Last week, when writing about the first part of the Tennant/Davies swansong, I talked about not making any predictions, as well as the possibility of expectations not being met. On the predictions front, I’m glad I didn’t bother (although one of the few that I did make may actually be true – more on that in a bit), because there’s really no way I could have predicted the bizarre manner in which this tale concluded. The narrative meat of this episode – the stuff involving the Time Lords, Gallifrey and the Master – was quite frankly difficult to wade through on the first viewing; a second viewing alleviated some of that, and yet I’m still not convinced it all makes perfect sense. Perhaps I’m looking at it too deeply, and wanting more than there is?
I’d also be lying if I said I went into this episode without any expectations – I mean, how can you not? Many, if not most of them weren’t met, although there were plenty of other treats on display that made up for that. Indeed, this episode was hell bent on subverting expectations. “The End of Time” as a whole, which is how it should be judged, is a landmark slice of “Doctor Who,” even though the writing isn’t as tight as the intricate standard set by “The Waters of Mars.” Oh well – based on previous finales, I didn’t really expect it to be, and on that level it can’t be called a letdown. It’s so steeped in the mythology of Davies’ vision of “Who,” that it’s difficult to imagine it could possibly work as a piece of standalone drama for anyone unfamiliar with the past five years of the series. But that also can’t be a criticism, since what it really is is a jagged love letter to everyone who’s been paying attention during that time. Davies really backed himself into a corner with this one, because “Journey’s End” very much felt like the end of the era, only it wasn’t. So this proper ending, which feels more like a coda or an afterward, had to be a horse of a different color, and it most certainly was.
The episode wastes no time addressing the final moments of “Part One” by diving straight into the Gallifrey situation. Before going further, let me just say how incredibly fucking cool it was to have James Bond playing the Time Lord President. If someone had told me 20 years ago that Timothy Dalton would someday be playing such a role on “Doctor Who” I’d have thought them bonkers. Sure, it’s not as if Sean Connery is gracing the screen, but anyone who really appreciates the Bond franchise knows Dalton got a bum deal, and that both of his outings were pretty damn good entries. Anyone who appreciates both Bond and “Who” will also acknowledge how the two concepts – which, aside from their inherent Britishness, really only have the changing of lead actors in common – have worked oddly parallel to one another over the past 40 some-odd years. Dalton is terrifying here, especially for anyone who doesn’t know the history of the classic series, and expects the Time Lords to be the good guys. Even as an old school fan, it was shocking to see the Time Lords as they’re presented here, but the more I thought about it, the more it was perfect and right. These guys – even from their very first outing, “The War Games” – were bad news. It’s just that they were so passive in their assholedom before; here they’re proactively destructive. Even though it’s never stated in the episode, the old Time Lord decree of “non-intervention” was obviously filed into 13 once their existence was threatened. And then there’s the Deus ex glove! Oh, how I loved and hated that stupid glove! (Maybe it’s a relative of the glove from “Torchwood?”) My teenager hilariously dubbed it “The Glove of Time.” He started making up dialogue for Dalton: “I am endowed with The Glove of Time!” and “The Glove of Time will smite you!” We got, and will continue to get, a lot of mileage out of that silly glove.
It occurred to me in the days leading up to the finale exactly how much fun the idea of the Master race really was. I’d initially written it off as little more than a clever gag, but once the notion of it is dissected, and after seeing this episode, it probably becomes the Master’s crowning evil achievement in the history of the whole series. One thinks back to the McGann movie, where the Master merely wanted the Doctor’s remaining lives; here he manages to snag the lives of everyone on planet Earth. Yes, it’s batty, but so is this incarnation of the Master. The Doctor is oddly removed and casual about the whole thing. Once again, the Master has put him into a humiliating position – this time strapped to some kind of weird gurney/chair thing. He’s gagged him, and Tennant doesn’t even have any dialogue for the first few minutes he’s onscreen (although Tennant, pro that he is, does wonders with his eyes). Once the gag comes off, he delivers a gorgeous speech to the Master – one that is so painful in its plea, that as a viewer you really wish it could be. Perhaps the Doctor remembers how much fun he had traveling the universe with Romana?
The Vinvocci reenter the picture, and an inordinate amount of time is spent on their ship. It would be the low point of the episode, if it didn’t allow for yet another brilliant scene involving the Doctor, Wilf and a service revolver. Out of the myriad ideas RTD had for this 2 hour and 15 minute finale, involving Wilf/Cribbins was the most inspired and perfect. Initially I’d assumed Wilf’s involvement in this tale would end up simply being an excuse to do something else with Donna, but as it turns out, that wasn’t the case. I was frankly taken aback by how little Donna had to do here, and there are some viewers who may be upset by that. An expectation for this episode was Donna regaining her memories and all that would entail, yet Davies gives it a wholly contrived out: “Do you think I’d leave my best friend without a defense mechanism?” It doesn’t play to expectations, as in the end she doesn’t recall her time with the Doctor…yet she gets something even more fulfilling, and that’s a happy life with a decent and good man – which is the one thing she’d always wanted that eluded her. Had she regained her memories, but lost the Doctor, there would always have been a giant, unfulfilled hole in Donna’s life. It may not be brilliant and fantastic, but it is right, and that’s what matters.
After a ridiculous sequence involving the Vinvocci ship and hundreds of missiles, the Doctor makes a mind-boggling jump back into the Naismith mansion. It’s not even worth pondering “How could he survive that?,” because he did and he’s more broken than ever. The Time Lords show up, the Master is present, and it’s this crazy standoff with the Doctor as the centerpiece doing the one thing he abhors – holding a weapon; in this case, Wilf’s service revolver. It should be my duty to guide you through this Doctor/Master/Time Lord/Gallifrey situation, but I’m not even going to bother. The whole thing is too layered in its cumbersome plotting, yet the only thing that really matters is “What will the Doctor do?” It must be mentioned that The Glove of Time, in addition to being able to vaporize Time Lords out of existence, can also change mankind back to the way they were before. Sheesh. And why didn’t Dalton use The Glove of Time to vaporize the Doctor when the gun was pointed at the Master? I can buy the Doctor jumping hundreds of feet from a moving spaceship, crashing down through a glass window and surviving, but Rassilon’s failure to use The Glove was absurd. Ah yes – Rassilon. If you only know the new series, this name doesn’t matter. But if you know the mythology of old, you can only say, “I thought he was dead?” It’s an instance of throwing something in there for the fans, only so that the fans can call bunk. Why even bother? Oh, and the higher plane to which the Time Lords aimed to ascend was hogwash.
Anyway, the Doctor shoots a machine and the Master becomes enraged and the Time Lords, I guess, are sent back to their time locked scenario. I guess. If anyone knows better, feel free to step in and set me straight. I still have no idea what happened to the Master, but hopefully he’ll return to shit disturb another day, probably with a different actor playing the part in an entirely different fashion. And what of Claire Bloom’s mysterious woman, who ended up being a Time Lord? Easily the most purposefully nebulous aspect of the story, we never do find out exactly who she is. I predicted last week she would be the Doctor’s mother. Maybe she is. Maybe she isn’t. We’ll probably never find out, and she seems designed to do nothing more than give fans something to debate until something newer and more puzzling comes along.
Finally, after months of buildup, comes the four knocks – a move so deftly executed, that there’s no possible way fan speculation could have foreseen it. It’s just Wilf, locked in the Immortality Gate control chamber (again, I guess that’s what it is), wanting to be let out. The Doctor thought he cheated death, and in an instant realizes what everything has been leading up to, and why Wilf and he were so connected. He’s incensed and annoyed, mostly by his own short-sightedness, but perhaps stymied that his end could be something so simple. Yet he finally acknowledges that this prophecy must be fulfilled, as it just isn’t in him to cheat death by letting this old man perish on his watch. He absorbs a shitload of radiation, which takes a few of us back to Jon Pertwee’s death in “Planet of the Spiders.” The regeneration process begins, but this is going to be a slow burn. He returns Wilf to his home, promising him that they’ll meet once more, and sets off in the TARDIS, to collect, as he says, his reward.
His reward consists of checking in with and doing one last little thing for the people who mattered, one last time. Mickey and Martha (Freema looked damn fine!) are now married (a delightful flourish), and doing anti-alien sorts of things, and the Doctor saves them from being gunned down by a Sontaran. He saves Luke from a reckless driver on Bannerman Road, and Sarah Jane shows up just long enough to see him enter the TARDIS. (For those who may have felt that scene a cheat, the Tenth Doctor said a proper farewell to Sarah on her own show this season; when it hits DVD, you might want to check it out – if for no other reason than it’s more Tennant you haven’t seen, and he recorded it after “The End of Time.”) The Doctor then visits Jack in a creature cantina (one of seemingly numerous “Star Wars” homages in this episode), and does about the only thing he could possibly do for the immortal Captain, which is hook him up with a date – Midshipman Frame (Russell Tovey) from “Voyage of the Damned.” The most curious drive by is to Verity Newman (Jessica Hynes), the great-granddaughter of Joan Redfern from “Human Nature,” who has published Joan’s memoirs under the title “A Journal of Impossible Things.” All he wants to know is if Joan was happy. Onto Donna’s wedding, where he sees Wilf and Sylvia one last time, and gives them a lottery ticket to give to Donna as a wedding gift. The ticket was paid for by Sylvia’s deceased husband, Geoff, and finally even she sees the magic of the Doctor. Lastly, he visits Rose on New Year’s, 2005 – just months before they first met. He stands in the shadows and tells her she’s going to have a great year. The simplicity of this entire sequence is an episode highlight, as the Doctor knows he’s dying the entire time. It’s a series of last goodbyes, although if they’re with no regret is up to interpretation; maybe they’re riddled with regret.
And so finally we come to the actual regeneration, which, I must confess, didn’t do much for me. While it gave the story a circular feel to see Ood Sigma again, and have the universe “sing” the Doctor to his end, I felt nothing by it. Nor did I feel anything by the regeneration itself, and it must be said, “I don’t wanna go,” ranks right up there with Captain Kirk’s “It was…fun. Oh, my…” from “Generations” as lame exit lines for iconic sci-fi figures go. Yet Tennant’s Doctor had a great deal to say about dying and/or not wanting to die since “Mars.” We’ve been getting his final words in bits and pieces for three episodes running. Was there much more for him to say on the matter? It’s also something of a shame he had to die alone, although this was maybe meant to reflect his self-imposed isolation since “The Next Doctor.” (Of course, practically speaking, it also gave Moffat a clean slate with which to work.) The innovative execution of this regeneration can be appreciated, yet the moment itself left me wanting – until Matt Smith showed up and everything went ballistic. I’ve always been more excited by the possibilities that the aftermath of regeneration hints at than I am by the moments leading up to it. Regardless, at this stage there’s no more point in speculating on what Smith’s going to do with the Doctor than there was when Tennant said, “New teeth – that’s weird.” That said, I’m willing to go on record as saying that I am less than thrilled with the catchphrase “Geronimo!”
There’s nothing more irritating for me as a reader than to get to the end of a lengthy, indulgent opinion piece – which this clearly is – and wonder, “But did s/he like the material or not? Maybe you’re wondering just that. I didn’t like “The End of Time” as much as I admired the audacity of it – its aim to do something completely unexpected, even if it didn’t always work. As far as regenerations go, “The Parting of the Ways” was sleeker, and delivered the emotional goods with greater ease. But Davies had already done it “that way.” Were we to expect him to repeat himself? He’s earned the right to do whatever he damn well wished, and I applaud his decisions, even if I don’t totally agree with them. I’ll miss Russell. I’ll miss David. But I can’t wait to see what tricks Moffat and Smith have up their sleeves.
NEXT TIME: In case you haven’t seen it, here’s a one-minute teaser of what’s to come this spring.
Classic “Who” DVD Recommendation of the Week: Call me crazy, but this may be the last time I can wholeheartedly endorse the movie “Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.,” which stars Peter Cushing as Dr. Who, and the mighty Bernard Cribbins as policeman Tom Campbell, who accidentally stumbles into TARDIS (note the lack of “the”) and is taken on an insane ride to the future. Put it in your Netflix queue by searching for “The Dr. Who Collection” and adding Disc 2.
(Lastly, thanks again to Sonic Biro for the screencaps. My words would be considerably less effective without your efforts.)