BBC1 - 5th July 2008 - 6.40pm
I bet Gillane Seaborne was livid. She's sat at home, downing another glass of Chardonnay, and then next minute she's plonked in the BBC News studio trying her best to explain to the newsreaders and anyone now bothering to watch what exactly that last 65 minutes on BBC1 was about and why, for fuck's sake, Tennant was still Doctor Who when they'd all convinced themselves he was going. All she wanted to do was get back to her glass of wine rather than try and defend the whole cop-out regeneration and three Doctors bollocks (not a physical aberration, more a creative one). I had visions of a baying mob outside the newsroom screaming for Russell's blood. But no, the baying mob is on the internet and they're mad as hell and aren't gonna take it anymore.
The problem with Journey's End is that, far from just being a desk clearing, valedictory conclusion to four years of the Russell T Davies masterplan, it ends up leaving a bitter taste in the mouth. With the symbolic death of Donna Noble it has a stark, melancholic message to declare. After bigging up how marvellous ordinary people are, is Davies now seriously saying, actually, they're never going to reach their potential because they'll never have the opportunity to do so? Is he telling us we should just know and accept our place in the world because we're nothing special? Cheeky sod. Donna's fate is quite honestly one of very few reasons why you should even bother to watch this episode. The 'everlasting death' of the character is heartbreaking and almost redeems Journey's End from being just the tartrazine fueled ravings of a writer channeling, nay mind-raping, his inner seven year old. I know, I know...we all saw it coming and knew Davies would do anything to avoid the grand scenario we'd actually constructed in our own heads for the finale. We're our own worst enemies. Still, I have to sneakily admire the use of the regeneration as a cliffhanger because the media fell for it hook, line and sinker and for a minute I thought I hadn't actually been told what would happen months ago by those in the know. For a minute there he had me going.
If indeed Journey's End is about the nature of reality then it's a very cruel and dark vision we're left with. Donna, perhaps the best of the companions featured in the new series thus far, has all the life building experiences and adventures wrenched away from her and she's reduced to facile bantering on her mobile phone in her mother's kitchen. Granted, the Doctor has a go at Sylvia for all the years that she's undermined her own daughter but isn't the Doctor guilty of offering false hopes too? It's an upsetting, moving and ultimately cruel conclusion and you could argue that Donna now has an opportunity to start again. But it just seems so crushingly sad. Here, Donna's become the postmodern symbol of all postmodern symbols where the Donna that bloomed in front of us will now be just a dead meaning and frozen form cycling and mutating into new combinations and permutations of the same - all the way through Series 4 when we choose to re-watch it. Wilf's speech at the end of the episode does provide some salve to this wound as it does offer an ability to acknowledge her achievements rather than the closure that Sylvia suggests. Catherine Tate and Bernard Cribbins were quite brilliant in those final scenes. Tate superbly conveyed the horror of Donna's return to reality and indeed what was her 'fate worse than death'. Cribbins quite rightly ensures that there isn't a dry eye in the house with that touching final speech. He has been a real asset to this series.
The other reason to wade through this overindulgent mess is for that fantastic scene with Davros. It's a thoughtful examination of the Doctor's motivations and his use of the 'children of time' as weapons. Davros draws parallels between himself and the Doctor and exposes the 'soul' of the Doctor. In the end, Davros argues, the Doctor is simply a general leading his troops into battle. What was quite amusing here was that this argument was played out after both Martha and Sarah's 'final solutions' had been neutralised by the all seeing Caan. Julian Bleach certainly made Davros his own and was rather good in that confrontation, especially the goose-bump raising moment of recognition between him and Sarah. Caan's prophecies, the Daleks, Davros were an all conquering force at this point in the episode. And then it got a bit shit. Davros' plan to destroy all the realities of the multiverses just didn't have any reasoning behind it. Was he doing it out of spite? And in doing so wouldn't the Daleks then be masters of absolutely nothing? Or is that the idea? Masters of nothing. The Daleks trashing the Earth in The Stolen Earth was reduced to pointlessness as there wasn't any explanation for rounding up human hostages on such a huge scale when all they wanted was a few guinea pigs to test out the reality bomb. Now if the bomb just destroyed all the crap reality television in all the multiverses then I'd say that was a plan. But then Davros turns out to be a 'pet' of the Daleks in a vain attempt to make the Daleks look more important than their creator, which has always been something that the series has wrestled with, and the Crucible blows up and you wonder what was the point of him being there at all. Him and the Supreme Dalek.
And then we get the resolution from that cop out regeneration. Three Doctors. And a load of gobbledegook about the Time Lord energy going into the hand and Donna touching the hand and becoming part Doctor. We knew Tennant wasn't leaving so the misdirection of the regeneration simply turns into an excuse to create a sex doll version of Tennant's Doctor that Rose could then keep and a version living inside Donna's head. One goes all genocidal and one is forced to forget who she really is. This does two things. First, it pisses all over the conclusion to Doomsday and the ongoing angst about Rose and, second, it turns Catherine Tate back into the comedy-variety abomination that many had long feared would be her contribution to the show. Fobbing Rose off with another version of the Doctor was the most bizarre and perverse notion because it simply didn't work as an emotional closure to the relationship. Instead it's rather cruel of the Doctor to hand him over with the reasoning behind him being the war damaged version she met in Series 1 and made better not really ringing true. The clone Doctor doesn't need to be made better because surely he has all the real Doctor's memories of being with Rose, Martha and Donna anyway. I'm afraid that the cop-out meter just went off the scale again at that point.
Making Donna the Doctor/Donna was really stretching the concept to breaking point. Perhaps Russell himself needs a companion to tell him when to 'stop'...stop writing such utter nonsense. Sex doll Doctor aside, Donna then becomes Reginald Dixon at the mighty Wurlitzer organ and simply forces the Daleks into a spot of Come Dancing. This is such end-of-the pier stuff and utterly undermines any threat that had been building in The Stolen Earth and to the half way mark here. And the cherry on the top of this particularly calorific pudding is Caan. Caan is RTD. Driven mad over four series he brings the Daleks back as a vast, all conquering empire only to want to see them destroyed...again...and again. This time by a shrill temp doing a David Tennant impression and 100wpm on a conveniently placed cinema organ. No wonder the Doctor mind-wiped her, he obviously couldn't stand himself. This yet again is an example of Russell's inability to provide proper resolution to big action plots. He's great at character but can be really lousy at plot construction and denouments. You get the sense of him constantly and frantically pulling rabbits out of hats to divert the audience through the last hour of that episode.
And the rabbits and hats charade of ignoring Caan's prophecy, grinning companions in the TARDIS (I think they had more fun than the audience), the TARDIS towing the Earth in the series' pinnacle of bad science, bloody K9, the connection between Gwen and Gwyneth, an impromptu firework celebration...is just overkill. It's just bluster to cover Russell's continual use of the Escape key on his keyboard. A frenetic, pacy, glossy spectacle, catching that sense of closure I spoke of last time with good, solid direction from Graeme Harper and splendid visual effects from the Mill, Journey's End sums up his era, an era full of moments of sheer brilliance colliding with toe curling pulp excess. Often he makes it work wonderfully but here it is very much an own goal. And it's too early to think it's all over...as bang, bang, bang...here comes the Christmas special and four more salvos of narrative contortions in 2009. And when Tennant does eventually regenerate no one will really give a shit, will they?
Cathode Ray Tube Doctor Who Journey's End
The Stolen Earth
Forest Of The Dead
Silence In The Library
The Unicorn And The Wasp
The Doctor's Daughter
The Poison Sky
The Sontaran Stratagem
The Planet Of The Ood
The Fires Of Pompeii
Partners In Crime
- Freelance writer and film and television researcher (for hire).
He has contributed to a number of books and websites about British archive television and cinema as well as recent television series including work for Moviemail, Frame Rated and Arrow Video. Publications include I.B Tauris's 'Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour - A Critical
Celebration of the Matt Smith and Steven Moffat Era' (2013) and 'Doctor
Who - The Pandorica Opens' (2010).
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