Thursday, August 19, 2010

Doctor Who: The End of Time, a review

Finally watched The End of Time and am (after a slight delay) catching up on my Doctor Who reviews, bringing them up to date and to a close (unless and until I watch the Christmas Special or check out an old Doctor Who).  There are spoilers ahead and some quite thorough ranting, so be warned.

Short response: Ick. Ack. Ptooey. AAAUGGH!

I waited to see this until after I'd finished the fifth season, and I still don't know if that were wise or not. On the one hand, I had the assurance that there was a Doctor in my future and one that I like very much indeed. On the other, it was a crashing come down.

The specials have never been my favorite episodes, and this one is worse than most. The plot makes no sense and  utterly fails to cohere.  Part One: The Master is back! Don't ask how. It involves some sort of memory left on his wife's lips, some implausible planning on his part, some strange foresight on hers, makes even less sense than Who science usually does, and is silly without being amusing. Anyway, he's back, and he's suddenly super-powered, bouncing all over the place and shooting out sizzling bolts of lightning when the Doctor tries to chase him down.  And then the Master manages to replace every human except for Wilf and Donna with himself (Kind of, sort or replaces them--they all look like him & act like him, but they aren't thinking with a group mind and aren't quite him because they take orders from the central him and wouldn't if they were really him because he doesn't take orders and...I'm over-thinking this, aren't I?). Conveniently, there are two aliens-pretending-to-be-human hanging out in the self-same building, and they help the Doctor get away/work to foil the Master's Evil plans, even better: Donna is on the loose.

All of which promptly doesn't matter because by Part Two, Donna faints before she can do anything at all and it turns out that really, the story is about the Return of the Time Lords who were only mostly dead and not even a little bit nice.

They try to take over the universe, or maybe just the earth, and everyone is terribly interested in the Doctor's psychology to the point where both the Master and the Lord of the Time Lords (High Chancellor? President? Dictator? I forget) stand around discussing which of them he'll shoot rather than doing the sensible thing and hitting him over the head before proceeding with their respective evil schemes.  This gives the Doctor time to do something clever, foil the time lords, and let the Master slip away to scheme again another day.

After which, the Doctor thinks he's off the hook and doesn't have to die after all, but Wilf was stuck in a radioactive chamber and knocks four times to get someone to let him out (What would have happened if he'd stopped at three? Or gone ahead and rapped five times? He could've--he knew the prophecy--the Doctor specifically told him that bit), and the Doctor gives up his life to save Wilf, does a quick trip through time and space to see his friends and distribute a few final gifts (1). Then, having found out he could not live, he dies.

Have I pointed out yet that the plot of this particular Special makes no sense and  utterly fails to cohere? Just in case: The plot makes no sense and utterly fails to cohere. It's a self-indulgent bundle of "scenes" designed to be shocking and/or pathetic that often descends to bathos. Donna does nothing. Mystery lady who pops up to warn Wilf of unspecified things remains a mystery and is even more useless than the usual "mysterious figure with strange warnings." The Master's return is pointless, which is a pity; I like the Master, on the whole.

I also hate the "Obi Wan school of truth" more than I can say. All through the last several seasons, anyone who asked and a good many people who didn't were told, with no qualifications, that the Time Lords were dead. Really dead. All dead. All of them. Then, with no warning, it turns out that this was only true "from a certain point of view." Now what do I do when I rewatch Dalek? It's already been weakened by the infinite return of the Dalek race, but the thought that the Ninth Doctor really believed that his people had died to eliminate the Daleks still remained powerful. Now...we find out that the Time Lords were never really dead and were really just as bad or maybe worse than the Daleks and the Doctor knew both facts and has known them all along--that makes several of his statements all through the first four seasons strange and suspect, and makes me very unhappy.

Did this pair of shows have any redemptive features? Gotta say, the villains were pretty good. The Master's actions and plans make no sense whatsoever, but John Simm tears up the scenery wonderfully well and almost makes the silly superpowers work. And, of course, Timothy Dalton is an expert scene-chewer, and extremely good-looking to boot, so it was good to see the two of them on screen together, even though I kept wishing that the script was up to the actors' quality.

Liked the bits with Wilf, mostly, and I did enjoy seeing Donna again, though I wish she'd actually been allowed to do something.

Yeah, I think I've said enough about that particular episode.

Time, perhaps, to go rewatch The Lodger or maybe Vincent and the Doctor or maybe even Rose. I still like Rose. 

(1) I keep hearing Gonzo's voice saying, in true Christmas Carol style "And to Donna, who did not die..." whenever I think of the lottery ticket.


  1. I agree with you almost completely. There were just way too many things going on in this foolish special, like Russell Davies had thought of all the things he wanted to have happen in Doctor Who, and did them all at once.

    However, regarding the Time Lords: I kind of liked it that they had become so crazy. It cast a new light on the things the Doctor had said throughout the series--he had to end the war because both sides were too wicked to carry on, and that is interesting. And it's also interesting that he chose to try to remember the Time Lords as the best of themselves.

    But, yeah. Overall, so not a worthy farewell for the Tenth Doctor. And Donna should have died! It was so dumb that Ten spent all that time going on about SHE WILL DIE IF SHE REMEMBERS, and then oh, no, wink and handwave, she's fine. Hrmph. I would have been sad if Donna had died, of course, but if you're going to make up a rule, adhere to the rule or find a real reason why it doesn't apply. If Donna had died, the ending with Wilf would have had more poignancy.

    *grumble grumble*

  2. I'm finally getting some RSS feeds together! I pretty much entirely agree with your review. Wilf was charming, but mostly it was disappointing.