June 29th, 2008

Keep Walking

Doctor Who Cliffhanger Teases Endless Possibilities

If the cliffhanger of Saturday's episode of Doctor Who is legitimate and not some clever, alternative universe, time-traveling trick, Russell T. Davies and his Who crew pulled off one of the truly great swerves in television history.

I don't imagine such a huge story will stay dormant among sci-fi fans for long, but I'm obligated to say that this entry includes a spoiler aptly described as somewhat sizable. Big. XXL. Hefty. DD. "Oh, no -- it's coming this way." Etc.

That said, I'll continue the revelations after the jump.

The fourth season's penultimate episode, "The Stolen Earth," is the breathlessly paced return of the Daleks and their creator Davros -- played to perfection by Julian Bleach. Embracing the massive, calculating intellect of the character, Bleach plays Davros as utterly in control of himself and the elaborate game played around him.

Davies brings together fellow heroes rounded up from throughout his tenure as show-runner -- including Torchwood's Capt. Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), Dr. Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) and Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). Rose returns a little older, a little more somber and a lot better armed as she searches for her beloved Doctor and joins the fight against the Daleks.

Just as The Doctor and Rose finally seem poised for their long overdue reunion, a Dalek shows up and severely wounds The Doctor. Rose and the rest carry him into his Tardis where he struggles to his feet, grips the console and announces to the world's sci-fi viewing audience, "I'm regenerating." Light explodes from his body and he begins to transform into ... "To be continued."

The episode closes without any scenes from next week -- leaving fans to argue for the next seven days until the season's final episode ("Journey's End") airs. The season and this story deal heavily with alternate universes and time lines, so it's very possible that the apparent regeneration is a feint -- a well-engineered trick to keep Who on the front pages of British newspapers and online fan forums for the week leading up to the big finale. When you consider that this is the last full season of the show until 2010, Davies would like to gather that sort of attention before departing as executive producer.

Fans might insist that this must be a ruse. There are ongoing reports of Tennant negotiating for as many as three additional seasons. And he already shot the 2008 Christmas special. But, those reports could be smokescreens.

If this is not a trick and Davies and company really hid the departure of Tennant and the recasting of the biggest roll in British TV, the stunt would be without comparison -- a brilliant bit of broadcasting sleight of hand. Some fans would be shocked. Some would be angry. But, no fan would ever sit down to watch Doctor Who again with a safe sense of what would happen next.

Odds are Tennant is safely ensconced, but it all depends on what spoiler photos you see.

By John Scott Lewinski, Wired Magazine

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