Monday, 14 December 2009

Doctor Who: The End of the World

“Moisturise me! Moisturise me!”

We begin with a bit of a reprise from the events of the previous story, something I’d entirely forgotten. And then we get the pre-credit sequence proper, our first as a standard part of the format, as the Doctor shows off shamelessly to Rose about the TARDIS and all the times and places they can visit. It’s a great scene, though, especially as the way the TARDIS is now operated is so charmingly steampunk, and so much more visually interesting than it has been before what with all those buttons and levers and the sense of movement. Rose chooses to visit the future, so for the first time the TARDIS is seen travelling through the red vortex.

The TARDIS lands on a space station on the day the Sun is scheduled to expand and destroy the Earth. Naturally, this is a tourist event, and has not been left to nature. The planet now belongs to the National Trust and even the continents have been restored to the “classic” arrangement.

The Doctor dodges the once traditional “Oi! Who the Hell are you?” tiresomeness by flashing some psychic paper for the first time ever. Imagine how short Frontier in Space would have been if he’d carried it back then. Still, it’s particularly convenient for our new format of mainly self-contained 45 minute episodes. That and the pacing.

We get to see loads of aliens, such as the Moxx of Balhoon, the Face of Boe, and Jabe, a tree who the Doctor immediately starts flirting with. And of course there’s also the rather striking looking last human, Cassandra, with her ostrich eggs and her iPods.

It’s rather clever how Rose suddenly panics; it’s all suddenly too much, and she feels she’s got to get away, she’s got to run away to the sound of Tainted Love. This, and the scenes that follow, is exactly the sort of examination of the core ideas of the show which have never really been addressed before except by viewers at home, and pretty much gives us in microcosm exactly what’s so great about RTD’s rebirth of the show.

Rather neatly, Rose is immediately brought back to a manageable reality by a simple chat with a plumber from Crespallion (so that’s where Max Marble got the name from!), where she suddenly realises that the Doctor’s a complete stranger and she has no idea who he is, and wonders what she’s done by agreeing to go with him. This is brilliant, completely deconstructing the Doctor / companion relationship in a way which makes it stronger. And even more brilliant is her subsequent conversation with the Doctor. First she’s angry at him for letting the TARDIS get into her head as it translates for her, then he’s angry at her for asking questions about a past he doesn’t want to talk about. Then, after a brief mutual sulk, they make up, and the Doctor does some jiggery-pokery to Rose’s phone so she can call her mum, five billion years ago. As a scene it’s simply perfect.

It’s also a bit shocking how dated Rose’s phone already looks. And suddenly it’s evident just how much of the dialogue between Rose and Jackie centres on the compensation culture.

Back to what’s happening on the space station, though, the most obvious thing is how refreshingly thought through the design it. The days of dull white corridors are over; at last we have a future with an aesthetic that was actually designed for living in. But, of course, there are also some aliens in it. Hang on, what was the Moxx of Balhoon just saying about the “Bad Wolf scenario”? Never mind.

Rose’s chat with Cassandra quickly establishes just how shallow, racist, narcissistic and plain nasty she is. The Doctor’s chat with Yasmin Bannerman’s rather lovely Jade is much more pleasant, and it’s great how she’s apparently descended from Earth’s rainforests. Jade has discovered the Doctor’s species: he’s a Time Lord. And it’s obvious that some terrible tragedy has befallen them. But it’s a pleasant scene in spite of this as Jade touches his arm in sympathy. Oh, and by the way, there are nasty spider things on the loose and the shields are down, putting the whole space station in peril. Forgot to mention it earlier.

The Doctor now gathers everybody together to exercise ze little grey cells. Dismissing the Adherents of the Repeated Meme as the obligatory red herring (and perfectly named for their function!), he fingers Cassandra as the culprit, but away she promptly teleports, leaving the Doctor to save the space station with help from Jabe, who bravely gives her life. The Doctor’s rather put out by this, so he effectively teleports Cassandra back to the space station and promptly puts her to death. And for all the talk about how “everything has its span and everything dies,” that’s what this is: an execution. It’s just about acceptable here in the context of Cassandra’s unnatural lifespan, but I wouldn’t like to see a lot more of this sort of thing.

The Doctor and Rose return to the normality of 2005, and the Doctor finally confides to Rose that his own planet also “burned”, in a lost war. He’s now the last of the Time Lords. Blimey!

Once again, brilliant. With time to breathe, this time RTD has a good examination of the tropes which make the series tick. 5/5.

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