John Walker's Electronic House

Doctor Who: The End Of Time Part 1

by on Dec.27, 2009, under The Rest

Well, I can’t tell you how honoured I am that people ask me to say how unutterably shit each episode of Doctor Who proves to be. So here goes:

Wow, how unutterably shit. Russell T Davies is now only one episode away from his oh-so necessary death, before he gloriously regenerates into Steven Moffat this Spring. It seems he intends to go out in a giant celebration of everything that has made him one of the most tiresome and incapable writers. The End Of Time Part 1 was bad in ways previously unexplored by science.

Interestingly though, this penultimate RTD episode isn’t bad in the ways his smug ghastliness normally manifests. Instead he even seems to be bad at being bad. We can normally rely on Davies for some vile preachy speeches, a sanctimonious scene that comments on the errs of our ways, and of course a loud-speaker-bellowed declaration of quite how relaxed and nonchalant everyone is about someone being gay. But in this episode he manages to be terrible at even these.

It seems like good form to sum up the plot at this point in the piece. I’m not sure that this is possible. It appeared to be the work of a seven-year-old. But here goes: “So the Doctor is being naughty right but he visits the Ood in this giant white castle place and they tell him that the Master is coming back and that Bernard Cribbins is sad and so he flies back to Earth but the Master comes back because his wife hasn’t washed her mouth for three years but then she throws this potion right and then the Master goes mad but he gets magic powers and can shoot electricity from his hands what turns into explosions and he can FLY and everything and then there’s these old people who sexually assault the Doctor and there’s burgers cos I like burgers and then the Doctor tells him off but there’s this cross black man and his girlfriend daughter who has this gate from outer space and there’s these green aliens in disguise as humans and then the Master and the gate do this thing and then everyone in the whole world apart from Catherine Tate and the Doctor and Bernard Cribbins turn into the Master and then it ends.”

Remember the first series of the reboot? When RTD seemed like a man with a plan. “Bad Wolf”? Crikey, that was exciting. Doctor Who had only ever been short stories about unconnected nonsense before. This new version was taking notes from US drama series, running an arc story throughout the series, setting up clues early on, giving you reasons to go back to previous episodes to put ideas together. Of course the Bad Wolf story ended like a firework aimed toward a swamp, but the potential was there. We had larger stories too. The Doctor was the last Time Lord, influencing his decisions and actions, changing his personality, giving his motivations a darker and more narcissistic tone. Even clutching at the tiny weeds growing from the cracked desert of idiocy that’s made up the last two years’ episodes, you had a Doctor who could no longer cope with having and loving assistants, and ultimately destroying every life he touched.

So now the Doctor’s been around shagging queens and acting like an intergalactic prick! Sure, why not?! But he magically goes back to normal because he sees Mr Life On Mars coming back from the dead. So that’s that then. In fairness, we do get the one watchable scene in the episode as something of a conclusion to an entire character arc that apparently took place in the gap between two episodes, with the Doctor and Cribbins (I guess he has a character name, but he’s the wonderful Bernard Cribbins as far as I’m concerned) talking about death and resurrection in a cafe. (Not a coffee shop, of course – no one has any money anywhere in the whole of England, and there’s no such thing as coffee shops, and we all say “love-a-duck” and live in some mutant abortion created by the unholy union of Dickens and EastEnders.) As Neil Perryman says in this wonderful review of the episode (thanks Stu), Tennant has to start blubbing to compete with Cribbins’ performance, and a decent job of it the pair of them make.

But outside of that scene can we all issue a collective gasp at the acting. Just… wow. It was embarrassing. I realise the finest actors (and you’ve got Shakespearian performers like Tennant and Simms at the helm for goodness sakes) can’t do much with a script this infantile and incoherent, but David Harewood and Tracy Ifeachor managed to out un-act anything the worst daytime soap could ever hope to cough up. Joshua and Abigail Naismith, the happily married father and daughter, or whatever the hell that was supposed to be, arrived from nowhere, have apparently been controlling people’s minds to buy books or something, and now plan to heal the world in some apparently nefarious way (which would have taken some doing). For this they need the Master, who was raised from the dead by his acolytes through a plan he orchestrated before he died in a plan that was reliant on his not dying, and even though this resurrection was somewhat thwarted by his apparently innocent wife who turned out to be part of an underground effort to undo the works of the underground effort to bring him back to life, he is then captured by the gate operating people, which was, it seems, the Master’s plan all along… and we’re back to our seven-year-old script writer again.

So never mind the insanity of creating an entire planet of the Master. (It’s impossible to shake the notion that the episode existed only so Davies could do his “The Master race” pun.) Ignore the inevitable idiocy that will unfurl on New Year’s Day. Let’s save ourselves for when we’ve seen what actually happens – I mean, the guy wrote Turn Left, he IS capable of writing something worth watching. There’s so much more to hate about this first part.

Let’s talk about the skull effect on Master. So the Master is using up his lifeforce, whatever that means. This apparently means he occasionally has his head get replaced by a cartoon of a skull. What was it meant to be?! The skull wasn’t even the right size, unless his scalp is an inch thick. And why was it flashing on and off like someone had made it with Microsoft Movie Maker? Could it not morph? Or at least dissolve?! And what did it mean? Is his face a hologram? Is the skull underneath the true form of the Time Lords? Or does Davies just not care that much?

Then you have June Whitfield. Because she wasn’t busy and hasn’t died yet? She served no purpose other than to be another easily recognised elderly actor, whose only role was apparently to grope the Doctor, while a pervy old man commented about how he’d like to go next. DO YOU SEE? THE OLD MAN IS GAY! THAT SUBVERTED YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF THE ELDERLY, DIDN’T IT?! BUT WE’RE SO NONCHALANT ABOUT IT! Meanwhile the Master he’d been so laboriously chasing through the same patch of dockyard six or seven times was getting away. But old people, eh? You think they’re all rubbish and lazy, but they’re organised and remember the war and are old fashioned but sometimes aren’t! Good GRIEF, Davies is such a patronising cock. Perhaps he got bored of imagining how romantic and important stupid poor people are, and thought he’d turn his attention to the old.

But that didn’t mean we weren’t treated to plenty of Davies’ magical world of cock-er-ney chimney sweeps and tea ladies. Anyone who doesn’t live in a bedsit in a slum is either an evil scientist or working for the government, doing evil. Good old stupid poor people, they’re too stupid and poor to even know how to be evil. They’ve got goodness at the centre of their stupid poor hearts. I’m just off to my castle made out of money now to write another script.

Oh, and we have Timothy Dalton as a narrator. That’s what the series was missing! The random introduction of an omnipotent narrator, who of course turns out to be a character in the programme who isn’t and can’t be an omnipotent narrator. A character who clearly wouldn’t have been narrating the events as if reading from a children’s bedtime story. Surely all the other magically back-to-life Time Lords would have been shouting, “Bond! Will you just shut up? We’re trying to figure out why the bloody hell we’re all back now.”

Then of course we have Davies’ sophisticated philosophy. “There’s no such thing as coincidence,” we’re once again informed. Um, apart from all the trillions of meaningless and worthless coincidences that happen all the time every second of every day, you mean? Oh, I see, you only mean the giant idiotic coincidences that wallpaper over the holes in your scripts never to be explained in any meaningful way? And now the coincidences are apparently some mystical force, with Cribbins “at the heart of coincidence”. Oh vomit.

But no, save your barf for one of the lowest points in the entire run. The Master taking a momentary break from being insane and firing electricity that’s actually fire from his hands but aiming it about fifteen feet wide of his target, to reminisce on the good old days as children frolicking in the fields of Gallifrey. The ‚Äúpastures of red grass.” Oh I screamed out loud. You can’t be a worse writer than that. There isn’t a more obvious, more trite, more pathetically childish and lazy sentence you can put in a TV show. “SEE! The grass on Gallifrey isn’t green like the grass you know, but red, which is like the opposite of the grass colour you expected!”

Thank goodness for Cribbins. I’m glad Tennant’s going, as I think he’s done all he’s ever going to do with a character he seems clearly bored with. He was fun, lively, and enthusiastic. Now he runs and shouts a lot. He offered little. But Cribbins was wonderful. Properly wonderful, moving, and convincing. The rediscovery of a genuinely brilliant actor (and very funny guy if you watch last week’s Buzzcocks) is to be celebrated, and I desperately hope this results in some really interesting projects for the 81 year old, and not – as I’m dreading is likely to be the case – a role in EastEnders or Coronation Street.

As I’ve said before, Davies has one responsibility before he heaves his rotting carcass of stupidity from the show. Like a sign on the wall of a youth hostel kitchen would instruct, he has to leave it in the state he found it. He has to undo his having made every single person on Earth aware of the Doctor, aliens, Daleks, giant Victorian robots, and so on. He has to put the Time Lords and the Daleks back on the shelves where they were. And he has to then go away for ever and ever and ever. It seems like he’s done the second part of this, albeit as clumsily as anyone could have imagined. He now has a chance to do the former, in whatever way he undoes the Master’s take-over. And he’d better.

(Oh, and I didn’t mention Obama… Just weep.)





23 Comments for this entry

  • Jazmeister

    I haven’t followed Tennant’s go at Doctor, but I watched the xmas thing and I found myself looking forward to your blog post about it.

    All he has to do is do the thing that the Doctor doesn’t ever do for silly reasons: go back in time and stop himself from having a big time war. And then slip on a banana and regenerate into whoever.

  • Scotch Mist

    Oh my god! For a while there, I thought I was alone in the ENTIRE UNIVERSE in thinking that the current Dr. Who is absolute wank. (Hell, even io9 seems to think RTD is capable of writing good stuff.) Nice to see there is still a small kernel of wholesome sanity in this particular chestnut.

  • url404

    Thanks for this.

    The whole endeavour made me feel a bit like I did about the Red Dwarf reunion i.e. they seem to have outsourced the scriptwriting to fan fiction writers.

    On the other hand, I’m surprised at how much affection I feel for Donna Noble as a character which is nice.

    Also, I get it. Everyone is the Master and the Master is not playing with the full deck. You don’t need to spend 5 minutes of John Simm laughing and cross-dressing to bring that point across.

    Obama! He’s going to solve everything and all the poor people will be able to get jobs again and everything will be OK! Just like before the recession when there was no poor people and everything was all right! YAY! (sorry – I thought I could restrain myself – I could not)

    I (probably foolishly) have higher hopes for the conclusion as it may contain a bit more plot but we shall see (also, I hear Stephen Moffat co-wrote the conclusion so maybe that will help).

    Thanks again for your words.

  • Hermit

    I got the impression that RTD had settled on where the episode was going to end, but had absolutely no idea how to get there from the end of Waters of Mars. My only conlcusion is he hired legendary author squirrelking, of Full Life Consequences fame, to fill in the gaps.

    He’s had his moments but I won’t be sorry to see the back of RTD – Moffat is an exciting prospect. But I do feel sorry for Tennant if it turns out part 2 is just as random. He’s done fantastic as the Doctor and really deserves a better send off.

    Though I still stand by my belief that going at the end of Series 4 would have been the perfect point for him. His heart hasn’t quite been in it in the last year or so.

  • Richard

    I have never been so glad, watching a writer throw so much shit at a wall, just to know that absolutely none of it has any chance to stick.

    I’ll miss Tennant, I still like his Doctor a lot. But Moffat’s tenure can’t start soon enough.

  • Patrick

    There’s been quite a multi-year effort to foul all over the world of Doctor Who. I wouldn’t be surprised if Moffatt just had to wipe the whole continuity and start again.

    When christmas happened, I’ll admit I pretended not to be a fan, to avoid watching it with the family. The last time we watched a christmas special together I had to apologise for it, and this would have been no different.

  • Rev. S. Campbell

    Man! What a bunch of miserable curmudgeons! “The End Of Time” was a giant heap of shite, but all the rest of this cobblers is wearisome. RTD writes roughly as many awful episodes as brilliant ones, and this is probably the worst thing he’s ever done. But the notion that Who has been going downhill since whenever is just tired whiny nerd shit. (Like the idea that Tennant is somehow bored with it – two minutes watching or listening to him speak about Who blows that to pieces. The guy fucking LOVES being the Doctor.)

    So far this year we’ve had one excellent episode, one average one and one terrible one. Season 4 was probably the most consistently good series of the new Doc – there wasn’t a single really bad episode in it, and all four of RTD’s scripts were very decent at worst, ranging up to completely brilliant. Christ, series 4 even survived having Catherine bloody Tate in every episode.

    I don’t know exactly what it is you’re all expecting (well, I do in John’s case – some American twat in spandex falling off a giant rubber ball into a pond), but this is primetime Saturday night family viewing, not The fucking Wire. Doctor Who was such an embarrassment before Davies arrived that I didn’t even bother watching the first two episodes with Eccleston. Since then it’s been the only thing on TV that I’d never dream of missing, and if the price of Davies making that happen has been a couple of crap episodes a year and some bits of toe-curling dialogue whenever he mentions places in space, that’s a major bargain in my book. You hateful shower of pompous wankers.

  • John Walker

    Stu: You seem to have set your standards at an astonishingly low level. Being willing to call the reasonable The Waters Of Mars “excellent” demonstrates a demand for almost nothing from this programme. I, and many others it seems, expect more. Why? Because the few great episodes of the last few series have proven that it’s worth desiring that. Also, we’re not colossal morons.

    It might be slightly easier to take your emphatic proclamations seriously if you hadn’t claimed that The Stolen Earth didn’t count as a “bad episode”. If Tennant just stood in front of the camera alternately gritting his teeth and shouting incoherent grunts, you’d still claim it was “pretty good”.

    Also, your crazed obsession with my enjoying the US Wipeout becomes increasingly deranged. You are aware it’s not fiction, right? That it doesn’t have a story, or characters, or anything else that makes it a logical comparison, right? It’s a bit like saying my opinion of Doctor Who isn’t worth hearing because I like beans on toast.

    I find your rejection of quality based on its being a family programme a little depressing. Clearly a family programme couldn’t include the subject matter or language that might feature in an HBO show, but it COULD include the high standards, quality acting, and exquisite scripting. You’re willing to settle for absolute dross based on some bar you’ve set about three storeys underground. Lots of other people aren’t.

  • Rev. S. Campbell

    Don’t debase this discussion with your lies. You KNOW you’d enjoy Doctor Who more if it had American twats in spandex falling off giant rubber balls into a pond.

  • John Walker

    You know, compared to the poop RTD is offering us, yes, yes I would! I’d also prefer it if it were a well written and well performed science fiction drama. But I’ll accept either.

  • mister k

    Yeah, it wasn’t terrific, but I’m pretty certain this was a plan from the time lords, not the master. The implication throughout is that something else is driving the plot, the mass of coincidences, and that was the time lords. The master only took advantage of what was in front of him. So a morass of coincidences, but unusually for doctor who, a reasonable explanation for them. That was kind of the point of the narration I suspect.

    It was still poor in many ways. John Simms could have been fine, but he had to do that ridiculous eating thing (and the multiple cuts of someones face to indicate madness. Sigh). The opening was tiresome, but there were good moments. Having Bernard Cribbins and indeed Catherine Tate back was good (I hated that memory plot twist), and I thought the notion of a planet full of Masters was rather splendid all in all.

    Certainly not as dismal as the one in the desert.

  • CMP5

    Watching it with my parents last night, they still don’t get how awful this is. They actually enjoyed this silly crap.

  • EthZee

    I thought the episode was fairly average RTD who for the first part, but actually hilarious for the last five minutes.

    If I were RTD I would probably use the last episodes I had to shove in some over-the-top stupidity and Gainaxing. I reckon it was hilarious to use a whole episode as a setup for that Master Race pun.

    Still. Yeah, could be better. But it’ll probably be just as bad when Moffat takes over because he’ll insist on doing something ridiculous with the plot as well. The best thing that could happen is that the series gets cancelled before Moffat can do anything with it; then we’ll forever be able to imagine how fantastically amazing, how dick-tinglingly superb Moffat’s Who would have been, with fantastic characterization, clever plotting and liquid orgasms gushing out of the screen like a firehose.

    *reads* That doesn’t make sense.

  • EthZee

    Also, why was The Master a composite of Alex Mercer and Gollum?

  • John Walker

    I really cannot follow your logic. Why is there an inevitability that Moffat will be as bad as RTD? Every episode he’s written for the show has been flipping superb. I’m sure that running the show will mean his time and talent will be diluted somewhat, and Moffat is more than capable of writing some absolute rubbish, but I really cannot see a valid reason for assuming he’d be as bad as Davies dreadful hack work.

  • Dr. Nerfball

    @ EthZee: It’s more a composite of The Emperor and Alex Mercer. There might also be a small amount of good acting thrown in there, although I cant really comment seeing as I only came back around about the time he was using force lightening to jump across the room and there were two cactus kid clones talking about healing stuff…

    Man, that last sentance really did make no sense, poor grammar probably didnt help matters though.

    But anyway! I came here to say I enjoyed that lil’ sparring match up there with Walker and Campbell, good banter that. Going now!

  • EthZee

    @John: I never said I was using logic. I was merely applying Finagle’s Law to real-life events, combined with cynicism. I’m pretty hopeful that Moffat’s who will be pretty awesome anyway; I’m just using the “fact” that hype can lead to disappointment sometimes.

    Logic can be so dull at times, I prefer to operate on a mixture of illogic and stupidity.

    Also, do we know what effect that Moffat’s tenure with Doctor Who will have? Will it just be that he’ll be writing most of the episodes, or will he be directing all of them (and possibly modifying episodes written by other writers)? I’m assuming that if Moffat’s written a few episodes for the last few series, then that means that RTD will be writing some guest episodes?

    @Dr. Nerfball:

    I’d say less Emperor, more Cole McGrath from Infamous, he with the electric hands.

  • Quercus

    John, I used to be a big fan of what is now called “classic” Who (in my early teens) and in general I love the new series. RTD is capable of some very good writing, but equally, he has a tendency (that has increased over the years) to almost sloppily gloss over the detail behind plots to get to the exciting denuement.
    As you mentioned, the intriguing “Bad Wolf” arc led to a slightly disappointing finale. The Torchwood arc became just a huge trailer for his spin-off series. The Saxon/Master plot for series 3 was good but series 4 just seemed a bit messy.
    As his period as Exec Producer comes to an end he seems less worried about logic or continuity and this has led to some huge plot holes.

    The “closed loop” of the Time War that can be breached mad, lone Dalek, the “One will die” prophesy that wasn’t and the faux regeneration.
    The specials have also suffered;
    The Next Doctor was a nice idea but didn’t seem to go anywhere (and why exactly were the physically strong and tireless cybermen using workhouse children for manual labour?).
    Planet of the Dead wasn’t too bad (apart from the clumsy foreboding at the end given by a bizarrely psychic elderly lady).
    Waters of Mars again seemed sloppy; the story didn’t go anywhere for ages and then the Doctor suddenly goes stupid, breaking the laws of time (however logical they are) just because there is nobody around to castigate him for it. Er, what?
    I remember hearing RTD say that one of his script editors (Gary Russell) had pointed out that Mars has no atmosphere so you wouldn’t get burning rocket wreckage, but RTD over-ruled him because that was the effect he wanted. You know things are bad when simple logic is thrown out in favour of showmanship.

    The End of Time (part 1) was neither as bad as you seemed to think (does anyone really care about camoes from the likes of June Whitfield or the fact that The Master states his grass was red?), but equally it was as full of plot holes and typical RTD nonsense as some of the worst recent stories.
    More to the point, you can’t tell where RTD has been stupid and not made the plot in any way make sense (such as the narrator or the strangely non-scientific Master Resurrection Ceremony), or where due to sloppy writing he just hasn’t made it clear what is going on (such as the fact that at the start of the episode we are supposed to know that the Doctor’s moment of fear (“Is this how I die?” at the end of Waters of Mars was actually a real premonition of his own death or that the appearance of the Ood was a sign for him to travel to the Oodsphere to find out exactly how badly he had screwed up and what was going to happen next; hence his attempts delay the inevitable by going on holiday and messing around.
    The appearance of this Regeneration machine seems equally sloppy, unless someone (The Master or the Time Lords) have manipulated things in the background to have it appear there at that time.
    Generally it just seems that the plot devices are clumsy rather than clever.

    I don’t think David Tennant is past it though – I think he is making the best of his final stories however dodgy the scripts might be. The real fly in the ointment of Doctor Who at the moment is RTD himself and sad though I am to say it, the sooner Stephen Moffat takes over the better.

    I also agree that Bernard Cribbins is both a fantastic actor and (as Buzzcocks proved), razor-sharp as a comic wit.

  • John Walker

    “(does anyone really care about camoes from the likes of June Whitfield or the fact that The Master states his grass was red?)”

    Yes. I do. And clearly very many others. What a strange and pointless question.

  • Dante

    It does seem a little like they’ve resorted to Emergency Plan Z for the outro here. That somewhere at the back of the writer’s office there’s a pane of glass labelled “Smash in case of chronic lack of writing talent” containing a small piece of paper that says “Replace entire cast with current best actor on television and hope like hell he can save you”.

    I love John Simm, but he can’t work miracles.

  • Quercus

    John, typos aside it isn’t a pointless question. The fact that you have cameos from known celebs every so often only becomes an issue when their apperance (or portrayal) breaks the suspension of disbelief, which I don’t think happened in this case. You might find the whole “Silver cloak” thing annoying, but again that is more how RTD used the OAPs than the people portraying them.
    The only exception to this was the typical RTD gay innuendo/reference from the Barry Howard character (admittedly it wasn’t actually that bad this time, but joins a long list of normally unnecessary such lines from RTD).
    Equally, the Master’s reference to grass being different was a bit clumsy (why would he specify the colour unless Gallifrey different coloured grasses?), but hardly worth getting upset about when compared to the other shortfalls in the episode.

  • Masked Dave

    There is no doubt in my mind that the entire plot was set up to do the Master Race gag at the end. They even did that whole bit at the start to dye his hair blonde!

    For the most part it did seem like we were watching a bunch of scenes taken from different scripts then shuffled together with James Bond adding some narration to try and stitch them together. It was a like a clip show of the full thing.

    But part of me just loves seeing actors enjoy themselves so John Simms saved it for me.

  • Ben Finkel

    For what it’s worth, if I were reminiscing about Earth with a fellow human after the big kerblamers of our lovely rock, I would probably refer to the grass on my lawn as “the green grass stretching over my hill” or whatnot. Yes, the point of writing in “red grass” was to make Gallifrey oh-so-alien, but the line didn’t feel like a stretch to me. Also, the red grass of Gallifrey we have seen in the little clips from these seasons has been rather lovely.