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.)
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?
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.