The End of Time Part One

Posted in Episode by - February 08, 2016
The End of Time Part One

Aired 25 December 2009

‘The End of Time’, simply put, has a heavy burden of responsibility in that it not only has to provide a sterling swansong to one of the most popular Doctors in the long history of the programme, it also has to tie up all important dangling plot threads from the Russell T Davies era as it was announced that this serial would be his final as writer/producer after five unarguably successful years at the helm. Throughout this two-part epic, the Doctor is running from his destiny after claiming himself the Time Lord Victorious, aware that his death is imminent and confronting his flaws as much as his attributes as the spirits of key points in previous regeneration stories ‘The War Games,’ ‘Planet of the Spiders,’ ‘Logopolis,’ and ‘Castrovalva’ are all evoked.

This is an unexpectedly dark tale, heeding no notice to the festive season in which it is set. Right from the start, the voiceover wastes no time in setting the scene, bringing the resurrected Master back into the fold. Ood Sigma then quickly explains that everyone on Earth is having bad dreams, but something even bigger than the Master is coming. In terms of exposition, ‘Part One’ covers a lot of ground in a very short period of time, allowing the bulk of the story to be spent exploring the known and unknown oncoming threats.

The Master has always been the perfect foil for the Doctor, able to go toe to toe with him in terms of intelligence, and so it makes perfect sense that he would return for the regeneration story. How he returns is a point of contention, though, as a disciple of the Master uses the ring from ‘The Last of the Time Lords’ and a biometric signature from Lucy Saxon to perform a ritual for reincarnation. Lucy sabotages the ritual, the result being the Master returned to life as a madman with a ravenous hunger and a failing body that can somehow jump great distances and shoot bolts of electricity. Regardless of public perception of this now-powerful Master, John Simm is always arresting in the role and at least the reintroduction is all dealt with quickly in order to move on to setting up the story proper.

As the opening segment of a two-parter, it is expected that a good deal of time will be spent introducing characters and plot points, and that, indeed, proves to be the case. Joshua Naismith is set up as a person of extreme interest, if not as an outright villainous presence, his driving force seemingly to grant his daughter immortality through the use of discarded Torchwood technology. Two members of the Vinvocci race are also introduced, not incredibly significant here but seemingly in an important position to become potential assistants for the Doctor in part two. Then, of course, there is the big cliffhanger reveal that the Time Lords are finally returning, accentuated by a demonstrative Timothy Dalton in traditional Time Lord garb. In terms of setting up anticipation for the resolution, nothing could have possibly been more effective and further upped the ante.

The big lingering question, undeniably, is just what role Donna will play going forward. Not only had she- without reason or explanation- bought her Grandfather Wilfred a copy of Naismith’s book for Christmas, she is also the only person unaffected as the Master uses the Immortality Gate technology to overwrite every human’s DNA to replicate himself billions of times over. As always, a special mention must be given to the afore-mention Wilfred, who perhaps has the standout scene of the episode as he tearfully begs the wonderfully reserved Tennant to help Donna. More than anyone, Wilfred seems to be at the heart of the incidents that set the story in motion, grounding the more fantastic events and serving as a magnificent emotional core to the proceedings at hand.

With the stage set for the Doctor and Wilfred (with a very confused Donna at home) against several billion copies of the Master and the arrival of the Time Lords imminent, ‘Part One’ has to be categorised as a success. Although the portions regarding the Master are undeniably the weakest of the tale, they still do a great job in exemplifying just how stacked the odds are against the Doctor. Throughout it all, Tennant offers a nuanced performance that verifies the huge following his character has achieved, and his pairing with the likewise excellent Bernard Cribbins is inspired. Aside from some tonal inconsistencies that sometimes mitigate the powerful threat the Master so clearly poses now, the direction is very solid, the overwhelming severity accentuated by glorious special effects and an emotional musical score. It’s not a perfect piece of television, but the pieces are sufficiently set up for an explosive finale and Tennant and Cribbins prove to be a brilliant, emotion-laden pairing.

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