“All farewells should be sudden”, proclaimed The Verve on the cover of History in 1995, a matter of days before they all started punching each other live on Radio 1 and broke up just as they were on the verge of a massive breakthrough. Then they reappeared eighteen months later and got their big breakthrough with one astonishing song that The Rolling Stones promptly stole all of the revenue for, and went on to bore everyone senseless for eighteen million years. And that was just the length of one song. As they evidently realised themselves, they had got it all completely wrong – any artistic sign-off should be properly and carefully considered if you don’t want your work to be judged entirely on that botched ending, as anyone who has sat through twelve thousand series of a story arc-driven American drama show only to be confronted with a feature-length finale that basically just says “and eventually they were rescued by… oh, let’s say… Moe” will confirm.
You will not win any prizes – especially if you’ve heard my contribution to the Patreon-only special of Don’t Let’s Chart – for guessing that my most genuinely hated with an intensity that makes me want to hurl bus stops at the production team ending of anything ever was Lost. The publicity promised that it would be ‘the television event of the decade’, which it probably was if you were in the market for aimless metaphysical twaddle that answered absolutely no questions whatsoever (apart from Richard always being the same age ‘because he is’) but everyone got to have a nice sob at the soppy romantic bits and anyone who complained was snorted at and talked down to by the cult-like adherents who couldn’t accept what they had just sat through and indeed by the showrunners snarking about concepts like giving The Smoke Monster a name ‘taking us down a narrative route we didn’t want to go down’ etc etc as though anyone who cared about Nikki, Mr. Eko or where in the name of flying sanity that hot air balloon came from didn’t ‘deserve’ this special treat they’d been generous enough to give us. Put it this way, as Television Events Of The Decade went, it was no Richard Herring as Percy The Shepherd on Servants. Worse still, some – but not all – of the outstanding questions were glibly answered in the DVD-only extra episode The New Man In Charge, adding insult to injury when you realise how easily they could have incorporated all that into the actual series without pissing about with bastard Magic Wine.
It really is a shame that Lost had to end that way, though, as it really would be nice to be able to remember it for that fantastic much-imitated and rarely-equalled ‘cold open’ to Series Two, where it slowly became apparent that the man obliviously running through his high-powered commuter breakfast routine to the sound of Mama Cass was actually on the other side of that hatch in the ground that they’d blown open in the previous series’ cliffhanger. In fact, it would be even nicer to remember it for the cliffhanger to Series Two itself, where an unfortunately-timed and spectacularly badly judged science-vs.-faith smackdown inside that same research station results in a massive blowout of electromagnetic energy, turning the sky purple and making a sound like someone dragging twenty five million portakabins across a car park, as everyone in the various stages of the latest round of Castaways-vs.-‘Others’ subterfuge looks on terrified (apart from Ben Linus, who – hilariously – just looks mightily huffed) and that once so important hatch is sent whizzing through the sky, embedding itself into the ground inches away from that whingey teenager and her baby. Now that’s how you get everyone to tune in again for the next series. Just remember to put something in it worth tuning in for, that’s all that any of us ask.
The best endings are more than just a line drawn under everything, though. They also point towards a future of intriguing possibilities, whether it’s more of the same in a different guise, or building on what has gone before to make something else entirely. Here, then, are ten of my very favourite endings of all time, when everyone involved got everything right and nobody walked away disappointed. If you disagree, I’ve got some cut-price Magic Wine you might be interested in.
Doctor Who: The Parting Of The Ways
Those who had followed Russell T. Davies’ career for some time before he somehow managed the near-impossible and not only brought Doctor Who back but made it into a smash hit show for all the family all over again will have been only too aware that he didn’t always manage to give his earlier televisual flashes of genius the endings that they deserved, so there was a lot riding on the all-important conclusion of that crucial first series of Doctor Who – and, in all honesty, not everyone expected that he would be able to pull it off. Against all expectations, The Parting Of The Ways more than delivered with a jaw-dropping resolution featuring Rose essentially absorbing the energy and consciousness of the Tardis and using it to wipe out the resurrected Daleks and bring a startled-looking Captain Jack back to life, but being unable to control this unstoppable new ability and going in seconds from omnipotence to her head being about to literally burst into a million pieces with the enormity of it all. In steps The Doctor to draw it out of her with a kiss – which the audience are left to interpret in whichever manner they wanted to – and as the Tardis takes off and a devastated Jack misses it by seconds, The Doctor begins firing out ominously unfunny wisecracks and making dark hints about unpredictable changes and a special trick Time Lords have for just this kind of eventuality, before suddenly exploding with orange light, and emerging with a new face and – to his discomfort – new teeth. A heart-thumping climax to a nail-biting two-parter, clearly intended as a surprise so it’s a shame that it wasn’t allowed to stay one, and if it really was all put together at the last minute because Christopher Eccleston wanted to go off and do his ‘serious’ acting in GI Jane and Heroes, then we should appreciate RTD all the more.
Avengers: Infinity War
Unless you had been spoilered by dimwits on social media, nobody really expected omniscient extra-terrestrial supervillain Thanos to succeed in his plan to wipe out half of a supposedly overpopulated Universe at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. Having outsmarted The Avengers, The Guardians Of The Galaxy and pretty much every other team and outsider that the Marvel Cinematic Universe could throw at him (well, apart from The Defenders, but let’s just gloss over that for now) and acquired all six Infinity Stones and the accompanying Infinity Gauntlet, the permanently underwhelmed Eternal-Deviant hybrid snaps his fingers seconds before Thor can finish him off with Stormbreaker, and it suddenly all starts to go very wrong indeed. Out in space, Mantis feels what’s about to happen to her moments before it does, Drax The Destroyer is lost in the face of an ‘enemy’ he can’t just thump, Doctor Strange despondently accepts that there is no hope left, Star-Lord heaves a disappointed sigh, and Spider-Man – who they’ve actually remembered is a teenage boy in a world of villain-walloping adults – sobs and shakes about not wanting to go as he turns into dust before everyone’s eyes. Back on Earth, Bucky Barnes calls out in confusion to his one true friend from the olden days Captain America, War Machine thunders around in a panic-stricken search for the downed Falcon, a grief-stricken Scarlet Witch doesn’t even seem to notice it happening to her, and Black Panther fades into nothingness while tending to his injured comrades; the most heart-kicking moment, though, is when genetically engineered cyborg-raccoon Rocket utters a disbelieving “no… no no no” as tree creature Groot disintegrates into the breeze. It’s quite some film that can achieve that with two ridiculous comic relief characters. Having seen their friends and colleagues evaporate in a matter of seconds, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, War Machine, Rocket and The Hulk – and, up on Titan, Iron Man and Nebula – are left thinking exactly the same as the audience; how are they going to get out of this one? Well, all might not be as lost as the sheer shock might make it appear. Nobody knows what’s happened to Ant-Man and The Wasp, for a start, and when people start disappearing over at S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury just about manages to get an emergency message out to someone with an all too familiar Caller ID…
Frequently cited as one of the most iconic television moments of the nineties, two series’ worth of boiling over tensions at the shared house on Benjamin Street start shaking the communal saucepan lid at Miles and Francesca’s wedding. There’s already a question mark over their suspiciously swift elevation to matrimonial bliss, and equal doubts being cast by Anna’s colleagues about the compatibility of her chosen profession and her hard partying lifestyle, when the already fractious relationship between aimless drifter Egg and paranoid moaner Milly gets walloped with a flamethrower by an ambiguous revelation from morally grey work rival Rachel regarding the latter’s affair with one of their bosses, creepy peace and love merchant Mr. O’Donnell. To the deliciously ironic strains of Love Is In The Air, angry words between the couple degenerate into angry fisticuffs between Milly and Rachel as the hapless supporting characters endeavour to separate the whirling cloud of kicks and scratches, upon which errant housemate Warren returns from his fired-from-a-law-firm-for-being-gay-in-a-built-up-area inspired round-the-world jaunt – apparently having stepped straight off the plane, which he had equally apparently boarded directly from a Hawaiian beach – to witness the spectacle. Pausing only to take a sip from a stray Bacardi and Coke, he grins, raises a toast and chuckles “Outstanding!”. Better still, although the end credits were followed by the unseen owner of a mysterious pair of hands perusing an ad for a new housemate, this all too rare example of a series that refused to talk down to its target audience and treated the taboo areas of their day to day lives in a relatable and casual manner was left exactly where it was, as everyone involved knew only too well that making any more of it would spoil that. So it’s a good job that nobody ever did. Ever.
You can find more of my thoughts on This Life – and the sequel they never made – here.
Dazed And Confused
It’s 1976, the AOR-soundtracked epic end of school year party in the woods is drawing to a close, and everyone has learned lessons along the way. Not the sort of moralising hogwash you’d normally find in this type of movie though, nor indeed anything dramatic or moving. Just the sort of minor things that happen without anyone realising when you let your guard down in the days before you learn how far to pull it back up again, and the laws of the locker-side hierarchy shift just that little bit. Darla and O’Bannion reveal widely-derided flaws in their character that suggest they’re not exactly going to be ruling the roost quite so much next term (though thankfully we were spared a deleted scene in which Benny launched into a racist rant). Having refused to sign a pledge promising he will not indulge in recreational drug use for the good of the team, star football player Pink sits down to smoke a huge joint with Slater, Shavonne and various other less than reputable stoner conspiracy theorists on the school’s fifty yard line. Mike, Tony and Cynthia have stepped spectacularly out of their externally assigned nerdy outcast roles by respectively standing up to a bully, standing up for a bully’s victim (who seems quite smitten with his orthodoxy-questioning line of attack), and relenting to the charms of the sort of boys your mother warned you about. Best of all, having initiated himself in the ways of weed and booze, smashed a car window with a bowling ball (and narrowly escaped a gun-toting vigilante), got it on with a girl in the year above and delivered flourbomb-assisted retribution to O’Bannion for subjecting him to an Alice Cooper-soundtracked whacking with a wooden bat, Mitch rolls home with the dawn breaking only to find his older sister has his back. Whatever the immediate future holds for them all is left to the imagination. And, mercifully, that’s precisely where Richard Linklater has elected to leave it.
On 22nd October 2012, after twenty eight years of loyal (if still taking forever to get to the page you’d selected) service and having just about seen off the challenge of the World Wide Web, the BBC’s enduring teletext service Ceefax was finally put paid to by the relentless onward march of digital broadcasting. To mark the occasion, and introduced by the old stripy BBC2 ident, one final instalment of Pages From Ceefax rattled through the day’s actual News, Weather, Politics (dominated by a much less affectionately remembered outmoded relic, David Cameron), Sport, Travel and Stock Exchange Indices, backed by a nostalgic selection of anonymous library music light funk workouts of yesteryear, culminating in – what else – seventies soft-rock riff festival BART by Creedence Clearwater Revival spinoff act Ruby tearing through speakers that were now actually capable of handling it while a selection of those big full-page section-introducing splash screens gave way to a caption reading simply ‘BBC Ceefax 1974-2012 – Thanks For Watching’, and many a nostalgic tear was shed. Speaking of BBC standbys that endearingly remained in service long after they lost lost any relevance, point or purpose, let’s have a moment’s satire for Week Ending, Radio 4’s rarely amusing topical comedy show that drew to a close after twenty six dutiful years of Play School parodies written by people who had never seen Play School, sketches about Cabinet Minsters getting the names of popular fast food menu options wrong, and up to the minute one-liners about Northern Ireland Secretary Tom King’s back garden and Sadeness (Part 1) by Enigma sent in by schoolchildren. Whether this was because of the arrival of a new strain of unparodyable Pretty Straight Guys in politics or because they somehow accidentally included an actual proper joke while no-one was looking remains a matter of some debate. In the last ever edition, reverse-successive Prime Ministers from Blair to Wilson wandered into sketches and demanded the ‘proper’ theme tune, unravelling backwards in time from that dismal post-Have I Got News For You ‘wacky news’ effort complete with ‘Collapsing Big Ben’ effect through the seemingly infinite loop of Party Fears Two right back to the irritatingly whistly jazz shuffle that played behind namechecks for Larkajin Babs, Gintilly Roundabout, Stephen Hollihosiery, Peru, Dick Hickory, Simeon Sameon, Benpole Bambendy, Lynn And Barry Haribeen, Therese And Tommy Territory, Melton Stitt, Massingbird Massingbird, Gary Riot, Keith Brouhaha, Christ, Lahdidah Hardcastle, Engelbert Impromptu and Fact Portugal.
Doctor Who: The War Games
Yes, it’s more Doctor Who, but this time it’s back in the black and white era. Right at the end of the black and white era, in fact. Episode Ten of The War Games, a story in which time-travelling megalomaniacs attempt to create a ‘Super Army’ using the best combatants from all conflicts in Earth’s history, sees The Doctor’s previously secretive past catch up with him as he reluctantly calls on The Time Lords for help with returning the hundreds of thousands of stranded military men and women to their correct place in time and space. Brought to what we didn’t know was called Gallifrey yet to stand trial for the terrible crime of pilfering a Tardis and actually caring enough about anyone apart from himself (or herself, just to annoy any NOT MY DOCTBOR!!!7 halfwits looking in) to get ‘involved’, The Doctor is forced to say goodbye to loyal assistants Jamie and Zoe who have their memories wiped before being similarly returned to their correct place in time and space (“they’ll forget me, won’t they?”, The Doctor quietly asks in a genuinely heartbreaking moment) before being held to account by a panel of humourless Time Lords. After showing them mind-projected footage of some of his most deadly enemies (oh and The Quarks) apparently trying to march back and forth in an airing cupboard, the sentence is passed – The Doctor will be exiled to Earth and given a new appearance. Comic bickering about the various presented facial options is correctly dismissed as stalling for time, and The Doctor is sent spinning off into blackness, into the middle of the screen and into history, and with him goes all seven years and two lead actors of black and white Doctor Who, and indeed a whole way of making television. When it came back, it was in colour and with Jon Pertwee, and to all intents and purposes a whole new programme.
A determined-looking man drives across London, storms into a shadowy-looking office, angrily slams down a letter of resignation and storms out again. Before he’s even left the building, unseen hands are redacting and shredding files and a mechanical arm slams a photo of him into a drawer marked ‘RESIGNED’, and he wakes up the next morning in a jolly psychedelic holiday camp where he can do pretty much everything bar leave. The entire setup for The Prisoner nailed by the opening titles in two minutes flat, and one of the most frightening and disturbing sequences ever seen on television, despite what any cheerleader for the latest HBO and/or Netflix series might have to say about Joss Whedon inventing the wheel while watching the episode of The Sopranos where ‘Finchy’ from The Office comes up with the idea for everything ever. Even so, it’s got nothing on the ending. Having finally won his freedom simply by wearing the authorities down with his refusal to co-operate, Number Six is allowed to return to London and his old life. What he doesn’t see, though – but we do – is that his front door now opens and closes automatically exactly like those in The Village. Fittingly for a series whose main overriding message was never to trust anyone who claims to have all the answers, the final episode of The Prisoner just left viewers with even more questions, and one simple terrifying conclusion – wherever you are, ‘they’ will always be watching. Be seeing you.
On The Hour
Welcome to Permanews! After two series of broadcast news impersonation as convincing as it was downright silly, the On The Hour team were all ready to move on to bigger, better, darker and harder things (and playing themselves at snooker), but could they go out without making one last point? Not when their species was Homo Sapinews. The last ever On The Hour opens with an alarmingly realistic mid-headline technical breakdown, and as the Emergency Drama Unit step up to fill the blank airtime with a production of Thanks George by Geoff Taylor, Christopher Morris hotfoots it across the BBC, relentlessly churning out the main stories so far with just enough time to catch his breath before On The Hour becomes a Twenty Four Hour Fact Machine – that’s news for twenty four hours every day, each day of the week, every week of all fortnights. All other programmes on Radio 4 will no longer exist, and in a sense, they never have. The end credits are followed by a cry of “Roll out the red carpet – news is back in town!”, and it begins, as multiple Christopher Morrises with no gaps between their words mechanically dispense updates, analysis and public feedback on a bluebottle buzzing indolently around an Essex village. You could probably call it satire ahead of its time, except that nobody involved would really have realised that one day, this exact same perception-troubling combination of self-important urgency and lack of anything whatsoever to say would be all around us every day and lead to bullshit referendums, denigrated experts and shambolic Savile lookalikes in Number 10, while everyone else campaigns to have the BBC closed down because The News shouts so loud that they just can’t hear the 98% of non-news content on all of the other channels. Where’s Sgt. Murphy when we need him?
Goodbye Mr. Ed from Tin Machine II
Like them, hate them, use them as a springboard for a long boring pretentious diatribe founded on the assumption you are the only person ever to have heard Low, ‘Heroes’ or Lodger, there is no getting away from the fact that Tin Machine existed. Nor indeed that they marked a pivotal moment in David Bowie’s career that saved him and us from an eternity of endless Greatest Hits tours with all-star renditions of the ‘classics’, and that some people – gasp – actually liked them. Right at the end of the second and final album, you’ll find one of the very best David Bowie songs that hardly anyone has ever heard. Co-written with much-maligned drummer Hunt Sales, Goodbye Mr. Ed is a surprisingly tuneful scattershot swipe at everything that’s still wrong with America, from the tacit persistence of background racism to the bafflingly point-missing commercialisation of his old commercialism-subverting friend Andy Warhol, hinged around the couplet “some things are so big, they make no sense, history’s so small, people are so dense”, which obviously in no way whatsoever calls to mind anything that has happened in America more recently. Nobody has ever quite worked out what TV’s premier talking horse has to do with it all, though. Then with a screeching squabble of guitars and saxophone snipped out of little-heard b-side Hammerhead, that’s it for Tin Machine. Without whom we would never have got The Buddha Of Suburbia, 1. Outside or Earthling.
The Italian Job
In probably the most famous literal cliffhanger of all time, Charlie Croker’s soccer fan-impersonating gang are about to actually get away with $4,000,000 in gold bullion… until their rowdy coach suddenly has to swerve to avoid one of the Minis that didn’t quite rebound down and off the Turin mountainside as planned, and they are left teetering over the edge of a very very high road indeed. Working on the theory that the gold is causing them to see-saw over the precarious rockface, Charlie attempts to very very slowly edge towards it and drag it back, only to see it trundle further out of reach; lying flat on the ground and unable to even move for fear of upsetting the balance, he simply turns round to Arthur, Rozzer, Camp Freddie and company and reassures them “Hang on a minute lads… I’ve got a great idea”. The credits roll, the rousing rhyming slang knees-up number from earlier in the film plays ironically, and nobody ever quite knows what he’d come up with… except that it was always planned with a sequel that never came about in mind, and Ian Kennedy Martin came up with the idea of running the petrol tanks at the back of the coach dry back in 1969. Not that it stops some bright spark from getting news media attention every eighteen months or so for loudly proclaiming that they’ve ‘thought’ of a ‘solution’. They should stick to reporting on that bluebottle really.
And that’s how you do an ending. Without going over the top. Or indeed going ‘over the top’. It’s not the note that I want to go out on here, though, so here’s one last extra ending. Involving the star of probably the second most famous literal cliffhanger of all time.
Doctor Who – Time And The Rani
Whatever you might think of late eighties Doctor Who, it’s hard to deny that everyone involved put up a good fight in the face of a BBC that wanted to cancel it, a fan following that didn’t want it if it wasn’t made to their exact precise specifications, and a general public who couldn’t care less but they used to like it when it was Tom Pertwee and the maggots or something what time’s Laura And Disorder on etc etc. It’s slightly more difficult to mount a defence of the Seventh Doctor’s debut story Time And The Rani – though someone not a million miles away from here once did – but that cheerful and optimistic closing scene is something even the hardest cynics can take a positive note away from. After announcing that “Time and tide melt the snowman” (“Wait for no man!!” – “Who’s waiting? I’m ready!”), The Doctor and Mel bid a jaunty farewell to the Lakertyans and head into the Tardis on – it has to be said – a rather uncertain note. “You’re certainly going to take a bit of getting used to”, muses the normally perma-chirpy companion. “Oh I’ll grow on you, Mel”, replies her newly regenerated fellow traveller. “I’ll grow on you”. And for some of us, he did.
And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do an en-… oh hang on, I forgot Sapphire And Steel trapped in the cafe that was ‘nowhere’, didn’t I. Endut! Hoch Hech!
You can find features on The War Games and the end of black and white Doctor Who, Tin Machine, Michael Caine’s sixties movies and my epic defence of Time And The Rani in my book Can’t Help Thinking About Me, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here. You can also find at-the-time reactions to the Lost finale and the entire Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who in Well At Least It’s Free, available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.