|'The End of Time' - Originally broadcast 25 Decemeber 2009 - 1 January 2010.|
This is important to this review for two reasons. The first is that it was really David Tennant's Tenth Doctor who convinced me that the show was worth sticking with. The second is that, even once converted, even with my Doctor on the screen, I was never really taken with Davies' vision and whilst it was sad to see Tennant go (more on that later), it was a relief for me to see Steven Moffat taking over in 2010. Who fandom being what it is, there is a very good chance that you disagree with me here, so I ask you to bear it all in mind as you read the rest of my review. These are my thoughts about the final moments of my Doctor. I hope you find them insightful in some way, but don't take them too much to heart.
Coming in at around two hours, twelve and a half minutes, The End of Time is a rather long story for the new series. It is also complex, convoluted and, if you try to follow its internal logic too closely, rather confusing. Because of this I don't intend to take you through it step by step, nor do I intend to recap the story. Chances are you've seen it already, but if not, then there's no need for too much in the way of spoilers either. Instead let's break it down into its larger pieces, see where they work and where they do not, and then examine how it all comes together as a whole.
There's actually too much going on, even in the first episode whilst everything's building and Davies' somehow still has time to show us one of the most boring chase scenes ever (through a gravel pit, no less - was he being ironic?) and later an equally boring confrontation. Even the excellent David Tennant and John Simm are unable to save some of their early scenes together. The script feels hollow, the drama false and the special effects are just plain laughable.
But it does get better, at least a little. Once the Master's ridiculous plot is shoved aside for the true focus of events, the story finally starts to develop a sense of direction and whilst it's never really what it ought to be, it does manage to generate a sense of excitement and peril. Not Davies' best stuff, but passable Who and considerably more palatable than the nonsense which had preceded it.
And then the story as it has been ends, and there's still another twenty minutes of running time remaining. But I'm still not going there yet...
So what's next? The characters? Why not?
There are lots of uninteresting, unimportant or completely throwaway characters in this story, from the singularly dull Joshua Naismith and his two-line daughter, to the slightly more prominent, but still largely unnecessary Vinvocci aliens, but this does allow much more time for the characters that actually matter.
Whilst there are some scenes (particularly in that gravel pit) where the script or the cinematography let him down, David Tennant does some of his best work as the Doctor in this story, particularly towards the end, but also notably in two separate conversations with Bernard Cribbins' Wilf, both of which reveal much about the character and set the table, so to speak, for the regeneration which is to come. He is deeply emotional in these episodes, more so than we've seen him before, and yet he's never overacting or hamming it up in any way. This is the Doctor, undeniably, at the edge of all that he is, desperate not to have to say goodbye, and we are utterly convinced.
John Simm does some good work as the Master, when he's not laughing maniacally or demonstrating appalling table manners. If there's one thing we can be in no doubt of by the end of his first five minutes on screen it is that he is totally, utterly mad. There are the more tender moments, however, in the presence of the Doctor, when we see another side to this character; the side the Doctor sees and desperately wants to set free.
Also of note are Claire Bloom, playing the mysterious 'woman' with understated brilliance and Timothy Dalton, whose Rassilon is much better on-screen in part two than he is as an over-dramatic narrator in part one.
All told, at this point, if I were to put the pieces I've examined back together and give it a score, it would be a pretty low one. The strength of the key characters is largely overshadowed by the silliness of the plot and whilst this is a Christmas special, and so silliness is not unusual, in my opinion this is the silliest of them all, featuring all the worst excesses of Russell T. Davies' imagination. It's worth maybe five out of ten? Perhaps a six, if I'm feeling especially generous (I'm not).
But there is one piece of the story I have left untouched: the ending.
As I said before, the story ends with twenty minutes still left on the clock. What follows is an extended ending which, if I were being uncharitable, I might describe as Davies' being self-indulgent with his characters, but for once I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. The last twenty minutes is brilliant.
From the moment we hear that fateful knocking on the glass of the radiation chamber, the whole focus of the episode shifts. This is no longer about running through gravel and saving the Earth from egotistical madmen. No. This has become purely a character piece and all our attention is on the Doctor, first on his fear, his anger, his hurt, and then on his tender compassion, his bravery, his loss.
The regeneration itself is spectacular, destroying the TARDIS almost as much as it destroys the Tenth Doctor and then we're left with a fresh new face, a world of new possibilities once more and, above all else, a madman in a box.
The End of Time is a confused story. It wants to be so much more than it achieves, but its ending, the part that finishes one era and begins another, is a work of great beauty and redeems much of what comes before it. Taking this into account I have to give it a somewhat more balanced score. The ending itself would easily be worth nine of ten, but that is only twenty minutes out of one hundred and thirty. It's a tough decision, but here goes... 7/10. Maybe that wasn't so difficult after all?
The Regeneration Boxset is available to buy from the BBC shop now.