Sunday, 26 January 2014

The End of the World written by Russell T Davies and directed by Euros Lyn


This story in a nutshell: Planet Earth’s last day…

Northern Adventurer: Its wonderful to see the Doctor’s smiley reaction to the weird and wonderful aliens that are here for the show and he almost seems to delight in wierding Rose out. The gift of air from his lungs manages to be very funny and flirty, this is how it is done without turning the Doctor into a sleazebag.. His sudden, unexpected anger when Rose starts prying into his background is shocking at first but it is just unpeeling the first of many layers as we start to discover that he is a damaged last survivor of his race. You begin to understand how much the Doctor must have been enjoying the chance to start again with a new companion who doesn't know anything about his past. Rose offers him a chance of beginning life again free from the constraints of the past but she insists on finding out more about him and that makes him uncomfortable. We go through the same situation again in Gridlock when Martha insists that he opens up about his troubled history...but at that stage he has started to come to terms with what he has done. At this point it is all still so raw. Eccleston, who was a little at odds as the Doctor in Rose, suddenly has a rich emotional hook to tap into and he is nothing short of magnificent. The new Doctor shows his teeth when he drags Cassandra back to the Platform One after her near murder of all the guests and watches unflinchingly as she dies before his eyes. You really don’t want to get this guy angry. The Doctor’s quiet admission that his people are all dead and he is the last of his kind is a eye opening moment for fans and all the more impressive for being underplayed so beautifully. I bet nobody was expecting Russell T, Davies to change the landscape of the series quite so dramatically or as quickly. The dramatic opportunities of the loss of the Time Lords and the Doctor's tragic status as the last of their kind are immediately apparent. There are so many questions about the war that bubble up from this revelation which will all be answered later but watching this episode now shows Davies making his mark changing the landscape of series for the better. Gallifrey always was such a dreary place, or at least it was in the eighties. Bravo. Here he redefines the level of emotion that can be dealt with through the character and it makes you wonder why it has taken this long to explore these kinds of avenues.

Chavvy Chick: In terms of image and attitude, Rose in her most basic form is Ace done realistically. She’s a London girl, a bit of a drop out with a mother that tends to hamper her chances of being anything more than she is. Billie Piper is able to dress down and enjoy a proper London accent and even Sophie Aldred has admitted she got to do all the things she wasn't able to do in the eighties. Through Rose I an suddenly see how Ace could be made to work. With some tweaks (calming her down a little bit, cutting out some of the cod-EastEnders hysteria and obliterating the florid street slang)and dress sense, the McCoy era could be played out again without half of it's exasperating and shameful moments. Rose has so many questions to ask and observations to make about being brought to the death of planet Earth chief amongst them that she is the last human being left in this time zone to witness its destruction. When the initial excitement of running away with the Doctor is over Rose suddenly realises she knows nothing about him and she is so far away from home. That strikes me as a very realistic situation to be in; initially enticed and flattered into an exciting position before the reality of what she is doing and the anxieties set in. She has terrible trouble trying to get her head around the casual way the Doctor deals with aliens because the concept is so new to her and more importantly wants to know who the Doctor is and what species he is from. She is also trying to get her head around some pretty weighty concepts like her mum being dead in the time period she is in now. The biggest question is why has nobody asked these sorts of questions before. There is an awful lot of that during the Davies era, especially when it comes to a realistic look at the role of the companion, their absence at home and their place in the Doctor's life. The Doctor heads off with another woman on his arm and Rose doesn’t batter an eyelid. Wouldn't it have been lovely if they could have kept that up in the second series instead of turning Rose into a green-eyed monster? In her own brilliant human way, Rose reacts to the Doctor’s heartbreaking news about the loss of his planet by seeking out a portion of chips. It’s a moments like this you can see exact why he travels with human beings. They bring a sense of distraction and of living in the moment rather than obsessing with the past. Both the Doctor and Rose come of far more appealingly in The End of the World and show much more depth of character but I guess that comes from not having to have their entire life stories spelt out in their introduction. Suddenly they can breathe as characters in the now. Chris Eccleston and Billie Piper already feel made for each other.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You never take time to wonder the impossible. That maybe you survive.’
‘I am the last pure human. The others…mingled.’
‘This whole event was sponsored by the Face of Boe! Talk to the Face! Talk to the Face!’
‘The Adherence of the Repeated Meme! J’accuse!
‘At least it will be quick! Just like my fifth husband!’
‘There was a war and we lost.’

The Good Stuff: Very, very few moments before or since suggest the sheer giddy thrill of being offered the chance to go anywhere in time and space as the first scene of this adventure. Rose looks delighted, scared and completely bowled over by the experience. Listen to how the TARDIS creaks like a sailing ship, a lovely touch. Whilst it's possibilities are infinite there is still a sense of a machine that is barely keeping itself together. I love that. As a way of showing the new audience the extreme possibilities of the TARDIS taking Rose to the day the sun swallows the Earth is a pretty deft example because it connects with them both visually and emotionally. We have never seen special effects quite like the shuttles docking at Platform One in Doctor Who before and so fresh opportunities are being shown to old fans of the series too. Not content with preserving places of heritage, the National Trust eventually owns the entire planet. The idea of re-decorating the planet, forcing a continental shift to a 'classic Earth' is the sort of madcap, throwaway line that Robert Holmes used to toss in and Davies adopts throughout his tenure. Zoe Wanamaker was a big draw because she was so well known for her role as Susan Harper in My Family and she is one of those famous guest stars that simply gets how to play a Doctor Who villain; camp, crazy, slightly over the top, very funny and yet dangerous with it. She gets all the best lines and she relishes them. With the ‘IPod’ playing Tainted Love as Rose stares at the crazy creatures around her and the Earth broils in the windows behind them it is like the insane ingenuity of the Graeme Williams era (a personal favourite of mine) brought to life in the new century. It was quite a gamble to throw this much madness at the audience so soon (like the insanity and freakish imagination of Williams' The Invisible Enemy after the sombre nature of the Hinchcliffe years) but it is one that paid off in spades. It feels like NuWho can do anything and that is freeing and exciting. How impressive are those CGI spiders scuttling around Platform One? There is so much for the eye to follow around they sets as they scuttle about the Station and the one that bump into the camera is a brilliant, brilliant touch. A time travelling mobile phone with boundless signal through time and space - can you imagine a better way to dazzle the youth of today? It's only the tiniest of things but the camera angle from inside the washing machine is a great example of the creativity in the execution of this episode. It could have been so easy to stick the camera in the doorway and shoot that scene in a mundane fashion but Euros Lyn is trying to make his make and continually thinks of creative and unusual ways of bringing The End of the World to life. Cassandra's casual racism is a nice touch and stops things from getting to madcap, a touch of realism amongst all the imagination (‘Do you know what I call them – mongrels!’). I really like the subtle suggestions that make the Tree People feel like a real race including the birdsong technology, talk of forests as breeding grounds (or more accurately roots) everywhere and the resourceful extras such as the liana vines. This could have been a bog standard species but Davies has put some real thought into bringing a race based around topiary to life. Come The End of Time his imagination was a little exhausted (understandably) and the Cacti people aren't conceived or realised with anywhere near the same amount of effort. The episode expertly weaves in hints about some devastating event befalling Gallifrey suggesting that the planet has passed into mythology these days. The secret about what has happened to the planet is enticing and gives the Doctor rare prominence. Galaxy Quest went to some effort to take the mickey out of ridiculous hardware that serves to complicate plots in science fiction tales such as the humongous fans in this story...but that doesn't stop them being a splendid visual anyway. Doctor Who has often thought in cinematic terms but this is the first time it has really been able to actualise those ambitions on screen. I still get a giddy thrill when Britney Spears’ Toxic plays over scenes of Rose waking up in the greatest of dangers because it is like two worlds colliding spectacularly – that of Doctor Who and pop culture. Whilst you are never once convinced that the villain isn’t Cassandra, her plan to rake in the compensation after sabotaging the defences is deliciously greedy and heartless and her motive pleasingly vacuous (‘Flatness costs a fortune!’). She’s such a naughty thing! Jabe's sacrifice is extremely potent considering we have barely spent any time with the character. It is the Doctor's heartbroken and angry reaction that gives it so much weight, Eccleston bringing a great deal of gravity to the script. There is a great deal of scope and content to the episode before the Earth is consumed by the sun so had it been omitted I would still rank it highly but the fact that The End of the World builds to such a haunting, exciting and visually stunning climax caps off a great episode in real style. I especially love the moment a massive chunk floats past the window. I said in my review of Rose that Davies' calling card is the contrast of the magic (the Doctor and Rose silhouetted against the observation platform showing the debris of the Earth gliding past) and the mundane (walking out of the TARDIS into a bog standard British high street) and it is a potent mixture that he would return to again and again. It is such a shocking contrast here it might give you whiplash and I am pleased that Davies chose the latter as the location for the Doctor to spill his secrets about Gallifrey, on his adopted home planet with his new best friend.

The Bad Stuff: Rose chatting with Ruffalo the plumber is the first of many moments that sees Russell T Davies and his army of writers trying to stress the normality of the guest cast. Father's Day is especially horrid in this regard. Oddly Jackie’s kitchen seems to be twice the size than it was in Rose. Cassandra says ‘when I was a little boy’ – is she a bloke then? What an odd line about Ipswich, proving that Davies' ear for memorably dialogue sometimes goes a little astray.

Menagerie: It's worth discussing the effectiveness of the various aliens that show up in the course of this story because it shows how far Doctor Who has come and how things have stayed the same. The Steward is quite a cheap example of alien with nothing but a painted blue far and yet his cat like contacts do give him quite a unique look. The Moxx of Balhoon is precisely the sort of the make up job the Sylvester McCoy era was very good at conjuring up – good in close ups but less so in long shots.   Blue midgets (read children) in helmets are very naff. The make up for Jabe and the tree people really stands out (naturally since she gets the most to do), half make up and half costume with a seamless bridging in between. Somehow they manage to make a creature made of bark look highly sensuous. What an unbelievable sight The Face of Boe is! If anybody where to tell me that the showrunner of the new series would take a character who is basically a giant head pickled in a jar and over the course of three stories he would become one of the central figures of the series and one whose death would have me reaching from the hankies I would probably have laughed in your face. The first truly successfully completely computerised alien in Doctor Who comes in the shape of Cassandra and it is through her that you see what is possible creatively with the use of CGI. A thin sheet of veiny skin with a face built in the centre, this is an unforgettable sight that was so instantly popular she was pencilled in for a return visit as soon as possible. It might have had something to do with her electric personality too but this is one scoundrel you are not going to forget in a hurry. Even the touch of the two masked attendants who moisturise her works a treat. I always laugh my head off when Rose says ‘quick word with Michael Jackson’ because the cut to Cassandra is rather cruelly made to look just like him. She gets one of the ickiest death scenes ever that manages to be as funny as it is gross. Davies is clearly having great fun running riot with his imagination and this menagerie of oddballs manages to encompass the best of the classic (costumes, detailed make up) and the new (CGI creations) new series.

Result: After introducing the basic elements of the series in Rose, The End of the World needed to show that the series meant business and it achieves that in spades. It’s a potent brew of some heady characterisation, oodles of creativity and an astonishingly expensive looking production that like a fine wine has only improved with age. It's with this script that I realised just how much Russell T. Davies understands his new audience and is trying to reach out to as many people as possible; there’s monsters and cool gadgets for the kids, an emotive character arc with Rose for the more sensitive members of the audience, a destabilising shock in established continuity for the geeks and pretty production values for those who just want a good time on a Saturday night. It really bugs me when I see a book like Mark Campbell’s guide driving a stake through a story with as much imagination, humour and drama as this just because it has a few moments that you might describe as being ‘a bit silly.’ It’s a Graeme Williams tale with a huge budget and offers a hefty emotional wallop at its heart, The End of the World is massively entertaining and really makes you think as well. I can still remember the excitement this episode gave me when I first watched it, Doctor Who was most definitely back, it was better than ever and the possibilities were endless: 9/10

6 comments:

Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

I totally agree with your assessment. This is story that sold me on the brilliance on the new series.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this episode since it first aired, but I absolutely hated it. While the basic concept seems sound (a mystery aboard a space station), but not being a fan of the graham williams years, I found that take on it absolutely horrible. There were lots of things that I disliked (most especially Christopher Eccleston's take on the Doctor, but that was true of the entire season), but the amazingly annoying Cassandra was by far the worst of it. The one saving grace was Jabe.

Anonymous said...

What I miss more from the RTD era is the humanity of his characters, as for the companions and too for the families of the companions. I can't feel the same with the Moffat era characters, they seem a bit cardboard bunch of mannierims, dunno, they lack personality, humanity...
For example, Rose ended falling for the Doctor, but not since the start and he didn't tried desperately to bed him like Amy did in the day before her wedding!

Lot of people disliked Martha, but apart from her unrequited love for the Doc, she was resourceful and funny
Donna was my fav companion from the new series so anything to add here
Wilf was a totally charming and awesome character who I would have loved to see as a companion too

From the Moffat era I think I only feel simpathy for Rory.

Joe Ford said...

I absolutely agree about the absence of humanity in the characters, I desperately miss that too. Nobody feels real to me anymore, not like they did during the Davies era for good or for ill.

Tyrionhalfman said...

Have to say about characterisation that yes, Moffat certainly made an epic fuck up in writing Amy Pond, but Rory excelled in a lot of ways, cuz despite the fact that he was an idiot for loving Amy, that gave him genuine character, whilst Amy resigned herself to constant flirtations (which I could not find a chemistry between her and smith strong enough to actually relate to) compared to her and river song. I actually like river song but primarily from Kingston's acting. Amy has a good actress but falls apart with her character more so than River. And whilst I am not as critical of Clara as you seem to be, Doc Oho, she is not as effective at holding a mystery as River Song was. So out of all Moffat's supporting cast I like Rory and River. And Clara sometimes... I think Moffat's main problem is that he only writes humour well regarding character e.g eleventh doctor, rory and strax. Whereas RTD's characters made me cry in the supporting cast. I preferred Rose with Eccleston than with Tennant though. In Series 2, which was the first of the new series I watched all they seemed to do was be happy for no reason, rather than have the proper human relationship between her and Nine. Having said that I love Wilf, Donna and hell, even Martha.

Daniel Leonard said...

"For example, Rose ended falling for the Doctor, but not since the start and he didn't tried desperately to bed him like Amy did in the day before her wedding!"

I like both Davies and Moffat, both are superb but flawed writers whose strengths beautifully complement one another's weaknesses (which is why the 4 stories they worked on together are among the best the show has done, and why it's a crying shame Davies never came back to write an episode under Moffat).

I'm drifting.

My point is, I don't view what Anonymous describes above as a flaw in Moffat's writing compared to Davies's. I think it's a consequence of how each views the Doctor and the companions. Davies loves the Doctor, and cannot see why anyone would ever leave him, so all Davies's companions are independent characters whose lives come to revolve around the Doctor until the tragic moment of separation. Moffat, in the other hand, sees the Doctor as a flawed childhood hero, so all his companions START OUT with their lives entwined with the Doctor's, and their story is about how they come to see him more realistically and grow beyond him. Moffat and Davies's companion arcs are almost mirror images of one another.

It's a matter of taste, but I think on the whole I prefer Moffat's interpretation. Donna will always be one of the finest companions ever, but from the perspective of the characters' endings, I think the Amy (series 7a), River (Husbands and Library) and Clara (Raven and Hell) for far more satisfying character development than Rose or Martha, and got endings that grew much more out of their characters.

Before you think I'm a massive Moffat apologist, or think that I'm claiming that Moffat writes characters better than Davies, where Davies does excel (and I think you - Joe - have said the same elsewhere) is in writing the one-off characters in his stories. Unlike Moffat, Davies has that same gift that Robert Holmes had, of being able to sum up a character's personality and circumstances in a single line. I just think he has a blind spot when it comes to plotting long-term character arcs for his companions. Which is absolutely fair enough, given that he was the first writer to really try.