Who Reviews: Journey’s End
by Tony J Fyler
Tony Fyler goes into mourning.
In retrospect, people accuse Russell T Davies of writing plots so huge, only a massive deus ex machine can get him out of the corner into which he paints his characters.
Perversely, when they say this sort of thing, the same people have a tendency to look right here, to Journey’s End, as proof of their argument. It’s more true in the Series 1 finale, The Parting of the Ways, where Rose, when it was necessary, looked into the heart of the Tardis, became some all-knowing, all-powerful Bad Wolf Thingummy (wait? How?), and literally dissolved the Big Bad – but even there, the thing about Russell’s scripts is that if you have a giant deus ex machine come and solve your problems for you, there’s a terrible, terrible price to be paid. In The Parting of the Ways, the Ninth Doctor, rejuvenated and essentially healed by the influence of Rose Tyler takes the consequences of her actions upon himself, and dies, regenerating violently as a consequence.
Journey’s End is what happens when the Doctor doesn’t, or can’t, make that kind of sacrifice. But a terrible, horrible price is still paid for the deus ex machine in this episode.
But not, of course, quite yet.
You join us at the far end of the single most effective cliff-hanger probably in Who history, New or Classic.
Just to re-cap:
The Earth has been stolen, there are weird planets in the sky. It’s the Daleks – they’re invading. Davros is back. Torchwood’s under siege, Sarah-Jane Smith is facing down two Daleks, Martha’s zapping about the place with a MacGuffin called an Osterhagen Key – no idea, truly - Rose is back, the Doctor has run towards her, only to be zapped by a sneaky hiding Dalek, itself then blown to smithereens by Captain Jack. The Doctor’s dragged home to the Tardis, assumes the position and begins his fiery, explosive regeneration when the three most evil words in Doctor Who history slam up on screen – To Be Continued. No trailer, no leaks, no nothing. We’ve all waited a week, in the age of the internet, to find out what the hell happens next.
Welcome to Journey’s End!
What…the holy…schlamoly? After all that (spoiler alert!) the Doctor slams most of his regenerative energy into the jar containing the hand cut off by the Sycorax on Christmas Day when he first woke up as himself (and conveniently used as a ‘Doctor-Detector’ by Captain Jack ever since). He’s healed, and runs back into the battle, while his hand bubbles a bit.
Well, that was surprising, wasn’t it boys and girls?
Enter Mickey and Jackie to save Sarah-Jane and a bit of a time-barrier to keep Gwen and Ianto safe inside Torchwood, on the other side of a frozen and probably intensely frustrated Dalek.
It’s a bit of a mad endeavour, trying to explain the plot of Journey’s End to someone coming into it without having had the build-up of The Stolen Earth, but essentially, the Daleks and Davros, who really does in this adventure seem to be reduced to the status of their pet, have stolen planets from all over time and space, arranging them in a neat, series-arc-explaining pattern to form an engine. No, really, no clue, but go with it. The engine can, on command, create a single-string Z-Neutrino (you can imagine Russell grinning on the day he came up with that, and going off for an early lunch at a nearby café) – a wave that undoes the bonds of matter, ripping through the multiverse (oh yeah, this is a deus big enough to destroy not just one reality but all of them) with something colloquially called a Reality Bomb. Daleks will be the only forms of life immune, as they’ll be at the heart of the devastation, so they won’t so much be masters of the universe as masters of a whole shedload of precisely buggerall – no chemistry, to physics, no lower life forms to oppress – what will they do with themselves? Play endless round of Dalek Hopscotch?
Anyhow, that’s the madness in which Journey’s End drops us, propelled by an insane, Tiggerish, Tenth Doctor energy. Rose, previously trapped in a parallel dimension, has been building a dimension cannon to get back to her man (Sure…cos Rose can do that, even with help…), and as it turns out an Osterhagen Key is a key to a human device designed to blow up the world rather than let it fall into enemy hands.
Anyhoo – what Journey’s End is, really, is Russell T Davies’ version of the ultimate Doctor Who fanboy party. It’s probably what he would have done had he been in charge during the fiftieth anniversary, a mad, huge, glorious retrospective, bringing most of the companions the Doctor had had since the relaunch in 2009 together to fight the biggest Dalek army yet seen on screen, in a plot so big that the invasion of Earth is simply Act 1, with the destruction of everything as the finale to the finest, most mature series of New Who up to that point. There would be massive pay-offs – Daleks speaking German! How meta is that? The Daleks throwing the Tardis into a fiery inferno. Davros would get the chance to lay the heart of Time Lord hypocrisy bare – hey, everyone has a hobby, don’t judge. There’d be the creation of a second Tenth Doctor, and a naked one at that (say what you like about Russell, he knew how to please the fangirls – and indeed quite a few fanboys). Rose would get a version of the Doctor she could love and who could love her back, to make up for that eeeeevil non-declaration at
And we’d finally see the Doctor and his companions piloting the Tardis as it
was meant to be piloted – just as well, really, as it would be dragging an
inhabited planet through the wastes of space and time in its wake. We’d also
get to finally understand what the Ood were talking about with their
‘DoctorDonna’ malarkey, and why all the timelines should converge on a temp
from Chiswick. And it would be so brilliant, it would take Donna forward to a
new way of embracing the universe, and they’d be able to run into the next
series together as equals, the Doctor and the DoctorDonna, roaming everywhere,
seeing everything, righting wrongs, and shouting loud enough to get on
everyone’s nerves. Bad Wolf Bay
Oh gods, except…
It delivered all that; it gave us the terror, the ranting of a madman, the triumph, the disintegration of the Daleks in another deus ex machine moment. The DoctorDonna was born – a combination of Time Lord and human in one mind, Donna’s mind, more brilliant than either could be in and of themselves. It gave us everything – the flying home, the man Rose could love, Mickey and Sarah-Jane going back to Earth, the Tylers going back more happy to their reality. And then…
Then came the price.
It was a device that had been used before in Doctor Who, the ‘your memory will be wiped of the Doctor’ thing – it had happened to Jamie and Zoe when the Doctor was put on trial by the Time Lords. But never like this. Never with the companion’s brain misfiring, never as a medical necessity. And never with them crying, all the while, as the Doctor advanced to take back all they’d done together, all they’d seen, all the ways in which the universe had changed them. Crying what each of us would cry – no, no, NO!
The death of the DoctorDonna still ranks as probably the most heartbreaking moment in New Who – and given that heartbreak was seldom played for what it was worth in the Classic series, probably in the whole of Who (death of Peri? Maybe, but it was schmaltzed over weeks later). It’s heartbreaking because it’s the death of all the progress Donna made, all that she could have been, and it represents the triumph of trivia over all that potential – the Donna that’s left is the Donna that was there before she ever met the Doctor. Does that mean she’s not worth pitying? No, of course not, but having been on that journey with her, we know how much she loved having seen it all, how far she’d come, and how loath she would have been to ever go back. So to see the progress ripped away from her is a punch in the heart at the end of an epic, funny, real series that gave us the first uncomplicated ‘just a mate’ companion in the New Who world. As an endpoint, it’s a dark and tear-stained place we come to at the end of all the terror and the triumph, all the shouting and the screeching of Daleks. When Donna goes back into the world of the day-to-day, we feel her loss like a death, knowing how we would feel if our journey with the Doctor had never been part of our lives.
What would yours be like without that journey?