Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Doctor Who Series 1 Ep2: The End Of The World

"Everything has its time and everything dies." -The Doctor-

"I'm a Time Lord. I'm the last of the Time Lords." -The Doctor-

While Rose was an undeniably solid opener, Russell T. Davies elevated his game another notch for his sophomore effort, The End Of The World, picking up precisely with the moment he left off. Davies jump started the season first with the memorable season premiere and followed suit with the even more challenging sequel. Actually, he intended for them to be seen together. I promise you, repeat viewings were in order for both of these Davies' entries. Whether or not this story is an entirely original idea I'm unsure, but for television, for me, it was an eye-popping and fresh event, like the aliens within the story itself. It was at once a seemingly risk-taking approach to serial science fiction approach and yet bursting with wit and energy in all of its unconventional ideas, which, in essence, are steeped in pure, unadulterated drama.

The End Of The World also looks amazing as if sparing no expense in production. The End Of The World looks as if the team blew its entire load on this one affair. You might well imagine the series could be headed for an episode that takes place in a single room because The End Of The World looks expensive, epic, bold and beautiful. Could the proverbial filler episode be far behind? Thankfully that never happens, yet The End Of The World is indeed a breathtaking entry that literally transports us as viewers squarely into science fiction territory. Deep space. Colorful alien races. Future ideas. Russell T. Davies makes no bones about his hopes for Doctor Who in the span of just two short, sharp episodes colliding horror and science fiction elements into a magnificent amalgamation of entertainment, while taking the story and character dialogue to new heights. Both the youthful energy of new companion and sex kitten [I never really did mention that, but by God Billie Piper is fabulous] Rose Tyler and the geeky cool of the Doctor are given that much more with which to expand their characters. The End Of The World is truly, as brilliant as it looks, an actor's dream.

Doctor Who, Series 1, Episode 2, The End Of The World spends a good bit of time detailing the geek fun of the time travelling process and the machinations involved in finding a time and location to transport the TARDIS.

And so, with the Doctor's handy psychic paper as an invitation, the duo steps five billion years into the future where the sun is expanding and the Earth is set to end [Earth-Death], the Doctor provides Rose a front row seat for the fireworks display on Platform One, the Manchester Suite. Solar flares and issues with the Sun caused much grief to the Earth for Season Twelve, Episode 76, The Ark In Space [1975]. As a result, viewers too are positioned to feel very much apart of the proceedings through the eyes of Rose. Like her we are bombarded with information, new places, new faces and an overwhelming sense of otherness. It is indeed a learning curve and an adjustment for the intrigued but fearless passenger. The episode explodes immediately with originality through the introduction of a wild selection of new alien arrivals to be introduced by the blue-skinned Steward of Platform One.

The End Of The World captures its host of characters and places them into a confined space specifically designed as a social gathering, and it is the snappy dialogue and quick, natural exchanges between all the characters, specifically actors Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper, that shine. This tandem of Eccleston and Piper is very sharp out of the gate and the chemistry is electric delivering magic for a brand new Doctor Who series previously shelved for nearly a decade and longer if you discount the Eighth Doctor.

In fact, once again, the series has expertly selected a splendid supporting cast to play its wide array of alien visitors. The Moxx Of Balhoon would also make first mention of the "Bad Wolf scenario" to The Face Of Boe [of the Silver Devastation]. The introductions are always important and on Doctor Who they are original.

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The cast of bizarre characters leaves Rose in awe through much of the entry as she delivers an extraordinarily good fish-out-of-water performance. You can imagine a similar response to the environment in her shoes. It's entirely credible within the incredible.

Davies and company brilliantly build some wonderful creatures reminding us of the kind of excitement that infused Farscape's odd cast of characters.

The Face Of Boe is a brilliant creation. I was reminded slightly of that guild navigator creature in Dune housed within the liquid tank. So much imagination is put up on the screen giving The End Of The World a very cinematic quality. Even an evolved human in the form of Lady Cassandra O'Brien Dot Delta Seventeen is positively disturbing. The character of Cassandra presents a clever possibility of one such evolutionary path for humanity. How could the end of the world not be upon us? It is a most bizarre but fantastic interpretation of the evolved human five billion years in the making. What do we have to look forward to? A brain in a jar below a stretched frame of human skin and veins pulled paper thin into a cloth canvas and moisturized by inhuman aids so as to preserve a pathetic excuse for human existence. Her face is the viewing screen with her brain attached like an external harddrive. Zoe Wanamaker is outstanding as the voice of Cassandra, the "last pure human," and she would return for The Stolen Earth [2006]. She is the result of 708 operations including a sex change if I'm not mistaken. She is nothing more than a "bitchy trampoline" as Rose barbs. The two have a terrific character exchange.

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Davies even adds clever touches like the jukebox that actually gets the party started for the end of the world festivities to the tune of 1980s classic Tainted Love [1981] by Soft Cell with that timeless vocal of one Marc Almond. It's like the Tatooine Cantina scene, but rather an alien gathering for the cocktail crowd elite partying like it's 1999. The festivities are followed later with a Toxic [2004] tune from none other than Britney Spears. How do they do it? Why is it when Davies spins crazy it sounds and looks so perfect?

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Beccy Armory is terrific as the blue-skinned Raffalo too. She's a delight and offers a wonderful exchange with Rose before Davies decides to deposit her into the guest heap along with Clive from Rose. It's amazing how much attention to detail even is given to what could easily have been a throwaway character. Instead, Armory is allowed to breathe life into a performance as vivid as her blue face paint. Davies and company are all over the details and the episode is marvelous for it.

Doctor Who effortlessly switches between cerebral science fiction ideas to the physically thrilling packed with humor ("Talk to the face [of Boe]" rather than the hand as the saying goes) to moments of genuinely tender emotion. How is not jarring to the viewer? It's a testament to Davies' writing skills.

And how exactly does Rose understand these creatures? That would be the telepathic field supplied to Rose by the TARDIS. It's a "Time Lord gift" of the TARDIS as first introduced during the Fourth Doctor reign, Season Fourteen, Episode 86, The Masque Of Mandragora [1976]. Farscape has the Translator Microbes as noted in Premiere, Doctor Who has the even more impressive explanation of the telepathic field. To illustrate one of the many extraordinary character exchanges, this scene is wonderful between Piper and Eccleston. It speaks directly to a passage from a terrific essay by Laura Geuy Akers called Empathy, Ethics And Wonder from Doctor Who And Philosophy: Bigger On The Inside.  Akers reflects quite articulately on this moment.  She writes, "The Doctor, ...lives his life at such a pace that introspective reflection isn't practical.  He also doesn't seem interested in contemplating the coherence of his long-term identity, preferring to live in the moment."  Such energy seems almost pointless to the doctor as he is moved to anger. "I'm just the Doctor... This is who I am, right here, right now, all right?!  All that counts is here and now, and this is me!"  This directly connects with the character that is the Doctor.

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This is quickly succeeded by an emotional long distance (through time), cell phone call between Rose and her mother (currently residing in present day Earth) thanks to a little "jiggery pokery." The idea of a transmission across space and time is certainly not new as evidence in Season Thirteen, Episode 80, Terror Of The Zygons [1975] as well as The Three Doctors [1972-1973]. The entry is loaded with quotable moments. The writing and wit is that good here.

Speaking of Doctor Who's emotional strengths, this is a wonderfully affecting moment, among affecting moments, whereby Jabe, a tree alien of Cheem, connects with the Doctor and empathizes with him. The Doctor shows an extraordinary side with this truly touching tug on the heartstrings. The Doctor is clearly managing great pain often masked with a smile and his typically good humor.

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The End Of The World underscores the Doctor too as a being alone in the universe, healing and trying to find his own way following the end of his own world.

Special effects are on the money throughout the episode, notable for the most effects shot ever in a Doctor Who episode through 2011, but as expected the make-up and prosthetic work trump the always date-worthy CGI effects. Still, Cassandra, a CGI creation, is phenomenal. Even some thrilling moments dealing with the radioactive sunshine/ sun filter predate but remind of us of British filmmaker Danny Boyle's wonderful film, Sunshine [2007].

Additionally, this follow up to Rose succeeds much better with its choice of compositions by Murray Gold. The score is much more delicate and serves as a beautiful accompaniment or backdrop to the direction by Euros Lyn. The mixing is far better here, but the mood is entirely different from the urgent electronic numbers of Rose.

Some revealing moments are explored from the revelations of the Doctor's homeworld and his people, the Time Lords, lost to war, to the tender reflections of humankind's potential end and to cherish the day and the gift of existence. Nothing last forever. Even the Doctor, a Time Lord, not taken with the idea of ending life, even gives pause to the belief that life has an end and intervening to stop that life from terminating can be just as wrong-headed as ending one not ready to go. It's a beautifully poetic tale and the Doctor and Rose join hands as an understanding connects them and as the kindness between two different races opens further to friendship. Piper and Eccleston are incredibly good as the slow, streaming reveals throughout the entry build to a powerful finale.

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Doctor Who strikes again with the extraordinarily well-crafted and well-paced science fiction and character canvas that is The End Of The World. This is a perfect illustration of character, story and ideas culminating in a classic. The special effects are extremely good, but as they date and age with time, The End Of The World will remain proof positive that a cracking good tale rich in character will always stand the test of time. The End Of The World never looked so beautiful.

The End Of The World: A. Writer: Russell T. Davies. Director: Euros Lyn.

Monsters/Aliens: Moxx Of Balhoon/ The Face of Boe/ Mr. and Mrs. Pakoo/ The Sisterhood of the Wicker Place Mat/ Lady Cassandra O'Brien Dot Delta Seventeen [a human that easily qualifies as monster]/ The Forest Of Cheem [including Jabe]/ Adherents Of The Repeated Meme/ Robot Spiders/ The Steward.

Additional Commentary: This episode was not only boldly original and refreshing as science fiction goes, but highly charged emotionally. I'm not entirely sure I was prepared for that. I just had no idea what to expect. Who would have thought in a second attempt Russell T. Davies could make a perfect episode? Honestly, there are so many moments of genuine emotion it is a stunning piece of work. It's pretty clear this creative team was making a big statement and were here to stay.

In fact, Rose's final moments when the Doctor requests she join him on this new journey while Mickey clings to her leg not to leave him, there is a clear electricity between these two beings - human and Time Lord. Short of saying there is a clear love connection between them there is indeed something of a spark there. You can feel it and I'm not overstating it. There is a connection and Eccleston and Piper sell it with their winning combination. Who knew the chemistry would be even more potent between Piper and David Tennant?

With The End Of The World there is a flood of mutual affections abound through space and time between them. Davies genuinely builds the relationship in rousing fashion while they flit about Platform 1. They butt heads because there are aspects to their personalities which are similar, but there is something sincerely building between Rose and the Doctor. It's most significant in The End Of The World and it's beautiful. I wasn't the only one to notice.

In Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition 200 Golden Moments two writers eloquently captured and articulated their own feelings regarding the standout entry.

First, Matt Michael celebrates Doctor Who's approach to being big, bold and different to the budget-conscious, sometimes-Earth driven period tales of eras past on British television. He notes The End Of The World makes a very major statement. It "specifically repudiates that narrow, budget-conscious thinking by cramming every inch of the screen with bizarre-looking creatures who have gathered ... to network while the Earth burns below." Michael truly reiterates my own experience viewing the episode and obviously gets Davies' intention as I did. This was a huge episode. "This wildly ambitious scene occurs in the second episode. In most shows it's one that's meant to show us how this is all going to work on a weekly basis. So, as a statement of intent - that this series was going to be bigger, brighter, bolder than Doctor Who had been since the mid-1960s, and utterly unlike anything else on television - this is unbeatable, and I love Russell T. Davies for having the nerve to write it. It's the moment I fell in love with Doctor Who all over again." Amen. Well said.

Rose was an exceptional first outing and a terrific introduction, but The End Of The World has got guts galore and science fiction fans will no doubt appreciate the courageous nature of its approach to telling a story and to laying the ground rules for the new Doctor Who. Michael is right, Davies showed real audacity here and succeeded marvelously. I think The End Of The World is tremendously risky in its approach to a new series and I think Davies grounds it in character which is why it is so extraordinary and works.

The extraordinarily sexy Billie Piper. Joseph Lidster also had an appreciation for the episode and he comes at it as a non-science fiction fan and as someone not overly keen on monsters and aliens.

"After years of Star Trek, I knew that alien races tended to be dull, often defined by one characteristic such as an obsession with money or honour or whatever." He beamed, "But not in The End Of The World. Here they're brilliant. They look amazing. They flirt and argue and joke and bitch at each other. They're genuinely funny and they feel like real individuals."

As Lidster notes, The End Of The World is permeated with genuinely emotional moments of reality with Davies making it clear it will be an "integral part of the programme." Rose calling her mom. The Doctor notifying Jabe's friends of her death. Dancing to Tainted Love. Rose telling off Cassandra. Rose having an intimate exchange with Raffalo. The Doctor and Rose learning more about one another. The entry is littered with special moments. As Lidster notes, when the Doctor and Rose land on a city street in the final minute they talk, "properly." Each special moment seems to build on the former until you get to the final act when the Doctor and Rose take one another's hand in friendship. How perfect they should share the simple joy of chips to hammer home the point of treasuring the moment.

"It's difficult to say what makes the scene so perfect, because it's every single thing about it. It's the astonishing performances by Chris and Billie. The beautiful music by Murray Gold and direction by Euros Lyn. The sheer brilliance of Russell T. Davies' script. It's a scene that shows two people becoming friends." The emotional pay off in the episode, like the Earth-Death itself is spectacular and heart-rending. I don't use that cliched word lightly. It's genuine, heartfelt stuff. Lidster concludes, "It's epic, not because Gallifrey has been destroyed, but because it's real human drama that delves so deeply into our two main characters. It shows a broken man starting to heal. It shows a young girl realizing just how huge the universe is. It shows two people becoming real friends. And it's possibly the most powerful scene there's ever been in Doctor Who." Amen. I've seen the entirety of Doctor Who Series 1 and Lidster is not wrong. This is one of the most powerful entries in the science fiction genre period. It is handled quite poetically.

I was reminded of classic Doctor Who and it's been a long time since I've seen it, but The End Of The World reminisces of the kind of power found in the goodbye in Season 14, Episode 87, The Hand Of Fear between the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith. I was profoundly moved as a young man at the goodbye between Tom Baker's Doctor and Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane. Well, The End Of The World offers that kind of power with two people saying hello to one another rather than goodbye. How unusual. Yes, one man is healing. One woman is discovering and opening her eyes. Together, it's clear they need one another. At the very least a friendship and mutual respect is forming. There is indeed a cosmic connection between them and in two episodes Russell T. Davies bloody well nails it. It's a gem.

Images from one of Doctor Who, Series 1's most memorable moments. For those keeping track, The End Of The World placed #93 in Doctor Who Magazine's The Mighty 200 below Rose [#63]. The End Of The World does deserve a higher placement, but these things are entirely subjective as one might imagine. Shouldn't we expect better for the end of the world and this magnificent beginning for the Doctor and Rose?

3 comments:

Maurice Mitchell said...

Yeah, this episode desewrves a higher placement to me to Sci Fi Fanatic. Very moving and brilliant.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Very moving. Loads of emotional undercurrents going on here for Rose and the Doctor. It's beautifully executed! Cheers Maurice.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

By the way, I agree with you... digging the nnew interface [so far].