Summary: A look at the Tenth Doctor's final hour and what might have been going on his head at the time. Spoilers for "The End of Time - Part 2"
All that time he had assumed that the Master would be the cause of his downfall and that the four knocks he would hear before his death would be the four rhythmic beats that his nemesis constantly drummed out in one form or another. It never once occurred to him that it would be anyone or anything else. So naturally, he thought that he had escaped death when the Master sacrificed himself to send the Time Lords packing. Earth had been saved, humanity had been restored and he was still alive and well if not a bit banged up. He just knew that he was home free. But then he heard it... the gentle rapping of human knuckles on a glass door. He knew in an instant what it all meant. While setting free a trapped scientist, Wilfred had accidently locked himself inside the protective radiation chamber. Unfortunately, the Master had left the nuclear bolts running and the whole system had just gone critical. Activating the release control would flood the chamber with 500,000 rads, meaning anyone still inside at that time... was dead.
The first thought that raced through the Doctor's mind was that he should just leave him there. He hated Wilfred at that moment, hated having to forfeit his own life in order to save the old man. It was his own fault for tagging along in the first place. But if Wilfred had not stepped inside the chamber to release the opposite door lock, some other poor soul would now be stuck inside facing imminent death. The Doctor wondered if it would have been easier for him to ignore a total stranger and save himself than it would be to give his life for someone he knew and respected.
The second thought he had was that it wasn't fair. After all he'd done recently, all the lives he'd saved and worlds he had rescued, it wasn't fair that his only reward would be death. And yeah, he realized that it wasn't a final death, that he would regenerate and continue on with a brand new life, unlike the Master who was gone for good now, his life force utterly depleted. But he had regenerated enough times to truly loath the sensation: the creepy, tingling in his extremities that signaled the beginning of the end, the excruciating muscle cramps, the super-heated energy flaring through every inch of his body, and the overall uncertainty of what or who he would turn into. He shouldn't have to face that now. He shouldn't have to give up his current existence just so a decrepit old man could spend the next few years of his life sitting on his keister looking up at the stars instead of traveling towards them.
But it was wrong of him to think that. Wilfred Mott deserved to live as much as anyone else. He was a good man with a kind heart, and the Doctor was ashamed of himself for thinking for even one moment that his own life was more important. After Wilf was made to understand the dire consequences they both faced, he pleaded with the Doctor to leave him there to die and save himself. It's exactly what the Doctor had expected the man to do, offer himself up so that his hero could live. And as tempting as it was, the Time Lord found the strength to decline the offer.
Regeneration wasn't all that fun but it was better than the alternative. There had been times when he looked forward to getting a new body and personality. Living for over nine-hundred years would have been dreadfully boring staring at the same old face in the mirror and sticking with the same old habits. His previous incarnations were okay, but this body had become his favorite. Tall, lean and with long legs just made for running. And oh, how he loved to run. Donna may have thought him a skinny strip of nothing but all the other females he'd met had found him attractive. Or maybe it was the hair. Yeah, he really liked the hair too. It was great for running his fingers through when he was trying to think up some amazing plan to save the day, and women seemed to appreciate the fact that they had something to grab onto when they pulled him in for a snog. There was an awful lot of snogging going on with this body. He didn't know if anyone would find him kissable in his next life. He might end up short, fat, bald, old and wrinkled, covered with warts and with no desire to run or dance or laugh or snog, and what could be worse, absolutely no fashion sense.
He didn't know why he was obsessing so much over it. Since leaving Rose and Donna behind, there hadn't been much joy in his life, so he should have been happy to regenerate and start off with a fresh new everything. But... to regenerate, he would have to die first, and like most creatures facing death, his natural instinct was to fight for survival. He had been fortunate enough to have a backup the last time he was mortally injured. His severed hand, so thoughtfully preserved by Captain Jack, had come in... well... handy. He had been able to redirect the regeneration energy which in turn allowed him to keep his present form. No backup this time, however. He desperately wanted to preserve this life, but in doing so meant that a dear friend would have to die. Too many people had already given or risked their lives in order to save his. He should have been dead a dozen times over, and now when someone needed him to return the favor, he hesitated and whined and felt cheated. That's when he knew that it was time to go. He had been in this body too long, using its boyish smile and natural charm to manipulate innocent people into doing his bidding even if it was detrimental to their own well-being.
He would not allow Donna's beloved grandfather to become another victim of his cleverness. He quickly stepped inside the chamber and pressed the button that would seal his fate and set Wilf free. The cramping pangs from the absorption of the radiation was as he had expected, intense and agonizing, but still a notch or two below of what was to come. The pain of regeneration was much worse as every molecule in his body transformed themselves. Things could go wrong like it did last time leading to physical illness, but that was the next Doctor's problem. Unlike his absorption of the energy from the time vortex in which the damage done to his body caused him to regenerate within minutes, he knew that the radiation sickness he now had afforded him a bit more time. He figured that he had at least an hour before the change took place. And an hour in his hands was plenty of time to say his goodbyes.
But it was more than goodbyes he was after. He wanted to give back to those he had taken so much from. He may have preached to others that it wasn't good for them to know too much about their future, but it never stopped him from checking out the future of those he cared about. He already knew the fates of everyone and had imposed a rule upon himself not to interfere. Now, he no longer cared about rules. He felt that the universe and time itself owed him a few favors, so before he died, he was determined to collect what he considered to be a well-deserved reward for service above and beyond the call of duty.
He began with Mr. and Mrs. Smith. In three years time, Martha and Mickey Smith, while protecting the planet against alien threats, would be gunned down by a lone Sontaran seeking revenge upon the inhabitants of Earth. The Doctor decided to change that scenario. All it took was a simple thump from a mallet to the probic vent in back of the Sontaran's neck to render him unconscious, allowing the newlyweds several more years to continue the fight against alien intrusions.
Next on his list was saving Sarah Jane's son Luke from being hit by a car. The teen was destined to receive massive head and spinal injuries leading to severe brain damage and a life confined to a wheelchair. It was a tragedy that was easily preventable by simply paying attention to traffic, but a teenager with a cellphone was prone to distraction. The Doctor almost timed it too late. Yelling at the kid to 'watch out' would have done no good. He physically had to rush into the street and push him out of the way of the oncoming vehicle. He was tempted to stick around and lecture the boy on the importance of looking both ways before crossing the street, but he still had several more stops to make and very little time remaining.
In a galaxy far, far away, at the infamous Star Wars Bar named after a twentieth-century movie and known for its openness to all species, Captain Jack Harkness would become a regular visitor. Ever since he lost his Torchwood home and friends, he had drifted aimlessly through time and space, reluctant to open his heart up to anyone or call anyplace in particular home. In a sense he was becoming very much like the Doctor. Jack wasn't the only one wandering about aimlessly in life. Alonso Frame, the young midshipman survivor from the doomed Titanic space ship, would also be trolling the bar looking for love in all the wrong places. He would hook up with an alien whose saliva is a deadly toxin to humans. He would die, not knowing that if he had just looked to his right instead of his left, his evening would have ended more pleasurably. Instead of trying to explain all that to Jack, the Doctor found it easier to just send him a note letting him know the name of the uniformed man seated next to him. Jack would figure that he was either being given a gift or a mission. Either way, he was receptive and appreciative.
After leaving Jack, the Doctor attended a very special book signing. The author was the granddaughter of Joan Redfern, the woman he would have married had he remained a human. He had always regretted breaking Joan's heart and had kept tabs on her throughout her years. She had gone on to marry another teacher at the school and ended up pretty much having the typical house with white picket fence kind of life. However, she apparently never forgot the incredible, John Smith, the gentle soul for whom she still held a warm place in her heart years after his demise. She had kept a diary of her time with him and her granddaughter Verity had found it. No doubt, although fanciful and romantic, the scribblings in the diary could not have been taken seriously at the time. But with the recent influx of alien visitation over the past few years, Verity apparently decided that the contents of her grandmother's diary held much more truth than fiction. Of course, he would not have time to read it, he just wanted to meet the offspring that should have been his. Verity Newman was the spitting image of her grandmother and it made the Doctor's hearts ache at the sight of her. When she asked him if he'd had a happy life, he couldn't find the words to respond. He had to leave quickly before he simply started bawling.
Donna was next on his list. He knew that her marriage to Shaun would not run smoothly. The couple would struggle financially and in nine months, their firstborn child would be in need of some very expensive medical care during her first few days of life. Shaun, having been out of work for two months by then, would make a desperate attempt to provide money for his family. He would steal a car and rob a liquor store for which he would be easily apprehended and sent to prison for ten years. Donna would remain loyal and faithful to him but raising a sickly child on her own would beat her down and she would never have the happy life she so deserved. If a little money in the bank could prevent all that, so be it. With his knowledge of historical events, the Doctor could have been a billionaire a thousand times over, but he had never wanted that. He rarely even needed money, but when he did, he was clever enough to get it without much fuss. As for Donna, he figured the perfect wedding gift for her would be a winning lottery ticket. She would have the money necessary to provide proper medical care for her baby when the time came, with enough left over to live comfortably, do some traveling, and give her kids a good education.
In order to get the money to buy the lottery ticket, the Doctor took a quick trip back in time to borrow a quid from Donna's dad, a generous bloke who didn't mind giving a pound to a total stranger lying about losing his wallet and asking for bus fare to get home. Of course, he could have gotten the quid from anywhere, but the fact that it came from Jeffrey Noble made it special. Donna would never know that of course, but Wilf and his daughter Sylvia would know, and that was good enough. He wished he could have done more for Donna. He wished he could have given back her memories but the fail-safe he had implanted in her mind had its limitations. She would never again be the Donna Noble that had traveled with him among the stars -- a savior of planets -- but she would go on to be a good wife and mother, which in itself was a grand endeavor.
A final good bye to Wilf and Sylvia and it was on to one last farewell. Actually, it was more of a hello than a farewell. He couldn't chance going back on his own timeline, so he chose a time before he had met her. He stayed in the shadows, wanting only to watch her from afar. But the pain from his regenerating cells caused him to groan out loud drawing her attention as she passed near where he stood. Only Rose Tyler would be concerned for the well being of a strange man loitering on a darkened corner late at night. She didn't assume he was a stalker or someone out to hurt her. She thought simply that he was a fellow human being obviously not feeling too well.
"You all right, mate?" she asked, thinking perhaps he had been celebrating the new year with a bit too much to drink.
"Yeah," the Doctor responded. It would have been rude not to. He was glad he did because she gifted him with a 100 watt smile, reminding him of one of the many reasons he had asked her to travel with him a whole lifetime a go. She was young, brave, kind-hearted and it was apparent she loved people and life itself. He wanted so badly to stay and get to know her all over again, but even if his insides weren't churning over in his gut, he knew he couldn't take one step closer. He didn't want to chance changing her future in any way. They exchanged a few more casual words before she finally turned away and trotted off to seek refuge out of the cold.
The Doctor stood and watched until she was completely out of sight. That's when the pain hit him again. The cramping had intensified so much that he wasn't even sure he could make it back to the TARDIS. It was parked only a few yards away but it may as well have been on the moon. He collapsed to the ground, thinking that he would die right there on the empty, snow-covered road. Ood Sigma suddenly appeared to him and announced, "We will sing to you, Doctor. The universe will sing you to your sleep." And he heard the song, a stirring melody that somehow gave him the added push he needed to stand up again and take those last few steps to his ship. Once inside, he took off his long coat for the very last time and threw it over the column in its usual resting place. His right hand began glowing with energy and he knew he was down to mere seconds. He walked over to the console and started the engines to take the TARDIS out into orbit over the Earth.
He remembered the time when he had regenerated into his current form. It wasn't so bad then because he'd had Rose with him. He had regretted putting her through that. Hated even more that she would be settled with a stranger who would either try to convince her that he was still her Doctor or dump her because their personalities no longer meshed. He had been willing to die once and for all at the hands of the Daleks, but he didn't want to change into someone else when he knew that Rose was waiting for him. Still, things worked out. Although his new self didn't care for leather jackets, jeans or boots, he still liked eating chips and he still liked being with Rose Tyler.
He knew he was being selfish, but he wished that Rose was with him now. It was nice having her around the last time. It helped calm his nerves to be able to converse with her even as the pain lanced through his body. This time though, he was all alone and scared. He wanted to be brave, to tell himself that it was okay, that change was good. But he simply wasn't ready to die, wasn't ready to be reborn. Despite the loneliness and the tragedies he'd endured, he loved this version of himself and he didn't want to leave it. "I don't want to go," he whimpered. The TARDIS was the only one to hear and she felt the same way. She didn't want him to go either.
As he watched the golden energy wafting away from his hands, he knew the battle was lost. His soul was on fire, his hearts pounded furiously in his ears and pain raced through every molecule of his being as great waves of energy suddenly gushed from his body like water from a fire hose, sending explosions throughout the TARDIS. All around him was fire and chaos, and he could do nothing. Too late, he realized that he had not turned on the shielding that would protect the TARDIS from his energy surge. He could no longer move a muscle because his body was frozen in time and his mind was quickly slipping away. But in those brief few seconds remaining of conscious thought, he literally saw his life flash before his eyes, the faces of all his companions and enemies alike. In an instant, he saw what was, what is and what could have been, until finally... he saw nothing at all.