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The Sainted Physician: The Doctor Faces His Greatest Threat on "Doctor Who: The End of Time (Part One)"

Time itself has caught up with the Doctor.

The latest Doctor Who Christmas special, Doctor Who: The End of Time (Part One), found the Doctor attempting to fight his fated death... or at least the prophesied end of this incarnation of the solitary Time Lord.

But it's not just the prophecy of the end of the Doctor's song ("he will knock four times") that provides the focus of this, the penultimate Doctor Who episode starring David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. It was an installment that featured the return of several familiar faces, including John Simm's The Master (reborn in a matter of speaking), Bernard Cribbins' Wilfred, and Catherine Tate's Donna Noble. Along with the alien Ood, who telepathically tap into a global nightmare pattern involving the Master and alert the Doctor to impending doom in the form of the titular end of time.

Written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Euros Lyn, Doctor Who: The End of Time (Part One) finds the Doctor in the midst of an existential crisis. Still reeling from the disastrous choice he made in Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars, the Doctor finds himself at his lowest point, unaccompanied and alone, and must face his mortal enemy... as well as the possible end of his adopted people, the human race.

The scene between the Doctor and Wilf (Cribbins) in the cafe--an exercise arranged by Wilf so that the Doctor would see Donna and hopefully cure her--was absolutely heartbreaking, as the Doctor tearfully confronted his fallibility and his mortality. It was a scene masterfully played by Tennant, who not only embodied the Doctor's own fears but also our own sadness at the inevitable end of this incarnation. Has he made the right choices? The wrong ones? Is he to blame for what's about to happen? Is his eternal loneliness penance for the mistakes he's made, the friends he's lost? For the fire and the floods? The ice and the destruction?

But the Doctor isn't quite alone: he has a companion of sorts in Wilf, the grandfather of his former traveling companion Donna Noble (Tate). The Doctor and Wilf are united by a bond of deception--both, after all, conspired to lie to Donna in order to save her life, erasing all traces of the Doctor from her memory--and by something else, something that keeps them crossing paths. The Doctor refers to Wilf as existing "at the heart of coincidence," but there are signs that someone--or something--is deliberately pulling their strings.

After all, we still don't know the identity of the mystery woman (Claire Bloom) whom Wilf meets in that church, the one that depicts the "blue box" of the "sainted physician" in its stained glass window. She's the same woman who appears on his television set during the Queen's speech and who urges him to help the Doctor, saying that he can still be saved if Wilf bears arms once more and doesn't reveal the contents of this message to the Doctor himself. But is this mystery woman helping or hindering their cause? And just who is she really?

Her presence in the story is one of many mysteries in Doctor Who: The End of Time (Part One), which sets up a final confrontation between the Doctor and his nemesis, the mad Time Lord known as The Master, seemingly resurrected from death with some newfound powers... and a new blonde hairdo.

It's that hairstyle that's odd, really. I can't help but wonder where the blonde hair came from and if it has anything to do with the presence of Lucy Saxon (Alexandra Moen) at the Master's rebirth. Lucy is after all blonde... and we don't know just what she threw at the Master's visage during the resurrection process, an action that resulted in the death of several willing sacrificial victims (all loyal to Harold Saxon's anarchist cause). But where did Lucy go? Has she somehow fused with The Master himself? And just what are the source of his strange powers, which seemingly grant him the ability to absorb human life, fire electrical blasts, and soar into the sky?

Personally, I think the Master is terrifying enough without the additional abilities, which lend his character an air of over-the-top comic book supervillainy. The intimacy of the sequence where the Doctor forms a telepathic link with the Master and shockingly learns that the drum beats aren't in fact part of the Master's madness but something else, something real, was electric enough without having the former prime minister blasting away at his foe with blue electricity. Tennant and Simm are both fantastically dynamic actors and the scenes where the two face off with chess-like precision have more subtle power within them.

As Davies told me a few months back, it wasn't Lucy who reached into the Master's funereal pyre and pulled out his signet ring, but the new governor of the prison where Lucy Saxon is being held. The member of a secret cabal of Saxon loyalists, she uses the ring along with Lucy's biometric imprint to bring the Master back to life, at the cost of her own.

And there's another organization that wants The Master for themselves, a group overseen by father and daughter futurists Joshua Naismith (David Harewood) and
Abigail Naismith (Tracy Ifeachor) that has unwittingly constructed an Immortality Gate. Joshua intends to use the Gate to give his daughter neverending life but it's a gift that's twisted by the Master for his own insane purposes: the creation of a Master race, the rewriting of the human genetic code to create a literal race of Master clones.

Yet hope remains. Not everyone is affected by the genetic wave: both Wilf (ensconced in nuclear shielding nearby the Gate) and Donna (saved thanks to the metacrisis at the end of Season Four) remain themselves. But Donna's salvation triggers a flood of memories, which threaten to burn her up from the inside. We're left not knowing whether Donna will live or die (I'm leaning towards the former) but I have a feeling that the Master's final trick has unexpectedly saved her life and her memories.

But the true threat to the universe doesn't come from the Master's, er, masterstroke of villainy. Instead, it's the end of Time, a threat manifested in the return of the Time Lords themselves, numbering in the thousands. Just how have they survived the Time War? Where are they and Gallifrey? And why does the Lord President of the Time Lords (Timothy Dalton), who serves as the installment's narrator, seem so hell-bent on conflict? And are the drums the Master has heard his whole life the drums of a Gallifreyan war? We'll have to wait until the end of the week to find out.

All in all, Doctor Who: The End of Time (Part One) offered a fantastic prelude to David Tennant and Russell T. Davies' final act ahead. The penultimate Doctor Who special brought up some of Doctor Who's enduring subplots and set up a monumental showdown involving the Master and Time itself, as well as some of the revival series' narrative foundations themselves (given the destruction of Gallifrey and the Doctor's status as the last Time Lord).

Just how Time will be put to right again remains to be seen, but I am nervous about Wilf's wartime pistol, the mystery woman's warnings, and the deathly prophecy itself. Not to mention that this weekend's conclusion to Doctor Who: The End of Time will signal the end for the Tenth Doctor himself. Lives will be lost, sacrifices made, and the laws of the universe itself ripped apart... and I am sure I'll be moved to tears by the death of the Tenth Doctor and his regeneration.

This is one man, after all, who won't be going gently into that good night. Not without a fight, anyway.

Doctor Who: The End of Time (Part Two) airs Saturday evening at 8:30 pm ET/PT on BBC America.

Comments

Jon88 said…
"Still reeling from the disastrous choice he made in Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars" and the extended vacation he took in between, of course. The sight of him emerging from the TARDIS in his tropical regalia was priceless.

Didn't recognize Dalton's voice at all. Until they showed his face, I was sure it was David Morrissey.
Elizabeth said…
That scene in the cafe just broke my heart, for both the Doctor and Wilf. While Donna may not yet be all that we (and those two old men) know she can be, I was pleased that she doesn't seem to be in full on Runaway Bride mode, which I feared after Journey's End.

I really do wish I had some of whatever sparkly crack RTD's imagination is supplied with. I am on the verge of tears one moment and cackling the next. I'm going to miss him.
Bella Spruce said…
I can't believe that we just have one more episode with Tennant! That scene with him and Wilf was indeed heartbreaking...as was seeing Donna again.

The stuff with The Master was interesting but I agree that they didn't need the blue electricity or the image of the skull beneath the skin (especially as the effect was not very well done). John Simm is such a great actor that he's better without all of the fireworks. But the true shock was not The Master's Return but the return of the Time Lords. I did not see that coming!
Harley said…
Love the show, but have come to realize there will be good Davies and bad Davies. This was about as bad as it gets, a stew of ideas hurled about with little or no connection to each other -- except, of course, Tennant's wonderful ability to make the best of the material he's given to work with. And yes, there were a few moving moments, but that hardly makes up for all the incomprehensibility -- not to mention some truly unfortunate directing/acting choices along the way (if I'm forced to hear the Master cackle one more time...)

Here's hoping next week falls into the category of good Davies.
Ridolph said…
As the last poster says, there are good Davies and bad Davies. This was a bad Davies. Lot of flash and chock full of... well, I dunno. Of course, the characters and interactions were great. But I had issues with the resolution of the last Master arc (clap for Tinkerbell, pheh) which started out with the excellent Utopia and went down from there. Hopefully this one will get better in the finale.

How exactly does giving the Master super-powers make sense, or even make for good story structure? Simm makes it work, I suppose, but it seems superfluous. Simm makes the ravenous Master work too, but it also seems unnecessary.

And nobody even thought about the weaponization potential of the healing machine? The excellent episode with the nanomachines at least had a good explanation. The medical tempate was really weak.

So good performances with really weak material... Not really what I want in my Doctor.

I hope that the Doctor doesn't need to choose between Earth and Gallifrey, but it seems like that is where this is going.

So bad guys spit a lot? And I suppose the magic glove in the promos indicates a bad guy as well. I did like the piles of Dalek spaceships outside the citadel.

BTW, did the Master take over Tegan? Sarah? Martha? Shouldn't the Doctor be concerned?
Unknown said…
following the rule that it isn't a spoiler if it's aired:

I'm left wondering (after Pt. 2) whether RTD couldn't have explained the Time War better & the stakes involved in the altering of that history. Perhaps after I watch it again -- and/or Jace or some other reviewer explains what they were driving at -- I'll appreciate it more, but for now I feel that one of the great mysteries hanging over the revived series deserved better than a hand-wave in the service of the latest crisis for the world/universe/all of time-and-space.

still, it had enough good moments to be an enjoyable two parter & a worthy send-off for Mr. Tenant.

Looking forward to Mr. Moffat's stewardship...
I love Doctor Who, always have and probably always will. I like each of the Doctors for different reasons. I think Tennant was one of the best, as dear to my scifi heart as Tom Baker.

The End of Time was of course, a downer in many ways because of the subject matter, we all know Tennant is leaving and the Doctor is going to "die".

I am not sure I will miss Davies' plot lines so much. Don't get me wrong, he's a great writer, keeps me on the edge of my seat and coming back for more... but his dark vision can often be very disturbing. (Try Torchwood, "Children of Men" - I watched it all, very compelling and equally disturbing, a tribute to Davies, but not my 'cup of tea'). But I certainly wish Davies well, he is a great talent, no question there.

Anyway, having seen both episodes of End Of Time,I have to say, it was very well done, top notch TV entertainment and there were enough plot twists it kept me riveted to the screen. I was VERY surprised by the Time Lords and what they revealed as their ultimate goal, their relationship to the Master and what THEY think of planet Earth.

Maybe the Daleks aren't the most dangerous aliens out there after all! Still I don't think the Time Lords (and it was wonderful to see Timothy Dalton make an appearance) could EVER top the insanity of Davros and his Reality Bomb! That concept was priceless in the lore of completely insane ideas -- "I will undo reality itself!" I bet Davros would have no problems making a perpetual motion machine if he wanted to.

As to the Master, Simms makes him a very believable character, and quite insane (Gosh, how about a Davros vs. The Master episode, two super insane villains duke it out)

I personally felt that the "blue skull effect" on him in End of Time was an inside joke.

In the early years, when Tom Baker was the Doctor, the Master was not much more than a skeleton because he had used up all his regenerations and his body was falling apart. (part of why he was after the Tom Baker Doctor, he wanted his regenerative powers).

When we saw his face (under a ragged and rotting hooded cowl) it was a skull with two bleeding eyeballs! So I think the blue skull effect in this episode is a tip of the hat to the very old version of the Master.

I'll miss this Doctor (sniff), but look forward to the new one (the preview teasers look interesting).

Thanks to BBC and all who make Doctor Who possible. In this case, we, the viewers are the winners.

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