Doctor Who: The End of Time

Note to international readers: this review is spoiler-infested as hell.

So that was it. The end. We knew it was coming, of course, as the announcement had been made a year beforehand, but it still feels a little strange knowing that we’ve just witnessed the final performance of the best Doctor ever. Yeah, I know that’s a controversial assertion but I do speak as an old fan and I do think that David Tennant even managed to knock spots off Tom Baker’s performance. Mind you, the whole cast was in fine form for this final, epic two-parter. I’ve always loved Wilf, and Bernard Cribbins really did a brilliant turn in these episodes. I can even say that I loved John Simms’ Master and could believe him as the utterly evil villain in a way that I was never able to with his first appearance.

It appears that this story was always meant to be an utterly epic finish to see out the Tenth Doctor in a fitting style, and it does achieve the effect of the biggest televisual funeral pyre you’ll ever see for a character. The opening episode did well in terms of putting the pieces in place on the board. The set-up was all there, from the prophesies of the Ood to the wonking-great-big sci-fi machine and the placement of the villains – even the ones we didn’t know were there. The voice-over work from Timothy Dalton really helped to give a feel of build-up to an epic conclusion. The pacing of the second part gave it the feel of a denouement to the first part and the rolling balls collided wonderfully into a finale of truly grand proportions. For all that I find Murray Gold’s musical work to be sledgehammer subtle sometimes, I think he did a brilliant job that carried a television serial up to the level of a Hollywood fantasy masterpiece.

The End of Time had some brilliant touches, but ultimately I think that the script struggled under the weight of the effect it was trying to achieve. The first problem was the pacing. Given that the first part was a Christmas Day presentation, using the whole episode as a build-up to the finale rather than an adventure in itself was a little disappointing. The pace set between the two episodes would have worked better with part one on Christmas Eve and part two on Christmas Day. But given that Waters of Mars seems to have been broadcast on a different weekend to the one the production team were hoping for, maybe my criticism of the pacing of The End of Time is unfair. Outside the context of its broadcast times, the pacing of the two episodes actually worked quite well. The real script problems lie with Russell T Davies’ incorrigible habit of painting by numbers. The scenes where the Doctor chased the Master through the wasteland seemed somewhat pointless, both from the point of view of the plot as a whole and the Doctor’s own motivations. It felt as if the only purpose it served was for the two characters to have the ‘King of the Wasteland’ conversation. The screen time could have been put to better use. There was also a typical excess of the characters talking about what they were supposed to be rather than just demonstrating their personalities and being themselves. I also found myself asking why on Earth the Master wanted to transplant himself into every human being on Earth other than simply to nark the Doctor off…

The most important part of this serial, though, is the grand ending: the regeneration. I have to say that I liked the idea. Here the Doctor saves the universe yet again. Caught between a Time Lord with god-like power and one of his oldest and deadliest adversaries, it looks like he will finally be killed by the Master who knocked four times on the bin in the wasteland, or Rassilon who knocked four times through time and space. Instead, just as it all looks safe and the Tenth Doctor has survived the cataclysm, Wilf knocks four time to be let out of a chamber full of radioactive material. Perfect. A low-key ending that proves the Doctor is still everything he always stood for. It’s such a shame that the self-indulgent script writer couldn’t leave it at that.

We already had the big ending last year, when all the Doctor’s companions from the new series were gathered around the TARDIS console to save the universe together. As viewers, we really didn’t need to see the Doctor going round and saying goodbye, somehow delaying his regeneration against all reason and logic. Yes, I’m sure you could write some gobbledegook sci-fi explanation as to why it took him long enough to make at least seven trips in the TARDIS and buy a lottery ticket before he actually had to regenerate. But that doesn’t alter the fact that those scenes took away all the impact from what could have been a very powerful and poignant “death”. That counts double for the fact that most of those little goodbye scenes were comic relief rather than tear-jerkers.

The final verdict? Well, I did like The End of Time. It was an enjoyable Christmas romp and that’s what a Christmas special should be. It was a good show and, amid a full season I wouldn’t have any cause for complaint. But as a two-part goodbye to a much-loved incarnation of the Doctor, The End of Time just wasn’t quite good enough. David Tennant’s Doctor deserved better.

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~ by Scary Rob on 10 January, 2010.

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