The Master is “resurrected” at the beginning of this episode, though thanks to an attempt by his ex-wife to stop it, the process goes wrong. The result is that the Master is alive, but has blonde hair, jedi powers and an enormous appetite. Say what? The Doctor attempts to explain it by saying that he’s “burning up his life force” or something, but the whole idea is just absurd. The Master jumps around like a grasshopper, eats burgers and people at super speed, and shoots lightning from his hands. And I’m wondering how something this stupid got written, let alone produced. My guess is that the Master’s gluttony is yet another sermon from RTD about our over-indulgence when it comes to eating. Yawn. After the superb “Waters of Mars”, this episode is a real let-down so far.
And speaking of that episode, what happened to the major doom and gloom that the ending seemed to promise? The Doctor goes too far, has a vision from the Ood, and departs in dread that his death is imminent. “The End of Time” begins, and the Doctor has apparently been on vacation! We get jokes about marrying Queen Elizabeth and a car alarm on the TARDIS. The dark and foreboding mood set by “The Waters of Mars” is completely thrown out and wasted in favor of narration that falls flat and silly Doctor jokes that also fall flat.
The Ood prophecy sends the Doctor dashing off to Earth where he goes hunting for the Jedi Master. Heh. And then we get the third plotline tossed into the episode. It’s the wacky alien machine that the equally over-the-top villain Joshua Naismith acquired from Torchwood. An attempt is made to give Naismith some depth by saying his villainy is done out of love for his daughter, but it just doesn’t work. Naismith chews the scenery and his lines with such relish that he might as well have the words “I am a bad, bad man” tattooed on his forehead. He’s a terrible character. And quite frankly, the whole subplot about the Immortality Gate is a dead end. It gives us the amusing cliffhanger where the entire population of the Earth become the Master, but the gate really has no relation to the main storyline, which is the return of the Time Lords and the Doctor’s struggle to prevent that. Particularly since the Time Lord President will shortly undo its effects with a literal wave of his hand in part two. This story would have been far better had the whole Immortality Gate subplot been removed entirely, with the whole focus of the plot restricted to the Master’s insanity and what that meant.
The salvation of this episode is Bernard Cribbins and his character Wilfred Mott. Whatever RTD’s faults as a writer, he struck gold with the Noble family who were all well-written and well-cast. The subplot about Donna adds some much-needed emotional resonance to the episode, and Wilf’s presence gives David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor someone serious to play against. Good actors can often salvage poor scripts, and though these two don’t quite manage to save the entire episode, their scenes together are at least worth watching. It’s good to see Donna finally find a good man, and it’s sad to see her family tiptoeing around the Doctor’s presence so she won’t come to harm because of the forgotten Time Lord knowledge in her mind. It’s entirely appropriate that the cliffhanger partially revolves around the threat to Donna, since the transformation of six billion people into the Master is really too big to wrap our mind around or care about, in addition to just being silly. But if the viewer happens to care about Donna, then her fate certainly means something.