Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 793: The End of Time - Part Two
I can’t make my mind up as to wether the Tenth Doctor era has gone by quickly or not. I’ve spent more episodes with David Tennant’s Doctor than I have with any other since Peter Davison, but in some ways it feels like this Doctor has only just arrived on the scene. In others, it feels like he’s been around for ages. When I think back to specific episodes - anything from Series Two, for example - it feels like a lifetime ago, and the fact that Tennant physically aged quite a bit in the part makes that feeling all the more pronounced. On the other hand, it doesn’t feel all that long ago since he was promising trips to Barcelona, or bringing down Harriet Jones’ government.
But there’s no denying what an impact the Tenth Doctor made - had the profile of the programme ever been higher? Even now, with the show simulcast around the world to the biggest possible audience, it doesn’t feel like it’s at quite those dizzying heights of around 2007/2008, when you could barely move for Doctor Who. It was on the cover of the Radio Times every other week. The shops were stuffed with products of every kind. There were two sister shows running throughout the time of the year when the main show wasn’t… and everyone, even people who didn’t watch Doctor Who seemed to agree that David Tennant was one of - if not the - best Doctors ever.
And after all that… oh, I still can’t help but think that this finale is just a bit nothing for him. As with yesterday, I’ve found a lot more to enjoy in today’s episode than I was perhaps expecting to, but something about it just doesn’t gel with me. I wasn’t all that connected to the episode while watching, and nothing really spurred any particular excitement in me. I think it’s still the hangover of that feeling in 2009 of being a spectre at the feast, just wanting this Doctor to hurry up and clear off so we could get to the new chap. It certainly didn’t help that immediately after the broadcast of this episode a trailer for the upcoming Series Five appeared on the BBC website, and it was fifty times more exciting than anything which happened in this story.
Something I am pleased about, though, is that I’ve changed my mind about the sequence of the regeneration itself. For years now - ever since broadcast, really - I’ve thought that the Doctor should rage at Wilf, the final words of the Time Lord Victorious. He should scream, and shout, rage against the dying of the light, and then when Wilf tells him to simply go… he should. Okay then. You’re right. My life is more important than yours. See ya! I always thought that he should go and get his reward at that point. Venture off and see all his friends one last time. Martha, Mickey*, Jack, Sarah Jane, Rose… all those shining people who kept the Lonely Angel going. Kept him fighting. And then he should return for Wilf, who’s sad and alone in the booth, tell him that it’s his honour to give his life for such a man, and then we should pick up with the sequence as seen. Largely, I think I’d always thought of that as a better narrative because it means we can have the Doctor regenerate in the box - the Doctor uncurls from that foetal position and it’s Matt Smith! - but watching it today, I’m happy to admit that I was wrong; it works just fine the way it is, and the emotional beats hit at just the right points.
I’ve brought it up a few times in the last couple of weeks, but I can’t let today’s episode pass without giving one final mention… Bernard Cribbins really is wonderful, isn’t he? Can you imagine that there could have been a version of Doctor Who where he only made that on brief cameo appearance in Voyage of the Damned and then that was it? Horrible thought. A real pity that he had to step back into the programme in circumstances where another actor had passed away, but what a tribute to give - one of the best performances the show ever has. I’m so glad that he was given such a prominent role to play in these final episodes of the era, getting to really showcase his range and make you laugh out loud (‘God bless the cactuses!’) and tear up (‘I don’t want you to die!’) in equal measure. He really steals the show from Tennant in his final episodes, and I don’t think anyone could mind.
And now, we’re off into a bold new era! At the time, I found the Matt Smith years (well, the first couple, at least) far less to my liking than the previous few years of Doctor Who had been, and I’ve never really gone back to give them a second chance. With the exception of tomorrow’s Eleventh Hour and the 50th Anniversary special in a few weeks, I’ve never rewetted any of this era, so it’s like seeing it fresh and new, which is a very exciting thought.
It also means that I’m drawing to the very end of this mammoth project, and so I need your help! I need to decide how I’m going to be ending things. The original plan, way back in January 2013 when The 50 Year Diary kicked off was to stop with the 50th Anniversary. Nice and neat - hence the name - to cover every story from the programme’s first half-century. But then Matt Smith went and left just one episode later, so I thought I’d include that one, too, just to round off the era nicely. But now I’m wondering - with Series Nine only a few months away, and having enjoyed Series Eight so much when it was broadcast last year, do I carry on for an extra fortnight and do those episodes, too? That way, I’ll have covered all the episodes of Doctor Who. Let me know which approach you’d rather in the comments; do I finish with Time of the Doctor, or Last Christmas?
*I’m trying not to complain about the things I’m not so keen on in today’s episode, because it’s nice to keep things a bit nicer for a Doctor’s departure, but I have to grumble about the Mickey and Martha pairing. Not because I’ve specifically anything against the two of them getting together, but because it’s just another notch in that belt of Martha’s character being a bit rubbish after Series Three. She first gets engaged to a bloke she met in an alternate timeline for about 24 hours, despite showing very little chemistry with him in the first place, and then suddenly ditches him to marry a bloke she aired only a couple of scenes with in another episode (did Micky and Martha actually speak to each other in the Series Four finale?). It just felt so odd at the time, and it still doesn’t sit right five years on…