The Beginning is the End is the Beginning (part 2) [spoilers]
By Kyle Anderson on July 27, 2010
All right, I think I’m ready to finish this. I’ve had a good night’s sleep, despite dreaming about enormous red beetles infesting my home that I had to ward off with a tennis racket. Which is ridiculous; I don’t even have a tennis racket. At any rate, where was I? Ah yes, Doctor Who.
THE STOLEN EARTH/JOURNEY’S END
It seems like Russell T. Davies loved to set up conflict without really giving a nod to how it could be resolved. After the disappointing end to Season 3, surely he’d be able to redeem himself. Season 4 of New Who was not my favorite. It wasn’t bad per say, it just lacked something, which is interesting when you think it had the best companion of any of them, Donna Noble. Donna really was the perfect foil to Tennant’s ever-increasing arrogant Tenth Doctor. Since she wasn’t making big doe eyes at him, she was able to put him in check when he got too big for his striped pants. The eleventh episode of the season, “Turn Left,” showed Donna just how important she actually was by depicting the world that would have existed if she had done something as seemingly meaningless as turn right instead of left. As “Stolen Earth” begins, the TARDIS lands on Earth, only to quickly be in the middle of empty space without moving at all. Someone has stolen the whole planet Earth, a plot point rather spoiled by the title. They then go to the Shadow Proclamation, a universal policing body, and learn that Earth is one of 27 planets and moons taken out of their respective orbits and moved somewhere. Donna mentions the bees have all disappeared which leads the Doctor to believe the planets are by the Medusa Cascade. That’s a pretty big jump in logic, don’t you think? How would Earth even notice all the bees are gone? I don’t think I’ve ever been sitting at home and thought, “you know, I haven’t seen any bees lately. I hope they’re okay.” Regardless, it’s thin but it gets them going where they need to go. Meanwhile, on Earth, everything’s going to shit. The Doctor’s former companions, (and spinoff stars) are in their respective bases trying to find out what’s going on. They soon receive transmission saying simply, “EX-TER-MIN-ATE,” at which they all cower and cry. I had the same reaction, but it was out of irritation. It seems after the events of “Daleks in Manhattan,” the last member of the Cult of Skaro, Dalek James Caan, jumped into the Time War and rescued Davros, the deformed creator of the little annoying tanks. Caan gains precognition which he uses to say cryptic things and giggle maniacally. The former companions are contacted by Harriet Jones, former Prime Minister (a joke that wasn’t funny the first 43 times) and are told that she has a sub-wave network to try to contact the Doctor. They eventually do, but Harriet gets exterminated in the process. The episode ends with the Doctor and Donna landing on Earth and the Doctor finally being reunited with Rose, or almost, because a Dalek comes out of nowhere and shoots him in the heart. Captain Jack arrives in the nick of time and destroys the Daleks and gets everyone back aboard the TARDIS as the Doctor regenerates. GREAT CLIFFHANGER. But ultimately a useless one. In the opening seconds of “Journey’s End,” the Doctor shoots all the regenerative energy into his severed hand in a jar (from the “Christmas Invasion”) so he wouldn’t have to change, but is healed. The TARDIS is captured and brought aboard the Dalek Supreme ship where everyone is captured except Donna who is mysteriously locked in the TARDIS as it’s ordered to be destroyed. The Doctor and Rose are taken to see Davros who isn’t in charge. Davros explains that the twenty-seven stolen planets form a compression field which can cancel the electrical energy of atoms. The resulting “reality bomb” has the potential to destroy all matter in every universe; reality itself would be destroyed. A “reality bomb” is another way of saying “bad thing.” It’s just the thing lording over the heads of the audience so we get scared. Inside the TARDIS, Donna knocks over the hand in a jar and absorbs some of the regenerative power. The hand then grows into another Doctor, but one that is very Donna-like and is physically human. They try to save everyone but are stunned by energy blasts. However, these blasts awaken something inside Donna and she gets all Time Lordy and eventually saves everyone. The other Doctor, borne out of fire and war, destroys all the Daleks, committing genocide. The planets are put back into their place, except for the Earth which all 45 people who are there currently have to pull back using the TARDIS. The Doctor says goodbye to everyone and leaves the other Doctor with Rose in the parallel dimension, so she can be happy. Donna can’t handle all the stuff in her head and the Doctor has to do the heartbreaking thing and remove all memory of her time with him so her brain won’t die. He returns her home to her mother and grandfather then goes off alone.
Way too much stuff happens in the finale of this season and it really detracts from the story. We don’t need every single character ever to help the Doctor in the episode. The nerd in me loves that type of stuff, but the story-structure buff in me knows it’s just clutter. And must every other story be a world-wide crisis? The seventh time you see the news reports about alien invasions and the people of London being subjugated, it loses its impact. It became kind of a joke to me. That being said, it’s cool to see Davros and the stuff with Donna having to lose her memory is genuinely sad. But it wouldn’t be the end of any of these characters.
THE END OF TIME
In the gap year before Moffat and Smith took over, we got five specials during various Christian holidays, culminating in the two part “End of Time,” which promised the Tenth Doctor’s song would come to an end. At the beginning, an irreverent Doctor visits the Ood who tell him of visions of the Master’s return. Indeed, at that very moment, a cult of Master worshippers kidnaps Lucy Saxon from her prison cell to complete a ritual to resurrect him. Lucy has some sort of vial containing something the Master doesn’t like and tosses it into the mixture, destroying herself and everyone around. The Master gains supernatural powers from the failed ritual, but they drain his life energy, forcing him to devour huge quantities of food (and people) in order to maintain it. The Doctor reaches Earth and chases the Master only to find Donna’s grandfather, Wilfred Mott, has been looking for him. The two old men talk about regeneration and the prophecy that someone will “knock four times” and then the Doctor will die. The Doctor tracks the Master to a wasteland where the Master subdues him and makes him listen to the sound of drumming in his head, which to the Doctor’s surprise, is real. Before much else can be done, the Master is kidnapped by paramilitary-types and taken to a rich guy’s estate so he can help finish something called the “Immortality Gate.” If you’re keeping score at home, this is the third consecutive finale where everything hinges on a device that we’re just supposed to accept and move on from. Wilfred gets a vision from a mysterious woman in white and he and the Doctor go aboard the TARDIS to find his old enemy. The Master does indeed complete the gate, but not like the rich guy expected. Instead of granting immortality to the man’s daughter, it grants the Master immortality by making everyone on Earth the Master, that is everyone except the Doctor, Donna, Wilfred, and the two alien scientists posing as humans. At the end of part one, we see the narrator of the story, Timothy Dalton, is actually the president of the Time Lords and he promises they will return to victory. The Doctor and Wilfred escape the Master’s clutches with the help of the green, spiny aliens and are teleported to their spacecraft. Donna, on Earth, begins to remember stuff as she’s being set upon by several Masters. The Doctor has put a failsafe program into her mind, apparently, and it sends a shockwave knocking everyone out, including Donna herself. Through some stuff that doesn’t make too much sense, the Time Lords locked in the Time War retroactively put the sound of drumming into the Master’s head when he was a child as a signal for them to follow to Earth. They also send a Whitepoint Star diamond to help boost the signal, which they follow and appear in the Gate room. The Doctor knows in order to save everyone, he must kill the Master. He takes Wilfred’s service revolver and jumps out of the space craft, falling hundreds of feet, crashes through the glass ceiling and landing in a thud on the marble floor of the estate. Which does NOT kill him. The Time Lord president reveals that, now that they’re free of the Time Lock, they intend to end time itself, destroying the universe, in order to become beings of higher consciousness. The Doctor struggles between killing the Master or the President and in the end just shoots the machine creating the signal, which pulls all of Gallifrey back into the Time Lock. The president attempts to kill the Doctor, but the Master intervenes and sacrifices himself to get revenge for his torment. The Doctor wakes up and realizes he’s fine, until he hears four knocks. It’s Wilfred who’s inside a radiation chamber. The Doctor knows he has to save Wilf and sacrifice himself, but whines about it and says it isn’t fair before doing so. He absorbs all the radiation and the regeneration begins. Which begins the “farewell” of the Tenth Doctor to everyone he’s ever met, which is either touching or lame depending on your predisposition to weepy things. Eventually, after seeing Rose in 2005 before she ever met him, he gets back to the TARDIS and regenerates after saying he doesn’t want to go. And then Matt Smith’s there and he owns his two minutes of screen time.
This is a bittersweet story for me. On the one hand, it’s sad to see Tennant go because I did quite enjoy him. I met him at Comic-Con 2009 having never seen the show and that pretty much prompted me to start watching it, oh that long time ago. However, toward the end, his characterization became douchey and cocky, two attributes I despise. The story, as usual, is just an excuse to have big continuity-shaking things happen, and I’ve more or less become accustomed to it. What I most objected to was the sense of entitlement that the Tenth Doctor displayed during the whole situation. He didn’t want to regenerate, which is understandable to a point, but eventually, he has to sack up and be a hero and not piss and moan about it, like his direct predecessor. He was given enough time once the regeneration began to go back and save everyone he loved again, which he said was his reward, and still right before he leaves he says, “I don’t want to go.” Whether that was just Tennant saying it or purely the Doctor, it’s kind of a slap in Matt Smith’s face. Instead of passing the torch gracefully, taking your bow, and moving on, the Tenth Doctor tries to cling to life and ensure that he’s the one, the only, the best Doctor. For such a great Doctor with such a great run, I thought his ending belittled all the heroism he displayed. And before I get a million comments from rabid David Tennant fans, I’m not saying I didn’t like him or that I don’t think he deserved a big sendoff, I just object to the way it was handled with respect to the character. There. My ass is officially covered.
From here on out, to quote River Song, “Spoilers.”
THE PANDORICA OPENS/THE BIG BANG
And now to new and different things. Steven Moffat’s first year as show runner was markedly different. Budget constraints made the episodes more intimate, and frankly more like the classic series, which Moffat used to his advantage. The show has a larger arch and scope without having to show a thousand extras. It was really great year which culminated in a very different two-part finale. “The Pandorica Opens,” begins with a chase through time, briefly showing a number of people who encountered the Doctor throughout the season, eventually leading the Doctor and Amy to 102 AD where River Song is in a camp of Roman soldiers. She reveals a painting by Vincent Van Gogh of the TARDIS exploding called The Pandorica Opens. The Pandorica is a fabled box that contains the worst thing in all of existence. So obviously, the Doctor wants to know what’s in there, so the three ride off to the resting place of the Pandorica, underneath Stonehenge. In the caves beneath it, in the “Underhenge,” the Doctor finds the giant box and River tells him it’s opening from the inside and transmitting a signal using Stonehenge itself as a conductor. The Doctor could open the Pandorica easily from the outside, but chooses not to for fear of who or what’s inside, but whatever it is, it’s drawing everything that ever hated the Doctor to that one point. After talking to Amy about how impossible her life his, they are interrupted by the remnants of a Cyberman suit coming to life and trying to assimilate them. Amy is saved by a Roman centurion, who turns out to be Rory, who was sucked into the crack in time several episodes back. He doesn’t know how he came to be a Roman centurion, but there he is all the same. A miracle perhaps? Not so much. River goes to retrieve the TARDIS and is taken to Amy’s house in 2010 where she finds evidence of everything they’ve seen in her room, meaning this was all concocted through Amy’s memories somehow. The Romans turn out to be Autons and Roman Rory shoots Amy, despite not wanting to. All of the Doctor’s enemies arrive to put him inside the Pandorica (there was nothing inside) so he can’t destroy the universe. He tries to explain to them that it’s the TARDIS exploding that does it, but they don’t believe him. As the Pandorica closes, the stars all start blinking out. “The Big Bang” begins where “The Eleventh Hour” began, with little Amelia Pond praying to Santa Claus for someone to fix the crack in her wall. This time, no Doctor comes, but someone slips her a note to come to the British Museum to see the Pandorica exhibit. She eventually goes, and gets another note to stick around. After the museum has closed, she touches the Pandorica, which opens to reveal grown up Amy inside. Back in 102 AD, Rory laments his Auton ways as the Doctor suddenly appears wearing a fez and holding a mop. He tells Rory to open the Pandorica and get him, the Doctor, out. He gives him the sonic screwdriver and tells him it’s easy. He opens it to see a very confused Doctor. They put Amy in the Pandorica, which is designed to keep its prisoners alive and will fix her. The reason they aren’t gone like the rest of the universe is because they are at the eye of the storm and will probably go last. Rory decides to sit by the Pandorica for 2000 years and guard it and he’s still a guard in 2010 when a shouldn’t-exist stone Dalek comes to life and tries to destroy the Amys. A bunch more time-jumping stuff happens, which I’ve decided I don’t want to type out, and the Doctor rescues River from the ever-exploding TARDIS. The only thing that can be done is of the Doctor to pilot the Pandorica into the TARDIS and use the rejuvenating energy of the prison box to permeate the cracks in time and restore everything to the way it was. Make sense? Anyone? So once that happens, the Doctor starts rewinding his life, which allows him to tell Amy to remember what he told her as a little girl during the Weeping Angels incident (Flesh and Stone) and then sitting by her bed when she’s a child, he tells her of how he borrowed the TARDIS all those many years ago. Amy then wakes up on her wedding day, with a house full of family and a vague memory of something weird. At her reception, she gets glimpses of things that remind her of her imaginary friend, the Doctor. Finally, she receives a gift from a mysterious woman that pushes her over the edge. By remembering the Doctor, he appears in the old, new, borrowed, and blue TARDIS and dances at their wedding. He talks to River Song and gives her the spoiler-filled diary back, then he and the newlyweds go off to another adventure.
This finale was like a Russell T. Davies finale, but somehow more satisfying and less dumb. It had all the RTD tropes like a big, unexplainable bad thing, all kinds of returning villains and heroes, a rather flimsy way of bringing back the Doctor, but yet it all seemed to work because Steven Moffat is a tidier writer. It all fit together much more nicely. It also had a much more intimate feel to it, with the second part really only dealing with the four main characters and a single Dalek, but there was still high stakes and huge payoffs. Matt Smith basically just rules and it’s been his performance alone throughout the season that’s made it what it was. This is also the first finale where a major character didn’t die, leave, or regenerate and that’s a pretty big step forward. Moffat has the odd distinction of writing darker stories with happier endings, which is the opposite of Davies. I enjoyed the circular time stuff and the bit with the fez was inspired. So that’s fezzes and bow ties now if you want to know what’s cool. Easily my favorite finale so far.
So that’s it. Jesus, I do go on. I think I may have regenerated once or twice myself during the writing of this. Doctor Who is awesome and, despite my picking it apart, I love the show as a whole and will still watch even the dumb episodes more than once. Can’t wait for Christmas!