Having a strong series opener is really important in “Doctor Who”, and in many ways, the second episode is just as important. The second episode is usually a character-building adventure that helps to cement the dynamic the Doctor and his companion will have (“The Fires Of Pompeii”, “The Beast Below”, “The Rings Of Akhaten”), though occasionally that task falls to the third episode (“Gridlock”, “Thin Ice”). While “Rose” was fairly reserved with it’s sci-fi elements, the whole Whoniverse really opens up in “The End Of The World” and it’s pretty grand. Compared to “Rose”, “The End Of The World” has a more relaxed and casual pace (yet sillier tone), and it’s our first good look at Russell T. Davies’s writing tropes. His episodes set in the future were usually meant to be social commentary, exaggerated parodies of modern society, suggesting that times change and technology advances but human nature stays the same. In the year five billion, people are still vain and greedy, they still put their blind trust in authority figures, and classism still exists. Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat both had their personal fixations as showrunners, and class commentary was one of RTD’s. The divide between the various social classes was a topic that came up a lot in the RTD era, usually in the context of the rich and wealthy being evil. In the Moffat era, the characters sometimes bend to the will of the plot, and in the RTD era, the entire world sometimes bends to the needs of the story. The climax of “The End Of The World” is thrilling to watch as the tension ramps up and the Doctor rushes to save everyone, but you can’t help but wonder why the hell the space station’s emergency switch is positioned behind a row of giant, deadly spinning fans. I initially thought the Lady Cassandra had something to do with that design, but apparently architects in the future are just really dumb.
Rose and the Doctor’s excitement and enthusiasm at the start of the episode, about taking a fun spin in the TARDIS, is very infectious. For me, a large part of the appeal of this series is how flexible and ambitious it’s premise is. Since we’re talking about a show that can go anywhere at any time in the universe, there’s an enormous amount of stories that can be told in “Doctor Who”, with very little limit to it’s potential except for the series’ budget. Rose and the Doctor decide to go big for her first trip and venture into the far future, and the subsequent visual of the pair gazing down on the planet from orbit – the Earth now an ancient world due to be destroyed by it’s own sun – is simply stunning. I love that after all her excitement about getting to leave home and travel through time, when Rose actually does it she falters and freaks out for a sizable chunk of this episode. Not only is she experiencing a massive amount of culture shock in the future, but what was supposed to be a fun trip has unexpectedly confronted her with her own mortality and the mortality of her entire species in comparison to the vastness of time, so she struggles to come to terms with that. In the year five billion, nothing makes any sense, aliens gather together to celebrate the death of her ancestral home and everything she comes from and they treat it like a fun evening party, the enormous amount of culture humanity built up during it’s existence has almost become a forgotten relic, seemingly the last human around is an eccentric piece of talking skin, the Doctor doesn’t seem bothered by any of this, and Rose still doesn’t know anything about him at all. Eventually, Rose starts to feel very tiny and wonders what she’s gotten herself into. Taking some time to collect herself, she finds comfort in learning blue collar workers still exist in the future and connects with one of the locals.
While Billie Piper was good at portraying Rose’s brashness in the previous episode, this one makes it clear the real reason why she was cast: she is stellar at capturing Rose’s inner turmoil and vulnerability. The Doctor is still reluctant to open up about his past, but he helps Rose phone home to her mom for a reassuring talk. Fans sometimes speculate that Rose’s call went through a few days prior to “Rose”, mainly because Jackie seems a lot more calm and relaxed here than she ought to be, considering the last time we saw her she had nearly been killed in a mall, Rose had rudely hung up on her, and she presumably didn’t find Rose waiting for her when she went home. While looking into the strange malfunctions on the space station, Rose gets some one-on-one time with the Lady Cassandra, which leads to what’s easily her best scene in the episode. Rose quickly gets tired of Cassandra’s arrogance, pomposity and casual racism, so she lets the upper-class woman know exactly what she thinks of her and verbally rips her to shreds in front of everyone present. If it wasn’t clear before, Rose is definitely Jackie Tyler’s daughter. Cassandra does not appreciate that one bit, so her crazy self tries to have Rose bumped off in retaliation, and like the Doctor in the last episode, Rose damsels it up in the climax. After the Earth finally passes and Rose is left fairly heartbroken, the Doctor takes her back to the Earth in her own time, still alive and thriving and comforting and the same as ever, even if Rose’s perspective on it has changed vastly over the span of a day. The Doctor teaches her that nothing lasts forever, not even your home in the end, which is why you should make the most of the time you’ve got, live life to the fullest and and treasure every moment. It’s a surprisingly touching message for the show to impart in only it’s second episode, and a good insight into the Doctor’s stance on time travel (and by extension, the series’). He’s not the type to set out to change history, but he does try to savor everything it has to offer, and from here on out, Rose does as well.
Unlike his sparse appearances in “Rose”, the Doctor is present throughout this episode so we learn a lot more about him in this adventure. “The End Of The World” serves as a nice character study for Nine, and a chance for Christopher Eccleston to continue to grow into the role. Every companion has a moment early on when it dawns on them just how alien the Doctor is, and I’m not just talking about his biology but how divorced his mindset is from that of an average human’s. The Doctor is a time traveler, he has been for most of his long life now, and he’s gradually become desensitized to the natural life cycle of the universe. Clara has a great scene in “Hide” where she correctly surmises that everyone the Doctor talks to in every moment is both alive and dead to him – unborn in the faraway past, and long dead in the distant future – and there’s something rather unsettling about how easily he accepts that. In “The End Of The World”, the Doctor decides to show off for Rose on her first trip by taking her to see her ancestral home be destroyed by an expanding sun, and it honestly doesn’t occur to him how much seeing that would mess Rose up until she points it out to him. Realizing he might have gone a bit too far in tossing Rose into the deep end, the Doctor tries to help her adjust and feel comfortable as best as he can throughout the episode. When he’s not saving the world, the Doctor is content to play the part of a tourist and just enjoy watching monumental moments in history unfold. But when trouble brews, he’s quick to leap into action, and he can’t help enjoying the chaos just a bit because of his reckless, daredevil streak. Still, there’s a gnawing sense that the Ninth Doctor’s constant, cheeky grins are a bit of a front, that he’s consciously making an effort to appear more cheery than he actually is.
The Doctor is still keeping secrets about who he is and where he comes from. There’s something in his past, something eating away at him, that he’s desperately trying to run away from and stay in denial about. He tries to distract himself by jumping from case to case, but Rose and Jabe both pick up on it immediately, and the latter manages to puzzle it out. The Doctor eventually comes clean to Rose that he is the last of his kind, the last time lord. His home planet, Gallifrey, was destroyed in a mysterious time war and the Doctor was left to soldier on by himself, carrying around all that loneliness and survivor’s guilt the entire time. The Doctor is clearly still holding out on some details, leaving another large shoe to drop in “Dalek“, but this development explains a lot of his prickly, morose behavior in the last two episodes and why he appreciates Rose’s friendship. “The End Of The World” does a lot to humanize the Doctor’s character and make him sympathetic, so it’s an interesting choice that this episode also contains one of his most grippingly ruthless moments. The Doctor is a righteous man and he’s furious when multiple, good people die as a result of Cassandra’s crimes. He refuses to let that go unpunished, so he enacts some vigilante justice and calls her back to Platform One so he can callously watch her dry out and die. You really won’t feel sorry for her, but this scene is definitely creepy, and it’s the first one in NuWho to suggest that the Doctor can be an ice cold time lord if you push him far enough. After his experience with Rose in this episode, Nine seems to have realized he needs to start accepting what happened to Gallifrey. His new words to live by are ‘everything has it’s time and everything dies’, an idea that would become a major recurring theme in the rest of the RTD era; it’s even incorporated into the Ninth and Tenth Doctors’ regeneration stories.
Out of the quirky alien cast hobbling around in this episode (including the noble tree-woman Jabe, who dies a horrible, tragic death), the Lady Cassandra is easily the most memorable member. Cassandra is basically your typically camp, flamboyant and saucy diva / socialite, except she’s a sheet of talking skin, and Zoe Wanamaker clearly has a lot of fun hamming it up as the character. Cassandra knows how to play to a crowd and she tries her best to appear hospitable and personable, but beneath her cheery exterior lies a lot of unpleasantness. Tying into Russell’s commentary on the frivolity of the rich and wealthy, Cassandra is obsessively vain and has tried way too hard to conform to her own self-imposed beauty standards out of insecurity. She’s altered her body with so many plastic surgeries for centuries that she’s not even recognizable as being human anymore, not that she would ever admit that. She’s also determined to keep herself ‘pure’ as the rest of humanity changes and evolves and becomes ‘mongrels’, a remarkable bit of cognitive dissonance that Rose does not hesitate to point out. With that in mind, Cassandra is a pretty obvious suspect for what’s happening on Platform One, even if she tries to make the obviously evil robot monks her fall guys. As it turns out, Cassandra is a greedy psychopath who tried to have the richest aliens in the universe killed so she can cash in on their deaths and maintain her slavishly expensive lifestyle. She also tries to kill Rose, for no reason other than Rose personally pissing her off. Cassandra receives a karmic demise at the end of this episode, but despite what it appears, this is not the last we’ll see of her. Cassandra will make her glorious return in “New Earth” the following season, an episode that gives David Tennant and Billie Piper a chance to chew so much scenery.
The production values for “The End Of The World” are pretty good by Series 1 standards. The CGI has noticeably aged better than it’s use in the last episode, and the direction by Euros Lynn is frequently captivating, flaunting all the different areas of Platform One as it orbits the Earth in space. After the first episode was set entirely in London, RTD wanted the second episode to be a big one as the show journeyed into space and gave the audience it’s first taste of the scale of Whoniverse, so he apparently blew through most of the season’s budget doing justice to all the warranted special effects in this episode. It’s why the CGI in some of the other episodes can look pretty rough and unpolished. The costume designers went to town thinking up weird, colorful and extravagant designs for the alien guests at Platform One. “Doctor Who’s” episodes set in the future usually wind up focusing on future humans, so it’s nice to see one centered around a bizarre conglomeration of diverse aliens for a change. Murray Gold’s score is again rousing and pleasant: the wavering, psychedelic and electronic “Cassandra’s Waltz” sounds like a classic piece of 60’s sci-fi music and is a nice touch throughout the episode, helping the whole adventure to feel a bit off-kilter. Most notably, “The End Of The World” sees the debut of Rose Tyler’s leitmotif, “Rose’s Theme“, a soft piece of piano music that I find very enchanting. Fans sometimes describe the writing in the RTD era as resembling a soap opera, and “Rose’s Theme” definitely feels soapish and larger than life. Mostly, I love how bittersweet it is. Rose learned in this episode that she should enjoy everything life has to offer her, because nothing lasts forever. Her adventures with the Doctor in Series 1 and 2, seeing the universe, were the best times of her life and that came to an end too eventually, so “Rose’s Theme” feels like a complete musical journey of beauty, joy and sadness. My favorite use of it is probably Rose saying goodbye to Mickey at the end of “The Age of Steel“.
“The End Of The World” is a really entertaining, if at times overly silly, second episode of Doctor Who’s first series, and it’s good to see it officially break the ice between one of the better Doctor / companion pairs in the revival: the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler.
* “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 time to imagine the impossible, that maybe you survive. This is the year five point five slash apple slash twenty six. Five billion years in your future, and this is the day… wait, hold on. This is the day the sun expands. Welcome to the end of the world”.
* I’d just like to mention, the Face of Boe is present for the proceedings. If you believe Captain Jack and the Face of Boe are the same person, Jack was the first NuWho companion the Doctor met out in order, three years before River Song.
* “Where are you from, miss? If you don’t mind me asking” “No, not at all. Er, I don’t know. A long way away. I just sort of hitched a lift with this man. I didn’t even think about it. I don’t even know who he is. He’s a complete stranger” Well, that took a dark turn quickly.
* “Hello. My name’s Rose. That’s a sort of plant. We might be related- I’m talking to a twig“.
* “They’re just so alien. The aliens are so alien. You look at ’em and they’re alien” “Hmm, good thing I didn’t take you to the Deep South” Says the man who called humans ‘stupid apes’ in the last episode.
* “I could show you and your wife” “She’s not my wife” “Partner?” “No” “Concubine?” “Nope” “Prostitute?” “Whatever I am, it must be invisible!”
* “I was born on that planet, and so was my mum, and so was my dad, and that makes me officially the last human being in this room, ‘cos you’re not human. You’ve had it all nipped and tucked and flattened till there’s nothing left. Anything human got chucked in the bin. You’re just skin, Cassandra. Lipstick and skin. Nice talking”.
* I always flinch when the monks knock out Rose. I’m 99% certain Billie Piper did not get bitch-slapped, but that was a very convincing stunt.
* “At arms!” “What are you gonna do, moisturize me?” “With acid“.
* “The end of the Earth. It’s gone. We were too busy saving ourselves. No one saw it go. All those years, all that history, and no one was even looking. It’s just…” “Come with me. You think it’ll last forever, people and cars and concrete, but it won’t. One day it’s all gone. Even the sky”.