THIS STORY TAKES
EPISODE "THE WATERS
OF MARS," AND IMMED-
IATELY PRIOR TO THE TV
EPISODE "THE ELEVENTH
4.17 & 4.18
RUSSELL T. DAVIES
THE FINAL DAYS OF
'THE COMPLETE SPECIALS'
BLU-RAY DVD BOX SET
IN JANUARY 2010.
It’s the Tenth Doctor’s
final journey – but
his psychotic nemesis
the Master has been
reborn, on Christmas
to cheat death, their
battle ranges from
the wastelands of
London to the ALIEN
while the Ood warn
of an even greater
as a terrible shadow
falls across the
25TH DECEMBER 2009 - 1ST JANUARY 2010
(60-MINUTE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL &
75-MINUTE NEW YEAR SPECIAL)
To date I’ve written almost 80,000 words on the tenth Doctor’s adventures on television. That’s more words than you’d find in a lot of novels these days; certainly more than you’d find in a modern Doctor Who tie-in (and I’ve written a good few thousand words on the tenth Doctor’s adventures in those too). Suffice it to say that I care about Ten, and
so the prospect of his demise in The End of Time filled me with as much trepidation as it did excitement. They absolutely had to get it right.
Most regeneration stories have sought to mitigate the audience’s
grief by focusing on the Doctor’s cheating of death, as opposed to
one of his incarnation’s being embraced by it. Even Christopher
Eccleston’s sudden, emphatic departure was with a smile as he
welcomed the promise of a new life. However, Russell T Davies’
script for The End of Time wallows in the funerary feel that goes hand in hand with the death of a Doctor - the only regeneration tale
to really do so, save for Tom Baker’s final adventure, Logopolis.
Like Baker’s fourth Doctor, who was haunted by the spectre of his
future self, here David Tennant’s tenth Doctor is obsessed with the
prophecy of his ending song – “he will knock four times”, and then,
“Even if I change it feels like dying. Everything I am dies and some new man goes sauntering away...”
But whereas the aberrantly solemn fourth Doctor was resigned to his fate, the tenth is raging against it. Davies’ script does a marvellous job of conveying the often-ignored fact that the Doctor can die – regeneration is a fluke for him most of the time, particularly when it occurs as traumatically as it usually does – and as such the Doctor isn’t just afraid at the prospect
of his incarnation being cut short, he’s terrified by the prospect of oblivion finally beckoning.
But even as he sits in that café, staring
at the closest thing he has to a compan-
ion and ruminating on the possibility of
regeneration, it is clear that the prospect
fills him with almost as much horror as
death does. It’s easy to forget that the tenth Doctor may be as young as six years old; just a handful of heartbeats for someone of a Gallifreyan pedigree, and probably the shortest-lived of any of the Doctor’s incarnations. And Tennant is able to put all of this angst – the scope of this injury – into every heartfelt line that he delivers. Even when he’s being unceremoniously carted down a flight of stairs whilst strapped to some bizarre contraption, or having his arse groped by June Whitfield’s “Minnie the Menace”, the sorrow is there to be seen in his eyes. That’s his last bum pinch. That’s his last – and “worst” – escape ever.
“Please don’t die. You’re the most wonderful man and I don’t want you to die.”
The End of Time also has a brooding, contemplative quality to it that put me very much in mind of Jon Pertwee’s zen-fuelled finale, Planet of the Spiders. After recent events on Mars, the Doctor is understandably riddled with guilt and anguish, but even this is as nothing when compared to the skeletons from his closet that are pulled out as the story races towards its inexorable conclusion. And this, I feel, is why Wilfred Mott is the perfect person to share this closing adventure with the tenth Doctor. An old soldier approaching the end of his own life, Wilfred can at least empathise with the Doctor’s plight, if not comprehend the magnitude of it.
And Bernard Cribbins gives the performance of his life as Wilfred stumbles his way through the final days of planet Earth. He really gives it some welly when he’s called upon to do so – the dogfight sequence in the second episode is absolutely riotous – but, more importantly, he gives the story its heart. Rather delightfully, Wilfred’s patent respect and affection for the Doctor mirrors the viewers’ own, giving us that all important anchor. This unique bond bet-ween the two characters is wonderfully depicted, their mutual tears often saying more than even Davies’ most eloquent dialogue ever could.
“Is that your hand, Minnie?”
But as a brace of holiday specials, The End of Time couldn’t have been assiduously bleak. Wilfred’s troupe of Doctor-hunting geriatrics, “The Silver Cloak”, lend the Christmas Special just enough humour to keep it on the right side of festive, whilst the green, spiky-headed, and unrelentingly slapstick Vinvocci are able to squeeze enough clowning around into the New Year’s Day episode to stop children crying into their leftover selection boxes (during the first half of the episode, at least).
Davies’ plot is staggeringly ambitious and complex, but - for the most part - startlingly fluent and ever so, ever so apt. The whole grand, cinematic affair is infused with a sense of scope and majesty, typified by Timothy Dalton’s (James Bond) suitably sonorous narration and the Ood’s disquieting bookending of the tale.
“These events from years ago threaten to destroy this future, and the present, and the past.
The darkness heralds only one thing – the end of time itself.”
In the foreground we have the Doctor and the Master, the last survivors of their ancient race, both tormented in their own respective fashions. But behind them “something vast is stirring in the dark”; an unfathomable terror that makes even the Daleks’ recent theft of Earth look like errant mischief.
The Master’s resurrection is glorious to behold; a gratifying reflection of The Dæmons, with the Master now being summoned, instead of summoning. That “laughing ring” that so many speculated about following Last of the Time Lords is now used as part of a resplendently low-tech ceremony in order to resurrect the disembodied renegade.
The sequence sees Alexandra Moen reprise her role as the Master’s former wife, Lucy Saxon, to whom fate has not been kind. Stripped of the glamour and the freedom that she once enjoyed, the country’s former first lady is used by the Cult of Saxon to recreate the Master’s DNA - she “bore his imprint”, evidently - and bring him back from the dead once again.
However, though this is a far more sophisticated means of revivification than those typically employed in the classic series (“So you escaped from…”), I don’t think that the script was clear enough about how the resurrection went wrong or where the ‘emo’ Master’s powers came from. Whilst I was able to infer that his metabolism had gone into overdrive, affording him these superhuman powers but leaving him “ripped open” and desperately in need of sustenance, my wife was left somewhat confounded by his tramp-munching behaviour and dramatic flashes of power and had to resort to bombarding me with plot-related questions.
“That’s what your prophecy was: me!”
Fortunately though, she was so enraptured by John Simm’s alarming performance that any wanting elucidation was soon of little concern to her. The picture of mental illness painted by Simm here is frighteningly real; so much so, in fact, that the story’s unsettling “Skeletor” shots (which I thought were very redolent of The Deadly Assassin) came as something a reprieve from the actor’s distressing performance! Indeed, for me Simm out-performed even Tennant in the first half of this story.
The much-hyped Immortality Gate, however, came as something of a let down. Its name had conjured up epic and ethereal images, and so when it turned out to be nothing more than a high-tech alien medical device being restored by
“Breaking news. I’m everyone. And everyone in the world is me.”
By the time the Master had used the Gate to repopulate the Earth with six billion versions of himself, I was starting to lose heart. Last of the Time Lords had been spoiled for me by the Doctor’s degeneration into a wizened, CG, homunculus, which I felt robbed us of some bona fide Simm / Tennant sparring, and as its cliffhanger approached The End of Time appeared to be pushing the envelope to the opposite – but equally unwelcome - extreme. Granted, a race of Masters is an extremely disturbing idea, not to mention one hell of a pun, but it was not what I had expected or wanted from the tenth Doctor’s final story. I wanted one Holmes, one Moriarty and one waterfall; not John Simm and a million green screens.
But then as I waited for the howl-out to come, a question that had been burning at the back
of my brain was suddenly and unexpectedly answered – why show us the narrator’s face?
As this answer came, I found myself rising to my feet. The narrator was the Lord President
of the Time Lords!
“The Master had no concept of his greater role in events, for this was far more than humanity’s end.
This day was the day on which the whole of creation would change forever. This was the day...”
The logical conclusion of the Doctor’s journey in the new series, the return of the Time Lords had always been something that I expected to happen towards the back-end of Davies’ time as showrunner. Nevertheless, even with the respect that I have for the outgoing production team, I didn’t expect them to carry off the return of Gallifrey and its people with the aplomb that they do here, and I certainly didn’t expect them to take us back to the apex of the Last Great Time War – effectively a fan’s wet dream. And the real beauty of it is, after five years of quality television, every viewer is a fan now.
What I found particularly impressive is that the Time Lords are not resurrected here in some tortuous fashion, nor is established history subverted in some incredible manner - the Time Lords simply never died. Whilst the Doctor believed that he ended the War by destroying both the Daleks and Gallifrey, the Time Lords had in fact used the Master of this story to draw Gallifrey out from behind the Time War’s
Time Lock and into this story’s present. The
events that take place on Gallifrey here aren’t
flashbacks to the final day of the War – they’re
relatively concurrent with the events depicted
on Earth. As the Ood Elder so succinctly puts it, “Events are taking place. So many years ago and yet affecting the now”. And so by retro-spectively implanting that distinctive drum-beat rhythm (“A rhythm of four. The heartbeat of
a Time Lord”) into the Master’s mind when he was a child, allowing him to summon Gall-
ifrey from behind the War’s Time Lock once the rhythm was strong enough (i.e. when he
was numerous enough), the Time Lords secured their permanence.
“He still possesses the moment, and he’ll use it to destroy Daleks and Time Lords alike.”
The opening of the second instalment is simply stunning. Since 2005 every Doctor Who’s fan imagination has run riot, frantically trying to conjure up images of this vast, unfathomable conflict, but never did we think we’d see it. Yet there it is, exactly as we’d imagined: the Last Great Time War. Prophecies. Ascension. Might have beens and never wases. The dead rising, only to die again. Murray Gold’s This Is Gallifrey theme underscores some exquisite shots of the Time Lords’ Citadel encircled by an elephant’s graveyard of Dalek spaceships, whilst inside its darkened halls Lord President Rassilon – no less cruel or despotic for his extended stay in the Divergent Universe, it seems - consults a Pythia-like Visionary to learn of his people’s forbidden future and take steps to prevent it.
But as Wilfred rightly says, what’s so bad about the Doctor’s people returning? Given his manifest grief at the loss of his race and their planet, surely he should be pleased about the prospect of their survival? Why don’t they just have a party? Well The End of Time answers these questions, and in doing so it paints a picture far more tragic than the Doctor’s earlier tales of the Time War.
“You weren’t there in the final days of the war. You never saw what was born…
The Skaro Degradations. The Horde of Travesties. The Nightmare Child.
The Could Have Been King with his Army of Meanwhiles and Never Weres...”
Here we learn that the War affected the Time Lords, and not for the better. The clues were there to be seen going right back to The Sound of Drums: what kind of a race would turn
to the likes of the Master to fight their war? Or, as is revealed here, to a tyrant like Rassilon to lead them once again? What sort of race would attempt to enact their “final sanction” and bring about the end of all creation, just so that they may ascend to a higher plane of reality in order to escape the horrors that they created? It is demonstrably no better than Davros and the Daleks’ reality bomb, and that’s why the Doctor had to try and rid the universe of both races. Yes, he remembers the Time Lords and what they once were with great reverence and even greater sadness, but as their return would “herald the end of time itself” he’s hardly going to celebrate it. In fact, the Time Lords’ actions here might even have finally put paid to the remnants of the Doctor’s survivor guilt, leaving incoming Doctor Matt Smith with a blank canvass to paint his Doctor upon.
And just as Davies promised, the stakes here manage to eclipse those in Journey’s End, not just in terms of what is at stake for the whole of creation, but also in terms of what is at stake for the Doctor. The unseen horrors set loose above Earth are so much more chilling than a Dalek Empire or a contingent of Cybermen. Though we may not know what a “Skaro Degradation” or a “Nightmare Child” is, the look on Tennant’s face as he describes these terrors is enough to eclipse anything that we’ve ever seen on screen in the series.
“That’s what you’ve opened; right above the Earth. Hell is descending.”
Furthermore, my Christmas fears over the many manifold Masters destroying the intimacy of the story were ill-founded in the extreme. In fact, from the red grass of Mount Perdition to the wastelands of London town, The End of Time is probably the most striking and tantalisingly perfect portrayal of the Doctor / Master relationship that I’ve ever come across.
Early on in the episode, for instance, when the Doctor is a prisoner of the ‘prime’ Master, the two characters share a truly touching moment. The Doctor’s “you could be beautiful” speech visibly touches the Master; after all the years of conflict, the Doctor actually appears to have gotten through to his old friend. From then on I was rooting for the begotten old villain to turn his wrath upon those truly deserving of it; those that caused the madness which has blighted his many lives and vicariously caused the suffering and death of so many others - The Time Lords.
“Wonder what I’d be, without you?”
The climactic three-way showdown between the Doctor, the Master and Rassilon is one of the most overwrought scenes in the history of the series. The Master berates Rassilon with the same arrogant gusto that he did the USA’s President Winters in The Sound of Drums, but unlike his human counterpart there is strength behind Rassilon’s bluster. With a flick of his gauntlet, humanity is restored, and the Master is left cowering.
And then we have the Doctor holding Wilfred’s old service revolver in his hand. The fact that he’s even holding a gun demonstrates just how high the stakes are here in every possible respect, and just how agonising the Doctor’s critical decision is going to be. Does he shoot the Master, killing the sound of drums in his head and thus Earth’s link to Gallifrey, sending the Time Lords and all their associated travesties back into the maelstrom of the Time War? Or does he shoot Rassilon, and then attempt to steer his enduring people down a different path?
“The final act of your life is murder. But which one of us?”
The scene seemed to last forever, but not in a bad way. Tennant, Simm and particularly the venom-spitting Dalton eke out every once of tension that they possibly could have done as the gun flits from the Master to Rassilon, and back again. And then there is a moment; one final, Russell T Davies signature moment. The Doctor’s own, poignant theme begins to play as one of Rassilon’s two dissenters uncovers her face and looks straight at the Doctor. It is the same woman that urged Wilfred to “take arms” earlier in the story; the same woman who - in a moment of fannish fervour and with her hands covering her face - I had taken for Paul McGann’s bushy-haired Doctor on Christmas Day.
Who is she? I don’t know. She is clearly someone dear to the Doctor; a cousin, perhaps. Or a wife. Or maybe just an old friend or colleague; even a former Gallifreyan President of his acquaintance. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter - she’s just another thread in the tapestry of the mystery of the Doctor, and her mournful gaze is all that is needed to make the Doctor’s decision for him. And who knows? Maybe the Master’s decision too. It’s Return of the Jedi all over again…
“The time will come when you must take arms.”
With determination, the Doctor fires Wilfred’s gun at the white star diamond anchoring the Time Lords to Earth, severing the link to behind the Time Lock and sucking the interlopers back into the Time War to be destroyed along with the Daleks. But as the Doctor prepares to be sucked back into the War along with his peers, the Master strides in front of him and uses his powers to fend off Rassilon’s fraught advance, arguably sacrificing himself to save the Doctor’s life much like Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks had originally envisaged all those years ago. And if Barry Letts were here today, I’m sure he’d agree that it was a scene worth waiting for thirty-five years for.
One bright flash later, and Gallifrey is gone. The Doctor wakes to find that after being clipped by bullets, falling from the sky, and even incurring the wrath of the mighty Lord Rassilon, he is still very much alive. But then comes the twist. Or, I should say, the twisting of the knife.
“I’m going to die. I was told. He will knock four times.”
In the mêlée, Wilfred was trapped in the Immortality Gate’s radiation chamber, which is just about to be flooded by radiation as the Doctor wakes up. And, just as the Doctor starts to believe that he might actually have avoided his prophesised demise, Wilfred knocks on the glass to be released. Once. Twice. Three times. Four.
Euros Lyn’s direction of the Doctor’s scorching recognition is simply transcendent. The cruel inevitability is almost overwhelming. The Doctor has to save Wilfred, but he can only release him from his cubicle of the chamber by entering via the corresponding cubicle and perishing in his place. And although the arguments that Wilfred put to him make sense – he’s old, he’s had his time, he’s not important; in short, it isn’t worth the Doctor dying so that he can live for just a few more years – there was never a chance that the Doctor would not sacrifice himself to save the genial old stargazer’s life.
But that doesn’t stop him exploding with fury at the injustice of it all. Only the good…
“This is what I get. My reward. And it’s not fair!”
David Tennant and Bernard Cribbins each deserve a BAFTA for their performances in this bravura scene. It’s excruciating to watch but, at the same time, masochistically compelling. The Doctor takes the old man’s place in the chamber and prepares, for the second time in his lives, to die a slow and painful death of radiation poisoning.
Part of me believes that the Doctor should have
regenerated right there and then, on the floor of
the radiation chamber. Danger, death, rebirth –
in that order, with no messing about inbetween.
But The End of Time is more than just David
Tennant’s swansong; it’s the end of the whole Russell T Davies era, and so I was determined to forgive nigh-on fifteen minutes of syrupy, indulgent bumph right at the end.
“Have that on me.”
But with the best will in the world, after watching the Doctor save Martha Smith-Jones and her new husband Mickey (!) from a Sontaran, and young Luke Smith from his own inability
to cross the road, I was chuntering away like there was no tomorrow. I had my head in my hands as a cheeky little Adipose scuttled across the bar in front of Captain Jack Harkness and his latest fancy, Voyage of the Damned’s stalwart midshipman, Alonso Frame, in some deadbeat Cantina somewhere. Apparently no worse for wear, the Doctor kept on showing up, saving somebody’s life (or giving them a much-needed kick up the backside), before swanning off again to do more good deeds and say more goodbyes.
But then came the end of Donna’s story, and suddenly I felt better disposed towards the end of The End of Time. Travelling back in time to borrow a pound from Donna’s late father (a lovely epitaph in itself), the Doctor uses it to purchase a lottery ticket which he then gives to Wilfred and Sylvia at Donna’s wedding, together with instructions to hand it to the blushing bride. And there can’t have been any doubt in anyone’s mind that this ticket wasn’t the triple-rollover winning ticket. It might not’ve been a ticket for the trip of a lifetime, but it must come
a close second for Mrs Donna Temple-Noble.
“This song is ending, but the story never ends.”
By the time Jackie and Rose appeared on my screen, my bout of cynicism had subsided. New Year’s Day, 2005. The Powell Estate. Three months before the ninth Doctor will meet Rose, his moribund successor tries to pass off the final stages of radiation sickness as too much celebratory ale as he wishes his companion-to-be a Happy New Year, masking his silent goodbyes. Cue the waterworks.
Incidentally, it’s worth noting that the Earth of Doctor Who and the Earth on which we all live have taken very different paths since 2005 when the series returned (I certainly don’t recall a Dalek invasion last year, or some madman called Saxon coming to power the year before), to such an extent that the Earth of 2010 in Doctor Who bares little semblance to our own. However, The End of Time at least has a half-decent stab at giving Steven Moffat and the incoming production team a reasonably clean slate by introducing President Obama and
the global recession into the Whoniverse. Some dialogue towards the end of the story even refers to Sarah Jane Smith putting out a cover story to gloss over the fleeting appearance
of Gallifrey in Earth’s skies, potentially enabling Moffat and his fellow writers to “start small” again, should they wish to do so, and reintroduce that unique element of terror that goes hand in hand with a plausible, present-day threat.
“I don’t want to go.”
The regeneration itself, when it finally does come, is a feral and violent affair. It is as if the tenth Doctor’s rage at dying so young is vented into his regenerative energies, the excess heat setting the TARDIS interior alright and even shattering the external windows.
“Blimey. Hair. I’m a girl. Nooo………….”
Matt Smith’s debut is short, sweet, and full of gender confusion, but when watching The End of Time’s final scene there was never any doubt in my mind that this young feller (and I can say that now, as for the first time in my life, the actor playing the Doctor is actually younger than I am. There’s a sobering thought for the new year…) is the Doctor… though from his gun-toting, punch-throwing exploits in the trailer that followed transmission, he looks like he might prove to be a controversial one. Geronimo…
To cut a 132-minute story short then, The End of Time is a
striving, exciting and thoroughly satisfying send-off for one
of the most popular – if not the most popular – of Doctors. I
try not to be drawn into discussing favourite incarnations as
to me, they are all ultimately the same man (splendid chaps
- all of ’em), but David Tennant has been so very superlative in the role that if I didn’t cite him as being my favourite actor to play the part, then I’d appear either foolish or awkward. And so I have to say, though he may have been rude and not ginger, Tennant’s tumultuous Time Lord is one that I fear may never be surpassed. Cue the New Man...
The final letter is ‘n’. Then a full stop. And that’s it.
Save. Done. Good…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Blimey. Where do I start? That was a hell of a final episode. A final serial, in fact. Not perfect, by any means, but really rather exhilarating, and a very emotional experience. There’s a lot to cover.
OK - Part 1. Christmas Day, hyped up to maximum levels, the beginning of the end. In all honesty, it was a bit disappointing, simply because I was, like a lot of people, expecting a hell of a lot. I think the real issue for part one was that it felt like a Part 1. We’re spoilt now;
we have two and three-parters, but each episode stands pretty well on its own. You could watch a Part 1 or a Part 2 alone and still enjoy it. This felt very much the first half of a bigger episode. This probably made it feel less affecting to me. Which is a shame, because there were some incredible moments in here. The very beginning of the episode, with Timothy Dalton’s evocative narration, and Wilf’s conversation with the mysterious woman known only as ‘Woman’, sets the scene beautifully, really getting us in the mood for some major events.
Above: Christmas Day, hyped up to maximum levels!
The Ood-Sphere scene is very peculiar. It starts with a
bit of clunky humour, then moves on to major, spooky
plot revelations. I cannot believe the producers managed
to get Brian Cox to do the voiceover for the Ood Elder,
an Ood with his brain in head - and how far have we
come when we consider a man strange when he keeps
his brain in his head. The scene does seem divorced
from the rest of the story, but sets thing up well; still, it must have been confusing for the more
casual viewer, who may not have watched or remember Planet of the Ood from over a year ago.
“Last time I was here you said my song would be ending soon, and I’m in no hurry for that.”
The resurrection scene has divided fans. I’m quite ambivalent myself. It’s great fun, in a noisy, colossally over-the-top way, but it lacks impact somehow. The main problem is the complete lack of genuine explanation for it. The Cult of Saxon are a great idea, but they’re thrown away in moments; they aren’t characters, just ciphers there to further the plot. The method to the bring back the Master is under-explained, so it just becomes a bit of magic, which sits poorly in Doctor Who.
Bringing back Lucy is a nice touch - it feels quite right that she be present, as she was such an important character in the Master’s previous story. Alexandra Moen isn’t the best actress in the world, but she gives it her all here (and she certainly looks nice in her little jammies). However, the idea of giving Lucy her own secret cabal, just so that she can whip out a handy little vial - “Ah, but I too have a magic potion!” she might as well cry - is dreadful plotting, and not even necessary, as it would have worked just as well to have the Cult screw it up all on their own. Still, John Simm immediately stamps his mark on the episode, showing just what a powerful, memorable performance he is capable of giving.
Thankfully, things get going properly once the players are set up on their respective paths. The Silver Cloak are wonderful, especially the legendary June Whitfield (Terry and June)
as Minnie. The scene in the café - oh, that had me close to tears. What a beautifully written scene, and how perfectly performed by Bernard Cribbins and David Tennant. Two wise old men, relating their long lives, their hopes and regrets. One of the very best scenes in the series so far; a fine example of the simple, affecting emotional scene that Russell T Davies writes so well. Great to see Donna and Sylvia again, as always brought to life beautifully
by Catherine Tate and Jacqueline King. Donna does feel a little underused, but it’s hard to see any way that she could have been featured more without damaging her previous exit.
The episode then pelts along, with some utterly gorgeous scenes with the Master. Again,
fan opinion is divided on the Master. Personally, I think he’s utterly fantastic. Not only John Simm’s performance, which is incredible; he manages to combine a truly chilling vision of psychosis with the sexiness and charm of his old Saxon persona, and he does look really gorgeous with blonde hair.
“The Master of disguise struck looking like the old Prime Minister”.
But it’s the characterisation that is wonderful. The clever, manipulative Master is still there, but crumbing under pressure. It’s a characterisation that builds on what we’ve seen before, rather than overwriting, as some have said. The Master’s composure has always crumbled under pressure and desperation. The cackling, gibbering sadist seen here harks back to the devastated Master we saw on Gallifrey in The Deadly Assassin, right down to the flashes of skeletal nastiness and the black hood, and his vampiric nature isn’t too far removed from the body snatching he got up to in Keeper of Traken and the TV Movie.
Simm’s performance makes the Master’s insanity almost tangible - he’s coming apart at
the seams, in more ways than one. OK, the Sith powers are a bit much, but even this works, since it’s comfortably explained as the Master’s life energy breaking through his crumbling body - presumably the same kinds of energy that escapes during regeneration. It’s certainly true to the Master to use anything at his disposal to gain the upper hand, and it makes a lot more sense than many of his sudden superpowers in the past - body-snatching worms, I’m thinking of you.
“Something is calling me, Doctor. What is it?”
The end of the first episode is such a massive flurry of events it’s almost hard to keep track. There’s a sort of triple cliffhanger. Donna begins to get her memory back, something that we’ve all been prepared for. This is caused by the Master’s use of the Immortality Gate to transform everyone on Earth into himself. That part, no-one was prepared for. I mean, how flipping weird was that? Really, that just comes out of nowhere, but it’s all the more effective for that. No way could we ever forget that image.
The Naismiths vanish from the plot there, but we don’t mourn them - they weren’t characters either, just another couple of ciphers, there to further the plot and the give the Master some dinner, and the Obama impersonator is really, truly naff. Still, the sequence works through sheer verve. Although, I do get the feeling that Davies thought of the term Master Race and wrote the episode around that. Yet, the huge shock ending, with hundreds of John Simms everywhere (my girlfriend wasn’t going to watch this - that information changed her mind),
is then knocked into second place by the return of the Time Lords. Now, that was exciting.
So, Part 1 struggles a little on its own. It’s such a set-up for Part 2, rather than a functional episode in its own right. Watching them both together, as a two-and-a-quarter-hour movie, works much better.
Part 2 is the important one, the one we’re all going to remember. It starts with a scene set on Gallifrey - looking beautiful and terrible, the Capitol surrounded by wrecks of Dalek saucers, Time Lords finally characterised as powerfully as they were back in their first appearance in 1969. Not only the Time Lords of Gallifrey, but in the middle of the final day of the Time War! It’s almost too exciting. To be honest, there’d been plenty of rumours about the return of the Time Lords, but they’d be going on almost since Series 1 started. I was a little unsure, at
the start, about the wisdom of bringing them back, as their absence is so much part of the show’s background. That didn’t last long - of course it’s right, bookending the entire Davies era. It’s utterly perfect to make them the final villains, especially as many viewers would simply assume the Time Lords are the good guys. Yet they’ve always been corrupt, since their very first appearance, when they preached non-interference within the same breath as dematerialising an entire planet. The very existence of the Master shows that they’re as corruptible as human beings. I love the depiction of the Time Lords here, arcane and mysterious, with prophets and a despot President. Timothy Dalton is awesome, every line full of intensity. It’s no surprise they used him as the narrator - what a voice! It’s
a tremendously powerful performance.
So much to cover still. The world of Masters - bonkers, but brilliant. I can’t imagine it would last very long - if each Master is an individual, rather than slaved to the proper Master, as it seems they are, then it surely wouldn’t be long before each of their respective egos became too much and they rebelled against each other. Wonderfully, the plethora of Masters doesn’t take anything away from the main Master, who shares some beautiful scenes with David Tennant’s Doctor. There’s a real sense of their underlying friendship here. When it comes down to it, they’re in love - platonic love, but love nonetheless. It’s the source of the Master’s obsession with the Doctor, and the Doctor’s inability to ever finally destroy him, the both of them always giving the other the chance to escape.
The Vinvocci - oh, I’m all ambivalent again. In Part 1, I thought they were pointless, but of course, they’re included so that there are characters that aren’t turned into Master clones. They’re nicely characterised, coming across as two people who really are just there to do their jobs and don’t want to be caught up in all this mess, but they still play their part when
it comes to it, and they’re both well played It’s just a shame that the makeup jobs are so dreadfully naff.
Oh, I had a tear in my eye when it came to the Doctor and Wilf’s second heart to heart. My God, Davies knows how to pull at those heartstrings. That beautiful speech from Wilf about his time in Palestine - taken from Cribbins’ own experiences, no less - counter pointed with his exhilaration at finally being in space. The moment when Wilf gives the Doctor his gun, only to have it refused, is a beauty, and Cribbins deserves praise for his performance. What a fine, fine actor, able to make you laugh and cry so effortlessly. Yet, it was when the Doctor tells Wilf that he’d “be proud” if he was his dad - that’s the bit that got me.
“I’m 906… Sometimes I think a Time Lord lives too long.”
From there, it’s action stations, all go to the final battle. If we’re honest, the world of Masters is little more than set dressing, bearing very little on the final plot. Indeed, the whole plot holds together by a thread. But it’s hard to really care about that by this stage, as things are prog-ressing so quickly and with such a thrill that we’re carried along with little time to niggle and point out holes.
Perhaps the Doctor should have thought through his sky-
dive into the mansion a little more thoroughly - landing in
a bleeding heap barely able to move isn’t the best way
to enter the fray. It doesn’t matter though: the Time Lords
have arrived, led by the President in all his arrogant glory,
the Doctor staggering to his feet to stand between him and the Master. A fantastic scene. Pitting the three Time Lords against each other is irresistible. Somehow, the
Doctor’s little handgun seems far, far more powerful in
this scene than the President’s glove or the Master’s
lightning. All attention in focused on him. It’s like the
whole series has been building up to this point, right
since the show returned in 2005. We finally learn just
why Gallifrey was destroyed, not merely as an unavoid-
able consequence of destroying the Daleks, but as a
deliberate decision on the Doctor’s part. Gallifrey was
destroyed to stop the Time Lords, who had become the
greatest villains in the show’s history, willing to annihilate time itself in order to win the War. We even hear a little more about the horrors the War unleashed, although they’re little more than incredibly evocative names.
“A rhythm of four. The heartbeat of a Time Lord.”
The President shows the incredible power at the hands of the Time Lords, waving his hand to revert the Master clones back into their original selves, and summoning Gallifrey through the breach in time - and there can’t be long left for Earth, not with a planet that size on its
very periphery. Yet, the greatest crime seems to be the President’s use of the Master. I’m
not sure why the Master never made the connection between the four drumbeats and the Time Lords’ heartbeats - he’s had centuries to think about it, and my mum guessed it back
in 2007. It’s a wonderful moment, though, to learn that the President put it in the Master’s mind in the first place, crossing three points in time to allow an escape route from the Time War. It is, pardon the pun, a masterstroke.
So, the Doctor shoots, not the Master, not the President, but the diamond controlling the Time Lords’ path to escape. It’s another instance of the plot being switched off, rather than resolved, but it’s not the important thing here; what’s important is the interaction between the three Time Lords. And, yes, the Doctor is still using a gun to end a life, but still, it stands up thematically, the man who refuses to put a bullet in someone.
“Back into hell, Rassilon!”
Perhaps best of all, though, is the Master, using his last chance to save the Doctor, some-thing that had been planned for his character way back in 1974, and finally makes it into a story. When everything is pulled back into place, we’re left with a feeling of breathlessness and a lot of unanswered questions: Who was the mysterious woman? Just how are the Ood involved and advancing, beyond the effects of the damage to time? Just how much of these events does humanity remember? Was the President really Rassilon? And what about the Master? Wisely, he isn’t seen to be killed off here, so his return is possible… oh, let’s say
it, inevitable. He always survives, somehow. “The whole Universe knows I’m indestructible!”
So, it’s to those final moments in the mansion. There’ve been problems in this story before now, but this is just pretty damned close to perfection. Those four, feeble, hollow knocks,
and the only one it can be is Wilf. Somehow we all knew it had to him, at the last, who was the reason for the Doctor’s death, but still, it’s a hell of a punch when you realise it’s actually happening. The Doctor may be battered and bruised from his battle (something that makes the whole thing far more urgent and real than most such affairs on this show), but it’s an act of kindness that ends his life. The reinforced glass cabinet, that can only allow someone out when another steps in, set up right back in Part 1. Genius. The Doctor rails against his fate, and it’s a wonderful moment, showing a bitterness and an anger that makes the Doctor so much more real, more human, than a mere acceptance of his fate. Yet, he steps into there, freeing Wilf. “It would be my honour.” Just perfect. Perhaps, just perhaps, he should have regenerated straight away, but I feel the approach used works. Poor Wilf has the chance to believe that maybe the Doctor survived his rescue after all, while the Doctor gets a little time to say goodbye.
Some of my friends thought that the ending sequence went on too long, that it was dragged out. A fair point, but I feel it stayed just the right side of overkill. Each scene was well chosen, the characters included just right. Martha and Mickey (and a surprise Sontaran!) start us off. Marrying them - how cheeky and wonderful (poor old Tom Milligan though). Get them back for Torchwood, please! Luke and Sarah Jane, giving the children of the nation a lesson in looking both ways before crossing. Captain Jack and Alonso Frame - how marvelous. They even meet in the Cantina from Star Wars, more or less. Finally, Russell gets to have the big, busy aliens bonanza he always wanted. Best of all, Jessica Hynes back as Verity Newman (cute nudge). A truly beautiful scene - that’s the one that got me tearful again on the second viewing. Dear me. Donna’s wedding, with the whole Noble gang, and that touching mention of Geoff. And finally, Rose and Jackie. A really nice touch that, even if Billie looks astonish-ingly different from how she did five years ago. Some lovely closure for the tenth Doctor - the very first person he saw in this incarnation is the also the very last.
A moment, then, to reflect on regeneration, and what it means. To me, one of the most inte-resting aspects of this story was how it questions the very nature of regeneration. There’s always been a question as to whether the Doctor actually dies, only to be replaced by a
new individual, or whether he survives, and simply changes. Is there one Doctor, wearing different faces, or a whole string of them? This story favours the death approach, but is in
no way clear cut. Certainly, the tenth Doctor has cultivated a distinct sense of individuality that it pains him to lose - yet, the eleventh will look back on this moment and wonder what
the fuss was about. When it comes down to it, each Doctor dies, but the Doctor lives on, each former incarnation living on within him. At least, that’s how I choose to interpret it. I’m sure you all have your own views.
“I don’t want to go.”
So, David Tennant. His final bow. What a tremendous, nuanced, powerful performance we have had from him in this story. A much more serious performance than we’re used to. Even the occasional moments of silliness and humour seemed to feel forced, like the Doctor was putting it on, fighting against the darkness. Yet the charm and optimism and fun we’ve come to expect from him remained there. Tennant has been the Doctor in a way no other actor has really managed since Doctor Who’s very beginnings. It’s a role he was born to play, and he clearly loved every minute of it. Of course, he has left of his own accord, off to pastures new, but I wonder how much of his own feelings went into that final line: “I don’t want to go.” Oh, my word, I cried. I didn’t even cry when Eccleston went, and I loved him, but I cried now.
And what of Doctor Number Eleven? After an extravagant regeneration that seems to have broken the TARDIS (although I didn’t think much of that final morph), we get just the briefest glimpse of the new Doctor, his lines scripted by Stephen Moffat himself. OK, it’s impossible to judge what he might be like after a few seconds of post-regeneration silliness. The trailer that followed on from the Doctor Who Confidential (poor analogue viewers!) gives us a little more flavour, but still not much. Who knows where the show will go this year? I, for one, am very much looking forward to it.
Thank you, Tennant, Davies, Gardner and crew, for these last few years; here’s to looking to the future.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? As the series’ 2008 Christmas episode, The Next Doctor, was not set in the “present”, then
at a first glance there is nothing obvious saying that this two-parter couldn’t take place over Christmas and New Year 2009/10, when it aired.
However, as Carmen’s warning that the Doctor’s “song is ending” in Planet of the Dead (Easter 2010) appears to be chronologically prophetic, it makes sense that these events follow those of Planet of the Dead, which by our reckoning didn’t take place until Easter 2010.
This story must therefore take place over Christmas and New Year 2010/11, a year ahead of the episodes’ transmission.
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