Thanks to April, my big brother’s wonderful girlfriend, I finally got to see the second part of The End of Time last night. For those of you who aren’t giant Doctor Who geeks, move along, move along. Nothing to see here.
SPOILERS ABOUND. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
I will start by saying that the first part really didn’t impress me. It was loud, bombastic, needlessly explodey, and involved far too many shots of the Doctor either walking or running somewhere accompanied by rather overdone music, which really just made me feel like they were trying to add some filler to the episode to make it long enough. But at the end, I was still excited about the second part, because if nothing else, there were going to be Time Lords. Apparently lead by a very spitty Timothy Dalton. The general Time Lord culture was something I’ve really missed out of the new Who, and I was excited at the prospect of them making a comeback, since that would open up all sorts of new plot as well. Also, I was hoping that if the Time Lords did make a return, maybe we’d get to see a new incarnation of Romana, who was one of my favorite characters ever from old Who.
Sadly, I was disappointed, on many, many, many counts.
Before I get down to the real kvetching, there were certain things out of the second part that I really, really liked. There was a lovely scene between the Doctor and the Master, which involved them not shrieking at each other, and it was beautifully done and very dramatic. I liked spitty Timothy Dalton as Rassilon, and even though I’d already spoiled myself as to who he was, I still just about wet my pants when the Doctor used the name. Dalton makes a wonderful Rassilon; sure, he’s the founder of the great and noble Time Lord civilization, but I think it adds some real dimension to the culture when we get to see that Rassilon was also a giant, scary bastard. And for all that the Time Lords did not in fact make a comeback like I’d been hoping, I think that some of the plot was very interesting. If nothing else, the revelation that the doctor destroyed the Time Lords not as collateral damage in the destruction of the Daleks, but on purpose because they’d become just as evil, just blew me away. It casts the Doctor in a whole new light and was very well done.
That said, the rest of it? I’m not going to claim it was awful and that Russel T. Davies and I are through (not that it matters at this point) but of all the big, explodey, bombastic, over the top season enders, this one was definitely the worst. It was a lot of sound and fury, and very little substance. The Doctor saving the Earth at the end just seemed a little too easy and clean. And I’m sorry, but whether it’s the long pre-regeneration goodbye sequence, or just the intended-to-be-dramatic-but-not-really bit where the Doctor can’t seem to decide if he should be pointing his gun at Rassilon1 or the Master, I spent a lot of time wanting to yell “GET ON WITH IT!” at April’s TV. That’s never a good sign.
As a good example of just what was wrong with the episode, take Donna. I was incredibly excited about Donna being in the episode, since she’s by far my favorite of the companions. I cried, quite literally, when she had to have her memory erased at the end of last season, and it made the wonderfully poignant point clear that yes, thing really do go terribly, terribly wrong in the Doctor’s life and there aren’t always happy endings. And then in this episode… what? She gets surrounded by a bunch of Master copies and then her head sort of explodes and… that’s it. She has basically no bearing on the plot at all, other than as a footnote. It’s not that I wanted something bad to happen to Donna, goodness no. I love her to pieces. But after the frantic warnings from the Doctor about what will happen to her if she remembers, and then basically seeing her brain explode on screen, suddenly at the end she’s all better and nothing seems to have happened. What? What was the point of the build up?
The Doctor’s death also annoyed me, frankly. I do like that it wasn’t Rassilon that did him in. I thought David Tennant did some amazing acting when it came to the sudden swing from high to low, as he goes from thinking that he’s escaped fate to realizing that his death is inescapable. I can even go for him giving up his life to save Wilf, and the wonderfully nasty, egotistical things he said to go with it. But hinging all of that loveliness on a booth that apparently requires someone to be locked in it for no apparent reason really just takes all the steam out of the sacrifice. They had to find a way to kill the Doctor off, and that was the best they could do? Really?
And then of course, the Doctor gets irradiated and sort of killed and it’s all quite heart-wrenching until he gets up and then spends the next fifteen minutes wandering around and exchanging significant looks with nearly everyone who has ever been in more than two episodes with him. The thing that was often so emotional about other Doctors regenerating was how abrupt it seemed. Take the Christopher Eccleston regeneration; it made me cry. He went from fine to basically dead and regenerated in in only a few minutes, and even though I’d been expecting it, it was still emotional and well executed. What they did with Tennant seems to me the equivalent of if Eccleston had paused, made himself some tea and sandwich, done some phone calls, answered all of his correspondence, and then finally kicked the bucket. Bleh.
Then the fact that the Doctor regenerating this time apparently made the Tardis catch on fire? Don’t get me started.
Admittedly, The End of Time had a tough act to follow. Right before we watched the second part, April let us watch The Waters of Mars since we hadn’t seen that yet. That episode is amazing. It was creepy, it was suspenseful, and the ending just blew me away. But what I find so frustrating is that it’s obvious that this sort of tight scripting and emotional roller coaster is more than possible on the show, and then they get to the season finale and just sort of blow it all on the Master having a fake glow-in-the-dark skull for a head.
I think maybe the biggest problem is that every season finale of the new Doctor Who has been over the top and explodey. We can’t seem to have a finale that doesn’t involve the possible destruction of the Earth at best or the entire universe at worst. And I find that frustrating, because many of what I consider to be the best episodes of the new Who have been the very ones where the stakes were relatively small. The weeping Angels in Blink weren’t threatening to destroy space and time. Midnight was just about a few people, on a single ship. The Girl in the Fireplace was about one woman’s life. The problem is, every time you have to end a series by threatening to blow up the universe, you paint yourself a little further in to a corner, since next time you feel obligated to somehow ratchet the stakes up higher2. And frankly, after one or two threats to destroy the universe or space/time or whatever, it gets sort of boring, because you know they can’t destroy the universe because there’s going to be a season next year.
It just makes me sad to think what they could have done with this story, with this revelation of how awful and evil the Time Lords were at the end of the war, if they hadn’t needed to put it hand in hand with the threat of total destruction. How much more interesting would it have been, if the Doctor had come face to face with Rassilon and had to reenact is final decision, not because he was worried about space and time getting destroyed, but because he was once again face with the ghost of his own people becoming just as monstrous as the Daleks.
It’s obviously possible to have a lot of drama and tension and excitement without threatening to destroy the universe again. Hopefully the next round of Doctor Who scripts will keep that in mind.
1 – After seeing Rassilon being an all powerful giant bastard earlier, I was forced to wonder in this scene why, after the Doctor first pointed the gun at him, Rassilon didn’t simply pop the Doctor’s head off like he was a giant Pez dispenser.
2- My brother illustrated this point nicely last night. A not quite verbatim quote: “[Author whose name I have somehow spaced out] wrote a book where at the end he blew up the Earth. And then he wrote a sequel where at the end, he blew up the universe. And then he wrote a third book where at the end, he blew up all possible universes. After that there was nothing left to blow up, so he had to end the series.”