Aired 2 April 2005
Following on from the resounding success of ‘Rose,’ the modern continuation and reinvention of Doctor Who continues with ‘The End of the World,’ a story that shows the scope and ambition of the new series while also starting to delve much deeper into the characters of the Ninth Doctor and Rose. It’s not perfect by any means, but it certainly provides a visual treat as Russell T Davies starts laying further groundwork and themes into his work.
Death is, of course, an inevitability, and ‘The End of the World’ really starts to explore the question of whether the Doctor follows death or if death follows the Doctor. Wisely, though, despite setting the story at the end of the Earth’s existence, the plot does not devolve into a last-second attempt to divert history to save the planet. Instead the Doctor matter-of-factly accepts that the planet has reached its natural end and, though this seems strange for the second episode of a franchise so filled with hope and optimism, it does serve as a valuable grounding in realism amongst the more fantastic events and alien delegates who have gathered to watch the planet burn.
While Billie Piper’s Rose was the point of focus in the premiere, Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor gets much more time in the spotlight here. It’s clear that he will be a very different Doctor than any others who have preceded him, and his ability to portray a man suffering from the devastating loss of his people his truly superb. He reaffirms his alien nature, though, by deciding to take Rose to the end of her planet in order to cope with the end of his own, certainly a calculated move fraught with dangerous repercussions from the companion’s standpoint. Still, it does end with him finally admitting to the destruction of his people, chinking away at the darker armor of secrecy the character seems to hold so dear.
Despite the Doctor’s alien nature rearing its head, it’s shockingly the raw humanity of the character that shines through and again makes for such a mesmerizing performance. He’s so entrenched in his own internal rage and self-hatred that he doesn’t always think about the effects this could have on Rose, a fascinating perspective for a character who has been through so much in so many different lives. The manner in which he deals with Cassandra is truly terrifying and quite suggestive of the darker places he has gone between Paul McGann’s move and this new series, the man who came out not being the same as the man who went it.
It’s up to Rose, in a sense, to re-open the Doctor’s eyes to the universe and to make sure he does keep others’ feelings and potential reactions in mind. Although some companions’ roots had been briefly touched on in the classic series, Davies makes sure that his companion is given ample opportunity to flourish, showing how aspects the series has taken for granted such as the interior size of the TARDIS and its mental communication translator circuits can understandably be quite frightening. It’s when a seemingly innocuous question of where she comes from catches her off guard that the enormity of what she has done by traveling through time with a complete stranger really hits home, and this will hopefully be a continuing storyline for the series to explore before the two characters become completely comfortable with each other and their situations.
While ‘The End of the World’ may not stand up as a truly classic episode of Doctor Who, it does manage to achieve quite a few very important things. Firstly, it captures the spirit of the programme by offering a slightly absurd look at the future but, more importantly, it shows that this is going to be a franchise that can visually compete with some of the bigger names in science fiction programming. Yet Russell T Davies is sure to inject the absurdity and special effects with mild social commentary, in this greed of private enterprise and a capitalist culture in general.
The varied assortment of aliens helps brings the viewing platform to life, and Zoe Wannamaker does add something uniquely terse and haughty to her performance as the last ‘human.’ In the end, though, ‘The End of the World’ is a showcase of how rich and wonderful the world of Doctor Who can be, and with just enough information teased about the Doctor’s origins and suffering, it’s an important episode in establishing more of its characters as well as the rules of this universe. In essence, it is the perfect pairing to what had happened in Rose’s present time in the premiere, showcasing how wildly fluid the format of the programme can be.