Doctor Who #712: The End of the World

"Guests are reminded that Platform One forbids the use of weapons, teleportation and religion. Earth Death is scheduled for fifteen thirty nine."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.2 2005.

IN THIS ONE... The year 5 billion. The day Earth's last. The bad guy, a bitchy trampoline. And introducing psychic paper, everybody! (How they did without it for 26 years...)

REVIEW: Having sold the world on the idea that Doctor Who could be relevant again and a crossover hit to boot, RTD follows up with a response to the common criticism about wobbly sets and bad special effects. Doctor Who is still fighting its reputation (regardless of whether it was one it earned, but some eras of the series did blow their budgets and any chance at NOT looking cheap by producing one story after another set on an alien planet and/or spaceship), and Davies has to prove all the naysayers wrong by hitting his version of the future out of the park. Look at how ambitious he is with it too. The console room scene goes out of its way to say the 22nd century is boring, and the year 21,000 not so impressive, taking the TARDIS as far out as it's ever gone, 5 billion years in the future. A future so far away from our time, the Earth is slated to die and even the last human looks anything but. It's actively upping the ante, daring ITSELF to do what was impossible 15 years earlier.

And on that count, it absolutely succeeds. The location used avoids the usual silver or white corridors, opting for a classy wood finish. Huge practical rooms instead of cramped studio walls. And the aliens are wonderfully varied (RTD brazenly affords to throw a lot of them away!), with the Face of Boe making its first appearance, the humanoid trees showing off beautiful design work, and Cassandra the Last Human proving rather colorful a personality despite being a stretched piece of skin. The CGI is even better - the approach to the platform, the Earth's fiery destruction, the well-animated spider-bots bumping into the camera like so many Zarbi - and completely unlike what Doctor Who has ever been able to achieve before. Production-wise, The End of the World is gorgeous. And for those who tuned with the mindset that Doctor Who can't possibly be anything but panto, they still come out ahead because despite the spectacle, the future is still being sent up. Alien customs are played for laughs, as is Cassandra's version of history. Those wanting to laugh AT the program may well have ended up laughing WITH the program. When RTD does the future, it's usually with a large helping of blunt satire that anyone can snicker at, here plastic surgery taken to extremes, but also morbid tourism.

But much like "Rose", this episode is meant to do a specific job, so the plot takes a back seat. Cassandra's agenda really wouldn't withstand close scrutinizing, nor would the science of tinted windows holding back killer light/heat. The giant air vent with the massive fans, and wouldn't you know it, you have to walk through them to get to the controls, is ridiculous, which makes Jabe's sacrifice ridiculous by association. And would a wooden person catch on fire from ambient heat BEFORE a flesh and blood person felt any deleterious effects? The spider-bots make a lot of noise, but no one ever notices them as if Murray Gold's music is in the room with them, actually drowning everything out. The mystery of who the real villain is isn't a mystery at all, and even the Doctor mentions how obvious it is. Worse, perhaps, is that the episode turns Rose into a run-of-the-mill, classic-style companion. She splits off from the Doctor, gets into jeopardy, screams for help. It's dreadfully conventional.

No, were it lives on repeated viewings is the character moments. Yes, Rose goes off on her own, but realistically. Her first trip is a shock, not just because the aliens are so alien (not RTD's best dialog moment), but because she left home with a complete stranger, a more common and understandable danger than any alien menace. She's still kind of the clearly alien Raffalo, but also makes a point of telling Cassandra off (it's not skin off the last human's nose though, she's all confidence and ego). It's too early for the Doctor to be tempered by his companion, so he's still merciless to Cassandra, and doesn't think Rose might have a problem with her brain being tampered with by the TARDIS telepathic field (well, it's never been an issue before). But when she pulls away from him, he draws her back in with a genial smile or deigning to do something a little domestic for her, like giving her phone the ability to call her mum across time (apparently earlier on the day Rose found Autons in the shop basement). They flip-flop between reproach and playful banter, it seems Rose can't stay mad at him. But then, she has a hidden agenda of her own. The key scene is the final one, when they return to 21st-century London as a sort of decompression chamber for Rose to realize time travel means everyone is the living dead, so the distinction shouldn't matter and she should leave her existential angst at home. The Doctor speaks of the Time War really for the first time, showing a vulnerability that makes her trust him, and while the details don't seem to jibe with what we're shown in The End of Time (but let's not get ahead of ourselves), the fact that he CAN'T go to his planet pre-disaster is notable. That's when he gives her the choice again, stay with him or go home. She says "I don't know. I want..." What was the end of that line? She opts for chips, but it's a cover. I think she was going to say she wanted to go see/save her dad. It was just too soon to show her hand yet. Rose is a selfish, selfish character, and yet endearing, if you haven't noticed yet, which is very much in keeping with the Buffy formula RTD is using.

THEORIES: Though the Moxx of Balhoon mentions this is a classic Bad Wolf scenario, the most important clue is the appearance of the Adherents of the Repeated Meme. What meme will repeat more than Bad Wolf?

VERSIONS: The subtitles swear it's "Adherents of the Repeated Mean" and "the bad move scenario".

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Well, the plot is rubbish, but it's fun enough, looks great, and has those character moments that tend to make the whole of the RTD era must-see television.


Servo said...

I couldn't help but just feel this episode was just very much in "classic" Who vein and story. That's not a bad thing - in fact I like that they managed to get Old-Who weirdness and campiness plus mix in with NuWho effects and style. It was probably the first episode that told me that this series was trying something new while embracing it's old-school roots. I think you hit those notes in your analysis.

Jeff R. said...

Is this one really further in the future than before? (I'm particularly thinking Frontios might be post-EarthDeath...does he make that claim himself in this episode, not bother to do so again in New Earth and the other Boh-era stories, then make it again in Utopia?)

I was right in assuming that someone put the Earth back where it belongs between The Mysterious Planet and this, right?

Siskoid said...

Frontios MIGHT be farther along, but it was on the edge of Time Lord influence. With the Time Lords gone, who knows what the limits are. Frontios is at a point when humanity MIGHT continue or might end. That's why The End of the World seems later to me, as humanity HAS survived, though by becoming humanish and such, which seems an avenue not referenced in Frontios, which is the last pure human colony (maybe).

This is conjecture, of course.

Ravalox was brought back to Sol, evidently, possibly using the same tech level that allowed the continents to be re-shifted.

Jeff R. said...

Also, he's familiar with New Earth in that episode, so he and the TARDIS have been out this far even if they've never take us for the ride...

Siskoid said...

Good catch, Jeff!

Anonymous said...

My favorite part is when the traditional ballad of earth is played, "Toxic" by Britney Spears. Getting the rights to that must have cost a pretty penny.

Siskoid said...

But it matches the turn of the station so well!

MOCK! said...

I've since discovered who the Face of Boe really is but haven't re-watched this one...nor any spinoff. I want to rewatch it knowing how things turn out.

Siskoid said...

I don't believe that notion for a second.

MOCK! said...

You do not believe the Face revelation?

Siskoid said...



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