So, there goes the RTD era of Doctor Who. Frankly, I’m not sure I know what to make of it as a standalone episode yet, but then, I’m not sure I’ll have settled that for a good year or two yet, with the benefit of a bit of time-assisted perspective. Inevitably, one’s analysis of this episode right now is going to be inextricably linked to one’s view of the whole era, or at the very least of David Tennant’s Doctor. Nonetheless, let’s have a go… Spoilers ahead.
I can’t quite shake the feeling of being present at the funeral of someone I knew reasonably well, but not well enough to be anything like as upset as the people who knew the deceased best. Paradoxically, then, I wasn’t really able to feel all that emotionally moved by this episode, despite exemplary writing and acting from Tennant and RTD* in this episode, because of the.. cheapness of some of their previous work. Tennant’s hyperactive mockney gurning persona has unfortunately soured his brilliantly acted quieter bits, for me.
It’s tempting to say that it’s simply because the form of the new series makes it very difficult for it to exhibit the qualities of storytelling that I liked about the old series. In adopting the 45 minute single episode format as often as not, the series has taken away a lot of the space to breathe which the old series allowed its stories and the worlds they took place in. The relentless pace of your average Doctor Who story nowadays means world-building that is, worse than non-existent, glib, full of shorthand that necessarily limits us to concepts for which we have shorthand. The Doctor that goes with this new format is what Tennant portrayed ably: a breathless gabbler, tossing out throwaway explanations as he pelts down the latest shiny, higher-budget-than-before corridor. A Doctor whose frame of reference is more Earthbound than even Three’s, who had much more reason to be. It just doesn’t do a lot for me.
So, to answer the question that so many people who don’t like hearing criticism of the Welsh Series trot out: Why do I watch it at all if I hate it so much? Well, because I don’t hate it, I just find it tedious when the series, which, like Lawrence Miles seems to do, I feel is Our Programme even when it pisses me off, doesn’t reach its potential. Occasionally, and more than often enough to make it worth watching, it does produce a Human Nature, or a Gridlock, or a Midnight. After all, it’s not like the old series had a 100% hit rate in producing the classics, if we’re really honest, now is it? And actually, now that I think about it, the 45-minutes point in the paragraph above is a bit shaky, because many of the stories in the Welsh Series which allow their plot the room to breathe and the slower patches necessary to draw real worlds and characters and what have you are only single episodes, they just happen to be better.
But anyway, you might have noticed that, on these grounds, I ought to have quite liked this episode, as I suggested about Part 1. Well, congratulations, you’d be right. This episode struck me as that rarest of things, an RTD denouement that didn’t piss a good setup up the wall. I mean, yes, it’s easier because there is a good, weighty consequence coming at the end of the episode no matter what, but still, there’s no magic the-last-year-didn’t-happen wand like Series X3’s finale, or what-the-hell-even-was-that of Series X4. Yes, there was a big silly sequence with Wilf et al shooting missiles down, but by and large, the episode didn’t ludicrously accelerate the pace beyond that of the relatively discursive Part 1. Which was nice.
So the main section of this episode did everything it should have done to make me cry, or whatever. Tennant was good, the “knocks four times” thing felt right, the three-way face off between Doctor, Master and President avoided collapsing into a ham-off. I didn’t even really mind the little epilogue as Ten said goodbye to his era; RTD even resisted the temptation to go back and shit all over the Bad Wolf Bay scene again! You couldn’t have asked for much more.
Ultimately, though, I found The End of Time a bit disappointing, not because it did anything wrong in itself (well, OK, it’s not perfect, but what is), but because the emotional weight necessarily had to trade on my attachment to the Tennant era. And that’s just not quite what it might have been. Consequently, the 2005 series’s finale got to me much more than this did, despite this being, on paper, a much more crushing finale.
* Apart from the transparent button-pushing of Ten’s last line, which had the opposite effect on me to the one it seems intended to have done, wrenching me as it did right out of the narrative by making me intensely aware of the writer behind it and their desperation to make me cry.