Sunday, July 06, 2008

Journey's End --- RTD begins his stage left exit and the mobs form their hanging parties: A S4 Doctor Finale Review


Having been in self-imposed exile for over a week, I had missed the reviews of "The Stolen Earth" and all the intervening speculation. Now I'm out of my cage and I'm doing just fine... well, I'm gonna try and do a review that puts my take(s) on these two recent episodes - and most especially the finale "Journey's End" in words.

Warning: neither review will be for the faint-hearted and you may want to read just the one that chimes most with your take on what we got out of this S4 finale. Just saying.

Rational review
Written with head and history and expectation in mind, this review will comment on what did happen and what could/should have happened.

Wouldn't it just have been the most brilliant bit of stage-managed lies and deceit and switch-er-ooing to have given us an actual regeneration? A new doctor when all the news and interviews and leaked Xmas photos from the last few months had been to confirm continuity for the specials? I hadn't expected the dalek shot at the Doctor at the end of "The Stolen Earth" so although my gut screamed "No!" it would have been just incredible to have pulled such a manoeuvre on the audience. Of course, in this wild and leaky cauldron world of speculation via every medium - there was a reason it was murder on my psyche last week - we probably all knew at heart they (RTD actually) wouldn't do it. For shame. I wasn't ready for a new Doctor, but a new Doctor really would have shaken things up. Did resolving it in less than 10 seconds piss people off? Mightily and verily it was so. Mind, then again how many times did seeming death cliff-hangers get resolved in 10 secs of a new episode in classic days? Pretty much weekly. Everything changes yet nothing changes...

The HandDoctor
WHAT?! WHAT?! He's angry and post-Time War genocidal but he'll make a good substitute for Rose because although he's pre-Rose angry he's also full of the memories and feelings that the Doctor - the real Doctor? - has/had for her? How does that work out? On which topic...

Going back to the beach
Owh. If dealing with the Daleks with quite some time to go before the end of the episode wasn't pissing off enough geeks, then taking the emotional heartbreak of Bad Wolf Bay and giving Rose HandDoctor has also seemingly managed to piss off a lot of the Rose/Doctor fans. Gotta hand it to RTD: he's an equal opportunities 'piss people off' guy.

Build up a character from at best ambivalent reaction to possibly one of the best companions ever - and certainly brilliant within these 4 series. Then take it all away from her. Worse, deny her a glorious death holding on to all that she had gained and become. Criminal and heart-breaking. This series needs death.

Everything else
All those characters! Many of them given so little to do! Who's looking after the Tyler baby? Is Pete a househusband? What was Mickey's reasoning again for deciding which world to be in? Was it really worth giving K-9 5 seconds of airtime? What the hell is up with RTD writing Martha? If there are 6 EasterHouse keys and they only needed 3 to make it work, how come no one else was brought in to get it going once Martha was zapped onto the Crucible?

And breathe.

Irrational review
Written from the heart, this review will be full of squee and excitement about what did happen and how much it played with expectations and fears.

I'm shallow. The dalek shot last week was SO unexpected for me, and the subsequent regeneration ending was so traumatic for me (and Em) that although I know and understand that the Doctor regenerates - hell, I've seen several in my time when they were broadcast let alone since on the DVDs -I have to say this. I wasn't ready. I just wasn't yet ready. I thought I would be; that I should be. But in truth I wasn't ready to let go of that pretty face, the expressive eyes, that verve. [As an aside I was just talking to Helen Lisette who confessed that her first thought at the end of last weeks episode was EXACTLY mine. "I thought I would be, that I was ready. And I was shocked with myself at how much I really really wasn't ready to let go."] I would have happily written "The Doctor is dead: Long Live the Doctor" and meant it with all sincerity because that is what Doctor Who is all about - change. But was I ready? Nope. I was the child, I was Em: she wept uncontrollably at the thought of the Doctor changing --- her Doctor --- and inside I was too. For narrative-sake it would have made more sense. Yet, I think I had actually partially convinced myself that despite all evidence to the contrary there really WAS going to be a new Doctor and I had been hoodwinked and had my heart broken. So was I relieved and cheered to see the Doctor regenerate as himself? Yeah. Even though the less than 10 secs it took to resolve that cliffhanger couldn't help but rile me. *sigh* My speculative thoughts were, I think, a better resolution... (1)

The HandDoctor
Wasn't expecting that!!! Nor the sight of a bare-chested - hell, NAKED - Doctor in the TARDIS! Oh my. And being wizz-banging and angry and making the blue suit understandable (and probably now gone unless the TARDIS wardrobe room has a spare): very entertaining!

Going back to the beach
She got her Doctor - sortof. She got the words, whispered (though I wonder what else he could have said instead?). And she got her kiss. Job done for those who want resolution. Happiness of a sort, and I can understand that compromise from all parties completely.

Build up a character from at best ambivalent reaction to possibly one of the best companions ever - and certainly brilliant within these 4 series. Then take it all away from her. Worse, deny her a glorious death holding on to all that she had gained and become. Criminal and heart-breaking. Would I have been happier with a death? For narrative sake, probably. Was condemning her to not knowing, and her family knowing, much worse? Probably. Yes, almost certainly. That was truly cruel. I am so torn about how to respond to what they did to Donna - the series has always had elements of emotional horror and cruelty and it seems odd to feel that death would have been less cruel. It also seems odd to try and think of death as fairer or better - but I think it may just have been more satisfying, albeit far FAR less cruel.

Everything else
Crossover gone mad! Mickey and Jackie back! With big guns! Mickey being heroic! Martha being sweet! German daleks! Jack's response to the two doctors and DoctorDonna! Family echoes for Gwen! Sarah Jane facing off Davros (did I not mention how brilliant Davros was?)! Squee with added squee!

And breathe.

Look, I am wise enough to understand that plenty of you hated it. And I get that, I do. But although I can write the 'rational review', at heart I don't believe in it. I feel that responses will probably be thus: amongst standard viewers probably 50:50 satisfied/unsatisfied; amongst fans probably overwhelmingly unhappy; amongst under 12s probably overwhelmingly happy. And last night watching and today talking - at last! - I loved it. I was thrilled and excited and giggling and I just did not care.

So I'm going with the last of these groups. Criticise all you want. I know you will. But my heart is back in its rightful place and I can begin to find stability again.

(1) Last week Cloud said he would regenerate as himself. I speculated that with the 1 second shift within the Medusa Cascade that would be crucial to the Doctor being able to regenerate as himself. It wasn't but I'm convinced that long-term that 1 second shift may prove central to a plot development (and hell we know who that will involve).

I've gotten into some very lengthy speculations and comments in the comments box when I perhaps should have done a separate post or two...!


chrissie_allen said...

Nice approach! Made interesting and enjoyable reading Lisa.
My under 12's definitely judged it an overwhelming success. Especially little Em! She certainly went up to bed smiling.I agree that it's a tradition for cliffhangers to be resolved within seconds and this one was no different. It was always on the cards that the hand would come into play, having said that, admittedly twice in one episode WAS a tad surprising! Brave though, I think.
Oh well it all helped to keep the story fast moving,(that hackneyed "rollercoaster ride"term, but it's as good as any methink)
Wonderful facial expressions of grief and regret, chiefly from DT were frisson-making and set the viewer up for what was to come in following seconds of the plot. He was fabulous when Davros taunted him and charged him with mass murder. He looked withered with guilt and remorse. It was to love for the acting on its own, even if some fans could find nothing else in it.
However I am a fan who did glean much from this finale. Hmmm...but i have never tired or grown out of Who, having seen it from the very first episode, age 12. SO I might be a little predisposed to it; I just love the whole mad concept!
Glad my grands like it too, it gives me an excuse to watch it with them ...and be thrilled!

Poly Gianniba said...

My comments:

Regeneration: if he had regenerated, it would have been a cheap trick. Jolly good for pulling the stunt and all that, but I don't want them to treat their main character like that and when he leaves I want to get to say goodbye. If he had regenerated, I would have found it hard to connect with another Doctor, I would have been too hurt to care (and yes, in real life tragedy happens unexpectedly, but I don't want this with my favourite fictional characters).

The beach scene: I 'll put my hand up and say that I had looked at spoilers (only after I got too stressed by the regeneration scene). So I vaguely knew what was coming. And I wasn't sure it was a good idea. But in the end it was handled very well. It's far from a happy ending and a scene full of ambivalence: the Doctor gets nothing and gets to see his other self getting what he himself wants but can't have (ouch!), Rose doesn't get the proper Doctor, she gets someone she might have a chance with. But even if that works out, the proper Doctor, the one she fell in love with is still out away from her, that hurts her as much at it hurts him. And the clone Doctor, frankly I have no idea what he wants. You can say he is the same but he isn't. He has a different path from the moment he was "born" so he gets more different by the second.

Donna: a very cruel resolution, but also consistent with the Doctor's value choices, especially this series (life at any cost, and coming from someone who has seen so much death it's heartbreaking in itself). I still think that Donna has a chance. The chance and the push that the people who love her will provide. So the path of her life will change. Better or worse than death? Too big a discussion.

I don't care about being clever when I watch Doctor Who (hell, I might not be clever at all). Have no idea what would put ne off. But I am still loving it.

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Thanks girls! And Poly you nailed the analysis of the beach scene far better than I could have! I can't say I was there at episode one but Chrissie I know where you are coming from...

Flawed? Undoubtedly. Am I still loving it? Hell, yes.

Jane Henry said...

Lisa, aah now I KNEW I would come here and find some views chiming with my own. I really enjoyed most of this, but was pissed off mightily with Rose's result. I can see that the Doc thinks he's doing the right thing, but hell, he's a Time Lord, what does he know about human emotion. I think he's basically done a dump Sarah Jane in Scotland (or wherever it was) in Rose, but give her a clone of me to keep her sweet. That was a bit crap. But I think he thought he was helping. Personally I don't give them five minutes, because she hasn't got the real Doc and she knows it. But on the other hand... the sacrifices the guy makes to keep people safe and end up alone. You have to keep loving him.

And YES, I am extremely squeeingly glad that DT is still the Doctor. Cos he's my Doctor now. And it used to be Tom Baker...

Tom said...

I must be in the minority in thinking that what happened to Donna was the best way to resolve her character. I see all the people shouting "Damn you RTD, why did you do that to us?" and I think to myself "Damn you Lisa Rullsenberg, why did you introduce me to these sites?" then afterwards I think, no, you're wrong. All of you - we were taken on a journey with Donna where we grew to like her and so it was much more heartfelt, much more angsty and much more how the Doctor must have felt. Let's face it, every other fecker died in this episode - Donna didn't need to. Well, not again. It was without doubt the best ending for her.

Well, short of carrying on as assistant for another series that is.

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Ok, I'm not a major Rose/Ten shipper but there was something hollow about what Rose got out of that deal. Thing is, I think Ten really thought it was the best he could offer: and he couldn't say whatever it was he never got to say first time around himself because then no way would Rose ever have thought of snogging HandDoctor and being conned into staying in Pete's World. Ten did a nice Adam's Apple choke though when he left, not saying what Rose wanting him to say. He doesn't get her; she doesn't get him (not really) but some kind of pseudo version does - sortof - get to have Rose.

Yeah, that relationship has stayer written ALL over it (not). Resolution of a kind, as I say.

Anyway, glad Jane Henry that I could oblige you with some empathetic responses to the episode - I'm guessing that it's been pretty absent elsewhere. The bile flying around is pretty intense!

And Tom: sorry about introducing you to these sites! I know you have far better things to do! But anyway, having watched it again... hmm. I'm not happy with Donna getting wiped, still, but I kinda get where you are coming from. I think there is an element of having in my head what I wish - and yes, KNOW - fanfic will resolve and patch. And maybe its that falling short of what fanon does that makes what RTD has often done hurt so bad: because we have often felt that he is/could have been our fanon on the TV screen, making it canon. As I tried to indicate in my review, I'm not sure how I feel about feeling that death would have been less cruel because that seems ludicrous as a claim (to cite Buffy: "death is not a gift"). Leaving Donna as she was, before, without, having seen so much: that hurts, really hurts. At 2am I couldn't do tears: tonight I blubbed. Poor, poor Donna. And poor us for having been robbed, denied or whatever you want to call it, such a wonderful companion.

Tom said...

Death would have been the easy way out. The events with Donna finally made me 'get' this Doctor whenever he says "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry!" The fact that it's an ending which hurts is a Good Thing. Plus death would have been the end of Donna totally but this way, there's always a chance she can come back as and when Catherine Tate a) gets offered the chance and b) wants to do so. Tricky little things like "she can never know what happened" has never held back on Doctor Who before - Rose wasn't meant to be able to jump between dimensions, the Time War was meant to be Timelocked - loads of other stuff. There is no doubt that somehow they can find a way to restore Donna's mind or make it so that her mind can withstand coming into contact with the Doctor again.

Anyway, she's already been seen to die so if she'd died again (especially if she'd sacrificed herself) and I'm willing to be that would have caused as much fan uproar as, well, any other option.

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Tom: isn't it interesting that death was an 'easier' way out of the plotline? It seems illogical... and yet, and yet.

I'm sure the fan-fics have already gotten written on how Donna can be fixed, saved, retrieved... Personally, I would love to see her back. Think Cloud would too as he's a tad fond of redheads...

MediumRob said...

The worst thing about the Hand Doctor isn't that he's the slightly demented, half-human version. It's that he's part Donna. How much of that can Rose take, I wonder....

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Yeah Rob, much as Rose seemed to get on with Donna - Turn Left - you can't imagine she's gonna be happy setting up home with her.

And as an aside, elsewhere on the net there has been some chatter about what set off the skies darkening. By her own admission, Rose started mucking about trying to find a way back through the parallel worlds to get to her Doctor WELL before there was any fall-out visible about skies etc. Rose KNEW from that last meeting with the Doctor that the worlds would implode if they got through. First Rose started trying to get through, then trouble happened?? Now I know thinking too hard about RTD's multi-stranded plot lines will make MY head explode, but was Caan being opportunistic in letting Rose do that parallel world crossing work or was Rose's action just incidental/unconnected to the actions of Caan and the Dalek empire? Either way, there is the potential that the consequences of parallel world shifting are no where near as devastating as the Doctor implied in Doomsday which further reinforces that however much he may want to be with Rose, he knows he can't [the whole ageing thing being just one aspect of that].

I think too much and should have made a separate post!

Magical_M said...

Oh it is so nice to read this and be able to discuss it! I've been downloading the show each week so am all up-to-date; however it only just started airing in Australia this weekend! Hence, I am not allowed to discuss anything with my friends who unlike me, were patient enough to wait for Australian tv to catch up!

I felt like Rose was cheated... deep down we all know she's not with the "right" Doctor and I think RTD robbed us. I have to give acting snaps to DT though - he certainly made the two Doctors just different enough to make me love one and not really warm to the other!

But I feel like it was a cop-out resolution for Rose and that she won't be happy with a poor imitation of her Doctor (and definitely not one who is part Donna!!).

I also think the Donna ending was cruel and tragic. She finally realised that she was "brilliant" and so much more than "just a temp from Chiswick" and then its all taken away from her.

But again, acting snaps to Bernard Cribbins and Jacqueline King. Beautiful work from both of them. And of course Catherine Tate. I have loved her work this series - she was brilliant and a worthy companion for DT.

However putting all rationality aside, I did love the episode and had lots of giggles and squee moments. I loved Mickey's return - he really is one of my favourite characters and hearing him call the Doctor "boss" again made me smile. I hope they let him return in some form at some point. Or maybe he could join up with Sarah-Jane and form a "Smith" team?

I cannot wait to see what the fabulous Mr Moffatt has in store for us... the Christmas episode looks interesting - I love David Morrisey and Dervla Kirwan! But I have to ask - is there anyone from Blackpool who hasn't yet appeared in Doctor Who? They seem to be popping up quite regularly now!

Jane Henry said...

Lisa, I wondered about the whole parallel universe jumping about thing. How come the thing they'd devised that flattened dimensions AS well as jumping through worlds didn't cause even MORE damage. Mind you my husband said, well praps when you're facing the end of everything, that doesn't matter. But, as you so rightly point out, Rose was doing all that first. And now my head hurts...

Can't QUITE see how Dalek Caan manipulated all that, but I did enjoy him as a character.
Magical m. My kids LOVE Mickey so they were pleased to see him back. My guess is he and Martha are heading off to join the Torchwood team.

stu-n said...

The thing with the Doctor and death... I don't know whether this is deliberate on the part of the writers, but the feeling I get is that the Doctor doesn't understand death. He's spent a millennium cheating it, and although he knows it's a necessary part of life, he absolutely abhors it. People die in their time, and if it isn't their time, or if he can see some way to keep them alive... he'll do it.

It absolutely wouldn't occur to him that Donna might have preferred death to living her old life, and he wouldn't have understood her pleas. In the same way, there's no way he would have understood that River Song was prepared to die and might not have appreciated being brought back as an expert system within a self-aware AI system. There was a way to 'save' her. He did. He doesn't know when to give up. And that's the pre-Time War Doctor.

And the corollory of that is that when it is people's time to die – in the Pompeii eruption, for example — he can't see that he could save people. You see the good side of that in the otherwise terrible New Earth, where he doesn't try to save Cassandra, but gives her a way to die with dignity. And that's the post-Time War Doctor.

Jane Henry said...

Ooh Stu-n I like that theory. I do quite like it when he does start acting all Time Lordy and does things which you think, hang on a human being wouldn't do that, even if I don't like what he does. It often leads him to inaction - witness the end of the Sontaran episode - so he needs humans as canon fodder sacrifice otherwise he'd never defeat any of his enemies! I do get a bit fed up of him calling himself a man though, because he's not...