The End of Time

* Of all the one-off companions The Doctor has ever had, Wilfred is by far the best. He’s initially the focus of this epic story; we’re introduced to it through him, and his band of alien-hunting pensioners. How refreshing to have an older man fulfilling the traditional companion role, and for him to prove so worthy of the position – he dives in feet first, his deep love for The Doctor matching that of the audience.

* It’s a bit weird that, from The Doctor’s perspective, this doesn’t carry straight on from The Waters of Mars. It rather undermines the seriousness of that story’s climax; instead of carrying the weight of his huge mistake and his impending death, he swans in fresh from his holidays and boasts about shagging Queen Elizabeth.

* I’d forgotten exactly what Lucy Saxon’s role was in The Master’s resurrection. I’d seemed to recall that she was complicit in the plan – shooting him so that she could then retrieve the ring – but I must have been remembering my theory from beforehand, rather than the actual episode. Turns out that she’d just been caught up in all of it, and in fact managed to throw a spanner in the works right at the crucial moment.

*  Unfortunately, I’m not keen on the effects of her spanner. The whole concept of the resurrection was a very TVM-esque interpretation of The Master as some sort of irrepressible form of energy, rather than mere flesh and blood. I’m not quite on board with this – he’s more scary if he’s just an evil version of The Doctor, not if he’s shooting lightning bolts from his hands and flying about like a comic book villain. I’m not sure why the trauma has made him blonde either.

* Today’s “oh, it’s them!” watch: David Harewood! In a surprisingly small role for someone of his pedigree. June Whitfield! Her and Cribbins are totally at it. The woman werewolf from Being Human! I had to look her up, because I knew I recognised her from something but couldn’t place what. In my defence, she spent most of the episode disguised as a cactus.

* “President Obama has promised to end the recession”. This was less than eight years ago, but wow, the world truly was a different place, back when we had: a) a President who people around the world respected; and b) so few problems that one single action could make a tangible difference.

* It’s not very festive, is it? Other than the odd bit of tinsel, the only major concession to Christmas is The Master devouring a giant turkey. That’s about it until Part One ends with the words: “And so it came to pass, on Christmas Day, that the human race did cease to exist”. Well, Merry fucking Christmas to you too, James Bond.

* The Master making everyone into copies of himself is basically what happens in The Empty Child, but with an evil genius instead of an innocent boy. Honestly, it’s Simm City out there. With nearly seven billion clones milling about, it’s a good job the original Master seems to be in control of them – I’d have thought they’d all want to be in charge, bickering over who got to show off in front of The Doctor and who had to do the minor admin. It’d be like the Red Dwarf episode Me2, except they’d have to call it Me6.8billion.

* Considering all the epic stuff that’s going on, with The Master victorious and bloody Rassilon turning up with his special glove, the first time I felt moved was when Wilfred tearfully told The Doctor he didn’t want him to die. He’s so sweet, and his presence raises the stakes even further – we know that Doctors die all the time, so can be blasé about it, but I don’t want Wilf to lose his Doctor.

* Although let’s face it, how the fuck does he survive jumping from a spaceship and falling face first through a glass ceiling? That should have been it – Tennant dead and buried before the Time Lords even arrive.

* There’s certainly a hell of a lot going on here, but it’s hard to see what the point of anything of it is, other than it all being a prelude to The Doctor’s death. The Master being back was a big threat, but Rasillon undoes everything he’d done within seconds, so that’s all sorted. So therefore the Time Lords are now the big epic thing, but they turn up far too late in the day to really make their presence felt – we were told how dangerous they were without ever experiencing it ourselves. And then they’re dealt with in five minutes. Those five minutes are good, and it’s nice to see The Master getting some element of redemption, but it’s all very hasty.

* And so it comes to pass that what finally fells the Tenth Doctor is none of these things. He emerges unscathed, and the ultimate irony is that it’s poor old Wilf that inadvertently brings him down. That’s a lovely twist, but don’t be angry at Wilf about it, you prick. He was only in danger because he saved someone else, plus you can regenerate and he can’t. This attitude left a bitter aftertaste to the Tenth Doctor’s era – I hadn’t remembered until now, but my dislike for him towards the end has clouded my view of this incarnation.

* Then of course, there’s the famous farewell tour. First up, Martha, who’s left UNIT, dumped her fiance and married Mickey. That’s quite strange; I wouldn’t have pictured them as a couple, and I hope they weren’t put together just because they have one thing in common. I like how The Doctor saves their lives, then does the same for Luke, but that his gift for Jack is to get him laid. He knows him so well.

* I’ve always wondered why he tracks down Joan’s great-granddaughter, rather than going back and just visiting her himself. But I guess it would be a bit traumatic for her if he suddenly rocked up again, plus “Verity Newman” is a lovely touch. It’s sweet that he wants to make sure Joan was happy, and I found it quite touching this time round. Although obviously not as touching as when Cribbins cries again, and therefore I cry again.

* The bit with Rose is really nice, but it would have been infinitely better had she not reappeared in Series 4, so that a distant glimpse at a woman who doesn’t know him was the closest The Doctor got to seeing her again. In fact, that’s true of the whole sequence – it would have had so much impact if Journey’s End hadn’t have happened, and it still baffles me that the big multi-companion reunion wasn’t Tennant’s swansong.

* God, he doesn’t half make a fuss about regenerating this time, doesn’t he? The Universe itself sings him on his way, which seems a bit excessive when past regenerations have been about as ceremonious as getting a bump on the head whilst wearing a blonde fuzzy wig. It doesn’t really seem to be in the spirit of the show by making such a big fuss about one particular Doctor and one particular showrunner leaving – the console room being destroyed and “I don’t want to go” make everything seem so final, which could have really undermined the incoming regime.

* Mind you, we did see much more of the new Doctor than we normally do. I remember being distinctly unsure about Matt Smith at the time, but now with the power of hindsight, it feels like a baton being passed from a good Doctor to an even better one. But that’s another story…

RATING: 8

So it’s the end of an era – my era, in fact, considering I only became a fan thanks to Russell bringing the show back. It wasn’t without its flaws – looking back, I think the constant desire to make everything exponentially bigger and better began to harm the show towards the end – but I’ll always be incredibly fond of Russell’s work on the show, and indeed incredibly grateful. It was the first version of Doctor Who that I fell in love with, and twelve years later, I can barely remember what it was like to not love Doctor Who.

Technically speaking, this isn’t the end of a series, but I feel like I should do one of these anyway:

SPECIALS AVERAGE RATING: 7.5

  • Seasons/Series watched: Still 30 of 36
  • Stories watched: 202 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 756 of 839

It’s taken ages to get through these specials, what with all the spin-offs in between, so I’m really looking forward to having a nice regular series coming up next. I’m about to start the show’s current era, and I hope I can squeeze it all in before it’s no longer the current era…

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Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords

* Yes, I am conflicted about whether this is a three-parter or a single episode followed by a two-parter, but the consensus seems to be the former, which I think is just about right. It’s true that Utopia feels separate from the other two, but it’s got a cliffhanger that Sound of Drums resolves.

* Utopia remains one of my fondest memories of a communal viewing experience. There were a bunch of us watching together, and we were all pretty sure that The Master would be turning up towards to the end, but we certainly didn’t know how it would happen. We were expecting an inconsequential little story about future humans being chased by savages, but then as the focus shifted to Professor Yana, we realised what was going on. Each little clue or reveal was greeted with elation, as if they were goals in a football match. One of my friends summarised the evening perfectly as “we have been sold a dummy, and I’m entirely happy with the price negotiated”.

* Ah, so there’s the Captain Jack that I remember from Doctor Who! Where was he during that interminable fortnight? He’s so much fun here, especially in Utopia before everything gets quite so heavy, and it’s exactly what Torchwood was missing – the guy with the lust for life, who will happily flirt with man, woman or insectoid, no matter how much danger he’s in. The conversation between him and The Doctor while he’s in the radiation-filled room is great, and it should give him closure on a few things, thus making him less of a twat when he gets back to Torchwood for Series 2. Will it, though? Will it bollocks.

* Professor Yana is just adorable. Doctor Who is at its best when it’s making highly respected Shakespearean actors play either bumbling old scholars, or evil supervillains. Jacobi gets to do both, and the episode belongs to him, and Yana’s slow realisation of who he truly is. I only wish there was more time for the Jacobi Master, as those couple of minutes are the most dark and sinister incarnation that there’s ever been. I loved Chantho too, but I was almost egging The Master on to prove himself by killing her.

* Simm’s Master, on the other hand, I have slightly more complicated feelings about. I’ve said before that The Master’s personality is always a reflection of whichever Doctor he’s facing, so it’s only right that Tennant’s nemesis should be young, energetic and extreme. But I think the balance is a little bit off, and I don’t think he has enough sensible moments to counteract the – admittedly highly entertaining – silly stuff. I don’t remember having an issue with it at the time, but now that I’ve seen the every apperance of The Master’s every incarnation, this one doesn’t stack up quite as well.

* The customary celebrity cameos in a finale are fulfilled by Sharon Osbourne, McFly and Ann Widdecombe, thus ensuring some competition for The Master as the most evil entity in the episode. This was before she became a comedy figure on Strictly, so she was just that funny old Tory MP who actively fought against LGBT rights, denied climate change and supported the reintroduction of the death penalty. A strange choice.

* Worldwide mind control or no worldwide mind control, the rise of Harold Saxon is just so unrealistic. As if any civilised country would voluntarily elect as their leader an evil, bigoted psychopath, with no tangible policies, and so many holes in his story, just on the basis of unsubstantiated soundbites and spurious charm? I am saying that The Master is like Donald Trump. Do you see?

* One more thing on The Master. This is the first time, as far as I recall, where he’s actually got what he wanted. He set out to become the Prime Minister and he did, then he wanted to take over the world and he did, and then he wanted to subjugate The Doctor and he did. I’ve always wondered what the next stage would be when a supervillain wins, and the answer is apparently to hang around on a flying aircraft carrier for a year, singing along to the Scissor Sisters and having a big old laugh. Fair enough.

* I find Lucy Saxon to be a fascinating character. The Master has had companions of sorts before at times, but they’ve usually either been there under duress or under his control. Lucy seems to be fully aware that he’s evil, but willingly making the decision to side with him. I love the little moment where she’s tentatively dancing along to Voodoo Child while everything goes mental – she seems to be getting a kick out of the chaos. But then a year later, we see her with a black eye, and it’s never commented on. It’s incredibly effective – an interjection of real life domestic horror, which resonates far more as an illustration of The Master’s character than an abstract off-screen decimation.

* Sadly, the three-parter fumbles the ending a little bit, with the last episode suffering by The Doctor’s absence. The Old Man Doctor is one thing – it’s a great effect and it’s certainly a shocking sight – but it does slightly hamper his ability to affect the story. Although it’s a damn sight better than House Elf Doctor, who’s so far removed from the character we know and love that I find it impossible to get on board with the idea that they are one and the same. Annoyingly, The Master sets it up as a suspension of The Doctor’s past regenerations, with the promise of us seeing all 900 years of his life at once. The possibilities that you infer from that are all way better than what we got.

* I did enjoy Martha’s stuff of travelling around the world. I’d forgotten about the professor turning out to be a rat, but it’s a miracle I’d forgotten anything with all those flashbacks. They’re a useful device when you’re referencing things from past episodes, but it gets a bit ridiculous when you’re flashing back to things that happened five minutes ago.

* It was good that the magic gun turned out to be a McGuffin, and the idea that The Doctor would be able to use The Master’s Archangel network against him is sound. But in practice, the big floating Jesus Doctor is not good. The Doctor is basically resurrected by the power of prayer, then he briefly becomes magic. Nah, not for me. Then there’s the old Superman ending, where time is reversed so that hardly any bad things happened – although the President of the United States did get murdered on British soil. It’s obviously necessary for future series that the events of these episodes are undone, but it can’t help but feel like a bit of a cheat.

* However, beyond the plot, each of the characters got a much more satisfying ending. The Master’s death was exactly the kind of emotional Doctor and Master scene that the episode needed throughout. Despite his previous imperative for self-preservation at all costs, I totally buy him refusing to regenerate just out of spite for The Doctor, even without the possibility that the whole thing was an elaborate ring-based escape plan.

* Meanwhile, Jack is sent back to his role as Chief Grumpy Bastard and Rooftop Stander of Torchwood Cardiff, via some Face of Boe based lols. My theory is that RTD meant it when they filmed it, then changed his mind later on, when he was feeling less giddy, and backtracked. I can see it. They kind of look like each other.

* And then, of course, it’s goodbye to Martha. I like her far more than most fans do. Her unrequited love for The Doctor doesn’t dominate her adventures quite as much as I’d remembered, and instead she just quietly proved herself to be just as brave and capable as Rose, but without the annoying tendency to boast about it all the time. She gets to leave on her own terms, with the promise of an imminent return. Good luck to her – she deserved a longer stay in the TARDIS than she got.

RATING: 9

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.33

  • Seasons/Series watched: 29 of 35
  • Stories watched: 187 of 264
  • Individual episodes watched: 737 of 827

I’m going to have to pause the project briefly there, as I’m once more volunteering at the biennial Red Dwarf convention Dimension Jump this weekend, and I really ought to start getting ready. I’ll be back in roughly one week…