To Take Up Arms – The Politics of “The End of Time”

Tomorrow I have to return to Stratford and my work on Coriolanus, that most political of Shakespeare’s plays. I’m not particularly looking forward to that, but for now I’m still free to bore you further with my meta on The End of Time. I should add for spoilerphobes that the below will almost certainly reference not only Part One, but also the three trailers for Part 2 on YouTube and elsewhere.

One interesting difference between previous big episodes and this one, for me, has been that it’s aired far sooner than before in America so we are getting a wealth of mainstream reaction while it’s still fresh in our minds. Now, I tend to be focused on relationships, particularly those involving the Doctor, but one or two of the blogs I’ve read have made me ponder what kind of a political statement RTD might want his swansong to make. It’s obvious that he does care about the politics his work presents – CoE made that very clear – even if some of his ways of presenting the issues lack finesse. So, what might he want people to take away with them concerning his views on Life, the Universe and Everything?

I do sympathise with those people who complain that, with the usual liberal bias, he uncritically tends to present Governments as the Big Bad and, by implication, condone various questionable activities like treason. I also hope very much that he’s working on his heavy-handed anti-Americanism, which is so over now and won’t do him any favours in the USA. I don’t really feel that his depiction of the Obama administration was meant to be analysed seriously – in fact, I found all that stuff a bit embarrassing. What I do want to look at, however, is how he writes about war. It’s been a huge, defining theme of all his work on DW, as much if not more so than the Doctor’s need for intimate relationships. Now it looks as if the last days of the Time War are about to be revisited.

One important thing that happened in POTW was that Rose ended the Time War – at least, that’s the Doctor’s take on it. He said the last act of the Time War was love, not his own genocidal decision. If the TW is refought we stand to lose that future, and that may well be significant.

History, as any humanities student knows, is told by the winners. But what if you had the power to rewrite history? That would be analagous to the POV of the Dead White Male narrator, which is exactly what we’re seeing in Timothy Dalton’s unnamed Time Lord and his contempt for the human race. At the other extreme, the Master’s ability to remake every human being in his own image can be seen as a comment on the deadening cultural effect of globalisation, and its inherent threat to individuality and diversity. It’s intriguing that when the story begins we don’t know that Dalton is an unreliable narrator, though we may have our doubts about him. I consider myself to be reasonably alert to metatextual devices, but nevertheless I conflated the Narrator’s contempt for Christmas with RTD’s own views. And that is what we tend to do with narrators of all kinds.

Wilf is a very important character, so much so that speculation about his possible identity is rife. He’s also an old soldier, wearing the Paratrooper insignia on his hat, the representative of a command-and-control generation in Britain that experienced world war and National Service. Who has always reflected contemporary concerns, and this story is going out at the end of a year when the UK alone lost over 100 combat troops in Afghanistan and, also, the last two remaining First World War veterans died within a week of each other. And, kids show though it may be, Who is very much concerned with war, and when it is right to bear arms. That theme resounded through S4 in particular and one of the most striking images of that series was Donna’s human hand joining the Doctor’s on the trigger to wipe out Pompeii.

The show was born in blood, violence and war, just like 10.5. Much has been written about the Daleks and their Nazi-like qualities and an it’s interesting that John Simm instinctively felt that an Aryan Master was right for this story. Invoking the Nazi threat is neat cultural shorthand in many ways – everyone recognises it as an example of eugenic totalitarianism, demagoguery and the war machine in general. We’ve even had Daleks speaking German – how much more obvious does it have to get? By contrast, there’s been more racially diverse casting in the show than ever before (I’m not saying it was perfect, but we did get black companions and even a black Time Lord, and that’s a start at least).

In the middle of the Christmas Day Queen’s Speech, that iconic British confluence of media manipulation and conservative patriotism, we saw the Woman in White order Bernard Cribbins to take up arms, which he duly did. He even mentioned doing his duty – a very unfashionable word which is nevertheless one of the defining values of the Doctor’s character. Upcoming trailers show the Doctor with a gun in his hand (whether he can bring himself to use it is another matter) and Wilf virtually offering to kill the Master so the Doctor doesn’t have to do it. There’s even a dog fight sequence. War is very much on the agenda here, and just as VOTD referenced the Christmas viewing cliche of the blockbuster disaster movie, we’re getting references to classic war movies here.

It looks as if the Doctor may be called upon to fight the Time War a second time, to neutralise the threat of one of his own race refusing to accept responsibility for the inevitable outcome of a war the Time Lords probably started, relinquish control of their own narrative and bring an end to untold suffering. Christ-like, the poor old Doctor is called upon to take upon himself the sins of his world. But what if he can’t do it? He couldn’t wipe the Daleks out in Genesis of the Daleks; he couldn’t use the Delta Wave. I wonder if the full TARDIS will return, but this time around his companions will take joint responsibility to press the button (big and red?) that must be pressed, destroying the old order and ushering in a new one of the human race, with the Doctor’s help, taking responsibility for its own future? That’s a very athiest story – a group of disciples relieving a Lonely God figure of his unbearable isolation and guilt. It addresses the most central theme of DW – what does it really mean to be human, and can our race manage without a supernatural protector? However, it does also address the concerns of duty and morality, making it relevant to religious people of all persuasions. Not all the people connected with DW are atheists and all are people of faith – faith in humanity.

I, for one, could live with that outcome, even if Ten doesn’t end up with Rose. I think it would be stirring, moving and entirely fitting as a coda to RTD’s tenure. And I get the distinct feeling, from the Confidential and Part One, that although RTD pays lip service to bringing back the Master, that’s not the story he really wanted to tell. If I’m right, that’s why he probably didn’t write it all that convincingly. But I have great hopes for Part Two

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4 thoughts on “To Take Up Arms – The Politics of “The End of Time”

  1. but this time around his companions will take joint responsibility to press the button (big and red?) that must be pressed
    Others than I have noticed that Davies’ season finales always incorporate the companion(s) saving the day instead of the Doctor.

  2. Yes – and that’s being developed further. In Planet of the Ood the Doctor did nothing directly to resolve the situation; he was at most an enabler. And in WoM he wasn’t just helpless – his presence was malign when he succumbed to the urge to influence events.

  3. You know, I’ve been giving some thought to the parallels between Wilf and the Doctor. Wilf never killed a man. He’s a man of peace, much as the Doctor always was a man of peace. And yet, now he is facing war and the threat of his entire planet, the entire universe, much as the Doctor did.
    I, too, look at that button push with Donna as a foreshadowing of what really should happen in Doctor Who. It shouldn’t be JUST about him and his sole right to decided everyone’s fate. In fact, probably, the fate of the universe shouldn’t be in the hands of the Time Lords either. One corrupt race with no ambition of their own but to straighten out the universe if others mess it up. There is a infantilism that is implicit in that idea.
    Like you, I can easily see the Doctor being helped along in whatever happens by his human allies. This, to me, is a marked contrast to what happens in JE when the Doctor views the human race as “his children” and decides their fates for them. I want them to really come to his aid this time…to take the burden from his shoulders and share in it. And I do think that is what will happen. I only hope that Ten 2 takes the complete burden from him…and we get our Pony, too. I do think that it is imperative for the Doctor to face things, face up to his people and to what he did…to being something less than the man of peace he would like to be…and yet, to be a person who truly does put the needs of others above his own desires.
    That’s what heroes are made of after all. But…we should also…every once in a while…reward our heroes with something other than a noble death, too.

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