We’ve never had this: 20 minutes or so for a Doctor to deal with his impending demise, with no threat to see off to get in the way. Here though, we got Tennant visiting his former assistants, saving them one more time. Or, in the case of Captain Jack, giving him a name of a potential date, in the form of Midshipman Frame (in a scene that looked like it was straight out of Star Wars’ Cantina Bar, not the only nod to George Lucas’ masterpiece that we picked up). And we also got a point where he visited Rose before he met her.
He called all this his reward, but really, it was ours. This was the first outright emotional regeneration, and it deepened the process immensely. Usually, the emotions are dealt with afterwards, as the new Doctor gets used to his new body. Here, an outgoing Doctor got to face the ramifications of what was about to happen, and it was explored exceptionally well.
And how brilliantly the bell tolled. I loved the fact that the knocking four times we were waiting for all along was something as simple as Bernard Cribbins trapped in a chamber, tapping the door wanting to come out. Granted, it was a bit of an odd contrivance that saw Wilf running into said chamber in the first place.
But it was all so wonderfully small and poignant. And what a moment: just at the moment the Doctor thought he’d survived, that’s when Wilf knocked, and that’s when Tennant’s Doctor knew he was going to die. It was goosebump good. And It also allowed two superb actors to step into the limelight.
Firstly, there was Bernard Cribbins. He was the star of Part One of The End Of Time, and he was outstanding again here. I’d argue he’s the best assistant that Tennant got to travel with, as when Cribbins’ eyes crease and the tears start to roll, it takes some resolve not to well up yourself (admission: I failed). He was still and steady where other actors may have been content to ham it up, and his performance here was simply wonderful. When Wilf realised his part in the Doctor’s demise, it was haunting simply because it was so brilliantly underplayed.
But this was David Tennant’s show, and a near-80 minute exercise in just how much he’s going to be missed. Tennant was always at his best in these more sombre episodes – inevitably The End Of Time Part Two was darker Who – and he was magnetically brilliant here. None of the running around like a loon of old. This was a character being taken apart bit-by-bit over the course of the episode, and Tennant’s eyes alone told the story. It was an amazing performance. The Doctor was torn apart long before the regeneration started, and the broken Time Lord that we first got to see properly in The Waters Of Mars (although he was hinted at many times beforehand) was fully exposed here. Credit too for the introduction of the Ood to sing the Doctor out. “The universe will sing you to your sleep”, they said. That’s just great writing.
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