The End of the World *****

Russell T Davies puts his stamp on Who – and it's bold, camp and emotionally rich

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Doctor Who story guide
Patrick Mulkern
Patrick Mulkern
The End of the World *****

Story 158 

Series 1 – Episode 2

“Five billion years in your future, and this is the day… This is the day the sun expands. Welcome to the end of the world” – the Doctor

Storyline
The Doctor takes Rose to the far future to witness the day the Earth dies. On Platform One, a heavily shielded station in orbit, wealthy aliens are gathering to watch this momentous occasion. But one of them, Cassandra, the very last pure human, has sabotaged the infrastructure with metallic spiders to force a hostage situation and raise funds for her 709th surgical operation. As the Earth explodes, the Doctor battles to repair the heat shields and save the aliens from incineration. He makes Cassandra pay for her crimes. Back on modern day Earth, the Doctor tells Rose that his home world burnt too. He’s the last of the Time Lords.

First UK transmission
Saturday 2 April 2005

Production
Location: October 2004 at the Temple of Peace, Cardiff; BBC Broadcasting House, Llandaff; Headlands School, Penarth. November 2004 at Churchill Way and Queen Street, Cardiff. February 2005 at the Temple of Peace.
Studio: September–November 2004, February 2005 at Unit Q2, Newport.

Cast

Doctor Who – Christopher Eccleston

Rose Tyler – Billie Piper

Steward – Simon Day

Jabe – Yasmin Bannerman

Moxx of Balhoon – Jimmy Vee

Lady Cassandra – Zoë Wanamaker

Jackie Tyler – Camille Coduri

Raffalo – Beccy Armory

Computer voice – Sara Stewart

Alien voices – Silas Carson

Crew

Writer – Russell T Davies

Director – Euros Lyn

Designer – Edward Thomas

Incidental music – Murray Gold

Producer – Phil Collinson

Executive producers – Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner, Mal Young

RT review by Patrick Mulkern
If Rose (the episode) reintroduced us deftly to the wonders of Doctor Who, The End of the World introduces us to Russell T Davies’s vision for the programme. “Oooh, isn’t he BOLD!” (the catchphrase of Julian and Sandy, the camp duo from Radio 4’s Round the Horne) rings in my ears as this belter of an episode unfolds.

Swagger The Doctor is gleefully showing off to Rose, flash with his time ship, pumping the controls to take his impressionable new friend to witness the very end of life on Earth. And for once, emphatically, he says, “I’m not saving it. Time’s up.” He breezes into Platform One, flashing his psychic paper for the first time, and is thus straight into the action. (No plot-slowing interrogations or incarceration for RTD’s Who!)

Spectacle The CGI is flawless, from Platform One in orbit to the awesome expansion of the sun and explosion of Earth. And then there’s the roll call of monsters, a parade of grotesque and beautiful creatures – birds, trees – as if to say, this is what we can do; this is new Doctor Who. At the same time it’s heavily reminiscent of The Curse of Peladon, the Jon Pertwee classic with an array of alien delegates. The Face of Boe, a tentacled head-in-tank, is like a giant version of Peladon’s Arcturus, and you don’t have to look far to find a modern take on the sexually indeterminate Alpha Centauri…

Camp Well, how camp is “bitchy trampoline” Cassandra! “Look how thin I am. Thin and dainty. I don’t look a day over 2,000. Moisturise me. Moisturise me.” RTD’s first villain is rather brilliantly the “last pure human”, a completely vile woman, a self-obsessed skinflap stretched across a frame who’s had 708 operations and counting. A superb satire on the obsession with thinness and surgical tucks.

As if to increase her camp factor, Cassandra’s lackeys roll in an iPod (actually a jukebox), which stores “classical music from humanity’s greatest composers”. Thus, the aliens are obliged to schmooze to Soft Cell’s Tainted Love and, later, mourn the Earth to the strains of Britney Spears’s “traditional ballad” Toxic. Fantastic!

Ruthlessness Towards the end, faced with the duplicitous Cassandra, the Doctor stands by while she dries out and explodes. “Everything has its time and everything dies,” he says flatly. He’s just let the last human die. This is a new kind of Time Lord.

Concision The format may have shrunk to 45 minutes but Davies is a master at efficient characterisation. The pompous blue-faced Steward (“Who the hell are you?”), blue lady plumber Raffalo, and Jabe, the sexy tree lady who follows the Doctor. No matter how peculiar or fleeting their appearances, we believe in them. They live. When they perish, we feel the loss.

Emotional wallop The Doctor lets Rose phone her mum from Platform One. After a quick chitchat, the oblivious Jackie, fussing with her washing, hangs up. Rose: “That was five billion years ago. So, she’s dead now. Five billion years later, my mum’s dead.” It’s incredibly poignant. As is the moment when tree woman Jabe identifies the Doctor’s species. “I know where you’re from. Forgive me for intruding, but it’s remarkable that you even exist. I just wanted to say how sorry I am.” Even the Doctor blubs.

But the best is saved till last. Rose realises the Earth is gone, exploded while they were busy saving themselves. “All those years, all that history, and no one was even looking.” Gulp. It dovetails with the “Chips Scene”, when the Doctor returns Rose to a London high street teeming with life. “You think it’ll last for ever, people and cars and concrete, but it won’t. One day it’s all gone. Even the sky.”

Then he decides to confide his dark secret. “My planet’s gone. It’s dead. It burned like the Earth. It’s just rocks and dust before its time.” He reveals, shockingly for long-term viewers, that he’s the last of the Time Lords. He’s bereft, alone in the cosmos, but then Rose sniffs chips in the air. Arm in arm they go in search of the chippie. The unknowable bonded to the mundane. That is Doctor Who, and it’s probably Davies’s finest moment.

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