Blimey, they didn’t half milk that!
So that’s four “deaths” for Rose at my count, and the show seems determined to keep us guessing ’til the end. And ultimately she doesn’t die in the literal sense – other than being declared dead of course – but does die metaphorically. It was certainly predicted by a lot of people, and I think it works well enough. If anything the episode is haunted by the first season finale, which managed a far more affecting (and less shippy) goodbye from the Doctor to Rose. There are only so many ways to play the same note, and this iteration of Rose being sent away and coming back, only to lose her Doctor doesn’t work quite as well. It also doesn’t help that by the time she’s rescued from certain doom by Pete Tyler appearing out of nowhere, the game-playing with our expectations is beginning to intrude on the drama.
Nonetheless David Tennant has a splendid episode. Given the close parallels with several plot elements from season 1 he inevitably suffers by comparison with Christopher Eccleston’s intensity, but then he’s his own man. In his quieter way Tennant’s acting is effective and affecting this week1. The final goodbye works well enough: I would have preferred to leave the “I love you” out of it, but given that Rose is clearly in love with the Doctor it’s inevitable that she would say it under those circumstances. The Doctor’s ambiguous attempt to reciprocate is the only place I feel the episode veered too far. I’d have preferred “have a fantastic life.” At least Rose’s situation is sufficiently grim yet sufficiently full of potential to do justice to the character, and they somehow manage to avoid her Mum and Dad’s reunion feeling too pat.
As for spectacle, the episode certainly lives up to expectations in terms of the big Dalek/Cyberman conflict, with some fairly large scale combat. Doctor Who rarely if ever pits one classic monster against another, and for “cool” value alone the episode is a winner. I’m happy with the manner of the Daleks’ return: existing outside of normal reality is certainly the only way that the Daleks could have survived the first season finale, and is plausible within the pulp SF parameters the show has set itself. An elite think tank of Daleks is another nice idea (although not really consistent with their rampant xenophobia). The salvaging of Time Lord technology is also plausible, and exact nature of the Time Lord “Genesis Ark” is a genuinely smart idea. So obvious it never occurred to me! Perhaps predictably the Daleks have the edge on the relatively low tech Cybermen, and that’s as it should be as far as I’m concerned. The danger in all of this spectacle is that both Daleks and Cybermen are undermined: amusing as it is to watch one group attempt to out-shout and out-shoot the other, there’s a risk of making them both look like the monomaniacal social misfits that they are. Worse, the humans are more bemused than afraid, and that hurts.
For the rest, there’s a little too much going on for my taste, and too many plot contrivances: for example, how the Dalek recognised David Tennant is anyone’s guess; likewise a Cyberman determining from the Doctor’s pulse rate that he knows something vital about the Daleks is ridiculous; and the Head Dalek suddenly having the ability to do an emergency temporal shift comes slightly out of the blue – although given their tampering with Time Lord technology I can excuse it. At least the writers have learned from their mistake and decided not to wipe out the show’s best monster for a second time. Equally it’s ridiculous to suppose that every Dalek and Cyberman in the world was sucked into Canary Wharf in the space of a few minutes with nary a broken building or a sonic boom in sight; but for storytelling shorthand it’s not too bad. (Some of the images of Cybermen being sucked up are also a bit silly, though not so silly as all Cybermen in the world being told to converge on Central London and doing so at a slow march.)
Overall, where this finale is weakest for me is that the plot relies too heavily on contrivance and the Daleks and Cybermen do end up looking a bit ineffectual. Likewise the soap elements are effective on a gut level, but come very close to bathos. And yet, despite all my griping and niticking, I ate it all up and enjoyed it a great deal.
EDIT: Plenty more discussion here.
1Tennant handled the Time War reference well. I liked his delivery of: “I was there at the fall of Arcadia. And one day I’m going to have to find a way to live with that.” While not as intense as Eccleston it still worked, and felt organic to the Tenth Doctor in a way the Time War has never done previously.