TV EYE: Doctor Who – The End of Time (Part One)

It’s the beginning of the end. Fear the spoilers…

Hmmm. Well. RTD certainly seems to be going out as he came in, and part one of the absurdly hyped Christmas/New Year special is certainly close to being the RTD era in microcosm – veering from atmospheric to bizarre to overblown to embarrassing at the drop of a hat. It had the deck stacked against it anyhow – for a start, it’s a Christmas special, and the only special that I’ve wholeheartedly liked (admittedly with some reservations) was The Christmas Invasion, back in the dim days when Tennant was only just starting in the role. They’ve almost always been a bizarre hodge-podge, guaranteed to be runaround nonsense and the kind of undemanding, crowdpleasing adventure that’s going to go down well with people who’ve just stuffed themselves with Christmas dinner. On top of that, it’s both RTD and Tennant’s swansong – and anyone who’s watched any of New Who so far (especially S4’s Journey’s End) knows that RTD doesn’t shirk from pulling the lever marked ‘OVERBLOWN’ on these occasions. And, as the cherry on the top of the cake, it’s also the return of the John Simm incarnation of the Master, the only time when they’ve updated something from the Classic show and I’ve actively disliked it (I’m no fan of the Cybermen, and I wasn’t fond of their take on the Sontarans, but that’s nothing to how much I hated S3’s The Sound of Drums).

And, what’s the final result of this mix? A bit of a mess, to be honest – it’s not without its entertaining moments, but thanks to its status as a Christmas special, it’s one of the most schizophrenic episodes of New Who we’ve seen yet, going from funereal bleakness and confrontations on urban wastelands to John Simm in ‘Look at me, I’m INSANE!’ overdrive and June Whitfield goosing the Doctor. It wouldn’t have been quite so much of a problem if the story was stronger, but it’s another one of RTD’s ‘let’s throw lots of random events into a sack and see what happens’ – I was quite impressed with the way that in the run-up to the episode they’d kept the actual content of the story pretty damn secret (although certain major aspects I was already, sadly, fairly familiar with), but it turns out that one of these reasons is that there really wasn’t that much story. There were sequences, but very little actually binding them together. Once again, the plot’s being driven by visions and coincidence, meaning that there’s lots of stuff happening but we don’t really know why – the story moves in bizarre fits and starts, and while it’d be nice to think that it’s all going to be explained next week, I don’t exactly have tons of faith in RTD’s talent for pulling off decent closure where storytelling is concerned.

Probably the most frustrating aspect is the fact that once again, RTD is brilliant at the broad strokes. The imagery of the whole episode is great – and the thinking that’s gone into the Master, turning him into a creepy, sinister vagrant stalking the urban landscape, is really strong. The moments that RTD is instinctively good at – like the scene between the Doctor and Wilf in the cafe – are really, really good, and then we get the utterly WTF Total Bollocks Overdrive sequence of the Master’s resurrection, which basically played as Davies trying to rush through a nonsensical Hammer Horror concept in as short a time as was humanly possible (and bringing back bad memories of Last of the Time Lords, with yet another character hovering in a column of CGI pixie dust). The result verged on painfully bad, and the rest of the episode wasn’t without its highly creaky moments, especially with the Master bounding around in crazed Superman mode and regularly transforming into a not-particularly-convincing CGI skeleton. To be honest, there was some very creaky effects work here – the make-up on the green cactus-headed shapeshifters was particularly poor (yes, we know it’s a bald cap with rubber spikes attached, but it shouldn’t damn well look like that – and having the actor’s face a slightly different green to the prosthetics was not a good choice), while the big transformation at the end saw a variation on the sped-up-movement effect poorly used in The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords, and the result was downright shonky.(It also didn’t help that once again, we get a Who cliffhanger that lingers on the sheer amazingness of what’s happening for about five times longer than they need to).

So, it’s a typical RTD episode in many ways – brilliant moments, frustrating moments, and a deliriously inconsistent score from Murray Gold that goes from some strong and effective material to hyperactive nonsense and comedy drums. Simm did manage some decent moments, and there were points where the dangerous, demented take on the Master bore fruit, but my goodness I was fed up of him cackling by the end of the episode. Tennant was strong throughout, and Bernard Cribbins is yet again one of the unexpected treasures of the series. And now we’ve got the Time Lords returning, and apparently becoming the main villains of the piece. It hasn’t been the worst episode the series so far, but it’s far from the strongest – and I think I’m definitely at the point where I’m mainly looking forward to next week because RTD’s era will have finally come to an end. This ‘specials’ year has been a bit hit-and-miss and frustrating, overall – especially since aside from co-writers we haven’t had a break from RTD since Forest of the Dead all the way back in 2008 (and so far, I can’t help feeling I’d be thinking a bit more fondly of him if The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End was his official swan song). His episodes have always rode the rollercoaster with me, and I’m sure The End of Time: Part Two will be equally as up-and-down. Despite my many reservations about some of his excesses and they way many of them have been executed, RTD has does some truly amazing things for the show – but it’s time to move on, and it’s going to be fascinating to get to those final few minutes, see the actual regeneration – and get to the point where the new era of Who truly begins. I’m sure the new era will have its ups and downs, and that there’ll still be plenty to annoy and frustrate me – but right now, a new voice for Who is sounding like a very good idea…

3 thoughts on “TV EYE: Doctor Who – The End of Time (Part One)

    • Well, yes, I did forget about that. Truth be told, I think I was trying to erase most of that rather appalling sequence from my memory. But, while the idea of a quasi-religious sect based around someone called Saxon did make me briefly smile, the whole scene was pure bobbins from start to finish. So now, on top of all his work to become Prime Minister in The Sound of Drums, we’re expected to believe that the Master also had time to invent his own religion (complete with sacred texts) just on the off-chance that his plan for World Domination didn’t work? (That’s what I like – an insecure megalomaniac…). And just what the hell were those ‘Potions of Life’ supposed to be? It’s the kind of concept that could have worked if it had been given a bit more room to breath, or been more integrated into the story – rushing through it in four minutes flat just made it borderline insane.
      (And the less said about Simm pontificating from the glowing tower of CGI fairy-dust, the better…)

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  1. And I thought it was just me 🙂
    This felt like a really disjointed episode – some really strong character moments, like the scene in the cafe, interspersed with random running around a Cardiff wasteland… I’m really hoping that Stephen Moffatt (writer of my favourite episode, “Blink”) does something better with the show.

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