Part one of David Tennant’s final adventure was mainly made up of the Master eating, laughing and leading the Doctor in the mother of all run arounds interspersed with cut aways to the Timelords providing narration and promises of something truly impressive.
For the most part, the second installment was more of the same.
While the Master took a back seat to the main plot and the Doctor seemed to take up more screen time it was Timothy Dalton’s truly insane performance in a bathrobe that threatened to overtake the entire program. Almost every review I’ve read has talked about the uneven feeling of the episode, the cobbled together plot and the need for Tennant’s death scene to be about 20 minutes shorter than it was.
As for my own observations, I’ll try to make this review brief.
When Doctor Who returned, there was a lot of exposition regarding something called a Time War which presumably cleaned the slate of all the classic Doctor Who monsters as they battled the Doctor’s people, the Time Lords. It left a war-torn intergalactic ghetto in which the Doctor roamed about trying his best to assist those left in the wake of the war find their way toward bettering themselves. As the only Time Lord in existence, the Doctor had a bit of an identity crisis. After the War Games introduced the Time Lords in 1968, the Doctor has been defined by his interactions with the godlike beings. Be it as their agent, rebel or President, the Doctor found meaning in relation to these powerful beings who could control time yet chose to remain passive. With no more Time Lords, what was the Doctor? He had no one to rebel against, stand up to in court or defend in their hour of need. It was a brilliant maneuver of the new series and gave it a unique identity. It also paved the way for new monsters.
In the subsequent seasons we have seen that the Daleks found a way out of the Time War and a new race of Cybermen created from a parallel reality. The Master somehow found a way out before the Time War broke out by hiding inside of a cover persona Dr. Yana. He has since taken every effort to make life Hell for what he views as the Doctor’s pet race of humanity. First he led tricked the last vestiges of the human race into thinking they were headed for Utopia when in fact they were vivisected into little balls of hate that were used to assault contemporary Earth. So evil was the Master that he tricked death itself and ‘refused’ to regenerate after the Doctor had forgiven him.
The resurgence of classic monsters has made the Time War useless in many respects. When it was first brought up it was envisioned as an epic war that destroyed all the baddies of old with only the Doctor managing to escape. Since then, almost all of the classic monsters have returned. It seems that everyone survived, so what’s the tragedy?
Meanwhile the Doctor has become more human than ever in his latest incarnation and has professed something close to love for his one time companion Rose. Unable to live with her, he has watched from afar and become lovesick and emotionally distraught, often leading him to extreme acts of compassion at one moment violence and destruction at another. Tethered to human behavior by a series of companions, he has tried to temper this attitude but in the past year he has traveled alone.
In his most recent adventure, it occurred to him that as the only Time Lord in the universe, there were no longer any rules that prevented him from perverting history to his liking. Shocked and disturbed by this revelation, he was visited by an Ood who alerted him that his song was coming to an end. Given a vision of the Master’s return and a warning that the End of Time was approaching, the Doctor launched himself into the fray once again, but this time overwrought with knowledge of his own demise.
Using alien technology, the Master has transformed the entire human population into iterations of himself. While a race of megalomaniacal geniuses may sound menacing, the program shows them as rather polite and obedient soldiers (and completely unlike the Master except in appearance). The sole purpose of a planet of Masters is apparently to track down the source of the drumming that the Master has heard in his head since a child when he stared into the vortex and ‘went mad.’ Why he would want to do this and how is rather ropey.
The Doctor manages to escape the Master’s clutches in perhaps the biggest plot contrivance I’ve ever seen in any of RTD’s scripts. In a previous adventure former companion Donna had somehow obtained the knowledge of the Doctor and was about to go critical mass before the Doctor fixed her so that she never remembered any of it. The catch was that if she ever started to remember her head would explode and therefore die. As we see Donna in an alley confronted by an army of apparently cannibalistic Master clones she starts to remember what she was meant to forget. Rather than explode, though, she fires off some kind of energy wave that momentarily disrupts the Master’s control allowing the Doctor and Wilf to escape.
… handy, eh?
Facing an entire planet of Masters takes a back seat as the Lord President of Timelords consults his council of extras and the crazy doodler with henna tattoos for a route out of extinction.
Apparently the Time Lords have been stuck in something called a Time Lock during the Time War. This is odd since we were told several times (even in this story) that they were dead. The Master and Doctor are somehow viewed as terribly important to Time Lord history and this episode is perhaps why. By use of a diamond and a drum machine crossed with a time machine, the Lord President creates a tether from the Time Locked Gallifrey to contemporary Earth. While Donna’s grandada Wilf thinks this is great news, the Doctor explains that the Time Lords have been driven mad by war and are the worst evil ever. Dutifully, the Master plays along even though he has always hated his people and opens a gateway for the Lord President and his posse to cross. Why they just stand in the magical door frame after passing through the gate I don’t understand.
As all of this comes to a head, the Doctor continues to have a crisis of what to do as he has been told all paths lead to his death. Despite the fact that every other version of the Doctor up until this point has proven so brave that he would gladly lay down his life for another, this Doctor is desperately looking for a loophole that will allow him to survive all of this. Meanwhile Wilf has been visited by a mysterious woman who has urged him to arm the Doctor for his final moments with an old service revolver that Wilf retained from his time in the military. Who is she? No idea.
After an embarrassingly poor looking battle against all of the nuclear arsenals of the world on board a goofy mining craft designed for scavenging space debris, the Doctor simply jumps from a spaceship in mid-flight into the lab where the Master is bringing the Time Lords to Earth through a magical gate. No kidding. As the program entered the realm of Looney Tunes logic, it also madly tugged at the heart strings of the audience as a bloody and beaten Doctor whirled from the Master to the Lord President with the hand gun ready to kill someone but unsure who.
It’s also interesting to note that the Lord President was revealed to be Rassilon, the father of the Time Lord race… but I’ll just let that lie. So powerful is Rassilon that he simply returns the human race to normalcy with his magical gauntlet, wrapping up that plot thread neatly.
In a clever moment, the Doctor fires his gun not at either man but at the magical diamond machine keeping the gateway open, damning the Time Lords to the Time Locked Gallifrey forever or whenever another writer decides to revive them again. In the last moments, the Master lets loose with some of his dark force lightning and does battle with Lord President Timothy Dalton’s goofy power glove and become wrapped up in a ball of blinding light. After an exhausting series of awful scenes, the Doctor is hysterical with emotion thinking that he has somehow evaded his death only to hear four knocks that have been hinted at for several episodes as marking his final moments.
I have to admit that there was a massive plot point that I never caught involving a two man glass cabinet hooked up to a nuclear reactor that involved the buddy system. No idea. Unfortunately this plot thread proved to be the most important one. Wilf had locked himself in one side, requiring the Doctor to enter the other part and press a button so that Wilf could be free. Unfortunately, the radiation had spiked and would flood the chamber as soon as the Doctor did this.
After all my negative comments of the episode, the next moment was by far the worst in my opinion and in keeping with my judgement that this IS NOT THE DOCTOR.
Rather than boldly and silently sacrifice himself for Wilf and regenerate, instead the Doctor has a hissy fit that he doesn’t wanna die and is far too important to die. After making Wilf feel sufficiently awkward, the Doctor presses the switch and is bombarded with radiation. Rather than simply dying there and then, the Doctor goes on to perform a series of acts in which he visits a former friend, does something nice then pouts from a distance. I had never seen a ‘pouting montage’ before. Thanks, RTD. It had to be the most prolonged and obnoxious sequence that Russell T Davies had ever written and cheapened a moment that should have been poignant and meaningful for fans of this era.
After once again establishing like a petulant child that he didn’t wanna die, the Doctor erupts in silly regeneration flames that have somehow become linked to the moment in the new show and we are given the first glimpse of Doctor No. 11.
As I was writing this, I found myself summarizing a number of ideas that this era of Doctor Who had put forth that are in themselves not bad. Having a Doctor who has become more human and manic is interesting in itself, but in the end this Doctor was just so very selfish and obnoxious in his attitude that only by forcing the other characters to champion him as their savior or plotting the stories to make him into a hero would work. I know that Doctor No. 10 is very popular and that David Tennant has the biggest following since Doctor No. 4 Tom Baker but again in my opinion he was given terrible material to work with and a head writer who failed to understand what he had created.
The tenth Doctor saw himself as a godlike being also capable of damming entire races to extinction and having a pint of bitter at the local pub with the punters. If the program had explored that idea and showed how flawed and dangerous that approach was (as hinted at in Fear Her, Waters of Mars and the Doctor’s speech to Wilf in this very episode), it could have have been a sophisticated and complex tale. Instead, we are expected to accept that the Doctor is a Christ-like wizard with puppy dog eyes and a magic wand who refuses to pay the piper for his actions.
I keep saying this, but the tenth Doctor is a missed opportunity in terms of the character and actor. In re-reading my articles on his second series, I recognized Tennant’s strengths and the importance of a good companion for him to work off of (in my opinion this was Freema Ageyman). The longer that Tennant and Davies collaborated on Doctor Who the more melodramatic, childish and obnoxious it became. Tennant ranted and raved more and his eyes and teeth threatened to pop out of his skull with each moment of over-acting. There was always potential for a good and in some cases amazing story that got side-lined by RTD’s insistence on using his bad ideas and worse ‘human interest’ angles.
In any case, the book has closed on this chapter and another is on its way in the Spring.