Doctor Who 1.02: The End of the World

Continuing with the excessive Doctor Who-themed postings, this is the review that I wrote for The End of the World back in 2005 with some commentary from me in 2010 at the end:

Squeee!

I am writing this before seeing any other fan speculation simply because I don’t want anyone to spoil my happy, glowy, yayness yet. ‘Cos I really enjoyed this episode ๐Ÿ™‚

Where should I start? Hmmm…

Well, the plot had a little more substance than last week, which is always of the good. There wasn’t any ‘and here is Rose, so here is her backstory’ stuff to do, allowing the show to get straight into the plot. It paid off. Yes, I knew that the plumber girl that Rose befriended was going to die. They always do. And yes, Rose had to get into trouble and require a bit of rescuing. Companions usually do. It’s part of being Doctor Who. But the plot and the motivations worked. And I was really quite, er, tense during certain parts even though I knew that the Doctor had to save the day.

Although I didn’t expect the Doctor to engineer Lady Cassandra’s fate. No-siree. This Doctor can be rather ruthless, which is good. It makes him a little less predictable. Yes, he’ll save the day but will he try to save the bad guys and the morally dubious guys? Or will he stand back and watch?

I am definitely going to have to mention the special effects. Because British sci-fi doesn’t usually have effects this good. They were good enough that I often didn’t sit there thinking “great effect!” – a sign that the effect convinced me. And the external space shots were very good. The effects were the kind of thing that I’d expect to see on an American sci-fi show. We haven’t done decent sci-fi for so long and we were never up to our Atlantic neighbours in effects terms even when we were doing sci-fi, so often the effects weren’t convincing. It’s good to see that real work has been put into giving Doctor Who a look and a level of effects that can compete with the stuff coming over from the States. There’s no need to make our sci-fi look like a poor cousin, leaving everyone focusing on the woeful effects rather than the important story-telling and characterisation.

One of the points that really worked for me was Rose’s feeling of alienation and homesickness during the episode. As the aliens were introduced and talked about ‘ancient Earth’, it was a bit surreal and rather dizzying. Overwhelming. And Billie Piper did a great job of conveying how out of place and unhappy Rose felt – wouldn’t you feel the same way?

I’d been reading in a couple of places about the Doctor flirting with Jabe, the Tree Queen, and hadn’t been sure how I felt about that. The Doctor that I grew up with was asexual – the concept of flirting or anything else has never felt like something he could do. Even the 1996 movie didn’t really convince me that the Doctor had any of those inclinations. And so the Doctor’s interaction with Jabe was slightly unsettling at first, but I adjusted faster than I thought that I would. Huh.

Maybe that was Christopher Eccleston. Or maybe my ideas about Doctor Who are finally catching up with my age. Whatever.

The only thing that I’m still uncertain about is the idea that Gallifrey and the Timelords have been destroyed and the Doctor is the last of his kind. Er. Russel T. Davies et al will have to work hard to convince me that this works and fits in with the canon from classic Doctor Who. Admittedly Doctor Who has never been particularly good at continuity (three different explanations for the Big Bang?), but this is a radical departure from the canon background and it’s going to need a really big sell to make it work. It did contain some more hints about a war, presumably the same war mentioned last week, and I’m assuming that this is going to be one of the story-arcs that will be gradually revealed during the run. So I’m reserving judgement on this until the end of the season.

There were, again, some laugh out loud funnies and the humour seemed a little better balanced than last week – less slapstick and more humour out of the situation. I’m loving CE’s Doctor – funny, but beautiful and sad at times, too. The quiet, sad moments keep his Doctor from being over the top manic. Balancing humour and serious moments is often something that British drama struggles with, so it’s refreshing to see it handled well here.

One of my concerns about Doctor Who was that they’d do one of these “affectionate parody” jobs that have been done to so many older shows over the past few years. Although it’s funnier than many Doctor Who stories used to be, there is no hint of parody. Just a good understanding of how to use humour well and when to have a more serious moment. And when to break out of the serious moment.

So, in all, I enjoyed this episode a lot (squee!) and was completely drawn in and hooked for the entire forty-five minutes. Plus next week’s trailer looks very intriguing. Doctor Who is a hit for me so far ๐Ÿ™‚

Interesting to see that I wasn’t happy with the Time War plot. Now that I’ve watched more episodes, I actually quite like it because it’s been used very well. That’s not to say that I would have been unhappy to have the Time Lords there, but they way it’s been used definitely worked for me.

For some reason, I had it in my mind that I’d not liked this episode. Apparently I did and I can confirm that on my rewatch I still loved it. A lot of fandom didn’t like it and one friend had some harsh comments on my review. He was declaring that the next episode would need to be better or he’d be giving up.

The next episode definitely convinced him.

The mixture of humour and drama still seems well-balanced for me and I’m relieved that we never went down the slapstick routine that we had in Rose ever again. British drama has a weak-spot when it comes to mixing drama and humour and five years on we still don’t do it as well as the Americans. Sorry, Britain, but you don’t. This is why things like Doctor Who (and Merlin, to a less extent) are so great: they’re a breath of fresh air in nation that either does comedy or deep dark drama, but rarely works both into the same script.

The FX still look great to me, five years on, and it’s much easier to take Doctor Who seriously when I’m not trying to pretend that bubble wrap works for monsters.

Christopher Eccleston also still really works for me as the Doctor. It was a few days after this episode aired that we got hit with the news that he was leaving and DT was taking over, so I’m glad that I got the first couple of episodes believing that he’d stay around for a while.

One of my friends was out of the country when Doctor Who aired (the non-fan from Rose who is now a massive fan of new and classic Who) so she made some comments on this episode after doing a big four episode marathon. She had some comments about Rose’s phone call here with questions about why Rose couldn’t have called during the year that she was ‘missing’ rather than a few days before she left.

For starters, the Doctor at this stage didn’t know that he’d be returning Rose a year after she left. The TARDIS has never been particularly accurate with its landings – usually they’ve done well to land within a few days and a few miles of where they intended to land. It’s often been and important plot point. This story is interesting for the fact that the Doctor landed them on-target (more or less).

She also noted the Galaxy Quest-type silliness of the design of the reset button and whirly blades. That’s something I’d been carefully ignoring when I wrote this review, but it’s a very good point. I now think it was definitely deliberate to have the station designed in that way. After all, it’s something that has been done on countless sci-fi shows and looks silly every time – what sane person would design a reset button to be behind big whirly blades? Doctor Who has done pop culture commentary a lot and I’m inclined to think that’s what they were going for here.

This Doctor wasn’t as ruthless as the Tenth Doctor, despite his treatment of Cassandra. In fact, this was one of the rare times we saw him behave in quite this manner. I don’t think we saw him do anything like this until Dalek, and even then he was eventually talked into more Doctor-like actions. Despite these hints at darkness (and he did feel like a dark Doctor at the time), he was actually a Doctor filled with the wonder and joy of the world around him. It wasn’t until he regenerated into the Tenth Doctor that we got really, really dark stuff.

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