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December 30, 2009

The Enemy Within You Without You

Doctor Who: The End of Time Part 1 

Master1 The most distinctive part of The End of Time is the way it jumps from half-formed idea to half-formed idea seemingly at random. We have no fewer than three secret earth-based operations: the Cult of Saxon, the Naismith Whatever, and the Silver Cloak; not to mention those seemingly inconsequential cactus aliens, and, oh yeah, thousands of Time Lords along with billions of copies of the Master. If there's a plot, in which these elements are coherently weaved together, then it certainly hasn't started yet. Whether the lack of focus in this script is a feature or a bug, or to put it in more specific terms, whether it bespeaks an apropos sense of restlessness or mainly just shit storytelling, I'm going to reserve judgment until I see the rest of the story.

I echo the sentiments of Stuart and Frank: I completely understand why you might hate this episode, but I don't hate it. Then again, I don't love it either. Thus far this is approximately on the level of "The Enemy Within" or "The telemovie" or "that thing with McGann:" There are things about it that I like, and that I hate, but I can't bring myself to form a strong opinion about it either way. McGann's performance, the TARDIS design, the version of the theme tune, the regeneration scene, great. The resurrections, the American-ness, the Doctor being half human, not so much. The same is the case here (although Simm completely fails to dreeeesss for the occaaaasion). This is a collection of moments, and some of the moments are good, but some are cringeworthy. And so I can't like the thing as a whole. Yet. Because it isn't a whole yet. But what I've seen so far I mostly enjoyed. I'd by lying if I said I enjoyed every minute, and that there was nothing that made me cringe outright but there was enough in this episode to keep me entertained, intrigued, and excited for next week's episode.

Which, of course, is exactly the point of this episode. More so than any other outing, even Turn Left, this episode functions largely as a teaser trailer for what we'll be seeing next week. If there's any coherence to the narrative, we won't be able to see it except in hindsight. And from the return to the multi-part story naming convention of yesteryear, it's clear that this is something that RTD wants us to bear in mind. So in the spirit of the narrative [insert "restlessness" or "utter shit" here, depending on your opinion] of the episode, rather than a coherent review I can only offer some disjointed remarks.

  • I loved John Simm as the Master in series three, and I love him just as much here. I have absolutely no problem with the flying and the lightning, and I think the botched resurrection provides an adequate explanation for the Master's energy instability.
  • The scene in the cafe between the Doctor and Wilf was the best part of the episode, for the reasons that have already been mentioned and will continue to be mentioned. I will belabor the point no further.
  • There is a certain lack of economy to any script that introduces a clandestine organization, kills off that clandestine organization, and then introduces another clandestine organization all within the space of five minutes. The first one is all about resurrection, and the second one is about immortality. Completely different, see? But conveniently, the second clandestine organization needs, as a means, the very thing the first clandestine organization had as its end: The resurrected Master. Why the script couldn't simply have one clandestine organization get the whole job done in one fell swoop is beyond me.
  • For that matter, the "Book of Saxon" thing could have been all right if they hadn't insisted on playing it so straight, but they did and as a result it was pretty awful. If they really must have gone with the potion/antipotion thing then, in TV Tropes parlance, they ought to have lampshaded it, but they failed to do so. The resurrection of the Master was far too big a deal to have been handled in the way it was, but once again I might be way off base and maybe there will be further developments with regard to what's going on here.
  • Master2Donna's "death" was the thing that set the Doctor on the dark and lonely path we've seen him on in the specials, and so I've always thought it fitting that she should reappear in the finale to play a role in the Doctor's redemption. The only problem is that, with the exception of one scene (the aforementioned cafe scene), the dark, lonely version of the Doctor we've seen hinted at in the specials, and that Waters of Mars led us to believe was going to be an important part of the specials, is completely undercut by the usual David Tenant schtick. Furthermore, Donna gets little screen time. I'm hoping that these will both be corrected in the finale.
  • There was a lot of borrowing in this episode. A lot. In a comment on Stuart's review, Dave Sanders pointed out the similarities between this episode and Army of Ghosts. The similarity between the cactus folk and Bannakaffalatta is analagous to the Raxicoricofallapatorius/Clom thing from Love and Monsters. The stupid hubris of Naismith is a (much less interesting) copy of Richard Lazarus from The Lazarus Experiment. The Immortality Gate is functionally the same as the nanogenes from The Doctor Dances. And I could swear for a moment that Clare Bloom was playing the Wire from The Idiot's Lantern. There are other strikingly familiar elements as well. It makes me wonder whether the writing is just lazy and unoriginal, or whether there's some kind of significance to the recurring motifs. It's probably the former.
  • Probably the biggest problem with a lot of this episode, aside from the poor story structure, was that a lot of what ended up on that shoddy structure seemed like pointless fluff. Why the Oodsphere? Why Obama? Why the Silver Cloak? Why those silly cactus things? Some of these will probably be developed (most notably the last one, and the first one), but the bit with Obama seems completely idiotic and pointless, and the Silver Cloak bit, while genuinely delightful, is superfluous: If we're meant to believe that Wilf and the Doctor are bound by some sort of mysterious force to keep meeting over and over, then wouldn't that idea come across more forcefully if Wilf was acting alone?
  • The Timothy Dalton narration, I thought, was quite effective, and the bit at the middle of the episode in which he sums up what's going on does a decent job of helping the viewer navigate the messy plot, while also (perhaps intentionally?) highlighting the mess of it all.
  • The return of the Time Lords was really rather obvious (based on how Davies does these big events), and the big question now is whether they're here to stay. Davies has a habit of shaking up the status quo only to put it back the way it was, which fans refer to, quite rightly, as the reset button. But wouldn't the ultimate reset button be for Davies to restore the Whoniverse back to the condition in which he found it? Either way, whatever status quo we find at the end of the story is the one we'll be seeing for the Moffatt era and beyond. At the moment, I think it could go either way, and that's something I'm kind of excited about, but we'll know in a couple of days.
  • Is it possible that this entire episode has happened inside the Matrix? Or perhaps the whole RTD era has!

Master3 There have been accusations that this episode moved too slow, but in spite of this (or perhaps because of it) there's a lot going on and I haven't even come close to commenting on it all. I have no idea how any of this is going to come together into a coherent whole next week, but it simply must. I refuse to believe that this script is anywhere near as much of a mess as it seems right now. And you know what? That's exactly how I felt while watching Children of Earth: Day One. It was never really clear to me how all of the pieces fit together, and only on a second viewing, after seeing the rest of the series, was I able to follow the episode with an understanding of the grand design. Am I saying that this episode was as good as Children of Earth? By no means; it wasn't anywhere near as tense or engaging. I'm saying that I reserve judgment for a few more days.

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