Do you know, with Rogers Digital Cable, one can watch Doctor Who five times tonight? It plays in Halifax (Atlantic), Toronto (Eastern), Winnipeg (Central), Calgary (Mountain) and Vancouver (Pacific) at exactly 8 o’clock local time, and since Rogers Digital cable users have access to all of these stations… I wonder how many sad fans watched the program five times in a row, if only to bulk up the national ratings. Heh.
I watched it twice.
Toronto and Calgary.
Episode two of the season, The End of the World, rocked. As much as I enjoyed Rose, I wasn’t afraid to raise criticisms. The music was too intrusive. The pace was too breakneck. The mix between humour and horror was not quite right.
But let us not forget that Rose was, essentially, the new Doctor Who’s pilot episode. The producers, the actors and the crew were all finding their feet and they had the task of reintroducing the concept as well as keeping the audience entertained. It’s unlikely that a new show would find its feet right from the get-go. It’s equally unlikely that the new show would find its feet from episode two.
Which is what makes The End of the World so remarkable.
The story starts right at the end of Rose. Rose has just entered the TARDIS and the Doctor is all keen to impress the new girl. Where do you want to go, past or future? Future? How far? 100 years? 10000? In a fit of overexuberance (apparently), accompanied by the pumping of a bicycle pump (don’t ask), the Doctor takes Rose five billion years into the future, to the very day when the Earth’s sun blows up and shatters the planet. The rich and famous have gathered at a special observation port to toast the planet’s last minutes, but there is a sabateur among the guests.
The End of the World is rich. It’s rich with humour, from funny references to iPods, to the Doctor greeting partygoers with the gift of air from his lungs (don’t ask), and it’s rich with pathos. Here, we see the first signs that the Doctor’s quirky exuberance is a facade. Watch the Doctor’s face when Jabe of the Tree delegation tells him she knows who he is and how sorry she feels knowing what happened to his home planet. The depth of sadness in Eccleston’s eyes is breathtaking.
The mix that was slightly off for Rose comes together here. The music is appropriate to the action, and the use of source music is quirky and effective. I especially appreciate the care that Russell T. Davies takes in giving all of the minor characters character. Even Raffalo the plumber, the red-shirt with the blue face, gets a name and some well crafted dialogue before she is dragged to her death.
Billie Piper has a less to do in this episode, though perhaps that’s just in comparison to the way she carried the show in Rose. Whatever the case, Billie does good things with the material she’s been presented. She’s plays a girl out of her depth, and she shows us her inner strength as she adjusts to her new surroundings. The phone call to her mother was a nice touch, as was her conversation with Raffolo, and the comfort she took in the fact that they still had plumbing five billion years in the future.
The one element that doesn’t quite fit here intrigues rather than annoys. A theme that gets repeated in this story is that everything has its time to live and its time to die. The Doctor stands by and allows Cassandra to die because of this. True, she was a murderer, but it still seems that the Doctor allows her gorey end to come about because she’s lived twenty times longer than humans are supposed to. Also, the point of taking Rose to see the death of her home planet (we knew that wasn’t accidental) was to show her that everything dies in time. And then we learn that the Doctor’s planet, Gallifrey, is also dead — albeit “before its time.”
Why would the Doctor do this? Why was it so important for Rose to know that everything dies? Is it a test? The answer is not to be found here (I’m betting it will come in Father’s Day). But the care, the attention to detail that Russell T. Davies has shown to his script, tells me that he knows what he’s doing. It will be interesting to see how this theme is explored in later episodes.
The new Doctor Who is like no other program on television at the moment, and Canadians are blessed to have it on prime time. It’s bold, it’s quirky and it has depth. Next week, we may find that it has the capability to scare. Americans looking for something different better call their local cable companies, or borrow tapes off their Canadian friends.
Doctor Who Ratings Success
Averaging 8 million in the U.K. and just under 1 million in Canada, it’s safe to say that the BBC’s gamble has paid off big time, and we should see this program stick around for a few years, at least.