I don't remember when I last got so excited about the season finale of a TV show. Last week's cliff-hanger really got me going. And was I disappointed with the outcome? No. I thought I would be but I wasn't.
A four year story-arc was brought to a satisfying end. Not happy, but satisfying. Russell does soppy but he doesn't do sentimental. A lot of what went down was pretty ghastly. Rose and Donna deserved better- but that's life in the 4th dimension: travel with a Time Lord and you get burned.
What Russell has brought to the show is emotional depth. A lot of fans hate him for this, but I'm not one of them. I like to feel a connection with the characters, to be moved by their predicament. I've been watching Dr Who since the sixties- I remember all the Doctors- and the show in its previous incarnations may have been brilliantly entertaining, but it never made me want to cry- the way Russell's Dr Who has made me want to cry.
It's the way he writes them; it's also the actors he employs. New Who has always gone for the best. Chris Eccleston and David Tennant are finer actors by several degrees of magnitude than any of the guys who played the Doctor before them. I love all the Doctors (well maybe not Colin Baker) but they were a rag-tag bunch- bit part players, small-time character actors, vaudevillians; none of then had the range, the subtlety, the presence of Eccleston and Tennant . Yeah, I know all you Tom Baker fans are going to disagree- but the guys a ham, a scenery chewer who got lucky; he's not a man you'd ever want to see play Hamlet- which is Tennant's next role. And then there are the companions: here it's been a case of taking interesting niche artists and stretching them. Billie Piper was a teen popster; she became a shining star. John Barrowman was a lead in the West End musical theatre; he became the nation's first gay heart-throb. Catherine Tate was a well-loved TV comedian- the female Matt Lucas- and now she's established herself as a dramatic actress of remarkable range and power.
When it came to individual episodes, Stephen Moffat and Paul Cornell were the names you looked out for. Russell's episodes were often a little bit stupid- maybe because he takes the sci-fi element less seriously than he should- but the arc of the show, its emotional colour, its grandeur (I don't think that's too big a word) are all his. He has dealt with big issues- love, death, friendship, power, the loneliness of the human condition- and, while never letting up on the fun, has treated them seriously, responsibly, without cheating. It wasn't a forgone conclusion that Dr Who would work in the new century- the earlier stab at a revival had been embarrassingly bad- but he pulled it off, creating a version of the show that honoured its past, while taking it places it had never been before. People will be watching these four seasons of his for as long as TV lasts, not just out of nostalgia or brand loyalty, but because- taken as a whole- they are quite extraordinarily good.