The Good: Performances, Donna Noble's character arc, Plot progression/resolution
The Bad: Martha Jones is woefully underused
The Basics: "Journey's End" manages to be fun, adventurous Doctor Who as it ties up the franchise Russell T. Davies had created.
I am not an expert on Doctor Who. In fact, of the pre-2005 Doctor Who, I have seen almost none. As a result, I am not exactly sure how long the conceit for the series had been in place about the number of times The Doctor can regenerate, but by the end of "Journey's End" and "The Day Of The Doctor," that conceit had pretty well been violated beyond any sensible continuity. After all, as "Journey's End" begins, The Doctor is regenerating and, with the retcon of The War Doctor (however that is justified by fans to be canon), by an objective count, marks the first appearance of the Twelfth Doctor! But, rather than quibble about such things, let's look at the fourth season finale of Doctor Who: "Journey's End."
"Journey's End" picks up in the seconds following "The Stolen Earth" (reviewed here!) and there is little point to discussing the episode without referencing the events of the prior episode. Indeed, it is pretty much impossible, given that this is the second part of a two-part episode and the first part worked very hard to bring back almost everyone significant from Russell T. Davies's tenure on Doctor Who. "Journey's End" brings back the two stragglers missing from the first part and completes the writer's love letter to Doctor Who in a way that is not only enjoyable for fans, but is a pretty solidly enjoyable hour of television!
Opening with The Doctor, Rose, Donna, and Harkness in The TARDIS after The Doctor was shot by a Dalek, The Doctor regenerates. Much to the chagrin of those present, he retains his present (David Tennant) form and channels some of his regeneration energy into his preserved hand, which is on the TARDIS bridge. On Earth, Sarah Jane is rescued by Micky and Rose's mother, while the Torchwood team is trapped in their building in order to keep the Dalek's out with a temporal lock. The Daleks abduct the TARDIS and Martha Jones travels to Germany with a key that will activate the world's nuclear arsenal and destroy the Earth.
When The Doctor, Rose, and Harkness disembark on the Crucible, Donna Noble remains on the TARDIS when the Dalek's send it to the heart of the Crucible to be destroyed. Before the TARDIS can be destroyed, though, Donna Noble regenerates The Doctor from his amputated hand and saves the ship. The new Doctor is human and has a connection to Donna. The Dalek's attempt to kill Harkness and Martha prepares to activate Earth's self-destruct mechanism, while The Doctor and Rose are brought before Davros and Dalek Caan. Davros and Caan have brought the stolen worlds together to create a reality bomb and The Doctor and his allies must thwart them before Martha destroys the world!
"Journey's End" is a packed little episode that allows fans of Doctor Who to (metaphorically) have their cake and eat it, too. The duplicate Doctor provides a satisfying resolution for Rose Tyler's arc and, in the process, makes Donna Noble into one of the most important Doctor Who characters ever! At long last, Donna Noble's character becomes remarkable and the way she is made special is a wonderful character twist that plays out brilliantly.
The flirting between The Doctor and Rose Tyler is a welcome reward for those who sat through the heartbreak of "The Parting Of The Ways" (reviewed here!) and "Doomsday" (reviewed here!). David Tennant and Billie Piper fall into perfect rhythm and chemistry as if they had never stopped working with one another and were truly into one another. Their reunion and their time together on screen for the bulk of "Journey's End" is a true treat to watch.
But flirting is nowhere near the peak of David Tennant's performance abilities in "Journey's End." Playing the role of the familiar Doctor and the new, human, Doctor, allows Tennant to express more range. The new Doctor has a great comedic introduction, which allows Tennant and Catherine Tate to play to their well-honed (from other projects) comedic banter. Tennant differentiates his human Doctor with a slightly agape mouth and exposition and epiphanies that come slower than normal, which helps to make for a new-feeling character.
At the other end, Catherine Tate has to play Donna as a Timelord and her comedic patter is an asset. Tate stretches her range by delivering technobabble exposition brilliantly.
As "Journey's End" progresses, it starts to eek toward the ridiculous as the allied of The Doctor move into check with the Daleks by producing not just one, but two, apocalyptic devices that can thwart their plans. Fortunately, "Journey's End" quickly redirects from the plot conceit to the intense character dilemma of the episode. The Doctor abhors violence, but to save existence itself, he is in position to authorize the destruction of Earth or the Crucible. The retrospective of (not even all!) the people who have died in the service of The Doctor is horrifying and recalling it has an effect on The Doctor. The Doctor's sense of compassion has often defined his character and in "Journey's End," that compassion is challenged. The moment is not belabored, but it helps to keep the show feeling very Doctor Who. And, its being revisited at the climax of the action helps to keep the character pure and the episode focused.
Outside a single special effect - Donna getting blasted - "Journey's End" has wonderful special effects. The restoration sequence might have incredibly wonky science, but it is well-rendered. Similarly, the thwarting of the Daleks is presented somewhat ridiculously, even though it is fun to watch.
"Journey's End" has a strong sense of resolution to it and the disgust The Doctor feels for his counterpart is a clever twist to the episode. "Journey's End" might underuse Martha Jones, but it packs a lot into the episode and is self-referential to Doctor Who while still managing to be entertaining and engaging for more casual viewers!
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the final season of David Tennant as The Doctor here!
For other sweeping season finales, please check out my reviews of:
"Call To Arms" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"A Cold Day In Hell's Kitchen" - Daredevil
"Ascension" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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