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.

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14 thoughts on “

  1. You know, I still haven’t watched EoT, though I’ve gone out of my way to spoil myself in an attempt to want to watch it. Usually that works; I find out what happened, and then I’m really excited to actually see it on the screen. (Weird, I know, but you already know I’m a contrary sort of person.)
    I have no desire to watch EoT. In fact, I didn’t even watch WoM until Christmas Eve. And I think this is exactly the problem:
    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.
    Yes. RTD is an incredibly good dramatic writer–that is, he knows how to create drama. He knows how to find a character’s dramatic need and show us what it is, then spend just the right amount of time (usually) resolving it. But the Doctor’s dramatic need isn’t ever resolved; it’s ongoing. His dramatic need is to travel, to experience, to save the world. That’s been his dramatic need since 1963. RTD’s mistake was to give him a second dramatic need–a life, an ordinary human life, 2 a.m. on a street corner–with Rose. That dramatic need, which so many of us bought into so deeply (since he wrote it so well), can never, EVER be resolved; it’d be the end of the show. You can’t have an end to Doctor Who the way you can to, say, Life on Mars. Doctor Who goes on.
    And so I find I’m really grateful that the Moff has promised no romance. I’m really grateful that we’re going back to an era of ripping yarns and space adventures. DT is a fantastic dramatic actor, and he certainly had a good time playing the Doctor, but in many ways, his Doctor was so much more broken even than Nine; and while, as you say, Nine had a chance to create some resolution, Ten never did, or never took it.
    I find those little plasters he stuck on problems to be hauntingly sad, actually. A date for Jack, money for Donna, one last view of Rose. It’s as though he knows his need never can be resolved, but he’s trying to do something.
    In a way, I feel sorry for RTD; he did his best with what he was given. But it didn’t, couldn’t work. And I’m sad that that’s the way his era has to end.
    (In other news, happy early birthday! 🙂 )

  2. Thank you. You’ve not been too well have you – Meuniere’s Disease? I’m glad you’re easing back to work, anyway.
    BTW the kids wrap up in that lovely blanket you made for us on the sofa every night. I’m going to have to watch out for it when they leave for college!
    Concerning DW, I really wouldn’t bother with EoT. Minus the hype we had over here, I wouldn’t have done either. WoM was in many ways the logical end of Ten’s story.
    I think Moff really wants to write the original Doctor’s story. He’ll do a good job and it’ll be a blast to watch. Interesting that they seem to be pushing it harder to America than here. It makes sense. It’ll work better retooled than up the cul-de-sac RTD drove it into. I suspect RTD just never in his wildest dreams expected it to run much more than two series, and like the Doctor, he makes stuff up as he goes along (He denies that, of course, but if it wasn’t true there wouldn’t be so many loose ends hanging).

  3. 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.
    I’ve been saying since Christmas that his reaction to the prospect of regenerating is out of character. Since New Year’s about the temper tantrum in front of Wilf, too, which I’ve taken a potshot at explaining in-text. Reading this, it offers a needed out-text explanation more in depth than Rusty wants to say goodbye.
    According to cut dialog from Christmas Invasion, the Doctor’s tenth personality is supposed to have got his accent from Rose. In the wake of Doomsday I posited that he must have picked up his emo-of-a-nineteen-year-old from her too. To justify all this in-text, perhaps you could argue that he picked up the human perspective from Rose at the same time. So that’ll be why he seemed to believe that he could have forever with Rose just as much as she did, when he ought to know better.

  4. The deletion of the dialogue about the Doctor’s accent being derived from Rose is a sign that the direction of the Doctor/Rose relationship was undecided at the start of making the 2006 season; perhaps if Rose had left a few episodes in as supposedly intended she would have been more of a mother figure to the tenth Doctor. Alternatively, Russell was working so fast that he didn’t realise the problems in the contradiction of Rose being both a mother and lover figure.

  5. 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.
    Yes, yes, yes. I was torn throughout EoT between feeling that the Doctor/Wilf bits were, as you say, beautifully written (and perfectly pitched for DT and BC) and fantastically acted by the both of them, and thinking ‘except actually, that’s wrong. That’s how *humans* feel, about death. The Doctor’s not human, and he’s not going to die!’ and getting frustrated that RTD seemed to be writing his own/DT’s feelings about the role into the Doctor, which would have been emotionally very satisfying but didn’t quite make sense…
    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.)
    I hadn’t thought of it in these terms, but now that you posit it, I so wish it had been done!

  6. I’m not sure I buy the argument that his whole regeneration character was influenced by Rose, because if you follow that through it becomes very restricting in future storylines. Is Eleven going to be affected by regenerating alone and unhappily in an exploding TARDIS? But I can certainly see the whole romance with Rose being an addictive response to the trauma of the Time War. That makes a lot of sense. I just wish they hadn’t dragged out the grieving for Rose as much as they did when it was never going to be properly dealt with. I’d have liked what he did to Jack to be followed up, too.

  7. I never saw Rose as a mother figure. He had Jackie for that. He thrived, for a while, on having a family to relate to. But I do agree that S2 was inconsistent – he spent the first half pushing Rose away and the second head over heels in love with her, and the transition wasn’t explained at all. And I agree that Rusty writes from the hip and ends up writing himself into corners – it’s very unprofessional.

  8. It could have been a beautiful scene, particularly if the Master had been alive for long enough to take part in it. Tragic, yes, but not in a mawkish, sentimental way. And then a quiet, dignified embrace of regeneration, with or without Wilf, accepting that the Time War had to be laid aside at last, that life goes on. To me, that would have been much more consistent with the spirit of a Time Lord at his best, and a telling contrast to the monsters that his people had become. It could have included an acknowledgement of the White Lady too, maybe Wilf saying, “Did you know her?” and the Doctor replying, “She’s everyone who ever inspired me to do the right thing – Susan, Romana, my mum…even you, Wilf.”

  9. I’m not sure I buy the argument that his whole regeneration character was influenced by Rose, because if you follow that through it becomes very restricting in future storylines.
    There are other things unique about Rose’s companionship that could be used to justify it having more influence on a regeneration than environment usually has. But it’s a new thought that may not lead anywhere anyhow. And it’s my thought, not Moffat’s, and he keeps saying he’s got his own themes to develop.

  10. One of the things that most upsets me about Ten’s departure is that he never found peace. He wasn’t ready to go and he went out fighting it, unlike Nine.
    I, too was rather surprised by the likening of regeneration to death. Surely the whole part of the process is to allow the character to remain with us, just in another form. And given that Tennant’s Who fanboyishness has meant that he’s been able to throw in touches here and there of almost all the other nine Doctors, the claim that a “new man goes sauntering away” makes even less sense.
    While I accept that many found the long goodbye to be makwish and self-indulgent, personally, I needed it. Because of the nature of regeneration, we don’t get to ‘mourn’ the departing Doctor before BAM! there’s a new kid on the block – so for me, that sequence was my opportunity to do that.

  11. There’s a part of me wants to believe that somehow, in the middle of that explosion, he merged with his other self and found peace with Rose. Because I feel that in the end, Nine and Ten represented a part of the Doctor that had to be purged, and burnt away – the part that longs to be human. In the end, no matter how much he wants it, the Doctor isn’t human and without a Time Lord’s discipline, authority and ability to distance himself from events, he can’t survive and stay sane.
    It’s natural that after what he did to end the Time War, and many years of rebellion against his people before that, the Doctor would want to reject everything Time Lord in himself. To sink himself into a different identity and, as it were, “pass” as human. But it can’t be done – if you’re a Time Lord that is the reality, that’s who you are. Ten found his existence and responsibility as Time Lord increasingly burdensome and longed to be rid of it, and in the end he got his wish – a human lifespan with Rose in a human body.
    It’s interesting, and heartening, I think, that what we’ve seen of Eleven so far suggests that he has rediscovered his authority as a Time Lord – that doesn’t preclude a certain craziness and childishness, but it gives him a still and balanced centre that Nine and Ten completely lacked. Shakespearian that I am, I’m reminded of a few lines of dialogue from “Othello”
    Where is that rash and most unfortunate man?
    OTHELLO: That’s he that was Othello – here I am.

  12. I come to see how you found the opening salvo from Moffat and Matt and, instead, I find you given a learned response to me. And I feel as if I no longer deserve learned responses as my mind is so foggy that I am sure I am making absolutely no sense. Also, I no longer have the proper words, never mind having them spelled properly.
    Still…I loved this part of your response…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.
    Because, as you do, I think that is the core of the problem. The simpliest solution, having the Doctor go spend some time with the mortal Rose and then return in S5, eluded them because they were so swept up in the idea of his alien being that they essentially stepped over a line by giving him motivation of some kind. They don’t seem to realize that it is the lack of closure that will kill the show…eventually. Stories need closure. The Doctor truly does not…and not because he’s alien, but because he is legendary. He can return in tales forever…like Robin Hood or Hercules. But his love story with Rose…needed epic closure or it makes him less of a legend overall.
    Again, as you say, the audience will eventually get bored of being told how wonderful the Doctor is and stop feeling sorry for how deeply hurt he is that other people have to suffer as he goes on with his carefree life. I do agree that perhaps the Old School writers had the right of it by side-stepping any deeper connection and therefore skirting understandable motivations for the most part.
    Rae
    off to watch Matt in a bit, hope to enjoy him…simply because I’ve found a way to honor Rose and Ten and move beyond RTD’s finale.

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