Ten Things About… The End of the World

Okay, so maybe a weekly schedule for these was a little over-optimistic. Two weeks after I revisited Rose, we’re now on to the TARDIS’s first visit to the future in its 2005 series.

1. Previously…

In the classic series, we were used to seeing episodes 2 onwards of a multi-episode series to repeating the end of the previous episode. But the opening of this episode is really the first to do the American-style montage of clips from throughout the episode of Rose. It’s not directly relevant to this episode, other than to just remind people new to the world of the Doctor what Rose had previously been through.

Thankfully, it’s rarely been needed since. And even here, it’s only included because the original scripts ended up under-running. Which is all the more remarkable, because it feels that these first episodes crack on at a pace that was missing in sadly far too many episodes of series 7.

2. TARDIS green

One of the most striking things about the new TARDIS design is not the coral pillars, or the Heath Robinson console with all its bicycle pumps and bells.

It’s the green illumination.

Which, I have to say, I love – it makes the TARDIS feel like an alien craft and not an over-lit corner of TV Centre, as it did through the 1980s. The amount of green would vary according to which DoP was lighting the episode, it seems – and the closing episodes of Doomsday would have to be reshot for The Runaway Bride so that the lighting scheme matched. But I love its turquoiseness, and find it more interesting than the bluey blueness that later redesigns tended to favour.

3. Don’t they know it’s the end of the world

I love the use of pop music in this episode, although it’s limited to just two songs – Tainted Love by Soft Cell and Toxic by Britney Spears. Both fit nicely into the ethos, and eight years later those segments don’t feel they’ve aged at all.

How different to calling the jukebox an “iPod”. Eight years ago, Apple’s player dominated the hardware side of the digital music landscape. The iTunes Music Store was still in its infancy, but deals with the major record labels ensured that it was fast becoming the easiest way of legally purchasing digital audio. In the intervening years, though, Apple’s own dedicated music device has become overshadowed by the iPhone and iPad within its own hardware portfolio. The iOS music player on those devices, which used to be labelled “iPod”, was relabeled just “Music” with the advent of iOS 5.

And in 2013, digital music playing is so ubiquitous, either via download or via streaming services such as Spotify, that one particular brand just doesn’t sum up the music industry in the same way.

4. Translation circuits

The explanation of how Rose is able to understand all sorts of alien languages is subtly different to the previous explanation to that previously given, in the classic series story The Masque of Mandragora. Here, it’s a function of the TARDIS, but previously the Doctor told Sarah that it was “a Time Lord gift I allow you to share.” In The Christmas Invasion, it would further be defined as a bit of both.

What I especially like here, though, is the typography on all of Platform One’s computer displays is readable as English, but only just – so it echoes the idea that we’re seeing some alien language translated for us. A user on Deviant Art has attempted to recreate the font as a downloadable TrueType face, appropriately named Platform One.

5. You put the emergency controls where?

Just once, you’d think that the commissioners of a high-technology base would put the emergency failsafe controls somewhere accessible. I mean, why on earth place the overrides at the end of a walkway that’s impossible to traverse if those big fans are running? It’s shocking to think that this episode was written five years after Galaxy Quest – a film which lampoons science fiction tropes as mercilessly as it expresses affection for the genre – forced Jason and Gwen to battle through a similar peril.

They didn’t resort to apparent meditation to get through their last obstacle, though. I’m still not sure what that was about, and thankfully we don’t get the Doctor exhibiting similar techniques every week. It’s even more annoying than overuse of the sonic screwdriver…

6. The Bad Wolf scenario

The Moxx of Balhoon tells the Face of Boe at one point that they are facing “the Bad Wolf scenario” – at least I think, they do: the DVD subtitles say he is describing “the bad move scenario”, which makes just as little sense. But then the subtitles talk of the “Adherents of the Repeated Mean”, and not “Repeated Meme”, so I think it’s fair not to treat them as a great reference.

In any case, it’s the first genuine mention of “Bad Wolf” in this series. And now we know exactly who sent all the references spinning through time, we know that this one missed its mark – neither Rose nor the Doctor are within earshot at the time…

7. The last human

No, I’m not talking about Cassandra, but Rose. Until the epilogue, Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston are the only actors who are not presented as looking different. And yet the Doctor is unthinking when allowing the TARDIS to get inside Rose’s head, Rose is left feeling as if she really is the last human left alive. No wonder she gets a panic attack and feels she has to run from the Manchester suite.

I’ve had similar panic attacks at times. Thankfully, they’re rare. The last one was several years ago, at a press launch for a new TV sitcom. The venue selected was large normally, but far too small for the number of actors, crew, friends of the show and TV hacks. I’ve never felt such a sense of claustrophobia, never felt more hateful towards every single human within close vicinity.

I wish I’d met a kindly blue-skinned plumber to talk me down straight afterwards. As it was, it took a good twenty-four hours to stop fully shaking.

8. Five billion years, and it still comes down to money

Money – or the abuse of the power it gives to those who possess it – has been a persistent driving force in the series’ antagonists in the past. Either as individuals (Harrison Chase in The Seeds of Doom, Morgus in The Caves of Androzani, for example) – or as corporations (Global Chemicals in The Green Death), money and the lust for its acquisition has been at the heart of some of Doctor Who’s best stories.

But the Doctor is never some form of Communist who spurns those with power and money fully. Jabe is clearly a highly opulent Tree, and he’s previously had no qualms about hanging out with royalty around the universe, from Earth to Peladon.

It’s just that there are more important things to him. A concerned hand on his arm, a call home across the millennia (again, one that mentions money – Jackie’s mentioning of the lottery syndicate indicating that her end of the transtemporal trunk call occurs before the department store blows up in Rose).

9. “Moisturise me!”

I had always remembered Cassandra’s facial animations to be quite crude – and slightly improved upon when she returns in New Earth. Watching this episode back again, I was struck by how well they’ve held up. In fact, all the CGI has – although there are a couple of scenes of spiders emerging from balls where the joins show.

What sells Cassandra, of course, is Zoe Wanamaker’s performance, which is clearly also used as the visual reference for the CG facial animations. And as long as you don’t think too much about how a thin sliver of skin is actually generating sound, her voice actually feels as though it fits the character – unlike Mitchell and Webb’s robots in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship or the Cyborg in A Town Called Mercy, for example.

10. Love and war and chips

The epilogue. Presaged by Jabe’s conversation with the Doctor in the tunnels and Eccleston’s marvellous, unspoken sorrow in that scene, we get the revelation that, since the Doctor has been away, there has been a tremendous war. All of the arcane Time Lord history that has been built up over the previous forty years is no more.

It’s an audacious move. In story terms, it makes the Doctor a loner, explains why he is an emotionally scarred man. But it also allows this first revived series to say to newcomers – don’t worry if you don’t know everything that happened to the Doctor since 1963. That’s gone, and he misses it.

What’s important is what happens next.

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.