Doctor Who: The End of Time
(Christmas Special, 2009)
(New Year Special, 2010)
“It is said that in the final days of planet Earth, everyone had bad dreams…” Everyone forgot these terrible dreams, except one man.
London is gearing up for Christmas, and Wilfred Mott is no exception. However, when he sees flashes of the Master laughing maniacally, he seeks the sanctuary of a nearby church. In the stained glass, he spots an image of the TARDIS. A mysterious woman tells him that it’s called the mystery of the blue box, driven by a sainted physician who smote a demon and vanished. She muses that he may be coming back, but when Wilf tells her that it would make his Christmas, she vanishes.
And the Master laughs.
The TARDIS materializes on the Ood Sphere, a full century after the Doctor and Donna freed the Ood. The Doctor struts into the snowy landscape in a tropical get-up, trying to get a laugh from Ood Sigma with a remote car lock on the time capsule. It doesn’t work. Neither does the Doctor’s boasting that he named a galaxy Alison, saw the Phosphorous Carousel of the Great Magellan Gestalt, and married Queen Elizabeth I.
The Doctor is troubled by the rapid nature of the Ood evolution. The Ood are troubled as well, though their burden is bad dreams of a return. The Doctor joins their vision and sees the laughing Master. The Doctor protests since the Master is dead, sharing his memories of The Year That Never Was, but is troubled as he sees visions of Wilf, Lucy Saxon, and a mysterious couple.
He recounts the tale of the Master’s demise and funeral, but the Ood note how he missed a woman picking up the Master’s ring. There’s also a shadow falling over creation. The end of time is coming.
The Doctor runs for the TARDIS. Lucy Saxon is set free from her jail cell in Christmas Eve. As the Doctor flies the TARDIS apart, Lucy is introduced to Miss Trefusis, the woman who retrieved the ring, and a group of fanatical disciples of the Master. The ring is placed into a vessel among potions and the biological signature from Lucy’s lips. The disciples surrender their life energy as the Master rematerializes in a burst of energy. The drumbeat echoes in his head as he muses to Lucy, but Lucy stymies his plans by throwing a potion of her own into the mix.
The prison explodes.
The Doctor arrives a day too late.
But someone survived the inferno, and that unknown couple celebrates. They are Joshua Naismith and his daughter Abigail, and they give orders to prepare the gate.
Meanwhile, Wilf joins a group of friends for drinks, but ends up giving them informational packets to keep an eye our for the Doctor. When they question him, he reminds them of their bad dreams and that the Doctor can help them.
In a junkyard, two men pick up meals from a food truck. A third man in a hoodie arrives and reveals himself as the Master. He devours a hamburger with the other two men, and after he’s identified as Harold Saxon, he chases them back to the food truck while phasing in and out. The food truck has been destroyed, and the two men are consumed next.
The Doctor stands over the junkyard, which the Master senses. The Master begins pounding a drumbeat on a steel drum. The Doctor runs to find him but arrives just in time to watch the manic Time Lord jump away with superhuman power. The Doctor pleads with him, asking to help him before he burns up his lifeforce, but the Master disappears.
Wilf arrives right away with his Silver Cloak network, and the Doctor is beside himself as they fawn over him. The Doctor returns to town with Wilf and they sit down over tea. The Doctor wonders why they keep meeting, musing about the prophecy of his own death. Even upon regeneration, he says, each incarnation dies as the next carries on.
They spot Donna, and while the Doctor reinforces that she can never remember him, he’s pleased that she’s moved on. She’s engaged to Shaun Temple, but Wilf knows that she knows that something is missing in her life.
Wilf asks about his companions and the Doctor tells him that he’s traveling alone. Sadly, he notes, without a companion he’s made some bad choices. The Doctor starts crying, burdened by the guilt of his recent actions which also devastates Wilf. He asks if Donna could make him smile again, but by now she is gone. The Doctor moves on as fate places all of the players on the field.
The Doctor finds the Master. The Master generates some kind of electrical blasts and pours energy into the Doctor, forcing the Time Lord to the ground. The Doctor realizes that the Master’s body has been torn wide open, enabling him to weaponize his life force at the expense of his own time. It’s a resurrection gone wrong and the Master is insane.
The Master remembers back to their childhood, where they would play on pastures of red grass, stretching across the slopes of Mount Perdition. The Doctor talks of the prophecy and the Master of his drumbeat. The Master shares the sound with the Doctor, forcing the Doctor to recoil in fear. The Master rockets away and the Doctor gives chase. The Master stops and asks what is calling him. Then a helicopter arrives, shoots at the Doctor, and abducts the Master. The Doctor is left unconscious in the junkyard.
Christmas arrives. Donna has given Wilf a copy of Naismith’s book, Fighting the Future, which troubles Wilf. Donna has no idea why she picked it out. It just felt right. Shaun arrives and Wilf tries to watch the Queen’s address, but it is preempted by a message that only he can see. The mysterious woman warns that, even though he fought in the war and never took a life, he will need to take up arms. He should also not warn the Doctor of this.
He goes to his bedroom and retrieves his service revolver. He looks up as the Doctor tosses a rock at his window, and goes out to talk to him. The Doctor is trying to connect the dots and finally does when Wilf shows him Naismith’s book. When Donna comes calling, the Doctor and Wilf take off in the TARDIS, leaving Sylvia yelling at the wind and Donna amused.
It’s Wilf’s first trip in the TARDIS. He thought it would be cleaner.
Meanwhile, the Naismiths celebrate the arrival of the Master. Wrapped in a straitjacket, the Time Lord is introduced to the Immortality Gate, which Naismith found after the fall of Torchwood. The gate’s power supply includes two booths connected to a nuclear device so that it has to be manned all the time. Naismith wants immortality for his daughter, who is aware of the disciples of Saxon.
Naismith has moles in his staff. Two of his scientists, Addams and Rossiter, are undercover Vinvocci disguised as humans. They want to take the gate for themselves.
The Doctor and Wilf arrive, and the Doctor pushes the TARDIS one second out of sync to hide it. They sneak into the Naismith complex and find the Vinvocci as the Master repairs the gate and brings it online. As the Master is restrained, the Doctor questions what is going on.
The Vinvocci are a salvage team and the gate is a medical device that repairs entire planets using a genetic template. They are also not the Zocci and take offense to being compared to cacti. With this knowledge, the Doctor rushes upstairs as the Master jumps into the gate. The Master’s genetic template is transmitted across the planet into every human being.
The Doctor and Wilf jump into the control booths. The radiation shielding protects Wilf from the transmission, leaving the Doctor free to work. Meanwhile, the planet is panicking.
Everyone begins transforming into the Master and Donna has witnessed it since she’s immune due to the metacrisis. Unfortunately, she’s begun to remember all of it as the Master celebrates the rise of the Master race.
And that unknown narrator who has been chronicling the story? He’s happy, because the return of the Time Lords and Gallifrey is at hand. He’s also the current Lord President.
In Doctor Who fashion, this story is taking place in two distinct temporal zones. On the last day of the Time War, the High Council tells the Lord President that the Doctor still has the Moment. Once he uses it, Gallifrey will fall as the Daleks are destroyed. One adviser suggests that it might be for the best since billions are dying and being resurrected over and over, but the President vaporizes her for the suggestion.
He will not surrender.
He learns that the Doctor and the Master will survive the Time War and will end up on Earth, so the President sets his sights there.
On Earth, the Doctor and Wilf are restrained as the Master checks in with himself around the world. The Master is surprised as Donna calls, demanding to know why she hasn’t changed. Wilf warns her to run as the Master pursues, but when Donna is cornered, the Doctor-Donna power is unleashed. The Masters and Donna all collapse.
The Master ungags the Doctor. The Doctor offers to let the Master travel with him, but the Master is concerned about the drumbeat in his head. Wilf asks about it, and the Master shares the story of how he was forced to look into the Untempered Schism. That was when it began.
The Lord President learns of this story at the same time, correlating the rhythm of four with the heartbeat of a Time Lord.
The Doctor realizes that the Master is still dying even with the Gate’s influence, but the Master is otherwise obsessed. The drumbeat is now amplified billions of times and coming from the end of time. The prophecy concerns him.
When the Master order Wilf to be executed, the guard turns out to be Rossiter. The Master is knocked unconscious and Wilf and the Doctor are rescued by Rossiter, Addams, and a teleport to the orbiting Vinvocci ship.
Once freed from his restraints, the Doctor rushes to save them from a planet of missiles aimed toward the skies. Oh, and a starstruck Wilf who has never been to space.
The Doctor’s solution? He turns the entire ship off by destroying the ship’s systems. It has stranded them in orbit, but Wilf has faith in the Doctor. As the Doctor begins to rebuild the ship’s systems, the mysterious woman appears to Wilf again and orders him to give his gun to the Doctor.
As the Masters listen for the drumbeats – which are now revealed to have been planted by the Lord President at the end of the Time War – the High Council sends a White-Point Star through the link. The size of a diamond, it is small enough to break the temporal lock, and when it lands in London with a giant crater, the Master laughs hysterically.
Wilf talks with the Doctor as the Time Lord works on the ship. He recounts his memories of the war and learns that the Doctor is 906 years old. He supposes that the Doctor sees humans as insects, but the Doctor admits that he really sees them as giants. The Doctor refuses the gun, but tells Wilf that he would be proud to be his son.
The Doctor wonders if Time Lords live too long, but realizes that killing the Master would only mean that he starts down that dark path. While he’s made some bad choices and taken lives, he won’t kill the Master to save himself, even if Wilf pleads with him.
The Master sends an open broadcast to the Doctor, revealing the existence of the White-Point Star. The Doctor realizes with fear that the Time Lords are returning, and he takes the gun and rushes to the control room.
On Earth, the Master uses the White-Point Star to establish a link and open a pathway. Contact is made, and the High Council chooses life over the fall of Gallifrey.
Wilf is confused. He thought that the Time Lords were wise and peaceful, but that’s how the Doctor chooses to remember them. In reality, the horrors of the Time War had changed them, irrevocably corrupting them and making them far more dangerous than any of his enemies.
The Doctor restores power to the ship and takes control. With an old Earth saying, a word of great power and wisdom and consolation to soul in times of need, he drives the ship toward the planet: “Allons-y!”
Using the ship’s salvage lasers, Wilf and Rossiter destroy the planet’s missiles as the ship races to England. When they arrive, the Doctor dives from the ship, falling through the glass dome into the chamber below at the President’s feet in a battered mess.
That’s right. The Time Lords have arrived.
The President greets the renegades as “Lord Doctor” and “Lord Master”, noting the paradox of having been saved by Gallifrey’s most infamous child. When the Master tries to change the Time Lords into himself, the President reverses the effect worldwide and demands that humanity kneel before him.
Then Gallifrey materializes in Earth’s orbit, bearing down on the planet and causing it to quake. Shaun goes in search of Donna as everyone panics in the street. Wilf finds his way to the surface and enters the Gate’s control chamber.
The Master is excited that the Time Lords have returned, but the Doctor reminds him that he wasn’t there in the final days. All of the other horrors born in the last days of the Time War, which he had sealed away in the Time Lock, would also be released. The Daleks would be joined by the Skaro Degradations, the Horde of Travesties, the Nightmare Child, and the Could’ve Been King with his Army of Meanwhiles and Neverweres. Hell has come to Earth, and the Time Lords, who had planned to deal with these horrors with the Ultimate Sanction – an ascension above the physical form while creation tears itself apart – would be enacted here.
All of this chaos was happening at the same time as Dalek Caan breaking through the time lock to rescue Davros. Apparently, while it was primarily a battle between the Daleks and the Time Lords, the Time War engulfed the entire universe in both space and time.
The Doctor draws Wilf’s gun on the President, then on the Master. Both are the ends of the link, but the Doctor cannot kill either. Finally, he spots the mysterious woman in the President’s retinue. She was one of the two advisers who disagreed with the President and was forced to hide her face like a Weeping Angel. Her tear-streaked gaze focuses on the White-Point Star, and when the Doctor shoots it, Gallifrey returns to its rightful place on the last day of the Time War.
The President, now revealed as Rassilon, threatens to take the Doctor with him, but the Master unleashes his energy in fury. Rassilon falls to his knees as Gallifrey, the Time Lords, and the Master vanish.
The planet and her people are safe once again, and the Doctor is certain that he’s dodged the prophecy.
But someone knocks four times.
Wilf is still in the control booth, and the only way out is if someone replaces him and takes the brunt of the nuclear blast of 500,000 rads as the energy source goes into overload. Wilf offers to sacrifice himself, but the Doctor cannot allow that. Even in his anger because he could do so much more!
The Doctor pushes his own darkness aside because he knows the right answer and enters the booth. Wilf is saved as the energy pours into the Doctor. The Time Lord collapses in pain, and once the energy release is complete, the Doctor exits the now dead booth.
Wilf thinks that the Doctor made it out okay, but the Doctor shows him the injuries from his skydive. His regeneration has begun. The Tenth Doctor is dying.
All Wilf can offer is a hug.
Shaun and Sylvia tend to Donna as the Doctor drops Wilf at the house. The whine of the TARDIS awakens her, and she seems to be no worse for wear. The Doctor promises that he’ll see Wilf one more time, but he has a reward to find.
Here we find the Tenth Doctor seeking redemption for the dark things he’s done since losing Donna.
Next, he saves Luke Smith from being struck by a car. With a glance, he says farewell to Sarah Jane. She knows what’s coming next.
After that, he buys a book from Verity Newman. Her great-grandmother was Joan Redfern, the woman who fell in love with John Smith. He asks if Joan was happy in the end. She was. Silently, so was he.
He returns to Wilf at Donna’s successful wedding. He offers a winning lottery ticket bought with a pound from Sylvia’s late husband. Once they cash it in, all of the family’s financial troubles will be history. The Doctor leaves with a final look at Wilfred, the man whose life he saved at the expense of his own. Wilfred cries, realizing that he’ll never see the Doctor again. It’s one salute that the Doctor doesn’t mind.
Finally, we come to New Years Day 2005. From the shadows, he talks to Rose Tyler at the Powell Estate, promising her that she’s going to have a really great year. When she meets the Ninth Doctor in a few months, she certainly will.
With that, he struggles back to the TARDIS, guided by Ood Sigma. Sigma tells him that the universe will sing him to sleep, and while this song is ending, the story never ends. The Doctor musters his strength as the Ood sing “Vale Decem” in chorus.
He enters the TARDIS, discards his coat, and looks upon his glowing hand as the TARDIS reaches orbit. He laments, “I don’t want to go,” and then erupts in violent regeneration energy.
The explosion rips through the TARDIS, toppling the coral supports, tearing apart the console, and blowing out the windows.
With a scream, he regenerates into a burning console room and takes stock of his new body. He’s still not ginger, which is a disappointment, but he is crashing. As the TARDIS topples toward Earth, the Eleventh Doctor lets out a battle cry…
You know, I actually feel sorry for the Master. When Professor Yana regenerated into this version of the Master, I was pleased. Professor Yana was a little crazed due to his identity crisis but also a whole lotta evil. The Harold Saxon Master was diabolical and slightly insane due to the constant drumbeat in his head. When the Master was defeated and killed by Lucy Saxon, I thought it was a good ending for the character, even with the knowledge that the Master never dies.
This resurrection gone wrong takes the character in an entirely wrong direction. I can understand the increased mania, since we’ve seen regenerations gone wrong before, and I loved the dynamic of the Doctor trying to save the Master from self-destruction, but the flight and speed superpowers were way over the top. It shifts a nefarious nemesis into a parody, and thankfully the powers were limited.
What’s really intriguing is the Gallifery connection. We know Rassilon, from his origins as a founder of Time Lord civilization to the manifestation of his quest for power in The Five Doctors, and we know just how aloof and disdainful the Time Lords are in general. So, it really makes sense that they would willingly torture one of their own to save their civilization.
The Doctor knew it, too. Throughout the classic era, the Doctor wore his displeasure on his sleeves. Whatever happened in the Time War – whatever mighty burden the Doctor carries in the aftermath – was powerful enough to change his anger into rose-colored nostalgia.
Shifting gear, Wilf is just too precious. He is the perfect embodiment of Doctor Who, from his wide-eyed wonder upon going to space (having dreamed about it since Partners in Crime) to his delicate balance of self-sacrifice, love, and understanding that darkness is necessary to balance the light. He claims that he’s lived his life to its natural conclusion, but he has so much more to give the world in his honesty and sincerity. One of my favorite character notes is that he was a veteran, but he never killed anyone in the war and sees that as a badge of honor.
I am really going to miss him.
His moment in the “final reward” farewell tour was touching. It was also a fitting ending to Donna’s story as she gained so much happiness after losing so much. I was also pleased with the emotion and scope of the farewell tour, from Sarah Jane and Captain Jack – that scene was also a farewell to Russell T. Davies as well, given all of the creature cameos in those short minutes – to Rose and even Mickey the Idiot. The nod to the franchise’s origins with Verity Newman was a very nice touch.
The scene with Martha and Mickey was pretty cool, but their marriage comes out of pretty much nowhere. Last we knew from The Last of the Time Lords, Reset, and The Sontaran Stratagem, Martha was engaged to Tom Milligan. You know, the pediatrician working in Africa who was a resistance leader in The Year That Never Was? But somewhere between The Sontaran Stratagem and The End of Time, she hot-swapped Tom for Mickey.
The final farewell with Rose was a perfect place to end the tour, promising her a fantastic year to come from the shadows. She obviously disregarded the whole meeting as one with a New Year’s drunk, but the promise is heartwarming.
Then we come to the part where Murray Gold hits it out of the park. “Vale Decem,” which premiered at the end of The Waters of Mars, is a near-perfect farewell for the Tenth Doctor. It combines the Doctor’s theme with a Latin love letter that literally says “Farewell Ten”, and since the Doctor’s theme is the base melody and the Doctor can hear the song, it can be assumed that the Doctor’s theme exists in the “real world” of the Doctor Who universe.
Finally, the regeneration. It is heartbreaking from both the in-universe and production aspects. The Tenth Doctor was the most popular incarnation of the character since the Fourth Doctor, greatly owed to each of them being an entry point for the franchise. You never forget your first Doctor, after all. But from production, the regeneration was the coda to an era of the show which heralded the resurrection of the franchise.
In the phoenix flames of rebirth, the title character destroys the console room (which was iconic for years) and ends the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who.
And, yeah, that regeneration makes a lot of sense. He’s been holding this process back for who knows how long. Effectively, he’s been dying the entire time. The explosive destruction should be expected.
The end result on this story? It is a fun adventure when the tempo picks up, but I remember the first time that I watched it. I had only seen the series from Rose forward, and with very little knowledge about the show’s history or the Time War, the story was confusing and convoluted. It made a lot more sense on this watch thanks to my detailed trip through Doctor Who, but I wonder how much I would have enjoyed this a decade ago if Russell T. Davies had addressed more about the Time War in the course of his run.
That mystery will continue for several seasons.
Based on the rules of the Timestamps Project, regeneration episodes get a +1 handicap since they tend to be a little rough. Without that bump, this story would have settled at a high 3 or low 4, primarily from the Super Master effect.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.