The Twee Doctors
Doctor Who: Journey's End
Blimey, wasn't David Morrissey fantastic tonight? I mean, WOW! And phew, too! Just imagine how disappointed we'd have been if David Tennant had regenerated into himself or something pathetic like that! That would have been a massive cop-out and they'd have lynched RTD for sure. And top marks for pulling off a Paul McGann Time War flashback so we could watch him regenerate into Eccleston. Brilliant! But killing Rose and Martha - who saw that coming? However, I have to admit that shoehorning Harriet Jones into the Dalek Supreme and McCoy's cheeky cameo as "Dr." Osterhagen did over-egg the pudding a little, even it was cleverly done (I loved the subtle reference to the Kandyman). And while I'm having a hard time swallowing the fact that Donna was actually Romana all along (Temp = Time, Noble = Lord - slaps forehead - of course!) that bit at the end when John Simm unleashed all of those Cybermen into the TARDIS was f**king mental! What? What? WHAT?
Is it Christmas yet?
OK, so that's what might have happened if Russell had turned left (or listened to some of the more insane suggestions on the DW forum over the past couple of months). Unfortunately, what we ended up simply couldn't compete with that level of hype and speculation. Sure, Journey's End was completely off-its-tits mental but compared to what might have been it somehow manages to feel slightly tame and a little bit of a let down. Now, is that Russell's fault or ours?
Top marks for pulling off a McGann Time War flashback so we could see him regenerate into Eccleston. Brilliant!
I suppose he did ask for it. After all it was his decision to plump for the biggest and boldest cliffhanger imaginable, and while it certainly generated more anticipation, excitement and column inches than I thought possible, he must have known deep down inside that the resolution would polarise the audience: giddy relief for those of you who love David Tennant and acute disappointment for those of us who don't (or who just wanted last week's surprise to be "real"). Ramping up the tension by claiming that only a handful of people knew the truth - not even the Head of Drama had seen it (what, really? the Head of Drama didn't have a say in the casting of the 11th Doctor?) - was simply asking for trouble as well. Perhaps Russell watched it 15 times in the week leading up to transmission so he could work out exactly what the hell was going on.
Personally, I knew what was going to happen; if you don't believe me you can ask John Paul - I gave him a sealed envelope on Wednesday where I spilled the beans (ending the note with a pretty emphatic "How shit is that?") so I'd managed to inoculate myself against the fake regeneration. Look, there have been spoilers on the net about two Tennants, a Donna mind-wipe and Bad Wolf Bay for months. Either you weren't looking for them (good for you) or you don't know how to use Google properly. Come on, we've all known for ages that all of the Doctor's companions would end up piloting the TARDIS to take down Davros because there are no secrets in television anymore. Do you honestly believe that The Sun wouldn't have known that James Nesbitt had turned up to film a whole episode, let alone a quick cameo? The only real surprise is that the BBC still have the rights to use K9.
Not that this stopped Caitlin Moran, the TV critic for The Times, who appeared on the news yesterday entertaining the notion that the BBC may have successfully kept the recasting of the Doctor a secret. Ain't It Cool News confidentially predicted that Robert Caryle would turn up in tonight's episode and even the bookmakers had stopped taking bets on Morrissey due to "suspicious" amounts of money being placed on him. I just feel sorry for anyone who believed that they were going to witness a new Doctor tonight. Even a temporary one. Sadly, two Tennants just doesn't cut the mustard, even when one of them is butt-naked (is that the sound of Live Journal blowing up?) and it must have been a painful anti-climax for many of you. I'm sorry... I'm so sorry. Talk about "the biggest backfire in history".
there are no secrets in television anymore...
Journey's End makes Last of the Time Lords look like Waiting for Godot when it comes to overblown spectacle and incident. It's an all-you-can-eat-buffet of continuity, explosions and people talking really quickly in confined spaces, and if you love that kind of thing you can skip to the end of this review where I say some really nice things about Bernard Cribbens.
Let's get the inexplicable nonsense out of the way first: Jackie Tyler - with a gun (why was she doing there in the first place? What function does she perform apart from doing a great impression of Polly?); so Davros creates a handy control panel that can undo all his nefarious plans and then he places it in the same room as the Doctor and his companions (will he never learn?); Caan goes to all that trouble of bringing back the Daleks just so he can kill them again, eh?; the 27 planets do what again, exactly?; I still don't get how Donna ended up being in the right place at the
right time and who or what was manipulating events so they weren't just whacking great coincidences (was it Caan?); and who didn't flinch when the Doctor took some time out to fanwank all over Gwen Cooper?
But all of this pales into insignificance when you're faced with the TARDIS towing planet Earth back to the mutter spiral like it's a sack of potatoes. It was so bad I actually had to leave the room for a bit. Putting aside the crap science (what was the Moon orbiting around while it was gone?) it just looked f**king ridiculous, not to mention self-congratulatory. Just look at those grinning loons as they pilot the TARDIS back home, especially Jack who is pumping away and checking out Sarah Jane at the same time. I really hated everyone at that moment and I'm pretty sure that wasn't the vibe Russell was going for. It may be the end of an era (even though it isn't) but there's only so much smug backslapping that I can take; they looked like the cast of Big Brother winning a food task.
The technobabble reached new levels of incomprehensibility this week as well. Normally I don't really care about this (it's part and parcel of the show) but there were so many competing thingamajigs and whatsists - from that warp core necklace to the reality bomb and practically everything that flows out of Doctor-Donna's mouth - nothing made any practical sense. In fact, the only thing that did make perfect sense was the Osterhagen key - and that turned out to be a red herring. Incidentally, I loved that poor UNIT chap from Liberia who didn't want his name to go down in history for destroying the planet (er, who was going to know?).
skip to the end where you'll find a nice bit about Bernard Cribbens...
But Journey's End isn't a disaster by any means. There are some really powerful ideas buried beneath all the bullshit and bluster. When Davros (perfectly brought back to life by Julian Bleach) makes the Doctor concede that he weaponises his companions (as they prepare to commit genocide at the drop of a hat) was chilling stuff and it was great to see the Daleks working towards a "final solution" (reinforced by the appearance of some German Daleks, which was very neat). In fact, Davros has never been better and his ranting, taunting madness was the only thing that actually felt right.
And whatever this episode's faults, it more than makes up for it with two incredibly powerful epilogues (plus one really bad one involving the new Torchwood crew, but such is life).
Donna's storyline is wrapped up perfectly. It may be the most blatant reset yet but it's also a cruel, tragic and very, very dark fate; practically pitch black compared to anything else we've seen in the series so far. And while I can't say that I enjoyed the journey itself (turning her into a time lord and then mind-wiping her with a single touch was pretty naff, whichever way you look at it), the final destination broke my heart. To think that Donna will end up living a life eating chips and gossiping on the phone, never realising her true potential, is the bleakest and most unforgiving thing this series has ever shown us. Those convenient retcons in Torchwood meant shit to me but this one meant everything.
Of course it's a only a symbolic death; RTD was never going to kill anyone for real. Cue montage of secondary guest stars popping their clogs in a desperate attempt to make it seem possible, but when you're reduced to showing clips of sentient pavements then the game is well and truly up. So why bother? Why tease us like that? It's Rose "dying" in Doomsday all over again! Either kill someone for real or stop trying to insinuate that you will. It's cheap.
Oh sod that, Bernard Cribbens was bloody magnificent, wasn't he? He's been a revelation in this series and that moment on the doorstep, in the rain, was so beautiful, so heartbreaking, all of my complaints somehow fade away to nothing.
But the killer punch, the real kick in the teeth, is that casual goodbye between the Donna and the Doctor. Having watched it again I can't believe I didn't well up the first time. Too busy tutting, probably. It makes Pertwee's goodbye to Jo Grant look positively jolly.
the bleakest and most unforgiving thing this series has ever shown us...
Even the "heartwarming" scene where Rose gets to live happily-ever-after-with a clone of the Doctor is problematic, to say the least. It's certainly didn't deliver the syrupy pap that I'd feared. It felt incredibly odd and slightly perverse, and it's played like that too, thank heavens. And while Rose is doing her best to embrace the possibilities of a life with the next best thing, it's still so very wrong on oh so many levels. It opens up all sorts of questions, too. For instance, how long will it take her to tire of an aging bloke with no time machine? I'm waiting for the inevitable slash fiction where they go through a really messy divorce and the Doctor ends up living with Jackie instead.
That Tennant is a lucky bugger, though. He's basically managed to guarantee himself return appearances in perpetuity, even if he puts on loads of weight and loses all of his hair. Who knows, he might even turn nasty and try to take down our Doctor so he can steal his remaining regenerations, becoming a new nemesis for our hero - an anti-Doctor, if you will. He did just commit genocide after all. And remember, he knows where that book full of future spoilers can be found. And maybe Harriet Jones temporal shifted at the last moment and Wilf is really Borusa and Sylvia is the Rani and there's still a beetle on Donna's back and... and... and...
Doctor Who. Don't you just love it?