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Believe it or not, Doctor Who fans, but this year marks the 10-year anniversary of David Tennant’s last episodes as the Tenth Doctor before Ten regenerated into Eleven on screen. The anniversary was celebrated all over the country by theatrical screenings of the two-part finale on August 7 and, feeling nostalgic for the days of my favorite Doctor, I decided to go, despite the fact that I fell off the Doctor Who bandwagon years ago.
The good news? I fell back in love with the Doctor Who that had me binge-watching Nine and Ten back when I first discovered the show. The bad news? Now I want to do it all again, and I don’t have a TARDIS to add more hours to my timeline!
The two-part finale aired its first episode back in the end of 2009, with the final installment airing on New Year’s Day, guaranteeing that there would be plenty of fans sobbing their way into 2010. "The End of Time" saw the return of the Master (John Simm), the culmination of a long game by Rassilon (Timothy Dalton) and the Time Lords to escape the Time War, a joke about Queen Elizabeth I that I hate to this day, good old Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins) as Ten's last companion, and the regeneration of Ten into Eleven.
Ten, of course, managed to save the day, but he lost his life in the process, and he really didn't want to go. In fact, his heartbreak at his own demise resulted in a somewhat petulant yet poignant rant to Wilf about how it wasn't fair, as well as a long farewell tour that saw the cameos of Ten's friends and companions. Ten even got to see Rose one last time, even if he did have to pop back into her pre-TARDIS past and lurk in the shadows.
Then, as the Ood serenaded him, Ten returned to the TARDIS and explosively regenerated to open the door to a new era of Doctor Who. Basically, Doctor Who packed a lot into David Tennant's finale as Ten, which was also the final episode with original revival showrunner Russell T. Davies at the helm. So, why did "The End of Time" -- which is really kind of a bummer, all things considered -- reignite my love of Doctor Who?
Why David Tennant's Finale Hooked Me Back In
"The End of Time" packed in a lot of what came to define Doctor Who for its first several revival seasons. Was it kind of ridiculous that Ten dropped out of the sky to face a former James Bond, before his nemesis with bleached blond hair used superpowers to save him, followed by Ten locking himself in a radioactive booth to save Donna's grandfather, who knocked four times despite knowing Ten was trying to avoid precisely that? Pretty much.
Was the extended tour of Ten revisiting his friends and companions self-indulgent and kind of a stretch, especially considering the Ood's song was written in Latin? Sure. Were his final words of “I don’t want to go” devastating after how Nine got to go out with so much catharsis? Definitely. But was I perfectly willing to suspend my disbelief because of the performances, the soundtrack, the emotional resonance of it? 100%, and that marks a great episode of a sci-fi series.
The incredible emotion of Ten dooming the Time Lords all over again actually reminded me of issues I had with the 50th anniversary event that pretty much rendered his struggle in "The End of Time" pointless, and that's genuinely upsetting after how David Tennant pulled out all the stops to show Ten's devastation and determination.
The farewell tour of all the companions reminded me of where Doctor Who really succeeded under Russell T. Davies (Seasons 1 - 4.5): the characterization.
The characters in this era were crafted in such a way that I didn't always especially care if the plot didn't make sense, as long as the characterization was consistent, and that's so important for a sci-fi series in which the hero's greatest enemies are robots with plunger arms, there are decades of continuity that is just not always going to fit, and seemingly endless variables. It doesn't always have to make sense, but it has to matter.
Investment can make all the difference when it comes to bonkers TV shows, and I was invested in all those characters. Honestly, I still probably couldn't watch the Season 2 finale without a box of tissues handy. So that leads to the question: what happened that I fell off the Doctor Who bandwagon and needed "The End of Time" to remind me of what I loved?
Yes, It Was The Steven Moffat Era
The Steven Moffat era (Seasons 5 - 10) began following Ten's regeneration into Eleven, with Moffat taking over for Russell T. Davies, and I fell out of love with Doctor Who. Now, I freely admit that it’s purely a matter of personal preference that the Moffat era didn't pack the same emotional punch. It's not that I disliked Matt Smith as Eleven or couldn't get over a preference for Ten.
I simply preferred the show under Russell T. Davies, and I really should have seen that coming after some of the Steven Moffat-penned episodes in the Davies era. In fact, one of Moffat’s episodes in the first 4.5 seasons of the revival may stand as my least favorite of the entire series I’ve watched. Why? Because the characterization didn’t make sense. (I’m looking at you, “The Girl in the Fireplace.”)
To me, the Davies era focused on character and emotional resonance more than anything else, and I connected the with the timeline shenanigans because of it. I totally get why the Moffat era’s plot-heavy focus on the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey of Doctor Who is so popular with so many. Both eras are remarkable in many ways. But starting in Season 5, I just didn’t care the way I did in the Davies era, because suddenly there was more plot than character.
The culmination of Nine's arc when he dropped his final “Fantastic!” to acknowledge his own worth before regenerating, the first time I watched? Cue the waterworks. The feeling when Ten dropped his own “Fantastic” to remind that Nine was still in there, and then David Tennant making the role his own? Relief. To this day, I know I'd still be devastated by Bad Wolf Bay in Season 2, thrilled by the Master reveal in Season 3, and inching toward the edge of my seat by the end of Season 4. And I missed all of that in Season 5 onward.
Will I Return To Doctor Who?
I watched Matt Smith’s run off and on enough that I think I’ve seen at least most of his episodes, and I definitely saw his final episode. By the end of the Eleven run, though, I was exhausted by the timey-wimey-ness and paradoxes, the resets and the "spoilers," the villains making less and less sense and, yes, the treatment of the female characters. (I'm looking at you again, "The Girl in the Fireplace," to show Steven Moffat up to his tricks as early as Season 2.)
I watched none of Peter Capaldi’s run of the series other than his regeneration into Jodie Whittaker, and I haven’t tuned in to her run yet either. Was “The End of Time” enough for me to catch up to the end of Steven Moffat’s run and dive into Chris Chibnall’s? Or will I just turn to Amazon Prime to rewatch my already-favorite episodes, before Doctor Who switches to its next streaming service?
Honestly, I'm not sure. I had intended to watch Jodie Whittaker tackle the role after she was first announced, partly because I was curious about the first female Doctor and partly because Whittaker was great in Broadchurch. I'd also feel like I'd need to watch Twelve before diving into Thirteen's run so far.
Really, only time will tell. Lacking a TARDIS or even vortex manipulator of my own, I only have so much of it. At least I'll always have the Ood serenading Ten with Latin lyrics. Oh, Doctor Who.