Synopsis: The Tenth Doctor deals with some of the most difficult problems he ever faced, including his own.
• When seen as its own pseudo-miniseries season, stands out as some of the best written episodes in the series’ history.
• The Tenth Doctor’s growing vanity, actions during the Time War he never speaks of, and declining psychological state are in full view.
• Being “the last of his kind” becomes more significant than ever.
• Like when Rose created a paradox by saving her father, we are shown further what happens to the individuals involved when the Laws of Time are more than flaunted.
• Already knowing the Tenth Doctor’s time was ending made some of the Tenth Doctor’s actions and reactions predictable.
• The shear epic nature of the overall story-arc might have been a bit much for fans of the original run.
“The laws of time are mine, and they WILL obey me!”
“The Next Doctor” —
Like the prior Christmas specials, this story definitively set the tone for the succeeding stories, and almost slyly snuck in elements important for the Eleventh Doctor’s first season. Ten acted in a very interesting way to what might have been his future, Jackson Lake. He was fascinated outwardly, but actively worked to discount the possibility. “I don’t wanna go,” was a bit of a catchphrase for Ten soon after this story. As the title suggested, this was more a kind of psychological introduction to the end of the Tenth Doctor’s song. Steamtech Cybermen controlled by a strong willed woman was perfectly done, and added important plot elements. Ultimately, loss, impending doom, and lack of control were the most significant elements of this story, preparing the viewer for some of the Doctor’s darkest moments to come.
“Planet of the Dead” —
This Easter special was all about impending doom. A swarm of machines perfectly built to consume a world and move onto the next had targeted Earth. Coincidence or no, the Doctor was one the right bus at the right time. We had UNIT, robot monsters, stranded aliens and humans, and a great companion. His one-off companion here was one of his most fascinating. Uninterested in the controlled and predictable life of the aristocracy, Lady Christina turned herself into a master thief. She matched the present Tenth Doctor in many ways, including the obsessive need to write her own story. She was as much an antihero as the Doctor ever was, especially when she sacrificed the object she proudly stole to save people she barely knew. Indeed, she saw right through the increasingly cagey Tenth Doctor, or at least knew he put up a mask more desperately than she ever did in more polite company. Confirming the darker tone of these specials, we are ultimately given the prophesy of the Tenth Doctor’s end: “…you be careful because your song is ending, sir! “It is returning. It is returning through the dark, and then Doctor…oh but then… he will knock four times.”
“The Waters of Mars” —
This may be one of the darkest stories in the show’s history. Here, the Doctor dealt with a fixed moment in time, not unlike in stories such as the First Doctor “The Aztecs,” Fourth Doctor “Genesis of the Daleks,” Ninth Doctor “Father’s Day,” or Tenth Doctor “The Fires of Pompeii.” He often was able to save at least one person in some way, but the Doctor saving them might have been necessary to ensure his own timeline. This Martian monster in this story, existing as a kind of virus in the glacier, might as well have been unbeatable, while the Doctor surmised the absent natives, the Ice Warriors, buried it there in a kind of permanent quarantine. This time, however, the Doctor finally has a nervous breakdown while witnessing events beyond his control, and attempts to take control, thinking he could control the consequences. Indeed, he made revisions all the time. Why not this time? Well, history had other plans. The “Timelord Victorious” seemingly succeeded in saving one person, Adalaide, who told the Doctor that no one should have the kind of power to freely manipulate history. Indeed, it is arguable that the old arch-nemesis The Master never went as far as the Doctor did here. Before a wholly new timeline could take form or temporal creatures could consume the paradox, Adalaide killed herself, which ensured the timeline as it presently stood. Doctor Who has occasionally killed off companions, but never like this. This nearly destroyed the Doctor, who suspected his death was now surely imminent. In his great vanity, the Tenth Doctor defiantly ignored the TARDIS’ old cloister bell, which always warned of doom.
“The End of Time” —
This Christmas and New Years story continues to stand on its own as one of the best in the show’s history. The dark, unstated past finally caught up with the Doctor, who had been running from all real responsibility since his mistakes on Mars (not counting a forgotten yet important interlude revealed later). We learn just that much more about the Master and Doctor’s long history and the Time War. It does make sense that the Doctor and Master knew each other on their homeworld, but their contrasting choices made them try to forget that long dead friendship. Most significantly in part one, the Master wins, creating a kind of dark parody of the Tenth Doctor’s vanity by turning the human race into the Master. But the drums, which were once quiet enough to go unstated, were now too loud to ignore. We learn that at least much of the Masters insanity stemmed directly from the Time War. The resurrected Timelord president Rassilon, who is easily one of the greatest mad scientists ever written, implanted that sound in the young Master, once Rassilon realized that he must have been the one that did it (wibbily wobbly, timey wimey). The Master became an integral part of a mechanism conceived to rip time apart and remake the Timelords into beings of consciousness. Rassilon might have been right to think that the only way to destroy the Daleks by the end was to destroy the universe, but it could never have been the right way to end the Last Great Time War. Timothy Dalton portrayed the understandably overconfident Rassilon perfectly.
In the end, in perfect antihero fashion, the Doctor found the third option that was not terribly obvious until seen (destroying the mechanism and not the Master). The vengeful and dying Master then attacked Rassilon to ensure the success of that choice, falling back to Gallifrey at the very end of the Time War. We learn more recently that Rassilon, being a face-changing Timelord, did survive, and it is very possible that he may become the Doctor’s next arch-nemesis. Spoilers?
In the end, it was the Doctor’s companion Wilfred Mott that knocked four times within a potentially radioactive glass tomb. Of course the Doctor saved him by sacrificing himself, finally breaking past the vanity after everything. The radiation poisoning was slow enough for him to hold back regeneration to see all his past companions, but eventually and catastrophically released the bottled up regenerative energy to saunter away with a whole new face …
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