Doctor Who: The End of Time Review

Posted: January 4, 2010 in Review
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Doctor Who the End of Time Review

Part One

So here it is at last. After a year with only two episodes, one shit, one average, David Tennant’s reign as the tenth Doctor finally comes to its cataclysmic end. At the same time, the tenure of Doctor Who showrunner and head writer Russell T Davis comes to its close. Will the two manage to bow out gracefully?

After accidentally causing a woman to kill herself by messing about with time, the Doctor has followed the Ood to their home world for a council with the elders. Unfortunately, they show him a vision of what all of humanity is dreaming at nights: the Master (John Simm), returned and triumphant.
Meanwhile, Wilf (Bernard Cribbens) is being contacted by a mysterious woman who informs him of the prophecy – the Doctor will die and something will return.
Elsewhere (another word for meanwhile…) two evil black people (thank you, BBC) want the Master for their Plot Device Alien Technology.

First off, any episode that features John Simm’s utterly wonderful Master is guaranteed to be at least watchable, and this episode is no exception – it’s plenty watchable. What is a huge shame is that it never really stretches itself out to become something other than just average.

The Master’s resurrection makes next to no sense (he wrote it down? HE WROTE DOWN THE RECIPE TO LIFE AND DEATH?) and the fact that he now has the ability to shoot lightening with his hands and jump huge distances actually reduce him as a character. Here it is, folks: the Master as viewed by Tex Avery.

Tennant is as reliable as ever, with much less gurning than usual, thankfully. It’s one of the very rare instances where the Doctor seems like an underdog, as opposed to a man waiting until he can build a magic device that undoes everything. (Naturally, we all know that what’s going to happen, but it’s nice to not expect it for once.)

Bernard Cribbens’ Wilf has come on in leaps and bounds this time, presumably because he’s not saddled with trying to carry Donna (Catherine Tate) throughout every scene he stars in. Mercifully, the ginger witch herself is kept to the bare minimum of scenes, with very little dialogue. It’s like Russell T knows how awful she is and isn’t being forced to use her anymore…

The constant references to Obama are infuriating – it’s like the BBC are still amazed at a black man on TV outside BBCThree. Likewise, the stupid green aliens almost manage to ruin the entire episode simply by being there.

As with all Doctor Who two-parters, this first instalment is mostly setting up the bigger story and lots of running around, with a few silly gags thrown in for good measure. It’s not great, it’s good, and if the rest of the episode matched up with that utterly stunning cliffhanger, (your jaw might severe on the epicness of the final reveal) this would be a huge leap in quality. Unfortunately, Tennant’s swansong is off to a patchy start.

3 stars

Part Two

So… the Master has turned himself into everyone on Earth (apart from Wilf – apparently one Alien Technology trumps another), the Doctor has all but lost, Donna is about the remember the past and thus die (shame, huh?), the Time Lords are about to return from the Time War, Tennant is about to go out all guns blazing and Russell T Davis is going to craft a masterpiece for the ages! What could go wrong?

Where do we begin? To start, the previous episode clearly didn’t do enough of a job setting up the story, apparently, because the first forty-odd minutes of this episode continue the setup. The story bounces back and forth between the on going battle between the Master (all seven billion of them) and the Doctor, who does a remarkable job of running away, and the plan of the Time Lords to escape from the Time Bubble the Doctor placed them all in.

Unfortunately, what this plan does is over-explain and destroy the Master’s brilliant character. The drum beats that drove him crazy were actually a signal to get the Time Lords to returns somehow because they knew he would manage to turn himself into all the humans on the planet and triangulate the position of the magic diamond that brings them all back. Still here? Good, it’s about to get worse.

Donna, annoyingly, doesn’t die. The Doctor lied in the previous episode – she won’t die if she remembers, because he’s placed a magic widget in her head that does something in a wide radius. Still here? Really?

The green aliens return to save the Doctor before buggering off in a completely unresolved subplot. Until then, they spend their time on screen gurning, making stupid noises and flying a silly ship with an infuriating sound effect engine.

But all of this could have been forgiven. Could have been forgotten, ignored and buried just for one moment. One shining example of awesomeness that might have tipped the scales completely and seen this as possibly the best Who episode ever… Seven billion Masters, the Time Lords, led by Timothy Dalton, and the Doctor caught in the middle. It could have been brilliant. A cataclysmic showdown for all time.

But no. Russell T decided that would be far too good and instead gives Dalton a magic glove with a big undo button that erases all the extra Masters and then the Doctor shoots a computer and gets rid of all of them for good.

Yeah.

Even Tennant’s death scene is agonising – a full fifteen minutes of slow wandering to musical montages as he rubs shoulders with every single creature Russell T invented in the most hideously painful moment in all of Who history. His death doesn’t even make sense – if the Doctor’s chamber of the pod will be filled with radiation, why not just trigger it from outside with the Sonic Screwdriver?

The good points of the episode are genuine highlights – the production values are the most incredible to yet grace a British TV show, that moment when the Doctor realises his time is up (four knocks…) and Matt Smith’s scenery-chewing entrance are all great. Such a shame the rest didn’t want to be like this.

Tennant and Russell T could have gone down in history on this one. Instead, we’ll remember Tennant as the gurning clown who just wouldn’t lay down and die and Russell T as the man who solved two hours of plotting with a magic glove and a single bullet. Roll on the next series – new Doctor, new assistant, new showrunner, new Tardis, new logo. Get in.

2 stars

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Comments
  1. Alex says:

    This was the best episode of Doctor Who since the end of the Martha Jones days and the start of Ooooi! Catherine Tat’s era with the 10th Doctor.

    First I will declare my interest. I like the 10th Doctor, he is my favourite. The gurning unstoppableness of David Tennant was the only thing that kept some of the increasingly sloppy production of the episodes (from concept to execution) from being barely watchable.

    RTD has skill in keeping the series grounded within a terrestrial frame of reference with his down-home, unfortunately increasingly whimsical, earthside moments. The best examples were the first and second season Jackie Tyler moments. The “Wilf’s mates” moments of this two part end to the 10th doctor with a horny June Witfield grew out of the flawed “Donna’s family” moments which have always been balls. These oaps were caricatures out of hi-di-hi, irritated me. Wilf, being portrayed by Bernard Cribbins blew Donna out of the water as a companion, and seeing as how all he had to work with was his very competantly portrayed humanity, dignity and compassion – lacking the flaws which made most of his “insignificant” characters the butt of throwaway jokes.
    The scene in which he attempts to convince the Doctor to murder the Master and save himself is one of the finest aspects of this story. It relies heavily on Bernard Cribbins acting ability which is exemplary.

    The execution of the characterisation in this episode is good, RTD understands this character of the Doctor that he has created, this emotional Doctor who fears death and, when prompted to come to the Ood delays it in order to marry and deflower Queen Elizabeth I, and a few other throwaway comments I cant remember. It is the characterisation that saves this plot from being wholeheartedly disappointing. The Doctor’s fear, his internal battle to keep true to what he believes in, his resolve, his courage, his final moments before wilfully accepting death to save Wilf. All of this was completely true to his personality. Trying to control his emotional crisis. Shouting at Wilf, at the universe. Perfect. Perfectly in character.

    The Master’s character integrity was alright, he learns of the source of his mental problems which in some ways break his character and render him possibly unusable in future. He then attacks the source of his insanity in a rather irritating “I dont like me, and its your fault” teenage moment.
    This was in keeping with the more rounded Master portrayed in the excellent 3rd season so it was passable to believe he may have acted as he did.

    The Cactus People were mcguffins, they were bloody obvious mcguffins, if the Doctor hadnt had them he would have lost. They had no substance they were tramps with a cardboard sign saying “Plot device” round their necks. They were essentially filler, so that some budget could be used with CGI missiles and lasers, which an old man probably wouldnt have the reaction times to blow up with aforementioned lasers Russell! (Gets ranks in the RAF wrong, thinks old people can man gun turrets, there is a thing called research! Some writers actually know what they are on about). The line by wilf “Their cactuses!” “Cacti” replies the doctor, with “Thats RACIST!” by the Cactus man being a minor saving grace.

    The plot had some clever moments, RTD likes and is quite good at writing long arcs which tie things together from small bits of secondary plot. Which like everything else he does seems to bear uncanny resemblance to the storytelling style, and plots, of Chris Claremont. Read Excalibur from Marvel Comics, I’m telling you.

    Using the Master’s backstory as a means to enable the Time Lords to return was clever, quite how you make a link in time physical by chucking a diamond into a hologram is intriguing but mysterious tech has always been a prime element of Doctor Who. Though the comment about 1 Billion Years of Timelord society may have rendered the robed burks somewhat underwhelming. The first 500 million years being summed up “Invented Time Travel, had a wank.”

    Rassilon, portrayed by Timothy Dalton, the President of the Time Lords, was intriguing as I learned years ago that the founder of Time Lord society, Rassilon was reincarnated AS The Doctor. If it was the original Rassilon somehow resurrected by the Time Lords to aid in fighting the Time War then he was a fairly ruthless character. Unfortunately he didnt have much to do and had a wish-granting glove, which always bodes ill.

    It was unfortunate that it proved to be such a damp squib of a plot, the crap season finale where Davros turned up proved you could get people out of the Time War, so why not top Rassy-Boy, stick a lassoo around Gallifrey and tow it somewhere and let the Time Lords be, Doctor? I mean it would be less people to blow up wouldnt it Doctor? They wouldnt have to end the universe and live on as beings of pure consciousness then would they? Then the mysterious lady, who I think is probably his granddaughter, wouldnt have to die.

    Oh well.

    In all it had the markings of an episode that tried to be a blockbuster, but couldnt because the single result of the plot was the doctor dies. Nothing else happens. It should therefore have concentrated more closely on the personal elements, the characterisation. Brought the focus in more. That way it could have had a more satisfying yield for the audience.

    Oh and the Doctor was the one who ended the Time War by killing his race and every other bugger fighting to save everyone. Well, I wasnt shocked, were you?

    It couldnt fulfil the blockbuster promise because the creative control was being passed from one team to another and it seemed as though they were being careful not to muddy the waters for the next team. Which was LAME.

    The much criticised death scene wasnt bad in my opinion, its protracted nature seemed to me to stem from the 10th Doctor’s controlling nature, and his unwillingness to let go. The last words were, to me, hauntingly in keeping with the whole character make up of this Doctor. An emotional, controlling, manic, closed-off manchild who I felt a tremendous swell of pity for as he died. I think he had the greatest psychological authenticity of any Doctor portrayed before (save perhaps Eccleston). I will be sad not to see the 10th Doctor anymore, I think he was iconic, and should have stayed, and probably would have if he had had the support necessary from writing and production. Of course the Doctor having been cloned and put in another dimension means that David Tennant can return whenever he likes, without fan griping about “looking older being a timelord that shouldnt happen” as he is half human.

    The truth is I’m not going to make any effort to watch it any more.

  2. ad4m22 says:

    That was fantastic, mate. Although the final line is a bit harsh – there’s a whole new team working on the series, surely you want to give it a couple of episodes?

  3. Alex says:

    Watch a breathless waif in a bow tie scream geronimo and look constipated?

    At least thats what I am expecting from this:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/newyear/

    which i presume you have seen?

    Based on this….Its cold turkey for me.

    The RTD Who was like a lower medium quality chris claremont X-Men/Excalibur plot on the telly which for me was always a draw. Time to give up the Doctor. Unless you tell me its good. In which case I will bow to pear pressure like a ho-bag and suckle on the sickly teet of MoffDoc.

  4. ad4m22 says:

    …I have just seen it. Aside from the Doctor punching someone, firing a gun, getting into all sorts of romantic clinches, the green aliens, the Weeping Angels and the sodding Daleks, I liked it.

    I will let you know what I think of it.

  5. Alex says:

    He seems to be doing a Peter Davidson impersonation. Lots of “oooh ahhh, i’m young i am”.

    Well the thing is that every regeneration seems to make him immune to what killed him before, in personality if not in body, in a way. His personalities seem to evolve, for example Tennant’s Doctor probably wouldnt have gotten into the situation that killed Eccleston because Eccleston was very lonely and depressed and hiding it, and not very into life, and was so disorganised and at a low ebb sometimes that he seemed kind of almost relieved to die.

    Tennant was craftier and more cunning, seemed to play act chaotic, which granted Eccleston did too, so it just seems that the doctor changes to make himself immune to what killed him. Matt Smith’s gun firing may be a response to not getting himself out of the situation which he could have done by blowing away the Master.

    Just a thought.

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