TARDIS File 04-18: The End of Time, Part Two

TARDIS File 04-18: The End of Time, Part Two

The Big Idea:  As the Time Lords prepare for their unholy return, the Doctor must escape the Masters’ clutches and avoid his inevitable fate.

What’s so great…

  • The Doctor’s reward: the final 15 minutes provide a moving and appropriate finish for both the Tenth Doctor and the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who. Some work better than others (the moment with Joan Redfern’s granddaughter is lovely as is the trip back in time to the Powell Estate where everything began), but there is definitely a feeling of finality, like we’re saying goodbye to good friends for the last time.
  • The actual regeneration scene is powerful and wrenching as the Doctor admits that he doesn’t want to go while the TARDIS crashes and burns around him (another opportunity to wear out the rewind button).
  • The Doctor and Wilf’s conversation while looking down on the Earth from the Vinvocci spaceship. It’s a wonderful bookend to their exchange in the café in part one.
  • The Mill obviously blew 95% of the budget on that gorgeous opening scene of a devastated Gallifrey, complete with burnt-out Dalek saucers and colossal vaulted ceilings (it’s no wonder the Time Lords spend the rest of the story against black and white).
  • The look between the Doctor and the mysterious female Time Lord (who may have been the Doctor’s mother); it says so much and so little depending on how you interpret it.
  • That priceless moment when the Doctor sees Sylvia Noble smiling and tells Wilf they’re really in trouble. Another great character pay-off
  • A tantalizing and extended glimpse of Matt Smith as the new Doctor. “I’m a girl”.

Some Quick Bits of Trivia: Russell T Davies has stated that he wrote the scene where the Doctor saves Luke from the car as an in-joke to all the times in The Sarah Jane Adventures when the kids cross the street without any regard for oncoming traffic. David Tennant’s last scene in this story was greenscreen work during his fall into the Naismith Estate, though his last performance as the Doctor was in The Sarah Jane Adventures episode The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith (and his last appearance in the Doctor’s costume was making a series of interstitial idents for BBC1’s Christmas programming). The Eleventh Doctor’s first scene is something of a regeneration behind the camera as well, as the scene was written and produced by incoming executive producer Steven Moffat.

Things to geek out about…

  • Get your scorecards out, ‘cause just about everybody shows up by the end of this story. Besides the big ticket characters, Martha, Mickey, Sarah Jane, Captain Jack, Donna, Rose and Jackie, we have Midshipman Frame (Voyage of the Damned); Donna’s catty friend Nerys (The Runaway Bride); Joan Renfern’s (Human Nature/Family of Blood) granddaughter Verity Newman; Adipose babies (Partner’s in Crime); Slitheen, Judoon, a Sontaran, and a whole host of others. Bizarrely, we even hear an instrumental version of “You Put the Devil in Me” from Daleks in Manhattan playing in the bar where Captain Jack is drowning his sorrows. I half expected Martha’s mother to pop around a corner and chastise Mickey for stealing her daughter away from a Doctor!
  • The metal glove that “Rassilon” sports is most likely the same one that features in several episodes of the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood. It was referred to as the resurrection glove and was used to bring several characters back to life. It would seem that the Time Lords were rather careless to leave these things just lying about the universe.
  • We finally get an explanation for “the sound of drums” in the Master’s head. The Time Lords placed them there as a connection to help them escape the “time lock.” On the one hand it’s cool to have an explanation, on the other—mystery is good.
  • Speaking of which, it’s never stated on-screen who the Woman In White is. Producer Julie Gardner commented the intent was that it was the Doctor’s mother, but it’s never actually said!
  • Similarly, the Lord President is called “Rassilon” by the Doctor, but it’s never definitively stated if it is the Rassilon that founded Time Lord society in the mythos of the Classic Series, or if it’s simply a name that a Time Lord president can assume, like a papal name. Given the desperation of the Time Lords, the former is possible, but given that nothing is made of the character actually being Rassilon, the latter is plausible.

Not to complain but: Who invited the Vinvocci to the party? They’re annoying, obstructive and irrelevant. Martha Jones and Mickey Smith married!? Talk about the most contrived rebound relationship in history.  And the award for creepiest father/daughter pairing in television history has to go to the Naismiths.

All Things Considered: “We were always heading for this.” The Doctor’s words to Wilf are apt. For those who wondered how on Earth Russell T Davies would end it all, the answer was always apparent. After all the portents of doom, the shock and awe, returning Time Lords and maniacal Masters, it all came down to a quiet, simple choice for the Doctor. Straining to hear four small knocks, he regained his soul. But we were always headed for this, from the moment the Doctor began musing about what sort of man he was in The Christmas Invasion. It’s beautiful and poetic, but you have to look beyond the absurdity of a Time Lord president snapping his fingers to restore order, talking cactus heads who can heal entire planets or the physics of Gallifrey suddenly showing up in Earth’s orbit.

Some viewers will cry foul, an old fashioned case of “bait-and-switch” they’ll charge. We got this big epic story of the Master and the return of Gallifrey, but it came to not. In the end, both served merely as backdrop for the drama of a man facing his own death. Both are McGuffins meant to show distorted illustrations of the hunger to cheat the inevitable. Likewise, the revelation that “he will knock four times” is a deliberate misdirection to both the Doctor and the viewer. As if we haven’t learned by now that it was always the small character story at the heart of the spectacle (most of the important moments in The Parting of the Ways  happen on contemporary Earth, not on the space station!)

For five years we’ve seen the sadness, longing and regret in the Doctor over the loss of his home and his people. It’s then bitterly ironic to see them portrayed here as the villains of the piece. And yet strangely apt. For any viewers of yore, we were always headed for this—the Time Lords were always rather suspect in there motives (almost every classic Gallifrey story features a Time Lord turned no good!). Kudos to Davies for yet again turning expectation on its heads.

Davies is most interested in how we feel about the Tenth Doctor dying. To achieve this he has to involve the audience beyond the hermetically sealed narrative. Like the reprise of a symphony, we get a taste of all the themes present throughout Davies’ era of Doctor Who: striving for connection, the importance of the ordinary person, and mortality (try counting how many times since Rose we’ve heard that everything must die).

The End of Time Part 2 is ultimately a long-ish, uneven, gloriously messy rumination on death. It has to please a lot of masters, but at its core it seeks to engage the viewer directly in its story. And to paraphrase The Pet Shop Boys: “It was never being boring.”

Line of the week: “I don’t want to go!” “Legs! I’ve still got legs!”

TARDIS File prepared by Scott Clarke

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