'This was the day the Time Lords returned'...er, well, not really. They sort of just nipped in, said hello, threatened everyone, and nipped back out again. Timothy Dalton was telling fibs. Actually, it's yet another example, and very typical indeed, of RTD allowing a chunk of his Who mythology to spring conveniently back into life only for it, 45 minutes later, to be popped back into place again with nothing terribly earth shattering having happened to the series structure. However, this time he isn't allowed to have it all his own way. Moffat is waiting in the wings impatiently looking at his watch.
Davies regular revivification of the Cybermen, Daleks and now the Master, often within a finale set piece where the Earth, or the Universe, or reality or time or indeed the whole kit and caboodle is under threat, has always been constructed as a series of reset narratives promising much blood and thunder but never really daring to go very far at all in really shaking up the Universe. Gallifrey materialising over the skies of Earth is eventually reduced to just another hallucination caused by WiFi going crazy around the world. I imagine that's probably the billions of key strokes from fans venting their spleen on Gallifrey Base. However, this time one part of that narrative, the appearance of a new Doctor, isn't subject to his magic reset and there's nothing he can do about it. Except...delay. Busk. Vamp.
His vamping is always about spectacle and as the recent Who On Who interview with David Tennant pointed out he doesn't have much time for films with subtitles. I imagine if you offered him a choice between 2012 and a Pedro Almodovar film he'd plump for Roland Emmerich's disaster porn. Here we get that cod Millennium Falcon dogfight with the missiles, except the Millennium Falcon resembles Red Dwarf's Starbug and there's a pensioner manning the gun turrets instead of a farmboy. The associations with the Falcon are reinstated by the interior of the flight deck with those oval doorways and viewports too. Still, Wilf blasting missiles out of the sky is rather entertaining. Further busking was in evidence with all the nonsense about the Gallifreyan diamond acting as a signal for the Time Lords to cart themselves and Gallifrey across the universe.
When we get to that final 20 minutes he really goes all Proustian on us. And let's give him his due, the Doctor is the ultimate Proustian character with an ability to embody psychological or durational time rather than time on the clock or the time of physicists as the true measure of it all. Beneath the comic strip Flash Gordon bluster of The End Of Time Part 2 is a much deeper and richer narrative about memory, regret and experience. Why else would the greatest conflict spoken about in the series be called the Time War. Whilst we might criticise the overindulgence of those extended goodbyes in the coda to The End Of Time, there are some scenes that do emphasise the overall structure of Russell's view of his Doctor Who as a vast bildungsroman. The coming of age narrative he's constructed for the Doctor does after all need some form of closure but it's a pity that he feels he has to do extended versions of that initial desk clearing of Journey's End.
Let's disregard the rather odd scenes: of Martha and Mickey (it whiffs of a 'Mr And Mrs Smith Save the Universe' spin-off that we're not likely to see and really invalidates Martha's entire reason for leaving the TARDIS by falling in love and marrying Tom Milligan) and the faux Cantina scene with Captain Jack where the Doctor acts as a pimp in a crude bit of Davies' gay wishfulfillment. The most important scenes in this odyssey of Proustian sensory associations are the ones with Verity Newman, Wilf and Donna and Rose. These don't feel forced and are more elegiac and the return to a snow covered Powell Estate in 2005 is a satisfying moment in which the Doctor concludes his voyage in search of his own authenticity, where change is finally embraced in the timely reminder from the Ood and the Doctor's regeneration signals both his status as adult and a return to adolescence with the appearance of Matt Smith and the parallel destruction and likely reconstruction of the TARDIS. The fluidity of time here suggests that the Doctor's return to the past is not just him simply remembering it as if from a distance but literally refinding the connection in his mind and experiencing it again.
Even as Davies brings his era back to the place where it all started there still remain inconsistencies and an implication that he isn't all that concerned with them as he feels they will no doubt be embellished upon by other authors. Thus we get no explanation about The Woman, played by Claire Bloom, and in having no explanation she's already been seen as variously Flavia, Romana or the Doctor's mother. Neither do get an explanation for the acceleration of the Ood civilisation. There is also obfuscation here with the final conflict between Time Lords and Daleks now becoming a huge free for all for various bad asses with silly science fiction names. His biggest narrative problem is Donna. As part of the triple cliff-hanger of Part One her head was about to go nuclear. Another bit of RTD vamping is required because by about ten minutes in Donna's lid had flipped and she was comatose for the rest of the episode and again very little explanation was given.
So strip away all the gloss and there are a number of brilliant scenes which summarise what the episode is trying to articulate beneath the visual equivalent of a song and dance routine. It's when all the extraneous noise is muted that Davies ability to write dialogue gets to shine. The Doctor's reasoning with the Master and saying that in order to experience the universe, to see all of time and space, you don't automatically assume you should possess it and bend it to your will. Which is a bit hypocritical considering the Doctor pretty much does that with Martha and Mickey, Donna and the lottery ticket and pairing up Jack and Alonso. Never mind, it's a great scene with Tennant and Simm on very good form.
This is surpassed by the lovely little scene between Wilf and the Doctor on the Vinvocci ship. A conversation between two old men, again both of them examining their place in time and space, and where their sense of self is revealed by a delving down into their subconsciousness and where the social connections, the Doctor's age and Wilf's war time exploits, become spectacle in themselves. There is also the Doctor's view of his own hubris and the self realisation that 'a Time Lord lives too long' whilst Wilf doesn't care about hubris and just wants him to save humanity. It's an amazingly good scene, full of high emotion and Bernard Cribbins once again proves what an asset he is to the series.
The final Wrath Of Khan like exchange between Wilf and the Doctor in Naismith's mansion after all the hurly-burly is over is the real core of the drama. We see something new here, the Doctor throwing a tantrum and declaring like Harry Enfield's recalcitrant teenager Kevin that 'it's not fair!' that he has to sacrifice his life for this old duffer in the glass chamber. But it's a perfect distillation of the RTD era where the saving of a single life is a vastly important moral gesture on behalf of the Doctor. When the Doctor is bathed in the red hue of radiation it's like Superman being stripped of his powers in Superman II. At that moment the Tenth Doctor really is on borrowed time. Tennant gives a heartbraking performance and perhaps we can after all partly excuse that last 20 minute coda as not only the Doctor's reward but a last bit of well earned sentimentality from RTD.
In the end then this entertaining but indulgent 73 minutes is symbolic of the best and worst of the RTD era. Beautifully tender drama spliced together with plotting that plays out like a game of Top Trumps. Great performances from Tennant and Cribbins, holding all this nonsense together, and highly enjoyable scenery chewing from Simm and Dalton. But now it's time to go. The delays are over, and let's face it pretty much everything since Journey's End has been a delay of the inevitable where I too would have been happy for Tennant to hand over at the end of that very similar indulgence. Tennant's cry of 'I don't want to go' sums up this whole year of waiting for the end and the sadness at his departure that has dominated the festive period. For me, it was that little moment at Donna's wedding, where Wilf gazes at the stoic Doctor, tears brimming in his eyes, blowing him a little kiss and brings a shaking hand to his mouth in realisation that this itself is the end of time for the Tenth Doctor, that broke me up.
Well, sonny Jim. It's over. Immediately Matt Smith popped onto the screen there was a tangible sensation of new energy coursing through the veins of this middle aged little programme and the David Tennant era became part of that never forgotten Doctor Who continuum. Geronimo, indeed. The Doctor is dead, long live the Doctor.