“This is the last story I’ll ever tell”
Doctor Who is influential because it was both a genre show and an anthology show, before that combination was popular. With such a long lifespan and endless canvas for experimentation, it can ditch, retcon or reference any earlier canon that it wants, and it has utilized this freedom many times. After the advent of TV’s recent golden age and DW’s move away from multi-episode self-contained arcs, it adopted the popular format of seasonal arcs. These yearlong background stories are inconsistent, but follow a familiar pattern. Usually there are fitful threads through each mostly unrelated episode, until the endgame where the threat comes to the forefront. Davies’ season enders are unwieldy and sappy, but some have very affecting endings. Moffat’s are ambitious and superficially exciting, but sometimes implode from their own impersonal complications.
Much of the season two finale, Doomsday, is your average hyper-campy world invasion story, which happens every so often on DW given its scope. It’s typical fanciful Davies stuff. The situation is stock enough that the first part of this two-parter is fine but not necessary (an online episode recap would suffice). Despite boundless freedom for shenanigans, the core villains tend to survive and repeat, and this is a good example, as Daleks once again threaten earth.
Before I get ahead of myself, I should address the new actor. Here’s the thing: the early days of the show back in the 60s found an in-universe way to continue a creatively successful property even when lead actors left. That strategy is called regeneration. When a Time Lord is mortally wounded (or in other ambiguous circumstances) they respawn, so to speak, as a different-looking individual with some semblance of the same memories and personality. It would follow that the prolonged Doctor would find new humans to pal around with beyond the initial group, so new companions come and go periodically. Such traditions allow for flexibility with the character and his aesthetic without totally breaking continuity, while providing supporting players to bounce off him. These people bond in their own way with the aloof alien, facilitate important sci-fi exposition, and give an outsider perspective on events. Furthermore, such changings of the guard have built-in stakes and resonance, as change and loss are constant on a show with so many emotional attachments. The Doctor has thus far had twelve incarnations (excluding a false alarm mulligan and an interstitial one-off; don’t ask), typically referred to by their number.
Anyway, back to the episode. I figured that this show would move in a certain way, and in Doomsday, it didn’t, making for one of the new series’ best finales. The ending is a beautiful climactic payoff, especially given how dashing and friendly Ten is most of the time. In fact, for most of the episode he’s his usual charming self, which the writers had already nailed down. More than anything, this hour cuts to the quick with the show’s emotional potency.