Everybody knew The End Of Time was all about one thing: the final moments of David Tennant as The Tenth Doctor - a perfect 10, for this new (re)generation of Whovians. Much like Ten, it's hard to imagine many of us thought about a season where he wouldn't be guiding some well-meaning sap, and us, through time and space. Life After David? Even Inigo Montoya would have called it Inconceivable even a year ago.
But, again, much like this Doctor, we've had a teeth-gnashing few months to prepare for the inevitable. The end of his Song had been signed and sealed. All we could hope for was a fittingly grand delivery. And Tennant was more than up to the task. The problem was, show-runner Russell T. Davies - penning his own swansong as well as Tennant's - came up way too short in swinging for the fences one last time.
Most of the two hours preceding Tennant's final moments in the TARDIS revolved around The Doctor seemingly facing three different threats, but the sum of his three adversaries was decidedly less than each of the parts: The creepy neo-futurist Naismith family stuck out like Week 6 baddies in over their depth, solely introduced so they could introduce the latest thingaMacguffin. And for all the bluster and gravitas Timothy Dalton provided as
In reality, the Doctor's last dance partner was, fittingly, John Simm's Master, resurrected by a horribly disposable set of worshippers as a binge-eating, energy-blasting cross between Goku and Agent Smith, particularly when he uses the Macguffin Ray to go John Malkovich across the whole planet.
"What would I be without you?" Ten asks the Master at one point, in one of the little moments they share just before each shuffles off. And it's in those moments where the story, such as it is, stops to breathe and feels more natural as a result. Those bits of humanity also resurface in the conversations between The Doctor and good old Wilfred Mott, where the Doc finally releases the guilt that's been building at least since The Waters Of Mars. He also tells Wilf, and us, why the thought of this death rattles him so, when it would likely lead to another Regeneration, anyway.
"Even if I change, it feels like dying," Ten sniffs, fighting his sadness and anger at once. "Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away. And I'm dead." When the mysterious Four Knocks signalling his death finally come, at the hands of a trapped Wilf, the Doctor actually hesitates before coming to the rescue, complaining, "I can do SO MUCH MORE!"
And it's those moments which finally set up the end of his road, making the rest of the story's misfires and unanswered questions - who was the woman coming to Wilfred? Where did the Master and the Time Lords end up? How could Donna's mental block survive this whole thing? etc. - tolerable, if nothing else.
Because for all that went wrong with this story, and with this Doctor, the heart just kept shining through. This Doctor loved life seemingly more than all his other incarnations, making his final few words truly heart-breaking. But time must move on, even if Time Lords don't, and here comes a new era, bounding in with big hair, a burning TARDIS and a "GERONIMO!" ...