January 4, 2010

The End of Time - And Tennant

We've been given hints all through this year that the Tenth Doctor would be regenerating. It's a standard in Doctor Who - the sense of impending doom, the stakes being that-much-higher...and with The End of Time spurring debate, discussion, with so many unanswered questions (and dangling plot lines) that it's tempting to take a hardcore this-isn't-right.

Both parts of The End of Time are rather representative of the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who - some moments of brilliance intermixed with some unbelievably poor writing. It's not like Davies hasn't written a regeneration story before, but that had a sudden shock, as the Ninth Doctor - whom the viewer was getting to know and appreciate - suddenly changed into a new man. End of Time, with all its sturm und drang about what's happening, seems slightly overstuffed - some of the plot points don't quite gel, and others are executed pitch perfectly.

First, the weaknesses - for a classic Who buff like me, there were too many nods to previous regeneration stories (like Planet of the Spiders and The Caves of Androzani. Davies also doesn't take advantage of some plot implications (at first, I thought that the Master was going to use the "Immortality Gate" to turn humanity into Time Lords), and part one is rather uneven (which, in all fairness, it should be, since it's part one of a two part episode). Various pieces of this episode simply reek of deus ex machina (yes, Donna Noble subplot, I'm talking to you) or plain just don't make sense (with the Master suddenly becoming a Spider-Man villain). Yes, the Who fan in me wants to totally dismiss this first part of the story as utter rubbish.

However, much of part two redeems it, most notably in how Davies pulls the final strand of the Great Time War. In fact, we learn pretty much what caused the Doctor to destroy both Daleks and Time Lords. (OK, they really weren't destroyed, but let's let that go, shall we...) - if anything, it affirms the Ninth Doctor's cry that "Just this one, everyone lives!". In fact, one of the things that redeems episode two (and parts of episode one) is that there are as many questions posed (such as....How is Rassilon still alive? Who is the woman in white?). In short, at times it seemed like Davies was trying to outdo The Prisoner's "Fall Out" episode...

...but when the infamous "four knocks" moment comes, the episode begins to redeem itself. Bernard Cribbins' performance serves to ground the episode - the cafe scene in episode one, and similar scenes in episode two help provide some quiet strength to the episode. (Especially, as others have noted, with Tennant, Simm, and Timothy Dalton "chewing scenery" - others' words, not mine). In fact, there's an ending series of "goodbye" scenes that, when I first watched the episode, seemed unnecessarily long, that these could have been handled much more cleanly in a montage.

However, I realized that Davies wasn't going for the easy montage - the Tenth Doctor is a Time Lord who feels as if he's gone "too far" after The Waters of Mars - who's being punished and never given his "reward" for doing the right thing. (Unlike other Doctors, the Tenth comes across in hindsight as rather immature and selfish). But the last twenty minutes serve to remind the viewer that the Doctor's ultimate reward....was a "family" of sorts. So much so that his final line is heartbreaking, stabbing to the core.

And, of course, Matt Smith's two minute "debut" is priceless - it's a great introduction for someone who is taking on the role.

Many in the blogosphere/interwebs have bitterly complained - in fact, several who initially watched and liked the Davies run have publicly stated that he "ruined" Doctor Who. The truth is - for every clunker, he has written a gem. If he hadn't insisted on taking on Who (a very unsure prospect pre-2005), we would have never seen it resume its heights.

This story, for all its faults and successes, is Russell T. Davies' legacy story...whether we like it....or not.

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