A Doctor Who n00b Watches Season 4 & The Specials (SPOILERS)
Doctor Who is, by design, a show of grand scale, but the fourth season saw that scale ticked up to 11. After averting disaster aboard the spaceship Titanic, the Doctor (Tennant) reunites with Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) and whisks her off to a series of markedly more harrowing adventures through time and space. There’s something special about Noble, but what is it? And why does Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) keep popping up?
Forgive me, Whovians, I know I’m fudging things just a bit by grouping together the fourth series and the specials. They were designed as separate entities, divided not only by air date but by episodic structure—the specials do away with the series’ usual show length of 40-some-odd-minutes in favor of hour-plus plots. Yet like no prior seasons of the show, series four and the specials share a thematic link; as Tennant’s exit looms on the horizon both fixate themselves upon the matter of death. Some of the show’s lightest moments can be found in these episodes (many courtesy of Donna, Tennant’s best companion) but this is still a darker, wearier Doctor Who—a disposition that matches its protagonist’s as he nears his arc’s end. If the third series was about the power of humanism, the fourth series and specials are about the limitations of being human. Or of being Time Lord, in the Doctor’s case.
Let’s talk about that finale. The End Of Time, the finale of Tennant and showruner Russell T. Davies run on the show, is not perfect but is oddly fitting. I know Davies’ writing is controversial, and truth be told that’s probably deserved; he’s more than capable of churning out phenomenal episodes (see Midnight, this season’s best episode) but there’s an inconsistency to his work that owes deeply to his obsession with grandeur, oft at the cost of story structure or internal logic—he doesn’t always know how to get from big moment A to big moment B in a way that coheres as a piece of television. Davies goes big or he goes home, and with The End Of Time he goes bigger than ever... with mixed results. You’ve got the return of the Timelords (lead by Timothy Dalton, the most underrated James Bond), the resurrection of The Master (the always awesome John Simm) who now has superpowers and a weird blue skull disease, and there’s a machine that turns everyone into the Master, and some aliens are trying to steal that machine, and so forth and so on. It’s just a lot of things, too many things for even the supersized runtime, and so nothing really develops.
It’s still fun, though. Davies doesn’t always adhere to story structure, but he almost always knows how to entertain. And so an hour into The End Of Time that’s what I thought it would be—a bit of a mess that was also a good time, but then the real endgame started and I remembered that there’s something else Davies excels at, something that makes his writing truly special—quiet character moments. The Doctor had to make a lot of choices this last batch of episodes, and he didn’t always make the right ones. His choice to sacrifice himself for Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins) is one of those right ones, and one of the smartest, most heartwrenching moments of the Davies era. That Tennant’s Doctor sacrifices himself not for the world but for a single man feels so very very right. A perfect send off and a well considered piece of character work that tops off a finale that maybe was in too short supply of those moments.
So, this is the end of Tennant. I have to say as those final moments came along it was hard not to tear up. He was my doctor. There was such a joie de vivre he brought to his line readings, to his tics; even when he’d bust out a catchphrase or simper on in that gait of his he was always doing something unexpected. There was a real warmth that radiated from the screen when he was on it and when he wasn’t it was hard not to wish he was. Simply put, he owned this role. Goodbye David Tennant. Hello Matt Smith.
Who's your favorite Doctor: Tennant or Smith?