The End of Time was a two-part holiday special episode of Doctor Who which saw the departure of David Tennant, who has been superb in the role of the Doctor, and the arrival of Matt Smith. The story involved the attempt of the Master (played by John Simm, who was so good in Life on Mars) to take over Earth, and the intervention of the Time Lords, led by that one-time James Bond, Timothy Dalton. Aiding and abetting Tennant was the splendid Bernard Cribbins.
Given such a starry cast (Billie Piper and June Whitfield were among other famous faces that popped up) the show was always going to be fun to watch, and so it proved. As usual, I enjoyed Russell T. Davies’ script; he is a very good television writer, although his Doctor Who stories sometimes seem stretched out beyond their natural limits, with the extra time occupied by rather sentimental interludes, and this was for me the only weakness of The End of Time. Overall, though, it was good holiday entertainment.
I first watched Doctor Who in the days of the first Doctor, William Hartnell, and it’s interesting to see how writers have grappled over the year with the departure of their hero. In television, this may be due to an actor afraid of becoming type-cast, or even dying. Taggart survived the death of Mark McManus, and the show is still named after his character, although I don’t think the stories are quite as compelling as in the early days, when McManus was at his best and Glenn Chandler wrote some quite brilliant scripts.
In crime fiction, the author may simply tire of writing about his or her detective. Conan Doyle tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls, although public pressure (and lots of money) persuaded him to revive the great detective. When Nicolas Freeling killed off Van der Valk, he had Arlette, the cop’s widow, take centre stage, although not with the same level of success. I once attended a talk given by P.D. James, when she described killing off your hero as ‘foolish’, and within the crime genre, I’m inclined to agree. But in the anything-goes world of Doctor Who, a Time Lord can transform himself and sometimes, as in the Tennant era, with dazzling results.