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.