Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Doctor Who - The End of the World Review

Episode Two of the Doctor Who series carries right on where Rose left off, with the Doctor and Rose travelling five billion years into the future to gatecrash an exclusive viewing of the destruction of the planet Earth. My main gripe with the whole episode was that even though we're five billion years in the future, technology does not seem to be that far advanced. Read an Iain M. Banks' Culture novel or a Ken MacLeod book and you'll get a pretty good insight into the possibilities. In fact, go and read some MacLeod stuff anyway- he's a great writer and his imaginings on uploaded minds, smart suits and all the rest make for superb reading. The Fall Revolution series is particularly wonderful.

Aside from the poor science element we're also left with a gathering of aliens which wouldn't look entirely out of place in Jon Pertwee's day. The BBC special effects department needs a swift kick in the arse- people in masks and make-up might be cheap but it doesn't make for any sort of spectacle. For goodness sake, get the Henson Company to make some muppet aliens if needs be. They also need to show a bit of imagination because the small assortment of aliens is not just done on the cheap, they show a distinct lack of anything special or original. What we get are some badly designed oddities. Jabe, the tree-alien lady, is the only one with any distinct personality and while her make-up is okay, putting a few flowers in her bark-hair does not a tree-alien make. My other main gripe here is with Cassandra, the last living human. She is basically a sheet of skin with a face in the middle stretched between a metal frame, her brain in a jar below. Somehow, without any lungs or vocal cords (she's translucent and no organs whatsoever are visible) she's able to speak. It might sound petty but shows like this have got to display some internal logic or they just don't work. Also, we're five billion years in the future- surely she could engineer herself an entirely new body whenever she wanted? This lame plastic surgery thing just doesn't wash.

Aside from the basic lack of understanding that five billion years of technological development would make this setting look really alien (we do get a space station filled with bundles of wires, ridiculous Oompa-loompa maintenance staff and a computer that probably runs on Windows 95, while we don't get DNA computers, an organically grown platform, nanotechnology, aliens that don't look like actors in gowns or any feeling at all that- you know- five billion years have passed) what this episode lacks is a real plot. We do get a few insightful moments from Rose on how witnessing the destruction of her world affects her, but aside from that the story involves some bad-CGI metal bugs carrying out some sabotage. Again, the feeling is this should have been a story arcing over several episodes. Back in Tom Baker's day this would have been a dark, claustrophobic tale of intrigue and conspiracy as the inhabitants of the station are killed off one by one. There would have been some sleuthing, some out-of-the-box thinking from the Doctor. Instead we get about a third of the episode dedicated to the set-up and then the rest of the story is rushed. Maybe it could even have been Die-Hard-ed up a little as the Doctor fought to save the platform but the danger elements don't work. Again, we need to feel that the Doctor is facing a real threat. We do get some insight into the Doctor's background, some nice flirtation with Jabe (who is very well acted indeed- maximum impact with minimum screen time) but it's all let down with the denouement- and even that's further spoiled by the disappointing way in which the Doctor tracks down the culprit. It's a bit of a cop out. The writers on the show really need to up their game. If their speciality is sci-fi and they want to do a bit of a mystery at the very least they need to consult a mystery writer on the plot elements.

Having said all that, it's not a complete disaster, it just feels like they weren't really trying. This is supposed to be a flagship BBC show and yet we seem to be stuck with the same low production values which marked the original series. The aliens just felt like the designers were being a bit silly, there's no feeling that a lot of thought went into it. As with episode one there was one great stand out moment with the Doctor- I don't want to include any more spoilers but if you see the episode you'll know which bit I mean. All in all, it's not bad- a bit of character development from Rose and proof that Piper can act, not quite so many silly grins from Eccleston and a good supporting act in the tree-lady. Watchable but not great. The main benefit is that Eccleston feels like the Doctor this time around. You get the sense that he's made the character his own.

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