In talking about episode twelve of Doctor Who last week, I expressed the hope that we wouldn’t get a total cop out of a resolution to the Doctor regenerating cliff-hanger – so what did we get? A total cop out of a solution where the Doctor directs his regeneration energy into his hand in the jar. If the Doctor is able to partially heal and then stop the regeneration by redirecting remaining regeneration energy somewhere else, why hasn’t he done it before? It’s not as it it hasn’t been established that the Doctor has special healing capabilities before – the climax of Frontier in Space leading in to the beginning of Planet of the Daleks for example – however it wouldn’t have had quite such a big climax to lead into Journey’s End if they had done that. The regeneration energy is also needed as a vehicle for the creation of another Doctor from the hand in the jar, and to give Donna the abilities to save the universe, but also the reason why she must leave the Doctor.
Sadly, much as with last year, the cop outs extended to the way that the threat of the Daleks is dealt with. As the Doctor and his companions are trapped by Davros and the Daleks it becomes clear that Davros is very much not in charge – however this idea once started is just abandoned as the whole plan to destroy reality is defeated by a technobabble based solution revolving around a convenient machine in the Dalek base that allows Donna, now embrued with all of the Doctor’s knowledge having touched the hand in the jar, to remotely disable all of the Daleks, and for the half-human clone of the Doctor to destroy them all.
The previously unknown powers that might have been useful previously pop up again after this with the TARDIS hauling the planet Earth back home (although don’t thing too much about the effect of the Earth vanishing and then being hauled back into place might have on the rest of the solar system) and then in the final scenes the Doctor seems to be able to telepathically erase bits of Donna’s memory, again something that has not been seen before. This scene is equally frustrating because it is just rushed through – indeed it could be argued that Donna was mentally violated by the Doctor in that she is not given any choice about what happens – whether to die as a result of the effect of the merger with the Doctor’s mind, or to have those memories and all her memories of the Doctor removed, but to live. Certainly I think there would have been more pathos to the whole thing if Donna herself had to choose.
However, like much of the ending, it was rushed, as there were quite a lot of farewells to get in. First off, Sarah Jane heads off, then Jack heads back to Torchwood apparently taking Martha and Mickey with him. Rose and her mother are deposited back into their parallel world, along with the clone of the Doctor – when you think about it, a bit of a lousy consolation prize for the girl who has declared undying love for the Doctor, being left with his potentially unstable clone. All of this then leaves the Doctor heading off alone once again, as he has done at the end of each season aside from the first.
I think what bugs me most about this, is that much as with last year, and probably more than episode twelve, this is a reminder that Russell T Davies was a childhood fan of the show, and through his series finale episodes in particular he produces the kind of massive spectacular stories that most childhood fans produce. But having to produce a vaguely coherent story he then has to resolve all of these spectacular ideas, which is where the whole thing falls down. When you look back at episodes such as Midnight it is apparent that he can produce a good story, however all to often he goes for the big spectacle ideas that end up coming over as being not much more than fan fiction with a budget. When looking back at the last four years it is interesting to note that the well respected writers such as Steven Moffat and Paul Cornell are the ones that are producing stories that push the format with new ideas, and who generally avoid dealing with established characters or monsters. Whether Steven Moffat will continue to eschew established monsters, and especially avoid the kind of end of season spectaculars we have come to expect remains to be seen. If he doesn’t, we can only hope that Steven Moffat will realise that at the heart of the story we still need a coherent plot.
So were there any redeeming features? Once again, Julian Bleach delivered a fantastic performance as Davros, and certainly I hope he gets the opportunity to reprise the role, perhaps with a bit better plot to work with. Bernard Cribbins again gave a good performance in the closing scenes as the Doctor returns his granddaughter. Certainly you can’t help wishing that perhaps the character would have got at least one journey in the TARDIS during his time on the show. There were a few laughs during the programme too, with a running joke between Donna and Jack, and the return of characters such as Jackie and Mickey giving the opportunity for some reminders of previous relationships.
All in all, with the departures of Phil Collinson, Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner, this was very much a swan song episode for the three of them, tying up a load of loose ends and finishing up the stories for characters created during their era in charge of the show. Much as in the past, when the next full series returns in 2010, I’m expecting that it will feel rather different, as Steven Moffat makes his mark. Whilst there may be elements that will be carried over, certainly other things will be rather different – getting rid of fanfic style finales for a start we hope.