As showrunner of Doctor Who, when he wants to go all big, epic and bombastic, he can. The results are often the cause for much debate as spectacle can be seen to draw attention to the sparsity of the plot.
These are general terms – The Waters of Mars, Midnight, Turn Left, The Parting of the Ways and several others don’t suffer in this way. But over the course of 4 full series and 5 specials, the man who breathed a new life into our favourite TV show seemed to be outputting a lot of work that wasn’t being script edited.
“But he’s the showrunner,” you might well interject, “why should he be edited?”
The writers with the unenviable task of adapting Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings books are all script edited – for all of the love the UK press has for Russell T Davies, you can’t seriously expect him to be above that?
Instead, ever since the big Doomsday finale of 2006, RTD has been throwing characters around, having them appear in the positions he needs them to be in for a series of set pieces, visual orgies of CGI and action and a few quiet chats and then let things slowly dissipate for the remaining 20-30 minutes – a well worn template that you could see being repeated for The End of Time, Part Two.
Except… this time he actually seems to have pulled it off!
With a world full of Masters, mysterious women in white who might be Susan/Romana/Leela/the Doctor’s mother, rabid Time Lords and a pair of aliens who wouldn’t seem out of place in Meglos, the world’s most bonkers cliffhanger in the history of ever left viewers hanging on for something on Christmas Day – only for Russell T Davies to pull out of the furnace some of the best moments in his entire 5 years in charge of Doctor Who.
Elements might have been derivative – the 64 missiles being gunned down by Wilf and a cactus in turrets stolen from a Corellian freighter to name but one (you can keep your Matrix rip off theories – the Matrix itself rips off The Deadly Assassin, end of story) – but there was no escaping the wonderful moments between David Tennant and Bernard Cribbins as the Doctor and Wilf. Chucking in the superb John Simm (whose less insane moments really give his Master some moments of clarity rarely seen in the classic series) for his share of some of RTD’s best dialogue yet brought out the best in everyone concerned (except the played for laughs cacti. There has to be a reason why those two were mugging throughout, but I’ve yet to find it.)
It would be easy to sit waxing lyrical about the vast scale of the Time Lord’s plot, whether Timothy Dalton’s Lord President was in fact Time Lord founder Rassilon himself, resurrected to lead Gallifrey into way or simply named after the legend and how a small QCV diamond could have escaped the Time War and made it to Earth.
The thing is, I don’t want to. Whatever its faults (not as many as Part One) The End of Time, Part Two is one of the most important Doctor Who stories ever. Even if there were no regeneration at the end of it, the scale and nature of the story,Â “he will knock four times”, war-crazed and evil Time Lords wielding evil gauntlets of power, the potential for Donna (Catherine Tate) being killed by brain overheat and so many billion versions of the Master being used as an escape path by returning Time Lords are reason enough to spend hours poring over the various new elements added to Doctor Who lore in the space of 75 minutes.
In fact, the very sort of thing this very website was set up to praise.
When they came – and we had known for a long time that the “four knocks” wouldn’t necessarily be the tapping in the Master’s head – the end for the Doctor after apparently surviving so much was suddenly there, staring us in the face.
Saving Wilf’s life was the single most important thing the Tenth Doctor did in The End of Time, Part Two. Anyone could have fired that revolver into the Master’s Time Lord reception device. Preventing the destruction of time itself in order that the Time Lords could evolve into a higher species to escape the Time War had already been done by the Doctor when he used the Moment and brought about the destruction of Gallifrey, the Time Lords and (most of) the Daleks.
Only the Doctor could have saved Wilf that day. At the cost of his own life.
Of course, the similarities between saving Wilf and saving Rose in The Parting of the Ways – absorbing lethal radiation – are extremely clear. Three regenerations caused by radiation would seem to suggest the Doctor needs to start thinking about carrying some sort of hazard suit in the TARDIS in future.
It was at the point of the aftermath that the previously self indulgent season finales were overshadowed by 20 minutes of the Doctor visiting his friends and loved ones before the onset of the slowest regeneration since The Caves of Androzani – appearances by John Barrowman, Billie Piper, Camille Coduri, Noel Clarke, Freema Agyeman, Lis Sladen, Tommy Knight, Russell Tovey and Jessica Hynes (and a return to Wilf and Donna) all served to underline the importance of the Doctor being able to get some sort of reward for losing everything, allowing him to either save or change the lives of those that travelled with him.
Unlike Doomsday, Last of the Time Lords, The Stolen Earth and this review, The End of Time, Part Two didn’t seem to go on too long. When it came, the pent up, destructive force of the Doctors tenth regeneration was a release that everyone emotionally involved, not just the Doctor, wanted to put off for as long as possible.
A crazy, non-ginger turn from Matt Smith at the helm of a dying TARDIS is the only reference I’m making to the Eleventh Doctor here.
The End of Time was truly David Tennant’s story and possibly his finest and most layered performance as the Doctor yet.