This isn’t the official SciFiNow review of The End Of Time. That has been assigned to our resident Who genius, Andrew Rilstone, and you will all be able to read his thoughts on it in the next issue of the magazine. I don’t doubt that he will have enjoyed the seasonal specials more than myself.
As a rule, I don’t like the voice of our magazine to contradict itself. On team, we share very similar tastes but when we don’t agree we endeavour to maintain a front that is at least consistent; you might notice that we don’t, for example, alter our original review scores for a film once it has been released on DVD. So please forgive this column as an exception to our rule; again, this is merely my own opinion and not that of the magazine’s. It exists merely because I feel compelled to express my thoughts on the end of Russell T Davies’ successful Who run, and I feel so compelled because, well, I thought it was bloody awful.
Firstly, context: my personal expertise lies in sci-fi cinema and American comics. I don’t protest to have a firm grip on the intricacies of Who’s past as I’m sure Mr Davies does and as I know Mr Rilstone does. I have tried on several occasions to better relate to Who but I simply feel that it isn’t for me. But then I suppose that the genre jewel in the BBC’s crown wasn’t ever supposed to be for anyone who can recite every line from Verhoeven’s RoboCop. When I have watched the programme I found it to be overly silly, horribly cheap, strangely derivative and, despite a terrific cast, full of irritating performances. Indeed, it comes as no surprise to me (in fact, quite a relief) to hear Russell T Davies frequently refer to the show as something children will enjoy. Of course, he has never explicitly stated, at least to my knowledge, that it is only for children but certainly for me they have always seemed to be the target audience. I genuinely feel as though Doctor Who wouldn’t be out of place on CBBC. And while it might be no bad thing to make a show for a younger audience, I hope my implied criticism is understood as intended.
To summarise: I don’t like New Who, so please bear that in mind if you choose to read on.
The End Of Time was a poorly written, poorly acted, poorly directed television special. It would be unfair to the countless other TV programmes we, as an audience, regularly review to label it as anything else. I could not, in good conscience, sit here and write that it comes anywhere close to the likes of Caprica, Supernatural or V – all flawed shows – in terms of quality. It is not enough to say that it is Who and therefore incomparable to anything else or by any other standard: it is science fiction television that, if we are to accept it as not just a children’s show, must be judged in relation to other mainstream science fiction TV shows. It is our duty as critics, and as members of a wider SF community, to recommend that which we feel deserves to be. I recommend you watch and debate Caprica, I recommend you watch the first five seasons of The X Files, I recommend you see Firefly (instantly if you haven’t already, and again if you have), I recommend you watch Red Dwarf I-VI. I recommend that you don’t see The End Of Time.
The End Of Time begins with very serious characters warning other serious characters that something very serious is about to happen. It’s all very serious. More experienced/cynical/hardened sci-fi viewers will instantly recognise what’s actually going on: nothing. If a story’s characters spend most of their time hyping up the story they’re in and the rest of the time explaining what’s going on in the story to each other, then there isn’t a story. The Master, The Ood, The Narrator (who is later revealed to be Double-0 Time Lord) and even The Doctor get in on the act, discussing events past and warning each other about things that will definitely happen, even though they might not. It’s a load of utter nonsense and absolutely not what a good story should be.
The rest of the first half plays out in similar fashion with a great deal of posturing, Zoolander-esque staring and not much else. The story we’re told so much about finally threatens to get going when The Doctor chases The Master, who seems to have turned into Emperor Palpatine (more on that in a bit), but then there’s just more talking about what’s going to happen only with more, even less interesting characters who are determined to add yet more plot. It was at this point that I contemplated making notes, complete with annotated diagram, to make sense of it all but then I realised that I had understood it all perfectly: it really was just that bad.
In truth, my interest did pique a little when The Master turned into everyone but as a result of Davies’ ambition to make his Who swansong The Most Epic Thing Ever this feeling was almost immediately crushed by the introduction of the Time Lords. There is simply no way, I thought, that after an hour’s worth of set-up and forced surprises, Davies can resolve this well. And I was right.
It was always going to be difficult to follow such a big cliffhanger but even I didn’t think Part Two would fail as miserably as this. ‘The Master as everyone’ amounted to bugger all very quickly, not unless you count John Simm talking to himself instead of regular henchmen as thrilling anyway. Clearly Davies had no idea where he was really going with this, just a good idea of where he wanted to be by the end of Part One. The eventual arrival of the Time Lords (with planet in tow) promised a little more but as with so much in The End Of Time, this was soon revealed to be a problem far more easily solved than anyone could have reasonably expected (a bullet to an admirably poorly hidden contraption should do it)… but only after much more talking, naturally.
In the midst of all this plot and disappointment was a moderately ambitious action sequence involving The Doctor, his mates, Starbug and a load of missiles. And I probably would have enjoyed it too were it not for the distracting nods to Star Wars. It wasn’t just here that Lucas’ series is referenced either, but in about four or five other areas. For the life of me I have absolutely no idea why Davies seemed so intent on including these references. If I was more cynical I might suggest that they were only included to imply a depth that really isn’t there at all. It’s a similar thing with the story as a whole too: The End Of Time pretends there’s a lot going on, it tells us there’s a lot going on, but really there isn’t much going on at all, only one or two incidents that are quickly rectified once the buggers have stopped chatting.
Before I get on to the ending of The End, though, I would like to address a defence of Doctor Who that frequently rears its head and will inevitably do so again soon. The defence in question is the one that goes something like this: “But you can’t judge it too harshly as it just doesn’t have the production values of other shows.” My rebuttal: Star Trek. If they could consistently make excellent, exciting sci-fi TV on a shoestring budget back in the Sixties with little more than a cardboard set, fine actors and quality scripts then they should damn sure be able to achieve similar results now. With Who, Davies and his team haven’t, and much of the blame lies at the feet of the woefully loose scripts.
As for The Ending… much will depend on how you felt about the 45 minute final reel of The Return Of The King. I hated it. And it’s not because seeing characters wave to each other while looking a bit weepy is overly sentimental either – it’s because it’s self-indulgent twaddle. Seeing David Tennant’s Who mope about for what seemed to be an eternity is not good drama; it doesn’t matter how talented the actor may be (and, for the record, I think Tennant is a very talented one), characters are best served by story not farewells. I’m sure Davies was aiming for something more than he delivered with this but nevertheless it seemed a strange decision to have such a famously outrageous hero go out on such a pathetic whimper. Sill, at least in this respect The End Of Time was consistent.
Oh, and as for Matt Smith… we shall see. Or maybe, like me, you won’t be bothered.