Everything has its time and everything dies.
I had forgotten how many things this episode introduced us to. We got Lady Cassandra O’Brian, The Face of Barrowman, er, I mean, Boe, and we find out for the first time that The Doctor is the last of the Timelords.
The Doctor being responsible for wiping out the Timelords and the Daleks is such an ingrained part of the new series’ mythology that it is difficult to remember there was a time when discovered this information instead of just knowing it. We don’t discover The Doctor’s complicity in this episode yet, but we are introduced to the Lonely God, the Last of His Kind that will haunt the rest of the series from here on out.
It is strangely appropriate that the second episode of the new series is about the end of the world. The second episode of each season tends to be a disappointment because it’s hard to figure out where to go after the premiere. I am not saying this episode is a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but it really does help set the tone for what the series is and what it could be. By introducing the fact that The Doctor had, offscreen, lost his entire race and showing Rose that everything she knows will end one day, it really does emphasize how small we are compared to everything in the Universe. It really puts our place in perspective.
In the middle of the episode we get Rose talking to her mother on the phone. Jackie is still in her unawakened state where she doesn’t really think about the fact that everything is going to end. Rose has had her perspective completely altered and her talking to her mom underscores the whole fact that she has been changed by her experiences, even as early in the series as it is.
There is a great part towards the beginning of the episode where Rose assumes that The Doctor is going to step in at the last minute and save the Earth. He tells her he won’t because its time is up. This is something we see less and less frequently in Doctor Who. We rarely see The Doctor refuse to step in and meddle with things. He will still occasionally say that something is a fixed point in time, like the destruction of Pompeii, but we have seen him jump through a multitude of hoops to avoid any real consequences of anything actually dying or being destroyed. Just look at the number of times Rory comes back from the dead.
It is nice that Doctor Who makes some token attempt to explain why every alien we encounter in the future is humanoid. By saying that humans left the Earth and interbred with various other species, we can at least have a logical explanation of why every species is bipedal and looks like human being in make-up. I know it is easier to just do make-up on actors in sci-fi, but I always like it when they at least attempt to explain why everyone looks like a person and speaks English.
One thing that I think is cool about having a working class companion is that we see interactions with a lot of people you might not see interactions with. The scene where Rose is chatting with the plumber is really cool. Yes, there are all of these important dignitaries there to watch the Earth die, but every time you have a function like that, there are a lot of nameless, faceless people who are working behind the scenes to make sure that things come off without a hitch. As cool as it is to see The Doctor hang out with various Prime Ministers, it is also really neat to take time to talk to Mitt Romney’s 47%. I don’t know if it is a function of Russell T. Davies being a member of an underrepresent minority, but his dedication to racial and gender diversity, along with showing people whose stories don’t normally get told is commendable.
One aspect of this series that delights me to no end is watching Christopher Eccleston being goofy. In this episode when they haul out the “iPod” and play the classical music tune “Tainted Love” watching Eccleston dancing to the music is all kinds of awesome. There are so many terribly cheesy or just plain bad things in the this season that only work because Eccleston has the gravitas to pull it off. Eccleston has been in a lot of terrible blockbuster action movies where he has been absolutely wasted. It is painful watching a movie like “Thor: The Dark World” where his character could have been played by anyone and it would not have mattered.
The conversation between Rose and The Doctor where she tries to get him to tell her about himself and his people is very well crafted. The Doctor is going through the painful process of coming to grips with what has happened. Healing is not a linear process of slowly feeling better. Generally speaking, when you go through a trauma, parts of you shut down. The Doctor wants to take his new companion on a nice, fun adventure. He doesn’t want to think about or deal with the fact that he is responsible for the destruction of his people. Rose pressing him for straight answers begins to awaken uncomfortable feelings for The Doctor and you can see him trying to retreat back into his comfortable numbness, but he just can’t. The dragon has awakened and you can’t put it back to sleep.
Seeing The Doctor go from dancing and being goofy to having to talk about the painful reality of being the last of his kind is a pivot that not a lot of actors could do. His work in the scene where he is confronted about being the last of the Timelords is painfully subtle. Eccleston conveys so much with his stillness and his silence.
I still maintain that Eccleston and Piper have the best chemistry of all the Doctor/Companion pairs. This is only their second episode but they have such sparky energy with one another when he is modifying her phone so she can call her mother. I am a highly sensitive person and I get all gushy inside watching the two of them interact. It makes me all kinds of happy. Watching this its hard to believe that these people have not been together for years. Their banter and comfort with one another is just so natural that it absolutely drives me insane that we only have a baker’s dozen episodes of the two of them.
I find the theme of this episode to be highly ironic. The episode deals with the inevitable end of everything, yet everyone involved in this episode has unnaturally extended the time they have been allotted. Lady Cassandra has morphed and mutated herself in a doomed attempt to avert and cheat death. The Earth has been artificially prevented from ending at its natural time. We don’t know it yet, but The Face of Boe is the immortal Captain Jack who was altered accidentally and is an abomination that the TARDIS will flee to the end of the Universe to try to escape. The Doctor himself is an immortal god.
Everything has its time and everything dies.
This episode spends so much time talking about so many people who have unnaturally extended their time in this existence. Life is precious because we have a finite amount of it.
The idea that trying to unnaturally extend your life is evil is a very common theme in sci-fi and fantasy. Vampires are cursed because they try to cheat death and they are marked by their curse. In the Harry Potter series Voldomort is physically maimed by his attempts to cheat death by breaking his soul into pieces and scattering them to the four corners of the globe. In Lord of the Rings, the wearers of the rings of power are granted unnaturally long life at the expense of their soul. Death is to be feared, but far more scary is the terrible cost at trying to avoid the inevitable.
Each and every moment we are given is precious. I sometimes feel like I don’t have enough time to do the things I want to do. I push myself very hard and make myself sick trying to make up for time I squandered when time felt limitless. I forget that sometimes it is important to just take a day or two to stop and look around at the wonder that exists all around us.
I went to Greenville, SC for a conference a few weeks ago. I got there half a day early and I spent the entire time just walking around a park in a place I have never been and might not ever see again. It recharged my soul to get away from all my worries and responsibilities and just exist for a few hours.
It doesn’t do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.
Sometimes you just have to accept that everything is going to end one day and take time to stop and smell the chips.