Ah, Death Comes To Time. Since it was first "aired" as a webcast on the BBC website in 2001 and 2002, it has seemingly divided fans that have seen/heard it into two groups: those who love it and those who hate it. I fall into the former category and here's why: because Death Comes To Time does two very important things. First, it sets out to be something different and more importantly it offers a more satisfying end to Sylvester McCoy's seventh Doctor.
Death Comes To Time features one of Sylvester McCoy's best performances as the seventh Doctor. Long known to fans as both a master clown and as a dark manipulator during his TV era, McCoy finds the right balance between the two here. There are moments where McCoy's comical side shines brightly (especially in his scenes with Antimony) without it being either forced or intrusive. Yet that is just the tip of what makes McCoy's performance so good. The Doctor of this story is a tragic figure: a tired old man who is watching everything he has spent his life fighting for being brought to the edge of destruction. McCoy conveys this tragic sense well and no more so then in the final moments of the story. The result is a much finer exit, both writing and acting wise, for McCoy's Doctor then was provided in the TV movie.
On top of McCoy's performance, there is one of the best casts ever assembled for a Doctor Who story. Sophie Aldred returns as the seventh Doctor's companion Ace and, like McCoy, gives one of her best performances as an older, wiser Ace training for a new destiny. John Sessions plays Gerneral Tannis, who is not only bent on universal domination but is far more than just another megalomaniac. Stephen Fry gives an apt performance as the Minister of Chance, as does Leonard Fenton as Ace's rather poetic Time Lord mentor Casmus. Add on cameos from Anthony Stewart Head, Jacqueline Pearce and even Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier and the result is one of the strongest casts ever assembled for any one Doctor Who story.
One aspect of the webcast that tends to be overlooked is its animation. Though originally conceived as an audio drama, the webcast was illustrated by Lee Sullivan. Sullivan brings the audio to life with a fine set of visuals. These range from the battle for Santiny, the ruins of Micen Island, the dystopian world of the Canisian Empire, a beautiful new vision of Gallifrey and to Stonehenge (almost a decade before The Pandorica Opens) for the final confrontation between the Seventh Doctor and Tannis. Sullivan's illustrations also serve the characters well from a new costume of sorts for the Doctor, an older Ace in a combat like suit or fine representations of Fry and Sessions as the Minister and Tannis respectively. Though perhaps primitive by today's standards unless one is keeping in mind that the webcast was originally made in 2001, is none the less effective.
Death Comes To Time seems to have received a lot of flack for doing something different than being just another Doctor Who story. To begin with, this is a story with an epic feeling. Many have called this epic feeling more akin to Star Wars, but in the past we've seen Doctor Who successfully emulate things like the James Bond Films in stories like The Enemy of the World and this story proves Doctor Who can do epic stories just as well. For a story like this it needs to be. It travels from Santiny to Micen Island to the Canisian Empire to Earth in a story that crosses space and time in a epic fashion not previously seen in the series.
That brings us to the most controversial aspect of this story: where (or rather if) it fits into - and mucks about with - the established continuity of the series. First and foremost is the fact it gives the Time Lords seemingly god-like powers over Time (which, to be fair, this isn't the first time we've seen them with such powers in the series). This is also not the first time the series has tried to rewrite its own continuity either. In fact, many elements of this story have similar aspects in the series. For example, the background of the Fraction regarding the events on Micen Island bears quite a resemblance to the Minyans in Underworld. In fact, Ace's training and the Doctor having god-like powers were both aspects that would have been explored had the series not been canceled after the airing of Survival in 1989. The Doctor's new abilities bring a new aspect to a character we think we know.
Now for the ultimate question: is it canon? I approach that question from the angle of also being a Sherlock Holmes fan. The Seven Percent Solution by Nicholas Meyer is a terrific Sherlock Holmes pastiche that mucks about quite heavily with the canon of that character (sound familiar?), but that makes it no less enjoyable. Does a story really have to be canon to be enjoyed? In the final analysis, I believe that that Death Comes To Time can be enjoyed whether or not it fits easily (or at all) into the continuity of the series.
Canon or not, there can be no doubt that there is something truly special about Death Comes To Time. From strong performances to a galaxy-spanning story, here is a story that takes much that we know about our favorite series and gives us something new and different. It proves to be both something different from other stories of the series and a more satisfying conclusion to the Seventh Doctor's era. For fans of McCoy's Doctor looking for something different from their favorite show, Death Comes To Time is recommended. This is how the seventh Doctor era should have ended and it is a shame it didn't.
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