The End of Time: Part One.

TV I was given a Slanket for Christmas, essentially a giant felt blanket with arm holes. I’m wearing it now. It’s keeping me warm. Even as I tried it on for the first time, my Whovian mind was thinking “This must be what Time Lord robes are like…” Little did I know that nine hours later I’d be given a visual demonstration, with Timothy “clearly playing Rassilon” Dalton sporting the Harrods deluxe model with the special Indian weave. I hope his has a back to it. Mine doesn’t, not even a zip. The idea seems to be that you can wear it either way around your body but depending on how you put it on, you’re very conscious of the gap, especially as the temperature drops. You’re preoccupied.

Russell T Davies must have felt a similar preoccupation when writing The End of Time. After five or six years in your dream writing job, master of your favourite franchise, how do you draw a line under your tenure, and as it’s turned out your actor’s time in the title role, knowing full well that the series will continue after you’re gone, with a different writer and different actor? How do you fold the page in this giant televisual game of Consequences having left your mark on the story but beginning with enough of a next sentence that your successor doesn’t find themselves in a narrative cul-de-sac? Give your main actor the chance to do something new with the role? And do it at Christmas with all the tinsel that entails?

Perhaps the braver approach would have been for something quiet, a exploration on what it is to be a Time Lord, a surprising lurch to the subtle. Something akin to clearly best scene in this episode, the exchange between Wilf and the Doctor in the café, in which we finally discover why the Time Lord is so afraid of regenerating. It feels like dying, one man leaving and another taking his place, different face, different personality, same memories. No wonder it’s rare that different incarnations get along. Exquisitely played by both actors, it’s just as effective and affecting as the revelatory climaxes to The End of the World and Gridlock and one of the few moments when we see the aeons the Doctor's spent flying about time and space pushing heavily on his shoulders.

BorusaBut if the past five years have taught us anything, it’s that Davies isn’t about to spread a Bergmanesque meditation on mortality across a whole hour on Christmas evening. So instead, having won every other award on the planet, he decides to put in an entry for the Turner Prize by having John Simm’s version of the Master replicated across every person on the planet eradicating class and society in the process (giving the actor the eerie opportunity of experiencing the scene in Being John Malkovich in which the thesp entered his own mind) and having the fans squee up their turkey lunches by returning Gallifrey to the franchise in the most sign posted plot twist since M. Night Shyamalan decided to spend his career trying to replicate the success of The Sixth Sense.

I clapped. I cheered. I laughed. Yes, indeed I squeed. Regular readers will know that I tend to get over enthusiastic about these Christmas specials and finales in a way that is curiously absent when I sit through the average Hollywood blockbuster, grumbling about the death of cinema. It tends to be a glorification of the madness of what I’m seeing, of the version of Doctor Who in which the Queen or in this case Barack Obama can become a bystander (deal with that Mr Lance Parkin) as some surreal global catastrophe takes hold such as a giant space titanic smacking into the Earth or the planet is hurled through space to become part of an intergalactic game of bar billiards.

Except even in most of these stories, the general format of Doctor Who has gone unchanged. The TARDIS lands somewhere, all hell breaks loose and the Doctor ties things up with a bow at the end before dematerialising. With The Waters of Mars having restated the core storytelling principles in order to shatter them at the climax, The End of Time (part one) wilfully grinds up the resulting pieces, ignoring the format totally in favour of injecting something of the Homeric epic, mythology in the Greek sense of the word, of the audience witnessing events that have already passed, with broad stroke storytelling, third person narration, of man and superman, putting us in the position of witnessing events from the perspective of the Time Lords. We haven't seen anything like this before.

Irving Braxiatel And it works, at least for me, though I can imagine why you’d hate it. It isolates the audience from becoming too involved as we’re essentially watching Gods squabbling over some dirt and a tree. It’s Superman II meets Waiting For Godot, especially since in this case the Master’s resurrection has brought with it the power to fly, shoot laser beams from his hands and the kind of table manners which would make him a winner on Celebrity Come Dine With Me (perhaps he'll be defeated by Chicken In A Can). But somehow it seems right that now the Doctor is isolated from humanity, that the reflection of his story should be too.

The scenes in the dockyard – and how lovely to see the product of a quarry for a change – were truly Shakespearean, with the Master essaying the senility of Lear reminiscing about the old times and the edges of kingdom to a Fool who’s far wiser than he is, Eros Lynn's camera pointing straight into the actors faces as they squabbled in the dirt. Note the similarity with the Doctor’s similar speech about his home planet in The Sound of Drums, but there’s no CG flashback for blondie. Instead, we and the Doctor discover that the constant banging is “real” not a manifestation of his madness, presumably Ron Grainer’s estate banging on the door of Upper Boat looking for their royalty cheque.

But the writer is still conscious of the timeslot and knows that his story has to have a human element even so, and some humour. There’s June Whitfield pinching the Doctor’s bum. There’s Lucy Saxon reaping some revenge on her abusive husband by rendering his resurrection incorrectly (even if, as far as we can tell it led to her own death). There’s Donna milling about in the background being rude and funny. There’s Wilfred finally experiencing travel in the TARDIS, gaping that the size of it. There’s two cactus aliens which seems to have wandered in from The Sarah Jane Adventures who’re probably going to be the catalyst for the resurrection of humanity next week.

Liaison Officer Hossak There was plenty for us fundamentalist continuity clerics. Was the story that happened in the church in the 13th century some new adventure or a back reference? The aforementioned appearance from Obama which puts President Norris from the Virgin New Adventure Warhead out of a job (Davies with a different masterplan to Andrew Cartmel’s in mind). The mention of the fall of Torchwood was a nice touch even if it’s bound to have spoilt the Christmas of Ianto ‘shippers as they’re reminded of the death of their hero. We know Barrowman’s in it next week, so perhaps Gwen managed to send a distress signal before her leather jacket was suddenly filled with the visage of Sam Tyler. Mr Smith and K9 are going probably going fairly mental too.

As the opening half of a story it’s impossible to really say how good it will be until the conclusion (and they missed a trick not including separate title cards for “The End of Time by Russell T Davies” and “Episode One”). The Space Museum looks like it’s going to be quite mysterious until the second episode when I’m convinced you can hear even the floor manager snoozing through events (at least until Mark Ayres restores him out). Similarly it takes at least a couple of episodes (and the application of an eyepatch) for Inferno to warm up.

It wasn't quite the continuation of The Waters of Mars some were expecting with Timelord Victorious bending history to his will as though he has the key to time in his back pocket. But I'm not sure I would have wanted that. His marriage with Good Queen Bess is quite enough thank you. What we're heading for instead is a continuity heavy restating of the Davies approach to Doctor Who and the core elements of his mythology, something akin to Buffy's The Gift or Chosen than Battlestar Galactica's peekaboo. I used to think that the Doctor would regenerate in order for Gallifrey to return from the void. Now I’m wondering if we’re going to witness him destroying it yet again so that he can save time itself. Oh, the irony.

Next Week: “Stop, or the ginger-nut gets it!” or “How did you survive the Divergent Universe?”

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