I liked the fact that we got more exploration of the limits of the Doctor's ability to change things (I was a big fan of
Basically, the fact that the Doctor ultimately decides to go back and save them kills stone dead the pathos of the "I'm walking away, I'm walking away" bits, which drag on for a long time while we watch a bog standard base-under-siege sci-fi-horror flick of the type I don't tend to find terribly interesting. (I mean, seriously, the main plot point in that section apart from "watch the Doctor be emo" is "WE MUST LOAD THE PROTEIN PACKS". And it lasts a good quarter of an hour or so [if it is in fact much shorter than that -- I wasn't timing or anything and I'm waiting for a repeat to tape it -- then I am going to blame the fact that it felt like forever].) Worse still, his ultimate decision to go back means that he dooms a couple of people completely unnecessarily. I find it very hard to sympathise with his deep inner struggle dooming them if it turns out he was going to lose said struggle.
I also didn't like certain elements of the losing of the struggle. Partly, it was the ranty "The Laws of Time are mine, and they will obey me!" bit which was OTT on both the writing and acting fronts (it would have been better IMO for him to say something more along the lines of "I am the Law (of Time)", but that's because I still reread the Book of the War all the time and there's a good bit in there about the oldest
But more importantly was the fact that just like the Evil Gummint in TW:CoE, hubristic Diet Coke of Evil Ten turns out to be AN IDIOT. Even more of an idiot than the Evil Gummint, in fact. Fires of Pompeii gave him direct proof that the whole "saving the people who should have died" thing can work, if you get them to start new lives so they don't interfere with the historical record. It would have been trivially easy for him to take them to a far future human colony, or even the 51st century, where they're used to time travellers (and we could have had a canon basis for River/Adelaide, ahem) but instead he wants to take them to their own homes on the very same day. It's one thing to go a bit evil, it's another thing to jettison your planet-sized brain in the process. Very annoying. (The bigger problem is that he could have done this fairly obvious solution completely non-evilly, of course.)
I did find myself hating Ten for about five or ten minutes there, which is something I've never experienced before; I've been angry with him before now, certainly, or considered some things to be OOC writing (I switch between Watsonian and Doylist depending on how well the story is engaging me, really). But I just loathed him, when he was getting his "Time Lord victorious" on.
And then Adelaide joins a surprisingly long New Who tradition of the person who makes the horrible choice for the sake of the timeline, who manages to at least glimpse the Time Lord perspective through a glass darkly, for a moment. In a way, it's really good because it gives agency to the human characters who so often get it taken away from them by the paternalistic Doctor. But unlike Pete in FD (interference caused by ultimately well-meaning if insufficiently schooled in time travel SF Rose) or alt!Donna in TL (interference caused by Evol Beetle), the interference she's correcting here by committing suicide is casued by Ten himself. And in contrast to Donna in a rather different way in Fires of Pompeii, instead of putting her hand on the lever with the Doctor, she has to do it by herself in defiance of his not-so-newly-discovered godlike self-belief. And I really couldn't stand him.
But despite really having this to be honest quite disquieting sense that I did not like the Doctor (which I've never really had before; it was a mixture of the arrogance, the fact that he could have saved more people if he'd been less mopey earlier on given that he was going to do this, and just the general way he was being) I was still finding it fairly compelling viewing in some ways, and I thought I could handle the specials being about this writ large, hubris before nemesis and so on. At least I knew that nemesis really was coming this time, I suppose; in the smaller scale versions that have preceded it Rusty's copped out and the fact that he doesn't here is I think what a lot of people like about it, and it worked by itself, but not in the overall context because all by itself, Adelaide's suicide is enough to make him realise he's gone too far and then we're suddenly meant to believe he thinks he's about to die because of it and I got whiplash from the sudden turnaround. The "is this my death?" bit in particular doesn't really make a lot of sense to me -- it's the sort of "if we shove enough random and/or doom-laden stuff in there people will mistake it for a plot arc, here do you remember this guest character from 18 months ago?" stuff that Rusty's been doing for years now, but really, at this stage every penny-ante villain out there ought to be paying mildly psychic people to go up to Ten and say stuff like "the ravens are gathering at the tower" just to throw him off his game. (Fair disclosure: I really dislike prophecy in my sci-fi, particularly prophecies that are always true and particularly particularly prophecies that are technically true but weaselled out of ("the valiant child who will die in battle so very soon", etc. etc. etc.) but it really makes no sense within the script that Ten buys all this stuff all the time. It's lazy writing.)
I would have enjoyed "the story of the Doctor finally having to walk away without saving the day even a little bit", or "the story of Ten's hubris going too far" or even "the big lead in to the regeneration story", but all three piled so quickly on top of each other (and in particular the first going on way too long before switching track) ended up less satisfying than any of them by themselves would have been. What I think I would really have liked, on reflection, is a Martian remake of The Silurians, with the water beings turning out to have a motivation that Ten sympathises with, but he's unable to persuade Adelaide and events proceed as he always knew they would. But that would be a very different kettle of fish.
(Gratuitous wanky opinion: Seven would have let events proceed according to their historical course, but would have stayed with Adelaide until the very last moment.)
And now, a random list of other things I thought:
- Ha ha, you can so tell they originally thought it was going to be aired next Saturday rather than Sunday just gone. Why else make it exactly 50 years after that?
- It was so Troughton Time! What with all the Ice Warriors references and stuff -- I did like Ten speaking Martian. But it was more Troughtony even than that. What little consensus I've seen has it that this fucks up the 21st century timeline Even Moar, but I spent a good chunk of the day leading up to it reading Parkin in Ahistory and Miles and Wood in About Time's thoughts on said timeline for the sake of Zoe fic (most of which I am going to ignore and go with the popular fic-fanon that Zoe is roughly our contemporary, which is entirely based on that one line in Mind Robber [because it exists and so people have seen it] about comic strips from the year 2000, because otherwise my plot doesn't work at all), and what we got here feels to me very much like one of Rusty's things when he's quietly making more effort than he needs to to fit in with things while not letting it become old school nostalgia to the max. The multinational crew is very Kit-Pedler-Cyberman-story (if those little flag things had been stuck on their uniforms instead of the side of the set ...), and it's entirely plausible that this is 2059 if we go with a late date for Wheel in Space and stick Enemy of the World in the Forty Years of Chaos (the things Salamander was fixing would fit quite neatly into the problems Adelaide describes, but obviously after the fact people would see his dictatorial ambitions as More Of The Badness). There's a bit of a problem with the vague discussion of "colonies" in the Trout stories that sometimes suggest ones in other star systems, but frankly given the shoddy science on display ("stars" within the solar system, FFS) this is entirely handwaveable as outer-solar-system stuff in the second half of the century building on Bowie Base One.
- Incidentally, I'm not quite sure why Rusty had Adelaide bang on about the ozone layer. I may be overoptimistic, I dunno, but my understanding is that the hole is starting to repair itself after the CFC ban and will probably be OK again by the time of interest here. I kinda hope my understanding is correct, because it'd be nice to think that international agreement can work on global-level environmental problems, however depressing Copenhagen is looking to be.
- I didn't actually much like the treatment of the "what can be changed and what can't" ideas here; it feels like waters that had been cleared up somewhat by Fires of Pompeii are now muddied again. It may be that the inevitable comparison between Adelaide and Pete reminds me of Nine's speech in Father's Day about one person dying changing the whole world (not that I normally count FD in consideration of How Time Travel Works stuff, as it's so off-kilter with everything else ever on the subject -- incidentally, I now feel sorry for Rose in FD for the first time, if it turns out she should just have waited until Ten had got hubristic enough before trying it) and unless we're meant to think Pete is a fixed point, then I'm a bit confused. But more generally than that, the level of detail at which the fixed points operate seems to give humanity permanent script immunity: I don't quite see why the time-sensitive Dalek chose not to kill young!Adelaide since it could tell her death was fixed, when if the Dalek plan in TSE/JE had succeeded all life in the universe would have been wiped out. Did the Dalek fly off back to the Vault and say "actually, guys, we can't do this whole reality bomb thing, y'know, Web of Time and all that" only to get ranted at by Davros for a bit and reassigned to latrine duty?
- I didn't like the way the reaction of the two who weren't Adelaide who did get rescued (sorry, I've already forgotten their names) to the TARDIS trip was handled -- it felt very reminiscent to me of Mickey in Rose and reinforcing the general idea that some people are Speshul and companion-material and others aren't. You could handwave it as "the TARDIS rejects that which is not supposed to still be alive" and Adelaide only appears unfazed because she has ovaries of steel or whatever, but it still bothered me a bit.
- Ten thinking in webpages was lazy exposition of the highest order and deeply silly, cheapening the whole idea of his weird Time Lord senses to the point of a joke. Like the opening scroll in Deadly Assassin, what it really goes to show is that the format does need the companion.
- I didn't like the monster going underexplained -- it seemed to me a clear attempt to copy the thing that worked in Midnight, but there are heavy hints here that the Ice Warriors understood it, and in all fairness they're not desperately bright so the Doctor ought to be able to work out a bit more than we got given.
- I was quite keen on the vague nods in the direction of vaguely realistic near-future space exploration stuff, with the lightspeed lag on the comms and the slow journey times (even if that did motivate the stupid protein packs bit). I did find it a bit implausible that they can't find space for bikes in the payload but they did take an entirely separate nuke for self-destruct purposes when the correct application of that dinky little ship would have done fine for Action Five. Makes you wonder just how paranoid Earth has become about what's out there in space by this point.
- Speaking of the lightspeed-lag comms, I was very pleased that the cheesy opening paid off with the granddaughter being significant, because I was very close to writing it off as a cheap and easy way to make us like Adelaide. Which really wasn't necessary.