DOCTOR WHO - The End Of Time Part 2 / Review

'This was the day the Time Lords returned', 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.

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17 Responses to “DOCTOR WHO - The End Of Time Part 2 / Review”
  1. KAOS says:

    Excellent review - I agree with every word.

    I loathe RTD's overblown season finales; big on spectacle and lacking substance, sense, or coherency. But at least previous finales have been entertaining. I actually found this mish-mash plodding and dull. I was bored for much of it.

    And I hope we don't see John Simm's risible Master again.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This script should have been massively revised by Gary Russell but Russell T Davies is actually above him. As per the good old days, script editors should be pulling the strings, not those who write the serials. And, boy, am I bored to tears of Davies’ pathological obsession with the end of existence / the void / the darkness / time locks.

    The Doctor falls thousands of feet out of a spaceship, crashes through a glass roof and hits a hard surface and then gets up with no explanation? This kind of thing completely destroys the believability of the story for the viewer. Ever seen Logopolis? (Why did David Tennant not put his foot down over something so completely ridiculous for the character as this being in the script? Even a jetpack would have been better.) The Doctor regenerates and the TARDIS blows up – ever seen Time and the Rani? Gallifrey positions itself right beside Earth and both planets are hardly affected – ever seen the Tenth Planet? The Doctor absorbs masses of radiation and needs to regenerate but he pops in to see a few friends first – ever seen Planet of the Spiders? And if the time war was locked and the Time Lords can’t get out of it, how could they send a signal (or psychic messages) out of it and Dalek Caan get into it? And why would Wilf knowingly knock four times?

    The days of Russell T Davies ignoring the requirement to make things sensible and explicable (such as the re-appearance of Rassilon) and therefore believable, are over. Writing sci-fantasy like Doctor Who with plot dependent non-sequiturs, while selectively ignoring the need to explain anything to viewers, is simply a sign of poor writing. Let’s hope Steven Moffatt doesn’t cave in to the same low standards.

  3. Jason says:

    I don't really agree with Garçon Stupide.

    While I can see and acknowledge that RTD's finales are overblown and big on the spectacle, that's totally consistent with the Buffy model, on which they've *always* said the new Who series is based. It's what audiences have come to expect from the season finale, a big story with some real danger and consequences.

    I found Simm's Master far better this time around than last time, he was clearly having a ball doing it, and there was even some redemption for the character at the end. Last time he just seemed to be hamming it up, this time he looked believeable in the part.

    While Journey's End wrapped up a lot of loose ends, I find myself thinking that The End Of Time put a bow on them.

    Yes, a lot of it doesn't make sense when you start to think about it (maybe some parts were conveniently left unexplained at Moffat's request, like Jenny's survival in The Doctor's Daughter), but I did find it entertaining in spite of that.

  4. Ironically, Russell popped up on a documentary about 'Are You Being Served' over the festive period and signalled that he could see where the writers had run out of ideas towards the end of the series.

    I think he too had run out of ideas by the time he came to write 'The End Of Time' and it showed. But still, two very enjoyable episodes with some great scenes. However, I am looking forward to what March 2010 brings us. Something a bit fresher I hope.

    In the end though Russell, Julie, Phil, first Chris and then David all have to be thanked for bringing the series back and making it a success. Yes, there were some poor episodes in the batch of 60 they made but I think overall they were many of a good or high standard. And they did produce some classic stories that will be remembered.

  5. Nimbus says:

    All I shall say is that I thought part 2 of The End Of Time was bloomin' marvellous. Absolutely brilliant. Over the top? Sure. A little mad with some unresolved plot strands? Yep. But still a dramatic, emotional tour-de-force.

    I loved it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I hate how lazy RTD is when writing.
    He never commits to his decisions.

    Eg. The Dr is stuck in a space ship unable to help - Oh no, its ok. He can just press a button.
    The Dr has to choose to kill either the Master or Tim - Oh no, its ok. he just has to press a button albeit with a bullet.
    Donna's head has exploded! Oh no, its ok. She just needs a cup of tea.

    And the Dr wandering around time and space for a while after being infused with radiation absorbed any drama there was to be had.

    It's not just this episode, the show has been like this for a while now.
    I really hope Moffat can fix it for I think it is sorely broken.

    I really hated this episode and I think DT deserved a much better send off than this dull, nonsensical piece of self indulgence.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Brilliant review

  8. Anonymous says:

    I am glad RTD’s time is over. I believe he made it for himself, not the old fans, not the new fans, just for himself. It was his fanboy fantasy filled with all sorts of self indulgent rubbish and things he could get away with in modern television. The last story was just an exclamation point. Were some good stories in his time? Yes, there were. Some of those were marred by sledgehammering politically liberal themes of race and sexual orientation into the plots. Were there some great scenes in this last one? Yes. The Doctor and Wilf were great waxing on life and death. The last twenty minutes and a Gotterdammerung like regeneration scene were unbearable. The story was over when he saved Wilf and absorbed the radiation. Period. The best lesson I learned in fiction writing class was, “If it does not advance the plot, take it out.” Daives never learned that lesson. Again, the last story stands as a microcosm of this. He never had a teacher or in this case, a BBC executive who said no, or had the sense to say no.

  9. Anonymous says:

    RTD has clearly run out of ideas, in truth this episode was lame, Simm and Dalton were given wafer thin characters in a story that was anything other than special.

    The 20 miniutes saying goodbye was also spoiled by contradicting series arcs (martha & micky), not really making much sense (who was the old woman and the Donna stuff) and torchwood in your face homosexuality. The only worthwhile part was for Rose who for me was the weakest of Tennants 3 assistants.

    Everyone else seems to have loved it, but for me it was a huge let down. For RTD's farewell this was disappointing for David Tenant's it was criminal.

    A real shame, David Tenant & Stephen Moffat would have been the dream ticket.

  10. Anonymous says:

    the best bit dramatically speaking was the Master realising that the Doctor was ok and that the Time Lords were responsible for who he'd become, and therefore him rebelling against the Time Lords - and by implication all that he has done previously in previous episodes. This is called character development by means of plot development and was the one significant thing happening in End of Time, apart from the elegaic stuff (which personally i felt was ok and deserved) for the doctor given that he was dying. it was meaningful. Did people not get this?!

  11. KAOS says:

    "In your face homosexuality."?

    I must have missed that bit.

    Interesting that someone should pick up on that, rather than the gratuitous killing of the Time Lady by the President (for example).

  12. Apologies for not responding to comments but I've been without broadband internet for the last few days. However thanks to an iPhone, internet tethering and my laptop I'm able to pop in again.

    With regards to the 'in your face homosexuality' of the series I think that says more about the narrow minds that have been watching the series since it was announced Russell was the showrunner. He has been dogged by accusations of having a 'gay agenda' since then. Look, he's a gay man and he's a writer. In my humble opinion, and as a writer, you write from your own experience as much as anything else.

    You also have to consider that this is the 21st Century we are living in and the social mores in which the series operates are very, very different from those that it used to work in. The plurality of sexuality is something that we all live with every day of our lives and the series is only reflecting back to us the kind of society we now live in.

    Fortunately for us in the UK we live in a very tolerant place and that's what's on screen. It's important that those tolerances are talked about and if that means Doctor Who talks about it then so be it. If it didn't it wouldn't be true to itself.

  13. Anonymous says:

    The End of Time was, in parts, enjoyable and fantastic. In others, a real shame. The Time Lords ...

    'This was the day the Time Lords returned', well, not really. They sort of just nipped in, said hello, threatened everyone, and nipped back out again.'

    Actually I was thinking the same thing. I don't know whether some people feel the series needs the Time Lords or not, but I've always thought it would be nice to have them in the background somewhere, occasionally pulling the strings when need arises. Like they used to. Maybe it's just me.

    There were obvious plot holes in the two-parter, and the regeneration scene - well, leading up to it - was drawn out. The Doctor should have changed after saving Wilf, as he lay on the floor, his face covered, in the booth. Seeing Wilf's reaction would have been priceless! An opportunity missed.

    We all have different viewpoints about the series. On some things we agree, others we don't. But I am certainly looking forward to the new series with Matt - new energy for the show, and well needed.

    Thanks Frank for this review. And an excellent blog. I'm following! :)

  14. "This script should have been massively revised by Gary Russell"

    LOL - imagine the horror!

  15. Hiya Frank - the Ood civilisation was accelerated because time was leaking out of the Time War bubble.

  16. MarkH says:

    Great review and a website now put on the faves tabs.

    The End of Time and indeed the (not so) specials highlight what a paradox RTD is himself. The ability to make Doctor Who one of teh most popular shows on British TV and the reliance on magic, half truths, and smoke& mirrors to cobble together plots. Whilst he can write some great characters and dialog his plotting is sometimes ridicuously bad.

    If you have the editing capabilities cut ou the footage between the Doctor saying to Wilf "to get my reward" and closing the TARDIS door, and cut to the scene as he enters for the last time - thus removing all the "big goodbye" sequence. The story is much more poignant in that the lone Time Lord's only reward is "death". It makes the story more emotional for me that way.

    Very disappointing and I cant help thinking that the end of the Stolen Earth would have been a far better end to tennants tenure as everything after that felt like it was half heartedly tagged on.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Russell T. Davies maintained the formula reasonably well, but often strayed into vaguely self-parodying paradigms of silliness. Moreover, some of the characters were grating and annoying, particularly the Donna character. Hopefully Dr Who will improve now that both Tennant and Davies have abandoned ship. I am sure Davies would have gradually tried to make Dr Who more ostensibly gay over time, when the sexual element should have always remained true to formula: i.e. flamboyant but never stated, seemingly asexual, and always left to the audience to decide. The Tom Baker version of the Doctor was afterall somewhat of a womaniser. It would have been too grating to have Tennant suddenly transform into a rampant omnisexual pervert like Captain Jack, or even to show himself as being gay or bi for that matter. Apparently Davies had wanted an intimate homosexual kiss in Dr Who. It is a good thing he did not get his way, as this would have effectively killed the future of the show altogether. Torchwood is another show that suffered from Davies far too ostensible treatment of characters to suit what is really just his own narrow socio-political agenda. He also has a nasty habit of killing off most of his own characters, as annoying as they all were, which suggests he may not be seriously committed to the future well-being of any series on which he works.

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