And so we say goodbye to David Tennant as Doctor Who…
#58: “The End of Time”
This song is ending, but the story will never end.
I watched the second half of “The End of Time” with a mixture of sadness and relief: sadness over the impending death of the 10th Doctor, relief that the story ended so well. Russell T. Davies’ season finales tend toward an everything-plus-a-neon-encrusted-kitchen-sink approach. For all the spectacle and joy, there are usually at least a couple of eye-rolling, Earth-towing moments.
Part one threatened to take a hard turn in that direction. John Simm’s incarnation of the Master was already brimming with lunacy, and “The End of Time” added to that a botched resurrection that left him bursting with energy, jumping fifty feet in the air and gobbling down whole chickens. And that was before he used the Immortality Gate to transform nearly every person on Earth into a maniacally laughing duplicate of himself. So it wasn’t without reason that I feared that the conclusion would journey into the gone-too-far territory of “Last of the Time Lords.”
Speaking of Time Lords, part one ended with the biggest reveal since the Dalek army in the concluding moments of “Bad Wolf”: Timothy Dalton as the (saliva-intensive) Lord President of Gallifrey presiding over a massive assembly of the Doctor’s own people. There had been hints of the Time Lords’ return–notably a publicity photo of Dalton wearing their telltale robes–but I honestly didn’t anticipate that all of them would be coming back, or that they’d be bringing their planet with them.
In hindsight, it had to happen. After five years of references to the Last Great Time War and the Doctor’s status as the last remaining Time Lord (more or less), it was fitting that Tennant’s tenure ended with the possibility of overturning that status quo, then demonstrating why that would be a bad, bad thing for everyone.
I admit that I’ve missed the Time Lords, but I can understand why Davies did away with them. If they were truly as powerful as often had been suggested,* then why wouldn’t they step in and sort out universe-threatening problems before they started?
As it turned out, the Lords of Gallifrey were themselves out to destroy the universe and thus to win the Time War. I suppose that I shouldn’t have been surprised; the Time Lords had always been assholes. They’d birthed more than their share of mad power-mongers, and in their prosecution of the war against the Daleks, they’d shown their willingness to transgress their own legal and moral boundaries in reincarnating the Master** to fight for them.
*Never mind that in most of the Gallifrey-centered episodes of the original series, the Time Lords were seen as doddering bureaucrats incapable of turning back a handful of aliens made of cellophane, much less the amped-up Daleks of the modern era.
**Interestingly, Dalton’s character was apparently Rassilon, the long-deceased founder of Time Lord society. I wonder, did they resurrect Omega, Borusa and other renegade Gallifreyans as well?
The visuals were spectacular, but what really made this story sing were the quiet scenes between the Doctor and the Master, as well as the Doctor and Donna’s grandfather, Wilf. We learned what the Doctor felt about his endless cycle of death and rebirth. And we found that after all of the death the Master had caused, the Doctor still saw in him the friend he lost.
The Master was even allowed a redemptive moment that, surprisingly, didn’t seemed forced. Perhaps that was because it seemed less about saving the Doctor’s life than it did about the Master venting his rage against Rassilon for visiting madness on him in the first place.
With both Master and Time Lords dispatched, the Doctor appeared to have cheated the prophecy of his death. But in the most heartbreaking moment, we heard those four quiet knocks and realized that sweet, old Wilf would be the one to bring his end.
The next fifteen minutes may have been similar to the multiple epilogues of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but like that film trilogy, I felt that the last five years of Doctor Who had earned its long goodbye. It was nice to see everyone one last time, my favorite reunion being the Star Wars cantina riff featuring Captain Jack and a multitude of returning aliens.
At last, it was time to say farewell to the 10th Doctor.
That brings us to:
#59: David Tennant
I don’t want to go.
And I didn’t want you to go.
My first Doctor was Jon Pertwee, and I count Tom Baker, Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy among my favorites, yet I think that David Tennant was my favoritest of all. His Doctor was enthusiastic, joyful, quirky, manic, angry, compassionate and loving. In other words, all of the previous Doctors in one gangly package.
Plus, he had an awesome coat.
It didn’t hurt knowing that Tennant himself was an uber-fan. On the other hand, that’s why I thought that he might stay longer than his three-years-and-change. The previous four Doctors (C. Baker, McCoy, McGann and Eccleston) had such short lifespans that I’d hoped David would aspire to the Tom Baker end of the scale.
Ah well, it was not to be. British actors are notoriously fickle about tying themselves to a long-running TV role.
So long, Doctor Ten.
And so long to:
#60: Russell T. Davies
Now, I’ll admit that I’m ready for Davies to move on. I’m hoping that the show will get past his vision of a vengeful, dangerous Doctor. And, as I’ve mentioned, Davies doesn’t always quite know where to draw the line between a good idea and a what-the-fuck one.
But I absolutely must give Davies his due. Without him, Doctor Who might never have come back, and it almost certainly wouldn’t have regained its prominence not just as a mass-market phenomenon, but as a by-the-grace-of-Rassilon international franchise.
He made so many right decisions, from his impeccable, risky casting choices to his decision to respect the past without wallowing in it. Lesser producers can (and have) taken the show in less-fruitful directions.
While his writing is at times prone to excess and deus ex machina, his character scenes are excellent. And he’s been responsible for some of my favorite episodes, including “Tooth and Claw,” “Smith and Jones,” “Gridlock,” “Partners in Crime,” “Midnight” and “Turn Left.”
So, props to Russell T. Davies, David Tennant, and the many, many cast and crew members who made the last five years in time and space one hell of a ride!