?
Well, ok, sort of. Perhaps like the writer of this article, Russell was also inspired by Spearhead from Space, but having seen this, I wonder if he also had this lodged at the back of his mind too. There’s also this mock-up poster:
Which has a wonderfully contemporary feel, and could just as well be London (or the Cardiff equivalent).
Much as I’m a fan of the Eighth Doctor, I’m glad Philip Segal didn’t follow this model himself in hindsight. If there had been an Eighth Doctor series in the US, such things as The Scarlet Empress, Father Time, Charley Pollard, Lucie Miller and the whole damn run of the Doctor Who Magazine comic would never have happened.
Plus there’d be no Rose or the rest of nuWho, and that would have been a disaster.