"It's remarkable you even exist."

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Right, so we've got all that introductory stuff out of the way. Doctor, companion, aliens, bigger on the inside - gotcha. Now take us to the good bits.

And they do. Still not perfect, but lookin' pretty good.

First of all, can we say how rapturously, sobbingly, pathetically grateful we are that this is character-driven Doctor Who? As we always dreamed it could be? Not that we're saying it never was - after all, if there'd never been any good character stuff, we wouldn't have been fans in the first place. Nevertheless, it often wasn't, with plot and rubber monsters taking precedence over character development. Well, that's clearly not what Russell T Davies thinks makes good Doctor Who, and we couldn't agree more. Like Rose, The End Of The World is a character-driven story, and again like Rose, that's much of what makes it a success.

It's not everything, of course. There's other wonderful stuff here too. For a start, after the limitations of technology back in the day, the sheer look of the thing is an absolute joy. The boiling sun makes a huge impact, the shots of the sun exploding as the shielding crackles over the platform are breathtaking, and the air-conditioning fans, while silly, are gorgeous. After years of wondering what Doctor Who would look like with the benefit of modern effects technology, the answer's in: it looks bloody fantastic.

And the aliens? Magnificent. From the genuinely original Cassandra to the gobsmacking Face Of Boe to the perfectly realised spiders, they're all spine-shiveringly great. Giant prawns are a distant fading memory. We're deeply impressed.

Looks aren't everything, though, so back to the characters. It's a real shame there isn't enough space to get to know all of those lovely aliens better - it's like catching a glimpse of someone at a party who looks really interesting but never getting a chance to talk to them. That matters: when the story's about a group of people under threat, you'd better care what happens to them or the whole thing's a pretty pointless exercise. The ones we do meet, though, are terrific. The instantly-recognisable Zoe Wanamaker provides a perfect diva turn as Cassandra - she's the heart of the story, and she carries it off beautifully. The alternately serene and flirty Jabe makes a great stand-in companion, and her death is a genuinely tragic note. Simon Day as the steward turns in a perfectly judged performance which is far and away the funniest thing in the story, and Raffala, the plumber who just happens to be blue, comes to life even in the short space she has. This is pretty good going: a significant chunk of the old stories didn't achieve this many interesting secondary characters even with three times the space.

We thought Rose was fantastic in her opening story, and while she's sadly underused here, she doesn't let the standard drop one iota. The moment when in talking to Raffala she suddenly realises what she's got herself into and that registers on her face? That's proper acting, that is. Her reaction to the Earth's demise is, thankfully, minus yer standard screaming and sobbing and is all the more powerful for it. The one thing we don't like, and it's a byproduct of a cramped timeframe, is the way she out of nowhere starts ripping strips off Cassandra. Not that we don't agree with her, but it's a bit much to start flinging judgments around five minutes after plonking yourself into someone else's society.

Rose's relationship with the Doctor, now that all that "who are you really" stuff's out of the way, is getting fascinating. We love the way she takes the Doctor on about the telepathic field and the way she cross-questions him about his identity, and we love the way he snaps back at her too - no Fifth Doctorly cringing and muttering after a Teganish tongue-lashing here. It's not exactly a relationship of equals (how could it be?), but there's a mutual respect and support that's a joy to watch.

And the Doctor? Well, well, well. The flirting! That made us blink a bit, but we definitely like it. More to the point, there's lotsa mysterious stuff going on and we're as gripped as all get-out. So his planet's disappeared, has it? And all the Time Lords too? How very unfortunate. If we'd managed to keep slogging our way through the Eighth Doctor novels we might have some clue as to what it's all about, but since we didn't, we don't. (War? Fought?) We sniff an emotional story arc, and we're bouncing up and down in our seats.

As we suspected, the rictus grin's toned down in this story, which is a relief, and the Dark (Time) Lord beneath is allowed a bit more of an outing. Oh, yeah. That's what we're talking about. This isn't the old Doctor, by a very long way: sure, the old one occasionally amused himself by standing by and letting villains explode or otherwise expire in a suitably painful manner, but not with such deeply enjoyable bitterness and anguish. We love the contrast between Rose's wanting to save Cassandra and the Doctor's refusal - and its echo with his refusal to save the Earth. So things past their time should be allowed to die, then? Does this explain the last living Time Lord's glee at finding himself in danger (and hence, all those manic grins)? Does this Doctor in fact have a death wish? Or instead is the glee just about his amazement that he's actually still alive? More to the point, what did he do - or what didn't he do - to manage that? Does he think he actually deserves to die? (After all, there's plenty of self-loathing type thingy nudging things in that direction.) Intriguing, isn't it? More on that story later.

Then there's the... not so good stuff. The plot, for a start: The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe crossed with Agatha Christie, it doesn't actually make a micron of sense. So Cassandra's trying to manufacture a hostage situation, is she? Then why all the faffing about with the sunfilters? If she has control of the platform, there's actually no need to kill anybody, let alone to have the sunfilters leaping up and down in a room that's meant to be empty. As for Cassandra's statement that the share prices will triple when all the guests die, we're baffled. Either Russell T Davies has invented an incredibly deep and subtle branch of economics, or it's a load of bollocks. And frankly, we know which way we're betting. Also, what's with the Doctor nudging the spider and telling it to go home? How does that work, exactly? Either it just doesn't, or he did something to the spider off-camera, which we should have seen for it to make any sense at all. Still, at least the Doctor's not a suspect: it's a small mercy, but we're grateful for it. We do like the jabs at body image obsession and plastic surgery, though - a wee bit obvious, maybe, but effective nonetheless.

And all the high heroism with the fans? Well, that's bollocks too, isn't it? First of all, the fans are a horrendous SF cliche, and the vital switch being beyond them is just plain moronic. Worse than that, though, is that Jabe's death is totally avoidable, and she only dies thanks to the Doctor's unforgivable incompetence. Bad enough that he shilly-shallies about taking his own sweet time while she's getting hundreds of volts up the arm. But what really burns us, as it were, is that given that he suddenly sprouts the mystical ability to walk through solid objects, her sacrifice is utterly pointless. Since it clearly comes as no surprise to him that he can pull this off, why the hell didn't he think of that before poor Jabe started smouldering? And another thing: one of the defining features of the old Doctor was that he never wanted to choose between saving the one and saving the many: this guy is definitely not that Doctor. He allows Jabe to volunteer herself, knowing it's likely to be lethal, without a squeak.

And while we're on the topic of mystical abilities, it's really starting to annoy us that the Doctor, with his ever-so-handy powers and his collection of irritating little gadgets, is turning into some kind of deity. Got a problem? Yank out some deus ex machina gizmo, and bingo! Problem solved. And if the sonic screwdriver by some amazing chance can't fix whatever's broken, hey, no sweat: the Doctor simply produces the relevant superpower to order. Need to walk through walls? Want to place a person-to-person call to five billion years ago? The Doctor's your man. We don't like it: that whole omnipotence thing rips away suspense (we find Superman desperately dull for the same reason). We want to see the Doctor solve problems using the force of his intelligence and personality, not by producing an endless succession of unexplained powers and technology.

As in Rose, there's a lot of attempted comedy in here, and also as in Rose, a lot of it falls flatter than a depressed crepe. While as we said we love the steward, and there's the occasional glorious joke (the National Trust stuff is priceless, and so's the valet parking ticket), not only is much of the rest of it tragically unfunny, it also makes the tone very uneven. Light and shade's a good idea, but they do have to get on together, and here the comedy stuff sounds as if it comes from another script altogether. It's the bit that sticks out the most to us as Just Not Working.

So there's the odd rough spot. But it's beautiful, it's intriguing, it's exhilarating. We want more.

MORAL: You can be too thin and too rich.



We love the way Jabe's analyser makes bird call noises.


Ugh, that phone call home is a mistake in so many ways. First, we didn't ever want to see that bloody mother again, Second, it's a superpower (see above). Third, it takes the brilliantly evoked isolation Rose is feeling and chucks it in the rubbish. Why?


When Rose is dialling the phone, the shot shows the Doctor behind her with his mouth closed and a little smile. In the next shot, from in front of them, he's got his mouth open.


Were we the only ones who found all the rising and falling stuff confusing? We can see some logic in the idea of a screen rising, but we couldn't get the idea out of our heads that it was like a blind, being that it kept the sun out and all. Rising should have been the filter turning off, you see, and... oh, never mind.


The steward's killed as the sunfilter, um, descends (did we get that right?), but when Rose is threatened, she seems OK as long as she's not actually in the sun's rays. Considering what the room temperature must have been, we recommend remedial science all round.


The Doctor fixes the sunfilter problem, but he knows the computer's fighting back. Why doesn't he make more of an effort to open the door and let Rose out?


It's a bit disappointing, as far future things often are, to see so little change from the present. Mainframes in five billion years? We seriously doubt it.

Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK Buy Doctor Who DVD at US: DVD not available

Buy entire series DVD box set: UK Buy Doctor Who DVD at Buy Doctor Who DVD at

Buy first and second seasons box set: UK: box set not available   US Buy Doctor Who DVD at

Download Doctor Who episodes at