Right then! It’s Rose’s first official TARDIS trip, so let’s get down to business before title sequence airs: does she want to go backwards in time or forwards?
At first she’s daunted, but she and the Doctor quickly dive into a teasing one-upsmanship. Forwards it is — how about a hundred years into the future? “That’s a bit boring; want to go further?” the Doctor asks playfully. “Fine by me,” she answers, picking up the gauntlet. Does 120005, the age of the New Roman Empire, catch her fancy? “You think you’re so impressive,” she scoffs. “I am so impressive!” he says, indignant, and cranks the TARDIS up until their hurtling-down-the-wormhole journey finally ends with the jaunty ringing of a shop bell (I really wanted Mr. Humphries to come out at the ding, declaring, “I’m free!”).
The Doctor gestures Rose outside the TARDIS, where they find themselves on a space station, gazing at Earth. It’s the year 5.5/apple/26 (thank god they didn’t land in the war-torn and plague-riddled pineapple years): they’ve landed 56 billion years in the future, the day that the sun expands. “Welcome to the end of the world.”
“Guests are reminded that Platform One forbids the use of weapons, teleportation, and religion,” a voice intones. The “great and the good, or at least the rich,” as the Doctor says, have gathered to watch the Earth burn. If the Earth still looks as Rose remembers, that’s only due to the National Trust, who exhausted their coffers keeping gravity satellites holding back the sun and shifting pesky drifting continents in place. “Classic Earth!” the Doctor declares wryly.
Now Rose gets why they’re there; the Doctor will save the Earth! “I’m not saving it,” he corrects her. “Time’s up.” The Earth’s already been vacated; no one is left. “Just me, then,” Rose says slowly before a blue-skinned alien bursts in and asks, “Who the hell are you?”
The Doctor convinces the Steward with the use of “slightly psychic paper,” that he has a proper invitation; Rose Tyler is his plus one. Small chattering staff members bustle around like Oompa Loompas in less cynical times to welcome a parade of guests, including Trees from the Forest of Cheem (tree people descended from Earth), the Face of Boe (a cranky looking giant head in a jar), The Adherents of the Repeated Meme (a black-cloaked ominous looking gang, as meme adherents generally are) and The Lady Cassandra O’Brien Dot Delta Seventeen, the surgically preserved Last Human who is nothing more than stretched vein-y skin. Let that be a warning about the dangers of Botox. “Moisturize me, moisturize me,” is Cassandra’s continual cry.
The guests exchange gifts. Jabe from the Forest of Cheem hands round tree cuttings from her grandfather, the “gift of bodily salivas,” are freely spat by the The Moxx of Balhoon (ew), and The Adherents give out a metal sphere “in all good faith,” to everyone including the Steward. Scrambling for ideas, the Doctor gives “air from my lungs.” “How intimate,” Jabe breathes. “There’s more where that came from,” the Doctor replies. “I bet there is,” Jabe comments. The Ninth Doctor’s flirting makes a sun expanding event even hotter, is all I’m trying to say.
Cassandra presents the company with the last remaining Ostrich egg, and another rarity, “an iPod” (actually a Wurlitzer jukebox) containing music of humanity’s greatest composers. “Tainted Love,” kicks in and the Doctor bops around as Platform One reminds guests “refreshments will now be served; Earth death in 30 minutes.” Rose panics at the incongruity of the assemblage and from shock at Cassandra’s “humanity”, and dashes from the room.
Before the Doctor can follow, Jabe the sexy tree woman approaches him for another word, though in reality so she can get a reading of him on her device to identify his species. “It’s impossible,” she mutters to herself at the findings. In the background, we notice one of The Adherents’ metal balls open. A four-legged mechanical spider come scuttling out.
Outside the observation room, Rose ends up talking to Raffalo, a plumber doing maintenance. Sure, she’s blue, and Rose must give her permission to talk, but the two women soon get past those awkward details for a nice chat. Then Raffalo has to go and mention her home town. You might have heard of it: Crespallion, part of the Jaggit Brocade, affiliated to the Scarlet Junction in Complex 56? Well, that sure sounds like a swell place! 0.o
The foreignness of it all hits Rose, as does the fact that she’s essentially hitched a lift with a man she knows absolutely nothing about. “Good luck,” Rose blurts out, with the whole plumbing and coming from Crespyville thing as she runs away, because she’s a sweet kid even when she’s freaked out. Then poor Raffalo encounters a veritable horde of those adorable little mechanical spiders in the vent, and they drag her in and presumably munch her all up.
“Earth Death, 25 minutes,” Platform One’s voice announces, and Rose tries to commune with the cutting of Jabe’s grandfather. “Hello,” she says to the little plant. “My name’s Rose. That’s a sort of a plant. We might be related.” Then she pauses. “I’m talking to a twig.” Unfortunately this uncomfortable realization prevents her from noticing her own metal ball has opened in the background to release yet another adorable killer spiderbot.
After getting a valet ticket for the TARDIS (tsk, tsk, no teleportation allowed on Platform One!), the Doctor heads over to talk to Rose. “They’re just so alien, the aliens,” she says helplessly. Strange how they all speak English — ah, but that’s the TARDIS’s telepathic field getting inside of her head and translating. Rose, surprisingly, isn’t terribly keen on something changing her mind without her permission, and soon lashes out, “Who are you then, Doctor? What sort of alien are you?” The Doctor exposes his mercurial nature as he quickly shifts from cheerful to angry, snapping, “All that counts is right here and right now, and this is me!”
He stalks away from her, and she takes a moment before reminding herself what her mate Shareen says: “Don’t argue with the designated driver.” Good advice for anyone, though particularly for Rose as she can’t exactly call for a taxi here in space. By way of apology, the Doctor performs some “jiggery pokery” with her cell phone, and she’s able to call her mum. “What day is it?” Rose asks Jackie, shaken. “Wednesday, all day,” Jackie answers, wondering if something’s wrong. “No. Top of the world,” Rose says weakly from her place on the satellite. As she hangs up, the Doctor, proud of this trick, says, “You think that’s amazing, you ought to see the bill.” “It’s 5 billion years later, and my mum is dead,” Rose says dully. “Bundle of laughs, you are,” the Doctor complains. When a tremor shakes the Platform, the Doctor quickly turns gleeful, saying, “That’s not supposed to happen!”
In his office the Steward tries to learn what’s gone wrong by punching info into his system, as another malicious yet delightful robotic spider scratches its way around the office. “I’m picking up readings; I don’t know what they look like,” he explains to the computer. “Although I imagine,” he says slowly, noticing the eensy mechanical bringer of doom inching up on him, “they look rather like that.” “You’re not on the guest list,” he tells it in a snotty voice. But then the spider’s cute little tappy-tap-tapping of just the right computer key brings down the sun filters, incinerating the Steward before he can ask more nosy questions.
Back with the other guests, Jabe combines her helpful nature with a little prying to see if the Doctor is, you know, available. She offers to show the maintenance corridors to him and his…wife? Partner? Concubine? Prostitute? “Whatever I am, it must be invisible. Do you mind?” Rose interrupts. I love that Rose is more offended at being talked over than she is at someone else flirting with the Doctor. Hey, they’ve been holding hands and saving people together for a few days (or a 5 billion years, depending on your perspective), but she’s not about to stake a claim just yet. “Go, pollinate,” she dismisses the Doctor and Jabe. “I want to catch up with the family. Quick word with Michael Jackson,” and heads over to Cassandra.
Jabe and the Doctor look for clues as she notes that Platform One is the height of upper class, where nothing can go wrong. But last time the Doctor was on an unsinkable ship he ended up clinging to an iceberg, “and it wasn’t half cold.” Hey, didn’t Clive’s evidence show the Doctor didn’t get on the Titanic? Well, we can’t ask Clive now, dead as he is from hand-guns. *coughs*
“That’s where I used to live, when I was a little boy,” Cassandra confides, looking at Earth. I love thinking of Cassandra’s continually-altered-by-surgery body as gender indeterminate, but she’s probably just getting another Earth factoid all wrong. How many operations has it taken her to stay this “pure”? Rose asks after Cassandra complains about “mongrel” humans. 708 — 709 next week when she has her blood bleached (dear god). “You’ve got a bit of a chin,” Cassandra says delicately to Rose, who retorts she’d rather be dead than a “bitchy trampoline.”
“What’s a tree like you doing in a place like this?” the Doctor jokes as he hacks into Platform One’s system. Sure, Jabe wants to show respect for the earth, but he knows those trees — roots everywhere, and there’s always money in land. Jabe gently tells him that when her device scanned him earlier, “even when it named you I couldn’t believe it.” At first the Doctor looks aggravated at the prying. But when Jabe says, “I just want to say, how sorry I am,” and touches his arm, he stops, appearing suddenly vulnerable, and places his hand over hers.
While poor Rose smiles nervously at The Adherents — they in turn knock her out and drag her off — the Doctor and Jabe end up in the air-conditioning area with massive fans blocking its deck. The Doctor, seeing another jittering spider, asks, “Who’s been bringing the pets on board?” He quickly deduces sabotage afoot; the ship’s temperature is about to rocket.
Cassandra showily bids farewell to the cradle of civilization, mourning Earth with a traditional ballad on her iPod, which is of course the Britney Spears song, “Toxic”. Jabe and the Doctor reach the Steward’s office, but the Stench Du Steward emerging from it tells them he’s already dead. Rose awakens on the viewing platform with the sun filter in process of descending, Cassandra’s revenge on her judgments. She bangs at the door for help. “Oh, well, it would be you in there,” the Doctor mutters when he finds her, using the Sonic screwdriver to get the filter up again. Then it goes down, and then up, and then down (it really is a bit tedious like that) because the computer is tricksy (and we needed a few more moments of dramatic tension).
After fixing the shields and forced to leave Rose on the observation deck, the Doctor sprints back to the guests. He sends a spider that Jabe subdued with her branch-y arms toward its true owner. There’s a fake-out to the Adherents of the Meme, who are just remote controlled droids covering for the real troublemaker, but the spider soon skitters to our real villain. Of course, Cassandra! “I bet you were the school swot and never got kissed,” she hisses. “What are you going to do, moisturize me?” the Doctor bites back. “With acid,” she threatens. “I’m not just a pretty face!”
Turns out Cassandra wanted to manufacture a hostage situation for compensation. “Five billion years and it still comes down to money,” the Doctor scoffs. Hey, give a trampoline lady a break; it costs a lot to look this flat! Now she’ll let them all burn and take their corporate holdings to subsidize her pancakery. “I’m such a naughty thing,” she quips, because she’s schemed a way to teleport out with her moisturizing minions.
The Doctor and Jabe run to find the system restore switch. Of course it’s on the other end of those huge dangerously rotating fans. The blades can only slow if someone stays on deck holding a lever down. Jabe volunteers even though she’s made of wood and will burn, proving when push comes to shove, women directly descended from the Brazilian Rainforest are classy dames. As the heat reaches critical level, the Doctor dodges fan blades, and finally when poor Jabe bursts into flames, has a moment of zen in order to step past the final set of blades.
Hitting system restore brings back the shields and protects the satellite from the now-disintegrating Earth. Pieces of the planet fly past windows and viewing platforms. Meanwhile, as the cracks in Rose’s room self-repair and the doors open to release her. The Doctor confirms Jabe is burned, which is a horrid end to what seemed a promising man-tree relationship.
Some Platform guests were killed as a result of Cassandra’s machinations; the remaining ones are traumatized. “You all right?” Rose asks the Doctor warily. Oh, he’s full of ideas, “bristling with them”, and he’s figured out a few things. Teleportation at such a high degree needs a feed, this feed must be somewhere nearby (revealed by cracking the “Ostritch” egg Cassandra brought), and finally “If you’re as clever as me, that teleportation can be reversed.” With that, the Doctor brings back Cassandra, who bluffs, “You passed my little test, bravo! Now you can join the Human Club.” She derides at the Doctor’s claims she’ll be brought to justice, threatening to tie up the matter in court for hundreds of years.
Despite Cassandra’s bravado, though, the Doctor points out she’s creaking. With her moisturizing minions elsewhere and the Platform’s temperature still high, Cassandra’s simply in danger of drying out. “Help her,” Rose says quietly. It’s a lovely moment. There’s no love lost between Rose and Cassandra, but Rose is able to understand something she couldn’t comprehend only one episode ago, that even someone in the villain’s role deserves a second chance. But just as the Doctor wouldn’t save the Earth, he won’t save Cassandra. This is more painful, more personal, than the Nestene Consciousness. “Everything has its time, and everything dies,” he says shortly. Without constant care, Cassandra explodes.
As the shuttles depart, taking the remaining guests away from Platform One, Rose sadly watches pieces of the Earth drift by. “It’s gone,” she says quietly. “We were too busy saving ourselves” from their dire situation, so they failed to witness its destruction. “All those years, all that history, and no one was even looking. It’s just –” The Doctor reaches out his hand, saying, “come on, then,” gently, leading her away.
Rose steps out of the TARDIS back to her own present-day London, dazed by the rush of people and the evidence of life all around her. “You think it’ll last forever,” the Doctor says as he joins her. “People and cars and concrete. But it won’t. One day it’s all gone, even the sky.” As she looks around he finally says, “My planet is gone. It’s dead. It burned like the earth, rocks and dust before its time.” There are a few moments in this episode that drag, but this bit is amazing: we suddenly understand this random trip to impress Rose wasn’t at all random, or really ever only about Rose or even the Earth. It’s also about the Doctor, the planet he lost, about his intense loneliness as the last of the Time Lords. If Rose wants to know who she’s traveling through time and space with, that’s who the Doctor is.
Though they really do barely know one another, the next exchange gives us all we need to know about the two of them. “I’m the only survivor,” the Doctor says as he finishes the brief mention of the war that ended his world. “There’s me,” she says, reaching out for him. And that’s a lovely bit of humanity finally come along in the course of a long lonely existence, isn’t it?
“You’ve seen how dangerous it is,” the Doctor tells Rose as they stand on the pavement. “Do you want to go home?” “I dunno,” she says, still dazed. “I want — er, can you smell chips? I want chips.” “Me too!” the Doctor agrees. Of course he’s got no money, so she offers to treat him: “We’ve only got 5 billion years until the shops close.”
Come tell me what you thought of this episode — or if you haven’t already, start watching (or re-watching) Doctor Who with me! And be sure to join me tomorrow when I recap “The Unquiet Dead” (spooooky!).