Upon this rewatch, to my pleasant surprise, I found myself enjoying The End of the World more than I remember. I recall this episode being fairly nondescript in terms of plot, and, admittedly, the plot isn’t this episode’s best aspect. But, just as with Rose, I found myself not concerned with the simplistic plot so much; the plot isn’t necessarily the main focus of this episode, but a device through which to develop other aspects of the story: expounding upon the Doctor’s mysterious backstory, developing the relationship between the Doctor and Rose, and developing the character of Rose herself. All these respective aspects are given satisfying and effective treatment in The End of the World. It is—remarkably, I know—only upon this rewatch that I came to the epiphany, which perhaps explains my prior indifference to this episode, that this episode, and indeed all of Series 1, is best watched in chronological order, as part of a series-long run. Together they form a 13-episode long narrative tracing the respective character arcs of Rose and the Doctor, and follows the development of their relationship. Watching episodes from Series 1 detached from this “context” doesn’t necessarily detract from their watchability, but doing so diminishes the quality of stories like this one when one unduly focusses on the plot rather than the character aspects, when one takes an episode out of its context in the character arc.
The End of the World is my earliest (vague) memory of Doctor Who, aged 10. I distinctly remember Christopher Eccleston and Yasmin Bannerman in a dark, cramped corridor, the Doctor looking sombre as he fussed over some piece of futuristic machinery on the wall. I wasn’t paying much attention at the time, but I now realise that I was witnessing one of the first moments of genuine personal pain for the Doctor of the new series. It was, of course, the moment Jabe was revealing to the Doctor that she knew what he was, and was expressing her sorrow for the fate of his people. We saw the Doctor shed a tear—something, I think I can say with confidence, we never saw in the classic series. New Who was making a stark departure in regards to the character of the Doctor: not only is he the last of the Time Lords, but between then and the last time we saw him, something has had the effect of fundamentally changing him. This was conveyed emphatically when the Doctor looked on mercilessly as Cassandra died, begging for mercy. “Everything has its time and everything dies,” he growls.