Ghosts of Doctors Past, 5: “The End of Time”

If you think that “The End of Time” sounds like a grandiose title, then you should see the story itself, with the show trying to send the Tenth Doctor off in epic style with the return of all manner of familiar faces and the tying-up of all manner of loose ends. Shame that it really doesn’t come together that well, then.

Before rewatching “The End of Time” (Both parts, just because), I started to suspect that I was remembering these episodes far more harshly than they deserved. There was something about the way that the four final tenth Doctor specials seemed to just go on and on that prejudiced me against them, I thought, and watching them again, separate of all of that weight, would let me see them in a whole new, unbiased, light.

As you might expect, that didn’t really work out.

What kills “The End of Time” – I mean, really, really saps your will to keep watching – is the writing. You can tell that Russell T. Davies had high hopes and ambitions for his final Who story, but he gets lost in those ambitions and everything falls apart around him; the pacing is uneven and far, far too drawn out, the dialogue leaden and filled with too much exposition at the expense of character, and the threat underwhelming because it lacks both clarity and a human element for the casual viewer to grab onto. In his attempts to do everything before he says goodbye, he tries to do far too much and the entire story – all two and a quarter hours of it (although it genuinely feels even longer, never a good sign) – suffers as a result.

The problems are obvious from the opening of the first of the two episodes (The actual Christmas episode; for those who don’t remember, this story was shown on Christmas Day and New Years Day in the UK in 2009/2010), which threads two exposition-filled scenes about the resurrection of the Master together in order to bring viewers up to date with what they need to know to keep watching… Except, of course, they don’t really need to know any of that; all the really need to know is “He’s the Anti-Doctor and he was resurrected by his followers,” and they’d be fine – The amount of time devoted to these scenes shows both how much the show had fallen in love with itself by this point and started to forget about the need to appeal to a wider, more casual, audience, and also how dearly an editor was needed to trim the fat from what we’re watching. The same attitude is on display at the end of the story, when the Doctor is “dying”/nearing regeneration but manages to put it off for half an hour while he travels in his Tardis to revisit all of the recurring characters from the tenth Doctor’s time on the show – It’s sentimental in the bad way, derailing the story’s momentum and destroying whatever intensity the idea of a regenerating Doctor had. It’s clearly an emotional goodbye for those involved in making the shows, but for those watching, the sadness is easily replaced by a sense of “Oh, just get on with it.”

In between, there’s a plot that doesn’t really make any sense, but tries to close off stories that didn’t actually need any closing off – The Master returns and attempts to turn all of humanity into versions of him because…? Well, that’s not exactly clear, but he’s mad (John Simm, throwing subtlety to the wind and having a whale of a time doing so), so that’s okay, apparently. And then, when he does so, the Time Lords, who are all dead, turn out not to have been dead, and return from their timelocked bubble because… Well, again, that’s not really clear either, nor is the deus ex machina that gets rid of them at the end. I mean, if you don’t think about it too hard, then sure, the Master gets shot and they all go away because he was linked to them and yadda yadda, but… None of it actually holds up to any kind of exploration or deep thought. It all happens because it’s supposed to happen, and, ultimately, that’s just lazy, bad writing.

That isn’t to say there aren’t some bright spots; the direction, by Euros Lyn, is good and has some lovely moments (In the opening, when Wilf goes to the church, the framing of the scene with the inscription above his head… that’s a great shot), and for the most part, the actors give their all even though the material doesn’t deserve it. But when the best part of your 135 minute epic is the epilogue, written by someone else (Steven Moffat, uncredited) and introducing your new lead for the first time – a scene with infinitely more humor and charm and excitement about it than everything that had just gone before – then you’re really in trouble. “I don’t want to go,” says the tenth Doctor, right before he regenerates. But, as with everything else in Doctor Who, the greediness and laziness of “The End of Time” shows so clearly that it was about time.

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Comments

  • Divinehammer1575

    You think the final minute is better than the rest of the story? Sure, Matt Smith’s debut is fun, but…really?!?

  • Ben

    If anything, I think watching that final tenth Dr episode now would make it more difficult to watch because it’s removed from the emotion of Tennant’s departure.  I agree with a lot of what you write in the review, but  y’know what?  I was wrapped up in the emotion of it myself, which made the while thing – for me – an emotionally satisfying send-off. (even if the story totally suffered from “series finale syndrome”)

  • Bill Reed

    There are a couple good bits in there– pretty much all the bits with just Tennant and Cribbins talking to each other, and also that last bit with Rose– but everything else, bluh. How does the Master come back? Uh, magic. What do the Time Lords do when they return after all this time? Stand around in a white room. Yawn.

    Also, Timothy Dalton was a baddie so where was his facial hair, huh?

  • Bass Guitar Hero

    I don’t think “The End of Time” was really meant to be anything more than the Tenth Doctor’s swan song. IMO, very few Doctor Who stories hold up well under close scrutiny (aka the Fanboy Test), because there’s always at least one or two things someone is going to take issue with.  

  • http://twitter.com/JamesSchee James Schee

    I didn’t care much for the big bad, but then that was sort of the way the entire Davies era went is that the bad wasn’t important it was the relationships that mattered.  I found the ending with him going around saying goodbye to those characters very moving. Tennant (even though he wasn’t my 1st) is MY Doctor so had emotional investment in his departure. So much so that when I saw those Smith moments at the end I found him SO annoying that I didn’t watch a second of his run for over a year. 

    I have started catching up now with some time(and having seen Tennant scene chewing delightfully in the new Fright Night movie), and find the stories themselves more compelling, Smith is good but in a way he’s a bit more sinister of a Doctor. He doesn’t have the regret at decisions like Tennant did. He’s been helped by having Rory and Amy though, who for the first time since Rose I care about a companion even when the Doctor isn’t on the screen.

  • http://twitter.com/Edzel58 Elaine

    I get what you’re saying about the plot and the grandiosity of it all;
    but David Tennant had been an incredibly popular Doctor and there was a genuine
    sadness about his imminent departure from both the people involved with the
    making of the show and the incredibly loyal fan base Tennant’s fanciable Doctor
    had garnered. For perhaps the first time it was acceptable and even cool
    for girls to admit that they liked Dr Who (many of those fans who first
    gravitated to the show because they could identify with Rose taking Tennant to
    their hearts)…. so even though there were loose ends you could trip over and
    holes you could maybe steer a star freighter through, really,
    I have to say, so what??  

     

    The End of Time, for me, was a joyful and unashamedly emotional
    send off for the tenth Doctor’s character, the actor who played him, and –almost
    as importantly- the man who brought back Dr Who from the abyss of cancelled
    shows, Russell T Davies.  His evident
    love of the concept, the characters and the show was always obvious in the
    writing and in every interview he ever gave – his ‘Doctor Who’ was always
    emotionally true even if the plots and the science were a bit sketchy; at the
    end of the day I simply didn’t care that perhaps a more convincing Master
    resurrection scene might have been to do it in much the same the way Keanu
    Reeve’s Klaatu makes his first appearance on screen (born out of an alien egg,
    all slimy and helpless)… it was, yes, more ‘Harry Potter’ than we’d ever seen
    on ‘Doctor Who’…. but Russell’s Dr Who was less about sci-fi than about
    putting ordinary people in fantastical situations; it was perhaps more fantasy
    than science fiction (and Moffat has continued that theme IMO) but it
    worked.   This two-parter was a glorious
    romp, an acknowledgment of the emotional investment regular viewers and fans
    had made; it was, to echo many on online comment, pure ‘fanw**k’ and it was
    wonderful.

     

    Wilfred was a delight (I could watch him and the Doctor banter back and
    forth for hours and not be bored – Wilfred is us, the viewer, this time around,
    and the way he accepts everything the Doctor throws at him (‘I thought it’d be
    cleaner,’ he says prosaically of the Doctor’s beloved Tardis, and we love him
    for it) and just gets on with it like the old soldier he is, is wonderful and
    funny and just makes me feel warm and fuzzy…

     

    The return of the Time Lords and Gallifrey, and the scenes of The Time War
    itself,  was payoff for all those who’d
    been clamouring to know more about this Terrible Thing that the Doctor had done
    which basically re-set classic Who, leaving the Doctor to become ‘the lonely God’.  And Timothy Dalton, no less!  I loved the unashamed nod to Star Wars with
    the Gallifreyan Assembly – the ridiculous escape from the sixteen missles the
    Master sent after the Vinvochi ship (which also reminded me of Bobba Fett’s
    ship!) is pure nonsense but its fun, and who wouldn’t want to be Wilf at that
    moment??

     

    And as for the Master – the return of John Simm as the manic Time Lord
    was, for me, quite simply the highlight of the story.  John Simm is not known for going over the top
    so it’s doubly delicious; who could not feel sorry for his tortured madman,
    particularly when we discover that the drums were put there retrospectively by
    evil (and equally mad) Rassilon, purely so that they could escape when the time
    came. This is Timey-Wimey stuff  at it’s
    most magical!  For me, the most awesome
    scene (and by far the most heart-rending) was where the Doctor finally catches
    up with the dying Master in the wastelands – ‘Listen, listen, listen…’ he
    pleads with the Doctor, scrabbling on his knees in the dirt and about as far
    removed from his suave Roger Delgado persona as it perhaps possible to get…
    John Simm has the most uncanny ability to make you feel for even the most
    unsympathetic of characters (and you can’t get much more unsympathetic than a
    madman who forces his captives to watch the islands of Japan burn as he takes
    over the Earth in the season 3 finale, ‘The Sound of Drums/Last of the
    Timelords’!) and I will admit that I found the Master’s final scene far more
    upsetting than the Doctor’s ‘I don’t want to go’… having learned that his
    whole life had been basically hi-jacked and ruined by the evil Rassilon, he
    saves the Doctor’s life and seems ready to sacrifice what is left of his own to
    take revenge. ‘You made me….’ he howls, his face twisted in pain; ‘All of my
    life….’  Brilliant.

     

    And as for the Doctor’s final and extended leave-taking of all the
    characters both he and we have come to love; yes, it’s indulgent, but it’s also
    nice closure. How often do we get that in real life, eh? People we know and
    love die and often there are things left unsaid. Well this is the opportunity
    to say goodbye that so few people get and it’s lovely. It feels like a proper
    end to an era – the new Doctor will have his own companions and joys and sadness’s
    but it’s nice to be able to draw a line and to be able to say, ‘that was a
    golden era for Dr Who – maybe we’ll have another one but let’s wring every last
    drop of nostalgia out of the last four years and not be ashamed’. I wasn’t (and
    am not) ashamed to wipe away tears every time I watch it.  Now where did I put that hanky….?

  • Anonymous

    I found the goodbye specials very painful to get through too.

    I’d given up on any of it making sense but in spite of myself I still approached them with hope that this time RTD would get it right.  In the end the only reason I stuck with them to the end is because it was something to do with my kids and I wanted to see who the new doctor was!

    The show’s been infinitely better since Moffatt took over and I much prefer Smith’s performance (although perhaps my view of Tennant is diminished because he was so bought into the RTD era).

    I hated the way they brought the master back so ridiculously and then failed to do anything meaningful with something as big as the return of the timelords.

    If anything the specials made me glad we were rid of RTD (and by extension, possibly unfairly, Tennant) even though he was responsible for bringing the doctor back none of his episodes were the ones I enjoyed, which is quite sad when it comes down to it. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_D7VQQXO6APXQZUYUTBXFNXMWSY Jase

    Exactly. I echo that sentiment, and will find it funny when those same fans whining about the RTD era start looking at the Moffat tenure under a microscope after it’s over.

  • http://twitter.com/DustinWildcard Dustin K

    I disagree with every word you wrote.

  • Demoncat4

    glad i am not the only one who got a little impatient and wanted to scream get on with with the end of time for  though all the companions the doctor tracked down to say bye and then the time lords coming back was getting to be over kill with the episode

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Simonsen-Jr/726620357 Richard Simonsen Jr.

    I never gotten to see these two episodes but thankfully BBC America showing this saturday.  Now I know why they are as I didn’t realize they were christmas and new year specials till now.

  • JJ

    I started watching this show since the Matt Smith era. He’s my Doctor. And while I loved the epilogue, I’m not sure that was the best part of the two episodes. The story wasn’t perfect but I thought the actors, especially David Tennant, were splendid. Tennant acted like crazy and his final emotional goodbye really did feel emotional and even I felt sad even though I started with Smith. Smith is my Doctor but Tennant is just as good as Smith and they were both without a doubt The Doctor. And I really thought if nothing else, his goodbye and exit were really well done. Also, the music as always was really good.

  • durkadurka

    I personally enjoyed the Doctor “saying” goodbye to all his companions before he regenerated, just because i was emotionally invested in them too.  But it also fit in with what the Doctor learned during his 10th incarnation, especially from Sarah Jane.  He never really says goodbye to his companions, and this was him doing just that.   Maybe it did last a little long, but it gave a look into each character’s life post-Doctor, which was fun in itself. 

  • Bazell

    I get sick of all the complaints about sentimentality.  I loved the sentimentality in this episode especially.  I love when he says his ‘goodbyes’ because I like assuming he made other stops that we, the udience, never witness.

  • Ranmori

    I would have liked to see a proper Donna vs. the Master scene … but that didn’t happen. Donna was in fact completely useless in these episodes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tom-Bacon/500131999 Tom Bacon

    Well.  Said.  Good review!

  • Kdiebold8715

    I cant remember the last time I agreed with one of your articles.