The first grew too old, his body wearing thin; the second confronted the Time Lords; the third realised his own mistakes before facing death by radiation; the fourth was visited by each of his companions; the fifth gave his life for a single ordinary, extraordinary person; the sixth saw his own future; and when he became the seventh he crashed his TARDIS. Paul McGann doesn’t count. The ninth survived the Time War and burned in the TARDIS.
The tenth was all of these things, and with “I don’t want to go” uniquely his own.
The perfect conclusion.
“The End of Time” was the perfect capstone to all that Russell Davies has brought to the series: a big, batty, crowd-pleasing, Master-pleasing spec-tac-u-lar mixed with small beautiful moments of pure driven emotion to break your heart. And one last magic-Rusty-diamond plot device of making no sense whatsoever.
Finally, though, Russell writes a part two that is actually right: one that pays off the set-up in part one, indeed pays off things set up going back to the noise in the Master’s head from “The Sound of Drums” and even the Doctor’s tear for the Time Lords in “The End of the World”.
In fact, even if you aren’t going to take this as the Time Lord Invasion of Earth from Lawrence Miles’ almost perfect not-quite-Doctor-Who novel “Dead Romance” and their plan to “ascend” being, basically, “we will become the Celestis, and thank you again Lawrence” or “we shall steel the future from humanity and become floaty energy-beings gods as per “The Book of the War” and saying Gallifrey is “only the outer edge of the Time War” sounds very like Larry’s concepts of the moving fronts, with secure centres, while in the end the Houseworld is left time-locked just like Utterlost – even apart from all that, you can still go the full Lawrence Miles and spot a link or nod to each and every story of the Russell era… I’ll start you off in a post-script.
But this is much more literate than that – Mark Lawson’s review in the Guardian is quite right to spot all the allusions to (David Tennant’s) Hamlet, even if he clearly hasn’t watched the broadcast show, merely read the speculative spoilers in the Telegraph. And yet it’s much more contemporary too, full of snappy movie references, but with a uniquely Doctor Who twist!
So let’s do Star Wars, but with Bernard Cribbins as Luke Skywalker. Let’s do the cantina scene but as an excuse for a gay pick-up. Let’s do the radiation-in-a-glass-box ending of “The Wrath of Khan” but with ship already out of danger. Let’s do as many endings as the Return of the King, but make us care each and every time. Let’s blow up the ship – and kill the crew – like it’s the end of a season of Blake’s Seven, but we know that they’re both coming back.
This is where you need a movie-quality director like Euros Lyn, to give the big moments the big-screen magic and at the same time to draw in the focus on the quieter, contemplative moments.
The weaving together of dangling plot threads to make a satisfying whole is done with such ingenuity as to make it look planned from the very beginning. (Yes, I’m a sucker for “The Curse of Fenric” too!) By cross-linking the flashback in “The Sound of Drums” with Davros’ rescue as described in “Journey’s End” we get a way for the Time Lords to return that actually makes sense without betraying the whole thrust of the series’ continuity since we learned that the Time Lords were lost.
Dalek Caan had to punch a hole in Time in order to rescue Davros from inside the Time War, and it drove him bonkers and blew his casing to bits. But the Time Lords already have their very own hole in Time, the Untempered Schism, a perfect backdoor escape plan so long as you can find some poor patsy to play homing beacon on the other side. And it still drives / drove / will drive / has always driven him bonkers.
The Doctor’s relationship with Master reaches a new intensity here. The Master has totally won, done away with the whole human race and succeeded in placing the Doctor in literally his own place: the full Hannibal Lecter, bound and gagged and tied to a trolley. (The hilarious scenes of the comedy
cactussescacti bouncing him down the steps drew cries of “is this Russell trying to torture David through his last story”… which the big man later confirmed during Confidential!). But even then, the Doctor still tries to talk him back to the light side.
And nor will the Doctor accept the proposition that if the Master wants to kill him, he should kill the Master first. Not even to save the six billion humans alive (and I loved the macabre implication that the Master has possessed, violated, the dead as well). Though he snatches up that gun fast enough the moment he hears that the Time Lords are returning.
The Master’s Plan is to possess the Time Lords the way he’s possessed the human race. But then he does that ‘why don’t I just tell you all my plans so you can work out a way to defeat me?’ that he vowed not to at the start of this body. And he does it to Rassilon, of all people, who does indeed listen and foil him with a flick of the wrist But it was brilliant that the Lord President dismissed it with a contemptuous wave of his gauntleted (in a very Buffy the Vampire Slayer way) hand. And brilliant that it was all the Time Lords’ plan all along anyway.
So, ironically, the conclusion sees the classic Pertwee-era theme of the Master and Doctor joining forces to defeat a greater enemy that the Master has raised and underestimated. Perhaps death has turned him all traditional. And yet it’s done with greater subtlety than ever before. There’s no crass agreement of terms, just the mutual request to “get out of the way” as first the Doctor defeats the Time Lords without having to kill the Master and then the Master saves the Doctor in order to take his revenge. It’s almost the conclusion to “The Final Game” that Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks planned to be the third Doctor’s final adventure, though without the metaphysical “the Doctor and the Master are the same man” bobbins and without the Master losing his edge by “turning good”. He seems to disappear back into the Time War with the High Council, but who knows if that means we’ve seen the end of him.
I’m assuming here that the five Time Lords who actually set foot on Earth are the (surviving members of the) High Council. In fact, the Lord President’s address to the assembled Panopticon, when he says the High Council must vote, may imply that the High Council of the Time Lords means all the Time Lords, and that the five or six around the council table are the Inner or perhaps Supreme Council (depending on whether it’s “The Invasion of Time” or “The Five Doctors” that you’re taking as your template… and may the Time Lords have mercy on your soul).
And yes, Timothy Dalton is The Lord President of Gallifrey, Rassilon – maybe even that Rassilon, awoken from his slumber in the Dark Tower like an evil King Arthur come at the hour of Gallifrey’s greatest need, or resurrected like the Master.
The portrayal of the glove-of-evil™ wielding, spittle-flecked maniac that we see here is not actually inconsistent with the rumours and stories of Rassilon’s cruelty that the Doctor speaks of in “The Five Doctors”, nor yet with the genocidal xenophobe given delicious voice for Big Finish by Don Warrington.
But I’ve seen it suggested that the Doctor is using the name insultingly, as in: “you’ve become as bad as Rassilon, and I’m imprisoning you in your Black Tower forever”, and that works just as well.
Left open-ended was the identity of “the woman” who was helping Wilf, although she’s revealed as one of the Time Lords, one of those weeping for what their world has become. Apparently, in the commentary, Julie Gardner refers to her as the Doctor’s mother – but nothing on screen confirms this. I prefer the rather beautiful theory that I’ve read online: she is Susan. She says of herself that she was “lost so long ago” – as Susan was in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” – and the Doctor’s significant glance when Wilf asks who she was is not to Sylvia (the mother) but to Donna, who is Wilf’s granddaughter. To me that gives a better closure, to the past series and to questions of what happened, than introducing a character we have never before seen, to whom we’ve gained no emotional connection.
In the end, it seems so right that the greatest threat to the universe, the universe of the Tenth Doctor, the Lonely God, the last Lord of Time, should be the Time Lords themselves – the answer to his prayers; the root of his nightmares.
And after all the rumours of the “giant reset switch of doom™” Russell effectively says: “no, they can never, ever come back”.
And yet – and quite right too – the Doctor’s death isn’t caused by the huge great events that he crashes through, not even the fall from the glass ceiling, which he also crashes through. It’s the consequence of one small act of kindness – Wilf saves some poor soul who’s trapped inside the nuclear power source for Naismith’s Immortality Gate, and is in turn trapped himself.
I said last week that this needed to be about something, and it was: it was about knowing when it’s over; it’s about saying that sometimes “goodnight sweet prince” can be better than “rage against the dying of the light”. Not that this Doctor doesn’t rage against it; he’s positively petulant about it at times, almost throwing a tantrum when the time comes. But he still steps unflinchingly into that death chamber.
The whole point was saying that the Time Lords had lived too long. That’s a double-edged point when you think metaphorically of all power corrupting, but also in the series’ terms of the way that the Doctor’s people and planet had become debased from a world of omnipotent demigods in “The War Games” to a bickering committee in an airport lounge in “Arc of Infinity”. A universe without gods is better because gods can fall.
But at the same time, the Doctor is spared because ultimately he is able to surrender his view of the big picture and give in to the small events. Sure, it might kill him from time to time, but he can walk away from that and if it’s death for one self, still his next life will be a better man because of the lessons learned.
Were the last ten minutes self-indulgent? Well, yes… but actually that’s entirely in character for this incarnation of the Doctor. He’s always been self-indulgent, whether it’s with his girlfriend Rose, or breaking the Laws of Time, or running away from a date with destiny (in the person of Ood Sigma). The Ninth Doctor had a death wish; the Tenth loves his life just that bit too much. Holding off his regeneration long enough to say farewell is exactly what ten would do, even if the effort of it blows up the TARDIS in the end. And in fairness, it’s what we wanted too. A last lap of glory. A Doctor’s reward.
(Though, okay, maybe Martha married to Mickey is a bit of an indulgence too far – yes, it gets two companions out of the way in a single scene, but really it’s not where either of them were headed after “Journey’s End”. Nor does giving Donna a winning lottery ticket really seem like the Doctor’s style. Unless it’s a reciprocal in-joke with “Nan’s Christmas Carol”.)
And finally, we end where we began, back on the Powell estate. It seems perfect to arrive on New Year’s Day 2005 – when the very first teaser for the returning series aired. “It’s Almost Time… but not yet”.
And then, thirty seconds later, he was gone. And we have a whole new Doctor – with legs, and arms and eyes (two) and nose (had worse) and chin (blimey!) – to look forward to. And I’m totally sold on Matt Smith already. What an entrance.
The future is going to be awesome. Fantastic. Brilliant. Geronimo!
The preview trailer can now be found here.
PS:As promised, the official Lawrence Miles “let’s reference all the stories of the new series” game:
Rose – the Doctor materialises the TARDIS on the Powell Estate in 2005 and promises Rose a great New Year.
Aliens of London/World War Three – there’s a Slitheen in the Space Bar; flying over the English coastline… with missiles!
Boom Town – there’s another Slitheen in the Space Bar.
Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways – Gallifrey appears to be littered with crashed Dalek saucers; the regeneration itself.
The Christmas Invasion – there’s a Sycorax in the Space Bar with Captain Jack; the eleventh Doctor still isn’t ginger.
Attack of the Graske – there’s a Graske in the Space Bar with Captain Jack.
School Reunion – Sarah-Jane Smith
Army of Ghosts/Doomsday – the Immortality Gate comes from the same spacecraft buried under Mount Snowdon referred to by Yvonne Hartman.
The Runaway Bride – Donna’s memories include the Empress of the Racnoss; Donna finally gets married.
Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks – “The Devil in Me” plays in the Space Bar scene.
The Lazarus Experiment – the Master’s Ring bears the logo of Professor Lazarus’ Laboratory.
Human Nature/The Family of Blood – the lovely Journal of Impossible Things scene
Blink – the Lord President refers to “the Weeping Angels of old”.
Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords – umm, no, nothing coming to me here.
Voyage of the Damned – Midshipman Alonzo Frame “meets” Captain Jack.
Partners in Crime - there’s an Adipose in the Space Bar.
The Fires of Pompeii - Donna’s memories include the Pythian Sisterhood.
Planet of the Ood – the planet of the Ood.
The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky – there’s a Sontaran trying to shoot Martha and Mickey
The Doctor’s Daughter – when offered a revolver, the Doctor says “never”; there’s a Hath in the Space Bar.
The Unicorn and the Wasp – Donna’s memories include the Vespiform.
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End – Wilf refers to the incident with the paint gun; Donna’s memories include Davros .
The Next Doctor – is Matt Smith.
Planet of the Dead – he will knock four times.
The Waters of Mars – slightly naughty, could it be Ood Sigma intruding from this story into the end of that one.