Aired 5 June 2008
‘Journey’s End’ picks up the events begun in ‘The Stolen Earth,’ moving at a blistering pace and using every available second of its extended running time to its fullest, raising the stakes to almost absurd levels as it caps off the celebratory nature of recent episodes in grand fashion. There are certainly a few plot contrivances and the Davies deus ex machina makes a return as well, but the story is hardly the primary focus of the episode, giving just as much time to the individual characters as well as the fans in a big thank you note for four great years that have made the modern Doctor Who such a success, a journey that has ended with the programme going from a mostly forgotten cult show to an international phenomenon.
In what is the last full series for both David Tennant and Russell T Davies, it makes sense that ‘Journey’s End’ essentially becomes a giant valentine to everything that Doctor Who is. Logically, that means bringing back the Daleks- easily the most iconic foe of the programme- at their most dangerous in a full empire bent on destroying reality itself. The stakes have consistently been raised with each successive finale, and so the destruction of everything is really the only logical progression, providing the Doctor with a wholly unique challenge as he is threatened with the elimination of a universe with which he has such an intricate relationship on so many levels.
Julian Bleach’s Davros, of course, provides a very different kind of foe than the Ninth and Tenth Doctors have faced since the programme’s revival, and despite the credibility of their scheme and plans, ‘Journey’s End’ wisely doesn’t go out of its way to make it seems like he is utterly unbeatable. With the threat of the reality bomb always lingering and Davros continuing to take aim at people, Davros is still able to engage in a moral discussion about how flawed and hypocritical the Doctor is. The series as a whole has not been afraid to show the Doctor’s flaws, notably with how events spiraled out of control in ‘Midnight,’ but Davies masterfully followed that up with ‘Turn Left’ which shows that, even if the Doctor and his methods are not perfect, they certainly do lead to a better situation in the end. And while Davros’s comment that the Doctor is a man who abhors violence and guns but fashions ordinary people into weapons is absolutely based in truth to some extent, Martha and Jack are both also working within their organizations to lessen the violence.
This then leads to the resolution of the immense cliffhanger from ‘The Stolen Earth,’ one that in the end seems obvious and necessary since David Tennant isn’t leaving the role yet, but also one that will be seen as a cheat by some. With the Doctor projecting his regeneration energy into his hand from ‘The Christmas Invasion,’ he is able to retain his current features, and the hand itself gains more importance as it also undergoes a regeneration of sorts into another version of the Tenth Doctor. It is in this clone that all of the Doctor’s flaws and weaknesses are projected, an angry version born in battle and ready to commit genocidal acts of revenge. In fact, the entire situation with the Daleks having amassed enough force to destroy reality hearkens back to the Time War and so it’s not hard to imagine this version of the Tenth Doctor as a stand-in for the Ninth Doctor, the angry incarnation seeking revenge and the only piece of Davies’s legacy not present in the proceedings. The Tenth Doctor acknowledging to Rose that this clone is exactly like she found him and that he needs her to make him better as well is a touching reminder of everything the character has been through in recent years.
As an aside for regeneration, it’s notable that the Tenth Doctor seems quite afraid of the process, equating it with actual death for him and something he keenly wants to avoid. It could be the situation or the delivery of lines but, even though regeneration meaning death is certainly not a new concept for the programme, it directly contradicts the Ninth Doctor’s more flippant attitude towards change, and it will be interesting to see if this fear of death continues or if it is simply a plot point to explain away Tennant staying in the role.
Again, Billie Piper’s Rose is the biggest returning character for modern Doctor Who fans, and it’s absolutely no surprise that she is brought back from her alternate dimension for the celebrations. Rose was critical to the first series’s success and was absolutely perfect alongside the Ninth Doctor. For all of the issues that plagued her second series and the first alongside Tennant, the scripts purposefully portraying them as more standoffish and better than others, she was still given an emotionally epic sendoff and then elevated herself to a savior across dimensions in ‘Turn Left,’ complete vindication for the character and her time with the Doctor. In this two-parter, though, the revelation that she is still searching for the Doctor for herself despite everything comes off as a little awkward and even childish, and her not accepting the chance to live with the cloned Doctor who will not regenerate alongside her own family simply because it’s not ‘her’ Doctor does unfortunately take away from the spectacular conclusion her character had experienced in ‘Doomsday’ and perhaps indirectly shows that the Doctor has completely moved on from her after so much heartbreak.
The part of the resolution that does work very well is Donna’s. Even if the end of the Dalek empire is played more light-heartedly and even somewhat more comically than might be expected, it’s Donna’s personal turmoil that will have the most lasting impact. The recent series finales have really hinged on the dramatic costs for its characters, and the regeneration of the Ninth Doctor to the Tenth in ‘The Parting of the Ways’ easily surpasses anything else so far and pacing it ahead of Rose’s entrapment in the alternate world essentially tailored for her as well as the Doctor huddling over the Master’s dead body after everything he’d done. Just as Rose was the perfect companion for the Ninth Doctor, Donna has easily proven to be the perfect match for the Tenth, a boisterous and exuberant presence who needs someone to stand up to him and keep him grounded. Donna has grown as a person and character immensely since her first appearance in ‘The Runaway Bride,’ and the Doctor needing to wiper her memories while obliterating all of that growth and experience is easily the most brutal punishment she could endure after being so instrumental to the deus ex machina plotline. Tate is astounding in these scenes as Donna slowly realizes that things cannot stay the way they are, and it suggests that it’s the emotional growth and scope gained that are the most powerful aspects of traveling with the Doctor, as always keeping events grounded with a personal touch.
Every character is on top form and gets his or her own moment to shine and, even if the resolution to the Dalek threat is rather convenient in the end, ‘Journey’s End’ still joyously caps off the celebratory events started in ‘The Stolen Earth’ and even earlier. Some will argue that the resolution to the cliffhanger is a bit cheap and that Rose’s second farewell at Bad Wolf Bay undermines the first, but the story itself aptly sets out what it achieves to do in offering a larger-than-life story that shows everything Doctor Who has been, currently is, and will be.