TARDIS File 04-17: The End of Time, Part One

TARDIS File 04-17: The End of Time, Part One

The Big Idea… The Ood warn the Doctor of impending disaster to all of time, and an old enemy returns with a taste for eternal life—with onions.

What’s so great…

  • Dear Bernard Cribbins: Please come and be my Grandpa. I have a spare room, a telescope and you can have all the meat pies you want. Honestly, the man is a marvel in his portrayal of Wilf. He can go from naughty and playful to soulful and noble to fit any scene he’s in.
  • David Tennant is simply marvellous and he communicates the Doctor’s fear, denial and weariness pitch-perfectly. It’s a remarkable balance of the character’s heroism and vulnerability.
  • And then you take those two great strengths and put them together in a simple café scene between two pros. Even if you hated the story, you can scene-select their conversation over and over again. The look of pain and regret in the Doctor’s voice when he tells Wilf that “he did some things that went wrong” is wrenching as is his face when Wilf asks him if Donna wouldn’t make his life better.
  • It’s easy to forget how good John Simm is, portraying a character who is inherently over-the-top. Watch him carefully and you’ll discern a lot of texture in his raving megalomaniac.
  • The merry band of seniors was a nice touch to the story. They’re so alive and full of life in sharp relief to the Doctor who is facing death.
  • Claire Bloom exudes class and gravitas (whomever the heck she’s meant to be).

Some Quick Bits of Trivia: Timothy Dalton who plays the mysterious narrator (later revealed to be the Time Lord President) is best known for playing 007 James Bond in two films in that franchise in the late 80s/early 90s. He’s also an accomplished theatre thespian. Originally, like all stories made since 2005, both episodes of this story were to have separate titles, The Last Days of Planet Earth and The End of Time. Response to the first episode title was decidedly mixed when it was seen as a title graphic, so the decision was made to use the second episode title, The End of Time, across both episodes as “Part One” and “Part Two”—a common practice throughout the classic series, but never done in the new series til now.

Things to geek out about:

  • The Time Lords are back! And they have a scope and majesty that past production teams were never able to manage. There must be thousands upon thousands CGI Gallifreyans chanting in their great hall, the Panopticon, at the end of the episode.
  • We finally get to see who’s hand it was that retrieved the Master’s ring at the end of Last of the Time Lords. And no it wasn’t Lucy Saxon but some anonymous prison guard who favours really red lipstick.
  • The Doctor mentions his romance with Queen Elizabeth !, nicely paying off a joke set up in the season 3 story The Shakespeare Code.

Not to complain but…  All the business with Obama and his plan to restore the economy is embarrassingly on the nose and will no doubt date the story terribly. And what was with the bad super-villain powers that the Master suddenly acquired? Perhaps kids found them cool and entertaining, but in 25 years time those same kids will not look back affectionately on that part of the story!

All Things Considered…  The End of Time Part One had to be big, setting the stage for an epic drama/conflict that would lead to the inevitable regeneration of an extremely popular Doctor.  But viewers also had to digest their Christmas dinners through it. Russell T Davies had already threatened all of reality in the previous season-ender. How was he ever going to top that threat? First, bring back John Simm’s Master, let him chew the scenery (that would be a lot of gravel) and then multiply him by billions.  Next, end it all on a massive cliffhanger by bringing back the Doctor’s lately annihilated brethren, the mysterious Time Lords. As with all past Christmas specials, this one switches tone frequently to meet a variety of needs: the soulful and ominous opening with Wilf in the church; the light, funny, stream-of-consciousness banter between the Doctor and Ood Sigma (okay, I guess it’s more of a monologue); the over-the-top melodrama of the Master’s revival; and the quiet character scenes between the Doctor an Wilf and the Doctor and the Master.

One can feel the strain on the script as each of the pieces is moved into place for the finale. Davies employs a lot of story “shorthand” to get there, and it’s bound to annoy those viewers looking for logic and plot consistency. For pure spectacle, the completely bonkers idea of having John Simm portray multiple versions of the Master in various garb is entertaining enough. It could have been an utter disaster in a lesser actor’s hands. Don’t try and explain the logic, best to just marvel in the result.

Unfortunately what really doesn’t work in the story are Davies’ attempts to inject the story with his customary social commentary for dummies. Conspicuous consumption and the state of the economy are both worthy of exploration (even lightly), but there is far too much on the menu here. Thankfully, he’s still brilliant at writing solid and affecting character drama, and it’s those moments that anchor the story and draw it forward.

Line of the week:  “Even if I change it still feels like dying. Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away… and I’m dead.”

TARDIS File prepared by Scott Clarke

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