Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Too Soon: David Tennant's Doctor Who Falls Prey To "The End Of Time, Part Two!"

The Good: Decent backstory for The Master, Good sense of morality, Decent performances
The Bad: Some wonky science, Moments where the Gallifreyans exhibit vast superhuman powers.
The Basics: "The End Of Time Part Two" concluded David Tennant's time as The Doctor with a story that oscillates between epic and ridiculous!

The more television I watch and review, the more I find that it is a true rarity for two-part episodes to be truly balanced. More often than not, the first part - which sets up a great conflict - is noticeably superior to the second part. There are a few exceptions to that rule, but the payoff to the well-established conflict is seldom as good as the set-up. As the tenure of David Tennant as The Doctor came to a close, Russell T. Davis prepared for the Doctor's departure with the two-part episode "The End Of Time." "The End Of Time, Part 1" (reviewed here!) was an erratic set-up episode, which made it very easy for "The End Of Time, Part 2" to become one of the rare exceptions where the second part was superior to the first.

"The End Of Time, Part 1" put a ridiculous number of elements into play: The Master was resurrected with super powers, aliens were working on Earth to salvage a mass medical treatment device, Wilfred Mott was seeing a mysterious woman, and the Ood had foreseen both The Doctor's death and the end of all time. By the end of the first part, all of the biggest conceits had been played as the Time Lords were revealed and the populace of Earth was transformed into The Master.

Opening on Gallifrey, its crystal sphere shattered, on the last day of the Time Lords, the council of Time Lords convenes and fears that The Doctor will end the Time War with the mutual destruction of the Daleks and Time Lords. They determine that The Doctor is on Earth and on Earth, The Doctor is a captive of The Master. But when Wilfred gets a call from Donna, The Master is instantly suspicious; because everyone in the world has been transformed into an incarnation of The Master, he knows there should be no one who would be calling Mott. The Master sends some of his duplicates to confront Donna and when she starts to recall her time with The Doctor, Donna releases a burst of energy that incapacitates her would-be assailants. Aided by the aliens working on Earth and Wilfred, The Doctor and the non-Masters manage to escape to the aliens' ship in orbit.

To find The Master, the Time Lords engineer The Master's madness and send a white point star (a Gallifreyen diamond) to Earth to act as a homing beacon in time and space to him to try to break through the time lock in which they are trapped. When The Master activates the white point star, the charismatic leader of the Time Lords rallies Gallifrey to save the Time Lords. The Doctor, having repaired the alien ship, makes an attack run on The Master's headquarters. The Master attempts to shoot down The Doctor's ship while the Time Lords create a portal into his headquarters. The ensuing conflict puts The Doctor literally in the middle of The Master and the President of the Time Lords with the fate of Earth, Gallifrey and time itself in the balance!

"The End Of Time, Part 2" is notable for fleshing out the backstory of The Master remarkably well. The Master's insanity (at least in Russell T. Davies's tenure) came from his lifelong headache generated by hearing a beating of drums within his head. The source and meaning of that beating is made explicit in "The End Of Time, Part 2" and the whole bootstrap paradox of it is surprisingly well-executed. John Simm plays the craziness and the temporal technobabble well.

Wilfred Mott's character is further deepened in "The End Of Time, Part 2," which makes it all the more tragic how he was not used sufficiently before this point. Mott's history as a soldier is detailed and, on the advice of the mysterious woman, he takes up arms. Mott frames the predicament Earth is in as an "us vs. them" scenario where the life of the Master might have to be sacrificed in order to save the more than six billion people he has transformed. It is a rare thing in Doctor Who for The Doctor to be faced with an opposing philosophical perspective that he is forced to consider and holds weight with his own. Mott makes for an instantly compelling character for having that level of gravitas.

The Doctor is presented in "The End Of Time Part 2" as predictably and wonderfully moral. Forced to take a gun by Mott, the standoff that dominates the critical scene of "The End Of Time, Part 2" is very tense, but holds true to The Doctor's moral core. In that way, there is a refreshing quality to "The End Of Time Part 2;" the purpose of the episode is to create a big ending for The Doctor, but the character's appeal is not mortgaged to make that moment.

David Tennant is great as The Doctor in "The End Of Time, Part 2." While there are moments with Timothy Dalton (The President) and John Simm (The Master) that threaten to overshadow on the performance front, Tennant and Bernard Cribbins (Mott) show the most range in the episode. The quiet scenes where The Doctor and Mott simply talk with one another give Tennant and Cribbins the chance to create genuine emotional depth on screen and they are impressive. The two play off one another well and both performers play sadness amazingly well. Tennant's last big scene with Cribbins allows Tennant to channel Christopher Eccleston's final moments as The Doctor and the tie-in is subtle but played out perfectly by Tennant's performance.

"The End Of Time, Part 2" is quite a bit better than the first part, but it is far from flawless. The science of the episode is wonky at best. While I can live with the paradox that created The Master's insanity, the appearance of Gallifrey in orbit around Earth would have absolutely decimated Earth. Similarly, The Master's electrical hands should have made it impossible for The Doctor, Wilfred and the aliens to escape (after all, why wouldn't all of his duplicates be superpowered the way he is?!) and The President's magical gauntlet is not satisfactorily explained in-episode.

Despite that, the montage sequence caps off "The End Of Time, Part 2" is a lot of fun and acts as a wonderful reprise to the way "Journey's End" (reviewed here!) gave each of The Doctor's allies a chance to say good-bye. The climax of the episode is, as one might expect, emotional and David Tennant makes saying goodbye to his incarnation of The Doctor a truly sweet sorrow.

[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 big finales, be sure to visit my reviews of:
"What You Leave Behind" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"Gethsemane" - The X-Files
"Episode 29" - Twin Peaks


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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