Thoughts on: The End of Time

The Tenth Doctor’s final story was always going to be huge. David Tennant had held the role for four years, and had engrafted himself permanently into the national consciousness as the cultural icon that he was. His Doctor was the most beloved and celebrated since Tom Baker, and Tennant’s leaving the role was inevitably going to be a momentous occasion. The End of Time, in my opinion, delivered wonderfully on expectations and rose to the occasion exceptionally. Apart from being an epic tale that culminated the Time War arc and returned John Simm’s bewitching Master, portraying the Doctor’s most monumental challenge yet, it also delivered probably the most memorable and affecting regeneration ever. Everything and everyone came together to produce a story that completes both the Tenth Doctor’s era, as well as Russell T Davies’ era as showrunner, perfectly.

The plot concerned a prophecy, that “something is returning”, and the end of time is imminent. The Master is somehow implicated. The Doctor finds the resurrected Master, but knows there’s something more. It’s only until the second episode that it becomes clear that it’s Gallifrey that’s returning, and that the Time Lords are going to bring the last day of the Time War with them, to end it all and take time itself with them. I like the way the story was set up like this, as the culmination of some celestial prophecy. It brings a sense of epicness and scale to the story that sets up something as significant as the end of time really well, more so than if, as usually happens, the Doctor just happens to stumble on this plot to destroy all of reality, time and everything and is conveniently there to save the day. I thought the Time Lords’ plot could have been more prominent in the first half of the story, though. The first episode was, understandably, focussed on the Master and his schemes, but the episode could at least have cut to Gallifrey every 20 minutes or so to give us hints and teases of what the story was building up to, as viewers would be forgiven for being confused about what was going on, with the Doctor talking about a mysterious prophecy while the Master was just carrying on as his usual madcap self, taking over the Earth for no particular reason.

To say something about the wonderful Bernard Cribbins before I move on, I thought Cribbins as Wilf was just dazzling in this story. Wilf is adorable and endearing and really pulls the heartstrings. He’s a slightly quaint, bumbling duffer of an old man, but that’s exactly why we love him, and Cribbins portrays him brilliantly. Cribbins’ acting was phenomenal, and it’s easy to see why he became a recurring character in Series 4 and was now even taken on as a “proper” companion. The Doctor and Wilf have a lovely relationship. There were two quiet little scenes showing the Doctor and Wilf talking privately that were just touching to watch, in the cafe and in the Vinvocci spaceship. It’s a testament to how close the Doctor has become to Wilf and how special their connection is that the Doctor admitted to Wilf that he’d be proud if Wilf were his father. Wilf weeps over the thought of the Doctor dying. It’s touching, profoundly moving stuff, and, I think, in those moments, Wilf sealed his place as the best one-off companion of all.

The Master was back more delightfully unhinged than ever before. John Simm delivers a riveting, manic performance in the Master’s first scenes back, and the Master himself seems to have truly gone off the edge since we saw him last. He’s definitely distinctly more insane than he was in Last of the Time Lords. We shouldn’t be surprised, given how many times he’s died and been resurrected, not to mention how many different bodies he’s inhabited (that’s actual bodies, not regenerations. I count four since Roger Delgado). Simm was equal to the task, and gave a suitably unnerving performance. I wasn’t particularly impressed with how the Master was brought back, though. He was resurrected, inexplicably, by what looked like black magic using his old ring according to the “Secret Books of Saxon”… by some sort of weird cult whose motive in resurrecting the Master was not explained. “We give ourselves that Saxon might live.” Seriously? Is this the best RTD could come up with? That said, the Master was an impressive, frightening presence when he appeared, cackling madly in that fountain of ethereal light. Apart from that, it was all just very corny, perhaps the one major cringe moment of this story. I thought the Master’s scheme to transform the whole human race into himself was delightfully evil, almost certainly the Master’s most nefarious scheme yet. What made it even better was that the Master didn’t plan any of this: he was abducted by John Naismith and just hungrily seized the opportunity he was given to create mayhem on a terrible scale. It was pretty typical that, after turning the human race into him, he didn’t know what to do with himselves, so he reverted to type: he was going to turn the Earth into a warship to wreak havoc across the universe. He simply can’t help himself.

The Master and the Doctor’s relationship was explored through some compelling dialogue. The Master’s reminiscing back to when he and the Doctor were children together on Gallifrey: “We used to run across those fields all day, calling up at the sky. Look at us now.” The Doctor’s entreaty for the Master to come with him, to see the universe with him, “You could be beautiful. With a mind like that, we could travel the stars. It would be my honour.” Nor did the Doctor, even once, get angry at the Master. The Doctor looks upon the Master with sorrow, and sympathy and regret. Repeatedly the Doctor pleads with the Master to let him help him. They’re arch-nemeses, sure, but they’re also friends, friends who’ve become estranged and taken wildly different paths, but still friends. They share a bond: they can’t live with each other or without each other. “I wonder what I’d be, without you,” said the Doctor. “Yeah,” agreed the Master. The Doctor-Master relationship is complex and compelling. I think it makes the Master, at least potentially, the most interesting of the Doctor’s enemies. The Doctor has just as much, if not more, history with the Daleks and the Cybermen, but his relationship with them is one of mutual hate on both sides. With the Master, it is far, far more complicated and nuanced, as the Master’s most recent appearance in Dark Water/Death in Heaven showed.

In the culmination of constant harks back to the Time War, and progressive revelation of the nature of the Doctor’s role therein, we finally saw the Time Lords return to Doctor Who for the first time in the revival. Led by a tyrannical Lord President who is later revealed to be Rassilon, the Time Lords, on the last day of the Time War, plot to escape the time lock through the Master, bringing the Time War with them, and complete the Final Sanction, destroying time and reality itself, for only the Time Lords to survive as “creatures of consciousness alone”. We knew before now that the Doctor had ended it all on the last day of the Time War, but only in this story did we find out what drove the Doctor to commit that terrible deed: the alternative was too unthinkable; the Doctor had no choice. The End of Time, in contrast with the romantic, idyllic, mythological depictions of the Time Lords we’ve heard from the Doctor before now, portrayed the Time Lords corrupted and debased and depraved by endless, horrific war. We’re shown a once peaceable race standing aloof from the rest of the universe turned into tyrants and monsters by the Time War, warped and perverted by their uncompromising, unthinking devotion to the glory and victory of their own depraved civilisation. Rassilon was an imperious, malignant presence who typified everything the Time Lords had become. Given the Doctor’s vivid, haunting description of the Time War’s last days, it’s no wonder the Time Lords went mad:

“You weren’t there in the final days of the War. You never saw what was born. But if the Timelock’s broken, then everything’s coming through. Not just the Daleks, but the Skaro Degradations, the Horde of Travesties, the Nightmare Child, the Could-have-been King with his army of Meanwhiles and Never-weres. The War turned into hell. And that’s what you’ve opened, right above the Earth. Hell is descending.”

The resolution. I was a bit unimpressed with this. As I was watching, I wasn’t sure what exactly it was the Doctor shot to break the link and send Gallifrey back to the Time War. I later looked it up and found out the Doctor had shot the white point star. I suppose that makes sense, but, after equivocating between shooting the Master or Rassilon, I thought it seemed like a bit of a cop-out on RTD’s part. The Doctor’s vacillation between the Master and Rassilon was a profoundly powerful scene. You could almost see the gears whirring behind the Doctor’s piercing, furious gaze. One of them had to die—but which one? That’s why I was somewhat disappointed when the Doctor realised he could just shoot the white point star and end it, as I’m sure he’d prefer, bloodlessly. All that emotional buildup came to nothing. It was almost an anticlimax. Sometimes tough choices, terrible choices, have to be made, without the option of a convenient, agreeable third way out. After emphatically making this precise point in describing why he ended the Time War, I find it a bit incongruous that Russell T Davies would pull off a cop-out like this, just to give the Doctor a way to send the Time Lords back without dirtying his hands with violence or anything so disagreeable. That said, making the Doctor kill the Master or Rassilon in his final story would probably have cast too much of a shadow over his regeneration and even the next Doctor’s first series. The next Doctor would hardly be going “Geronimo!” after he’d just committed cold-blooded murder. Also, if the Doctor had killed one of them, we wouldn’t have got that amazing, blood-pounding moment when the Master finally gets his revenge against Rassilon. That moment never fails to affect me; the passion and anger and tears of the Master as he takes out his lifetimes of resentment against Rassilon is truly a sight to behold.

Finally, we come to the Doctor’s farewell. It’s initially a buoyant moment, when the Doctor finds himself, unbelievably, alive. He’s relieved and astonished beyond words. He’s done it. He’s defied death. And then RTD swoops in and, in typical style, sadistically snatches it all away. Knock knock knock knock. You see the life drain from his face at that moment. He’d forgotten about Wilf. He lets out his anger and resentment in what remains, in my opinion, one of the most moving monologues of this show’s history. It always gets me. I remember watching this when it was broadcast on New Year’s Day, 2010, with my mum and my brother, and feeling profoundly caught up in the emotion of the Doctor’s tirade. It was some of the most powerful and compelling acting any of the actors who have played the Doctor have ever given. Tennant was giving his absolute all into that moment, and it showed. It felt. The feels, man. It seems at first as though the Doctor has survived absorbing five hundred thousand rads, but then our suspicions are confirmed. “It’s started.” Thence follows yet more of the most poignant, affecting viewing I’ve ever seen on this show. The Doctor’s farewell tour is uplifting, but at the same time deeply sad. He says goodbye to all his friends and companions for the last time, before he becomes a new man and leaves them all behind forever. His parting gift to Donna is a particularly touching gesture. Perhaps most touching of all is his visit to Rose, shortly before it all begins for her, and for him. That’s RTD’s symbolic farewell to the show he’s nurtured and raised and devoted himself to for four years. He’s gone back to where it all started, allowed himself a sad, reminiscent smile, and turned over the final page.

The Doctor’s not done, though. The Doctor lives on, longer and older and greater than any of the writers and showrunners who’ve built the show over its fifty years. After he’s said his final goodbye to Rose, he drags himself back to the TARDIS, now clearly struggling through great pain. That beautiful Vale Decem track plays in the background as the enigmatic Ood declares that the universe will sing him to his sleep. The old soldier struggles on, enters his TARDIS, hangs up his coat for the last time, and bravely faces the end. “I don’t want to go.” Oh, the feels. Like a dagger piercing through my Whovian heart. We barely have the chance to tearfully plead “Don’t go!” before he erupts in a blaze of regenerative glory and turns into Matt Smith. The King is dead. Long live the King.

Rating: 9/10.

Thoughts on: The Waters of Mars

In the first place, I thought this story was really well conceived. It was an inspired idea to show the Doctor stumbling upon the history of the future, important events in human history that are yet to happen. In that respect, the idea that the mysterious and horrific death of the first human colonists on Mars in 2059, specifically the death of their leader, Captain Adelaide Brooke, acts as the catalyst for endless human expansion beyond the stars, was really excellent. It made the perfect setting to facilitate exploration of the Doctor’s Time Lord self-control, showing him struggling against his impulse to save people he knew must die. That was the compelling premise of this story, played out forcefully in this immaculately written, produced, directed and acted episode.

The Doctor’s struggle to contain his urge to help Brooke and her crew and deliver them from the terrible fate he knew was coming for them was really powerfully conveyed over the course of this episode. His first instinct, upon realising what was going to happen to them that day, was immediately to leave. Brooke refused him. Perhaps if Brooke had allowed him to leave when he first wanted to, the terrible events of later would not have occurred. As the Doctor becomes more involved in what’s going on, and becomes more acquainted with Brooke and her crew, we see him beginning to agonise and doubt himself over whether he’s doing the right thing. He’s obviously tormented over having to leave them to their horrible deaths. The internally pained look on the Doctor’s face as he watched the crew members making desperate, futile preparations to leave the base expressed volumes. Adelaide finally lets him leave, but it’s not clear if he wants to now. He insists to Adelaide that he can’t help her, but he’s not sure now whether he really believes that. The Doctor hears the sounds of the crew screaming and shouting and dying as he walks away from the base, and he’s clearly in moral turmoil. His every fibre militates against what he’s doing, but he shan’t look back. He can’t.

But he does. In a terrible lapse in judgment, he does. He goes back and saves the woman and the remaining crew members who were supposed to die. But there’s something wrong here. This is an all-too familiar scene: the Doctor running around, shouting and laughing as he tries to save good people’s lives. This isn’t supposed to be happening, though; this is the one time where we watch the Doctor doing what we love him for, yet stricken with misgiving, where it all seems so vain and just wrong. Moreover, the Doctor isn’t himself. He seems to have snapped. As he’s trying to save Brooke and the others, he seems unsettlingly unhinged, wild-eyed and manic. It’s not the Doctor’s normal, charming manic look, he seems genuinely deranged, and scary to watch. Something is very wrong here. He brings them back to Earth, while the base was destroyed.

Adelaide challenges him over what he did, over what he shouldn’t have done, and he delivers those arresting, unnerving, spine-chilling lines: “For a long time now, I thought I was just a survivor, but I’m not. I’m the winner. That’s who I am. The Time Lord Victorious.” “And there’s no one to stop you.” “No.” Those were some of the most memorable, powerful lines in this show’s history. It was perhaps the one time we truly questioned the Doctor, the one time the Doctor truly scared us. The one time the Doctor was the monster. And it was compelling and completely mesmerising. Is this who the Doctor is when he’s alone? When he doesn’t have a companion by his side to stop him, to rein him in and keep him sane? Unfortunately, it looks like it. The Doctor regretted taking companions with him in the last episode, regretted their deaths and their losses, and swore never to allow that to happen again, but this is the other side of that coin: the Doctor needs someone by his side to save him from himself, and to protect others from what he would become. Without a companion to make him better, who’s to say the Doctor won’t himself become the most terrible, fearful force in the universe? The potential is undoubtedly there. The man who’s saved the universe a thousand times over can equally just as easily burn it.

Most of this review was about the Doctor’s moral dilemma and Time Lord Victorious, but here are some final thoughts. I thought Adelaide Brooke was a wonderfully well-written character, and played superbly by Lindsay Duncan. She stands out as one of the best-written one-off companions of the revival, as suitable for such a heavy and monumental script. Adelaide’s recounting of her ethereal experience from her childhood during the events of The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End was profoundly beautiful and chilling, as was the Doctor’s bittersweet eulogy to Adelaide and her legacy. As I said, Adelaide was a wonderful character, well-written and well-conceived. I also thought the water creature(s) were very frightening. Extremely, uncharacteristically frightening, in fact, for a family show. Doctor Who has done frightening before, but never like this. The Weeping Angels, the gasmask people in The Empty Child, the Vashta Nerada were in quite a different order of scary; these creatures, and what they do to the humans they take over, would have almost certainly given most children a sleepless night after watching. Well done, RTD, I didn’t think you had it in you. Finally, I don’t think it even needs saying, but David Tennant’s acting was absolutely sublime, powerful and frightening. Almost certainly one of his finest performances. I’m in awe of the man.

Rating: 10/10.

Thoughts on: Planet of the Dead

There’s one reason why I adore this story, and that’s Lady Christina de Souza. She’s amazing. I just can’t help being absolutely taken with her every time I watch this episode, making an otherwise mediocre episode hugely enjoyable and highly rewatchable. I’m actually serious; Michelle Ryan is the only reason I like this episode. She’s the difference between this episode being a poor story and a good story. Lady Christina was a self-confident, outgoing, sexy, feisty, assertive aristocrat, and her partnership with the Tenth Doctor made for wonderfully entertaining viewing. An atypical companion, not conforming to the traditional “ask questions, help out and look pretty” archetype (apart from the looking pretty bit), she was very much comfortable being in control and telling the Doctor what to do. She was very much the Doctor’s equal, not his subservient assistant, and she wasn’t content to let the Doctor tell her what to do and presume to be her superior. She’s a Lady, after all — she expects to be treated with respect.

She was feisty, asserting her personality by teasing and playfully flirting with the Doctor, as well as telling him her mind when she wanted to. She had an attitude and a spunk that made her an extraordinary woman: she was seemingly unfazed by finding herself on an alien world, meeting two walking flies and entering an alien craft… she seemed to regard everything with a kind of lordly, haughty disdain that set her apart from the usual breathless young girls the Doctor takes with him. She was sexy and she knew it. “Your body heat is raising the temperature,” said the Doctor. “I tend to have that effect.” Oh, girly. I have to say, this is the first companion I’ve genuinely crushed on. It was infatuation at first sight, I’m not ashamed to admit. A lot like Patrick Troughton, she seems to make every scene she’s in sparkle, which is quite a feat as this story was substantially tedious and unexciting. I thought Lady Christina and the Tenth Doctor made a ripping pair, and I would have absolutely loved to have seen at least a series of them together. I regard it as a great shame that Lady Christina couldn’t have been a proper companion; her character was just too brilliant to be a one-off. In truth, even from this one story, I would say that I like her more than any of the proper revival companions, apart from Amy.

As I said, Lady Christina is the only thing that makes this episode as watchable and enjoyable as it is. Try to imagine this story without her. Pretty boring, right? It’s a simplistic and uninspiring plot that basically consists of the Doctor going to collect some clamps from a crashed spaceship, with the entirely unexciting twist of his having to do it before those stingray things get there before him (which, of course, you know he’s going to do). For a so-called “specials” year, I think fans would be justified in being underwhelmed. The only thing that really redeems the plot is the setting: the desert world was aesthetically impressive, realised beautifully in high definition, this episode being the first shot in HD. That said, although it’s emphatically true that the plot was tedious and didn’t contain enough substantive content to fill out the full sixty minutes, the sixty-minute format allowed for a slowing down of pace and the inclusion of some quality, quieter little scenes such as the Doctor’s reassuring “pep talk” to the passengers on the bus after they’d come through the wormhole and found themselves on an alien planet, or the adorable dialogue between the Doctor and Lady Christina. You wouldn’t get any of that in a whirlwind 45-minute adventure. To an extent that makes me wonder if 60 minutes is a better standard length for individual episodes.

Some final thoughts: Malcolm, played by Lee Evans, was a hilariously wonderful character. He was sure written well. Everything he said just made me grin from ear to ear. Or maybe everything just sounds funnier in a Welsh accent. Nevertheless, I loved his childlike wonder when he was told the Doctor wanted to speak to him. I loved his grovelling hero-worship of the Doctor. I absolutely adored that he named a scientific unit of measure after himself. Gosh, Steven Moffat missed a trick in not bringing Malcolm back alongside his revamped UNIT. Malcolm was the only good thing about RTD’s UNIT. Although I said I’d love to have seen Lady Christina travel with the Doctor, and I was wounded when the Doctor refused to take Christina with him, I thought that moment was nevertheless very poignant and powerful. “People have travelled with me and I’ve lost them. Lost them all. Never again.” Under all that gaiety and exuberance, the Doctor is obviously in a lot of emotional pain over losing Donna and the others. Perhaps what Davros said to him in Journey’s End rang a bit too painfully true. Finally, that warning premonition of Carmen’s — “he will knock four times” — was chilling. Excellent foreshadowing of Tennant’s swan song.

As I said, this story was substantially tedious, and would have been perfectly mediocre if not for the infatuating presence of Michelle Ryan. I could watch David Tennant and Michelle Ryan as the Doctor and Lady Christina all day. I could watch them sitting in those sands just talking, flirting, laughing all day and I’d still be entertained. Somehow, they made the insubstantial plot enjoyable, and a mediocre script watchable, and rewatchable. That’s why I’m giving this story such high marks that, without Ryan, it wouldn’t come close to deserving.

Rating: 7/10.

Thoughts on: The Next Doctor

I didn’t mind this at all. The 2008 Christmas special, the first episode of the “specials year”, comes under a lot of flak for being an underwhelming beginning to what had been promised as a thoroughly whelming year of specials. To some extent, it didn’t live up to the expectations many were casting upon it, and admittedly it was fairly nondescript as far as Christmas specials go, but I don’t think it was a bad story by any means. It was entertaining, fun, engaging, and had a few very profound moments. For a lighthearted Christmas special, it was fine, although I can agree that, given the hype around the specials year and given how much time the producers had to write and produce these specials, fans would be justified in having expected something better.

The premise of a man in Victorian London who claims and appears to be the Doctor, only with inexplicable loss of memory, I found very interesting. It wasn’t certain at first whether we were seeing a future incarnation of the Doctor or an impostor, but, of course, we soon find out the horrible reality of Jackson Lake, his encounter with the Cybermen, his absorption of the Doctor’s persona, and the loss of his wife. The tale of how Lake became the Doctor was horrifying, and so touching. It was an uncharacteristically poignant and tragic note in what, until then, had seemed to be a quirky and lighthearted Christmas episode. Morrissey’s acting when Lake realised how he became the Doctor, what had unhinged him so much that he believed he was someone else, was incredibly moving. Indeed, Morrissey’s acting throughout this episode was excellent, easily one of the best aspects of the story. Jackson Lake was a great, charming character who elicited affection from the audience, although, if I’m honest, I don’t think I fancy him as the Doctor: he’s a bit too much of a dashing hero for my liking.

The plot itself was a bit unspectacular, a bit unimaginative and derivative. I came away with the impression that the writers have already run out of interesting things to do with the Cybermen. The most interesting thing about the Cybermen in this story was that one of them had a transparent helmet, allowing his pink brain to be seen. Also they were trapped in Victorian London, which makes a nice change of scenery from 21st Century London, although I suppose that has more to do with the setting. The giant Cyberman stomping over London was… inoffensive, but wasn’t as awesome as RTD evidently thought it was. The Cyber King was pretty ill-conceived, though, I thought. Cybermen don’t have kings. They have Cyber Leaders, Cyber Controllers, Cyber Commanders, yes, but not kings. A king is an exalted nobleman ordained to rule by divine right. Cybermen are above such things as tribal elites and human social hierarchies. All Cybermen are uniform and thus equal; any rank among Cybermen is due to military utility, not natural hierarchy. That’s why I facepalmed when the Cybermen sang out “All hail the Cyber King!” This isn’t the bloody Lion King. Apart from that, I thought the Cybermen were generally fine. I thought the images of the Cybermen appearing out of the snow were very evocative and echoed back to those iconic images of the first Cybermen in The Tenth Planet. Also, those Cybershades were very freaky.

As a final thought, I loved that the Doctor received acclaim from the people of London for saving them. It was heartening to see that, and the Doctor looked genuinely pleasantly surprised, given that we never see the Doctor receive such public recognition. In general I thought this episode was enjoyable enough for a Christmas special, although it’s probably not one I’d watch again in a hurry—it seems like one of those stories that can quickly become tiresome if watched too much. Against the other Christmas specials I’ve watched in this marathon, I’d probably place it on par with The Christmas Invasion, and below both Voyage of the Damned and The Runaway Bride. Voyage of the Damned is easily the best Christmas special yet, in my estimation.

Rating: 6/10.

Thoughts on: The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End

What a show. I’d forgotten how incredible the Series 4 finale was, and I’m happy to admit I was thoroughly blown away upon this rewatch. Russell T Davies upped the ante to full blast and delivered the most magnitudinous story yet, the stakes higher than they’ve ever been before or possibly since, and a great, walloping belter of a script to go with it. It was simply epic. This was RTD’s magnum opus, even, I daresay, outshining the magnificent Series 1 finale, or at the very least matching it. It simply had everything: Daleks, Davros, the end of the universe, every possible character from the preceding four years you could ever have wanted brought back, Rose, and two (three?) Doctors. Admittedly, there was a great deal of nonsense in there—something on this scale is bound to have a bit of nonsense—but somehow even the nonsense came together with everything to produce one of RTD’s most memorable stories of all.

The Earth has moved. That was the ingenious and jaw-dropping plot point established at the outset of The Stolen Earth. It wasn’t only the characters who were left in awe as the sky congested with heavenly bodies. It soon becomes clear, of course, that this was the Daleks’ doing. A chill ran down my spine when I heard that Dalek battle cry: “Exterminate!”. The dread and tears in the eyes of Martha, Jack and Sarah-Jane as the Dalek mantra played out over the recording expressed more than words could. We, the viewers, having seen the Doctor defeat the Daleks so many times now have become desensitised to the threat of the Daleks, but the terror the Daleks truly are capable of inducing was so powerfully conveyed in this scene that the threat became real. Say what you want about the Daleks’ being reused too much, but scenes like this show that the producers know how to keep them scary. This was particularly brought home to me when we were shown scenes of the Daleks destroying the city and murdering civilians—perhaps for the first time in the revival we were shown the true, terrible destructive power of the Daleks. And then Davros showed up, as creepy and gruesome as ever, and that’s when it became obvious that sh*t was getting real.

There was a very bleak, gloomy little sequence where it looked like all had been lost, that everyone had given up without a fight. Sarah-Jane, and Captain Jack and Torchwood were all resigned to the end. “I’m sorry. We’re dead,” said Jack, utterly broken. Sarah-Jane was hugging and weeping for her boy. The United Nations had surrendered Earth to the Daleks. The Doctor stood in grim silence as Donna begged him vainly to do something. It was intense, somber viewing. But then the familiar, irritating voice of Harriet Jones, former Prime Minister (okay, okay, you know…), cut in and an optimistic ray of hope glinted through the black clouds. She began mobilising the Doctor’s old allies and friends, and I felt more affection for her then than ever before. As the Doctor’s allies began moving to get in contact with him, it was obvious what a profound influence the Doctor has had on each of these people. I was somewhat reminded of Dumbledore’s Army from Harry Potter, those loyal to the Doctor holding out and mobilising a resistance in his name, following his example… Needless to say, Harriet Jones went out with nobility when she sacrificed herself to ensure the Subwave signal reached the Doctor. The Doctor would have been proud.

It was painful watching Rose’s frustration that she was unable to speak to the Doctor when the Doctor finally made contact with his Army. Nevertheless, that made their eventual reunion in person all the more moving. Rose and the Doctor’s reunion was truly stirring. I came as close as I ever have to tearing up watching Doctor Who. This being Who, though, there had to be a catch, and that cockblocking Dalek set up one killer of a cliffhanger. A triple-pronger, involving Sarah-Jane and Donna’s parents separately about to be exterminated by Daleks, and the Doctor regenerating, surely that was the best cliffhanger this show has ever done? I remember being in agony after watching that when this episode was first broadcast. I’m sure everyone was. The siphoning of the Doctor’s regeneration energy into his spare hand, his “bio-matching receptacle” was clever, but it was a bit of a waste of a regeneration on the part of RTD, all for a good cliffhanger. But, God, it was a good cliffhanger.

We meet the Daleks and the TARDIS and Donna are deposited into the molten core of the Crucible. Enter the Meta-Crisis Doctor, growing out of the Doctor’s glowing, regeneration energy-saturated hand. I think we were all as shocked as Donna was. Many disparage the Meta-Crisis Doctor as an absurd product of creative excess on RTD’s part, a character dreamed up just to give Rose a happy ending (implicitly spoiling her “perfect” ending in the Series 2 finale), and I can see where such criticisms are coming from, but… yeah, I don’t know how to justify my liking of the creation of the Meta-Doctor and my overlooking all the continuity issues it created other than to say that I just found the Meta-Doctor an awesome plot device in this story. I was grinning from ear to ear when the Meta-Doctor appeared, starkers, and slightly raving, and saved Donna and the TARDIS at the last second. I also thought it was awesome when all seemed lost, the Reality Bomb about to be detonated, and the TARDIS, radiating with celestial light, appeared in the Daleks’ midst. “Brilliant”, as Jack said, about sums it up. RTD, in typical fashion, though, gave us hope and then cruelly snatched it away. Usually this would be the point where the day is saved, but this is RTD we’re talking about, who revels in the cruelly unexpected. This is the man who, in Voyage of the Damned, made the Doctor promise to all the characters that he would save them, and then proceeded to kill off all of them except the most disagreeable one. It was never going to be that predictable.

I want to take a moment to talk about the way this story commented upon the Doctor’s character. Davros observed piercingly that, though the Doctor renounces violence and refuses to carry a weapon, the way he fights is perhaps even more sinister: he conscripts his companions and fashions them into weapons to do the bloody business he won’t do. He keeps his hands clean while his companions, his foot-soldiers, bloody theirs in his name and on his behalf. He changes his companions, makes them into murderers. This is a constant trope running through Doctor Who; it’s one of the integral functions of the companion: the Doctor can’t be seen to be engaging in violence, so the companion carries out what violence needs to be committed. Only now has this pattern ever actually been commented on onscreen and shown to be a reflection of the Doctor’s character, of the sinister effect of the Doctor’s influence and of the genuinely disturbing manipulativeness of the Doctor. That the Doctor manipulates and influences his companions into potentially committing genocide (and actually committing genocide—remember Rose as the Bad Wolf?) perhaps makes him even more sinister than if he were to do it himself. Davros about summed it up: “The Doctor. The man who keeps running, never looking back because he dare not, out of shame. This is my final victory, Doctor. I have shown you yourself.” The Doctor’s soul was laid bare, and I, at least, found it captivating and compelling viewing—disturbing, yes, but still captivating.

I loved the Doctor-Donna resolution. I found it really exhilarating and just awesome. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t grin broadly the first time they watched Donna wiggling those controls and prattling off incomprehensible techno-babble to stop the detonation and make sock-puppets of the Daleks. Some hate it. I adore it. I know it’s ridiculous nonsense and a total deus ex machina cop-out if there ever was one—the idea that Donna’s humanity made her even more brilliant than the Doctor when she absorbed the Doctor’s mind was particularly ridiculous—but I just found it a wonderfully ecstatic resolution. I’m more than willing to overlook the admittedly absurd “walking plot resolution created purely by chance” that was Doctor-Donna, as one reviewer described it, because of how much I enjoyed watching that. I found it satisfying and fulfilling, and that scene, more than any other, made me love Donna. Meta-Doctor’s annihilation of the Daleks was also a very confronting moment, and Davros’s hysterical denunciation of the Doctor as “Destroyer of Worlds” was chillingly powerful, an uncharacteristically dark note amidst the jubilant resolution.

The sight of the Doctor(s) and all his companions and friends bringing the Earth back home was ecstatic and heartwarming, a tribute not only to all the characters and actors who contributed to the RTD era, but an exultant tribute to companionship and working together. It was a lovely, beautiful scene, the Doctor surrounded by all the people whose lives he’s touched and who love him. What a striking contrast it was only a short time later, after the Doctor had seen all his companions off, and he stood in the TARDIS, alone again. Saying farewell to Donna must have been particularly agonising for him. It was agonising enough to watch. It was heartbreaking watching Donna plead with the Doctor not to send her back, not to turn her back into how she was. She knew, more than anyone, that she was better for having been with the Doctor, which made it all the more tragic that she had to lose it all, everything she’d been and done, and go back to how she was. Oh, Donna, you didn’t deserve this. RTD really knows how to tug the heartstrings.

To summarise my disjointed review, I thought this finale was spectacular. Absolutely spectacular. I only write this much for a review when I think the story truly merits it—the last time I wrote this much was for Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways, which was also an amazing finale. It ended on a poignant note, setting up the “farewell tour” that would be the specials year, culminating in the Tenth Doctor’s magnificent swan song, The End of Time. For now, though, I thought RTD ended his last series as Doctor Who’s showrunner on a lustrous high, this finale the gleaming culmination of a fantastic series in general. Bravo.

Rating: 10/10.

Thoughts on: Turn Left

The producers probably couldn’t have done anything more recklessly audacious than to follow up the dark, depressing Midnight with the possibly even grimmer Turn Left. This is surely one of the darkest televised stories Doctor Who has ever produced, a bleak “what if?” following the trail of events that would ensue if the Doctor had never met and been saved by Donna Noble at Christmas in 2006. And a world without the Doctor is truly terrifying. So many of the catastrophes the Doctor averted were allowed to occur, as were all the deaths the Doctor would have prevented, and the death toll is enormous. Particularly grievous was the crashing of the Titanic into Buckingham Palace on Christmas Day 2007, making all of south England uninhabitable and turning the country into a giant refugee camp. The social and economic strife that ensues stokes the flames of extremism and ushers in fascist rule over the green and pleasant lands of England, the country that in living memory fought to deliver Europe’s salvation from the Hitlerite scourge. The scene where the Colasanto family are being carted off to a concentration camp was spine-chilling in its bleak, emotive power, surely one of the most confronting things Doctor Who has ever shown. It’s even more depressingly shocking when one realises that this is only one planet that the Doctor’s absence has so profoundly affected; think of the rest of the universe—indeed, if Rose is to be believed, all universes. All this from one fatal, seemingly unremarkable decision by Donna to turn right. It could have been overblown and unconvincing, but it was all so believable, and chillingly so.

This story was also about Donna. We were brought back to Donna, the uncultured, uncouth temp from Chiswick, and followed her transformation as her world was swept from under her feet and her life thrown into turmoil. Her mother descended into depression and defeatism. Her grandfather fell back on his wartime spirit. Donna got angry at the world but summoned up something profound inside her, a will and a strength to keep going and beat away the bad, bleak world around her. This was particularly brought home to me in that intimate little scene in the Nobles’ billet house where Donna was trying to assure her mother, albeit vainly, that she would find a job and get them out of their sad situation. Personal crisis on this scale brought out the extraordinary person in Donna that she truly was, mirroring, in a rather more unhappy way, Donna’s personal development throughout Series 4 into the very thoroughly changed person from who she was in The Runaway Bride, even in Partners in Crime. Ultimately Donna had got to the point where she had resolved herself to sacrificing her own life for all of Creation, to leaving this world to restore the world that had never been but should have been. In doing so she showed herself to be the remarkable, amazing person Rose insisted she was, almost certainly more than Rose thought, even more than the Doctor thought I’d daresay. Catherine Tate’s acting throughout this episode was simply astounding. Tate hasn’t really been given scripts this series that have allowed her to show off her acting talents, but in Turn Left she delivered an emotive, intense, heartwarming and heartbreaking performance.

Rose was a bit… odd… in this episode. Don’t get me wrong, it was fantastic to see Rose again, but she was written very strangely. Rose, of course has developed, too, since we first met her, and doubtless she’s changed even more during her time in her parallel universe, but she was strangely… alien in this episode. She was something of an enigma, flitting in and out of Donna’s life and talking in cryptic riddles like a Christmas ghost. Even when Donna finally agrees to accompany Rose and Rose can speak more openly, she seems distinctly alien, ostensibly enjoying watching Donna traumatised and close to breaking point first over seeing the creature on her back and then over having to accept what she’s expected to do, Rose even deliberately provoking Donna at one point. Rose is unsettlingly callous in the face of Donna’s stress and angst while Donna needs someone to soothe her and give her support. This is very unlike the Rose I know. Maybe I’m missing something, but I was a bit unnerved. If I didn’t know better I’d think Rose didn’t particularly care about Donna, she was just using her to fix the universe and get to the Doctor…

Nevertheless, that cliffhanger was electrifying. This episode in general was outstanding. The only other criticism I’d make would be that it was a bit oddly structured. It didn’t flow as naturally and effectively as it should have, which made following the story just slightly disconcerting. In any case, in general it was an exceptional story.

Rating: 9/10.

Thoughts on: Midnight

The genius of this script lies in its simplicity. It’s a group of people in a room talking for forty-five minutes. That’s really it. The simplicity of the script facilitates the intimate study of these people that made up this story. What happens when you put a group of ordinary people in a locked room with an unseen monster? That was the question this phenomenal script set out to explore. A disturbing study in group psychology, this captivating story presented us with a grisly vision of humanity in stark contrast to Doctor Who’s usual gushing celebration of our species, showing us how a group of ordinary humans can turn into a lynch mob. When the ship first stops, we initially see the Doctor trying to reason with the confused group as it starts to become hysterical—and successfully manages to calm them all down… at first. When the creature makes an appearance, thudding on the exterior of the ship and eventually taking over Sky, the Doctor increasingly loses his control and hold over the group as their fear drives them to become ever more hysterical. The Doctor struggles to reason with them and keep them calm. Their fear took them beyond reason, however: the critical moment came when the Hostess suggested, “We should throw her out.” At that point, the group had gone beyond the point of no return, and the Doctor’s vain pleading was not going to prevent the inevitable lynching; their fear was too powerful.

I’ll say it again, this is a truly disquieting and compelling study in group psychology. The group’s increasing fear and hysteria took them so beyond reason and inhibition and sensibility such that they were driven to almost commit murder, almost two murders. The sight of the helpless Doctor being dragged by Biff and Professor Hobbes through the shuttle, egged on by others—particularly that odious Val woman screeching “Throw him out!”—was exceptionally powerful and chilling. The group, in their fear, had talked themselves into a frenzy, feeding off each other, bringing themselves to the point that they resolved to do something none of them would normally ever contemplate. They turned on the Doctor when he tried to persuade them out of their murderous frenzy. Here we see what fear makes humans do when they’re scared and in a group. Even Jethro, easily the most reasonable and level-headed of the lot, in the end succumbed to the collective hysteria of the group, almost committing murder alongside his father and Professor Hobbes. Only the Hostess’s heroic act of self-sacrifice stopped them from throwing the Doctor to his death, and it was obvious the group were horrified to realise what they’d almost done. Who was the real monster here?

This script relied on a cast of convincing, realistic, fleshed-out characters, and that’s what we saw: seven well-developed, relatable characters whose dialogue made for a chillingly realistic playing-out of events. We were familiarised effectively with all of them at the beginning of the story: charming, if flawed, but essentially ordinary people. We saw them transform into monsters over the course the episode. It was all the more disturbing, watching these people become frenzied murderous animals, when you remembered how charming and quaint and normal they all seemed at the beginning. The acting all-round was just superlative, the passion and the fear and the hysteria of the characters was all eerily believable. Lesley Sharp as Sky was particularly captivating, her facial acting as she played Sky possessed by the creature genuinely chilling. David Tennant, needless to say, was magnificent—easily one of his best performances yet.

I think this is probably Russell T Davies’ best script. It’s certainly his tightest. It’s powerful, compelling and unnerving. It’s one of the few times Doctor Who in the revived series (or at all, really) has ventured beyond its standard formulas and into genuinely provocative, creative territory. It’s one of the most bracing and thought-provoking stories Doctor Who has ever done. Who would have thought such a simple concept could be realised so powerfully? Its simplicity is its genius: it’s simply humanity laid bare, naked, in all our ugly glory. Warts and all.

Rating: 10/10.