Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"The End of Time" Part One

The beginning of the end for the RTD era is actually not too bad and it's watchable but as usual with these specials it is needlessly long and has a lot of junk that just comes across as ridiculous. It all starts with the incredibly hammy narration by Timothy Dalton. Would this mysterious narrator really be using the term "bad dream" instead of "nightmare"? What kind of children is he narrating to? Anyway we're reintroduced to Wilf who we haven't seen since "Journey's End" but is as reliable as ever, played with aplomb by Bernard Cribbins. Then we cut to the Doctor, who has finally answered the summons he was given by Ood Sigma back in the previous episode. He cracks a lot of corny jokes which aren't very funny and then goes to have a pow-wow with the Ood.
There's something about the Ood Elder which I find deeply disturbing. I just can't avert my eyes from his disgusting 'brain cleavage' in those exposed cerebral lobes. How does his skull even work if his brain sticks out of the top of his head? The Ood have still not developed pouches for carrying their hindbrains and just plop them in their laps and then they show the Doctor a vision of the Master having a chuckle. As much as I generally dislike his portrayal of the Master, I will say that John Simm does a very good evil chuckle in this episode and it's quite a strong image. One thing that annoys me about this scene is how much the Doctor sits around taking the piss out of the Ood. Why does he have to treat them as if they're weird, like he's human? He's meant to be a "citizen of the universe" so why can't he just sit down enlightened-alien to enlightened-alien and have a good old chat? Anyway he figures out that the Master is coming and apparently so is the End of Time so he runs pell-mell back to the TARDIS. It's not a bad start, as they go. It's kind of mysterious and we get to see the Ood Sphere so it's not entirely Earth-centric.
Sadly it all goes downhill from here. Remember Mrs. The Master from "Last of the Time Lords"? She's still alive and that ring the Master dropped during his Darth Vader funeral has been recovered by some iron lady. They then put the ring in a bowl and start pouring in some magic potions from the "Secret Books of Saxon". Ignoring the fact that it completely wrecks the whole thing from "Last of the Time Lords" about the Master never wanting to die but in a good way, I can appreciate that the Master would probably set up some kind of organisation to bring him back to life in the event of his death. He thinks of these contingency plans. What I don't appreciate is totally unexplained 'potions of life' with no scientific rationale provided whatsoever. It's worse than technobabble and comes across as ridiculous, especially with John Simm sitting there in a big flash of light like evil Buddha hamming it up being resurrected like he's Voldemort or something. It gets worse when Lucy delivers some clunky speech about having a reverse magic potion and throws it at him, which causes a huge explosion yet nonetheless doesn't stop the Master's resurrection and allows him to escape. This whole bit makes absolutely no sense and as a set piece is just weird. It's definitely one of the serious clunkers of this episode, which is a shame because it's more or less followed by another one.
Wilf knows he has to find the Doctor because unlike everyone else he can remember his nightmares. This also goes unexplained and is just another piece of magical thinking over the course of the episode. Anyway he and his bunch of old people go on the search. Meanwhile the Doctor chases the Master for a really long time through a construction site for absolutely no reason. The Master's hungry for some reason, and he's eaten some people. There's a whole thing in an attempt to force relevancy which only makes the episode feel incredibly dated now where characters go on about how "President Obama is going to make a speech which will save the economy" in this incredibly meaningless and condescending way; presumably, as usual, it's characterised in such broad and childlike terms for the benefits of kids and idiots. Meanwhile the Master is snacking. This episode in general makes me hungry because the Master won't shut up about food and that burger he has looks pretty tasty. The other noteworthy thing is that for absolutely no reason whatsoever the Master has developed superpowers. The Doctor utters some guff about how "your resurrection's gone wrong" and that's about it. The Master can force jump and throw lightning from his hands like he's a Sith Lord clearly just because RTD thought it would be cool. It makes absolutely no sense and looks ridiculous, almost evocative of the 'Doctor Jesus' from "Last of the Time Lords". Another part of it is that occasionally his skeleton flashes into view for equally no reason like he's been shot by a New Series Dalek and the one benefit of this is that it's rather reminiscent of his appearance in "The Deadly Assassin" and "The Keeper of Traken". Presumably because he's not in control the Master is a lot more palatable here because most of the zaniness and lame humour from Series 3 is gone. It's nice that elements of his friend/enemy relationship with the Doctor are re-established; he attacks him like he's doing a lightning hadouken and then helps him as he falls, the Doctor asks for his help and the Master lets him hear the sounds in his head. It's unfortunate that they bring in the drums again because we know the Master hasn't heard drums his whole life but they want to stick with it. The Doctor and Wilf have a nice old chat and the Doctor has a bit of a cry. It's a very well-played scene by Bernard Cribbins and David Tennant but you can't help feel that the Doctor's comments about how a "new man goes sauntering away" sounds like RTD wants us to resent the Doctor which comes after his tenure. And he says it feels like dying, but how does he know what dying feels like? The Eighth Doctor told Grace and Chang Lee that they'd experienced something he never had. Sometimes I think the Tenth Doctor is being a touch melodramatic to elicit some sympathy. Wilf has also been seeing a mysterious woman in white but we'll get to that in the next episode. Also, if he's radiation shielded in the nuclear bolt room, how does he get the phone call from Donna?
Then there's an arbitrary technobabble plot with a couple of green aliens and a rich guy who wants to make his daughter immortal and a machine for healing planets but the only purpose it serves is to allow the Master to convert everyone into copies of himself. This is meant to again be a big shock but we know it won't last. RTD just keeps having to up the stakes and it never works because the effect has worn off. And now with the whole of the human race turned into the Master, there's another stake-raising because someone else returns. By this point we'd seen the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Master and Davros reappear in the New Series and there was only one major missing element for RTD to exploit, unused until this time so that the Tenth Doctor's departure could be really over-the-top and overinflated. Yes, it's the Time Lords. I really think they shouldn't have repeated 'For the End of Time itself!' but you can't help but be impressed that the Time Lords are coming back. Nonetheless while it has some good bits there's a lot of stupidity and the constant series of threats to the Earth remind us that cop-out solutions will definitely be on the way. RTD played all the cards he had back in Series 1 and he's been constantly trying to reshuffle them and lay them down in different formations but ultimately it's the same thing every time and it's a shame he couldn't do something a bit different than a huge everything-going-to-hell ending to signal the departure of the Tenth Doctor. I guess he has to die how he lived. As far as they go it's a decent set up and in spite of padding feels like a better first part than most, but the true horrors are still waiting.

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