Doctor Who – The Specials (2008–2010) Rewatch and Review

“I don’t want to go.”

After the end of series four it was official, David Tennant would be leaving the show, along with showrunner and mastermind behind its revival, Russell T. Davies. To give the production team enough time to prepare for the new series, 2009 didn’t have a full series of the show. Instead, we got five specials across the year, ending with David Tennant’s departure. Let’s have a look at each of these in turn.

The Next Doctor

It wouldn’t be Doctor Who without a Christmas episode, and there being no series in 2009 wasn’t going to stop the Timelord’s jolly festive trips through time and space. Though Christmas episodes have been hit or miss in the show, this one is actually pretty great. Partly because it uses Christmas as a backdrop and not a plot point, but mainly because David Morrissey is just really great. 

And this episode has one hell of a hook. After rocking up in London in 1851, looking to distract himself from the horrible way he had to leave Donna behind, the Doctor finds someone calling out for him. When he arrives on the scene, he’s shocked to find that he isn’t the Doctor they were after, it was David Morrissey’s Doctor. At first assuming him to be a later regeneration of himself, the real Doctor tags along and investigates. Obviously, Morrissey is not the Doctor, which is a real shame considering he proves here that he could have been a magnificent one. He is Jackson Lake, a man whose wife was killed by Cybermen and, in the scuffle, he was implanted with the Doctor’s memories from the Cybermen’s database.

The episode culminated with a Cyberking towering above London – which is basically a giant Cyberman mecha. It’s silly, but everything else is just so much fun you don’t care. The villain is great, and her death is unusually cruel. On top of that, it’s really great to see the Cybermen crashing about a Victorian graveyard in the snow, deleting stuffy workhouse owners. Overall, it’s throwaway episode made all the more memorable by a great villain and the excellent David Morrissey. It has a few moments of pathos too, as the Tenth Doctor ruminates on his life with companions. It’s the best Christmas episode, at the very least.

Planet of the Dead

‘The Planet of the Dead’ aired on Easter 2008. That’s three months since the last episode. So you can see why some people were a little underwhelmed with the episode. It fairness, it has a few things going for it. Firstly, it has a great hook. An ordinary London bus filled with a colourful cast of characters (and the Doctor) suddenly find themselves stuck on a desert-like alien world. Without the TARDIS, the Doctor has to think outside of the box (haha) to get them home. It also has a weirdly great supporting cast, with appearances from Lee Evans and a pre-fame Daniel Kaluuya. But working against it is an hour-long running time, for an episode that would feel a little thin at just 45 minutes.

The setting is a little barren, with only about three or four locations used throughout the episode. And the alien threat is menacing, but a little dull, looking and acting like ripoffs of the aliens from Pitch Black more than anything else. But the Doctor’s relationship with Michelle Ryan’s Lady Christina de Souza is fun, and feels new. She’s not like other humans he’s travelled with, in that she’s a criminal and it’s interesting to see how the Doctor balances that. And they have a fun, flirty back and forth that’s exactly what you’re after in this kind of standalone episode.

The episode also lays the groundwork for what’s to come, with a prophetic passenger on the bus warning the Doctor of his impending doom. Sadly, that just makes you wish there was more life-threatening drama and less flying busses – though the flying bus is undeniably cool. Overall, it’s definitely worth a watch, if only for the hints of things to come and the funnier moments throughout. It’s a light, not too serious episode. And considering it was designed as an Easter special, it makes sense. It’s perfect to watch as you kick back and eat far too many Easter eggs.

The Waters of Mars

‘The Waters of Mars’ is a terrific episode, one I’d forgotten being so good. Set in the near future, it sees the first humans on Mars. Upon his arrival, the Doctor quickly realises that the occupants of Bowie Base One are not long for this world, as they all famously died in a horrible nuclear accident on that very day. It’s a fixed point in time, with their deaths directly impacting the future of the human race and it’s future space travel. So the Doctor knows he needs to leave, but he can’t bring himself to do it.

Aside from the rules of time, the enemies of this episode are terrifying. Thanks to the underground glacier the base has tapped for its water supply, the crew is slowly being infected. The infection basically turns its victims into very soggy zombies, and the effects work here is superb. The way that most of the transformations happen off screen, or out of focus, makes the whole thing so much more horrible. And there’s the fact that just one drop of water can infect you. It’s one of the most seemingly unbeatable enemies I think the Doctor has ever gone up against.

And of course, this is the episode where the Tenth Doctor snaps. After realising that following the laws of time have brought him nothing but misery and despair, he vows to save the survivors of Bowie Base One, consequences be damned. This leads to some truly spectacular moments of the Tenth Doctor at his angriest, as he fights the very laws of time and space to save these humans. And it’s an understatement to say that they don’t really appreciate it in the way he hoped. ‘The Waters of Mars’ has one of the single darkest endings in the show’s history, and feels like something out of Torchwood in its bleakness. But it sets the stage for what’s to come, and demonstrates that the Doctor can’t break the laws of time. What has happened, will happen. And his end is just around the corner.

The End of Time

David Tennant’s run as the Doctor comes to an end in this two-part story, originally shown over Christmas and New Year. I remember it being a huge event at the time, as regenerations always are I suppose. But David Tennant had turned this role into something else entirely. And a lot of people just couldn’t see the show without him. But before he regenerates, there’s the small problem of the return of his biggest enemy, the Master (played once again with relish by John Simm). 

Something’s returning. Or at least that’s what the wise old Ood prophecise. With it, the Doctor will die. Now this could mean dying outright, if he doesn’t have time to regenerate, or it could be a standard regeneration, which is almost as bad. Upon regeneration, as a tearful Doctor tells Wilf, he must watch as everything he is dies and another person wanders off in his body. It’s a crushing way to see the process of regeneration and it makes the whole thing so much sadder when the time does come. The Doctor is not without emotion, but seeing him in tears is tough to watch. It hits you in a very real way that this character you’ve spent so much time with is going away, and that you’re going to have to get used to someone else in his place.

There is an argument that the Master’s plan in this episode is a bit too silly. He plans to turn everyone on Earth into him, the “Master Race”. Any other villain wouldn’t be able to sell it, but John Simm’s Master is insane enough to pull it off. And ultimately, the fate of the Earth is merely a subplot for the real action in the episode. We all know the Doctor will save the day, so it doesn’t really matter what the Master does in the meanwhile. The real plot is the return of the Timelords, governed by Rassilon (Timothy Dalton). Using the drumbeat they planted in the Master’s head as a tracking beacon, they return from the time lock. As the Doctor makes clear, this is not a good thing. Towards the end of the war, the race of Timelords became something quite different altogether, even worse than the enemies they faced. Fittingly, sending his warmongering people back where they came from is the final act of the Tenth Doctor, allowing some closure on what has been the overriding arc since the show returned.

This episode is a masterclass in what the show is capable of. From the top-notch special effects that still hold up, to the emotional weight that everyone brings to every scene, it really is the show at its peak. The final regeneration scene is so dramatic and so over the top, with Murray Gold producing his best work as the TARDIS burns around the Doctor, that it really feels like the end of an era. And the start of something new altogether. 

So with the end of the specials comes the end of David Tennant’s tenure as the Doctor. Watching it in quick succession as I have done over the past few weeks really drives home how monumental and iconic his time as the Doctor really was. Christopher Eccleston helped revive the show but David Tennant made it the juggernaut it continues to be. He is incredible in the role and I felt more emotional watching him go this time than I did over a decade ago. When he says, ‘I don’t want to go’ you believe it. For a man that defined the role, you can’t help but feel that Tennant himself doesn’t want to go. That in that moment he and the Doctor both wish things could go back to the way they were, back when he was running around time and space with Rose, Martha, or Donna.

But alas, everything has its time. And now it’s time for Matt Smith to give it a go. I can’t wait to watch his take on the Doctor. It was in this era that the show blew up worldwide, leading up to the immense 50th anniversary special, ‘The Day of the Doctor’. But I also remember things getting a bit too timey-wimey under showrunner Stephen Moffatt. But if nothing else, rewatching the show has allowed me to appreciate the episodes and stories I have neglected. I look forward to doing the same over the next few series.

But if I end up praising the James Corden episodes, send help.

Jack Bumby


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