Sunday, 24 January 2010

Of Doctor Who - The End of Time

Well I promised it weeks ago so lets get rolling with my review of David Tennant's final episode(s) on Doctor Who. However whilst it was indeed David Tennant's last episode, it also worked out to be Russel T. Davies' as well. Luckily Davies realised it was David's last episode and so instead of managing to fuck up by doing an epic sci-fi story which he is incapable of writing, he went for his strong suit of a character driven story. Whilst I had some complaints with how the story was wrapped, the strong performances and emotional moments definitely made this one of the stronger finale episodes that Doctor Who has aired since it came back in 2005.

It would seem that Doctor Who finale's were getting progressively worse Series 1 and 2 were fantastic (apart from the ease with which the Daleks were defeated in Series 2). Series 3 managed to screw up by focusing on Martha, turning Tennant into Gollum and a very stupid "I believe in fairies" ending, luckily John Simm made up for this. But Series 4 is almost offensive. Whilst the build up episode "The Stolen Earth" is brilliant in it's build-up, dark and emotional moments as well as fan service. Sadly this all comes crashing down when Davies' was unable to create a satisfying moment for his characters, plots and worst of all, showed his incapability to kill of his characters. This might seem a little sore but I still feel if you promise "someone will die" you deliver. Having your brain wiped and unable to remember your life with the Doctor isn't a fate worse than death, you're with the people you love and still have decades left to live. Oh and the stupidity of spinning Daleks

So what sort of ending did Davies go for this time? Well oddly he almost went backwards in terms of how these episodes work. Normally the first half is a lot stronger. Just look at 'The Sound of Drums' and 'The Stolen Earth', both are two of the strongest episodes that Doctor Who has produced, but sadly the payoff doesn't meet the buildup. In 'The End of Time' this almost worked backwards. The first half was very choppy, cohesiveness and the only part that kept it together was the strength of the three main performances. It felt like we were being spread too thin, across too many stories rather than what should have been a very personal story just about the Doctor and his rival, the Master. However we got all sorts of almost tangential and odd stories. It was still decent but that first half definitely felt more about what was going on elsewhere apart from with David Tennant (whilst I thought John Simm was superb, it can be argued he was given a bit too much to do).

Well as by now we all know The Time Lords came back in the second half. However most of the episode was spent by them trying to get to earth. In fact most of the episode is spent creating as much distance between the different characters until the ultimate showdown which occurred about 40 minutes into the episode. The Doctor was on a spaceship, The Master had literally taken over the world and crafted it in his visage and The Time Lords were still in the time lock of the Time War. So we spent most of the episode building up to an epic conclusion, a war between the Time Lords and The End of Time.

Sadly the buildup was dissipated in about 10 minutes. It takes 40 minutes for The Time Lords to reach earth and 5 for them to be defeated. It's like the Daleks. They need to be used sparingly and if you want them to maintain some kind of fear, they need to be able to almost win but ultimately have victory taken away by the quick witted hero. But here The Time Lords show almost no strength. Nothing is damaged by The Time Lords arrival. We're told Earth's orbit will be knocked out place but The Doctor stops that very quickly. The closest we get to being scarred by the villains in this episode is The Master transforming the whole world into him. But even that is reversed within the first few seconds of The Time Lords arrival to show their strength. But The Doctor defeats them so quickly that you wonder how he had any trouble against The Master.

Ultimately the threat is destroyed by The Master doing something good by sacrificing himself (unless a future writer wants to bring him back) to defeat The Time Lords and send them back into the Time War. Following this is where the truly great portion of the episode lies.

Before this point the episode is decent. It isn't brilliant, plotting issues aside it's enjoyable. Again the performances are stellar. But it's about 50 minutes in that the episode turns round and does what Davies is talented at. Intimate character moments. One of my favourite episodes from Series 4 is 'Midnight'. It was written by Davies and almost all the action takes place on one set. There's very little CGI and it relies entirely on psychological horror and acting. It's great because it relies on strong characters and their interaction. There's nothing epic, just personal moments which is what I would have preferred David Tennant's last episode to be.

Luckily a good 20 minutes was this small scale intimate idea. First off the perfection of the reveal of what the 'He will knock four times' prophecy is. It wasn't the Master's heartbeat. First we get the Doctor celebrating victory and not having died but then Wilf knocks on the door of the radiation chamber. Just the look on David Tennant's face shows he realises and how upset he is. We all knew Wilf was there for a reason and ultimately he's the bringer of the Doctor's death. David Tennat and Bernard Cribbins act their socks off in the following scene. It's emotional and even though the Doctor contemplates leaving Wilf to die, you know he won't He needs to save people, even it's just one person. So he saves Wilf and ends up sentencing himself to death. It's a powerful moment and I really can't say enough about how perfectly David Tennat and Bernard Cribbins act it out. It's scenes like this that make me realise how much Matt Smith will have to live up to. Christopher Eccleston was great but David Tennant was transcendent. It's fitting he's the first Doctor to have his death be built up to, he was just that good.*

So what follows is an epilogue. It's much like Series 2 where we spent time afterwards just to say goodbye to Rose and family. But this time we were saying goodbye to everyone. Mickey and Martha, now married and fighting aliens. Sarah Jane still having adventures with her son, Luke. Captain Jack looking around space for what he lost during the last Series of Torchwood but also getting a new beau in the form of Alonso from 'Voyage of the Damned'. We find Donna on her wedding day where we say goodbye to Wilf and he gifts her a (presumably winning) lottery ticket. Then finally Rose Tyler. She might be in the alternate reality with the Other Doctor but we find her about 4 months before she boards the TARDIS for the first time. It was a great little cyclical moment ending RTD run on the series saying goodbye to all the characters he created.

Again David Tennant is just superb but of course we need to say goodbye once and for all, so we get the regeneration. Those last few seconds where he says he doesn't want to go, the exploding TARDIS in space. It's a truly emotional goodbye to someone who has just owned his character for the 4 years he's portrayed him. But that's the nature of Doctor Who. A truly revolving cast and new writers. So now we get to see where Mr. Moffat is going to take us in a couple of months.

So in conclusion whilst I wasn't a fan of Mr. Davies attempt at doing an epic sci-fi story it was still buoyed by great performances by David Tennant, John Simm, Bernard Cribbins and Timothy Dalton (if only he'd been used more). Luckily the last 20 minutes more than make up for all my problems. It was still a satisfying story with some great performances and emotional goodbyes. Really this episode was all about David Tennant saying goodbye and that was done in spades. If the rest of the episode had been as good as his performance this would have been an easy 10. Sadly it wasn't so 'The End of Time' ends up with an


*However next time I wouldn't mind if it was a total surprise. Have Matt Smith die in the middle of a series or something. Make sure it doesn't leak to The Sun or leak so much crap that it comes as a real mind fuck. Don't do it in the next two series though. Just do something to shock the audience and take us back to classic Who stories. I wanted Doctor Who to surprise me now and if any writer can do that it'll be Stephen Moffat.

1 comment:

IaSg14 said...

I know what you mean by screwing with the audience and killing Matt Smith halfway through a series. The closest we came to that was "The Stolen Earth" when he started regenerating at the end.
Dunno about you but I seriously didn't see that coming and I don't think anyone did (since there were actually big articles in the newspaper the next day about who The Doctor will regenerate into or how he will get out of it).