Rose was the first episode of BBC Wales 2005 Doctor Who, and was the first new episode of Doctor Who since the 1996 television movie. It introduced Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, and recurring supporting cast Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler and Noel Clarke as Mickey Smith.
An immediate success, it remains, as of September 2013, the most-watched first episode for any new incarnation of the Doctor. Its 10.81 million BBC One rating bested the previous record-holder, Robot, and was not outdone by The Christmas Invasion, The Eleventh Hour, or Deep Breath. It is also the second-highest rated series-opener of all time, second only to Destiny of the Daleks. Due to the fact that ITV were on strike at the top of season 17, however, Destiny‘s numbers are often discounted. Rose is certainly the top-rating series opener when Doctor Who actually had competition from another broadcaster. The first Doctor Who story to be produced in widescreen, it was also the first single-episode, 45-minute story. It was the Doctor Who debut for almost everyone who worked on it — except for model unit supervisor Mike Tucker, who worked as a visual effects assistant on the original series from 1985 to 1989. Though it was not the Doctor Who debut for visual effects company, The Mill — that had actually come on The Curse of Fatal Death — it did feature the premiere of their title sequence. The sequence would survive with only minor alterations until The End of Time.
Narratively, it portrayed the Nestene Consciousness and Autons for the first time on television since Terror of the Autons in 1971. It also introduced a new recurring element in the form of the Shadow Proclamation, contained the first reference to the Last Great Time War, and introduced elements about Rose’s character that would be directly referenced in later episodes.
Unusually, the introduction of the Ninth Doctor in no way explained what had happened to his predecessor, nor did it illuminate the life he led during wartime, and failed to explain much of anything about who the Doctor was. Indeed, Rose started a mild story arc surrounding the mystery — from Rose’s perspective — about the Doctor’s identity. New audiences would not have known until the series’ final episode that the Doctor could regenerate, and wouldn’t get their first glimpse of other Doctors until two years later, in Human Nature.
Rose Tyler wakes up one morning, gets ready for work, and kisses her mother Jackie goodbye. She gets the bus to Henrik’s, the department store where she works. In the evening, as the store nears closing time, Rose is about to walk home when she is stopped by a security guard who is holding the lottery winnings for Wilson, the chief electrician. She goes to the basement in search of him, but Wilson is nowhere to be found. She enters a storage room and is disturbed to see a group of moving shop window mannequins that soon surround her. All of a sudden, someone takes hold of her hand and tells her to “run!”
She quickly obliges, and they both run to a lift whilst being pursued by the mannequins. Before the doors can close, one of the Autons reaches for them, but the man quickly pulls its arm off before it can do them any harm. On the way up, he informs Rose that Wilson’s dead. When they arrive at ground level, the man holds up a bomb and tells Rose that he plans to destroy a relay device to stop the Autons. He offers a quick introduction — he is the Doctor — and reminds her to run for her life.
Rose heeds his advice, and runs from the vicinity, carrying the plastic arm with her. Once she’s at a safe distance, she watches in shock as Henrik’s explodes in a huge ball of flame. She returns home, and her boyfriend Mickey Smith comes in to check she’s okay. He eventually leaves to watch football, and is asked to take the arm with him. He throws the plastic piece into one of the bins outside.
The next morning, Rose awakens, before realizing that she no longer has a job to go to. Walking around the house, she suddenly hears a scratching noise from the cat flap. She assumes her mother hasn’t screwed it shut, and that it’s a stray cat.
She opens it up to find the Doctor; he tells her he’s been tracing a signal from the plastic arm. Rose invites him in. While Rose is making the tea, he peers behind the sofa, and is attacked by the arm. Rose notices the strangulation, but ignores it, thinking it a jest — that is until it lets go and flies towards her. Thankfully, the Doctor manages to deactivate the Auton arm with his sonic screwdriver. He throws the piece at her, and hastily rushes out.
Rose runs down the stairs to chase after him, demanding to know what’s going on. He tells her that the living plastic is here to start a war that would overthrow and destroy the human race, so that they can claim the Earth as their own. The Doctor then departs in a mysterious blue box in the car park, ordering her to forget about him. Rose turns away for a second; when she looks back, both he and the box are gone.
Rose cannot let go, and decides to use Mickey’s computer. She tries different keywords on search-wise.net, eventually settling on “doctor blue box”. She follows a link to whoisdoctorwho.co.uk, a website owned by a conspiracy theorist named Clive. Mickey drives her to the man’s house, where she is invited in by his son. Out in his shed, Clive shows her images from many points in Earth’s past, including the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the sinking of the Titanic and the explosion of Krakatoa. He goes through the facts: “the Doctor is a legend woven throughout history; when disaster comes, he’s there.” Clive states that he believes the Doctor is an immortal alien. He tells her he is dangerous, and that he has only one constant companion: death.
Meanwhile, Mickey is keeping an eye on the house from his car. He suddenly gets distracted by a bin wheeling forwards on its own. He gets out of the car and opens the bin, expecting to see someone playing a joke. He surprisingly finds it completely empty. As he tries to close the lid, he finds that it’s stuck to his hands. The plastic merely stretches as he tries to pull away. After a few attempts at breaking free, the bin suddenly tosses him into the air and swallows him whole.
Sometime later, Rose returns to the car, convinced that she’s wasted her time, that this man really is just a conspiracy nutter. They decide to go for pizza. What she doesn’t realize is that her Mickey has been swapped, replaced by a shiny, plastic duplicate…
The two arrive at the restaurant and plastic Mickey starts to grill Rose about the Doctor. They are interrupted twice by the offer of champagne. Mickey finally looks up, only to find the Doctor holding the bottle. The Doctor fires the cork at Mickey’s forehead, but it moulds into his plastic skull, and simply makes its way down to his mouth, where he spits it out. His hands morph into paddles, and he begins attacking all those around him. There is a brief struggle until the Doctor pulls his head off. Rose hits the fire alarm, and, while the others evacuate, the Doctor and Rose are chased out of the building by a now-headless Nestene duplicate of Mickey, who flips over tables in the process.
They escape to the back courtyard, and the Doctor enters his little blue box. With nowhere to go, Rose follows him inside at the last second. The second she enters, though, she rushes back outside, thinking she has just gone mad. The inside of the box is bigger than the outside! The Doctor explains that his blue box is called the TARDIS, and that both it and he are alien.
As the Doctor wired Mickey’s head to the console, Rose wonders if the real Mickey is dead; the Doctor didn’t even consider this. The couple’s conversation is cut short when Rose points out that the head is melting; he had hoped to use it to track down the Nestene Consciousness — the entity controlling the Autons. He still manages to follow a trace of the signal, but the head is completely melted before they can find the precise location of the Consciousness. They land somewhere nearby their destination, by the edge of the River Thames. Rose is shocked to learn that they have moved.
The Doctor explains that he needs to find a transmitter of some kind, very big and round. He figures it must be “completely invisible”, but Rose identifies it instantly: the London Eye would be the perfect transmitter for the Nestene. The two run together across Westminster Bridge, and Rose quickly finds an entrance to an underground base beneath the Eye.
Rose immediately notices Mickey when they enter, and runs down to him; the Doctor rolls his eyes. The Doctor tries to reason with the Nestene, but the Consciousness has two of its Autons capture him when it detects the presence of the TARDIS, which it identifies as terrifyingly superior technology. They discover a vial of anti-plastic in his pocket — which he had intended to use only as a last resort.
The Nestene confronts his Time Lord enemy about its lost planet. He responds, “I couldn’t save your world. I couldn’t save any of them!” Terrified, it decides to start the invasion ahead of schedule.
Rose calls her mother to get her to go home to safety. Jackie doesn’t hear, though, and continues into the Queen’s Arcade mall for some late-night shopping. Much to her surprise, the shop-window dummies come to life, and begin to massacre everyone in sight.
Below the London Eye, Rose decides to take some initiative. She breaks free one of the chains on the wall with an axe, and swings down to the Autons, both freeing the Doctor and pushing the Autons, along with the anti-plastic, into the vat containing the Nestene Consciousness. The vial leaks, and the Nestene Consciousness dies in pain.
Back in the mall, Jackie runs around in a panic and tries to take cover behind a car, as three bride Autons crash through the window behind her. Suddenly, when they are just about to shoot her dead, the transmitter shuts down and all the Autons return to lifeless mannequins again. Underneath the London Eye, the Nestene’s base starts to collapse and explode. The Doctor, Mickey and Rose board the TARDIS and, just in time, escape a huge explosion.
With the Earth saved, the Doctor suggests Rose join him on his adventures; they can go anywhere in the whole universe. Rose, much to his disappointment, refuses. He bids her farewell and leaves. Rose almost instantly regrets her decision, but carries on getting a terrified Mickey back home.
As she leaves, though, she hears a familiar wheezing noise behind her. Turning around, she sees the TARDIS reappear in front of her. The Doctor emerges to tell Rose that the TARDIS can also travel in time. Without much thought, she kisses her boyfriend goodbye and runs straight into the TARDIS, to start her new life in time and space.