On Doctor Who’s “The End of Time”

The trouble with being a writer is that, occasionally, I’ll try and outthink a story as I’m reading it or watching it. Neil Gaiman wrote about this very thing in an introduction to a story or a novel I read a few years ago, that because he’s a storyteller, he knows the tricks and he can peek behind the curtain. Stories don’t often surprise him anymore, and the ones that do are the ones that resonate with him the most. (I suspect it was his introduction to The Swords of Lankhmar where he wrote this, but don’t quote me on that.)

It’s a very Sherlock Holmes thing to do — the writer puts a bunch of puzzle pieces on the table, the story starts to put them together, a rough picture is formed, and… what is the rest going to look like?

I’ve played this game with Grant Morrison’s plan for Batman, and I fear that my idea is more interesting than what DC Comics will do. Or when I theorized about Jack Harkness’ “secret” in Doctor Who‘s third season, even though it’s rather ludicrous. (I’m still fond of that idea, by the way.) Or when I posted my theories on “Journey’s End” and how everything was Rose’s fault and Francine Jones had the Master’s ring. Theories!

Naturally, like millions of Doctor Who fans, I had my theories on where and how the tenth Doctor’s era would end. I thought there would be a reset button. I thought that the narrative perspective of the finale meant that some sort of “switcheroo” would happen in lieu of a regeneration. I even thought, vaguely, that the Doctor might die irrevocably, and that the new Doctor would come from a different — and earlier — point in his personal timeline.

Naturally, I was wrong in everything I thought. No Orwellian retroactive rewrite of history here; I can admit that no, there was no reset, there was a regeneration, there was no permadeath for the Doctor. Everything happened, maybe not in the most interesting of fashions, but also not in the most shocking or mind-blowing of fashions. The finale was pretty much what I expected. It was adequate.

Russell T. Davies had put some interesting pieces on the puzzle. Strange pieces, to be fair. Six billion Masters? Timothy Dalton? A mysterious woman that only Wilf could see? Davies, who had amped up the finale each year — Daleks attacking far-future Earth, Daleks versus Cybermen on present-day Earth, Master conquering present-day Earth, Daleks stealing present-day Earth — surely had some sort of bombast in mind. Something explosive. Something that would blow the doors. What was it all adding up to?

Last night, BBC America showed us what it was adding up to in “The End of Time, Part Two.”

Which, frankly, wasn’t a lot. The ominous narration from Timothy Dalton was replaced by a lengthy flashback sequence. The six billion Masters are solved with a magic handwave. The mysterious woman is never directly explained, though novelist David McIntee explains who she is and leaves no doubt. The plot is thin, and what there is of it is handled largely through long expository conversations, long emotional conversations, David Tennant gritting his teeth and looking angry with his lip curled, Timothy Dalton furrowing his brow and being all shouty, and John Simm ranting. There is a curious stage play quality to the whole thing, despite a few shots of burning planets in the sky and scenes lifted wholesale from Star Wars and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

The plot, such as it is, ends, and yet there’s still twenty minutes left to go. This worked for Peter Jackson in The Return of the King, but I’m unconvinced that it ever worked for Russell T. Davies in Doctor Who. In the third season, “Human Nature”/”Family of Blood” ended with a Return of the King-like ending as the Doctor unleashed “the fury of the Time Lord,” and it carried the story on long past its natural ending and, in my opinion, seriously weakened a strong story. And, “Last of the Time Lords” had multiple endings as well, which didn’t drag as badly. The extended sequence of goodbyes is affecting, and there’s a sense to closure to the Doctor getting a chance to say goodbye to the people he’s met in his travels, but it’s also pure fan service to no good end.

The end of David Tennant’s era as the Doctor was a surprisingly subdued affair. The bombast I was expecting, the sense of “I have to top this!” from RTD I feared would be present, these were nowhere to be found. And despite all of Davies’ cageyness in interviews that it might not, we have a regeneration and a new Doctor.

I’ve been occasionally critical of Russell T. Davies over the years, and I’m glad, honestly, to see him leave. I think he sometimes elevates emotion over plot, character over logic, and I’ve thought he could use a strong script editor to say, “Dude, rewrite this, it doesn’t work.” Despite thinking that Davies ended his era on a weak note — I don’t consider any of the stories of the “year of specials” to be anything noteworthy — I have to give him props for bringing Doctor Who back from wilderness and making it not just a show for those of us in our anoraks but making it a show for everyone.

Thank you, Russell T. Davies.

Now, bring on spring. Bring on Steven Moffat. Bring on Matt Smith. And absolutely, positively, bring on Karen Gillan. 🙂

4 thoughts on “On Doctor Who’s “The End of Time”

  1. I, for one, appreciated the revisit to “Human Nature”/”Family of Blood”. Considering the number of people Ten has met over the past 5 years, I thought it was good to acknowledge the story as being a significant part of the Doctor’s life. It was quite unexpected, to me anyway. Jenny would have been more expected than Joan’s great-granddaughter.

    1. I thought that was a nice touch, and the acting of Hynes and Tennant in that scene was extraordinary. You can see the moment when it dawns on her that the man in front of her is the man that her great-grandmother loved, and that something she had always taken as just a story turned out to be real. There’s this look of shock and pain that crosses her face, and she asks him a question, and it hurts.

      One of the best scenes in Human Nature, the novel, comes after the Doctor and Benny have left, and they’re in the TARDIS. The Doctor is fully Time Lord again, and he’s told Benny he’s going to be fine. And he sits down in the console room, and he sobs. It’s all told from the perspective of the Doctor’s cat, and it’s haunting and it’s beautiful and it’s sad.

      The scene between the Doctor and Verity Newman was like that. It was what I thought “Family of Blood” lacked.

  2. That scene encapsulates the RTD paradox. On the one hand he can write these rather wonderful moments which encapsulate the life of the timelord and how he effects others — I’d add the scene between the Doctor and Jack in Utopia which was also Barrowman’s best moment outside of Torchwood — and yet is wildly inconsistent when dealing with the spectacular. On reflection, The End of Time just has too many events. The Master becoming everyone, the return of the Timelords, the Doctor’s return to Donna’s life would have all worked as separate entities all seemed slightly thrown away when thrown together. I loved the episode for all of its messy charms but its a shame that he could find a better way of communicating his ideas.

    My one basic criticism is that he didn’t follow through with the circular structure he’d clearly set up for the series in which the Doctor regenerates destroying Gallifrey (as was hinted) then regenerates again pulling it back from the brink. Perhaps Moffat wanted to keep him as the last of the timelords which necessitated something else.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *