‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “The End of the World”

(tons of spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! and no comments from party poopers — this is a love fest only / previous: Episode 1: “Rose”)

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”)

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Kathy A
Kathy A
Mon, May 04, 2009 9:16pm

Moisturize me!

Ah, I do love Cassandra. Actually, I love Zoe Wanamaker, so I love Cassandra. Hard to believe that she’s the same woman who played Moira Henson in the first Prime Suspect, going toe to toe with Helen Mirren and matching her acting level. She must have had a ball with this voiceover job, and then even more the following season.

Caro De Canada
Caro De Canada
Mon, May 04, 2009 10:33pm

wow, you really managed to pin point all the amazing points of The End Of The World. Its so clear to me now (hindsight) how perfect this episode is as a follow up to tbe pilot “Rose”


Tue, May 05, 2009 10:17am

Now, I wonder why this: makes me think of Galaxy Quest and Sigourney Weaver throwing a fit: “This episode was badly written!”

Ha! I always grumble about that bit whenever I watch this episode. As overused cliches go, variations of that bridge have been around at least since the very first Lancelot story.

But then the more time I spend dealing with engineers, the more realistic it starts to seem… There’s something amusingly, frustratingly reassuring about bad design still happening billions of years in the future…

Stuart Ian Burns
Tue, May 05, 2009 5:31pm

The End of the World is where the series really began and I can still remember my reaction to that speech. Gut-wrenching. The Doctor in the old series simply didn’t talk like that and though there had been similar since in the spin-off media, this was the first time we’d heard him really talk about his feelings in such a bald way on screen (with the odd exception during the Hartnell era).

But it’s the content too, the hints of what may have happened between the last time we saw him and now whether you believe that to be the end of the novels, comic books, audio series or TV Movie and whether you even believe it was the Eighth Doctor who was in the time war. It’s not something which has ever been established on screen, just a general assumption that he must have regenerated as a result of something that happened during the time war, the destruction of Gallifrey presumably.

Author Lance Parkin’s suggestion is that it’s the same event from the novels seen from different points of view something he elaborated on in his recent Tenth Doctor novel The Eyeless which features a moment in which the timelord reflects back on the time war and the description of his home planet being snuffed out replicates what’s said in The Ancestor Cell. The Eyeless is replete with these subliminal reference to the EDAs, for example the origin of the weapon.

Personally I’d rather not know what happened during the Time War because nothing which happens on screen could be exciting as the version going on in our heads. I remember with affection the years in which I could only dream about the content of The Clone Wars and the crushing disappointment when I found out the clones where all just Boba Fett’s dad over and over and over again.

If we were to see Eighth again I’d much rather in a multiple Doctor story and from early within his own timeline, way before the time war with the post-Gallifreyan destruction Doctor unable to tell him about his future, demonstrate once again that he has the web of time in his hands and demonstrating to whoever his companion is the gravity of trying to change time — look I can’t even use it to save my own planet. Though depending on who you talk to, the Doctor’s subliminally aware of both his past and future but the convenient victim (for the purposes of drama) of a deep case of selective memory.

Tue, May 05, 2009 8:36pm

Who fandom tends to want to brush it under the carpet as a severe mental aberration from a post-regenerative Eighth Doctor, but I wonder how much McGann’s assertion that he is “half-human” was allowed to surreptitiously inform the new show. With regard to the stubble, the swearing, the flirting, the Doctor-as-a-red-blooded-man stuff.

I don’t really want them to go into any more details (just like the specifics of the Time War are quite good left mysterious), but it does for instance bug me when people allege that the Doctor fancying, or indeed not-condescending-to, his companion is the equivalent of a human being dating a chimpanzee. If the Doctor is partly human, well then, problem solved, eh?

My own preferred solution to the “problem” is for Time Lords to be basically human-compatible, for all the futuristic innovations like having a back-up heart and being able to change appearance to survive massive physical trauma. Maybe they’re humans from thousands of years in the future of our own timeline. So there’d be no more inconsistency, really, about the Doctor quite fancying Rose than with me fancying Helen of Troy.