Doctor Who and the End of Time (part one)
I’m still fighting a nasty cold but I wanted to write this while the viewing was still fresh in my mind. I apologize if my stream of consciousness gets muddy.
I had intended to review two regeneration stories from the Classic Doctor Who to show how difficult they are to construct. As examples I had chosen Planet of the Spiders (Doctor No. 3, Jon Pertwee) and Logopolis (Doctor No. 4, Tom Baker) as they not only served as the final adventure for that Doctor but also closed the book on a specific period of the program.
In Pertwee’s case, the old regime led by producer Barry Letts was on the way out and incoming series producer Phillip Hinchcliffe was on his way in. The story reflected a lot of the ideas regarding Eastern philosophy that Letts held dear and a humbling of one of the most powerful and massive egos the Doctor has exuded in Doctor No. 3. It has it’s problems (goofy special effects, goofier spiders) but it encapsulates so much of what the team was shooting for in those final episodes.
Logopolis is another story entirely and I must confess I have never fully understood what the point of the story is. I grasp the plot, but as a final adventure of the most beloved version of the Doctor played by Tom Baker it makes so very little sense. A runaround of complex mathematical ideas and the Master’s chicanery, it’s not exactly one of the better stories of the Classic Doctor Who series aside from that final moment where we see not only the Doctor but in my opinion the actor Tom Baker himself realize that the ride he has been on for the past 7 years has come to a stop. It’s a classic moment interrupted by obnoxious flashbacks to previous villains, but it still makes the grade for me.
I had decided to leave out Caves of Androzani as it hits all the right marks and has enough love going for it.
I will give another feather for RTD’s cap that aside from writing a good introduction to the series for new viewers (no mean feat!), he also included the Daleks in a regeneration story for Doctor No. 9. Of course they had nothing to do with that Doctor’s regeneration, but never mind. Despite its numerous problems, Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways is actually a very good regeneration story. RTD’s script tied up several ideas, had the Doctor who had previously found himself frozen with inaction finally possessed of the kind of self-confidence the viewers had been waiting for and deliver the kind of threat to the largest army of Daleks ever visualized on screen.
Sure, it had all these out of place references to reality programs that RTD thought was funny, and the regeneration itself was a mess… and don’t get me started on the reveal behind what Bad Wolf means… but never mind. I rarely give the guy any acclaim.
So given the fact that I have established that final stories in which not only the Doctor but the production staff are leaving are difficult yet RTD has managed to compose at least one regeneration story that I liked… I sat down to watch End of Time part one on BBC America. Before I begin with the official review, let me just say how lucky modern fans are that they are getting the opportunity to see new Doctor Who one day after the UK audience. That is so very cool. Imagine being a fan in the olden days and having to wait at least a year to see the new series and when it arrived there you were watching Colin Baker wondering what had happened. It’s also wonderful that modern fans get the chance to experience the one-week wait for the next part.
However, the new episode is such a sordid mess that it almost feels cruel that after waiting so long for the stars to align so that fans of this cult series can see a new episode so soon that they are given a half-baked mixture of ideas that fail to combine into a single story.
After a bizarre narrative opening, the episode begins with David Tennant delivering lines through teeth gritted so tightly that I needed my closed captioning to figure out what he was saying and when I did found that even though he had apparently been wandering through space and time and having it off with historical figures he looked like he had been to Disney Land. After a series of jokes that fall flat one after the other (with even the Doctor commenting on how they are meant to be funny), the plot develops.
The Ood, a throw-away alien race introduced in the second season in a rather spectacular adventure, have now become some kind of shamanic race of seers who are advising the Doctor on a catastrophic threat that is coming which only he can stop. The Doctor is shown to be decidedly cowardly and even driven to tears once by the thought of his impending death (which seems incredibly out of character). Even though he shows no real signs of being able to deal with the threat and the Ood are capable of reaching back into time with their telepathy, they expect the Doctor to somehow prevent ‘the end of time’ itself.
There is a brief recap of the events from Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords which are still unclear (if the Doctor prevented anything from happening, why does anyone remember any of it?), and we are re-introduced to Lucy Saxon, the Master’s widow, serving a sentence for murder. How/why she retained knowledge of what the Master had done is never explained and to add to the confusion we are presented with a villain so powerful that not only had he orchestrated his resurrection by creating his own cult, but the Master somehow found a way to use jewelry and a kiss to bring himself back to life. Uh huh. The Master is brought back to life by some weird chemicals and a ritual that suggests he is some demonic creature/warlock and in no time a half-naked John Simm is back laughing like a loon.
But WAIT- not before Lucy can interfere with the Master’s hastily constructed resurrection by poisoning her husband with… something. Honestly this could be the single worst scene in the entire episode. Ideas are presented in such a slapdash fashion that I really don’t want to know the reasoning behind them or how they tie into the threat that the Doctor is meant to prevent.
After being brought back to life, it becomes clear that the Master now has a new hair color and super powers , the ability to nearly fly and shoot what looks like Star Wars-style force lightning from his hands. He is also obsessed with eating fatty foods and has at least two speeches that had me worrying about what weird issues the writer has with food. I mean… really. Neither the force powers nor the weird eating thing are ever explained. And his skull can glow out of his skin… no idea why. Also, the Master’s force lightning has no real effect on the Doctor while it presumably succeeds in roasting a pair of food vendors.
After several attempts to track his nemesis down in the quarry where the Master seems determined to hang out (perhaps waiting for another sausage vendor?), and being distracted by Donna’s grand dad Wilf who seems confused about whether he is happy for Donna getting her life together or wants the Doctor to bring her memory back… which would kill her… the two foes meet.
The cafe scene between the Doctor and Wilf is regarded by many as a high point of the episode and while it is clearly the only scene that makes any real sense, it’s also very out of character for the Doctor to be so emotionally distraught. I understand that this is not the old series, but this is also not the Doctor that I know. Why is he so determined to dodge something that he has experienced bravely several times over? This version of the Doctor has avoided death once before, lived a whole other life as a human and spawned a clone to live in a parallel reality. What more does he want? I imagine that this is the program’s attempt to portray the actor’s sadness and anxiety of leaving behind the part he has held for 5 years now (much like Tom Baker’s moment of fear I referenced earlier), but if so, it’s just so self-indulgent. He’s not THE Doctor, remember, he’s A Doctor. The show will go on without him.
After finally meeting up, the Doctor and Master engage in a nearly incomprehensible exchange of dialog in which the Master evokes their shared past and states that the sound of drums in his head are driving him mad (even though he stated earlier that he loves them), he promptly leaves via flight via hand-lightning.
Best conclusion to a terrible scene ever.
Note: I noticed that nearly 2/3 of the entire episode consisted of either the Master laughing in flashback, the Doctor running or the Master voraciously eating something. Seriously, if you take out those repeated sequences, I think the 45 minute-long episode would be an easy 22 minutes long.
The Master has apparently concocted some mad scheme that involves a pair of characters that are so poorly developed that I thought I had missed an episode. I mean, who is John Nesmith??? Oh, right he’s part of the Master’s plan to… do… something. There is also a subplot where we see Donna’s grand dad hiring a tour bus of his friends to hunt down the Doctor for some reason (to explain why he is having bad dreams?? Can no one deal with their own problems) and the most bizarre subplot ever, President Obama’s announcement that he will end the global recession. No kidding. Shoe-horned into all this are a pair of goofy aliens who are on some kind of mission to repair a piece of other-worldly machinery which gets so little screen time that I barely remembered to mention it.
The entire affair culminates in a prolonged final moment where the Master has somehow turned everyone on Earth into himself. Again, how does this have anything to do with the end of time or the Master’s super powers? No idea. It may be explained in part two next week but for now the special is a long series of head scratchingly odd moments. The most confusing of which is the revelation of Timothy Dalton, the narrator, addressing what appears to be the Senate from Star Wars about the impending return of the Timelords.
Maybe my confusion is that this isn’t Doctor Who at all, but in fact Star Wars.
Additionally, the cliffhanger of the ‘Master Race’ (very subtle, Russel) is depicted as numerous versions of the Master happily waving to each other and giving a dual thumbs up. In what way is this a bad thing? It seems quite pleasant.
I have stated that in my opinion, RTD can write some good material and script important episodes well by pointing out the success of Rose and Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways… but this is just a mess. It seems to be written in the same shopping list fashion that I have also pointed out before where RTD cannot keep his focus on his story and instead is distracted by all the shiny and silly things he feels the need to include. A terrible badly contrived mish-mash of ideas, the End of Time part one is just a train wreck.
I have seen feedback on the Guardian UK showing that I’m not alone in my dislike of this episode and several fans are just happy that RTD will be gone by next week, but the whole thing just seems excessive. Fans deserved better from the series and the series, for all of its flaws that I have pointed out in previous posts, can do better.
We’ll have to wait until next week to see how any of these ideas connect up… or if they will at all.