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Episode twos are always difficult for any television series. Ninety nine percent of the time the production crew tend to focus their efforts mostly on the first episode in order to entice people to watch the show and the second episode ends up overlooked. This is clearly the case with The End of the World, which whilst not terrible isn't quite up to the standards of the previous episode Rose.
The End of the World has a brilliant premise for a Doctor Who episode. The sun is expanding and about to destroy the Earth; on Platform One, the richest beings of the universe are gathering to watch it end on the Observation Desk including Cassandra (Zoe Wanamaker), Jabe (Yasmin Bannerman), the Mox of Balhoon (Jimmy Vee) and the Face of Boe (Struan Rodger). The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and Rose (Billie Piper) arrive to find someone is trying to sabotage the space station with robotic spiders.
The problem with this episode is that what should be an engaging narrative is actually rather boring. It doesn't help that the pace is slowed down by Rose's call to her mum Jackie (Camille Coduri). As well-written the conversation between Rose and Jackie is, it doesn't help to enhance the plot and this feels like an episode that would work better with more emphasis on the main story and less on the familial elements (especially when the whole planet is about to die with everyone on it - something that should be very emotional to see for Rose given this is her home planet).
There are some great scenes - the stuff with the Doctor and Jabe in the air conditioning chamber trying to navigate giant rotating fans is a fantastic action piece well-directed by Euros Lyn - but they are too far and few between. I can't help but feel that later into Russell T Davies' run, the production team would have done a much better job as they would have learnt from experience how to execute the concept. It is a very ambitious idea for the first series of the show's idea and one that Russell T Davies should have perhaps kept back for series four.
The special effects in this story however are very impressive and still hold together today. These are some of the best special effects in the new series of the show; it actually feels like we're watching the real sun expanding to destroy the real Earth and every one of the alien guests look like species you may find in a big Hollywood movie rather than a television series:
The Face of Boe is a brilliant character too; there's something immensely likeable about the big head in the jar known as Boe. I'm not entirely sure what it is that's so appealing but I just really enjoy watching his scenes and was glad when he returned in New Earth and Gridlock. I hope one day the series confirms that Jack was definitely the Face of Boe (as stated in the later three parter Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords as it would explain how he knows to warn the Doctor about the Master).
Cassandra, on the other hand, I'm not too keen on. I'm not sure how she became a recurring character as whilst Zoe Wanamaker is good in the role, I found her nothing more than an annoying future Katie Price. She's basically what would happen if a Kardashian became the last surviving human and whilst that makes her a suitably unlikeable antagonist for the Doctor, it doesn't make her a particularly entertaining one. She's just plain irritating and initially it was a relief that she
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seemed to die at the end of the episode
...until they decided to bring her back a year later for New Earth! I mean, what the hell Russell T Davies? Why would you want to inflict that pain on us? If anyone had to return from The End of the World alongside the Face of Boe, it should have been the Mox of Balhoon. He had much more mileage and Jimmy Vee was great in the role.
Let's talk about the main actors: Christopher Eccleston and Rose Tyler. I was never much a fan of Christopher Eccleston's Doctor and I don't think he was too brilliant here. He seemed a bit uncomfortable in the role and it felt like he was phoning in some of his lines during this episode. He certainly wasn't terrible but it wasn't his best performance as the Doctor either (that would be Dalek). Billie Piper, on the other hand, is as brilliant as she always was - especially during her conversation with plumber Raffalo, which helped to demonstrate her character's caring side when realised the plumber wasn't allowed to talk and gave her permission to.
Overall, The End of the World is one of those typical second episodes of a television series where the quality takes a sudden drop after a great episode one. The story has a strong premise but ultimately it doesn't deliver, providing a boring story with too many scenes that fail to drive the plot. There are some great scenes though and the special effects are still great eleven years on. The Face of Boe is also a great character who thankfully made the return appearances he deserved. Cassandra is annoying though and Christopher Eccleston seems uncomfortable in his performance as the Doctor.