After the catastrophic mess that was Part 1, I'd been worried that Part 2 would be equally disappointing. As many more experienced and perceptive voices have pointed out, Part 2 had its inconsistencies and absurdities, but the real soul of the story--the terror and grief and poignancy of inevitable death fast approaching--shone through brightly this time. Thank God.
Davies Ex Machina
There were several instances of what is fondly known in my house as Davies Strikes Again. The Master's transformation of the entire population of Earth into himself, and his subsequent (apparently completely improvised) plan to turn all the Time Lords into himself as well was dismissed with a wave of the Lord President's hand, which was fine with me because the whole situation was more ridiculous and annoying than really threatening. Likewise, the Time Lords were not given the complexity, peril, and attention they deserved; they didn't actually do much except stand in the white light and proclaim that they were going to end reality. (Heard that one before. At least the Daleks actually had a device to make it happen...) Given their emotional significance to the Doctor, they weren't treated very well, although the revelation that they had become as rotten and warped to the core as the Daleks was unexpected and, I thought, very good.
Two Sad, Noble Old Men And One Raving Psychopath
There was so much in this episode that I liked that even the ridiculous parts were not too blatant to spoil it. From the very beginning, the true heart of the story was the three caught at the center of the storm: the Master, Wilf, and the Doctor. Focusing on them and their relationship to each other elevated the story past its pseudo-scifi attempt at plot into really beautiful storytelling.
First, the Master's transformation over the course of the episode was wonderfully subtle, completely overshadowed by the bombastic return of the Time Lords but ultimately saving the day. The cackling maniac from Part 1 was thankfully toned down, and even in the first few minutes of the episode, when it looked like no one was left to stand in the Master's way, he still listened to the Doctor and showed himself to be vulnerable and lost. His search for the source of the drumming and childlike eagerness to bring the Time Lords to Earth was more sympathetic and pitiable than sinister; he was a victim and a tool, not a villain. That made it all the more satisfying when he was one to push the Time Lords back to their doom at the hands of the Doctor in the final days of the Time War. Was it just me, or did he become a good guy?
I was sure that there was no way to surpass the beauty of Part 1's cafe scene, but the conversation between, again, Wilf and the Doctor on the Vinvocci ship about the gun was just as good. There was no snarky cleverness from the Doctor, no naivete from Wilf, just these two lost and weary men exposing their souls to each other. The clear love they have for each other made the Doctor's final sacrifice for Wilf even more touching; the whole scene, from the Doctor's premature relief at having survived, to the dreaded knocking, to his desperate, futile rage, to resignation with dignity, were all wonderfully played.
This Is The Ending That Never Ends
Which brings me to the epilogue. The radiation chamber was heartbreaking, bittersweet in that the Doctor would die for one old friend with honor even when he had so much yet to live for. But then he uncurled from his fetal ball of agony, stood up, starting making jokes...it was a cheat. It felt awful, painful, wrong. He had surrendered to death, and yet he still couldn't die.
And on it went. Martha and Mickey together were silly, confusing, and pointless; I haven't bothered to care about them for a good while now. The Doctor's rescue of Luke and wave to Sarah Jane was similarly unmoving. Most irritating was hooking up Captain Jack with Alonso. I've never liked Jack, and the Doctor has never really approved of him, and yet his farewell is to set Jack up for a cheap fling with a naive young man to compensate for the fact that Jack killed his own grandson horrifically?
Of the three remaining vignettes, the visit to Joan Redfern's granddaughter, while sweet and touching, seemed totally unnecessary. If he wanted to check on her, why didn't he go and check on her? The granddaughter was a brand-new character, no one for the Doctor to say farewell to. Also, when was he going to have time to read that book? (Although if he could read the way Nine could in "Rose," it would take him about ten seconds.)
The Doctor's visit to Donna's wedding was much better: he makes sure that Donna will be secure and happy, and uses her father's money to buy her her wedding gift. Wilf finally says farewell to the Doctor, and his grief alone makes the scene work.
The last, though, was the most heartwrenching, and the one that was really important. If this had been the only one, the ending would have been just as good, if not better. As the Doctor dies, alone in the snow, he sees Rose one last time, even though she doesn't know him. He dies broken and terrified, but with the song of the Ood singing in his ears--and with him, the TARDIS as we know it.
...And Still Not Ginger!
And then...Eleven. Even though I was filled with grief for Ten, Eleven was brilliant and hilarious. He did the two things that he needed to do to make the regeneration really work: he mentioned his youth and features ("I'm a girl!") and he was irritated that he still wasn't ginger. The sudden change in tone to adventurous and lighthearted even as the TARDIS burned around him really drove home Ten's prediction in Part 1: everything that is or was Ten died completely. All the gravity, the grief, and the desperation were burned up in golden fire, purged away. And this new man is not Ten and yet is the Doctor.
Nice to meet you, Doctor. I look forward to getting to know you this spring.