Christmas. I hate Christmas. The compulsory gift-giving, the monthlong frenzy of crass commercialism and godawful pervasive music, the tacky decorations, the senseless treeslaughter, the theological indoctrination, the eggnog-clouded family get-togethers, the unholy bastard spawn of religion and capitalism, more annoying even than each separately. Some people like Christmas. They like the hassle of the shopping, think gaudy decorations are wonderful, revel in the ceaseless torment of christmas carols, look forward eagerly to the inevitable disappointment of annual stunt-casted Chrit'mas specials on the telly, and after it all careens to a disastrous end, they set their sights on the next nationalistic and/or religious ceremony with unabated glee. I think the world can roughly be split between people who don't like Christmas and those who do (and the billion or so people who live somewhere it isn't a particularly big deal), and with the exception of those who’ve a decent reason (prepubescence, medication), I don’t think I’ve ever gotten along with people who like Christmas.
Well, I, for one, was hoping for more.
Which is the only way I can really understand the reaction to Journey’s End, which has polarised fandom more than any episode this series. Between the shallow spectacle and the shiny baubles and the anaemic paeans to the "true believers", many fans in their religious fervour feel that it is blasphemy to look over this tinsel-strewn wasteland and fail to be converted. (My reaction to this is pictured on the right.)
Well, I, for one, was hoping for more.
Doctor Who: Journey's End
Not expecting it, mind you, just hoping for it. I ended my last review with a cliffhanger, when I threatened to reveal what I thought of the cliffhanger. Partly this is because I thought it a wee bit clever; partly it's because I was too damn tired to bother trying to hammer out those extra few paragraphs; partly because time was running short; but mainly it's because I didn't want to heap praise on The Stolen Earth's spectacular cliffhanger when I felt pretty sure the resolution would fail to live up to my exacting standards, and, indeed, any standards at all.
Well, Russell T. Davies, you didn't disappoint me...and so I was disappointed. Predictably, Journey's End kicks off with startlingly poor resolutions to all three of last week's cliffhangers. Whether it's the magical hand of convenience, Jackie and Mickey's far-too-convenient materialization, or the method of conveniently writing Gwen and Ianto out of the rest of the episode, each seems like a disappointing cop-out. The density of dei ex machina in the first two minutes alone is almost enough to cause the entire episode to collapse into a black hole of arbitrary plotting. Mind you, RTD had sort of written himself into a corner here. There was no convenient Chekhov's gun lying around from earlier narratives to resolve any of the predicaments. I'd rather hoped there was something I missed and I'd be in awe of the clever escape; instead RTD just pulled rabbits out of his arse in some sort of perverse magical theatre.
Viva la Resolucion!:
The crap resolutions went well beyond the first two minutes, unfortunately. Davies has been dropping leaden hints on us all season, from Donna's hearing of heartbeats to Dalek Caan squealing and giggling about the death of the Doctor's "most faithful companion", and all seemed to land with a dull thud. In fact, the only resolutions that weren't crap were those many things that weren't resolved at all.
The least satisfying non-resolutions of the episode, and Davies' grossest derelictions of his duties as a scriptwriter, all converged on Donna. After weeks of playing up her importance ("the most important woman in the universe!") and dropping bollocks like "the pattern's not complete. The strands are still drawing together. But heading for what?" and every species in the universe predicting great things for her, we were a bit stirred up. Fans and casual viewers alike have been whipped into a frenzy, ropey strands of saliva falling from the corners of our mouths as we hurl our theories about who Donna might be and why all timelines seem to be leading to her, like so many monkeys hurling their feces at each other.
...all it requires is half-a-dozen incontinent macaques with a Speak-and-Spell...
Well, I'm sad to say, the ideas we've all been flinging about are infinitely better than the steaming pile of exposition RTD actually serves up for our consumption. The Doctor's heartbeat "rippled back, converging on" Donna because the Doctor's "complicated" and Donna's "special". A Dalek faerie has been manipulating the timelines...but the result was inevitable anyway? Why? Because Donna was "so unique."? That's all you could come up with, you incompetent bastard? Some sort of Donna-specific version of the already questionable Anthropic Principle? It's some sort of Destiny? Donna's the Chosen One? Bah. It's like that old adage about the infinite number of monkeys with the infinite number of typewriters...except that all it requires is half-a-dozen incontinent macaques with a Speak-and-Spell to best this pathetic cop-out.
The Naked Time(lord):
Since all of the universe seemed to be working together to foreshadow Donna's greatness, it was the least Davies could do to come up with a sufficiently over-the-top threat and implausible conclusion. Not content with merely taking over the entire universe, Davros and his friends have designed a machine that will obliterate anything and everything in all possible universes, and it's apparently fueled and propagated by 27 planets in careful balance.
The Supreme Dalek sets the mechanism for his own destruction in motion through the use of a cartoonish trap-door in the floor of the crucible, dropping Donna and the TARDIS through a long amusement-park ride into a furnace. While the TARDIS is bobbing up and down in a pool of zed-neutrinos (think of it as Doctor Who's own "trash compactor" scene), Murray Gold appears to Donna and tempts her into touching the pickled meat, setting up the episode's most important deus ex machina: the Biological Metacrisis. More of a Logical Metacrisis, the Doctor's hand is, understandably, aroused by Catherine Tate's touch, and grows into what I will heretofore refer to as "the Naked Doctor", and apparently the two of them have tainted each other in the process.
...understandably, aroused by Catherine Tate's touch...
The scenes of the Naked Doctor and Donna aping each other in the TARDIS are actually among the most enjoyable of the episode, and, of course, this entire contrivance eventually sets us up the Surreality Bomb that solves all of the universe's problems. Fortunately for the universe, Clever Donna possessed that magical human X-factor, lever-pressing-skills and the ability to shout scientificky-sounding things, allowing her to tits-up the Dalek plan in a matter of seconds, and right on time. (David Tennant yelling at the Dalek Empire to "cut it out! Just, please, stop it!" seemed to be meeting with limited success.) The final defeat of the Daleks' plan largely consisted of the Doctor, the Doctor-Donna, and the Naked Doctor spouting endless nonsense and flicking switches and turning knobs. The convenient Dalek-control-panel might have qualified as a Checkhov's gun, except that it was only revealed when needed, making it essentially a machina ex machina. The level of teachno-babble was ratcheted up so high in Journey's End my ears hurt, but without it the writer might have actually had to, in the words of the Supreme Dalek, "Explain! Explain! Explain!"
Orgy of Caanibalism:
What a bunch of rubbish were the Cult of Skaro, eh? Some elite force of Dalek superheroes they turned out to be. First we have Dalek Sec engaging in bestiality with the lower life forms, and now Dalek Caan brings back the entire bloody species from oblivion, just so he can sell them out. And for what? Shits and giggles, apparently. Mostly giggles. And a squeal or two. And rubbing his tentacles together maliciously, like a pantomime villain.
The other modern Daleks may still have compulsory-exposition problems (why is it that Daleks can't seem to do anything without saying it out loud! "Commence Disposal! Incinerate!"), but at least I know where they're coming from. Why have you forsaken me, Dalek Caan?
I sort of enjoyed his mad rantings in The Stolen Earth, but when it's revealed that he's not only already seen Journey's End (the poor bastard!), but apparently he script-edited it as well (the bastard!), I lost my enthusiasm. One part carny fortune teller ("reading is free for red hair!") and two parts mad puppet-master, his theoretical string-pulling and, apparently, unlimited power, just seemed another way to dance around actual plotting in favour of magical, unexplainey contrivance.
The Impossible Planet:
Perhaps the nadir of the episode, in terms of just plain embarrassing, nausea-inducing awfulness, was the lengthy bit when the Doctor and his little team help a wayward planet find its way home. They literally tow it, for fuck's sake. Maybe this is just intended to give Torchwood and Luke Smith something to do after being grounded for the rest of the episode, or it's an excuse to pull K-9 out of the closet for a few more seconds to hump Mr. Smith's leg. Either way, it hurt just watching it.
To add insult to injury, the entire sequence is accompanied by some of the more abominable music Murray Gold has coughed up since 2005. It seems to combine the worst elements of both "Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles" and "Up with People". As they drop the hurtling Earth offhandedly back into its groove, everyone claps and hugs, The Earthlings all cheer and flail about and jump around like idiots, celebrating despite untold millions dead from the Dalek invasion. Governments the world over set off their strategic fireworks stockpiles. The ridiculous upbeatness is the same miserable excess I cited in my review for The Poison Sky, as "obnoxiously, hollowly uplifting," and it fares no better here.
Revelation of the Bollocks:
Another fine example of Davies dropping the spanner was the whole let-down of the Doctor's terrible secret. While most of the interminably talky episode consisted of tedious exposition, the scene where Davros gathers all of the Doctor's companions into some sort of shouty group therapy session falls far short of its goal. After a lengthy buildup about, to quote a tentacled muppet, "revealing the Doctor's soul", Davros's grand scheme apparently involves Daleks on parade in some sort of synchronized-swimming display and some sort of self-help based psychoanalysis of the Doctor.
The worst part of this is that the Doctor seemed to actually be bothered by it. When Davros is gleefully thrashing about screaming, "The man who abhors violence, never carrying a gun...but this is the truth, Doctor. You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons. Behold your children of time, transformed into murderers. I made the Daleks, Doctor, you made this.", an appropriate response might have been "You've got to be fucking kidding me." I would have to assume that Davros was just taking the piss with lines like "This is my final victory, Doctor...I have shown you...yourself!", but instead David Tennant gets all misty-eyed and has a series of flashbacks to mostly-RTD-scripted episodes from the last three or four years set to maudlin music.
...the reddest of herrings, gaping plot wounds, implausible contrivances and poor science.
The whole suggestion that Davros was going to reveal something deep and interesting about the Doctor was just another false promise in a script rife with the reddest of herrings, gaping plot wounds, implausible contrivances and poor science. What's with the Doctor and Davros misusing the term "wavelength"? These guys are supposed to be smart. Much as everyone feared, the stars all going out at once, with no consideration for the time it takes light to travel anywhere, was the "I wouldn't know science if it bit me in the arse" error it first appeared to be. What was the point of rounding up guinea pigs to test the reality bomb on, except as a contrivance to get Jackie, Mickey and Sarah Jane up to the crucible? What was Jackie shooting at in the sky when she first beamed over from the parallel universe? Oh...and in space, no one can hear you drop a spanner.
The Pretention Cannon:
It's almost a given now that Martha continues her unbearable-streak she's been on since at least The Last of the Time Lords. As usual, she's hobbled by most of the episodes most atrociously hamfisted dialogue ("Yeah, but I've got a higher authority, way above UNIT. And there's one more thing the Doctor would do."), but Freema Agyeman's affected line-reading doesn't improve matters. I think she may have borrowed Rose's new teeth for the duration of the Crisis on Impotent Earth. It's as if she's settled on portraying the character as a grim, serious, emotionally-disabled automaton, which may have some narrative justification, but sucks away all of the fun and appeal that the character used to have.
She may convince us she's the kind of self-important git who would set off the Doomsday device, but she can't seem to convince us to give a damn.
Not much else about the episode works in her favour either. Entire scenes delivered in German almost as poorly pronounced as her English; Harper's unusual depth-of-field games when she repels her mother with her outflung fingers; a costume that consists of a parachute complete with ripcord; shouting "noooooooooooo...!" as the Daleks defuse her insignificant threat with their transmat.
She may convince us she's the kind of self-important git who would set off the Doomsday device, but she can't seem to convince us to give a damn. She'll fit in perfectly on Torchwood; let's hope they don't feel the need to bring her back to Doctor Who any time soon.
Speaking of returning guest-stars, Rose's is one casket Davies should never have re-opened. Rose's "arc" ended (excellently) two seasons ago, and Rose getting her pet doctor in Journey's End (Frank beat me to the wording, but, really, no other words will do) pisses all over the far more satisfactory Doomsday.
The argument that the Naked Doctor needs Rose Tyler to heal him, or even that eliminating the Daleks makes him need healing at all, remains thoroughly unconvincing, and the treacley mess on the beach just comes across as an excuse to throw the Rose/Doctor shippers a stale bone. If a "human-timelord biological metacrisis" can't survive, I was, of course, left wondering if the Doctor just left Rose cavorting with an impending corpse, instead of just a genocidal mockup of himself and the best temp in Chiswick. Even if he doesn't drop dead within hours, Rose isn't likely to be satisfied with the short end of the stick. After travelling the universe with the Doctor, she's isn't likely to be any more satisfied settling down with the Naked Doctor who works in a chip shop than Donna would be with being mind-raped and stranded back on Earth.
The Biggest Backfire in History:
Journey's End had a few redeeming features...there was the...um...no...wait...I'll think of it...ooh, I've got it! Bernard Cribbins didn't suck. Then again, he really never sucked, now did he? Well, how about the faux-German Daleks? They were entertaining. And, of course, there was Donna.
The final insult of Journey's End was Donna's terrible fate. Catherine Tate has been, easily, the best thing to happen to Doctor Who since at least sometime in the seventies. Donna was supposed to travel with the Doctor forever, more or less. She certainly deserved better than she got.
...like a schoolboy pulling the wings off of a butterfly...
The Doctor leaving Donna as an amnesiac ticking time-bomb is not a satisfying conclusion to her plot arc. Sure, it was emotionally devastating and all, and Tate's unparalleled acting sells the horror of it far more than anyone else could have. An actual death would have been a far more dignified coda for Donna (and would have actually lived up to Caan's prophecy of a companion death, unlike the annoying bait-and-switch Davies keeps pulling). In one fell swoop, like a schoolboy pulling the wings off of a butterfly, Davies has reduced Donna to the shallow caricature we all met with some trepidation in The Runaway Bride.
Donna's mantra about being "just a temp" led to a great deal of speculation among the fans ("...temp...tempus...time. She must be a time lord!"). That, of course, all turned out to be much ado about nothing, as the only thing that made her special was her accidental cross pollination with the Doctor. The end result of her character arc was to have no arc at all; she was just a placeholder. It's like the world's worst reset-button. You see, for Davies, Donna was just a temp all along.