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Doctor Who 4.13: Journey’s End

Reviewing any episode of Doctor Who is a tricky task at the best of times. I find it increasingly difficult to detach my fan brain and approach each episode without the baggage of forty-odd years of history and emotional attachment to the series’s overall canon.

And then comes Journey’s End, the pulsing finale to this fourth, more popular than ever, series of Doctor Who.

The fan side of my brain cheered, cried, laughed and stared with open-mouthed amazement. The more detached, professional side of my brain, the side that pretends it doesn’t know Cyril Shaps played the Archimandrite in the 1978 story The Androids of Tara, was staring open mouthed for entirely different reasons. There may even have been some eye-rolling in there too.

Yes, Journey’s End is one big house of cards that crams everything in there (and so much more), and if you think about it all too much and gently blow on one of those cards, the whole lot will come crashing down, Davros and all.

It’s impossible to address every single plot point in a single review; it would require a small novella to cover everything. Journey’s End moves across its run time lickety-split, barely giving you pause for breath (which is probably a good thing).

But first up for discussion is the thorny issue of the regeneration cliffhanger and its resolution. Well of course he wasn’t going to change, you donuts! All this talk of being cheated and it being an abuse of the regeneration process that’s being chucked around cyberspace is just nonsense. Cliffhangers are about titillation and showing a bit of thigh at just right the moment - the resolution, more often than not, isn’t as important as the build-up. I had no problem with the resolution, having said that. Perfectly reasonable within the grand scheme of things, and it had the virtue of leading to the most pleasing aspect of Journey’s End

Things do come thick and fast - Mickey and Jackie turn up (why?), another Doctor, ooh, German Daleks!, Davros going mad, lots and lots of Daleks, the Doctor-Donna, yay it’s K9, time to go home, bye bye Rose, and oh God, isn’t that the saddest end for a companion ever?

Even the most accomplished, feted, brilliant dramatist (and Russell T Davies certainly qualifies in some capacity across all those classifications) would struggle to keep all those plates spinning, but Davies just about manages it. Just. You see, I don’t mind plot solutions coming out of nowhere, Osterhagen keys and the special magic buttons on the Dalek ship that let the Doctors and the Time Lord Donna solve everything. I don’t mind the TARDIS towing Earth back home. I will forgive Russell every moment when the plot threatens to unravel, when it teeters on the edge of silliness just this once. He writes the emotions and big themes so well - and blow logic and rational plot moments if they get in the way!

I have no doubt this is infuriating for some viewers, but PT Barnum showmanship is a valid approach to writing drama, especially one with the biggest scope of any series on British television.

And who could resist some of the themes here? How the Doctor, the man who doesn’t use weapons, turns those around him into weapons? It’s a chilling reminder of the capacity of our hero to unlock the potential of ordinary people, but sometimes there are consequences. Just look at Martha, quite happy to destroy the earth for the greater good, or the motif of Rose running around with the biggest gun in Christendom. The flipside to this is the pleasing image of all those people standing around the TARDIS controls, the Children of Time all home for the holidays and helping dad out with the decorating. It’s family, and as a family, we’re always stronger - it’s no coincidence that every companion has a well-drawn family backdrop in Davies’s Who.

For all it’s a joie de vivre, Journey’s End has a black heart, and nothing is left entirely neatly, as pointed out rather eloquently here by the astute AnnaWaits (certainly far better than I can vocalise it). Uncomfortable moments pepper the narrative - just look at the Doctor’s face when he’s told Harriet Jones was responsible for bringing everyone together. Ouch!

But there’s nothing more uncomfortable than the fate of Donna Noble. Lovely, dippy, bolshy, infuriating, wonderful Donna Noble. Catherine Tate’s Doctor Who journey literally came to an end in this story, and hasn’t she been wonderful? Tate has given a constantly developing, multi-layered performance, more so than any other actress to take up residence in the TARDIS. Forget Rose (easily done as far as I’m concerned), forget Martha, even forget Sarah (I’ll go to hell for that). Donna’s full potential was finally realised then cruelly snatched away for her own good, and that’s more heartbreaking than any dimensional wall separating you from the man you love (yes, I’m looking at you Rose Tyler).

So rather than Davies doing some housekeeping and tying up loose ends, he’s leaving us with some things to think about, that life is never that simple, that things rarely get squared away quite how we’d want them.

Don’t think about it too much and Journey’s End will remain an audacious, big, silly, often poignant season finale, fashioned on the US model of what you do to at the end of a season, especially when you’re not going to get the chance to do this again. You let off some fireworks pop some champagne and ride the emotional rollercoaster. Just worry about the hangover in the morning.

And look on the bright side, the Cybermen are back for Christmas!

7 Comments

The night this aired nothing was sacred across the web. The ep was torn to shreds, while a few drowning voices could be heard bleakly crying "Well I quite liked it".

I had to watch it again, and this time was glad for the iplayer glitch that makes my computer stop every 5 - 1o mins to catch up. I wanted to have time to absorb everything (which I didn't first time round).

What RTD unfortunately managed to do was offend die hard fans, who are all (mostly) anti romance, anti-Rose, and new fans, who quite like a bit of the lovey stuff. I think packing off a clone to keep Rose quiet was just awful. I can just about watch the episode and overlook its flaws until that point. The script screams its clues "This is her motivation, this is why she accepts him", but it doesn't ring true to the character. She loves the man who can't say he loves her. That's part of his make up, and although saddening and infuriating, that's what she loves about him too.

Generally, I felt that in an ep of variously fine moments there were some true stinkers.

And I don't feel cheated as a viewer because the regeneration didn't happen. I feel cheated out of a series because of what happened to Donna. If she's gone back to square one, as if the whole series didn't happen, then what was the point. For her, or for us. I wondered if it was a bit of a two fingers to those who vehemently didn't want Tate or Donna. "You never wanted her anyway, and now it's as if she wasn't there." I really felt for the character though, it was so heartbreaking. RTD is so cruel!

I thought the artwork on the Earth as it was towed home was glorious and that brought tears to my eyes. I loved seeing everyone round the console in the Tardis, that was very cool. But Mickey and Jackie's presence wasn't really justified, rather it felt like an excuse to pack even more of them in, and prepare a potential 'Mickey in Torchwood' storyline.

The trouble with the secrecy and the hype generated that proved so useful at attaining those ever important ratings, was that expectation amongst those who love the show at least was stupendously high. Following the Stolen Earth, I was whipped into a frenzy of anticipation. Only to be disappointed. And that's the sting in the tail of that kind of build up.

To hear people breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to a new reign under Moffat makes me laugh. The complains people have over RTD's storylines (too much romance, never following up on those creepy predictions of death etc), are trademarks too of Moffat. The Girl in the Fireplace surely has to be one of the most romantic new Who stories. And "everyone lives" seems to be a mantra across his eps too. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

But despite any reservations I have about Journey's End, I may just have enough admiration and appreciation of RTD to say I still love his episodes for the show, and what he has brought to it. The specials are yet to come, but from a series perspective, I think I will miss him.

Loved this series, loved the final episode. I didn't feel cheated by the regeneration, thought it was quite clever really! Thought the german speaking daleks were brilliant - may have to go round saying "Extermineren" in future! Still haven't worked out what was wrong with Billie Piper's teeth, but cried for Donna at the end. Wasn't sure about CT in the first episodes, but she did brilliantly after a slightly wobbly start. Sorry the series has ended but at least we have the specials next year and, hopefully, return of DT as the best Dr to date.

I thought it was great. Not the episode you'd want every week but super for an end of season/end of RTD(sort of) finale. Really edge of the seat for most of it.

OK, some of the plot points didn't bear too much inspection. Come on, this is Doctor Who. It has always fallen on the side of Science Fantasy rather than hard Science Fiction. It goes with whatever works at the moment.

Highlights
I liked the way that the hand/partial regen wasn't just an excuse for a super cliff-hanger but was crucial to the whole plot.

German-speaking Daleks - Wunderbar !

Crticisms
For me the ending really dragged (Return of the Kings style). The long Goodbye to Rose followed by the long Goodbye to Donna & then a longish sad, lonely Doctor. Rather than leaving me feeling satisfyingly sad, I ended up feeling flat after the earlier excitment had ebbed away.
(And if the Doctor said recognising him would kill Donna, why did he go into the kitchen & try to talk to her). Perhaps if RTD had been resticted to his usual 50 mins, he would have kept it tighter & more effective.

Also I thought that after having "Turn Left" which showed what a great job the Doctor does, we had to have a rerun of the "You bring death & destruction" view of the Doctor that RTD has been keen on. Let's face it, if the Doctor hadn't come into their lives Rose, Martha & probably some of the others would be dead. The Hagen-daz (sorry, Oester-hagen) weapon was dreamed up by humans and if Martha hadn't been there, some other person would been there (and a more soldier-like person might have used it before he was stopped)

But that aside, it was still my favourite of all the season finales in new Who.

Well I quite liked it LOL

No - I loved it - big brash finale with everything but the kitchen sink (but a rattling goldfish bowl will do for me). Great fun family viewing for fangirls like me and newbies alike. After all that's what Who does best FUN FOR THE FAMILY! I am sick of sofa-critics panning anything RTD tries, the man is a genius, the guy that had the foresight to bring back DW and to cast 2 great actors to bring him to life (CE was great - DT is magnificent!) Although I am looking forward to the Moffat era I will sadly miss Davies and his fun and exhuberance for all things who. Roll on the specials...

I loved the last episode. It was so packed I just had to watch it again tonight. Everything was thrown into the episode. Even a little 'Ahhh' moment with the one hearted doctor and Rose. I will miss the dash home every Saturday to be in time for Dr Who.

I love RTD & what he's done with Dr. Who. I really felt like I had been on heartwrenching rollercoaster. There really couldn't be a happy ending for Rose & her Doctor - but it could never work out....a truly soppy & emotional reaction from me, and just a few key words start it again! Yes, I get it wasn't the greatest episode and everything was all tied up conveniently, but let's not forget this is a family drama!! Can't wait for Christmas........

Martha and Mickey to join Torchwood? Did I get that bit right? What a fantastic end to the series and having saved the whole universe and all its parallel worlds in an hour one might ask what next? Beat that Moffat! German Daleks....brilliant!

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