Dale here folks, and in this chapter of our series of Doctor Who articles, I have the task of reviewing The End of Time, the final two-part adventure of the Tenth Doctor. I find this very fitting in a humorous way, as I wrote the Series Two article, the beginning of David Tennant’s run, and now I write his ending.
After four series over four years, and a year of feature length specials, Russel T. Davies’ era as Showrunner of Doctor Who comes to an end over Christmas and New Year of 2009, with the beloved Tenth Doctor reaching the end of his life and a new, younger man and a more charismatic Showrunner ready to take their places. Each series has upped the anti in every way, with Series One being the triumphant return of the show, the Doctor and the Daleks. Series Two revamps the Cybermen, leading to a finale pitting two of the most iconic enemies against one another along with the loss of a beloved companion. Series Three brings the return of the Master, the Doctor’s life long frenemy in all his insane drum beating glory in a three part finale that saw Earth go through a year of horror. Series Four ended in a blockbuster climax which resurrected Davros, perhaps the Doctor’s greatest enemy and creator of the Daleks, along with a full Dalek Empire, all companions of the Modern era together in a final battle, Earth fighting a war with planets in the sky, two (and a half) Doctors, and the fate of all reality at stake.
Essentially the ultimate showdown.
So, for the final run of the Tenth Doctor, does Davies’ aim to top himself once again? Yes.
Does he succeed? Absolutely not.
I will be up front, this will not be a positive review. I am certainly going to talk about the things in the story that do work, but unfortunately the bad heavily outweighs the good, in my opinion.
Russell T. Davies saw an opportunity to raise the stakes and make more of a grand spectacle to the story, to once again make it even bigger and trump all finales before it.
Unfortunately the plot is weak and makes no sense at all, many characters are short-changed, plot points are dropped and never brought back up and resolved, and it all just feels too much for the sake of being too much.
So, the plot, sees the Doctor finally going to see the Ood after being summoned in The Waters of Mars, but having had some adventures first (including The Day of the Doctor 50th Anniversary Special), but discovering that something terrible is happening, everyone is having bad dreams of a horrid face, something old is returning, and poor old Wilf is the only one who seems to remember.
For those who may not know this, the voice actor of the Elder Ood is actually Brian Cox (X2: X-Men United, Manhunter, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as well as Sydney Newman from An Adventure In Space And Time).
It is revealed that the Master is returning and there is a plot that could bring about the end of Time itself. I shall say that this I do like this. I’m a big fan of the Ood, it’s nice to see them again, and Brian Cox gives a good performance. The reveal of the Master and the idea of the threat is also nice. However, this in itself is one of those story threads that never gets resolved or even mentioned again. The Doctor notices that the Ood civilization is advancing way too fast in such short time and it is never explained why, and nothing is ever done with it again. But I digress.
Returning to the scene from Last of the Time Lords, in which we see the Master die but then his ring picked up by someone, that someone is revealed to be… a completely random stranger that we’ve never met before. This woman works at a womens’ prison and along with several others are part of a cult dedicated to Harold Saxon (AKA The Master) and are holding rituals written down in the ancient ‘Books of Saxon’ to resurrect him.
OK. A cult to the Master, that we never knew anything about, that was never made mention of, actively trying to resurrect the Master. While this annoys me a little, I could get behind this. But then, the ‘Books of Saxon’? Sorry, but you’re telling me the Master wrote magical books precisely for the purpose of bringing him back from the dead? Talk about a forced plot point. And for that matter, how does the Master even know this? How can the Master resurrect himself? In The Deadly Assassin, the Master had used up all his regenerations, he was a walking husk and desperate to find any way to survive, eventually stealing someone’s body in The Keeper of Traken, and then trying to steal the Doctor’s regenerations in the 1996 TV movie. The only reason that the Master is alive and can regenerate now is because the Time Lords themselves gave him a new cycle of regenerations to fight in the Time War. So how does the Master suddenly know how to return from the dead?
And on to Lucy Saxon. The Master’s wife and companion from Series Three. I actually quite liked her in Series Three, it was a twist on the Doctor and his companion, with the Master taking her, romancing her, and, just as the Doctor’s companions change to become more like him, she becomes more like the Master, twisted and delighting in slaughter. However, after a year of his rule in Last of the Time Lords, she’s clearly a shell of her former self, and it is she who gladly kills him. But here, she’s a prisoner, locked away from the world, without a trial, and is needed as the key to complete the resurrection ritual.
How you may ask?
They wipe her lipstick, which has traces of the Master’s DNA, and that brings him back.
Do I even need to explain why this is stupid?
Did she never wash?
But then, all of a sudden, Lucy knows all about these Books of Saxon (well that’s more than we ever did) and she’s formed her own secret plan to kill him (again) before he comes back… and she’s in on it with other members of the prison guard?!?!?! What?!
And now she has a miraculous potion that will kill him, that blows up the prison and everyone in it. Save the Master, of course.
I won’t lie, this is my least favourite part of the entire story.
The Doctor then arrives to find he’s too late, the prison destroyed, and the Master on the run.
Speaking of the Master, I will admit I’m a fan of John Simm’s performance of him in Series Three.
While he has his critics due to his flamboyant and insane portrayal, which doesn’t quite match up with the charismatic sophistication of Roger Delgado or the melodramatic evil of Anthony Ainley, he did have a certain type of appeal, and I like that they essentially made him a direct opposite of everything the Doctor was, two men in suits, one light, one dark, two men with screwdrivers, one blue and sonic, one red and laser etc. His Master was a direct mirror reflection of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. However, in this story, I am not as much of a fan. While you could argue that the Master in this is still the Doctor’s opposite, albeit a very different type of opposite, this time the man in the suit with friends against the homeless man on the run- the man at the top, and the man at the bottom, his performance is another example in this story of being taken to the extreme for its own sake. The Master is a gibbering lunatic, a complete mess, there is no sophistication left of him, none of that style or dark elegance that makes the Master appealing. Instead he’s roaming the wastelands of London, living like a hobo, eating other hobos, and ranting as he turns into Skeletor from Masters of the Universe.
I know that in the story it’s technically because the drumbeat is louder than ever before and it’s driven him beyond the reach of any kind of sanity but even still, it just doesn’t work for me.
What does work for me though is the quieter moments in this story, when it just takes its time and does away with all the spectacle.
A brilliant example of this would be in the cafe between the Doctor and Wilf, two old men talking about talking about death, what’s been lost, what could be etc. Beautiful.
“I’m going to die”.
“Well so am I one day”.
“Don’t you dare”.
“Alright, try not to”.
There are other moments too, like when the Master has captured the Doctor and they simply talk to one another, and the scene on the Vin’Votchi ship where Wilf offers the gun to the Doctor. There are moments of genius and beauty in this story, truly there are, but it is buried under tons of mediocrity and nonsense.
The ‘villains’ of the story, generic billionaire #257 and his mindless daughter are quite frankly some of the most pathetic and unmemorable characters out of all Who. Donna is reintroduced and remembers her experiences with the Doctor, which she was never supposed to, and instead of dying she simply falls asleep, to which the Doctor laughs and says “Did you really think I’d leave my friend unprotected“.
Sorry, but how did she not die? You specifically said SEVERAL times that she must NEVER remember. It’s never explained nor brought up again.
The woman Wilf continually sees, the one that many speculate could be the Doctor’s mother, we never find out who she actually is (which is fine, it’s nice to have that as a small mystery) but it’s never explained why only Wilf can see her, and why Wilf in general actually?
Why Wilf, why is he the only one who remembers the dreams, why is he the only one who sees the woman, why can he be the one who finds the Doctor in a matter of a couple of hours? Because he’s the man who knocks? That’s not a good enough explanation.
The Master’s plot, turning all of the Human race into his ‘Master race’ is a cool gimmick… for a couple of minutes, and then it gets old VERY quickly. It almost feels as if Russell T. Davies thought up the line “There is no Human race, there is only the Master race” and then made up a plot along that premise. The threat also feels incredibly pointless for as soon as the Time Lords enter the scene, Rassilon simply flexes his hand and BOOM, all back to normal. Very Deus Ex Machina.
Once all is said and done, the Doctor has saved the day from the Time Lords and the Master, he thinks he’s defeated fate itself and then… knock, knock, knock, knock.
Wilf has gotten himself trapped whilst saving a man. The chamber is about to be flooded with radiation. Wilf says to leave him, he’s an old man and he’ll accept his fate. To which the Doctor then says “Alright then I will”, and berates Wilf for getting stuck, calls him unimportant as opposed to him who could be “so much more”.
I’m sorry but the Doctor, the man who saves the universe, the man who is never cruel nor cowardly, the man who says (when he’s in the form of Matt Smith) that he’s never met anyone who is unimportant, and yet here he is calling Wilf, his friend, the man he said he would be proud to have as a father, here he is calling him all these things and it really comes across as incredibly arrogant. I understand that the Doctor is at the end of his current life and he’s not the man he was at the beginning of his tenure, but the whole point of The Waters of Mars was showing what happens to the Doctor when he spends too much time alone, when he crosses the line and goes too far, he understood this, and yet here he is making his friend feel bad for the fact he has to save him.
He’s the Doctor, it’s what he does, and it’s what he loves. The Doctor has many time sacrificed several of his lives to save his friends, companions, and even general, random people he barely knows, because he’s the hero that does that, we know he’s exceptional and grand and better than all of us, but what makes him even more special is the fact he doesn’t care about any of that. If someone needs to be saved, and he can do it, he will. That’s the Doctor.
And in this moment, he really just doesn’t feel like the Doctor. It’s another example of characters being taken to the extreme without any regard for it being in that character’s nature, just simply for the spectacle of it. It’s really a case of reality, the production side of things, bleeding through into the story. It was well established that Russell T. Davies, Julie Gardner, and David Tennant were leaving and many were saddened by this (it was even revealed not too long ago that the BBC considered cancelling the show again due to their leaving) and it really seems that the real life feeling of not wanting to let go and move on has seeped its way into the characters.
As the Doctor moves on to get his ‘reward’, his victory tour as it were, he visits his companions in a montage that I admit I do rather like, it’s very bittersweet in the best way, and the look between Sarah Jane (her final ever appearance in Doctor Who due to Elizabeth Sladen’s tragic death) and the Doctor is telling and heartbreaking.
And the final goodbye between the Doctor and Rose, as he meets her on New Year’s Day 2005, the year she began travelling with the Doctor (as we did) is a great sensation of bringing an era full circle.
Then as the Doctor struggles to walk alone in the snow, with Ood Sigma singing his song, the regeneration begins.
While many criticize the regeneration in this story and the bleak theme of death, I am actually a supporter of it. When the Doctor describes regeneration as dying and a new man walking away in your place, taking your memories, your name, your life, but everything you are is simply gone, that is terrifying and heartbreaking, and it also adds both a sense of tragedy and impact to regeneration, there is a cost to it, it’s not simply being hurt but then changing your face and everything is OK, there is a price that must be paid to be a Time Lord. I like that, very much. The Time of the Doctor also continues this idea but in a slightly different way, in which Matt Smith’s Doctor will no longer be there, but he will always remember when he was him, and if we remember then we’re never really gone. While The End of Time and The Time of the Doctor have this in common, I personally find Matt Smith’s finale to be the perfect send off for his Doctor, as opposed to David Tennant’s which Davies tried to send off with a bang but inadvertently created a whimper.
The scene inside the TARDIS in which we see Tennant become Smith is very well done, the effects are nice and seamless, and the transition creates a real sense of energy and adventure. Smith only has about a minute or two on screen and yet already he reinvigorates the episode, ending on a high note to an overall disappointing story.
The acting in this story must be highly praised though, as Tennant does exceptionally with the material he’s got, Timothy Dalton pulls a great, menacing guest performance as Rassilon, Bernard Cribbons makes you weep as Wilf, and while it doesn’t quite work for me as the character, John Simm puts a lot into the role.
Overall, this story just leaves me very deflated and disappointed. I know I seem incredibly negative, but it’s mainly because there are many great things in this story that are just surrounded by crap, when really they should have been explored entirely differently.
If I were the Timelord Victorious and had the power and free reign to rewrite history how I wished, I personally would have kept this story smaller and more personal, much like The Caves of Androzani, bring back the Master if you wish but have it as a battle of wills between those two, never mind the whole nonsensical, plot hole ridden mess of bringing back the Time Lords or turning Humanity into Masters, keep it between the Doctor and the Master, and instead of Wilf, maybe bring back Rose for the full story, perhaps the Rose we see in the actual episode but instead kidnapped by the Master and she meets the Doctor before she was supposed to, and in saving her it’s what kills him, and he tells her everything they will go through together and what they’ll ultimately mean to one another before wiping her mind like he did with Donna, leaving her to go off on 2005, while he goes to regenerate.
This I would have liked, but it’s not that it isn’t this that I dislike the story, simply that I feel it could have better.
Well this has been my review of The End of Time and we’ve now come to the end of the Tenth Doctor’s era, now onto new horizons with the Eleventh Doctor which you’ll see with Amy’s review of Series Five.
As for me, for now I can only say…
I don’t want to go.