Journey’s End

Doctor WhoCaught by a glancing blow from a Dalek weapon, the Doctor’s body is involuntarily beginning the regeneration process – until the Doctor is able to divert the energy into his severed hand, benefitting from the restorative effects without changing his appearance or personality. On Earth, Sarah Jane is saved from the Daleks by Mickey Smith and Jackie Tyler, who have returned from the alternate universe after losing contact with Rose. The Dalek attack on the Torchwood Hub is halted by a defense mechanism that the late Toshiko Sato was developing, locking the Dalek into a moment of frozen time – but also trapping Ianto and Gwen inside, safe but unable to escape. To Mickey’s disgust and Jackie’s horror, Sarah surrenders herself and both of them to the Daleks, reasoning that being taken to the Dalek mothership as hostages will put her closer to the Doctor, and in a better position to help. The TARDIS is brought about the mothership by the Daleks, and the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack step out to meet their fate – but the TARDIS doors close, trapping Donna inside. Declaring the time machine and anyone who is still inside it a threat, the Dalek Supreme orders the TARDIS dumped into the neutrino core of his own ship, where it will dissolve and surrender its energy to the Dalek war effort. But when Donna reaches for the Doctor’s severed hand, she sets other events into motion which the Daleks can’t possibly have foreseen. Davros is planning the destruction of the entire cosmos, every universe, every alternate universe, and every dimension, to prove himself a god, and nothing the Doctor says can dissuade the mad Dalek creator from his plans. Martha, Sarah, Jack, Mickey and Jackie join forces to put an end to Davros’ plan, but he has anticipated their interference. But he hasn’t anticipated Donna’s next move – and he certainly hasn’t anticipated whose help she has.

Order the DVDDownload this episodewritten by Russell T. Davies
directed by Graeme Harper
music by Murray Gold

Cast: David Tennant (The Doctor), Catherine Tate (Donna Noble), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Adjoa Andoh (Francine Jones), Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Thomas Knight (Luke Smith), Bernard Cribbins (Wilfred Mott), Jacqueline King (Sylvia Noble), Julian Bleach (Davros), Valda Aviks (German Woman), Shobu Kapoor (Scared Woman), Elizabeth Tan (Chinese Woman), Michael Price (Liberian Man), Barney Edwards, Nick Pegg, David Hankinson, Anthony Spargo (Dalek Operators), Nicholas Briggs (Dalek voice), John Leeson (voice of K-9), Alexander Armstrong (voice of Mr. Smith)

LogBook entry & review by Earl Green

Review: Journey’s End is an obvious note of closure to the era, and the story threads, of outgoing Doctor Who showrunner Russell T. Davies, and as such, it encapsulates not only the overarching themes of his era, but both his strengths and weaknesses as the new series’ chief storyteller.

There are a lot of convenient plot contrivances here, not the least of which is an “out” for The Stolen Earth‘s regeneration cliffhanger which stops just short of making a mockery of virtually every regeneration in the show’s history. Sure, it’s explained away, and it almost makes sense, but it really throws a dash of cold water on the previous episode’s build-up. Red herrings such as the Osterhagen Key and Sarah Jane’s “warp star” are built up and come to nothing. Maybe it’s all in the name of keeping the viewer guessing, but at times it seems like these dead-ends stole time from story and character development that needed more breathing room.

Journey's EndAnd yet there were moments of pure, series-defining beauty here, namely the moment where Davros takes the Doctor to task for never arming himself, and yet turning his companions into an army unto themselves: Rose, Sarah, Jack and Martha all arm themselves, over the course of this two-parter, with weapons of various destructive power, ranging from humongous guns to nukes strategically placed to basically self-destruct the Earth. Sad as it is to say, Davros has a point – but one of these is not like the others. I realize that Sarah is there to tie her own spinoff series into its parent show, but if we’re going to talk about the Doctor’s companions being prepared to emply violence, one word comes screaming into my head: Ace. I’d say Leela too, but presumably she died on Gallifrey when that planet was wiped out during the Time War. Ace could’ve made a very effective comeback here, and it really would’ve made more sense for her to be toting around an unearthly weapon of fantastic destructive power than to have Sarah Jane “I steer clear of you lot, too many guns!” Smith doing the same – and Ace could’ve recognized Davros just as easily as Sarah did.

There’s a lot of “received wisdom” that circulates in Doctor Who fandom which informs us, for example, that the 1996 TV movie was brilliant in 1996 but sometime around 2000 it officially became crap. This wisdom, such as it is, seems fickle at best. And I understand that the received wisdom these days is that Ace was a cartoonish, unrealistic character – but I’m not sure where anyone gets off making that claim about a character in a show about a man who travels through time in a police box. So while I begrudgingly acknowledge the current received wisdom that Ace is “out” and Sarah is “in,” I’m standing by my argument that a golden opportunity was missed here. Besides, even K-9 showed up for a couple of scenes – would Ace really have been companion nostalgia overkill?

Speaking of the 1996 TV movie, the presence of the “second” Doctor (not to be confused with the second Doctor) digs up that whole debate about the eighth Doctor’s claim to being half-human. Far from really resolving that issue, Journey’s End actually confuses it further. I’ve always considered that throwaway line in the McGann movie to mean that, while the Doctor is physically and psychologically a Time Lord, he has a direct ancestor who happens to be human. The reason I can’t just completely discount and ignore the half-human line from 1996 is that it does explain so much – the Doctor’s constant affinity for Earth and the fact that when he returned “home” from the Cheetah Planet in Survival (1989), he didn’t suddenly appear inside the TARDIS – he appeared outside the TARDIS, on Earth. I wish this whole issue had been dealt with in a more straightforward manner, even if it meant that the tenth Doctor is now 100% Time Lord with his human traits all splintered off into the Doctor who remained with Rose.

That Rose was unceremoniously deposited back into her alternate universe, along with Jackie and a more human Doctor, was one of the better thought-out parts of the ending. The Doctor points out that the human copy of him is more like his ninth incarnation: capable of violence and pettiness, and a ticking time bomb if left alone. I also liked the acknowledgement that the ninth Doctor was a head case – fandom has kind of quietly nodded and shifted uncomfortably in its collective seat on that issue, sort of like a family awkwardly avoiding any discussion of a troublesome relative, but here it was, cards on the table: the Eccleston Doctor was a seething ball of post-traumatic stress disorder probably waiting to detonate and become the Valeyard a few incarnations too early until Rose came along. As for the other companions, Martha and Mickey are conveniently deposited into the care of Captain Jack, and I have little doubt that they’ll be starring in Torchwood‘s disappointingly truncated third season in 2009; similarly, Sarah is dropped off just in time for the upcoming second season of her own series.

That leaves Donna, who gets the most heartbreaking exit of any new series sidekick to date, even moreso than Rose’s departure in Doomsday. Her fate is perhaps worse than death: she’s been relieved of the memory of the fantastic things she saw, felt and accomplished in the Doctor’s company. Far from the aggravatingly attitudinal companion that most (particularly those acquainted with Catherine Tate’s comedy work) expected, her exit reveals the true tragedy of the character: she’s been psychologically beaten down into thinking that she’s not in any way special. Donna’s tearful plea to remain in the TARDIS for the rest of her life, her grandfather’s assertion that she was better for traveling with the Doctor, and the Doctor’s snappy retort to her mother that she should do something to bolster Donna’s self-esteem all paint the picture: Donna didn’t come from a broken home or a cruel family, but her sense of self-worth was still taken from her, piece by piece. (I also know personally how this can happen, how insidious it is, and how hard it is to undo or overcome the resulting damage.) If this was Russell T. Davies slipping a messge into the story, that message may well be the best parting gift he could leave us with. I wish Donna could have remained aboard the TARDIS, as she was the best companion creation of the new show so far, but I suppose that having her around longer before the big revelation would’ve made the parting even more painful (and the build-up more exasperating). Another thing that I’ll miss, painfully, about Donna – aside from her being the most independent and intelligent of the TARDIS travelers created on Davies’ watch – is her grandfather, Wilfred. Bernard Cribbins crafted a great character, at turns both sympathetic/dramatic and comedic, from what was in the show’s scripts, and I almost wish he’d tagged along aboard the TARDIS at some point. I’ll miss him every bit as much as I miss Donna from whatever adventures follow.

Julian Bleach’s brilliantly mad, off-the-rails Davros was just plain terrifying. I suppose that if my lot in life was to look/feel like he does, I’d probably want to drop-kick reality too. I was stunned that, after all of it, the Doctor tried to offer Davros a berth on the TARDIS, even temporarily, but slyly enough, we were not shown a definitive death for the character – at least no more definitive than any of his other supposed demises. Apart from the Sontarans, Davros has been the best original series callback in the entire new series; thanks to the makeup and a studied performance, I could believe that this was the same character played by Michael Wisher, Terry Molloy and David Gooderson. There’s an advantage there in that Davros involves a mile of makeup on top of whoever is playing him, but that won’t hide a performance that doesn’t ring true. Bleach did his homework and stole the show.

I’m satisfied that a complete story was told here without a Last Of The Time Lords “reset button,” but one thing that I am beginning to wonder about the new series is this: is the Earth depicted in Doctor Who any longer relevant and relatable to our own? The public knowledge of aliens is a handy device that lets one get away with huge, cataclysmic invasions on our own turf (which can be shot on location easily, negating the necessity for expensive sets), but the collective human psyche would change so much from this, in ways that the series just hasn’t devoted time to exploring. Perhaps that in itself is meat for future stories. As much as I hate reset button storytelling, perhaps Earth needs a reboot of some sort – the only other options are to take more stories off-world (which I would like), or to keep ramping up the scale of future invasions of Earth (and I’m not sure how much bigger one could get than this two-parter in that department). Between the Slitheen and the Sycorax and the Cybermen and the Adipose and the Sontarans and the Daleks, surely we’d all be living in a tightly-wound state of fear, worried that every previously undiscovered asteroid or meteor shower is terror raining down from above…oh. Wait. Maybe that is relatable to our world today, and Davies is cleverer than I’ve given him credit for. Never mind. (And just in case, “Copyright, Donna Noble.”)

The fourth series was, in my estimation the most consistent season of the new show – The Fires Of Pompeii really didn’t trip my trigger that much, but there just wasn’t a clunker or a surefire skip in this season. Really, there haven’t been that many in the series to date (again, in my estimation). But Journey’s End did point up neatly what Davies brought to the table in reviving the show – and it also pointed up why he needs to move on to greener pastures so the show can do the same. There are still four standalone specials yet to come from Davies’ pen, but out of necessity, this episode ties of his era thematically – none too late and none too soon. Even if you haven’t been a fan of his work (and even I haven’t always been – again, see Last Of The Time Lords), I think the man’s earned a hearty round of applause. He’s brought Doctor Who, one of the best shows ever to grace British television (and, indeed, anyone’s television) back from what seemed like an obscurity of “inside joke” novels and audio plays for the faithful, and against all odds, he made it a huge hit – enough so that there’s no shame in admitting to being a Doctor Who fan, old or new. If that isn’t cause to celebrate Davies’ “era,” I’m not sure what is.

Webmaster’s note: though this concludes coverage of the fourth season of the new Doctor Who, for site housekeeping purposes, the four specials to follow will be included in the fourth season category; the BBC has gone on the record as stating that the fifth season proper won’t arrive until 2010 and Steven Moffat’s takeover as showrunner.