Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The End of Time Part One

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Even if I change it still feels like dying. Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away… and I’m dead.

What I’ve been trying to work out is if I would’ve known the Time Lords were coming back or not. It leaked ahead of time, I know that – a screenshot from the wrap video leaked to the tabloids – and I remember seeing that screenshot online somewhere… but I’m also fairly sure, watching it at my grandparents’ house, that I was quite surprised by the actual return of the Time Lords.

Here, in any case, we’ve almost squared the circle. It was around this time I would’ve first started getting into something resembling a wider Doctor Who fandom – reading forum posts, if not writing them; someone definitely tried to get me to sign a petition to recast Matt Smith, although that was in real life. It wasn’t until Asylum of the Daleks, or thereabouts, that I started to actually try and write Doctor Who reviews (before the blog even existed!), and it was a little while later that I started the Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor series… which is now, more or less, coming to an end with the conclusion of the Tenth Doctor era. I’ve little doubt I’ll have more to say about that next week – this is more or less it for these reviews, because I’m not gonna pick it up again until Eleven Years of the Eleventh Doctor – but, the point, anyway, is that this is all reaching its endpoint.

Much like the series itself! Huge, big ending point here – which is easy to forget, in hindsight. Yes, the revived series had already gone through one regeneration, but that was just the last of several flourishes from a show still establishing itself; the departure of David Tennant, after four years in the role, was something else entirely. Obviously it’s hard to know for sure, but I do sometimes wonder if the show would’ve continued as long as it has if Christopher Eccleston had stayed on another few years. Not because it wouldn’t have been popular – almost the opposite really. If the idea of a changing lead hadn’t been re-established, would it have been too late to introduce it in, say, 2008, after three full series and a few specials featuring Christopher Eccleston? Maybe.

It was something I had in mind, at least, while I was watching this: just how much of a big, cultural event it was. A decade on, the Davies/Moffat handover was probably more meaningful than the Tennant/Smith one, sure – but in 2009, without the lens of history to contextualise it, this might as well have been the end of the show. (Sometimes I do think of it that way, actually – it’s not so much that I like Doctor Who, per se, but that there’s a handful of related shows, all of which are called Doctor Who, each of which I like, some more than others.)

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Like a lot of these episodes, there was a lot I didn’t quite recall – basically anything after the end of series 3 I’ve not really rewatched particularly since it was first on. I’d guess this was maybe only the third or fourth time I would’ve seen The End of Time Part One? Something like that. Really, this exists more in my head from what I’ve read about it in The Writer’s Tale: I was a little thrown by the opening scene because I was expecting something else… which I realised a while later was actually a cut section from an earlier draft that RTD mentioned ditching in the book.

I’m also not entirely sure what the general perception of this one is, actually. Do people like it particularly? The only thing I really remember is a lot of old tumblr nonsense about how the Doctor here being worried about regenerating is an unforgivable departure from the way it was treated in the classic series. Admittedly a departure, yeah, but it’s hard for me to feel like it was anything other than the right choice – given, as we’ve established, quite how big an event it was. More to the point, though, the show shouldn’t ever really be beholden to anything that came before it if they’ve come up with a sufficiently good idea for something. Which, more or less, I reckon this was. Of course regeneration is going to be a big deal! It’d be a mistake to treat it otherwise.

Although admittedly the execution was a bit off in a few places, wasn’t it? There’s a lot of it that’s kinda naff. The Master with his electric glowing hands? More than a little bit silly – especially when he used those glowing hands to fly. The cactus that looks like Rory Stewart? Actually, I found it quite entertaining that he looked like Rory Stewart, but probably wouldn’t have done a decade ago. Murray Gold’s music? It’s a great score, as ever, but the arrangement itself is bordering on oppressive – the sound mix is way, way overdone. Even the scene with the Doctor and Wilf in the café, in effect the dramatic heart of the episode, doesn’t actually play anywhere near as well as I remember it doing.

So, this is one of the biggest Doctor Who episodes ever – and I think you can reasonably argue that it is – but it doesn’t sound like any of it is actually any good. Then what? Well, that kinda brings us back around to the question that’s been underlying this ongoing series of reviews since the start, doesn’t it? I like this thing so much, this Doctor Who thing, but how much of that have I been staking on personal nostalgia? Is this show actually any good?

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But, actually, silly question, because I don’t care. I know, I know, we’ve gone over this once or twice before – but, hey, this is one of the last times I’ll ever actually do this, so why not, right?

Historically, anyway, I’d turn around and point out all the fun little details that I do actually quite like. David Tennant, usually a big one. Little aspects of the design or directing. A joke. (I actually quite like the car fob bit with the TARDIS, but hey.) Maybe a guest star – it’s kinda fun that the High Priest Ood is played by Logan Roy, isn’t it? Imagine an Ood doing Logan Roy dialogue. Fun image. (“Everybody wants a kiss from that Ood”. No?) Or, perhaps, there’s something slightly deeper going on: in this one, for example, there’s some neat background stuff going on with the references to the recession etc, the Master’s victims are homeless people, all that. It’s not a lot, but you know, it’s something.

But, this time, since it’s the last time I’m mounting this admittedly probably unnecessary defence, different track. Because I’m starting to think that’s just conceding the premise a little bit. I’m reminded of something Steven Moffat said in an interview once – that his love of Doctor Who never really translated into it being a particularly good programme. Which is often true! And that’s something I have been conscious of a lot recently, and will no doubt be conscious of again in… a week exactly, actually. (Well, we’ll see. I still live in hope.)

Thing is, though, I still love it anyway. Because rubbish though bits of it were, it’s fun! And that’s enough! Especially at Christmas, but really just generally too. I think if, a decade on, I’m still finding it fun, that’s a pretty good thing.

You know, I’m pretty sure that cliffhanger was a surprise, actually. And I’m pretty sure it gave me chills a decade ago… just like it did this time.

8/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Series 4 Overview

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So, hmm, I’m a little late with this.

While I was in the middle of the series 4 reviews – around the time of The Unicorn and the Wasp, I think – I started work on a new wordpress site, which is presumably where you’re reading this now. When it came time to write this series 4 roundup post, a week after Journey’s End, I decided it probably wouldn’t be that big a deal if I left it a couple more days and just wrote it once I’d properly finished the website.

Anyway, it’s now August 24th, because the wordpress site took a ridiculous amount more work than I anticipated, and I’m only just getting around to writing this overview post now. While I’ve had most of the ideas I’m going to talk about sketched out for a while, probably the distance since having seen the episodes won’t help. Ah well.

Disclaimer offered, so let’s get on with the actual overview. Here’s a reminder of the scores I gave to each episode week-to-week, all appropriately linked so you can go back and remind yourself of what I said about each episode.

  1. Partners in Crime | Russell T Davies | 8/10
  2. The Fires of Pompeii | James Moran | 8/10
  3. Planet of the Ood | Keith Temple | 9/10
  4. The Sontaran Stratagem | Helen Raynor | 7/10
  5. The Poison Sky | Helen Raynor | 6/10
  6. The Doctor’s Daughter | Stephen Greenhorn | 5/10
  7. The Unicorn and the Wasp | Gareth Roberts | 6/10
  8. Silence in the Library | Steven Moffat | 9/10
  9. Forest of the Dead | Steven Moffat | 9/10
  10. Midnight | Russell T Davies | 9/10
  11. Turn Left | Russell T Davies | 9/10
  12. The Stolen Earth | Russell T Davies | 10/10
  13. Journey’s End | Russell T Davies | 10/10

And, of course, there’s Voyage of the Damned, an episode which I’m always inclined to say is part of Series 3, no matter what the production codes say; I gave the 2007 Christmas special 7/10. (Incidentally, while Voyage of the Damned is definitely part of series 3, The Next Doctor is one of the specials; I am much more relaxed these days about whether or not the specials are part of series 4 in their own right, which I suppose is a sign of maturity.)

Now, time for my favourite part of these overview posts: the now-traditional graph. Love the graphs.

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(Those of you who went back to check may have noticed I actually forgot to give The Stolen Earth a score out of ten at the time. I’ve decided to give it a 10 retrospectively, because, well, why not. I also apparently forgot to give one to Forest of the Dead, so I’ve given that a 9, to match Silence in the Library.)

As ever, when the scores are accumulated together I do invariably think they’re probably all a little bit nonsensical. I think, over the years I’ve been doing these graphs, the scores have become more polarised – I’m becoming more comfortable giving lower scores, but still have the same inclination towards quite high scores as I’ve always had. The actual number grades are still typically the least important part of any given review anyway – at this stage, I only really include them (when I remember to, anyway) for these little roundups, the only maths I do all year.

Speaking of which: Series 4 has an overall score of 105/130, which is an average score of 8.08/10, or more sensibly 8/10. Interestingly, that’s actually exactly the same as Series 3, which also scored 105/130. In terms of the four instalments of the Russell T Davies era generally, they’re all still very closely grouped – series 1 got 107/130, while series 2 received 108/130. That, I must say, is quite surprising for me to note – I was expecting series 4 to come in ahead of its predecessors, based on the not-especially-scientific fact that I’d just kinda always had a sense that series 4 was probably the best one.

However! This is an average score, so what’s also interesting to look at is the highs and lows of each series. As you can see above, I gave two perfect scores in series 4 (which was interesting in itself; compiling this, I was surprised I’d not given a 10 to Planet of the Ood and Forest of the Dead, though I suppose the latter isn’t impossible), which is comparatively few in contrast to Series 3 (four 10/10 episodes) and Series 1 (six 10/10 episodes), though still beating Series 2, which only had one (Love & Monsters, obvs).

Where Series 4 does do better, though, is the number of 9/10 episodes – where series 4 has five 9/10 episodes, series 1 has x, series 2 has two (or three, depending on whether you count The Christmas Invasion or not), and series 3 had two. I suppose if you’re looking at a modal average – look at me, I know some basic maths – that’d suggest that Series 4 does actually come out of the comparison better, or at least houses some better episodes.

Setting aside the numbers for a moment, though, one thing that was interesting to me was the actual shape of the graph – there’s a massive dip in the middle there, not entirely dissimilar to the dip seen in series 3. Admittedly there’s an easy explanation – both series saw a Helen Raynor two-parter followed by a Stephen Greenhorn episode – but it did get me wondering a little about how that might compare to viewer numbers, since there’s typically a similar dip in ratings around that time, isn’t there? At that point, though, it becomes more of a maths project that I’m really interested in, though, so who knows really.

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If it wasn’t obvious from the above, anyway, I really enjoyed series 4. Like I mentioned a couple of times throughout the reviews, this is the Tennant series I’m least familiar with, so in some senses it was as close to new Tenth Doctor content as I could actually experience in 2018.

I went back and read the previous two round-ups ahead of this one, just to see what sort of tone I tried to strike last time, aiming for a degree of consistency and so on – and of course they’ve historically been fairly inconsistent. With series 2, there’s an almost oddly defensive aspect to it, almost like I’m trying to justify actually quite liking it; with series 3, it’s quite critical, as my discussion of the Doctor and Martha leans quite heavily on the unrequited love angle. I’m not convinced either really works with series 4 – I enjoyed it a lot, in a… not an uncomplex way, but I suppose a fairly straightforward way, and I don’t think it has any significant damning faults and flaws in terms of how the Doctor and Donna were characterised.

The obvious point, which I think a lot of people would offer as something worth criticising as part of series 4, is Donna’s exit. Certainly, there’s issues within it, but I’m not convinced it derails series 4 in the same way that Martha’s unrequited love plotline does series 3. What interests me most about Donna’s exit, which is something I’d like to return to one day in a proper article, is how the way it contrasts with Clara’s exit suggests a difference in how Davies and Moffat view what it means to be the Doctor. Donna’s very much the Davies era companion who comes closest to being a Doctor analogue in the same way the Moffat era companions do – to take an example at random, Donna’s the first one who’s shown being taught to fly the TARDIS – and yet in the end, she also falls furthest. That strikes me as a more interesting discussion to have about her exit, if only because I don’t think it’s been had before.

More broadly, though, after having watched series 4 again it’s not difficult to see why Donna is so popular. For one thing, there was never the danger that she’d be undercut by Rose the same way Martha was – playing the companion dynamic as just friends for the first time in the new series was massively important, but I suspect the fact that Catherine Tate was actually (and still is) quite famous in her own right helped a lot too, lending the character a certain gravity that Freema Agyeman didn’t have. (On that, it has just occurred to me that there were a lot of terribly famous people in those first four series of Doctor Who, weren’t there? Billie Piper, Catherine Tate, Kylie Minogue – lots of star power.)

But, of course, there’s also the fact that Catherine Tate had absolutely brilliant chemistry with David Tennant – she’s clearly prompting him to try harder and up his game, each of them rising to a challenge set by the other.

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Another thing I wanted to take a moment to reflect on was the reviews themselves, particularly since we’re actually coming up to the end of Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor, or at least the beginning of the end – certainly, they won’t be regular features again the way they have been previously. Over next year, we’ll do the specials, and then… well, I’m not entirely decided, but I suspect I won’t start covering Matt Smith’s stuff until a year later again, to do Eleven Years of the Eleventh Doctor. Basically, though, this is the end of this particular type of reviews as a regular thing for the foreseeable future, so I wanted to take a second to look back on them.

I am, admittedly, not actually entirely convinced any of them are very good. There are high and low points (the nadir, I suspect, was the The Unicorn and the Wasp review), but for the most part, the average level of quality was lacking: they’re never especially insightful, often because I wrote them in a rush, and the times where I do stumble onto an interesting idea, it’s typically gestured at and then moved on from, consigned to a vague “yes, I’ll write a proper article on this idea some day”. I’m still doing it, even in this one!

Even then, though, I don’t know that trying for especially deep insights and observations was the right track for these pieces; after all, if there’s room in any subject for the first piece of writing and the best piece of writing, these pieces weren’t the first, and they certainly weren’t the best. The aspects of them that were a little more interesting were the moments where I spoke a little more personally, or tried to at least, and moved beyond questions of quality and tried to deal instead with my own experience of the episodes.

So that’s something I’d like to return to and try and do properly. Not for a while, not yet anyway; I have a clever idea for exactly one such personal post, and I figure this is the sort of thing where you’d want to have a couple of good ideas before committing to it. Keep an eye out for that, though, at some point.

Anyway! Doctor Who, series 4. Often a series I’ve been reticent about giving a proper opinion on, because I didn’t feel particularly familiar with it; now, though, I feel basically confident in saying that it is actually very good.

(A conclusion that will likely surprise no one who’s read any of these posts before.)

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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