Doctor Who #805: Journey's End

"Now then, you lot. Sarah, hold that down. Mickey, you hold that. Because you know why this TARDIS always is always rattling about the place? Rose? That, there. It's designed to have six pilots, and I have to do it single handed. Martha, keep that level. But not any more. Jack, there you go. Steady that. Now we can fly this thing. No, Jackie. No, no. Not you. Don't touch anything. Just stand back. Like it's meant to be flown."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jul.5 2008.

IN THIS ONE... The heroes stop Davros from detonating the Reality Bomb, the Doctor is triplicated, and Donna needs to be lobotomized.

REVIEW: I said my piece yesterday about the lame regeneration fake-out, but it bears repeating that Journey's End opens on one of the WORST cliffhanger cop-outs in Doctor Who history. And that's saying something. If you liked or disliked The Stolen Earth, you'll find even more of the same to like or dislike in this one. More guest stars - Mickey, Jackie and K9 - more MacGuffins - the reality bomb, the warp star (that Verron soothsayer left a trunkful of stuff, didn't he?) - more intense emotional beats, and more crazy plot nonsense! In that sense, it's the most RTD episode we've gotten yet. The story doesn't really make sense, but it looks pretty, and the music blares away, and you're having all of the feels, so who cares, right?

At the heart of the story is the great confrontation between the Doctor and Davros. If there's a reason to love this villain, it's that he's always getting into philosophical debates with the Doctor about notions of good and evil, survival of the fittest, or destruction for its own sake. And that's what happens here as well. He scores a lot of points, even if his comparison between the Daleks and the Doctor's "Children of Time" is unsound. On the surface, he's right, but as RTD often does, he lets us judge for ourselves. Martha didn't have to give the Daleks a chance to back off, she could have just blown the planet. She didn't and invoked the Doctor's name as a reason. Circumstances have forced the companions to fight, but it's HOW they fight that destroys Davros' argument. But he's bonkers anyway, and I do like how his reality bomb is the most extreme version of the virus that was part of his original debate with the Doctor. If that virus would destroy all life, would he use it? The answer is yes, just so he could say he had held all that power.

As for the feels, they're really down to two companions having to say goodbye. The failure here is Rose's departure. Part of the reason is that by Series 4, she's really not wanted or needed. Martha was always in her shadow, but Donna was great, and by the end of the series, Doc10 wasn't even getting all sad when Rose's name was mentioned. So their reunion isn't quite as intense or emotional as it might otherwise have been. Bit of banter, smiles and hugs... He was getting that already. But dropping her back on Pete's World? That's a bit of an insult, though of course, necessary. After all, her family is important to her, and Jackie's got a husband and baby over there. But it's the idea that the Doctor can bring her there against her will AND strap her with a defective version of himself, the living deus ex machina known as Doctor Blue (same memories same everything except, y'know, willing to commit genocide), watch as his double makes his love known and gets a passionate kiss, and then leave, no problem, well... At this point, you're only bringing Rose back for the 'shippers in the audience, and then you're slapping them down and forcing them to accept a lesser match, just as Rose does. I've always thought that Rose was more in love with the TARDIS life than the Doctor himself, or at least, couldn't divorce the two in her mind and heart. It sure looks like I'm right here (and see Versions). I do like the notion broached in yesterday's comments that the Doctor has to leave Rose behind because she's too dangerous as the avatar of the still active Bad Wolf.

Donna's final fate ISN'T a failure, not on an emotional level, but it's where the plot really breaks down. The finale rushes by too fast to really allow for proper explanations of just what is moving Donna's destiny forward. It could be the TARDIS in survival mode, or the Doctor Donna echoing back through time the same way Jenny created herself in The Doctor's Daughter, or even Caan as Bad Wolf. We don't know. Following up on the Doctor's regeneration cheat (though it still counts, as we've seen, and I would agree with that assessment from onscreen evidence), we get this whole "metacrisis" nonsense that births a second, half-human Doctor AND half-Time Lords Donna. I love Donna, and I love Catherine Tate in the role, but the hyper Doctor Donna is quite annoying. She might be even more smug that Series 2 Rose, and everything that comes out of her mouth is apparently clever technobabble. Tons of it. It's awful. Thematically, it's the ultimate temp gig, but really, the only good moment from this mercifully brief portion of her life is as one of three Doctors teaching all the companions to pilot the TARDIS as it was meant to. It's a lovely bit, with possibly my favorite musical cue of the season, as the choir liberally used by the Dalek themes is humanized. It feels like Christmas. But after that, the only solution is to erase Donna's memory and lock away her Time Lord abilities and that's where things get really emotional. I used to start weeping when she was pleading for her life, but this time around, it's the Doctor's speech to her family that got me. It's not the first time a companion's been blanked - just ask Jamie and Zoe - but it's never been this traumatic. This underachiever who really made something of herself, reset as if none of it ever happened. It's a great scene made even greater by Sylvia's flash of anger at the Doctor's parental presumption. And Tate plays her dismissal of the Doctor perfectly too. Oh the feels. The feels.

VERSIONS: The DVD includes three deleted scenes. In the first, Doctor Blue is given a piece of TARDIS (well, a big piece of ginger root, really) so he and Rose can grow their own. The second has amnesiac Donna hear the TARDIS take off and almost remember the sound's meaning. And the third is an alternate ending, mirroring the "WHAT?! WHAT?!" endings of old, with the Cybermen showing up inside the TARDIS.

My original review, Series 4 Endings and Pay-Offs, goes into a lot of detail, tracking the various memes of the season to their logical and often illogical conclusions.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - I'm not gonna pretend it all works (anything Doctor Blue is obviously tainted), but the tragic departure of the new series' best companion (as yet unequaled, folks) is only one of several great, great moments.


Anonymous said...

I accused RTD of writing fanfiction, so let me lower myself to that level.

I figure that Donna's friends didn't see it at first, but eventually they realized that Donna's temper was no longer triggered by personal slights but by injustices committed around her. She slowly gained a reputation in the neighborhood the person to turn to when you needed a champion, and when she crossed swords with the powerful and corrupt, they all fell before her eventually. She could not be bribed or intimidated, and she was given to moments of brilliant lateral thinking that had people wondering whether she was the chessmaster pulling all the strings all along. She even seemed to be physically unstoppable; that one time some thugs chased her through a Welsh quarry, they were found unconscious the next morning, apparently having knocked themselves unconscious by tripping over a high voltage wire some distance away. And rather than frighten Donna into silence, all it did was make her redouble her efforts.

When Donna Noble was elected to the House of Commons, she gained a reputation as the moral center of the Parliament. And, on the day she became Prime Minister, she called upon all Britains to follow in the bravery and integrity of Harriet Jones (her reputation by then fully redeemed by her sacrifice). Thus "Harriet Jones" ushered in Britain's Golden Age.

CiB said...

What I hated about this one was Davros' argument. Where he equates the Doctor inspiring his companions to oppose evil with what he's done- i.e. creating an omnicidal race of psychotic killimg machines obsessed with wiping out all life that isn't like them. Ok, I cans ee Davros seeing them as equivalent, but surely the Docotrs response, rather than look all sad and act like Davros had a point is to point out how ludicrous this idea really is?

It's a classic case of RTD saying "I have this big emotional moment, and I'm going to write a plot to get us there and not really care about anything making sense because the only important thing is that we get to the moment."

Madeley said...

As much as the solution was a galactic-sized copout, I kind of enjoy the idea of RTD giggling away to himself writing in that cliff-hanger. I have a hell of a strong memory of being shocked about the regeneration, and wondering whether they'd managed to employ a new Doctor without any of us finding out about it, even though we all kind of knew that wasn't going to happen.

I can forgive the copout in retrospect simply because it sets up the final stretch of the 10th Doctors arc, and as 11 correctly identifies much later on, it underlines the vanity at the heart of the incarnation. He decides he doesn't want to change, so he doesn't. He's been getting more and more arrogant (and the character's hardly ever been all that humble to begin with), and from this point onwards he almost begins to become a monster.

What's interesting reading these reviews, and some of the comments, is the point occasionally made that RTD doesn't tend to judge his characters. Being "bad" doesn't necessarily mean you'll get your comeuppance in an RTD script. The one big exception is the Doctor himself, because he's about to find himself judged.

For all the episode's flaws, the companions flying the TARDIS is maybe my favourite single scene in New Who- maybe all of Who. What I love most about it is that it's actually a blooper- the scene as broadcast wasn't originally intended to be the shot used. Freema Agyeman thought the shot had been blown and that everyone was just goofing round- you can spot this because she looks directly at the camera and laughs, even though the camera isn't meant to be, for example, shot from the Doctor's POV (because you basically see the two Doctors and Donna move within the camera shot too.) The reason all the companions are laughing and goofing around is because that's exactly what the actors were doing, even when they didn't think the cameras were rolling. There's a geniuine warmth that comes through in this scene that I absolutely love.

Siskoid said...

Anon: Cute!

CiB: I definitely get your point. Trying to win a No-Prize, I would say the Doctor is blinded by his own war guilt. Davros makes a false equivalence, but the Doctor still sees some truth in it that disturbs him, how he never got away from the War. He has to come to terms with that.

Madeley: Yes, and a lot of the hugs at the end a really the cast, not the characters. You can tell just in some people's posture and how unrehearsed it all looks, like the final minute of a Saturday Night Live episode.

snell said...

I would also quibble that Donna's fate plays a bit too much like a selfish echo of Parting Of The Ways: companion possessed by a Time Lordian energy which is to much for a human to contain. Of course, Nine was willing to sacrifice himself to save her, whereas Ten--who will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid regeneration--isn't willing to take that step.

Also, can I call B.S. on the fact that wiping the memory is sufficient to avert all consequences of a genetic-level transformation? She's still part Time Lord now, but as long as she doesn't think about it she's OK? If she thinks a single deep thought she blows up? Really?

Andrew said...

Somebody--I don't remember who--wrote a one-paragraph fanfic where the Doctor travels to Donna's deathbed, and lets her remember everything in her final moments. It's quite a bit more touching than I made it out to be, and it's in my personal canon.

As for Donna's exit, it seems unfair to the character to undo all her character development with such a blatant reset button. I can accept it, though, because unwillingly is really the only way she would have left.

I haven't seen the 50th Anniversary yet (got it on hold at the library), so I don't know if I'm right or not, but my assumption has been that Blue was the way they would bring Tennant back for a multi-Doctor epsode. No need to timey-wimey handwave anything that way.

Toby'c said...

If you want a fanfic that ends happily with Donna recovering her memories and returning to the TARDIS, [url][/url]

Nick said...

I was re-watching "Amy's Choice" and thinking about the possible link between the Dream Lord and the Valeyard, and I then it hit me, what if Doc Blue is the Valeyard? I'm not sure if this has been debunked or discussed much in the Whoniverse, but this is my argument:

With the new Doctor's numbering in place thanks to both Day & Time of the Doctor, Tennant is both Doc11 and Doc12, and Matt Smith is "the final incarnation". The Master was a bit vague when describing the Valeyard in the The Ultimate Foe, simply stating he was between the Doctor's 12th and final incarnation. Doc Blue is kind of Doc12.5 because when Tennant regenerates in Stolen Earth, it gives us Doc12 (Special Tennant) and Doc12.5 (Doc Blue). Moreover, The Doctor explains to Rose why he is banishing Doc Blue to the other dimension because “they saved the universe but at a cost”, and that cost was Doc Blue: he committed genocide, he was too dangerous to be left alone, he was born in blood & battle, etc. This lines up with the Master describing the Valeyard as “an amalgamation of the darkest sides of [The Doctor’s] nature”.

We don’t know what happens in the other dimension and I doubt we ever will (on TV), but Rose/Bad Wolf/Torchwood opens up at least the possibility of Doc Blue being able to escape back to the “real” dimension and the effort needed to break through could explain why he finds himself in the Doctor’s past timeline. My theory of why he leaves is that Rose eventually rejects him because he becomes just another guy who doesn’t have a TARDIS and who reminds her constantly of what she’s lost. Regardless of why he leaves, he eventually ends up in Doc6’s timeline and makes his way to Gallifrey. He tries to make a deal with the Council to get the Doctor’s remaining regenerations because he has none to begin with. Maybe it’s for Rose, maybe it’s to become what he isn’t (Doc12)? Plus, he doesn’t look like Tennant anymore because he’s grown older (one heart will do that to you) and the other Time Lords don’t recognize him because he’s half-human, half-Time Lord, which has apparently never happened and they can’t “sense” him properly.

Anyway, I just wanted to share my theory on Doc Blue and to say that I really enjoy reading your Doctor Who blog. Keep up the great work!

Siskoid said...

That's an interesting theory, and yes, makes some sense in light of the renumbering of the Doctors.

Of course, given how much I dislike the whole Trial story line, I'd rather the Valeyard be completely forgotten as a "potential" Doctor that didn't really happen, much like Merlin. Or was Merlin more Doctor Blue going to different parallel universes?

Nick said...

I share your sentiment for the entire Trial of the Time Lord season. I think my theory for Doc Blue being the Valeyard is motivated by my wish for the show not to revisit the character, especially after the Great Intelligence name-dropped him not too long ago.

I forgot about Merlin. I think when I first watched it I assumed that he was simply part of the lost adventures of Doc8 because whoever Merlin is needs a TARDIS and Tennant told Mickey that travelling between parallel worlds was easy before the Time War.

Siskoid said...

I'm thinking it's like how the Cybermen got through in the present, past and likely future. After all, if he can get to the 6th Doctor's trial, he can get to Arthur's court.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

The thing with Rose- and for someone who doesn't like her, this is a depressing thing to realize- is that the entire RTD era was about her. For Eccleston, that was a good thing- she was a strong character.

But then Series 2 came along and was all about her and the Doctor (fueling my loathing of both, as they become self-obsessed and oblivious and arrogant and generally obnoxious together). Fine and good. Doomsday happened, everybody but me cried. (I cheered.)

But then Series 3 was all about the Doctor getting ove rher- which derailed Martha as a companion, as too much of her development was left by the wayside in favor of 'he doesnt love me/he's still mourning Rose' scenes.

Then, just as the Doctor was finally getting over it, Series 4 became all about Rose *returning.* In essence, the Gap Year was the only RTD year that wasn't thematically about Rose in some way, which is just... kind of obnoxious. When the show moves on to a new companion, it should MOVE ON- it's kind of unfair to the incumbent to be constantly focussing on the predecessor.

As for Donna's fate, it wasn't bad, per se (on an emotional level)... but it wasn't necessary, either. It was Jamie and Zoe again. It was 'let's end this character's ongoing arc of growth by resetting it and making it like none of it ever happened.' To me, that is by definition never a logical conclusion to a character's arc; it is a cheap grab for emotional punch, a little bit of tragedy to evoke an emotional response- something that in Series 4 and the Gap Year was ramped up to ridiculous levels. Eveyr other episode ended with a single tear running down the Doctor cheek, as if Davies thought a story wasn't sucessful if it didn't evoke an emotional response- no matter how cheeply and repetitively it was done.

This was another major contributing factor in my current mega-disenchantment with the 10th Doctor era. Emotion was targeted and used as a bludgeon, rather than a masterful result of good writing as it was in that first 9th Doctor year. The tears of Father's Day were genuine. The tears over Donna's fate (or Jenny, or losing the Master the first time, or Adelaide, or...) were forced. It hurts- but it callously manipultes you into being hurt. And it does so for no reason other than to pile one more pain onto the Doctor's absurdly-high stack.

Also, Nick- that Valeyard concept popped into my head as I was reading this very blog. I like it! Here's another twist- what if, while the Doctor claims he spent the entire time between Waters of Mars and End of Time running and having silly adventures, that was only the most recent few years- and his fear at his own demise (which we see in his later conversation with Wilf) at the end of WoM actually led him to go back and become that Valeyard- and THAT was how he spent the majority of the in-between years... until some unseen adventure (I always liked to think of a gathering of former companions banding together to hunt down the Valeyard and turn him back to the Doctor) freed him- at which point, he went on his queen-marying, beeper-installing adventures for a few years before finally returning to face the music? (Which happened to be a sing that was ending...)

Complete fanfic idea, of course- but, I, personally, would be as bugged by the Valeyard not happening (when it was given us as a concrete future event) as if they hadn't upheld the 13-incarnation limit. That's part of why the abrupt ret-coning (partly making use of this episode's stupid waste of a regeneration for a gag) in time of the Doctor annoyed me so- it took so many opportunities to deal with the psychology of the 'last' Doctor, to deal with the Valeyard, etc., and squandered him, because no one knew he was the 'last' Doctor until the final two specials of the season, by which point it was too late!

Siskoid said...

I thought the sacrifice of Donna's growth worked as a sacrifice, but you're right about the sad stack growing too large over time.

As for the Valeyard, I haven't read it yet, but the Sixth Doctor Sourcebook for the role-playing game ties everything that happened, especially the Trial, into the Time War. It looks like fun, and I'm sure the Valeyard is explained in some fashion. Not canon, but at least approved.


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