New Who: The Story Thus Far – 2008-2009 Specials

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John Hussey continues his series analysing the revival, this time with Tennant’s final stories.

‘The Next Doctor’

tennant-next-doctorThe Tenth Doctor’s (David Tennant) final run was split into five specials starting with 2008 Christmas special, ‘The Next Doctor’. With the Tenth Doctor’s demise lingering in the air, the first of his final outings consisted on a story about his replacement. The Tenth Doctor landed in Victorian London where he encountered his supposed future self (David Morrissey) and his companion Rosita Farisi (Velile Tshabalala). A threat soon came out into play in the form of the Cybus-men. Due to the Reality Bomb the Void started to momentarily fall apart allowing the surviving Cybus-men, previously trapped there within ‘Army of Ghosts/Doomsday’, to find their way back to Earth. Fallen backwards in time they attempted to rebuild their armies by capturing work children and forcing them to build the Cyber-King.

The story involving the future Doctor was neat and emotional, especially because of the revelation. It turned out that he was in fact a man called Jackson Lake who ran away from his life in order to keep himself from facing the loss of his wife and the kidnapping of his son Frederic (Tom Langford) at the hands of the Cybus-men. Jackson Lake simply adopted the Doctor’s life through the means of an info-stamp. With his reality now restored to him Jackson Lake joined the true Time Lord in saving Christmas.

It is fair to say that ‘The Next Doctor’ isn’t a Cybermen story. They are merely background noise to fill in the gaps of the main drama within the plot. The invention of the Cyber-King simply doesn’t make sense within the context of the storyline. The Cybus-men shouldn’t have knowledge about the Cybermen or the Cyber-Wars and yet here they are building a Cyber-King. This never did sink in with me and always left me completely confused and unable to come up with a good enough excuse to patch up this massive blunder on Russell T Davies’ part. Also the part of Miss Hartigan (Dervla Kirwan) taking control of the Cybus-men didn’t sit right with me either. It made the Cybus-men look even weaker than they were already made to be (i.e. their utter defeat at the hands of the Daleks in ‘Army of Ghosts/Doomsday’). At least by the end of the story their existence was finally completely deleted (no pun intended).

The story was truly about Jackson Lake finding himself again. He was the heart and soul of this Christmas special for all the right reasons. His character was great to watch and the chemistry between him and the Tenth Doctor was solid. I always enjoy watching the last scene between them and Jackson Lake persuading the Tenth Doctor to join him for Christmas dinner. It was also tragic to discover at this point that the Tenth Doctor had vowed to now travel alone after due to the sadness his companion’s departure leaves behind.

‘Planet of the Dead’

Planet of the DeadThe specials continued some time later with ‘Planet of the Dead,’ where we not only got our first Easter special, but also our first trip to a totally alien world not occupied by humans or a human expedition within New Who. Continuing on with the format of one-off companions within specials, we were introduced to Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan). Christina was very different from your usual companion in the sense she was a thief living a thrill-seeking lifestyle. Upon meeting her we witnessed her stealing the chalice of Athelstan and on the run from the police. Coincidentally she bumped into the Tenth Doctor on a London bus and was pulled into, along with the other few passengers onboard, a mad adventure upon an alien planet after driving through a wormhole in the fabric of space.

The story had similar aspects from ‘Midnight’ in which the Tenth Doctor was thrown into a dangerous situation with a bunch of human passengers but this time luckily (probably due to the assistance of Lady Christina and the fact these humans were more rational) the atmosphere remained calm. U.N.I.T. were brought back to aid the Tenth Doctor from Earth. They were led by Captain Erisa Magambo (Noma Dumezweni), previously seen within Donna’s parallel universe in ‘Turn Left’, with the assistance of scientific advisor Malcolm Taylor (Lee Evans). Malcolm’s character was brilliant for his comic-relief whilst at the same time being a clever guy (then again I really love Lee Evans). I also found the Tenth Doctor’s relationship with U.N.I.T. this time was much better and felt more natural. He wasn’t rude to them and he actually called for their assistance as well as thanking them afterwards with a nice bit of friendly banter over helping with the paperwork. Though Captain Magambo’s actions of threatening Malcolm into closing the wormhole before the Tenth Doctor’s return was very borderline because it seemed out of character for U.N.I.T. to sacrifice the Doctor for the sake of Earth after all he’d done for them. The Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) certainly wouldn’t have stood for it.

The idea behind the Stingrays and their morbid lifecycle was indeed interesting and created a nice little obstacle for the story. I can hardly call them villains for obvious reasons. Luckily they were stopped in the nick of time and everyone onboard the 200 (accept the driver due to his own stupidity) got back to Earth safe. By the end of ‘Planet of the Dead’ both Christina and the Tenth Doctor realised they were a perfect match for each other but due to the Time Lord’s current feelings on the matters of companions he refused to let her join him on his travels. His vow to never travel with a companion again seemed at that point very firm as his despair continued to linger. ‘Planet of the Dead’ was critical for the dark moment the Tenth Doctor’s prophecy was given to him by fellow passenger Carmen (Ellen Thomas). This change in events really brought a shadow over the Tenth Doctor along with a darkened mystery over what the prophecy entailed. All that was known at the time was the Tenth Doctor’s end was fast approaching and the prophecy signalled the beginning of his end.

‘The Waters of Mars’

flood-waters-of-marsThe autumn special ‘The Waters of Mars’ really did bring about a tragic change in tone for the Tenth Doctor’s adventures. Upon his arrival on Mars the Tenth Doctor was powerless to intervene with the events in front of him and had to allow Captain Adelaide Brooke (Lindsay Duncan) and her fellow crewmembers to perish due to their deaths being fixed in time. The invention of the Flood was just genius. They were utterly scary and created a true feeling of unease watching the water constantly stream out of them. The cracked skin and the unearthly eyes just made them so alien. The one drop of water rule really made the characters slow decent into their final moments all that more tragic and emotional with the Tenth Doctor having to leave, unable to look back and do anything. Having been off-screen since 1974s ‘The Monster of Peladon’, the Ice Warriors received a nice little mention for the first time in New Who which indicated the Martian race may have originally uncovered the Flood and froze them in order to seal away its evil. The idea of having a Dalek cameo on the other-hand was utterly pointless. It just seemed like a poor excuse from Russell T Davies to have them in there so that they weren’t absent for an entire year. In my eyes that wouldn’t have been a bad thing – a break is good once in a while.

‘The Waters of Mars’ was legendary for seeing the Doctor snap. Finally having enough of time being the boss of him and seeing himself as the last of the Time Lords, the Tenth Doctor took time into his own hands, creating his own rules within his own personal right as a Time Lord. The “Time Lord Victorious” was born and this monstrosity saved Adelaide Brooke from death. This scene made one worry what else the Tenth Doctor was willing to do in order to maintain the victor. His victory was short-lived as Adelaide proved to be the better person in the end and outsmarted the Time Lord Victorious. She had proved throughout the episode that she was a strong-minded person and her sheer determination to maintain her family’s honour and future history resulted in her committing suicide to keep the fixed point intact. The Tenth Doctor at this moment realised he had gone too far and upon seeing Ood Sigma, who first appeared in ‘Planet of the Ood’, before him the Time Lord realised his time was up. The saddened Tenth Doctor froze in time due to his terrible actions and pondered on his inevitable fate as the end drew near.

‘The End of Time’

eotdec-(26)Told over Christmas and New Year ‘The End of Time’ brought an end to the specials with the dark tale of the Tenth Doctor’s final battle and the revelation behind his sinister prophecy first spoken to him in ‘Planet of the Dead’. Technically we can go even further back to ‘Planet of the Ood’ in which the Ood spoke about the Tenth Doctor’s song ending soon. It would seem ‘Planet’ titled episodes spring bad-luck for the Time Lord. The Tenth Doctor decided to be rebellious in the end and delayed his calling by Ood Sigma to swan off on daft adventures, one which included his meeting with Queen Elizabeth I, delving deeper into the actions behind her cross nature with him back in ‘The Shakespeare Code’.

An event in time and space had caused time to split open and allowed the Ood to see terrible visions. The Tenth Doctor was shocked to learn that his arch-nemesis, the Master (John Simm), wasn’t quite dead. He had in fact planned ahead and anticipated his death during the events of ‘Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords’ and engineered his resurrection using brainwashed disciples and his ex-wife Lucy Saxon (Alexandra Moen). Lucy attempted to intervene with his return and ultimately killed herself. Her actions caused the resurrection to fail and the Master was left an open shell requiring to feast on the life force of others in order to remain alive. The two once acclaimed Time Lords were now brought to the lowest levels possible for their final outing (so far).

The return of Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins) was an interesting move and I actually found this okay, though it was annoying that Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) kept making random appearances throughout the plot. It was fair to say the Tenth Doctor and Wilfred had a nice connection and it was a different dynamic than usual, with him posing a more fatherly figure towards the Time Lord instead of a mere friend. The Tenth Doctor turned to Wilfred for help in more ways than one and even expressed his sadness and fear over regeneration. It was surprising to hear after all this time that regeneration could be considered death to the Doctor. This new idea made the Tenth Doctor’s exit a bit more emotional because he didn’t want to change. My interpretation for the Tenth Doctor not wanting to do so are because he’d always worried about returning to his Time War persona, and due to his recent actions, he feared his ways would be undone by his replacement. The other reason could be that he knew that once he did regenerate he would be on his last life.

eotdec-(17)‘The End of Time’ certainly had a lot at stake with the Master’s insanity turning everyone on Earth into himself and of course the return of the Time Lords led by President Rassilon (Timothy Dalton). This is where my liking of the story goes a little bit stray because I was at first excited about the idea of the Time Lords returning but upon seeing they had become totally corrupt as a society, it made me quite disappointed. We had seen corrupt members of the High Council, Chancellors and Chancellor Guards but never had we seen them corrupt as a society. I let the story off a lot more now though knowing through ‘The Day of the Doctor’ it was merely the High Council and Rassilon who had lost the plot due to the Time War and not the entire race. That aside we now had the devilish plot of the Time Lords using the Master as a puppet, manipulating and corrupting his life, to manifest their escape from the Time Lock. This really did bring true sadness to the Master’s character as it meant his entire life and all the insanity brought to him by the continuous drum beat in his head was all along due to the Time Lords.

The confrontation between the Tenth Doctor, the Master and Rassilon was one of the greatest moments within the show’s history and brought one of the most emotional resolutions to a story. The Tenth Doctor decided to let the Master live, choosing to destroy the Time Lords link into our reality via a different means and then in return the Master chose to sacrifice himself to save the Tenth Doctor. It was just a beautiful moment within their long and complicated friendship. I hope one day the Master does return but I wouldn’t begrudge this being their end.

eotdec-(1)The devastating revelation to ‘The End of Time’ was the reveal of Wilfred being the reason behind the Tenth Doctor’s death. He had to save Wilf from the radiation booth at the cost of his own life and after much torturous debate he decided to go through with it. The farewell tour was a nice gesture but in some ways seemed to be too much indulgence. That was one of the major issues with Russell T Davies’ era, he couldn’t just let companions be. I prefer it when they leave and that’s it. Perhaps they come back on occasion for a good reason, but not as soon as the following season. Once they leave their goodbye should be honoured. It did drag out a bit and make Ten’s end longer and that bit more tragic, but alas it was emotional writing (something Russell was good at). It was nice to see for instance that Joan Redfern (Jessica Hynes) lived a happy life through the words of her descendent. And of course the Tenth Doctor got to see Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) one last time (of course he had to).

tennant-final-line-regen-want-to-go-end-of-timeI will also say the Tenth Doctor’s final scene where he tried to resist his regeneration and his line of ‘I don’t want to go’ was justified for the reasons I mentioned earlier. That and perhaps because he subconsciously remembered the conversation about Trenzalore near the end of ‘The Day of the Doctor’ and knew too well the path his replacement would lead him. ‘The End of Time’ was an emotional journey for every character involved and truly gave the Tenth Doctor the send off he deserved. The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) had now arrived in style as he checked out his new body, making sure everything was in order and that he was still a man, before finally remembering the TARDIS was out of control. With a smile on his face he rode the TARDIS back down to Earth to begin his brand new adventures.

My Verdict

  • ‘The Next Doctor’ – 7/10
  • ‘Planet of the Dead’ – 10/10
  • ‘The Waters of Mars’ – 10/10
  • ‘The End of Time’ – 10/10

 Continues in May with Series 5 and the beginning of Matt Smith’s era.