The very best Doctor Who episodes are marked by a febrile compulsion to replay the drama as soon as it becomes available via the ‘Red Button’. The End of Time fell some way short of this celestial excellence; sure, there were some fabulous moments of adversarial acting and twinkle-toed twists but was flawed by inimical indulgences and pedagogical pathos.
The best scene by a billion parsecs was the confrontation between the Doctor, the Master and the belligerent Timelords, led by the brilliant Timothy Dalton as Rassilon (although it was a mystery how he came to be there as last time we saw him he was in a tomb, perhaps he was conveniently resurrected like the Master).
With the flick of his metal gauntlet, Rassilon dispelled the Master’s malice, and the people of Earth were returned to their former selves. Yet even this demonstration of power was pale in comparison to his voice, which threatened to sweep away the renegade Timelords with its cyclonic majesty.
John Simm as the Master and David Tennant were too vivified by the epic quality of the conflict. Tennant oscillated between shooting the Master, and condemning the Timelords to virtual extinction and his nemesis to death, and firing at Rassilon to achieve the same ends but sparing the Master.
As he did so, on one side Rassilon was pontificating on the portentous destiny for the Timelords to ascend to a state of consciousness, abdicating the need for physical shape – a threat the Doctor had perceived and neutralised during the Time War – while on the other the conniving Master was egging on the Doctor to shoot Rassilon or demanding a reward for the salvation of his people.
And it was that atom of sympathy that Simm had planted in his impressive turn as the malevolent Timelord that made plausible his brief alliance with the Doctor, turning vengefully on Rassilon for implanting the maddening sound of drums in his skull, and made his repulsion of this greater threat to galactic safety as heroic as the Doctor’s efforts.
The implantation of the sound of drums into the Master’s skull was one of the more baffling elements of the plot that eroded the enjoyment. It went along the lines that the Timelords knew they were doomed to die in the Time War and so somehow communicated with the Master and were able to instil in his mind the sound of drums by tampering with the past (God knows why they didn’t instead execute the eight-year-old Doctor to stop him destroying them and the Daleks during the Time War – which wouldn’t have started if the Doctor, or another more loyal Timelord had eliminated the Skaro menace in Genesis of the Daleks, but this illustrates how liberally and conceitedly the plot was moulded).
Amid the confusion, there were moments of tenderness and comedy. The Vinvoccis’ ham-fisted rescue of the Doctor and Wilf’s (Bernard Cribbins) melancholy apologies for hindering the Doctor’s plans; which was most keenly illustrated when he timidly knocked the foreboding four times on the door of the protective booth in which he’d taken refuge during the Timelords’ battle.
Despite this being the third time in a row that the Doctor’s demise has been pre-planned to be caused by absorbing radiation or some such other lethal form of energy – Christopher Eccleston and Peter Davison (the others were hasty dismissals or either off screen) – Tennant was given the whole stage to parade the corrosive bombast that had lucidly manifested at the end of Waters of Mars, but also for it to meekly recede so he was able to safe Wilf through his own self-sacrifice; a monument to the infectious humanity contracted from companions like Wilf.
At this point we looked at our watch, there was still half-an-hour to go. And like the first part of End of Time, it was an overripe exhibition of self-indulgence. Coming after the Doctor’s self-immolation that left him crumpled up like a dead fly, the goodbyes to the various companions was a bland flatline. Of them all, Captain Jack, who seemed to be moodily drinking in Mos Eisley Spaceport’s tavern and Rose’s were tolerable, while Martha and Mickey were packed off awfully into a marriage of convenience the same way fat people are coerced into mutual attraction and subsequent wedlock in Emmerdale.
But even in this becalmed state, or perhaps because of it, we were still trying to unwind the plot. How had the Timelords escaped the Time War? They are Timelords, so why do they still rely on the incorrigible redundancy of soothsayers; can’t they just jump forwards in time to see what’s occurred in the Time War? How and why did the Doctor commit genocide on his own people when he wasn’t capable of killing a single person with a bullet – especially as he had condemned the Family of Blood to a fate worse than death, an endless torture?
All of these perplexities showed that Doctor Who can no longer be classed as a children’s show, or, because of the impenetrable complexities of the plot, even a programme for adults as the human mind isn’t capable of unravelling such confounding convolutions while at the same time watching an 80-year-old man down missiles with a mining laser. In fact, deciphering the plot was the main reason to re-view the episode on the ‘Red Button’, and perhaps this time work out what the hell was going on.