I’m rewatching the first series of the new Doctor Who with an eye toward looking where the show has gone since. (I previously wrote a bit about “The End of the World” when it was new, over here.)
This is my theory: As this new incarnation of Doctor Who opened with the previous episode, the Doctor has just finished rebuilding the TARDIS from whatever damage it took in the war (the interior of the ship was very different in the old show) and is finally beginning to come to terms with all the awful stuff that happened in the Time War — I imagine that overwhelming grief and anger is what triggered this regeneration, rather than the physical trauma that usually seems to cause it. So, new face aside, he’s just beginning to be more like the man he used to be, before the war. He’s just beginning to travel again — for fun, like he used to — for the first time in a really long time.
And that means this: The Doctor is having fun for the first time in a long time as this episode opens. He’s catering totally to Rose’s excitement about discovering what the TARDIS can do, asking her where she wants to go, refusing to let her pretend that this is not the most amazing moment of her young life. (“You think you’re so impressive,” she teases. “I am so impressive!” he cries in response.) When they arrive at Platform One, he’s using Rose — not in a bad way — trying to see it all through her fresh eyes. He’s trying to capture for himself some of her enthusiasm and innocence:
And he loves her reactions to it all:
She’s totally what he needed right now: a way to feel young again.
(I wonder how much of this was scripted, and how much was Christopher Eccleston doing his usual amazing thing and being in the moment as much as possible…)
He’s so relaxed, in fact, that he flirts with the tree chick, Jabe:
“How intimate,” she coos about the “gift of air from his lungs.” “There’s more where that came from,” he responds playfully. We never saw the Doctor flirt with anything other than danger before — the closest I can remember is the Tom Baker Doctor saying to someone: “You’re a very beautiful woman, probably.” (I often wondered how much of that was Tom Baker having fun with the annoyingly oblivious Doctor.)
And Jabe is totally into him, too. How could you not be, when a man like this tells you he’s “all yours”?
Rose doesn’t know what to make of any of this. She hasn’t gotten her head around the idea that he’s an alien yet — she hasn’t gotten her head around the idea of aliens, full stop — and already she’s being challenged to expand her paradigm further, to consider crosspecies sex. Now, a really adventurous gal could have a lot of fun out in the universe, but Rose ain’t there yet. She can’t even figure out whether she should be jealous of an alien. She doesn’t know yet what to make of the Doctor — is he a man, is he someone she should feel, er, something for?
She’s barely come to terms with the comparatively minor adventurousness of going off with him in the first place. “I just sort of hitched a lift with this man,” she tells the maintenance worker. “I didn’t even think about it. I don’t even know who he is. He’s a complete stranger.” Now she’s even a little scared, maybe. That’s something that we didn’t used to see from the companions, either: they may have been scared of Daleks or Zygons or whatever was chasing them at the moment, but they never seemed to stop and contemplate the outlandishness of their situation: Holy crap, I’m traveling all of space and time with an alien! Never happened.
And there’s this, too: She argues with him. She challenges him on his bullshit, right from the get go: she wants to know where he’s from and is pissed off that he won’t tell her. He didn’t used to get this from the silly Earth girls he picked up as traveling companions. So she’s good for him in that way, too (though he’d probably disagree!), by not letting him keep himself too insulated. Which he always used to do, too.
Of course, that was a factor of the nature of the old show: it wasn’t about the Doctor. If there’s one reason why this new Doctor Who works so brilliantly — and why it feels so fresh — it’s because it’s about the Doctor. He’s so much more real than he ever was, from his clothes that no long feel like a “costume” but just like comfortable clothes for bopping around the universe in:
to the fact that he swears now — “What the hell’s that?” is mild, but it’s swearing nevertheless — and that he gets so emotional that his eyes well up with tears:
We saw the Doctor get angry a lot in the past, but we’ve never, ever seen him so sad.
And he’s got stubble on his face, too! That seems like such a minor thing, but the more I think about it, the more it seems an indication that Russell Davies is dedicated to making sure that the Doctor is a man, not an archetype or an icon. Now that I think about it, I can’t recall ever seeing Tom Baker or Peter Davison with five o’clock shadow — did they have the actor shave before they shot every scene? (That seems ridiculous.) Or is it that TV resolution is better these days? Or did I simply not notice such things before? (You can be sure that I’ll be on the lookout for this when I rewatch the old episodes!)
Another factor of the old show that gets casually tipped over here: “Is that what you do,” Rose asks the Doctor when she discovers where and when they are, “jump in at the last minute and save the Earth?” It’s what he would have done, before — I mean, that’s the kind of story the writers of the old show would have written for the Doctor. But not anymore. “I’m not saving it,” the Doctor replies. “Time’s up.” It’s always the end of the world on Doctor Who, but here it really is.
Oh, and this new Doctor is harsher than he was. Rose begs him to help Cassandra, at the end, even after all her evildoing, but he coldly refuses:
“Everything has its time and everything dies,” he says. The old him would have tried to save Cassandra… and in fact, as he mellows again, we do see him revert a little to his old ways. But here, you have to wonder, is this a kind of self-flagellation? Yeah, it means Cassandra dies (or appears to, anyway), but is this him beating himself up over all the people and planets he (says he) tried to save during the war? Is it a kind of giving up for him — is he giving up on compassion? Or is he just exhausted from trying to save the universe?
It’s funny how we still don’t know much more about the Time War than he tells Rose at the end of this episode:
My planet’s gone. It’s dead. It burned like the Earth. It’s just rocks and dust, before its time… There was a war, and we lost… I’m the only survivor. I’m left traveling on my own cuz there’s no one else.”
We’ve gotten a few details, but not much. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I want a Time War movie with the Paul McGann Doctor. I’m generally pro-more-Paul McGann-in-anything, and I don’t seriously believe we’ll ever get a Time War movie, but I’m gonna dream about it anyway.
Random thoughts on “The End of the World”:
• That knob on the console…
…looks like it bears some insignia that we’ll see again in the future…
• That big ol’ Boe head:
Later, in one of the party scenes, the little blobby blue guy in the hoverchair is saying to the Face of Boe: “This is the Bad Wolf scenario.”
• The Doctor implies he was on the Titanic and ended up clinging to an iceberg… So was that before he met the family from Southampton that Clive mentioned in the previous episode, or after. How many times has he been part of the events surrounding the sinking of the Titanic? (I have some ideas about that…)
• Cassandra was a little boy! (Now she’s “a bitchy trampoline,” says Rose. Hee!)
• Now, I wonder why this:
makes me think of Galaxy Quest and Sigourney Weaver throwing a fit: “This episode was badly written!”
• Oompa-Loompas are stealing the TARDIS!
• Hey, instead of the Doctor running around trying to get the shields back up, why don’t they all just escape in the TARDIS? I dunno how many times I’ve seen this episode, and this only just occurred to me now…
• The Earth was destroyed, but then it’s still there:
Rose will confront that wibbly-wobbly, timey-whimey conundrum later on, when she comes to realize that the Doctor on his own 200,000 years in the future can be happening at the “same time” as her eating chips in 2005 and not doing anything to help him. Ah, your heart breaks for her, too, as she tries to understand this new universe she’s living in.
• Great quotes:
“This is a maximum hospitality zone!” –the Steward
“Ladies and gentlemen and trees and multiforms…” –the Steward
“The aliens are so alien. You look at ’em, and they’re alien.” –Rose
“You think that’s amazing, you wanna see the bill.” –the Doctor, after he jiggery-pokeries universal roaming into Rose’s cell phone
“Moisturize me! Moisturize me!” –Cassandra
(next: Episode 3: “The Unquiet Dead”)