Yeah, that seemed like it could have been the end of everything.
Knowing this was the last adventure for the Tenth Doctor, and knowing there was talk of making this a series finale in every possible meaning, it is an adventure that feels like an ending. The Doctor has to stop the Master, save humanity, and also stop the Time Lords from returning because the way they do it would be bad for everyone, starting with the Earth.
It does more or less work out. The Doctor and Wilfred escape the Master only to go back. Wilfred gave the Doctor an old handgun to stop the Master with, something the Doctor does with great reluctance. The thing is, the Time Lord president Rassilon (whoa…that guy?!) doesn’t want to die, so he and most of the rest of the Time Lords (save two, one of whom may be the Doctor’s unidentified mother) vote to use the Master’s machine to force all of Gallifrey to time travel themselves out of the Time War. The process would destroy all of time, leaving the Time Lords, and only the Time Lords, as bodiless consciousnesses in the void that comes afterwards, never having to worry about dying again. The Doctor, who once again offered to take the Master with him to see the TARDIS, has a choice to make when all else fails. He can shoot the Master, the suspected cause of his own impending doom and remove the thing the Time Lords are using to come back to this point, or he can shoot Rassilon, the guy who implanted the drums into the Master’s head in the first place and is leading the others to this awful point.
The Doctor opts instead to shoot the Master’s machines, something no one else seems to have seen as an option, and the Master sacrifices himself because even if the whole end of time thing doesn’t happen, the Time War with all those genocidal Daleks will keep going if someone doesn’t. The Master, Rassilon, Gallifrey, they all disappear forever (for now, since the Master is nothing if not a guy who keeps coming back from death without explanation), and the Doctor thinks he somehow survived.
Then he hears someone knock four times and sees poor Wilfred trapped in a chamber about to be flooded with fatal levels of radiation. Sure, the Doctor rages that it isn’t fair, but in the end, he isn’t the Doctor if he leaves some poor guy to die of something that he might be able to survive. The Doctor takes his dose, and he has enough time to get back to the TARDIS and say some mostly silent goodbyes to all of his closest friends from this incarnation. That means saving Martha and Mickey from a rogue Sontaran, seeing Luke and Sarah Jane on a street, giving Captain Jack a good pick-up line in an alien bar, visiting Verity Redfern’s great-granddaughter to find out if her ancestor was happy after he left (she was), and finally spotting Rose and Jackie Tyler just before he met the two of them so they won’t be stuck in another dimension or know who he is. He even supplies a winning lottery ticket to Donna on her wedding day, a ticket bought with money borrowed from Donna’s late father and given to Donna by her mom and granddad. The whole thing, feeling maybe a little overindulgent, plays like an end to the show itself and not just a final adventure for the Tenth Doctor.
And then he gets in the TARDIS and regenerates into Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor.
So, what do I make of Tennant’s ride as the Doctor? In many ways, he was what the series needed. Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor was a good introductory Doctor, but Tennant’s Doctor was the one that showed new fans why this character is special. He was quirky and weird, often funny, usually heroic, but not above moments of pure arrogance. He didn’t like to leave anyone to die, even his worst enemies, and he hated authority figures. Many Doctors are often some derivation of those who came before, but I couldn’t say which Doctor Ten modeled himself after. He wasn’t silly and playing dumb like the Second or condescending most of the time like the Sixth. He wasn’t the hardnosed fighter that Nine often was or the grouchy curmudgeon that was the First. If anything, he came closest to the Fourth, an iconoclast who was both friendly and claimed to be friendless.
If anything, that last trait was the one thing I didn’t like about this Doctor. Asked by Verity’s great-granddaughter if he was happy, he says nothing and glumly walks away. I know the whole “last of his kind” thing and the results of the Time War weight heavily on this Doctor, but he probably had one of the biggest supporting casts of friends of any Doctor to date. Three companions who all adored him, and his assertion that they all came to bad ends isn’t really true. Martha, for one, turned out fine…unless you consider being married to Mickey awful, and I type this up not long after learning of allegations against that actor that almost certainly taint Mickey’s appearance in this finale for someone watching it now. Donna got married too, and Rose even got her own Doctor in the end. Arguably, Captain Jack isn’t happy, but he’s a Doctor stand-in over on Torchwood, and anyone who thinks Sarah Jane Smith came to a bad end hasn’t been paying much attention to her. This Doctor’s greatest fault may be his tunnel vision. He can’t see much beyond his own general loneliness to see how much he really had.
But that’s in the past. There’s a new Doctor for me to see, with those write-ups starting tomorrow. I’ve heard interesting things about Matt Smith’s take on the character, and he was the youngest actor to ever take the role. His quick appearance here is something of a reset. He’s already sounding much more chipper, even if he isn’t a ginger like he wanted to be this time, and since both Tennant and Russell T Davies left at the same time, there’s a chance that Smith’s run will also feel like a new show in more ways than one.
If that’s so, there’s only one way to find out what happens next for me. I’ll have to check it out for myself and find out.