DOCTOR WHO: THE END OF THE WORLD and the Curious Case of the Bitchy Trampoline

“THE END OF THE WORLD” – Series 1, Episode 2, Story 159 – Written by Russell T. Davies; Directed by Euros Lyn – Wanting to show off the TARDIS to Rose, the Ninth Doctor takes her to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. No, wait, that’s not right. He takes her to Platform One to listen to Britney Spears and watch the Earth get burned up, but someone wants to murder everyone, so the Doctor’s got to solve a mystery while Rose has to try to not get burned up by the exploding sun. Unfortunately, she’s from 2005 so she hasn’t watched Sunshine, yet, so this is probably all new to her. While Rose is dodging the sun’s rays, we’re finding out a bit more about where the Doctor’s been and this war he was involved in. It’s not pretty. Because Gallifrey is Gone and He’s The Last of the Time Lords.

Almost as if proving he has no romantic intentions towards his 19-year old Companion, the Ninth Doctor takes Rose five million years into the future so she can watch the Earth get burned by the exploding sun, proving he’s an even worse date than Mickey. The National Trust has been holding back the full blast of the sun, but money has run out, so the filthy rich are gathering at Platform One to watch the sun eat the Earth. It won’t flash fry any people because they’ve all left over the years. Probably sucks to be a turtle, though.

Where ROSE was unequivocally a Rose-centered program, THE END OF THE WORLD begins to shift perspective back to the Doctor. Emotionally, the episode gives fair time to Rose, showing her difficulties in adjusting to aliens who look like aliens, and not a singular alien that looks like a human, but it’s the Doctor who propels the plot and it’s the Doctor to whom writer Russell T. Davies spends the most time revealing to the audience.

In rereading my reaction to ROSE, I realize that I never actually came out and said that I liked the episode, so let me state here, clearly and plainly, that I loved ROSE. I thought it was a fantastic episode, reminiscent in many ways of Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ MARVELS, where we follow along with a “normal” person in a “beyond normal” world. I thought it was a brilliant way in which to introduce new fans and reintroduce old fans to the world of the Doctor, and just as importantly, to build an immediate connection with Miss Tyler.

In THE END, however, while we still get plenty of Rose on an emotional level, she’s disconnected from the action portion of the episode, literally spending much of her time locked away in a room and trying not to get deep fried by the sun as part of the baddies’ attempt to kill everyone.

The narrative portion of THE END isn’t nearly as strong as ROSE, but it delivers a bigger emotional impact. It’s a good episode but it’s like Ali deploying the rope-a-dope against Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle – he spends the bulk of his time dodging and playing defense until ending with some haymakers at the end. It makes for a great ending, but it’s not the most enjoyable way to get there.

Davies semi-sidelines Rose in order to shift focus towards the Doctor. As usual in DOCTOR WHO, there’s a mystery to solve and he’s going to solve it. Davies also gives the Ninth an emotional arc that runs alongside the action, giving us our first extended glimpse of what he’s been doing since we last saw him beating the crazy eyes out of Eric Roberts.

One of the joys of watching a Davies’ script play out is the way he can juggle several sub-plots through the course of an episode, only to have them crash into each other at the end. Admittedly, there are two potential downfalls to this style: 1. sometimes that it can get a bit hokey or forced, and 2. sometimes the plot runs pretty weak in order to serve the emotional angle Davies so loves.

It’s the latter that’s the case here. The mystery over who’s killing people isn’t all that strong, and Davies doesn’t even try to hide it. Among the aliens who board Platform One are several black-robed figures called the Adherents of the Repeated Meme who give everyone a little silver ball that eventually cracks open to reveal a small robotic spider who commit all kinds of havoc. Davies gives it a bit of a spin as the Doctor even states that fingering the Adherents is “all too easy” when he has his “Here’s What Happened” moment, and fingers the Lady Cassandra (the last “pure” human in the universe) as the real mastermind of the crime, but it doesn’t really matter because typically in a Davies script what happens is far less important that how what happens affects people.

The Doctor starts the episode all cheery, gleefully showing off the TARDIS’ time-traveling capabilities to ROSE, and then smiling broadly as each new alien enters the Platform One observation room. When they offer him a gift, he playfully gives them the gift of air from his lungs in return.

You can see through the Doctor’s cheeriness, however. In ROSE, he glibly told Rose “not to worry about me” as he was going to the roof of Henrik’s in order to blow up the relay station, and later looked out at her with hurt eyes from the doorway of the TARDIS as she initially rejected his offer to become his Companion. He moved through his adventure with a stand-offishness towards others that ultimately dissolved as he made his offer to Rose. He was like the guy who knows you’re throwing a party and wants to go, but wants you to ask him to come instead of having to ask to go, or even to state his desire to attend.

In THE END, his big smile dissolves quickly into an irked, defensive anger as Rose wants to know where he’s from. He keeps brushing the question aside, purposely avoiding the simple answer, as he becomes sullen and moody. Eccleston plays the Doctor’s response to Rose’s questions wonderfully; while we (likely) know where he’s from, we’re left wondering, too, why he won’t just say “Gallifrey.” The Ninth loves to give non-specific answers like, “You’re not going to know it, anyway, so what does it matter if I tell you,” which is a lot different than just lying, and saying, “Winchendon 297.” To follow through on his own defensive logic, however, since Rose isn’t going to know “Gallifrey” from “Ganymede,” he might as well tell her the truth and move on, yet he’s caught somewhere between not wanting to give the answer and not wanting to lie.

It’s Rose who makes the move to put the fight behind them, and the Doctor takes the opportunity to alter her cell phone, giving her the ability to call her mother back when Rose left her behind. It’s a perfect deflective technique employed by the Doctor – he doesn’t want to discuss an emotional subject so he fixes a mechanical problem. She makes the call back home and it cheers her up temporarily but then the ship experiences a tremor and soon after the Doctor can push his problems further inside as he takes off to investigate the newly birthed mystery.

As the Doctor teams up with Jabe, a humanoid Tree from the Forest of Cheem, to head down into the tunnels, she tells him that she scanned him back in the main observation room and thus knows where he’s from and that she’s sorry. The Doctor, his head buried in a a technological puzzle of the ship’s computer begins yet again to tear up.

Let me stop here for a second. When I started these reactions to DOCTOR WHO during the Sixth Doctor’s run, I hadn’t seen any of the serials, so I had a very limited knowledge about what was coming next. Now that we’ve reached the relaunch, however, I have seen most of the serials from here on out, so I know how some of these sub-plots are going to be resolved. The question of why the Doctor won’t answer questions about Gallifrey gets answered this episode so it’s not a big issue here, but I am going to endeavor to take these episodes as they come, more or less. I’m not going to purposely lie or hide what happens, but I want to make sure to appreciate and critique how Davies and his team of writers orchestrate the unfolding of these mysteries and not just cut to the end.

As it applies here, since the Doctor doesn’t turn to Jabe and say, “Hell of a thing to be the last of your kind,” I’m not going to act like he does. We find that out at the end of this episode, so it’s understandable why he doesn’t, but since my knowledge isn’t complete about everything that happens for the rest of this season, to draw on an incomplete set of facts would be silly.

Right. Back to the story. Let’s take a look at Rose.

The joy that Rose displayed in the TARDIS as the Doctor egged her on at the beginning of this episode about how far in the future she wanted to travel is now gone. As the Doctor heads off to uncover the reason for the tremor, Rose tells him she’s going to go talk to “Michael Jackson,” and this conversation with the Lady Cassandra ends up causing her emotional chaos to be transformed into anger.

Cassandra claims to be the “last human,” only she’s not all legs and limbsy like our gal Rosie, but a stretched, singular piece of flesh and blood, pulled tight on a frame so that she’s only inches thick. Cassandra has a face stuck in the interior of this flesh pad and nothing more. Well, she’s got a brain, but it’s kept in a jar below her frame. Constantly needing to be moisturized by her assistants, Cassandra revels in her status as the last “pure” human, a product of pure human lineage, untainted by mixture with other alien races.

Born male and now female, Cassandra tells Rose she’s undergone 708 operations over the years and outright states that she’s the last “pure human” because there’s been no mingling with other species. Rose wigs out on her and what she’s become and calls her a “bitchy trampoline,” storming off to be alone and getting knocked out by the Adherents.

(Because it’s a small point, I’ll illustrate what I was saying up above. In a subsequent appearance, the question of whether Cassandra was actually male at some point is raised. I could bring that up here, but I’d rather save it for later. As it happens, that’s an episode I haven’t seen, but I read about it on The Doctor Who Wiki site, the TARDIS Index File, while fact-checking.)

The scene with Cassandra is a great moment and Billie Piper plays it well, but her best scene actually comes a couple scenes before this, where she’s off by herself and interrupted by a Platform One worker named Raffalo, who is only allowed to talk to Rose once Rose gives her permission.

It’s a truly fantastic scene for a number of reasons. As I was getting at up above, Davies likes to build his plots around emotions, and that larger theme dovetails nicely with another favorite of his: issues of class. Raffalo is the perfect person to bump into Rose at this juncture. Rose is here as the Doctor’s “plus one” guest, and the whole Platform is filled with the wealthy elite on one hand and the rarely seen workers on the other. Rose’s background places her more comfortably with the workers, but her position with the Doctor positions her as one of the elite.

Rose is taken aback at having to give someone permission to talk to her, and pleasantly shocked that they still need plumbers in the year 5,000,000. A quick conversation with Raffalo serves to comfort Rose in a way the Doctor cannot – she’s so disconnected from her home and her entire life at this point in time that knowing there will still be a need for working class girls when the Earth is destroyed is a positive revelation to Rose.

The episode quickly moves through an action sequence after Rose gets knocked out by the Adherents. She’s locked into a room and is supposed to die as the sun shield is raised, but the Doctor prevents it. He can’t get her out of the room, because if he did then she’d go with him back into the ship’s bowels as he tries to take control of the ship back from the little spiderbots, as she’d have to get incinerated to help the Doctor save the day instead of Jabe sacrificing herself.

(Actually, Rose would maybe “just” have suffered massive heat burns, whereas Jabe is burned up because she’s made of wood, but that would cause the Doctor less emotional trauma, and Davies -as I think I’ve mentioned – likes the emotional trauma.)

The Doctor reveals Cassandra to be the mastermind behind everything. She was going to take everyone hostage, but now she wants to kill everyone because that will make their companies more valuable and she can buy lots of stock in their competitors’ companies. Cassandra transmats away but the Doctor transmats her back and then lets her die as the sun rapidly dries out her skin and she explodes.

As the drying out of Cassandra is happening, and everyone knows she’s headed for death, Rose tells the Doctor to save her, but he refuses, coldly remarking: “Everything has its time, and everything dies.”

That line serves as the justification for everything happening in the episode with the Doctor up until now. The whole episode (from his side) has been to get us to this place where the death of Jabe and some of the other guests allows him to make that statement and watch the last human die as punishment for her crimes. It’s not murder, but like the Seventh Doctor with the Daleks and Cybermen, the Ninth is not doing all he can to save Cassandra.

The Doctor and Rose are the last two off the station. Rose is standing at the window, looking out at the burning Earth, lamenting that the events on Platform One made everyone miss the big explosion. “All that history,” she says sadly, “and no one was even looking.”

The Doctor takes Rose back to Rose’s contemporary Earth and it’s time for him to come clean. As they stand in the middle of a bustling city, Davies crafts some of his best writing, and Eccleston delivers one of his best moments of the entire run. (Okay, sometimes I’ll look ahead.) It’s the simplicity of his words and the overwhelming nature of his most personal revelation, told quietly in the middle of a moving mass of passers-by who are paying them no mind. (Give a pause between each sentence to hear how Eccleston delivers the speech.)

“You think it’ll last forever,” he states somberly and slowly. “People and cars and concrete. But it won’t. One day it’s all gone. Even the sky. My planet’s gone. It’s dead. It burned like the Earth. It’s just rocks and dust. Before it’s time.”

“What happened?” Rose asks, touched by the story.

“There was a war and we lost.” She asks who the war was with, but he’s back to not answering. She tries another track. “What about your people?”

“I’m a Time Lord,” he informs her. “I’m the last of the Time Lords. There all gone. I’m the only survivor. I’m left traveling on my own ’cause there’s no one else.”

That’s a bit specious, of course, because he rarely travels with other Time Lords, but it does reinforce the point that he’s the last of his kind.

“There’s me,” Rose offers to cheer him up, and then she tells him that where she really wants to go at the moment is to buy some chips. (British chips, not American chips.) She tells him he has to pay, playfully asserting some power in the relationship, but he plays the innocent alien, telling her he’s got no money, and so she agrees to make the purchase. It’s a great touch – in the weight of all that heaviness of the Doctor’s recent past, Davies tilts the balance between them back to her at the end, first by her insistence that he pays, but then by having her “rescue” them in the sudden quest to eat.

The Doctor might be able to travel to the ends of time in his shiny blue box, but he can’t even buy a girl some appetizers.

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