Doctor Who head writers reviewed #2 Russell T. Davies #2 The end of the World
Doctor Who Head Writers Reviewed is a series I’m running on a weekly basis here, in-which I review each episode written by the three head writers: Russell T. Davies, Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall. After viewing each episode, I give the episode a verdict of either success or failure, and explain how I came to that decision. A running score will be included at the end of each entry, showing how each head writer is doing in terms of episodes written to episode I’ve considered a success. And I don’t use information from anywhere other than the episode itself. So no TARDIS Data Core, no TARDIS Eruditorum, no YouTube Whovians. We continue with Russell T. Davies’ The end of the World.
The end of the World is two things. It’s Rose Tyler’s first trip in the TARDIS, and it’s also an extended analogy for a continuity event Davies inserted into the mythology. It was already in play, but this was the audience’s first exposure to it. As it is, The end of the World was the perfect opportunity for Davies to combine these contexts to create an episode that’s a character study for both Rose and the Doctor, hinged around the same point.
Firstly, there was Rose’s place in this. The following episode, Mark Gatiss‘ The Unquiet Dead, would be an episode set in the past. The end of the World is set in the future. If Rose was Davies’ introductory episode, season twenty-seven was Davies’ introductory season, and that means that each episode in the first run of thirteen is a concept episode, which exist for the purpose of introducing the audience to the different aspects of the Doctor Who mythology, scheduled in the right order. In that way, The end of the World was the Future Episode; introducing the audience to the concept of travelling forwards in time. But Davies was also taking the attitude of making Doctor Who as ambitious as possible. The first episode taking place in Earth’s future of Classic Doctor Who was World’s End by Terry Nation, which was set circa 2164 – and that didn’t happen until season two. Instead, Davies decides to do it as episode two, and rather than making a two-hundred leap as World’s End did (1964 – 2164), The end of the World makes a leap of 4, 999, 998, 021 years. Rose at first even chooses to visit 2105, but the Doctor convinces Rose to go further. The Doctor was, in this moment, speaking to both Rose and the audience, wanting the audience to want as much as they can get, while also commenting on how much further New Doctor Who‘s first episode set in Earth’s future – The end of the World – is going than Classic Doctor Who‘s first episode set in Earth’s future – World’s End. There’s almost a meta level of addressing there. It’s not the furthest Davies would take the TARDIS – Utopia was set in the year 100000000000000 – a leap of 999999999997993 years. But the important difference is that The end of the World takes the audience as far as possible in terms of Earth’s history. Every episode of season twenty-seven is set either on Earth or in Earth’s orbit. Davies’ career had already established itself as a Humanist agenda – The Second Coming is the peak of that – and that means that the rest of the universe wasn’t of concern to Davies at this stage. Davies’ first non-terrestrial episode would be New Earth, itself a sequel to The end of the World, and by that point Doctor Who had already had a Christmas special and a regeneration. Absolutely everything in season twenty-seven was about Earth. So for Davies to want the audience to experience time travel into the future to its furthest extreme, that meant going no further than the end of Earth’s history. This was a careful decision to make, otherwise, why should the audience care?
And the second level of storytelling was setting up the destruction of Earth as a build-up to the revelation of the destruction of Gallifrey. Gallifrey wasn’t revealed to be the Doctor’s home planet until Classic Doctor Who season six – the Second Doctor’s last episode, no doubt – and wasn’t even named for another five seasons. Generally, the problem with Gallifrey is that it makes the Doctor part of a social group. The appeal of the character is that the Doctor prefers to live on the outside of organised society and be mysterious; Gallifrey’s existence gives the Doctor a point of origin, a home to go to. Gallifrey makes the Doctor less mysterious just by being a part of the Doctor Who universe. And the only reason The war Games: Episode Ten reveals the Doctor’s homeworld is because Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke believed it to likely be the series finale, thereby justifying them answering the question of who the Doctor is. And ever since Doctor Who continued in season seven, a storytelling problem’s been “how do we create mystery around the Doctor without resorting to using Gallifrey”? And it’s a tough one to do, because within the Doctor Who universe, it’s fact. And it’s a question that would’ve continued to be asked in the writing of New Doctor Who had Davies not taken the decision to remove Gallifrey from the mythology. There’s no way of knowing if Davies would’ve also done this were Doctor Who not being relaunched, but within the context of that being the case, the continuity reset of the Time War does make sense. The end of the World half-functions as house-keeping, therefore, by introducing the concept of the Time War and establishing Gallifrey’s destruction.
Verdict: The end of the World showcases Doctor Who‘s ambition, Humanist potential, and does so in a context appropriate to the retcon Davies wanted to establish, and all in a way that makes the Doctor’s new situation more relatable through the events of the episode. SUCCESS
Russell T. Davies – 2 : 2
Next episode: Aliens of London, by Russell T. Davies.