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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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Blueshift #154: The Curse of Fenric

29 Jan

The Curse of Fenric

The Facts

Written by: Ian Briggs
Starring: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace)
Originally broadcast:  25th October – 15th November 1989

Story

Soldiers row to shore through a grey mist and discover a dead comrade on their landing and superstitions of a local curse begin to do the rounds. It is 1943.   The TARDIS materialises inside a top-secret military base and The Doctor and Ace decide to have a look. They soon encounter the wheelchair-bound Dr. Judson, who has created ULTIMA – a machine that can decode any cypher, including German transmissions.  Meanwhile, the soldiers are revealed to be Russian, and their objective: to steal the ULTIMA core.

Master Manipulator

The Doctor convinces The Ancient One that Fenric has betrayed him.

Story-wise, The Curse of Fenric is well conceived. It mostly revovles around the Doctor and Ace investigating stories of a local Viking curse and the Doctor generally keeping everyone in the dark about his suspicions. In that respect, it’s a very dark story for classic Who. Sylvester McCoy’s version of the Timelord is well known for developing a darker streak in his later years and this story is the ultimate manifestation of that. The way in which he desperately explains to Ace why he has to keep her in the dark about things, and the scene in which he coldly manipulates the Ancient One into betraying Fenric are chilling displays of character.

A Game of Chess

The Doctor and Fenric set the final pieces in motion.

What else is interesting about this episode though is that, given its production in the very late stages of the cold war (even though the episode is set in the 1940’s), the Russians actually come off very well. The story ends with the British and Russian soldiers putting aside their differences and deciding they won’t be “pawns” in the larger game of chess by the politicians any more. This proclamation is strangely prophetic as, after seeing the ending in which everybody (even Ace) are revealed to be pawns, the viewer is left with mixed feelings about how far the Doctor must go to beat Fenric. The Russians go from allies-come-traitors to heroes by the end of the story.

Ace with her Grandmother and (baby) mother

Ace with her Grandmother and (baby) mother.

Also worthy of note is that The Curse of Fenric was one of a rare breed of stories in classic Who to draw together strands from previous series into a single story-arc. This has been seen recently with the Silence arc stretching over nu-Who Series 5, 6 and (it would seem) 7, but wasn’t common for the old show. The Key to Time arc or the E-Space stories are similar examples but were much more obvious than the clever revelations explained in Fenric. Subtle, almost Moffat-like references have been scattered throughout the Doctor’s journey with Ace that all point to Fenric, and even Ace, (and subsequently her relationship with her mother) is revealed to be the product of Fenric’s schemes. To put it lightly, there was a big pay-off for anyone who had been watching since Dragonfire. 

Stand-out scene

The scene in which Fenric is defeated is by far the best in this story. As all the strands of the episodes, and indeed the previous two series, draw together we are given a glimpse of a far darker side to the Doctor than we have ever seen before.

Master manipulator, cold and unfeeling, he makes even Ace believe that he only brought her with him because he knew she was “tainted” by Fenric. Though really, he is allowing Ace’s psychic barrier (of belief in him) to break down so that the Ancient One can destroy Fenric – something the Doctor has ensured will happen, through one of his earlier moves. As Fenric and the Ancient One go down together, there is no time for explanations as the Doctor pulls Ace off the floor and they escape.

Verdict

The Curse of Fenric, for 80’s Who, is actually pretty good. Obviously, production quality is an issue in certain scenes and the acting of some cast members is questionable at times, but fortunately the whole story being shot on location seems to have done the episodes a big favour. The story is complex and a bit hard to follow at times, with so much going on, but the final conclusion is a very satisfying one. Most fascinating though, is the story’s approach to the Timelord’s persona. As the Doctor puts it, the forces of good and evil are always at war – but somehow evil always survives. Because of this we are taken into the morally grey zone, filled with long games and hidden agendas, and we are shown that good and evil are not always clear cut. To defeat Fenric, the Doctor has to lie, manipulate and emotionally break the person closest to him. These are big ideas for what was a Monday night tea-time, family show at the time. Bravo Ian Briggs for doing them justice.

7/10

Did you know?

Past and Present

  • Previous titles for this story were The Wolves of Fenric and Wolf-Time.
  • Anne Reid, who plays Nurse Crane, would also later appear in the revived series 2007 story Smith and Jones as the Plasmavore. This story also featured the introduction of companion Martha Jones and the alien Judoon.
  • Interestingly, in the novelisation, Reid’s character was revealed to be a Russian spy who had aided the red soldiers in their infiltration, but this was taken out of the script as the story was already too long.
  • The references to past episodes that reveal Fenric’s scheme to the Doctor early on are (in chronological order); Ace appearing in Iceworld through a time storm (Dragonfire), the chessboard in Lady Peinforte’s house and her relocation to the (past) modern day by time storm (Silver Nemesis).
  • This episode was one of a few classic stories to be shot almost entirely on location. The locations most used are Crowborough Training Camp (which was the secret army base) in East Sussex and Lulworth Cove (which was the beach area where Fenric’s “wolves” attacked from and where the soldiers landed) in Dorset.
  • There are many story aspects, such as the Doctor wearing a coat for the first half of the story (which was meant to partly hide the new brown jacket that symbolized a character change) and Ace referencing the story Ghostlight as if it were in her future, that were originally supposed to have happened before they did in this story. This is because scheduling delays forced the production team to shuffle the episode orders of this series round.
  • Two of the “Haemovore” monsters in this story were played by Sylvester McCoy’s sons; Sam and Joe Kent-Smith.
  • A reference to Ace having lost her virginity to Sabalom Glitz in an earlier story (Dragonfire) was removed from the script.
  • Though this story involves many references to Norse mythology, all references of Ragnarok (the end of the world) were removed by request of the production team, so as to avoid confusion with the Gods of Ragnarok from the previous story The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
  • The way that the Doctor needs Ace to lose faith in him to defeat Fenric is similar to the way he later needs Amy Pond to lose faith in him in The God Complex to defeat the Minotaur.

Next time in Blueshift

Thanks for reading another Blueshift! Next time I’ll be revisiting the Ninth Doctor story The End of the World.

The End of the World

Blueshift #171: The Girl in the Fireplace

20 Jan

The Girl in the Fireplace

The facts

Written by: Steven Moffat
Starring: David Tennant (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Sophia Myles (Madame De Pompadour)
Originally broadcast: 6th May, 2006

Story

I’ll say it now, The Girl in the Fireplace is my favourite episode of Doctor Who. It’s just DW at its best: Historical figures, broken clocks, empty spaceships, 18th century France, sinister clockwork monsters (that hide under the bed!) and a horse the Doctor names Arthur. Brilliant. Best of all however, at its heart, TGitF (an acronym dangerously close to TGIF that I will not use again) is a love story.

Reinette and the Doctor

"My lonely Doctor."

Not very many stories in Doctor Who delve into the Timelord’s emotional side. It’s also very rare that we actually see him express anything akin to proper love besides his relationship with Rose Tyler – and even that takes two whole series to develop. But what’s more poignant about The Girl in the Fireplace, is that the Doctor doesn’t just fall in love; he finds his soul mate. When he looks into Reinette’s mind he doesn’t just see her for all she is, she see’s him as well – and so a unique relationship comes to be.

The viewer watches as the Doctor earns his title “the lonely angel”, stepping in and out of moments in Reinette’s life “like the pages of a book”, causing her to have known him “[her] whole life”. It is an utterly romantic tale that turns devastatingly tragic, when they cannot be together in the end. That said though, the episode is full of funny lines as well, for much-welcome comic relief.

 Stand-out scene

There are so many scenes to love in this episode that are all equally memorable. My favourite though (when I am trying not to ruin the ending for anyone who has never watched the story), is the scene in which The Doctor, Rose and Mickey discuss the situation on the spaceship, and end up stepping into a moment of Reinette’s timeline to face down a lurking clockwork robot. It’s a great example of the dynamic a three-person Team TARDIS really gives to the show and of course features the brilliant exchange:

Mickey: “What’s a horse doing on a spaceship?”

The Doctor: “Mickey, what’s pre-revolutionary France doing on a spaceship? Get a little perspective.”

This is also the scene in which the Doctor reads Reinette’s mind, and stops being “fireplace man” to Reinette, but (apologies,) the YouTube clip below doesn’t quite go that far.

Verdict

Moffat weaves a charming love story from a novel (in both senses of the word) concept and at the same time manages to add some excellent pieces of history to the show. David Tennant climbs to heights unseen by his Doctor so far and the scenes he shares with Sophia Myles are simply captivating. The moment Rose (Billie Piper) and Reinette share when they discuss the Doctor is also touching, and Noel Clarke proves to be an excellent (though only three episodes long) addition to the TARDIS crew. This is perfect Who.

10/10

Did you know?

The Girl in the Fireplace

  • Working titles for this episode were Madame de PompadourEvery Tick of My Heart and Reinette and the Lonely Angel.
  • The Doctor previously mentioned the Zeus plugs he uses in the French party as castanets in Fourth Doctor story The Hand of Fear.
  • The idea of the Doctor becoming the “imaginary friend” of a girl he had met earlier and later in life was reused as a backstory for Amy Pond in Series 6. Consider The Girl in the Fireplace to be like a proto-Eleventh Hour. With less kissing. And a completely different main story.
  • This story features no mention of  Torchwood , the Series 2 arc.
  • The idea of the Doctor deducing something from a ticking clock in a room is also seen in the Ninth Doctor novel The Clockwise Man where clockwork robots also feature. In  that case, the Doctor realised that someone in the room was a clockwork robot from the fact there is no clock, but still the sound of ticking.
  • Moffat stated that the clockwork people were inspired by The Turk, a clockwork man who played chess around the same period (which was to be revealed as a hoax).
  • One of  the recurring lines from Moffat’s episodes, “bananas are good”, appears when the Doctor mentions he may have invented the Banana Daiquiri a bit before its time: (“Always bring a banana to a party Rose, bananas are good.”)
  • Another line delivered by the Doctor that Moffat would later reuse in The Eleventh Hour was “You’ve had some cowboys in here.”
  • Another recurring line of the show’s history; “Doctor Who?”, appears in this episode. It is delivered by Reinette (“Doctor. Doctor Who? It’s more than just a secret, isn’t it?”).
  • The song the Doctor can be heard singing as he returns from the party in 18th century France (“I could have spread my wings…”) is “I Could Have Danced All Night” from the musical My Fair Lady.
  • Sophia Myles’ dress in the ballroom scene was originally worn by Helen Mirren in The Madness of King George
  • After filming this episode, David Tennant and Sophia Myles would go on to have a relationship, but later broke up.

Next in Blueshift

Thanks for reading this post. Hopefully, it’s the first in line of many I plan to do on previously aired episodes. Next time, I’ll be doing Seventh Doctor story The Curse of Fenric. 

The Seventh Doctor

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