The End of the World
|Production Code||Series One Episode Two|
|Dates||April 2, 2005|
With Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper,
Written by Russell T. Davies. Directed by Euros Lyn.
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner, Mal Young.
|Synopsis: The Doctor takes Rose into the future.... the day the Earth died.|
TV for Everyone by Antony Tomlinson 7/4/05
I haven't had a chance to watch Rose yet, although my sister taped it for me (how remiss of me to miss the first episode of a new Doctor. Then again, I missed The Twin Dilemma and left the country for the McGann Movie, so it's an ongoing pattern). Thus, The End of the World was my first exposure to new Doctor Who. And by the end I was, I must admit, trying not to cry with joy.
It was perfect, it really was. The humour was there in buckets ("I give you air from my lungs... there's more where that came from" - Tom Baker would have killed for those lines), it was full of satire and intelligence (all that stuff about humanness and plastic surgery), it was scary (the spiders sent a chill up my spine), it looked wonderful without drowning in special effects (I loved the little blue solicitor), and it was full of touching emotion - albeit done in a very English way (unlike the overly sentimental TV movie). Eccleston was brilliant - hitting extremes of light (giggling) and dark (his willingness to let the villain die), whilst Rose was all that Ace should have been and wasn't - a realistic modern character, savvy yet movingly troubled.
However, what impressed me most was this: OK this was perfect Doctor Who (drawing on lessons gained from over 16 years of audio-dramas, TV specials and webcasts [in particular it realised the lesson "keep the plot simple" - though with 45 minutes to cram everything into, that isn't a matter of choice]). However, it was also a true piece of 21st Century Saturday night entertainment, designed to appeal to everyone.
And I think it succeeded. I think so, because I watched this broadcast with two female friends - the first being someone who has, over the years, laughed at The Caves of Androzani and The Pilot Episode, begged me to turn off Genesis of the Daleks and who fell asleep during Logopolis. The second was Greek, and had never even heard of Doctor Who. However, both loved The End of the World, and said that they looked forward to watching the series again next week.
I was not surprised really. Because everything in this episode appeared to look out at a modern UK audience and scream "THIS IS FOR YOU" - the pop music ("Tainted Love" caused a sing-along), the mobile phone and chips references, the human drama you could find in any soap opera, the comedy (the laughter stopped only for the occasional fearful gasp) and even the action, which remained as taut and simple as anything from a contemporary, CGI-packed Hollywood Blockbuster.
It screamed "this is not just for the middle-classes"; it screamed "this is not just for boys"; it screamed "this is not just for children"; and it screamed "this is not just for nerds". And it wasn't. And nor should it be. I could see this production appealing to everyone in the country, I really could. And why not - it's a myth that people in the UK don't like sci-fi and fantasy. They do, as long as it's not too self-important (if they didn't, then they wouldn't flock to Spiderman, Lord of the Rings and M. Night Shyamalan movies, or watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
My Logopolis-dozing friend, impressed by The End of the World, said that it reminded her of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - a good sign I thought, as that story has been deemed sufficiently popular to return to screens in 2005 (albeit big ones). She also noted that it was very much "of its time". And I was happy to agree with this too. Doctor Who should be of its time. Luckily for us, however, The End of the World is of OUR time.
At the same moment, everything else my friends said about the humour, horror and intelligence of the story made me think "at last people can see what I see in Doctor Who. At last, with all the six-episode repetition, rubber aliens and 1960s and 1970s references removed, they can see all that I adore." And that makes me very happy. So cheers, St. Russell. (Shame about Gallifrey though. Poor old Leela, eh?)
The End of the World (Already?) by Andrew Feryok 10/4/05
Wow! Talk about a major improvement! This may not be the new series' first classic, but it is certainly a major step forward from the pilot, both in plot and character. The plot was probably the thing which impressed me the most, although it did remind me a little too much of Douglas Adams' Restaurant at the End of the Universe. But if you are going to rip off a previous writers, why not rip off a good one! Just as in Rose, there are some great moments during this story. For instance, the scene where the Doctor gives some air from his lungs as a present to one of the delegates, the Doctor frantically trying to save Rose from the Sun Shield in the docking bay, and Rose gets one of the best moments of all when she yells at the last human alive, pointing out that all her surgery has made her the most inhuman of all!
The story looks great as well! The space station is impressive and the design seems to pay homage to The Ark and The Ark in Space while still managing to look like something we would think of as being the far future. The alien designs are breathtaking as well, and imaginative. It is hard to select a favorite. It would probably be a tie between the tree people, the little blue guy that looks like Sil, and the Adherence of the Repeated Meme (What a great name!).
But despite it's strengths, this certainly wasn't a perfect story. The ending gets rather rushed once again and while the little spider robots make excellent monsters, they are largely wasted throughout the production as they don't really do much that is threatening other than drag a maintanence woman into a duct and activate the sun shield on the director of the station. But this is a small gripe nonetheless. My other complaint is the spinning fan scene. While it is used effectively at the end of the story to draw tension, it is a rather cliched trap for the Doctor to tackle.
Overall, I think this story continues to increase the series' quality started in Rose. It continues to maintain a sense of humor, while still managing to inject enough drama and mystery between the characters to keep the series interesting. It looks like the series is on it's way. If only Mr. Ecceleston hadn't decided to leave after this season!
NEXT WEEK: The Unquiet Dead
The trailer for next week's episode looks very interesting! Doctor Who does a Victorian horror story. This has certainly proven to be an area of story telling which Doctor Who has been strong with in the past, so this should prove very atmospheric. It also allows the show to demonstrate it'sability to create historical settings as well as futuristic. I can't wait!
I am so impressive! by Mike Morris 12/4/05
By golly, this was good. Bloody good. This was very much an acid test for the series; sure, after Rose we knew they could do characters. What we hadn't seen was whether they could tell a story. Well, at 7:45 that question was definitively answered.
Anyway, I was curious about fan opinion on this, and took a quick browse on RADW. Yes, on purpose, and I know how silly this was. I feel daft already. I was naively shocked by how negative a lot of the comments were - even if you leave aside the usual silly crap about how Eccleston's a traitor and his accent's wrong and his leather jacket goes completely against the spirit of Doctor Who. Many of the more negative comments that actually had merit ran along the lines that the story was too thin; something which I would have had a certain level of sympathy with a couple of weeks ago. I'm starting to revise my opinion, though. I would have been very much of the theory that 45 minute standalones were a big mistake, which I felt that Rose had confirmed to an extent. Yes, Rose was everything it had to be - but not everything it could have been, not the utterly brilliant two-parter we could have got. And the argument that multi-part stories are dated ignores the fact that Doctor Who's format was always dated. Its contemporaries - Star Trek, The Outer Limits, and Blak's 7 - were all 45 minute standalones. Doctor Who was always an oddity.
Anyway, while I still think it's important that we get some 2-parters to give the season some beef, this is a cracking piece of television and proves that the single-episode storey has a place. RTD described it as the best piece of television he'd ever done, which let's face it wasn't unexpected - what was he going to say, that it was horseshit? Fact is, though, he's right. Those RADW complaints I've read all seemed to come from the same angle - that it wasn't like Doctor Who used to be. Which is every bit as silly as it sounds (I suppose I could have gone to the OG forum, but I couldn't be bothered registering).
Thing is, "It's not as good as it used to be" was always crap - if you look at Doctor Who without prejudice over its history, the quality has never been particularly good or bad for more than three seasons and remains, generally, steady. Or steadily uneven, if you know what I mean; people who think the show's quality plummeted after Logopolis should be made to watch Seasons 9 and 10, then we'll talk. "It's not as good as it used to be" really translates as, "It's not the Doctor Who I watched when I was young." And that's something which is very true of this story; it's not our Doctor Who, not like the books or audios are. We fans have owned the series for fifteen years, but we've had to give it back, and that's a good thing. This is for today's viewer. I's contemporary television. And the thing is, i's shaping up as one of the most important pieces of television drama to be made in Britain for years and years, and the RADW-based begrudgers can suck my balls.
To digress (this might happen a lot); before Rose aired, it was tackled on Newsnight Review, and received very positive reactions from all but one of the commentators - namely, Bonnie Greer, who I have an awful lot of respect for but just didn't seem to get Doctor Who at all. One of the more telling comments she made was that the programme "doesn't know who it's talking to - is it for children, teenagers, adults, who?"
And the answer I yelled at the screen was "Everybody!" And that, I realised, was what makes Doctor Who so damn good, and unusual. It's for everyone. It's a drama for everyone. Sounds simple, because we're so used to saying it, but when an intelligent woman was confronted with this she didn't even know what she was watching. And the thing is that, for two weeks now (The Unquiet Dead is on tomorrow, don'tcha know), it has worked. More people on a Saturday evening have decided to watch an unpretentious piece of imaginative telefantasy than have elected to watch the twin morons, Ant and Dec, on the other side. Families have watched it together. Kids have sat down with their parents. And talked about the show afterwards. Over 7 million people watched this in Britain. 7 million people watched a story about an alien menagerie gathering to watch the world end. People are loving it. Critics are loving it. I was in Manchester lately and was shocked how much goodwill there was towards the programme, how my taxi driver was delighted to have it back. That goes beyond the fannish thrill of Hoorah, Who's on telly. This sudden appetite for stories, rather than "celebs", is such a positive development in British culture that it could make you weep with joy.
But, to get back to my point; this Doctor isn't "our" Doctor and this show isn't "our" show. Oddly enough, I don't find it that giddying as a Doctor Who fan, certainly not when compared to The Natural History of Fear, for example. But I did find it wonderful and affirming as a fan of television. It's not the Doctor Who I remember, and nor should it be. It's all the more exciting because I no longer know what the rules are.
Take this new Doctor, for example. It's a pisser about Eccleston quitting of course, but 13 episodes with the guy is a damn sight more than we get with the lead characters of most television series and I'm happy to enjoy the season I'll get. And Eccleston, it must be said, is so bloody good. Not only is he completely on top of the role here, but he's got so much in his back pocket that he's saving for later. I don't know who this guy is and what makes him tick. Rose has taken a hell of a leap into danger, travelling with him. He has already done things which we don't expect the Doctor to do; in this story he watches someone die - an eventuality which he must have known about - and doesn't do a thing to save them. The first time we saw him, he was blowing up a building. A comment which no-one seems to have picked up on from Rose is that the Doctor has "fought in the war." Note the verb; fought. He wasn't just there. He didn't see it. He doesn't remember it. He fought in it. Which isn't something the Doctor we remember would ever do, and means that he's done some pretty terrible things.
And in The End of the World he is completely, completely compelling. Utterly charming of course, and very funny, but with a streak of darkness that makes him genuinely dangerous. And there's the thing that really keeps you on tenterhooks; our hero is someone we don't understand. He's someone who we aren't supposed identify with, and that - again - is really mouldbreaking. This isn't a nice lawyer/housewife/schoolkid/coffeehouse frequenter who's there to be just like us. Nor is it some brooding Mr Darcy type who'll eventually turn out to be, y'know, just like us underneath it all. This hero is nothing like us, the sort of character who's brusque yet charming and saves the world but might just get you killed. And then, when you're about to be burned alive, all he'll say is "Oh, well it would be you." When he does what he does to get past that big fan-thing at the end - well it doesn't come across as a jokey superpower, it seems like a disturbing ability of an alien. Who's pretending to be one of us, but won't even say where he's really from.
Which is what the Doctor was at the start, and what we always like to think he is, even if he's usually not. The idea seems normal to us - even if the only times he felt this dangerous, really, were early Hartnell, late McCoy and the post-Ancestor Cell Eighth Doctor. The latter is, in fact, this Doctor's most obvious bedfellow; McGann could actually have played this role, if he hadn't been saddled with a curly wig and Edwardian costume. Still, the Eighth Doctor's actually been given cropped hair and a leather jacket in the books, he's threatened to break people's legs, he's trodden the same territory this Doctor is treading.
But in the context of current television the idea isn't normal, it's bloody bananas. And now everyone's watching, which makes it important.
And as for Rose - I've already called her the perfect generic companion, and she is. Even more so, sh's the Perfect Anybody - she's what we'd like to believe the average checkout girl is like, even if most of them aren't. She arrives and suffers culture shock for just long enough, then gets on with it. She gets locked in a room and almost killed, then when told to stay where she is replies "Where am I going to go? Ipswich?" What's also coming through is her questioning of the Doctor's methods, not based on reasoning but on gut instinct in much the same way that Tegan at her best questioned the Fifth Doctor. In Rose it was a bit clunky, as she got all stroppy with the Doctor over her boyfriend. Here, her sudden questioning of the TARDIS telepathic circuits is just brilliant; again, it's highlighting just how much trouble the Doctor's might get her into. He allows an alien machine to have a telepathic grip on her mind and doesn't even mention it; so is it conceivable that he'll blithely ask her to follow a suspicious-looking chap and get her killed?
And as for our setting; "welcome to the end of the world." It's as Rose says, "They're so alien. You look at them... and they're... alien." It's announcing that this isn't Buffy, this isn't going to be about aliens invading every other week (although it might well happen quite a bit); this is a show that can go somewhere. Anywhere. 5.5 billion years in the future, if you like. Last week, we were confronted with shop dummies possibly being alien, the London Eye being an alien artefact, wheelie bins being lethal. The ordinary made extraordinary. And what makes this such a successful counterpoint is that the extraordinary is so ordinary.
"They're so alien." Oh no they're not. Rose quickly sees this and has a quick, contemptuous word with Cassandra. Fact is, the walking trees are a bunch of capitalists ("there's always money in land," says the Doctor, in one of countless cracking lines in this episode). The Moxx of Balhoun is a bore who represents a firm of solicitors. The Face of wherever-it-is is a mute party-thrower. Cassandra is a botox-loving socialite accentuated to the nth degree. There are plumbers and maitre d's. These are the great and the good ("By the great and the good, I mean rich,") who the Doctor good-humouredly mocks. His gift of air from his lungs seems ridiculous - no way they'll fall for that, you think - and then the Moxx of Balhoun gives "bodily saliva" with a straight face. These people are motivated by money, and by a need to be seen at the right parties. Yuppies. Nouveau-riche with airs and graces who think a jukebox is an iPod (laugh-out-loud funny, that bit is).
They are - in short - the type of people who wouldn't watch Doctor Who. They'd watch those coffeehouse heroes instead, and empathise with them as they agonise over their boyfriends. Everyone in that room would watch Sex and the City, would love Desperate Housewives, would read Heat and like Graham Norton. The space station is all the more impressive for its sheer internal blandness - marble and cut stone cladding everywhere, like an upmarket shopping mall. The only person to whom these doesn't apply is Jabe, who hooks up with the Doctor almost immediately. But what stops this from being sneery or clever-clever is the fact that the programme doesn't dwell on it, and that the Doctor's outraged fury at the deaths is heartfelt and compelling.
And they've come to watch the Earth get burned up. And that's where the story's overarching theme takes root. As the Doctor says; "Everything has its time and everything dies." It's accentuated by the brilliant character of Cassandra ("When I was a little boy", indeed), prolonged far beyond her years in a grotesquely amusing parody of humanity; by the lovely, gorgeous scene in which Rose rings her mum, then realises that she's now dead; by Rose's heartfelt mourning of the Earth at the story's end; by the villain's ultimate fate. And while that may well seem a bit obvious - "stuff dies" isn't exactly groundbreaking - it works for two reasons. Firstly, because we're confronted with it an enormous way, which is then undercut by waltzing humour and sheer exuberance. Secondly, because it's linked to the Doctor and who he is.
Is the series following the continuity established in the novels? If not, it's a hell of a coincidence. Not only are we told that his planet's dead; not only is there a lot of talk about the Time Lords losing a War; but Jabe notes that "It's a miracle that you even exist," in that very special scene in which Eccleston wrings a tear from his eye and every last drop of sadness and fury from his hard, motionless face.
We're talking Time Lords here. If Gallifrey was blown up, they'd still be knocking around. Unless, of course, they were unmade. Unless they never had existed.
And so, when the Doctor mutters that powerful line at the end, there's something he's left out, something that makes it feel as though we're cutting deep through this guy's character, even if it remains unknowable. "Everything has its time and everything dies," he says. But omits to add the ironic, chilling obvious: "Except me."
Oh, and did I say of Rose that they didn't have too much money? Shows what I know. This is as lavish as lavish gets. It looks gorgeous. The CGI - not something I'm usually a fan of - looks beautiful, and I'm choosing my words with care here. The death of the Earth is just stunning to behold. And while they've stolen the air-conditioning room from Galaxy Quest, it's still great. And the coolest thing of all is the TARDIS in flight; the Doctor works it with a pump! A bloody bike pump! Oh, how cool is that? Should have done it years ago.
All this in 45 minutes. And done with such good humour that it never once seems pompous or preachy; it seems like good honest family fun, and works beautifully as such. It's even got Toxic by Britney Spears in it! What more do you want?
When I watched The End of the World again the following day (four times and counting now), two friends who've never shared a room with Doctor Who for more than five minutes were there. They both liked it, much to my surprise. Then, when the show finished and the video stopped, the telly happened to be set on an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. And, thanks to the contrast, it suddenly seemed ridiculous; it was so portentous, so leaden, so self-important, so utterly difficult to watch. It was everything that The End of the World wasn't, and it was rubbish. And suddenly I realised that, while it's driving down a new road, this new series is going to the same wonderful places that the old one did.
Critics have been calling this new series a breath of fresh air. They're right. It's accessible, it's witty, it's funny, it's exciting, and it has a compelling central character. It may well prove to be a really important piece of storytelling, throwing open the minds of kids with its hodge-podge of radical, dangerous ideas about a universe full of wonders that operates on its own terms, in which our little human lives are unimportant and possibly wrong, in which our hero is someone who doesn't subscribe to all our ideas and etiquette... and all wrapped in television that, so far, is going down as easily as a good pint of Guinness in Mulligan's on a Friday evening.
Yes, Doctor. I do want to come with you. Victorian Cardiff tomorrow is it? I can't wait.
A Review by Jo Eadie 15/4/05
Never averse to the shameless pillaging of a sci-fi classic, the latest episode of the new series reworks The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s concept of a crowd of the wealthy buying ringside seats on the edge of destruction. And then, in true Doctor Who fashion, proceeds to bump then off. The spirit of Douglas Adams infuses this story – from the relics of ancient earth to Cassandra O’Brien’s horrific facelifts, via the parking ticket reading Have A Nice Day and the National Trust reversing continental drift in order to preserve the Earth’s classic look, it’s like a vintage episode of series sixteen or seventeen. Of course, that does lead to the privileging of entertainment and cheap jokes over hard science – vinyl records still in perfect working order after 5 billion years? A crucial safety switch hidden behind a set of lethal giant fanblades ? The TARDIS driven by a bicycle pump ? There’ll be a lot of happy ten year olds out there.
Also playing to that particular gallery, the sonic screwdriver has become more of a problem-solving magic wand than it ever was even in the gadget-obsessed hands of Jon Pertwee. What begins as a great joke and a rather touching paradox – that the Doctor can rework Rose’s mobile phone to call her mum – turns into a series of ever more deus ex machina solutions. If he can magically reprogramme a deadly robot to disclose its operator, then the Doctor has no need of deduction and intelligence. And if he can equally magically pass through the aforementioned deadly giant fanblades, there’s obviously not going to be much that tests or challenges him. The biggest disappointment is the Doctor’s method of gaining entry to the event (past the marvellously officious steward, in the best Robert Homes tradition of obstructive Doctor Who functionaries). Last week he had handy anti-plastic, this week it’s a handy piece of paper that looks like whatever the viewer expects to see. Where Tom Baker would have blustered his way into the event with an implausible story, and Colin Baker would have produced a genuine invite from inside a coat pocket, Christopher Eccelstone has the Doctor Who equivalent of shark-repellent batspray. No wonder he’s always so happy – he knows that nothing can go wrong. Cynically, one might say that this is why the death-count of the episode (and indeed the series) has to be so high – because nothing can really go wrong for the Doctor, it’s going to have to go wrong for everyone else.
Before I get as bitchy as Cassandra, I should just say that as long as you can turn a blind eye to those rather clunky plot-propelling devices (just keep repeating: "it’s only a children’s programme, it’s only a children’s programme") – you’re in for a treat. There are the heavenly costumes and ravishing sets, the sublime use of Marc Almond to underscore Rose’s disorientation, very nice CGI work for the station and the spiders, and a suitably nasty end for that officious functionary. And Christopher Eccelstone goes on reminding us that for the Doctor it’s all a glorious funfair ride. He has just the right level of confidence and familiarity with everything he sees, tempered by the constant surprise that he’s there at all. Just the right qualities for a man who has survived the as-yet-undisclosed disaster that hit Gallifrey: he’s living every moment amazed to be alive.
Against the Doctor’s unremitting cheeriness, it’s Billie Piper again who provides the real emotional range. Her distress at unexpectedly finding herself watching the Earth die, her panic about whether she’s made the right choice getting into the TARDIS, her moving observation that when the world ended there was nobody looking, her consistent maturity in the face of the ninth Doctor’s petulance about his origins – Billie never puts a foot wrong. Perhaps it’s because she steals all the scenes that the Doctor leaves her trapped in a room for half the story! While this story has been overshadowed by the leaked news of Christopher Ecclestone’s departure, it’s Rose who would be the series’ greatest loss – as long as she’s there to see a new Doctor in, safe in the knowledge that Russell T Davies will make the change into an substantial emotional challenge for her, we’ll be sure of an interesting ride.
P.S. For those of us playing the game where you down an appropriate drink for every word that would never have been used in the old series, so far it’s a loud cocktail for episode one’s ‘breast implants’ and cheap champagne for this week’s ‘prostitute’.
A Review by Rob Matthews 19/4/05
Reprinted from somewhere or other in the treasure trove of mid-seventies-to-mid-nineties fan opinion that is Licence Denied, there's an article by a fella named Thomas Noonan entitled 'Television, Technique and Convention.' Discussing attempts made by the production team of season 18 to move the show in a more cinematic direction, Noonan argues that 'Doctor Who is (...) essentially television, and television is a medium between stage-drama and film', and suggests that 'efforts to make the programme more like film (are) misguided.'
1980 was a long time ago, wasn't it. I mean, Rose Tyler wouldn't even have been born then!
Jump-cut to Doctor Who 2005. To episode two of the brand new season, The End of the World, to one of the most thoroughly entertaining forty-five minutes of television I've seen in absolutely ages. To the only show I can think of since Roseanne in its heyday that's had me doubled over with laughter one minute and fighting back a little tear the next. I mean, yeah, I'm used to Doctor Who being this wonderful ... but it's unexpectedly shocking to see television being this wonderful!
I said before somewhere in my back catalogue of rants on this site that Doctor Who doesn't need TV. And I still think that's true. 'The long wait' posited by heroic slogans on Oupost Gallifrey never existed for me - until The Announcement, I never once thought Who would find its way back to the screen, and had no particular desire to see it do so. For those of us who are already fans, there's no shortage of new and old stories in various media, and that's always been enough for me.
But what I overlooked there, and what Andrew Wixon rather wisely pointed out shortly afterward, is that TV - in this banal, degraded stage of its history where a Channel 4 announcer can in all seriousness refer to a repeat of the first episode of Sex and the City as 'the dawn of a legend', and where bloody Ant and Dec can be considered a viable alternative to anything other than self immolation - really, really needs Doctor Who.
(erm, those weren't Andrew's exact words, by the way)
And what makes Doctor Who great television in 2005 is precisely that movement towards filmic technique Noonan was railing against all those years ago. Seems to me that in - as the sturdy old adage has it - trying to keep up with Star Wars, the show was moving along the right lines all along. Misjudged that one, Tommy!
Mind you, how was he to know what TV audiences would stop accepting with the passage of time. That - for example - the idea of a science-fiction/adventure serial made on videotape would become unthinkable little more than a decade hence. It'd certainly be true to say that though the show was right to fumble in the direction of a more filmic style throughout the eighties, the fact that it needed to do so was symptomatic of a major loss of imagination on the part of audiences. But, you know, you can't control circumstances, only your reaction to them.
It's my view that in the latter seasons of the show's 'classic' run, the Cartmel/McCoy years, the primary factor which made the show work, where it did work, was the direction. Not that there hadn't been a lot of great direction in earlier periods of the show, but by the late eighties it was no longer, for want of a better phrase, an optional extra; the halfway-house narrative between stage-drama and film was on the road to obsolecence. Come 2005, the residual 'stage play' element of the particular variety of television to which Classic Doctor Who (?) belonged has long since become obsolete. Or certainly appears to have done so. Noonan's hybrid style persists only in sitcom and soap opera, presumably because those formats have allegedly realistic bases, and believing that that a well-lit set is a living room doesn't amount to as great a leap of faith for a viewer as believing that this well-lit set is a time/space machine, and that the man in the rubber suit coming through the door is an alien from another world. For the purposes of New Who, television has become a form comprised of the basic essence of the old episodic format, and the techniques of filmic storytelling. In fact, what with so many fantasy/SF movie franchises coming either in trilogies or with sequel-whoring non-endings, the only real differences between 'adventure' film and 'adventure' television seem to come down to running time and budget.
'Forty-five minute stories' sounded short, didn't it. I suggested way back when while reviewing season 22 that if Who were on screen now it would be in the form of self-contained one-hour stories. But even to me, knocking another fifteen minutes off that seemed to be pushing it. Matthew Harris (still at a time when this was all just speculation in our crazy minds!) looked back for precedent and found... The Awakening and The Sontaran Experiment. Somewhat lacking.
What I think we underestimated is the extent to which the variety of 'filmic TV' to which Who now belongs is a different animal from old-school televised Who. And also, the amazing malleability of a format which we fans constantly praise as being able to do anything, and then constantly criticise for not doing the exact things that each individual one of us want it to. Myself included, I'm sure.
Character-driven Doctor Who? That's something which has worried a few fans in the reviews I've read since the series commenced (for readers of the future, I'm writing this one between the broadcast of episodes 3 and 4!). Only a minority, I should point out.
But, well, why not! 'Character-driven' was the way it was going when it was last on screen with Ace's hijack of season 26; it was a prime factor in the success of the New Adventures; it was the thinking behind the generally well-received Caught on Earth arc in the EDAs. The very title of the first episode, Rose, was a pretty good indicator that the new show has a rather different emphasis than before (as Lawrence Miles pointed out, it's like imagining Terror of the Autons being called Jo) - but in Rose, because of having to get all the introductory I'm-the-Doctor, this is the TARDIS stuff out the way, the mixing of character-based story (bored shop assistant in a rut gets a chance to go off on a wonderful adventure with a bloke she obviously fancies) with Who's customary morality play plot (desperate alien invades Earth) unavoidably became unbalanced and the Nestene suplot - for that was what it was - ended up hackneyed and piss thin.
Introductions are difficult. In a way, The End of the World is (oh the irony) the real beginning of this series. Doctor Who as character-driven drama and moral drama at the same time, Doctor Who as television and film at the same time. And the amazing thing is it's done utterly perfectly straight from the off.
On the, admittedly scant, evidence so far - and isn't fun to be reviewing a TV episode without the easy crutch of hindsight -, the storytelling focus of this new Who season is weighted more or less equally between rather slimmed down variations on the indispensable Doctor-defeating-bad-guys template, and a cumulative character drama that will, I'd imagine, become the story formed by the season as a whole.
The Doctor-defeating-bad-guys story in this episode is a silly, camp whodunnit in space. And I have to say... it was utterly, stupendously fab! Much closer to the tone of season 17 than I'd ever dare hoped this new series would be in its initial run, and the Lady Cassandra is a wickedly funny villain who could've come right from the pen of Paul Magrs, but with a brilliantly understated sense of underlying pathos too - a cheap shot at the extremes of cosmetic surgery and at the same time a sad, stretched portrait of the lengths we'll go to to resist the brevity of our existence. And did I mention funny - I was chuckling throughout, even at those things that have elicted a tut from certain fans; I laughed at the iPod gag, at 'Talk to the face!', at the 'old Earth ballad', at 'the... er... human club!' Okay, the 'When I was a little boy' gag was stolen from The Simpsons. It was, nevertheless, a huge, huge relief to me to find they'd remembered to make this new series funny.
Funny, but - and this is the main point of resemblance to the Williams era - not to an outrageous extent that pisses up against the fourth wall, not in a way that undercuts the believability of the drama.
Not merely 'believable' drama either; this is that 'full-blooded' gubbins RTD was on about. The Doctor quickly making an emotional connection with Jabe and then losing her to Cassandra's cheap machinations is affecting stuff. His rage, and then his coldness as he stands by and allows Cassandra to die are thoroughly believable and perfectly performed.
('Have pity!' - a deliberate evocation, for those in the know, of Davros' plea in Genesis?)
Perhaps even more impressive, though, is Rose's quiet plea for the Doctor to help Cassandra. Two episodes in and I gleefully retract any doubts I ever had about Billie Piper. Despite everything the 'bitchy trampoline' has done, Rose can't simply stand by and watch another human being die, and Piper's delivery of the line really brings out that sense of naked, compassionate humanity.
Oh great; now this page'll get a load of hits from people googling 'Billie Piper naked'.
Anyhow, a compassionate impulse has always been at the core of Doctor Who, and I'm glad that, even if it's being challenged (again), it's not being forgotten.
Course, compassion is one thing. Love is another...
The End of the World is a silly whodunnit, but it's also the second chapter of an love story that's set to progress as the series goes on. The love story of the Doctor and Rose. Oh, it'll stay between the lines - at least I shouldn't think there'd be any of that 'hanky panky' the tabloids like to go on about. But it's shaping up as the spine of the series, and I must admit to finding it a bit moving - a fella who's been newly reconstructed as loneliest guy in the universe, taking to the interstitial road with a kindred spirit. The cool thing about this is that it works in subtle as well as overt ways - Rose's confusion and jealousy over Jabe's immediate bond with the Doctor ('You two go and pollinate') is obvious, her kidding-on-the-square reference to him as her 'date' is obvious, but other things only hit you when you think about it afterwards; could it be, for example, that the Doctor, who in this incarnation evidently isn't too good at the touchy-feely stuff, chooses to take Rose to see the end of her own planet for the very reason that it then makes it easier to tell her about the loss of his own? To make her understand by showing rather than telling? The Doctor is, after all, a man who can rely on showing things rather than talking about them. It's telling that he refuses to say what's outside those TARDIS doors at the beginning, eager for Rose to see for herself. Also, his angry 'This is me, right here, right now is what counts!' response when she questions who he is and where he's from suggests that a good part of his interest in seeing Rose enjoy the journey comes from a desire to escape from himself; to experience a sense of wonder again through her. Theres a hint of this very romantic notion of the possibility of redemption though another person.
"Perhaps a man only enjoys trouble when there's nothing else left" says Jabe.
"There's me", says Rose.
Rusty is indeed a great scriptwriter - pluck lines out and mix them around, they still work.
Speaking of scripting, the emphasis on the word 'alien' is interesting - it's used very liberally in this episode, as it was in Rose, and moreso than at any time I can recall in the show's past. There's an episode coming up called Aliens of London, so I'd guess this is going somewhere. Rose actually used the phrase 'The end of the world' in that first episode when the Auton attack began, which for me adds to a nice sense of threads running in and out across stories, even if obliquely.
What makes it all work so well, though, what binds old elements and new seamlessly together, is that filmic style I was on about. In traditional televisual terminology, (bloody hell, I sound like Henry Gordon Jago), the original run of Doctor Who was indeed a 'show'. New Who is, by contrast, an experience; look at the number of POV shots we get from Rose's perspective, then try to remember any similiar use of the camera in the original series. The jumbled, random-looking shot of all the aliens mingling, for example, which brilliantly represents Rose's disorientation. Think of the shot we see of Rose's mum from inside the washing machine, something we'd be remembering as the height of creative direction if it had happened in the middle of Terror of the Autons or something. Compare the scuttling spider-droids to the Cybermats or the Marsh Spiders... the development of CGI, of course, means that special effects of a quality corresponding reasonably well to those of movies are now available on an - albeit inflated - TV budget (and though it's fashionable among the more discerning of us geeks to diss CGI for not 'keeping it real' or whatever, let's not forget that the development of that facility is what, more than anything, has allowed Who to get back on screen at all). 'Tainted Love' and Britney Spear's 'Toxic' are used in the episode for laughs, but even then, the editing is so slickly, tightly done that the lyrics don't just waft off, they match what's going on onscreen ('Sometimes I feel I want to get away', 'There's no escape'). The bit with the Doctor gearing himself up and stepping through that fan blade is pure cinema; or more accurately, pure Star Wars. When the Doctor takes Rose back to present-day London we don't go through all the rigmarole of going back to the TARDIS, materialising on Earth and so on. Rather, we cut straight there and get a far more powerful emotional hit from the sudden contrast. None of this remarkable in terms of current day TV and movies, of course, but it's striking because we've never seen a Doctor Who narrative done this way.
And it is genuinely powerful. Plot complexity may of necessity be lessened, but - and I don't say this merely glibly - you can't have everything. The End of the World has a thoroughly enjoyable story with characters we care about. If it sets the tone for the rest of the series I'll be more than happy, and the only other TV Who stories I can recall ending on such raw, alive emotional notes are The Curse of Fenric and Survival... hmm, both in the last televised season; in some ways TV Who is picking up right where it left off.
In others, of course, it's leaping into a whole new realm altogether. But in retrospect it's a place it's been heading to from, ooh, at least The Leisure Hive onward. Big screen storytelling on the small screen. 'Fits and starts' doesn't begin to cover the bumpy journey here but now, finally, it's totally at home with that fusion.
And now, finally, I know what I'm paying my license fee for...
Slightly trivial afterword: I do hope episode three doesn't open with the Doctor and Rose eating chips and then heading straight off to the 19th century. Remember, all this has happened for Rose on the same day she went to meet Clive - the girl needs sleep!
A Review by Jonathan Hili 25/4/05
I came to really like Rose after my third viewing, and feel it's a strong serial despite its problems. In this respect I may also develop an appreciation for the second story in the new Doctor Who series. And yet Rose initially left me feeling mostly positive - I recognised that the strengths of the episode far outweighed the weaknesses. The End Of The World, however, left me feeling flat on first watching it, and a second viewing has not really improved things.
I think what undermines this entire story is an air of facetiousness that makes it difficult to take anything seriously. Presumably this is to help inject comedy into the show, but instead it makes the show seem somewhat silly, very much like the stories of McCoy's first season. Unfortunately, Russel T. Davies, while good at delivering the odd witty line here and there, is not very good at pacing his comedy so that it blends in well with horror, suspense or the darker elements of the show. He seems to lack the ability of past writers like Robert Holmes, Douglas Adams and even Eric Saward.
The underlying story borrows heavily from Adams' The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe. There's the similar presence of dignitaries and the rich getting together in a protected space station to view a large-scale cosmic event. There is also a similar ending, where the heroes (be they the Doctor and Rose, or Ford and Arthur Dent) return to a younger Earth before it was destroyed and muse on its future destruction and the futility, and somewhat absurdity, of it all. The idea that the Earth has been held in its classical state and protected by gravitational devices for what seems to be none other than artistic reasons is rather charming, and the whole context, while not original, is a welcome sight in Doctor Who.
The mystery theme built into the plot works quite well. The identities of the Adherence of the Repeated Meme are secretive and their appearance makes them quite chilling. They are obviously the bad guys, as the Doctor points out. The impact of the mystery was never really who the saboteurs were, but what they were planning and why. At this level, the story fails to deliver. Firstly, because Cassandra's role as the brains behind the scheme is revealed by the Doctor without any real effort on his part. He merely kicks the little spider droid and tells it to find its mummy like a puppy dog. Is there any reason why it should obey the Doctor? Did he reprogramme the spider? If so, why didn't we see it? And secondly, even when Cassandra is revealed to be the real enemy, the "why" element fails simply because her plan is utterly ludicrous. If you've seen the show, you know what I mean. Even the Doctor comments on what a daft plan it is. Her vanity and ideas of race purity could have been played upon to construct a far more interesting scheme than simply demanding ransom money from kidnapping the people on board. While a hostage situation may have worked, why did she choose such a precarious environment in which to do it - and then herself make the environment even more precarious? And finally when the Doctor uncovers her plot, she resorts to that terrible writer's cliche: the backup plan! Her going on about having shares in rival companies and making mega-profits due to their deaths is bloody inane.
I feel the Doctor in this story is far worse than in Rose, and all the elements that were wrong about his character in the first story come to the fore here. One of these factors is the Doctor's lack of explanation regarding what he is doing and his over-reliance on gadgetry. It's never really clear what the Doctor is doing when working with technology, and one of the most frustrating aspects of this story is the over-use of the sonic screwdriver to unlock doors, play with keypads, find out data, phase out spider droids, etc. without even the slightest bit of explanation what is going on. This Doctor seems to be the least resourceful yet; when in the slightest bit of trouble, out comes the sonic screwdriver, some slightly psychic paper or a similar gadget to deal with it. Think of how his reprogramming of the spider with the sonic screwdriver mirrors his cutting off the Nestene signal to the detached arm in Rose with whatever he was using. Another thing that struck me was when the Doctor passed through the final revolving blade to activate the station's shields. Once again, his seemingly Jedi abilities only serve to highlight that this is a Doctor, unlike his predecessors, who isn't particularly good at using his wits and ingenuity, and instead relies on "a magic ring to rub" as Glitz told the Sixth Doctor.
In fact I am finding the Doctor's portrayal to be very concerning indeed. In Rose he was very manic, with bizarre grinning for no reason and mood swings from buffoonery to deadly earnestness. While this might have worked - as it did work at times for Troughton and Tom Baker - Eccleston's grinning, inane outbursts (like his "Fantastic!" in this story that was totally inappropriate, prompting Jabe to understandably inquire why such a dangerous situation was in any way fantastic) and constant laughing occur at the least appropriate times. He doesn't do it to annoy or deflect an enemy, or to put them off guard by seeming a clown - he just does it, all the time, for no apparent reason. What's worse, I guess, is that it doesn't even come across as intelligent buffoonery, but like a five-year-old who has drunk too much red cordial. Think of the scene when the Doctor starts bopping to "Tainted Love"!!! I mean, this isn't eccentric behaviour, it's sad behaviour!
Now onto the death of Cassandra. In the past, the Doctor has stood by and failed to save a villain's life at the last moment, even when it was in his power to do so, the most famous example being the Master's apparent death in Planet Of Fire. With the new series, however, the Doctor seems to have a new view on how he deals out death, or allows it to be dealt out, which is rather disturbing. Firstly, perhaps because he is revealed to be the last of the Time Lords, the Ninth Doctor has an almost Judge Dredd-like opinion on his responsibilities. His comments to Cassandra as she dries and dies suggest that everything has its time and place and her time was over. However, the look in the Doctor's eyes and his body language tell us something else entirely different: here is a Doctor who has decided that she should die because of the deaths she has caused.
The Doctor has done this in the past but has always shrouded his beliefs in a higher morality that seems to justify his negligence. This Doctor only says, "Oh well, that's life" but with burning anger in his eyes. And there is the second problem with the Ninth Doctor's approach to death and killing: he is far too emotional. I think it's quite clear that the Doctor allowed Cassandra to die because she had caused the deaths of others - that is, he is her judge - but specifically he allowed her to die because she had indirectly caused Jabe's death. The Doctor had developed an emotional attachment with Jabe and was filled with feelings of anger and hatred; his response was revenge. This is very dangerous ground for Doctor Who. A Doctor whose actions seem to justify revenge is completely at odds with the character's established history. His judgement is also heavily clouded by his emotions. Why did the Doctor give the Nestene Consciousness a chance when it was already responsible for many deaths, such as Wilson the CEO of the department store where Rose worked? The reason is obvious: he never knew Wilson and never felt any kind of emotional attachment to him, therefore he judges the Nestene Consciousness impartially. But in this story, he deals with Cassandra as a form of revenge trip because of Jabe's death. The Doctor should represent a figure, a hero, who does not resort to revenge, especially not on emotional imbalances.
While I hope some of this behaviour will mellow in future episodes, the Ninth Doctor seems to be the most immature of Time Lords, a veritable teenager in his ludicrous, socially inept behaviour, his resort to the "quick fix" solution of gadgetry and other devices, and his dangerous emotional imbalances.
Now on to the even bigger revelation that all the Time Lords are kaput and the Doctor is the last of his race. This was sweetly begun in a very touching scene between Jabe and the Doctor, which both actors pulled off in style. If only they'd left it there! The mystery surrounding the Doctor would have remained and instead of being an answer, this scene would merely raise more questions, more Doctor Who? After deliberately keeping the audience in the dark in Rose and doing so also throughout most of this story, Russell T. Davies spoils the show at the end when the Doctor reveals all. Why? What is the point? Unless there is a story during the series that will work off this revelation, I don't think any kind of revelation should have been made at all.
The pacing and length of this story really harms characters, I feel. If you compare the screen time and development of characters in a story like The Curse Of Peladon with this story the difference is obvious. We see, for example, the Ice Warriors in the former serial as initially a threat, then as suspicious, then as honourable, etc. and others like Alpha Centauri and King Peladon also get a lot of development. However in this story, some characters, while looking great, like the Face of Boe and the Moxx of Balhoon, either say very little or nothing at all. A lot of money was spent on characters that were on screen for only about five or six minutes. When the Moxx died at the end of the story, his death should have elicited at least some kind of emotional reaction, but we don't really get to know him; all we know is that he can deliver a mean spit ball. This is a problem.
The dialogue was great at times ("gift of air from my lungs", "if you think that's amazing, you should see the bill", etc.), pedestrian through most of the story, and at times downright rubbish. Again there was a lot of unnecessary innuendo. As in Rose, the sexual references are obviously put in for humour, and while I don't think Doctor Who is the ideal medium in which to talk about "prostitutes" and "bitchy trampolines" if you're going to use this kind of language, at least make it funny. (Lewd language also says very little about the quality of English being imparted to children. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Doctor Who I found as a child was the use of quite a sophisticated English vocabulary and the artistry of constructing beautiful dialogue in a TV show.) When Jabe asks the Doctor about Rose's relationship with him, why on Earth would she think Rose is his prostitute? (Other than the fact that the Doctor is actually dressed like a 20th century pimp, that is...) She is a tree, so her understanding of relationships should have been reflected in that way, perhaps asking the Doctor if Rose was his leaf stylist, herbalist, fertiliser, or hopefully something better! Rose then proceeds to tell Jabe to bring the Doctor back by midnight and leaves them to "pollinate" (a relevant term, but the consequences are quite gross). The innuendo surrounding Jabe's liana is also quite farcical. I'm surprised the Doctor didn't say, "I'll show you mine if you show me yours!" The attempts by Russell T. Davies to make Doctor Who funny, "contemporary" and "relevant" should not resort to ill-used, banal sexual humour.
After all that criticism, I should point out that there were some really great things about this story. Billie Piper is brilliant again as Rose - the lines written for her are great and Piper delivers them with conviction. Her culture shock by being surrounded by something so different is well portrayed, as is the Doctor's concern for her. The scenes where she speaks with the maintenance worker and realises she doesn't know who the Doctor is at all, and then insists on the Doctor telling her who he is are magnificent. And the way the Doctor makes up for his secrecy and Rose's insecurity in the new environment by fixing her mobile so that she can call home is rather silly but charming and the joke at the end is well worth it. It's a shame Rose spends quite a substantial amount of time stuck in a room about to be vaporised by pure sunlight, since she could have been used to uncover Cassandra's plot rather than the unimaginative way it actually was uncovered. Finally, the reason for Rose understanding alien languages is well handled - a tip of the hat to the "Time Lord gift" mentioned in The Masque Of Mandragora. Thank God there wasn't a Babel fish in sight!
Jabe is another interesting character and well acted. Her death was very touching and it was wise and noble of the director not to show us her charred remains. The initial greetings and gifts given by the various alien races are superb. Cuttings from Jabe's grandfather, spitting by the Moxx, even the Doctor's gift of air from his lungs, are inventive, relevant, funny and insightful. The line about the Titanic, though seemingly lifted from Robot, was great too.
The costumes, make-up, sets and effects glow with heaps of money being thrown at them. Once again the music was generally obtrusive and used poorly, especially during the spider scenes, where instead of the music complementing to their menace, actually made them rather cute and certainly less of a threat.
Perhaps I just don't shine to Russell T. Davies' writing. Lots of people seem to have enjoyed The End Of The World and it certainly was fun. The third episode looks very promising, so I'm anticipating greater things to come!
A Step in the Right Direction by Michael Hickerson 28/4/05
Looking at the second installment of the new Doctor Who, it's easy to see how the story might have unfolded had it been made for the original series - the Doctor and Rose arrive on board a space station full of delegates, gathered together to watch the end of the world. As soon they turn up, a series of murders occurs and the Doctor and Rose are prime suspects in the investigation.
But this is not your father's Doctor Who and (thankfully) we aren't subjected to this little sideways journey into filler plot. Instead, what we get from the new series' second outing is a story that seeks to give us a bit more background on the Ninth Doctor and begin to slowly gel the Doctor/companion relationship of the Doctor and Rose. And the storyline follows that mandate pretty well - by the end of the story we've found out a lot of interesting tidbits about the new Doctor and we've got some seeds sown for a potential continuing storyline. All of that is extremely successful.
At times, it feels almost like The End of the World is trying to take a page from the classic Pertwee serial, The Curse of Peladon. We have a gathering of aliens together for an historic event. But whereas Peladon took the time to flesh out not only each of the alien species but also a bit about their political agendas on Peladon, End of the World just doesn't necessarily have the time for that. Having half the screen time means that we get to discover a bit more about Cassandra, the last "pure" human left in existence and some more about the Forest of Cheem, a race descended from trees. Both of these alien groups prove pivotal to the plot and far more memorable than some of the others, who all look great and get an isolated scene but it never amounts to much more.
Instead, we get a relatively "standard someone has assembled all these people here to kill them all off and we've got to figure out why" plot.
As soon as the Doctor shows up, things start going awry. From the station manager being killed to Rose being put in mortal danger to the enemy revealing herself and revealing her plot and motivation, it all feels like classic Doctor Who. Again, we're spared the whole Doctor and Rose being suspected of the murders and I think the story is that much the stronger for it.
Turns out that Cassandra, the last "pure" human is behind the plot. She has controlling interests in the companies owned by the various delegates. If they all perish in the accident, she stands to make a killing (pardon the pun). As villain motivation goes, it's not the best I've heard, nor is it entirely the worst. It's a motivation and it works within the confines on the story. And it also opens some more interesting doors.
For one thing, Cassandra speaks to Rose about being the last pure human and hating how humanity, as it has expanded outward into the universe has become "distilled" and "less pure." It's an eerie echo of the exact reason the Daleks have for hating everyone else in the known universe.
But while the storyline isn't exactly ground-breaking, the series new emphasis on characters and characterization is.
If Rose was all about establishing Rose, then The End of the World is all about fleshing out some of the background of the ninth Doctor. In the final few minutes of the episode, we find out he's the last Time Lord, that Gallifrey has been destroyed in a war and that he's wandering the universe. Reading into that, I could almost see that he's on the run for some reason, hiding out from whoever destroyed Gallifrey. And if there is a force out there strong enough to destroy the Time Lords, you can see why the Doctor might be on the run.
But we also learn a bit more about him. The dark streak that was in the 7th Doctor is still in evidence here. Christopher Eccleston does a nice job of running the gamut in this episode from his early sheer joy at taking Rose to the future to the dark intensity when he calls Cassandra back to answer for what she's done. Along the way, we see his compassion as he acknowledges the sacrifice of Jabe, the leader of the tree people. The Doctor's regret that Jabe has to sacrifice herself in order to save the rest of those aboard the station is nicely done at the end.
And was it just me or did anyone else seem to think the Doctor is somehow pulling an Ace on Rose? By this I mean - I got the impression that the Doctor took her forward in time to this exact event to test her. I got the feeling that the Doctor was feeling out how Rose would react to certain things - Cassandra, the end of the world, etc - before he took her fully into his confidence about being the last Time Lord in the universe. (But I strongly suspect the Master is still out there lurking somewhere...) For all his over the top, easy-going, confidence bravado, there's a dark depth to the new Doctor. He's not all he seems, as evidenced by the speech to Rose at the end about the war and wiping out his people. In many ways, knowing this explains why the Doctor is so eager and almost desperate to save the station on his own. He wants to make right for whatever happened in the war that destroyed Gallifrey.
There's also some interesting work done with Rose here. Of course, being the companion, she gets herself into jeopardy on several occasions. But we also see her questioning why she stepped into a time machine with a man she hardly knows. I liked that little moment a lot.
Of course, I could have done without the call home to her mother. I'm not sure why but that scene was a little too jarring and take out of the story for me. None of the Doctor's other companions have done it before. And I will admit part of it is that, as a character, Rose's mother annoys me. The less seen and heard of her, the better in my book.
So, how does The End of the World stack up? It's hard to say really. In a lot of ways, it's apples and oranges. There are elements of the classic Doctor Who stories in there, but there's also a new spin put on it. For the most part, it's successful. Since I've heard rumors that Russell Davies intends to have a season-long story arc, it seems that this one might be a bit more important to the overall tapestry of the new season of Doctor Who in about 11 weeks. It certainly wasn't horrible along the lines of The Web Planet but certainly is not close to the levels of what I consider the classics of Doctor Who. But it was an entertaining story that, for the most part, got it all right. It's a bit stronger than Rose was, simply because it's freed from having to establish Rose and re-establish the Doctor Who universe.
But there's still some work left to do on the series to achieve a perfect episode.
But I'll give them this - The End of the World is a step in the right direction.
Birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom! by Phil Fenerty 6/5/05
Following on directly from the events of the first story, the Doctor takes Rose on a trip to the far future. There, the Great and the Good gather aboard a space station to watch Earth's final moments, little realising that there is a murderer loose amongst them...
Following on from the breathless debut of Rose, The End of the World is more evenly paced. The first "act" shows Rose as an Outsider above her own planet, staring aghast as a bewildering array of alien dignitaries arrives to party. The entrances of the magnificently realised Face of Boe and Moxx of Balhoon (yes, he does exist!), along with various other races, evokes memories of The Curse of Peladon, and the setting is a nod to Douglas Adams' Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
Rose's sense of isolation is wonderfully portrayed, Billie Piper managing to effectively cast off any lingering doubts that she won the role on merit, rather than on the ability to fill tabloid pages. Indeed, her performance in this episode (shot in the second production block) shows that she has got to grips with her character in the filming of the first set of episodes. Throughout, she is convincing as the Innocent Abroad, cast adrift in time and space and wondering what she has got herself into.
The episode better structured than Rose was: it doesn't all run at Warp 10. The story is split, effectively, into three sections: the first sees Rose encounter the aliens and discover her sense of lonliness; in the second, the pace hots up, cranking danger levels to maximum and ensuring that everyone sweats. The final section, really only a coda, allows Rose time to reflect on what she has seen on Platform One, and to learn something about the magnitude of the Doctor's suffering.
Ah yes, The Doctor. He's at the heart of things here, all bristling energy and flirtatious charm. After repelling Jackie's charms in Rose, here he's making eyes and blowing "air from his lungs" at Jabe, a Tree-lady from the Forest of Cheem (I suspect a Tony Hancock influence there). Indeed, during the second "act", Jabe acts as a surrogate companion, used to further the story development and to help the Doctor in his frantic efforts to save Platform One. Yasmin Bannerman's performance is exquisite, and her scene in the service duct with the Doctor is underplayed and touching.
Another of the gallery of grotesques deserving of mention is Cassandra, portrayed by Zoe Wannamaker. Cassandra is the last "human", although after 2000 years and over 700 cosmetic surgeries, you wouldn't know it. The realisation of her appearance is superb, and worth every penny of the CGI money spent on her. Her character, vain and bigoted, shows how little Humanity has changed in the five billion years between then and now: Cassandra is held up as a mirror to the human race, reflecting both the best and worst traits we see in ourselves.
The Mill have worked wonders in this episode, with numerous special effects shots dotted around the episode. It is likely that there are many CGI effects which have gone unnoticed amongst the many shots of Platform One, a dying Earth and the four-legged spiders which have infiltrated the station. That alone should be testament to how far Doctor Who has come, no more fuzzy-edged CSO or wobbly set walls.
But, even with the effects, and even with the monsters, The End of the World would be nothing without a story. Rose was, effectively, two characters in search of a story, with an alien invasion thrown in for good measure. The End of the World is a proper, space-station-in-peril, companion-under-threat, whodunnit style story which Doctor Who has been doing for over forty years. And yet, it hasn't been doing stories like this one, either. This is too smart, too clever, too witty and too frantic to have been part of the original run of stories. RTD knows how to write for modern TV audiences, and anyone coming up with stories in the style of The Ark in Space, however good that was, just won't be entertained in an executive's office.
And then, after the world has been consumed in the coronas of the sun, and the villain of the piece has been thwarted, the Doctor returns Rose to a busy London street. Here, we get reflection and introspection, with revelations and hints to what has gone before - which we expect to be revealed over the next few weeks. Comments made by Jabe are expanded and explained - to some extent - but the scene makes it clear that RTD has something more in mind than a series of individual 45 minute episodes. The best comparison would be the final seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where the plotlines dovetail and interlink. Here, we'll be getting more of the same, and I can't wait to see how it develops.
The end of the world? No, not really. Just the start of another voyage in the good Ship TARDIS. Long may she sail.
Overall: a steady improvement.
The Party at the End of the Earth by David Massingham 9/5/05
After the entertaining yet flawed Rose, it was going to be interesting to see where Russell T Davies and his gang of crazy cohorts would take the good ship Who next. Would the second episode repeat some of the premiere's mistakes, or would this be a completely different style of adventure?
The answer is definitely the latter. The End of the World is not only a completely different style of story, it is also a much better story than Rose - the humour is more sophisticated, the direction is more accomplished, the script is tighter and more focused, the guest performances are infinitely more agreeable, and the whole package is just tremendously good fun.
The End of the World is undoubtedly going to be compared to the works of Douglas Adams, specifically The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. By a curious coincidence, it is that very book which I was reading at the time that I saw the second episode of the new series, and many similarities could be seen - most notably the setting, a luxury futuristic building in which the influential and rich gather to watch the end of the universe/Earth. The tone of The End of the World is nowhere near as flippant as Adams' novel, but there is humour aplenty, from Cassandra's "IPod" to the Doctor's gift of air from his lungs. There is not one instance in the story where this focus on laughs falling on its face, and the gentle yet persistent giggles keep it all bubbling along.
The cast of colourful characters is the vehicle for the humour, and there is some lovely mini-characters created here. The Moxx of Balhoon gets little to do, but amuses with his little voice and agitated mannerisms. Mr and Mrs Dark Crystal say nothing, but nevertheless stood out for me, reminding me of the scariest film of my childhood. The Steward is played perfectly by Simon Day, and for me is the most entertaining guest character of this story. His stuffy attitude is wonderful, and seeing him snap at the computer before calmly addressing the "multiforms" of Platform One is great fun.
As for Cassandra and Jabe, undoubtedly the two most significant of the incidental characters, they are realized very well. Zoe Wannamaker provides a lovely and snarky voice for the last human, Cassandra, clearly relishing the chance to play such an original character. The idea that the very last human being is little more than a flap of skin is clever and scary, effectively bringing to mind our preoccupation with beauty and plastic surgery. The route her character takes over the course of the adventure is interesting, and although the twists surrounding Cassandra aren't always completely surprising, they a narratively satisfying. Jabe is also very well played, and makes an effectively faux-companion for the Doctor. She also acts as a filter for some intriguing plot developments about the Doctor and Gallifrey, something I never thought would be addressed in this new series. When it is though, it is tackled in such a way that doesn't alienate or confuse non-fans. Rather, it must surely act as a lure for the not-we to watch more episodes.
I've said a fair deal about the humour content of The End of the World, but there is much more to it than that. There's action! Oh, and what action; the scenes of the Doctor franticly running around Platform One trying to raise the Sun Filters is exciting stuff, with the special effects to match. The giant fans are effective too, even if originality flew out the window there for a beat or two. A quick shout out to Euros Lyn, whose direction is twenty times better than Keith Boak's in Rose. It's pacier, it's more exciting, it's prettier, it's more creative; it fits the story, unlike Boak's by-the-numbers approach in the first episode. Russell, if you're reading this, please bring back Mr Lyn for season two!
Back to the actual story - with all the action and comedy, one mustn't forget the dramatic content. What we get here is quite effective. Rose's reactions to the aliens ("they're so... alien. You look at them, and they're aliens!") is really nice, effectively heightened by Euros Lyn's lovely direction in scenes like the one where we see the congregation through Rose's eyes, a group of chattering monsters, eerily juxtaposed with Tainted Love by Soft Cell. Then there is her reaction to the death of her home planet, which is handled beautifully by all involved. Her conversation with the Doctor about his past is well handled too, with that closed-off reclusive Doctor of old showing himself (or not, as the case may be). When the Doctor finally reveals a skerrick of information about himself, we can see that these two are growing closer.
It should also be mentioned that Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper are great again here. The Ninth Doctor is a manic, drunk-on-life type, but capable of great compassion and great anger. His reaction to the villain's plans and the way in which he deals with it is striking and very bold on RTD's part; we are reminded that this is an alien we are dealing with here, and he has moments of real darkness. We see a fair bit of the Seventh Doctor in Eccelston here. Rose is given some fantastic material to work with here too, and Billie Piper improves upon an already strong foundation made in Rose. She's proving herself to be a real asset to the programme, as demonstrated in scenes like the one with the plumber alien.
There is more to like about The End of the World, including Murray Gold's music (soooooo much better than in Rose... sooooo much better), the snappy dialogue ("Platform One forbids the use of weapons, teleportation devices, and religion"), the great special effects, the teaser, Britney Spears (I never thought that one of her songs would work in Doctor Who, I really didn't), the continual countdown to "Earth Death", and plenty of other little touches. At the end of the day, The End of the World is the best Who story since, um, Survival, but then again I really like that story. Suffice it to say that if you weren't sure if Who was back after Rose, just watch this one and see all your doubts fade away. It's not perfect - the call to Jackie doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the material, the sonic screwdriver is overused, and the plot is fairly thin... but this is pure science fiction fun. More focused and professional than Rose, THIS is Doctor Who for the 21st century.
8.5 out of 10
Fan-frigging-tastic! by Joe Ford 12/5/05
If Rose revealed what everybody conceived Doctor Who to be, The End of the World proves what it can really do. If this isn't in my top three favourite episodes for the new season I will be very surprised as I cannot imagine it getting much better than this. Russell T Davies has dumped all the introductory work on Rose (which was just fine but a little thin, beefed up by a wonderful production) and now gets the chance to tell a wonderful self-contained adventure before handing the reigns over to Mark Gatiss for a week.
This was everything GREAT telly should be... laugh-out-loud funny, emotional, exciting, visually spectacular and coherent. It is a great script whatever way you look at it. There is a gorgeous plot in there centred on the ingenious idea of the end of the Earth... can you imagine any other event that would get people's attention? Whilst it is fun to see all the weird alien creatures the story resists the idea of becoming a modern day Curse of Peladon by being able to laugh at itself, there are some scenes where you could compare the two such as the whodunit moment but the exuberance of the performances and the quality of the production blow that earlier story out of comparison.
Whoever knew RTD was such a comedian? There were some quality gags sneaked into this episode, fabulous one-liners that increase the entertainment value tenfold. When Rose calls Cassandra Michael Jackson and we cut away to a shot of the grotesque creature it suddenly dawns on you that it does bear an uncanny resemblance to the ghostly visage of the much loved celebrity. Simon found the songs on display of particular amusement... the greatest musical talents the world has ever known: Brittany Spears and Soft Cell (and who could fail to love Eccleston's little dance!). There are similar glorious moments which concerning ipods, gifts of air and saliva, roots and cosmetic surgery. The greatest test of humour was for my lovely pal Matt to watch it and enjoy it as he is not the biggest fan of the Williams comedy era (season seventeen is his least favourite) and he found the episode to be a real treat (or at least "not as bad as he was expecting") with only the inclusion of Toxic any real complaint (he'd have preferred Kylie!).
But whilst the humour was a huge bonus it was the pathos that gave the episodes its heart. It is here we learn of the Doctor's race and planet, completely forgotten in the first episode as if the series did not want to contradict the last fifteen years of off-screen adventures. RTD tackles the problem head on here in a largely favoured opinion that the books are to be accepted as canon. I for one am delighted; I would hate to think that I was wasting my time for the past fifteen years! What The End of the World does so cleverly is make the Doctor an extremely potent character again (and not to take cheap shots at dear old Doctor Seven but it is done far more convincingly than suddenly giving him a darker side) and although all of the other actors in the role have expressed their desire to return the character to the crabby days of William Hartnell's Doctor it is Eccelston who most resembles him now. Not because he is a doddery old grandpa with an attitude problem but because thanks to a few lines of dialogue the Doctor is now a lone figure, facing the evils of the universe on his own. Or as the first Doctor puts it, "We are cut off from our home planet without friends or protection."
This look at the Doctor's bare soul is in turns dramatic, ambiguous and deeply moving. The last scene of the episode is one of the all time best Doctor Who moments because it makes the Doctor a beautifully tragic figure, one the audience feel such pity for. With two stories RTD and Eccelston have made the Doctor a fascinating character, one I am totally invested in. Shame about the lead man quitting but this should still be well worth following.
Hey this could almost be a JNT production. A reliance on special effects and amazing set pieces, a nearly-camp tone and some inspired celebrity stunt casting! Let's face it, of the assorted aliens it is Cassandra who stands held and shoulders above the rest and that is 70% thanks to Zoe Wanamaker's deliciously OTT performance. Who could mistake that voice? She gets all the best lines but her side-splitting, "Look how thin I am!" must take the crown with anything from her final scene next. The special effects department deserve plaudits for bringing this unique creation to life and the scene where Rose walks around Cassandra is flawlessly executed to convince.
I was expecting Rose to be far more jealous of Jabe when she started flirting madly with the Doctor but her brilliant quip about pollinating together was enough. RTD uses the two ladies to drag the truth out of the Doctor about his home planet resulting in some of the episode's (and Doctor Who's) most emotional moments, particularly the heated confrontation between the Doctor and Rose in their quarters and Jabe's parting line to encourage the Doctor on at the climax.
How much money went into this episode? It looks amazing! Move over Farscape, Star Trek and Stargate... here comes Doctor Who! It is obvious how much effort has gone into producing this story and coming after the earthbound opener it made sense to strike the audience with just how good Doctor Who can look these days. What makes this look better than its rival American shows is not the effects themselves but the amount of imagination that has gone into them. Star Trek sticks to spaceships, Farscape to funny animatronic monsters... Doctor Who offers up space stations, shuttlepods, an exploding Earth and expanding Sun, mechanical spiders, searing sun filters, a whole array of madcap aliens from stretch-skinned Cassandra to the enormous and grumpy Face of Boe, explosions, the Moxx of Balhoon... the money was there on the screen, no apologies made. Some of the shots, especially the Doctor and Rose silhouetted by the Earth and Sun or the spiders scuttling through the stations, are astonishingly good. Or as Rob Matthews puts it a Graeme Williams story that looks as though it's had zillions spent on it.
It was an intoxicating mixture of laughter and tears, perfect for kids and grown ups alike. Russell T Davies has done it again!
A Review by Charles Tuck 25/5/05
Ok, this is the first full story of the new series. No introduction or anything.
The End of the World is a fantastic storyline with very interesting aliens, the villain when revealed has clear reasons, not muddled up at all. The spiders in the vents are impressive and well realised and Cassandra’s ‘too much surgery’ is creepy. Zoe Wanamaker is superb as Cassandra and her death is gruesome (and cool!)
The whole Doctor/Jabe thing is a little weird. Trees with breasts!? Is the Doctor connecting with her? Some questions are best left unanswered……
The End of the World answers the most confusing question in sci-fi, why do aliens speak English? Thank god they did that.
Unfortunately, I just can’t accept the blue people, which are not very imaginative!
But overall The End of the World shows that Doctor Who is not just about monsters and that is room for, what’s the name…. let's call it political stories.
Sophomore Slump by Adrian Loder 30/5/05
With the series receiving its first, rough laying-out in Rose, we find our two leads beginning their adventures proper in The End of the World. This episode was heavy on the computer-generated special effects and a little light on plot, but this, I think, is going to be a bit of a weakness in the series in that with this episode we have more emotional turbulence and the like, and with 45 minutes instead of 90-100 it is hard to craft a nice, intricate little tale while also devoting so much time to the inner struggles of our heroes.
With that said, I think the Doctor was well-played here, though again we have hesitation and what seems like a dragged out climactic sequence at the end, similar to Rose. This bugs me because with such limited time to tell their story you'd think they would be more likely to rush things than the other way around. We also have a trend starting here where the Doctor's behavior leads to serious negative consequences for those around him.
I'm also not real fond of the pop music accompanying some of the scenes, but then this episode seems very much to have been put together with all the technical gadgetry and pop culture they could afford in order to draw in the new audience.
Still, an entertaining episode, and again we get to see more of the way the characters will be fleshed out as Rose takes the Doctor to task in what will not be the only such occasion, and the Doctor shows a bit of a merciless streak that will also not be a one-time event. I give it 6/10.
The End of All Hope? by Ron Mallett 27/6/05
The new series moved into revisionist territory today as the second story was aired on the ABC. The very thin plot aside, long time fans will be surprised to learn that the 1st Doctor story The Ark, not to mention The 6th Doctor Ravalox story-line in The Trial of a Time Lord, must have all been a dream. Furthermore for the sake of a few whispy, psuedo emotional moments, a few sentences have consigned Gallifrey to oblivion - a holocaust we won't even have the benefit of seeing.
Basically, The Doctor takes Rose 5 billion years into the future to a space station where a group of wealthy aliens and the last human gather to watch the world get fried by a dying sun. For the most flimsy reasons, the last human conspires to destroy the station with the help of some obviously CGI spider-like robots. Smacking of Douglas Adams' The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, this story still managed to be a minor improvement on the first instalment of the new series.
As for the performances, while Christopher Eccleston shows some now wasted promise, Billie Piper is fricking awful. When she was trapped in a room about to be fired I was hoping for Kentucky Fried Billie. She is so wooden I couldn't tell the difference between her and the pot plant she converses with at one point. All this is confirming my suspicion that the old show is dead because this one has no soul: it's been stillborn. It's just mind candy, diverting mind candy, but mind candy all the same.?
A Review by Sean Neuerburg 29/7/05
After a somewhat slow start (seeing the Doctor and Rose talk in the TARDIS about what is outside and the walk around the Platform and talk somemore), this story is a splendid showing off of what the BBC can do with its new show. The aliens are well realized and very alien (there's just something cool about the Face of Boe).
Rose developes nicely, showing her old world sensibilities, and coming to the very obvious realization that she has no clue what she got herself into. (If nothing else, this new series documents the reality of being a companion wonderfully.) Soon she is shunted aside to be the helpless companion who needs saving.
The Doctor, on the other hand, shines as he gets to tell his own story for the first time. His interaction with Jabe correctly brings out more and more of what his character is, from the gift of "air from my lungs," to the investigation they set out on, to the ultimate revelation she makes about him. The Doctor is in control of this random situation far more than he was on Earth in Rose, when he supposedly knew how things were set up. We see this new Doctor angry and vengeful, prepared to open any door and let anyone die.
This was supposed to be the effects-heavy episode, and it shows. Nothing seems to be camp in the effects, thankfully, and you can properly see the story told without any distraction from them; they are subtle even when they are blatantly in your face. Credit must also be given to the use of Soft Cell and Britney Spears in an instantaneously classic manner.
A fun sci-fi romp, that fulfils the promise Rose made in its goodness, and promises more. 6/10
A Review by Steve Cassidy 8/8/05
Twenty years ago I watched a film review show summing up the year's cinema releases. 1985 could be described as the year of the sweaty machine-toting action man. Sylvester Stallone was top of the heap and if it didn't have explosions, gratuitous death and rounds of ammo in every scene then it wasn't "box office". A rarity in these kind of programmes they had an interview with Jessica Lange (always a favourite actress of mine) and she was mentioning that Hollywood was descending into a brainsucking morass of violence and explosions.
The interviewer asked her if she had liked any film this year?
"Oh yes.." she replied elegantly, pausing for effect... "A Room with A View, it's a little jewel of a film.."
And that's the way I would describe The End of the World - a veritable jewel.
It truly is something special about this one. It is as close to perfection as Who ever gets and is a personal favourite of mine. Of the new season it is probably the one I watch most. Every scene is beautifully shot and scripted. It actually has art direction - a rarity in Who and the acting, characterisation and direction are top notch.
Of course it had to keep the viewers' attention after Rose. Rose on that March Saturday had massive hype - you got the impression that the entire nation sat down to watch it. The trailer at its end must catch the audience so they tune in the next Saturday. And RTD teased us with a wonderful trailer - blue aliens, exploding planets, giant faces. It was exactly what was needed to kickstart the new Who. And in many ways it did start from here. Rose was an introduction, a way of introducing the genre through the eyes of an average girl companion. But The End of the World showed the infinite parameters of Who. The fact that it was about big ideas, big canvases and big events really worked. Nothing on British television was as good as this in years. Finally, the new audience got what Who was about - adventures in time and space....
I have been very hard on the skills of Russell T Davies in recent weeks. I'm sure he loses no sleep in his Cardiff harbour apartment to know Mr Cassidy has been denigrating his work. But, ladies and gentleman, this one really does show evidence that the man has massive talent. The writing here is excellent and the imagination shown is some of the best in the series. And this is really where the new series took off. We have not had aliens on TV for a very very long time. There were some sublime creations in the Moxx of Balhoun, the Face of Boe, Jabe and the Tree People and Lady Cassandra O'Brien. An idea sparked by watching women at the Oscars who had had so many facelifts they could clean their teeth by reaching the top of their heads. But along with this imagination was rock hard production design competency. No tin foil, tinsel or bubble wrap. "The Mill" and its effects department carefully blended solid creations and SFX. The effects are there to compliment the story not the other way around.
And best of all - it's a good story. Aliens gather to watch the end of our planet five billion years in the future and an attendee to this gathering decides to use their demise for their own financial gain. Like all good Agatha Christie type plots there is even a scene where all the aliens are gathered and the Doctor reveals who the culprit it is. This is where Christopher Eccleston starts to soar as the ninth Doctor. For a start, he is in his element - dashing around Platform One trying to work out who is behind its sabotage. Because, at heart, this is a mystery story. It also contains the scene where I believe the ninth Doctor came of age. I shall not spoil the story but one of his newly aquired allies buys it during the unmasking of the perpetrator and the Doctor has to inform their colleagues. Things have changed while the Doctor has been away for a little while and his arrival causes a disturbance. Rose and others immediately want his attention, but focused on the unpleasant task he has to do he ignores them and walks across the viewing platform to inform those who need to be told about the death. The expression on Eccleston's face - controlled anger - just blows the screen away.
Billie Piper is OK. She is the audience's view on the world. We experience the wonder of time travel and the great canvas of Platform One with Rose Tyler. The guest stars in this are exceptional with Zoe Wanamaker stealing the show as bitchy Cassandra O'Brien. The catchphrase of "moisturerise me! moisturise me!" was still be repeated when I went into work the following Monday. And its one of the most memorbale images of the series - a piece of skin stretched flat on a easel to smoothe out any crinkles. Was RTD making a point about female vanity? Its not the first time a villainess' plans have involved looking beautiful for longer. Didn't Queen Xanxia in The Pirate Planet use time dams to keep an old body alive until a new beautiful youthful one stabilised. Also kudos must go to Yasmin Bannerman as Jabe. This is played so sympathetically by Miss Bannerman that there have been calls, if circumstances and storylines had been different, for her to join the TARDIS crew. Certainly she could have fitted in with the kind of poised elegance that used to be the territory of the Romanas.
The direction is superb. Citing Miss Bannerman again there is a wonderful shot with its angle high on the ceiling. It concentrates on the CGI spider in the foreground with Mr Eccleston and Ms Bannerman far down below. Suddenly, a liana shoot UP!! It heads straight for the camera and knocks the spider into the air. Very impressive! The CGI sabotage spiders come close to being my favourite monsters of Series 1/27. They are almost in every scene and TEOTW took up most of SFX budget of the new series. But to make a big impressio, they needed to have a wow factor second episode. And mindblowing special effects are a good way of keeping the audience's attention. But it's the way the SFX, production design and direction all meld into one which strikes me about this episode. This truly is very competently made - I might go as far as to say it has the best production design in all the 140 televsied adventures of Who.
In many ways the pointers of the way RTD is going to take the series are already there in this second entry (Jackie Tyler makes an appearance, over -earnest moral dilemmas etc) but this is backed up by strong storytelling and a damn good script. As I have said before, I am pretty harsh on his later series one efforts but I truly believe this is his best script. It certainly is his most imaginative, and I may not put The End of The World in my top ten of best Whos - but it is certainly in my list of favourites.
A Review by Finn Clark 28/2/06
There's a lot to love here. I only have the tiniest ambivalence about The End of the World, but unfortunately that's its plot. However first I should sing some praises.
It looks fantastic, showcasing the new series at its most obviously lavish. Subsequent SF stories would show a more down-at-heel space station, but here we've slithered up the social ladder and we're hob-nobbing with high society. I love the guests: not merely alien but imaginatively alien. The face of Boe, the Adherents of the Repeated Meme, walking trees, etc... that's so much better than a few silly names and bumpy foreheads. This is also important for Rose's culture shock, which is in some ways the whole point of the story.
There's lots of visual texture, but it's also mind-stretching. For 45 minutes Russell T. Davies made me think big. The world explodes! There's the inevitability of death, aeons of history, racism and racial purity and the way we tend to trivialise anything important. People worry about money and status while an unnoticed computer voice counts down to Earthdeath. No one watches the planet burn. We get the contrasting viewpoints of the Doctor and Rose, one of them aware of the big picture as he flirts with a tree, while the other gets her mind blown with just a phone call home.
I have a friend who finds this episode preachy, seeing some kind of eco-message in Rose's "the Earth died and no one watched because we were too busy saving ourselves". He thinks it's saying "humans bad, trees good" and even sees significance in the closing sequence's Big Issue seller... personally I disagree, but it's great to see a writer playing with ideas big enough that one can have that kind of argument about it.
We go further ahead than usual in Who. Five billion years, with even five hundred being further than most stories. Five thousand is almost unheard of. A couple of stories said the word "million". What's more, the story makes you feel it... just coming home at the end gives us yet another perspective.
We learn more about the Doctor's backstory from Jabe. For me these revelations positively sang, despite using story concepts that I'd spent the last half-decade hating passionately in the books. They're more effective when their Doctor's not being amnesiac. Eccleston can react to them! There may be lots of eye candy in this story, but viewers who hate empty spectacle also have plenty to chew on.
The regulars are obviously great. Eccleston gets all that backstory and some fun lines ("Oh well, it would be you") while Rose gets more character insight in 45 minutes than most companions got during their entire run. There's no precedent for this level of character focus. The nearest we got was Ian and Barbara at one end of the series and maybe Ace at the other, but the Doctor himself has traditionally been a carefree adventurer with no prior connections to anything. Admittedly Ian and Barbara's predicament was scarier than Rose's thanks to Hartnell's unsteerable TARDIS, but for me it's high praise just to be making that comparison.
It's time to discuss the plot. Despite everything, to some (including me) the new season sometimes tended to feel shallow... not in characterisation or theme, but simply in plotting. It's not the pace. Eccleston's episodes go at a healthy lick. No, it's the depth. Especially with all that focus on the regulars, there isn't room for as many characters and story layers. Admittedly one-off stories could never compete with an old four-parter in that department, but even something like Stephen Moffat's two-parter isn't exactly The Big Sleep. It's a cracking story, but a simple one.
The End of the World is great to watch, but awfully straightforward. There are three protagonists (the Doctor, Rose and Jabe) but no real antagonists unless you count the robot spiders. Cassandra is fun, but hardly menacing. The ideas and characterisation are lovely, but they're adorning a story that's bolted together from building blocks without enough depth to stop them from feeling over-familiar. There are strong similarities between this and The Robots of Death, for instance, except that that story is infinitely richer in its cast and plot. It has more dynamic characters, motivations and red herrings, more murders, more "Night of the Living Dead" scenes with the robots and - most importantly - it has D84.
On first broadcast I watched this with the aforementioned preachy-theorist, who's vaguely interested but not a fan. We'd previously been watching anime and Farscape: Peacekeeper Wars, but the Doctor Who episode stood up completely in every department - effects, humour, pace, etc. It works as Doctor Who and it also works as SF judged by the harsh standards of 21st century television. Some might say that this episode alone is better than we might have expected from an entire new season.
A Review by Brian May 6/3/08
I thought I'd wait a bit before starting to review episodes from the New Series. Rose was the exception, but that was an opportunity to gush at the resurrection of Doctor Who. The rest need some time to mature - or ferment, as the case may be.
So, three years later, on to The End of the World. Like Rose, it's less a story and more a showcase of the potential the programme can now offer. The plotting is fairly sparse, taking a back seat to the visuals. The fancy effects and pyrotechnics are the stuff the creators of the classic series could only dream of. Davies has a huge budget and he's sure as hell going to show it off. The procession of weird and wonderful aliens is the next example - although it's not as impressive as you'd think. They reminded me too much of Star Trek, and accordingly fall into that programme's same trap. Their aliens were just humanoids with ridged heads and elaborate masks; with the exception of Cassandra and the Face of Boe, that's exactly what we have here. The classic series provided more imaginative beasties with less money. Sure, we don't see any zippers or loose latex, but I was nonetheless underwhelmed.
The story is basic, following the usual formula of race against time to beat a countdown to destruction. Despite the 45 minute length, it's still overlong, the climax being rather drawn out. There is also one of the most ridiculous moments in the show's history: the Doctor safely stepping through the final set of fan blades. It's very stupid, the implied "still point/leap of faith" mumbo jumbo a convenient cop-out and that bombastic, pseudo-mystical music/female vocal combo doesn't help things. The spoof movie Galaxy Quest was far better in handling a similar situation, as was Attack of the Clones (and it's a sorry day indeed when a Star Wars film, especially one of the dreadful prequels, has better scene resolutions than Doctor Who!)
But Davies's writing does shine, in the small things rather than the story overall. The use of the bicycle pump in the TARDIS is hilarious! There's lots of cracking dialogue: the "maximum hospitality area" is a gem, so too all the exchanging of insults between Rose and Cassandra, especially the former's description of the latter as "a bitchy trampoline". (Zoe Wanamaker, the first big name guest star in the New Series, is fantastic!) In the character development of Rose you can see what Davies is intending to do with the Who companion. She's still largely the audience's point of reference - and still has to be rescued by the Doctor! - but the regularity of his explaining things to her (and us) has been minimised. So, not as ditzy and dependent as Jo or Victoria, but not the same level of equality we saw with Romana. However, one moment really irked me: after the Doctor explains how the TARDIS translates everything for her by getting inside her head. Rose's stroppy, near-confrontational reaction is a bit ungrateful. It's the one thing she could have taken completely on trust - it's not as if the TARDIS is brainwashing her! (Is this an editorial apology for the treatment of Sarah Jane in The Masque of Mandragora?) But this is made up for with a charming scene between her and Raffalo the plumber, which gives Rose the proper sense of wonderment she needs.
Christopher Eccleston keeps up his great start; above all else, he's made the Doctor a big kid again. As mentioned, I was less than taken with the lineup of aliens, but I did love the Time Lord's wide-eyed, infectious gapes of delight and amazement as they pass by. He's a great flirt, he's angrily opposed to injustice and won't let a murderer get away. The character's fundamental mystery is reinvented - the destruction of the Time Lords is an inspired path to take. New viewers, who've never seen any Gallifrey stories, will hopefully be intrigued and want to keep watching. As for the old timers, those who know the series back to front, there are some more questions to be asked of their hero, even those who immediately went online and attempted to marry this up with The Ancestor Cell!
The End of the World is essentially a link. It consolidates what we've learned so far and is a teaser for what will come. Again, it's more style than substance, with a slight plot and more than the fair share of convenient escapes and MacGuffins, Psychic Paper and new look sonic screwdriver included. But the dialogue is fantastic and the programme isn't taking itself too seriously. Unspectacular but acceptably entertaining. 6/10
The End and the Beginning by Stuart Cottrell 3/11/09
It's my belief that The End of the World should be seen back to back with Rose, as was intended for broadcast, because for Rose, it is a direct continuation of her story. It's a chance for her to see what the TARDIS can do and where it can take her. This whole episode feels like a benchmark, the production team is saying "we can travel 5 billion years into the future, we can create a multitude of alien creatures, we can have danger, threat, a surprise (well not really) and evil villain"; it's like a CV. This episode has to prove to the viewer that they have made the right choice by returning to the show for a second week.
Visually, it is a fantastic piece. The Manchester Suite is a beautiful set, it look elegant and expensive and not too sci-fi; it looks like it is in use. The many aliens created for this episode are also brilliant. Ok, so most of them are very much 'extras', made of cloaks and hats, but it's nice to see such a backing of non-humans. I am quite surprised that none of them have cropped up in later episodes. The Moxx of Balhoon is a lovely little character, providing laughs and unnerving alien-ness simultaneously. The Forest of Cheem are obviously the most detailed creatures; in fact, Jabe is on of the most intricate and detailed prosthetics in the entire series. She is also one of the best characters in the whole series; she is elegant, rich, powerful, clever and beautiful, and Rose is immediately facing competition for the Doctor's interest. Jabe is one of the strongest 'one episode' characters we meet, and her death is not squeezed dry for emotion, but treated with the respect that the powerful Jabe deserves. The Doctor's grief for her is beautiful.
The Lady Cassandra is also another highlight of this episode. She is a beautiful creation by Davies, so bizarre and unknown, but her existence makes sense. The cosmetic surgery aspect is intriguing, but not riveting, and not really explored properly, but it's a nice characteristic for her. Far more interesting is her avarice, making her one of the few purely selfish villains in the entire program. Later, as Davies explores the grey areas between good and evil, it's nice to look back at someone who is just plain nasty. She is voiced beautifully by Zoe Wanamaker, and her death is ironic, slightly poignant (but not much) and such a fun demise for a really fun villain.
Once again, plot is not key to this episode, but it's a bit more complex than Rose. The villain is obvious, and the Adherents of the Repeated Meme are a bit dull, but still, at least it's not overtaxing. The main aspects of this episode are spectacle and character. The spectacle of the sun expanding to destroy the world is a fantastic setting for this adventure, and it's quite poignant to know that "everything has its time and everything dies", even the Earth.
The character development in this episode is beautifully done. The enigma of the Doctor builds even more; "It's remarkable that you even exist... Time Lord". A first mention of the Doctor's species. His argument with Rose is fantastic; we have a Doctor who wants to forget his history, who doesn't want to look back, who is scared of being judged by Rose for what he did (which we don't find out until Dalek). His eventual confiding in Rose is quite touching; it shows he trusts her, and brings the two of them closer together.
For Rose, this episode is her double take. She finds herself with a strange man, surrounded by aliens on a spacestation around her dying home billions of years in the future. It frightens her, and makes her question whether she made the right choice. (Incidentally, Rose says yes, then thinks; Donna says no, then thinks; Martha thinks it through. Their natural reactions say a lot about their characters.) Rose's phone call with her mum is beautiful (as is Murray Gold's theme for Rose) and offers her that glimpse of security she needs. She can travel with the Doctor, she can face it all, but she's gonna need some comfort. She's going to need chips (a lovely metaphor by Davies). Characterwise, this entire episode can be summed up by the Doctor asking: "Are you sure you want to come?" and Rose, thinking, replies "Yes. But I'll need chips".
The production team asks the viewer the same question: " Are you sure you want to come with us for the other 11 weeks of this show, now you've seen what it can do?" The answer, obviously, is yes. And I'll just watch this one again.
Daft punk by Thomas Cookson 3/3/13
Amazingly, there was a time after the week of Rose where I had only good feelings about the new RTD era. Rose had thrilled me, it had given me the very Britishness and bite that I felt was lacking for the TV Movie, and the final joke "by the way, did I mention it also travels in time?" had gotten a big laugh from me. Hell, I'd even had one fan tell me he was disappointed but was reassured by insider knowledge that the stories from here were going to get darker and better (he also unfortunately spoiled the revelation about Gallifrey to me). Well if Rose wasn't as good as what was to come, then this show was going to be brilliant.
It lasted a week.
Back then, I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong with The End of the World. The idea that someone of Russell's credentials would be the show's worst writer just wouldn't have computed for me back then. I just know the story left me hollow somehow, and was not entirely pleasant. It later became a familiar sensation of having experienced bad, sloppy, junk-food television that made me feel a bit cheap and degraded for trying to enjoy it. But at the time I couldn't articulate why. The impression I did get was of a writer who liked to emulate Joss Whedon's snark and catty wit, but here it wasn't enough to sustain an episode.
It was discouraging, this early in the show. But I figured maybe it was just a case of a good writer having an off day. What I wasn't prepared for was the show getting worse from here.
There's some good stuff here, but it's mostly incredibly patchy. The alienness of this environment is conveyed strongly. The sense of only remnants of human culture surviving, but beyond recognition or warmth. How strangely cold this social environment feels. Rose's disorientated POV shot interspersed with Tainted Love is a particular gem. The phone chat between Rose and Jackie was genuinely sweet. If only it had been a gracious last word on the character. The story's basic revolutionary intent is conveyed well by the ending as we return to an Earth where class divides remain, and nothing changes. About how watching the destruction of everything you once valued teaches you to appreciate more than just material things, and how the essence of life has to be fought for.
The acting is all round strong, and I don't say that lightly. There are too many occasions in RTD's episodes, even in his supposed 'masterpieces' like Midnight and Waters of Mars (walking a typically fine line between masterful and obnoxious), where you can almost see the actors nearly choking on the awful on-the-nose dialogue and exposing its artifice. In this episode, no one really does that. The actors give it real dedication, making the story itself feel real. Even the actor playing the steward is perfectly in character and dedicated to his performance throughout. The only other RTD stories I can say this about are The Parting of the Ways and Tooth and Claw.
But the sad truth is, this story fell apart from the first scene. I don't mean the moment Rose steps out to Platform One. That's a magic moment in itself. I mean beforehand.
The Doctor keeps stopping off at various future points that he entices Rose with, only to immediately dismiss it as a dull spot and challenge her to go further, which she agrees to. Not once does she do the realistic thing and have a look out, even out of curiosity at this once-in-a-lifetime chance to see each of these future dates that she may never see again. The script is drawing attention to the things the budget can't show, thus exposing the artificialness of it all. No moreso than in Rose's motivations that don't feel believable.
What's worse is this attitude of feigning disinterest and boredom defines the whole story. We meet the cast of aliens and they're just there for show, as we then move to an empty room. Every time the story threatens to give itself over to the awe at heart, the Doctor pulls a bullishly flippant line that callously kills the mood. Quite simply, the whole thing feels like RTD is bored with the kind of sci-fi story here, and is downplaying it as much as possible and treating it with open contempt, because he would rather be writing something else. By assuming that your characters are as disinterested with TARDIS adventures as you are, it's almost fatal to their believability. It leaves the story feeling almost barren.
Why is he the head writer then?
Like I said, I knew vaguely about Gallifrey's destruction. But I expected this actually to come later in the season, and that Jabe discovering the Doctor's origins would be a subtle hint at Gallifrey's future. Or at least that the Doctor didn't know about it yet. The revelation it was an unseen past event, and one of mutually assured destruction, rather than a terrifying Dalek victory, still strikes me as a criminally missed opportunity.
As for Eccleston, he has some strong moments. Getting a lot out of cynical lines like "I say the great and the good, I really mean the rich" and the depressing truth of "5 million years down the line and it still all comes down to money." And his face is a striking, stark, emotive picture when Jabe delivers her condolences. However, his confession to Rose about Gallifrey is downright limp, sounding like he's describing his packed-in washing machine. His readiness to accept Jabe's sacrifice when she urges "then stop wasting time, Time Lord" comes off as downright misjudged.
Other moments just make me dislike him. The script tries reinforcing the Doctor's alien detachment to Earth's fate, but - typical of RTD's overstatement - he rubs his callousness in with a glee that's just obnoxious and gradually unpleasant. Likewise his giving the Repeated Meme a literal breather is just inane and makes him come across as a sad pratt. His amused laughing when Rose gets spat in the eye is a borderline disgusting moment. Another case of RTD's ripping off popular culture, stealing jokes from Ace Ventura.
As you can imagine, stuff like this makes the retconned 'that was our first date' and the subsequent Ten and Rose romance come off as insincere. But then, much of Tennant's era seemed to be trying to pretend the Ninth Doctor never happened.
You might be detecting an unprecedented negativity from me towards Eccleston recently, which is at odds with the glowing review I gave of him in The Parting of the Ways. But I think my earlier praise of his Doctor was based solely on Dalek and Father's Day, where we saw how good he could be when written by someone who understands the Doctor's character. But the rest of the time, frankly, he made me uncomfortable, and I desperately wanted stories like Dalek and Father's Day to justify his whole uncomfortable persona. Perhaps I was genuinely watching a therapeutic drama about the Doctor working through his damage. But in Dalek he came across as a damaged thug with a good pair of hearts. Under RTD, he doesn't come across as pleasant at all.
Frankly the 'the Time War changed him' argument doesn't convince me anymore, and I now know why it never entirely did. Yes, war trauma can often cause a complete personality disintegration. But supposedly only RTD knows what really happened to him in the Time War. Yes he's guilt-ridden, but also he's got a massive ego, he's the cool queen bee, and he has the integrity of a wet sock. He's whatever RTD needs him to be really.
The Time War is just an excuse to write the character as inaccurately and obnoxiously as Russell likes. It's all superficial. In Dalek, the Ninth Doctor works because for once he's written by a writer in Robert Shearman who understands the Doctor as a character, and therefore understands what might have happened to change him in this way. That way, we get a glimpse into echoes of the old Doctor of the black-and-white era whom we couldn't quite trust, and the compassion of the Fourth and Fifth Doctors for those who died senselessly. And how all this shaped and haunted him.
In The End of Time, the emperor's cloak is removed, and we finally realise that all along, RTD didn't have a clue what happened in the Time War. He'd been making it up as he went along, to the point where none of the war, or the reasons behind it make any sense anymore. In fact, it was suddenly conclusively proven that RTD only wrote the Time Lords out because he doesn't understand them. So everything RTD did to change the Doctor into a war-scarred survivor was completely baseless. There was no attempt to connect it to something real.
As the tasteless moment of the Doctor letting Cassandra die demonstrates, RTD only understands one thing about the Doctor. Which is the character's fan taboos, and how to upset them. This always leads to the worst writing of the Doctor, just as it did in Warriors of the Deep and The Twin Dilemma. I suppose it's kind of crucial you don't understand anything else about the character when you're writing televised shipper-slash-hurt/comfort fanfiction about either the Doctor and Rose or the Doctor and the Master.
The Doctor's revenge killing of Cassandra has to be justified by her having killed off scores of characters in the stupidest, most contrived way possible. There's no way Rufallo would let herself be swamped by that many spiders so quickly, or that the Steward's sun filters could be turned off with just one keyswitch (what? no failsafes?). And the rest die because they're stupid enough to wait in the room with the biggest window.
It's not just that he's not the Doctor, it's that he's so uprooted from his foundations that the character has no core or stability, or balance. Bidmead is right, the RTD Doctor is a leaking vessel where so much has to be poured in, but it makes him no better or fuller a character. And in Eccleston's case, RTD just filled him with vitriol and sour grapes. And to a degree I just don't think Eccleston ever understood the character. He dismissed the Doctors of old with a reverse snobbery about how he couldn't respect the middle class snooty schoolteacher type Doctors, and thus the entire premise of the character seemed to be vandalised just to accommodate his opinions as though they were universally valid.
The Doctor is a snob, of course. But that's inevitable given his upbringing. He's a rebel against a detached society of sanctimonious snobs, but he's also a product of that society. Basically he's a snob who's on our side, and can lock swords and words with the worst snobs who want to victimise the underdog, and fight against them on their own terms. Christ, even Timelash gets this right! Eccleston has done Edwardian dramas before and could have played that kind of Doctor perfectly, if his heart was in it.
I kind of have sympathy for Eccleston. He's almost the Eric Saward of the RTD era. The closest thing RTD had to a no-man. Given his apparent distaste for the pecking orders and snooty high-school-clique nature of RTD's production team (which you can tell just from how they characterise the Doctor), I'm on his side all the way. But the fact remains that whilst a script like Dalek or The Empty Child ignites him, he's clearly bitter and uncomfortable in many of Series One's stories, making it an ordeal to sit through.
In conclusion, this is better than RTD's usual average, and has some promising moments, but it's best watched immediately alongside Rose if you want to feel satisfied by any substance. I can't help feel this whole era's setup was misjudged though.
I came first in Jiggery-Pokery, how about you? by Evan Weston 9/3/13
Ah, here we go. This is when it gets good.
Full disclosure right off the bat: The End of the World was the episode that hooked me into Doctor Who. As a young American fan, I watched the new series before I got into the classics, and after the insane runaround that was Rose, I wasn't sure if I was going to continue with the show. But boy, does The End of the World keep you watching. A tale of a girl whisked far away from home with a man she barely knows, a thrilling mystery aboard a super-advanced spaceship, imaginative aliens of all different colors and types, all set against the backdrop of the Earth about to explode. This is Doctor Who at its best.
So many good things to talk about in here. This is another great turn from Billie Piper, who completely sells Rose as overwhelmed with what's around her. Once again, she's directly responsible for the best scene in the episode: her confrontation with the Doctor. Playing up the character's fear in a perfectly balanced way, Piper is able to make the Doctor look like a saint and a monster all at the same time. We begin to question whether or not this Time Lord is really all he's cracked up to be.
Of course, Eccleston kills it, as he does every time. This retrospective is going to have a lot of praise for Christopher Eccleston, and I'll be upfront about it: the Ninth is my favorite Doctor. He's not just a renegade madman with a box. He's a renegade madman who is genuinely hurt by what he just experienced in the Time War, and he acts way out of character because he feels way out of character. Eccleston understands this and, as usual, his best moments are when he's angry. He reams out Rose just for asking too many questions, and you're scared. He sees the only friend he's made die, and his anger is palpable. His line, "everything has its time and everything dies", is something you'd never hear another Doctor ever say, but, from Eccleston, it sounds perfectly natural.
The other performances are also wonderful. Yasmin Bannerman is solid as Jabe, who becomes the Doctor's stand-in companion for the second half of the episode. Her concern for his psyche feels genuine, and her death is a poignant scene. Even more impressive is Zoe Wannamaker as Cassandra. After the disappointing Autons in Rose, Cassandra is one of the better villains of the Davies era. She operates through those wonderful spiders for most of the episode, and while the viewer thinks the Adherents of the Repeated Meme are the bad guys for the majority of the running time, Cassandra's personality is repugnant enough to make her totally believable as the main antagonist. Rose rips her apart and calls her a "bitchy trampoline," and yet Cassandra is totally cool with it. Wannamaker's sultry purr definitely adds to the menace, as well. She's the best non-Dalek villain Eccleston ever goes up against.
As for the other aspects... what an improvement from Murray Gold! His beautiful, haunting background theme when Rose calls her mother (which shows up a bunch from here throughout the series) is a highlight, but Gold weaves a really nice score throughout the episode. The CGI is markedly better here, too. The little spiders look phenomenal and the Earth's explosion is convincing. Credit must also be given to the excellent production design, creating the feel of a luxury cruise ship with a slightly more sinister underbelly. The sun filters are a really cool idea, and make for one of the episode's more memorable deaths.
There are a couple problems with The End of the World that hold it back from greatness. The biggest, of course, is the first appearance of the Davies ex Machina. I usually don't mind Russell's escapes from plot corners, but this one gets on my nerves a bit. The Doctor just closes his eyes and steps right through the swirling fan of death? Yup, that'll work. There had to be a better way to resolve that. A couple plot holes seep through as well: no one noticed the plumber getting sucked into the ventilation shaft? And why couldn't the Doctor have just gone around the other way to get to the switch? Also, while the nod towards 21st century pop culture is cute, it feels a little out of place. Especially Britney. Could have done without the Britney.
Still, these problems are few and far between. The End of the World is, for the most part, an exemplary example of Doctor Who at its best. The episode is paced brilliantly, shows some real emotion and character development from both leads, has a crackling story with a great villain, and really draws the viewer in head over heels. There are few points in the entire run of the show when it's this good, and for just the second episode of the series, The End of the World is that much more impressive. Bravo.