RUSSELL T. DAVIES
'THE COMPLETE FIRST SERIES' COLLECTORS' EDITION DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD1770) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2005.
The Doctor takes Rose on her first voyage through time, to the year five billion. The Sun is about to expand and swallow the Earth. But amongst the alien races gathering to watch on Platform One, a murderer is at work...
2ND APRIL 2005
I have to start with the obvious. The Mill - and indeed the production team as a whole - really have to receive a huge thumbs up for the best visual effects ever to be seen in an episode of Doctor Who. Platform One is an unqualified triumph; a post-modern, pristine and pompous palatial retreat which one could easily imagine a bunch of tawdry celebrities and fat cats descending upon to watch the world’s end. And when robotic spiders, the Moxx of Balhoon, the peerless Lady Cassandra and - of course - the planet Earth blowing up are all thrown into the mix, even the most hardened Rose-cynics must concede that this is an exciting time to be a Doctor Who fan. To think that all the weird and wonderful products of writers’ imaginations can, at long last, be done justice thanks to the series’ budget and the amazing people working on the show is, to use the Doctor’s parlance, just fantastic.
However, prior to transmission I have to admit to being a little worried about The End of the World. The sheer ambition of the spectacle made it very much a ‘make or break’ episode – after all, if the realisation didn’t match up with modern viewers’ lofty expectations, then the series would have lost viewers faster than the BBC is going to have to regenerate its new Doctors. Fortunately though, the CG effects were absolutely outstanding and Neill Gorton’s
precession of prosthetic aliens were every bit their equal. In the whole forty-five minutes, only Simon Day’s blue humanoid Steward and his fellow blue aliens appeared a little lacking in imagination; at least in their appearance. Russell T Davies’ script did at least take the time to introduce us to the blue female plumber, Raffalo, and let her win our sympathies before her inevitable slaughter.
And Davies’ plot, even with its hackneyed ‘whodunit’ setup, is conceptually staggering and - to my surprise and delight - much more intelligent and mature than I had assumed that it would be from its blurb and publicity. Not only do we have the richest and most famous life-forms being invited to watch the end of the world, but also a vile piece of skin for a villain who thinks about nothing save for being rich, “thin and dainty.” It is certainly enough to give us all pause for thought in our ‘nip and tuck’ culture; a lovely piece of astute social commentary.
“Oh look, you see, that's where I used to live, when I was a little boy. Down there.”
I think that the quality of Davies’ writing is best demonstrated though by the asking of one simple question: satiated as it is with state of the art CG effects and a cacophony of strange creatures, what is the single most entertaining element in The End of the World? Well for me, as I guess will be the answer for many, it is the Doctor. No CGI. No prosthetics. Just a battered leather jacket, a crew cut and some truly delectable dialogue.
That, and a world class performance.
Christopher Eccleston’s comments to the media about how his Doctor would be “brutal
to his enemies” did not really wash with me last week as he wanted to give the Nestene consciousness a chance (much like the Doctors of old) but this week I see exactly what
he was getting at, with Cassandra being left to dehydrate and explode quite gruesomely
at the episode’s end. It is so sad to say now that we all know he will be leaving the show
after just one season (what a PR cock-up that little leak was), but Eccleston really is the perfect Doctor for the 21st century. He can certainly the handle action – just look at how he strolled right up to the Adherent droids and ripped one of their number’s arm off; he always looks as if he is one step ahead – “…if you’re as clever as I am, then a teleportation feed can be reversed…”; he is exceedingly funny - “yes, gifts... I bring you... air from my lungs!”;
he has a great regional accent; and, as this week’s episode shows, he is able to convey emotion far more effectively than any of the previous Doctors ever did, if I dare be so bold.
“You wouldn’t know where it is anyway!”
That said, Eccleston is aided and abetted by a script that I’m sure any of the first eight Doctors would have loved to have got their teeth into. In his scripts for both Rose and The End of the World, Davies ties together the mystery of the Doctor with his evidently tragic past. When confronting the Nestene consciousness last week, for instance, the Doctor mentioned fighting in a war and pleaded that he could not save the Nestene’s world; that
he “…couldn’t save any of them”, implying that worlds other than those belonging to the Nestene were destroyed. Furthermore, when Rose asked the Doctor about him being
alien he simply answered “yes” - no mention of Gallifrey, or indeed of the Time Lords.
Now I have to say, I love this approach. Rather than bludgeon every little piece of need-to-know lore into the first episode, Davies and his team of writers can eek out the reveals over the course of the season, so that when they come - as they come this week - they make one hell of an impact. And of course, in the interim, the mystery compels us to keep coming back.
“And what about your ancestry, Doctor? Perhaps you could tell a story or two.
Perhaps a man only enjoys trouble, when... there's nothing else left.”
It really surprised me how beautifully the Doctor’s origins were explored by this episode. The matter is handled with such grace and poise; never does it feel exaggerated or grossly mel-odramatic. If anything, the Doctor’s angst is raw, and all the more credible for it. Take his argument with Rose about where he is from, for instance. He isn’t refusing to answer out of petulance; he simply cannot bring himself to say the name. And by the time we come to the scene between Jabe and the Doctor, it doesn’t even need spelling out - the Doctor’s lone tear speaks volumes. When Jabe puts her hand on the Doctor’s arm to comfort him, I think she sums up the thoughts of collected fandom when she says that “…it is a miracle that you even exist”. Who would ever have thought that we would not only get the Doctor back on telly, but that he would be drawn so very perfectly?
And needless to say, the notion that Gallifrey has been utterly destroyed, making the Doctor the last of the Time Lords, is truly a wonderful one for this bold new series to embrace. Just like almost forty-two years ago in An Unearthly Child, the Doctor is once again out on his own; a wanderer in the fifth dimension. This time, though, he is further from home than he ever has been before. He can never go home because it is not there.
“You think it's going to last forever, people and cars and concrete. But it won't...
My planet's gone. It burnt like the Earth, it's just rocks and dust. Before it's time...”
As easy as it was for the Doctor to simply whip the TARDIS back nearly five billion years so that Rose could still enjoy her world, it has long been established in Doctor Who that Time Lords cannot travel back into their planet’s past (or future for that matter), and so the Doctor can’t go back and save his world, or even visit it. His decision to take Rose to witness the destruction of her home world must have been his way of letting her see his pain; letting her feel his loss, and thus bringing her closer. The Doctor finally explaining to Rose about his world being destroyed brought the episode to a fitting and emotionally-resounding climax, underscored, of course, with a good old fashioned bag of chips. Absolute gold.
And for her part, Billie Piper is exceptional.
The End of the World is a real baptism of fire
for Rose, and Piper plays it so very well. Whilst
I appreciate that it won’t be to everybody’s
taste, I really love how her ‘real life’ continues
to impinge on matters. The scene where she phones her mother manages to be both sad and uplifting, and her apparent culture shock is skilfully portrayed throughout. Yet, through it all, Rose still manages to contribute in the most human of ways, whether it is via showing a lowly plumber-slave some respect or even trying to temper the Doctor’s ruthlessness, which I suspect will become a recurring theme.
There were so many other deft little touches in this episode that I admired, from moments of outright comedy, such as the Doctor dancing to Tainted Love on the jukebox; to moments of horrific poignancy, such as that awful Britney Spears song, Toxic, being played as the world ended. Rose commenting that the world ended and “no-one saw it go” because they were too busy saving themselves hits home hardest of all though, I reckon.
“...stop wasting Time, Time Lord.”
And on a final note, I really have to applaud Murray Gold’s frankly cinematic score. Last
week the incidental music ranged from the utterly sublime to the downright annoying, but
this week the whole soundtrack is nothing short of bravura. In fact, the piece of music that underscores the final scene is perhaps one of the finest compositions that I’ve ever heard used to score episodic television.
All told then, I cannot see how anyone could not be impressed by the series’ first ‘regular’ episode. We have a wonderful villain in Zoë Wanamaker’s Cassandra; creepy little robotic spiders running around to give the children nightmares; people, Trees and planets being burned alive to give the rest of us nightmares; and, best of all, all this intrigue surrounding
the Doctor and his past, not to mention his budding relationship with Rose. I just hope that Mark Gatiss is able to keep the pace next week...
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
The destruction of Gallifrey referred to in this episode should not be confused with its destruction in The Ancestor Cell. The eighth Doctor’s final adventure in print, The Gallifrey Chronicles (which was published shortly after this episode was broadcast), set up the restoration of Gallifrey, so that it could be destroyed again in the Last Great Time War.
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