"I don't want to go!" -The DoctorAnd we don't want you to go, Doctor, but this is how this particular game has always been played, alas.
The first half of "End of Time" was messy and confusing and over-stuffed, but Russell T. Davies beautifully righted the ship for the conclusion - to both this story and his run (and David Tennant's) on the series.
With the Master replacing all of humanity for most of the running time, we didn't need to deal with random characters like the Naismiths. John Simm's performance as the Master was toned-down just enough so that he still seemed crazy while not overwhelming every other character on screen. (That's an impressive feat, given that in certain portions of the movie, he was every character on screen.) And he was in turn well-matched by Timothy Dalton(*), who was able to convey the insanity, arrogance and sheer danger of the Time Lords circa the end of the Time War - and to explain why The Doctor would have been willing to exterminate his own race right along with the Daleks.
(*) A quick aside on Dalton: I think he gets a bad rap for this stint as James Bond. I thought he was actually a very strong 007, but stranded in two fairly awful Bond films. ("Living Daylights" had one of the drippiest love interests of the series, while "License to Kill" was an embarrassing attempt to modernize the series by taking its cues from "Miami Vice.") Stick him into "Goldeneye" or "Casino Royale" as his introduction, and his tenure goes very differently.
But really, what made "End of Time" part the second work so well was the same thing that was the highlight of last week's episode: the interaction between The Doctor and Wilf, and The Doctor grappling with the impending end of his life.
David Tennant and Bernard Cribbins were both great in the scene aboard the salvage ship where Wilf tried to get The Doctor to take his gun. And then after humanity was restored, after the Time Lords and Gallifrey were doomed once and for all, after the Master disappeared(**), we had the chilling moment when we discovered that the four knocks from the prophecy had nothing to do with the Time Lords or the Master - that it was poor, decent Wilf, trapped in a radiation chamber and needing to come out.
(**) Steven Moffat has said he's not interested in spending a lot of time on classic "Who" villains, so it's entirely possible this will be the last we see of the Master in any incarnation. But Davies left things vague enough that Moffat could use the guy again, should he desire.
And much as The Doctor raged against his fate (another superb scene for Tennant), it felt right that his death would come not from the Time Lords, or the Master, or aliens, or some other big enemy, but from his own love of humanity - and of this human (and his family) in particular. The Doctor has always stood out from his people because of his affection for these small, finite people of Earth, who don't have the power or the lifespan or the wisdom of the Time Lords but are capable of so much emotional greatness that The Doctor views them as giants, not insects. The Ninth Doctor died saving his human companion, and even though Ten wasn't exactly the same man, he was close enough that of course he would make a similar sacrifice in a similar situation, even if he was much less ready to die than Nine.
And by making the regeneration a bit of a drawn-out process, Davies was able to take The Doctor on one last tour of the universe he created over the last five years: rescuing Mickey and Martha (now a married couple) from the Sontarans, saving Sarah Jane's son Luke from an oncoming car, fixing a heartbroken Captain Jack up with Alonso from "Voyage of the Damned," visiting the granddaughter of Joan Redfern (from "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood"), buying Donna(***) a (presumably winning) lottery ticket with money borrowed in the past from her late father, and saying hi to Rose several months before she would first meet Nine (which allowed Davies to use Billie Piper without invalidating the conclusion to "Journey's End").
(***) It felt like Davies wasn't sure what to do with Donna through this two-parter. He wanted to use Wilf as the companion, which meant Donna couldn't be ignored, but all she does is run around for a bit, come close to remembering, then pass out while The Doctor's "defense mechanism" takes out the Masters around her. In the end, as with Rose, Davies didn't want to undo the events of "Journey's End," but he managed to give Donna a happy ending in spite of her memory remaining wiped. And I found it interesting that The Doctor referred to her as "my best friend." For this incarnation, I guess she was, since the relationships with Rose and Martha were too fraught with other emotional issues.
And then the Ood came to sing this Doctor to sleep, and he raged against his regeneration until it set the TARDIS on fire, and then... young, floppy-haired, manic Matt Smith. About whom we will have quite a lot to say later this year.
But for now, a final round of applause to Mssrs. Davies and Tennant, the former of whom brought the franchise back from the dead (and reimagined it enough to make it appealing to people like me who either didn't watch or didn't care for the original series), the latter of whom goes down, by all accounts, as one of the best Doctors ever.
Well done. As Nine would say, you were fantastic.
A few other thoughts:
• Davies wasn't big on throwing in references to non-"Who" pop culture during his run, but this one had a few really obvious nods to some big guns of sci-fi, with Wilf's stint as an asteroid laser gunner obviously modeled on Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon's turret guns in the original "Star Wars," Captain Jack's space cantina (featuring lots of Davies-era aliens like the Adipose and the Judoon) modeled on a similar sequence also in "Star Wars," and The Doctor's fate in the radiation chamber looked quite a bit like Mr. Spock's sacrifice in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." For that matter, the scene where The Doctor shut off all the systems on the salvage ship so the Master couldn't find it felt very much like a silent running sequence from any number of classic submarine movies.
• Apparently, the last line Davies wrote for the script was the one I quoted at the top, and he then handed things over to Moffat to write the introduction of the Eleventh Doctor. It's hard to judge from a brief scene - in a circumstance where The Doctor tends to be manic - or from the trailer that BBC America showed during the "Demons" premiere (since a trailer can be cut to hide a lot of sins), but I liked what little I saw of Smith. (Please do not discuss the actual content of the trailer, as that goes against the No Spoilers policy.)
• I'm assuming the woman who appeared to Wilf, and then was revealed as a Time Lord, was The Doctor's mother, but Davies left it vague in the end.
What did everybody else think?