Friday, September 13, 2013

Welcome to the End of the World

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 9.01

Title: The End of the World
Written by: Russell T Davies
Team TARDIS: Ninth Doctor, Rose Tyler
Adversary: Lady Cassandra
Originally Aired: April 2, 2005
Number of Episodes: 1

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
The year is 5,000,000,000 and the Earth is about to be destroyed by the sun. The richest of the universe have gathered to watch the event on Platform One, along with two new arrivals - the Doctor and his new companion, Rose Tyler, but far greater danger is occurring on the station, robotic spiders are murdering the staff, the last human, Lady Cassandra O'Brien, is beyond human. When Rose's life is placed in danger, the Doctor joins forces with one of the guests, Jabe, to find out who is plotting the destruction of Platform One? and for what purpose?. Meanwhile, Rose is confused about her relationship with the Doctor. As Rose begins questioning him about his past, the Doctor is forced to confront one of the most painful memories of his life - a great war which ended the existence of his own people.

My Review:
"You could stay here and fill your life with work and food and sleep or you could go... anywhere!" - The Doctor, “Rose”

In May 2010, I was restless. I had been home from my LDS mission for ten months. I was living with my parents. I had no job (though I was volunteering at the local high school which would eventually hire me the next school year). I was in graduate school, doing an online/face-to-face hybrid program that allowed me to stay home because moving out-of-state simply wasn't an option. My family was going through a really rough patch. I’d just found out that I needed to take anxiety medication to help me sleep. A guy that I really, really, really liked had just shoved me into his Friend Box. I lived far away from most of my friends, who had jobs and were getting married and having babies (I don’t care who you are or what you say - watching those things happen to other people and not to you is really hard). And 24 had just been canceled.

(You see where my priorities lie).

Truth be told, I missed fandom. Prior to leaving on my 18-month mission, I had been into the Harry Potter fandom. But that fandom had moved on without me and I didn't feel like I was welcome there anymore. I didn't have much to get excited about or look forward to. I missed that overjoyed, giddy, silly, fangirl-squee that marked so much of my coming-of-age years. Most people would contend that I needed to become an adult and put away such childish things.

That might work for some people, but I think I would shrivel up and die if I were ever to do something so reckless (as evidenced by my overly-dramatic emotional-teenage-girl-type statement).

I canvassed the LiveJournal friends-list. I asked for book recommendations, which they happily obliged. And while I found some very worthwhile reads, nothing fed that craving I had for that “stay-up-way-past-bedtime-because-I-absolutely-NEED-to-know-what-happens-next” feeling. I missed stories that grabbed me and commanded my undivided attention. I missed characters that I would fall in love with - that I could write about and analyze and be best friends with when best friends were thin on the ground.

Somewhere along the line, I noticed people on LiveJournal talking about this Doctor Who show. I knew next to nothing about it - other than the guy who played Barty Crouch Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire had been the Doctor (well, I guess that movie was good for something). A few weeks after the finale of 24 aired, I was home alone with nothing better to do - so I took to Wikipedia to find out what all the fuss was about.

My first reaction was of being completely overwhelmed. I had no idea Doctor Who had been around since 1963. World record for longest-running sci-fi show ever? Did I have to start at the very beginning? Where in the world was I going to find all those episodes???

My answers: Yes. No - start with the 2005 revival and see how you like it. And *cough* the Internet.

With zero expectations and nothing at all to lose, I watched "Rose."  It took some getting used to the British television format, but I did all right. I wasn't completely blown away by that episode, but I enjoyed it well-enough. I liked Rose, I liked the Doctor, Mickey was a dork but he wasn't going to be in the show much (so I thought) and the story had some pretty good moments. It wasn't a bad way to spend an evening with the house completely to yourself.

And then - this happened:

And I knew immediately that I had to watch the next episode. That’s the moment I was well and truly hooked.

“The End of the World” holds the distinction as the story that made me a Whovian. It’s not the brightest gem in the Doctor Who treasure chest, but it doesn't have to be. It’s like the caveman episodes of “An Unearthly Child” - the first episode started off with the companions and their fairly normal lives, but with a compelling mystery to solve. And then this strange alien shows up and completely uproots those normal lives with his strange time-and-space ship. Once all those basics are established, it’s time for the show to take the companions (and the viewers) as far forward in time (or backward, as is the case with “100,000 BC”) as it likes. This is where the show gets to throw everything it’s got at the audience, but still wink at you as if to say “Oh, you haven’t seen anything yet!” (“One hundred years into the future? Boring!”)

While “The End of the World” starts out like a list (quite literally) of anything and everything the makeup and costuming crews can come up with - it also creates compelling character storylines. That’s something I latched onto in the Russell T Davies years. Each character seems to have a history and a personality - even a minor character like Raffalo (the bright-blue maintenance worker Rose speaks to when she’s exploring Platform One) feels like she’s grounded in reality. Hell, even the cutting from Jabe’s grandfather gets a part! (albeit a silent one) This story also set up the direction that New Who was going to take. “Rose” established the basics - time-traveling alien, blue box, sonic screwdriver, companion - but the next episode brought us the Time War, the last of the Time Lords, a lonely alien that just wants a friend, a human girl who gets her first taste of the universe (with a side of mortal peril) and is still willing to continue in her travels.

This story is all about the companion (and, by extension, the audience) learning what it's like to travel with the Doctor.  Can Rose handle the danger as well as the wondrous sights that the Doctor can show her?  How does she react when she finds out that the last "human" left in the year Five Billion is more or less a skin graft with lips and eyeballs?  Does she freak out or simply take it in stride?  The Earth about to explode? The expanding sun about to fry the observation station in orbit?  Metal spiders sabotaging Platform One?  Little chubby blue aliens gifting her with spit?  Nope, Rose Tyler can handle it all (even if it is more than a little weird).  And since Rose can handle it, we the viewers can handle it too.

Going back to "Rose" (the episode) - Rose Tyler is introduced as someone who is capable and willing to do extraordinary things - she just hasn't been given the chance to do them. I said early on in this post that I was officially hooked on Doctor Who with “Welcome to the end of the world!” But when Rose had that part at the end of “Rose” where she says “I’ve got no A-levels, no job, no future - but I’ll tell you what I have got: Under-Sevens gymnastics championship. I’ve got the bronze!” and then she swings down and knocks over the Autons holding the Doctor prisoner and spills the anti-plastic into the Nestene Consciousness. After watching this girl (who was not much younger than me and who was in a similar situation to where I was at the time) have her world turned completely upside-down, yet take it all in stride and even become an active participant in all the weirdness - that flat-out impressed me. It’s colored my view of Rose since then (*insert lame joke about “Rose-Colored Glasses”*) and even when other parts of fandom whine about how Rose is overused or whatever their problems are with the girl, I still love her for what she was in the beginning and what she became in the end - Rose Tyler: Defender of the Earth! (even if that particular spin-off never made it past the idea stage, it’s still cool).  And the best part is that none of it feels contrived or forced - by the end of her story, Rose is exactly who she needs to be. And it's all down to the Doctor and the opportunities he gave her to be amazing. Sometimes - we all just need that one friend or mentor who sees that potential in us and helps us bring it out. The Doctor did that for Rose - but Rose also did the same for the Doctor (I'll get to that in a bit).

I can’t get by this without talking about the Ninth Doctor. Because for all the talk that he’s grim and gritty and dark and still reeling from the events of the Time War - he still knows how to liven things up. How much of this is down to him finally having a companion around to impress is another matter (he did have some comedic moments in “Rose” as well as the “we’re falling through space and I can feel every moment of it” type of stuff). Christopher Eccleston strikes that balance quite nicely and there is a part of me that wishes he’d had another season with the show, but that’s neither here nor there. I have another theory that it was good to establish the concept of regeneration early-on in the New Who, since they were effectively bringing back the show to a brand new audience and had to re-introduce the basics. If you’re going to get your audience on the same page, you’d better go the whole nine yards and do everything. Still, the Ninth Doctor is a phenomenal character and I do wish there were more of his stories to enjoy (though I won’t complain about what we do have).

And I've got to talk about the Doctor and Rose's relationship - not necessarily "shipping" (though I won't shut down any such discussion if it comes up), but more of how they help each other and how this particular Doctor/Companion interaction is unique in Doctor Who history.  All Doctor/Companion relationships are unique, but this team-up had to re-introduce the idea in the revived series.  And it works marvelously.  Even though the Doctor and Rose get split up in the story (as is tradition), there's still that fantastic scene in the middle of the episode where the Doctor explains about the TARDIS translation circuit and Rose gets a little annoyed about it.  And then there's the phenomenal finale - the Doctor lets Lady Cassandra dry out and die - even though Rose obviously is bothered by it.  Later, Rose is obviously distraught that there are pieces of her home planet floating around Platform One and nobody even took the time to see it because they were all afraid for their lives (understandable).  Then the Doctor takes her back to her own time and Rose finally gets the full weight of what she's in for - and after all that, she still wants to travel with the Doctor.  She's not entirely sure about it, but she knows she'll regret it if she says no. And the Doctor - he wants a traveling companion, like he had in the old days. But in this post-Time War regeneration, he also realizes how dangerous it is and he's probably not sure if he wants to put someone in danger like that. So, he leaves it up to Rose. He gives her the chance to say no and walk away from traveling.  But instead, she takes him out for chips. Because - why not?

Little Things I Noticed That I Liked:
- The little metal spiders “bump” into the camera at one point - not sure if that’s a deliberate homage to the early days of Doctor Who when they did the “as-live” filming and sometimes the people in the alien suits couldn’t see where they were going and would bump into the cameras. If it is deliberate, it’s kind of a neat little thing.

- There's apparently a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone on display in the observation room.  I've seen screencaps of it, but I couldn't see it in the episode.  No real reason for pointing it out, other than it's cool.

Rewatching "The End of the World" gave me a real appreciation of where I started out with this show and where I've come since then. Yeah, the effects are a little dated, even eight years later.  But I've said before - I don't watch Doctor Who for mind-blowing special effects.  I watch for characters and story.  And this second episode delivered on the promise of the first - you're going to see aliens and monsters and danger, but it's the trip of a lifetime.

I wouldn't have missed it for anything.  Not even the end of the world.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 9.02 - In this instance, I'm glad that I was delayed in getting to the Ninth Doctor - because now I have an audio story to review!

Previously -
Bonus Review #1 - No Companion Left Behind

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