Aside from the intense mourning and inevitable goodbye to Tennant that characterized this episode, it seems Russel T. Davies' main aim was to redefine the regeneration process in itself. All the considerable emotion of this game-changing episode was built around the fact that when he regenerates, the Doctor doesn't just change his body like a change of clothes--he dies. His character, his mannerisms, his personal connections, his idiosyncrasies, even his vocabulary, dies and is replaced in some new, unpredictable permutation.
To imbue this process that has allowed the series of Doctor Who to last as long as it has, and to continue indefinitely, Davies' wrote a two-parter for Tennant which finds the Doctor to be more human than we have ever seen before. His fear is palpable in the first part, reserved and bordering on the edge of desperation, which breaks free in the second as on a couple different occasions he rages against his fate. He cries, and breaks things, and screams. He reminisces about the people he's loved and the places he's seen. He laments the things he has yet to do and see. He fails to understand how all the good he achieved and all the friendships he built cannot change the inevitable brevity of this life--a four year stint in this body for a 906-year-old soul, which makes his life all the shorter and The Doctor all the more reluctant to let it go.
Tennant is truly and unbelievably good in his final episode. From the powerful, unbeatable, action hero Doctor, to the mortal, emotional, conflicted Doctor, Tennant takes a character we have all loved and grown attached to and shows us why we love him. He makes him more accessible even than during his love story with Rose Tyler, still commonly considered the most poignant successful storylines of the new series (think Buffy Season 2 and her doomed love with Angel.)
This episode, perhaps more than any other, was about the acting rather than the special effects or the Big Bad, as proven by the climactic battle between the Doctor, the Master and the returning TimeLords occurring only about 2/3rds of the way through the episode. We see The Master, the Doctor's only contemporary and the other, often opposite, half of his own character. We see him twisted and desperate as he too faces his end, and the contrast between his raging-against-fate and The Doctor's shows us not only, once again, that the Doctor is hugely human and noble, but just how incredible and unprecedented it is that a TimeLord, ancient and wise and brilliant and powerful, has managed to cling to these painful and formative emotions.
This is enhanced even more with the return of the TimeLord's, led by an insane Timothy Dalton, who manages to break free from the Timelocked Timewar (with TimeWarner Cable?) and emerge on Earth with the intention of destroying...well everything. Including Time of course. We learn more clearly what the TimeWar consisted of---what the Doctor saw that the Master missed--how the leaders of the TimeLords grew twisted and violent and megalomaniacal, and why the Doctor ended his own kind as well as their enemies the Daleks.
But again it's as if Davies took the standard formula for a Doctor episode: running around, exponential dangers and enemies, explosions, threats from his past, etc. and turned into a foil for the Doctor's character. By providing the corrupted comparisons of every being left in his species, we are shown why the Doctor has embraced Earth and the human race.
In the previous episode he told Wilf that humans look like giants to him, perhaps in the amount they do, in their courage and creativity, despite such short life spans. Wilf himself, Tennant's final companion, plays no direct part in the final battle between the Doctor, the Master and the Lord President of the TimeLords. Instead, as the battle begins, without even thinking or hesitation, Wilf rescues an anonymous lab technician from a radiation chamber, locking himself in instead.
As it turns out, that IS really the final battle for the Doctor. Once all the other TimeLords disappear into some convenient and unexplained white void, the Doctor briefly believes his death sentence was averted, until the oft-prophesied knocking turns out to be Wilf in the radiation chamber. Cue rage and total heartbreak.
Originally, I was actually a bit pissed off. Had he not vented his feelings to Wilf at that Chiswick cafe, and then returned for him, taking him along for his final adventure, he would have faced one of his greatest and most personal significant challenges, and still survived! But as I thought more, aside from the fact that the anonymous white lab coat guy would still be locked in the chamber, the more fitting the end became.
As opposed to a final blaze of glory, or being murdered by the master, or saving the world, the Doctor, in the end, must sacrifice himself for one human. Not just because it's Wilf, whom he loves ("I would be proud, if you were my father" made me cry) who is the father of Donna, whom he loves, but because Wilf is a human being. And, as Davros showed the Doctor (and us) in last season's finale, throughout this brief live dozens of humans, in different times and places, and even a few aliens, have sacrificed themselves to save the Doctor, and to let his story continue. Davies' desire to bring things full circle creates poignancy here, and while the Doctor rages, he does it briefly, and steps into the radiation chamber because it's simply his duty and ultimately his fate.
Now for the epilogue, which was really the main part of the show. Honestly, I could have skipped all the Master stuff, all the TimeLords returning drama and end of the human species, and just watched the Doctor visiting his old companions. Let's take it one by one.
Martha Jones (& Mickey): Unfortunately, Martha didn't get a line with the Doctor, but she had a
cool action sequence and the revelation that she married Mickey (what ever happened to her Doctor fiance who she had met when she was saving the world against the Master third season?) was a surprise and a surprisingly possible match the more I think of it. It was also interesting to see she really has become the consummate soldier, but by far the best part was when the Doctor leaves and they hug each other, obviously knowing he appeared to say goodbye. I hold out hope that they will both appear in Torchwood when it is restored.
Sarah Jane Smith: The rescue of Sarah Jane's son Luke seemed a bit forced (he has a near death experience at the same time that the Doctor is dying and the events of Christmas just happened?) until I watched Doctor Who Confidential and it turns out Davies was making a joke about the way the child actors of The Sarah Jane Adventures never look both ways when they cross the street. That somewhat explains the anger on Tennant's face after he saves Luke, perhaps an admonishment for not being careful, but still one of the expressions in the episode I found out of place. And when he says, or rather waves, goodbye to Sarah Jane, her big smile was confusing to me as well, though it could very well have been a sad farewell smile, or an I-know-you'll-be-back-but-I've-known-you-in-different-bodies-and-I'll-probably-know-the-next-one. And, depending on the success of Matt Smith's Doctor (I have no doubt that the ratings will remain enormous) I predict he will be on Sarah Jane Adventures, especially after the Doctor's last crossover in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, which was awesome.
Verity Newman: The most unexpected of his farewells, the Doctor visits a descendant of the woman he loved, Joan Redfern, when he was in hiding as a human in the third series. He shows up at her book signing, as she has uncovered her Grandmother's journals and put her and the Doctor's stories into a book. The actress is the same as the one who loved John Smith (the Doctor's human identity), Jessica Hynes, and she is spectacular in the brief 30 seconds she is given.
Captain Jack Harkness: Of course the Doctor finds Captain Jack at an intergalactic, inter-species bar, drowning his sorrows after his own heartbreak at the end of Children of Earth where he lost his friends, his headquarters, did morally questionable things, and his lover, Ianto Jones, died. Again, the Doctor doesn't exchange words, but in an act of forgiveness he reaches out in a war that he knows matters to Captain Jack--he sends him a note telling him the name of the cute sailor human who just sat next to him at the bar. 'His name is Alonso' - and it's none other than Russel Torvey, Mr. Midshipman Alonso Frame, from the Voyage of The Damned (one of the weakest specials, second only to Planet of the Dead). It's wonderful as always to see Captain Jack, and Alonso was a treat, and I sincerely sincerely hope they get together and he brings Alonso into Torchwood.
Donna Noble and Wilf: Donna's storyline in this final two-parter was the biggest disappointment by far for me. The shockwave thing that emanated out of her when she was surrounded by Master-humans, incapacitating them, is only ever explained as a "defense mechanism" that the Doctor put in her. She begins to remember everything the Doctor made her forget, and then wakes up like normal, without the memories at the surface anymore. I wanted more! I wanted her to at least SEE him, and if she has to go back to not-remembering, that she at least has a moment of clarity. However, he does come to say goodbye, in effect, by observing Donna's wedding. Again, Russel tries the full-circle thing, as the first time we met her she was on her way to get married, and that never worked out. But it didn't mean that much to me (except that Donna obviously loves black men.) The lottery ticket was cool, and seeing Sylvia Noble cry with emotion and finally feel love for the Doctor was nice, but I have to think, wouldn't the Doctor know that Donna, before she met him or rather with her memory stripped clean, was rather shallow and vapid? Consequently, wouldn't becoming a millionaire not be the best thing for her? Still, it's a lovely gesture and an attempt to keep her life secure and happy. His goodbye to Wilf, again, seemed rather angry. When Wilf saluted, he just turned and walked away. Of course, he hates the whole saluting thing, and Wilf is pretty much directly responsible for his impending death, but still, a half smile would have been acceptable I think.
Rose Tyler: I was really really hoping we'd get to see Rose in her parallel universe, with her halfDoctor, halfHuman Tennant Clone, leading a happy life, and at least letting them know what was happening, in case they ever try to find him again. (Funny that the halfhuman Doctor, in his mortal body, will actually outlive the authentic Tennant Doctor.) However, when it's revealed that he's visited her mere months before Rose will ever meet the Doctor (Eccleston) there is absolutely a sense of completion as well as the comfort that the past and present and future are all happening at once, that endings can be beginnings, that Rose and the Doctor will be together forever, somewhen in time. And the return of Billie was fantastic, and her outfit, and her housing complex, and her accent were pitch perfect and her huge grin was beautiful. Of course it was far, far too brief, but I pray that Steven Moffat, in a year or two, or someday, will have Matt Smith's Doctor have to go to the alternate universe and find Rose and the half-human Doctor. Which means Tennant can return, at least for a little while! And he can be a true foil to Smith, not just his predecessor, but his predecessor genetically combined with Donna Noble! Would be brilliant.
So the Doctor says goodbye to everyone that he loves, and its beautiful and appropriate the way the series finale of Six Feet Under was. Then we get Tennant's final scene, as he stumbles to the TARDIS (didn't really need Ood Sigma to gross us out again, but I suppose 'singing him to his sleep' was kind) and begins to regenerate. His last word's ever? "I don't want to go." His face, his delivery, makes it probably the most human and heart-wrenching and scary moment of Tennant's entire run.
I, for one, will heartily miss him, and will rewatch his many episodes with glee for the rest of his life, because he is MY Doctor, and probably always will be. I intend to find his lauded Hamlet and watch that, and even to follow Tennant's attempt at mainstream US television in his upcoming lawyer show on NBC.
Still, the final 30 seconds of the special, the first 30 seconds of the eleventh Doctor, were fitting and rather exciting. Matt Smith's hair is a bit messy, but his initially crazy assessment of his new body is spot-on and believable, and his excitement at crashing in the TARDIS nearly overshadows Tennant's farewell with expectation for the future. Confidential showed a clip of Smith walking from his trailer to the set to film his first scene, and we see him go up and speak to Russel T. Davies (for the first time! They never met before!) with the expression and excitement of a true fan, and even a smile at the Confidential camera that shows this guy is a performer and pretty damn stoked about his new, huge opportunity.
The only remaining point-of-interest is the Woman, credited as the Prophetess, who visits Wilf throughout the two-parter, advising him, and then appears in the council of TimeLords at the end that the Doctor faces off against. When she lowers her hands and the Doctor sees her, he is overcome, and then she shows him with her eyes the way to end the standoff he is stuck in. But the question remains who is she? To affect the Doctor so? To be so connected to his final days and his well being? Can it really be his Mother? And if so, why not elaborate? Why just throw something so huge into the mix without explaining? To make him more human in his final moments? More sentimental? Or perhaps it's a Moffat-imbued set-up for a future big story? Either way I'd like some confirmation on her identity.
So, God Bless You David Tennant and your Doctor. A big thank you to you and Russel T. Davies, the both of whom, despite the occasional tepid or formulaic story, made a huge great series even huger and greater, and, more importantly, special and accessible to my generation (and the one or two behind me already.)
Now let's take a look at the preview for Matt Smith's series, which will begin sometime in Spring (arghh!). We've got Alex Kingston back as River Song! We've got a Dalek or two! We've got the freaky statues from Don't Blink! or whatever that critically acclaimed Moffat episode was called! We've got the new redhead companion, who is beautiful, and has lovely hair, and is hopefully more plucky and stronger than she looks! And we have the Doctor, new and old, shaggier and perhaps even more impulsive, with an apparently less strict abhorrence of violence and guns. He also wears a bow tie and his new catch phrase (replacing Allons-y!) is "Geronimo!" I'm all for American slang replacing French, and can't wait to see if it'll work. Enjoy! And get psyched. But not too psyched, cause you have to wait till end of March/beginning of April for more Doctor stories.
The New Logo: