Saturday, 5 July 2008

Time we said goodbye

…of course, nobody really thought he was regenerating, did they? Still, that ‘regeneration energy’ business struck Team Watcher as slight swizz, as if Rassilon’s great gift to the Time Lords - a complete cellular remix, but only when strictly necessary - was little more than the recipe for a pick-me-up, like Lucozade.

That said, it only registered a 4.4 on the ‘Naaaaaah!’ scale from the voters on the sofa; the Daleks’ temporal prison round the TARDIS got a six, while Jackie ‘Flippin’’ Tyler’s return got a nine, plus four for her gun. Honestly.

No, here’s the thing: at least the non-regeneration had a sort of purpose, and linked to the spare hand, which was in the first Tennant story, and later reunited him with Jack, and was used by the Master last season, and so brought a kind of… well, one hesitates to use the phrase ‘organic unity’, but… brought a kind of organic unity to proceedings. We were in the tonal rough and tumble of Russell T Davies’s masterplan, but at least things had been thought through.

Although there are the stand-alone specials to come, this really felt like the end of the RTD era, too - flashing back, wrapping up, signing off. One always worries about the extra-long eps, especially after last year’s season-closer, and the one with the… (shudders) Scissor… Sisters… bit…, but this time it wasn’t just for gorging, trumping and exploding (although there was plenny o’ that), a blow-out for the big man.

Rather, there was space for characters we’ve come to really love - yes, we’re looking at you, Donna Noble - to step forward and shine. And nice as it was to see all the old faces, if any more fellow travellers had come back they’d have needed another TARDIS; time too, for some real goodbyes, and a clearing of the console room.

Having rebooted Rose, and risked devaluing all the emotional capital invested in 2006’s Bad Wolf Bay parting (no, it’s all right, it’s just something in my eye), it was brave to go back - and it worked beautifully. It’s odd to think of that one-hearted Doctor and Rose really together, but it’s right, too. If RTD wants his cake after he’s eaten it, let him. Somebody get him another cake!

But if Rose brought the Doctor back to life, he brought Donna alive. Has any companion suffered a crueller fate than she? To see new worlds, expand her mind, save the universe, save reality - and then have it all, even the memories, snatched away, rubbed out like the stars were.

Forget your lovey-dovey stuff, that is yer actual A-grade heavy, RTD creating a fate genuinely worse than the show’s oldest friend, death. And it was all there from the start, the clues about lost worlds, rubbed-out reality… Donna had every world at her feet, and it was taken away; she lost the universe, her better self stolen. Gulp.

All brilliantly played, needless to say; the performances this time round make season four (or 30 if you prefer, ye olde Whovians) the best of the new series, we’re saying. Tennant outstanding, of course, his efforts lifted and matched by Tate’s range and energy; love the moments when they riff on each other, he gawping and wide-eyed, she rabbiting and brilliant-ing and uncheckable. It’s a real shame it had to end.

But things do, don’t they? This has! Your correspondent toyed with a Bonekickers blog but… well, our hearts just weren’t in it. And then they flagged up that new BBC Merlin thing, didn’t they, and we suddenly remembered that in one of the Doctor Who spin-off books he, the Doctor, sort of was Merlin - with ginger hair! - only it was a future projection of an alternative Doctor, and then it didn’t happen like that because of the TV Movie, so the timelines changed and then…

Ah, but I can see you’ve already stopped reading. I know that look.

See you at Christmas, then (or when they officially reveal Paul McGann is coming back; same thing!).

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Regeneration: Who knew?

If you can read this, it means that - finally - the Internet is cool enough to touch again.

As has been widely reported, the sheer level of fan speculation following Saturday’s explosive climax (it reached an incredible 17.3 on the Hugh-Bonneville Scale) caused heat exchangers at the Internet’s UK hub - actually a giant warehouse in Rugby - to go into meltdown.

As I write, fire crews are still damping down frothing pockets of superheated, liquid opinion, while explosives teams are slowly defusing servers full of unfounded conjecture about the Osterhagen Key.

It’s great, innit?

When your correspondent first broke cover back in April, we recalled a time when Doctor Who was the love that dare not speak its name; this week it’s been hard to get people to stop (although it might be that they think it’s all the Watcher is interested in… quite correctly, as it goes).

There have been texts, calls, e-mails and whatnot from the long- and longer-lost.

Some Saturday snapshots, then, Russell T Davies-style, from Team Watcher’s UK operatives, a loose collective known (by their wives) as the Big Children of Time; cue that teleprinter…

…in Edinburgh, a ‘respected’ geneticist blows mushroom biryani threw his nose, such is his excitement at the ‘I’m regenerating!!’ bit…

…in the Black Country, a hospital radio DJ slips on an emergency prog-rock tape, dropping the requests and shout-outs to Ward D so he can watch the last 20 minutes of the show uninterrupted by suffering…

…in deepest Worcestershire, a church - church! - barbecue-and-celebration is delayed by 25 minutes while the organiser experiences (ahem) ‘car trouble’ on the way there…

…in the blasted East, a gentlemen connected with the Press spectacularly fails to get to sleep through sheer ‘It can’t be!/It might be!’ excitement; he was, at the last count, 36...

What’s neat about all this chatter is the way it mirrors the show’s quaint adoration of the mobile phone, the ’net and social networking sites - surely no one’s idea of a new thing any more.

But RTD in particular seems in the thrall of connectivity - odd, given that instant communication arguably strips some essential urgency from drama (though to be fair the writer does use it to spring the narrative forward, on the whole).

Perhaps it’s just an extension of the way the show’s own big-screen, backdrop moments - y’know, First Contact with aliens, alien invasion, er, alien invasion - are validated by constantly referring to them on the telly. The Doctor himself viewed one such happening in the Tylers’ front room, and thanks to Saturday’s ep., we now know his phone number (no, don’t bother: we tried).

Of course, you could say it’s just a savvy show reflecting its own time, the information age; quite right too. But the odd, really pleasing thing about Saturday’s is-he-or-isn’t-he? regeneration twist was that nobody at home, or online, or anywhere but the future saw it coming.

RTD played us like a flute - and all in the name of delivering the most spine-realigning, satisfying few minutes of Saturday night telly since, ooh, June 8, 1974. It was old-skool, showbiz surprise, the lost art of not knowing what’s going to happen next, rediscovered: how very Doctor Who.

Now, it’s highly likely that David Tennant will continue in the lead role… but suddenly we just can’t be sure, and what we already ‘know’ about the Christmas special, and next year’s schedule, and 2010... well, all bets are off.

Reading the online runes is suddenly a bit like listening to Dalek Caan after he’s had a few.

Basically if you need to know, you’ll have to watch, Saturday’s finale really is unmissable, event telly, just like it used to be.

Anything could happen.

I like Saturdays.