"New" Who, Doctor Who Write-Ups

So one of the reasons I stopped doing so many Doctor Who posts was that I was afraid I was turning this blog into a Who fan blog, which is probably somewhere between social media cat photos and top 10 lists about cats on the list of things the Internet does not need more of.  That was the main reason I gave myself, anyway.  In truth, I just really did not want to have to write about The End of Time.

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END OF TIME? More like, END OF MY DAMN PATIENCE!

We denizens of the Internet exist in the Golden Age of Nerdrage, so I feel like anything I say about how much I disliked “The End of Time” is already kind of meaningless.  But I’ve already delved into my feelings about the Russell T. Davies era here and I don’t want to launch some kind of “Steven Moffat rulez, RTD droolz” debate.  I simply don’t agree with some of the criticisms made about Moffat, especially the accusations that Moffat’s portrayal of the Doctor’s female companions has veered toward sexism, but there are some things that boil down to purely personal preferences and Moffat clearly had a very different vision for the show and the character of the Doctor than RTD did.  It’s inevitable that there will be many people who will prefer one showrunner’s vision over the other. Personally I tend to prefer the seasons made under Moffat, but there are episodes from the RTD era I enjoyed, just as there are episodes made with Moffat at the helm that I’d probably skip with future viewings.

All that said, I truly, genuinely, absolutely loathe “The End of Time,” to such an extent that whenever I hear fans complain about Steven Moffat, my only rebuttal is “END OF TIME!

Of course, I should start with the good.  Bernard Cribbins is more or less the companion for these episodes, and he’s a delight.  Enough said.  And I do like John Simm’s The Master, especially how he’s kind of an evil version of how David Tennant portrays the Doctor.  I don’t like what the writers do with the Master in this story – at all – but I do enjoy John Simm’s take on the Master for the most part.

…And I think that’s it.  As for what I don’t like…well, get a snack and make yourself comfortable.

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If the whole episode had just been Timothy Dalton talking while in full Time Lord regalia, my opinion would have been considerably more positive.

So like any would-be epic the first part is narrated – in full purple prose mode, no less – by Timothy Dalton who is dressed in elite Time Lord gear. I was tempted to put this in the plus column for this episode, but it’s really ruined by what goes down in part two. Plus Dalton’s narration makes less and less sense when you consider who he actually is and the people he’s talking to, but we’ll get to all that. In the episode’s defense I suppose we’re not supposed to think he’s narrating everything that’s going down on screen, even though the idea of Dalton with an epic tone narrating the Tenth Doctor getting felt up by an old lady (yes, this will happen) does make up for a lot. Also it’s not the goofiest thing that will go down even in just part one.

Since this is Russell T. Davies and apparently not a show that can take place anywhere and anywhen, it’s Christmas in contemporary London.  Bernard Cribbins, returning as Donna’s grandfather, is in a church where a mysterious woman in white discusses how the church was once the site of a convent the Doctor rescued in the Middle Ages.  Who is this woman and how is she connected to the Doctor?  We don’t really find out.  I get that one of the charms of Doctor Who is that the writers usually leave in some mystery and ambiguity surrounding the Doctor, but at the same time it strikes me as fairly pointless to introduce a mystery character, one who won’t appear again except maybe in the dubiously canonical spin-off fiction, and never even just strongly hint at who she is.  (Of course, personally I’m rooting on her being Susan, but I’m always for characters who disappeared decades ago making cameos in my fiction…).

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Later commentaries revealed that she’s actually just the Doctor’s landlord from that year in college he spent renting a basement apartment.

As is usually the case with RTD’s epics, we are assured by not only the Lady in White, but also the Ood and the fact that everyone on Earth has been having dreams of a laughing Master, that Something Big Is Going Down.  We’ve already had a mad scientist threaten to erase virtually all reality, so RTD has to resort to making the crisis as vague as possible.  Then there’s the Doctor’s personal crisis.  Having learned about his impending “demise” from both the Ood and the Magic Negro from “Planet of the Dead”, the Doctor has been hesitating to investigate what’s going wrong with reality this time.

To be fair, this reluctance is expressed through probably my favorite scene in the whole affair…

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How I like to remember the Tenth Doctor.

I really do mean it as a compliment when I say that I think the Tenth Doctor is at his best when he’s being an annoying tourist.

Of course, the last time we saw the Doctor he wasn’t worried about his mortality at all, just about becoming a megalomaniacal demi-god twisting all of the universe’s history to suit his personal ethics.  I don’t know if RTD just assumed his audience had the attention span of fruit flies or what, but this is yet another idea that actually would have been much more interesting if it had been developed slowly over the course of a season or a series of specials.  I know of fans that hated this twist in the Tenth Doctor’s character, the core argument being that it was out of character for the Doctor, especially since regeneration has been for the most part not treated like dying.  However, I can see how it could be a legitimate take on the whole concept of a species of aliens that can save themselves from the brink of death but at the cost of losing their original physical appearance and even some of their personality traits.  From the perspective of the Doctor himself, how is it not like death?  Again, though, like with the idea of the Doctor’s flirtation with godhood, it’s overshadowed by a dozen other plot threads and barely given room to breathe, much less grow.

Speaking of plot threads, while the Doctor visits with the Ood, he notes that their society is evolving much faster than it should.  And no, this isn’t brought up again or has any bearing on anything whatsoever.

Instead the focus turns on Lucy Saxon, the Master’s wife.  She’s been kept imprisoned for shooting the Master, who even though the reset button was slammed on his near-destruction of the Earth way back in “Last of the Time Lords” was still remembered as the Prime Minister of Britain by the world and was still “assassinated” by Lucy and…well, to be honest this makes less sense than a film adaptation of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” as directed by David Lynch.  There’s something about a cult that practically worships the Master even though his reign over Britain and then the Earth was at least 95% erased from history as far as 99.999999% of the human race is concerned, and they need a DNA sample from Lucy to bring the Master back to life, and when they do so they have Lucy present at the site of the resurrection even though they have no reason to do so and it’s actually a really bad idea as they find out the hard way, and even though the whole ritual of resurrecting the Master is spoken of in scientific terms it’s conducted like a Witches’ Sabbath, and Lucy throws some kind of potion, which she says her “contacts” helped her make even though she’s been in a secret and highly guarded prison this whole time,  into the cauldron over which the Master is being resurrected and it causes a huge explosion.

Oh, and yeah, except showing how the Master returns, all of that Adds Nothing To The Plot.  We’ll be talking about ANTTP quite a few more times before we’re done.

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Even the Master would admit a Time Lord can’t parse out and explain the plot holes in that one scene I described above.

Oh yeah, and because of the botched resurrection the Master is cursed with a ravenous, even cannibalistic hunger (along with the drum beat we learned about in “The Sound of the Drums” and “Last of the Time Lords”), but he also has superpowers, like being able to shoot lightning like Emperor Palpatine and leap really high like the Hulk (or Wonderella).  Now you might think, okay, this means RTD is trying to set up the Master as a new kind of threat.  But, guess what, aside from a scene where the Master randomly kills some homeless people because why not, it’s all ANTTP anyway!

Well, at least on my part, it did make me wish the Master would go back to shrinking people into dolls.

The Doctor does try to prevent the Master’s resurrection, and we get dramatic shots of him running to the TARDIS to do so, but despite being a time traveler he’s still too late because who the hell knows.  He continues to present remarkably bad timing for a Time Lord when he also fails to stop the Master from being abducted by mercenaries hired by the billionaire Joshua Naismith, whose only characteristics are that he’s got more than his fair share of rich British smarminess and that he has a vaguely incestuous thing going on with his daughter Abigail, whose own only characteristic is that she apparently likes to randomly say “Abigail – it means Beloved of God!” in conversation.

You’d think that sinister human agencies kidnapping a Time Lord, who has near perfect knowledge of all history past and future and of all the secrets of the universe, would be compelling enough for an end-of-the-season plot.  But, no, it turns out that the Naismiths just want the Master to fix some alien device they think can grant immortality.  Is this, and not the thing about time running faster or the Master getting resurrected by his very own secretive, all-powerful cult, supposed to be the main plot?  The truth is, Part 1 of “The End of Time” doesn’t really have a main plot.  In fact, I think the Tenth Doctor himself would describe it as a wibbly wobbly ploty-boty stuff full of crappy, dull, and nonsensical subplots that don’t go anywhere.

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They too are wondering why they’re here.

Honestly, the only one of this episode’s many plot threads that actually gets any momentum is Bernard Cribbins, disturbed by his visions of the lady in white, enlisting his elderly pals to find the Doctor to warn him.  This leads into what is easily my favorite scene out of the entire “End of Time” saga, where the Tenth Doctor is harassed by a crowd of elderly people.

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The Doctor faces a threat greater than the Cybermen or the Sontaran Empire.

But, even so, this only highlights yet another problem I have the whole affair: the comic relief here is just as or even less goofy than the supposedly serious plot developments that are going down.

Finally, we get to subplot #2389-D4:  the return of Donna.  She’s engaged to a guy who I think gets two lines of dialogue, and the Doctor can’t even talk to her because she’ll supposedly die if she remembers their travels together.  It’s at this point that I think RTD meant to troll fans like me.  “Oh, so you liked Donna as a companion more than you liked Rose?  You’d much rather have a companion who’s female but isn’t romantically interested in the Doctor at all, eh?  Well then, how about I bring Donna back one more time…but she and David Tennant can’t even share a scene together.  BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, YOU FOOLS!!!!”

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Catherine Tate somehow captures my expression the first time I watched “End of Time.”

The hundreds of plots finally start to a coalesce, more or less, once the Doctor and Bernard Cribbins set out to save the Master from the Naismiths – or vice versa, really.  Once they’ve infiltrated the Naismiths’ lair they come across yet another subplot in the form of an alien couple who have been sent to retrieve the technological device in the Naismiths’ possession.  In the meantime, they’re working undercover as human scientists until the device is repaired and they can leave with it.  Now exactly how and why they expect to be able to abscond with it especially now that the Naismiths believe it’s the key to immortality, and especially since they apparently can’t just teleport it off the planet, you may be asking?  Actually, by now you probably already resigned yourself to the fact that there’s more plot hole than plot here.

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Yeah, I don’t get why we’re here either.

The aliens tell the Doctor that the device is intended to heal people on a planet-wide scale, using a basic genetic template.  This sets off the Doctor’s alarm bells and he rushes to stop the Master from finishing his “repairs.”  Unfortunately, for at least the third time this episode, he’s much too late, and the Master uses the device to do something so dastardly, so devastating, so silly that you’d think you were reading a Silver Age Superman comic:  he transforms the entire human race into clones of himself, which of course he christens the “Master race.”

endoftimemasterrace

Well, at least I’m sure this is somebody’s flash fic fantasy brought to the small screen.

So this is where I have to make a disclaimer that I know Doctor Who is the softest of sci-fi, and that it’s practically a fantasy show, and this is the same program where the most iconic alien villains have plungers for hands, but…this still feels like that ’60s Batman story where Batman is turned into a toddler and still fights crime, you know?  Like someone’s deliberately trying to take a show that has complete disregard for the “suspension of disbelief” and still make people think they’re watching some kind of avant gardeMonty Python-esque satire?

To be fair, John Simm does sell it with flair.  I’m not ashamed to admit I still get a chuckle when Obama-Turned-Master announces “I’m President!  President of the United States!  Look at me!” and is applauded by a room full of himself.  And despite the silliness he still does present the Master with some low-key menace.  Still, this is another case where I wish RTD held back some and, like with making the Daleks a threat without giving them the capacity to blow up the entire multiverse, just have the Master force humanity into a hive mind controlled by him.  As much as I love the visuals of John Simm dressed in the clothes of dozens of extras, I think I would have much preferred the chance to see countless characters playing as the Master.

The Doctor saves Bernard Cribbins from being “Master-fied” by locking him into a radiation chamber.  Donna isn’t affected because she’s still part-Time Lord, which honestly  most writers would treat as a bigger deal than it is treated here but hey I’m not the one the BBC paid big bucks. As the Doctor scrambles to do anything and Donna is threatened by her own “Master-fied” family, Timothy Dalton promises the viewer that the Time Lords have returned!

I’ll get into more of this next time, but let me just say…if only.  

What I dislike most about this story is that it feels like pure sleight of hand, although I write that with hindsight.  It promises some kind of change to the status quo beyond even the Doctor entering his eleventh incarnation, but – spoilers – it doesn’t happen.  However, I’m really getting ahead of myself, so join me next time for Part 2!

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New “Who” Reviews: The End of Time, Part 1

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4 thoughts on “New “Who” Reviews: The End of Time, Part 1

  1. My take on the difference between Davies and Moffat isn’t the alleged ‘misogyny’ (I mean which writer turned a female character into a concrete sex toy for Christ’s sake? Who inflicted Jackie Tyler on an unsuspecting world?) but the difference between fatalism and free will – or at least moral agency.

    Eccleston’s Doctor has wiped his own people out because ‘he had no choice’ – it was the only way to end the Time War. Rose almost destroys the universe by trying to save her father who was fated to die; he has to die to save the universe.

    And those Davies Ex Machinas? Again, fate dictates the solutions to the story: Margaret the Slytheen doesn’t reform, she is transformed, essentially by magic, just when it is necessary for her to do so; and that same Tardis mechanism magically transforms Rose into God a couple of weeks later. There’s no agency here, no weighing up of choices, just fate, in the form of the Tardis, stepping in.

    And that kind of thing happens again and again through that era. The Doctor spends the entire of Gridlock running in the wrong direction – then gets teleported to where the plot-off switch is kept ten minutes from the end. And there we get another repeated fatalistic trope when the Face of Boe delivers a prophesy that inevitably turns out to be true but is so cryptic the Doctor can’t decipher it till its too late.

    The entire last episode of season four is a prophesy working itself out; the Doctor spends the entire episode bickering with Davros while his magic hand grows into another Doctor and Donna is magically transformed into the Doctor Donna and not one single choice is made by the Doctor.

    After that we get more prophesies (‘He will knock four times’), the Time Lord Triumphant has fate rubbed in his face, and ultimately, irradiated by a machine so stupidly designed it can only be by fate, he accepts death with an ‘I dont want to go’ and an interminable number of goodbyes instead of search for a cure – no matter how futile.

    So fatalism explains much of the Davies era: Eccleston’s trauma, the futility of trying to change history and the severe punishment for attempting to do so, the vague but inescapable prophesies, the Davies ex Machina plotting and Ten’s resignation in the face of death.

    With Moffat we have constant rewriting of history – and of stories; death is reversible (Rory); his own almost inescapable death at the hand of the Impossible Astronaut is averted through last minute ingenuity; and Clara throws herself into the Doctor’s timeline having made a reasoned choice.

    Also compare Boomtown with the Wild West episode; both feature mass murderers but where Margaret is irredeemable by anything other than magic the 11th Doctor story ends in redemption through choice.

    And of course in The Day of the Doctor the Doctor finally gets a second chance to end the Time War and makes a moral choice, no matter how risky that would be.

    So very different philosophies behind the show, possibly more rooted in different narrative styles: Davies’s more linear approach lending itself to fatalism and Moffat’s timey wimey to the rewriting of history.

  2. Oops – forgot another glaring example of fatalism and one which is particularly relevent to this story.

    In the original TV show the Master was an equal to the Doctor but essentially one who took the choices the Doctor never would: where the Doctor chose good the Master chose evil. There was never any suggestion that the Master lacked agency, just that he used it to further his own ends.

    Davies rewrote the Master twice. First he’s driven mad by looking into the Vortex, then it is revealed he’d been manipulated by the Time Lords all along.

    So a charasmatic and – in a perverse way – almost admirable free agent is reduced to a pathetic victim of fate.

  3. Speaking of Monty Python – well, you did – is it just me or did The Life of Brian do the whole suddenly rescued by aliens, then taken into space, having a space battle and crashing down almost exactly where you started bit first and with far more economy?

    It only needed a passerby to say ‘Oh, you lucky bastard’.

  4. I know of fans that hated this twist in the Tenth Doctor’s character, the core argument being that it was out of character for the Doctor, especially since regeneration has been for the most part not treated like dying

    Actually I have some sympathy with Davies here. Regeneration is, in a sense, dying – otherwise the Doctor’s sacrifice in Androzani is a bit shallow. It’s not like losing a life in a videogame when you have lives to spare.

    I’ve got Asperger’s and the subject of a ‘cure’ often comes up on WrongPlanet (an Aspie forum) and whether we’d take it. For many the answers an obvious yes but at the high functioning end of the spectrum that’s not so certain.

    Even leaving aside the fact that some (though not many) Aspies are gifted in ways they might loose if they take a cure it’s not like curing a broken leg: it’s a change in personality, a change in interests, and a fundamental change in how we would experience the world (often physically as well as mentally). The ‘you’ at the end of the ‘cure’ looks and sounds like ‘you’ (though perhaps more expressive) but in subtle ways he’s not the same ‘you’: That’s a disturbing thought.

    People with damage to their frontal lobes often suffer a change their personality – sometimes in ways that are ‘better’ or at least make them happier. Bipolar people can change from week to week. Drug addicts – and ex-drug addicts – change their personalities in ways which can alienate them from their friends.

    Our minds are embodied; change the body and you change the mind. Change the mind and the previous mind ‘goes away’.

    A slow change in personality is inevitable as we grow older but a sudden change violates the sense of continuity we see as an important part of the self (part of the reason I dislike the sudden metamorphoses of Rose or Donna rather than, say, the gradual learning curve of Leela).

    I know it sounds odd raising issues of continuity in the context of Doctor Who but there’s more to regeneration than ‘Ah, well – plenty of lives left where that one came from!’

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