The End of Time
|Production Code||Specials Four and Five|
|Dates||December 25 2009 and January 1 2010|
With David Tennant,
Written by Russell T Davies Directed by Euros Lyn
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.
|Synopsis: There is something emerging from the darkness that will lead to the end of time itself.|
A Review by Scott Williams 18/6/10
Where do I start? With the good or the bad? There is so much of both in these two episodes. Plus a lot of missed opportunities. But equally a lot of memorable and touching moments!
Firstly, the mighty Cribbins steals the show in every scene he is in and even manages to steal the thunder from David Tennant on many occasions. Tennant nonetheless is superb throughout. Simm's Master is equally impressive although somewhat underused/misused. The Naismiths are possibly the most forgettable characters in the history of Who with an equally forgettable motive/part/point in the overall narrative. Also, Timothy Dalton is great as the Narrator but again is totally underused. If you manage to get a James Bond actor to appear in Doctor Who in an episode that is the swansong of one of the most popular Doctors, then please give them a more potent role. A bit more of purposeful screen time! However, I personally love the woman. You know the one I mean. I love the ambiguity of it all. Who is she? The Doctor obviously knows her. But who is she? And why did she always appear to Wilf? Doctor Who and the character himself should always be shrouded in mystery and this adds a lot to it (something that was drastically lost during the 80's).
The vinvocci characters were a bit silly and were basically played for laughs, which I think jarred with the rest of the story's epic and spectacular vibe. And Donna's brainstorm solution to remembering her time with the Doctor was a classic RTD resolution.
As touching and amazing as the last 15 minutes were, I wish there had been some kind of on-screen explanation as to why it took the 10th Doctor so long to regenerate! Surely a plausible reason could have been that he held back the regenerative process but a side effect was the destructive regeneration process that occurred in the TARDIS and resulted in its final crash course towards Earth.
Overall though, a great couple of episodes, and a great introductory scene for Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor. A promising start for a promising Doctor. Tennant will of course be missed and remembered with love for his portrayal, but I can't help but think that both he and RTD chose the exact right time to depart. Quit while you're on top, right?
P.S. I totally loved the reference to Donna's father giving the Doctor a pound to buy a lottery ticket. Pure sentimental genius!
A Review by Alexander Sigsworth 3/2/11
Anticipation rose on the day of the broadcast of The End of Time. After what seemed to be the end for the Doctor after The Waters of Mars, events soon kicked off without any friendly introductions. Now I like that! The TARDIS in the church window was definitely a point that I do not have an opinion on, although 'the Woman' is someone of much debate. Russell T. Davies has confirmed her identity, saying that she is whoever we believe her to be. Do you want to know what I think? I think she is the White Guardian. There was one moment when I believed that she could be Romana, but I quickly dissmissed the idea.
The visions of the future did also not disappoint, as this shows that the entire episode is building up to something. With Ood Sigma declaring that the Doctor will die in Planet of the Ood and Carmen warning him of the four knocks, the final prophecy is in place: the End of Time itself. In the words of Peter Cushing, 'most exciting'. And only within the first five minutes.
As if that was not enough, I find the answer to the question that has plauged me since Last of the Time Lords: Who picked up the Master's ring? I knew that Mr. Davies had confirmed who did not pick up the ring but, when I found out who did, I found myself on the excitement that is Doctor Who!
It was also nice to see the return of Lucy Saxon. Nice to know about what happened to her as well as not having her in to complicate matters. Although I must admit, the Master's return was much like Voldemort from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
The highlight of the episode was definitely 'Minnie the Menace'. I can bet David didn't expect Ms. Whitfield to be doing 'that' with him when he was watching Terry and June during his youth!
Of course, I completely broke down during the cafe scene. Donna makes me want to go and help her and free her from her imprisonment of normal life. Still, could be worse. Probably not, actually. Never mind.
What's with the Master all of a sudden anyway? Flying and eating like a maniac? Before he was crazy, now he is insane! Out of all the villains, the Master wipes the floor with them all! I'm even tempted to say that I prefer the Master to the Doctor. And I give in to that temptation.
It should still be said that everything was a bit convienient for the Master. A huge Gate he could use to turn all humans into himself, the original species that owned it not able to do anything with it - and yet, within a minute, the Master has reprogrammed it! Once again, a great plot hole from the amazing Russell T. Davies, everybody!
Still, the Vinvocci were actually not that unamusing.
I must admit, however, everyone becoming the Master really was not impressive at all. In fact the only good cliffhanger of this true two-parter was the return of the Time Lords. Although, I could have sworn that the final shot was also from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
The time had come for the end of the Doctor's tenth incarnation. (Although Patrick Troughton plays Mr. MacDonald under the table to start off with, he remains my favourite.) Still, I find the Time Lord High Council and the last day of the Last Great Time War more satisfying than I could ever believe. More to the point, finding the origin of 'the drums' was something that was most neccesery. But still, I could here the Narrator in my head 'This was the day that an entire nation tuned in to watch the very end of all things. This was the day that a role model was lost to society, as fantics from all over the country and admirers from from and wide gathered to watch their hero die. This day was when the history of the Whoniverse was changed forever.'
And wasn't it just!
The return of the Time Lords was positive, but Gallifrey appearing in the sky was half and half: The prophecy of 'it' returning was Gallifrey in the end and, well, as soon as the Doctor said so, the fingers snapped. Gallifrey appearing in the sky, however, was just not called for, we had enough of that during the Medusa Cascade incident. Apart from the fact a great big planet right next to our own would rip ours apart anyway. Still, the Master getting hs revenge for the torture he suffered blew me away; I was egging him on all the way, let me tell you! Then, the knocking came... The true fate of the Doctor was something I had not really thought about; I asumed the Master would shoot him down or something similar. Still, the farewell to all the companions was amazing, - and especially Rose! (Although her teeth have some major discontinuity now).
Nevertheless, the Doctor's farewell scene was the greatest in the history of the Whoniverse itself! The Ood singing him into death, the Doctor's theme ringing in the background, even begging himself not to 'go'. But he regenerated ultimatly, and I uttered the words, 'Well, here we go again!' An homage to the Brigadier. I also forgot that a new TARDIS would debut; the cause of this was quickly explained. As usual, the regeneration was as exciting as ever - and when Matt Smith emerged from a volcano of regeneration energy, I actually shouted out 'It's Matt Smith!' Suprisingly, I found that he was not only not prepared for in my predictions, but he was more impressive than I first imagined. Either way, the first episode of series five will be one of those '(re)establishment' episodes. Nevertheless, I know I shall be watching as I always have!
"Critical mass" by Thomas Cookson 29/3/15
I'm not immune to this story's big budget cinematic fanfare, hyperactive exhilaration and fangasm mid-cliffhanger. Sometimes I still dig this out for a quick fix.
Nonetheless, the retroactive damage it does to the show's mythos almost single-handedly undoes all of RTD's previous good work.
Given that Christmas specials usually attract new viewers, it's inevitable Waters of Mars' bell tolling cliffhanger would be ignored in favour of skipping several years where the Doctor has since been partying like there's no tomorrow. Also the timelessly iconic TARDIS has a car lock now. For that alone, Russell deserves a month in the stocks.
Tennant labours the gag awkwardly, overexplaining the joke like a rubbish stand-up comedian who should get off stage.
So since Series 3's finale, Lucy Saxon was imprisoned in a hellish women's jail run by the Master's mad acolytes who get zero explanation for their insane motivations. By the Doctor's admission, this wasn't Lucy's fault. So why didn't he take her somewhere to get help where she wouldn't face a life imprisonment, as if she hadn't already suffered enough? No, he was too busy partying and deflowering virgin queens. RTD's fans don't tend to think about his stories' implications. Perhaps they're too ugly to face.
Anyhow a battle of protracted, convoluted expositioning ensues, Lucy sacrifices herself, but the Master survives. He's sought out by the Naismiths, who have a skin-crawlingly creepy incestuous undertone. They need him to operate the Immortality Gate. A rehash of Doomsday's dimensional portal. And fans accuse Moffat of reusing the same ideas.
I've never liked the suggestion that the Doctor cares more about the Master's wellbeing than his victims. Plenty of classic stories (Mind of Evil, Planet of Fire) suggest the old Doctor would've happily booted his corpse. But here the Doctor seeks him out, offering to help him? Even knowing the Master's now a deadly parasite sucking on the life force of innocents. We're supposed to believe the Doctor's in fear of his life by this man and what he's been forewarned. Surely self-preservation dictates eliminating the Master's the best option.
Why must RTD give the Master superpowers of flying and shooting lightning bolts? The old Master never needed that. He had subtlety, deviousness and hypnotic charm. Turning the Master into something he's not begs the question why use the Master at all? So for this important final Tennant story, instead of getting creative and going somewhere new and exciting, RTD delivers another rehash fight with the Master. Only this time there are thousands of them.
The Doctor's interrupted by a gang of randy pensioners, in what's supposed to be an endearing comedy moment but is actually quite creepy, uncomfortable viewing as they outright sexually harass him.
The cafe scene with Wilf is poignant. Then Donna shows up, behaving as a loud reductio ad absurdum, shouting at traffic wardens. Wilf urges the Doctor that maybe meeting Donna again might cheer him up, despite having been told it could kill his granddaughter. They're not even pretending there was ever any danger of Donna's brains frying are they?
The comical caricature that Donna was reduced to in Journey's End actually struck a tragic note. But seeing her here, she only works as a comical caricature. She becomes just another dead joke RTD can't resist flogging. There's actual fanfic that's done far more interesting things with a post-Journey's End Donna just by treating her as an actual flesh and blood character, trying to understand what happened in her life during that missing year and wondering if she was meant for greater things. Comparatively, what RTD does with her is pitiful and contemptuous. It seems, based on his fannish conceit, that everyone's a stupid, limited selfish nobody until the Doctor makes them better. All he can do is reverse that character arc with Donna 'untouched' by the Doctor.
What was the point of not-Obama's presence? Was it in any way topical? Is this just like random fanfiction where Stalin makes an appearance for no reason? And I refuse to believe Russell understands people if he really thinks Donna's family are expecting Obama to end the recession overnight. People aren't that naive or gullible, Russell.
And then the Time Lords appear. And Timothy Dalton is fantastic and bombastic.
But this leads to the real critical mass. This story single-handedly demystifies the Time War. Only Timothy Dalton is making an effort to act like this is a desperate situation. The rest of the table, the mad Sister of Karn excepted, seem very formal bordering on bored about the whole affair. One of them even suggests letting the Daleks kill them all wouldn't be so bad. In the final irony, Russell, purported to be the one who made Doctor Who emotional and believable, presents the Time Lords as the worst kind of soulless ciphers in a situation where they should all be losing their nerves. Oh but we learn it's a war without consequence where anyone who dies just gets brought back.
I used to care about the Doctor's loss of his home. Now I learn it wasn't a war worth caring about that ever happened to any real, believable people. And worse, RTD's burnt the bridge so that no one in future can write a decent story out of it that could ever carry dramatic weight.
In between this, the Doctor's strapped down by the Master and tries to appeal to him with flattery. "You could be beautiful" he says to the mass murderer. This is actually morally disgusting. Sure in The Sea Devils and Genesis of the Daleks, the Doctor wasn't above buttering up to a reprehensible, powerful man's ego in order to persuade them to do a good deed and relent from war. He suggests to Davros that he could use his intellect to make the Daleks a force for good. He promises "Walker the peace-maker they'd call you." But in each case it felt like the Doctor was begrudgingly being condescending to unpleasant, selfish man-children by offering them a treat if they'll be good. This is just the Doctor being obsequious.
A chase ensues that microcosmically captures the RTD era. RTD's praised for his fast-paced, exhilarating writing, but really his era's only been running in circles fast. The Doctor takes the ship away from the Naismith mansion, breaks it, fixes it, then takes it back to the mansion. He might as well have stayed put.
Incidentally, Bernard Cribbins pretty much saves any rotten line RTD gives him. Consider the line "You're the most wonderful man and I don't want you to die," which on paper is awful, but Cribbins performs it so well it becomes beautiful. Rarely has a Who actor made so much out of so little.
There are things I love about the action climax, with Wilf as Luke Skywalker firing the port lasers, the Doctor's death dive where it briefly looks like he's going to deliberately crash the ship. The fact he lands through glass and finally takes some serious bodily damage. If there's pain, then there's visceral impact and suspense. The fact the Time Lords appear ethereal and ghost-like. Like a memory the Doctor can't banish. A deadly memory in all the ways Donna's weren't. How when his typical pacifist preaching and pleading fails, with the universe in danger, he suddenly becomes a stripped-down, cold, mute assassin, blankly deciding which of the two men to kill. An all-too-brief insight into the Tenth Doctor's underlying alien psychology and hidden depths. And I'm intrigued by what Romana's telepathic message was.
Even the choice is stupid though. If killing the Master will break the link, why was Rassilon going to kill him? Can't Russell even keep a script consistent for five seconds?
But in spite of Timothy Dalton giving this undue credibility, this is an offensive mischaracterisation of the Time Lords. Sometimes I think RTD gets too much credit for the Time War idea, which is actually a rip-off from the old Audio Visuals tapes. He's also not the first Who writer to try to rule future visits to Gallifrey out (see Logopolis, Trial). But now he has the idea of the Daleks and Time Lords mutually destroyed in a war to save the universe. An event that's seemed inevitable ever since Genesis. Yet he couldn't resist envisioning the fanboyish idea of 'hey, wouldn't it be cool if it turned out it was actually the Time Lords that were the worser baddies all along?'
That's the level of thought here. Along with RTD's atheist agenda, rewriting the Time Lords into a bunch of religious fanatic universal suicide bombers wanting to ascend to heaven. The old Time Lords were corrupt and self-serving, but by necessity. Because their society was incapable of changing for the better. They weren't insane, and never would it suit their self-interests to destroy the universe and themselves with it. But RTD deals only in hyperbole. In absurd melodramatic leaps.
So there was never any cost to the Time War. We lost two evil species that the universe would be better off without. Yes the Time Lords were supposedly a once-great race corrupted by war, but we're not shown how it led to this madness, or given a reason to care. This pretty much completes Eccleston's erasure from the show's lore. Now the Ninth Doctor's greatest crime and most defining act was never a moral dilemma at all and came at no moral cost. It makes even Dalek a weaker story that's no longer half as mythic or evocative, because its mythology's been overwritten and eroded by someone who clearly doesn't understand war.
RTD's been vaunted for destroying Gallifrey and thus dumping a boatload of continuity. Turns out he did it because he doesn't understand how to write the Time Lords. Given my problems with Eccleston's unpleasant regressive characterisation, I tried believing the Doctor was changed by traumatic war, but this confirmed my suspicions that RTD never really knew what actually happened to make the Doctor like this. It was made up as he went along.
As for "Look at you, not remotely important", I suspect even people who defend it found it uncomfortably difficult to process. Would RTD dare write this line from the Doctor to Rose or Donna? Wilf was the most loyal and noble one. The Doctor called him for help. Wilf stood by his side even when he thought he was going to die, when the Doctor was seemingly going to crash the ship. And Wilf ended up in the cabinet by doing the decent thing to release a trapped technician.
And our 'noble' Doctor in reply tells him how worthless he is and how guilty he should feel. Does anyone dare think this 'enriches' the character? It's a "this is the reason why you suck" speech, only disgustingly reversed.
By the old show's serial nature, the Doctor often had to act and think based on immediately remembered events from that serial and little more. It's partly why the Doctor never raises the issue to Gharman of Davros betraying his city back in episode 3. We accepted this unspoken rule because it maintained the Doctor's easygoing, forgiving nature that didn't hold grudges. I'll never forgive Warriors of the Deep for turning this on its head just to make the Doctor unprecedentedly vindictive. 25 years later and RTD's brought us right back there. It could only be worse if Wilf actually died whilst the Doctor was busy ranting.
The self-indulgent farewell tour feels coldly redundant after Journey's End and The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith. Only Ms Redfern's is worth keeping. Donna's happy ending was admittedly nice, and revisiting 2005 made me sorely nostalgic. But it goes on so long it's impossible to believe he's actually dying.
All RTD ever did was force his unpleasant personality onto the show. He understood two things about Doctor Who: fandom's taboos about the character, and how to upset them. The real Doctor would've gone out with dignity. Not the most obnoxiously whiny final words ever.
This song is ending. But the story never ends. by Evan Weston 29/11/16
After more than 40 reviews, we've finally reached the end of the Russell T Davies era in Doctor Who. With that also comes the end of David Tennant's reign as the Time Lord, replaced at the end of the episode by Matt Smith. I'll have much more to say about Davies and Tennant at the end of this review, as I did for Christopher Eccleston (jeez, remember him?), Billie Piper and Freema Agyeman, but suffice to say this is a fine story for the two to go out on. Seems I forgot to write about Catherine Tate at the end of The Stolen Earth/Journey's End. Oh well.
Anyhoo, Tate shows up briefly in The End of Time, giving way to Bernard Cribbins as her kind-hearted grandfather, Wilfred Mott. It's about time Wilf got to star in his own story, and it's fitting that he receive the last one in more ways than one. It's quite possible that Wilf is my favorite recurring character on the whole show; he's such a genuinely nice and understanding man, and Cribbins injects a vulnerability into him that always makes me feel his sadness. These qualities are put to fantastic use in The End of Time, as Wilf attempts to use his wisdom and kindness to guide the Doctor through one of his toughest trials. A normal companion would not have been able to offer the kind of support Wilf gives the Doctor here, and it's wonderful to see Davies making the proper choice. It doesn't hurt that Cribbins outdoes himself, matching and perhaps even surpassing John Simm as the story's best guest star.
Well, no, that's a lie. Simm delivers an unbelievable performance in his second go-around as the Master, whom I previously named the greatest Doctor Who villain of all time. The Master's character isn't quite as well served here as he was in Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords, but Simm is maybe even better than he was in that three-parter. Here, he has to play a zillion different Masters simultaneously talking to each other and themselves, and he manages to make it work. You also have to imagine he had some fun dressing up in all of the different costumes. But Simm's real masterstroke (heh) is bringing forth the character's sympathetic side in a way that's subtle enough for him to remain utterly repulsive. Even at the end, when the Master saves the Doctor, Simm plays it for purely selfish reasons, and it's hard to ever envision the Master in an anti-hero role going forward.
I did say, though, that the character ends up getting a bit of the short stick, and that's one of the problems with The End of Time. The Master's resurrection sequence is the worst in the episode by a long shot: the "Secret Books of Saxon" or whatever that made me cringe multiple times, and Lucy's long-winded explanation for why she just happened to have an antidote handy was plenty of reason for a facepalm. The hunger caused by the resurrection-gone-wrong often comes off as unintentionally funny: playing it straight at first is perhaps Simm's only poor choice in the episode, though it's clear Davies wanted him to remind viewers of Heath Ledger's Joker. The constant cackling and smiling make that obvious, as well. We also know from about the halfway point that the Time Lords are going to end up as the primary foe, cheapening the Master a bit. Still, it's great to have him back, and it's a shame Steven Moffat hasn't yet tried his hand at adapting the character.
The Master problems tend to blend in with general plot issues, and this story feels very much like the second two-thirds of the Series 3 finale in terms of pace and plotting. A lot of things just happen because they need to happen, and there's a significant amount of technobabble. We have the Immortality Gate that drives the plot, the White Point Star that comes to give it an assist and the absolutely meaningless Naismiths, who do nothing but serve to bring about a setting for all of this nonsense. There's also a lot of prophesying going on, with the Doctor strangely taking it all at face value. But I suppose when confronted with imminent death you accept that stuff.
Fortunately, there's a good deal more to praise than criticize. Simm and Cribbins are spectacular, but Timothy Dalton puts in a stellar performance alongside them as the villainous Rassilon, hell bent on bringing his civilization out of the Time War and into a higher state of being. I'm not sure Dalton's character needed to be Rassilon, as his history in Doctor Who canon is pretty complex, but it's not hard to see him turning heel when faced with true mortality for the first time in his life. His "thank you for your opinion" incineration is one of the best villain moments to ever occur on the show. The supporting cast also gets a great turn from Jacqueline King in her last appearance as Sylvia Noble, and I guess Catherine Tate is serviceable as Donna. Unfortunately, the Vinvocci don't do much for me, though it was cool to see Sinead Keenan capitalizing on her turn in Being Human.
The story proper may be a bit loose, but it doesn't lack for jaw-dropping moments. The Master's ominous clanging on the garbage can in the junkyard is chilling, as is his later conversation with the Doctor in which the latter hears the drums for the first time. The Master's mass conversion of the population is insanely fun to watch, capped off by his cheesy yet hilarious "Master race!" line. The final action sequence onboard the Vinvocci ship is marvelous, and then the Mexican stand-off between the Doctor, the Master and Rassilon is a moment filled with nerve-wracking tension, even though we know the Doctor would never actually shoot either of his opponents.
The story also makes room for some great character development between the Doctor and Wilf, taking advantage of its quieter moments to really expand on the characters. The cafe scene between the Doctor and Wilf is heartbreaking, with the Doc revealing just how terrified he is of death. This makes particular sense for the Tenth Doctor, who showed a lust for life that outpaced all of his previous incarnations. He also references his recent villainous turn as Time Lord Victorious at least twice, setting up his unwillingness to truly challenge his fate. The scene in which Wilf knocks on the glass is devastating, not to mention a brilliant bait and switch by Davies. The Doctor says some hurtful things to Wilf, but only out of utter despair. This is perfectly symbolic of both the good and bad sides of the Tenth Doctor: his arrogance and self-centeredness are on full display, but he's so unapologetically emotional and honest that we forgive him for his flaws.
Now with the story proper addressed, it's time we turn our attention to those controversial final fifteen minutes, known colloquially as the Doctor's reward. The first time I watched this, I started bawling almost immediately and did not stop until well after the episode was over. I had to take a break from the show for a few weeks, unwilling to move on to Smith. The goodbyes get progressively sadder, and, as self-indulgent as it may be, I can't help but lap it all up. This time around, I made it until he tells Rose "you're gonna have a really great year", and then I lost it until the finish. The Ood's song and repurposing of the Tenth Doctor's theme over the regeneration is gorgeous, rising to meet Tennant's last, gasping "I don't want to go," clearly the actor speaking over the character. It's impossible not to hurt.
David Tennant, while not quite an actor of Christopher Eccleston's or even Matt Smith's talents, is an incredibly important figure in Doctor Who's history. His tenure took the show from surprise revival hit to global phenomenon, creating an entirely new generation of Whovians who have come to love the show. He developed phenomenal chemistry with almost all of his co-stars, most significantly Billie Piper and antagonist Simm. Neither Eccleston or Smith ever appeared to have as much fun as Tennant has in the role, and it's clear that playing the Doctor is David's dream job. While Eccleston only stopped by for 13 episodes and Smith used the role as a stepping stone to Hollywood, the Doctor will always be the pinnacle of Tennant's career, and that's something special. He just seemed to like it the most, and it comes through on screen. He also clearly charmed the public at large more than he charmed me; perhaps my diminished (though still very warm) feelings are due less to Tennant's acting and more to the Tenth Doctor's rather more inconsistent writing compared to his predecessor and successor. But Tennant's Doctor is almost universally regarded as the most popular and iconic version of the character, and he deserves immense credit for that.
Perhaps the only figure more important to the current state of Doctor Who is Russell T Davies. I've given lavish praise and harsh criticism to Davies, whose scripts were constantly inconsistent and whose idea of scale and political commentary was comical at best. But Davies knows what makes characters tick, how people think and how change occurs organically, and he brings these qualities to Doctor Who, helping it emerge from its geek niche to become a mainstream success. The Moffat era almost assuredly has better plots and ideas, but the Davies era is so obviously more fun and more passionate that I tend to lean in its direction. His treatment of romance, tragedy and life and death resonates with me in a way that I never expected from this show. The End of Time is a fitting capper on all of these central themes, and, despite its numerous and sometimes appalling flaws, I find it hard to think of a better way for Davies to have left. It seems quite fitting, in the end.
Ranking the Stories: Series 4/Specials
Ranking the Supporting Characters: Series 4/Specials
Ranking the Villains: Series 4/Specials
*from the Specials
SERIES GRADE: C
SERIES GRADE w/SPECIALS: C+