Blueshift #158: The End of the World

4 Feb

The End of the WorldThe Facts

Written by: Russell T Davies
Starring: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler)
Originally broadcast: 2nd April 2005

The Story

“That’s not supposed to happen…”

Cassandra

Cassandra, "the last human", and her boys.

The Doctor takes Rose on her very first trip in the TARDIS, to the year 5.5/Apple/26 (or the year 5 billion to mere mortals such as you and I) to see a rare gathering of aliens who are there to watch the Earth burn up. Naturally however, trouble rears its head in the form of robot spiders that are scurrying about the ship causing havoc, that all points to a bigger plan afoot. Ladies and gentlemen… “Welcome to The End of the World.”

Despite the fact that, when you think about it, not a lot actually happens in this story, I still consider it a great success. Essentially, it doesn’t need as much to happen as most episodes do because it’s not the aim of the game. The Doctor takes Rose to Platform One for, if you like, a taster session. Aliens and epic scenes of planets cracking: an average day for our favourite Timelord. This works well and we are treated to some fantastic moments with newly introduced aliens, such as the amusing Moxx of Balhoon and the flirty but ultimately empathetic Forest of Cheem representative, Jabe (Yasmin Bannerman). Visually, the episode holds its own with costumes and set design – never for a second are we left doubting the authenticity of the setting (unlike, for instance, a certain previously featured story). The strength of this episode comes from its dialogue, and the characters who are portrayed so well by the actors. A villain she may be, but Cassandra (Zoë Wanamaker) is a pleasure to watch as she wise-cracks and devilishly smiles while attempting to murder and deceive the entire cast.

Stand-out scene

“There was a war, and we lost.”

(Note: The clip above is only of the last part of this sequence.)

For me, the most poignant moment in The End of the World is its ending. As Rose laments having missed the passing of Earth (and how nobody saw it in the end, in the midst of all the chaos on-board) in one of the most epic shots to ever grace the new series,  the Doctor takes her home and shares a secret – he’s the last of the Timelords and Gallifrey is gone. This was a huge moment for Doctor Who. It brought on a completely new era for the main character that would, at least, define the Ninth Doctor’s arc, much of the Ten’s and still echo into the Eleventh’s too. It is also, I think, the first moment that the Doctor and Rose connect on equal terms. Then, perfectly, they smell chips. *Sighs*, Russell T Davies is the original genius.

Verdict

"I'm sorry" - The Doctor and JabeThe End of the World is a well-realised episode that lives up to its own themes and still manages to be fun at the same time. It’s pretty hard to address the gloomy prospect of the Earth being empty one day and being left to burn up, but it is going to happen. The message is (essentially) enjoy it while it lasts. It’s not often we step back to appreciate everything around us, or our finite amount of time on the planet – so it’s nice to watch this story and be gently reminded to seize the day. We also get to see some shades of grey from the Doctor, as he coldly watches Cassandra die as he simply states “everything has its time, and everything turns to dust”: the first hint at the new war-torn-survivor side to the Timelord that would slowly be revealed and hit its climax in Dalek. The central theme of the episode is trying to address just who the Doctor is and what his life entails. He finally has a chance to share his grief with Jabe, causing them to form a bond, but she is tragically taken from him as she bravely tries to help save Platform One with him. It is only at the end of the episode that he finally faces up to his loss and talks about it with Rose.

Platform OneEffects wise, although this episode included the heaviest use of CGI on the show (to the date of broadcast) the quality still stands up and somewhat more impressive is how good the prosthetics for the character Jabe look – even 7 years on. The End of the World is filled with memorable scenes and, unusually for Doctor Who, multiple uses of well-known music (Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic”) which – instead of feeling gimmicky – all add to the general feel of quality. The story benefits greatly from the well scripted dialogue and inspired characters, but also from the attention to detail. Small laughs can also be found in abundance, with “religion” being banned aboard the space platform alongside things such as “weapons” and “teleportation” and Cassandra recalling historically inaccurate facts (like mistaking a jukebox for an iPod). “Toxic” and “Tainted Love” being called “classical music” is also just weird and brilliant.

This was a strong follow up to Rose from RTD; this was the story that attempted to explain the character of the Doctor to a new generation of viewers and was, in my opinion, the proper beginning of the Doctor and Rose’s love story. Top-notch Who. 

8/10

Did you know?

The Temple of Peace, Cardiff

  • This marked the first usage of the Temple of Peace (Cardiff) in a Doctor Who episode (it was the viewing gallery), it would also be used in future episodes Gridlock, The Fires of Pompeii and Let’s Kill Hitler.
  • In this episode the phrase “Bad Wolf” is mentioned for the first time. The Moxx of Balhoon states: “Indubitably, this is the Bad Wolf scenario.”
  • Russell T Davies has cited skinny Hollywood actresses at the Academy Awards as his inspiration for Cassandra.
  • When the Doctor and Rose are talking about the sun expanding, Rose mentions Newsround Extra. A newsround reporter was on set watching as this scene was filmed.
  • This is the first time a minor curse word is used by The Doctor in the show’s history; he uses the phrase “What the hell is that?” after sighting one of the spiders with Jabe.
  • Because animating Cassandra became too time-consuming/costly, scenes featuring her, including a conversation about humanity’s fate, were shortened. This caused the episode to fall short of its 45 minute slot, so scenes were added to increase the episode’s running time. The scene where Rose meets the alien “plumber” Ruffalo is an example of a scene that was specifically written because of this.
  • This is the first time the Doctor is ever shown to shed a tear on-screen.
  •  In this episode, Rose becomes one of the only companions in the show’s history to ask why all the aliens speak English. In another first for the show, the Doctor finally gives an explanation: the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits translate all alien languages for its passengers.
  • The psychic paper makes its first appearance in this episode, as does the “superphone”. (Though notably, the Doctor changes method of conversion in later series. In this episode, he changes a piece of hardware, whereas later on he is able to simply use his sonic screwdriver.
  • It was the success in strong viewing figures for this episode, following Rose, that finalised the decision to renew the show for a Christmas special and a second season.

Next time in Blueshift

That’s all for now folks. Next time I’ll be looking at one of  Tom Baker’s most well-known adventures; the Sherlock Holmes inspired story, The Talons of Weng-Chiang.

The Talons of Weng Chiang

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