Wow. I haven't been so eager for a Doctor Who episode as I was for last night's finale since the time-traveling soap-comedy relaunched. And... well, it was a mixture of pure silly fun and overwrought fan-service. Not quite as fun as Jesus-Doctor last year, and much, much too long. I found myself wishing the Sci Fi Channel would cut 20 minutes out of it after all. Only one question remains unanswered: what part of this episode was supposed to have us bawling like babies? Spoilers and snark ahead.
I'm sure people will put down last night's Doctor Who finale by calling it fanfic, but it was actually much worse - and somewhat better - than that term implies. Russell T. Davies left no fannish button un-pressed, and made so many ridiculous logic-flops in his epic storyline, that he practically elevated fanwank to a new artform. I couldn't help comparing it to last year's finale, which was also ridiculous but didn't require a PhD in Who-ology to follow.
There were things that happened in last night's episode that I read about weeks, or months, ago. But I didn't stick them in morning spoilers, or downgraded them to "crazy rumors," because they just seemed too ridiculous. In particular, the Doctor's regeneration resulting in two David Tennants, one of whom is "human." And then the "human" David Tennant is sentenced to go off with Rose and be her boytoy. I honestly thought even Russell T. wouldn't give Rose such a ridiculously contrived happy ending.
Doctor Who is taking a break next year, with just a few one-off specials instead of a full season. Ostensibly, this is because David Tennant wants a year off, so he can star in Hamlet with Captain Picard. But it's pretty obvious, after this latest season, that the show needs a rest anyway. Even with Davies leaving and new showrunner Steven Moffat coming on, a year off would give the show a much-needed chance to rethink and recharge.
When Who came back in 2005, it was fresh and different than anything that had come before, and it was also accessible to new viewers. But recently, the show has been stuck in a tired formula, and it's giving in to the temptation to reference its own past more and more often.
Take last night's episode: I was startled by how continuity-heavy it was. It was like a clips episode. And I had vaguely wondered, in advance, if the show would mention that Sarah Jane Smith had met Davros, back in 1974. But the show didn't just mention that fact - it went on and on and on about it, in one of Davros' 100 boring speeches about destiny and souls and stuff. (Was it just me, or did Davros talk for about 20 minutes?) Likewise, the episode didn't have to bring in the fact that Torchwood's Gwen Cooper is played by the same actor as the psychic maid in season one's "The Unquiet Dead," but why not? It's not as if there's a story that's being stopped dead in its tracks while we obsess over minor fannish details or anything.
By the way, I don't think it's an insult to call an episode like this "fanfic." I love fanfic, I've written fanfic before, and it fulfills an important purpose. Fanfic is how we get to explore some of the corners of a universe that the "official" canon will never get to. It's exactly where you should have a scene where Davros meets Sarah Jane again and they talk about their first meeting 34 years ago. Fanfic also lets us have the kinds of happy endings we wish our favorite characters could have, but which we know deep down would have us hooting with derision if they actually happened: like getting a magic duplicate of the Doctor for Rose to spend the rest of her life with. (Until she gets sick of him following her around and talking like Catherine Tate. I give it a week.)
So why do I say this almost elevated fanfic to an artform? It's sort of the way Torchwood season one created the most brilliant crystalization of slashfic in television form, actually. It was every fanfic cliche, from the multiple Mary Sues, to the shipper happy ending, to the Doctor suffering emotionally and getting hurt and needing comfort, to the endless processing of minor plot details from old stories. It's like Roy Liechtenstein turning cheesy comics panels into huge paintings - by blowing fanfic up to a huge size and making it larger and more colorful than life, we see what's beautiful about it.
There was a lot to love about this episode, including Catherine Tate having the time of her life as a hybrid Time Lady/human, Daleks shouting in German, the lunacy of the Haagen Dasz device and the dwarf-star-necklace both turning out to be useless, K-9 showing up to save the day for a second, the
Annihilation Wave reality bomb being such a ludicrous plot device, the naked Doctor-clone, Captain Jack having some no-doubt-delightful fantasy involving the half-Time-Lord Donna and the two Doctors. There was a pretty great splashy finale buried in all that excess and fannish drool.
Really, this should have been Donna's episode, all about her own Bad Wolf-ization. It's too bad she got a bit lost in the crowd of old companions and random supporting characters. In particular, it's clear now that bringing Rose back was a mistake. She added almost nothing to the past few episodes, except for one or two cool big-gun moments and some random shipper fodder. She was incapable of actually saying a complete sentence without sounding as if she was about to swallow her own tongue, and she drained all the energy out of every scene she was in. The gritty, determined Rose I liked in "The Satan Pit" and a few other episodes was nowhere to be seen, and it was pretty clear that she was only there so she could get her pet faux-Doctor at the end.
I've mentioned that Donna has been growing on me this season, so I was bummed that she got screwed over so badly. I mean, she gets a half hour of being a semi-Time Lord, which seems to involve imitating David Tennant's mannerisms. And then she's dropped back right where she started, being the person who doesn't even notice that the Earth got moved across the universe and dropped into a hole in space/time. Not only that, but she's in a completely untenable situation: nobody can ever ask her what actually happened on her wedding day, or her head will explode. That's going to work out great.
And it's all the Doctor's fault, because he was too vain to regenerate normally. He wanted to keep his current cute hairstyle for a while, so he used the severed hand, and condemned Donna to being a ticking time bomb for life. Oh, and did it feel like a Bad Wolf rehash to anyone else? Plus the fact that we were told she would "die" and then it turned out to be a metaphorical death, just like in "Doomsday"?
That's what the Doctor should feel guilty about, not the fact that Sergey Brin sacrificed himself back in the Sontaran episode. Who cares about Sergey Brin? He was a schmuck, and he didn't actually sacrifice his life for the Doctor, he died to save the whole human race. The Doctor would have to be a collossal egotist to think Sergey Brin died for him alone. (Okay, I can believe that.) After a couple of years without pretty much any character development for the Doctor, it's a tad weird to reach for the guilty-Doctor schtick from Paul Cornell's Timewyrm: Revelation. Especially since we just saw, two weeks ago, that everybody including Sergey Brin would have been toast without the Doctor. It's a no-win situation for Sergey.
And what was all that about the Doctor-dupe being emotionally scarred by destroying the Daleks? I literally didn't understand what the Alpha-Doc was going on about there. And the idea that the clone-Doc was in the same state that Christopher Eccleston's Doctor was in at the start of season one was also baffling - wasn't the ninth Doctor supposed to be scarred by years of the Time War, and the destruction of his own people? Not just ten minutes of pushing buttons to make some random Daleks explode? And why was Beta-Doc scarred and not Alpha-Doc? I know, I know, it's just an excuse to let Rose go off with the I-can't-believe-it's-not-the-Doctor. But it felt like the most random thing in a totally random episode.
Finally... I only have one question about Dalek Caan: Why has nobody uploaded a funny rap video to Youtube yet, featuring Grandmaster Melle Mel's rap from Chaka Khan's "I Feel For You," only about Dalek Caan? You know: "Dalek Caan, let me rock you, let me rock you Dalek Caan, let me rock you, that's all I wanna do..." Oh, I have one other question: prophecies? Prophecies?? Is this Battlestar Galactica all of a sudden? Seriously, it was just annoying when Davros kept talking about Dalek Caan the prophet, but then the Doctor started doing it too. I get it that Dalek Caan saw the time vortex (the same way Rose did, and the Master did?) so now he has special insights. But doesn't the Doctor Who universe feature free will? Isn't the future still mutable? Also, the idea that Donna's transformation was so important that echoes stretched backwards in time seemed a bit piffle. Time-travel and timey-whimey are not magic. (Well, maybe they are. But in the Doctor Who universe, they're not supposed to be.)
Okay, to sum up: You pretty much expect one of RTD's season finales to be ridiculous, include a huge deus ex machina, and make no sense. And this one lived up (or down) to your expectations. But it wasn't nearly as much fun as the dancing-Master/Doctor-Gollum episode last year. There was too much standing around and talking, for three or four hours. And too much fan-service. And as for crying... I cried like a drunk toddler during Wall-E, but I mostly laughed during this ep. It really could have been 20 minutes shorter, and woul dhave been much better for it. What did you think?