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January 06, 2010

Their Reward

Doctor Who: The End of Time Part Two

Of course there were things I didn't like.

For starters, the explanation we're given for how/why the Doctor "destroyed" the Time Lords and Daleks doesn't align quite right with the cryptic hints we've gotten all along. The extent to which being in the final day of a time-locked Time War means death isn't satisfactorily explored, but apparently that's the situation. The suggestions that Gallifrey "burned" at the Doctor's hands are now rather questionable, not to mention his numerous claims that he wishes he could go back and save them: see Father's Day and The Fires of Pompeii for the couple of examples I can think of at the moment. 

I really don't mind the fact that we never find out who The Woman is, or who the other person covering their eyes is. Doctor Who is all about mystery and periodically, new mystery has to be injected into the program. That's what the Time War was about, and now that it's been demystified a bit, we're due for more mystery. The Doctor's family or other Gallifreyan loved ones is as fine a direction to go in as any. But I wish the mystery had been developed in a more sensible way.

And yes, I thought the way Donna was handled was problematic, and the same goes for the Ood, and of course Mickey and Martha were just bizarre. But honestly, I can't say that any of these problems seriously impaired my enjoyment of this episode. The End of Time was huge, it was thrilling, and above all it was heartbreaking, and that was really all I wanted from it.

I think it's harder for me to see Tennant go than it is for some of the reviewers and readers of this blog, because unlike many of them I became a Doctor Who fan in 2007. Although I started with the Eccleston episodes, I watched them with the knowledge that Eccleston would be replaced by David Tennant, and so Tennant has always been the Doctor. As opposed to all of the others, whose episodes I enjoy, often just as much, and occasionally more. They're all good. I don't think there's ever been a bad Doctor (which is astonishing when you think about it, because surely you'd expect that there would be, although maybe you disagree with my high opinion of all of them), but thy aren't the Doctor. Not anymore. And now Tennant has joined them. I thought I was ready for it but I guess I wasn't.

Which is why, although other reviews are focusing on Simm’s performance, or Cribbins’s, or Dalton’s, I can’t really bring myself to do that. I think they all did marvelously, but there is one scene which dominates this episode for me. I haven’t re-watched the entire episode since the first time I saw it, but I keep re-watching the scene between the Doctor and Rose. Davies figured out a lovely way to have his cake and eat it too in terms of giving David Tennant a send-off that was both explosive and intimate, and it’s a marvelous way of putting a bow on the entire RTD era, by returning to the beginning and focusing on the everyday character moments that make the program great, and the return to where it all started, on the Powell estate, is particularly good stuff.

For me, this is the best scene in the episode, and in fact one of my favorite moments in any Doctor Who, ever. I should be ashamed of myself for saying so, because the romance between the Tenth Doctor and Rose has never really sat well with me, and consequently I haven't thought very highly of her character, but this is a lovely little scene that's going to greatly rehabilitate my respect for her. I had feared that we might see Rose rip open the gap between dimensions again, just to be with him again at the moment of his regeneration, but we get nothing so gaudy, and instead we see a return to the far-more likable (in my opinion) 2005 version of the character. 

The tone of the scene recalls that lovely bit in Time Crash where Tennant looks at Davison and explains that “you were my Doctor.” The moment here when he tells Rose “I bet you’re gonna have a really great year” breaks the fourth wall in a similar way. At the same time as it is the Doctor talking to Rose, it’s also Davies talking to the viewer of 2005, and inviting the viewer in 2010 to reflect back on the moment when they first watched his version of Doctor Who, whether they were discovering the show for the first time or coming back to it after the long wilderness years. Self-congratulatory? Utterly, on both the Doctor’s part and Davies. But damn well deserved on both counts.  It’s his reward. It’s both of their reward.

And I ate it up, because the overblown nature of it all struck me as entirely appropriate. Much as I love my Pertwee and my Davison and my McGann Big Finish audios, I’ve never known these Doctors as anything other than the Doctors of the past. In that sense, even though Tennant’s not my favorite Doctor, he’s still my Doctor, and when my Doctor dies, I’m not complaining if he burns down the TARDIS when he goes. I’m among the millions for whom Doctor Who as I know it has come to an end. 

For this reason, I don’t think I’m going to be giving an overall retrospective of the Davies era of Doctor Who, because I simply don’t have the fan experience which allows me to properly conceive it as such. For me it's not the Davies era at all, it's Doctor Who as I know it. Which is not to say I’m not excited for the future. I was fibbing above when I implied that the Rose scene was the one I’d watched most. I must have watched the Matt Smith scene more than a dozen times already, feeling a bit giddier with excitement each time. I have the most irrational optimism for the Moffat era of Doctor Who, and the tiny taste we’ve gotten of it is driving me crazy with anticipation.

But still, the little bit of Smith and Moffat is only the icing on the fabulous cake that was The End of Time Part Two. Looking back on this ramble, I’m not sure I’ve properly reviewed the story in the sense of explaining why I loved it so much, in spite its obvious flaws. I could cite the much sharper focus than the first part, or the brilliant performances all around, or the tension of the scene between the Doctor, the Master, and Rassi… the Lord President. But honestly, I probably can’t justify my love of this episode because I appreciated it on a much more visceral level than, say, Waters of Mars or Midnight or Journey’s End. The latter of these, I realize, is controversial, but I think I gave a fairly well-reasoned argument for my enjoyment of that episode in my review. I can’t do the same here, other than to say that it thrilled me and that it broke my heart.  That’s what I’ve come to expect from the finales that Davies writes. So even when he has to sacrifice a bit of story logic to get us there, I still appreciate it greatly, and now more than ever. When all is said and done, it's a great send-off to Russell T Davies and David Tennant, two men who have been instrumental in ensuring the success of Doctor Who.

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