This episode begins precisely where the previous one ended, after Rose sprints into the TARDIS like an adrenaline junkie. The Doctor relishes the chance to show off and demonstrate what he and his machine are capable of, eventually deciding to disembark in the year 5 billion to witness the death of planet Earth.
The first thing that hits the viewer is the scale of the setting. Platform One is marvellously realised in both internal and external shots, while there a spellbinding visual effects to be found throughout, thanks to the sun’s expansion; the exoglass, and the many aliens that have come to enjoy the show in the utmost comfort.
And speaking of the aliens, one has to admire the ambition of writer and executive producer Russell T Davies with regards to the sheer variety of lifeforms that can be found on Platform One. First of all we see the blue-skinned steward and his uniformed assistant, but his appearance is benign when compared to many of the others.
We have the Forest of Cheem, where flirtatious Jabe makes an impression with her sharp wit and ultimate sacrifice. On that point, Yasmin Bannerman delivers a strong and charismatic performance under heavy prosthetics, as her character assists the Doctor is undercovering the ongoing siege.
Then we have the rather distinctive Moxx of Balhoon, who meets a rather sticky end. The Adherents of the Repeated Meme are creepy and eventually their purpose is revealed, while its a shame that the Doctor didn’t spend more screen time with the Face of Boe, as it would have provided greater weight and context to its future appearances.
Even those who lurk in the background are superbly realised, particularly the Ambassadors from the City State of Binding Light, and the Brothers Hop Pyleen. Along with Mr and Mrs Puckoo and Cal ‘Spark Plug’ McNannovich, these are just incidental characters and indeed mere bystanders, but their presence adds something to the overall spectacle.
Last, but not least, we have villain of the week Cassandra O’Brien Dot Delta Seventeen and her adorable – though sinister – robot spiders. Describing herself as the last human, Cassandra is not your average antagonist – she is essentially a piece of skin, moisturised frequently by two handy surgeons. Her luggage for the event includes an old gramophone, and what she claims is the last ever ostrich egg.
Menacingly voiced by Zoe Wanamaker, Cassandra entertains her fellow guests with blasts of ‘Tainted Love’ by Soft Cell and ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears, as her shrewd sabotage gathers momentum, aided by her sinister hoard of spiders.
Meanwhile, interspersed with all this drama lies some wonderful dialogue scenes between the Doctor and Rose, with the latter determined to find out more about the mysterious man she has just decided to travel with. She ends up almost following the Steward in getting killed by a descending sun filter, while back on Earth at the end of the episode her human traits are seen again in the form of a craving for chips.
Before that, Cassandra meets a rather messy end at the hands of an ominously uncaring Doctor, who has just – with Jabe’s sacrificial help – negotiated a succession of spinning turbines to initiate the shields of Platform One and prevent most of the traumatised guests from burning like the Moxx of Balhoon.
Cassandra remains calculated, but doesn’t reckon on being outsmarted by the Doctor, and everything builds to a satisfying conclusion. The End of the World is a very bold entry so early in the revived series, but it pays off very nicely, with thumbs up for direction, characterisation, dialogue, music and special effects. Clearly there were promising signs in terms of what was to come.