Having seen the finale of Dr. Who two days in a row, and bits of it earlier, I am still processing the greatness of the episode and the loss of one of my two favorite Dr. Whos of all time. What I can say now, is that this last episode lived up to almost everything good about the series reboot 5 years ago. Where part I. was marred by bad special effects and questionable racial differences, part II shined in its writing, acting, homages to other iconic scifi shows and films, and it’s overall execution. The acting in “The End of Time” (both pt I and II) was epic, the humor timed perfectly, and the nod to scifi geeks everywhere a signal to part of what makes this show so great, ie its largely insider politic accessible to new folks.
It was particularly exciting to see Martha and Rose, the various cast members from Being Human, and of course Timothy Dalton as the President of the Time Lords. I can think of no one better, besides Ianto, for Captain Jack than George aka Alonso. There is something so simple and yet, when you think of Ianto’s passing, so brilliant about Dr. Who’s parting gift to Jack in the face of saving Martha’s life and Sarah Jane’s son, and giving Donna a way out of poverty.
Tennant’s poignancy and pathos in this episode brought tears to my eyes even as I questioned how Dr. Who could be so torn about killing The Master in the face of saving the whole human race AND having killed individual and entire species in the history of the show since the Time Wars. That said, both Tennant and Simms put in some of the best performances of the entire series in tonight’s episode. Their immense acting chops filled in that minor logic gap in the story. Like some of the most poignant episodes of Torchwood, the real story driving this finale about how The Master became the unhinged meglomaniac and how intimately tied together he and Dr. Who were, was the kind of writing that has made this show so much better than words can convey. Between watching Tennant grapple with the nightmares of what he did in the Time Wars and his impending death and Simms oscillate between the broken child looking for approval and the meglomaniac bent on dominating revenge, I cannot think of any two actors whose pairing has ever done Dr. Who so proud. When they banded together to save the universe it was a kind of magic that I don’t think any other actors or creative team could have pulled off.
There were so many high points in this episode that it seems a shame to mention the minute lows, but you know me. The “that’s racist” line was the sort of low brow racial anxiety manifesting as sarcasm that is beneath this series on so many levels; thankfully, it was the only foray into such failed discourse for the entire episode. It was also odd to have the Doctor’s life come to an end without the counterpoint of a female companion. In some ways it subverted a heterocentric regressive reading at the same time it unseated women’s roles in the show by relegating them to the background of this episode. Despite their absence in the critical action of the final episode, women continued to be present throughout. Dr. Who’s mother was watching over him until the very end, Sinead, as green alien #1, was the comedic thorn in his side throughout most of the episode, and perhaps most important of all, all of his companions (including the always lovely to see Sarah Jane) were all there to say goodbye. Perhaps the only think that took me aback was the inclusion of the actress from “The Family of Man”, as the child Dr. Who never had, and the exclusion of his actual child.
Perhaps for me, more than the nostalgia of the final moments of The End of Time Episode II, the Doctor’s tirade about his “reward” against Donna’s grandfather gave me insight into the show itself. I had always thought that moment when Martha and Dr. Who said goodbye, for the second time, was such a huge failure. Despite a “mysterious commenter” pointing out that the scene was meant to show his immense regret at not being better to Martha, I always saw it as the same dismissive anger that seemed to arise whenever she showed him undue affection, anger that ultimately was racially coded despite the intentions of the crew. Watching the Doctor rail against Donna’s grandfather, and the universe, tonight reframed those moments. There is a particular way that Tennant does regret and duty in the face of disappointment at himself that glowed tonight, so brightly it illuminated the Martha scene as well as so many others. And even though it seemed to cheapen Dr. Who for just a brief moment, it was glad to have it. (As glad as I was to see him bounce back and choose heroism and companionship at the end.)
Finally, while I do have trouble imagining Dr. Who as a person who would fear moving on to his next self rather than embrace it as so many other versions of the character have before, I could not think of any better way to showcase how immense David Tennant’s talent really is. His performance in this last episode was both in keeping with the strong performances we have all come to expect in the series and yet so much more. The revelation of how the Time Lords came to their end the first time around was all the more profound for it.
I think I will always miss seeing that quirky, big haired, man grinning and yelling “alonsi” on my tv, but as they say “today was a good day to die.” Goodbye David Tennant and thank you Russell T. Davies for an amazing reboot and an amazing finale.
UPDATE: Russel T. Davies announced that none of the female companions of the last 5 years will return to Dr. Who after this episode. Like so many good things, their stories have all come to an end. It makes seeing them all again all the more precious I think.
all images property of BBC 2010 Dr. Who, except “companions” unattributed fan art