NERD ALERT, part two. With spoilers.
This is what we had to look forward to going into “The End Of Time, part two,” the conclusion of David Tennant’s swan song as the Tenth Doctor in Doctor Who last night (airing today in America):
I tell you what, for a long time as I was watching this episode, as it swelling and building on it’s action and it’s emotional cadences, I was sure that I was going to walk away from it crying. Maybe just a manly tear or two, maybe just a bad case of the “watery eyes,” but I had that feeling. And in the end, no, I didn’t cry. But it was worse.
This episode broke my heart.
The plot so far: The Doctor’s mortal enemy The Master has come to Earth, freshly resurrected, but it’s gone wrong. He’s slowly wasting away and meets the Doctor who’s not only reeling from the prophecy that he’s soon to die, the victim of someone who will “knock four times,” but that “something is returning,” and said return will herald the end of time itself. The Master gets his hands on an alien medical device and writes his template onto all of humanity, turning the Doctor’s favorites, the human race, into the Master race.
Meanwhile, the Time Lords, still trapped within the confines of the Time War may have just found their way out…
And of course, there was some glorious references to Star Wars there, ranging from escaping from the Death Star to the Mos Eisley cantina, sort of.
At this point in the revamped show’s history, head writer Russell T. Davies has essentially become marmite. People either love him or they absolutely despise him. And, to be fair, it’s easy to want to see him go, especially with Steven Moffat waiting in the wings, but I think a lot of the criticism is massively unfair. If you love the show now, it should be hard to forget that it all goes back to RTD’s influence. And it should be hard to praise Davies as a massively effective writer, perfect to taking the show to massive crowd-pleasing heights all the while creating water cooler moments and turning potential weaknesses or set backs – Billie Piper leaving the show, or the actor playing Donna’s dad passing away – into victories, making them look like brilliant things planned out all along.
Plus, and this is just a personal thing, you have to love the technobabble that RTD comes up with, especially when it comes to the Time War: The Nightmare Child, the Shadow Proclamation, the Medusa Cascade, the Horde of Travesties, and the Could Have Been King with his army of Meanwhiles and Neverwheres. It’s ridiculous but it’s just glorious sci fi word puff.
But one of RTD’s many strengths in his run on Doctor Who has been with words, not just the glossolalia of sci fi puff or fantasy technobabble, but the arcwords, things like “Torchwood” and “Bad Wolf,” the recurring way just talking can scare us or excite us. He’s practically programmed his audience to howl with joy whenever Tennant screams “Allons-y!” or to curl up with sadness whenever the Doctor again refrains with “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
And while a lot of people had – and rightfully so – a lot of complaints about last week’s episode, there was still something brilliant in it’s frantic chase to the end, this beautiful insane pace as these two men, former friends and now bitter enemies, tried to outrun each other and their own mortality.
And then the evil Timothy Dalton had to show up and start spitting all over the place.
And I have to pause here to toot my own horn for a moment. I totally saws the return of the Timelords coming (and perhaps it was hard not to?), though I assumed it would’ve been in last year’s mega-finale of near fan fiction proportions, “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End.” I had assumed that hidden away there in the Medusa Cascade was the locked away Time War. And part of me was glad it wasn’t.
Mostly because I was dreading their return. I know this show, this revived edition from 2005 to now, and every time I dabble in the 40+ years of lore of the show prior to that, I just have to shudder. The embarrassment of those involved, I think. It’s everything that we mock about the BBC shows, particularly their sci fi: looks like it was all shot on video for pocket change, lots of guys in rubber masks and trash cans wheeling around while a bunch of overacting thespians with bad teeth start shouting at each other. And then there’s the Time Lords with their funny hats and silly robes.
I once read an interview with RTD where he prided himself on the fact that he was a long time hardcore fan of this show, since childhood, and that as showrunner, while he may play with certain elements and tweak things here and there within the show’s vast continuity, he had never contradicted the show, not once. And to his credit, I’ve never heard that he has. And I think, based on the things I’ve seen with the Time Lords in the past, that he’s been true to that in this incarnation of them. Here, with the exception of the woman whom I think is clearly painted as the Doctor’s mother, they’re painted as villains, insane dictators of space and time, willing to cleanse and sanction the universe at their whim, and that seems pretty accurate to who and what they’ve always been.
Plus, I think Doctor Who works wonderfully with that nice little bit of pulp roots there, the lone survivor of an ancient and once noble race, lonely as he wanders the universe, seeing everything there is to see and and helping out where he can. It’s a nice bit of dress up for a show about an adrenaline junkie crossed with your classic British pacifist hero who just happens to have a device that punches holes in the universe.
Speaking of which, I was fascinated that a significant aspect of this episode was trying to tempt the character to take up arms. Though, for all the moral high ground that RTD’s Tenth Doctor has taken up over the years, its’ been a shaky, topsy turvy high ground. Sure, he wouldn’t shoot a man in revenge for killing his daughter, but there was the man who offered “no second chances” to the Sycorax leader above London all those years ago in that first X-mas special.
Two other items of tooting my own horn: The sound of the drums in the Master’s head? I totally called that being something involving the Time Lords and their return. Probably blatantly obvious, but still. And I always unfortunately worried that Wilf would be the man who knocked four times. And it was mostly confirmed last week when he became the only person (still living)(and a “he”) that the Doctor had previously told of the prophecy.
And it’d be criminal not to mention Bernard Cribbins as Wilf in this episode. The cafe scene last week was merely prologue to the vulnerability and sweetness he displays here. This wonderful character actor doesn’t just deserves to be awarded for his part in this episode, he deserves to be knighted.
But from that, I think we got a delicious bit of anger from Tennant’s Doctor. All the good he’s done, all the joy he’s caused within his time in the universe, of course he’d be angry that it has to stop, and stop because some silly old man goes and gets himself locked up with a nuclear device, even if he was saving the life of some poor technician. Though his anger is fleeting, it’s natural and perfectly within the character, I think. A year ago in a brilliant regeneration tease, he decided that he didn’t want to die, and he feels the same way still.
Plus, it nicely echoes Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor transforming into the Tenth. Both men absorbed too much bad radiation of some kind and watched as their cells slowly began to break down and their regeneration energy started to build up. A particularly nice echo also when you consider that I, like so many, was devastated when Eccleston left the part. I figured, “I’ll give this Tennant chap an episode or two, but I’ll probably tune out on the wanker then.”
And somewhere along the journey, David Tennant became my Doctor.
David Tennant with the newly knighted Patrick Stewart in Hamlet.
And I’m glad that my Doctor got his just rewards, a final look at his friends through the eyes he was soon to leave behind. Goodbye, Sarah Jane and bratty son. Goodbye, Captain Jack, who know gets to work his naughty magic on Alonso Frame, replacing dead Ianto after the events of “Children Of Earth.” Goodbye, Mickey Smith and Martha Jones, the new Smith and Jones. Goodbye, Journal Of Impossible Things. Goodbye, Rose.
I knew pretty much everyone was coming back for some filming, except I was under the impression that Freema Agyeman wouldn’t be among them, busy with the British version of Law & Order. And it would’ve been understandable if she didn’t make the return trip, especially when you consider how her character got shit on before she left. First, she’s stranded for an episode in a mud pit with a bunch of fish aliens who can’t speak English. Then she’s berated for the whole Osterhagen thing. And then, finally, she’s stranded with Ricky Mickey. Oh well. Martha, you were still my favorite companion.
And I liked that last scene, well, the scene before the last scene, the goodbye to Rose quite a bit, more than I thought I would. I never disliked Rose, but I didn’t think she was as great as were lead to believe she was all this time. I think certainly she was just a nice chav girl who was in the right place in the right time, and a much needed bit of common sense for the Doctor on occasions. At least for Tennant’s Doctor anyway, since she was always the daughter/audience proxy archetype for Eccleston’s Doctor.
But here again, the two characters had a lovely dichotomy. For him, this will be the last time he ever sees her, and while she doesn’t realize it, this is the first time she’s met him, there in the snow on New Year’s eve. The same as the always recurring arc word “Bad Wolf,” which for Rose, always meant something good, but for the Doctor, it was only something bad.
And then there was the Ood in the snow again, singing the Doctor to his goodbye, well, at least his goodbye to this incarnation. To the regeneration that we’ve been waiting for… for over a year now? This song must end, but it’ll start up again with new instruments and new voices. But the music endures and continues and hopefully only gets better.
And those brilliant last words. We don’t want you to go either, David Tennant. But everything ends. The day before the episode aired, I emailed a friend a bevy of linked related to this episode – preview scenes, reviews, those bingo cards for the finale – and then a little later, I realized I had gone a bit nuts there. I emailed her back to apologize and she said, “Don’t worry. It’s understandable. It’s the end of the era and there’s no better time to go crazy.” Quite right too.
“We’re not in the business of being nostalgic, we’re making nostalgia for the future, new monsters, new friends,” said the brilliant Steven Moffat as he gets ready to take over the show (well, more than gets ready to since they’re probably finished filming the next season by now). Everything Moffat touches tends to turn to brilliance, from Coupling to Press Gang to all of his previous Doctor Who episodes, particularly “Blink” and “Silence In The Library”/”Forest Of The Dead,” and of course “Girl In The Fireplace,” to upcoming Spielberg movie version of Tintin.
Nothing filled me with more confidence than when Moffat told Comicon last year: “Doctor Who is at its best when it’s brand new and you’ve always got to remember that there’s a new bunch of eight-year-olds watching every year and it has to be original – it has to belong to them.”
Well, like I said, first Eccleston was my Doctor, and then, despite my intentions, David Tennant became my Doctor and the show felt it belonged to me. Personally and selfishly, I hope to retain that sense of ownership when Matt Smith’s Doctor takes over, even if he does look like a strange little boy, which may just be perfect for this character.
I know that the Daleks show up next season, but hopefully there appearance is a short one. I’m a bit Daleked out, personally. Other than that, with Davies raising the bar high on threats faced – the end of reality itself in “Journey’s End” and the eponymous end of time – I’m hoping Moffat will respond with quieter, more intimate bits of dread. I both like watching this show gripping my armchair and cheering along with it and watching it from behind my couch.
Oh, and as I finally wrap this up, here’s a bit of geek-ish warning. Just as we obsess over shows like Lost and Mad Men here at Counterforce, it’s a new year and a new era, and I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but I’ll probably be coming at you with quite a bit of Doctor Who when the new series starts in the spring. Hope you’re along for the ride…
And then there’s how it ended, not with an ending, but with a beginning, with something new making contact in 2010: