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Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Doctor Who: The End of the World
Looking at the second installment of the new Doctor Who, it's easy to see how the story might have unfolded had it been made for the original series-the Doctor and Rose arrive on board a space station full of delegates, gathered together to watch the end of the world. As soon they turn up, a series of murders occurs and the Doctor and Rose are prime suspects in the investigation.

But this is not your father's Doctor Who and (thankfully) we aren't subjected to this little sideways journey into filler plot. Instead, what we get from the new series second outing is a story that seeks to give us a bit more background on the Ninth Doctor and begin to slowly gel the Doctor/companion relationship of the Doctor and Rose. And the storyline follows that mandate pretty well-by the end of the story we've found out a lot of interesting tidbits about the new Doctor and we've got some seeds sewn for a potential continuing storyline. All of that is extremely successful.

At times, it feels almost like "The End of the World" is trying to take a page from the classic Pertwee serial, "The Curse of Peladon." We have a gathering of aliens together for an historic event. But whereas "Peladon" took the time to flesh out not only each of the alien species but also a bit about their political agendas on Peladon, "End of the World" just doesn't necessarily have the time for that. Having half the screen time means that we get to discover a bit more about Cassandra, the last "pure" human left in existence and some more about the Forest of Cheem, a race descended from trees. Both of these alien groups prove pivotal to the plot and far more memorable than some of the others, who all look great and get an isolated scene but it never amounts to much more.

Instead, we get a relatively standard someone has assembled all these people here to kill them all off and we've got to figure out why.

As soon as the Doctor shows up, things start going awry. From the station manager being killed to Rose being put in mortal danger to the enemy revealing herself and revealing her plot and motivation, it all feels like classic Doctor Who. Again, we're spared the whole Doctor and Rose being suspected of the murders and I think the story is that much the stronger for it.

Turns out that Cassandra, the last "pure" human is behind the plot. She has controlling interests in the companies owned by the various delegates. If they all perish in the accident, she stands to make a killing (pardon the pun). As villain motivation goes, it's not the best I've heard, nor is it entirely the worst. It's a motivation and it works within the confines on the story. And it also opens some more interesting doors.

For one thing, Cassandra speaks to Rose about being the last pure human and hating how humanity, as it has expanded outward into the universe has become "distilled" and "less pure." It's an eerie echo of the exact reason the Daleks have for hating everyone else in the known universe

But while the storyline isn't exactly ground-breaking, the series new emphasis on characters and characterization is.

If "Rose" was all about establishing Rose, then "The End of the World" is all about fleshing out some of the background of the ninth Doctor. In the final few minutes of the episode, we find out he's the last Time Lord, that Gallifrey has been destroyed in a war and that he's wandering the universe. Reading into that, I could almost see that he's on the run for some reason, hiding out from whoever destroyed Gallifrey. And if there is a force out there strong enough to destroy the Time Lords, you can see why the Doctor might be on the run,

But we also learn a bit more about him. The dark streak that was in the 7th Doctor is still in evidence here. Christopher Eccleston does a nice job of running the gamut in this episode from his early sheer joy at taking Rose to the future to the dark intensity when he calls Cassandra back to answer for what she's done. Along the way, we see his compassion as he acknowledges the sacrifice of Jabe, the leader of the tree people. The Doctor's regret that Jabe has to sacrifice herself in order to save the rest of those aboard the station is nicely done.

And was it just me or did anyone else seem to think the Doctor is somehow pulling an Ace on Rose? By this I mean-I got the impression that the Doctor took her forward in time to this exact event to test her. I got the feeling that the Doctor was feeling out how Rose would react to certain things-Cassandra, the end of the world, etc-before he took her fully into his confidence about being the last Time Lord in the universe. (Which I strongly suspect the Master is still out there lurking somewhere…) For all his over the top, easy-going, confidence bravado, there's a dark depth to the new Doctor. He's not all he seems, as evidenced by the speech to Rose at the end about the war and wiping out his people. In many ways, knowing this explains why the Doctor is so eager and almost desperate to save the station on his own. He wants to make right for whatever happened in the war that destroyed Gallifrey.

There's also some interesting work done with Rose here. Of course, being the companion, she gets herself into jeopardy on several occasions. But we also see her questioning why she stepped into a time machine with a man she hardly knows. I liked that little moment a lot.

Of course, I could have done without the call home to her mother. I'm not sure why but that scene was a little too jarring and take out of the story for me. None of the Doctor's other companions have done it before. And I will admit part of it is that, as a character, Rose's mother annoys me. The less seen and heard of her, the better in my book.

So, how does "The End of the World" stack up? It's hard to say really. In a lot of ways, it's apples and oranges. There are elements of the classic Dr Who stories in there, but there's also a new spin put on it. For the most part, it's successful. Since I've heard rumors that Russell Davies intends to have a season-long story arc that this one might be a bit more important to the overall tapestry of the new season of Dr Who in about 11 weeks. It certainly wasn't horrible along the lines of "The Web Planet" but certainly is not close to the levels of what I consider the classics of Dr Who. But it was an entertaining story that, for the most part, got it all right. It's a bit stronger than Rose was, simply because it's freed from having to establish Rose and re-establish the Doctor Who universe.

But there's still some work left to do on the series to achieve a perfect episode.

But I'll give them this-"The End of the World" is a step in the right direction.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 4/12/2005 02:40:00 PM | |
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