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Donna Noble’s entire world collapses, and there’s no sign of the Doctor. Instead, she finds help from a mysterious blonde woman, a traveller from a parallel universe. But, as Donna and Rose Tyler combine forces, are they too late to save the whole of creation from the approaching darkness...?
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS!
As I stated in my review of the previous volume, this year, rather than having a Doctor-lite episode that is also companion-lite, the production team has elected to separate the Doctor and Donna, so that Catherine Tate is mostly absent from the previous episode, Midnight, and David Tennant appears only briefly in this one, Turn Left.
His absence is made into a crucial plot point, as writer Russell T Davies explores, in an It’s a Wonderful Life stylee, what the universe would be like without the Doctor, who is erased from existence when Donna alters a small but pivotal decision from her own past. Neat tie-ins with episodes from the last couple of series demonstrate that, even though the Doctor causes a fair amount of mayhem whenever he’s around, things would be a lot worse without him, thus countering the very valid criticism that has been levelled against the Time Lord (and is levelled against him once again later in this very volume) that he does more harm than good. Here we discover that multiple realities are under threat unless the timeline is restored and the Doctor is brought back into being.
From a character and storytelling point of view, though, we hardly miss him at all, as Tate carries the show with an emotive performance, ably supported by the returning Billie Piper as well as astonishing turns by Bernard Cribbins and Jacqueline King as the rest of the Noble household. However, what has happened to Piper’s voice? She didn’t used to talk like thish - at least, not to the extent that can be heard on this DVD.
In addition to It’s a Wonderful Life and Sliding Doors, the episode’s influences include the Doctor Who stories The Evil of the Daleks, for its use of mirrors to effect time travel, and Planet of the Spiders, for its use of a giant creepy-crawly on a companion’s back.
The Time Beetle itself looks rather plastic, but otherwise there are lots of great visuals here, including flashbacks to the chaos and destruction of the last two Christmas specials, a nearly dead TARDIS and a cliffhanger ending that leads directly into the next episode...
Earth’s greatest heroes assemble in a time of dire need - but can the Doctor’s secret army defeat the might of the new Dalek Empire? With battles on the streets and in the skies, the Doctor and Donna must brave the Shadow Proclamation to find out the truth. However, another old enemy is waiting...
The concluding two-parter, The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End, packs in even more elements from the past than usual for a season finale. As well as Rose, The Stolen Earth sees the return of Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), her mother Francine (Adjoa Andoh), UNIT, the Torchwood team, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and her son Luke (Thomas Knight), former Prime Minister Harriet Jones (Penelope Wilton), the Daleks (voiced, as ever, by Nicholas Briggs), Davros (Julian Bleach) and the Judoon. Journey’s End adds Jackie Tyler (Camille Coduri) and Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke) to the roster.
Davros’s voice and mask are spot on, reflecting the original depiction of the character in Genesis of the Daleks, and Bleach is excellent in the role - but why recast him, when Terry Molloy (the ’80s Davros) is still alive and kicking? Meanwhile, Sladen’s weepy acting is rather pathetic at times. And though it’s great to see the Judoon again, the once mysterious Shadow Proclamation seems mundane now that it has been revealed to be a mere police force.
However, in all other respects, this is a great payoff for loyal viewers who have been with the show for the last four years - or longer. And who can blame the production team for coming over all celebratory? This season marks the programme’s 45th anniversary and is the end of an era for the show. When it returns as a full series in 2010 (following a handful of specials in 2009) it will be without producer Phil Collinson and executive producer and head writer Davies.
As the writer, Davies does show some restraint, though. Think of all the characters who don’t reappear: the Ninth Doctor, the Master, the Cybermen, the Sontarans, the Slitheen, the Autons, Pete Tyler, Tish Jones, Leo Jones and Clive Jones, and Maria Jackson and Clyde Langer from The Sarah Jane Adventures.
All in all, this is a magnificently strident episode, which ends with another cracking cliffhanger (which makes up for the surprise we were denied at the end of Series 1).
The entire universe is in danger, as the Daleks activate their master plan. The Doctor is helpless, and even the TARDIS faces destruction. The only hope lies with the Doctor’s secret army of companions - but as they join forces to battle against Davros himself, a prophecy declares that one of them will die...
After the build-up of the last couple of episodes, it was almost inevitable that Journey’s End would disappoint to some extent.
The Daleks’ plan of destroying the whole of creation is innately stupid. Even bearing in mind their xenophobia and the fact that they have a means of protection against the effects of the reality bomb, surely they need the resources of other species and planets in order to survive. I can accept this crazy plan from Davros and Dalek Caan, as they are both as mad as a box of slythers, but the rest of the Dalek fleet are in on it too.
The Doctor’s averted regeneration also lacks sense. I have listened to the Time Lord’s explanation of it four or five times now, and I’m still not convinced. I expected the severed hand to play a part, but I would have thought a more sensible use for it would be as a means of reasserting the current incarnation’s genetic structure, not as a “handy bio-matching receptacle” for his “regeneration energy”. How come he can use the regeneration energy to heal himself without changing, when the change has always been a part of the healing process? Does this mean that he’s used up a life, even though he hasn’t changed, or not? Maybe he wasn’t that badly injured after all.
Davies’s script doesn’t specify, though Tennant himself has provided some clarification in Doctor Who Confidential, in which he states his belief that a full regeneration wasn’t necessary. The actor is less certain about whether or not this means the Doctor uses up one of his lives. He suspects that this is something fans will debate for years to come. Here’s a thought: the Second Doctor was forcibly regenerated into the Third at the end of The War Games, with no life-threatening reason, so perhaps that regeneration didn’t use up a life. So maybe the Tenth Doctor’s averted regeneration makes things even!
The Doctor’s dialogue also skirts around the fact that he is already half-human (or at least Paul McGann’s Doctor was in the TV movie).
Still, all of the above technobabble leads to the creation of the Doctor-Donna, an exciting and funny idea.
The episode runs to nearly 65 minutes, though the extra 20 minutes are mostly taken up with farewells to various characters, many of them very moving. Mickey stays behind in our universe, presumably to join Torchwood. Rose gets her man - sort of. But the parting of the ways for Donna and the Doctor is one of the most tragic ever, even though her prophesied “death” is as much of a cop-out as Rose’s was back in Doomsday. A very downbeat ending - I miss the kind of lead-in that we had for the last two Christmas specials.
Journey’s End almost collapses under the weight of its own baggage as it waddles towards the finishing line, but it just about manages to bring four years of story arcs to a satisfactory conclusion.
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