Let me start by reminding everyone that I am not out to bash Russell T. Davies. It’s taken as a truism, even among his fans, that the second parts of his two-part season closers tend to be let-downs, but I’ll admit from the start that “Journey’s End” is not that bad. It’s not that good either, but as far as Davies’ finales go it’s no “The Last of the Time Lords,” which infamously gave us an ending cribbed from Care Bears 2: A New Generation. And how can you have such a cheesy, bubbly ending with Doctor-Christ like that after you had this story about most of humanity getting wiped out and the survivors left to a post-apocalyptic environment so hellish you would wish you were living in a standard-issue Romero zombie apocalypse and where it’s revealed that the final fate of humanity is facing suffering and insanity in a void at the end of the universe with no life and no hope? The answer is you can’t, Russell T. Davies, you just can’t!
Where was I? Oh yeah, “Journey’s End”!
As I think I was writing before the pills kicked in, Russell’s epic closers were infamous even among his fans for never living up to the potential his hooks promised. What people don’t discuss so much is Davies’ love for the bullshit teaser. Example: the Doctor starts the episode regenerating, but instead his regeneration energy goes into the hand he lost in “The Christmas Invasion” because…uh, I don’t know, some Time Lord vitamin supplement the Doctor has been taking. And thus we get a bullshit teaser, showing a regeneration that most of the audience knew wasn’t going to happen yet. And does this mean that the Doctor used up one of his thirteen allotted regenerations on a silly, pointless little fake-out to the fans? Oh well, as long as the sooner-to-come “thirteenth regeneration” means we’ll get a story that will bring the Time Lords back, I’ll be happy. (Oh yeah, I’m one of those fans. What of it? And, by the way, anyone want to see my fan script for how to bring back The Rani?). Actually, what gets me isn’t so much that one bullshit teaser, because at least it was kind of a natural one given that the media had been reporting that David Tennant would be leaving, even if it did potentially create continuity problems for future writing teams. It’s really that this episode gets more than one, which really strains the camel’s back, with the Doctor-Donna, the fake “clues” that Donna is a bona fide Time Lord, and with Dalek Caan prophesying, “one of the Doctor’s companions will die!”, which doesn’t quite happen, at least not in the literal sense.
But I’m skipping ahead. Let me try to sum up where all the various subplots (I don’t think there is a “main” plot to speak) are going. Davros, who seems to be barely in control of the Daleks, has invented something called a “reality bomb” that he plans to use to destroy everything in all creation except the Daleks themselves. He and the Daleks are guided in their bizarre scheme by Dalek Caan, the sole survivor of the Cult of Skaro, who became an insane prophet after retrieving Davros from the time-locked Time War. Torchwood is saved from a Dalek attack by a “time lock” device made by a deceased colleague, trapping them in their home base and miraculously making their appearance in this storyline even more pointless than it already was. The TARDIS is transported to the Daleks’ space station, the Crucible, and the Doctor, fearing that these Daleks are advanced enough to even penetrate the TARDIS, surrenders with Captain Jack and Rose, but before she can leave the TARDIS the doors suddenly slam shut on Donna. Suspecting the Doctor is planning some type of ruse, the Daleks drop the TARDIS into their station’s plasma core. Sarah Jane teams up with Rose’s ex-boyfriend Mickey and mother Jackie, and convinces them to surrender to the Daleks in order to find the Doctor, but instead they witness first-hand the horrifying ambition of the Daleks’ plan. And Martha, under the orders of UNIT, is sent to stand by with other UNIT agents from across the world to potentially activate the Osterhagen Key, a device designed to trigger planetary suicide in the event of an alien invasion and occupation so brutal humanity itself would be condemned to a fate worse than death.
As you can hopefully tell, there’s a bit too much going on in this one episode. I can understand Russell T. Davies wanting a true capstone to his run (which doesn’t explain at all why he did it again with “The End of Time”, but…well, we’ll get there when we get there), but there really was no need to include characters from Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures for longer than brief cameos, especially since Sarah Jane and Captain Jack are already integrated into the story. There’s an even bigger problem with Martha’s role. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the Osterhagen Key was the strongest and freshest idea to come out of this storyline – it’s nice to see Russell T. Davies actually considering the implications of having the Earth invaded every two months, for one – and it really deserved to have an episode or two centered around it. Instead it’s just another subplot out of many that ultimately, besides giving Martha an excuse to run around and adding a couple of dramatic scenes, does nothing. Now you can say I’m being unfair, that it did more than including the Torchwood gang who almost literally get locked out of the plot, and that’s true to a point. It’s just that, in the end, the dramatic weight of Earth’s governments consenting to the most desperate option imaginable is handwaved away by both the Daleks and the Doctor, in a way. All we really get out of it is a tense scene between Martha and a minor character, a German woman, who we’ll never see again.
But the Osterhagen Key isn’t what you want me to talk about…no, it’s Donna. Well, dear readers, let me take a moment remind you of the clusterfuck…I mean, questionable creative choices Russell T. Davies made with her. Trapped in the TARDIS and sent to a fiery grave, the regenerative energies in the Doctor’s hand merge with Donna, causing a second, half-human Doctor to grow out of the hand and making Donna half-Time Lord (but we’re not supposed to know that yet). Human-Doctor pilots the TARDIS out of the engine core without the Daleks noticing while the Doctor’s various companions threaten to disrupt the Daleks’ plans through various kamikaze tactics. This prompts Davros to brag, “The man abhors violence, never carrying a gun, but this is the truth Doctor, you take ordinary people and fashion them into weapons.” The Daleks easily take the wind of the companions’ sales by teleporting them into Davros’ lair with Davros, Rose, and the Doctor. Human-Doctor appears and tries to stop the Daleks, but fails. However, Donna, her Time Lord knowledge activated in the chaos, manages to use the Daleks’ own equipment against them and stop the reality bomb just as it’s on the verge of being detonated. Meanwhile the Doctor deduces that Dalek Caan, who was horrified by what he saw across time and space about the Daleks and their actions, had been manipulating time itself, allowing Donna to be in the position to ruin Davros’ plans. Afraid that the Daleks would still have the power to wreak havoc on the universe, Human-Doctor destroys the Crucible and kills all the Daleks in a stroke, horrifying the Doctor so much he practically banishes Human-Doctor to Rose’s parallel universe. Everyone flees, with the Doctor offering to save Davros, but he refuses to be saved, screaming that the Doctor is the true “destroyer of worlds.”
I mean, I can forgive Davros, because he’s a few mad scientists short of a supervillain team, but why does the Doctor look pained by Davros’ accusation? How the Doctor should have responded was with, “Um, whoever just tried to annihilate almost all reality, raise their hands!” What’s with the “reality bomb” anyway, besides being a bit too much like the Solaranite from Plan 9 from Outer Space? Again, I can get Davros thinking it’s a good idea, but you would think even the Daleks would balk at the thought of existing in an infinite void on a space station without any planets with resources around.
Well, this really gets at the weird and frankly confused ethics of this episode. I do understand what the viewer is supposed to get out of all this. We’re meant to see the Doctor fully finding himself after the hellish traumas of the Time War and turning his back on the occasional ruthlessness he had been exhibiting. Honestly, though, his treatment of Human-Doctor’s actions comes across as more than slightly dickish. In the early Ninth Doctor episode “The Dalek”, the Doctor, driven by vengeance, tortures a helpless, imprisoned Dalek and barely hesitates to sacrifice a companion to prevent the Dalek from even having a chance to escape. Here the Daleks, far from being at anyone’s mercy, have the technological capability to go anywhere in time and space, abduct entire planets and civilizations, and wipe out the multiverse. There’s about a galaxy’s worth of distance between the two scenarios. Really, the episode would have worked so much better without the whole “reality bomb” premise. Giving Davros and the Daleks the power to destroy everything only eliminates any chance that the viewers will actually see any type of moral dilemma for the Doctor here. Just having Davros single-handedly build a new and potentially even more dangerous Dalek Empire would have been enough and made for a more convincing ethical split between the Doctor and his half-human doppleganger, but I suppose such a premise just wouldn’t have been epic enough.
Now with all that aside, we come to what really made this episode controversial: the final fates of Donna and Rose. The Doctor leaves Rose, Jackie, and Human-Doctor in the parallel universe, and practically fixes Rose and Human-Doctor together (Rose, being Rose, still pouts about everything). The only way Rose’s ending could have been more double-plus good was if it spelled out that Rose and Human-Doctor would parent a new race of Time Lords (although a cut scene does have the Doctor giving Human-Doctor the means to “grow” a new TARDIS…). Donna, however, is dying from being unable to house the mind of a Time Lord, forcing the Doctor to telepathically erase all her memories of her time with the Doctor. He leaves Donna with her family, as shallow and self-loathing as she was before she met him. To be honest, when I first watched it I defended the ending to a couple of irate fans, because I thought that it was a genuinely tragic fate for one of the Doctor’s companions. Having watched it again, I’ve changed my opinion more than slightly. It’s still a good ending…but for Rose, not Donna.
See, Rose was confident and assertive even before she met the Doctor. True, she did learn and gain a lot in her travels, but her time with the Doctor was mostly defined by the fact that she bridged the impossible gulf between their two species by falling in love with him and making him at least consider the fact that he was in love with her too, something that hadn’t happened since Jo. This makes her losing those memories as much a tragedy for the Doctor as for her. For Donna, on the other hand, it wasn’t even really about the Doctor, but their travels. She learned empathy, confidence, and that the significance of her existence wasn’t defined by her job but by what she herself made of things. This ending just renders her entire character arc and her intense growth as a character (portrayed beautifully by Catherine Tate) null and void. It’s unfair enough that Rose gets the Good+ ending and Donna has the Bad+ ending, but the fact that Donna was underused throughout the entire season and the huge discrepancy between what Rose and Donna get in the end makes it even harder to swallow. So, needless to say, I’ve changed my opinion quite a lot.
And yet…I really enjoyed this episode the first time I saw it. Now it hasn’t held up well to repeated viewings for me, but like I wrote I think it’s still one of Davies’ own better season closers. There are more than a few good ideas here and seeing Tennant’s Doctor go up against Davros is a rare treat, but Davies ends up juggling too many characters and too many subplots for the episode’s own good. Worse, Davies is showing signs of being too self-indulgent, but as we’ll see it’s only the beginning…
Oh, yeah, and just in case I haven’t made my opinion clear: screw you, Russell T. Davies, Donna was the Tenth Doctor’s best companion.