A friend writes:
I was reading a lovely book entitled, "Master Class In Fiction Writing" by Adam Sexton.
This book draws on the very essences of storytelling, which naturally will appeal to me, by illuminating examples from classic works. And I loved how the author illustrates the exact problem with RTD’s storyline as a whole and coherent narrative. Using Jane Eyre as a template he states, Not until Jane Eyre can tell us, "Reader, I married him."–or at the point where Rochester marries another, or Jane marries another or one of them dies–are we finished with the story of Jane’s growth and development.
He points out that a protagonist must embody a concrete need, rather than some abstract one, for the reader to connect with the character. That is, Rose wishes that she would never be separated from the Doctor. Rose consistently acts upon that belief. And, Ten consistently responds to it, though he is shown to be emotionally torn, not by lack of love, but perhaps by something else, and finally physically torn into two men. But we are still left without concrete resolutions, because Rose is shown to reject the Doctor she’s given in JE.
This led me, after a long absence from these pages, to look back, with the benefit of hindsight and hopefully some objectivity, at why The End of Time didn’t work for me. Some of my reflections, cut and pasted from replies to her, follow. It’s a good time, at least from my POV, to reflect and take stock on the RTD years in general. It’s almost to the day five years since Rose aired, and of course the Moffatt era officially starts tomorrow. My daughter has a friend coming to stay who’s been living in Lebanon for the past few months and really wants to catch up, so we’ll be taking a look at all of the Specials before we settle down to the S5 opener on April 3rd.
The point Sexton makes about characters needs, how they have to be specific, not abstract, makes me wonder if RTD’s biggest problem was explaining what the Doctor’s specific needs were and then following them through. Once we define a character’s specific needs we humanize them, make them into a person the reader can identify with.
But of course, the Doctor isn’t human, and there’s a continual fear of losing his alien-ness by giving him a human motivation. It’s tempting to keep making the Doctor’s motivations abstract because then you can claim to be writing great and meaningful drama. (Not that Shakespeare ever had a problem with that particular either/or). And there’s another difficulty. Anyone involved with DW professionally is terrified of doing anything that might finish the Doctor’s story. Once he stops, the reasoning goes, then the show stops. So as soon as you begin to characterise the Doctor in a realistic way (and for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that Classic Who never did), once you give him an inner life, that drive towards completion will be there, and it’s totally fundamental.
It’s part of the age-old tension between storytelling and the maintenance of a brand, a franchise, that eventually the story stops. Otherwise, it’s not a satisfying story. The battle cry we hear at EoT "but the story goes on" is, in fact, the worst thing a story can do. That’s why sequel after sequel is rolled out in modern storytelling, until the original narrative collapses under the weight of its own silliness and contradiction, or people lose interest, or both.
There’s a difference between a satisfying ending and a happy ending. It’s arguable that even King Lear has a satisfying ending. Lear as a character has to square a circle – he wants to give up his power but can’t deal with the reality of doing so. In the end, even in the darkest, most nihilistic productions, that gets answered – he finds that power is worthless. Or occasionally you come across a production – the Gregori Kozintzev movie, for example, where he discovers he’s a member of the human race and learns to appreciate real love, but it’s too late. But he has still developed, even when he cries with his dead daughter in his arms, "Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life, and thou no life at all?" The insight to ask that question comes at the end of a story of personal growth.
So, to return to the Doctor, he’s trapped in a bind – he has to want something, but we have to separate out the bit of him that wants that something and push it away, in case it diminishes him, or at least diminishes his bankability. The real sadness of RTD’s Who is a very predictable one – it became a brand, trapped by its own success and all the compromises that involves. I was very intrigued to read in the new Writer’s Tale that Julie G tried to persuade Billie to return for the Specials. Even then, they were trying to do a damage limitation exercise. But eventually what happened was a very modern triumph of two successful brands – David Tennant as tragic actor in the Shakespearian mould, which demands narrative closure, and DW as the never-ending, continually resetting story, which demands the precise reverse. If the show had been less successful, if it had clearly run its course by the end of S2 or S3, we might well have got our happy ending. As it was, it was just too valuable for the POTB let that happen.
And so we come to the finale.
It seems to me that End of Time, from the title downwards, is an increasingly hollow and frantic attempt for RTD, again, to have his cake and eat it. Lots of things about the finale screamed, "This is closure! It’s the end, really it is – it’s what I was going to do all along!"
We get the odd attitude to regeneration, for example. Tragic Doctor reacting to it as death, when in fact it’s something quite different. Regeneration is pushed to the absolute limit – it happens agonizingly slowly with a huge amount of rage against the dying of the light. That’s because, deep down, The Doctor as conceived by RTD has become human, and so he’s not dreading a regeneration, he’s dreading the end that death is to a human being. What we are really seeing is 10.5 expressing his fears, facing Ten’s regeneration. No wonder the whole thing feels unresolved.
Then, the attempt to round things off with Gallifrey and the Master. I felt that was the least unsuccessful narrative strand because there was some sense of closure there – what happened did seem to vindicate the Doctor’s original choice that has caused him such agony throughout his narrative. But again, that was never commented on, instead the story limped on and shoved it into a siding. By this time, Doctor as tragic hero had turned out to be such a success that nobody dared to give the poor man a satisfying ending. (It could have happened – he could have realised that with his choice to kill his people confessed and vindicated, he’d found a measure of peace. Arguably, the Ninth Doctor went out on a similar note. He might not have wanted to regenerate, but he didn’t fight it).
So we couldn’t allow Ten a moment to reflect on the hugely important issue of his genocide. We couldn’t resolve the Master’s narrative arc – nobody ever does that. People complain about RTD throwing toys out of the pram, but personally I wish he’d had the courage, or the opportunity, to sling out a few more. Instead he had to keep everything.
Having created two conflicting alternative narratives for the Doctor, RTD attempted to ride both horses simultaneously. But that’s impossible – as soon as one is resolved, by implication you negate the other. I get the impression that it was 10.5’s story that RTD wanted to tell by that stage – the simple, human one. He was bored by the magnitude of the issues he’d set up and no wonder – they’d all been rehashed ad nauseum. He didn’t want to think about why the Doctor didn’t show up and help out Jack with the 456 – he didn’t really want to write about that Doctor any more. Brown Ten wasn’t his Doctor; he was a corporate creation.
There’s always a part of RTD that does whatever he likes, but because of the bind he was in, by EoT it wasn’t coming out in very artistically satisfying ways. Instead, he tried to give Ten a head transplant, by writing about a human/Time Lord hybrid saying goodbye rather than a character that was consistent with the original. So, while the last stand with WIlf is a beautiful scene, and the acting is fantastically good, in the end it just doesn’t feel in character. I don’t feel that the Doctor could stand up to Rassilon only to pout and act out when he can’t hang onto his particular body. It’s just too small, too human. He can rebel against the Time Lords but that doesn’t fundamentally change who he is – or rather, if it did change him fundamentally, he’d be in Pete’s World now with Rose. Once he walks out on that possibility, he’s proven himself to be more Time Lord than human and there’s no narratively consistent going back.
And then we had all those goodbyes. They didn’t work for me because they all said the same thing – I don’t want to go. I’ve learned nothing and I don’t want to go. I still think Jack’s issues can be resolved by fixing him up with a date. I’ve convinced myself that money will fix what happened to Donna. And I’ve never come to terms with losing Rose, I still need to do something incredibly dangerous and cross the timeline so I can see her again.
Every imposition of closure screamed lack of closure. Yes, it gave Tragic Hero Tennant loads to do. But the problem with a big farewell speech is you can only do it once. After that it becomes mawkish. Say what the audience needs to hear, "I’m going to die, but I’ve learned something." Or at the very least, there needs to be acceptance. Ten’s death gave us neither.