I’m coming to this very late due to completely getting out of the routine of writing, but this final story in the 13th Doctor’s run seems an important moment to come back to my thoughts on the series.
Let’s get this straight, this was a FINALE – an all singing, all dancing, finale with all the bells and whistles. Chibnall started his run as show-runner very cautiously – too cautiously for many, and then something seemed to break. His second season started with the big, flashy Spyfall episode and it seemed that from then onwards, nothing was going to stop in pulling out all the stops. The way it felt, for me, was that in that first season he was desperately keen to be considered a good writer, one who could make ‘art’. Following the backlash he got for that, he seemed to give up on caution and let his inner fan-boy let rip. The reason this description seems so important for me now is that, with this being his final story, it feels like he went back over all his plans and ambitions for the series back when he was a boy, and decided top try and fulfil as many of them as he possibly could.
What we have, as a result, is, arguable, a bit of a mess. But it is a GLORIOUS mess and I, for one, don’t resent that in the slightest.
The story opens with a sequence that clearly references that the Doctor, Yaz and Dan have been actively trying to put out fires caused by the Master, linking back to the Timeless Child episode. We get a delightfully action-packed opener with them boarding a space train (jumping on to the train in a nice call back to Whittaker’s first episode). The stakes are high, and it really looked like Dan might be for it for a moment when he was shot, so little wonder he called his time in the TARDIS (almost a ‘it’s stopped being fun any more’ moment). It was certainly unconventional to have Dan leave right then, and I know there have been several debates about it, but for me it felt right. Dan was never in it for the long haul, and this was a story specifically about the ending of Yaz’s relationship with Doctor. It felt like a useful way to tidy it up, especially considering the the huge cast of additional companions we were to end up with in this story.
The opening section ends with the rather confusing, and potentially misleading, discovery of what looked like the Timeless Child in the crate the CyberLords were after. This bit did, alas, feel like a bit of re-working and changing of plot. Sure, it could be seen as a foreshadowing of an actual future encounter with the child, but that seems so unlikely that it did really feel this episode didn’t need that here – especially the Timeless Child plot was wholly irrelevant to the story (which, in itself, I felt was the right decision).
But after that…. the credits role and we really get into the ‘plot’. And, by god is it wonderfully, ludicrously delightful.
Tegan’s return was so very welcome. I love that she’s been given a rich and not entirely blissful backstory, although I would like to know which coup’s she’s been involved in… But the real treat for me was Ace. Ace remains my favourite companion, but I was approaching this story with not a little fear – whatever they do with Ace, I could not have stomached anything that undermined her story. As a character, she is the one who has had the richest post-TV story arc in so many different mediums, and if Chibnall had gone in and attempted to de-canonise any of that, I don’t know if I could have watched it any more. Thankfully, he did nothing of the sort. He inferred a past, a breakdown in her relations with the Doctor, and a successful life on Earth ever since. Perfect. Having got that out of the way, I could very happily enjoy seeing her take on Cybermen and, indeed Daleks to my heart’s content.
Why was her baseball bat still effective against Daleks? Who knows. Maybe the Doctor gave her a new Hand of Omega upgrade, maybe she did something herself to it. Does it matter? Of course not!
The show stealer was, without any shadow of a doubt, Sasha Dhawan’s Master. If there has been one thing that we have been absolutely spoiled by, it’s the calibre of the actor’s playing the Master. After Missy, I doubted whether we would ever have a Master quite so impressive, and I could not believe how wrong I was. Dhawan may be in danger of topping my rankings for the best incarnation – I know the insanity has sat uncomfortably with some people in fandom, and it certainly marks a stark contrast with Delgado, but let’s face it, the Master has been going off the rails ever since that little episode where he was crispified, and I don’t really think he’s capable of coming back from that. Did the Master’s plot make the slightest bit of sense? Not one jot? Did the entire thing just seem an excuse for him to show off his dance moves to the Doctor with a patient, confused audience of Cybermen and Daleks? Absolutely!
Let’s face it, when have the Master’s plots ever really made sense (again, since crispy?)
Having the Master then dress up as the ultimate Doctor was, let’s face it, a Master Stroke. And I do wonder how long he and Yaz travelled together, because I am very up for a series of their adventures together (are you listening Nicholas Briggs?). True, that section proved a little short and incomplete and possibly didn’t fulfil it’s potential and so added to the sense that the Master’s plan was perhaps a little unthought out, but here’s where the aforementioned spin-off series comes in.
I must admit, I was shocked when his plan seemed to be successful and I genuinely wondered whether Whitaker’s last episode would have her being removed half way through (which immediately made me start to make, sadly unfounded, theories about how Tennat’s Doctor was going to be written in). But I loved what killing her and forcing her to use the avatar did for the storytelling for the later part of the episode. The companions all had their moments (including the incredible bouncing Tegan), and it provided a perfect way to reunite 5 and Tegan, and 7 and Ace. Those moments were heartbreaking, and they fulfilled every fannish need in me.
Well, nearly. The true moment for me was that earlier scene in the wilderness on the edge. Unlike apparently the vast majority of fandom, I had not heard the rumours of the past Doctors returns. Bradley’s 1st Doctor making an appearance was wonderful, and nicely fitting. But my heart stopped with McGann appeared. Here was my Doctor, sitting on the edge, definitely refusing convention, looking and sounding just splendid. That was the moment that was written for me, and who cares whatever else happened that episode.
I think this, really, is the main point I want to make about this episode. Yes, it was Whittaker’s last episode and it needed to celebrate her era, which I think it did perfectly (managing to walk that very fine line between celebration and mawkishness that, alas, I personally don’t think End of Time manages to do). But it was also a celebration of the BBC’s centenary, and, as such, it needed to be a celebration of the entire of Doctor Who. That was the importance of that final scene with Ian, with Jo and Mel. This was a celebratory show, and it achieved that without question. Sure, it wasn’t the most coherent story ever written, but that really wasn’t the point. Besides, I challenge anyone to tell me that they genuinely watch Doctor Who for the intricate, coherent plots.
How well did it wrap up the Chibnall era? As I said above, it felt like it was him trying to complete his bucket list all the space of 90 minutes and, understandably, I think he probably fell a little short in that. Is the Timeless Child narrative ever going to returned to outside Big Finish? Perhaps, maybe not, and almost certainly not in the fashion he envisaged for it. Did Chibnall adequately wrap up 13 and Yaz’s relationship? That’s a hard one. I don’t think they would have kissed on the TARDIS at the moment – the reservation felt natural – but I didn’t like 13’s “I loved all of you” as I think Yaz deserved more than that. That said, whatever was said in the last episode, Yaz’s relationship was always going to be a little one-sided, because that it was loving the Doctor means (as has now been quite comprehensively covered in New Who). So, I think the peak of their relationship had to be that absolutely gorgeous shot of Yaz carrying the Doctor’s unconscious form into the TARDIS. That was her moment. And I wish her well in the her future life. I hope it’s at least as fulfilling as Ace and Tegan’s.
And so we are left with the elephant in the room. The new Doctor. If anything, I think my main complaint with it is it was too predicable. Once Tennant was announced as filming the 60th, everyone started talking about him being the next Doctor and starting off by saying ‘what, what, what’, and I really had hoped for something a little more twisty and intriguing. I’m sure there will be intrigue (I certainly hope they explain the clothes rather than leave us having to write it off as sloppy filming), and the trailor for the 60th cetaintly implies there’s a lot to be excited by. But the actual regeneration itself, after a gorgeous final performance from Whitaker, did feel a little bit of a let down. But that’s a minor gripe. I am certain the new series will make me just as excited and be just as much of a treat as this was has been.
Bring on next year!