Doctor Who #842: The End of Time Part 2

"It's not like I'm an innocent. I've taken lives. I got worse. I got clever. Manipulated people into taking their own. Sometimes I think a Time Lord lives too long."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.1 2010.

IN THIS ONE... Gallifrey almost returns and the tenth Doctor becomes the eleventh.

REVIEW: While I was terribly down on the first part of this story, I don't feel quite the same about Part 2. Maybe I forgive it more because it has more, and better, emotional beats, and because it's this Doctor's very last episode. I don't forgive it everything though. I think the biggest problem with The End of Time is how clunky the plot is. It feels like RTD needs for something to happen, figures out a quick solution, uses it, then doesn't know what to do with the solution's delivery system. For example, he introduces characters he needs to make some element of his story happen, and they just disappear, or get a fate off stage, when he no longer needs them. The Naismiths are given too much of a build-up to just go away like that (though I didn't care for them at all), and similarly, the comedy cacti, needed only for their comedy ship (and apparently to shout at the Doctor and call him an idiot a lot, in this, the writer's final love letter to his character) just leave. If they're THAT unimportant, why have them at all? A lot of RTD's solutions are things he should have done away with in the second draft somewhere. Some of it is outright cheating. Having been told Donna would die if she ever remembered the Doctor, it turns out it just sends a blast of energy that knocks out the Masters coming after her, as if the Doctor planned this all along. You can't raise the stakes like that, then say you were kidding. Not when the final fate of a beloved companion is involved. It cheapens her Journey's End. The Master's big crazy plan, having served its function, is also undone, literally by the wave of someone's hand. Other complaints include the Doctor surviving a fall from that great a height, the inconsistent way the Masters communicate with each other (and why would any of them feel subordinate to the original?), and the fact Davies can't tell the difference between what is ambiguous and what is opaque and unsatisfying. Case in point, the mysterious woman bit is, ultimately, infuriating. Either it's a character we've never met and that has never been mentioned (the Doctor's mum), so who cares; or she's someone we do know or have heard about (like Susan) and her appearance is wasted. And what's with the shamed council members business!?

Once again, the stand-out scene is a quiet moment between the Doctor and Wilf. Bernard Cribbins is your prototypical national treasure, sweet and touching without being cloying, and that's what this scene is. He's a father figure to the Doctor - that's perhaps odd, but feels very appropriate - and his confessor. Only to him does the Doctor admit he's a killer, one that's somehow kept most of the blood off his hands, or who's justified the deaths one way or another. It's another pity party (with more to come), but a strong one. For all his protestations, he won't take Wilf's handgun and kill the Master. Learning the Time Lords are returning, he does grab the gun, which feels like manufactured tension, but it's tension that's allowed to breathe in the climax. The Doctor considers one murder or another before finding a third option, which is what he's all about. Making this big epic event about a moral dilemma is very RTD - and what he does best - which takes the sting out of it really being a scene where everyone just stands there.

So the Doctor's death. Let me say up front that Tennant's performance from the banishment of the Time Lords on is spot on, moving and real, regardless of whether or not we agree that the Doctor should be acting that way. Is he heroic in those moments? No. He's self-serving, self-pitying, bitter, ugly and selfish. But RTD (again, at his best) isn't a judgmental writer. When it comes to character and emotion, he presents and lets US judge for ourselves. Rose was a selfish brat and yet the world loved her. The 10th Doctor's flaws run in that direction too. He doesn't give his life for Wilf's easily; it's inevitable he will, and he knows that, but still feels the need to shout at the sky and guilt trip poor Wilf even though he's on the clock. This Doctor loves himself so much - presumably a mirror of the fans' own love for what is likely THEIR Doctor - he once again refuses to regenerate and goes on one last companion tour, where somehow, everyone seems to sense they'll never see him again. If this is his "reward" (and we can resent the idea that an altruistic hero like the Doctor would want or need a reward), then it may be that he's playing the Time Lord Victorious here, changing established events. Why else would he somehow show up where Martha, Mickey and Luke Smith were about to be killed and save their lives? Was Donna never meant to be rich? Was Captain Jack never meant to boink Alonzo? The tour and reward are all quite indulgent, but that's RTD's great flaw as showrunner, so we can't be too surprised. Journey's End was a fine send-off for most of these characters, so it's a bit redundant, yeah? My favorite bit of the tour isn't even about a companion - it's Jessica Hynes returning as Joan Redfern's descendant Verity Newman (of course). I like that the Doctor spared a final thought for the woman he almost gave up being a Time Lord for. As for seeing Rose one last time, see Theories. From there, it gets a little cheesy, with the Ood singing opera while the Doctor shuffles back to his TARDIS to finally let go of his incarnation. Tennant's "I don't want to go" is heart-crushing, despite being more of that self-pity, Christ-on-the-cross, "why have you forsaken me" bollocks that's moving, yes, but not commendable. In these last moments, RTD pours it on THICK, telling the world that there will never be a better Doctor, don't even try (speaking of self-serving) instead of letting us decide for ourselves. And then Matt Smith shows up, and the sadness evaporates - Doc10 was right, a new man does stand up and saunter away, the heaviness of the past incarnation hopefully purged from his system.

THEORIES: Just to give closure to the Bad Wolf theories expounded in these reviews, specifically the one about the entity deciding what the Doctor's 10th incarnation would be like based on Rose's tastes and desires, wouldn't it make sense for it to pick Ten's look from Rose's memory of that cute mysterious bloke she met earlier that year? If the tour is about breaking all the rules to get his reward, why not that paradox?

SECOND OPINIONS: My original review, The End of Ten, isn't far off this one, but it does cover a few theories I chose not to repeat here - who the woman might be, whether Timothy Dalton is playing the original Rassilon, and my completely wrong theory about the 10th Doctor's marriage with River Song.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Indulgent and strident, Ten's finale nonetheless packs a great emotional punch. Another case of fast-forwarding to the bits with Wilf, though I'd probably let the last 15 minutes run without pressing buttons.


LiamKav said...

I remember crying at the whole regeneration thing. You are right, "I don't want to go" is a bit of a selfish line, both for the character, and for RTD himself who is making Moffat and Smith's job so much harder right from the get go. But it is an emotional gut punch. It makes you shout "then don't go!" at the screen. Forget the heavy burden it places on the Eleventh Doctor, it makes you beg the Tenth to stay, and in the idea of making regeneration a Big Thing, it works.

Approaching Smith's regeneration, I wondered what they were going to do. Ten and Nine's are similarly staged if different in emotion, so I was kinda hoping they'd try something different. After seeing it, I'm not sure it worked, frankly. A regeneration should be a Big Moment, and Smith to Capaldi was a bit rushed. (Which I get was the idea, but still.) I've come away thinking that this regeneration might be hard to top for sheer emotion and spectacle.

One thing I love in the Doctor/Wilf scene is how the pair of them keep swapping roles. Both of them are the father-figure, both of them are the trained soldier giving advice to the other. And "Wilfred, it's my honour" also makes me tear up.

Anonymous said...

I swear the woman in white was supposed to be Donna or a descendant of Donna or something, whether or not RTD knew it. It fits in with Donna's still having some Time Lord abilities, it explains why she connected with Wilf in particular. And, Donna was the only other woman in white on the show -- at the wedding. (You may recall Wilf asks "who was that woman?" and the Doctor doesn't answer, but instead he looks at Donna and starts talking about another topic.)

Jessica Hynes can do no wrong, and certainly not in this episode.

First time I saw 10's rather mawkish end, I liked it less than I did this time. Things I didn't notice the first time:

1) The Doctor stopping his rant at Wilf when he realizes he has lived too long; he's starting to sound like the Master or Timothy Dalton wanting to live forever, and he knows it. Good call, and it ties into the themes of this episode.

2) The Doctor visiting his friends seems to be making sure they're not alone. That way it's less a sentimental trip than taking care of business.

I still didn't like that final "I don't want to go", but what the hell, a Doctor's entitled to love his latest incarnation. But I don't like how Moffat played that up as vanity later.

Siskoid said...

Re: The woman in white. That's a fine theory, Anon, but how does the Doctor recognize her? Who is she to him and how did she wind up in the High Council of Gallifrey?

There are lots of possible answers to this mystery, but none of them make complete sense.

Freddy said...

Personally loved this episode, was in tears at the end. I would only change one single word in the whole thing, since I felt it was a massive missed opportunity.
When the Doctor meets Rose and asks what the year is, he should have then told her it would be a "fantastic" year, since it very much was.

CiB said...

Hated this one. As I've said, in my view this is the worst Doctor Who story ever.

The regeneration I thought was awful. Mainly how it dragged on. It's 19 minutes from the him going in the capsule to regenerating. That's longer than most episodes of The Mind Robber (including credits), and I know which I preferred.

"I don't want to go" was a rubbish last line. It was clear RTD was trying to play off the Caves of Androzanni regeneration (what with it being the best regeneration story, and him and Tennant both being Peter Davison fans), but there the Doctor just grimly accepts his fate (the way he winces when he drops the spectrox is all the shouting and crying he did, and yet with that look Davison conveyed all of those emotions so much better than was done here).

I spent the last ten minutes of the "pointless angst tour" thinking "for &*%$'s sake just die already!". Smiths opening scene is one I liked a lot more in hind sight (as I really liked his first season, and thought his Doctor was a huge improvement on RTD's ersatz Jesus)

But when it comes to rewatching, I'd still rather watch The Twin Dilemma and Timelash.

Siskoid said...

Incredible how polarizing this story is, judging from the comments!

LiamKav said...

You can almost break it down into three parts: the actual plot of the Time Lords returning, the Doctor's final reward, and the Eleventh Doctor's beginning.

As I said, regeneration SHOULD be a big deal. It's the main character dying. The fact that he carries on, the same but different, is the best having your cake and eating it conceit ever, but in dramatic terms it should be treated similarly to death.

This story did introduce the "reset" before regeneration idea, which I really don't like. I understand it's so that the actor/character can do their final scenes "at their best", but it robs some of the drama from the idea that a person has basically been killed, and the only way for them to survive is to change everything about themself. It gets more of a pass here because there is some payback in the form of the regeneration being especially violent and angry, but for Smith's I feel cheated. (Yeah, I'm gonna have a fair bit to say once we get there. I might have warmed up to the episode a bit by that point...)

I also think this episode cements an idea that had been brewing of the Doctor taking off in the Tardis before regenerating. At the time, I wondered why he did it, if the result could be so dangerous. But thinking about it, I take it to be the current incarnation wanting to do the thing he loves most one final time as himself. 5 does it first I believe, but 9, 9.5, 10 and 11 have all done it as well.

snell said...

On a meta-level, "I don't want to go" just left me shouting at the screen "You don't have to--you chose to go!" Yes, I know I shouldn't, but to me it's an indication of what a false note the mawkishness strikes, as the how episode is vain triumphalism masked as self-pitying faux-tragedy.

No words on how Martha and Mickey met & got married? What happened to her old fiancee? Just another indication that this story was RTD doing his own fanfic, methinks, along with the whole 20 minute "visit all the companions tour." Odd that many people who begrudged 10 seconds of Amy Pond in Time Of The Doctor had no problems with the far more self-indulgent review here.

Also, let's face it--Timothy Dalton was largely wasted. He didn't really do anything, just showed up and talked a bit. Disappointing for Rassilon, original or not...

LiamKav said...

I didn't like the Amy thing because I thought it was taking away from Carla being there. Whereas for the Tenth Doctor, he had no current companion, so going back over all of them and ending at Rose was fine.

On a meta-level, Tennant's "I don't want to go" still works, I think. This is a guy who at one point considered staying for Moffat's first season, at least long enough for Moffat to have a version of season 5 planned out with Tennant as the lead. A person insisting that they have to move on, but when the time comes saying that they were wrong and they actually want to stay is something most people can relate to.

Jeff R. said...

I still say that the woman in white was Susan (and that the 'The Doctor's Mother' is silly no matter who's tried to propound it), and also that the dissident disintegrated in the first Time Lords sequence was Romana.

But I really wanted to see the Theories section take a stab at what's going on here, post-Day of the Doctor. I don't think that simultaneously erasing these events while having them still having happened in another sense is possible under the Who time travel rules, at least not without deliberate effort to make it so with a paradox engine. So should we assume that this High Council fled Gallifrey at some point before the planet was saved? (Are any of the same people shown to be in charge in 'Day'?)

LiamKav said...

No, they make a point of saying that "the council has plans of their own" during DOTD, heavily implying that the "plan" is what we see here. The "council" we see in DOTD is presumably a war council of some kind, rather than the high council. That does still leave the whole order up in the air. Did Gallifrey vanish from Kasterborous, appear above Earth, get zapped back before the Daleks had noticed, and then get zapped somewhere else by the 13 Doctors?

Siskoid said...

Sorry Jeff, I don't think I'm ready to tackle that subject until Day of the Doctor itself!

Madeley said...

Personally, I think if anyone 100% completely deserves a bit of vanity and a lot of triumphalism, it's Russell T. Davies. For all the criticism the last 20 minutes gets from people, I think RTD gets to end his tenure on the show however the heck he likes. His achievement is incredible, and utterly unlikely the more I think about it. He took a dead show and turned it into easily the most popular science fiction series globally, and was the driving force behind turning BBC Wales (up until then a minor regional station) into one of the most important centres of broadcasting in the UK. If he wants 20 minutes of melancholy, overindulgent reflection? The man deserves it.

Story-wise, all the final specials suffer in some way, and I think there's probably a bit of truth in the idea that neither RTD or Tennant really wanted to let go, and let things run on longer than they should have. Even so, there are so many nice bits, particularly between the Doctor and Wilf, that it doesn't really bother me.

As for what was going on with the two shamed council members, I was under the impression that some parts of the script had input from Moffat with regards to where he was going with his run, so perhaps this (like the first mention of the Moment) will pay off when Gallifrey finally returns (having said that, the only reference to Moffat input I can find with a cursory Google is the fact that everything after the regeneration, i.e. Matt Smith's first scene, Moffat wrote.)

Like Jeff, my best interpretation for the woman's identity is Susan. She's the only family member of the Doctor's we've seen before, and would reflect the grandfatherly themes of the Doctor's interactions with Wilf, to boot.

LiamKav said...

(God, I'm posting a lot on this thread. I'm going for run soon so I'll stop then).

It's hard to rememeber that RTD wasn't just a scripteditor or showrunner. As Madeley said, he was the one that got the show bought back. He was the one that thought about the format. He was the one that, step by step, allowed it to reclaim it's position as The Show Everyone Talks About. He essentially bought back the idea of "Family TV" to the UK, after it had been all but abandoned, which led to Merlin, Robin Hood, and a variety of other shows still ongoing. He gave kids their own hero with the Sarah Jane Adventures. He (apparently) stopped Big Finish from losing their licence to do old Dr Who stuff when everyone else lost theirs. And he made David Tennant a national institution. In 40 years time, he'll be having emotional scenes with the 21st Doctor and making all us old people gasp and cry and laugh.

So yeah, RTD often looked like he only ever produced one draft. And things often didn't make sense. But he obviously worked bloody hard at the show. And I think the successes outweighed the failures. So I salute you, Russel "The" Davies.

Quel Dommage, Davros. Quel Dommage, indeed.

(I know you sort of touched it before with your "periods of Dr Who" post, but maybe an analysis of the showrunners/script writers? Or at least RTD and Moffat?)

Siskoid said...

That sounds like something that might certainly be possible after the pilgrimage is done (June?).

And I completely agree with you guys about what Whodom owes RTD. I'm just reviewing the stories on their own merits, but with hindsight, and things that played BIG at the time, now can seem trite or manipulative. I certainly don't meant to sound ungrateful!

Similarly, the oft-criticized JNT kept the show alive when everything was set to get it cancelled, and it might not exist today if not for his efforts in the 80s (it built the fandom that later became writers and producers), and yet, the story were often riddled with problems, many JNT's direct responsibility.

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite RTD innovations is the involvement of the companions' families; that's something I don't think most showrunners would have been bold enough to do, but RTD took a risk and it paid off handsomely.

Making the Doctor the last Time Lord was another bold move, but it paid off.

I never liked a young Doctor -- I'm still a Pertwee man at heart -- but RTD went for younger and action-oriented rather than older and professorial, and that too paid off.

I have my problems with the RTD run but I can think of a hundred ways a "Doctor Who" revival could have completely misfired, and the RTD version WORKED, flaws and all. Therefore, RTD wins.

Madeley said...

Sorry buddy, didn't mean to imply criticism of your criticism! Apart from anything else you're completely right about RTD's faults, and unfortunately they were very much in evidence over the course of the last year. I'd hate to come across as someone jumping up and down in anger over a completely valid opinion.

Leaving everything meta aside, it doesn't matter a jot WHO the showrunner is or what they're responsible for if they fail on their own merits to tell a good story. And by his own admission RTD would leave things till the last minute before (or even after) a deadline to get started on work, so his rep as a first-draft-only writer is deserved, no doubt.

Siskoid said...

That's now how I took it, don't worry. I'm many things, but rarely what I'd call "defensive".

It must be an insane pressure to be showrunner AND write as many episodes as these guys do. Davies has written some great things in the Whoniverse (among them, Children of Earth), but time pressure and the relative lack of editorial check can also disappoint. The same is true of Moffat's work.


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