I was quite looking forward to The End of Time (part 2); sure, part 1 had been lame and mostly involved running around some docks somewhere while our Christmas dinners digested, but there was the distinct smell of Time Lords about, and Timothy Dalton looked kind of awesome and clearly wasn’t messing around. I’d originally hoped that Russell T Davies would do the honourable thing and not actually write a series reboot as his outgoing story, leaving Steven Moffat the chance to figure out exactly how he wanted things to be, but since RTD has the world’s largest ego there really wasn’t much of a chance of that. So I was confidently expecting him to bring back Gallifrey, kill the Doctor, and then show us the face of Matt Smith with exactly the same characterisation as before. All fine, because come April we’d have forgotten a handful of lines and the Eleventh Doctor could go off in whatever direction made sense.
And of course I was expecting RTD to screw it up. A trainwreck. A disaster. But I had absolutely no idea quite how far he would manage to get things wrong.
Let’s look at the story, half hour by half hour (as I remember it), across the two parts.
- Some running around, the Master comes back to life, or maybe not, or something. He can now apparently break the laws of physics whenever he likes, and is stupid enough to think that when he desperately needs lots of energy the best use of what little he has is to repeatedly propel himself several hundred feed in the air. The Doctor finds him by the cunning method of going to his regular
- An Evil Plot Device is introduced, which the narrator tells us portentously will lead to the end of, well, everything. They put the Master in it. He turns everyone into clones of himself. Apparently rich black people are crazy megalomaniacs, in the same way that poor black people are into voodoo (in Planet of the Dead).
- More running around; the Doctor goes into orbit for a while to avoid having to confront the Master, the Time Lords hatch an almost-believable plan to create a link between themselves and the Master as a baby (ignoring that this violates one of those pesky Laws of Time that the Doctor was talking about in one of the other tedious specials). This leads to the best music in the episode, where there isn’t any music and just drums, riffing on the timing of the theme tune.
- Timothy Dalton sends back a diamond to provide a physical link between him and the Master (while I’ll let slide, but only because I remember The Invisible Enemy), and then uses it to mosey on over to Earth, taking all the other Time Lords, and Gallifrey (only we don’t see much because all the money’s been spent on Timothy Dalton), with him. (At some point everyone clearly forgets that Gallifrey is Time Locked, and that trying to pull a planet through some sort of physical-psychical link created by a small diamond should leave you with, well, a very squished planet.) Timothy Dalton then undoes everything the Master has done (meaning that humanity exists again), the Doctor undoes everything that else Timothy Dalton has done (meaning that Gallifrey is still Time Locked, that the Earth is safe, etc. etc.), and then finally the Doctor realises that the Master (in a bit they didn’t show on screen, or possibly my brain blanked out in an attempt to survive) had made a couple of little death boxes, and Bernard Cribbins in locked in one, but it’s okay because if the Doctor goes in the other one they’ll both live, because the Doctor is a fucking Time Lord and he knows it’s time for him to regenerate because the Ood have been cropping up in his mind for the last year or so telling him.
- The Doctor goes on a farewell tour all around the galaxy to remind everyone of all the really shit characters that Russell T Davies created, and Sarah Jane Smith. Then the TARDIS explodes to remind you that RTD won’t be writing for the series any more and therefore
it will be shit from now on, and David Tennant becomes Matt Smith.
I’m not going to lay into the dialogue, the magical bullshit that makes no sense whatsoever, or even RTD’s obsession with making this Big Exit more about him than about the Tenth Doctor (if you don’t believe me, read some of the self-satisfied twaddle he’s said about writing these episodes); what troubles me is his cowardice. There was a beautiful moment (insofar as it could be beautiful with such first-draft writing) where Gallifrey explodes into the Earth’s skies and dooms humanity. Then, five minutes later, he undoes it because it feels all a bit too drastic.
This is the moment where anyone who didn’t already realise it was struck with the realisation that RTD isn’t actually a very good writer. (Except for the ones who are irredeemably stupid.)
If the outcome is too big, dial back the outcome a bit, don’t write it out in the next scene. A better ending would have been for Gallifrey to be brought into the Solar System in a kind of reverse Trojan position with respect to the Earth (we can ignore the problems with the science bit, since earlier in the story the Master shot bolts of electricity from his hands). Then the Earth becomes a subjugate planet to Gallifrey, and humanity becomes a slave race to the rather fun New Time Lords who have given up on the whole non-intervention thing and are out to rule the universe. The Doctor has to choose between joining them in ruling the planet he loves, or being exiled from it, in a nice reverse on the Third Doctor’s punishment, and the Master (who should have been weakened from being resurrected, as in say The Deadly Assassin, rather than being an unstable energy form or whatever) could be marched off to be executed for being a coward during the Time War.
Then the Eleventh Doctor can romp around the universe for a bit, with the aim of getting back and stopping Timothy Dalton; by which time of course the Time Lords will have moved on again, or something. Anything’s possible in this context.
Russell T Davies would still have managed to find a way to make that lame and drag out, but at least I could have respected him for it. Bringing back Gallifrey only to immediately send it back out of the series is a bit like saying “let’s see what you could have won” when you could have won an Aston Martin but you actually won a used tea bag. It’s an admission of mediocrity and of cowardice, at the exact moment you’re trying to convince everyone that you’re awesome. The remaining respect I felt for the man who brought Doctor Who back to our screens died today, killed by his own inabilities.
In case you think I’m utterly down on the story and being unkind, here are some things I didn’t have any problem with at all:
- The spiky headed aliens. Great fun, and the female one was cute.
- June Whitfield.
- The Visionary, telling fortunes for the Time Lord Council. (If you want to believe that she was channelling the Matrix, and driven mad by that knowledge, then feel free.)
- Mickey marrying Martha (although to be fair that’s because I don’t care about either of them).
- The Doctor calling The President that R word. He’s clearly not the original, who would have killed the Master as soon as he appeared, and probably the Doctor as well just to be on the safe side. The Wikipedia entry notes that the Doctor might just have been comparing them.
If you haven’t seen it, here’s what is to come. Or at least bits, with some excited singers in the background.