Doctor Who

Friday, January 1, 2010 by

I wouldn’t let Russell T Davies tie my shoelaces. 

However, I am more than happy to have had him at the helm of Doctor Who for these last five years.   His vision for the series seemed to start out delighting pretty much all of the established fanbase, but as mainstream acclaim increasingly became the series’ bedfellow, Davies pushed harder to break into the television heartland occupied by The X Factor and Ant and Dec, and in the process seemed to alienate at least half of fandom.

But not me, though.  I was well and truly swept along by the revolution, even when we were subjected to episodes that really tested our commitment (series two’s “New Earth” was in retrospect a real lurch in terms of how far the show was willing to go in an attempt to be all things to all men).  What held the whole thing together was that the beats of each series were so right: the separation of Rose and the Doctor in year two, the realisation that he was not alone in year three, and the return of Rose in year four.  These were great arcs that allowed the show to parade its many wonderful qualities.

And within all this were stories that were absolute gems.  Sometimes these acted as little microcosms of Davies’ grand plan (“Turn Left”, “Human Nature”), and sometimes – even more admirably – these were simply stories so brilliant that they had to make it to the screen, even though they were completely unconcerned with the then current trajectory (“Blink”, “Midnight”).

“The End of Time: Part One” certainly doesn’t deserve the description of a gem, it was flabby, plotless and an exercise in simply putting pieces into their positions.  So what of Davies’ (and of course Tennant’s) final hurrah?  It seems apt that it’s utterly polarised fan opinion.  For my part, I thought it was sensational.

Kicking off part two with a scene that sat entirely outside of the story’s previously established chronology was a brave move.  Here we witnessed the Time Lord’s dying moments at the heart of the much-spoken about Time War.  The proposed solution to escape their fate appositely stretched across the ages in both directions, reaching back into the Master’s personal timeline as well as forward into the episode’s here and now.

It was an elegant example of story telling, and in truth almost the only piece of plotting in the entire episode.  This Doctor’s final battle saw him do little more than disable a spacecraft, re-enable it, fire a gun at a piece of equipment and open a door.  Indeed, the much vaunted grand plan to bring about the return of Gallifrey looked in retrospect to have been constructed on incredibly shaky foundations. Would the newly reforming Time Lord world have been destroyed should Naismith’s house have suffered a power cut?

This was a story that seriously lacked verisimilitude, such that I couldn’t even believe in the door behind which Wilfred was sealed for much of the finale.  And if you don’t believe in a simple glass door, then what chance the supposed technological complex and the Immortality Gate, and the Time Lords and physics and – well – everything?

Well actually there was something I could believe in – or two things, rather – Wilfred and the Doctor.  The acting of Messrs Cribbins and Tennant, not to mention the thoughtful and humanising dialogue they were gifted, actually enabled this episode to transcend its shortcomings.  Who cares that in the end there was no real consequence to the Doctor’s actions in “The Waters of Mars”?  Who cares that no clear reason was given as to why the Ood world had evolved so quickly?  Who even cares that the appearance of a TARDIS in a church window was never properly explained, and that given it was Christmas Eve there was barely anyone in that church in the first place?

Of course, some loose ends were intentional – we were left to stew over whether that dissenting Time Lord was the Doctor’s mother, Susan, Romana or even a regenerated future Doctordonna?  And as for the other dissident whose face was forever hidden behind his hands, he was surely a muse for those fans who will now go away and write a thousand adventures to explain his identity.

That it was to all come down to saving the life of one old bloke was classic Doctor Who, as classic as Sarah’s return to Hillview Road in South Croyden or the oft referred to Yeti on the loo in Tooting Bec.  Yet it was also brilliantly unexpected, and the signal for Tennant’s long farewell.

As the tenth Doctor travelled through time for one last time to see his old friends, it was as if Davies was gathering up all of his creations he had strewn across the Whoniverse so he could put them away and set up a clean start for the next fellow.  A shame then, that during his time Davies was less able to consistently pull together the threads of some of his storylines.  Yet in the mess of his Doctor Whos he and David Tennant and the rest of the team crafted some of the Time Lord’s greatest adventures of all.

And if the next man is a little neater than he, and better able to make a pair of shoes safe for walking in, then he has been awarded the chance to let his plotting excellence shine in future years thanks to the fantastic bedrock of heart and character that his predecessor has put in place.


7 Responses to “Doctor Who”

  1. Adam on January 2nd, 2010 10:34 pm

    Top review, agree with it all. RTD has done fantastically to make the show so popular but some of the episodes, particularly the ones he has written, leave an awful lot to be desired. A fresh slate is what was needed.

  2. Nick H on January 4th, 2010 7:34 pm

    I think Bernard Cribbins should get a BAFTA nomination. It was a sensational performance, by turns funny and moving.

  3. Sarah W on January 5th, 2010 1:04 pm

    Good review. I think the acting was superb all round. Cribbins was amazing as was Tennant. Cribbins’ Wilf as the ability to just swell your heart in those dramatic. emotional moments. Some moments of John Simms’ really touched me too. A little glimmer of hope and exhaustion in his eyes when the Doctor says he can help him find a way for the drumming to stop. I too liked the way the RTD somehow put all his ‘toys’ back in the box. I thought Matt Smiths first moments were entertaining too. I’m looking forward to the new year.

  4. David Pascoe on January 5th, 2010 7:23 pm

    Hoping for a bit more fun and wonder, after the portentous epics of the last few stories. The trailer for Matt Smith’s first series looks promising.

    As for “The End of Time”, it was no classic but it featured a number of memorable moments: The Master attacking the two vagrants, any of the two-handers between The Doctor and Wilfred, the Time Lords seemingly reborn, “Worst rescue ever!”, Wilfred discovering his inner Han Solo, The Doctor’s look of stoic resignation when he finally realised what “He will knock four times” meant and “I’m a girl!” were all beautifully realised. The last 20 minutes smacked of self indulgence and “I don’t want to go!” was dreadfully manipulative, thankfully counterbalanced by going straight into the new Doctor’s post-regenerative comedy routine.

    Agree with the closing sentiments though. We can quibble all we like about aspects of stories and guest castings or attempts to drum up publicity; the fact remains that under RTD’s stewardship and with David Tennant at the helm a much loved “old” series has returned and has gone from being the snubbed older relative in the attic to the centrepiece of the BBC’s schedules. All Who fans who remember the way the programme was treated in the late 80s should be grateful for what has been achieved.

  5. Chris Allen on January 9th, 2010 4:46 am

    Bernard Cribbins is definitely a national treasure and was brilliant as Wilfred.

    I’ve been amazed at just how popular “Doctor Who” has become under RTD, it’s been a great 5 years, but ultimately there is the danger of him (and the program) becoming stale. As the Doctor himself once said, “life depends on change and renewal”.

  6. Glenn Aylett on January 9th, 2010 3:40 pm

    Part 1 of The End of Time seemed a bit hit and miss, but by Part 2 it turned into a classic. In the ultimate irony it was scheduled against Coronation St, which helped to kill off Doctor Who in the eighties, and beat the soap by 3 million viewers. Best bit was the cameo by the Sontaran.

  7. Zokko on January 14th, 2010 5:26 pm

    R.T.D. should receive credit for taking Dr.Who to heights of popularity which back in the ’80′s fans such as myself could only dream of, when it barely featured on the cover of ‘Radio Times’ and whose only real publicity was a sarcastic comment by Wogan on his chatshow. Thanks Russell.