Review: Doctor Who – 4×13 – Journey’s End

Doctor in distress. Let's all answer his SOS

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?


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

  • I am going to do a series review, but I’m tied up with writing wot I’m paid for at the moment…
    One thing, though: I’m never sure how much we’re meant to factor in ‘The Doctor isn’t human and he gets things wrong’ with RTD’s scripts. If we can accept that leaving Doctor 10.5 with Rose and wiping Donna’s memories were the wrong things for him to do, then it’s perfectly OK for us to be annoyed at the endings. But if we’re supposed to see him as an infallible hero, then it’s a problem.

  • Another hmmm episode for me, with too many cameos and not enough sense. It had some good bits, but there were so many infuriating moments. One can only hope Moffatt will continue to write episodes that actually make sense as soon as you try to to dissect them – or that he’ll employ a script editor with some actual power.
    And one thing’s for sure: this definitely shows how major enemies should be used sparingly. How much better would this finale have been if the only other episode with the mentalist pepperpots had been Dalek?

  • TemplarJ

    I can only liken the experience to being slowly pleasured by someone dressed in a ‘Moonbase’ Cyberman outfit who also reads aloud selected passages from The Doctor Who Monster Book while feeding me Dalek Death Ray Lollies. You know it’s wrong, but it pushes all the right buttons.

  • Electric Dragon

    Overall, pretty fun in an Alton Towers kind of way. Needed a bit too much inner chanting of the MST3K Mantra at times. Plus having the Doctor’s entire Justice League there meant inevitably some characters got too little to do (was I the only one hoping Jackie Tyler would get evaporated?).
    There was one loose end that wasn’t resolved though – Donna’s ring (shut UP, Inner Voice of John Barrowman). There were a couple of occasions where that ring seemed to be foregrounded pretty obviously, and then right at the end, when Donna’s channelling Lauren/Vicky Pollard on the phone, it glints into the camera rather blatantly. I can’t imagine Harper would let that in by accident…
    Anything been said on when the specials will be aired? So Christmas 2008, presumably Christmas 2009, plus two others…

  • Electric Dragon

    Oh, and instead of HandDoctor or 10.5, I’m going to call him Thomas, after Thomas Riker.

  • Good lord, Templar J, you must have a way more interesting social life than I do! And dang, Rob, is talking to yourself really the first sign of madness? Things are not looking good for me…
    I think everyone’s missing the real point: If Hand-Doctor is banished to a parallel universe with Rose, does that mean we’ll never see the blue suit again?

  • I call him the Handyman, and I keep singing “The Handyman can” to the tune of The Candyman, which is quite annoying. Fortunately, I live alone.
    Persephone, surveys have shown that the Blue is the least popular 10th Doctor suit. These things are not done at random.

  • HA! That was definitely one of my thoughts (when you actually see the blue suit next to the brown suit it really highlights just how shite the blue one looks… and btw: a t-shirt with it looked even more wrong).
    Ta for the review Rob: you probably heard me chuckling loudly reading it! I know you usually need til Monday to get your review up, but I’d guess that the bile-flingers were all a lot quicker off the mark than those who expressed ambivalence or some love. Interesting.

  • We were too busy snivelling to write. Besides, I was elsewhere

  • As the end credits began I turned to my son and said ‘Did you understand any of that?’ He shook his head. I knew how he felt.
    I’ve no idea what was going on in RTD’s head when he came up with this episode. Yes it was nice to see Sarah Jane, Mickey and Martha. It wasn’t so nice to see Rose now that she’s decided to talk without moving her lips – what a disappointing comeback.
    Overall the episode was more like a computer game and it suffered from an excess of characters, subplots and self-references. RTD’s method of creating suspense was as follows: ‘Oh no, the Doctor’s dead…Only joking! On no, the Tardis is destroyed…But not really! Oh no, Donna’s dead…No she isn’t!’ etc
    And let’s not even talk about the Tardis towing the earth.
    Compare this episode to the excellent ‘Turn Left’. It’s hard to believe that they’re by the same writer.

  • Do you think that means the Doctor only has one collared shirt? Must be stinky by now.

  • Nah, he has dark blue ones as well as light blue ones. Remember Fires of Pompeii? He had a dark brown one in Forest of the Dead. (Oh gawd, I gotta get a life…)

  • “thou shalt not waste a regeneration”
    Just to pick up on this, isn’t the get-out that he didn’t actually regenerate, but that he used the process to repair himself, or some such bollocks?

  • espedair

    ‘Just to pick up on this, isn’t the get-out that he didn’t actually regenerate, but that he used the process to repair himself, or some such bollocks?’
    That’s exactly right…. some such bollocks! This episode was like an ADD child munching a bag of space dust and, tt made about as much sense! Though its worth saying that the Master has a full cycle of regenerations and the Time Lords (RIP) gave him anothe cycle of 13… so don’t worry too much about that!
    Like Rob posted some of the comedy (German speaking Daleks) and some of the action was ok, its hard to go wrong with Daleks (Sylvester McCoy I’m looking at you). Even though I am a big fan of Star Trek (I know I hide that well) so I have a MASSIVE tolerance for techno speak (induce the warp manifold and fire the polaron beam.. .then get me a cup of tea)
    but this was just …wtf!?! Also the thingyamy key… I mean …’its to blow up the world if our suffering is too much…. ‘ er hello.. what? Seriously having re-watched The Star Trek TNG episodes Best of Both Worlds this week I think Guinan would have a thing of to to say to Martha… never mind acting.. where’s your common sense lady!
    I thought it was a massive waste of Roses reappearance… I mean… thanks for coming back love now can you just potter of back with this convenient plot twist and you know…. go away. Rubbish. Say what you like about Doomsday but it was a good final ending. It had meaning and some kind of gravitas! This was just bilge. All that great build up and teasing for episode which was more Carry on Dr Who than anything else. There was just too much going on really for any of it too make sense
    Finally now Donna has gone in quite the lamest write out in history, Mrs Espedair will no longer be watching with me so I’ll be stuck watching it on re-run on my own.. thanks RTD .. thanks a bunch.

  • “Just to pick up on this, isn’t the get-out that he didn’t actually regenerate, but that he used the process to repair himself, or some such bollocks?”
    Well, given that engaging the brain on this one is probably a bad idea, I thought the point was that he’d started the regeneration process as per normal, summoned up the full energy necessary for a regeneration, but just used enough for himself; he then handed the rest – which was almost enough for an entire Time Lord body – over to his old hand. So that’s a full regeneration expended, just not used to change his appearance.
    Now there’s probably a get out clause at, well, every clause of that description, but by my count he tried to regenerate and did, it’s just not the final result we’ve come to expect.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sure there must be a washing machine somewhere in the depths of the TARDIS. Probably between the Cloister and the secondary console room.

  • Well, of course, that’s what we’re hearing when the Tardis takes off…

  • hahahahahahahaha that’s fab

  • Stu
  • Rev

    I was just browsing through the wikipedia notes on continuity before commenting here and read this:
    “David Tennant discuss the use of the double, a musician called Colum Regan”
    I knew I recognised the second (back of head) Doctor in the various shots. I know Colum as I went to University with his wife and I’ve seen them both play gigs in Cardiff (As the New Druids). That explains why something kept distracting me in all the scenes with the two Doctors in.
    Anyway, enough self nonsense. Onto the episode and your wonderful review.
    In short I think you nailed the experience I had while watching this. It was a simultanious experience of “WOW and emotion” from the heart fighting against the brain going “But that’s just stupid, that’s ridiculous, did you really expect RTD to deliver anything better?”
    Some parts I loved (Mickey, Davros, Tennant/Tate, etc) some parts I could have lived without. But the real sealing moment was Bernard Cribbins at the end, he really showed how talented an actor he is with his final speech to the Doctor. Capped it all with a wonderfully bitter sweet farewell.
    In all, I’m honestly glad RTD is leaving. I’m forever thankful he brought the series back, but he’s just not a great family viewing or sci-fi writer and it shows when he tries to write stuff like this.
    It was a fun ride, but I’m glad it’s over.

  • Bit late dropping by Rob, but I think I’m in more or less agreement with you about this one. I am such a science ignoramus I have no idea if the science is good or bad (sorry to all the proper science people out there ), and never did as a kid either, but can’t say it’s ever stopped me enjoying Dr Who. (My husband on the other hand was grumpily muttering about what happened to the moon when the earth disappeared).
    I have to fess up that I loved the tardis being towed home as I thought it was very silly and for that reason in keeping with Dr Who, but I realise I am in a minority of one on this issue.
    I was cross about the Rose ending as I thought she deserved better, but I’ve read some very thoughtful interpretations of it which have made me look at it in a different kind of light. On balance though, I think it’s the wrong end for her, and I sincerely hope we see her again. I think the Doc won’t perhaps be quite so pleased to see her though, as if I were Rose I’d be mighty ticked off.
    Donna’s ending was heartbreaking and Bernard Cribbins and David Tennant’s last scene jaw droppingly good.
    On the whole more to like then dislike.
    The kids all thought it was fantastic.

  • ultradust

    Hi. Hope you can help, I have 16 questions about this season ender and
    hope you can help answer them here:

  • ultradust

    Hi. Hope you can help, I have 16 questions about this season ender and
    hope you can help answer them here:

  • ultradust

    Hi. Hope you can help, I have 16 questions about this season ender and
    hope you can help answer them here:

  • Anonymous

    the ending with rose was wrong wrong wrong. she should have at least kissed the real dr. otherwise its not completed. yes move on but move on after you have acknowleged the love!have the concession dr if you want, but its just not completed. it leaves you hanging.
    they cant really do dr in love again, so this may be it for another 900 years… please send rose back..just to finish things off. we will all watch that episode!xxx

  • Jim

    I adored the episode personally. A fun mess!

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  • deanna guy

    [this is good] i love sarah jane adventures it is the best tv show ever

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