And so, both David Tennant’s time as the Doctor and Russell T. Davies’s time as head writer and producer for Doctor Who come to an end. It’s a momentous occasion, one of the very few times in the show’s long history when it really does feel like an important era is coming to a close. And all this pomp and circumstance must lead up to a truly epic and staggering finale, right? It would be a great tragedy if the BBC, the producers, the actors and the fans built everyone up to the importance of this moment and it fizzled, right?

Luckily, as a television event and as a milestone in Doctor Who history, “The End of Time” doesn’t disappoint. This is arguably as big a moment for the show as the return in 2005, possibly bigger. And as for regenerations, it’s probably that only Tom Baker’s regeneration into Peter Davison was as carefully scrutinized by fans and viewers.

What’s strongest here is the acting. Big chunks of the episode are devoted to just letting David Tennant, John Simm and Bernard Cribbins play off one another, and all three men do beautiful jobs. There are two scenes in particular that stand out. The first is Cribbins and Tennant seated in a cafe. Wilfrid is an old man, and we’ve already spent a great deal of time with him in this story, learning of his concern for his grand-daughter Donna and his conviction that something is wrong and only the Doctor can set it right. The Doctor is an impossibly older man who looks younger and has spent a great deal of time recently raging against prophecies of his coming death. The acting here is beautiful. Tennant is stiff, choking back his words, Cribbins is breezy, and both men relax into each other as the seriousness of their shared impending mortality drives the conversation forward. It’s broken only by the introduction of Donna, outside, unaware of her two guardians but immensely loved by both, a shared love that furthers the bond between the two of them. It’s terrific acting and brilliant writing.

Fannishly, it’s also a brilliant scene. Some fans have complained that the tenth Doctor is being too maudlin about the prophecies of his death, that previous Doctors faced it with more dignity. The key difference here is that previously the Doctor hadn’t had forewarning about what was to come. And when he has had clues in the past, it did affect his behavior. The second Doctor raged against the Time Lords. The fourth became almost narcissisticly stoic about the whole thing. But as we’re reminded here, regeneration is not always a sure thing. And even when it does occur, it does represent a death for this incarnation of the Doctor. “Some new man goes sauntering away” as the Doctor himself states. He’s the same man, essentially, but everything about him is different. His appearance, his personality, his outlook. This aspect of himself will be gone. This is the aspect that has felt and loved the most deeply, and he doesn’t want to lose this part of what he is.

The second scene of note is in the anonymous London junk-yard where the Doctor tracks down the Master for the second time. In our obligatory moment of over the top bluster, thanks to the Master’s resurrection going wrong, he’s burning up his body, which is manifesting as lightning blasts, a skeletal appearance that flashes on and off, and super leaping. Yeah, it’s a bit much. But it’s nowhere near as dumb as the “clap your hands if you believe in the Doctor” resolution to the last big Master story-line, so it actually ends up working. If only because it could have been something far worse. In any case, the Doctor and the Master have a rare physical confrontation, which leads to a real conversation between the two. Simm takes the acting lead here. He does a magnificent job of portraying the Master. You feel his frustration at how far he has fallen. You can believe that he and the Doctor have known each other for centuries, and feel an enmity towards one another that could only have arisen from being close and allied once. And then, when the Doctor leans that the “drums”, the new series retcon to explain the Master’s insanity and megalomania, is real, is an actual thing and not just a symptom of insanity, you can feel the elation of the Master at now, finally, knowing that he was right all along and that the Doctor was wrong.

The supposed actual plot takes over again after that, and the Master is kidnapped by the private military of Joshua Naismith, your standard corrupt millionaire using science towards a bad end. In this case, taking lost alien technology to make his daughter immortal, completely unaware that his project has been infiltrated by the cactus-like Vinvocci, our obligatory comic relief for this story. It’s all a big mcguffin, and the script seems to know that, as Naismith and his cronies only ever appear long enough to dump some exposition on us or move the plot along to the next check-point.

And then we get to the Master’s actual evil plan this time around. And it is an amazing one. Yes, of course, some fans complained that it was “silly.” Well, guess what? This is a show about an old man who flies around space and travels in time in a magic blue box and who seems to fight giant metal pepper shakers every year. It’s going to get silly sometimes.

But if you can put aside your knee-jerk “this is serious business” attitude, you’ll see just how sick and twisted a plan it really is. The Master has been defined in the RTD era not by “camp”, a vaguely homophobic accusation made by the kinds of Who-fans who see a Gay Agenda peeking around every corner, but by his black humor. The Master is funny, but he’s funny in a sick and twisted way that is really only funny to him. He’s the kind of man who makes a mix-tape for the end of the world. He’s the kind of man who kills one tenth of the Earth’s population because he likes the sound of the word “decimate.” And this is the ultimate sick joke. The Doctor loves the human race and hates him? Well, then, the obvious solution is to turn every single person on Earth into him. As villainous plots go, this is one of the biggest “fuck you”s I can think of a hero being given. In many ways, this is worse than the usual formula of kill the hero’s family or loved ones, because no one actually dies as a result of this plan. They’re just changed, in a sick way calculated to insult every moral instinct and belief of the hero.

And then that cliff-hanger. The return of the Time Lords. Well, it was inevitable, really. The seeming death of the Time Lords and destruction of Gallifrey is the biggest dangling plot thread from the return of the series. It was bound to be addressed eventually. And from a dramatic stand-point, the payoff here is amazing. If you are only familiar with the series from its newest incarnation, you know the Time Lords only as this great and tragic loss from the Doctor’s past. Here they are, as magnificent as they sounded and awe-inspiring. If you are familiar with the previous incarnation of the show, here they are, darker and more terrifying than you ever imagined they could be. It’s the moment that five years of stories have been building up to and it is suitably epic. And we’re only at the half-way point for this story. That, to me, is one of the most amazing things about this story. The return of the most powerful people in the universe…and the story is just barely half over. It gets bigger from here.

9 Responses to “Doctor Who: The End of Time, Part One”
  1. M.A. Masterson says:

    I’m so happy you liked it.

    1) I loved how the final scene of the Time Lords cliffhanger echoed the final scene of the Daleks cliffhanger from “Bad Wolf.” (Visually and thematically.)

    2) If you can indulge a bit of “Last of the Time Lords” apologism, I used to just excuse it as a British Panto thing. You know, for kids. But, having recently watched “Keeper of Traaken,” I see there’s a precedent for a communal mind link granting super powers to an individual, so… Yeah. I know, it’s not in the story itself, so doesn’t count, but it’s there in Who history.

    3) The Master didn’t have a plan! He didn’t have a clue! Nothing worked out the way he thought it would (“Why,” thought The Master, “did I bother aging the leather binding on all those Secret Books?!”), and his body is betraying him. Fixing the Gate and jumping into it was just a Stay Alive maneuver. That it gave him such a twisted great joke on The Doctor was, I feel, a happy accident. His first, perhaps. And that’s fantastic.

  2. Alan says:

    I was really glad they took the opportunity to do something they wouldn’t have been able to during the regular airing – picking up Cribbins as a companion, touching on some grandfatherly bits the show might have touched on decades earlier but it’d been a bit impossible now (either the Doctor or a companion as someone not extremely young). By far the best one I’ve seen from the few episodes of Dr Who I’ve watched.

    Martha’s extreme beauty was perfectly used to show how Rose had marked the Doctor (like, she left such a big mark he actually doesn’t seem to realize how preposterously breathtaking his new doctor companion is, how he seems to be neglectful towards her – and it served to contrast a lot with the somewhat laid-back young teacher Tennant seemed to poke at with Rose, at first). Donna was already such a ballsy (in the way tv has to get absurdly beautiful people instead of normally attractive) casting for him to have a genuine friend and companion that I didn’t expect seeing someone/something like Cribbins (the dynamic between the two, changing from who’s offering some sort of support to the other’s fears through this fluctuating “I’m the grandpa now” – it feels nice seeing the Doc having this father figure but then you remember it’s not that at all considering his age. But then Wilfrid actually becomes the fatherly figure since all his years has been spent as “not-a-timelord” – and so on. It’s a really great paradoxical bit on how the Doc feels towards humans, so weakly small and so strongly huge for it. And it sort of imprints Cribbins’ grandfatherly aspect to Tennant as well at times in a really wonderful way. Cribbins “is” the Doctor as well. And of course it also imprints a Doctor-ish and Tennant-ish wonderfulness to Wilfrid’s protecting of Donna, to his “grandpa-ness”). Just wonderful, really.

    There were a bunch of GrantMorrison-ish elements that reminded me of Final Crisis a lot (like, really, A LOT) and it even made me think Morrison could have something to do with the show (he just wrote some old comics when it comes to Dr Who, right?).

    >>>> “He’s the kind of man who kills one tenth of the Earth’s population because he likes the sound of the word “decimate”.”

    C’mon that’s genuinely funny. It’s true, nerds ruin everything.

  3. Brack says:

    Alan, glad to see I’m not the only one who was really reminded of Final Crisis in this episode. Both in some of the themes and events, but most of all in the way the narrative is stripped down to key events and dialogue, with all the connective tissue removed.

  4. Mark Clapham says:

    Morrison did a couple of Doctor Who strips for the British magazine back in the day, the best of which is The World Shapers, which is absolutely bonkers and displays a deep, deep fanboy knowledge of the series, especially the 60s stuff.

    It’s taken me ’til reading this review to realise that, while RTD was obviously building bits of Tennant’s Hamlet into the character towards the end, Simm is playing the Master as Caliban.

    Oh shit son, I just realised while writing – that also makes Dalton’s ‘Narrator’, with his big magic stick and voiceover, Prospero. Duh, I’m so thick sometimes.

  5. Alan says:

    Yeah, I should really check those Morrison strips…

  6. elsie says:

    My reaction was similar: brilliant scenes but a weak McGuffin driving the plot. The well from which creepy billionnaires are drawn is dry to the point of famine these days, though I keep thinking of ways in which it could have worked for me. I am glad that we see the time lords again, and that new fans learn that gee, Rassilon isn’t such a divine figure after all.
    One of the things I keep thinking about is the way in which series writer/producers create story arcs. The X-Files would have mytharc episodes and MOTW episodes that rarely seemed to connect. Buffy and Angel did a better job of seeding the arcs across the episodes, even if I wasn’t always happy with the arc they chose to set up (I always thought they could have done so much more with Buffy as a college student than they did). New Who has seeded the major theme of the arc, but often fell down on seeding the plot itself. If they had done a bit more with Naismith’s book (anyone else seeing a creepy resemblance to Joel Osteen’s book covers? That same smarmy smile?), that would have helped me accept the McGuffin, or the gate thing could have been time lord technology that the Master and the Doctor recognized.

  7. mister terrific says:

    My initial thought after watching part 1 was that the Master had made an incredibly stupid mistake–if you turn the world’s population in his image, logically the first thing they’re all going to do is find a way to wipe the others out so x can be top dog. Having seen part two, they didn’t go in that direction, which is both a relief and a shame. It would have been a hoot to see Simm scrambling for his life.

    Nice “Torchwood: Children of Earth” nod in there too. There was a ton of alien crap in there that’s now on the free market, not to mention possibly several people who were kept in stasis? If the show comes back, it’ll probably focus on Gwen and Rhys having to recover all of that and starting from scratch.

    Biggest delight for me was realizing that Cactoid Girl was Sinead Keenan, who plays Nina on “Being Human”. The voice was the dead giveaway; I’m only sorry they didn’t get her to state that “The Master…is a cock. This has been proven by scientists.”

  8. Evan Waters says:

    It occurs to me that the Master’s plan was basically the family TV version of the Anti-Life Equation.

  9. Scott says:

    Yeah, the Master totally didn’t have any sort of plan until they sat him down in front of a big honking piece of alien tech, but since this just followed Waters of Mars where we saw what an angry Time Lord can whip together and attempt off-the-cuff it really made the Master seem that much scarier for NOT having a real plan.

    The Masters resurrection bothered me, though. Not the magicky-gimmicky part, but the whole double cross from his wife. She knew that the Master would need her there in person? And she had been smuggling a vial of something volatile from her secret chemistry family connections since before she went to prison (or, really, any of the events of “Last of the Time Lords). I thought she shot him because she finally snapped, but now this shows us that it must have been part of an elaborate three-year plan to kill and re-kill the Master.

© 2012 Dorian Wright Some Images © Their Respective Copyright Holders