Rose: You think you’re so impressive.
Doctor: I am so impressive.
Rose: You wish.
Doctor: All right, then, you asked for it. I know exactly where to go…
Now this is more like it.
The first and most obvious plus about this episode is the magnificent visual effects. The production team spent 70% of their season’s F/X budget on this one episode to start the season proper off with a bang, and it pays off spectacularly.
The creatures are also pretty spectacular.
End of the World sets up an entire universe for us to fall into. Doctor Who has rarely felt so cool.
Furthermore, RTD’s script does a very good job with the 45-minute format, creating a simple but effective story, and then placing it in a spectacular location and filling it out with great characters.
For her first trip in the TARDIS, the Doctor takes literally to the end of the Earth, as the sun explodes and wipes out the planet in the year 5,000,000,000. In this future, the destruction of planets is a tourist attraction for the wealthy. As they wait to watch the Earth burn, something goes wrong, and the supposedly safe spacecraft is suddenly only moments away from annihilation.
The Ninth Doctor is at his most joyous in the early scenes, as he watches Rose’s wonder and confusion with great glee. Then Rose freaks out a little, understandably, and their scene alone is very effective at getting across just how shocking a first trip in the TARDIS would be – especially when you’re dumped in the middle of your own planet’s destruction. Her reaction is totally believable and makes her a perfect audience surrogate.
The other strong supporting character is Jabe, a walking tree, vividly fleshed out in a very short time by Yasmin Bannerman – and a knockout piece of makeup work.
As the plot thickens, the tension builds effectively. This episode was directed by Euros Lyn, who turned out to be one of the best recurring directors Doctor Who has been blessed with, on the short list with Graeme Harper, Douglas Camfield, James Hawes, Joe Ahearne, Fiona Cumming, Peter Grimwade, David Maloney, and Paddy Russell. It’s nicely paced and moves from lighthearted to thoughtful to tense very smoothly. Sure, the villain's plan doesn't make any sense, but you don't know that until the end, and it's not like this is a particularly sane character we're dealing with.
And then it all goes to pieces in the climax. All that build-up and excitement, and the solution is for the Doctor to walk past a couple of fans and flip a single switch. That’s the big finale. All the nicely-built tension fizzles completely. Further, he gets somebody killed because he hesitates in a way that he wouldn’t have done even in his Fifth incarnation – so very, very unDoctorly. It's just a contrived attempt at pathos.
It’s too bad that it falls apart at what should be the high point. It recovers afterward with a great confrontation between the Doctor and the villain that very powerfully shows us the Doctor’s dark side (and the full force of Eccleston's intensity), but that weak climax still dampens the impact of an otherwise first-rate story. Still, as the real start of the series, with the TARDIS taking us to brand new worlds and the Doctor meeting and fighting aliens, it’s a strong opening, a good introduction to the universe, and simply great fun.
* * *
· I was overjoyed to hear RTD’s explanation for how the companions can always understand the language wherever they go. It’s something that really threw me when I first got into the classic series and took a few episodes to get used to; here, explaining it from the beginning makes the whole thing much smoother. Plus, it’s a good explanation that still leaves some mystery in the thing.
· I was most definitely not overjoyed, however, with RTD’s pop culture bit with the “ipod” playing 20th century music. It was trying to hard to be clever, and was just annoying.