Review: Doctor Who - 4x13 - Journey's End

Posted on July 7, 2008 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Journey's End - Davros

The best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster: the drink's effect is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick - or watching a Doctor Who season finale by Russell T Davies

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Stephen Fry recently gave a speech at the BBC about the importance of the licence fee (you can listen to him retell it for his latest podgram). In it, he recalls tuning in to watch the very first episode of Doctor Who. It was the most exciting thing he'd ever seen and the seven days until the next episode were almost unbearable.

Ring any bells?

Plot
As Davros and the Daleks threaten the entire universe, the Doctor's companions join forces. But the prophecy declares that one of them will die...

Was it any good?
I've said it before and I'll probably only have to say it three more times again: Rusty is very good at the broad strokes but a little bit of a slouch at the detail. You do have to admire the way he engineered everything in the final episode, kept all the multitude of plot elements moving around, introduced even more old faces and still managed to produce a pretty good piece of work - pretty good in the broad, anyway.

Last week, he left us with perhaps the ultimate cliffhanger that Doctor Who can have - a regeneration. In our heart of hearts, we probably all knew David Tennant was coming back, but despite our many guesses, none of them was quite right.

If we pay close attention, in fact, we'll notice that Rusty has broken the ultimate commandment of Doctor Who - thou shalt not waste a regeneration (apart from Sylvester McCoy, of course). Purely for the sake of a cliffhanger and to give an unneeded happy ending to a companion who'd already had one great send-off, he used up one of the Doctor's lives. That's a brave move. It also means that David Tennant is both the tenth and the eleventh Doctor*.

The rest of the episode consisted of similar large-scale movements of people and elements, big ideas needed to get us to the tear-jerking endings. We have a new Doctor grown from his own hand; we have the reality bomb; we have Donna given the Doctor's mind. At the very least, you have to credit him that.

The devil - and Rusty - is in the details
But the details, oh the details. While you were sitting there admiring Rusty's cleverness, you were inevitably interrupted in your admiration by moments that can only be described as WHAT? SERIOUSLY, WHAT? WTF WAS THAT? REALLY? AN ADULT WROTE THAT? I DON'T CARE IT'S FOR KIDS - IT'S NOT FOR KIDS WHO WERE DROPPED ON THEIR HEADS AS BABIES moments.

There was some good details, don't get me wrong. The scariness of Daleks able to disable to TARDISes, break into them and destroy them was something new and interesting. There were some funny comedic moments, such as David Tennant doing Catherine Tate impressions or the Daleks speaking German.

But there were stupid comedic moments that make you want to hide behind the sofa - in a bad way. Daleks dodgems anyone? Catherine Tate's Doctor impressions?

Obviously, the science of it all was a bit rubbish, but not so rubbish that you couldn't have done something with it (let's all pretend that Davros said “strong nuclear force” instead of “electric charge”, “anti-gluons” instead of “z-neutrinos” and move on swiftly). But the TARDIS towing the Earth? You might as well have turned it on its side and had the Doctor surfing on it.

How was Dalek Caan engineering the time lines from up on his plinth? “Oi, Dalek Supreme. Can I ring up a Chiswick temp agency and place a booking, please? No, really, she needs to be able to do 100wpm and I'll need her in seven years' time. Is that okay? Do we charge that back to the business unit, or put it as one of Davros' personal expenses?”

We have pseudo-Doctior engineering an actual cunning plan for once, only to balls it up by running instead of implementing it. You've just landed on a Dalek mothership. You've been shot once already today and had to regenerate. Open door, open fire. End of. Do not try to sprint towards the bloke you know from bitter experience is heavily armed, passed the massed ranks of Daleks. Or is that the dumb-arsed human half at work?

Yet there's the gassing on about how much better humans are than Time Lords because of gut instinct. Ooh aye. What's your gut instinct on re-engineering vector bosons when aliens are trying to recreate near Planck-time epoch unbroken gauge symmetry? Did humans evolve that in the savannah or while we were still in the oceans, hey?

Occurs to me that running around for hundreds of years fixing crises around the universe, you might come up with your own gut instinct, no matter what race you are. If you don't, you'll end up dead. Or is it all a cover-up? Is Doctor-Donna's super plan-devising Rusty's way of saying that the reason the Doctor no longer comes up with cunning plans to save the day is because the 10th/11th Doctor is a bit vainer and a bit stupider than his previous versions? Or is it just incipient senility?

Déjà vu
There was also a slight sense of déjà vu to the whole thing. We have:

  • a companion taking into themselves something that saves the day but ultimately ends up lethal to them in some way (cf Parting of the Ways)
  • something engineering the time lines to bring about the finale's events and explain the enormous coincidences (cf PotW).
  • Rose being ushered off into a parallel universe (cf Doomsday)
  • Martha on another trek around the world to save the day (cf The Last of the Time Lords)
  • The Doctor stuck doing nothing for most of the episode (cf TLotTL)
  • Ominous, season-long predictions of a companion dying that turn out to be an economical use of the word 'die' (cf series two) and
  • the Doctor destroying the aliens, saving the universe, etc, simply by flicking a few buttons on a console (cf Human Nature/The Family of Blood) - do all alien consoles have a “blow up entire race and ship” button? Is it coloured red?

The problems were mainly elsewhere though. Best to take them by their separate sub-units.

Sarah Jane and the Doctor

The Sarah Jane Adventures crew

Sarah Jane and co weren't best served here. Although the sonic lipstick and Sarah Jane inter-galactic trading cards scheme (I'll swap you my warp star if you give me a Sontaran lunch box. No, you know what I mean) was much in keeping with the Sarah Jane Adventures style, Sarah Jane's needing to be rescued by Jackie and Mickey was a bit rubbish. Luke and Mr Smith were a touch under-used, too.

Nice to see a surprise last-minute visit by K9, though (were his eyes always that scary looking?), and Davros recognising Sarah Jane was a great touch. Lis Sladen's always good, too, and some nice interplay with Captain Jack. No School Reunion-esque romantic hang-ups to diminish her character this time, thankfully, but surely Sarah Jane deserved a better goodbye than that? Talk about rushed…

The new Torchwood crew

The Touchwood crew

Captain Jack's place on Doctor Who is to run around with a gun, get killed a lot and make sexual innuendoes. That much is a given and Journey's End at least maintained consistency. Pretty much a retread of The Last of the Time Lords, Utopia and The Sound of Drums in that respect. At least Jack came out of it looking slightly better than the trussed up version of himself from last year, even if he forgot to protect himself from teleportation. Whoops. And is that replica RAF coat made out of fire-retardent materials? Plus, what's happened to Nationaltreasurejohnbarrowman's acting abilities? Did he have some once? It's so hard to remember.

Meanwhile, though, Gwen and Ianto are being their typical Torchwood selves - doing not much, kacking themselves at the first sign of trouble, and hammering at poorly placed keyboards rather than using a mouse. Nice to see Eve Myles' previous Who appearance acknowledged too.

But the obvious aspect of the Torchwood involvement in the story, other than crossover kudos, was to set it up for the teatime-friendly third series. Three guesses as to who Tosh and Owen are going to be replaced by…

Martha and UNIT
Screw Torchwood: we need Martha and Her Backpack. Was she selected by the Doctor as a companion purely because of her ability to tramp across large areas of inhospitable terrain? All she ever does is hike to save the day. If only Daleks were amendable to the mighty power of an iron woman triathlon.

Obviously, Martha is off to join Torchwood, now that UNIT's been shot down by Daleks, despite her position as chief medical officer for the entire world (if you're chief, don't you have to have some people reporting to you?). First task for Torchwood - work out the location of the alien husk that's leeching away Freema Agyeman's acting ability. It's near zero at the moment.

Mickey and Jackie
Largely there for the cameo factor and because everyone's pals behind the scenes and we can't have a Rose send-off without the whole crew. Otherwise, a bit of a waste. Still, Noel Clarke's coming along nicely and he should be quite fun on Torchwood.

Doctor and Rose snogging

Rose and the Doctor

After all that too-ing and fro-ing between universes, Rose just gets to stand there in a General Zod tube and look at a screen for most of the episode, as does the Doctor. That was worth it, wasn't it? Good interplay between her, the Doctor and other characters, mind.

Ultimately, though, this was all about the ending. This was the tearjerker for “young people” who think like the Doctor and Rose are so meant to be together because she was like the 1 and OMG don't u wish u woz ROse? Me, I give 'em five years tops before pseudo-Doctor gets bored and decides to find someone younger and blonder, preferably on another planet.

Nice bit of a character continuity, and for the most, it's going to be the closest the kids get to a course in philosophy (“if someone looks the same as the man you love and has the same memories, but is very slightly mental and not quite right on the inside, is he the same man you fell in love with? Does it change your view if he will shag you and the other guy won't?”).

But a touch unnecessary to say the least, and a sign that Rusty couldn't live with his unhappy ending for long. Why, exactly, does the pseudo-Doctor have to go into the parallel universe? Why does he go along with it? Why can't they all come back to the proper universe? Is it just because Rose's Dad is rich in the parallel one?

Billie's mumbling again. Stop it, love.

Donna and the Doctor

Donna and the Doctor

Bye bye Donna then. Apparently, merely telling her that she saved the universe is going to make her remember everything and that will blow her mind. However, sticking the Doctor right in front of her and having him gas on at her - not much of an aide memoire. Hmmm.

This then was the tearjerker for adults, and yes there were buckets gushed in this house. The death of ambition and character development. The return of a character to the ordinary, without the memory of what she'd done. A life wasted. The end of one of the best companions the show's had. Now that's something to cry about.

Is there any way we can bring Bernard Cribbins back though?

Davros and the Doctor
Obviously having listened to a few Big Finish audio adventures, such as Terror Firma, Rusty has decided that Davros is the man with the big insights into the Doctor and the brain capacity to implement ways to wind him up. The insights here were that companions, being human, will want to blow things up after they've been with the Doctor. Is that really an insight or an observation? Oh, and that people die. He's a super genius, that Davros.

Not exactly sure why Davros wants to destroy all of reality either. Surely that should be a big warning sign to the Daleks that he's mental - “Where are we going to live? How are we going to fuel our spaceships? Are we going to have to make a load of atoms again? Bugger. We spent all that time breaking them, too.” Not exactly sure why Dalek spaceship floor was able to repel reality destroying ray either.

Not quite sure why Davros thinks calling someone “the Destroyer of Worlds” is an insult too, given that was his plan. Pot, kettle. You think about it Davros.

Marvellous performance by Julian Bleach that went a little OTT and comedic at points, but was otherwise perfect.

The end
So the journey's over, the Doctor's alone. Lovely direction by Graeme Harper, particularly on the quieter, more intimate moments surprisingly.

Cribbins and co

And a sad ending, despite Rusty saying he learnt on soap operas always to leave them on a happy note or they won't come back. But then Rusty lies.

As flawed as you might have expected from a Rusty finale. Still, despite those many, many flaws, provided you didn't engage your brain too much, there was plenty of fun to be gleaned from it.

If you did engage your brain, you probably felt a little insulted and a little let down by it all, but the first sign of madness** is to fail to learn from past experience. What the hell were you doing engaging your brain for a Rusty finale, you mentalist? And at least it didn't drag like Doomsday.

But hey! Cybermen! David Morrissey! Christmas 2008!

Doctor Who continuity
Oh, there was probably lots. Certainly some references to and clips from old nu-Who episodes. An implicit reference to Genesis of the Daleks. Other stuff? Oh like it matters.

Other reviews
I may seem like quite a lonely guy, but I do in fact have the largest family of reviewers in the world to help me out: Marie, Jane, Anna, Dan, Stuart, SAF and Rullsenberg. Maybe I'll be all alone at the end, though. And maybe a bit rain-sodden. If you have a review, come in under my umbrella and leave a link to it below.

* A record, for sure, too, assuming some NerdFilla doesn't get applied and say that the body needs to change for it to count towards the ultimate 13. At the very least, we now have Graeme Harper holding the undisputed title for most number of regeneration scenes filmed (three), two of whose were the Doctor's. Beat that.

** Other than talking to yourself/blogging

Related entries

  • January 13, 2010: Question of the week: what are the merits of sadness in drama?
    What are the merits of sadness in drama?
  • April 20, 2010: Review: Doctor Who 5x3 - Victory of the Daleks
    A review of the Doctor Who episode Victory of the Daleks
  • October 20, 2011: Every Doctor Who regeneration ever
    Every Doctor Who regeneration ever
  • October 1, 2012: Review: Doctor Who - 7x5 - The Angels Take Manhattan
    A review of the Doctor Who episode The Angels Take Manhattan

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