Friday, January 08, 2010

"I don't want to go" - oh honey, we understand...: Inevitably Spoilery Thoughts on the Ends of Time, the Tenth Doctor and the RTD era

After the zzzzzzzzzzz state of Wednesday evening, and waking up at 5am yesterday (Thursday - yes, reassuring myself of the day is still an issue), I really wasn't hopeful that I'd be up to watching The End of Time before the weekend. However, after dinner last night I felt the need and so after seeing Helen Lisette and catching up with her I settled down with the cat to watch the Tenth Doctor's finale. Cloud was busy balancing his bank account post-holiday, but happily has declared he "wants to watch it" and so will sit beside me this weekend for a re-run.

On which note, pre-DVD box set release on Monday, all praise to the power of HLW for her magnificent efforts on DVD recording which I believe captured pretty much ALL the Tennant-related appearances over Xmas and the New year. Needless to say, haven't watched everything yet!

**SPOILERS** (for whichever regions of the world have not yet had screenings/downloaded the 2009 specials)

I am however assuming that unless you have been living in a cave you are aware that David Tennant was leaving the role. Sorry if that's spoilered you on that front.

Things I liked (I'll save remarks on Tennant til later in this post)

  • Bernard Cribbens - just bloody brilliant. I mean, I can hardly think of a scene he did in these two episodes that I didn't like; hell, feel utterly wrung out by I'd say. A man of genius performing talent.
  • Catherine Tate - the ending Donna Noble was given in Journey's End divided people terribly. I still feel horribly ambivalent, but understand that her 'death', the death of what she had enjoyed, become, was heartbreaking in a way that a physical death may not have been. And that there would be minor echoes fluttering away inside her as shown here was wonderful to see: the fail-safe protection worked for me.
  • Companion farewells - okay, I'm gonna start losing it again if I think too hard on those, even though I suspect some felt this dragged on too long [I didn't btw]. I'd totally managed to avoid knowing who was in these eps and almost squealed when funky fighting Marfa showed up with Mickey (awh, at last she got rid of the invisible fiance of invisibleness!). Then I felt the prick of tears when Sarah Jane's face fell when she realised this was going to be the last time she saw (this) Doctor [brilliantly done btw: props to Lis Sladen for capturing so much in a slight droop of her mouth]. Captain Jack got a typically Mos Eisley Cantina scene, hooking him up with recuperated Midshipman Alonso [Torchwood recruit? can Tovey handle TWO series!?]: this was perhaps the only reunion/farewell I wasn't sure worked, which did make me feel frustrated. But then Jack did end up in a helluva bad place emotionally by end of Children of Earth, and perhaps the Doctor giving Jack some companionship was a fitting end to their connection. And then there was Joan Redfern's descendant doing the book signing based on the preserved Journal of Impossible Things and I sobbed loudly (especially at the Verity Newman credit). And the Doctor makes his promised final visit to the Noble family, ensuring the newly-weds financial stability with a lottery ticket. He then 'goes back to the start', to New Year 2005, to wish Billie Piper and her still-not-quite-settled-in-teeth a 'great year'. Was it really only Spring 2005 when all this kicked off? Oh, all the things that have happened since then...

Things I liked less / this year RTD has mostly been watching...

  • Masters, Masters everywhere, with jet-pack leaping capabilities - dude, Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions SUCKED big time. There was possibly one 90-minute long, perhaps three-quarters-of-a-brilliant movie to be constructed from those two overblown sequels. And as much as I like John Simm, his bleach-cut hoodie-look and mania was just a TAD overblown . Much like the Matrix sequels. (I'm restraining here: I suspect others will have been much more vociferous in their reactions!)
  • The Stargate thingummy mending machine - let me state that I liked Stargate (the movie) an awful lot [James Spader... floppy hair... drool] and I liked Stargate SG-1 (TV show) a great deal. I liked the effects here. But it was a bit 'WTF?' for me.
  • Timelords - I thought they were dead? Not time-locked. *shrug* I don't get it.
  • The Doctor's rant before he takes over the radiation chamber from Wilf about 'his importance'. Shades of 'Waters of Mars' but not handled nearly as well.
  • Running - I know that historically there has always been a lot of running about in DW, but teeth-gritting running can be overdone.
  • Info-dumping flashbacks - respect your audience. Anyone likely to be turning in for these finales probably DIDN'T need all the Master-related back history from S3. But this could just be my over-attentive awareness of the show and subsequent annoyance showing through.
  • Music - oh dear. It did get a bit heavy-handed for me by the end.

David Tennant: from (The Pudsey Cut-Away and) The Christmas Invasion to The End of Time

I haven't yet had chance to read the no-doubt lavish attention to details and the emotional outpouring of reactions regarding Tennant's departure. So excuse me if I end up repeating or echoing any of the remarks and paeans to his performance as the Tenth Doctor. Has it been good? Did he get 'a good ending'?

Yes, I believe so, yes. I'll invoke for the umpteenth time Emily's open letter to David Tennant from August 2006 for how wonderful his rising star ascendancy has been, with added direction to his magnificent turn as Hamlet (and as Berowne) to remind people that he remains a wonderful actor. Not every episode of Doctor Who since his arrival in has deserved the talent he brought to the screen, but he has never been less than capable of showing his great depth as an actor and ability to turn his emotions on a sixpence.

Since his first exciting, giddying appearance in the brief post-'The Parting of the Ways' Children in Need mini-episode, Tennant has delighted and thrilled as the Tenth Doctor. Heck, he hardly appears in The Christmas Invasion but when he does he enchants the screen. Mercurial, driven by emotions, passionate, funny: in of themselves none of these characteristics were necessarily uncharted territory for The Doctor. But to bring them all together - AND to be SO sexy, SO often: that was new. The First Time-Phwoard indeed. But without his performance skills, all that quirkily appealing sexiness would have been as nothing.

Tennant brought in a new audience for Doctor Who; something that disturbed some of the old guard fans of the series who disliked the direction the show was taking in hinting at sexuality and human emotions. Pah. Sure, some of those who came for la Tennant will abandon the show now he's gone (btw did the Virgin catch-up BBC iPlayer actually call him La David Tennant in its preview screen or did I imagine that?!) I'll be sad if the audience figures plummet too much for Matt Smith's turn [first thoughts on his brief appearance at the end of this post], but there has always been some fluctuation with new Doctors arriving and departing. And for a significant number of those who were drawn to DW by Tennant's arrival, it became a gateway to (re-)familiarising themselves with the older stories.

So how did The End of Time treat Tennant? Pretty well I thought. When I first saw the trailer sequence from episode one on CIN night I squirmed in my sofa, unsure how I felt about the tone and its frivolity. Seeing it in context somehow actually made it work better, its jarring devil-may-care Doctor and his disoncerted shift to seeing something wrong with the Oods' progress making more sense on second viewing. But this was a rare moment of discordance and mostly, perhaps apart from the rant before saving Wilf, Tennant's performance worked really well.

Whilst the 'strapped to a chair, bound and gagged' scene* drew the clearest influence from Tennant's Hamlet, certain tones, delivery of lines echoed elements of his bravura performance as the Danish Prince. This was, obviously, a good thing and was best shown in many of his scenes with Wilf, reflecting on age, death and the nature of mortality for a Time Lord. The scene in the cafe - brilliant. Ten's choking tears were beautifully done. His anguish, his refusal/taking of the gun on the Vinvocci spaceship - brilliant: "I'd be proud if you were my dad".

There were also wonderful flashes of his wit and ability to shift gear to delight: the move from "angst to smugness (and the little wink) sent me into raptures at home" -- I quote Helen Lisette because she utterly nails my exact emotions at that point. How he managed to convey so much from his scarcely visible face was breathtaking.

And when Ten finally, staggeringly, falls into the TARDIS and the warm glow takes over his body, I suspect a large number of viewers answered with heartfelt chokes the line of "I don't want to go". Yes, I did say out loud 'awh honey, we don't want you to go either'.

The RTD era

All series inevitably reflect their time, the social attitudes, the limitations/possibilities of effects and demands of audiences and channels: so these episodes written under the controlling vision of RTD - with many BY him - reflect our times. The kitchen sink - sometimes multiple kitchen sinks - were scattered across the visual landscape of Doctor Who, and like a small child picking at scabs, sometimes he just couldn't let something go. Over-written, overblown - yes, they could be that under his aegis.

But overall I'm thankful: thankful he brought back this show I had loved and wanted to love again. He brought others along for the ride too - new fans, new types of fans, new ways of thinking about fans - and it WAS good. It wasn't always perfect. It wasn't always what fans wanted (old or new fans), but it was a wonderful journey, vibrant and reflective of its time and at its best it dazzled.

And the future? Well, as my newly picked up copy of Doctor Who magazine makes visually explicit, it is a new era. A new Doctor. A new point of view. I did chuckle at Smith's floppy hair-tugging worried shriek of "I'm a girl!" which gives me hope for an entertaining ride later this year. Will Smith be able to supplant Tennant as 'my Doctor'? Not a hope. But then - in a totally different way - I never expected Tom Baker to be replaced as the Doctor with whom I most identified and who was conjured to mind on thinking of the show. But like others I don't think that this young a Doctor will be able to stir the frisson of sexual delight that Tennant achieved. Will I still watch? - of course I shall, and I wish Moffatt and the team all the best in convincing a new generation of fans to follow the Doctor across the stars.

* Please do not talk to me about how the sight of Tennant strapped down made me squirm (**fans self rapidly**)

Further notes - other reviews (added 11 Jan 2009)

Anna Waits - says a farewell to Ten/Tennant

Behind the Sofa -- Tom Dickinson writing such an impassioned review challenges Stuart Ian Burns as my favourite Doctor Who reviewer on BTS (because I have to hat-tip a writer who so unashamedly stands his ground as a 2007-to date fan of the series)

Medium Rob - acknowledges the nonsense with knobs on of the finale with the best chorus line ever "That's all forgotten now, because we're on another story."


JoeinVegas said...

And just what would you do if you came upon DT strapped in a chair like that? Oh, Lisa, such thoughts!

But what was that kid doing taking over his Tardis?

Jane Henry said...

I loved it pretty much. Didn't mind the multiple masters, or the Time Lords, thought it was a great ride. And heartbreaking end. Watched it twice and enjoyed it just as much second time. I agree, Tom Baker was MY doctor (interestingly Spouse and BF choose Jon Pertwee, they're a year older then me, must be an age thing!) until Tennant. I can't possibly fancy Matt Smith, too young, but am sure I can feel maternal instead. I think he's going to be fun. Kids will take longer to wean themselves off DT, I think because while they remember CE they didn't have long enough to get so attached.