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07 October 2014 @ 07:51 pm
NuWho Rewatch: The End of the World and The Unquiet Dead  
In many ways these two stories function as a pair. The series is still in the process of establishing itself and its premise and so opts to take us first forwards and then backwards. In the opening moments of each episode much is made of Rose's reactions to time travel, particularly her infectious excitement.

The End of the World loses its way a bit after that, I think. Partly this is because Rose, who is supposed to be our viewpoint character spends most of the time away from the action, first having a quiet freak out about aliens, and later on locked in a room. Meanwhile, a bit like the Cantina scene in Star Wars, you get the feeling RTD really just wanted to showcase "all the weird aliens" that are out there. The air conditioning sequence was rightly derided at the time, not least because it had already been parodied in Galaxy Quest. You should know you are doing something wrong when the piss is being taken out of your moment of tension five years before you air it. It's not a bad story but it feels like it is marking time, rather than serving the overall vision of the series. On a rewatch the strongest, and most shocking moment, was when the Doctor calls Cassandra back and then allows her to die. It is played as a moment of largely pre-meditated revenge, the Doctor gives her no alternatives and appears to quietly revel in her death. The capacity for revenge has been considered a feature of the Tennant years, but I'm not sure it's ever been as stark as it was here.

The Unquiet Dead is better though Rose, for the second time in as many episodes, manages to get knocked unconscious, kidnapped and then locked in a room from which the Doctor has to rescue her. However the story has more meat to it, and Rose gets considerably more to do, particularly through her interactions with Gwyneth. Simon Callow's Charles Dickens is a much better character than those in The End of the World (unsurprising, really, given both the actor and writer's interest in his work). "Is he a real author?" no-longer-so-small child asked, clearly picking up on something in the presentation. "Did he really write about aliens?" she asked at the end resulting in a conversation about Edwin Drood (Doctor Who, still being educational forty-five years after Sydney Newman dreamed it up). He's also the first character in the season who very clearly gets inspired to act and to expand his world view because of exposure to the Doctor. While you could argue that this is true of both Rose and Jabe, I think in both cases the capacity to act was already there and the Doctor merely provided an opportunity for them to show their mettle. Here Dickens starts from a point where he rejects the Doctor's viewpoint and runs from the action, only to accept and return. Eve Myles' Gwyneth is also a lot better drawn a character than any of those in The End of the World - most notably ???? who is the equivalent "working class character with whom Rose bonds".

The Unquiet Dead caused a very public meltdown from Lawrence Miles over its anti-immigrant subtext (immigrants claim to be small in number, fleeing some desperate catastrophe but in fact are a vast horde come to invade your planet). At the time, I think, most of us just shrugged and chalked it up to Miles' various issues, but rewatching with that reading in mind I was struck that the story itself explicitly makes the connection between aliens and foreigners. The subtext was almost certainly unintentional but it was unfortunate for all that. I think even Miles subsequently felt he had over-reacted somewhat since he was considerably more enthusiastic about the next episode, The Aliens of London, than I feel it deserved.

What is striking me very clearly on this re-watch is that the Doctor is being set up as the central mystery of the season, or at least its first half. We are only fed the back story about the Time War, the destruction of Gallifrey and the Daleks very slowly. I'm trying to figure out why I didn't notice this at the time. I suspect a lot had been spoiled, I have a feeling I knew going in that Gallifrey was destroyed and he was the last of the Time Lords and then, knowing Daleks were to feature later in the season, it wasn't a huge stretch to guess that the Daleks were probably the enemy. Since the Doctor had been responsible for destroying Gallifrey during a Time War in the BBC novels it also wasn't a big surprise to learn that he was responsible for destroying Gallifrey during a Time War in the new series as well. I have no recollection of learning this stuff as the show progressed, as opposed to considering it all a given from the start. That said, 2005 was the year I was playing single mum to a toddler four nights a week, so I may not have been at my most mentally perspicacious.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/129464.html.