the reason it’s The End of the World

TV Who would have thought that six years ago Russell T Davies produced for Doctor Who the ultimate metaphor for the swinging cuts which will gradually sap the joy out the country over the coming three years. Something often overlooked (well alright I’ve previously overlooked) is that the reason it’s The End of the World, is because the future version of the National Trust lost it’s funding. As the Doctor explains it, before their visit the reason the planet retains its shape and environment despite Sol having already gone critical are a series of gravity satellites ringing the planets keeping it in place. But they’re being turned off because the National Trust can’t afford to maintain them anymore. In this case, a loss of funding literally is the end of the world.

Of course you could argue that if he really cared, the Doctor could jump back into his space and time ship and have them win the lottery which is his usual approach to giving someone a windfall should the need requires it. But this is early in the new series and his emotional compass is spinning like a Wow Stuff Doctor Who Timelord Spinning Tardis, naked brutal grief and anger just resting below the surface. Even with knowledge of the ensuing mythology, the appearance of that tear, the first tear, I think, the Doctor’s shed on television (we can’t quite see his face in The Green Death), is devastating and is the tragic flip side to “Lots of planets have a north.” This new show also isn’t afraid to properly show us how the Doctor feels.

But the reason for that tear is yet to come and before it overwhelms yet another discussion of the episode, let’s talk about the rest of the episode because this is a great episode not least because apparently features the first appearance of Captain Jack, his big Boe face no doubt wondering if this is the right moment to tell the Doctor that he isn’t alone saving the timelord from another couple of seasons worth of heartache (“That’s not Martha Jones, that’s Rose, I’m too early, damnit, hmm, Cassandra’s looking flexible today…”). Russell offers up a story which on the one hand introduces new viewers to the concept of a base under siege and on the other that it’s a show that isn’t happy to be just about that any more.

The monster, in this case the metal spiders bugging their way into the vital systems quietly murdering the staff. Simon Day’s Steward, the put upon service industry managerial drone attempting to keep a professional atmosphere amongst the clients even as everything is falling apart around him. The passengers, a proper carnival of monsters is magical particularly since with a couple of notable exceptions, and taking into account the need to fill the pages of Battles in Time, none of these aliens have returned, no episode set amongst the Forest of Cheem, so they retain that element of mystery. The quintessential corridor scene as the Doctor and Jabe race to look at a vdu screen, hunch forward into the lens as acres of exposition spill out of then.

Jabe, of course, is the first of a number of characters in which Davies breaks his own rule that viewers aren’t interested in stories about aliens from the planet zog, his way of explaining why the Doctor won’t often or ever land in situations featuring no human characters. True, she is basically a human character, albeit having involved from vegetable rather than animal, but it's these differences that ultimately put her in jeopardy and lead her to sacrifice herself to save the people on the platform. There’s something of the River Song in her relationship with the Doctor, the way she’s able to say things to him that his companion would never, a regality that Yasmin Bannerman beautifully captures wearing one of the series most beautiful prosthetics.

The early ambition on the show in their willingness to experiment with an all digital character, albeit in the mostly static form of Cassandra. Apparently one of the most expensive CGI effects the show ever produced, it's a credit to the script and Zoe Wannamaker's voice work that she's also one of the new show's most loathsome villains. Previously I'd assumed that later second season opener New Earth spoiled the horror of her death, drying to a husk as the Doctor watches on. But on reflection the tenth Doctor's later kindness is used to demonstrate how the man changed with his regeneration. Despite him saying that he's the kind of man who doesn't agree with second chances, this is an occasion when he needs to make an exception.

But Rose’s scenes are arguably the most memorable, just as they should be since they’re designed to make the viewer love her, make us understand why the Doctor would want her as a passenger. In later episodes, the script was bold enough to have the Doctor or his companion just tell us (“You need someone to stop you”). But in The End of the World, we watch her almost accept the differently shaped, differently coloured people, facing up to the Doctor when he implies her racism. Watch her deal with the homesickness inherent in being ripped from everything she knows and seeing everything she knows boil away into space. Watch her develop the Doctorish quality of treating everyone as an equal even the plumbers on the station.

The moment when I fell for Rose as a character is in that final revelatory dialogue which has since threatened to overwhelm everyone’s memory of the episode. There are plot reasons why the Doctor doesn’t answer her when she asks who the enemy was in the time war, but I love the little pause she makes, the flicker of understanding that flashes across Rose’s face that shows she understands that the Doctor isn’t ready to give her all the answers so she simply offers a different enquiry. Like every other companion before and since, she’s a function of the story, a intermediary between the audience; but unlike most she’s complex enough to know when to simply leave it alone. Even if it’s a decision that would have tragic consequences come episode six.

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