Tonight offered us “The Big Bang,” the fifth season finale of Doctor Who, which was the most different finale the show has seen in years. What did I think of it? How did it stack up? Did the Doctor get out alive? Will I keep asking rhetorical questions? Before we delve too deeply into this year, I thought we’d take a journey through time in a written-word TARDIS and look at all the season finales since the series regenerated in 2005. Russell T. Davies finales proved to be a completely different beast to a Steven Moffat finale and if there’s one thing I learned from our favorite Time Lord (or possibly Will Smith) it’s that before we know where we’re going, we have to know where we been.
BAD WOLF/PARTING OF THE WAYS
2005 saw the return of Doctor Who nine years after the TV movie and 16 years after the classic series was abruptly canceled. I watched the TV movie on YouTube a few months ago. I didn’t like it. Regardless. The series came back strong and Christopher Eccleston had a great run as the Doctor, playing him as a grizzled war veteran who just needed a Cockney, blonde shop girl to soften his icy heart. Unlikely, but lets go with it. The first half of the finale felt like anything but the end of the season, with the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack inexplicably stuck in futuristic (and deadly) versions of stupid reality game shows that we have today, or ones Britain had in 2005. Something is clearly amiss; someone is behind this strange occurrence, and the phrase “Bad Wolf” shows up again for the umpteenth time. At the very end of the ep, we see it’s the Doctor’s oldest enemies, the Daleks. At this point, the Daleks had not started to wear on me like a Brill-o pad on my scrotum and it was a suitable cliffhanger. Part two saw the Doctor in a losing battle between his small group of humans and a seemingly unstoppable army of the metal marauders, led by the dastardly Dalek Emperor. To save Rose, the Doctor sends her and the TARDIS back to her own time, where she can go about her life and forget about everything she’s seen. Except that’s pretty unlikely. She talks her mom and Mickey-the-Tin-Dog into helping her jumpstart the blue box, which results in Rose absorbing all the time energy located within. She comes back to the Doctor a veritable god, easily blinking the Daleks out of existence and bringing an EX-TER-MI-NATEed Jack back to life (more on that later), but it’s too much for her and she starts to lose it. The Doctor kisses her (finally, am I right?…) and sucks all the timey goodness into himself. Everyone’s safe, except the Doctor who is forced to regenerate into ol’ Davey Boy.
This was an excellent finale, despite being a load of tripe if you really think about it. What the hell did “Bad Wolf” have to do with anything? If it was just something Rose told herself to remind herself to save the universe, it could have been any phrase, right? It could have been, “Graham Crackers,” or “Fat Tuesday.” Or “Carl’s Jr.” for that matter, as much sense as that makes. Still, it had the requisite amount of danger and excitement and it was the capper on a year that sought to make the companion more than just a helpless bystander. Eccleston didn’t end up liking the Doctor lifestyle and asked not to return, but he went out like a champ, in just the big-grinning way he should have.
ARMY OF GHOSTS/DOOMSDAY
David Tennant’s first season as Doctor was marked with some insane highs (Impossible Planet/Satan Pit) and some ungodly lows (Fear Her, Love & Monsters) but it saw the return of the Cybermen, who are the evil Rolling Stones to the Dalek’s Beatles. They first appeared in a mid-season two-parter, along with the idea of a parallel dimension where Rose’s dad didn’t die, but she was never born. The Cybermen show up and it all goes to hell, etc. etc. The season ends with “Army of Ghosts,” where the Doctor and Rose return to 2006 to find that ghosts inexplicably appear across the world and everyone’s okay with it. He is confronted by Torchwood where he finds that they are manipulating a rift in time-space for the ghosts to enter our universe. Too bad the ghosts aren’t ghosts at all, but Cybermen from the parallel dimension. Also coming into our dimension is Mickey and Rose’s not-dad, who can jump across the dimensions via a nifty plot contrivance. There’s also this odd orb that doesn’t exist…it’s explained in the episode. The orb opens and out pop four Daleks, The Cult of Skaro to be exact, the only survivors of Rose’s Bad Wolfiness. The Cybermen propose a partnership, which the Daleks immediately besmirch because, well, they’re Daleks. So it becomes a three-prong battle, which comes to be known as the Battle of Canary Wharf. The only option left for the Doctor is to suck the parallel crap back into the void, including himself and Rose if he’s not careful. Well, he isn’t careful and Rose nearly goes in, but her not-dad rescues her just in time and takes her to the other dimension. So she’s alive, but she’ll never see the Doctor again, which is sad because she loved him. It’s sad, okay? Just believe it.
There’s very little else I can humorously yet affectionately mock about this finale because it’s pretty damn solid. It hits all the right emotional beats and the tension builds nicely throughout. It’s also the last Russell T. Davies finale that made any kind of plausible sense and where the Doctor is not set up as Jesus with two hearts. Plus, I like the Cybermen and it was cool to see them fight the Daleks, even though they easily get their asses handed to them. They’re really two sides to the same coin. They both want total universal dominance, but while the Cybermen want everyone to be like them, the Daleks want everyone not like them to die horribly. This also meant that the love story Davies had been setting up between Rose and the Doctor was cut short. Good thing we don’t have to deal with that again…
UTOPIA/THE SOUND OF DRUMS/LAST OF THE TIME LORDS
It’s possible season three is my favorite whole season. We get amazing stories like “Blink” and “Human Nature,” we get Martha Jones who’s all kinds of sexy, and we get a finale without a single fucking Dalek. While stopping off in Cardiff to refuel, the Doctor and Martha pick up a stowaway in the form of Captain Jack Harkness. Since the TARDIS don’t take kindly to immortal people, it springs itself forward to the literal end of the universe, a desolate planet in the year 100 Trillion where the last of humanity desperately waits for a man named Professor Yana to finish his rocket and take them to the fabled Utopia, where the skies are made of diamonds. They have to contend with a rabid, “Ghosts of Mars”-style band of mutants called “The Future Kind.” The Doctor helps Yana complete his work, which is good because Yana is hearing this odd drumming and it’s hard for him to do anything but stare pensively. A Future Kind tries to ruin the launch and Jack the Impervious has to fix it, where we learn how he’s lived hundreds of years waiting for the Doctor to return, and had a season of pretty awful television at Torchwood. Martha notices Professor Yana has a fob watch just like the Doctor used to put all his Time Lord essence in and become human. Except, when Yana opens it, he’s not good at all, he’s actually The Master, the Doctor’s OTHER greatest foe. Stealing the TARDIS, the Master is unstoppable, which forces the Doctor to freeze the flux capacitor to only go between the end of the universe and London, 2006. Using Jack’s vortex manipulator, a thing I wish I had, the good guys go to London and learn that the Master, in the guise of Harold Saxon has been elected Prime Minister (through mind control) and has made first contact with extraterrestrial metallic orbs. He also has all our heroes declared criminals so they have to go out on the lam. They finally get aboard the Master’s airship and find out that he’s rigged the TARDIS to be a “Paradox Machine,” which by its very nature should not be allowed to even fictionally exist. And yet it does. Oh, Russell, what have you done this time? The Master turns the Doctor into an ancient guy, kills Jack again, and traps Martha’s family. Martha herself, luckily, slips away using the vortex manipulator, but the orbs invade by the millions and begin killing and enslaving the Earth. However will they get out of this? Well, I’ll tell you, Goddammit! Over the next YEAR, Martha has been travelling the globe trying to find four magical compounds that can be combined and kill the Master dead. After a pretty lame attempt to escape by the people on the airship, the Master turns the Doctor into a tiny little elderly gnome, for the purposes of CGI as far as I can tell. Martha discovers the awful truth that the alien orbs aren’t aliens at all, they’re the humans bound for Utopia that the Master has horrifyingly mangled. This is where the Paradox Machine comes into play; the humans from the future have come back to destroy the past which should make them completely disappear, but it doesn’t. Martha is captured, but she’s happy about it. She’s convinced the entire world to think one word at the exact same moment, and words have power. That word? Doctor. And when everyone thinks that, the wood sprite floats in the air and turns back into handsome David Tennant, and the paradox is reversed and the whole year goes back to two minutes before the invasion. “Aw nuts,” sayeth the Master, and tries to escape. The Doctor, ever the compassionate soul, says the only place for him is as prisoner aboard the TARDIS, but Lucy Saxon, the Master’s long-suffering wife, shoots him and the sly fox that he is, refuses to regenerate despite the Doctor’s teary pleas. Jack goes back to Torchwood and Martha takes a job with UNIT. It looks like the Doctor will be alone after all. Or will he?!?!
For starting out with such a great episode in “Utopia,” the third season finale ended with a senseless, hokey whimper. The one word that saves everyone is “Doctor?” I know they try to tack on some hackneyed explanation about why that works, but it’s just a load of fluff. Unlike the previous two finales, this one replaces believability with scope and hopes that because so much stuff is happening on the screen, you’ll forget that none of it makes any sense. Still, all ridiculousness aside, I enjoyed John Simm as the Master here and it did at times hearken back to the classic series where Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley chewed the scenery to a pulpy nub with their arch-villainy. While not as good as the two before it, this one is far better than the two that come after.
I went a bit overboard with my summations and analyses, because they’re everso fun, so I’ve decided to split this post up in two. Stay tuned for the next three finales and finally find out if I run out of adjectives.