Doctor Who: The End of the World
So with all the critical lurve for "Rose" threatening to overspill into near-marriage proposals, how does the second episode of the new Doctor Who fare? This is the one that will most likely have a lot of the first episode's converts having second thoughts, because for all the reasons "Rose" wasn't the show they thought they remembered, "The End Of The World" is so much more that Doctor Who from UK Gold repeats. While "Rose" rejoiced in its Earthy ordinariness, this is all-out trad Who; space stations, aliens, exploding planet, robots, the whole bleedin' lot. It's odd to see something so brazenly science fiction produced by BBC1. It feels refreshingly different to the style of aliens and alien worlds drummed up by the US. It's there in the alien speech patterns and in the sets and in the fact that here they're often as bumbling and ridiculous as we often are. But apart from Yasmin Bannerman's Jabe and Lady Cassandra, the aliens are only really decorative. The much-mooted Moxx of Balhoon only has a couple of lines and Simon Day's brilliant Steward gets wiped out too soon in.
To be honest, like the plot of "Rose", the murder plot of "The End Of The World" never quite takes flight, but it provides the framework for some brilliant scenes, mostly between the Doctor and Rose and the Doctor and Jabe. There's a wonderful moment where Rose pointlessly tries her mobile for a signal and the Doctor takes it off her, uses some "jiggery-pokery" and allows her to talk to her mum, five billion years in the past, a moment that reminds you, just as the "normality" of Platform One is kicking in, quite where you are.
Despite the far-outness of the setting, there are plenty of knowing nods to pop culture. Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" and Britney's "Toxic" both get an airing, and Michael Jackson is cattily namechecked. And one of the first people we meet on the space station is the (female) plumber. It may be five billion years in the future, but it all feels reassuringly familiar. Davies wants us to be comfortable there.
For an end of the world party it sometimes feels a little underpopulated, and the full drama of the event is never quite captured. But like "Rose", all this is peripheral to the "magic moments" which Davies can still do like few other writers. The first clues as to the series' arc are being dropped: that the Doctor is the last Time Lord and that Gallifrey is now a trillion balls of rubble. When Jabe tells him how sorry he is, there's a magnificent hint of a first tear from a Doctor Who. If there are still any Eccleston naysayers out there, this should silence them.
This was a brave episode to air so early, but it works. Early rumours suggested the episode was going to be Douglas Adams-like in tone, but while there are plenty of funny lines, it's done with a real straightness. It's good that this new Doctor Who can do something this overtly SF and populist without resorting to smirking parody or pastiche.