The Great 'Doctor Who' Rewatch: The End of the World

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Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper as the Doctor and Rose (Photo: BBC)
Previously, on Doctor Who: Simple shopgirl Rose Tyler meets a leather jacket-clad stranger called the Doctor who rescues her from living plastic, introduces her to aliens and invites her to go on adventures all over time and space. It’s fantastic.

Our recap series continues this week with The End of the World.  This is the the Ninth Doctor’s second adventure, and is really our first proper Doctor Who story, featuring a trip into the future, a great number of fairly bizarre aliens and a mystery to solve. So click through, come chat and leave your thoughts in the comments! 

Where Do You Want to Go? Our episode picks up quite literally exactly where the last left off, as Rose runs into the TARDIS, having agreed to go off on adventures with an alien man she’s just met. Rose still looks stupidly excited and the Doctor asks her where she’ d like to go – backward or forward in time. Rose does what literally everyone in most every sci-fi story ever does – because don’t we all want to know what the world will look like when we’re long departed from it? – and says forward. They go back and forth for a bit about how far forward they want to go, until they end up 5 billion years in the future. They’re on a viewing platform in space and have arrived to watch the Sun expand and engulf the Earth. It’s quite literally the end of the world, which is obviously where our episode title comes from.

Platform One is a very expensive observation deck, where the very rich or very well connected have gathered to watch the Earth burn. Apparently the planet gets preserved by the National Trust in a “classic” state in the future once all its residents depart it, but then the money runs out and nature is allowed to take its course.

Rose Meets Some Aliens. The Doctor and Rose are discovered by a ship’s steward – who happens to be bright blue – and asked for identification. The Doctor, of course, is prepared for this and uses his special psychic paper (which can display anything you want another to read) to convince the blue alien that he is an invited guest and that Rose is his “plus one”.  A line of other guests arrive from various planets, including Trees from the Forest of Cheem, the Adherents of the Repeated Meme, the Face of Boe and Cassandra the Last Human (who is actually nothing more than some kind of gross skin stretched on a rack).

Everyone has to exchange gifts of peace, which involves a lot of ridiculousness about breath and spit and tree cuttings and some strange mechanical balls which are obviously going to be a plot point later. Rose has a small freak-out after witnessing all the aliens with bird heads or blue skin or no faces at all and runs out to get some air. The Doctor goes after her but is stopped on the way by Jade, one of the Trees from the Forest of Cheem who takes a scan of him with her futuristic iPhone or whatever it is and immediately starts trying to figure out who he is. Oddly, her futuristic version of Siri doesn’t seem to have improved much, because the computer can’t identify his species immediately. When it finally gives her an answer, Jade says that it’s impossible. We’ve all tried to use Siri, Jade. The answer’s always impossible.

Lesson: Don’t Accept Steel Eggs From Aliens with No Faces. To the shock of no one, the strange steel balls that were being passed out by the Adherents of the Repeated Meme are not nice welcome to the end of the world presents, they are actually creepy robotic spiders with laser eyes that hang out in the air vents. Suppose this is just a larger more alien reminder to not take candy from strangers.

Rose Has a Small Breakdown. Rose runs off to hide in one of the spare viewing rooms. She meets a very nice (and, again, bright blue) alien plumber that she makes small talk with, before having a very understandable meltdown about where she is and what she’s doing. It all seems to hit her at once, that she’s run off to the future with a man she barely knows without even thinking about it at all and that she’s entrusted her life and safety to what is basically a total stranger. Rose wanders off after dumping her emotions all over the nice alien, who is merely pleased that Rose was kind to her.  Setting a pattern for the future –if you ever really like a second or third tier character on this show it is almost an instant guarantee they will die – the nice alien plumber is unfortunately killed by the creepy robo-spiders in the air ducts. Sigh.

Later, Rose is moping in one of the observation decks with the tree cutting and silver ball (alien spider) they were given as gifts. The Doctor finally finds her – having had to make a pit stop to valet park the TARDIS – and they sit and have a chat. The Doctor’s obviously having a great time, while Rose is still struggling. She says it’s hard because the aliens are so alien and it all just takes some getting used to. The Doctor cracks that it’s a good job he didn’t take her to the Deep South for her first trip then. Rose asks the Doctor where he’s from and he tries to brush it off, claiming that he’s from all sorts of places. He says he’s just the Doctor and it doesn’t matter where he’s from, because it’s not like she’d know where his planet was anyway. Rose insists that she wants to know who he is, really, but the Doctor gets angry at this, claiming that the only thing that matters is here and now and this is who he is now, so that’s what is important. Rose isn’t having it and says it matters because she’s there with him because he brought her there so he might as well just fess up and tell her.

The two of them sort of pout at each other for a minute before Rose finally breaks the silence, saying that she supposes she ought to follow her friend Shireen’s advice and not argue with the designated driver, as it were. The Doctor smiles sort of despite himself and fixes Rose’s cell phone so that she can use it while they’re time traveling, in a gesture of his trademarked “jiggery pokery” that looks an awful lot like a peace offering. You can tell this conversation isn’t over though, and that we will be coming back to it (not for the least of which reason is that who the Doctor is happens to be a major theme of the show). 

Rose calls her mother from the future and we basically watch her realize that she’s just direct dialed five billion years ago to talk to a woman who’s been dead for multiple centuries when considered from where she’s standing right at that moment. It’s pretty awesome – and Piper does a great job of portraying how some of the concepts of the world she now finds herself in are actually really difficult to get your head around.

Oh, Right, There’s Plot. Seriously, this episode could sort of do without the creepy robot spiders plot and just have the Doctor and Rose bounce around and meet new aliens and sort out how they’re going to relate to one another and it really would have still been an outstanding hour. But, oh, no, plot, apparently we have to do that. While Rose is having one of her multiple epiphanies about the epicness of time and the confusing nature of timey wimey travel, there’s a loud bang within spaceship that no one can seem to identify. The steward is sort of concerned about this and initiates a test on the ship’s infrastructure, which discovers the robot spiders. Unfortunately, before he can do anything about them, or figure out where they came from, he’s killed when one of the spiders lowers the sun filter in his room and burns him to death. (Why would this ship even have sun filters that weren’t always on? Poor engineering if you ask me.)

The Doctor and Jade Get Their Sleuth On. The Doctor and Rose return to the main guest area to try and suss out what’s gone wrong. Jade, one of the Trees, tells them that the mechanical duct is just behind their guest suite and that that might be a good spot to start looking for whatever caused the noise. There’s an awkward bit where she attempts to determine who Rose is and give her relationship with the Doctor a label. Rose gets irritated and there’s a weird jealousy vibe between the ladies for a second, before she decides to send the Doctor and Jade off to look at machinery because she wants to talk to Cassandra.

The Doctor and Jade disappear into some poorly lit and creepy hallway full of wires. We learn that other than the steward and a couple of maintenance staff there’s almost no one in charge of the ship they’re on because it’s run almost entirely by machines. (Dun dunnn. Seriously people of the future, watch TV more often. This is never a good idea.) The Doctor asks Jade what she’s doing on this platform in the first place. She says it’s out of respect for the Earth, but the Doctor doesn’t believe her. She says her ancestors are also descended from the Earth that was anyway and awkwardly segues into asking about where the Doctor comes from. She says she scanned him earlier and that she couldn’t believe it when the machine told her his species, because it isn’t possible. She says she knows where he’s from and can’t believe that he even exists. She says she just wants to tell him how sorry she is. During this whole thing Christopher Eccleston is doing some marvelous facial acting, which runs  the gamut within the emotionally devastated family and though no one has outright told us yet where the Doctor comes from, we know that something horrible has happened.

Rose and the Last Human Do Not Get On. Rose hangs out with Cassandra while she reminisces about the loss of Earth. Spoiler: Cassandra is not a great public speaker. Also, she/he/we’re unclear about pronoun use here is kind of a racist nightmare. Rose asks what happened to the rest of the people on Earth and Cassandra explains that they’re all gone, but it’s said that humans have touched every last star. Rose points out that this makes her in fact not the Last Human at all. Cassandra snottily says she (I am just going with this as a pronoun because the name is feminine) is the last pure human because all those other people have gone off and “mingled” with aliens. Cassandra claims those people are mongrels, because Cassandra sucks. She says she’s had 708 operations to make herself more pure and says that Rose herself could stand to be a little bit flatter.  Rose says she’d rather die than be a “bitchy trampoline” like her and storms out in a huff. The creepy Repeated Meme guys stare after her. (Or at least I expect we are supposed to assume they are staring as they have no visible eyes.)

Yeah, It is Dangerous. Rose heads back toward her room but runs into more of the creepy Repeated Meme guys in the hallway who knock her out and drag her off somewhere. Meanwhile, Jade and the Doctor have found a huge random room in the middle of the ship that’s populated with giant spinning fans. Ostensibly this is the ship’s air conditioning system, but it seems a bit archaic for five billion years in the future.  One of the creepy robot spiders also happens to be in there and upon seeing it the Doctor says these are meant for sabotage. Dun dunnnnnn.

Official countdown to “Earth Death” is ten minutes. Cassandra gathers everyone in the main viewing room to watch and says they’ll play a “traditional Earth ballad” while they wait, which of course is Britney Spears’ “Toxic”.  Awesome.  It turns out Rose has been locked in their room unconscious while the sun filter has been set to come down.  Rose wakes up just as the sunlight starts burning through the room of course – but the Doctor has realized what’s happening and shows up to save the day. After the standard back-and-forth about whether he’ll be able to override the computer program (of course he will, but the scene is still pleasantly tense and interesting to watch anyway), he manages to keep Rose from being burned to death, but he can’t let her out of the room because of…technology or something. Anyway.

Doing Some Deducing. The Doctor returns to the main landing platform where he does his best Sherlock Holmes impression in determining the guilty party that planted the sabotage robots and killed the steward. Cassandra tries to accuse the Face of Boe, but the Doctor’s not having it. He programs the robot spider to return to its owner, and the machine runs straight back to the group of Adherents of the Repeated Meme gentlemen. The Doctor doesn’t believe that either, and proceeds to rip the arms off one of the Adherents to prove they aren’t real. He says that this makes sense because when you think about it, a Repeated Meme is just another word for an idea, which is all they are. He says they have to have been remote controlled by someone else as a cover – and of course the guilty party turns out to be the horrible Cassandra. 

Cassandra then turns her guards on the Doctor – and it’s actually almost worth sitting through this whole episode just for Eccleston’s “What are you gonna do? Moisturize me?” delivery right here – and we learn that she was planning to take over the ship and manufacture a hostage situation with herself as one of the victims so that she could take the compensation for herself afterward. Because, you know, flatness costs a lot. So now that she’s been discovered, she’s activating Plan B, which is to blow up the ship with everyone on it because she owns shares in their rival companies.  Cassandra then teleports off the ship as the computers start blaring emergency warnings. 

The Doctor and Jade race back down to the Giant Propeller Air Conditioner Lounge to try and reset the computer’s system restore switch. Why it’s in this room we have like zero idea, but go with it. Of course, for some reason the giant propellers are now spinning much, much faster and the panel they need to reach is on the other side of them and there's exactly one pathway through the mess over a giant pit. Great design, future people.  Jade grabs the switch that slows the propellers down, but the Doctor tells her she can’t do this, that heat will vent through the room with the propellers stopped and since she’s made of wood that would be pretty bad for her. Jade says she knows and tells him to “Stop wasting time, Time Lord.”

All over the ship the windows are cracking as the Doctor starts making his way through the giant fan propellers. Jade bursts into flame just as he reaches the final propeller, which makes her release the switch, and makes everything start going very quickly. The Doctor stares at the blades for a minute, and the Time Lord theme music kicks up in the background as the Earth Death countdown clock ticks down. Nine does some zen Time Lord mojo and makes it between the spinning blades just in time to reboot the system, raise the shields and save the day. This is something that happens a lot around the Doctor.

But what of Cassandra? Rose finally gets let out of the locked room once the computer reboots, looking bedraggled and tired. She asks the Doctor if he’s okay and he says he’s full of ideas, mainly about how to reverse teleportation. He manages to bring Cassandra back to the bridge where she snarks for a bit before she starts to creak, because her body (Face? Self?) is drying out. She starts begging for someone to moisturize her because it’s too hot in the room and she’s dying. Rose – who hates Cassandra but is still awesome – asks the Doctor to help her. Nine looks particularly hard and ruthless at this moment, and tells her no, claiming that everything has its time and everything dies. Cassandra, disgustingly, explodes, and the Doctor storms off.

The Truth Comes Out. Some time later, Nine finds Rose staring out an observation window at the bits of the exploded Earth going by. Rose is upset because with everything else that was happening, no one managed to actually be looking when the Earth died. The Doctor takes her hand and takes her home, right smack into a busy street in the middle of London on Earth, full of people. The effect is a bit jarring. Rose looks confused and a bit lost and mostly sad.

The Doctor takes a breath, then says that though you think it will last forever, the earth and concrete and sky,  it won’t – one day it’ll all be gone. He tells her that his planet is gone, that it burned like the Earth, and that all that’s left of it is rocks and dust because there was a war and they lost. Rose asks what happened to the rest of his people and Nine looks down at her, infinitely sad, and says he’s a Time Lord, that, actually, he’s the last of the Time Lords and that he’s left travelling on his own because he’s the only one who survived and there’s no one else. Rose says that he has her. The Doctor asks her if she’d like to go home now she’s seen how dangerous traveling with him can be. Rose says she doesn’t know, but then catches a whiff of chips somewhere around  and smiles and says that that’s exactly what she wants right now, so they should go get some.  They join hands and walk off together, because they’ve only got five billion years till the shops close.

This episode actually has more of the feel of a regular Who adventure – a bit silly, a bit sad, and a lot of fun all around. It’s still pretty heavy on the exposition, but really does an exceptional job – for just being the second episode – of fitting in a rather tremendous amount of character development around the robot spiders, tree people and space dust.  Which is part of the reason this show’s so awesome.

So, Whovians – what did you think of The End of the World? Next week: Charles Dickens and glowing dead bodies!

(And, as a reminder: In case you didn’t know, Doctor Who airs Sunday nights at 10pm on WETA UK!)