Saturday, 2 January 2010

Doctor Who: The End of Time (2)

Doctor: “I don't want to go.”

I'm not sure what I was expecting from this episode. A humongous battle between the Doctor and the Time Lords, perhaps? An alliance between the Doctor and The Master, eventually culminating in the defeat of Rassilon? What I wasn't expecting was the Doctor dying such an intimate, low-key death. In the end it wasn't the Master or Rassilon who destroyed the Doctor, it was Wilf. And of course, despite the absolute certainty of irreparable radiation damage, the Doctor went to his aid.

I thought John Simm's Master was vastly improved this episode. His exchanges with the Doctor were top notch. What would the Doctor be without The Master? More pertinently, what would The Master be without Rassilon? Would he have turned into someone more like the Doctor? It's hard to say, but tonight there was a tired humanity about him. He just wanted the endless drone in his head to cease. His fury at Rassilon, although partly born of desperation, was completely understandable. All his life he'd been used by the Time Lords, a pawn in an end-game designed to nullify the time lock. No wonder the red mist came down. How sad that his intervention to save the Doctor ended in him being swept into the Time War.

The scenes between Wilf and the Doctor, predictably, were the highlight of the episode. The Doctor telling Wilf that he'd be proud if he were his Dad; Wilf pleading for the Doctor to take his service revolver and kill the Master; and finally, Wilf breaking down, begging the Doctor to save himself. That really set my lip awobble. And then, to see the Doctor in such pain, writhing in agony inside the containment chamber, before curling into a ball, head in hands, his sacrifice over, was just miserable.

But there was something missing from this episode that I can't quite put my finger on. The acting was obviously top notch: Mark Lawson, writing for the Guardian, likened Tennant's performance to that of Hamlet. There were some plot similarities with Hamlet too, from the Ood singing him to his rest, to him agonising over whether or not to kill the Master. And Tennant's scenes with Simm, Cribbins and Dalton were just superb—they were just draped over such a poorly realised plot. I thought the Time Lords returning was a great idea: it was epic, unexpected, and had all the dramatic weight you'd expect from such a massive plot twist. The Master returning again, was likewise a good idea. The Master taking over the world, however, was terrible. It shouldn't have undermined the whole episode, yet somehow it did. It felt lacklustre. Uninspired.

The episode was also scuppered by the impossibility of a happy ending. Many of us have grown to love David Tennant over the years, and few of us wanted to see him gone, yet this whole episode was geared towards just that eventuality. It was like sitting there, waiting for someone to die, and to make matters worse, the Doctor kept fighting it—to be honest, at times, it felt as though Tennant himself were fighting it—and despite us knowing otherwise, there was always this feeling that he might somehow pull it off. Which made it all the more difficult when he didn't.

On the plus side, they did add a depth of emotion to the regeneration process which prior to tonight's episode has sadly been lacking. Regeneration has always been a practical means of moving from one actor to another—mildly upsetting, but seldom anything to write home about. Never has a regeneration had the emotional impact it had tonight. The Doctor spent the whole of the episode fighting his destiny. Should he have killed the Master or Rassilon? In the end, had I been in his shoes, I'd probably have shot myself. And after the Time Lords had been safely dispatched back through time, for a fleeting moment, it almost seemed as if he'd won.

Then came the four knocks, deafening in the silence, and the look on Tennant's face said it all. It was over. It was a foregone conclusion that he'd lay down his life to rescue Wilf. Not that Wilf wanted rescuing. He seemed cautiously content with his lot. He was an old man, his life almost over, whilst the Doctor was still so powerful—so full of vitality. But in the end it's always been about the little people—and it was the Doctor's honour to die for Wilf.

And I know many didn't like it, but I found the Doctor's reward reasonably satisfying. After the gloominess of 'Children of Earth' it was good to see Captain Jack again, and the Doctor gifting him Midshipman Frame from 'Voyage of the Damned' was both a thoughtful and apt parting gesture. Seeing Sarah Jane again also tugged at my heart strings. You could tell from her face that she knew the Doctor wasn't long for this world. And him hiding in the shadows just to see Rose again—back before they'd even met—was a nice touch. Rose looked so young in those scenes. We even got to see Donna's wedding—which was an unexpected treat. And it was fitting, too, that the Doctor should save Martha and Mickey, one last time.

You couldn't help but feel the Doctor's isolation in his dying moments. There was no companion there with him this time round, no rousing speech to reassure everyone that everything would be all right. When Tennant finally said his final words—'I don't want to go'—despite the realisation that the moment had finally arrived, there was still that feeling of being under-prepared. Murray Gold's music was stellar towards the end. Since when have the Ood had such a strong sense of the dramatic? And thus the tearful Tennant transformed into the fresh faced Matt Smith, and though it's nigh on impossible to judge anyone's performance after such a brief cameo, my sadness turned into a reluctant grin at Matt Smith's confused, post regeneration dialogue. 'I'm a girl....NO...I'm not a girl!!' Not quite, Matt. At least not yet.

Other Thoughts:

-- Six billion, seven hundred and twenty seven million, nine hundred and forty nine thousand, three hundred and thirty eight versions of The Master? That's a lot.

-- Martha's now freelance and married to Mickey? Good grief Martha, what's wrong with you? What the hell happened to Tom Milligan?

-- The bar Captain Jack was in reminded me of Chalmun's Cantina in Star Wars.

-- So who was the woman stood behind Rassilon? The general consensus seems to be that it was the Doctor's mother (and by 'general consensus' I mean online gossip).

-- Nice touch bringing back Jessica Hynes to play Verity Newman, great-granddaughter of Joan Redfern ('Human Nature/Family of Blood') .

-- A tip of the hat, too, to Donna's dad Geoff Noble. Howard Attfield was supposed to reprise the role for season four but unfortunately died in 2007.

-- It looks as if this isn't the last we'll see of Wilf. The Doctor promised they'd meet again. Hurrah! Or did he just mean at the wedding? If so, then... booo!


The Master: 'Oh, he loves playing with earth girls.'

The Doctor: 'You don't need to own the Universe. Just see it.'

The Doctor: 'I wonder what I'd be without you?'

Wilf: 'God bless the cactuses!'
Doctor: 'That's cacti.'
Vinvocci: 'That's racist!'

Doctor: 'Worst... rescue... ever!'

Wilf: 'We must look like insects to you.'
Doctor: 'I think you look like giants.'

Doctor: 'Sometimes I think a Time Lord lives too long.'

Wilf: 'And please don't die. You're the most wonderful man... and I don't want you to die.'

Donna: 'That's 'cos you are a peach. Furry skin. Stone inside. Going off.'

Doctor: 'Wilfred. It's my honour.'

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