[Review written for Gallifrey One: Spring 2005]
Death Comes To Time is an unusual affair. For one of the BBC’s first in-house online dramas, it’s neither mainstream nor fan friendly. Too confusing for the casual listener and far too radical for most fans to enjoy. There is quite likely a group - be it a small group - of both camps who sit apart from this animosity, for them, this is quite a superb little drama. I must confess I sit in this camp.
DCTT is unrecognised landmark in Doctor Who history. It’s interesting how in 2001, the show was seen in such a different light to how it would be just three years later. The show, an aborted production given a second lease of light, really feels like the swansong of Doctor Who. Despite rumours of it being a potential pilot, the story feels like anything but. Regardless of what it intended to be, DCTT feels like an official end to a show and in that context, it does a remarkably good job.
DCTT is a tale about Time Lords. It is a different perspective on the traditional myths. The premise is that Time Lords are not casual masters of Time, they are more like gods constrained by the power potential they have. A Time Lord is far more than he appears because he himself knows the power he has is beyond the constraints of his actions. Simply put, the use of such power could bring the end and even the most power mad Time Lord would not even think of breaking such a cardinal rule.
It’s a usual perspective and for me, not as jarring as it is for most fans. Some fans feel this is a rewrite as what Time Lords are, something I can’t agree with simply as Time Lords were never utterly defined. In fact, due to the nature of the show, nothing really was in the first place. In this respect, as Cartmel found in season 25, anything is game.
The idea that Time Lords could be so utterly powerful, to the extent they could kill with a single word doesn’t see so at odds. This is about a power they cannot wield rather than about defining one they can. So quite the nature of such a power doesn’t affect canon in the slightest since it’s never been used. As the narrative of the show quite rightly puts it, we’re talking about beings that walk in a dimension we don’t understand and can never understand. The idea of godlike power does raise questions about the nature of the Doctor and Time Lords, but it’s not one that can be dismissed as invalid since we’re dealing with beings that touch dimensions and concepts beyond the human mind. DCTT tells us they are bound by rules and to me; this doesn’t seem out of place with what we see of the Doctor or his people. His intelligence seems limitless, his pockets never empty and his ability to master situations with no bounds. He is a character beyond human definition, but does that mean that his race can’t be defined by something larger?
What I enjoy about DCTT is the willingness to look at Doctor Who from another perspective. This isn’t a rewrite, as people have complained previously, this is another angle. This has the same concept, same characters, and the same battles just all taken from a different position. After all, depending on how you look at an object affects how you define it. Whether a man is a terrorist or a freedom fighter, whether a god controls you or protects you, whether an alien is just a whimsical man in a blue box, or part of a godlike race whose dominion over Time is beyond our understanding.
So yes, DCTT is very much about ideology. Not just in it’s concept, but in it’s narrative and in it’s dialogue. The script is brimming with proverbs, theology, philosophy and smugness. It’s unashamed in its task and it does its task well; it answers the very nature of Doctor Who. In other words, it gives it an ending.
This is arguably the full stop that Survival wasn’t. We see the Time Lords training Ace into being the next generation of Time Lords, we see Earth successfully protect itself from invasion (for once) and finally we see the Time Lords of Gallifrey, through the lonely Doctor, give up their existence.
The acting is exceptional. McCoy gives his best radio performance I’ve heard, sounding utterly comfortable with the script. Aldred does a fine job as Ace and again I would say it’s possibly her best radio performance I’ve encountered. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any of the cast who don’t sound at home in this production. Stephen Fry is as charming and eloquent in his delivery as always and John Sessions is superbly evil as Tannis.
That’s not to say it’s a prefect production. Naturally there are issues that the plot doesn’t really resolve. The story seems to run on the pretext that there are no evil Time Lords aside from Tannis. We’ve seen several dubious ones and thereby the question of this ultimate power that “Colin Meek” describes seems questionable. Would not the Master have tried to manipulate it somehow? Or is it so engrained into the nature of the Time Lord even he would never try and control it? It could simply be another issue that is complicated beyond the nature of human understanding and as the story often likes to remind us, those are many. However, some clarification on this would have been nice.
Furthermore, despite the wonderful presentation of the project, there are scenes that lack clarity upon listening. Of course, one could argue this was illustrated, but a good radio/web drama should work on audio alone without the necessity to rely on another medium to convey the story. Sometimes DCTT can seem a little confusing. Its story rarely indulges its listener with exposition so it cannot afford any moments of muddle.
With a great cast, some lovely dialogue and a great score (if one ignores the theme redux) this is an enjoyable listen. We now know Doctor Who is far from over, but if you hate the new series, hate the novels, hate the Big Finish audio plays, hate McGann and hate Survival as a finale to a series, then this is for you. A solid ending to Doctor Who that doesn’t betray the ethos of the show: no, not continuity my dear WHO fans, but evolution and change.
The crew should be proud, it would almost be worth being a “2005 WHO” hater just to be able to accept this an interesting an unexpected finale to the original show.