Subtitled: If the Doctor Visits You Better Hope He’s a Good Tennant.
Warning: Do Not Read If You Have Not Seen The Final Tennant Dr Who Episodes!
“I don’t want to go.”
This was the last line delivered by David Tennant, the man who was recently voted the most popular Dr Who of all time. For those of you who aren’t Doctor Who fans (And if that is the case I wonder why you are reading this blog but please, continue…) having Tennant voted the most popular Doctor over the perennial favourite Tom Baker was as shocking as seeing at the turn of the century UK music magazines voting “Ok Computer” number one album of all time over “Revolver” or any other work by the Beatles. Still Tennant was wonderful and knowing his time as everyone’s favourite Time Lord was drawing to a close I sat with jigging legs and sweaty palms watching as the seconds melted away in his final episode.
“I don’t want to go.”
I know it is only a TV show and family entertainment at that but his final line has bothered me since watching that eventful episode. It is neither heroic nor funny. There is nothing about it that gives succour in any way to a person who may be feeling even the tiniest bit distressed at the thought of their favourite Doctor leaving the present and becoming a part of history to be passed down through the ages by way of conversations, wistful daydreams or purchased box sets. The look in Tennant’s eyes as he almost sobs his final line took me completely by surprise and left me so shell shocked I barely took in Matt Smith’s brief debut as the new Who.
I don’t know what I was expecting for a final line. I’m very good at turning off all brain power when watching TV shows I love because there is nothing worst than spending all your time second guessing what is about to happen. If you love it, just sit back and trust the writer(s). They’ve taken you this far; I doubt they’re going to let you down. A character dying in a TV show is only a notch below a pet dying and just above a little known cousin taking a dirt nap. I’m still recovering from the end of Six Feet Under and will have to take a breath before I continue writing to gather my thoughts.
Whew. That’s better.
Not all shows say good-bye to a beloved character well. Jimmy Smits played Bobby Simone in NYPD Blue and he was a ripper character that was undone by everyone getting too mawkish and over the top to such an extent his death seemed to drag on for months. By the end of it you were not only glad to see Jimmy Smits gone but also I never recovered enough to enjoy watching the show again. They had botched it so badly all I could concentrate on was the blue in NYPD Blue.
Then there are shows that just get it so right. I howled as a kid when I realised that Henry Blake had been killed in MASH. It was done so beautifully and subtly that it didn’t even register properly to begin with. The characters on the screen conveyed what we were thinking at home and at that moment we all became a community for a beloved man regardless of his fictional backgrounds. Gary dying in thirtysomething was like a punch to the head when you were least expecting it; a clever piece of sleight of hand as we rejoiced over Nancy surviving a battle with cancer only to leave us shattered at the most unexpected death of all. Sure Gary returned to haunt Michael Steadman through his unconscious yet overactive imagination but didn’t that do nothing but highlight the fact that he was gone?
But back to Doctor Who…
I loved Doctor Who as a kid and felt very much it was a show that I would look back at with golden fondness fitting in snugly with other such favourites as Monkey, the Goodies and the Kenny Everett Show. These Channel Two staples were rarely missed although I was always sent to the spare room to watch Monkey on the small black and white television as there was only so much “Buddha in her male yet seems to be female manifestation” that my Mother could handle.
My favourite Doctor was played by Peter Davison who wore an Edwardian cricketer’s uniform and carried around a cricket ball in one of his pockets. He was sensitive and caring; rather than bullying his companions he would treat them as equals and the three years he was to play the Doctor were my favourites. Once his Doctor “died” and regenerated into Colin Baker I had started to lose interest in the whole thing spending more time playing sport, deciphering the lyrics of David Bowie and discovering girls…but not necessarily in that order. Soon it seemed that the entire world had lost interest and the show was gently placed in mothballs before it began to stink up the place too much. And apart from one misguided made for TV movie with Eric Roberts as the bad guy (!) it seemed that the good Doctor had fought the good fight but this was one death he could not regenerate out of. So when I heard that it had been brought back to the tiny screens I felt no real urge to hunt it down as it had been laid to proper rest for me quite some time ago.
I only began watching the new incarnation when comedian Adam Richard insisted that I should do so. He bought me the first series with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper and while I thanked him for his generosity I placed it on my shelf between other DVD’s I haven’t gotten around to watching like Fellini’s 8 ½ and Brad Pitt’s Jesse James flick. Then one night after much badgering from Adam I decided to give it a go so I blew the dust off the cover and sat back hoping to find something relatively amusing about it so at least I could say to Adam, yes, I had in fact watched the damn thing.
And I just loved it!
From the first word the Doctor says to Billie Piper’s character Rose (“Run”. And I feel that one word has perfectly summed up writer Russell T Davies exhilarating block of work on the show) as he leads her by the hand away from the terrible Autons I was hooked. Later towards the end of the episode; in a perfect moment of symmetry; they once again run along London’s streets holding hands but this time as they race to save the world they’re smiling the biggest grins in the world; intoxicated not just by the chase but what they have discovered in each other.
I quickly devoured that first season. I loved everything about it especially the fact that this was family entertainment at its best. I think the best children’s entertainment should be full of big ideas and strong characters that not only make them laugh and cry but also teach them lessons of morality without ever being preachy. I believe that Doctor Who has achieved this on a nightly basis. Whether it is the Doctor never using a weapon but instead utilising the power of words (I just loved the Doctor bringing down the British Prime Minister Harriet Jones with the seemingly off the cuff remark, “Don't you think she looks tired?”) or the matter of fact way everyone just understood and accepted Captain Jack Harkness bi sexuality or the multi racial characters that pop in and out of the story without a second glance; I feel the show has been absolutely important for kids to watch and enjoy; a completely reinvigorating of the old boys club world of science fiction into a much more modern beast of fantasy for everyone.
When it came time for Eccleston to regenerate I was quite sad to see him go after only one season but his final moment was just wonderful. After Rose has absorbed the time vortex and saved the universe all that is left for the Doctor to do is to save Rose and in the process “die” himself. His final line of, “You were absolutely fantastic and you know what? So was I” before he regenerated was funny, inspiring and magnificent.
“I don’t want to go.”
A very different last line, isn’t it?
For the last five years we’ve had some of the greatest Doctor Who adventures of all time. Tennant’s Doctor never strayed from telling people they were brilliant and that the whole human race had the potential to be shining lights in the cold dark of the universe. We saw the Doctor save worlds, mend hearts and inspire good wherever he went so to have a final line that drips with hubris has genuinely left me gobsmacked.
I shouldn’t be that surprised though. There have been dark moments throughout these series, such moments that are easily glossed over when people criticise the show. Many people complain about the stories being over the top, too bombastic and that writer Russel T Davies suffers from too much sentimentality. I disagree. I think he has conducted an amazing balancing act that looks so effortless that the naysayers take it for granted.
A show like Doctor Who needs big bombastic moments to inspire the imaginations of the young and entertain the jaded and cynical grown ups that seem to hide in most houses today. Yet these moments are never to the detriment of character and this show is full of wonderful characters. (That brings up another good point…this show is full of strong women and if you don’t believe me look at the companions. Not one weak link. And Martha Jones had my favourite companion moment when she roamed the world without any weapons, just telling the story of the Doctor to help empower him to rise up and stop the Master. As he states to his sworn enemy: “You can’t stop them thinking” and he couldn’t have done it without his Martha.) What do these hypercritical people want, a more down to Earth adventure for the Doctor? “This week in Doctor Who the Doctor travels in search of the perfect souvlaki.”
As for sentimentality it was definitely there but I don’t believe that is a bad thing. There have been so many dark moments that sometimes you need raw emotion to help balance the ledger. For every moment Tennant’s Doctor smiled like a loon and told someone they needed to believe in themselves there was moments of utter emotional devastation as he can’t bring himself to tell Rose he loves her before there connection is severed for the rest of time. The fate of wonderful Donna; that simple temp who doesn’t believe she is special in any way; having all her memories stolen from her just as she begins to believe in herself. How about Sarah Jane Smith coming back into the series and revealing what we never thought of when we were younger: when the Doctor leaves you behind you grow older while he just keeps on keeping on throughout the universe without a second thought for his actions. Yet when she speaks to Rose about the situation she now finds herself in she doesn’t hesitate in revealing, “Some things are worth getting your heart broken for”. Even way back in the first series as Rose saves the universe she states that, “Everything dies” while wearing a “Punky Fish” jacket.
And that has been the brilliance of Tennant as the Doctor and Russel T Davies writing. It has juggled all these ideas; all these wibbly wobbly pseudo science explanations yet never shirked the truth behind it all. It has been incredibly positive in it’s messages while never fully discarding the darkness that lies in its stories. It has been a show watched by millions of people all over the world engaging all ages alike and that is no rare feat. I think it has been nothing but brilliant.
Yet that last line lingers with me. It took me by surprise. I think I was expecting something more heroic, more fitting for a beloved character but I think Davies was smart enough to know that to do so would have been venturing forth in NYPD Blue territory. For Tennant’s Doctor while being charming and funny and handsome had his dark side. He was sometimes short with his temper, he was at times arrogant and at others convinced of his own infallibility. In truth he was a well-rounded human being full of flaws and doubts while still being absolutely brilliant. Not bad for a Time Lord, right? No, Davies stayed true to his vision and gave us an ending that was brutal and sad. The man who is unfairly accused of being too bombastic and sentimental took our favourite Doctor and reduced him to a quiet moment, a small moment that said more about the character than we ever dreamed.
“I don’t want to go.”
I don’t want Tennant and Davies to go either but I can’t think of a more brilliant way for them to say goodbye. They’ve cleared the bar, turned out the lights and placed all the chairs on the table, leaving the place more than ready for the next owners. And as they turned out the light I wonder if they realise just how brilliant their work has been.
Fitzroy North, just east of Gallifrey
January 6th, 2010