Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Doctor Who, Series 4, Episode 13: Journey's End

And so we arrive at the final episode of the current series of Doctor Who, "the finale" as it is now called (a nomenclature I first heard when Buffy was on). As well as the excitement before watching, there is also something of a preparation for disappointment and anti-climax, in part because the hype was so great (Media Round Up) leading up to it, in part because the cliffhanger at the end of "The Stolen Earth" was so good that the resolution could hardly better it, but mainly because of the feeling that this is it. The end of another series. The wait until the Christmas special begins. But worse, this time there is the knowledge that we don't get a complete series next year, just the specials. So everyone wanted to savour Doctor Who while it was still with us.

Given all that hype, this was real "event television". With 9.4 million on the overnights (which will rise by a few when the final figures are in), this was the most watched TV programme of the week, the first time that has ever happened in the history of the series. And it seems that those millions loved it. For a second week running, it had an Audience Appreciation figure of 91, which is remarkable (Source: Outpost Gallifrey). Whatever anyone else says about the series, Russell T. Davies's tenure as show-runner has been a fantastic success, achieving things no doubt beyond his dreams. With the British media continuing to go crazy about this , it was an event in our house too. Given the inevitable time lapse for us in watching, we avoided all contact with the British media, i.e. the internet, from 1.40pm our time onwards (it was on BBC1 at 6.40pm BST, and we are five hours behind). We even went to the pool to make sure we were away from temptation. When it was ready to watch, we locked the door, closed the blinds, switched off the phones and got ready for our 65 minutes of action.

Now I have to admit that I was just a touch disappointed with the resolution of the best cliffhanger of all time. I knew that David Tennant was to stay on, but there was just that niggling thought, that tiny little possibility that this could have been the best kept TV secret ever. And that photograph of David Morrissey looking like he could be the doctor really was intriguing, even if it now seems obvious in retrospect that he is just in Victorian costume, filming the Christmas special. And a week is a long time to be thinking about all the other possibilities that might have included Tennant staying on and yet introducing something else. There was that reference to "the threefold doctor" in "The Stolen Earth". Could it be that we might see, even for a short while, McCann or even McCoy? This all turned out to be utter fanboy nonsense, of course, and it now seems daft that anyone would have thought this way, even if it was fun for a while. One of my favourite reviews of the final episode imagined how things might have been, The Twee Doctors on Behind the Sofa:

Blimey, wasn't David Morrissey fantastic tonight? I mean, WOW! And phew, too! Just imagine how disappointed we'd have been if David Tennant had regenerated into himself or something pathetic like that! That would have been a massive cop-out and they'd have lynched RTD for sure. And top marks for pulling off a Paul McGann Time War flashback so we could watch him regenerate into Eccleston. Brilliant! But killing Rose and Martha - who saw that coming? However, I have to admit that shoehorning Harriet Jones into the Dalek Supreme and McCoy's cheeky cameo as "Dr." Osterhagen did over-egg the pudding a little, even it was cleverly done (I loved the subtle reference to the Kandyman). And while I'm having a hard time swallowing the fact that Donna was actually Romana all along (Temp = Time, Noble = Lord - slaps forehead - of course!) that bit at the end when John Simm unleashed all of those Cybermen into the TARDIS was f**king mental! What? What? WHAT?

Is it Christmas yet?



OK, so that's what might have happened if Russell had turned left (or listened to some of the more insane suggestions on the DW forum over the past couple of months). Unfortunately, what we ended up simply couldn't compete with that level of hype and speculation.
Exactly right. The previous episode, "The Stolen Earth", was simply the best experience I've had while watching Doctor Who. It was that good. And I think that anything would struggle to live up to that. It's often the way with two-parters; I liked "Forest of the Dead" less than "Silence in the Library" and even "Family of Blood" less than "Human Nature", and these were two of the best stories ever. But after the the thrill-a-minute side to "Stolen Earth" is over, "Journey's End" is able to do much more with its characters, and it has some wonderful moments.

There are too many highlights to mention, but a few of the many moments that made this for me include:
  • Julian Bleach's maniacal performance as Davros -- that laugh when you see the inside of his mouth was chilling.
  • Bernard Cribbins as Wilf -- his heartbreak at Donna's fate, and he still has tme to ask the doctor, "What about you?" I am sorry that we may have seen the last of Wilf; he's been great.
  • The German daleks -- Extermenieren! -- enough said.
  • Mickey's meeting again with Captain Jack; in fact, Mickey throughout this episode -- more Mickey please! Delighted that he's back in our universe, and hopefully heading for Torchwood with Martha too.
  • The return to the theme of the doctor's pacifism, and the struggles with blood and violence. In "The Doctor's Daughter", he wants the new planet founded on the idea of avoiding bloodshed; the idea of genocide was "over my dead body", and it is the theme of "Genesis of the Daleks". Now we return again to the doctor's horror at the idea of genocide, even of the daleks.
  • I can't resist saying something about the whole "prophecy" theme. Are Dalek Caan's prophecies directing the action, causing people to behave in a certain way, or are they the mad rantings of someone who has glimpsed the future during the time war?
  • The tragedy of Donna's fate -- one of the most poignant and upsetting moments in Doctor Who.
  • The structure and pacing of the episode was perfect; I loved the multiple endings, layered one after another, like the end of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, or John's Gospel.
One of the things that initially gave me pause was the "Oddjob Junior" doctor. In Carry on Screaming, they grow a new Oddjob "Junior" out of his finger, and he too goes round in a blue suit like this doctor 2. It took me a lot of time to get used to this bizarre plot development, and I think it affected my initial viewing much too strongly. But on second viewing, I liked this; it was the development of the resolution of the cliffhanger, and so made sense of that initially disappointing moment, and it led to some great comic moments with Catherine Tate, and of course he played a key role in the defeat of the new dalek empire. And although I was not especially keen on revisiting Bad Wolf Bay, and sending off Oddjob Junior Doctor with Rose, it does give us the chance, as Darth Skeptical commented on Podshock, for a naturally aged Tennant recurring in twenty years time -- that will make this ending well worth it.

Favourite moment? A lot to choose from, but I adored the revisiting of my favourite piece of music from the series, the Ood Song from Planet of the Ood, now re-arranged in the delightfully absurd flying the earth back into orbit:

Utterly ridiculous. Utterly brilliant.

Rating: 5 TARDIS groans again. The series goes out on a high, with back to back 5s, from Silence of the Library through to the end. Series review to follow.


Myke said...

nice commentary!

Loren Rosson III said...

You just had to use that scene in your youtube clip (which also ruins the song of the Ood while its at it). Sigh.

jomar said...

Hi. Hope you can help, I have 16 questions about this season ender and
hope you can help answer them here:


Mike Duncan said...

Messing with the Earth's spin is never a good idea.

Still loved it. Even K-9 had a cameo!