“The End of the World” stars Christopher Eccleston as
the Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler with Zoe Wannamaker as Cassandra, Yasmin
Bannerman as Jabe, and Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler. It was written by: Russell T. Davies and
directed by: Euros Lyn with Helen Raynor as Script Editor, Phil Collinson as
Producer, and Russell T. Davies, Julie Gardner, and Mal Young as Executive
Producers. It was originally broadcast on
Saturday 2 April 2005 on BBC One.
The second episode of the revival of Doctor Who
was always going to be a difficult task, just as difficult as bringing the show
back. With the way “Rose” is setup as
fully set on modern day Earth, dealing with an alien invasion, the second
episode has to sell to the audience the premise of time travel with either the
aliens of the universe or a historical setting.
Russell T. Davies slotted himself to pen the second episode, allocating
it and the following episode to the second production block, writing a tale
that by necessity used the budget primarily on makeup and effects for the
aliens, contrasting the more human Autons in “Rose”. Davies had the title “The End of the World”
in the original pitch document for the series as the second episode, leaving
the episode with an almost perfect premise for the second episode. The Doctor takes Rose on her first proper
trip in the TARDIS, 5 billion years into the future on the day the Earth is to
be destroyed and alien representatives from several corporations and interest
groups coming to watch the destruction.
There is nobody left on the planet, humanity having spread throughout
the stars, and it’s essentially a tourist attraction closing down which is this
beautiful idea of the rich enjoying the spectacle of a planet’s
destruction. The premise helps ground
the audience in the setting before future episodes can go into different
directions with planets, paralleling the final three episodes of An
Unearthly Child which take the initial TARDIS team far back into the past
to introduce the time travel concept with a similar grounding.
“The End of the World” however does fail in the fact
that many of its alien designs are wasted on a single episode, mainly being in
the background shots for the entire episode and having no lines of dialogue. This sadly will become a trend with the
revival of Doctor Who where great designs and ideas will be relegated to
one episode which sadly means there isn’t as much time for them to make an
impact on the audience, unlike the classic show as the serialized format meant
aliens and monsters would have multiple appearances built in. There’s actually a lot stuffed into “The End
of the World” done very well in terms of worldbuilding, Davies’ script being a
wry indictment of the rich and powerful gathering for the spectacle, though
that is largely used for the setting and the villain reveal of the episode. Sadly Davies doesn’t use it to the fullest
due to the 45 minute episode length meaning time by necessity had to be devoted
to Rose’s development as a character.
This is the episode where Rose has to become acclimatized to time travel
and Billie Piper honestly steals the show in this episode, taking the material
and genuinely running with it. Rose is
allowed to deal with the fear and uncertainty, a very human reaction to be
taken aback by the aliens and then questioning everything about her
situation. The choice to travel was made
on an impulse leaving her mother and boyfriend behind, both traumatized. Murray Gold’s score is also perfect as underscore. Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler appears for
one small, but crucial scene where Rose gets to call her mother and just have a
normal conversation. These little conversations
and moments are beautiful and necessary, but they are sadly at the expense of
the worldbuilding that is also integral to Doctor Who with the first
episode to suffer from 45-minute syndrome.
45-minute syndrome is an informal term coined by Doctor Who YouTubers
including Stuart Hardy to describe the main issue of the non-serialized revival
to not live up to the potential of the premise due to a lack of time.
While Rose certainly isn’t on her own in the episode,
there are large sequences where we are focusing on the Doctor discovering what is
going wrong on Platform One, being paired with Jabe, a tree from the Forest of
Cheem played by Yasmin Bannerman. The
mystery is simple and has a simple solution that fits incredibly well, it’s guest
Lady Cassandra, the last human played by Zoe Wannamaker, killing the guests in
a money making scheme also rooted in her anti-alien racism/xenophobia, but this
allows the audience something important.
Davies is allowed to establish the Doctor is on his own in the universe,
the Time Lords are dead. The words Time
Lord are only spoken three times in the episode, keeping the Doctor still
mysterious to the general audience and those not familiar with classic Doctor
Who as well as not revealing exactly how they died so all viewers can have
that mystery to follow. Eccleston also
gives this genuine sadness to his performance as the Doctor while masking it in
humor. Bannerman also clearly has the
potential to be a companion in the role of Jabe, though sadly she perishes, but
Bannerman would appear in Big Finish Productions as New Adventures companion
Roz Forrestor. Wannamaker as the villainous
Cassandra is also a villain with a lot of potential that sadly isn’t quite explored
to the character’s fullest potential.
Partially due to the restrictions on the computer generated effects that
give her four minutes of screen time, though Wannamaker is camp which helps. Leaving all of these things on the table means
that with “The End of the World” there is a lot to be desired. Euros Lyn was the director assigned to this second
production block and his direction work is great. Much of the episode is shot on location and
the blending of sets, models, and CGI environments, while lower budget and
aging in some aspects, still look amazing.
Lyn uses a mix of practical and computer generated imagery incredibly well
and would return for several episodes, becoming one of the prolific directors
of this era of the show.
Overall, “The End of the World” is not a perfect
episode. It’s an episode that I am
genuinely conflicted on. There are individual
scenes, especially with Eccleston and Piper together and separate moving their characters
forward, that are genuinely brilliant.
The setup is perfect, the plot is simple enough to be done in a
45-minute episode, but the problem comes with the fact that Davies’ script
neglects some genuinely important worldbuilding elements and any character that
isn’t slated to die, leaving several with either a name or species name at
best. The climax of the episode is also
quite messy, with the danger just feeling weird with the Doctor having to jump
through giant fans. It’s an episode that
does what it needs to do, but leaves the viewer wanting something despite
elements that should come together perfectly.