Doctor Who - The End Of The World
I was worried about New Who before it started.
Not that I was worried that the show couldn't work in today's televisual landscape. (It's the best format for a television show ever, and a lot the top-grossing films of all time are science fiction. Yes, it could work.) And it's not that I was worried about Russell T. Davis's ability to write. Being, you know, one of the best writers working for British television today.
No, my worry stemmed from things like this, published in SFX before the launch of the series:
One element of the new series that Davis seems intent on is to ground the show once more in a recognisable reality. In the new series, most of the stories take place on Earth and the few that don't certainly involve Earth-born humans. There are fewer interplanetary hops in this new series and it's not something Davis is keen to explore.
"Again, core principles," he says. "The biggest thing in the pitch document is that every single story will involve the human race. I'm not interested in planet Zog. I don't care! I mean, I love something like [classic '60s story] 'The Web Planet', it's an absolutely extraordinary thing and I don't know how they had the nerve to do it, but we're not about to make our own version of that. If you have planet Zog, you have to be with that human colony..."
As I said on my blog at the time:
Don't get me wrong. I think that the new series is likely to be very good indeed. But it seems odd that you've got a format where you can go anywhere, and do anything... and you limit yourself like that. When you've got the whole universe to explore, why be so obsessed with humans?
As Tom Baker has said, this attitude seems oddly parochial for a science fiction series...
I still stand by this, to some extent. It does seem to be wilfully missing the point - when Star Trek goes to planet Zog, we usually care about the Zogarians because they reflect humanity in some way anyway. It put my back up slightly.
But if I'm honest: it was my slightly oversensitive sci-fi nerd synapses kicking in. Thinking that someone had criticised my beloved science fiction. And whilst I think Russell might be slightly misguided in thinking that everything has to involve the human race in some way... most my favourite old Who stories prominently feature humans, or took place on Earth anyway. The Talons of Weng-Chiang, anyone?
It was the same with the original talk about Rose herself... the way RTD talked about her before transmission, about her being an identifying point for the audience, rankled slightly. I don't need someone to identify with, I want space battles, blah blah blah. Completely ignoring the fact that, erm, An Unearthly Child does exactly the same with Ian and Barbara. Still, it probably didn't help that RTD came across as incredibly patronising to SF fans in those early interviews, in an attempt to snare the mainstream audience. Looking back, if being patronising was the price to pay for having a decent SF series on primetime BBC ONE again, I'm more than willing to take it. Especially as Rose and her extended family have ended up being part of my favourite bits of New Who - so much so that the next series is going to have to pull something pretty special out of the bag to replace them.
Still. I watched Rose. I loved it. But I have to say, when I saw what was coming next, I yelled in glee. Because for a show where the showrunner seemed to be trying to distance the show from even being science fiction in early publicity... here was a statement of intent. For your second episode to be a balls-out science fiction show - it's impressively daring for primetime BBC ONE these days. And I absolutely loved it at the time. Perhaps less for what was there - but simply because I could sit back, and revel in the BBC doing a primetime science fiction show, and it being fun to watch.
But I was worried about re-watching it for this review. I just didn't think it would stand up. As I recalled it, it was fun at the time... but didn't have much else to it. I thought it would probably fade into comparison with later episodes. A statement of intent? Great. A second introduction to the series? Fine. As a standalone episode? No.
So, after all my preconceptions listed above... I actually watched the fucker again.
It seems unfair criticising the story, which is ridiculously thin... but like Rose, that isn't really the point. This is more of a second introduction - it's telling that this episode follows on from Rose to the very second. It's all about showing the format of the show - perhaps more closely than Rose did, as that episode also had to deal with introductions. This is about showing the TARDIS can go to the future - that the companion gets into trouble, and that The Doctor saves the day. It achieves this perfectly well.
The show also has one of my favourite guest characters ever - Jabe, played by Yasmin Bannerman. Not only is it probably the best make-up job the show has done to this day, but Yasmin plays the character so wonderfully - in a relatively short amount of screen-time she makes you care about the character, so her death really means something when it happens. You almost wish she'd become another companion for a while; which would have been stupid in terms of the structure and point of the show, but the fact I wanted it to happen shows how well the character worked.
Then, there's Murray Gold's music. Now, this had come in for some rather unfair flak at times. I think part of this is that the music is often too high up in the mix; the stereo mix, at least. There has been suggestions that this is due to the 5.1 mix not being folded down for stereo correctly; I personally don't know. (I can't check the 5.1 on the boxset, as I live in a flat. With neighbours. Who would not appreciate a belting 5.1 system pumping out hot Who action.) I also have my own theory as to why some people dislike it - television music these days is often designed to blend into the background. Murray's music for Who doesn't do this - in fact, it actively calls attention to itself at times. I love this - but I can see that some people would be less keen, especially as it's just not what people are used to with television scores these days.
But there's also the simple matter that Murray's music has improved drastically. His work in Doomsday was perfect (and the music at the climax is now my favourite TV incidental music of all time) - but here, in TEOTW, he makes mistakes. The music at the climax is fine, for instance - but the score for the introduction of the guests of Platform 5 near the beginning is embarrassingly inappropriate.
The effects are generally quite good. I've always thought New Who doesn't use enough physical model shots - the space station, for instance, could have been done perfectly well as a lovely model. And there's the odd dodgy bit - in every New Who episode, there's always at least one dodgy shot - which is what happens when you're trying to stretch yourself to produce the episodes New Who comes up with. In this episode, it's the shots of the space station from outside looking through the window to The Doctor and Rose, which don't even begin to look, well, any good at all. Still, with 203 effects shots in this episode alone, it's miraculous what the team managed to do, considering that the BBC just wasn't geared up to produce this kind of television.
The scene with Raffalo the plumber is one of my favourites in the show - and yet it does bring up some interesting questions about RTD's approach to, well, death. We keep hearing about meetings with Russell shouting that he wants another death in the show, which is very amusing. And I have no problem with Raffalo's death per se. I do, however, have a problem with RTD's outrage at people actually thinking he would kill off Rose in Doomsday, on that episode's commentary. What, so you'll allow one-episode cannon fodder to be killed off, but not a character that you've grown to care about over two series? That seems to be the opposite of what is right - surely, if you're going to let kids experience death, it's better for them to understand what it means through an established character dying, and make it mean something, rather than just getting them used to people dying willy-nilly and you just not caring about it?
It's not the death I mind - I love death in all shapes and forms in Who. And I'm not saying they should necessarily have killed Rose off. It's just the hypocrisy I'm not keen on.
Speaking of death, there was a bit of fuss at the time over Cassandra's death - including from me. I was worried that it wasn't really in character for our tree-hugging Doctor. But viewed in retrospect - particularly with regards to Dalek - it makes perfect sense. I'm not sure the 10th Doctor would act in the same way here - look at the end of New Earth.
Sadly, once that main climax is out of the way, the show is still stuck with the worst ending in New Who's short history. I don't have a problem with the fans stuff - the switch's location is deliberately slightly ridiculous, and you either go with it or you don't. I do. My main problem is with the very end of the show, where they go back to present-day Earth. Yeah, I can see what they're trying to do, and the idea is fine. But the chips dialogue is excruciating, and Billie Piper gives one of the few false notes she ever gave with her performance. Truly an embarrassing way to end the episode, which is a shame, as it puts a downer on all that had gone before.
To be fair, I enjoyed it a lot more than I'd expected to on re-watching. But it's really the little moments that make the show - yeah, I'm silly enough to love stuff like the "iPod". I'd say today it more than stands up in context... but unlike something like Father's Day, perhaps not as a standalone episode. Compared to what comes later, though - it's lacking. I'm glad I re-watched it as part of a complete re-watching of Series 1, as I'm sure I enjoyed it far more seeing it like that.
But let's face it - as a second episode, it's better than The Cave of Skulls any day.