“The End of Time is… huge and epic, but also intimate.”
So said Russell T Davies back at Easter as the world prepared for the Doctor Who special Planet of the Dead – a huge let down of ridiculous, flimsy storytelling.
“I knew I’d write David’s last episode one day, so I’ve had this tucked away. You do think: ‘How can the stakes get bigger?’ And they do. They really do. I don’t mean just in terms of spectacle, but in terms of how personal it gets for him.”
That was Russell T Davies around the same time – once again bigging up the Christmas special The End of Time with more of the same spin and hype. Note the words: “epic”, “intimate”, “spectacle” and “personal”.
Would someone then explain to me why we what we have seen so far was a series of “setpieces” poorly linked together with little or no dialogue?
Why The End of Time, Part One jumped from confrontation to a chat in a cafe back o confrontation with no reason or explanation? Why characters with little ultimate relevance were given such intense – and dare I say it smug – scenes?
How could the resurrection of the Master have been so mishandled? Who welded David Tennant’s teeth together?
And why didn’t we get more Catherine Tate?
How did the Master get crazy monkey/Heroes style powers?
And just how does The Narrator mop up all his spittle?
You know, with the benefit of hindsight, it could have been easy to guess – Russell T Davies’ scripts have a habit of letting you down. Planet of the Dead (co-written with Gareth Roberts), Journey’s End, Last of the Time Lords – all highly anticipated episodes that ultimately let down both the series, the writer himself and the fans.
Christmas specials can generally be excused – although The Next Doctor was a big cynical exercise in misnaming an adventure in the wake of David Tennant’s announcement, the story was well directed and featured excellent guest turns from David Morrissey and Dervla Kirwan.
That was then – this is now. David Tennant’s final adventure has been anticipated since the announcement in October 2008 and viewers both regular and casual tuned in on Christmas Day to see how his time as the star of Doctor Who would come to an end.
On the evidence produced in The End of Time, Part One, it’s tricky to say whether they’ll bother tuning in next time.
So what was wrong with The End of Time, Part One?
With Davies writing and Euros Lyn directing, the 2009 Doctor Who Christmas special should have been a joy to behold; while the director got some superb performances from the three main players (Tennant, John Simm and Bernard Cribbins) and gave us some fast-paced drama, little of it holds together on second viewing.
Given the gravity of the storyline, one would hope that the episode could have been more cohesive.
The End of Time, Part One is nuWho, let’s not forget. Usually subtexts can be found through subsequent views, and while there is plenty to admire here (not least the mystery behind Claire Bloom’s “Woman in White” and the question over the true identity of Wilfred Mott) there is a lack of the intensity found in episodes such as Human Nature, Blink or Midnight.
Instead of being able to compare The End of Time, Part One to those esteemed episodes (one of which was written by Davies himself) I’m instead finding myself comparing this most vital of modern Doctor Who adventures with 1981’s Logopolis.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the story. I was was 5 when it first went out, and the sight of the legendary Fourth Doctor hanging from a power cable and falling to his death stayed with me for months until the Fifth Doctor was able to get into his stride the following year.
Logopolis isn’t perfect classic Who by any means, though – not least with stagey direction, acting and so much ham from Master actor Anthony Ainley you could have eaten it through the TV screen.
Fast forward 28 years and we haven’t got ham – but we have got turkey. As a fan of John Simm from Life on Mars and earlier roles, I’ve always been happy with his bonkers incarnation of the Master. His resurrection following a pretty cut and dried death in Last of the Time Lords was always going to happen – but somehow The End of Time, Part One managed to spend an inordinate amount of time devoted to a pointless Harry Potter-esque magic ceremony bringing him back from the dead, complete with a bizarre “Cult of Harold Saxon”.
Evidently a reference to the whole “cult of personality” that surrounded the Saxon template, Tony Blair, this cult about 4 years too late to have any real meaning to the average viewer or indeed anyone without at least a passing interest in politics. As such the whole scene seems more ropey than an eBay auction and is barely saved by John Simm; Alexandra Moen meanwhile is positively bland, in sharp contrast to the underplayed Lucy Saxon of The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords.
Two scenes with Tennant and Simm in the London wasteland are pretty pointless, only serving to let the Doctor witness the Master’s bizarre new powers and his kidnapping by the pointless Joshua Naismith and his unnaturally close daughter. It’s a waste of both actors talents, and quite possibly doesn’t actually feature John Simm himself in many cases.
The only real meat in The End of Time, Part One are the scenes between Tennant and Cribbins – an element of the episode that hasn’t been over-hyped. From the scene in the cafe to the concluding moments of the episode, the Doctor and Wilf are like an instant team. There is obvious comfort in seeing the legend that is Bernard Cribbins on the TV at all, moreso watching him inside the TARDIS and declaring “I thought it would be cleaner!” as he travels to the home of billionaire Joshua Naismith, his private army and two spiky headed aliens.
Which brings this review to the closing gambit – the Master in total command of alien device The Immortality Gate (with which Joshua Naismith intends to keep his daughter alive for ever) and the Doctor and Wilf and the Vinvocci standing helpless as the deranged Time Lord creates a brand new race on Earth.
This is what Russell T Davies meant by “spectacle” – but did it have to take so long to get to? Could the Master’s resurrection not have been done in flashback? Did we really need a hokey Disney-esque commentary from the Narrator?
With Timothy Dalton revealed at the end as the member of an ancient and grand race, The End of Time, Part Two is set up as a direct follow on from the cataclysmic closing moments of Part One. The final episode of David Tennant’s time on Doctor Who will be worth watching, mark my words – but it could have been so much better served with an opening episode of quality instead of one seeming designed to get to the fantastic final scenes in as long a period of time as possible.