Did we like it?
On first viewing it was a sprawling, incoherent, if entertaining, mess. A second look revealed how some of the more ludicrous elements segued together, and as such enabled us to enjoy it much, much more. But even then, leaving aside the quandary of why we should have to watch a show twice to properly appreciate it, crucial parts of the plot were ostensibly and absurdly thrown into the narrative like rabbits being drawn out of a hat.
What was good about it?
• This was one of David Tennant’s best performances in the role(s) of the Doctor. When the second Doctor grew from his severed hand (who we’ll call Doctor 2 for clarity, although Russell T Davies’ script probably refers to him Doctor Quantum Monogrammatic Mexipopsick Ingufirfier) Tennant discreetly, once the past the brash intro scene with Donna, made Doctor 2 distinct from the Doctor, investing him with a little more abrasiveness, a little more surliness. This meant that even though he looked like the Doctor and mostly acted like the Doctor, Doctor 2 still felt like an interloper, someone who you couldn’t quite trust – and nor could the Doctor.
• There was also something almost Biblical about the way in which all the Doctor’s uncontrolled rage was distilled into a Lucifer-like representation of all that was malevolent in his soul, casting it out to leave a emblem of apparent piety.
• Tennant also excelled when he had to wipe Donna’s memories of her in order to save her life – in much the same way as he absorbed the time vortex to save Rose – duly ignoring her pleas not to revert back to the Donna she was before she met him. He managed to convey the complexity of the ambivalence of duty and compassion and grief, both for her and himself.
• And it was the sheer impact of Donna’s regression back into the old Donna, being stripped bare of all the life-affirming sights and experiences she had savoured in the Doctor’s company, which meant we didn’t feel short-changed at the promise of a ‘death’ of one of the Doctor’s companions. It was that moment at the end when the Doctor, on leaving Donna’s home, that his former companion now oblivious to his identity dismissed his valediction with an impatient wave of the hand while chatting inanely to a friend corroborated that Donna’s fate was more of a ‘death’ as any of the Doctor’s regenerations. It was a beautiful vignette of television and superbly played by both parts.
• As was Bernard Cribbins’ farewell to the Doctor. Teary-eyed and almost mourning Donna’s ‘passing’ as much as the Doctor, Wilf pledged to watch the skies and dream of what the Doctor was getting up to somewhere in the universe.
• The cliffhanger of the Doctor’s regeneration was never likely to lead to Tennant’s exit, but you were never absolutely sure and this ramped up the tension for this episode.
• The Daleks speaking German, a language that really suits their guttural rasps and returned them to their Nazi roots. If this was the only reason for Martha’s largely futile quest then it was fully justified.
• When Doctor 2 caused the destruction of the Daleks, it mirrored the classic scene in Genesis of the Daleks when Tom Baker pondered a similarly genocidal act. On that occasion, he was disturbed before he made the decision, but paused just long enough to suggest he couldn’t do it; here the Doctor and Doctor 2 were not so unequivocal. Half-human Doctor 2’s choice to destroy them contrasted with Donna being able to come up with ways of dispatching the Daleks using both her human instinct and Timelord genius as they each adopted traits of their surrogate species. Doctor 2’s actions owed as much to his primal human instinct of revenge as it did to being born with the same rage and fury that had gripped Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor after the end of the Time War.
• The fantastic special effects ranging from the Tardis hurtling to the inferno innards of the Daleks’ crucible, the climatic explosions, the shimmering tubular prisons and the disintegration of the human lab rats for the reality bomb.
• The most satisfying aspect of this series’ story arc was when Davros rammed home to the Doctor that while he might conceive himself as a force for good, an awful many people have died either because of his actions or in their endeavours to save him – “I name you as the destroyer of worlds!”
What was bad about it?
• The biggest central flaw was the way in which grandiose sci-fi stratagems were simply drawn out of thin air in order to propel the plot to its pre-ordained conclusion, sacrificing credibility along the way – even sci-fi needs parameters to prevent it lurching out of control. If Davros has any future plans to destroy reality, he needn’t go to the trouble of assembling a mini-galaxy of 27 planets, he could just ask to write and direct a series finale of Doctor Who.
• Some of the ideas introduced last week, such as Davros’s plot to steal the Earth et al, were plausible as the whole series had been building to this climax, and so some fiendish, esoteric scheme had been widely anticipated, while Project Indigo was a device to enable Martha to jump from place to place. It was introduced a little abruptly, but didn’t intrude on the flow of the script. However, what did cause a problem was the instantaneous introduction of a myriad of other plot devices coming out of the walls with no or little relation to what had occurred earlier in the series.
• The Osterhaagen Key, Sarah Jane’s Warp Star, Dalek Caan’s conscience, the time bubble in Torchwood, Doctor 2 constructing a gun in about two minutes to zap Davros, Davros zapping Donna to unlock the Time Lord intellect that had been infused into her, the Daleks just happening to have a single convenient console upon which are the easily decipherable controls that can paralyse, disarm and ultimately destroy them and the Tardis pulling the Earth halfway across the universe (we are too enervated and apathetic to think about what heated the planet during this voyage across this expanse of absolute zero temperatures, as no doubt there’s a silly explanation). The Daleks’ reality bomb was probably the most plausible and logical technological device in the whole episode.
• And the obscure language used to conceal the nonsense: “Instantaneous biological metacrisis”; “Initiate temporal prison”; “A warp form conjugation trapped in a carbon-based shell”; “A Z-neutrino biological inversion catalyser”; “Dimensional retro-closure”. We think we’d have preferred Jon Pertwee’s Doctor to be intercut into these moments, babbling on about “reversing the polarity of the neutron flow”.
• But the two most egregious technological faux pas were the dimension jump devices used by Rose, Mickey and Jackie, and Donna becoming half-human/half-Timelord. On the dimension jumping, are we really supposed to swallow that a 21st-century Earth-based organisation could back-engineer a gadget from scavenged alien technology that not only can jump across dimensions but arrive at the exactly the right time and place to save imperilled companions? It might not have been so bad, but the Tardis wasn’t able to achieve results anywhere close to this, especially when you consider that Timelord technology is about a billion years in advance of Earth (Donna’s belief that “gut instinct” helps humans succeed where Timelords fail isn’t believable enough to explain this away).
• However, the worst example was what should have been Donna’s crowning glory, the instant in which she fully repaid the Doctor’s enduring faith in her, was reduced to simpering irrelevance. Donna’s role, as with all companions, is to provide a bridge between the Doctor and the audience. The second she was elevated to a Timelord genius, that link was severed, the consequences of which meant when she was neutralising the Dalek threat she was doing so in an impenetrable abstruse argot, utterly divorced from the audience who had faithfully followed her story, leaving us to watch Doctor Who in the same way we did when sitting agog in front of the TV aged two, uncomprehending of the grown-up dialogue but excited by the bright explosions and battles, and a bit empty.
• The upshot of it all is that the brilliant Russell T Davies went a bit Davros on the audience, introducing idea after idea without any empathy of how each rootless notion nudged us a bit further away from the Doctor and Donna.
• The Daleks’ latest masterplan was flawed in that by annihilating the rest of reality and thereby becoming the sole inhabitants of the (empty) universe, how would they exercise their inexhaustible penchant for cruelty and tyranny? You have a greater sense of dominion sitting in a room empty save for a rickety chair than you would have lording it over an absolutely vacant multiverse; the Daleks thrive on oppression, on “harvesting” cowed peoples or emitting an orgasmic “exterminate” (the Dalek equivalent of a wank, replete with a white ejaculation) – these are the only pleasure they get from life. Imagine a world where there is unquestioning consensus that the Beatles are the greatest pop group in history, how would the sanctimonious, purse-lipped vermin who preach ‘Fab Four’ eminence draw any joy from life at all, unable to mock fans of other bands lower down the list in the latest pointless best albums chart when 100% of votes are cast for Revolver or Sergeant Pepper?
• The ominous potency of the Daleks being undermined by their destruction by a narky south London housewife.
• K-bloody-9. We think we’d rather see the world go up in flames than that obstructive metal monstrosity reappear.
• Sarah-Jane going on and on about how her son Luke is “only 14” brought to mind Alex Wotherspoon’s importunities for Sir Alan’s clemency as he’s “only 24”.