Tonight’s Doctor Who season finale was built around a question, the ultimate question, the answer of which could destroy the universe. But I have a better question, a pretty important question which I think Doctor Who fans deserve to have answered. A question which, if answered, could make the entire Doctor Who universe even better. Here it is:
Why aren’t Doctor Who season finales ever any good?
Doctor Who as a series, is as inconsistent and unpredictable as the Doctor himself. That’s part of its charm. Some episodes are better than others, some are utterly brilliant, some are kind of a confusing slog. But there’s one thing which, year after year, Doctor after Doctor, seems to remain pretty consistent: Doctor Who season finales are always terrible.
It happened again tonight and, truth be told, I don’t really mind. The thing about Doctor Who is that even at its worst, the show always manages a few completely brilliant moments. For me tonight it was every scene in which the Doctor hung out talking to his buddy the blue severed head, that kept me interested. Those were wonderfully written conversations, even the last one, in which the mysterious question the show’s been touting was finally revealed. But the rest? It was kind of a mess.
Tonight’s finale was much like every other finale, a prime example of too many ideas and not enough space to fit them in. This seems to happen at the end of every Doctor Who season. The creative team spends episode after episode setting up these massively complicated time conundrum which force some sort of massive, crazy, epic conclusion in the season’s last episode. But it’s too much. It’s always too much.
Take tonight’s episode for example. Here’s a partial list of some of the big plot points taking place in that a little less than an hour of televised storytelling:
– Doctor Who and River get married
– Rory and Amy have to fall in love again
– We find out what the question is
– We find out why the Doctor must die.
– Tiny people in shape-shifting spaceship who deliver messages.
– A severed blue head who hangs out in the Tardis.
– The Silence under glass.
– Winston Churchill his now ruler of the Roman emperor which uses car balloons as transport and is frequently attacked by flying dinosaurs.
– Everyone’s wearing an eye-patch.
– The entire universe shows up to save the Doctor
That’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Every five minutes the show introduced some new plot point, some new twist to take the audience in another direction. It’s too much for any show to handle, but it’s especially too much for this one. It’s too much for this one because Doctor Who has always been the most brilliant in those small, quiet moments. It’s the simple things that have always made this series so special. David Tennant’s haunted look as he delivers his final words as the character, “I don’t want to go.” The girl who waited. The last Centurion. Episodes where creatures strike fear into your heart not by the size of their tentacles, but by the subtlety and simplicity of their evil.
Doctor Who always works best when it takes something complex and makes it so beautifully and utterly simple. Yet year after year, time after time, the show’s season finales diverge from that formula and go a completely different direction, by throwing everything possible at the screen in the hopes that it’ll stick. It’s too much.
Next year, in what may be Matt Smith’s last year as the Doctor, it’s my hope that they’ll find a way to deliver a season finale that’s all about those simple moments. I don’t need sixty minutes of grandiose music and endless cameos from every character we’ve seen all season long. Just give me the Doctor, facing down pure evil, with a gleam in his eye and his companion by his side. That’s all we’ve ever needed.