The Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who just ended, but his influence on the show will remain forever. And judging from "The End Of Time Part 2," that's not a bad thing at all. Allons-y for spoilers!
I was hoping that part two would be better than part one, and it definitely was. It still displayed many of RTD's most self-indulgent tendencies, but it was much stronger and — equally important — a lot more fun. Part two was much closer to what I'd been hoping for from "The End Of Time," and while it didn't redeem part one at all, it did give David Tennant a decent send-off.
So the Master has succeeded in turning every human on Earth (except Donna and Wilf) into a copy of himself — and to my utter surprise, this wasn't undone in the first few minutes of the episode. I did wonder why all the Mimeo-Masters were so eager to obey the ur-Master's instructions — wouldn't they all want to take over the universe, or be the supreme leader? But in any case, the Master has the quite clever idea that if the drumming in his head actually is a signal, and it's pounding in all six billion-plus heads now, he can triangulate its source. And that leads him (dum dum dum DUM) to the Time Lords, who set the whole thing up to escape from the Time War.
And then Obama unveils his fantastic solution to the economic crisis, and the Time Lords are so impressed, they agree to leave Earth alone forever! Just kidding.
So it really did feel like we got some great payoff for all the buildup about the Time War and the defining action the Eighth Doctor had to take. It turns out the Time Lords became just as great monsters as the Daleks, by the end of the long, horrible war — and the Time Lords were planning on destroying the entire fabric of space/time, to allow themselves to "ascend" and become creatures of pure consciousness. The Doctor didn't just destroy the Time Lords as an unfortunate side effect of destroying the Daleks — he had to destroy both sides of the war, because they were both equally horrible.
No wonder the Doctor's been so broody these past five years.
I actually quite like "Logopolis," the final Tom Baker story, mostly for its sombre mood and aura of dread, interspersed with zany fun (like "let's drown the TARDIS!"). And David Tennant got to have a similar sense of the end encroaching, mixed in with some pretty great set pieces and bits of zaniness. The most intriguing part of Russell T. Davies' era of Doctor Who was always the Doctor's guilt and grief at the deaths of the Time Lords, and the Doctor had to repeat that act, killing all of his people with a single gunshot. And then he had to die.
The best parts of last week's episode were the quiet moments, where the Doctor talked to Wilf or the Master, and they felt like real people. And luckily, this episode built on those moments quite effectively. The Doctor and Wilf bonded over having lived a long time and seen a lot of insanity. I can't have been the only one who was touched by the Doctor and Wilf both saying they'd be proud if Wilf was the Doctor's dad. I got a lump in my throat. And Bernard Cribbins is pretty incredible as someone who's the master of putting a brave face on things.
The Doctor had some really nice moments with the Master as well, which went beyond the traditional "Doctor tries to talk the Master out of being evil." The Doctor and the Master seem tantalizingly close to understanding each other and being able to work things out, until the Master's mania takes over again.
And the way the Tenth Doctor dies really is poetic and sad — it's an example of the same perversity that Davies showed in the most recent Torchwood miniseries, and it works amazingly well. We've seen the bond that the Doctor has built up with Wilf, but even if that hadn't existed, I'd like to think the Doctor would sacrifice himself for anyone who was trapped in that booth. (Although maybe not — maybe that would have been an "I'm so sorry" moment instead, if it had been a random stranger.) In any case, it really is a clever bit of writing on RTD's part, when the Doctor thinks he's survived and then you hear the long-promised knocking. For once, the hype wasn't misplaced: it really was as startling as we'd been led to believe.
And Tennant shows us a bit of the Doctor's nasty side again, as he rages against the unfairness of sacrificing his godlike existence for Wilf's feeble old age. For a moment, we're reminded of the end of "The Waters Of Mars," where the Doctor started to take his own "lonely god" rep a little too seriously — and then he reins himself in and realizes that maybe he really has lived too long and gotten too inured to other people's suffering.
Since we're not given any explanation whatsoever for the mysterious Time Lady who keeps appearing, ghostlike, and goading Wilf into "taking arms" — and I wonder if Davies has some kind of understanding with new showrunner Steven Moffat about explaining her in the future? — I'm left wondering if her goal, all along, wasn't to make sure that Wilf was there, in that booth, so the Doctor had to step in there and die. Was her aim to prevent the Doctor's death or facilitate it? Otherwise, I guess her plan was to make sure the Doctor had a gun, so he could shoot the fribbledyboop machine and banish the Time Lords once more — but couldn't the Doctor have destroyed the machine some other way?
And Davies builds a persuasive case that regeneration isn't just a "renewal," with the Doctor continuing on as a slightly different looking bloke — it's an actual death, with a new man taking over. So that by the time we hear the Tenth Doctor's last words, we feel his anguish and rage against the dying of the light and all that.
Also, who could possibly hate the cactus people's rescue of the Doctor, with all the "strapped to a table" slapstick antics? And the blatantly-stolen-from-Star-Wars lasers-vs.-missiles sequence, and the Doctor falling through a skylight? Pure awesomeness.
So while "The End Of Time Part 1" was a terrible episode with hints of the great episode it could have been poking through every now and then, "The End Of Time Part 2" broadened those hints into swathes of greatness, while still having a sizeable helping of awfulness mixed in. But as the Doctor once said, "You have to take the rough with the smooth."
The biggest letdown, it must be said, was the Time Lords. Timothy Dalton shouts and waves his magic gauntlet around for a while, incinerating the one High Council member who's got decent hair. Then he finally stomps through the magic gateway to Earth, and this is the cue for a bit more standing around and shouting, before finally getting banished. We got told how dreadful and ruthless the Time Lords were, but I wanted to see it. Davies has escalated the threat in each of his finales — in "Journey's End," it was the destruction of the universe, and this time around, the threat was so grand and metaphysical, it could only be conveyed in abstractions.
If Davies had one more go-around, I'm afraid the giant, all-encompassing threat would be "eternal ennui," or "cheese will no longer melt," or "universal Belgianness." ("If I press that button there, everyone in the universe will be Belgian! Forever!")
Also, the Donna thing. What? We're told, over and over, that if she remembers anything about the Doctor or her Time Lordyness, then her head will explode. And then it happens... and nothing. It turns out there's a "defense mechanism." Wha? Also, the Master knows there's one human who wasn't changed, and he sends a few of his duplicates after her. They get knocked out by her head-blast, and... nothing. Why doesn't the Master send another dozen of himself to investigate? And if all of the six billion Masters are as hungry as the original, why aren't they devastating the countryside with their murderous famine? They mostly seem pretty mellow, actually.
And yes, there was self-indulgence. It's important to separate the actual character-developing moments (the aforementioned conversations with Wilf and the Master) from the stuff that's just Davies getting away with stuff because nobody can edit him. Like "Journey's End," this episode really didn't have to be 75 minutes long, and we really didn't need half an hour of the Doctor dying. The universe did not need to sing the Doctor to his rest — really! — and while the segments of the Doctor visiting every one of his recent companions and doing something nice for them were cute, they did drag a bit. (And Donna doesn't get fixed? She just gets a winning lottery ticket? So at least she'll be rich and brain-damaged.)
And yes, the plot still didn't make sense, including all of the stuff about the Time Lords realizing the Master had a weird drumming sound in his head, and thus deciding to go back and give the Master a weird drumming sound in his head, and the idea that you could toss a diamond white star thingy through a time lock, and the fact that everything in the Doctor Who universe is reversible if you just zap the template or fratz the link or whatever. A reasonable person could well argue that it doesn't matter if the plot makes sense, since it's the characters who matter — but actually, the plot is what makes the characters possible. If the characters are just stomping through a landscape of cardboard cut-outs and their actions have no meaning, then the whole thing quickly becomes absurd.
If you want a show that focuses on the characters, then let's focus on the characters. Like, part one could have shown us a bit more of the Master scheming to bring himself back from the dead, if anything ever happened to him. (It's not as if RTD is allergic to flashbacks, after all.) And instead of the Immortality Gate thingy just dropping into the Master's lap, we could have seen him scheming to get it — or the Time Lords scheming to give it to him. The whole "Master's rebirth goes wrong" thing could have been cut, since it didn't go anywhere interesting, or else it could have been introduced without twenty minutes of him running around a scrapyard and roaring and devouring chickens.
All in all, though, this was a fitting send-off for both David Tennant and Russell T. Davies, both of whom got to showcase their ranges. Tennant was once again manic, tender, hyperactive, gloomy and laced with danger. And Davies brought his full box of tricks and nervous tics to this one, from the random silly plot devices to the brilliant emotional moments and perverse touches. This is how we'll remember both of them.
Finally, "The End Of Time part 2" left us looking to the future, as well it should — the glimpse of Matt Smith's Doctor, babbling to himself as the TARDIS exploded and crashed to Earth was pretty splendid. And while we'll probably never see Martha Jones and Mickey Smith together, I actually liked the glimpse of them as a couple. The brief moment of Captain Jack brooding in some Mos Eisley-wannabe cantina after the events of "Children Of Earth," but slowly getting his mojo back, made me eager to see Torchwood season four. And we still have to find out what the hell was up with the Ood, and that Time Lady, and why Wilf was special, and what happened to the Master after he zapped Timothy Dalton, and so on.