I finally got to sit down at a friend’s house and watch the three most recent Doctor Who specials, “The Waters of Mars” and “The End of Time” parts 1 and 2. I want to talk about them, but I want to avoid spoiling them for people who haven’t seen them yet, so…more thoughts after the jump.
“The Waters of Mars” is, in many ways, a straight-up Patrick Troughton story of an isolated, futuristic base under siege by monsters. The references to the Ice Warriors just further connects it to the Second Doctor and his general style of stories. Even with some of the wide-open sets, there’s a wonderful sense of claustrophobia and tension. The plots clicks, the characters all quickly become endearing, and the episode balances gloomy fear with optimism and humor really well.
Until the very end, when characters suddenly start behaving less like characters and more like puppets for the writer. (All kinds of people from all eras of the past, present and future have ridden in the TARDIS and been fine, so why are the Bowie Base survivors suddenly horrified by the TARDIS and the Doctor? After desperately not wanting to die and not really believing the Doctor’s stories of the future, why does Adelaide commit suicide to ensure the future of humanity?) The Doctor spends about 5 minutes as the egotistical “Time Lord Victorious,” and then suddenly flips around to abject despair. This appears to lead into the first part of “The End of Time”…
…Except it doesn’t. “The End of Time” begins with the Doctor dressed for a wild Hawaiian holiday, acting flippant, admitting that he’s avoided his destiny by traveling around the universe, having more adventures (including sexing up Queen Elizabeth I!). Really? The Doctor was so concerned he’d gone too far on Mars, was so worried about the appearance of Ood Sigma, that he just goes off around Time and Space, partying and adventuring, before he decides to finally go to the Ood-Sphere and see what’s going on?
The entire first episode of “The End of Time” is similarly off-kilter and bi-polar. The episode goes from random plot point to random plot point, jumping from quiet meditation to over-the-top action, like drug-fueled stream-of-consciousness. Characters are suddenly introduced who seem to be important but turn out not to be. Other characters seem to be unimportant, only to suddenly leap to the center stage. Wild coincidences are made out to be significant, only to never really be explained. The Doctor is steered to being in the right place at the right time by blatant, improbable clues. If it were a role-playing game, I’d accuse the GM of blatant railroading.
The second part of “The End of Time” has a much better pace, but suffers from the same mad coincidences and hamfisted plot turns. Questions that were raised in part one are never answered. Both episodes have some really good bits, especially anything involving Bernard Cribbins, who is spectacular. I loved the scenes on Gallifrey, too. And who couldn’t love Timothy Dalton as the Lord-President of the Time Lords (even if he does spray the scenery while chewing it)? The resolution of the main plot is very satisfying, and the reason for the Doctor’s regeneration is really moving. But before we get to the actual regeneration, we get what Gareth-Michael Skarka calls “Pure WriterWank.” The scenes of the Doctor traveling around to see his former companions, helping them out (by saving their lives, getting them a good chunk of cash, getting them laid), drag on far too long and are there only to bring past characters back into the show, pay tribute to David Tennant as the now iconic Doctor, and to pull tears from the audience. It’s mawkish and self-indulgent.
Look, I love the Tenth Doctor. A LOT. David Tennant is my favorite actor to portray the Doctor, and his character is in many ways my ideal for the character. But he chose to leave the show and it’s time for him to go. Why drag out his leaving except to further push him as “the Best Doctor of All Time”? By the time he regenerated into Matt Smith, I was thrilled to see someone else in the roll. And I’m still frustrated by the major questions that remain unanswered.
“The End of Time” is barely a coherent Doctor Who story and more of Russell T. Davies doing his typical upping the ante to create an even bigger, messier, sloppier, more sentimental mishmash of a show. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Steven Moffat and Matt Smith do with the show.