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2 January 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 733: The End of the World

Dear diary,

Over the years, The End of the World has become something of a magnet for ‘stories’. Little anecdotes from the production team. I’ve heard it said a hundred times that this was the programme really setting out its stock in terms of what could be achieved - combining practical effects and CGI into one of the most expensive episodes of that first season. I think I’m right in saying (or, if I’m not, I’ve heard it repeated so often that it’s become fact in my own mind) that the Face of Boe only ended up becoming so important in later stories because he’d cost too much to build only to use the once. Cassandra appears as a CGI creation for ages on screen, at a time when they were still trying to work out how much could be spent on such things. We’ve even got more aliens introduced in this episode than I think we did for the entire Sylvester McCoy years!

But for all these stories getting repeated over and over, they do all set out what this episode is. Russell T Davies has said before now that they set up the scale and the scope of this first series in such a way that the BBC couldn’t later turn around and massively slash the budgets. They needed to make a point with a story like this so early on to ensure that everyone knew what they were aiming for, and also what they can achieve. And yet, for all the scale and grandeur of this one, it really boils down to a couple of small character pieces, with Rose coming to terms with her decision to travel in the TARDIS, and the Doctor starting to come to terms with the life he’s now living.

When Rose first aired, and we saw our new companion kiss her boyfriend goodbye before running off into the TARDIS, I can clearly recall my mother saying ‘that’s how so many young girls get abducted…’. It really is a split second decision (there’s none of the building up to an almost identical scene that we had with Scream of the Shalka), but it’s no more sudden than some of the companion introductions that we got back in the classic run. Dodo, anyone? That scene needs this episode, and Rose suddenly realising what she’s done, to really carry the kind of impact that it should. Another story I’ve often heard repeated is that the plan was once to air Rose and The End of the World back-to-back, and I can’t help but think that it wouldn’t have been a bad move - the two stories are opposite sides of the same coin.

But I’m more interested here in the Doctor’s story. At the time, I was enough of a Who novice to assume that this ‘war’ they kept mentioning was something which happened in the latter days of the original run, in some of the many stories I’d not seen. It’s interesting, then, to watch this back now knowing as much as we do about the Time War, and having pieced together the history of it through all those classic adventures (yes, even the ones where I’ve shoe-horned it in). It does beg the question - how long has the Doctor had between what he thinks is the destruction of Gallifrey and now? It’s certainly been a contentious point over the years - almost akin to a 21st century UNIT Dating conundrum.

The facts are these; We see the War Doctor start to regenerate into this incarnation at the end of The Day of the Doctor. Rose then features a scene where he looks in a mirror and comments on his appearance - seeming to imply that he’s only recently taken on this new form. It’s certainly written to be the same moment that we watched the likes of Troughton, Pertwee, Davison and both Bakers have in their first stories. And yet, somehow, it doesn’t feel right to have these stories following so immediately on from the events of the Time War. For a start, the Doctor’s given the TARDIS a wash since we saw him fly off in it from the Curator’s museum, and the console room has had a relatively major overhaul.

For what it’s worth, I think the sequence of events which best fits is something like this; the War Doctor starts to regenerate. In doing so, he forgets the encounter with his future selves, and awakes from the transformation alone in his TARDIS, his last memory being the thought that he would be forced to survive pressing the button and ending the war. He’s lost and alone. His people are gone. His greatest enemies are gone. He doesn’t want to live on, but he knows he must serve out his penance. In doing so, I imagine that he exiles himself deep into the TARDIS, allowing the battered old box to go drifting right to the very edges of the universe. He explores every room of the near-infinite ship, and goes a bit Beauty and the Beast, covering up all the mirrors, and refusing to face himself. As he’s off wandering the corridors, the console room is allowed to grow over with coral, naturally reforming itself as the ages roll by.

Until one day, he finds it again. He’s not really been keeping track of where he’s walking, but when he steps back into the main console room, he knows exactly where it is, despite its changed appearance, and it somehow feels right that he should be there. In the back of his mind is a nagging thought that he knew it would look this way when he found it again (he saw it in The Day of the Doctor, for example, and while he can’t remember the events of that adventure properly, I’d imagine there’s little tugs at his memory - we’ll be seeing another one in a moment). He doesn’t know how long has passed since he was last here, but he knows what he has to do. He needs to atone for the Time War. If he’s the only survivor, then he can’t spend eternity hiding away. He needs to get back to his former life as the Doctor, and try to rebuild the universe he helped to knock down.

In doing so, he whizzes off to a few different places - plenty and galaxies he knows were deeply affected by the war. As he’s doing this, he still can’t bring himself to look at his own face. He carries this on for a while, until he gets wind the Nestene Consciousness trying to take control of the Earth. He knows the protein planets were destroyed in the war, but that’s no reason to shunt out a whole other civilisation. He tracks the creature down to Henricks in London… where he meets Rose Tyler in the basement. There it is! Another pang of memory. He can’t quite place it, but he knows this girl ,and he likes this girl. The next day, they bump in to each other again, and then once more at the restaurant. We’ve then got a bit of a Scream of the Shalka situation going on, where the ‘emotional island’ starts to enjoy being with this person. When she turns him down at the end of the story, he heads off again and continues to clean up after the war for a bit. Maybe he arrives in 1912 and has a Titanic-based adventure. Or heads to 1963 for the assassination of JFK. Maybe those adventures don’t come until much later. But either way, there’s a nagging voice in the back of his head - the Doctor needs a companion, and he knows it has to be her. Did he mention, it also travels in time?

It’s probably not perfect, but it’s what I like to believe in my own mind. I’ve had a version like this in my head for a while now, but watching the stories now is letting me start to really nail it down some more. Certainly, when he has his moment with Jabe in this episode, it feels as though it’s the first time anyone has ever really spoken to him about what’s happened in the war - so the wounds are still fresh, but it doesn’t feel right for him to go from those events straight to all of this. Does anyone else have their own pet theories? I’ve a friend, for example, who swears blind that the Doctor’s just had his haircut, and it’s that which he’s reacting to in the mirror! 

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