A long time ago in a Whoniverse far far away Russell “Television” Davies revealed that the climax of the third new series of Doctor Who was going to something familiar to viewers of science fiction, but not to viewers of ordinary drama. I wondered what this could be. I didn’t realise that when he meant familiar he actually meant almost direct lifts of scenes from Flash Gordon or Return of the Jedi. But I suspect he was thinking that his big finale was some big concept – R “Television” D is a self-confident soul (“Hooray”) and mere theft isn’t that big a deal. Even some Booker winners have borrowed plots from others (not looking at Graham Swift or anything), and most “innovative” dramatic TV ideas have their origins elsewhere (from which I exclude the blessed Nigel Kneale and Dennis Potter, true televisionaries).
So, analysing last night’s episode to work out what is the big deal.
Now it can’t be the mere passage of time between episodes (no matter how little conclusion was offered by the earlier episode) – Our Friends in the North has been there and done that (and the characters even looked a little older between episodes). It can’t be the music going up to eleven – the dialogue in any modern drama is often drowned out by music which isn’t always provided by Murray Gold. It can’t be the scenes of exposition where what happened in the year long gap is filled with narrative flashbacks revealed moment by moment at dramatically (in)appropriate parts of the story – Blackeyes played with structure and narrative years ago, The Singing Detective more successfully years before that. Maybe, it’s the reset button, putting everything back to the way it was before the start of the story. Well, we had the shower scene in Dallas, and apparently Crossroads took place in the addled cake-free imagination of Jane Asher so it can’t be that; and he surely couldn’t mean that anyway in the context of Doctor Who where the first new series ended with a big reset, based on a floating glowing character displaying hitherto unsuspected messianic powers (and Russell had even done played with that idea earlier in The Second Coming) and his second series ended with matters being resolved by a big lever that removed the totality of the alien threat that had subjugated the earth in seconds, whereas last night ended with a glowing floaty figure somehow unwinding the alien threat that had subjugated the totality of the earth in seconds. Perhaps it was having a character wandering the earth for a year – but Homer’s been there and done that (and for longer) centuries before (and is there a hint of Susan Mendes from NIck Briggs’ Dalek Empire scripts , The ANgel of Mercy giving hope to those enslaved by the alien rulers of their planets? Not enough of a hint though as Mendes’ actions led to revolution and sacrifice by the participants. No big reset but an instilling of sufficient belief that oppression could be overthrown and then the aftermath dealt with – perhaps that could have been Russell’s big idea, but it wasn’t). Maybe, it’s the hero being revived by a word and belief – but, hey, JM Barrie’s been there and done that.
So none of the big ideas of the finale allowed me to identify the big idea, but then?
Realisation slowly dawned. What are Sci-fi fans used to that viewers of ordinary drama are not? Crushing disappointment. Stories wrapped up in the most frustrating manner, or brought to a premature end due to cancellation meaning no, or rushed, closure.
And the worst of it was that some of the most powerful writing and acting of the new era (the SImm-Tennant confrontation and the Master’s death scene) were undermined by this hotch-potch around it.
So, on the whole all I can say is that I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.
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