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…

The Waters of Mars

* Yes, sorry, I’m back. Luckily nothing major has happened in the world of Doctor Who since I’ve been away, right? I’m returning with a story that features an accomplished female space adventurer, and it’s one that is largely overlooked in the pantheon of great episodes, but it really is a corker.

* Gemma Chan! Playing someone called Mia, no less. This is a really early role for her, which makes this the equivalent of when the likes of Martin Clunes or Gail Platt turned up in the classic series. And yet it still feels so recent. I am getting old.

* “Bowie Base One” was a lovely touch back in 2009, but even more so now. It’s a great setting – this is basically a celebrity historical, but with celebrities from our future. Clever too that fictional events can be fixed points in time, as well as ones from Earth’s real-life past – it means you can explore what happens when The Doctor interferes with “history”, without any danger of affecting the present.

* I’d completely forgotten about Gadget! He’s adorable. As with Series 4, I haven’t revisited this period of the show very much in the intervening years – in fact, there’s probably only a handful of episodes from now on that I’ve seen more than once. It’s fun that this rewatch still has the ability to surprise me, even though it is simply down to my own terrible memory.

* Lindsay Duncan is a much better one-off companion than Michelle Ryan was (which seems like ages ago now, considering it was only the previous episode). Mind you, this is far from the traditional companion role – Adelaide isn’t there to assist The Doctor, it’s her that’s in charge of him. She’s lived her best life and achieved so much more than most of the characters we usually meet, and she happens to be utterly brilliant too.

* The Flood are a cheap monster, but an effective one. It’s RTD and/or Phil Ford doing for water what Moffat has done for statues and shadows. Compare “just one drop” to “don’t blink”. Of course, people being piss wet through with gushing water now reminds me of Bill and her soggy girlfriend.

* I love the sequence with young Adelaide and the Dalek. Seeing previous adventures from different perspectives is something I associate with Moffat’s era, but RTD has beaten him to it a fair few times. The Dalek spared her because of her historical significance, which means they have more respect for the laws of time and space than The Doctor has at this stage. At least he eventually tells Adelaide exactly what he knows about her and the fate of the base, unlike most people who know the future.

* The Doctor does a bad thing, but you can see why, and in fact you’re urging him to save the day while all his instincts are telling him to walk away. It’s only when it works, when he gets cocky and declares himself Time Lord Victorious, that you realise he’s gone too far; significantly, this is before The Doctor himself realises this, which makes him the bad guy in the story, albeit briefly. He robs Adelaide of her destiny, but she takes it back with one single, devastating action. It’s so powerful. This is a great story.

RATING: 9

Planet of the Ood

Ah, now there’s the Series 4 I remember. My memory was that this one was a bit mediocre, but I think I’m leaning towards it being actually bad. It’s a shame, because I do like the Ood, and the new elements to their story work well. Obviously I’m also on board with the notion of using a family-friendly Saturday evening show to talk about the evils of slavery, but there was one main problem with the story. Go on, guess.

I won’t continue to go on about how I hate Catherine Tate’s delivery whenever there’s a moment that’s even slightly light-hearted, partly because to do so would be boring, and also because there were too many irritating instances in this episode to list. This time round, I also had big problems with the way the character was written – all the additional subtlety from the last two episodes has disappeared, and she’s back to the Donna from The Runaway Bride.

And if you don’t like that particular character then tough luck, because she makes everything all about her. When they discover the natural Ood, The Doctor grants her the gift to be able to perceive the universe like he does, but she rejects it because what she perceives is inconvenient to her. In the climax, her first reaction upon discovering that full extent of the Ood’s plight is to say she wants to go home, because the universe has things in it that she doesn’t like. She’s self-centered, entitled and generally not a very nice person. It makes sense that, as revealed in this episode, they made her a West Ham fan.

By far the best thing about the episode was Tim McInnerney, bringing all the sniveling, snidey, rubber-desk-johnny unpleasantness of Captain Darling to create a good old-fashioned Doctor Who bastard. I also quite liked the PR woman who you thought was going to join the good guys, but quickly turned it around and betrayed them – a pleasant and surprising twist on the tried and trusted formula.

I was less keen on the sadistic security guard, and his attempts to kill the Doctor using a giant fairground grabby claw. Nor did I like Captain Darling turning into an Ood. The idea of his personal Ood turning against him is good, and I did enjoy the surprisingly gruesome sight of his scalp peeling back, but it was far too much of a stretch to take considering it didn’t actually have any impact on the plot whatsoever. These various distractions made the ending fall flat – I no longer care about their stupid song, and I’m not going to get emotional about it no matter how many times you show me Donna crying.

And what’s a West Ham fan doing in Chiswick anyway?

RATING: 5

The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit

Tardisodes: First, a tough-looking space captain receives a mission, from an astonishingly unconvincing corporate official, to retrieve a mysterious power source from a distant planet. He accepts, and then an Ood makes a sarcastic-sounding comment about The Beast rising from the pit. Secondly, a scene that’s set after the first Tardisode but before the first episode, where a book full of those symbols burns up, transferring the symbols to some poor sod in the process. It’s slightly quirky in terms of chronology when you watch it all in order, but I guess it’s hard to do a prequel that sits well in the middle of a two-parter.

* I liked that the pre-titles to the first episode introduced the Ood with a mini-cliffhanger that turned out to be a red herring – in the old days, those couple of minutes would have been 25. I do like the Odd, with their sing-song demonic threats that always sound slightly sassy. Of course, this is the first time I’ve clapped eyes on an Ood since I watched The Sensorites, so now I can see that they’re so clearly cut from the same cloth.

* What a guest cast. Danny Webb from off of Alien³ and Humans! Claire Rushbrook, who interviews Daisy Steiner for a magazine job! The guy with all the writing on his face who I now know best as a man in Corrie who tried to steal Craig Charles’s girlfriend by pretending he had brain cancer! Pretty much all the crew are famous telly faces, and they play a big part in this story’s success.

* Having said that, it’s weird that there’s two extra crew members who don’t speak and who nobody ever refers to. A bloke with a gun who turns up when The Doctor goes down the mineshaft, and a woman with a gun who’s caught up in the initial Ood attack. Unless I missed something, neither are mentioned early on when they go through the crew roster, and nobody seems to care too much about their deaths, considering the fuss they (rightly) make when the more senior crew members snuff it.

*  There’s lots of little hints about the society the crew are from. They’re the type of people who would happily keep slaves without questioning the morality, and who talk of “the empire”, which all sounds a bit Brexit in retrospect. It’s not a huge thing, but it’s a level of detail that would be reminiscent of an old Robert Holmes serial if there was just a little bit more of it.

* There’s a sound effect on the crew’s communicators that Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe used to use for transitions. This is most distracting.

* There’s a lovely build up of tension and drama leading to the cliffhanger, where your man gets possessed and properly scary, and absolutely everything goes to shit. But cutting when the pit opened, before we’d seen what was inside, wasn’t particularly satisfying, and it left it feeling a little like clickbait – you won’t believe what’s in there, tune in next week to find out.

* But the second part is all very exciting, and so I have far fewer notes for it. I remembered liking it the first time around, but couldn’t recall much about it. The details of what happens are perhaps not that memorable because the various components – base under siege, power failures, dwindling oxygen supplies, crawling around in the air ducts – are not particularly original, but as an action-adventure romp, it’s a very decent one. Jefferson’s sacrifice is very sad, and the little hint that Toby was still possessed added an extra dimension – you knew he’d go bad and ruin everything, you just didn’t know when.

* Rose is apparently “the valiant child who will die in battle so very soon”. Or just get stranded on a parallel world for a couple of series, but whatevs. Those words obviously stirred something in her, as she does an absolutely sterling job of taking command in The Doctor’s absence soon after. In a series where she’s been far harder to take seriously than she was last time, this is an undoubted high point for the character.

* The Doctor’s side of the story was much slower paced, but no less interesting. It’s always intriguing to see what he does when he thinks that he’s lost everything. The TARDIS is gone, they’re trapped down a ten mile mineshaft and he’s got less than an hour’s worth of oxygen, so fuck it, let’s jump down a totally deep hole. As he falls, he stops short of saying that he loves Rose, which is more galling when you know what happens at the end of the series.

* Throughout, I got a vague Alien series vibe, which is obviously right up my street. Maybe it was just the presence of Danny Webb, but also the design of the base and the fact that the crew were designed to be identifiably ordinary people. But that ending, with the highest ranking survivor logging a roll call of the deceased, confirmed to me that it was a deliberate homage. Fine by me, no wonder I enjoyed it so much.

RATING: 9