Friday, 8 January 2010

The End of Time

Blimey! Nearly a year since I last posted anything. So after all that speculation last time, what have I got to say now I've finally seen Matt Smith in action? Well, he's still got legs... hopefully, that applies to the series as well! Seriously, the new series preview looked interesting, and if the vague rumours I've heard are reliable (I tend to avoid large-scale spoilers and set reports) then it looks like Moffatt might be taking the show in some exciting directions. Let me get this straight, I'm not expecting some huge shift in style - the show's a success and I doubt the producers are going to want to tamper with that - but if they can avoid some of the worst excesses of the RTD era, then I'll be happy. It's hard to tell exactly what Smith's going to do with the role, but hopefully we've seen the last of the "mockney geezer" stylings that made me want to give Tennant a good slap on occasion.

Anyway, The End of Time. I thought this was quite fun, the first episode being more lightweight (as befitted a Christmas broadcast slot) than the second. Generally, the story was entertaining, though hardly top-flight - it wouldn't be in my top ten of tenth Doctor stories (which will be going up on the Eyespider website quite soon). I found John Simm to be less irritating this time around, which was a plus. The Master's plan was absolutely batshit insane of course, but there's nothing new in that!

As for continuity issues - well, we finally got to see the Time War flashback people have been wishing for - probably about as much as we'll ever be shown of it anyway. Full marks to the producers for still not confirming which Doctor (eighth or ninth) it was who fought on the front line in the final war - that way, we can all still go on imagining it the way we each choose to. (I know, I know, most fans seem to think it was McGann who ended the war - they're wrong of course, but they can go on thinking that - it doesn't bother me...) The final explanation for the Master's madness - whilst it may be a retcon in terms of the last forty years of series continuity - at least tied up the ideas of the RTD series in a nice neat bundle. It's all been about the Time War, and its consequences, for the last five years.

It's pleasing to get confirmation of something I've been speculating about over the last few years - that when the Doctor eulogizes about how wonderful Gallifrey was (for instance at the end of Gridlock) he's really talking about an idealized vision of the world he remembers from his youth, not the world that he really lived on. (After all, if it was so shit hot, why did he run away in the first place...?) He's romanticized his memories of the place, perhaps in an effort to negate his sense of loss or assuage his guilt. This much seemed apparent from past episodes. But here, finally, he confesses that it's what he chooses to remember, and that the Gallifrey of the Time War was a terrible place - something he's not sad to have time-locked. That puts a new spin on things, but also it doesn't invalidate the destruction of Gallifrey in the eighth Doctor novels. We can surmise that the Doctor "restored" Gallifrey following the events of The Gallifrey Chronicles, but I've always been uneasy with the notion that the planet was brought back exactly as it had been, with all the same people still alive. Much more interesting if the new Gallifrey is a completely strange and unknowable place. If the Doctor did use the downloaded Matrix data to somehow recreate his world and his race, that might explain how people can be resurrected in new forms (the Master and now it would seem Rassilon).

Mind you, I'm not certain that Timothy Dalton was playing that Rassilon. Can we take that one line comment quite so literally, I ask myself. The Doctor could be using the name in a purely perjorative context - after all, when Bill Pertwee calls Captain Mainwaring "Napoleon", he's not really suggesting that the Walmington-on-Sea platoon is commanded by the former Emperor of France.

Fans often comment on the contrast between Logopolis and The Caves of Androzani - how the fourth Doctor dies saving the entire universe, whilst the fifth Doctor dies saving the life of one friend. In The End of Time, amazingly, we had both. After all the build-up and the Ood prophecies, we were expecting the Doctor to sacrifice himself to save creation - well, he does that, and miraculously survives it all - only to have to give his life for Wilf. The glass booth was painstakingly introduced in part one - it's a real Chekhov's Gun! - and yet somehow it just hadn't occurred to me what an important role it was going to play in the end. (I don't know, old age is finally creeping up on me...) But I really wasn't expecting the source of those four knocks - a fantastic resolution.

Of course, when I saw that there was still twenty minutes to go, I realized that there was going to be a protracted, sentimental wrap-up. Some have suggested that the ending was self-indulgent. Well, they're right, it was, but I don't necessarily mind that. As someone who's embraced all Doctor Who across its vast multimedia universe, there wasn't really anything unusual about the character vignettes that littered the ending. It might well be a new thing for the tv series, but the books often featured extended epilogues - and these sort of little moments are the very stuff that the Short Trips and Brief Encounters stories were made of: a character moment, a bittersweet reunion, a taking care of business. So it didn't feel particularly new or unlike Who to me.

One interesting thing, from a "Complete Adventures" perspective: the Doctor's opening scene neatly de-links the story from the cataclysmic ending of The Waters of Mars and confirms that the Doctor has been faffing around having a series of utterly silly and inconsequential adventures to try and put off facing his fate as long as possible. Since I've been worrying about where to fit the now (frankly) insane number of comic strips that Doctor Who Adventures have been churning out over the last year, this finally offers me the perfect place - because if those comics aren't silly and inconsequential, I don't know what is...

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