The End of the World

Review and Commetary by Andrew Panero

It’s been fascinating watching the ripples this story has created already in cyberspace. I saw Doctor Who just before going out last night and by the time I got back in again and looked around on the net everyone seemed to be talking about this show and the implications for ‘continuity.’ I have my own thoughts on these, but I shall deal with that later.

To begin with there is the episode itself; it begins with the Doctor inviting Rose to pick a period of time to visit. At first they visit the 22nd Century, the Doctor working frantically at the controls. Deciding that is too boring they go to 10,000 AD where the Doctor announces that the Second Roman Empire is in control. But the TARDIS doesn’t stop there either. Instead the Doctor sets the controls for five billion years in the future, for the day the world is due to end.

The next few scenes seem like a homage to Douglas Adams; the TARDIS has materialised on board a space station orbiting Earth. A selection of alien dignitaries have assembled to watch the planet be engulfed by the Sun. Amongst them are trees (the Forest of Cheem), a blue skinned dwarf with sharp teeth, a giant head and a group of cloaked figures called the ‘adherents of the occurring meme.’ One expected an intelligent shade of the colour blue to make an appearance at anytime. Instead we had the Lady Cassandra, the last human being alive, six thousand years old and reduced to a layer of skin stretched over a frame like a macabre canvas. She ostentatiously announces her presence and brings with her two gifts, the ‘last remaining ostrich egg’ and ‘an I-pod’ which turns out to be a 1950s jukebox. She then plays some ‘classical music’- in this case ‘Tainted Love’ by Soft Cell. (Perhaps Russell T Davies self-referencing ‘Queer as Folk’, who knows?)

Amongst the other guests other gifts are being exchanged; the Adherents of the Occurring Meme hand out curious silver spheres as a ‘sign of peace and in good faith’. The Moxx of Balhoon shares some saliva with Rose and the Doctor shares the air from his lungs with Jabe (Yasmin Bannerman), one of the Forest of Cheem. She finds this very intimate; Rose meanwhile, is suffering from culture shock. She leaves the party to be alone and the Doctor follows her. Whilst he is leaving, Jabe takes a picture of him with a strange silver device. This turns out to be a machine for identifying different species of life; it has difficulty identifying who the Doctor is.

Rose is quietly reflecting on what has happened when she comes across a maintenance engineer called Raffalo. Rose learns that plumbers still exist in 5 billion AD and Raffalo enjoys chatting to one of the guests. After Rose has left she continues inspecting a service duct when a small spider like machine comes charging down towards her. At first she takes it to be an upgrade and decides to report it in. However some more of the spider like machines appear and drag her into the service duct where her screams are heard echoing out.

Whilst Rose watches the Earth from an observation deck, the sphere given to her by one of the Adherents begins to open. One of the spider-machines hatches out and scuttles off as the Doctor enters the room.  Rose is overwhelmed by the experience of being in such an alien environment. She is puzzled as to why all the aliens seem to be speaking English; the Doctor explains that the TARDIS has imparted some telepathic ability to her so that she can understand what they are saying. Rose is horrified that the Doctor’s machine has been ‘inside her head’ changing things and asks why he didn’t tell her. The Doctor is mortified, even more so when Rose begins questioning him about who he really is. He refuses to answer and stands brooding, watching the Earth below them. To fill the uncomfortable silence Rose begins to chatter about not being able to phone her mum. ‘Out of range, just a bit,’ she quips, holding her phone up to the glass. The Doctor takes her phone and replaces the battery with a strange alien looking device, Rose is then able to phone her Mum 5 billion years in the past. The Doctor seems to pass this off as a party trick, and then the platform they are on begins to shudder.

Meanwhile the spiders have been busy at work trashing the space platform’s safety systems, along the way they kill the steward in charge of the station by lowering the sunscreen in his cabin. Many of the guests are getting fretful because of the ‘turbulence’, which is passed off as gravity wells. The Doctor is convinced that they are not gravity wells and is sure that something is wrong with the engines. When he and Rose return to the party the Doctor explains his fears to Jabe who tells him there is a service corridor behind her quarters. Feeling somewhat put out by all this badly concealed flirting, Rose decides to have a chat with the Lady Cassandra.

The last remaining human being turns out to be a selfish, shallow bigot who tells Rose that all the other humans had ‘mingled’ and become ‘mongrels’. Rose points out to her that after seven hundred operations that had altered her body so dramatically the Lady was hardly in a position to comment on who was ‘pure’ human. Cassandra takes this to mean that Rose is jealous of her flatness and chides her for having ‘a bit of a chin.’ Rose’s response is to tell her she’d rather be dead than end up as a ‘bitchy trampoline’ and rubs it in with the news that she is a ‘purer human’ than Cassandra. This irritates the Lady intensely and one knows instantly that Rose is number one on her hit list.

Meanwhile Jabe has been talking to the Doctor as he busies around inspecting the station. She tells him that she scanned him earlier and that her machine had big problems identifying what species he was; ‘I couldn’t believe it when it told me,’ and she tells him that it was ‘remarkable that you are here.’ Putting her hand on his arms she leans closer and says she is very sorry, a small tear appears in the corner of the Doctor’s eye.

Rose is wondering around when she is knocked unconscious and dragged away by the adherents of the occurring meme. She is taken to the room where she and the Doctor were earlier which has a large glass panel on one side overlooking the Earth.

Meanwhile the Doctor and Jabe discover that the Steward is dead and that the sunscreen in where Rose is starting to lower. Battling with the computer the Doctor manages to reverse the sunscreen but is unable to free Rose from the room.

He and Jabe return to the party with one of the spider machines that they had found near the air conditioning shaft. The Doctor re-programmes the machine to find its owner, after taking a glance at Cassandra the spider trots over to the Adherents. The Doctor is not convinced however and pulling the arm off one of the Adherents explains (for the benefit of 90 percent of the audience) that a meme is just an ‘idea’. He pulls a finger from the clawed hand and the Adherents collapse in a heap, and the Spider trots over to its real owner-Cassandra: She had planned to use the Adherents to stage a hostage situation and then sue for compensation afterwards. ‘Flatness costs,’ she tells the Doctor airily and then uses an illegal teleport device to escape. She has made investments in all the rival companies to the ones owned by the guests and expects the share prices to soar after their deaths.

As the sun surges forward to engulf the Earth the Doctor and Jabe race against time to save the platform. Here the storyline gets rather silly and the Doctor has to race across a long metal walkway dodging enormous propeller blades to reach the reset switch on the other side. This part just seemed too much like a computer game to me, especially with all the extensive CGI. Having said that though, this naffness was off set by the very moving way in which Jabe sacrifices herself to ensure the Doctor can succeed. Very rarely do we get so attached to a supporting character before they get the chop and this moment was one of those special occasions.

The Doctor restores the shields as the sun finally destroys the Earth, returning to the party he finds the relay for Cassandra’s teleporter inside the Ostrich egg she had brought as a gift. He uses this to teleport her back to the station; she is unrepentant and tells him that she’ll battle it out in court ‘for centuries.’ However without her attendants to constantly apply moisturiser her skin dries out and contracts, until finally she explodes in a welter of blood. ‘All things have their time,’ the Doctor adds grimly.

Rose is dismayed that in all this chaos they had missed the world coming to an end. She feels an intense loss as she watches the rocks of her home planet spinning in space. When the Doctor returns her to her own time he explains how easy it is to imagine that life will go on the same forever, that the world will always be there for you. He then tells Rose that he is the last of his species and that his world was wiped out a war. ‘Its just dust and rocks now,’ and it becomes clear why he needs Rose. He needs someone to travel with, he is utterly alone, and he is the last of the Time Lords.

I’m sure that a lot of fans out there are dismayed by the destruction of Gallifrey. For myself, well I won’t miss the place too much; all those bloody time lords and their arcane mythology just annoyed me anyhow. Getting rid of Gallifrey seems like a good move to me; after all the Doctor seemed at his best when he was either running away from the place or in Exile. When he started going back to Gallifrey on a regular basis to be Lord President or to visit K-9 one just felt that there was no mystery left anymore. So instead of a brooding exile we now have the last survivor of his species, spinning around the cosmos in his fabulous machine, able to go anywhere in space and time. But with a great need to share that with somebody, it would seem.

Although this new version of Doctor Who is not perfect (there are jarring moments believe me, especially when they started playing Britney Spears!), I feel for the most part it is going along the right track. The major plot thread is relationship between the Doctor and Rose. This is what keeps the viewer watching from week to week in lieu of cliffhanger endings. Having said that there are a couple of two parters this season, so that will be interesting to see.