At the end of Part One of “The End of Time,” the fact that the Master (John Simm) had transformed every human being on Earth (except two) into a copy of himself turned out to be small potatoes next to the revelation that the Doctor’s people, the Time Lords—thought to have been destroyed at the Doctor’s own hand in the final battle of a great Time War against the Daleks—had seemingly found a way to return to the universe, with the intention of bringing about “the end of time itself.” In this, David Tennant’s final episode as the Doctor, the epic scale increases even further. The Doctor’s past returns to haunt him, and finally, the long-foreshadowed event—“He will knock four times”—comes to pass, signaling his final fall.
Writer Russell T Davies has said many times that he had no intention of showing the events of the Time War on screen, for the very good reason that any attempted depiction of this universe-shattering cataclysm would be feeble compared to what could be conjured up by the viewer’s imagination. He has been content to provide various tantalizing hints over the years, mostly by unexplained name-dropping (the fall of Arcadia, the Medusa Cascade, etc.)—and there are plenty more to come here. In this episode, he comes as close as anyone should to actually showing the Time War, opening with a CGI vista of the Time Lord citadel burning, with wrecked Dalek ships crashed outside its protective force-field bubble.
We cut inside to the Narrator from Part One (Timothy Dalton), now revealed to be the President of the Time Lords, holding a council of war. An oracle-like Visionary (Brid Brennan), whose unerring prophecies have guided the council, has decreed that today is the last day of the Time War. One of the council (Julie Legrand) paints a picture of a truly apocalyptic conflict: “This is only the furthest edge of the Time War. But at its heart, millions die every second, lost in bloodlust and insanity. With time itself resurrecting them, to find new ways of dying, over and over again. A travesty of life. Isn’t it better to end it, at last?”
The President is wearing a gauntlet similar to those that have featured in several Torchwood episodes, and uses it to destroy the voice of dissent. Passionately he declares, “I WILL NOT DIE!...A billion years of Time Lord history riding on our backs. I will not let this perish. I. Will. Not.” Another Time Lord mentions a prophecy of two of the “Children of Gallifrey” escaping the Time War—the Doctor and the Master—and a connection to the planet Earth.
Back on Earth, the Master is in control, with Wilf (Bernard Cribbins) tied up and the Doctor strapped into the Hannibal Lecter-like wheelchair contraption that Naismith imprisoned the Master in last episode. There’s a brief diversion to deal with Donna (Catherine Tate); as with Part One, she remains on the periphery of the story. Being chased by multiple Masters awakens her buried memories and threatens to kill her, but the energy is released and knocks out the Masters, before Donna faints. As the Doctor says, “Do you think I’d leave my best friend without a defense mechanism?”
Suddenly the Vinvocci, the two green spiky aliens we met last week, manage to knock out the Master and rescue Wilf and the Doctor. After a bit of comedy with the Doctor still strapped into the wheelchair (“Worst. Rescue. Ever!”) they teleport to the Vinvocci ship over the Doctor’s protests. The Doctor quickly disables the ship to prevent the Master—who has control of every radar and missile system on Earth—from detecting them.
One point that the script doesn’t make sufficiently clear—at least, it confused me on first viewing—is that the initial Time Lord scenes take place before the three pieces of narration in Part One. Apart from that glitch, though, I enjoyed the way that the two plot threads, of the Time Lords and the Master, even though they take place in different time frames, run in parallel with cross-links between them. When the Master is telling of first hearing the drumbeats in his head as a child (a flashback to “The Sound of Drums”), we cut to the President learning from the Visionary about “the rhythm of four—the heartbeat of a Time Lord.” They send that signal back in time so the Master will be infected, forming a link that will allow them to escape the “time lock” which encloses the entire Time War. Knowing the Master’s location, the Time Lords send a special diamond (a “white-point star”) through to Earth, which he can use to amplify the drumbeat signal and create a pathway they can follow.
Wilf, wandering the Vinvocci ship looking for the Doctor, encounters the strange woman in white (Claire Bloom) again, warning him that the Doctor’s final battle is here. When he finds the Doctor, there’s another classic scene between David Tennant and Bernard Cribbins, moving through so many emotions. Earlier, the Master had sneeringly referred to Wilf in front of the Doctor as “your Dad,” and Wilf had said he’d be proud to be. Now, as Wilf takes in the vista of the Earth as seen from space, the Doctor returns the compliment—“I’d be proud if you were my dad.” The Doctor tells Wilf his age, to Wilf’s amazement:
Wilf: “We must look like insects to you.”
The Doctor: “I think you look like giants.”
Wilf tries several times to give the Doctor his gun—if the prophecy says the Master will kill you, then kill him first, says Wilf. The Doctor keeps refusing, each time trying a different way to explain why. “That’s how the Master started.” “It’s not that I’m an innocent; I’ve taken lives. But I got worse—I got clever. Manipulated people into taking their own.” “Sometimes, I think a Time Lord lives too long.” Even after Wilf gets the Doctor to admit that killing the Master would restore humanity, he still refuses to take the gun. His final “I can’t. I just can’t,” sounds so tired, as though this dogged assertion of principle is a thin thread to which he is desperately clinging. But then, when the Master broadcasts a message, telling the Doctor about the diamond from Gallifrey, the Doctor immediately realizes what must be happening and grabs the gun from Wilf. After his earlier pained refusals, this moment has a real impact.
Wilf: “But I’ve heard you talk about your people like they’re wonderful.”
The Doctor: “That’s how I choose to remember them. The Time Lords of old. But then they went to war. An endless war, and it changed them. Right to the core. You’ve seen my enemies, Wilf. The Time Lords are more dangerous than any of them.”
This is the thematic link between the Master and the Time Lords which makes sense of the double plot—they have both been driven by events into an obsession with survival at any cost. The only difference, as we will find out, is one of scale.
On Gallifrey, contact is made with the Master’s transmission. The President addresses the great council chamber and calls for a vote on whether the plan should continue. (The narrated bits from Part One probably belong either just before or just after this.)
The Doctor reactivates the ship and plunges it into the atmosphere. An enjoyable action sequence follows of the ship dodging and destroying missiles—obviously inspired by Star Wars, with Wilf as an unlikely Luke Skywalker in his laser turret.
“The vote is taken. Only two stand against, and will stand as monument to their shame, like the Weeping Angels of old.” There are two Time Lords covering their faces standing behind the President (they were first seen in the final shot of Part One). On Earth, the Gate is replaced by an endless white void, the Time Lords approaching as if from a great distance.
The Doctor jumps from the ship and smashes through the Gate Room roof. It’s the first of a couple of teases in this episode—everyone knows this is Tennant’s last stand, so when the Doctor crashes to the floor in a shower of glass and lies there stunned, we can’t help but wonder—is this it? Is it time for the new Doctor now? But no, it’s not yet.
Amusingly, the Master turns out to be as much out of his league with the Time Lords as Naismith was in trying to handle him in Part One. (Incidentally, I guessed correctly last week that Naismith and his daughter were pure plot devices, rather than real characters. We’re told at the end that they have been arrested for “crimes undisclosed” and that’s all we ever hear of them.) The power of the Time Lords is convincingly established when, after the Master threatens to transfer himself into all of them, the President easily undoes the whole of the “Master race” and restores humanity with one wave of his magic gauntlet. The Master is shocked when the Doctor tells him the true meaning of the prophecy. “Something is returning. Don’t you ever listen?...Not someone, something.” It’s not just the Time Lords that are coming back—the entire planet of Gallifrey appears in the sky, and begins to devastate the world.
As all the extras stampede out of the Gate room, clearing the stage for the final confrontation, Wilf runs in and releases the terrified technician in the power booth, thereby trapping himself. The Doctor notices, but can’t do anything about it. When these twin booths were introduced in Part One, with their idiosyncratic locking system ensuring someone is locked inside one at all times, I’m sure many people worked out that they would have some part to play in the plot resolution. I was reminded of the Torchwood Institute in “Doomsday,” where the rift was controlled by two great big levers simply because Davies was working backwards from the climax where Rose needed to be holding onto one, which she could then lose her grip on and be dragged into the void. In this story the plotting is not so arbitrary, since (a) it’s plausible to require someone to be monitoring the Gate’s power source at all times, and (b) we’ve already seen the booths used to shield Wilf from the Master’s transforming signal.
The Master: “But this is fantastic, isn’t it? The Time Lords restored.”
The Doctor: “You weren’t there, in the final days of the war. You never saw what was born. But if the time lock’s broken then everything’s coming through—not just the Daleks, but the Skaro Degradations, the Horde of Travesties, the Nightmare Child, the Could-Have-Been King with his army of Meanwhiles and Never-Weres…The war turned into hell. And that’s what you’ve opened. Right above the Earth. Hell is descending!”
I love the writing of this final confrontation. That list of terrors sounds exactly right for an unfilmable Time War. Then, even the Master is horrified when the President announces the Time Lords’ plan—to rip open the Time Vortex and end time itself, to ascend to godhood.
The Doctor: “You see now? That’s what they were planning, in the final days of the war. I had to stop them.”
Finally, after five years, the whole story is laid bare. The Doctor destroyed his own people, not as some kind of bitterly regretted sacrifice, a Pyrrhic victory to end the Time War, but to stop them from destroying themselves and taking the whole universe with them. It’s an excellent twist which I don’t think many saw coming.
The Doctor is stood between them, pointing the gun at each in turn. The Master taunts him (“You never would, you coward”—bringing to mind dialogue in “The Doctor’s Daughter” and “The Parting of the Ways”). On some level, the Master wants to die and be released—earlier he said, “This body was born out of death. All it can do is die.”
The President: “The final act of your life is murder. But which one of us?”
One of the two Time Lords who voted against the plan uncovers her face—revealing the mysterious Woman who’s been haunting Wilf. A tear is on her cheek as she looks at the Doctor. Her eyes flick to indicate something which sends the Doctor spinning the gun back toward the Master—“Get out of the way.” The Master smiles as understanding dawns; he dodges, and the Doctor fires at the diamond behind him and destroys the link. “Back into the Time War, Rassilon—back into hell!” (At the name of Rassilon, fifty-seven thousand old Doctor Who fans just punched the air.) The Visionary wails, “Gallifrey falling!”
The President prepares to kill the Doctor in revenge—but in a final twist, the Master saves him, furiously firing his lightning bolts at the President and being drawn back into the void with the Time Lords. The symmetry of the Master saying in turn, “Get out of the way,” was very clever. It’s a wonderfully fitting end to the Master’s conflict with the Doctor, although of course he’ll be back if Steven Moffat decides he wants to use him—as the beginning of this very story showed, the Master has come back from far less ambiguous deaths than this before. The spectre of Gallifrey vanishes; the void is gone; the Earth is saved.
As the triumphant music continues, the Doctor slowly comes to on the floor of the Gate Room. “I’m alive! I’m still alive!” He’s laughing with relief, he can’t believe it. And then he hears four knocks. The music downshifts into painful discords and vanishes, and in a superlative piece of acting by David Tennant, all the vitality drains away from the Doctor’s face as he recognizes the arrival of his unavoidable fate. I haven’t singled out Euros Lyn’s direction much in these recaps, but there is a superb shot as the camera slowly tracks around the Doctor until, inevitably, Wilf is revealed, still in the booth, repeatedly tapping four times on the glass to be let out.
In quiet conversation, the mechanics of the plot work themselves out. The nuclear vault powering the Gate is going critical, and lethal radiation will vent through the booths. Any attempt to interfere with the controls will release it. Of course they both know the Doctor will save Wilf, but first he rails and rages against his fate—as we saw in the cafe scene in Part One, the Tenth Doctor really doesn’t want to die. The emotions fly freely as he berates Wilf for getting himself into this—“You were always this. Waiting for me, all this time.” He yells at Wilf and the universe generally—“It’s not fair!”—before finally coming back to himself, recognizing that he has just illustrated the point he made to Wilf in their earlier conversation: “Lived too long…” With a quick action, he opens the booth, lets Wilf out, and accepts his fate. The staging, with the Doctor slumping down unconscious inside the glass booth, is obviously inspired by The Wrath of Khan, but this is no case of “the needs of the many”—the Tenth Doctor gives up his life to save one man. “Wilfred—it’s my honor.”
The Gate machinery goes dead. The Doctor is still lying in a heap at the bottom of the booth. So, is it time for Matt Smith now? No, still not yet—the Doctor gets back up and steps out of the booth. (“Oh…now it opens, yeah.”) Wilf notices that his scarred face is repairing itself, and he realizes: “It’s started.”
Back in Chiswick, Donna is awakened by the sound of the TARDIS. A moment of humor, as she says, “Did I miss something…again?” As the Doctor drops Wilf back home, he says they will meet one more time.
Wilf: “Where are you going?”
The Doctor: “To get my reward.”
And so begins a fifteen-minute Epilogue, as the Tenth Doctor holds off his regeneration to pay a final visit to his friends and companions. I guess some might find this section to be overly indulgent or sentimental, but I absolutely loved it. Given that most of these characters will, in all likelihood, never be seen in Doctor Who again, it also provides closure for us.
The first stop is to meet Martha (Freema Agyeman) and Mickey (Noel Clarke)—now married! Apparently they’re both freelance alien hunters now—the Doctor steps in to save them from a Sontaran they’re chasing. (This might have come as less of a surprise had both actors been able to appear in the last series of Torchwood, as was originally planned.)
A brief sidestep into The Sarah Jane Adventures as the Doctor saves Luke Smith (Thomas Knight) from a traffic accident. Sarah sees the Doctor—and somehow she knows this will be the last time; a lovely moment from Elisabeth Sladen.
Cut to Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) nursing a drink in what’s basically the Star Wars cantina, with the musical number from “Daleks in Manhattan” playing in the background. He’s still recovering from the events of Torchwood: Children of Earth. A note from the Doctor sets him up with Alonso Frame (Russell Tovey), the young midshipman from “Voyage of the Damned.”
The Doctor visits author Verity Newman (Jessica Hynes) at a book signing for her Journal of Impossible Things, based on the diary her great-grandmother was given by John Smith in “Human Nature.” I liked the shout-out to one of David Tennant’s most powerful performances during his time on the show, and also the fact that the author’s name is a salute to Verity Lambert, the original producer, and Sydney Newman, the main creator of Doctor Who back in 1963.
Now we go to the long-awaited wedding of Donna Noble. Sylvia (Jacqueline King) and Wilf notice the TARDIS. The Doctor still can’t approach Donna, but he leaves them a present for her—a lottery ticket bought with a pound given to him by the late Geoff Noble. This scene got me choked up more than any other, with Sylvia’s reaction and Wilf silently mouthing, “Thank you.” And Wilf gets to give one final salute to his friend.
The tour ends, of course, with Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). Wisely, Davies does not mess with the complicated ending of Rose’s story, but takes us back to where we began five years ago. It’s New Year’s Day 2005 on the Powell Estate, and Rose and Jackie (Camille Coduri) are about to go celebrating. Rose encounters a stranger who tells her, “Tell you what, I bet you’re going to have a really great year.” Billie gets to give one last brilliant smile and ends with the same parting words as Donna last year, but so different in connotation—“See ya.”
Finally, the Doctor sees Ood Sigma for the last time, and a gorgeous piece of music supports him as he staggers back to the TARDIS. “This song is ending, but the story never ends.”
In the TARDIS, the Doctor can’t hold off the regeneration any longer—the Tenth Doctor’s final words are a plaintive, “I don’t want to go!” This time, the explosion of pent-up energy is violent enough to take the TARDIS with it—flames shoot out of the windows of the police box, the console room is engulfed in fire, one of the pillars comes crashing down. It’s all change for next year…
For me, this was the most successful of the Russell T Davies finales since the first one, “The Parting of the Ways”—and considering “The End of Time” is on a vastly bigger scale, it was a very impressive feat of storytelling. After some rough patches while the story was getting started, this week’s conclusion seemed to flow smoothly and logically, making good use of the plot elements set up previously. There were just a couple of loose ends from Part One—the church with its stained glass window, and the tale of the Doctor fighting a demon in the 1300s, turned out to be just background detail. And I guessed wrongly that the Ood would be more significant.
About the only thing I had a problem with is the Woman who appears to Wilf. Her various appearances turn out to be not for Wilf’s benefit, but for ours—so that we will instantly recognize her when she uncovers her face in the final confrontation. Apart from prompting Wilf to bring the gun, her scenes were basically just mystification for its own sake. Though I did like the ending scene when Wilf asked, “That woman—who was she?” The Doctor glances toward Sylvia, then Donna in the background. Is the Woman his mother? You decide—Davies isn’t saying.
Trying to sum up David Tennant’s contribution in a paragraph or two is hopeless. The revived series was already a huge success when he joined, but he has taken it to a level no one could have dreamed of. In the UK the series has steadily increased its audience every year, unlike practically every other show on television.
He was given the most incredible variety of stories in which to display his range—comedy, action-adventure, dark sci-fi, historical, romance, and just about any other genre you care to name. In his first year he could sometimes be unconvincing in the shouty moments, but once he settled into the role he was consistently brilliant. It’s been a wonderful ride, and for a lot of people I’m sure David Tennant will be their favorite Doctor for life. He’s certainly in the top group on my list, joining the Doctors I knew growing up, Tom Baker and Peter Davison.
I understand Tennant is currently exploring options in America, having recently shot a pilot for NBC (Rex is Not Your Lawyer). Wherever his future career takes him, I hope he continues to enjoy every possible success. Thanks, David.
But with the tears still falling, the mood shifts abruptly as Steven Moffat takes over, arriving with a bang (he’s not credited on screen, but he wrote the script for and oversaw the shooting of everything after the regeneration). We get our first glimpse of the Eleventh Doctor as Matt Smith provides a huge burst of new life, checking out his legs, arms, hands, ears, eyes, nose, mouth (“Chin…blimey!”), and hair (“Still not ginger!”). It’s basically a re-working of the little scene written for the Children in Need charity night in 2005 which introduced David Tennant (and can be found on the Series Two DVD box set), so we end the era as we began, crashing down to Earth in an out-of-control TARDIS. One Doctor is gone, but Doctor Who keeps going—there’s already been a trailer released for the next series, due to premiere in the UK in a few months’ time, showing Matt Smith and Karen Gillan in a whole new set of adventures.
As the Tenth Doctor would say…Allons-y!
Classic Who DVD Recommendation of the Week: “The War Games,” starring Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury. Recently released in North America, this is where the Time Lords first appeared, in the epic conclusion to the Second Doctor’s era.
Steven Cooper is a software developer and long-time Doctor Who fan, living in Melbourne, Australia.