The End of Ten

(Spoilers for The End of Time below. You have been warned.)Where to start talking about the End? I suppose my greatest realization from watching these two specials again was that I'm definitely suffering from RTD Fatigue, but not Tennant Fatigue. In other words, while I still found Tennant's Doctor engaging (if not riveting), it was the Russel T Davies pomp and circumstance, irritating comedy aliens, camp cardboard villains, overdone epic-ness, nonsense physics and plot holes masquerading as ambiguity that bugged me.

I was also surprised that the return of the Time Lords - which I've been announcing to the world wrongly and rightly since The Sound of Drums - didn't stick. To me, it made the perfect break from the RTD era which was obsessed with the Doctor's loss after the Time War. The Time Lords return, the Doctor finds himself once again at odds with their policies, creating not only a different attitude for the 11th Doctor, but a different universe for him to travel in. Their brief appearance here still provides closure to the storyline as the Doctor admits that he's chosen to remember their best qualities, not the corrupt war-like state Gallifrey had become (or I imagine before that the corrupt politicians from the Tom Baker era onwards). Now that the Time Lords are shown for what they truly are, and the Doctor has branded them as enemies, he's free to move on.
Overall though, cheer or jeer? I'm on the fence. Maybe I can split this review into Bad Stuff, Good Stuff and the Questions That Remain. That'll help sort out my thoughts.

Bad Stuff
When RTD gets indulgent, that's when I cry foul. While I have no trouble with his more quiet, dramatic moments, I am mystified by his choices for comedy relief and blustering opera. And how he mixes them, for that matter. At his most strident, he turns the Time Lords into gods and the Doctor into a Messiah, then cranks up the angelic voices and churns out hero shots with biblical undertones. Here, while I can accept the TARDIS in a church's stained glass window, I'm less enthusiastic about the Master's disciples bringing him back from the dead with magic rings and secret potions. This anti-Christ then spends the first third of the story eating people, turning into the Ghost Rider and jumping around like a super-powered vampire. None of this is explained, nor can it really be explained within the context of Doctor Who as a series. The Master's follow-up improvised plan is to turn everyone into himself, leading to multiple effects shots of Johm Simm in a dress or oversized clothes. And that's our cliffhanger. Hope you tune in next week!
The real cliffhanger, as far as the audience is concerned, is whether Donna will survive remembering the Doctor. We've been told repeatedly that Donna's mind will burn and she will die if she remembers. Unfortunately, the second half of The End of Time cops out on this cliffhanger. Donna's brain sends out magical waves of knock-out energy against the Master Race, and puts her to sleep to once again forget everything. Donna's departure was one of the high emotional points of the series, and this cheapens it somewhat. Not as much as giving the Doctor and Rose a second goodbye after the heart-wrenching Doomsday, but there you go.

I was also irritated by the secondary characters at the mansion. I expect the Master to be camp and over the top, but the Naismiths seemed the perfect examples of actors playing villains in the archest possible way because they think that's how Doctor Who should be done. There is nothing remotely realistic or involving about this psychotic father and daughter team, and they are rightly put out of their misery offstage. Just as bad is the unfunny Vinvocci double act. All the unsympathetic girl alien does is shout at the Doctor when the rest of the episode is telling you this is a love letter to the 10th Doctor. Quite irritating. Plus, I suppose I should blame the aliens for the Doctor's drop from a spaceship into the mansion with only a couple scratches to show for it. The characters' abilities and attendant physics are nonsense in this story, often distractingly so. I can find a justification for Gallifrey's appearance not destroying Earth with gravity alone, but not for the Doctor dropping 50-100 feet down without being killed. Don't even ask how the Master communicates (or doesn't) with his other selves. There's no coherence there either.

Good Stuff
The bad acting of some of the guest stars stands in stark opposition to the principals' fine job. Bernard Cribbins' touching performance is only second to Tennant's own, and the scenes they have together are pretty magical - the one in the café, the one aboard the ship, and when Wilf knocks four times. These are outstanding. Both are old warriors, the oldest only looking like the youngest. Ten reflects on mortality and immortality alike... does a Time Lord in fact live too long? His partial breakdown in the café when he tries to say he needs a companion is heart-breaking... but not as much as his death.

It's actually played out in two parts. RTD's Doctor is superhuman, so he'll be able to stave off his regeneration for a little while to go and see his many companions. It's RTD's indulgent goodbye to his every character, some of which works, some of which doesn't. Martha married to Mickey grates only because I like one and not the other, and because it seems to come out of left field. Sarah Jane and Luke seem to know the Doctor's meant to be dead, yet the dialog would indicate it's the same day. Odd, though touching performances cover it. Captain Jack has a fun scene in an outer space bar, in a way also saying goodbye to the Doctor's favorite catch phrase. Donna's final fate is fine, though a bit plain. The moment with Rose works because seeing her is truly the Doctor's "reward". However, it's the Jessica Hynes cameo I found the most applause-worthy. She plays Verity Newman (Verity Lambert/Sydney Newman, the mother and father of Who), the descendant of Nurse Redfern from Human Nature. Nice to see the Doctor thinking of the woman he almost gave up being a Time Lord for in his final moments. This is a sequence that owes something to the New Adventures' Happy Endings, and rather satisfying after the last 5 years.

And then comes his true end. After some Ood cheese ("...but the story is never over", come on now), Ten walks into the TARDIS and says "I don't want to go." It hits you like a bullet to the heart. We've been ready for this for at least a year now. It's been announced. It's no surprise. We know who the next guy will be. We might even think that, yeah, we WANT the changing of the guard, which is part of Doctor Who's charm after all, and Tennant IS due. But he says those words and you realize, NEITHER DO YOU! And I realize it's a selfish thing for him to say. But you're there with him in that moment. A very dangerous thing to do, too. Certainly not doing Moffat any favors. Combined with Part I's speech about regeneration equating with death ("a new man saunters away, but I'll be dead"), I think it reinforces the idea that Tennant is the One True Doctor to the present generation and that you shouldn't accept any substitutes.

The Questions That Remain
One of the things that people argue with me about The End of Time is what the Doctor did between Waters of Mars and The End of Time. To smooth over any continuity issues, RTD basically had him do all the stuff the series fated the 10th Doctor to do. If you wonder why Elizabeth I was angry at him in The Shakespeare Code, it happened in an untold tale here. If you wonder where his marriage to River Song happens, it happens here. The argument I keep having, principally from people who refuse to accept that River married the 10th Doctor specifically (my article about this HERE) or at all, is that they seem to hear that his mistake of a marriage was with the Good Queen Bess. It's an enumeration. He places the Queen Bess story after the marriage story, but they are not part of the same tale! The nickname Elizabeth loses in his following joke is "Good Queen" (because she's so mad at him), not "the Virgin Queen". After all, wouldn't marrying Elizabeth I be screwing with a fixed point in time? Sorry to burst your bubble, but my River Song essay remains correct (until Moffat contradicts it in the next series anyway). [Edit: And he did. I'm wrong.]

A question that's not so easy to answer is who is the mysterious woman helping Wilf and the Doctor, one of the two shamed members of the Time Lord Council.
This is an evocative ambiguity, so I don't mind it. I've heard a lot of theories, but none are necessarily more convincing than the others.
-The Doctor's mother. Evidence: When Wilf asks, the Doctor glances at Sylvia (Donna's mother) and doesn't answer.
-The Doctor's daughter. Evidence: When Wilf asks, the Doctor glances at Sylvia (Wilf's daughter) and doesn't answer.
-Susan. Evidence: "I was lost so very long ago." Referring to how the Doctor left her on 22nd-century Earth.
-Romana. Evidence: The same. Romana was lost in e-Space in the classic series, and in extracanonical material, became President of Gallifrey (so might have been on the Council when Rassilon returned to power).
-Flavia. Evidence: Another former council member, but her reveal as a shamed Time Lord uses what RTD calls the "voice of Flavia" theme. More than an inside joke?
I think the first two are probably the safest bet, but it's anybody's guess.

Speaking of mysterious Time Lords: Rassilon. How is the founder of Time Lord society alive all of a sudden? And is it really him? It's possible the Doctor was being poetic when he said goodbye to Rassilon, i.e. Time Lord society as a whole, but that doesn't sound like him. If the Master, long past his allotted regenerations, could be brought back to fight in the Time War, I'm pretty sure they could have brought back their most heralded and legendary leaders. Was Omega also involved in the War? Could be. A regenerated Rassilon makes for a formidable Lord President, and Timothy Dalton is perfect for the part. One side-question about the character: Is he wearing a Resurrection Glove from Torchwood? Could be! He wields life and death with that thing. An intriguing link to continuity.

So Eleven, eh?
The brief moment afforded Matt Smith (as written by Moffat) has a lot going against it, namely the scene preceding it. How do you follow that up? I think Smith and Moffat did very well, actually. Smith's manic Doctor has a good moment that draws you in and recognizably turns him into the Doctor in less than a minute. I think Tennant had a great run, but he leaves on a personal high (if not the production's high) which is the right thing to do. Doc11's first line: "Legs! I've still got legs!" which brings back a certain foot-related theme when it comes to the Doctor's first lines (ever since Doc3 started looking for his shoes). I guess legs and feet are pretty important to a guy who does so much running.

This weekend: His first chase!


Jeremy Patrick said...

I'm definitely with you that RTD overdid the "epic" stuff. I think the problem is that it's hard for the viewer to feel a real sense of tension and fear--we KNOW the Earth or the Universe or what have you isn't going to be destroyed (because the series will continue!) so the only thing we really care about is the characters. The more grandiose the plots, the more they're enjoyable only for the sheer spectacle of the special effects.

Jeff R. said...

I took the Doctor's glance to be at Donna (weren't they standing right together?), and thus further support of the Susan theory. [And will go further and guess that Romana was the council dissident that got disintegrated and the other shamed councilor was Drax, although those are of course pure wild guessing.]

And I'm not willing to rule out the possibility that the Lord High Chancellor was just a final era timelord sufficiently arrogant to adopt Rassilon's name...

Siskoid said...

Donna was in the back taking wedding photos.

As for a Rassilon II, it's possible, but would just be a strange and confusing thing to put in the script.

snell said...

I just felt the script was too self-indulgent, too self-congratulatory, too fanfic for its own good. We'd just said goodbye to all the companions in Journey's End--did we really need another Companion Farewell Tour, especially when that time could have been far better spent actually dealing with some of the underdeveloped plot issues? The whole confrontation with Rassilon and the Time Lords plot lasted, what, 1/5 the time spent on the Doctor buying lottery tickets and setting up dates for companions?

Plus, and this is just a matter of personal taste, I prefer my Doctor not to be sour weepy and dour. Man up, Time ain't the first, and you ain't the last, so get over yourself. But again, that's just me.

LiamKav said...

I suppose we've never really been in a situation where a Doctor had such advance notice he was going to regenerate, apart from possibly the Third but that time was spent alone.

If you only realise just as it's happening, you might be more predisposed towards "thank god this won't actually kill me". Give the person time to think it over though, and you might get "actually, will it kill me? I mean, me? Will I survive, or just someone a bit like me? And what about..." and so on and so forth.

It's strange. The 9th Doctor started off scarred and miserable, and had found peace by the end of his life, hence his regeneration into Ten being treated almost like a triumphant reward. The 10th Doctor started chirpy and "Barcelona", but got more and more moody as time went on. His regeneration was treated like a petulant death. Notice that Eccleston's regeneration face was calm and passive, whereas Tennant was fretting and screaming in defiance.

Siskoid said...

I love to compare regeneration scenes. Most Doctors have taken it as a necessary part of the Time Lord life, at least, those who felt it coming. Doc2 was probably the most defiant before this.

Then there's Doc6's "suicide".

Anonymous said...

I'm going to guess that the mystery woman is Donna herself, Time Lord-ized. Why?

1) She made a special point of connecting with Wilf; didn't treat him like just some stray human, but rather the Doctor's equal (or at least worthy aide-de-camp).

2) Wilf's question at the wedding was, "Who was that woman in white"? And visible over Sylvia's shoulder was ... Donna dressed in white. I don't regard that as an accident.

3) Donna was all about challenging the Doctor's conscience, and it's something she has in common with mystery woman.

I'll note that River Song apparently parted ways with the Doctor before "The End of Time", so River's knowledge of Donna's fate was quite possibly incomplete.

LiamKav said...

A regeneration comparison guide would be cool. And well timed!

Siskoid said...

Anon: That is an astonishing theory. Of course, there's the small matter of figuring out how Donna not only became a Time Lord (metacrisis) but wound up on the Time Lord High Council during the time locked Time War, and why the Doctor knows it was her, even though the return of the Time Lords from the time lock is news to him.

Liam: One of my earliest Doctor Who posts compared regenerations, and my card game does a visual comparison.

Anonymous said...

Four words to explain how it could be Donna and in the time-locked Time War timeline: wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey. There is almost certainly a story to be told (assuming I'm right, which is a long shot), but nothing that couldn't be completely covered in a single one hour episode.

LiamKav said...

I don't quite buy why the Doctor took off before regenerating. Surely a static Tardis would be safer? Even if we say "he wanted to take one last trip", or something like that, why on earth did he take the Tardis off like a spaceship, rather than just taking a trip through the vortex?

Siskoid said...

Besides de obvious "regen instability", there's one very good reason to take off pronto: Can't risk Rose, Mickey or Jackie find the TARDIS before they actually encounter it later that year.

Why spaceship? Uhm... regen instability? Possibly just move away into a safe position in the sky, and rematerialized when the interior blew up from all the pent up regen energy and started to crash.

LiamKav said...

Maybe, although I don't think the Tardis did dematerialise. We see it flying away from Earth before the regeneration, and then crashing back down after it had started.

I haven't seen the Eleventh Hour yet, so I don't know if it's initial scenes are set in 2005 or another time, which would tell us if he had time-travelled or not.

Siskoid said...

It's not 2005 when it lands, though while it crashes, it looks like it could be (we see the Millennium Dome which would not have been built at the date the Doctor lands in).

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Again, a great analysis of the selfishness/one true doctor-ness of the ending. As I was quite burned out on RTD and the 10th Doctor (not Tennant as an actor, but the character he was playing as it was written, certainly), 'I don't want to go' did nothing for me- and every point you make is precisely what I hold against it. But as you say, the Matt Smith followup was a strong salvage.

I agree with snell... "I prefer my Doctor not to be sour weepy and dour. Man up, Time ain't the first, and you ain't the last, so get over yourself."


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