Monday, January 4, 2010
He Will Knock Four Times
Where to start? I finally watched the Dr Who New Year's Special yesterday, and like everyone else, I was half keeping my eye out for that last minute. For our first glimpse of The New Guy, Matt Smith.
So let me get that out of the way first:
So there's that, then. He still looks too young to even shave, and his first few lines didn't do much to dispel the off-put feeling I felt when his casting was announced. Still. Back in time.
Part 1 of "The End of Time" was a tremendous letdown at first because it didn't follow up on what "Waters of Mars" was promising, that somehow The Master's return was linked to Ten screwing with history like, well, The Master. Instead we get some bizarrely over-the-top cliched prophecy bullshit, and wild overacting from Simm. I miss Roger Delgado.
It was all lead-up to this, though. Part 2 was a vast improvement, with more of those quiet moments Davies does well when he's not threatening the Universe in some bizarrely new convoluted fashion.
For those of you who aren't as rabid as I am, Timothy Dalton plays Rassilon here. Rassilon is basically Time Lord Jesus. In the classic show he sort of originated their entire society millions of years ago, and every other damn thing is the Staff of Rassilon or the Key of Rassilon or the Coffee Mug of Rassilon. He showed up once in the classic series as a talking mummified corpse; the Time Lords must have brought him back to lead the fight, or something.
And speaking of Time Lords, I don't know who that lady Claire Bloom was playing was. The most obvious answer is she was The Doctor's Mum, or Susan (his grand-daughter) or Romana (the only Time Lord other than Susan to travel with him). Lucky thing that she managed to switch from her red robes to a smart white suit number when traveling across time-locked whoozits.
I'd always figured they'd come back in some form or another (Davies doesn't like to let anything lie) but was pleasantly surprised when it was just to grumble around and threaten the Universe in, again, some draconian and excruciating way. The Doctor as re-envisioned by Davies has been personified by his survivor's guilt, and that's explored more in depth here, rather than being absolved by some McGuffin.
Far and away, however, the best bit of "Part Two" was the end. Just like The Ninth Doctor's tenure, we're given a whole bait-and-switch through this episode. We expect the four knocks to come from The Master, and they don't. We expect Wilf to somehow save Ten, by taking up arms (even though we know this is the end) and he doesn't. We expect a lot of sound and fury (because this is Russel T. Davies) and we get that (again: Russel T. Davies) but it's not the sound and fury and universe-ending peril that does Ten in.
In really the only good scene in Part 1, (a quiet scene, note) he explains the stakes to Wilf, and to the audience. The Doctor is functionally immortal. He's got thirteen lives (though I'm sure if the show remains as popular as it is right now, they'll find a way around that). He's died more times than Gary Coleman's career, so it's hard to imagine the stakes here. So Ten lays them out. He's not going to walk away from this, someone else is. Someone else with his name and his memories but not him. A new man in the way they've all been new men.
The best Doctor send-off of the classic series was the Fifth, in "The Caves of Androzani." There's good reason for it. Rather than galaxies exploding or the Cybermen turning everyone's brains in to rice pudding, "Caves" is all about The Doctor racing against time to save his friend. Just one person, just one life. And in what I'd unabashedly say is the most affecting scene of the series, The Doctor does what he does best. He jumps in, feet first, and saves somebody.
Tennant's resignation to his fate is the series' most affecting moment because it's the series'--and the Doctor's--most human. We're about to be separated from him (again) and unlike the byzantine reasons he gets separated from his companions (walls of the universe, Time Lord Metacrisis) this is a human one. He doesn't want to go, but the man he's become, the man he's worked all his life to become, won't let him go any other way.
And this is where Tennant really shines. Drop the overpresent musical score, no growling Time Lords or shrieking Daleks or scene-chewing Masters, just him, and old man, and a locked room.
And then we get a series of goodbyes long enough to make you think The Doctor had fought Sauron or something, which would feel self-indulgent if it didn't feel earned. And then he changes, his last words being what anyone's last words would be. "I don't want to go." It's a grounded moment, a human moment, and in a show like this--a bull loose in the china-shop of physics--that human moment is critical. It grounds us, reminds us, and sends off this character with whom we've spent all this time in a proper fashion. Allons-y.