Journey’s End indeed, this season finale being RTD’s swan song on the ongoing series, and what a contribution this man has made, even just this week. The amount of media interest and fan speculation has dwarfed even that of series 1. And certain theories from last week were entirely correct, if a little out of sequence. Ten splits the regeneration energy off into the hand, refusing to regenerate himself. Fully reunited with his companions he asks Rose what’s really going on because her world is running ahead of this one – she’s seen the future. She remembers the stars going out, but far more important is she acknowledges that all the timelines converge somehow in Donna, and the surprises continue when the Daleks try to destroy the Tardis – not only does Donna manage to syphon off the regeneration energy, but she causes a second Ten to emerge from the hand. So far so figured out – the Darkness involves the stars going out, but who is Donna really and what’s to become of Ten and his alternate? For that matter why did the Tardis door close itself on Donna when Davros tried to destroy it?
Martha reveals the Osterhagen Key as a doomsday device, and Sarah Jane reveals her own – a warpstar, which can destroy the Crucible world engine. And they need to, because Davros’ Crucible, his world engine, powers a reality bomb, which he plans to use to destroy everything, starting with the stars. It looks like he’ll succeed too, with the companions all transmatted into the Crucible before they can detonate their weapons. And another theme is formally addressed here too, with Davros noting that the Doctor fashions ordinary people into weapons – Rose into Bad Wolf, Jack into an immortal, but Donna into…what? With all the companions and Ten and his alternate trapped and reality’s time running short, she reveals her place in Dalek Caan’s prophecy – part of the threefold man – the Doctor himself. In manipulating the regeneration energy she took on yet another aspect of Ten (his mind) and defeats Davros. Dalek Caan was indeed mad, but his prophecy all along was to destroy the Dalek race once and for all. No more for Steven Moffat to play with there – RTD too is done.
The Crucible is destroyed, the planets are restored, as is the Earth. Sarah Jane leaves back to her own spin-off for good. Jack leaves back for Torchwood, as does Martha, and it appears Mikey too. And this is where the episode falls flat on its face in agony. Rose, Jackie and Ten II go to Rose’s parallel world. And with Ten II physically human, with his human limitations, such as a finite lifespan – he offers everything Rose ever needed from Ten but he could never provide. Rose could use her ‘dimension cannon’ to continue leaping between universes, but Ten explains Ten II needs her to evolve him to the extent that she’s already evolved him – from angry, battle-weary Nine to the rounded character of now. And when Ten II tells her he loves her, she like a sap kisses him, acknowledging that he is in every other respect a precise copy of Ten, and they are left to live out their lives happily in the alternate reality. Rose and her family appear to leave once and for all, not complicating matters for Stephen Moffat either.
And then there’s Donna. The aspect of the Doctor she absorbed is killing her and he has to remove it. But to do that he must expunge her memories of their ever having met. The strange heartbeat we hear had been explained – that was Ten II – he admitted it – but no explanation is offered for how the timelines converged around her. Was it fate? We still don’t even know the true purpose of the attack on her in ‘Turn Left‘. Donna was (remains?) independently powerful since birth, and we are shown key sequences with the ring she’s wearing looming large – most importantly when she absorbs the Doctor’s essence. And was it just me or did it flicker at the very end? It’s an awfully big ring, and a woman lifted an awfully big ring from the Master’s corpse in ‘Last of the Time Lords‘ – a ring which still hasn’t been accounted for.
We know what Donna’s ‘loss’ was destined to be, as well as what she was destined to become, but it was also said outright that she already was ‘something new’. I’m convinced Donna and the Master are still in play, presumably fodder for RTD’s true final word on Who. Irritating as hell, but the endings were clumsy as anything too. Rose settles for a xerox who really isn’t anything like the original, and she still hasn’t got over her feelings? Gah. How convenient, and how demeaning of a character who’s shown so much potential. And yet again Jack’s role is perfunctory. I’m not sure why Barrowman’s still bothering. The edge the character had at the outset made him interesting – whilst he is pretty and engaging, he’s now far from interesting. The theme of time going the way it’s supposed to has run through this series, but it’s far from clear whether it’s complete. Some component subplots seem (as with ‘Bad Wolf’ in series 1) to have been ham fistedly delivered – why Rose didn’t just reveal herself to the Doctor instead of Donna in ‘Partners in Crime‘ remains confused – did she just know (as in ‘Turn Left’) the way things were meant to be? Being in the future in the alternate universe wouldn’t explain that. Or was her last minute insertion into that episode an editorial decision (again as with ‘Bad Wolf’) to catch the die hards off guard, and generate attention for the series? I have to assume the latter, given that there’s no way Rose can reasonably be used again under RTD’s stewardship.
The acting this episode was good where it mattered. Tennant shone as Ten and Ten II (whose ending wasn’t his fault), and Tate excelled as ever, although Freema Agyeman seems to have taken a step backward since series 3. I liked Ten II imprinting himself on Donna – apparently it was scripted that Ten spoke Estuary English instead of Scottish because he imprinted himself on Rose (the first being he encountered post-regeneration), and this is a nice final acknowledgment of that talent. I’m also glad Gallifrey wasn’t one of the stolen planets, and although I’m appalled at the (apparent) final word on Rose, I’m unsurprised that ‘Bad Wolf’ really was just two words, the power of which Rose has established and exploited before. But even there, what was it about Donna’s invoking the words (Rose pointedly not doing so) which caused such a powerful reaction by the Tardis? I wish RTD weren’t channelling Chris Claremont quite so well – sometimes long-term plotlines need to end definitively. Rose’s did, but Donna’s didn’t, nor has the Master’s, nor has this episode’s or even this series’.