(The author goes on at some length about why “The End of Time” should have been better. ±1400 words.)
A little while ago, I argued that Donna Noble got ripped off. Basically, as a companion to the Doctor, we viewers would expect her to have all sorts of adventures, and then a heartfelt farewell. There are lots of ways for this to play out. But Donna, while she did have lots of adventures, and while the Doctor felt really, really badly when he took her home, really got ripped off. She not only doesn’t remember the adventures, a bad enough fate, all things considered, but she was brain damaged with a weak amnesia which was so weak and fragile, that it could be undone by the merest hint of a reminder of what she experienced with the Doctor. If the amnesia is undone, her brain would explode, or something equally deadly if not necessarily as gross. Also, as if all that weren’t bad enough, not only does she not get to remember, on pain of death, all that she experienced, but also, she goes home the same shallow flake as she was when she first met the Doctor.
But, at the end of that rant, I acknowledged that the writers might have something better planned for her for the future. And in the finale of “The End of Time” we get to find out what that something is. But, since what happens to Donna is really just a special case of the general problems with the episode, I’ll leave you hanging for a bit.
“The End of Time” was the finale of both David Tennant’s run as the Doctor and of Russel T. Davies’s run as the powerhouse behind the new run of Doctor Who. And Davies’s run has been great. I’ve crabbed a bit about certain elements, and about how there was a degree of… if not repetitiveness, then sticking to well-worn paths. Romantic attachment (or emphatically not, which is the same), the Daleks, the effects of being a companion on the family, the Burden of Being the Last of the Time Lords. There are others, but the point is that under Davies’s command, Doctor Who was a bit of a soap opera where a few themes were explored from various angles. It was always well done, and didn’t get stale, although the edges were starting to dry a bit. Even within the show, the characters started to get wise to the idea that if it was Christmas, it was probably a good idea to get out of London.
Still, “The End of Time” had at least three good stories going on, which may have something to do with why it felt weirdly thin, that none of them got enough attention what with one thing and another. In addition to the three good stories, there was the maudlin meta-story of this being the end of not one, but two–count ‘em!–two eras all at once. Davies was wrapping up his run as go-to-guy, including writing several of the final episodes. Tennant was saying good-bye to a character which is well-loved (and properly), which he did justice by, and with which he will be forever associated. This good-bye business took up a lot of time which could have been given over to moving the actual stories along, or fleshing them out.
- First, the green aliens with the healing technology. We never really get a good idea of what this was all about, but the notion that it could be used to affect the entire human population had a lot of potential as a story on its own.
- Second, the Master is out of his freaking mind. This is not exactly a new story line, of course. It’s connected to the first by the fact that he’s using the events in that story to take over Earth in order to make an army of himself to take over the universe. Again, a good story. It didn’t have to be connected to the first, but that it was could have made for a good two- or three- parter all on its own.
- Third, the return of the Time Lords and Gallifrey. Cool. Very cool. We viewers have been wondering about this since, basically, Christopher Eccleston stepped out of the police box in 2005. And, they are, collectively, and in the person of Rassilon, out of their minds, just like the Master, only on a much, much larger scale. This story is connected to the Master as well, and the notion of turning all the humans into copies of the Master as additional soldiers in the Time War is an interesting one, and could have played well with the second story, or even both of the other stories.
Except… if the three stories are actually connected in this way, the episode (combining parts one and two into one episode for a moment) doesn’t actually make the connection. It’s not that everything has to be spelled out, though this is, after all, Doctor Who and not The Godfather, so generally things are spelled out. But the dream logic of the string of events essentially flowed from one problem to the next without ever really resolving them, and then just sort of flowed back and just sort of took care of loose threads. I never really felt like I was watching a story, you see, so much as a series of, “aw, look at that” sorts of events. Things just sort of happen, with only minimal relation between cause and effect, and with little real pay-off for how momentous they are supposed to be.
For instance. The Time Lords return, pissed off and out of their minds. Rassilon returns, for heaven’s sake, with the Hand of Omega no less (or some crazy glove, anyway). There’s a bit of talk about what they’re Going to Do once they get back. And they’re stopped, not by any sort of unforeseeable cleverness by the Doctor, but by the fact that he destroys the thingy. With a gun. He’s been zapping things with the sonic screwdriver all episode, and at the end of the day, when the chips are really down, he shoots the thingy with a gun, and sends the Time Lords back into the Time Locked Time War. Except, having gotten out once, there’s nothing to prevent them from getting out in the same way again, and doing it in a way that won’t get the Doctor’s attention. And the entire story was introduced and concluded in about 15 minutes of story time across two hours and twenty minutes of episode.
It just seems like a waste. It’s not as if the three stories couldn’t have been well rounded and played within the allotted time. It’s just that everything in these stories just didn’t get resolved. They merely got ended. And so back to how Donna Nobel got ripped off.
After losing all her gains in experience, knowledge, wisdom, and self-worth, Donna went back to being just a dope whose brain was going to explode if she remembered anything of the Doctor or her time with him. Then, when the Master changed everyone on Earth into a copy of himself, Donna was one of two humans who didn’t change. The other was her grandfather who was shielded from the changy machine when he hid by the machine. Donna was, apparently, protected by the Doctor/Donna incident. Then, after presumably having been fixed by the alien technology, she began to remember, and her brain exploded. Kinda-sorta. Some energy release happened, anyway. Then she fell over. Then, later–much later–though after the Doctor told someone else that she would be OK, she woke up OK with, apparently, stronger amnesia. But she’s still a flake.
And that’s why she got ripped off. And, really, we did, too. We didn’t get ripped off because Donna got ripped off. Not exactly, anyway. The precise nature of Donna’s fate isn’t what ripped us off; rather it was the flabby story-telling lameness with which Donna’s fate was presented to us that ripped us off. Donna got ripped off because, even though she was a companion, she wound up worse off than before she left, because her mother and her grandfather know the truth about her and she never will. Not because her brain will explode, but because she’s such a flake that she would never believe the truth. The writers didn’t do justice by Donna because the end of her story just sort of trailed off rather than clearly paying off the danger she was in, and without justifying the limitations that she came back with. It’s not like she’s the first companion to get hurt. Some even die.
We viewers got ripped off by “The End of Time,” too. Not because of Donna, and not because the end of the Tenth Doctor’s story wasn’t worthy, or wasn’t a good ending. They were. But we got ripped off because the writers didn’t pay off the danger and coolness of the story ideas with a well rounded conclusion. Instead we got another maudlin montage of extended good-bye scenes that neither advanced the story, nor illuminated character. We should have gotten a better story from the story elements we were given.