Chief among them was the ‘second’ Doctor being left with Rose, with the pair of them snogging away on a Norwegian beach. The speech that the Doctor gave her, about how before he met her he was full of anger and rage pretty much pretends that the preceding 40 years of assistants and characterisations of the Doctor never happened. It also, presumably, guarantees Tennant a cameo option long after he hands over the key to the Tardis. After all, all that stuff about everything being sealed off for good last happened two years ago, yet wasn’t enough to keep Billie Piper’s name off the credits this time round.
But then there was also the unwillingness to follow through on Dalek Caan’s prophecy that the most loyal of assistants would die (which looked even more certain when, two thirds of the way through, we had a big happy-clappy session in the Tardis). Granted, when K9 popped up you did wonder if he would prove to be the way out, but instead it was a mini-reset switch that was opted for, as the crosshairs on Donna Noble’s head were quickly Tipp-exed out in favour of reaching for the Undo option. I’ve defended several times the reluctance of Russell T Davies and his team to genuinely kill off interesting characters, but this was a case where you couldn’t help but feel it should have happened. Instead, Donna was left back as Catherine Tate, so she could start work on another series of her sketch show as if the last thirteen episodes had never happened. It might not have dampened the sense of loss that the Doctor was showing at the end, but it did feel like one of a number of small-to-middling cheats that Journey’s End employed.
You’ve probably got the impression by now that, for this reviewer at least, Journey’s End was quite a disappointment. To be fair, it did have its qualities, and if the ‘resetting’ of Donna means we’ll never meet Bernard Cribbins in Who again, then that’s a sad day, because again, he easily showed many of those around him how it should be done. Likewise, there’s a sporting chance that we’ll never again meet Elisabeth Sladen in the main Doctor Who programme either, and that too is a pity, for much the same reason.
Furthermore, the effects continued – pulling Earth aside – to impress, and there was an awful lot crammed into the episode, even considering its extended running time. Threads were tied up, and there was a real feeling that a lot of backstory was being pulled together, at a break-neck pace. If you didn’t care so much about the programme and its narrative, and were just looking for a fast, glossy hour in front of the telly on a Saturday night, then it probably did the job very well.
But for everyone else? It simply didn’t feel like it had the courage or intention to follow through on the set up from The Stolen Earth, and that’s a real shame. For while time is likely to view Journey’s End as a decent enough end to a series, the potential was here for it to be so, so much more. Instead, it feels like the ball has been smashed wide just on the verge of scoring a spectacular goal. For years into the future we’ll continue to rewatch and enjoy the build up, but still wonder what’d have happened had the finish been better.
You could argue that it’s a fair reflection of the yin and yang of the Russell T Davies era, where brilliance has to go toe-to-toe with frustration. Writing as someone who had, more often than not, enjoyed what RTD has done with his revival of Who, I’d probably go along with the argument. After all, just a few hours ago the speculation was still raging about whether they’d have the courage to replace Tennant in what would have been the biggest surprise the show has ever pulled. Now? We’ve got two of him instead.
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