"It's not like I'm an innocent. I've taken lives. I got worse, I got clever. Manipulated people into taking their own. Sometimes I think a Time Lord lives too long."
This must be the definitive Doctor Who story of two halves.
Despite the obligatory humans who turn out to be aliens, part one has so many great things going for it.
1. It's billed as 'Part One'. This is so much less confusing and cumbersome than calling each episode by a different name.
2. Bernard Cribbins as Wilfred Mott, promoted to companion.
"Listen Doctor, if this is a time machine, that man you're chasing - why can't you just pop back to yesterday and catch 'im?"
3. The return of the Master, but this time played quite seriously. Big relief.
4. The parallel editing of the Doctor racing back from the Ood's future to the present.
5. The return of Donna, as neither a lead character, nor just a cameo. That Catherine Tate wasn't listed in the opening credits made her appearance a very pleasant surprise indeed.
6. David Tennant as the Doctor, facing-down his character's looming death. (no idea why he places so much faith in a stranger's prophecy) I think Tennant is principally thought of for the joy which he's brought to the role but here, as in the preceding Waters Of Mars story, he gets to plunge into the character's depths.
The scene on Christmas Eve when he's sitting in a coffee shop feeling wretched with Wilfred, and observing Donna from afar, is David Tennant's best scene ever. It runs for the sort of duration that the show doesn't usually have the patience for these days, and some of it even has no music to get in the way! Wonderful stuff.
7. Barack Obama. Well-realised, and funny.
8. Timothy Dalton. He narrates it. I'm serious.
9. The long-awaited return of the Time Lords. (after an absence of 23 years)
Well, that's the great things about part one out of the way.
From the segue into part two however, the whole thing runs like a reunion special of the last five years of plotting fumbles. The following list contains 21 things that I didn't much like about it. I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry. ;)
1. Having in The Christmas Invasion had a third of the human race taken over, and in the SJA story Secrets Of The Stars eleven-twelfths of them, in this one it happens to everybody on Earth.
2. The Lord President and the last Time Lords have a mad prophet predicting the future in riddles for them, just like Davros and the last Daleks had mad prophet Caan predicting the future in riddles for them in Journey's End. (four live-action stories back) Donna even has a flashback of Caan.
3. Although said prophet repeatedly predicts the extinction of the Time Lords today, the Lord President sets about intently following her predictions. I must surely have understood that wrong, so I'm not going to count it. Let's have point three again.
3. Having captured them, the Master removes Wilfred's gun, but leaves the Doctor's sonic screwdriver on him.
4. The Doctor has left Donna with the completely unforeshadowed ability to knock people out with some sort of psi-blast.
5. The Doctor has left Donna with this power even though he does not possess such an ability himself.
6. Although he has had his gun taken off of him by the Master, later on Wilfred still has it.
7. The Doctor throws himself out of the in-flight Vinvocci spaceship, crashes through the skylight window of the building and slams face-down onto the marble floor, but only sustains minimal injuries.
8. Just over four minutes later the spaceship has landed and Wilfred runs in the door to join the Doctor, who has achieved nothing but hurting himself. Idiot. Well, really! :)
9. The Time Lord President solves the zombiefication of everyone in the world by pressing a button which just undoes everything. Well, actually he does it by making his glove glow, which is the same thing.
10. The version of the Master who has taken over the 44th president of the United States remains standing on the same spot for roughly a day. And then there's everyone else.
11. The Doctor forgets that if he shoots the Time Lord President, then he will just regenerate.
12. The Time Lord President doesn't shoot the Doctor while his back is turned, even though the Doctor is about to send them all back into the time lock by killing the Master.
13. Similarly, the Master doesn't shoot the Doctor from behind either.
14. Earth's rotation and orbit around the sun remain, as usual on this show, unaffected by the presence of the much bigger planet of Gallifrey right next to it. Maybe something to do with the planetary alignment of Earth, the moon, Mars and Jupiter that we'd seen earlier on in this story.
15. Without any foreshadowing, all the nuclear bolt's excess radiation gets 'vented' inside a chamber.
16. Without any foreshadowing, all the nuclear bolt's excess radiation gets 'vented' inside a chamber that is also a Vinvocci's workstation. They must get through a lot of staff.
17. The Doctor could easily set-up something to press the big red button to release Wilfred, without having to suicidally stand there, press it himself and become lethally irradiated. He even says of his sonic screwdriver, apparently thinking he's disqualifying it, "Even this would set it off." Perfect - use that then.
"Except it's gone critical. Touch one control and it floods. Even this would set it off."
18. The Doctor's getting voluntarily killed by radiation behind glass is very similar to Spock's death in Star Trek II. Now I don't mind two authors coming up with the same idea for different series 25 years apart, but Spock's death scene is iconic, and therefore not a wise thing to reuse, unless for comedy.
19. Having absorbed the radiation, the Doctor doesn't do the trick he did in Smith And Jones when he channeled it all into his shoe. I guess there's maybe too much of it this time.
20. The world's temporary transformation into the Master is explained away to the public thus:
Luke: "That was the maddest Christmas ever Clyde. Mum still doesn't know what happened. She got Mr. Smith to put out this story saying that Wi-Fi went mad all across the world giving everyone hallucinations. I mean, how else are you going to explain that everyone with a different face…"
How does the world remember everyone having a different face if they were all the Master at the time? How would hallucinations explain all the recordings that exist of it, such as Obama's internationally televised speech? What about all the people who don't have Wi-Fi, like Africa? (who also won't hear the propaganda)
Mr. Smith and K-9 would remember what happened, whether or not they understood it, but they are omitted from the role call of companions at the end. Fair enough about Mr. Smith's absence - he's from a different show - but K-9 isn't.
21. For the first time in Doctor Who history, the Doctor's regeneration is the same effect as for an earlier one, albeit a bit bigger. Oh well.
Despite all the above, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed both episodes. Sure, we never find out who that mysterious woman was, or how the Ood's development was being accelerated, or even the full story behind the TARDIS' appearance in the stained-glass window at the start, but maybe those answers are yet to come.
One nice touch was the tenth Doctor's introducing his final episode over the BBC-1 ident:
"This is the Doctor. And now the end of time is nigh. The Master's in control, the Time Lords are returning, and it's time to face the final battle."
Particularly since all BBC-1's Christmas idents this year were Doctor Who-themed. (that's the tenth Doctor himself driving those reindeer above)
A good moment proper finds the Doctor being rescued while still strapped to a wheelchair, and getting bumped down a flight of stairs yelling "Worst. Rescue. Ever!"
The whole cast plays this extremely well. John Simm looks much happier to be in this story, and throws himself into the role of the Master, unlike in Utopia / The Sound Of Drums / Last Of The Time Lords when he looked so uncomfortable doing silly. (that's silliness for you) And the Master has his beard back again, albeit a stubbly one.
Billie Piper actually does look very young as Rose, which is unusual for a performer playing a prequel version of themselves.
And David Tennant? He's the best actor ever to have taken the role. He's brought such an enormous range to the Doctor, that it's a crying shame so many of his scripts have not taken advantage of this great opportunity. Sure, I liked him when he was funny, but I was riveted when he was serious.
Consequently the best thing in this - his final story - is the closing 15 minutes. We know that he's going to regenerate, so the story second-guesses us by taking us right up to the moment, only to then whip it away again and grant us a precious extra quarter of an hour with him.
Free of a storyline to get all tangled-up, the dying Doctor visits the many friends he's made over his tenure, and does something for each of them by way of a goodbye. It's not just nice to see them all again, it's also incredibly sad.
I've made a lot of criticisms on this blog of the ubiquity of incidental music these days, which has sadly subtracted from so many scenes, but here the haunting theme that carries us through to the episode's close is an absolute tear-jerker. The loss, the loneliness, the beauty, this final act is all just so sad.
It's reminiscent of the end of Doomsday, when the storyline had similarly concluded, and we got a whole long storyless epilogue with Rose and her family.
I know I keep on about it, but shaky story-construction has been the trademark of this five-year era, and as such has, for me, repeatedly disabled the show's potential. However in this sequence there is no story to get into a tangle, and for just a few minutes all that emotional content can come into play unhindered.
The greatest pain though still comes from watching such a well-loved Doctor Who getting killed-off without even a solid reason. Again.
So long, Doctor, and thank you. I might have hated the past three seasons, if you hadn't been there to save them.