Friday, 8 January 2010
Reaction: THE END OF TIME, PART TWO
Written by Russell T Davies, directed by Euros Lyn, 2010
The second part was a massive disappointment. In fact, I thought it was absolutely dreadful. Where the first was an hour of foreplay, the second was comprised of cop-outs (the Time Lords return… and are almost immediately banished), red herrings (the gun, ‘the woman in white’), strategic padding (the missile sequence), and the all too familiar reset button (the Master’s epic scheme being undone).
This episode frustrated me in all the ways typical of Davies’ scripts; a plotless, overwrought, self-indulgent mess, which desperately needed tightening up. The regeneration itself couldn’t have been less dramatic. Though the undercutting of the ‘knock four times’ prophecy was effective, the Doctor’s death itself coming about from a transparently contrived (and tangential) plot device, blatantly manufactured to put the character into exactly the situation the author wanted, was extremely tedious. I get Davies’ insistence on a small sacrifice, compared to the huge scale of events at large, but in practice it amounted to the Doctor falling over in a small cupboard. That’s up there with exercise bike-related injuries, surely.
The bolted-on codas were particularly unnecessary and cloying, and dragged terribly – okay, I could accept the Doctor perving over Rose one last time, but the flagrant box-ticking just smacked of a writer unfamiliar with the editing process (and what, the Doctor was dying but decided to matchmake for Captan Jack?). Of the several things I knew were still to be included in this story (ie, Frame and Jessica Hynes), I couldn’t really see how they’d fit in. Unfortunately, it was clearly too much to ask that they might actually be worked into the plot. Having said that, I was glad the role call of companions took the form of cameos, rather than a repeat of The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End’s ‘extended family’.
I think what really bugged my about the coda, apart from how protracted and drama-sapping it was, is that I actually like the idea of acknowledging characters’ lives without the Doctor, but the realisation seemed very clumsy. I particularly hate the Mickey/Martha section because I loathe the very second-rate idea of the Doctor’s associates becoming gun-toting troubleshooters, partly because it only really makes sense in the context of a horribly over-literal world where there’s an equally tooled-up alien round every corner. (Think about it: by comparison, season twenty-six, say, belies this very anthropomorphic approach with a more oblique set of threats, ranging from predatory cheetah people to vampiric future humans and technological other-dimensional knights.)
Alright, I’m extrapolating from a two-minute scene, but it is representative of a general approach to this version of ‘the Whoniverse’ which is very mundane indeed. Martha and Mickey being married is equally gratingly over-literal, with Martha being unceremoniously paired off with Rose’s sloppy seconds (especially considering she was apparently happily married to a doctor of her own), and Mickey, the Doctor’s. It also smacks unpleasantly of the coloured characters being paired off together.
I don’t like the idea of a Star Wars-like melting pot of a universe, where Drahvins hang out with Tetraps and so on (though the bar here seems more restrained than the planned additional Shadow Proclamation scenes from The Stolen Earth), but Captain Jack’s part of the coda was the most fun. Though this probably has something to do with my love of Russell Tovey. That is some fanfic I could get behind, right there… Tovey’s probably quite a lot better than Torchwood, but the continued adventures of that couple could be fun.
I can’t help considering it was the story’s structure that was at fault; perhaps if it could have been restructured so the codas weren’t all shown consecutively, maybe that would’ve been less wearing. Ie, it could have started with a flash-forward to the Doctor after the dose of radiation, then have been interspersed with the encounters with his companions throughout the story proper.
Aside from that, what was perhaps strangest and most off about this episode was how desperate it was to be epic in scope, yet played out as almost a four-hander. Also, given how keen the new series has been to balance fan-pleasing with accessibility, I really wonder how intelligible this was to the general public; the Time War elements seemed particularly (over-)involved (so, back during the Time War, the past Doctor destroyed the Time Lords... but before that, they managed to find a way out, into the now, before being sent back, where, presumably, they still ended up destroyed by whatever the Doctor had already done…). Surely that is such fanwank; and people moan about Attack of the Cybermen – this is the same thing. And it all came down to superbeings zapping each other. Sigh.
Also, too much was very familiar. Of the three regenerations the new series has already shown (well, two and a half), they all occurred with the same effect, and took place on the TARDIS set. Same old, same old. Again, it was clearly too much to hope we might get something different here. (And why this time did it destroy the TARDIS? Are regenerations like orgasms? Can you have particularly powerful ones?) Gallifrey appearing in the sky was another case of the author plagiarising himself, and even the regeneration followed by a crash-landing has been done before, in the first Children in Need special, while Matt Smith’s initial dialogue was also nothing new (despite being written by Steven Moffat).
Aside from the moments which felt like we’d seen them before, I’d also have to question the quality of a story which leaves certain elements entirely unresolved. I appreciate the potential for debate that an open-ended plot point like ‘the woman in white’ invites – ie, whether she is Susan, Romana, the White Guardian or the Doctor’s mother/wife/significant other – but I have to wonder whether, especially from a non-fan PoV, is going ‘this is how things are… and we’re not going to explain’ really good enough. Isn’t that just plain bad writing? (There is at least an interesting article on io9 about the plot details left hanging, which you can read here.)
Another major aspect of the new series which came to a head here is its increased emotionalism and acknowledgment of the significance of events like regeneration. Though no doubt due to fandom (through Davies, etc) being in a position to demonstrate their affection for the character, it is a major example of the series telling rather than showing (ie, numerous moments of the Doctor expounding on how much he doesn’t want to die – no shit), and all too often rings alienatingly false, drawing attention to the artifice of already very contrived plotting. Personally, I’d much rather we could get on with things (à la, say, Androzani), with the emotion deriving from the situation, rather than being forced down our throats by the characters themselves, and being protracted over TWENTY MINUTES of masturbatory farewells.
Though it wasn’t a hateful story, mainly just tired and contrived, without being a ‘hater,’ it doesn’t make me particularly upset that Russell T Davies’ era is done with. Perversely, that The End of Time was unsatisfying ultimately just made me more excited about the future. However, in the interests of this not being an entirely one-sided whinge, I will say, one thing I’ve overlooked, partly because it’s so obvious, is how brilliant Bernard Cribbins was. Bringing back Wilf in the role of a companion was absolute genius. How strange that he’s played that role to both Peter Cushing and David Tennant! (The acknowledgement in Confidential that maybe the Doctor surrounds himself with youth almost out of denial of his age was an interesting point, too.)
Unfortunately, a lot of this just goes to show how misrepresentative knowing too much about a story becomes. I already feel like I know more about the 2010 series than I’d ideally like, so I’m going to try my utmost to have as little to do with it as possible until it actually screens… Although, saying that, I’ve already seen the preview trailer, which, upsettingly, seems to give lie to the idea that the Moffat/Smith ‘era’ will be a complete overhaul of the format – which is an unrealistic proposition anyway, but the inclusion of a new one-word catchphrase (“Geronimo!”) and an obligatory companion-Doctor kiss makes me cautious…
Further niggles and observations I can’t be bothered to work into a coherent format:
• Surely the Vinvocci just… leaving, not that it particularly ‘matters,’ is just very bad plotting?
• And ‘Verity Newman’? Quite apart from wondering how many people look exactly like their great-grandmothers, the combination of Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert’s names, though obviously done in homage, really broke the ‘fourth wall’ for me. Okay, Joan could have named her daughter Verity, but her great-granddaughter ending up with the name John Smith gave for his mother? Bit of a stretch?
• The destruction of the TARDIS interior is an annoying example of an event that makes sense as part of the end of an era tone, but which is tagged on rather than integrated into the plot proper.
• As Davies suggested of the opening scene of part two, it is pretty amazing that the Time Lords appeared on primetime BBC1 on New Year’s Day. I also enjoyed how much Gallifrey channelled Marc Platt’s concept of a combination of the Vatican and a gentleman’s club, and seemed designed with both The Deadly Assassin and The Invasion of Time’s sets in mind, with a bit of Gormenghast thrown in, courtesy of the tattooed ‘Visionary’.
• And, finally, did it strike anyone else that a lot of the Masters would have been wearing ladies’ undies? Probably a first, that.