Doctor Who The End of the World

A wise writer by the name of Raymond Chandler once talked of detectives in fiction.

… down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished or afraid… He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.

If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.1

I’ve been wanting to mention it on Grapefruit for a while, but as you can see, it’s a shade too long to slip into the random quote section on the front page. The reason why I wanted to list it here is because while it was written about detectives, it seems to me that it applies very nicely to a lot of the ‘adventure’ style television that we seem to watch around here: Joss Whedon’s work, Lost, Stargate and especially, to my mind, Doctor Who. Back at high school, Rob Morrison would always argue to me that good guys were boring compared to the bad guys — this quote is the kind of thing I would have liked to pull out in my defence.

Guests are reminded that Platform One forbids the use of weapons, teleportation, and religion. — Platform One Administration

In ‘Rose’, understandably, the Doctor himself didn’t get much focus. In ‘The End of the World’, he’s back with a vengeance: bluffing his way into a high-class function, flirting with walking trees, dashing through giant spinning fan blades, getting angry and vengeful, shedding a tear for the loss of his home, and providing comfort to his new friend Rose. All my reservations about Eccleston’s performance fell away in this episode — he has a new, improved insane grin, and shows a bit of the Doctor’s darker side too. The opening scene, where he shows off to Rose by pushing the TARDIS further and further into the future was particularly noteworthy: Eccleston really can be very, very funny. That we then take him completely seriously in his last scene with Cassandra is impressive. This Doctor, more than any other, seems very similar to Chandler’s idea of the perfect detective hero.

The episode itself is great fun; the Earth is finally getting destroyed, and for once, the Doctor isn’t there to save it. No, he’s here to rub shoulders with the rich and alien, and give his new companion Rose a bit of perspective. Rose has a weird time of it: meeting her ultimate ancestor, the ‘last human’ in the universe, Cassandra O’Brien. In a really nice touch, she also has a touching conversation with a plumber: “There’s still plumbers in the future?” The plot is light, but the jokes and character development are there in spades. Just when I thought the jokes were over, the Doctor started bopping along to ‘Tainted Love’.

The special effects are excellent, too. There’s some excellent aliens, though the Face of Boe was something of a disappointment. And the final destruction of the earth looks beautiful, especially with the debris bouncing off the observing space station. They’re probably not actually better than last week, but when you have the effects all by themselves, with suns and space stations, things are always going to look cooler than when you tie them into the real world.

If I wasn’t completely convinced last week, I am this time. Doctor Who is back.

  1. Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder”, in Howard Haycraft (ed.) The Art of the Mystery Story New York: Carroll & Graf, 1983. pp 237. Originally published 1946.2
  2. Woah, a proper footnote! Well, I shan’t spoil the effect with one of my normal, stupid ones, then.
2 comments posted — most recent by Tom on 16/04/05