Sunday, July 27, 2008

Doctor Who - Journey's End

Well it's taken a little time, but I've finally found some moments to pen thoughts on the final episode of this year's Doctor Who. What a whirlwind ride it was! I'll add some thoughts on the season as a whole at the end, but first we need to address that cliffhanger.

It really was an inspired way to end an episode - with the Doctor apparently regenerating and yet no-one, not the press, newspapers, magazines or anyone knowing about it. Of course I was thinking that it was a fake, that this couldn't be a real regeneration or Russell and crew would have pulled off something quite incredible. But part of me really wanted it to be true, for there to be a new Doctor that no-one knew about. Thus the week was spent waiting for Saturday ... waiting to see what would happen ... and sort of expecting, if I'm honest, a let down.

Well the regeneration as we now know was a fake. It was a mcguffin, nothing really to do with much at all, and over so quickly too. The shots of the Doctor's hand bubbling away in The Stolen Earth were a bit of a giveaway too - setting the scene for the significance of the hand. And I liked the way that the hand linked things together as well ... in fact the way that Russell brought together several elements was clever here - especially as in some cases he could have had no idea that he might re-use the elements in this story.

As this was a final, season-ending episode, and the second part of a two part story, it tended to cram a lot in ... so all the cliff hangers were really non-cliff hangers. Sarah's bursting into tears as the Daleks surround her car was resolved by them just wanting to take her prisoner, despite Mickey and Jackie arriving with more big Dalek-busting guns. And at Torchwood, well they have the biggest mcguffin of all as apparently Tosh, before she died, perfected a time lock to protect the hub from invading Daleks. Which is convenient but not very helpful as Gwen and Ianto now have to sit the rest of the episode out, a little like the 4th Doctor and Romana in The Five Doctors ...

Meanwhile Martha heads off via teleport to use the Osterhagan key and ends up 60 miles outside Nuremberg where there are Daleks speaking German! Aside from this being really cool, it brings home that the TARDIS isn't on the Earth and so there's no autotranslate system in operation. Speaking of which ... I forgot to mention the system's failure last episode where the Judoon's speech was not translated - and the Doctor's reply was also in Judoon! Shades of The Doctor's Daughter. One thing that's worse than using a mcguffin, is ignoring (or forgetting) something that is well established, and this will-it-or-won't-it approach to the TARDIS translating language is one of those.

So the Doctor, Rose, Donna and Captain Jack arrive on the Dalek Crucible, which is a huge Death-Star-like space station. As they leave the TARDIS, Donna is distracted by heartbeat sounds again and remains inside ... so that when the Dalek Supreme drops the TARDIS into the z-neutrino energy heart of the ship, she goes with it. But amidst the explosions and destruction as the TARDIS is boiled alive, Donna sees the Doctor's hand-in-a-jar glowing and touches it, suffusing her with energy, and making the hand grow a new Doctor! So we have two Doctors now ... the same Doctor twice. Confusing and puzzling, but very entertaining. And a nice element to add to the mix. So the regeneration wasn't a complete mcguffin as it has a large amount of significance to the plot. Much more satisfying then, than just having it happen for no reason at all.

Jack is exterminated by the Dalek Supreme (but he's Jack so isn't killed) and so escapes as the Doctor and Rose are taken to the cellar to be Davros' playthings. Jack sees a group of humans heading to test the reality bomb, among them Sarah, Mickey and Jackie. Sarah and Mickey escape the group and join Jack, but Jackie is trapped there. At the last moment, she is able to use her dimension-jumping teleport to escape (it conveniently having a 30 minute recharge period), leaving the lady from Eastenders to be disintegrated along with the rest of the kidnapped humans by the bomb which cancels the electrical enegery between atoms, making everything in the vacinity just fall apart (of course we wonder how the Dalek ship was protected from this then ... why didn't the whole chamber just cease to exist?)

Conveniently Sarah has a warp star - some sort of energy source given to her by a Baran soothsayer - and Jack fashions this into a weapon. Martha gains access to the room where the Osterhagan key can be used to detonate 25 nuclear bombs around the Earth which will destroy the planet. Both then threaten the Daleks simultaneously. It's lucky how all these things come to pass at the same time. After all, Martha's threat wouldn't be much good in ten or even five minutes time ...

The Doctor and Rose meet Davros who is just superb! Out of everything in this jam-packed couple of episodes, Julian Bleach is simply divine as Davros, using the same quiet tones and menace as Michael Wishers's original, but adding his own twists to create a memorable and effective villain. Far better than the visually impressive but silly Dalek Sec Hybrid, the shouty CyberController or the loopy Master. His speech about the Doctor turning his friends into weapons was brilliant. Loved it. Even the flashback sequence, so overused and crass when used in the 80s, really works well here.

We're now approaching endgame as all the pieces are in place, and the drama is reaching its conclusion.

The Dalek Supreme easily disarms Jack, Mickey, Jackie and Martha and brings them all to the Crucible and Davros orders the reality bomb to be detonated. Then the TARDIS arrives in the room bringing Donna and the newly created Doctor. Davros zaps Donna and sends her flying, and he disables the new Doctor as well.

But then Donna turns off the power from a central unit. Then she disarms everyone, Davros and Daleks alike ... seems she is now part-Time Lord and is loving it! In fact, she is the DoctorDonna mentioned by the Ood. This point I thought was just silly as at the time it seemed that the Ood saying 'DoctorDonna' was just that this was what they were shouting at them themselves! Seemed to be something of a continuity reference too far. But Donna saves the day, as this single console, deep in the heart of the Crucible, in an area where Davros has been trapped by the Daleks, conveniently seems to control everything to do with the ship, the Daleks, and their master plan! Donna manages to disable all the Daleks and puts all the planets (barring the Earth for some reason) back where they came from. The Doctor realises that the insane Dalek Caan was behind it all, Jack destroys the Supreme Dalek, and the Doctor finally feeds back the power (reverses the polarity anyone?) which destroys all the Daleks so they can't try this again. This is all so familiar - how many times before has the Doctor destroyed all the Daleks only for them to rise again?

This leaves the problem of the Earth - why Donna couldn't send it back the same as all the other planets is conveniently forgotten - and the Doctor determines to tow it back using the TARDIS, aided by power routed from Torchwood (released from their time bubble) and Mr Smith (Sarah's supercomputer) aided by codes from K9 (now this is getting very silly ... if K9 can be called at a moment's notice like this, then why hasn't he been used by Sarah beforehand, or even in her own adventures ... oh well).

With all his companions around him, and another one of him, the Doctor has enough people to pilot the TARDIS 'properly', one per panel of the console. So Sarah, Mickey, Rose, Jack, Martha and two Doctors bring the Earth back home. Jackie however is not allowed to help ... made me smile anyway.

Amusingly, the people on Earth experience tremors and all sorts as this happens, and then seem to have fireworks on hand to celebrate with when they get back ... but how would they know they were back anyway? Never mind. It's all fantasy.

Now comes the goodbyes bit.

Sarah races off back to her son Luke. As a participant in this story she was a little underused I felt, and acted somewhat out of character by blubbing when the Daleks appeared. She's also a little obsessed with this 'son' of hers who isn't even her son!

Jack and Martha leave together, with Mickey coming after. Now, Mickey was brilliant. I felt that Noel Clark is the one who has grown and developed the most as an actor and as a character through the series. After his somewhat dire offering in Series One, I was sad to see him go here. But all the implications are that he's joining Torchwood, and I feel that the show could only be improved by including him.

The Doctor, Donna, Jackie, Rose and other Doctor head off to Bad Wolf Bay in the alternate Dimension as this is where they need to be. Donna points out that Rose now has her own Doctor ... and they have a snog to prove it. This was a nice touch, giving the Doctor-obsessed Rose her own Doctor to get jiggy with, although poor Jackie - I hope she has a good supply of sick bags to hand.

Leaving them in their own dimension, Donna and the Doctor return to the TARDIS, but Donna is a little hyper. Or should that be more hyper than usual. Something is going wrong ... but it's frustratingly not explained apart from as a 'Human-Time Lord Metacrisis' whatever that is. It allows the Doctor to do his 'I'm so, so, sorry' routine again, before he wipes Donna's memory of him and takes her home.

This was so crass! I'm sorry, but we were repeatedly promised that a companion would die! Not that someone would have her memory wiped! For all the protestations that this was awful and worse than death and so on, I can't see that it was. Perhaps it's because I never warmed to Donna. Catherine Tate was always Catherine Tate playing Donna, rather than the character being real and alive in the way that Rose was, for example.

The closing scenes also spoiled the pace of the episode. The last 15 minutes are slow and plodding, playing out the Doctor leaving Donna with such great gravitas that we're meant to think it's all meaninful and painful ... too much! Much better that she should have died being a heroine, let the Doctor grieve for her briefly and move on. This is where the show descends into the soap opera territory in which it really doesn't belong.

Bernard Cribbins was again marvellous though, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one wanting the Doctor to take him along with him ... but no, the lonely traveller remains alone, and the final scenes of the empty TARDIS served to emphasise that well.

Onwards with the adventures ... and at Christmas ... Cybermen ... Dervla Kirwan ... graveyards ... hopefully something scary and spooky for Christmas Day.

Before I get to the season as a whole ... here's a picture of Girls Aloud in black rubber ...

Overall I didn't think this season was a good as the last. Some of the stories were poorer than general (with The Doctor's Daughter and perhaps The Unicorn and the Wasp being a little too experimental) and even the return of the 'big' monster - this year the Sontarans - was not as effective as it could have been. Several themes were repeated, which starts to make it look as though the production team are running out of ideas (which I seriously doubt), and generally, although the show was undoubtedly the best thing on television once more, I felt that a little more thought in the scripts would not go amiss.

Everyone had been dreading Catherine Tate as Donna, and she was okay ... but nowhere near as great and fantastic as the increasingly hagiographic Doctor Who Confidential shows would have you believe. As I mentioned, for me, there was way too much Cathering Tate there and not enough acting. I'm also really not sure what sort of a viewpoint character she provided for any girls watching ... I suppose the subtext of a Temp from Chiswick turning out to be the most important person in the universe is nice, but I doubt that Temps from Chiswick were watching. Part of the problem was that Russell T Davies got it so right and on the ball with Rose, that anyone else was going to fail by comparison. Martha did OK, but Donna was not a success. It will be interesting to see which way the series goes now, and I have a nasty feeling that we will be seeing the Doctor and his 'daughter' Jenny travelling together for a time ... although she was great in The Doctor's Daughter, I can't see Jenny lasting as a 'gee whizz isn't this fab, jolly hockey sticks' type of character for very long. But then again maybe we'll have River Song back and have a proper family in the TARDIS for the first time (and have to ignore the fact that David Tennant is going out with Georgia Moffatt - something which adds a whole new dynamic to watching The Doctor's Daughter).

If I was to go through and add some simple and quick assessments to the episodes this year, plus a positional rating from 01=best to 13=worst:

11 Partners in Crime - silly but fun. And it has THAT Rose scene.
04 The Fires of Pompeii - superior and well made. Great monsters.
08 Planet of the Ood - well made, but disappointing and silly.
12 The Sontaran Stratagem - disapppointing and a repeat of Age of Steel.
13 The Poison Sky - disappointing and reminiscent of Evolution of the Daleks.
07 The Doctor's Daughter - pointless but nice to look at.
05 The Unicorn and the Wasp - nicely made but too much humour.
01 Silence in the Library - superb. Great horror episode.
02 Forest of the Dead - again superb.
10 Midnight - forgettable. Missed opportunity.
09 Turn Left - could have been a disaster but not too bad. The bug is awful though.
03 The Stolen Earth - probably the best episode of the season, but not as good as the Moffat ones.
06 Journey's End - A fitting ending, but the last 15 minutes are very disappointing.

So for the next year we have only a handful of specials to look forward to before a new, Steven Moffat-steered series in 2010. I'm sure the rumours will start flying and companions being cast, new and old monsters called into service, and that the press will have a field day trying to get the scoops, and the production team will delight in throwing curve balls and trying to preserve all the surprises for transmission night.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Thoughts on Doctor Who's finale

A few people have commented and emailed to ask where my final review is. Apart from the fact that I'm quite pleased that some people like reading my burblings, it's just pressure of work which is preventing me from sitting down and penning my thoughts. Unfortunately there's a lot of Telos-related work that needs doing on the books for later this year, and this is taking all my time at the moment. So patience ... and as soon as I can find the time, I'll pen and post my thoughts on the finale.