Doctor Who #841: The End of Time Part 1

"It feels like dying. Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away, and I'm dead."
TECHNICAL SPECS: Both parts of this story are available on DVD. First aired Dec.25 2009.

IN THIS ONE... The Master returns as a super-powered skeleton who then becomes everyone on Earth.

REVIEW: As I've so often made clear, the Tennant era should have ended with The Stolen Planet/Journey's End, as regenerating in Rose's arms and becoming a man who didn't think of her THAT way would have been the perfect tragi-comic end for his character arc. His life extending across a handful of specials was a series of anti-climactic mistakes, and one of the biggest is The End of Time Part 1. It's never been a secret that RTD modeled the new Doctor Who on Buffy the Vampire Slayer - big emotions, bratty protagonist with mentor, clever dialog, tongue-in-cheek stories of the week, and so on - but his finale tries so hard to be Buffy or Angel than it loses sight of what Doctor Who actually is. While the show has dipped into science fiction, I think it's probably fairer to call it science fantasy, but in The End of Time, it becomes straight up fantasy, barely cloaked in scientific trappings. A large part of this is RTD's obsession with making the Doctor the Messiah. The Master therefore must be Satan or the Anti-Christ, and is resurrected with magic potions, becomes a super-powered vampire (how many sharks can he jump over at a time?), and everything revolves around that old trope, prophecy. Never mind the whole inexplicable thing about Wilf being the "centre of coincidence"...

If "magic" was the only problem, that would be one thing. It's not. Huge gobs of this episode are pure nonsense. It opens on wonderful narration from Timothy Dalton (he's awesome), but that narration, while all very poetic and everything, doesn't make any sense in the context it's given. Why is the President of Gallifrey telling all the Time Lords a Christmas story?! He's not explaining his plan, he's STORY TELLING. The nonsense about the Cult and Books of Saxon isn't quite as bad as Lucy Saxon's family brewing an anti-resurrection potion (when was this plan hatched exactly? don't look too close!). After the dramatic ending to The Waters of Mars, the Doctor doesn't go right to the Ood-Sphere, instead completely deflating the importance of that story by running off to have multiple romps (one of which we see explained in The Day of the Doctor, much later). Claire Bloom, an unexplained character (the Doctor's mother, according to Davies, though he "allows" us to make of her what we will), appears to Wilf in hallucinations to tell him portentous things. Donna buys her granddad a book with the picture of someone important to the story. Look, I'm all for time bleeding through and causing a lot of these connections, and the cracked universe becomes important from The Eleventh Hour on, but it's easy to miss the one mention of this, and in among all the other illogical stuff, it just strains credulity. Helicopters that are silent until they're right on top of you (that's just not playing fair with the audience). And oh yeah, the Master becoming everyone in the world just so he can, umm, wave at himself, is one of those daft ideas that seems to be here only so they can use the "Master race" pun. Groan. (And once again, RTD misses an opportunity to do the story that seems so natural in my mind: The Master puts a Time Lord template - not his specific template - in the Immortality Gate, and recreates Gallifrey, which the Doctor must then destroy all over again to save humanity, wringing his hands all the way through. Instead: Something stupid.)

It's the big blow-out, so they got enough guest-stars to populate three seasons of JNT-era Who. Not all of them well-used. Returning characters are plentiful - Ood Sigma, Lucy Saxon, the Master, Donna, Sylvia and Wilf  - but recognizable faces in new roles as well. Claire Bloom and Timothy Dalton are great presences, despite the cryptic dialog they've been given, but as for the rest... eech. Sinead Keenan showed she was a proper, emotional actress in Being Human, but here falls back on a stand-up comic persona - not that there are that many ways to play a comedy cactus - basically griping the whole time (wait, how can a shimmer be stuffy and constraining, isn't it just a holographic illusion?). David Harwood, now best known for his role in Homeland, is a forgettable two-dimensional villain who indulges a psychotic daughter. Neither Naismith is believable, frankly. I guess June Whitfield, the most energetic member of the "silver cloak" is known in the UK, but not here. Regardless, the whole silver cloak thing comes and goes, abandoned in the rush to get to the next absurd plot point, and as motivation-free as a lot of the characters (they do what Wilf says WHY exactly?).

The episode's only redeeming feature is Wilf and the Doctor's scene in the cafe. Two men who, despite their looks, near the end of their lives. Two soldiers with an aversion for killing (Wilf served in the military, but saw little action, never killed anyone, and he doesn't see that as a bad thing). They have a lot in common, and a lot of emotion between them. It's a pity party, sure, but an effective one. The Doctor struggling with having to admit he really does need a companion is heart-wrenching and proof positive that I am far more tired of the RTD era than I am of Tennant himself. He can really bring it. I love this scene. But it's an island in the middle of an overwrought ocean of nonsense.

VERSIONS: The End of Time DVD includes a deleted scene featuring Naismith's butler/security man giving orders to the staff.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low
- And I feel like I'm being generous. Things happen because the writer wants them to happen - image-making, little more - and that always annoys me. Doesn't feel like it respects what he himself established in the new series to date.

10 comments:

snell said...

One positive: establishing that "kisses from years ago leave genetic templates that can be used to resurrect dead Time Lords" would explain why the new-era Doctor is always kissing everyone...

And whatever its flaws, Part 1 is far, far better than part 2...

Siskoid said...

Yeah, that's another thing: How long has Lucy been in jail, and why hasn't she washed her lips yet? How long does that Time Lord DNA print LAST? Is Martha still registering as non-human?

I'm not entirely sure Part 1 IS better than Part 2 though. I guess I'll find out tonight.

LiamKav said...

These two episodes I think are a triumph of RTD's "style and emotion over making sense" flaws. Which is different from Moffat's "style and emotion over making sense" flaws... *evil grin*

When I think about this episode, I remember the café conversation, the epic reveal of the cliffhanger (which I'd avoided spoilers for), the fact that it's the Doctor himself who read the continuity announcement at the beginning of the episode (and all the little placecards the BBC used over that week featuring the Tardis stuck in the snow), and from next episode, Wilf and the Doctor's amazing conversation and the epic-ness of the regeneration. I've managed to bury all the flaws in my mind. I'll have more to say tomorrow.

One more thing... Bernard Cribbins is lovely.

Siskoid said...

And that's really why I use the notion of REwatchability as opposed to Watchability. Did I enjoy it first run? Probably, give or take the usual frowning at bits that didn't make sense. But when I replayed it in my mind, or watched it again, was it satisfying or irritating? The Year of Specials leans to the latter, I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

Wilf rocks; he's a Wilf I'd like to follow in further adventures. I think we can summarize this episode as: fast forward to all the parts with Wilf.

And of course, that line about "the Doctor has sized the moment" or whatever.

Full credit to David Tennant, who, right through the end, made for an awesome Doctor. I didn't always like the scripts he was given, but damn if Tennant didn't bring it.

dwaitas said...

It's the resurrection of the Master that drives me bonkers. As you say, it's straight-up fantasy, ripped from the pages of some Harry Potter rip-off. It sticks out like a sore thumb and it doesn't make a lick of sense. The Master's return should have been a momentous occasion. This approach robs it of any dramatic impact.

Jeremy Patrick said...

I think this thread really encapsulates why I dip into the show from time to time but have never become a super-fan like a lot of my friends: it's the feeling that because there are no rules and anything can happen, nothing really matters. Any problem can be solved with techno-babble, any consequence can be undone with time travel, etc. The same issue is why fantasy authors need to be careful to delineate how magic works in their world, lest it become an instant cure-all for every problem the hero faces . . . There's a lot I really like about Who, but it often feels more like wish-fulfilment cotton candy then a show I can really delve into and care about.

Andrew said...

I actually thought that the Doctor stalling his visit to the Ood was a small bit of brilliance, because there's a nice unexplored gap in time for future Expanded Universe adventures to happen in.

Siskoid said...

But since the Year of Special creates huge gaps already, that wasn't really necessary, was it?

The only Special that ended with any momentum at all was The Waters of Mars, and they let the air out of that balloon at the start of The End of Time.

Siskoid said...

Oh and Anonymous, the Doctor seizes the Moment in Part 2, but same difference.

 

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