Tuesday, 26 April 2011

To the Death written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What’s it about: 'He can't be alive...' After a last, futile fight-back against the Daleks, Lucie, Susan and Alex are heading home to England in the desperate hope of saving the Doctor's life. But the true, terrible nature of the Daleks' plan is beginning to emerge and the Monk has blood on his hands. To defeat the Daleks, it can only be a struggle… to the death

Breathless Romantic: The Doctor dies smiling, that feels very right. Susan wishes he would own up to himself that he never goes back, that he always just goes forward. The Doctor warns the Monk very darkly that if he had anything to do with the plague that has harmed Lucie he will punish him. As soon as he realises the Time Controller has directed this conquest of the Earth he blames himself for not defeating them in his sixth incarnation (in the very good Patient Zero, check it out). He is willing to break all the laws of time to ago forward with the Doomsday Bomb and finish what he started. Susan is there to remind him that he is better than that, altering time to suit his will isn’t his style. The Doctor tells the Daleks that he once had the chance to avert their creation but he hesitated thinking he could take the moral high ground. He lacked the courage at the time but he warns them if they give him one chance to escape he will go back and wipe the Daleks from the face of history. The Doctor is smart enough to know that as much as he loves Lucie she is the only chance at stopping them so when she asks for a signal from him that there is another way he doesn’t give her one. He gives her permission to kill herself and that decision is going to stay with him for a long time. He’s seen so many people die that he’s got used to it, he moves on but today there has been one life lost too many and he wants to say enough. You’ve never heard the Doctor sound so angry when he confronts the Monk, McGann plays the part with a furious intensity. He wants to take more direct action because he thinks he has gone soft. ‘I suppose the universe was bound to do this for me eventually, wasn’t it? A universe that contains such refined evil as the Daleks or wanton amorality as the Monk. It was bound to push me over the edge.’ He’s off to the edge and maybe beyond. One day he promises to go back…but is he talking about rescuing Lucie or going back to Susan or heading back to Skaro to wipe out the Daleks.

Luscious Lucie:Look at me! Look at the state of me! I nearly died because you could get here in time!’ screams Lucie at the Doctor in a scene that took my breath away. Sheridan Smith refuses to hold back for her last story and squeezes every singe drop of emotion of her part. She’s not Alex’s mother but she does answer to her. I’m glad we got the maudlin explanations out of the way in the last episode and Lucie simply and brightly tells the Doctor that he is forgiven and that she is moving back in whether he likes it or not. She flings herself at the Monk ready to tear his face off for what he has put them all through. You can cripple Lucie Miller but you can quell the fire in her belly. In a very tense moment Lucie pulls a gun on the Monk and the Doctor is astonished that she has changed so much, he calls her bluff and says that he wont help her either and she will have to kill him as well. It’s devastating that she isn’t able to talk to the Doctor before she sacrifices herself.

Tasty Tamsin: After all the effort that went into building her character earlier in the season Tamsin’s death is so superfluous to the main action, a Dalek murdering her because she cannot contribute anything, that I had to stop the CD to take a breath. Of all the shock moments in this story that was the one that literally took my breath away. One day when the human race has recovered from this devastating attack, Tamsin wants them to be able to have their culture back. She really is a selfless person. She does care about the Doctor, she understands why he tried to warn her and now thinks that she should have listened. She really has seen the error of her ways.

Meddlesome Monk: The Monk is genuinely missing Tamsin and their time together now she is no longer under his spell. It is quite a statement for the Monk to admit that he was scared. He wanted to help the rebels but chickened out when the Daleks got very angry. The Caped Crusader or a git? The Monks lies finally catch up with him – he cannot tell the truth to the Doctor about keeping all the art treasures for himself and lie to Tamsin about doing it for the benefit of mankind at the same time. It’s very awkward when he has to face all of the Doctor’s friends and try and explain himself for betraying them to the Daleks. You have to wonder if this unique inquisition will put a final end to his meddling. The Monk’s reaction to Tamsin’s death is incredible, a genuinely heartfelt stab of grief for somebody he cared for a great deal. He admired her, adored her and the Doctor (probably quite wisely even though it seems callous at the time) chooses that moment to tell him that he has to live up to the consequences of his meddling. Lets hope it hit home. You would think that the Monk couldn’t get into this any deeper until he admits that he was the one who brought the plague to Earth, popping the file out through the door and popping forward three years when the plague had burnt itself out. The Monk saves the Doctor and Susan’s life from the time warp that destroys the Dalek fleet but it isn’t enough to appease the Doctor. He helped them rescue the Time Controller and he stopped the Doctor getting to the Earth in time to stop Lucie being infected. I can’t wait until we see the Monk again

Simply Susan: She never told her Grandfather how angry she was after they defeated the Daleks and he stranded her on the Earth. Even though she knew he would never come back, all those years she was cross that he said he would. Tries to smother the life out of him when he wakes up. Ouch, the Monk brings the fire out in Susan when he calls her melodramatic and she bites back (‘Don’t you dare patronise me, this is the second Dalek invasion I have lived through!’). You really feel for Susan as she watches her son killed by the Daleks, screaming, unable to speak. She is hysterical as she is reunited with her Grandfather and there is nothing he can do to comfort her.

Angelic Alex: Alex is the only character that is lost amongst all the drama but he goes out with a bang, distracting the Daleks long enough to allow Lucie to succeed. I do think there was more mileage in his character (I even wondered if he would be the next companion as the eighth Doctor skips back into the main range) but this is another death that really hits the spot.

Standout Performance: I love Briggs’ turn as the Time Controller, I hate it when Daleks sound quite that human, it’s really disturbing.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The human race is on its knees and hasn’t got a hope!’
‘Has it ever occurred to you that your trip through eternity might have evaporated your sanity?’
‘Well perhaps you’ll learn something today Daleks. When you can’t threaten us with death you have no power over us at all.’
‘You come here, you mess up my planet, you mess up my life and now you say you’re gonna kill the best bloke I ever met! You think I’m gonna just, what, bleedin’ surrender? Well all I can say is that you don’t know me, you don’t know me at all and just in case you wanted to know who it was who blew you to pieces the name is Lucie Miller! You got that? Lucie bleedin’ Miller!’
‘I remember when you were so young’ ‘And you were so old.’
‘Why didn’t you do the universe a favour and jump into that time warp yourself?’
‘One day, I shall go back.’

Great Ideas: I realise that this concept comes quite late in the day but it had to take top billing – turning the Earth into a plague planet teeming with viruses, wiping out all life on all planets! I have heard people bemoan that the Daleks could just drop plague missiles on planets – oh fuck off! A plague planet is such a devastatingly awesome idea it boggles the mind! They really are the scum of the galaxy, those Daleks, but you’ve got to admit that they’ve got style. Every planet that comes within its gravitational force will be fatally infected and their populations wiped out. Doomsday bombs; big, bad and nuclear, a particularly nasty piece of work inspired by mankind’s worst period of paranoia. The Monk is keeping one handy in case the Daleks turn against him. The Daleks want to put a time warp engine into the centre of the Earth, to pilot the Earth through time and space. The Doctor thought he had destroyed the Dalek Time Controller many lifetimes ago but relative to the time period they are in now thousands of years in the future. The only way the Time Controller could be here now would be if he survived in the future and travelled back in time to conquer the Earth again. The Time Controller controls Dalek war strategies when they gain the ability to travel in time. It was one of the Amethyst viruses that the Daleks used as a plague to devastate the planet. Lucie wants to take the bomb, ride the Dalek saucer into the heart of the mine and prevent them from launching the planet through time and space. The Daleks found the Time Controller who had been blasted back from the future, repeating that the Doctor destroyed them, which terrified the Daleks. They wanted to know how their greatest enemy would kill them in the future. It had been blasted by the time winds and the Monk helped to nurse it back to life and as soon as it was able the Time Controller took over. When he was blasted back through the time vortex the Controller had an eternity to search for the Amethyst viruses and now their locations became imprinted into his mind. They located them and wanted to use them to conquer the entire universe.

Audio Landscape: Wreckage bubbling under the surface of a wild sea, seagulls screaming in the wild wind, bullets, Daleks firing like mad, destroying the artefacts, the grinding engine of Lucie’s car, the Dalek saucer tearing down the mineshaft, the destruction of the mine is deafeningly climatic, a time warp whipping up all of the Daleks, sucking them in and crushing them into a singularity.

Musical Cues: Howard Carter saves his best music for the devastating final attack on the Dalek mine and he bashes those drums with some triumph as Lucie pilots the Dalek ship into the heart of the planet.

Isn’t it Odd: That we can be told about millions of people being stricken with a Dalek plague and then experience Dalek massacres and yet they only feel like a truly overwhelming threat when they start cutting through the Doctor’s friends. It is a masterstroke on Nick Briggs’ part to murder quite so many of the Doctor’s allies because for once you feel like nobody is safe and the Daleks are genuinely the biggest badasses in the galaxy. It’s a terrifying bloodbath.

Standout Scene: Lucie’s death, which makes the most impact because it is gloriously optimistic. Sheridan Smith will give you goosebumps with her final speech. I promise.

Notes: Lucie, Tamsin, Susan and Alex all helping out as the Doctor is presumed dead – there is more than a little feeling of The Stolen Earth here except in this case all of these characters have been expertly woven into the season to be at the right place at the wrong time.

Result: A devastating finale that will not be forgotten for a long, long time. The first half of To the Death is a protracted scene amongst the major players of the season and sees some of the most brutal character work the range has ever provided. It’s an astonishingly raw extended sequence and it maintains its edge throughout. The second half is a bloodbath the likes of which we haven’t seen since the finale of Blakes’ 7, the Doctor’s friends and family slaughtered by the Daleks and leaving our hero a battered man unsure of his place in the universe anymore. The links to Patient Zero are a wonderful touch, adding a lot of depth to both stories and the Daleks scheme this time is more brutal and devastating than even I could have imagined. To the Death rounds of this incredible season on a climactic, melancholic finish that proves this series was not afraid to take risks and make Doctor Who as exciting as it can be. Monumental: 10/10
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