So, Russell T. Davies and David Tennant have finally left the TARDIS. Their final story together, The End of Time, did a great job of summing up most of what was best and what was worst about their run. In short, they were at their best when focusing on the small scale and at their worst when focusing on the epic.
The story itself seemed to have been cobbled together by bits of string. Almost none of it held together to form a substantive whole. The Ood at the beginning were simply introduced to get the Doctor into the story. The method of the Master’s resurrection seemed to be entirely contrived to make him all Skeletor-like, entirely redundantly. The “Woman’s” (Romana? Susan? The Rani? The Doctor’s mother/wife? Answer me damnit!) interventions were ultimately irrelevant. Naysmith’s grand machinations turned out to be entirely irrelevant to the main plot, as did, eventually, the Master’s. This wasn’t a story, just a series disparate events punctuated by set pieces. Whatever else you might say about Russell T. Davies’ scripts in the past, at least they tended to have an internal logic.
The fundamental problem I have with Davies’ run is their weightlessness. Things happen with seemingly no consequence. Everything has a magic reset button that can usually be activated with a simple flick of a sonic screwdriver. If you think about it, the 21st century Earth in the Whoniverse should be quite a scary place right now. Over the last five years they have had a succession of alien invasions, including two alien UK Prime Ministers. Just six months before the events of The End of Time, the governments – including the one in the US – were actively colluding with an alien power to sacrifice the world’s children. Yet the only thing people seem to care about on Christmas Day is what baby murdering Barack Obama plans to do about the fucking recession. In the early days of Davies’ run, he seemed to appreciate that these things had consequences – remember Harriet Jones destroying that ship at the end of the Christmas invasion? But as the catastrophes got more epic, so the impact they made on the human psyche seemed to get less and less. If the world portrayed in Doctor Who followed any kind of logic at all, the current Earth population would be in real turmoil.
Davies seems quite unrepentant about this, but there’s a problem. In a world with a deus ex machina around every corner and where every major world event gets forgotten about after a couple of days, why should we care about something like the main character dying/regenerating? Tennant puts in a fine performance, but his raging against the dying of the light had been totally undermined by the fact that he had just managed to bypass an apparent no-win situation literally sixty seconds before. If he didn’t really need to shoot the Master or Rasillon, why did he have to sacrifice himself to save Wilf? How come the sonic screwdriver can do all sorts of apparently magical things yet it can’t flick a switch from a distance of 50 centimetres?
It’s a tragedy because when Davies’ writing is good, it is very good indeed, and Tennant has the acting chops to match. These final two episodes had several fine moments which, almost, made up for all the nonsense going on between them. You could see glimpses of how good the series could have been if only Davies had been a little more restrained. I even liked the little gracenotes at the end where we got to meet all the key supporting cast one last time. I even blubbed during the Rose bit. But yet again, they had been undermined by the monstrous mega crossover that was The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.
Davies deserves enormous praise for his resurrection of Doctor Who and many of the criticisms are misplaced. Frankly, much of the old Who was just as bad. Dare I say that The End of Time was actually better than Logopolis? I think I can. It was certainly better acted and scripted. Complaints about there being too much kissing on the New Who are frankly a little disturbing (Why do the professed fans of a series which started by introducing the Doctor’s “granddaughter” want him to be sexless so badly? Why would it be preferable to make him a cosmic child abductor than a simple family man?). John Nathan Turner all but destroyed the series. There are very few Old Who scripts that wouldn’t be greatly improved by simply halving them in length. Davies by contrast gave the series a real sense of adventure and excitement. He retained all the best aspects of the series while subtly ditching much of the nonsense. I like more episodes of his run than I hate and even his own scripts – when he isn’t writing about alien invasions and Earth in peril – can be excellent. But the line between greatness and rubbish is a fine one and he seemed too happy to keep skipping between the two.
It very much looks as if Steven Moffat has hit the reset button himself for the start of his and Matt Smith’s run on the series. If that’s the last time he uses it, things can only get better.