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Doctor Who: The End of Time – Vale Decem Years On

It’s been 10 years since David Tennant’s tearjerking farewell in The End of Time, a two-part special which originally aired on Christmas Day 2009 and New Year’s Day 2010. An unconventional move to end one incarnation’s era with an epic, extended finale; 60 minutes for Part 1, 75 minutes for Part 2. With only a few acknowledgements of both festive occasions, I couldn’t be more fascinated by how Russell T Davies, whose story was also his last as showrunner, gave everything a good sense of closure to the Tenth Doctor era.

Even though The End of Time is technically a two-parter, which uses the Classic era practice of naming serials with just one title, you could treat it as either a single feature-length blockbuster or just two individual episodes. For me, I tend to stick with the former because I personally view it as a single linear narrative, with dramatic plot twists developing along the way. On a side note, production-wise, both parts comprise of the 17th and 18th episodes of Series 4 (which also happen to be denoted in the shooting scripts).

Well, speaking of two-parters, we’ve just had one on New Year’s Day and four days later: Spyfall. Isn’t that a funny coincidence? The first half of the Series 12 opener, airing exactly 10 years after the second half of the Tenth Doctor’s swansong – right at the beginning of a new decade? That surely is a (coincidental) 10th anniversary present! On that note, Spyfall is the first multi-part story since The End of Time to use numbering (à la Classic serials). Oh, and if you haven’t seen it yet, beware the SPOILERS!

Now, back to the subject. There are so, so many highlights I wish to explore, but I’ve decided that I’m going to primarily focus on the Top 10, which stand out the most from my point of view.

10: The Ood

“You will join, you will join, you will join, you will join…”

It was very early on in Series 4 when the Ood were finally freed from slavery, proclaiming freedom from the shackles of human imperialism on their home planet. But when they summon the Doctor in a prolonged emergency, events become crucial not only to them but, as the title says, “the end of time itself.”

No, they’re not enemies. Just some friends who need help. The impact the Ood have on the story is how they establish the Master’s (forthcoming) resurrection, and also the bond between him and Wilf – the only human on Earth to retain those bad dreams. Same with the ability to communicate with the Doctor, via telepathy, I couldn’t be touched enough by their relationship.

Although I feel tempted to bring up their final song right now, I think it’s best to leave it until the very end. So for now, let’s move on.

9: Donna

“But they’ve changed… Grandad, that’s like… Like the sort of thing that happened… before…”

It’s bittersweet in a way, since the Doctor can no longer interact with Donna Noble after the heartbreaking events of Journey’s End. Unforeseen and regrettable consequences always happen: in real life and in fiction. That was the case for the “DoctorDonna”; the Ood can still influence her subconscious without attempting to revive her real memories.

And let’s, of course, not forget what the Master had tried but failed to do: burn her mind completely until she dies. It’s so horrific to even recall the adventures she had in the TARDIS, but thanks to the Doctor’s telepathic intervention, she was saved once again.

Even though she is no longer travelling in the TARDIS, I loved how they brought back Donna for one last time. A new boyfriend and a successful marriage, it all brings an emotional but positive sense of closure to her character arc.

8: The Master Race

“Breaking news! I’m everyone! And everyone in the world is me!!”

The Master turns (almost) the entire human population, including President Barack Obama, into… himself. Same body, same agenda, same mind (but not like a collective hive). Duplicates of a blonde-haired John Simm taking over the world with exaggerated self-boasting, and declaring every single one of himself to collectively be “The Master Race”, comically un-PC.

Yes, that was completely unexpected for us all. I know it appears to be bonkers to end Part 1 with such a sequence of literal laughingstock, but this whole concept is still hilarious.

The comic relief doesn’t end there. At the beginning of Part 2, the comical “cactuses” successfully help the Doctor and Wilf escape from the Harold Saxon Master, then teleport to their ship in outer space. And I do also want to highlight the “racist” name calling (i.e. cacti), which kills me every time I rewatch this moment.

“Worst! Rescue! Ever!”

He’s right. The pain of being strapped to a chair and struggling to move your entire body – quite an awkward journey to experience, even for poor David Tennant who had a spinal injury around the time of Hamlet.

Sometimes an emotional farewell needs a bit of humour to keep viewers cheered up, but not an imbalance.

7: What’s The Time, Harold Saxon?

“Dinnertiiiiime!!!!!”

We all know the answer to that. Because he is hungry like the (bad) wolf.

In contrast to his short term ‘premiership’ in Number 10 Downing Street, the Master may have been revived but not with good results. A resurrection that went wrong, thanks to his ex-wife finding his Achilles’ heel, he has no choice but to eat anything that we humans enjoy all the time… but our own flesh are included. (Yikes!) Same with the occasional appearances of his CGI “Skeletor” effects which could count as an homage to the ‘decaying’ incarnation; as played by Peter Pratt and, later, Geoffrey Beevers.

The way John Simm quickly devours a hamburger, and later a roast turkey, is hilariously phenomenal. (How many takes did they do altogether during filming?) Literally mad about food cravings, from cheesy chips and blood red meat to cakes and wine, he can’t control being the monster he has already become – like Heath Ledger’s cynical take on the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008).

The electrical energy, on the other hand, is an interesting power for the Doctor’s dying arch nemesis. It might not be as explosive as a Dalek extermination ray, but enough to stall a Time Lord from doing a countermeasure.

And last, but certainly not least, the very moment where the Master yells “DINNERTIME!” before devouring poor Tommo and Ginger… always makes me laugh my head off whenever I rewatch the scene.

6: The Time Lords’ Return

“For Gallifrey! For victory! For the End of Time itself!”

Part of a prophecy foretold by Carmen (from Planet of the Dead), “it is returning through the dark.”

A break from all the action in the James Bond films, Timothy Dalton delivers a sombre but dramatic voice as the Narrator, only to be revealed that he has been performing in character as the villainous Lord President Rassilon, right at the end of Part 1. I don’t believe anyone saw that one coming either.

With Gallifrey stuck in the time lock, on the Last Day of the Time War, it is most likely that these events are taking place during The Day of the Doctor, where John Hurt’s “secret” War incarnation is already in possession of the Moment. But I can also suggest that the High Council’s meeting occurs sometime before Rassilon addresses the Panopticon, considering that they’ve already been notified of the events on Earth.

Despite Rassilon being the prominent Time Lord to speak, Timothy Dalton’s portrayal clearly demonstrates how ruthless he is in character, but way more short-tempered than Bond. I didn’t know much about Rassilon before Part 2 aired a decade ago, but his arrogance still terrifies me today. How the Time Lords implanted the “rhythm of four” drum beats into the Master’s head, mentally traumatic nonstop. And it doesn’t end there…

5: A White-Point Star

“It’s coming from the sky!!”

Too stubborn to look at the bigger picture, beforehand, the Master literally can’t control his actions and agenda. The only method Rassilon uses to get his attention was to send a message – in the form of a Gallifreyan diamond plummeting directly towards Earth.

If you thought a White-Point Star was just like an ordinary piece of jewellery, think again. It’s a risky form of communication, but still highly effective to bridge a link between two worlds.

I was impressed with how this entire sequence built up. The “Master Race” closing their eyes altogether to hear the drumming whilst establishing contact, as Murray Gold’s score becomes increasingly dramatic with the chorus. It’s just like waiting for a miracle to happen, and RTD did a great job with that in his script.

4: Get Out Of The Way

“Choose your enemy well.”

A climactic moment on the brink of death. The Doctor, between the Master and the Time Lords; unsure who to shoot and kill, with no words spoken. When I first watched Part 2, I couldn’t tell who he was going to pick.

Pointing Wilf’s firearm in both directions, it’s basically Russian Roulette without the suicidal elements. We all know that the Doctor isn’t a murderer, nor a fan of guns. But he had to take the gun, for the sake of his own life; no choice in a final battle.

Crushing our planet with Gallifrey condemns all innocent life to death, therefore allowing all hell to break loose across the universe. It wasn’t just the Time Lords who’ve allowed this to happen; the Master did, too. One side or the other, no matter the severity, has to suffer the consequences. But when the mysterious woman reappears for the final time, with The Doctor’s Theme echoing non-diegetically, that becomes the turning point in a literal and emotional sense. Whoever she is, or was, I hope her character gets revisited at some point. Big Finish, perhaps?

So in the end, the Doctor makes the right choice: to break the link and send Gallifrey back into the Time War. Hearing the Visionary’s screams overlap with Murray Gold’s terrifying Midnight suite continues to give me goosebumps, even when I try to picture it. I’m glad it didn’t finish on a dark note, when the Master, unexpectedly, saves the Doctor’s life by using up all his energy to take down Rassilon. It’s a sign of redemption and sacrifice.

3: Four Knocks

“I could do so much more. So! Much! More! But this is what I get. My reward! And it’s not fair!!!”

Poor Wilf, trapped inside the nuclear booth, innocently knocks four times on the glass. This certainly isn’t good news for the Doctor, nor for us. I call this one of the defining moments of the Tenth Doctor era, beautifully written all the way.

Filled with strong emotions and resentment, which makes me picture the heartbreaking “I could have done more” scene from Schindler’s List, the Doctor becomes conflicted with saving his friend. Knocking stuff over whilst unleashing anger and self-absorption is normal for people who lament about wanting to achieve “so much more”, even after doing something heroic or just helping out. That can happen to me as well, whenever I feel (let) down, and it demonstrates both the strengths and weaknesses in any individual.

Absorbing all the radiation was indeed heartbreaking to watch. What he did for Wilf had to be done, despite the latter’s emotional pleas, he couldn’t leave him trapped in there. It’s never easy to make a decision that you would regret doing later on, which is why change in general can have bittersweet outcomes. But, overall, this was only the beginning of a very long epilogue…

2: Final Reward

“To get my reward.”

Visiting old friends and past companions was the best way for the Doctor to spend his final moments in his tenth incarnation. Martha and, her new husband, Mickey battling a Sontaran; Sarah Jane and Luke, in my hometown; Captain Jack with Alonso, at a bar full of familiar monsters and aliens (including the Judoon, I’ll say no more!); Joan Redfern’s great-granddaughter, Verity Newman; and also Wilf and Sylvia at Donna’s wedding: I loved how it all played out during the latter half of Part 2.

And there is way, way more beyond that. For those who’ve missed it, The Sarah Jane Adventures two-part serial Death of the Doctor confirms that he spent his final tour by visiting everybody he travelled with since the very beginning. Not just those from the Classic era who appeared onscreen, companions original to audio dramas and comics too; including a Chronicle, by Big Finish, which features the return of Lady Christina de Souza (who later gets her own spin-off).

And isn’t it funny that this was the only RTD script written for the Eleventh Doctor? Well, I’ll eventually come to that, as we say…

1: Vale (Decem)

“I don’t want to go.”

It’s hard for anyone to say farewell to a loved one, even when it’s a close friend or family member. But sometimes, however, the last place you choose to visit would turn out to be where it all began, thus making it symbolic. That’s the case for many of us fans who’ve been watching since 2005, including myself – the very same year when the Doctor first met Rose Tyler. Twice(ish).

Setting the scene on New Year’s Day 2005, which perfectly coincides with the broadcast date, Rose wishes her mum Jackie a “Happy New Year” outside the Powell Estate before parting ways. Her future friend grabs her attention by wincing in pain, knowing that she would mistake him for a drunkard. As she confirms the year itself, the Doctor sends her some heartfelt wishes that would change her life forever, before heading home, “I bet you’re going to have a really great year.”

A brilliant bookending moment, even though it altogether doesn’t escape discontinuity. Rose meets the Tenth Doctor, just months before meeting his predecessor in the basement of the department store Henrik’s. Right after she witnesses his regeneration, in the TARDIS, she doesn’t recognise the new face she briefly met. Could it be that Captain Jack secretly planted a dose of Retcon into the Tylers’ flat, knowing of the Doctor’s presence? We may never know… for now, presumably.

The end has arrived for the Doctor. Struggling to maintain his energy, the Ood perform their tearjerking farewell lullaby, in Latin, as he trails along the snow. Once he approached the TARDIS and dematerialised from the Powell Estate, it was at that moment where I became very close to crying. I really wanted to, but I just couldn’t. I wasn’t ready.

And his final words… I felt exactly the same way as he did in 2010. Not wanting to go.

As the chorus concludes with a dramatic variation of The Doctor’s Theme, he immediately begins to erupt like a volcano – destroying the entire console room and its collapsing coral pillars. The sequence was overwhelmingly tragic but well done, RTD absolutely nailed it in his final episode as showrunner; ready to hand over the torch.

From then on, it all turns into excitement and laughter. A brilliant opportunity for Steven Moffat to introduce Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, by scripting the closing pages. (Well, Chris Chibnall did it seven years later for Jodie Whittaker!) Leading directly into The Eleventh Hour, he spends his first moments wearing his predecessor’s brown pinstripe jacket; only to, somehow, ditch it whilst retaining everything else. Despite observing all his body parts, with his new hairstyle, he is fascinated to realise that he is crashing down to Earth. Holding onto the console, ready for impact, he delivers his catchphrase for the first time as the theme sting screams into the credits.

“Geronimo!”

Andrew Hsieh

Doctor Who: The End of Time – Vale Decem Years On

by Andrew Hsieh time to read: 10 min
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