The regulars -
The Runaway Bride written by Russell T Davies and directed by Euros Lyn
TO BE REVIEWED...
Smith and Jones written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Charles Palmer
Daring Doctor: If people thought that Donna had a hard job to perform coming after the unbelievably popular Tyler clan than Martha’s role was even more vital. To be the first long term companion to travel with the Doctor after Rose means that she is some big shoes to fill. It’s the oddest thing with Freema Agyeman because I know people who think she is the best thing since sliced bread and others who condemn her to companion hell. My friend Emma can barely bring herself to mention Martha’s name she dislikes the character so much. I have to say (as is often the case I hope) that I fall very much in the favourable category. Whilst I wouldn’t declare Agyeman the finest actress that walked the Earth (both Piper and certainly Tate were stronger dramatic actresses) there is a charisma and energy that she brings to the role that is extremely watchable and given the path she goes down across season three I find it impossible not to like this girl. Because the Doctor spends the entire year mooning over his last companion there are times that he barely notices that he has paired up with somebody even more resourceful and fun. That is the tragedy of this relationship, he doesn’t realise it until it is too late and she has fallen too much for him to stay. Its one of the very few Doctor/companion relationships that never falls into a steady groove (unlike Rose who enjoys an entire second season and Donna who has hit her comfort stride by her third episode in season four) and constantly wrong foots the audience. For her initial run Martha is treated as a child who is allowed ‘just one more treat’ trips in the TARDIS. Then once that is put to rest (and come The Lazarus Experiment it is more than time for her to stand up to him) there are three episodes where they are either torn apart by circumstances (Human Nature) or barely feature (Blink). Then it is time to wrap up this relationship in a three-part epic that sees Martha grow up and realise that her unrequited feelings for the Doctor aren’t healthy and she needs to move on to somebody who can reciprocate them. Which leaves 42 as the only story this season where Martha can claim to be a willing and able companion of the Doctor with no fear of being dumped at any minute. People say that there is no chemistry between Tennant and Agyeman but clearly that is nonsense. I rather think they might be confusing the strained and nuanced relationship between the Doctor and Martha for a lack of sparkle but with so much going on beyond the usual adventuring with these two it is one of the most interesting Doctor/companion pair ups we have ever seen. By having the Doctor moon over Rose and barely acknowledge Martha at times it is an easy way to draw us to her character and she proves that she keeps on evolving with consistent development once she leaves and turns up in season four (for five episodes) and Torchwood. Martha surprised me by being characterised as not-Rose for so long but come the seasons end she is ten times the character her predecessor is and has completely stepped from her shadows.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We’re on the bloody moon!’
‘I was only salt deficient because I’m so very good at absorbing it but now I need fire in my veins. And who better than a consultant with blood full of salty fats and vintage wines and all those Michelin star sauces. Look, I’ve even brought a straw…’
‘Its raining on the moon!’
‘Your spaceship’s made of wood…’
- With Moffatt he deliberately created a character in Amt Pond as a person without a past because that was tied in with his season long arc of the crack in time having gobbled her family up. Whilst that was a creative decision it made the character extremely difficult to understand or warm to (at lease for me) and heading back into the Davies era reminds me of his astonishing talent at introducing new characters and their families so effectively in only a handful of seasons. The opening montage of phone calls in Smith and Jones is a skilful shorthand for the dynamics of the Jones family with Francine the matriarch trying to get her way, her ex husband and his floozy objecting and the kids trying desperately to please their parents. It’s a fast paced, contemporary way to start the season but it also says everything you need to know about Martha’s family in a couple of minutes and makes them a fascinating, if fractured, backdrop for this new character. It also helps that they are all really well cast and pretty too and during these scenes there is usually at least one person at all times that is very nice to look at!
- Doctor Who continues to attract the finest talent that television has to offer and Anne Reid’s second appearance in the show (after her small but memorable part in The Curse of Fenric) is a memorable one and she really enjoys playing the villain and sinking her straw into the part. Every time I see her she makes me smile and oddly it has nothing at all to do with her performance (as good as it is). It makes me remember the year this episode went out and Simon and I were extremely screwed financially and on my birthday he went out and bought something (no matter how small) that was connected with this season of Doctor Who (there was a little stone angel, a feather boa and flying car). But what really made me chuckle was the cheapest item of the lot…a little straw! And he even did the line as he gave it to me to drink with! Awww…that’s love! I have just finished watching The Talons of Weng-Chiang (an episode per cross train session works a treat!) and there was more than little touch of that masterpieces set up to Smith & Jones – taking a story that belongs elsewhere and placing it in an unusual setting. In Holmes’ masterpiece you have a time traveller from the 51st Century menacing Victorian London and here you have an alien vampire being pursued on a 21st Century hospital transported to the moon. In both cases the backstory being locked into such an abnormal location really helps to increase the enjoyment of the tale.
- Smith and Jones is an episode of simple but bold images that really show how assured the show has become in its core audience. Doctor Who wouldn’t have dared to feature rain travelling upwards or a hospital on the moon let alone giant space rhinos walking across the lunar surface to lay siege to the medical facility! What a brilliant way for Doctor Who to have its cake and eat it by plonking a hospital on the moon because it makes the entire episode studio bound for the most part (who can’t knock up a hospital?) but doesn’t sacrifice any of the wonder of exploring the wider universe. Scenes such the hysterical patients staring out at the nights sky or the Doctor and Martha walking onto the veranda have a real sense of fairytale magic about them. The typical establishing shot of London is given a delicious makeover since there is a massive crater where the Royal Hospital should be. Florence sucking blood from the Doctor’s neck by a straw is absolutely disgusting and very funny at the same time, another of those tricky balances to pull off. I love the shot of the moon in the puddle that gets stepped in, so simple and yet so effective to make the point of the storm out scene at the end.
- After the success of the Ood last year it was clear that there was room in the show for other insane looking alien creatures and Davies scores another winner with the Judoon. They are one of those rare Doctor Who alien races that comes along every now again that aren’t evil and don’t want to take over the world/universe but are simply amoral and scary looking! They will only kill you if you commit a crime and get in their way (‘Justice is swift!’) but if you co-operate then you will be fine. That’s a lovely new take on an alien threat. The prosthetics work is superb and with animatronics taken to this level we are approaching Farscape levels of cinema. They sure know how to make an entrance too with their sturdy cigar shaped ships blasting down on the moon and entire columns of soldiers marching across the surface in jackboots! Doctor Who is taking no prisoners this year. I love it when they fill the hospital reception area because if you took the space rhinos out this could literally be an episode of Casualty but by contrasting the mundane and the ridiculous you have another bold example of why Doctor Who has lasted as long as it has. You can’t argue with success and the Judoon were popular enough to be brought back in The Stolen Earth, The End of Time, a Sarah Jane Adventure and two Doctor Who novels as well.
- As much as we (and Peri) complain about it ad nauseum I rather think Doctor Who fans like a bit of corridor wandering. Its like our comfy blanket when a story needs padding out (plus shows like Greatest Show in the Galaxy show how it can be done really vividly). Smith & Jones has more than its fair share of dashing up and down hospital corridors and stairs but fortunately we have Charles Palmer on hand to make these scenes as dynamic as possible. I wanted to leap into the screen and get running with the Doctor and Martha and that has to be a good sign.
- A nice mention of Mr Saxon. Davies is setting up his arcs early this year and all the better for it.
The Bad: Would there be such agonised panic at finding yourself on the moon? Dramatically speaking yes but it does bother me that Martha seems to be the only person not overreacting to their situation. Why not just stamp the word companion on her forehead. Morganstein was really irritating but I guess that is supposed to be the point.
The Shallow Bit: Umm Reggie Yates is just about the hottest bloke ever to appear in Doctor Who. Bestill my beating heart whenever he appears on screen! Freema Agyeman is smoking hot all of the time but she looks positive combustible in the closing scenes.
Result: I remember when this episode first aired and an old friend was visiting with her irritating son who literally didn’t shut up all night except for the 50 minutes when Smith & Jones was on where we didn’t hear a peep out of him. I honestly didn’t think I could love Doctor Who more and if I ever needed a demonstration of its magic there it was right before me. Putting to one side the glorious introduction of Martha and the charismatic return of David Tennant just the very idea of the intergalactic police catching up with an elderly vampire in such an innocuous setting transported onto the moon is enticing enough to earn this a winning score from me. Charles Palmer and NuWho are a perfect fit and he directs this episode with real class and fills the screen with memorable images which is perfect for a season opener. Freema Agyeman and David Tennant enjoy an instant rapport and have a great madcap mystery to solve in their first story together and the episode is also given a lot of credence with the presence of Anne Reid and Roy Marsden. Even the Judoon who under any other circumstances might have felt out of place make a memorable and insane debut. Smith & Jones is basically one long run-around but one that is stuffed with great scene after great scene, fun characters, pace, wit and style. A really strong start to the season: 8/10
The Shakespeare Code written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Charles Palmer
TO BE REVIEWED...
Gridlock written by Russell T Davies and directed by Richard Clark
This story in a nutshell: The Doctor gets stuck in Bank Holiday traffic!
Mockney Dude: The look on the Doctor’s face when Martha suggests that they visit the world of the Time Lords fully justifies the junking of Gallifrey, its staggeringly emotional. The Doctor talks about Gallifrey with such poetry now so clearly he didn’t know what he had until it was gone because he used to slag them off terribly! Wild eyed and rain slicked, he looks like a force of nature! Tennant screams ‘MAAAAAARFAAAAA!’ in exactly in the same way McCoy screams ‘HAAAAACE!’ so maybe he has had tips from the Scotsman. His wrath towards the mood sellers is frightening, when the Doctor discovered the Vraxion smuggling in Nightmare of Eden he was quietly appalled but after all the events in his life since then all the pretence has dropped away and he really goes at them. Only the Doctor would consider jumping onto the roof of the next car down, its completely insane…and a bit magnificent! When Brannigan calls him a magician you can’t help but believe him. If you ever need a reminder of how good David Tennant was in the role (I’ve already heard lazy cries of ‘David who…?’) go and watch the last scene that he makes extremely emotional without having to raise his voice. It always makes me prickle at the eyes.
Marvellous Martha: I can understand why people didn’t enjoy Martha’s mooning over the unobservant Doctor but I found it infinitely preferable to Rose’s jealousy act in the second season. I find Martha a much more likable, less selfish character so even if I want to slap her around the face and tell her to get a life (which always makes me punch the air with delight in Last of the Time Lords when she finally tells him to get off!) I still feel really sorry for her. It doesn’t help that the clueless Doctor is taking her to the same places he took Rose (ever heard of rebound) except Martha gets the slums where Rose had the palaces! I really enjoyed Martha ripping the honesty patch from Cheen when she discovered she was pregnant, hostage or not Martha is still a Doctor in training. Her reaction to being told 10 miles will take them 6 years is priceless and even better is her ‘wow, that’s like…crazy!’ Sometimes she thinks the Doctor likes her but sometimes she thinks he just needs someone. Its nice to see that these girls are all making the same hasty decisions, like Rose Martha didn’t even think about the consequences of travelling with the Doctor and her family wouldn’t even know if she were to die on another planet. Martha expresses incredible faith in the Doctor, which is always lovely to see. She gets her very first scream as the Macra casually tosses the car about! I love the way she sits down on the chair like a stubborn child, refusing to leave until the Doctor tells her about his past.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘They don’t exactly look like Empire builders to me!’
‘You Are Not Alone.’
The Good Stuff: What a bonkers first scene – characters straight from American Gothic are attacked inside a tiny box like car – but it is gripping for all its wackiness. Its nice that Davies has brought back all the elements from New Earth but everything is a lot grimmer from the location work to the Face of Boe and the Cat People. There is a lovely dark thread throughout the episode where selling moods is compared to selling drugs. Kidnapping, guns, the Underworld – there is a lovely 2000AD feel to this story. The FX designers should be applauded for the striking image of the Gridlocked cars, which fully justifies the mad premise for the episode. I tried to resist, really I did but the kitten crying ‘mama!’ melted my heart away! For such a barmy idea Davies has put some real thought into making this feel like a real culture, these people have children on the motorway, recycle waste products as food, use muscle stimulants and have a shared faith, singing hymns together. Its all so emotionally conceived it really feels real. Whilst I have no comment on the Cassini sisters themselves (nice to see lesbians in Who rather than woofters!) themselves I love their chintzy cabin…it looks just how you would imagine a old woman’s spaceship would look! Credit to the make up and costume designers, the cat people look uncannily convincing as an alien race. The hymn and the pull away from the motorway as they reached the climax tugs at the heartstrings. Have you ever seen a bigger bunch of freaks as those travelling on the motorway; albinos (with a bubble wrap cabin!), punk Chinese (scary!), nudists (yum!), a red guy (with a red furry cabin!), the weird hairy black chick with the blond girls (there’s a whole other story to be told there, surely?) and the fellow in the bowler hat! Imagine if you went on a speed dating session with that lot? I was completely unsuspecting so the Macra gave me the biggest fangasm ever, I remember literally screaming at the telly with delight to Simon’s astonishment! There are plenty of layers to Davies New Earth from the Underworld dodgy dealing to the people trapped on the motorway to the epic landscape of the city above, we travel up these layers a learn so much about the world as we do. Doctor Who goes Hollywood as the CGI Macra snap and grab at the car weaving in and out of the gas, a superb bit of effects work. Davies is superb at scripting bursts of overwhelming emotion in his scripts, pretty much every one of his stories has one moment that winds me with its emotional honesty but in Gridlock it comes when the Senate is revealed, a vast room full of corpses. Our perception of the story we have been watching is twisted when it is revealed that the people on the motorway have been saved, not lost. The music when the Face of Boe dies is remarkably tender and poignant, Murray Gold at his finest. I love the last scene because it strips away all the fireworks and epic locations and comes down to two people being honest with each other and forging a friendship, it is beautiful.
The Shallow Bit: Travis Oliver is one of the sexiest things Doctor Who ever dished up and very distracting!
Result: Even by Doctor Who’s standards this story is weird. No other show would produce something as insanely unique as Gridlock and every time that happens it makes me love the show just that little bit more. Gridlock manages to explore its world in some depth because we are always on the move, juggle some whacky concepts and characters, excite with some visually arresting set pieces and deliver a handful of some of the most emotive moments the series has offered. This NuWho and Davies firing on all cylinders and shows the tenth Doctor and Martha shaping up to be an extremely effective team. Top drawer: 9/10
Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks written by Helen Raynor and directed by James Strong
This story in a nutshell: The Daleks are back and this time they’re human!
Mockney Dude: This not a great showing for Tennant’s Doctor truth be told. In the first episode he is little more than a history lesson until he stumbles across what is clearly a Dalek mutant (of which he has seen any in the past) and he spends the next 20 minutes trying to figure out what it is! Then in episode two the Doctor develops a suicide complex and asks for the Daleks to kill him (twice) which is the just about the worst thing he could do considering they would cut him down and then continue with their evil plans without interference. I cannot figure out why the Doctor agrees to help out the human Dalek since it would mean the people they have kidnapped would be brainwashed – why not just let them go? Once again the Doctor rails against the indominability of the Daleks (‘They survive, they always survive whilst I lose everything!’). It was whilst watching this story that Simon made the observation that Tennant’s Doctor is outrageously melodramatic and watching I have to agree – in the second episode he spits ‘GENOCIDE!’ and I was half expecting him to give a dramatic fist shake! By the time of the climax the script acknowledges how little the Doctor has achieved and it does make you wonder if he has lost his touch.
Delicious Doctor: Does Martha ever get the chance to change out of those clothes? Doesn’t she wear them for four episodes straight? I bet she was pongy! At this point I was getting a bored by the Doctor’s constant assertion that Martha was going home and this was just ‘one more trip’ when frankly Martha is by far more resourceful, intelligent and fun than Rose was in season two and frankly he should be grateful to have her along! I was so glad when she turned around in The Lazarus Experiment and told him she would no longer be his hanger on. About time girl! Look at the wonderful places he has taken her so far…the slums of New New York, the sewers of Old New York, all this fine living can go to a girls head! Her friendship with Tallulah is very sweet and she can see how Martha looks at the Doctor even though he clearly isn’t interested. Martha is quite seduced by the glitz and glamour of 1930s theatre. ‘You could be Doctors together! What a partnership!’ – at least Tallulah can see how good they are together! Sometimes when the Doctor looks at her she thinks he is seeing Rose, or what he has lost. There was one small moment in the second episode when I wanted to reach in and slap Martha – ‘What are you then some kind of Dalek?’ is a terrible line and Freema bollocks it right up.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘It was either this or a spear…’
‘It’s the Depression, sweetie. Your heart might break but the show goes on.’
‘If we are supreme why are we not victorious?’
‘New York City. If aliens had to come to Earth no wonder they came here.’
The Good Stuff: The opening scenes give the impression that this might be a pure historical piece set in Manhattan with the music and theatre scenes feeling very authentic. Tallulah is instantly likable (‘I’m coming! Quit yelling!’) in a Stacey Solomon ‘so pure she’s an angel’ kind of way. We get a nice snapshot of the Depression without ever going into any great detail; it’s a very worthy period to teach kids about. There’s a gorgeous shot of the builders on the scaffolding that mirrors the black and white photography that was taken in the 30s at the time that you find in gift shops. Art deco really suits the Dalek aesthetic. I love how shamelessly b movie this story is, the music score is hugely over dramatic, ‘the Masters call it the final experiment’ and a mad scientists laboratory complete with leaping flames and pig men! There is a rare character moment for a Dalek as it looks over New York and pines for its lost home world, that moment really surprised me. Sewers make for a nice spooky location and a change from the usual corridors and these are really authentic with strong shafts of light, filth on the walls and water dripping. For what is a daft idea the bestial, unthinkingly violent pig men are pretty scary. Go and watch the scenes between Tallulah and the Doctor at the end of episode one – she would have made a great companion! I’m a big fan of musical theatre so the musical number was very appealing, nicely choreographed and featuring some stunning colours. I loved the choral heart attack music at the end of episode one – I remember singing that Omen inspired theme for weeks after the episode debuted. The dodgem Daleks hunting through the sewers looks fantastic, shot from below they are very menacing and dynamic. How funny are those gossiping Daleks, especially the one who looks over his shoulder before talking mutiny! The set piece of Hooverville under attack is superbly staged with Daleks screaming through the air and blowing the shit out of everything – the kids must have peed their pants with excitement watching this! I felt really sorry for that poor Dalek that had psyched himself up to kill the greatest enemy of the Daleks only to be told not to…he nearly explodes with fury at being told not to kill! There was a mention of Davros and that his conception of the Daleks was wrong which was very nice.
The Bad Stuff: We have had some amazing Dalek reveals over the last half-century – Daleks coming out of a river! Daleks coming out of sand! Invisible Daleks! Here is Helen Raynor’s chance to join the ranks by having her Dalek reveal…coming out of an elevator! Groan. The pace of the first episode is pretty slow for NuWho with far to much focus on the dull building of the Empire State and it’s hard done by workers. Diagoras being consumed by a Dalek mutant is where the first episode tips over into sheer madness. How comes Tallulah doesn’t recognise Lazlo, I know he has been turned into a pig but he hasn’t changed that much! ‘You can kiss me later. You too Frank if you want’ – what the hell was the point of that line aside from possibly giving Russell T Davies a boner? It’s not clever or funny; it just suggests that the Doctor enjoys man on man lip action! I’m all for gay/straight/bi references but only when there is a reason! The human Dalek is the rudest looking alien since phallus Alpha Centuri and vagina mouthed Vervoids – he’s got six wrinkly, twitching penises hanging from his face! Solomon’s speech is so long and tedious I was thinking about shooting him! What is it about NuWho that finds the Doctor climbing incredible heights and fiddling with antennae in the most brainless climaxes possible (first The Idiots Lantern, then Evolution of the Daleks and finally Vampires of Venice!)? By the time the Doctor was electrocuted, the Daleks have unleashed their utterly drab new army and the action moves to an unspectacular climax in the theatre I had completely lost interest in the story. Laser quest with Daleks is an awesome idea but it looks naff here.
Result: The first episode tries to do far too much for its own good; a history lesson, a continuation of the Dalek arc, a horror, a musical, a love story, a character drama and a b movie and it winds up a schizophrenic mess. It has lots of good moments that fail to gel and sit uncomfortably next to each other. Much like the classic series this story is almost entirely plot driven which feels alien in the character obsessed new series. The second episode begins really well but the big climactic set piece happens ten minutes in and leaves the rest of the story limping to the conclusion. I don’t want to be too hard because this has clearly been put together with a lot of care, the location is beautifully realised and the performances and direction are both top notch. It’s simply a case of too many ideas pulled randomly from the scrabble letters bag and not enough cohesion. A stylish mess: 6/10
The Lazarus Experiment written by Stephen Greenhorn and directed by Richard Clark
This story in a nutshell: The Doctor and Martha come up against a man who wants to turn back time…
Mockney Dude: Just how insensitive has the Doctor become? Even the ninth Doctor at his worst wasn’t as ill aware of people’s feelings as ten is here! I know he is still hurting from losing Rose (whilst the rest of us are still cheering) but he has never gone as far as kicking somebody out of the TARDIS before and especially not somebody as fun as Martha! Black does really suit him in a James Bond sort of way! Tish describes him as a science geek and she does have a point. He has had some experience with this sort of transformation. Martha makes the brilliant observation that she heard an explosion and thought it had to be him. I really enjoyed the image of him in black tie bashing away on the church organ like a mad gothic genius! The mothers do like to give him a slap – maybe he should look into why. Cruelly the Doctor doesn’t pick up on her feelings and once again offers Martha one more trip and after they sort out their misunderstanding he admits she was never really just a passenger to him.
Marvellous Martha: Some people have been quite unkind about Freema Agyeman’s ability to act and I wanted to address this because I think saying she brings more enthusiasm than talent is rather unjust. Her best moments of the season see her knock spots off Billie Piper (Human Nature, The Sound of Drums). The writing did stress the wonder of travelling with the Doctor a little too much but I think Agyeman always managed to temper that giddy wonder with something deeper. Finally Martha gets to change her clothes and how gorgeous does she look in that dress? I never knew she had a tattoo on her arm! Out two nights in a row is dangerously close to a social life for Martha. Her family are very distinctive and deserve a lot of credit for coming after the Tyler’s and not feeling like sloppy seconds – Tish is a little bundle of joy, Leo is hotness personified and Francine terrifies me in a way Jackie and Sylvia never could! Martha takes charge when things get dangerous and her family cannot believe how confident she has become. Clearly Martha is used to disapproving of Tish’s boyfriends. During the climax Martha lets out a few belting screams which is a lovely touch of old school Who! I really enjoyed the last scene where she stroppily asks him to leave because she doesn’t want to be a passenger anymore, someone who comes along for a treat. This is where Martha really finds her voice.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You’re just a vain old man who thought he could defy nature!’
‘Avoiding death – that’s being human. Its our greatest impulse.’
‘There’s no such thing as an ordinary human.’
The Good Stuff: Everything the Doctor and Martha did (Judoon, Carrionites, Macra, Daleks) they did in one night – its remarkable that this little show of ours can have tiny moments of wonder like that just as throwaway lines and we don’t even notice. I still get a tiny thrill seeing the TARDIS in a living room, thank goodness that classic series never attempted it because if I had seen that as younger I would have probably peed my pants! Does youth and beauty make people cruel? A good question that isn’t explored enough. The orchestra playing ‘Martha’s Theme’ is a lovely. The backstory of Francine being manipulated by Mr Saxon’s stooges is far more interesting than the main plot. Saying that there are still some marvellous touches such as the creepy bisecting mouth and the awesome mix of CGI and physical effects when Lazarus jumps over the balcony and smashes it. The music rocks when they first enter the church and the lighting is extraordinarily creepy. The Doctor’s conversation with Lazarus about cheating death is out and out the best scene in the entire story with both Tennant and Gatiss really giving intense performances (the latter looks like he is really in pain and the muscle stretching sound effects are horrible!).
The Bad Stuff: I remain unconvinced by Thelma Barlow’s unusual delivery and the first transformation when she is killed is confusingly directed and it is hard to figure out what precisely is going on. Lady Thaw’s skeleton was super camp! If the Lazarus machine was real it would have a catastrophic results to the population of the Earth and it’s a shame that the writer didn’t look more into the intelligent angle of the consequences rather than just running around with a monster! Tish loses credibility when she falls for Lazarus. The monster itself is quite a cumbersome bit of CGI (how can CGI be cumbersome? Watch this episode…). The ‘choking on an olive’ woman (what else can we call her – victim?) is marked for death as soon as she is cocky to the Doctor.
The Shallow Bit: Leo is so pretty he makes me very hot under the collar! Is this the first case of full on nudity in Doctor Who? Does Jack in Bad Wolf count? Oh fine the first case of full on nudity and showing a bit of botty!
Result: An intriguing opening ten minutes and a gripping final ten minutes with a whole lot of running around in between, The Lazarus Experiment is quite an empty but superficially entertaining episode. The trouble is all the extraneous material dealing with Martha and the Doctor’s will they/wont they travel together and Francine being turned against him is far more interesting than the monster mash up that is on the prowl. Fortunately the director approaches the story with a light touch and so it froths along harmlessly enough and Mark Gatiss does a great job of creeping us out as the humanoid Lazarus. Mostly this episode is held up by the quality interaction between Tennant and Agyeman which is really on fire now and together they make this bit of nonsense far more enjoyable than it has any right to be: 7/10
42 written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Graeme Harper
TO BE REVIEWED...
Human Nature/The Family of Blood written by Paul Cornell and directed by Charles Palmer
This story in a nutshell: The Doctor is on the run from the Family of Blood and finds an ingenious way to hide away…
Mockney Dude: As if David Tennant needed any more excuses to display his talent, Human Nature dishes up his most challenging material yet and he rises to the occasion in phenomenal style. He seems perfectly at home in the character of Mr Smith, the prim and proper schoolmaster who dreams of a more exciting life and nervously tip toes around women. Given the last time he faced a bunch of school kids in Doctor Who was in School Reunion when he was playing the hip Doctor about town, he carries an enormous amount of authority in this very different role. Joan feels it is like he has left the kettle on, that he knows there is something for him to get back but he doesn’t know what. Tennant looks as though he is really in pain during the transformation sequences, he’s so convincing its almost uncomfortable to watch. As a human he has moments of weakness like allowing Latimer to be beaten by his fellow pupils. It would appear that England can find heroism in smaller deeds as Mr Smith ably proves in the superb sequence when he rescues a mother and child from an accident with a rogue piano by displaying some formidable cricket skills. It is this act of bravery that gives him the courage to ask Nurse Redfern out and she can only answer with ‘you extraordinary man!’ You get to witness the real difference between the Doctor and John Smith – when they are threatened one would stand alone against the monsters and the other would rouse a school full of children to take arms against an enemy that is on their doorstep. Interesting that in the face the scarecrow army John holds up a weapon but never once fires. Watching John Smith break down and admit that this is the only life he wants is devastating and Tennant will break your heart in these scenes. Worse, the lovers get a glimpse of the extraordinary life they would have had together if he remained as John Smith. The worst thing imaginable happens once he finds out who he is, he is given the watch and has to make the choice to become the Doctor again. When Tennant slips between John Smith and the Doctor in a heartbeat you can see the skill of this man. What sort of man does falling in love not even occur to? When the Doctor returns and dishes out punishments to the Family we have never seen him so cold and menacing. It’s a question that would come back to haunt the Doctor in Journey’s End where we see a montage of the people that died because of his involvement – would anybody have died if he hadn’t have chosen this particular village to hide out in. The fact that he cannot answer that question is what costs him his friendship with Joan. She tells the Doctor that John was the braver man – he chose to change but John chose to die.
Marvellous Martha: Both Tennant and Freema Agyeman give their best performances of the year in this tale simply because the material is so strong for both of them. I was already halfway in love with Martha at this stage but pushing her into a protective role sealed the deal for me and because our sympathies are so natural with her character you are torn between the two ladies in Mr Smith’s life. Quietly she is devastated that even when the Doctor has turned human he didn’t chose her as his lover. Martha heading back to the door to knock after she has asked if the Doctor is alright is super cute. Her ‘hello’ to the TARDIS makes my heart melt every time I see it. Martha looks as though she has been physically struck when she catches John and Joan kissing. Martha sitting in front of Joan at the dance and offering her apologies for taking the Doctor away from her might be my favourite scene of hers in the whole year – it is loaded with feeling and purpose and Agyeman absolutely nails it. Martha kicks ass when she is facing the armed Family of Blood and she manages to hold one them hostage and admit she is scared at the same time. In the face of Joan’s questions Martha tells her that she isn’t a rival in the Doctor’s world even if she wishes she could be. Throughout this season we have seen the Doctor be thoughtless with Martha, selfish even but it is as John Smith that he is vicious with her (‘What exactly do you do for him?’). She admits that the Doctor is everything to her and she loves him to bits even if he doesn’t even look at her. Martha holds onto Timothy as the bombs fall close by.
Doctor Who cannot tell an overtly racist tale because that is not really within its purview (mind you when it comes to aliens, especially the Daleks, a racist creed seems fine) but it was only a matter of time before the colour of Martha’s skin was made apparent. As the first televised black companion (I know, I can’t believe it took this long either and I don’t really include Mickey) she is something of a milestone character and I am pleased that they left the commentary for a story set in the past like this one where they would really hit home that it was a different time. The casual comments she gets about the colour of her hands hits home far more than more graphic handling I have seen of this theme, it hits home because these are normal boys who just happen to behave disgracefully around black people. Joan’s comment that ‘hardly one of your colour’ could be training to be a Doctor took my breath away.
The Missus: Jessica Hynes is an actress I have long admired ever since I first saw her in the role of Daisy in Spaced. I was astonished when I first saw her in Human Nature because I had never seen her take on such a mature role where she has needed to command the audience’s attention completely and she is so believable in the role. You fall in love with Joan immediately as she ask John if he is thinking of going to the dance and humbly admits that nobody has asked her. I really like the fact that they don’t make Joan completely likable, having her remind Martha of her station in life and the rivalry that builds between them keeps her grounded in reality. A widower who is angry with the army that took her husband away from her but working at a school which is teaching children how to kill, Joan has a fascinating backstory. Joan’s modesty when she sees John’s beautiful drawing of her melts the heart, especially when she says she thinks she looks more like a Slitheen (‘You’ve made me far too beautiful’). Its heartbreaking to see Joan seeking facts about John’s childhood so she can dismiss the idea that he is a man from another world when we know the inevitable truth. It is Joan’s acceptance that John has to become the Doctor that sways him and she tells him that if he isn’t John Smith then she doesn’t want the Doctor to love her. She was married once and never thought she would fall in love again. We leave Joan crying because she has lost the man she loved and telling the man he has become to leave. Its not the typical way to end a romance tale and its all the more poignant for it.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘All those images of mud and wire. You spoke of a shadow, a shadow falling over the entire world.’
‘Widows aren’t supposed to be beautiful, I think the world would rather we stopped’ says everything you need to know about Joan to make you fall in love with her.
‘Have you enjoyed it Doctor, being human? Has it taught you wonderful things? Are you better, richer, wiser?’
‘Lets go to school!’
‘We are the Family of Blood…’
‘He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night and a storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns in the centre of time and he can see the turn of the universe. And he’s wonderful.’
‘The Time Lord has such adventures but he could never have a life like that.’
‘We wanted to live for ever so the Doctor made sure that we did.’
The Good: The opening is immediately arresting with the Doctor and Martha on the run from an unknown menace before cutting to the Doctor apparently very at home in a human life with Martha as his maidservant. The way the story immediately wrong foots you and leaves you with so many questions goes to show how much Davies and Cornell trust their audience. Setting this story just before the First World War is a masterstroke because it automatically gives the material extra depth. The Journal of Impossible Things is enough to make any fan of the show squeal with its gorgeous illustrations, scrawling handwriting telling astonishing tales and the way it canonises Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor. This is a tale of incredible imagery and I love the shot of the spotlight running across the English countryside in the evening, so simple and so effective. The Family as disembodied voices in the crashed invisible spaceship is possibly the cheapest Doctor Who monster ever and just goes to show that you don’t need a massive budget to create chills because they are terrifying. A massive hand for Harry Lloyd who almost threatens to edge Jessica Hynes out of the position of best guest star, as Baines he is an obnoxious twat who thinks rather a lot of himself but as Son of Mine he positively spooks me out. The way Lloyd holds himself once he is possessed and switches between calm menace and moments of childish insanity really stresses that this is an unpredictable alien. Given the last time I saw him was playing a rather precocious youth in Love Actually, Thomas Sangster gives a remarkably mature performance and the production team were lucky to find a child actor this strong. The sniffing is a great scare tactic, so natural and yet pronounced like this it is perfect for playground mimicry. With their stitched up mouths, angry faces and drunken walks I find the scarecrows behind the cushion scary. There is something about their lumbering gait and fake faces that sends a chill down the spine. The lighting as John and Joan enjoy a stroll across the countryside is really menacing and certain shots of the vertiginous scenery behind them really stands out. The Dance scenes are so unlike Doctor Who they have an atmosphere all of their own – here we have the Doctor as a human being, enjoying himself dancing with two women fighting for his attention. Its such an modest cliffhanger with an impossible choice for the Doctor, the whole episode has been building to that moment and easily ranks as one of the finest endings. What a lovely image the little girl with the red balloon is, such a harmless sight and yet so deadly. The second episode contains several moments of choking depth with regards to the War with the Headmaster in particular brought into sharp light when Son of Mine asks if he thinks the boys will thank him for teaching them that war is glorious when they head to the battlefield. Hutchinson is such a fascinating character, all bullyboy tactics when he is safe at school but when the building becomes a battlefield he sheds tears of fear at having to kill. They stage a pretty convincing battlefield of mud, wire and explosions and setting those scenes at night make them look even more inhospitable. What an awful situation it must have been for young men to be in and this story never shies away from that fact. Scenes of children biting back tears and shooting down an advancing army in slow motion as a hymn is sung are of an emotional intensity that Doctor Who (thank goodness!) usually shies away from. They are almost unbearably tense. Father of Mine is wrapped in unbreakable chains forged in the heart of a dwarf star, Mother of Mine is imprisoned in the heart of a collapsing galaxy, Sister of Mine is trapped inside a mirror and finally Son of Mine is left standing in a field as a scarecrow, suspended in time. What awesome punishments. Paul Cornell cannot resist a coda and here he includes three and the tribute to the War is so beautifully done it is one of the few times that Doctor Who borders on visual poetry (see also Vincent and the Doctor). I always get a lump in my throat during these scenes and it is great to see the Doctor and Martha wearing poppies.
The Bad: There has only been about a hundred times when the chameleon arch would have come in handy in the past and we only hear about it now? Rebekah Staton does a wonderful job as Jenny and has a very cute friendship with Martha so it’s a pity when she is possessed by Mother of Mine and becomes a CBBC villain. Its no where near bad enough to sink the show but she fails to play menacing playfully with the same skill as Lloyd.
Musical Cues: I don’t usually have a section for the music although I do mention it fairly often but the score for Human Nature is so good it deserves it. Murray Gold’s music for Doctor Who has been an absolute triumph since the series returned and some of his musical cues (Rose, Donna and Martha’s themes) will be long remembered. On the series three soundtrack there is a version of the piece when Martha heads to the TARDIS on her bicycle which is whistled in its entirety but it would appear that the producers vetoed this version in favour what was broadcast. Both versions are uplifting and gorgeous but I think I prefer the whistling because it is so unusual. The way this piece becomes darker and more menacing is sublime. Great, heart-warming music for the waltz. This is the first instance of a genuinely beautiful violin score when two characters kiss, usually it is mushy as hell but this is wonderfully understated. Sharp violin stings at the cliffhanger mark it as a special moment. The scarecrows marching to war is accompanied by a cross between a military march tune and a nursery rhyme and it makes their approach all the more exciting.
The Shallow Bit: Harry Lloyd – phwoar!
Notes: As well as telling a blistering good Doctor Who story, this two parter is also a precursor to Utopia with its stonking twist that Professor Yana is the Master with a watch containing his vicious personality. Sydney and Verity is a little touch which will make fans smile and pass by non fans harmlessly.
Result: Breathtakingly good throughout, there isn’t one part of this series three classic that isn’t firing on all cylinders. Over the course of two episodes we experience a charming and ultimately heartbreaking love story, an affirmation of Martha’s love for the Doctor, a tear jerking character study of the John Smith, an exciting action adventure, some delicious scares and a touching commentary on the First World War. The production values are to die for with Charles Palmer proving a standout director and his handling of the material is first rate, pushing the actors to the fore and giving them plenty of room to express their talent but also providing some striking set pieces and splendid location work. Whether it is moments of romance or terror the tone of the piece is absolutely convincing and helped immeasurably by one of Murray Gold’s finest scores. I have watched this story several times since its first transmission and my admiration and enjoyment has only increased over time. Showcasing the talents of David Tennant, Jessica Hynes, Freema Agyeman and Harry Lloyd, it is also one of the finest acted stories with the central romance in particular proving a masterstroke in character drama. A story that proudly stands in my top ten Doctor Who stories, truly a visceral, emotional experience: 10/10
Blink written by Steven Moffatt and directed by Hettie MacDonald
TO BE REVIEWED...
Utopia written by Russell T Davies and directed by Graeme Harper
This story in the nutshell: ‘You Are Not Alone…’
Mockney Dude: A great episode for the tenth Doctor, Utopia gives him some wonderful opportunities to be sly (materialising the TARDIS before Jack can get on board), upset (discussing Rose), intelligent (getting the Footprint Engine to work), fiercely angry (practically shaking and screaming at Martha when she gives him the news about the watch) and desperate (as he discovers which Time Lord has survived). The last time he came to Cardiff and defeated the Slitheen he was a different man, literally. Not even the Time Lords travelled this far out into the future and he grins with excitement at being able to explore the unknown. His relationship with Jack is fascinating in this episode and both actors play their roles as if they are really cautious of each other. When Jack asks why he abandoned him the Doctor callously explains ‘busy life, moving on.’ The end of the universe is very humbling for the Doctor since nobody can even remember the Time Lords, not even in myth. He’s known about Jack’s strange powers ever since he ran away from him and instinctively cannot face him because he’s wrong. Jack suggests he is prejudiced and the Doctor smiles cheekily. He is still mourning Rose’s passing much to Martha consternation. He is so desperate to see another of his kind that he sprints over to the Professors laboratory but he is terrified of just who it might be (and with good reason). He sabotages his own TARDIS at the end of the story to prevent the Master from travelling where h likes and is well and truly stranded…
Delicious Doctor: Considering how much I adored Donna I always kind of shrug now when I think of Martha or Rose and yet every time I have revisited a season three story I get a real slap in the face wake up call of just how good Freema Agyeman was. This was the beginning of a three part storyline that saw her character go from mooning companion to a fully fledged, series hopping character in her own right. Utopia is the exquisite first step in that journey, a trip to the end of the universe for Martha and her first exposure to the man who would go on to make her life hell. When she finds Jack lying outside the TARDIS she ignores the Doctor’s protestations and tries to revive him. Upon discovering the Doctor’s hand in a jar she states that there is still so much to find out about him. Good old Rose, you really feel for Martha here as the Doctor and Jack enthuse over the Doctor’s ex, she is well truly the odd one out at that point. Martha’s cheeky relationship with Chan’tho is wonderful (especially the swearing scene which really draws you close to both characters).
Horny Hunk: Finishing off this very fine ensemble, I would probably go as far to say that this is the strongest Jack story in Doctor Who because his character returns from the end of the first season with lots of stories to tell and having been through a lot. Assuming that you haven’t seen Torchwood there is a massive leap between The Parting of the Ways and Utopia. Jack is desperate to catch up with the Doctor and sprints at the TARDIS (tying in with the end of season one of Torchwood) and rides the police box into the time vortex. Its such an insane idea but one that is given full justice as we see him die and survive several times here. He used his vortex manipulator to bounce from the Game Station to Earth in the 20th Century but got his figures a little wrong and ended up in 1869 and had live through the entire 20th Century to meet a version of the Doctor that co-incided with him (he must have missed him in Tooth and Claw, The Idiots Lantern, Human Nature, etc). Jack is perfectly willing to shoot the future kind (that’s the old Torchwood training coming out) but the Doctor stops him, claiming he is his responsibility. Rather wonderfully he flirts with men, women and aliens in this episode and none of them seem to mind very much (and I can’t say I blame them, he looks hot in a white T-shirt and braces). Jack sacrifices himself to jumpstart the override, willing to experience the pain of dying to save the human race. The scenes where he discusses his supposed invulnerability whilst surrounded by stead radiation are loaded with tension and sexual chemistry, both Barrowman and Tennant acquit themselves beautifully and really spark off each other. He learnt he was the man who can never die after he was shot; fell of a cliff, starved, hit by a stray javelin, etc… He went back to visit Rose in the 1990’s, just once or twice, just to see her again because he figured she was dead.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The call came from across the stars. Come to Utopia…’
‘Now I can say I was provoked…’ is one of the scariest lines ever in Doctor Who!
The Good Stuff: What a coup it is to get Derek Jacobi to play Professor Yana and he is instantly likable in the role. Chan’tho makes a fine foil for him, similar sweet and very lovable. Come on, who didn’t get a little buzz seeing the TARDIS sitting alone in that bleak quarry? The FX of the conglomeration is both subtle and epic, it looks genuinely alien. I love how low budget this story is, it feels more like classic Doctor Who because it trades in imaginative ideas rather than just using money to tell a story and the simplicity of the situation, the stars going out and the last of humanity having to face an eternal night, is quietly rather astonishing. Yana’s face when he first sees the TARDIS reveals a world of confusion and clarity. Death by stead radiation looks very nasty, like exploding into burnt paper! As soon as Yana shows Martha his watch this episode steps up a gear, tense and exciting with possibilities and when he opens it and the light floods through is a pivotal, dramatic piece of direction. Jacobi is simply the most frightening Master we have ever seen; his performance is unforgettably scary and feral. The regeneration is bold and unforgettably dramatic and John Simm leaps free as a younger, cheekier Master. What a great cliffhanging end…
The Bad Stuff: There is an assault of continuity in the first scene that reminds me of a JNT story. I thought Russell T Davies said he wanted to avoid grunting, Stargate style natives?
The Shallow Bit: Jack is gorgeous and so is the guy he flirts with? Spin off porn?
Result: Featuring the fascinating return of Jack, an interesting scenario and a real chance to see what David Tennant is made of, Utopia is one of my favourites from series three. The final fifteen minutes are the most snappily edited and dramatically powerful of the year. The return of the Master has always been an event, but this was entirely unexpected and after three years of the Doctor droning on that he is alone and Jacobi's sudden transformation from amiable scientist into the evil snarling villain is probably the characters best ever returning moment. I love that the cheapest episode of the season has the conclusion that everybody watching the series will remember. I don't know what is more exhilarating, the return of the Master, the Doctor's horrified reaction or his sudden regeneration into cheeky John Simm at the story's conclusion. It's all a bit too much for an old fanboy like me and I was tearing my hair out with excitement: 9/10
The Sound of Drums written by Russell T Davies and directed by Colin Teague
Mockney Dude: There is something very lovely about the team of the Doctor, Jack and Martha walking the streets, hanging out in her flat. I love this urban geek Doctor who fits in very nicely hanging with his mates. The frisson between the Doctor and the Master when they first talk on the phone is spectacular with the Doctor desperate to make him understand that they are the last of their kind and they need each other. You get the sense that the Doctor is so relieved to talk about the Time War with one of his own kind. Its great to see the Doctor cobbling together a device that will hide them out of some old tat again; he’s been a bit out of practice. The Doctor is trapped in an impossible situation of wanting to save the Master because he is the only other Time Lord in existence but the more acts of slaughter he commits the harder that becomes to justify.
Marvellous Martha: Throughout the year we have seen Martha gaining her confidence in the face of the Doctor’s rudeness and when her family are threatened she pretty much tells the Doctor to go jump and she is going to protect them no matter what. I remember watching this at the time and punching the air with delight that she finally put the smug, Rose-pining Time Lord in his place. Martha’s fury as her family are kidnapped and she is helpless to step in is terrifying and her anger towards the Doctor is long overdue. It must have taken all of her patience to stay still and watch as the Master mocks and manhandles her family as she desperately wants to walk up to him and kill him.
Hunky Hero: Jack is nervous to tell the Doctor that he is working for Torchwood now considering his history with the organisation but finally bites the bullet and says that it is now being run in his honour.
Nutball Villain: The Master is the Prime Minister of England? What an awesome idea and one that could have been happily exploited during the seventies when Roger Delgado aced the role. Imagine this kind of story set then – Delgado puffing away on his cigars and setting nationwide traps for the Doctor. Still their loss in Davies’ gain and this attention grabbing idea gives us a massive hook and contemporary twist for the freshly introduced villain. This is a new younger, cuter Master for the next generation and Simms is clearly having a whale of a time playing the psychotic Time Lord. I find his childish face pulling just before he murders his entire cabinet pretty chilling because it is clear that this overgrown child is dangerously unpredictable and utterly silly. He’s happy to crack jokes whilst he commits mass murder. The shot of him tapping out his rhythm of four in the gasmask, completely unmoved by the death around him is a haunting image. Simms really goes for the homoerotic angle as the Master and flirts outrageously with Tennant’s Doctor (‘I love it when you say my name…’). It turns out that the Time Lords resurrected the Master because they knew he would be the perfect warrior for a Time War – another little piece of the puzzle filled in. But he was so scared of the War that he ran and made himself human so he would never be found. He literally gets off on the idea of the Time Lords and the Daleks burning all the way to hell. Watching the Tellytubbies on a laptop is a terrific modern day nod to the great work Letts & Dicks did with the Master in the 70s. Davies doesn’t include the Master just because it is a cool thing to do but he actually builds upon his mythology and teaches us new things about the character. The flashback to him looking into the untempered schism is said to be where his madness began, with the whole of time and space opening up for him and tempting him with its possibilities. The drumming in his head has been there ever since he was a child and it has driven him to many murderous acts over the years. It is fascinating to learn things about the character so many years after his introduction, it allows us to see him in a brand new light but doesn’t contradict anything we have seen before.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Its as if he’s mesmerised the whole world!’
‘The man who makes people better. How sanctimonious is that?’
‘You and your little gang…which by the way is ticking every demographic box so congratulations on that.’
‘I thought you were going to say your secret brother or something…’
The Good: Its another season that has quietly whispered its arc secrets to us along the way with mentions of Mr Saxon and the slow poisoning of Francine against the Doctor and now is the time for the payoff. The idea that Martha has only been away for four days considering the places we have visited this year is a lovely Doctor Who twist. I love the way the Jean Rook scenes go from media frenzy to a dire warning – this is Davies’ characterisation at its best with Jean running rings around Tish but then Lucy outmanoeuvring her and the Master entering quietly to murder her. The obligatory celebrity appearances are well thought through this year with Sharon Osbourne, McFly and Anne Widdecombe (and evil group of celebrities if ever I heard one) all giving the Master their endorsement. After the mention of the fall of Harriet Jones being the catalyst for Mr Saxon coming to power you realise we a sudden cold fear that this is all the Doctor’s fault. I adore the Toclafane, what a simple idea to have floating orbs with childlike psychosis that can wield scalpels to cut people to pieces. Watching the Master’s speech to the country makes me remember just how good Davies was at world building and the way he segues the events of Aliens of London, The Christmas Invasion, Army of Ghosts and The Runaway Bride into his speech to highlight how much public contact the human race has had with aliens of late is inspired. It’s clever how these exposed invasions are exploited to make contact with a new alien species a massive, world changing event that genuinely whips the world up in a storm. I love the shot of the bomb going in off in Martha’s flat as they throw themselves into the streets in slow motion, its very Spooks and the sort of real world horror the show usually avoids. This is a very new kind of danger where the Master has the back up of armed police forces that can tear people from their homes and open fire on the streets – how good is the sequence of Martha trying to contact her family and watching as one by one they are captured by Saxon’s forces, closing in on them like an iron grip. I get goosebumps every time I watch the standoff in the road as the car screeches to a halt and the police open fire. It feels like we are back in season seven territory again but with a very contemporary feel. The Doctor on the run from the entire police force of the country feels very wrong and thus makes great drama. Who didn’t get a genuine thrill of excitement to see Gallifrey brought to life with such stunning beauty? This is the Gallifrey that we have always dreamed of but never had the resources to realise before. I felt like a seven year old who had been given a bag of sweets when I saw the Valiant; something to get very excited about it is so ridiculously wonderful. A blood red TARDIS interior with the console locked away, it must have hurt the Doctor to see the TARDIS violated in such a way. Great to see that The Lazarus Experiment was setting up a future development (although I found it perfectly watchable in its own right) and the Doctor’s speeded up torture under the screwdriver is pretty harrowing. The final set piece has to be seen to be believed with the Master creating a hellish rip in the sky to allow the Toclafane to come pouring through and rain down on the Earth. Voodoo Child rocks on and even the TARDIS starts dancing as paradox machine kicks in and suddenly hell descends upon the Earth. Its utterly, utterly brilliant lunacy and the furthest Davies could take an alien invasion without destroying the show itself (indeed he has to rewind it all later but lets not worry about that now).
The Bad: The only point I feel the comedy is pushed to the edge is when the Master opens the door several times and we hear Jean screaming as the Toclafane tear her to piece. It really isn’t very funny. Speaking as someone who lives nearby, Leo really isn’t in Brighton. Whilst the ending of this two parter (it never happened) is the worst kind of resolution the introduction of the paradox machine at least shows that he was thinking ahead.
The Shallow Bit: Martha looks absolutely gorgeous with her hair down, its almost as if she has deliberately dressed kick ass just as she is about to become action Martha. I especially love how the Master stands proud in a black and red velvet cape full of his own pomp and circumstance to mock the Doctor’s third incarnation.
Result: The Sound of Drums is basically a massive kiss to the Pertwee era with politics, international intervention and first contact with alien species all coming to the fore in spectacular ways. But underneath that you have the more interesting than ever Doctor/Master relationship, which slides from violent enemies and perhaps too close friends in the aftermath of the Time War. And underneath that you have Martha gaining her independence and fighting to keep her family safe from the grip of terror that has seized Britain. There are so many standout scenes it would be impossible to name them all but with highlights such as the flashback to Gallifrey, the murderously childlike Toclafane, the very real threat of guns and bombs threatening the Doctor and the awesome sight of the Valiant this is a hard episode to top. Its an episode packed with incident, character drama, action and revelations and closes on one of the best ever cliff-hangers in the Doctor Who history – the Master misquoting the bible as his killers descend upon the Earth and begin slaughtering one tenth of the population. I re-watched this episode so many times after it was first transmitted and it doesn’t matter that the wrap up was so spectacularly disappointing, it is a perfect slice of contemporary Who and coming on the heels of Human Nature and Blink manages to continue to up the game of the incredible series three. The last ten minutes are near flawless with superb direction, music and effects combining to make the mother of all climactic cliff-hangers: 10/10
The Last of the Time Lords written by Russell T Davies and directed by Colin Teague
This story in a nutshell: Martha saves the Earth in a year…
Mockney Dude: ‘He never stops. He never stays. He never asks to be thanked…’ Considering his Doctor underwent something of a renaissance in his second year there are some of the most irresponsible decisions made with the tenth Doctor in Last of the Time Lords. But I’ll deal with that in the Bad section. The aged Doctor isn’t a problem because its actually quite a refreshing change to see the usually smart-mouthed hero reduced to a weakened state. For once it really feels like he could be defeated. And of course ageing near to death is not without precedent; the first Doctor suffered this condition and it brought on his regeneration and the fourth Doctor piled on the centuries in The Leisure Hive. Its not even that it feels wrong that the Doctor has genuinely lost his battle with the Master this time. Its long past time his rival scored one up on him (how boring is it when the Master winds up shaking a fist at the Doctor when another scheme is foiled time and again?) and plan actually went right and given the Voyager reset at the end of this episode it’s the one of the few times where we can explore the consequences of Doctor failing to saving to save the day (Turn Left would do this again in the next season with even more devastating results). Last of the Time Lords is practically unique in that respect and sees a Doctor who for once has under estimated how insane his nemesis is and is being punished as a result. Its really quite frightening. The Master can reduce the Doctor to the existence of a dog (literally in one very funny moment) but he refuses to give him the satisfaction of a reaction beyond pity and forgiveness. Watching the Master beat down this elderly Doctor made me wince – there is something so distasteful about making the Doctor this weak and hurting him even further. For the first time in his life the Doctor thinks about settling and caring for somebody instead of this aimless wandering. The desperation in David Tennant’s performance as he holds the Master in his arms and wills him to regenerate so he doesn’t have to be alone in the universe practically redeems the Doctor after all the fairy magic earlier in the show. If the Master really is the Doctor’s brother (as has been hinted but never confirmed) then his death is a bleak way to end the third season for the Doctor and as the conclusion to their long time rivalry (or so we thought at the time) it is almost brilliantly mundane that it should all come down to something as ordinary as a bullet.
Marvellous Martha: ‘I spent a lot of time with you thinking I was second best but d’you know what? I am good…’ A fantastic final showing as Martha as a companion, this episode reveals everything that I like about Dr Jones and more. We first see her in all-black action gear running up the beach having been on her travels all around the world to try and stir up resistance against the Master. She hooks up with Tom Milligan who is her own hunky Doctor to replace the one that she has lost. I love the idea of myths being built up around Martha and her ability to kill the Master, something that she has nurtured over 365 days in order to trick the evil Time Lord. Martha might have been walking the Earth and spreading stories about the Doctor but she genuinely thought he would be dead now. So the Master’s warning to her by showing her the craggy faced Time Lords is actually a moment of triumph because now she knows he’s alive. All the more reason to fight. When she is working with Tom and Docherty on the Earth Martha is basically fulfilling the Doctor role, capturing the Toclafane and revealing what they are all about. Its a punch in the gut to all her critics she’s actually very good at it. Docherty is right, she doesn’t look like a killer and her plan to ensnare the Master with the ploy of a weapon that could murder him is fiendishly clever because it preys on his fear of being defeated. Again. She is genuinely shivering when the Master catches up with her and it is a very brave act to sacrifice herself to ensure that others live because there is no guarantee that she wont be gunned down the second she leaves the house. Her little giggle in the face of the Master’s apotheosis is possibly her finest moment and when she spells out that he has been defeated simply because he is less of a man than the Doctor I just wanted to kiss her. Her final scene in the TARDIS is one of my favourite companion departures because for once it is not aiming for heartache (like Rose and Donna) or being manipulative (like the many deaths of Rory Williams) or anything as vacuous as falling for somebody she has just met. Martha has spent a year of wonderful adventures hanging around waiting for the Doctor to get over his previous companion and trying to get him to notice her (the look on the Doctor’s face tells you that he knows exactly how badly he has mistreated her). She likes him more than she should and she knows that it will never be reciprocated and so decides (like an adult would – I honestly don’t think Rose would ever have come to that conclusion) to move on before she starts to resent him. Besides her family have been through hell and she needs to support them. Bringing this one sided romance to an end should have been agonisingly dramatic (I was expecting something along the lines of Eastenders) but instead it’s a gorgeously written and underplayed scene that sees Martha regain her dignity and leave the TARDIS in a positive fashion ready to face her future. I’m really pleased that this isn’t the last we see of her (she would have some superb subsequent visits to Doctor Who and Torchwood) and that she goes on to have a successful life but for now this is triumphant way to end her travels with the Doctor.
Hunky Hero: His reunion with the Doctor was handled expertly in Utopia and he was excellent support in The Sound of Drums but its at this point that Jack is superfluous to requirements and has to be chained up for the entire episode. Its not really a problem because John Barrowman is a charismatic presence no matter how badly the character is treated. Jack suffers his nastiest death yet as he is mown down in a hail of bullets for trying to escape. He has had plenty of time to think in the year that never was and feels it is his responsibility to head back to Torchwood and look after his team. It is with a renewed sense of vigour that Jack enters season two of the spin off show (spending the first episode indulging in bar fights and snogs with Spike from Buffy) but not before dropping a bombshell that made me howl with laughter. Jack is the Face of Boe! The creature that lived longer than any other lifeform. The Doctor’s old friend. The one man who could state that You Are Not Alone in the year five billion because he had lived through discovering it in the past (or rather the future given that Utopia is set after the time of the New New Earth trilogy at the end of the universe). How did we not see that coming? Its cute and clever. Gets my vote (although the Boe theme from Gridlock threatens to give away the twist before it is revealed if you are a sad fan like me).
Nutty as Squirrel Shit: There have been some wonderfully blown out of proportion tweets from John Simm of late basically telling Doctor Who fans to fuck off and leave him alone for a role that he played years ago now and had no responsibility whatsoever in the writing. Good for him. What the hell is the point of hounding the actor especially when he is bringing the material to life with such zeal? I’m a massive fan of his portrayal myself but even if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be looking to vocally spread blame like some fans think they have the right to do. The sequence where he dances around his control room to the stirrings of The Scissor Sisters I Can’t Decide feels like it is there simply to provoke those fuddy duddy fans who feel the show is too contemporary these days but it sees the Master at his absolute height. It’s a deliriously sadistic scene because of its enforced happiness – Lucy is tortured by her continued ties to him, the Doctor is being wheeled about in his wizened state to make him feel even more impotent, Martha’s family are being treated as slaves and the Earth below has suffered a 10% massacre of its population. And this giddily insane dictator is dancing because he has caused so much misery. Forget Ainley’s chucklesome murderer, this is a truly sinister Master because he is so playful when he hurts people. Isn’t it wonderful that despite all his confidence and charisma and the murderous army that supports him the thought of Martha Jones out there evading capture is still enough to chip away at his monstrous ego and make him frightened. There are comparisons with the Doctor as the Master tells of the time he took Lucy to Utopia, a Time Lord and his female assistant. Whereas the Doctor tries to show his companions the wonders of the universe, the Master is happy to break Lucy with a vision of the future and the fate of the human race that so bleak that she no longer believes in anything. The one good thing about the hero worship of the Doctor during the climax is how it must crush the Master so completely. To have the human race in the palm of his hands, frightened and reverent, and to lose all that so spectacularly to his sanctimonious enemy just for being who he is must be like having his balls cut off with a meat cleaver. The Master trying to run away after his plans have been foiled and watched on by the heroes reminded me pleasingly of the climax of The Daemons. There’s a real sense that he hates what he has become when he wills Francine to shoot him and a sense of relief that he has once again denied the Doctor a happy ending as his life slips away (‘How about that? I win…’). Davies has taken hold of what has been for quite some time little more than a pantomime character (with Survival as the rare exception) and given him some real depth and examination. It draws some very dark conclusions about our favourite villain (that he is never happier than when inflicting pain up close which is a world away from the more cartoon villain of the past who got his kicks from planning great crimes from afar and never being able to go through with them) and even dares to suggest that his villainy might not be of his fault but an outside influence. Its not going to be to everybody’s tastes but I think this is very rich material.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Martha Jones, they say, she’s going to save the world. Bit late for that.’
‘The human race. The greatest monsters of them all.’
‘I never could resist a ticking clock.’
- Its interesting to note that since this episode both Tom Ellis and Ellie Haddington have gone on to appear in very successful sitcoms, Miranda and The Café respectively. Leave it to Doctor Who to find the best acting talent the country has to offer first. Ellis is a fine, muscular presence as Tom and it’s a crying shame that Davies didn’t allow him and Martha to marry as proposed as they clearly have great chemistry. I certainly wouldn’t have objected to his (hot as hell) presence in series four. The world-weary Professor Docherty is a marvellous character who manages to have a few surprises up her sleeve and features in the touching climax as Martha gives her flowers for an act of betrayal she never committed. That’s a gorgeous moment.
- This is one of our few chances to experience the Earth under alien rule. Nothing could quite top the original attempt (The Dalek Invasion of Earth) for sheer impact but this is certainly much better than the action sequence in a car park of the second (Day of the Daleks) or even the spruced up DVD version that has recently been released. I wont count the Cyber-invasions of The Invasion and Doomsday because they are so brief they are practically blink and you’ll miss them. I really like the idea that the Master, having discovered the destruction of Gallifrey, is trying to build a new Time Lord Empire on the Earth. Raping the Doctor’s favourite planet is just about the most painful thing he could do to his long term nemesis and it will give him a base of operations to spread his influence much further. He’s always been ambitious but this is mind bogglingly epic. Giant statues of the Master are littered across the Earth and he has carved his face into Mount Rushmore (what a fantastic egotist!). The islands of Japan have burnt. London is full of wild dogs. The South of England has been converted into shipyards building rockets, breaking down everything metal they can find to create the fleet (that’s not just a fearsome idea, there’s a mighty visual to back it up). The Master is getting ready for war with the rest of the universe with the Earth as his platform.
- The Toclafane deserve a round of applause because they are a genuinely insidious threat. The look of them, floating balls with scalpel like appendages, is memorable but like all good Doctor Who monsters it is the voice that counts and their disturbingly childlike, playful accents chill the blood. Colin Teague is one of the shows best action directors and provides a marvellously exciting sequence when Martha and her team capture one of the Toclafane. The reveal that they are the last of humanity that we saw heading off to Utopia in the episode of the same name is one of the finest reveals of Davies’ era. The episode builds to that twist by having the Master consistently point out that the Doctor’s ‘loves them’ but nothing could have prepared me for the gloriously sick moment when Docherty opens the sphere and the to discover a decapitated head inside (plus the moment where the eyes open and they jump back is great shock telly). Did this really go out at 7 o’clock on a Saturday night? This ties the three episodes together into one great saga and opens a massive paradoxical can of worms that might leave you cross eyed with confusion. If the idea that the future of the human race sees us harvested by choice and placed in psychotic robot shells (imagine the factory that brings the Toclafane to life, littered with headless bodies all heading for a furnace as the universe goes dark around them) isn’t disturbing enough, the thought of the Master bringing them back from the future to murder their past selves is mind boggling. Hence the paradox machine. Nice add there Davies to get yourself out of that one. Its gloriously barmy, headache inducingly macabre and astonishingly dark. I love this twist for its power in the moment and its implications. It makes the Toclafane one of the most frightening creations in one bold step. It also means that at the end of The Sound of Drums the Master was literally ripping open the timelines and allowing the Toclafane to cross from the future to the past. How cool is that? The Toclafane army in formation above the Earth threatening to ‘fly and blaze and slice’ is a formidable sight. Watching the Maltesers descend on the Earth like the black Plague during the climax is the most exciting thing about it.
- Davies is so good at adding small moments of character to his tales that touch your heart and Francine and Clive sharing a kiss after suffering a world of pain together really inspires after all the fireworks earlier in the season. It only took the apocalypse to bring them back together.
- What to make of Lucy Saxon? The episode keeps cutting back to her for reaction shots and she looks impressed, disappointed, terrified and repulsed at the Master’s actions. Who knows what she is thinking because she barely gets to utter a word. Its all build up to that unforgettable ending where she takes her husbands life in a riff on the previous Master’s death in Utopia. It seems that the women in his life have no choice but to turn on him and put him down like a dog. Given the nasty bruise that she sports and the outrageous flirting he does with other women just to cause her pain is it any wonder that it came to this? Its unlike Davies to be quite this cagey about a character and to give so much to the actress to convey without filling in the blanks in the script but her ambiguity is all part of her fascination. What do you make of her?
- I really thought that I would find the reset ending appallingly easy but in retrospect it makes a lot of good sense. On one purely aesthetic level it is tremendously realised with the Valiant set being ripped apart, the Master’s influence being wiped from the surface of the planet and the sun blasting around the Earth over and over in reverse. We then take a gorgeous whirlwind tour around the planet to see things are back to how they should be; vibrant, colourful, multi cultural and alive. If the show was to continue and the Doctor was to visit contemporary Earth again then of course the toys have to be put back in the box after they have been played with. Otherwise we would be referencing this story until the end of time (actually it would be until The End of Time because Amy’s giant crack can swallow it up from that point onwards). What made this much more effective than the typical Star Trek Voyager reset (I know other shows feature this most maddening of plot functions but never with as much frequency as the under performer of the Trek universe) is that although the events of this story ultimately never took place for everybody that matters as far as this series is concerned, they did. The Doctor remembers. Martha remembers. So do the Joneses and Jack and Lucy. The Earth might be safe but the people that saved it are scarred for life. It means that episode can have its cake (everything back to normal) and eat it (emotional consequences for the Doctor and his companion). Its surprisingly well done. If only the Voyager writers could have seen this (actually the one time they remembered to use the reset and have emotional consequences for the characters – Timeless – that kicked ass too).
- The actual plot ends about ten minutes before the end of the episode which is unprecedented in Doctor Who. There is a great deal to wrap up in the coda including what to do with the Master and Martha’s departure from the series. The discussion amongst the Joneses about whether to execute the Master continues the shows dark themes (I remember a point in The Sea Devils when the third Doctor said that many were in favour of that option after the events of the previous year taking me aback too) and Francine gets a terrific moment (beautifully played by Anjoa Andoh) where she looks as if she is going to pull the trigger and end his life.
- I think I can pinpoint where my disappointment set in when I first watched this episode – the very first scene! Moving events on a year was a devastating blow because I wanted to see how the Earth would cope with such a crisis (fortunately Davies would have another stab at this in The Stolen Earth with dynamic results). However in hindsight moving the show on 12 months does give us a chance to explore this new, darker world that the Master has created.
- The Midget Gem Doctor is so wrong on every level I cannot understand why Davies felt the need to include it. Its one step too far into comic strip territory for an episode that is getting off on being really nasty and placing one into the other is tonally jarring. Why would this happen anyway? Ageing the Doctor to the point of extinction means he shrinks into a little midget with giant eyes? Is this a Time Lord feature that we have never heard of before? It looks daft and it feels daft and it is daft. The Doctor had already been castrated at the end of the last episode (quite effectively too) but reducing him even further has turned him into a joke. And that should never happen. I just couldn’t take him seriously gripping hold of the bars of his cage with his little CGI hands. That’s good money they wasted on those effects that could have afforded more of a glimpse at the an Earth painted in the Master’s image.
- If that wasn’t bad enough Davies indulges in his annual hero worship of the Doctor too here by having every single member of the human race crying out his name as though he were God and turning him into a proto-Jesus mythic figure that descends from the heavens (or the flight deck if we are being accurate) and saving the day. Its so overwhelmingly twee it might just make you bring up your dinner. I don’t like being told how fabulous the Doctor is, I know that already and see that in his actions. At least the human race has this year wiped away so they can forget all about their joint masturbation over the Doctor. Even he seems a little embarrassed by it when he talks about it afterwards.
- The Doctor and the Master materialising on the Earth is entirely pointless. Its just to give them a Reichenbach Falls moment, isn’t it, and take the Letts/Dicks conception of their relationship to its natural conclusion?
- A shame Leo had only a walk on part in this episode considering it’s the end of the line for the Joneses. Reggie Yates busy elsewhere?
The Shallow Bit: There’s no denying that Tom Ellis playing Tom Milligan is an absolute hottie. Whilst we’re at it Freema Agyeman never looked more gorgeous than in this three part blockbuster.
Notes: If you want to find out what Martha got up to on her year away check out the BBC novel The Story of Martha by Dan Abnett. It’s a cracking read and paints a devastating picture of the apocalyptic Earth that matches the descriptions from this episode. You get to witness the moment that Japan burns.
Foreboding: Just who picked up that ring at the Master’s funeral. That had people guessing for ages. Looks like Davies was always planning on bringing back the Master to tell the rest of his story. Can’t wait.
Result: I remember first watching this finale whilst on holiday and feeling so let down as the story unfolded. I was so gripped by The Sound of Drums (so much so I must have watched it about ten times that week!) and this was not the conclusion that I had envisaged. However the passage of time has been kind to Last of the Time Lords and I actually think far more of it now than I ever did when it was broadcast with a few (massive) caveats. If you removed the Dobby/Jesus Doctor then 90% of this shows problems would disappear (but take out the shows central character and where would we be?). If it’s a poor showing for the Doctor then it’s a fantastic Martha episode and her adventures on post apocalyptic Earth are a real treat. The Master might barely set foot on the planet but his presence is felt in every scene and Davies employs the Robert Holmes tradition of creating and world with words and this apocalyptic Earth is a memorably bleak location. We might have been told in the past that the Master is a villainous character (shrinking people and the like) but here he is a genuinely sadistic man, enjoying the pain of others and stroking his out of control ego to disguise the fact that he hates who he has become. Maybe that’s what people couldn’t get on with this interpretation, he’s not the cuddly villain from the Pertwee years anymore but a genuinely nasty piece of work. Taken as a single episode then is a little flabby and flawed but if you look at Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords as a three part story it is about as epic as Doctor Who comes, skilfully plotted, featuring some remarkably dark ideas and stretching out to the end of the universe and back. Its controversial in what it suggests for the end of humanity and in how it tries to probe the Master but the show should never shy away from taking risks and the resulting piece of work packs quite a punch. If only the Doctor worship could be excised (I still don’t entirely understand how the Doctor becomes a magical flying superbeing or why it was necessary) Last of the Time Lords might have been considered a much worthier finale to series three. It might be hard to look past its faults but there is a great deal to like here amongst a few harmful mistakes. Surprisingly enjoyable (although given its fatalistic tone I’m not sure that’s appropriate) and a triumphant end to Martha’s travels in the TARDIS: 7/10