A First-Timer Watches Doctor Who: “Journey’s End”

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Although David Tennant will still be around for a few more episodes, “Journey’s End” feels like a sendoff. All his old pals—including his old frenemies Mickey and Jackie—are back, working together to save the universe from eternal darkness. But by the end, the Doctor is once again alone.

This is a complicated story with multiple intertwining strands, so I’ll give a quick rundown of what everyone was up to. Donna and a half-human version of the Doctor are in the TARDIS, trying to come up with a plan while floating miles above the earth. Jackie and Mickey have arrived from the parallel world to rescue Rose. The real Doctor and Rose are trapped at Dalek headquarters. Martha is in Germany trying to activate something called the Osterhagen key, which is basically a self-destruct button for the earth. Sarah Jane has teamed up with Jackie and Mickey. And Jack Harkness is in a Dalek garbage disposal.

Of course, they all reunite for a Dalek-y, Doctor-y, world-savey reunion. The Dalek’s plan—which was the work of Dalek Caan, not Davros; Davros was just a pawn—was to destroy all reality, leaving just the Daleks. But what the Daleks actually needed was a reality check. And it came in the form of Donna Noble, half-transformed into a Time Lord after touching the Doctor’s severed hand—which was buzzing with regeneration energy. Just before the Daleks enacted their plan, Donna operated some heavy machinery (i.e. somehow knew how to press a bunch of buttons controlling the Daleks) and saved the day/universe.

Four seasons in, I’m still struggling to feel threatened by the Daleks. They’re too cute! With the plunger and the whisk, they seem more equipped to unclog your toilet and cook you breakfast than destroy worlds. Still, I appreciate the whimsy. I want to posit that there’s a strange comfort in the Daleks: having an enemy return over and over—and be defeated over and over—creates a sense of consistency in a show where the lead character and his cronies change quite regularly.

And in this episode, the Daleks are kind of right about one thing. The Daleks say they are going to reveal the Doctor’s soul. When his friends converge, each with a different plan to use major weapons for major destruction, the Daleks point out a theme: the Doctor, whether he likes it or not, brings death and violence. And it’s hard to deny. The Doctor’s companions all start travelling with him because they’re after adventure and fun—but their journeys always end in disaster. Although the Doctor’s aim is always to stop evil, he still serves as a nexus of death and war and pain. And judging by his sad reaction to Davros’ assessment, he knows this is true.

It’s also what sets the real Doctor apart from the half-human Doctor. This was one weird love triangle. The real Doctor has two hearts—which means he can’t really love. The half-human Doctor only has one—which means he can. Reuniting the Doctor and Rose—even via his weird human doppelganger—added to the episode’s “sendoff” vibe. Rose and the Doctor are finally back together, under ostensibly perfect circumstances: she doesn’t get the aloof, immortal Doctor. She gets a human version with the same mannerisms and memories—one who can love her until they grow old together and die, human-style. But Rose is right when she says it still feels wrong. While Rose kisses the half-human Doctor, the real Doctor makes a break for his TARDIS. And it’s hard to tell if he’s happy for them, jealous—or just sad.

And while Rose got a tied-in-a-bow ending, Donna did not. I can’t sugar-coat this: I was outraged by Donna’s fate. Death would have been a more noble end for Ms. Noble. Having absorbed Time Lord energy from the Doctor’s hand, Donna was going to die—basically, her human body/brain could not handle so much Doctor data. So the Doctor saved her life by wiping her mind. One touch to the temple, and she’s back to being a gossipy, shallow temp. With zero recollection of anything she did with the Doctor.

This was a cruel end for a character who had become more and more layered as the season progressed. “But she was better with you,” her grandfather said to the Doctor—and it’s true. Donna’s travels made her more compassionate, more happy, more confident. It seems so unfair to strip her of her very rich evolution. The whole premise of Donna’s arc was that, under her silly behaviour, she was special. And then the show denied her any knowledge of her own worth. Donna, you deserved better.