Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Postclassical Who - "The End of the World"

Cheap and nasty pseudo-science fiction nonsense dominates this shameless romp to the year Five Billion. The meaningless explanation for why the expansion of the sun is happening in such a rush and Cassandra's absolutely ridiculous, overcomplicated and inherently flawed scheme to hold the guests hostage make both the narrative and the setting rather weak. But it's all about the characters, right? Well that's all well and good, but just because something is meant to focus on the characters and be character-driven doesn't mean you're allowed to cheat your way through the plot and setting. So Rose has a big emotional mull over the existence of aliens and the nature of time travel and the Doctor gets to be all existential on the nature of death and some heavy-handed message is delivered about plastic surgery.
Now I for one think that it's good when Doctor Who has a bit of a message going on, don't get me wrong, but when it's delivered in such a blatantly forceful way it ceases to be insightful and becomes tactless and derogatory. Yes, plastic surgery and body image are issues in modern society; that doesn't mean you craft a character who is a face in a frame delusionally obsessed with their own beauty and is murderous and greedy to boot. Not only does it lack any form of subtlety but it portrays people with such issues as villainous and evil and is so extreme and facetious that it lacks almost any bearing on real life.
The stuff about the Earth being destroyed and how no one cares and everything has its time is an interesting issue, but really gets lost in the silly mystery plot revolving around Cassandra. Personally I like existential issues and their exploration in science fiction but I think this theme could have been developed a little more or given slightly more priority and meaning. It's convenient for coping with the Earth being destroyed and as an excuse for not saving Cassandra, but what are its other implications?
Oh, and the part where it lists 'religion' along with weapons and teleportation as banned is a cringe-inducingly smug and over-the-top piece of satire, even if it is only one line. Don't get me wrong, I'm kind of nihilistic and don't even believe in belief or a meaningful universe let alone religion, but this still irks me in terms of how blatant, self-satisfied and deliberately controversial it is.
One other thing I would like to complain about is the music. It swings between the overly silly, such as when the aliens appear, to reinforce the "aliens are silly and funny" theme that permeates this era of the show, and the overly serious, such as the single female voice which comes into play whenever the Doctor is having a 'serious moment' of Time Lord contemplation. Again, it's very heavy handed and at times almost distracting - music should be operating on the subconscious level, not getting in your face and trying to tell you what to feel.
So what works in this story? Not a great deal, I'm afraid. The aliens are a little dull , largely undeveloped and suffer from the Star Trek 'humans with one difference' mould of alien design, like the blue people or the giant face (yes I know it is called the Face of Boe) or the tree people. I do think Jade is rather well characterised though, and would probably have been the kind of character which would make a good companion under different circumstances. It's a shame, then, that in a fashion which becomes a bit predictable in the revived series, she sacrifices herself to help the Doctor, who in this instance needs to get past the giant rotor blades which apparently act as the primitive cooling system of this incredibly futuristic space station and are involved in a sequence which feels as if it was intended solely to be used in a video game adaptation of this episode; why is this switch only accessible behind giant, deadly fan blades? Speaking of which, why would it even be possible to draw up the sun filters if the light was universally deadly?
But I believe I was trying to find some positives... Eccly's still pretty good and Rose's reaction to the future is reasonably believable I guess, apart from the bit where she has a sudden and rather pointless go at Cassandra, who is herself a campy villain who makes the Ainley Master seem understated by comparison. The blue people are all right too, especially the Steward and the plumber, in terms of their acting and performance, and I enjoy Jade's character, but other than that it's a pretty bland piece of filler. Since when can the sonic screwdriver do everything? How do phones call back in time? Too much effect and affect, not enough explanation. Insubstantial and forgettable.
The bit where Eccly dances to Tainted Love is pretty funny, though.

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