Let's hope part two of David Tennant's Doctor Who swansong, "The End Of Time," is better than part one. Apart from a handful of nice moments, this was Russell T. Davies' nadir. Spoilers and a clip from part two ahead...
As we've discussed before, there are really two Russell T. Davieses. There's the clever, twisted screenwriter who gave us Doctor Who episodes like "Midnight" and "Turn Left," and the Torchwood miniseries "Children Of Earth." And then there's the crazy bombastic throw-everything-at-the-wall-twice storyteller who gave us "Journey's End" and other idiotic extravaganzas.
Actually, I've generally liked RTD's Christmas specials, because they let him tell a larger-than-life story without getting too bogged down in mythos and nonsense. But this time around, bogged down is exactly what we were.
But first of all, the nice moments. I think that somewhere in the alimentary canal of this misshapen beast, there was a story about male friendship lurking around. The Doctor has two male friends in this story: Wilfred Mott, who's an "old soldier" and the grandfather of the Doctor's former companion Donna. And the Master, who used to be the Doctor's best friend and is now his arch frenemy. In the RTD era, the Doctor's main relationships have always been with women, except for Captain Jack, with whom he's had a sort of flirty-but-wary relationship. So it was nice to see the Doctor having more real conversations with other men, without anything overtly sexual to them.
The cafe scene between the Doctor and Wilf, in particular, was marvelous. I could have used another five minutes of those two just sitting and talking, and acting like real people. They're not quite equals — Wilf insists on calling the Doctor "sir," and the Doctor condescends to Wilf a fair bit — but the Doctor seems to be able to open up to Wilf in a way he can't to any of his younger companions. It's really great stuff.
And likewise, the Doctor and the Master get one great scene together, where the Doctor realizes the drumming in the Master's head is "real" because he can hear it too when their heads press together. But more than that, they get to talk for a moment about what they used to have when they were Time Lords together, and what they've lost.
Much of the rest of the story, though, is a bit of a muddle. The Doctor arrives in the far future, where the Ood are dreaming about events in the early 21st century that could rip a new arsehole in the the space/time continuum, and somehow every moment the Doctor hangs around in the far future, it's getting later in the early 21st century. So he runs and jumps back in time, only to arrive... too late. The Master has been resurrected, but it went wrong and now he eats disgustingly and chews with his mouth open. Not to mention all of the crazay roaring — see the video above.
But let's ask an expert. What did you think of John Simm's performance, Saul Tigh? Did you like it?
(A side note: what is it with Time Lords and gross mouth action all of a sudden? We have the Master's mastication on screen for far too long. And apparently the phrase "Timothy Dalton spittle" has been a trending topic on Twitter.)
So the resurrected Master is a total mess — but luckily, someone drops a handy "take over the world" technology into his lap, all tied up with a pretty bow. Because it is Christmas, after all. My favorite bit with Joshua Naismith was when he says "I'm not an idiot," a mere ten minutes after Timothy Dalton's "narrator" voice has called him an idiot. If the narrator says you're an idiot, then you're an idiot. Sorry. Anyway, somehow Naismith spotted a tiny blur on a security camera at a women's prison, and deduced that this means the Master is back from the dead, and he can fix their mysterious bit of alien tech. But first, he's in bondage, yay:
Oh, and I didn't even get into the weird bits about the "Books Of Saxon" and the formula and the anti-formula and the sassy cactus people and the idea that a bit of technology designed to heal an entire world would let you program it with just one genetic template. It's all a bit flimsy, and even less thought out than Davies' other giant brainsplats.
And what was with the Obama obsession? Are people in the U.K. really obsessed with our president? If Obama actually did give a speech about the economy on Christmas, I think about three people would watch it in the United States. Was this meant to be a sneaky message about how the awesome politicians you adore always turn out to be evil megalomaniacs, or something else? It was a bit jarring, in any case. Plus, since when are real-world politicians in charge in the Who universe? We saw the U.S. president die in "The Sound Of Drums" and it was some random guy. Plus, we've seen at least four fictional U.K. prime ministers, including Harold Saxon and the Slitheen acting P.M. But Obama is president now?
So yeah, mostly it was silly in a bad way, and seemed to have been padded out with lots of scenes of the Master chewing in our faces and grunting endlessly about how people eat too much at Christmas. I can't imagine how that would have gone over for people watching it right after their Christmas dinners. Is RTD trying to make us ill? Most of all — and this is the shocker — it was a bit boring. There was lots of talking, interspersed with lots of shouting, but RTD mostly seemed to be concerned with shoving all of his plot devices into place for part two, using brute force for the most part.
Oh, and before anyone else says it: Sure, Doctor Who is a children's show — in the same way Star Wars is a movie for kids. Like Star Wars (and, I'd argue, much of Star Trek), Doctor Who is designed to appeal to kids with smart, engaging storylines, while also pulling in adults and appealing to the adult viewers who grew up watching. If everyone over the age of 18 agrees never to criticize the Star Wars prequels again, I will happily stop expecting Doctor Who to contain a modicum of sense. Okay? Great.
Want a second opinion? Here's Doctor Who skeptic Charlie Stross:
I mean, WTF? We are deep in the grip of attention-deficit plotting here, veering wildly between disjointed lectures, Ancient Prophesies (always a bad sign), and bad dreams foreshadowing the return of respawning enemies. Our narrative viewpoint is all over the road, round the bend, and driving with one foot floored on the accelerator while guzzling a bottle of Bucky. I headcrashed painfully during the seamless chase (on foot) from a scrapyard to a shipyard (paging Continuity, Continuity to the white courtesy phone): but the coup de grace was the re-invention of The Master as a bizarre cross between Sauron, a Bond villain (of the more psychotic variety) and I. R. Baboon in the Disease Fiesta episode of I Am Weasel. (Which is not on YouTube, and the Cartoon Network ain't running repeats right now. Why is I Am Weasel not on YouTube? Bring me my Cow and my Chicken! Now!!)
Ahem. There is also the small matter of fifteen minutes of infodump in a forty-two minute slot, narrated by Timothy Dalton as, er, [SPOILER], and a spavined nag of a pantomime horse of a plot (that sagged in the middle) to consider. SPANK.
That said, I did find the episode's ending fairly hilarious, with everyone on Earth turning into the Master. John Simm is so much better when he's getting to be fun and triumphant, rather than grunting about pork chops.
And I'm not made of stone — of course I'm excited for the return of the Time Lords, despite Timothy Dalton using my TV screen as a spitoon. I'm wondering exactly how the Master destroying the human race brings the Time Lords back, though. I guess all of the future stuff that humanity is supposed to do no longer happens as a result, including the Mars base thing but also including all of humanity's wars against the Daleks. So maybe there's a domino thingy. Anyway, I'm intrigued and hoping for something a bit more awesome and less shouty.
Even though this first clip from next week's episode does fill me with a bit of dread: