Doctor Who at 15: Episode 2 – The End of the World

An episode about the demise of humanity really hits differently at the moment.

the end of the world

You lot. You spend all your time thinking about dying. Like you’re going to get killed by eggs or beef or global warming or asteroids. But you never take the time to imagine the impossible. That maybe you survive. This is the year 5.5 slash Apple slash 26. Five billion years in your future. And this is the day— hold on. This is the day the sun expands. Welcome to the end of the world.

As far as first dates go, the Doctor taking Rose a few billion years into the future to watch the literal end of her planet is arguably a bit intense. You know, for someone who has just learned about the existence of time travel and aliens. But then the Doctor rarely does things by halves, especially Nine, and although Rose is a bit freaked out by it all, it could have gone a whole lot worse.

As the Doctor and Rose rock up to an end of the Earth viewing party for the universe’s richest aliens, someone on board Platform One is attempting sabotage. As with so many episodes, it becomes a race against time to stop the sun shields dropping and everyone on board being incinerated by the dying sun. Most of the early ‘against the clock’ episodes of the reboot are really fun, and this one is no exception.

It is also remarkable in how much it manages to pack into just forty five minutes, a lot of which will be relevant not only for the end of this series but also beyond it. There’s Platform One itself, which will come up several times. We see the psychic paper for the first time. The Doctor fixes up Rose’s phone so she can use it wherever and whenever she is. We meet Cassandra (my favourite recurring guest character) and the Face of Boe (who now just makes me sad), as well as a whole lot of different aliens – probably more variety than in any other episode of series one. There’s the first reference to Bad Wolf. We learn who the Doctor is, and the fate of the Time Lords. And in the middle of all this, there’s some really gorgeous character moments for both Rose and the Doctor, who actually spend quite a lot of the time apart. Ultimately, I think that is the purpose of this episode. I feel as though we know Rose much better by the end of it.

Rose is finding her feet here, a little bit unsure of what she has got herself into, but absolutely willing to give it a go. When they meet the Steward she is taken aback for a second that he’s blue, then just gets on with it. She has a lovely scene later where she is talking to Raffalo, the plumber, and isn’t bothered by the blue skin at all. She has another where she absolutely doesn’t hold back on sassing Cassandra, the jumped up ‘last human’, and yet another where she argues with the Doctor. What we see of Rose here, I think, defines her character for as long as we know her. She is friendly, and she cares about people. She’s impulsive and she doesn’t always check herself. And she absolutely doesn’t let the Doctor get away with anything. At this stage, she still has a lot to learn, but we know that we are safe with her.

The Doctor, on the other hand, is kind of the opposite. This episode does a brilliant job of showing us how difficult it is to be him. How the decisions he has to make impact the people around him, and how he often doesn’t have a choice in it.

We see it in microcosm first, as he saves Platform One. Jabe, the Tree of Cheem, who identifies him as a Time Lord and talks to him about loneliness and grief, ultimately sacrifices herself to help him and save the others on the platform. This has a real effect on the Doctor; he’s visibly moved by Jabe’s words as she tells him how sorry she is for what happened to his people, and when she is just another person to die helping him, he is completely on board with letting Cassandra – who is responsible for Jabe’s death – die as well.

When he tells Rose, in the final scene, that he is the last of the Time Lords, he doesn’t exactly say what happened to them, but we already have a fairly good idea forming. His reaction to Jabe’s death tells us that this is a person burdened with a lot of guilt but, in how he lets Cassandra die too, he’s also someone that makes those decisions very impulsively and coldly. Whereas we feel safe with Rose now we know her better, I’d argue that the Doctor is even more of an unknown by the end of this episode than he was in the first. Rose has got over the little wobble she had about not really knowing him, but as a viewer we are a bit unsettled by it.

As far as introducing new viewers and kids to the world of Doctor Who goes, The End of the World does a really cracking job. There’s going to be time travel. There’s going to be aliens. There’s going to be danger and people are going to die. It’s also going to be thrilling, and it’s going to be funny too. Name me a better joke than Cassandra wheeling in a jukebox, calling it an iPod and then playing ‘an old Earth ballad’, which turns out to be Toxic by Britney Spears. I don’t have to wait, because you won’t come up with one.

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