Sunday, April 03, 2005

Doctor Who - The End of the World

Before we start ... these reviews are full of spoilers ... so if you don't want to be spoiled, look away now :) From Earth circa 2005 to the far, far future - 5.5/apple/26, according to the Doctor - where he and Rose find themselves on board an observation station - Platform 1 - in space, about to be witness to the final destruction of the Earth as the Sun expands. The End of the World could not really be more different from Rose. From the homely surroundings of familiar London we are plunged into the far future to meet up with alien races aplenty all gathering to be witness to the end of the Earth. In quick succession we are introduced to these creatures: Jabe, Lute and Coffa who are Trees from the Forest of Cheem; The Moxx of Balhoon from the solicitors' firm of Jolco and Jolco; delegates from Financial Family Five - the Adherents of the Repeated Meme; the Brothers Hop Pyleen; Mr and Mrs Pakoo; Cal 'Sparkplug' MacNannovich (who appears to be two beings); Ambassadors from the City State of Binding Light; the face of Boe; and finally Lady Cassandra O'Brien dot Delta Seventeen ... plus of course assorted blue-faced people. I was reminded a little of The Curse of Peladon with its panoply of alien creatures: the Pels, Aggedor, Alpha Centauri, Arcturus and the Martians, but unlike in that earlier story, here we get to learn very little (in fact for the most part it's just their names) about the creatures. Coming off best is Jabe the Tree and Lady Cassandra of the 708 operations, both of who get a fair amount of screen time and, especially in Jabe's case, are very well realised and characterised. Yasmin Bannerman is a wonder and a delight as Jabe. She exudes regal sexuality, and I can well understand why the Doctor seems attracted to her. It is a shame though that she takes the place of Rose as 'surrogate companion' for the best part of the episode, and one wonders why writer Russell T Davies chose to do this, and to give Rose next to nothing to do in this episode. It seems a strange decision this early on in the series to sideline one of your main characters in favour of another, ultimately one-off, character. Billie Piper's Rose shines throughout though, despite her being wandering on her own or trapped in a room for most of the episode. She gets all the best lines from 'I'm talking to a twig!' through to her summation of Lady Cassandra as a 'bitchy trampoline'. I'm not sure how she escapes from the room at the end though - the Doctor had pronounced the doors to be jammed, and yet Rose wanders into the main hall at the conclusion having got out somehow ... maybe, along with the apparent automatic mending of the damaged glass, the doors were repaired as well. However, if the Platform is able to automatically repair itself, I wonder why we need a 'plumber' to perform routine inspections. However if this function was not needed, then we would have missed Beccy Armory's superb and scene-stealing role as Raffalo, surely the cutest blue-faced alien from Crespallion ever to appear. As with Rose, the episode suffers from a need to tell a coherent story in 45 minutes, and it is all very rushed. This is not quite so pronounced here, but there are some areas where the events seem to take precidence over the plot and characterisation. We end up with a series of 'things that happen' rather than a plot. The scenes where the Doctor has to navigate the spinning air conditioning blades is straight out of the Tomb Raider games, and whoever designed this Platform obviously has a wicked sense of humour: placing the computer reset switch on the far side of the blades; making the sun shields - which are the only things keeping the occupants alive - lowerable, and making them able to be lowered from a single depression of a key on a keyboard ... most PCs won't even let you delete a file without confirming the action, so this lack of foresight on the part of the system designers seems somewhat curious. Of course, perhaps this was all a part of the sabotage caused by the spiders, but then they (or their programmer) must have had pretty expert knowledge of how the Platform worked. The effects are magnificent, and I can well appreciate the work that The Mill put into this episode. From the spiders to the external shots of the Platform, to the Sun streaming in, Cassandra, and the ventilator shaft, their work is exemplary and hard to fault. It lends everything a wide and expansive feel, which given the claustrophobic nature of the inside of the Platform is probably a good thing. In other areas, however, there are questions raised. The main aspect is the lashings of continuity (or apparent continuity) that we are handed. I have long advocated that the programme makers don't need to worry about the internal continuity of the series as it's the fans' job to make it all fit together (and also Terrance Dicks' assertion that the definition of continuity is 'as much as you can remember'). However the revelations about Gallifrey having been destroyed, a war that the Time Lords lost, and that the Doctor is now the last Time Lord all come over as being quite significant, and yet no hint of these has ever appeared in the series before. Now I am well aware that these things are part and parcel of the BBC's book range, and yet the books were bought and read by what ... 6 - 10 thousand people at most? Now we have 10 million viewers, and less than 0.1 percent will nod their heads sagely and believe to themselves that this all ties up ... Whatever background the new series is developing for the Doctor, the handling of the relevant scenes by Bannerman and Eccleston was superb, and the single tear falling from the Doctor's eye a masterstroke. I wonder if this is also referring to some underlying plotline for the series as a whole as well, and that as we reach the end, maybe we'll find out more about the war, who it was against, and how the Doctor is faring as the last of his race left alive. It's a nice idea, and proves if nothing else that to the majority of the audience, 'new' continuity can be just as valid as 'existing' continuity as they know nothing about either. Other areas of amusement: the use of the records 'Tainted Love' by Soft Cell and 'Toxic' by Brittany Spears stood out as amusing and perhaps relevant for the audience. Though I hope that they won't cause any challenges in the future with clearance rights for repeats, or date the episode too badly. One final comment: the character of the Doctor. I suspect we're starting to see some depth to him, but he's also not really like the Doctor I know from the series in the past. Would the Doctor ignore the plea of his companion and watch another being die without lifting a finger to try and help? There seemed no reason for the Doctor not to try and help Cassandra at the end, and his just standing and watching comes across as callous when the same end could have been achieved by his not realising that bringing her back to the Platform would result in her death. Likewise when Rose is asking him who he is, he seems to go off into a little sulky tantrum and won't answer her, forcing her to take the moral high ground and extend a hand of peace to him. These isolated incidents concern me a little, as perhaps they send a message to viewers that the Doctor is willing to let people die for no reason, and I feel we need to trust that the Doctor takes action to preserve life where he can, but sometimes fails because the outcomes are perhaps inevitable. This feeling also spills over into Jabe's death, which would have been avoidable if the Doctor had got Rose to help him in the ventilator duct rather than seemingly forgetting all about her. It's this lack of thought which can be seen as callousness which bothered me. Perhaps it can be explained as a by-product of the way the Doctor feels alone and adrift in the universe (as he alludes to at one point) rather than any intrinsic part of his character. Overall, The End of the World is a nice little slice of pure SF. It has some interesting characters, some of which are superbly realised (Jabe, Cassandra) and others which are just hanging as potentials (the Adherents of the Repeated Meme, the Moxx of Balhoon and most of the others). I enjoyed the episode a lot more on a second viewing. First time through it seemed to drag somewhat in the first half, but then picked up as we progressed to the end-game. Compared to Rose it's very different and overall I did enjoy it, but with reservations. But viva la difference ... I think I could have written two reviews of the episode. One wholly positive and one wholly negative ... The End of the World is very different indeed to Rose, and it looks like next week's offering, The Unquiet Dead, is different again ...

7 comments:

Benjamin Adams said...

David, surely Rose would also have burnt just as Jade did?

Benjamin Adams said...

Erm.

I meant Jabe, of course.

DavidJHowe said...

Good point Benjamin... I think what I was thinking, was that as the Doctor didn't burn, then neither would Rose ... he says to Jabe 'but you're wood!' and this seemed to be the problem that she was fundamentally made of flamable materials ... wheras Rose, presumably, is not.

The Co-ordinator said...

From the pre-credits sequence, to the humour of the first 15 minutes; from the darker aspects of the next 25, to the wonderful special effects; from Britney Spears to the tour-de force revelation that the Doctor was the only remaining Time Lord, I reckon that "The End of The World" was streets ahead of "Rose".

My only grumble is that, if anything, Piper was worse that last week - at the moment I just can't warm to her at all. Ecclestone is brilliant, by leaving he's making the worst career move of his life.

Any bets that later in the series we discover that Gallifrey was destroyed in a war with the Daleks?

Steven Savile said...

Okay, been thinking this morning, about all of the many and varied splendors of the last few weeks... and my first thought is:

You can't simply bring an iconic show like DR WHO back without some major twist... and the attention that Eccleston's exit has drawn set me to thinking about events in episode one that bugged me...

Primarily that the Tardis does all of these short hops perfectly and always lands in the right place exactly where/when it was, and that is never the case earlier...

And at that to the comment that the Dr is the last Time Lord... and his seeming lack of sadness for a planet he loved, and well, he seems to be showing off... bring rose to see how clever his machine is etc... he reminded me a lot of Anthony Ainley actually in delivery and madness quota quite frequently... so... how does this sound:

Eccleston isn't actually the Dr, he is the Master, in his functioning Tardis, and the Dr is trapped somewhere... Eccleston was only contracted for one season, and announced his quitting in a big way, surely the BBC would have locked him and Piper in BEFORE the signing of a twenty eighth season? This would mean that conceivably the door is open for McGann to return, or another Dr which a seriously entertaining christmas special...

Of course, all of this is probably a million miles away... BUT it is what I would do... the Master masquerading as the Dr... heh

Steven Savile said...

Also factoring in the comment the Dr makes about travelling alone, and yet the Dr has always had a companion... whereas the Master was always the Time Lord who travelled alone... man, too much time on my hands... :)

Hugh J. said...

David,

I have to say I agree with your review. Although I do find the new Doctor’s (unnecessary) callousness disturbing and wonder what will happen to the viewing figures once the novelty has gone and viewers increasingly notice isolated events seem to take priority over the plot and characterisation (rather than advancing the plot in a logical manner much time was wasted, like Rose, to make room for smart dialogue); what really worries me is the “Time War.”

If this is to become a major plot thread it seems to have ignored the disaster such a theme was for Star Trek Enterprise: casual viewers don’t know the difference between old and new continuity so will become easily bored by complicated expiations trying to explain simple logic holes on first viewing - if Rose can phone back 5 billion years we’ll have to get a ridiculously complicated explanation why the Doctor can’t save Gallifrey, etc - and long term fans get annoyed that forty years of continuity is simply ignored. The destruction of Gallifrey and its ramifications is bound to cause a major headache for people who have followed the original continuity from articles or commercially produced guides.

Like many disgruntled Star Trek fans why bother to follow the new continuity if a production team can just rewrite it wholesale. Just casually watching, if the war mentioned in Rose (2005) has ramifications 5 billion years later it seems to destroy much of the original series canon.

It’s probably the revolution of the TV Movie and the new series rather than the evolution of the first 26 years, but I find I’m watching the new series because it has Doctor Who in the titles rather than for the programme.