Saturday, 3 August 2013

The End of the World

I don't know whether it's because I'm watching them again with the boys, but these early episodes are much better than I remember them. Or is it rather that I assume they must have dwindled compared to the greatness which is on the way? I'm not entirely sure, but I do know that this is good Doctor Who, and that it feels almost traditional now. And the boys love it, seemingly unconditionally: Christopher came this close to giving it a 10.

They liked the opening ("Oooh, a 'Last Time'!"), they like the aliens, they like the music, they liked Cassandra, in fact pretty much everything. William loves the twist at the end, and wonders if the AC unit's giant propellers are another, albeit mysteriously subtle, Titanic reference. Perhaps it's this season's arc? Chris loves that the Vortex is red when the TARDIS is future-bound, but blue when it's travelling into the past. He thinks the Doctor's hilarious, and our favourite Time Lord does seem much more relaxed already, genuinely enjoying himself, or maybe remembering how to enjoy himself, before Jabe rakes over the past and Cassandra provokes his wrath.

Ah, Zoë Wanamaker. I remember being greatly encouraged by her casting, even if she was only lending a voice to a "bitchy trampoline". Too much, of course, at the time to expect proper actors to want to physically appear in Doctor Who, but well done her I thought for lending some credibility to my poor television show. I was still nervous, still apologetic on DW's behalf, still ashamed to love it as much as I did. I couldn't imagine that it would achieve the astonishing success that followed after, that the likes of Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Kylie (Kylie!), Timothy Flipping Dalton, would grace us with their screen presence. Back then, with Simon Callow waiting in the wings, I was not convinced that Doctor Who would triumph.

Given the chance to watch it again I find there is plenty to like here. Again the story is slighter than might be expected, slimmed down in order to allow time to focus on Rose's culture shock. It's the right decision and Billie Piper does great work here selling the reality of both Rose and her situation. The 'domestic' elements continue to work because RDT writes beautiful, truthful moments about real people who just happen to be watching the Sun explode in the year 5 billion. The pop music works very well, the CGI effects hold up still and Wanamaker is utterly brilliant, even off screen.

On the downside, it isn't very scary. They boys seemed to wobble when Raffalo got spiderised, but then they had forgotten all about that by the end ("Two out of ten for scariness," they claimed). They didn't like the Doctor's callous treatment of Cassandra either, labelling it "unDoctorlike". I know what they mean, but I think it was supposed to jar, even only two episodes in. Again, the Doctor fails to commit the final heroic act that we expect him to perform - here, though, he is not frozen or conflicted: his inaction is a deliberate choice and condemns Cassandra to die rather horribly. But, thanks to Jabe, we are beginning to hear about the Time War and to understand the Doctor's part in it - just how wounded must he be that he takes Rose to witness her own planet's demise? It makes Ace's trip to Gabriel Chase look tame in comparison and, in the light of what we now know it seems a perverse and twisted thing to do. Worse than that, it isn't an attempt to force catharsis upon his companion, but upon himself. It's a cry for help, just as the Tenth Doctor's first visit to New Earth signifies that he has been made well once more.

We all liked The End of the World. Chris gave it a 9, judgementally dropping a point to punish the Doctor for his treatment of Cassandra. William gave it an 8, calling it an "action-packed detective story." It's certainly solid Doctor Who, audaciously made and with a real emotional core.


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