To do away with Rose’s skepticism about the TARDIS’ ability to travel through time, the Doctor takes his new companion to the year 5,000,000,000 – on the very day that the Sun expands into a red giant and swallows its innermost planets, including Earth. The TARDIS lands aboard Platform One, a shielded space station placed in a temporary orbit around Earth so special guests may bear witness to the planet’s demise in complete safety. Rose isn’t prepared for the guests to be alien though – from the enormous Face of Boe, which has to be kept in a protective tank, to the hooded Adherence of the Repeated Meme, to the sentient tree people represented by the lovely Jabe, to a being claiming to be “the last pure human” – in reality a face and a brain connected to a flat membrance of skin after hundreds of plastic surgeries to remove the rest of her “imperfect” body. But as the moment of Earth’s death draws near, things begin to go wrong aboard Platform One – the Doctor discovers that a killer is slowly wiping out the guests and hospitality staff alike…and that someone else knows who he really is.
written by Russell T. Davies
directed by Euros Lyn
music by Murray Gold
Guest Cast: Simon Day (The Steward), Yasmin Bannerman (Jabe), Jimmy Vee (The Moxx of Balhoon), Zoe Wanamaker (Cassandra), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Beccy Armory (Raffalo), Sara Stewart (Computer Voice), Silas Carson (Alien Voices)
Notes: Red Dwarf fans may recognize Yasmin Bannerman (Jabe) as the air traffic controller who witnesses the Cat’s amazing dancing feats in the final season’s three-parter Back In The Red. Voice artist Silas Carson has been heard and seen in all three of the Star Wars prequels, portraying both Jedi Master Ki-Adi Mundi and the treacherous Nute Gunray. In Star Wars Episode I, he also portrayed Senator Lott Dodd.
Reviews by Philip R. Frey & Earl Green
LogBook entry by Earl Green
Philip’s Review: The End Of The World marks the new Doctor Who’s first foray into traditional “Who” territory: off Earth and into another time. It is, perhaps more than Rose, an indicator of where the show is heading.
A quick read of the plot synopsis of The End Of The World brings thoughts of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”‘s Milliways: the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. But the basic setup is where comparison ends. Despite being set in outer space against the backdrop of the destruction of the Earth, The End Of The World is, at its heart, a “Ten Little Indians”-style murder mystery, portraying a small group of people trapped together as they are killed off one by one. Not a particularly inspired storyline, but it’s always a question of the execution with this kind of material. Unfortunately, The End Of The World fails to pull it off.
The first somewhat promising aspect of Rose to fall by the wayside in the follow-up is Rose herself. In the first episode, Rose is a pro-active character, who not only gets herself involved in the plot, she drives it in several places. In The End Of The World, Rose isn’t quite reduced to the traditional Doctor Who screamer, but she does virtually nothing but stand around, make snide comments or nearly get killed. (Someone remind me: why am I supposed to like this girl, again?) In this episode, she seems to exist solely to give the Doctor someone to rescue, someone to be superior to and someone at whom to spout “words of wisdom”.
As the Doctor, Christopher Eccleston continues with his zany, off-the-wall portrayal: grinning like an idiot one minute, deeply serious the next, then pouring on the pathos. As in Rose, it’s a bit much to take. Two stories in and we still don’t really get a look at what kind of guy the Doctor is. As stated in the previous review, this is partially intentional. But the pendulum swing of the Doctor’s portrayal is a bit wider this time around. We see him at his most vulnerable and emotional when dealing with the losses he’s suffered, but we also see him at, perhaps, the most ruthless we have ever seen the Doctor: brutal and unforgiving. It’s even harder in this second installment to know whether to like him or not.
The supporting cast of The End Of The World is mostly un-notable, so I’m not going to bother to note them. With only a couple of exceptions, the cast of alien guests are just background noise. They have little or no discernable personality and one could care less as they find themselves being offed. There is, however, one standout: Yasmin Bannerman as the evolved tree Jabe. She brings a dignity and grace to the proceedings that was notably lacking in Rose. She is a dynamic character and immediately connects with the audience (even if having her be descended from the Brazilian Rain Forest is a bit too PC). Watching her, I couldn’t help wishing she were traveling with the Doctor instead of Rose. Her death, like Clive’s in Rose, shows either the production team’s inability to recognize quality characters or (more likely) their intentional attempt to gain sympathy by killing the only characters worth caring about.
And then there’s Cassandra: the “last human”, portrayed by Zoe Wanamaker and a pile of CGI effects. I can honestly say that in all my years of watching science fiction films and television, I have never seen a creation as utterly ridiculous as Cassandra in any serious production (and I’m including stuff like Buck Rogers in this comment). Cassandra is nothing but a big stretched piece of skin with a face. “She” must have looked really cool to the production team and is certainly a striking creation and a marvel of computer technology, but, ultimately, she is laughable. An obvious attempt to comment on plastic surgery gone mad (a la Brazil) and wealth and power without conscience, she stands out like a sore thumb from the rest of the aliens. The ultimate revelation of who is responsible for the deaths lacks any kind of sting, since it’s patently obvious from the first that it’s the “weirdo”. (What things like this say about show runner Russell T. Davies’ vaunted “inclusiveness”, I don’t know.)
Other than the preposterous Cassandra, The End Of The World is the new Doctor Who series’ first chance to really show off what it can do in the area of special effects and it delivers. The CGI space shots and destruction effects are quite realistic. The alien costumes, however, are less consistently good. While the Trees are effective and the Moxx of Balhoon and the Face of Boe look pretty good, most of the others are cheap Star Wars and Star Trek knock-offs, lacking the distinctive nature of aliens of Doctor Who’s past.
With much less to cram in than Rose, The End Of The World is certainly easier to follow, but that doesn’t mean it makes more sense. The convoluted plot hatched by Cassandra would make the John Nathan Turner-era Master blush. The sacrifice by Jabe and the Doctor’s risky plan are particularly glaring examples of poor writing, centering around an absurd setup that’s straight out of Galaxy Quest. And I’m going to refrain from wasting too much time on the decision to have the only two pieces of “vintage” Earth music heard be “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell and “Toxic” by Britney Spears. Basically, while I like both songs (no I’m not ashamed), I hardly think that 5 billion years in the future, a person choosing two songs from Earth’s past would pick both from inside a period of 30 years.
The End Of The World again shows the new Doctor Who’s odd attitude towards violence by having most of the deaths occur off-screen, like a censored “Looney Toons” short, where the camera cuts away just as someone’s face is blasted off. The only death that is seen clearly onscreen is the one perpetrated by the Doctor himself. Without experiencing firsthand the deaths that led to the Doctor’s actions, his decision becomes all the more difficult to accept.
Rose was not entirely successful in its attempt to present an updated version of Doctor Who, but at least it showed plenty of originality. The End Of The World is a mish-mash of sci-fi ideas and plot devices that have been done before (and better) without a truly original concept in sight. The performances, despite a few standouts, fall short and the excellent effects fail to make what we’re watching actually interesting or believable. All in all, this one is a massive misstep.
Earl’s Review: A dandy, at times almost surreal, science fiction romp, The End Of The World begins to examine what has long been an unexplored issue in Doctor Who: what kind of person would trade in a perfectly normal, non-violent, non-abusive existence for a life of danger alongside a man of mystery who travels through time in a police box? And furthermore, why should he take anyone on board at all? The End Of The World finally dishes out some answers, and even if they really only apply to the ninth Doctor and Rose, they’re quite revealing.
An unabashed space-based story that ate up one fifth of the entire effects budget for the first season, The End Of The World introduces a startling number of creatures and alien life forms for a single Doctor Who story. Not since the third Doctor’s Peladon stories has the Doctor encountered such a wide variety of unusual creatures all in one place, and most of them are marvels of modern makeup and costuming; in fact, some of them are seen far too briefly for my tastes.
If there’s anything that really prevents End Of The World from being a runaway success, it’s pacing. It would have been lovely to see this one spread over two parts, perhaps giving some of the background characters more depth so that we feel a little something when some of them bite the dust. There’s a hint of this in a scene where Rose meets one of the space station’s maintenance workers, and to some extent with a major guest character who assists the Doctor later in the story, but it’s hard to really gauge whether or not there’s enough story to spread this story out over two parts. The episode excels at setting its quite surreal mood, however – from the Doctor getting down to the strains of “Tainted Love” (which, while cheesy, was lyrically right on the money for the scene in question) to the presentation of an ancient “iPod” to the archives – it’s almost Douglas Adams-esque in places.
While Billie Piper continues to show new colors to Rose and her initial reactions to time travel, this episode is firmly about the Doctor. It drops a gob of information at our feet about who he is now, what’s happened since he last left our screens (and as it turns out, a lot has happened in the show’s mythology, including (highlight text if you’re OK with being spoiled) the total destruction of Gallifrey and the Time Lords in a cataclysmic war with an unspecified enemy, making the Doctor and his TARDIS the last of their kind. It turns out that other people know this too, which is interesting in and of itself. The guest cast is likeable, with Yasmin Bannerman making a good enough impression as Jabe that something about that character screams “companion material” for much of the episode.
The End Of The World may be a case of style not so much winning out over substance as style slightly obscuring substance. The substance is there – there’s a fantastic scene at the end that really justifies what we’ve seen to that point and brings things into focus. The character-driven moments are spot-on, but the plot-driven component all happens so fast.