Friday, January 8, 2010

Television Review: Doctor Who, "The End of Time" Parts 1 and 2

Screenwriting, much like cooking, requires a proper application of ingredients and a careful use of techniques and tools. When I was in high school, my home economics teacher told an anecdote about how some of her early students cooked pasta; instead of cooking the pasta until it was al dente, the students spooned a noodle from the pot and flung it at the wall. If the noodles stuck, then they figured that the noodles were cooked.

I bring up this anecdote as a way to think of Russell T Davies, the godfather and story editor of the revived Doctor Who, as a screenwriter. There exist two Russell T Davies: The first flings story ideas like half-cooked noodles at the walls, and he uses whatever sticks; the other Russell T Davies is a master chef, capable of combining the essential ingredients of television narratives--character, storytelling, drama, and suspense--in a visual treat.

“The End of Time,” the conclusion of David Tennant’s tenure as the Tenth Doctor, reveals both of these Russell T Davies, apparently in league to cook up Tennant’s final hurrah.

[Note: In deference to those who have not yet seen the episodes, I have attempted to write as spoiler-free a review as possible.]

Part One of “The End of Time” is a smorgasbord of sounds, lights, action, and adventure. The Doctor’s nemesis and rival Time Lord, the Master (played by John Simms), exhibits all the characteristics of a Dragonball Z Super-Saiyan; he gets resurrected, becomes blonde, jumps ridiculous heights, has an insatiable appetite, and shoots energy bolts out of his hands. The episode’s aliens include green cacti (Vinvocchi) that hide their real shapes with a device called a shimmer. And the action of the episode--as Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbens) searches for the Doctor who in turn searches for the Master--seems to be an endless search for a discernible plot.

In the second part, Russell T Davies demonstrates his true aptitude as a storyteller and combines much of the Doctor’s past--the Time Lords (led by Rasillon, portrayed by former-Bond Timothy Dalton), the Master, and the oft-alluded to Time War. Whereas the previous episode mashed explosions, an energy-deprived Master, and a device that repairs the genetic matrices of entire planets, Part Two draws from Davies’s five years with the revived Doctor Who and shows the audience details from the Time War--Dalek saucers strewn about Gallifrey and the Time Lords’ high council--while finally investigating the Master’s recurring insanity. Davies also concludes the episode with a touching series of interactions between the Doctor and his former companions--a send off to both David Tennant and Russell T Davies, as well as their contribution to the Doctor Who mythos.

But the Doctor--who regenerates into the Otter Mullet foppery of Matt Smith at the second part’s conclusion--becomes a new man in more than face and form alone. Regenerations--when the Doctor cheats death by changing every cell in his body--in the revival have often demonstrated the Doctor’s compassion; he exchanges his life for those of his companions. But when the Doctor sacrifices himself this time around, he must destroy his people--the Time Lords--again in order to secure the safety of the universe and of time itself.

The Doctor becomes a man who can sacrifice anything--himself included--because, in “The End of Time,” he realizes that the responsibility of being the last Time Lord means that he must protect those everyday people, friends and companions, who do not have the control and influence over time that the Doctor possesses. And now that the Doctor has become a new man--now that Russell T Davies and David Tennant are leaving the show--we will have to see what the new production team cooks up.

Look for more of David Tennant later this year; PBS is allegedly going to broadcast the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet, in which Tennant plays the famous Prince of Denmark.


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