At the beginning of this new year, the BBC gave us The End of Time. Unfortunately David Tennant's swansong as the Doctor epitomised everything that was wrong with Russell T. Davies’ tenure as head writer of Doctor Who. It was a poorly plotted, overstuffed, nonsensical mess. Thankfully the reign of Moffat begins soon and he knows how not to write a Russell T. Davies script.
First, don’t use the ‘Doctor as Messiah’ theme. It was bad when Davies used it as a deus ex machina to solve the inextricable problem he’d written in for the end of Season 3. This time it went much too far: a church built to worship the ‘blue box’, the universe singing the Tenth Doctor to sleep. The character has more pathos when his good deeds go unrewarded, when he is a silent protector doing what is right for no personal gain. The Doctor is a great character without being the lord and saviour of the cosmos.
Second, less is more. A story can be epic without throwing everything you have into it. Davies’ season finales invariably involved the Earth being in peril on a planetary scale. Surely the population is used to it by now. This time the script contained a planet full of The Master, Gallifrey returning, green alien people and their spaceship, a cult devoted to The Master, a convenient billionaire with a convenient private army, a regeneration, and coincidences that would make Dickens cringe. Increasing the danger does not necessarily increase the drama. Put a single character in danger. Tell a small, personal story. Just because the BBC gives you a massive special effects budget doesn’t mean you need to use every penny.
The two previous points were demonstrated during the regeneration. It was far too heavily laden and melodramatic. It took twenty minutes for it to happen and the emphasis on the character ‘dying’ took away all the continuity between this incarnation and the next. By making this regeneration such a big deal, Davies insulted all the previous actors who took the role: no prior incarnation had the universe sing him to sleep, no prior incarnation blew up the Tardis. A more subtle regeneration would have been to have Ten enter the giant nuclear plot device, free Wilf, get filled with radiation, cower in a ball with some special effects light, and then to emerge as floppy-haired Matt Smith.
Third, leave characters alone. Rose didn’t need a cameo. Martha didn’t need a cameo. Jessica Hynes certainly didn’t need a cameo. As much as I enjoyed Bernard Cribbins, Wilf didn’t need to be the companion. Any stranger would have sufficed for that role: when the Doctor angrily says that Wilf isn’t “remotely important” would have made more sense if, during the previous episode, Wilf hadn’t been continually told that he “was important”.
Finally, write plots that make sense. Davies’ previous scripts seem logical compared to the nonsense in The End of Time. What does The Master gain from becoming everyone on the planet? If all the other Masters were the same as the original, the planet would descend into an unending war for supremacy. Why does the Doctor want to stop the Time Lords returning when he has spent four seasons of character development moping about being the last of his species? What happened to The Master in the end? Why did the Doctor keep flipping the gun from Simm to Dalton like an indecisive merry-go-round?
David Tennant will be missed: he was good in the role and brought energy to scripts that resembled Harrison Ford’s famous remark to George Lucas – “You can type this shit, George, but you sure can’t say it.” Russell T. Davies deserves credit for bringing back the show (and for writing that brilliant Torchwood mini-series last year). But it’s good that Doctor Who will now be getting a writer who understands time travel. You’d think that to be the absolute minimum to be expected from a head writer on a show about time travel.