Before moving on to the actual write-up, let’s take a moment to offer some high praise to BBC America for showing this episode a day after it first screened in the U.K. A day! For the first time on American TV, we aren’t seeing the premiere of a “Doctor Who” Christmas special when it’s warm outside, and the Christmas-themed portions of the story don’t seem hopelessly out of place. Back when I wrote up “Journey’s End,” I pleaded with Syfy to show the various David Tennant specials in a timely manner, so that audiences wouldn’t be forced to go elsewhere to get their “Who” fix or, even worse, get bored and forget about the show altogether. Good thing Syfy no longer has first-run rights here in the States, because I highly doubt they would’ve made the same programming move that BBC America made. Further, BBC America is committed (at least for the time being) to showing the episodes uncut, which is just as if not more important. Keep it up BBCA, and you’ll keep building a devoted audience. Heck, even a week or two after the U.K. premieres would be more than acceptable in my book.

It’s always difficult to write about the first half of a two-part finale, and never more so than in this case. This episode is all over the place in tone, and yet hangs together quite nicely, although it took me two viewings to realize the latter. Yet whatever one might think about “The End of Time Part One,” there’s no denying that the bigger picture has yet to be seen, and what Russell T. Davies unveiled in this hour is only a setup for the real finale. About the first 15 minutes of this thing just zoom by, setting up one aspect of the story after another. In fact, there are so many elements that are set up throughout the hour that one wonders how they can all be addressed in the finale proper.

A narrator (Timothy Dalton) tells us that the human race is having nightmares, most of which appear to involve the cackling visage of the Master (John Simm) – but they forget the visions in their waking hours. Only one man seems to remember – Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins). In a wonderfully effective intro, he’s drawn to a church which he ducks into and studies a stained glass window, only to find that the TARDIS is part of the window’s design. A mysterious woman (Claire Bloom) in white appears behind him, and tells him the story of the window, and how a demon once appeared and the “sainted physician” dealt with the creature. She says he is coming back, and then the Master’s cackling fills the screen.

The tale jumps to the Doctor returning to the Ood Sphere, having seen the vision of the Ood from the end of “The Waters of Mars” as something of a psychic distress signal. He looks more pompous than ever, decked out in a funny hat, sunglasses, and a lei – wholly inappropriate attire for the snowy world around him. Apparently, as he tells Ood Sigma, he’s taken his time getting there and has involved himself in numerous adventures along the way. He joins hands in a circle with an Ood elder (voiced by Brian Cox; while it’s great to have an actor of Cox’s caliber gracing a “Who” episode, it’s a huge shame we don’t get to actually see him), and in short order he sees visions of Wilfred, Joshua and Abigail Naismith (David Harewood and Tracy Ifeachor) and Lucy Saxon (Alexandra Moen). The Doctor shows the Ood the events of “The Last of the Time Lords”, and they in turn show him the woman who picked up the Master’s ring from the base of the funeral pyre. The Doctor realizes that the Master is returning, but the Ood explain that his nemesis is only part of the greater design, which really seems to explain the episode as a whole. Everything here seems like primer for the last episode, and even though “Part One” gets awfully silly at times, it’s probably important to remember that it remains a Christmas episode, and therefore it “must” be entertaining and goofy, although I’ll give Davies due credit for balancing so many elements so successfully throughout the 60-minute running time.

The episode moves on to another excellent sequence featuring the failed resurrection/execution of the Master involving a handful of his female disciples and Lucy. Meanwhile, the Doctor speeds across time and space, and arrives only to discover he’s too late. Is Lucy dead? Seemingly so, but she may yet return before all is said and done, yet the Master lives again. And while this is all going on, Wilf is trying to find the Doctor, and the Naismith’s have stumbled across some alien technology known as the Immortality Gate, and they need the Master to get it up and going. It’s around this point the episode slows down just a bit and imbibes in some of the silliness I’ve been speaking about. The Master is hungry – really hungry, and some sandwich vendors and a couple homeless guys end up victims of his insatiable appetite. Simm is hilariously disturbed in these sequences, as clearly something went wrong with his resurrection, and aside from being hungry, he’s got a cache of nifty, almost godlike powers, but the downside of it all is that he’s burning through his lifeforce rather quickly. In once scene, in order to summon the Doctor, he bangs four times against a barrel, but I think this may be a red herring, and not the four knocks we’ve been expecting, as this merely echoes the sound the Master hears in his head.

Wilf and the Doctor finally meet again, and the Doctor says to him something similar to what he once told Donna – about how they must be connected. There is indeed something strange about Wilf, and I’m wondering – just pure speculation here – what if Wilf was the Doctor’s father (only the knowledge is hidden from him with Chameleon Arch technology), and the woman in white – who appears only to Wilf throughout the episode – was the Doctor’s mother? I’ve no idea how this would impact Sylvia and Donna, and I’m probably wrong, but there’s definitely something deep and secretive going on here, and it’ll be fascinating to see how it all plays out. There are some lovely back to back scenes between Tennant and Cribbins and Tennant and Simm that really allow the episode to breathe, and give it an immense amount of character. Actually, the two scenes are broken up by more narration, and we finally see the face and shoulders of the narrator, who’s decked out in Time Lord robes.

The Master is kidnapped by Naismith and put to work on the Immortality Gate. Wilf and the Doctor infiltrate that facility, and discover two aliens – the Vinvocci – planning to steal the technology, which we also find out more about. The Immortality Gate has the power to heal entire planets, and it seems very reminiscent of the nanogene technology from Season One’s “The Empty Child” two-parter. The Master steps into the Gate, and sends his template all over the world, thus bringing an end to the human race, and bringing into existence “the Master Race,” which is warped, scary and funny all at the same time (but mostly just funny). And then, just to make sure things haven’t gotten too silly, Timothy Dalton’s Time Lord returns along with all the Time Lords of Gallifrey, resurrected, waiting for Part Two.

Like I said, a hard episode to write about since it mostly concerns questions rather than answers, but then again, that’s the whole point of an episode like this. The problem with me writing this up is that rather than sit around speculating for a week, I much prefer to just let the resolution take me wherever it’s going, lest I end up disappointed that expectations aren’t met. I didn’t even get around to mentioning Donna, but it seems obvious she’s going to be a much bigger player in the second half, as her memories returned to her in the final moments. If there’s one thing I specifically didn’t like about this episode it was the use of Barack Obama, which was totally unnecessary. I wonder what exactly got under Davies’ skin that made him want to do this? In the past, he’s used entirely fictitious political figures (the Queen notwithstanding) – why use Barack Obama and the recession in an episode that is so thoroughly grounded in fantasy? It really took me out of the fantastical world that is “Doctor Who” and brought me somewhere else. We saw the President of the United States killed by the Master at the end of Season Three, and it wasn’t George Bush. How exactly does Obama fit into the Whoniverse?

Next Week: The Time Lords, the Doctor’s regeneration (I can only assume) and ?.

Classic Who DVD Recommendation of the Week: “Arc of Infinity” starring Peter Davison and Colin Baker as Maxil, the head of the Time Lord police.