I watched the season 4 finale “The End of Time” last weekend, and I’m still mourning David Tennant’s departure. It’s been difficult to enjoy the few Matt Smith episodes I’ve watched since then because there’s so much to process in the final Tennant arc.
Backing up a bit and borrowing from my exchange with my friend Jason in the comments section, I love the second half of season 3, starting with “Human Nature” (which is a lovely homage to the Robert Donat classic Goodbye, Mr. Chips). The final arc of season 3 builds on the notion of the Doctor as Christ-figure – his temptation to live out an ordinary life with Joan in “Family of Blood,” his sacrifice at the hands of the Master in “The Sound of Drums,” and his resurrection, brought about by the collective power of faith.
The latter part of season 3 also boasts the amazing stand-alone episode “Blink,” which is one of the most scream-out-loud terrifying things I’ve ever watched. Carey Mulligan, joining Doctor Who’s roster of before-they-were-famous guest stars, anchors the episode beautifully.
Back to the collective power of faith, that theme is repeated in season 4’s “Journey’s End,” with the Doctor’s friends and allies calling his cell phone at the same time. The combined strength of the phone signals reaches the Doctor like a beacon, enabling him to answer their collective prayer and validating their faith in him. The same notion is then inverted for a darker purpose in “The End of Time,” when all 6 billion versions of the Master reach out telepathically to find the Doctor in space.
David Tennant’s performance in “Journey’s End” and “The End of Time,” as the Doctor moves toward his inevitable regeneration, is, to borrow my friend Ashley’s word, heartbreaking. All the grief the Doctor has been carrying since “Journey’s End,” and actually for a couple years before that, closes in on him, so that, as much as I hate to see Tennant leave, it’s difficult to see how his Doctor can go on under the weight of all that grief and anger. What makes it even more heartbreaking is the revelation that regeneration is actually a death; this version of the Doctor dies and “a new man gets to walk away,” as Tennant’s Doctor says rather bitterly. As much as he desires to continue living in this body, though, the Doctor chooses the final sacrifice to save a friend; his plaintive “I don’t want to go,” as his body disintegrates is almost too much to bear.