Doctor Who #861: Death of the Doctor Part 2

"The coffin was the trap. The coffin was the solution. That's so neat, I could write a thesis."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Oct.26 2010.

IN THIS ONE... The Shansheeth try to create a TARDIS key, but Jo and Sarah's memories overload their machine. Featuring the 11th Doctor!

REVIEW: So yeah, the plot is rubbish, as per Russell T Davies' weakness, with the Doctor somehow knowing things despite being absent when they were explained, and an intense clip show acting as deus ex machina in the last act. While those are par for the course, it's the villains motivations that most rankle. The Shangsheeth, tired of all the crying and weeping they are subjected to in their self-appointed role as the universe's undertakers (uhm, why not just quit?) want access to a TARDIS so they can stop death from happening. How exactly? Who knows? It's a harebrained scheme. As for traitorous UNIT colonel Tia Karim, she's helping them because there's nothing left for her on Earth. Well, why not? Looking wistful as you say it doesn't explain it. And while I don't mind a little ambiguity, her actions are just too extreme to be left without explanation. And because she dies (could have done without the roast chicken joke too, by the way), we'll just never know what that was all about.

That said, the guest-stars from the world of Doctor Who are pretty great. Matt Smith gives his usual performance (and that's a very good thing), and can make himself look like a young Pertwee for Jo; I can sort of see it. RTD has some fun with the audience, having the Doctor say he can regenerate 507 times (5+0+7 is 12?), and have skin color other than white (canon!). He also says Ten's companion tour wasn't limited to the new series', which is sweet even if it compounds The End of Time's excesses. Jo Grant is also well used, even if it's something of a reprise of School Reunion. Jo too wonders why the Doctor never came back for her, and wonders if she could have brought her husband into the TARDIS life like Amy has with Rory. Katy Manning is very affecting. She gives Jo a sense of humor that allows her to know she's a little dumb and clumsy and make fun of herself. She breaks my heart by thinking the Doctor left her for being somehow defective, but she's too upbeat to let herself get too down about it.

Overall, despite the rubbish aliens and absurd plot, the episode has a good sense of fun and celebrates the companions that have boarded the TARDIS before. We even hear about Tegan, Ben & Polly, Harry, Ian & Barbara, and either Dodo or Ace ("Dorothy") and what they've been up to since they left the Doctor, over-achievers all. And of course, there's the new generation, Sarah Jane's kids and Jo's grandson Santiago. They are a continuation whether we stick to their stories or not. The show's regulars save the world after school, and their access to normalcy is what Santiago is envious of. As ever, RTD teaches us that every day life can be just as exciting and important as the lives led by fantastical heroes, and Clyde and Rani are good poster children for the idea.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The eleventh Doctor and Jo Grant make it all worthwhile, but the plot is admittedly poor.

7 comments:

Jeff R. said...

I always thought that 507=13*13*3 was the more interesting numerology here.

But let's take the number seriously. We know that the Time Lord High Council can grant additional regenerations. But we also know that people already in charge of that high council can be desperately desirous of immortality, and that isn't out of being paranoid about the kinds of misadventure that cannot be regenerated away. So my guess is that 507 is the outside limit of times one can regenerate if you've got the ability to pick up a new set every time you run out.

Siskoid said...

Here's your No-Prize, Jeff.

Bill Doughty said...

Seeing as the Dorothy in question runs a company called A Charitable Earth (A.C.E.), it's probably safe to say it's our Ms. Gale/McShane (hence the "something").

Siskoid said...

Chose to ignore it because it doesn't jibe with her fate in the New Adventures. (At least, I don't think it does.)

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Hopefully, this doesn't come off sounding condescending- as I don't mean it that way at all- but I truly feel sorry for people who saw this before they watched these eras of the classic series. (Just as I did for the Five Doctors and that super-cathartic conclusion to the whole UNIT-era!) Simply because you can only see it for the first time, and get that impact, once. And- at least for my wife and I- the ending montage was SO amazing ("Look! there's Eldrad! That was a Drashig! Sutekh!") that it actually carried the emotional weight it was supposed to for the characters and seemed expansive enough to save the day. Because we recognized each of those moments, had seen and loved them, it was imbued with a meaning which- I'd assume- a first-time viewer who hasn't seen those eras wouldn't get... and while they might appreciate in a post-70s-Who SJA rewatch, wouldn't ever be able to get that same emotional punch. I always tell new Who fans "Don't watch Death of the Doctor or Five Doctors until after you've finished the Baker era, at least!" :-) (Same thing could be said for Mawdryn Undead and the UNIT era, too.)

"He also says Ten's companion tour wasn't limited to the new series', which is sweet even if it compounds The End of Time's excesses" - Very much agreed. That was a "What? Seriously? It was even MORE self-indulgent than we saw on screen? Who the *#(&$#*( did #10 think he WAS?" moment. Seeing his companions was 10 going back to see everyone he- that incarnation- had touched and bidding goodbye to them with that face. Going to see EVERYONE just means he was acting like the end of his incarnation was the end of the Doctor's life forever, which is just so unbearably...
...Well, unbearably 10th Doctor of him. :-)

(That said, I would *so* buy an ebook or something chronicling him checking in on old Vicki in ancient Greece, Steven as king of his unnamed planet, Dodo (just to prove that Who Killed Kennedy never happened, if nothing else), Peri with her warrior-children, etc. :-) Even picking up on the end of that fantastic-beyond-fantastic Big Finish Sara Kigndom trilogy. Using the 10th Doctor's absurd tour as a springboard for something like that- a 'whatever happened to'- would absolutely redeem the whole mess in my eyes.)

I have my beefs with RTD, and they are many- but the idea of Ian and Barbara as ageless lovers, continuing on in the life they new and touched permanently by their travels with the Doctor, is the most beautiful and amazing thing that he's ever come up with. That was a post-EoT, post Gap-year, "Okay, RTD- all is forgiven" moment.

(I was going to comment on the A.C.E. thing, too. To be fair, Siskoid, Ben and Polly didn't end up together in the novels, Ian and Barbara didn't stay young, etc.- but the canonicity of the novels went out the window as soon as the new series came back. And if we're counting the novels, it couldn't be Dodo either, as she's dead. :-) This is a Clone Wars or an Enterprise (*shudder*), overwriting EU continuity... though in most cases, I'm quite okay with that, as I like these ideas better than the fates from the novels anyhow. But, as a Star Wars EU fan still in mourning over 'Legends,' I certainly understand the resistance to the idea.)

The plot... yeah, okay, pretty 'meh.' I kinda found myself thinking "Yeah, I guess you could prevent all *accidental* death- which would be an exhausting full-time job- but I don't think you could stop death of natural causes..."

Siskoid said...

1. I wouldn't actually recommend Mawdryn Undead to ANYONE ;-).

2. Much love for the Sara Kingdom trilogy on my part as well.

3. I have no problem with the extracanon being phased in and out, because history is constantly in flux in the Whoniverse, especially since the Time War.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

1. Well... true. :-) But the Brigadier awakening is a lovely moment.

2. Isn't it incredible? It may be my favorite Big Finish to date. Such brilliance.

3. Good point!

 

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