The End of Time, Part Two

The Doctor dies!

Not many TV shows get to kill off their main character and yet also keep him around for next year. When I first discovered Doctor Who, I was absolutely thrilled by the idea of regeneration, and soon became quite tragically dedicated to seeing all six transformations from Doctor to Doctor.1 But I was in for disappointments. Firstly, one of them didn’t even properly exist as it had been purged from the BBC’s leaky archives. One of them happened effectively off-screen. One was triggered by a fall from an exercise bike. As I got older it amazed me that they hadn’t made a little more of it, that they hadn’t always realised what an intensely dramatic event it was.

But one can go too far. Perhaps ‘The End of TIme’ does. I guess we’ve all got to find our limits, and it’s not like Davies had any time left.2

It is a big deal. David Tennant’s arguably been the first Doctor to catch the public imagination solidly since Tom Baker.3 He deserves a good send-off. And there are some absolutely tremendous elements to ‘The End of Time Part Two’. But there’s also some massive disappointments. As far as big, rollicking adventures go, it’s probably Davies’ best since ‘Doomsday’. As is Davies’ tendency, it goes in completely different directions to its previous part, despite sharing its name. Which works both for and against it.

I’ve got headings today. The thing was getting so very long. It’s hard to keep it under control. Clearly I’ve lost my reviewing mojo and can no longer structure something longer than four paragraphs. But in my defense, last episodes are tricky. If I’ve got anything to say about Davies and Tennant, I’ve got to squeeze it in here.4

A Few Silly Plot Points That Didn’t Go Anywhere

Before I get onto the meat of the story, I’d like to take a look at the things that appear in part one and are completely discarded in part two. Firstly, the Ood. Well, not completely but very nearly. Who’s accelerating their development? Um. Why are they getting bad dreams? Er. Then there’s the Silver Cloak, though in fairness, the second their bus drove away for the final time it was clear they weren’t returning. Most glaring of all, Naismith and his daughter, perhaps the most pointless characters in the last five years of Doctor Who. There’s no question that they all serve their respective purposes, but it just seems a little messy to have them all dangling about with no resolution or interest as the story continues.

The Master and the Doctor

I was grumpy after ‘The Last of the Time Lords’, but the previous story did a lot to satisfy the part of me that longed for a solid Doctor/Master story. Part Two hits it out of the park. The Master usually makes the Doctor look dull in comparison, but not this week. Add to that the fun of having the psychotic Time Lord just a little tempted by the Doctor’s pleas, and suddenly their relationship has gained a lot of the tension that made the Master so interesting back in the old days.5 And finally, there’s the sheer wonderfulness of the Master’s final exit from the series; saving the Doctor while taking his sweet revenge. Oh alright, I know, he’ll be back one day. But for once, his death actually feels like it would make a decent ending to his terrible story.

Use of Weapons

There’s a few sacred cows in Doctor Who, and some of the fun of the new series has been watching Davies joyfully play with them. But one we hadn’t gotten to was “The Doctor never uses guns”, and it seems fitting to address the issue in the story that takes us all the way back to the Time War. In a conversation that would’ve seemed pat with any other companion, the old soldier Wilf pleads with the Doctor to take a gun into battle against the Master. Tennant and Cribbins are yet again perfectly matched, and the Doctor’s restrained emotion is some of the best work Tennant’s done. But it’s the closure of the scene that seals it as one of the finest moments in Who. Suddenly it becomes clear where the Doctor’s line is. No matter how bad things get, he doesn’t carry guns because he’s not at war. Or at least, he wasn’t until just now.

The Decision and the Door

There’s two big endings to this story, and one of them goes on a bit. It’s clearly Doctor Who‘s attempt to be The Return of the King. One ending sees off the danger, and one sees off the Doctor. They’re both good, but they’re both frustratingly flawed.

The first puts the Doctor into the position where he’s stuck between two horrible choices. Kill the Master or kill Rassilon? It’s always fun to throw the smug bastard into a situation like that. And then, he finds the unpredictable third solution. So far, so good. Except, the solution isn’t unpredictable. In fact, the only reason the audience themselves haven’t thought of it is that the dialogue leading up to it implies that it’s not an option. And so, what should be an heroic, glorious moment is slightly underwhelmed by head-scratching.

Oh yeah, and Gallifrey actually physically returns for about seven seconds, presumably giving everyone on Earth a particularly epic case of deja vu. But then, it’s the real finish… The four knocks.

Before I get to them though, let’s have a quick talk about doors. If you want to make a door that looks airtight, forbidding, immovable and ominous, why make a door that looks about as flimsy as an office cubicle? A door where you can see the gaps between the frame and the door? I don’t understand it, and I don’t want to get hung up on it, but it seems a rare disappointment from the generally awesome designs in this series.

Wilf and the Doctor’s moments together here are excellently played out. It’s moving stuff, and having the whole situation boil down to saving one life is especially nice after the series’ recent tendency to raise the stakes to higher and higher levels. The Doctor collapses, coils in a ball. Here it comes. Regeneration. Oh no, wait, no it doesn’t. Somehow the Tenth Doctor manages to go walkies first. What a lucky bastard.

Death of a Doctor

I’m divided on the coda. As the Doctor visits his old friends one last time, the distance and silence between them makes it seem alright that he’s still wandering about. He’s on death’s door. He’s barely alive. And then, he starts talking to Wilf, having proper chats, and not seeming particularly deathly at all. The tension rather seeps away at this point, and doesn’t come back until the end of his (admittedly very touching) chat with young Rose in 2005. He’s stretched it out, and it’s finally catching up with him. He’s struggling towards the TARDIS. Alone, at last, dying in the snow. And then the fucking Ood turn up. Because the only thing more poetic than the Doctor dying alone in the snow is the Doctor dying with an alien with spaghetti for a mouth singing at him.

In another move that frustrates my desire for a proper, moving Doctor-death, once the Ood sing their merry song, the Doctor is almost healthy again. He wanders back into his TARDIS and has the strength to shrug off his coat, looking more like he’s having a sulk than dying. And then he has a little cry and whinges at the universe before the moment finally takes him.

In the end, it’s all too much for me. Farewells, singing aliens, carefully chosen last words, lottery tickets, overly dramatic music cues. The actual drama of the thing drowns. There’s some gold in the last ten minutes of ‘The End of Time’, but in many ways it makes me long for the days when the Doctor died in a simpler fashion, and I never expected that. But my issues aren’t enough to ruin the story for me. This is the episode where the Doctor fell through a glass window and pulled a gun on Rassilon. Where the Master and the Doctor teamed up for one last time. Where the Doctor sacrificed himself for a brave old man. It’s an awesome story, and what a relief that is, because Davies and Tennant deserved to go out on a high.

  1. I also briefly became obsessed with seeing the Bond movie where Sean Connery changed into George Lazenby. Don’t laugh! As I understand it, explaining it as plastic surgery was briefly considered.
  2. For those who care, my favourite regenerations are 9-10, 5-6, and 4-5 in that order.
  3. It makes me wonder how he’ll be described down the track. Baker’s “The one in the scarf.” Will Tennant be “That cute thin one?” Every woman I talk to seems remarkably disappointed by the new guy based only on looks.
  4. Or here.
  5. The old, old days that is. The Master spent much of 1974-1989 as a complete loon, but was considerably more interesting in his earlier appearances. Here endeth the geek lesson.
It's not like I'm an innocent. I've taken lives. And I got worse, I got clever. Manipulated people into taking their own. Sometimes I think a Time Lord lives too long. — The Doctor

4 Responses to “The End of Time, Part Two”

  1. Excellent review! Although the fourth to fifth regeneration was awful wasn’t it? I’m surprised it’s made your top three. Seriously, he fell from some monkey bars in a really lame fashion. What about 8-9?

  2. Thanks Jackson. Thanks Carmelo. Though I may delete you Carmelo. It’s not personal.

    Everything once he’s on the ground in 4-5 is damn cool. I like the music and the flashing back, and the final line, for some reason. But, er, yes, it is quite seriously lame just before that, which I was conveniently forgetting.

    Ah, 8-9. Shrouded in mystery. I hope we never see that one. It can’t possibly be as awesome as it is in my head.

  3. My error – I meant 7th to 8th.

    I briefly thought your brain was ignoring the telemovie as canon (which I think sadly, it is) but then realised I was being a tool.

  4. I quite like 7-8. It was about time the smug bastard got shot completely randomly. Although it’d have more impact if 6-7 didn’t exist. Plus the actual death and resurrection was quite amusing.

    What a failure that was. Even given that you didn’t have 6, surely that just meant you could find something really horrible to do off-screen to him. A fall from an exercise bike just undermines the Doctor’s heroism.