This is a two part review that I did for sector70.com. The episodes aired on Christmas Day and New Year's day.
THE END OF TIME PART 1
The Tenth Doctor's days are almost over. David Tenant will be leaving the role on January 1st and a new Doctor will will regenerate into his place. Russel T. Davies will also be stepping down from the position of head writer and will be replaced with Steven Moffat. Both writers have had great runs writing for Doctor Who, but while Russel T Davies has more excellent episodes to his name, including all of the previous season finales, Steven Moffat is the credited writer on some of my favorites, "The Doctor Dances", "The Girl in the Fireplace" and the one that everyone shows their friends who are skeptical of the Doctor, "Blink". Unfortunately for all of the generally high quality and lets not forget actually being responsible for resurrecting the show in 2005, Russel T. is also responsible for some of the lowest and most inane moments of the show. To my supreme disappointment, this is includes the first half of the '09 Christmas Special and David Tenant farewell, "The End Of Time".
Adding insult to injury is the way it comes right on the heels of the Fall Special, "The Waters Of Mars" which had the Doctor struggling against the temptation to meddle in historical events that must happen in order for the universe to remain intact. Though it has some problems with pacing and general tone, the episode has some really clever plays on how the standard episode plays out and shows the audience a side of the Doctor that has only ever been glimpsed in the current series- the despair and survivor's guilt that being the Last Time Lord causes him and the power that those emotions can have over his actions. David Tenant's acting is at the top of his game as is that of Lindsay Duncan in the role of the captain of the first Martian Colony who has to make some very difficult choices both in spite of the Doctor's prescience and because of it. The episode's most glaring flaw is the inclusion of futuristic Wikipedia entries for the crew and their base that flash on the screen showing that they are all fated to die on the day our story plays out. This is meant to put us on even footing with the Doctor as we were in Pompei, knowing of the characters fates but not knowing how they would play out. Without them, there would have been much more weight to the excellent acting that David Tenant does and allowed that much more weight to fall on the climax of the episode. It works extremely well as it is, but would have been just as good or better without the hand-holding that goes on in the DW Holiday Specials. Even so, the last minutes of the episode are haunting and very affecting.
The opening moments of "The End of Time" are sloppy and tonally awkward to the point of feeling like fan fiction, and it doesn't get much better. Russel T. Davies mentioned that he wanted this one to top the tension of the previous season finales. It doesn't. Right off the bat, a narrator steps in with some ham-fisted jazz about how this is the Earth's Final Days. That might fly elsewhere, but for me when I hear a Doctor Who character droning on about doom and whatever, I just tune him out. When the stakes are that high, the scheme's obviously not going to work. Destroying the Earth in the future is par for the course in sci-fi. It's a real threat. Heck, they did it on the show in the 70s. Say that you're going to bring on the, oh let's say END OF TIME, and it immediately relegates you to the level of Cobra Commander. We as the viewing audience are waiting, not to see if the hero can stop you, but to see how he does. When too much weight is given to the doomsday plan itself, it feels phony. Compounding the corniness of the episode is the manner of Master's fated return. It's nice to see the Master's Wife return in a cameo appearance, but it involves a faux Satanic ritual scene that is, maybe, the worst written single scene of Doctor Who since the garbage can ate Micky the Idiot in 05. The laughably awful ceremony goes wrong and results in the Master being resurrected incorrectly. Symptoms of which include his skull being occasionally visible the bestowing upon him of him both the proportionate strength and speed of a spider and Spirit Bomb attacks. It also makes him eat in goofy fast motion scenes that recall Benny Hill more than anything that might actually scare anyone. One of the strengths of Doctor Who has always been the fact that it, usually, doesn't insult the audience's intelligence. It will always be a show that is primarily aimed at children, but it doesn't talk down to them, and it even gives them a few tidbits about physics and General Relativity that maybe they'll go ask their parents about or look up on line and come away with something more than an urge to buy the new monster figure. I'm obviously now knocking the monster figures, as several of them are staring at me as I write this, but they're the cake, not the meat ant potatoes.
I'm looking forward to the conclusion of "The End of Time". Clearly Russel T. Davies is setting up a whole new universe for the Eleventh Doctor to play on, and he's certainly written enough good episodes to warrant the benefit of the doubt. I'm hoping that the mysterious Woman in White will pay off they way I'm hoping she will, and I'm eager to see why the woman standing behind Timothy Dalton is holding her head in her hands. This might be a cheap shot, but I sympathized.
The second half of The End of Time will air on New Year's Day on the BBC and shortly there after in other parts of the world.
THE END OF TIME review part 2
In light of the final episode of Doctor Who Season Five, the penultimate episode can be seen in a slightly clearer and even less flattering light. My initial assumption was that it was the set up for something entirely more complex than it seemed, and that while what we were seeing was nonsensical drivel it would also be the foundation upon which a complex and satisfying finale would play out. This was not the case. It turns out that almost nothing seen in the first episode served to do anything except resurrect The Master and have the Doctor drag himself around crying about how he's going to die. The Master's total, and no small bit goofy, plan of world cum universal conquest was never destined to go anywhere, but the fact that it's foiled by an honest to goodness god from a machine is in turns annoying and infuriating to someone who is tasked with describing these things without using the most obvious analogies and how-not-to-write catch phrases.
Without giving too much away the episode plays out like so- The Doctor is captured, breaks out, comes back, confronts the bad guy and is placed in a morally compromising position before the big finish. Even more annoying than the by the numbers plot is that it's paced like George Lucas had creative control. More time is addressed to characters sitting around droning on and re-hashing story elements than ever before in the series. The over riding impression given is that everyone involved was more interested in this being a two-parter than with coming up with enough story to fill the extra time. If all of the nonsense about characters and plot points that go nowhere and everyone sitting on their collective asses was cut out we could have been left with if not a better episode than at least a tightly paced episode. What we get is an over-long slog stitched together from old plot devices, shaky logic and ham-fisted sentiment.
Towards the very end, a good job is done to subvert the expectations of the audience. Inattentive viewers like me will get an extra surprise when they find that the typical run time has passed with the Doctor surprisingly un-dead and the episode continuing unabated. (It's an extra long episode ala Voyage Of The Damned.) However for me the intrigue of those subverted expectations soon into dissolved as I realized what was happening. I found myself getting more and more annoyed with the rising level of sap and sentiment of the epilogue that I was amazed that it was slowly working a bit of magic on me. The last thing that I wanted to see at this moment was more of Russel T. Davies' spin-off spectacular machinery at work (The Doctor's Daughter anyone?), but by the end of the whole hammy swan song, a few fat tears actually started to well up as the Ood sang The Doctor to his final sleep. That moment is clear and perfect. It's the sort of scene that would be utterly insane in any other context, but here it's downright beautiful. Of course you and I know that a Time Lord's regeneration is nothing like sleep so much as a dip in the Lazarus pit- a painful screamy light show culminating in a period of madness, but the Ood presumably don't know that. It is the last thing that we're ever going to see this Doctor do, and I know that I'll miss him. And I am mad that the writers used that to make me cry at such a bad episode.
A word about the new kid- I've seen a few Doctors come and go in my time. If one thing holds true, it's that when the new one pops up the first thing that self professed "real fans" scream is what an absolute twat this one looks like and how the series is over. Being the breed of nerd who scours the web for news to drive himself crazy, I had that fit months ago. At 27 the new guy will be the youngest Doctor ever. Prefer as I do the more avuncular breed of protagonist, I was not thrilled. However, since it's unlikely that Hugh Laurie will be cast as the Doctor any time soon, I'm ready to give this kid a shot.
Of course, what I'm really dying to give a shot to is a new Tardis set. I've never been wild about the current one. Much as I like the design on the show, it can be a tad one note. Brown and bronze, bronze and brown, brown and bronze. Even K-9's guts looked like they came out of City of Lost Children. Steam punk is great, but not everything needs to look like the Closer video. If the new show does nothing else right, I'm praying for a bit of the old mod glory.