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
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
Full Review Here - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2014/05/smith-and-jones-written-by-russell-t.html
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
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. There are plenty of layers (in both a narrative and emotional sense) to Davies New 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 this world as we do. Gridlock manages to explore its world in some depth because we are always on the move, juggle some whacky concepts and characters, exciting with some visually arresting set pieces and delivering a handful of some of the most emotive moments in the series to date. Not bad at all for a 45 minute episode that juggles a genuinely epic narrative. David Tennant seems so much more comfortable in series three and is delivering one knock-out performance after another (he's even better in series four where he reaches his zenith) and Freema Agyeman gets to carry a sub plot of her own and prove that she is no slough either. Aesthetically it is one of the bolder Doctor Who stories (whacky races would be an acceptable description) and every aspect of the production team is committed to pulling off Davies' vision with absolute conviction. I cannot predict what genre/subject Davies will attempt to conquer next, so far he has tried his hand at an intimate character study, a SF spectacular, political satire, post-modern commentary on reporting, two life and death end of season blockbusters, a Christmas invasion, screwball comedy, gothic horror/celebrity historical, a satire on Doctor Who fans (literally pulling the show inside out and proving how far it can be bent out of shape and still be Doctor Who) and an medical thriller on the moon. Now we can add a treatise on faith and forgiveness to that list all wrapped up in a deliciously oddball setting. He's the most unpredictable of Doctor Who writers (far more unpredictable than Moffat would prove to be when he became show-runner), always trying a stab at something new and very often achieving hugely entertaining results. Wait until his efforts in season four. This is Doctor Who and Davies in particular firing on all cylinders and shows the tenth Doctor and Martha shaping up to be an extremely effective team. Top drawer: 9/10
Full Review Here - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2014/06/gridlock-written-by-russell-t-davies.html
Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks written by Helen Raynor and directed by James Strong
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 but the elements fail to gel, sitting awkwardly next to each other. I couldn't figure out what genre I was watching from one scene to the next. The second half abandons much of it's characterisation for something that is entirely plot driven, something that was common in the classic series but feels alien in it's new incarnation. Perhaps if the plot had been a little better thought through I wouldn't have minded so much. 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 its conclusion. It's like watching a dying man slowly bleed to death. Adding to the mire is a poorly characterised tenth Doctor is back in full shouty mode and behaving quite irrationally (he seems to have a real suicide complex in Raynor's hands) and the dragging out of the 'just one more trip' Martha saga which should have been tied up in Gridlock (and felt like it was). Raking back a lot of respect for Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks is James Strong who directs the story like a big budget creature feature and working in harmony with the designers manages to deliver some gorgeous visuals, dynamic scenes and little moments of charm that sweeten the pill throughout. I was rather keen on some of the characters too, there is definitely a place for Tallulah, Frank and Lazlo in Doctor Who. 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 bag and not enough cohesion to bring them all together. A stylish mess, I am inclined to be more forgiving towards a story that is trying and doesn't make it to one that is coasting and this definitely a case of the former. Raynor hones her talent next time around: 5/10
Full Review Here - http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2014/06/daleks-in-manhattanevolution-of-daleks.html
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 the tenth Doctor is here. Mind you there is no reason why he should be a master at handling human emotions, as Colin Baker repeats ad nauseum he isn't human. He might be hurting from losing Rose (whilst the rest of us are still cheering after her character assassination in series two) but he has never gone as far as kicking somebody out of the TARDIS before and especially not somebody who has proven to be as loyal and as resourceful as Martha. Tennant is trying out for the role of Bond in his black tuxedo and despite his lanky frame he manages to pull it off. Tish describes him as a science geek in a derogatory sense but in this, the era of the Geek, that can only be taken as a compliment. I enjoyed his assertion that he has had some experience with this sort of transformation. Martha equates the sound of an explosion with the work of the Doctor - if you look back over his past lives that is quite a sensible conclusion to draw. 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 good slap – maybe he should take a good look into why and try and avoid this fate again. 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. It is ultimately a rather sweet closing scene but I think he might need to work on his patter if he is going to tempt anyone else through the TARDIS doors.
Marvellous Martha: Is it true that Freema Agyeman brings more enthusiasm than acting talent to the role of Martha? No, I don't think that's fair (especially after her solid performances in Human Nature and The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords) but she certainly does bring a great deal of enthusiasm to the role which, divorced from her unrequited love story, is rather lovely to watch. This was the point where we had adjusted to the idea of 'a trip of a lifetime' (whereas it was a giddy thrill in season one, it's the status quo now) and the traits of the character have to justify their selection. The Lazarus Experiment follows on directly from Smith and Jones (I believe it has only been a day or so - important plot point this, not just a cute idea) and Martha picks her life up from where she left it. Her mum angry at everybody, her dad flaunting his trophy girlfriend, her (impossibly gorgeous) brother trying to stay out of it and her (impossible cute) sister trying to forge a career. Whilst I don't think they gelled in quite the same way (the series owes a great deal to the Tyler's), the Joneses do deserve some credit for having to come next and still managing to be quite distinctive and enjoyable to watch. Clearly middle class (compared to Rose's working class roots) and yet even more dysfunctional. Francine terrifies me in a way that Jackie and Sylvia never could...somehow the other two always seem to have their daughters best interests at heart but Francine strikes me as somebody who is really angry with the world that has slapped her in the face so badly (her husbands infidelity is embarrassingly public and extremely eye catching) and will act out accordingly. It is such a relief to take her out of the same clothes she has been wearing all season and give her something gorgeous to wear. Apparently Martha was married to her career choice because going out two nights on the trot is a rarity and coming dangerously close to having a social life. Martha takes charge when things get dangerous and her family cannot believe how confident she has become. The Doctor will do that to you. Clearly Martha is used to disapproving of Tish’s boyfriends and makes her feeling very clear about pursuing Lazarus. During the climax Martha lets out a few belting screams which reminded me of companions of old. I really enjoyed the last scene where she stroppily asked him to leave because she doesn’t want to be a passenger any more, someone who comes along for a treat. I always punch the air with delight when I see this moment - it is six episodes in the making and about three episodes overdue. This is where Martha really finds her voice and she doesn't stop having her say right until the point that she walks out of the TARDIS. Series three charters Martha's confidence and her ability to voice that she isn't willing to be sloppy seconds and The Lazarus Experiment is a vital step in that journey.
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 – it's remarkable that this little show of ours can have tiny moments of joy like that just as throwaway lines and we barely even notice. That would be the central premise of another show, on Doctor Who it is just another day at the office. I still get a tiny thrill when I see the TARDIS landing in a domestic setting like this (until Moffat spoilt the idea by having the Doctor land in Amy's bedroom and her try and jump his bones). I've been working with the elderly for the past year now and I can say with some certainty that being young and beautiful can make people cruel as this story seems to suggest. It's an idea that is touted but isn't explored in enough depth. I love it when music from the soundtrack somehow makes its way live into the finished programme and the orchestra playing Martha's theme is a great touch. Visually this is a great show, offering a high-tech setting to show of the Lazarus experiment and capturing all the young and beautiful onlookers in the best possible light. Weaving insidiously into the main arc plot of the season is Francine's turn to the dark side, being manipulated into believing that the Doctor is a bad influence on Martha and getting her into dangerous scrapes (there's an element of truth in the idea which making the deception all the more believable). In this episode I would go as far as to say it is the more interesting plot although it is mostly dealt with as a side issue for now. It certainly adds an extra layer of menace and interest. The Master getting his clutches on the Doctor through the planet he loves and the people he travels with and their family is beautifully realised by the end of the season and it great to go back and watch how much is set up almost invisibly without ever giving away the identity of the mastermind behind this whole operation. This is how to pull off an arc without getting too mired in plot mechanics and still having space for plenty of decent standalone stories. Despite the cumbersome nature of the CGI Lazarus creature (can something that is computer generated be cumbersome?) there are still some wonderful touches to the effects work. I particularly like the bisecting mouth dribbling with fluid and the flawlessly achieved mixture of CGI and physical effects when Lazarus jumps over (and smashes) a glass balcony. The entire set piece in the church is expertly handled and probably the highlight of the episode, bathed in creepy moonlight, featuring intense performances from Tennant and Gatiss and featuring some excellent music courtesy of Murray Gold. Gatiss deserves a lot of credit for imbuing Lazarus with dignity and pathos, despite being carved in the mad professor mould. Watch as he is writhing around the church in pain...this is a man giving his all for his big chance to own a Doctor Who episode.
The Bad Stuff: I remain unconvinced by Thelma Barlow’s unusual delivery and the first transformation of Lazarus (where she is killed) is handled so confusingly it is hard to figure out precisely what is going on. I thought we had entered b movie territory when Lady Thaw's skeleton was discovered (the Davies era is full of dessicated bodies like this). Remember Davies' stunning The Second Coming? Taking a huge idea (the resurrection of Christ) and studying the reaction of the world as it tries to come to terms with the idea. Or Miracle Day? Which, for all it's flaws, studied the idea of the Miracle (nobody dying) in a very sophisticated way. The Lazarus Experiment sports an intruiging premise (never growing old) and instead of exploring the catastrophic consequences of such a revolutionary notion (think Miracle Day without any wrinkles), the writer decides to boil it all down to a chase around a laboratory with a crap CGI monster. Talk about boiling away all the intelligence and going for the least complicated route to tell this story. Tish completely loses credibility when she falls for Lazarus (not because Gatiss isn't attractive but because of the icky transformation hat he has just undertaken). There is an unforgettable extra who looks like she is choking on an olive just before Lazarus takes her out.
The Shallow Bit: Leo is so pretty I find his presence quite distracting. Is this the first case of full on nudity in Doctor Who? Does Jack in Bad Wolf count?
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 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 bubbles along charmingly enough and the unnerving arc plot looms in the background suggesting there is a whole world of pain to come. Mark Gatiss does a great job as Lazarus, a pretty thankless role given the character is merely a tool of the real villain of the season but he imbues the part with real menace and a degree of pathos too. Despite the Doctor behaving in the most appalling fashion towards Martha (in human terms anyway), the episode is kept afloat by some fantastic interaction between Tennant and Agyeman and by the end of the episode they are finally ready to step out into the universe as equals. Because it is so unambitious I feel as if I should be harder on this episode but there is enough talent on display (a pleasingly old school setting, a fine Murray Gold score, nice performances, arc relevance, the church scenes) to kept me entertained: 7/10
42 written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Graeme Harper
This story in a nutshell: We've only got 42 minutes to save the ship...
Mockney Dude: The Tenth Doctor immediately takes charge of the situation on the Pentalion, it's a role he is very accustomed to fulfilling when there is danger afoot (and why it was so effective when he failed so spectacularly to succeed in Midnight). 42 is almost a dry run for series four's superb chiller, showing the Doctor at his most confident (striding about, tackling several dangers at once, being witty and clever and working out precisely what has been happening to make the sun so angry) but also at his weakest too (once he is possessed by said sun and tortured horribly). It's an acting tour de force for David Tennant who is so in stride at this point he's got swagger. He keeps all the characters focussed on tackling the immediate danger and not letting their personal feelings get in the way. There is time to get in touch with your emotions when your not going to be roasted alive. Only the Doctor would be insane enough to cling aboard the skin of a ship that is so close to a roasting sun and look into its heart. Tennant's hysterical, terrified turn as the Doctor being consumed from within by a violently angry sentient sun that has had its heart torn free is something to witness. It's quite an admission from the Doctor to admit to being this scared and the way he growls that he could kill them all is genuinely frightening. Chibnall might not be pushing himself in narrative terms but he takes the Doctor to a very dark place and allows Martha to take control, both intriguing innovations. For a moment at the conclusion he is quietly affected by how close to the edge he was brought in this story before snapping back into his usual persona.
Medical Student: This is technically Martha's first outing as a fully fledged, paid up member of the TARDIS crew and given Human Nature sees her relationship with the Doctor played very different and they barely feature in Blink it is the only time she gets to just land somewhere and have an adventure in this role (Utopia counts too but that is the opening instalment to her exit story). Martha is wonderful in 42, it's a great story to show what she can bring to the series as a companion. Apparently simply being the Doctor's assistant is something of a dirty word these days but I don't see anything wrong with having a strong female supporting character that isn't trying to usurp the titular character of this show on a frequent basis. Martha gets to be funny (her pained reaction to how long her mum takes to switch on her laptop in a life and death scenario), flirty (her tactile relationship with Riley) and brings with her oodles of energy and charisma. All without having to shove the Doctor to one side and claim the show as her own. Martha's panic in the escape pod is palpable, Agyeman really going for it and giving a fearless performance. You get a real sense of the Doctor and Martha belonging together in a way that you have before when they reach out to each other across the vacuum of space. The fact that she can't here his repeated cries of 'I'll save you' is very touching. She realises that if she dies in the future that her family will never know what happened to her, she will have just disappeared. In a lump in the throat moment Martha tries to explain this to her mother (who is already suspicious that her daughter is in danger) without telling her anything tangible. With the Doctor in such pain at the climax, Martha gets the opportunity to save his life for a change and try and salvage the situation. She has more than earned her stripes at the end of this adventure, giddy at the thought of being given the key of the most wonderful craft in the universe.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'Well done, very hot.'
* The extended effects shot along the hull of the Pentalion as it is helplessly dragged into the corona of the sun convinces the viewer of the danger that the Doctor and Martha have found themselves in. The immediate peril means that the story gets its claws into you almost instantly and never lets go until the climax. Telling a story in real time across 42 minutes brings with it a lot of problems, not least not being able to take any narrative short cuts - you have to experience every action that the characters go through in this dramatic three quarters of an hour. But it also means that time is of the essence and there is always a palpable sense of danger. I think Chibnall and Harper pull of this immediacy with some skill, maintaining an incredible pace and stifling atmosphere.
* On paper the idea of Martha having to answer a pub quiz to prevent a spaceship from bring roasted alive and phoning home to her mother in another galaxy and time period to google the answers is absurd but on screen it transforms into something funny, touching and ominous. It's wonderful to have more scenes between Martha and Francine because they are needed to show just how much her mother cares for her (all she has offered her so far is scathing disapproval), it's amusing to hear Martha make up excuses for why she needs the answers and what the death rattling screams are in the background and the season arc is brought into sharp focus when we realise that the calls are being monitored for the mysterious Mister Saxon. Bravo on taking a potentially ropey idea and pulling it off with so much confidence that it becomes one of the most entertaining aspects of the story.
The Bad: You could complain that the supporting characters (McDonnell, Vashtee and Riley aside) are little more than canon fodder but there is nothing wrong with that in a story that has so much to do and so little time to do it in. Enough of the guest cast are given back story and the rest are there to die in spectacular ways (people should better than to say 'kill me now' in a Doctor Who story) and show how dangerous this creature is. They perform that function admirably. Michelle Collins does everything that story requires off her and it isn't what you could call a bad performance (in the Jenny Laird meaning of the word bad) but I could think of tons of stronger actresses who would have been able to have play the tough space captain with a heart. She's okay but the character thread would have had more impact had it been brought to life by an actress with more chutzpah.
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. Midnight aside, I get the sense that he was never more challenged in the role and embraces it wholeheartedly. 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 a 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. Something the Doctor would never sanction. It is pointed out 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.Cornell showing his affection for Davison's Doctor there. 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 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 of 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 breaks your heart in these scenes. Worse, the lovers get a glimpse of the extraordinary life they would have had together if he had 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 actor shining through. 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. In a story where he is twisted so far out of character it is interesting that once he regains his identity his behaviour is about as dark and uncompromising as it gets. A question that would come back to haunt the Doctor in Journey’s End is how many people that he met in his adventures would die if he had never popped in to visit and that is dealt with head on in The Family of Blood. 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. Tough questions are being asked about the Doctor here and the resulting drama is unforgettable.
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 such a protective role sealed the deal for me and because our sympathies are naturally 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. She doesn't make a big splash about this but instead chooses to suffer in the shadows. That's one up on Rose's attitude and pouting. She's funny too, Martha heading back to knock on the door after she interrupts the Doctor's intimate moment with Joan made me chuckle. There's a lovely acknowledgement that she has come to think of the TARDIS as her home when she says 'hello' as she walks in. Martha looks as though she has been physically struck when she catches John and Joan kissing. Probably my favourite Martha scene of the year comes when she interrupts their time at the village ball and apologises to Joan for what she is about to do - hand him his real identity back. It is loaded with feeling and purpose and Agyeman absolutely nails it. Not many companions would be able to hold together as she does when she faces the entire family of blood with a gun, she shows that great strength of the best companions of being brave and frightened at the same time. In the face of Joan’s questions Martha admits 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 only 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 feel as strongly about her as she does about him. Martha holds onto Timothy as the bombs fall close by. I think she would make a great mother. I am pleased that Paul Cornell chose to address the colour of Martha's skin during a period where it genuinely would be an issue (until now it had only been mentioned in a positive sense - in The Shakespeare Code - as it should be). As the first televised black companion (I know, I can’t believe it took this long either and I'm on the fence as to whether I count Mickey as a companion or not) she is a milestone character and I am pleased that they left the commentary for a story set in the past like this one because it really hits home how different acceptance was at the time. For children watching this story who go to school in mixed race classes it must have felt quite unusual to see Martha being judged based purely on her skin colour. The casually racist comments Martha receives about the colour of her hands whilst cleaning really hit 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, especially since our sympathies are supposed to be with her. All the characters in this piece are flawed in one way or another which is why it is such a fine piece of drama.
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 watched Human Nature because I had never seen her take on such a mature role, one where she has needed to command the audience’s attention so completely and act so believably straight 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. There is something a little about somebody who has been put back on the shelf due to circumstances and is too chaste to do anything about it. I really like the fact that they don’t make Joan completely likeable, having her remind Martha of her station in life and the rivalry that builds between them keeps her the character grounded in reality rather than setting her up as a holier than thou beau for the Doctor. A widower who is angry with the army that took her husband away from her but is working at a school which is teaching children how to kill, Joan has a fascinating back story. Her 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’). It's 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 the audience is privy to the inevitable truth. She shows a remarkable strength of character when convincing John to reclaim his life as the Doctor even when she knows that if he makes that choice that she doesn't want him to love her any more. She was married once and never thought she would fall in love again so these few days of happiness are an unexpected bonus. We leave Joan crying because she has lost the man she loved and telling the man he has become to leave. It's not the typical way to end a romantic tale and it is all the more poignant for it. This tale enjoys defying your expectations. I'm pleased that we learn in The End of Time that Joan found love again though and was happy.
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: Talk about grabbing your attention from the first frame! The opening is immediately arresting with the Doctor and Martha on the run from an unknown menace before cutting unexpectedly 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 delight at it's gorgeous content, scrawling handwriting telling astonishing tales with beautiful drawings and pleasing a whole generation of Doctor Who fans by canonising the 8th Doctor and the TV Movie. This is a tale told through incredible images and my favourite might be the most simple - the shot of the spotlight running across the English countryside in the evening. Cornell wisely disposes of the irritating villains that appeared in his original book and goes for a far more insidious threat in the Family, disembodied voices seeking bodies to inhabit. A ridiculously cheap idea for a Doctor Who nasty (all it requires is an actor capable of pulling off the wrench from period character to purring villain) but startlingly effective. A massive hand for Harry Lloyd who almost threatens to edge Jessica Hynes out of the position of most accomplished guest star, as Baines he is an obnoxious brat 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 alien nature of this unpredictable alien. Given the last time I saw him he 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. Remember Kenny from School Reunion? Or Chloe Webber? Or Angie and Artie (THE HORROR!). The sniffing is a great scare tactic, a natural tic and yet pronounced like this it is perfect for playground mimicry. If the performances of the actors playing the Family aren't enough to creep you out then Cornell has another ace up his sleeve in the form of the scarecrows. With their stitched up mouths, angry faces and drunken walks, they are enough to scare the adults, let alone the children watching. There is something about their lumbering gait and fake faces that sends a chill down the spine. Charles Palmer constantly finds eye catching ways of shooting his scenes, check out the ominous lighting as John and Joan enjoy a stroll across the countryside and the shots of the vertiginous scenery behind them. The Dance scenes are so unlike Doctor Who and they have a unique atmosphere all of their own – here we have the Doctor as a human being, enjoying himself at a dance and two women fighting for his attention. Human Nature features such a modest cliffhanger with an impossible choice for the Doctor, the whole episode has been building to that moment and it easily ranks as one of the finest endings because I could not see which way he was going jump. What a lovely image the little girl with the red balloon is, such a harmless sight in the right light but shot with menacing precision she is a deadly presence. Doctor Who is educating its audience again and it isn't about to paint a pretty picture of the Second World War that is on the horizon. One uncomfortable moment presents itself when Son of Mine asks the Headmaster if he thinks the boys will thank him for teaching them that war is glorious when they head to the battlefield in front of them. 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 at the reality of having to kill. They're just boys, that's what the episode keeps telling us and a lot of them are going to die. Palmer stages a deeply unpleasant image of the battlefield; mud, wire, rain and explosions ripping up the land. It is shot at night to make it look even more inhospitable. Scenes of children biting back tears and shooting down an advancing army in slow motion are of an emotional intensity that Doctor Who (thank goodness) usually shies away from. The show has never dared to venture into such mature waters since. 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 terrible, unforgettable punishments. Paul Cornell cannot resist a coda and here he includes three and the tribute to those who fought in 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 to show their support. Who cares if it is making a point, it is a point worth making.
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 carries a certain appeal as a villain. Freema Agyeman somehow gets more gorgeous with each passing episode.
Result: Breathtakingly good throughout, there isn’t one part of this story 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 stand out 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 masterpiece of character drama of the kind the show simply doesn't deliver any more. 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). Coming on the back of the near-perfect characterisation in Human Nature and Blink it would appear that all of the writers (but especially the showrunner) have mastered the character of the tenth Doctor. The last time he came to Cardiff and defeated the Slitheen and 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. The ninth Doctor's relationship with Jack was a very cut and dry affair, he helped to redeem the crook and put him on the straight (well not quite) and narrow. Things with the tenth Doctor are much more interesting. It's clear that neither the Time Lord nor the TARDIS trust what Jack has become one inch and they are feeling their way into their relationship throughout Utopia. Watch the scene where they discuss Jack's developments since The Parting of the Ways, there is a dark, flirtatious chemistry between the two characters that is riveting to watch. And how like two men to wait until they are in a life and death situation where one of them might not walk away to open up about their feelings. 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 their myth. He’s known about Jack’s strange powers ever since he ran away from him and instinctively cannot face him because everything about him is 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). You have never seen the Doctor quite this hysterical and terrified before and it is quite frightening to watch him lose control as he faces up to the presence of his greatest enemy. He sabotages his own TARDIS at the end of the story to prevent the Master from travelling where he 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 wake up call of a reminder 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 transitional 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 turn her world into a living Hell. When she finds Jack lying outside the TARDIS she ignores the Doctor’s protestations and tries to revive him anyway. She is training to be a Doctor, after all. Upon discovering the Doctor’s hand in a jar she states that there is still so much to find out about him to learn. Good old Rose, you really feel for Martha here as the Doctor and Jack enthuse over their 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 because it give him a great deal of focus and there are so many interesting things to talk about. Jack is determined 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 through the time vortex. It is such an insane idea but one that is given full justice in the realisation (I wish he had still been clinging on during the titles) and is adequately explained as we see him die and survive several times throughout the episode. 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 (Torchwood training exposed) 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 damn hot in the white T-shirt and braces). Jack sacrifices himself to jump start the override, willing to experience the agonizing pain of dying of radiation to save the human race. Little did the Doctor know that he was watching a portent of his own death. The scenes where he discusses his supposed invulnerability whilst surrounded by stead radiation are loaded with tension and sexual chemistry, as mentioned earlier 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. The Doctor, Martha and Jack wouldn't have been a ensemble I could have seen working before this episode...and it's one I wished had featured in an entire season afterwards.
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 to have ever featured in Doctor Who.
The Good Stuff: What a coup it is to get Derek Jacobi to play Professor Yana and he is instantly likeable in the role. Another thing I think the Davies era was much better at was securing fantastic guest stars and giving them something meaty to play. The Moffat era has seen fit to waste the talents of Richard E. Grant, Celia Imrie, David Warner, Ian McKellan...Jacobi transforms throughout Utopia from sweet old Professor Yana to the most powerful and dark Time Lord who has ever existed and he makes the transition look effortless. Chan’tho makes a fine foil for him, similarly delightful and and featuring some clever and subtle prosthetics. 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 know Davies fancied the whole episode being set in amongst the warrens of the conglomeration but I can't help but get a secret thrill to enjoy an old fashioned story that devotes so much time to running about in a quarry. Even if it is the sexiest quarry we have ever seen. 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 huge notions of stars going out and the last of humanity having to face an eternal night is quietly rather astonishing and nightmarish. Yana’s face when he first sees the TARDIS reveals a world of confusion and clarity. has the Ship ever been photographed so lovingly? Death by stead radiation looks very nasty is akin to your body exploding into little pieces of paper. Great work by the Mill, it's not a way I would want to go. As soon as Yana shows Martha his watch this episode steps up a gear, becoming unbearably tense and exciting with possibilities. If you have been watching series three then you will understand the gravity of the watch and if you haven't the director stresses it enough for you to pick up on it anyway. When Yana snaps opens the watch and the lights flood through I was literally on the edge of my seat, this being 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. We'll have to wait and see how he turns out in the next episode but as a mirror to Tennant's Doctor he certainly shows a lot of promise.
The Bad Stuff: There is an assault of continuity in the first scene that reminds me of a JNT story. In fact great chunks of this episode consists of exposition and continuity. Fortunately it is all extremely interesting and even better, it all converges in the last third to push the series onwards in an exciting direction. I thought Russell T Davies said he wanted to avoid grunting, Stargate style natives?
The Shallow Bit: Tennant, Agyeman and Barrowman, what a gorgeous team.
Result: Featuring the return of Jack, an gripping end of the universe scenario and a chance to see what David Tennant is made of, Utopia is one of my favourites from series three. The concluding fifteen minutes are the some of the most snappily edited and dramatically powerful material we have ever seen in the show. I'm left breathless, no matter how many times I have seen it. The return of the Master has always been an event, but for once I was unspoiled and able to bask in the reveal as it was broadcast. This one went out on my 30th brithday and I watched it in the dead of night after I had finished celebrating and it was the best present I could have asked for. There's fantastic work from John Barrowman who gets a chance to underplay his material and show what he is made of as an actor. David Tennant and Freema Agyeman are on fire at this point in the season and the characterisation of both the Doctor and Martha scales higher than the rocket that screams towards Utopia. I especially like the cute moments between the Doctor and Professor Yana. It is such a shame that we didn't have more time with the Jacobi Master because this is about as sinister as he has ever been but the fresh faced version hints at promise too. This is the NuWho episode for classic Doctor Who fans. It has primitives hanging out in a quarry, a great big rocket, the return of an old foe and relatively little of the innovations that seem to wind a certain section of fandom so much. The reason this works so well rather than feeling like a throwback is Graeme Harper's extraordinary direction which keeps things moving at a rate of knots, fills the screen with stylish imagery and allows the viewer to cut through all the exposition and continuity with some strong visual clues. The concluding scenes are 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 dynamic about the team of the Doctor, Jack and Martha walking the streets, hanging out in her flat and going on the run. I love the fact that this is a urban geek Doctor who fits in very nicely hanging out with regular people on the street. Colin Baker made a fantastic point when he said that if you were an intelligent Time Lord you would chose an image that allowed you to fit in as much as possible wherever you visit. And since the Doctor spends so much time on Earth it makes sense that he should adopt a contemporary, chic image for himself. This might go against what other people think, perhaps preferring the Doctor to stand out from the crowd (although that Ronald McDonald coat is perhaps taking things a step too far) but as a one-off incarnation, I think the tenth Doctor does a great job of retaining his quirkiness and alien qualities whilst also managing to blend into a crowd. 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. David Tennant and John Simm do superb work together, it's interesting to note that when they finally talk it is the moment where Simm's stratospheric performance calms right down to a low menace. You get the sense that the Doctor is so relieved to talk about the Time War with one of his own kind. It's 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. It's horrible to watch his torture at the conclusion. What with his agonizing transformation in Human Nature and a similarly vicious procedure inflicted on him here, the tenth Doctor is physically tortured more than any other Doctor in the third series. Are we going to be stuck with this geriatric version of the Doctor from now on?
Marvellous Martha: Back on Earth and in the throes of political madness that wraps her family in a veil of evil, Martha is on top form throughout The Sound of Drums. Agyeman is back in that red leather coat but somehow she looks like a completely transformed person for her travels (maybe it is just the hair). Throughout the year we have seen Martha gaining her confidence in the face of the Doctor’s insensitivity and when her family are threatened as good as 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, 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. He gives his life once again for the Doctor at the climax. What a loyal man.
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 played the role. Imagine this kind of story set then, Delgado puffing away on his cigars and setting nationwide traps for the Doctor. Still Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts' loss in Davies’ gain and this attention grabbing idea gives us a strong 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. It's a touch of Ainley lunacy, happy to crack jokes whilst he commits mass murder. The shot of him tapping out his rhythm of four strapped into the gas mask, completely unmoved by the death that surrounds him haunts me. Simms pleasingly 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. He was so scared of the War that he ran and made himself human so he would never be found. That gives the Time War even more impetus, if it managed to frighten one of the most evil men in the universe. He gets enormous pleasure from 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 work Letts & Dicks. 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. 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. Is it a signal? Something calling to him? Something driving him on? 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. Bravo.
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: It's another season that has quietly whispered its arc secrets to us along the way. Mentions of Mr Saxon and the slow poisoning of Francine against the Doctor. Now it is time to pay off the audience. The idea that Martha has only been away for four days considering the places we have visited this year is a lovely idea that only Doctor Who (with its time travelling possibilities) could pull off. I love the way the Jean Rook scenes go from a media frenzy to a dire warning – this is Davies’ characterisation at its best with Jean running rings around Tish, Lucy outmanoeuvring her and the Master entering quietly to murder her. A terrifically marbled scene. The obligatory celebrity appearances are well thought through this year with Sharon Osbourne, McFly and Anne Widdecombe (an evil group of celebrities if ever I heard one) all giving the Master their endorsement. You realise with cold horror that the Master being in power is all the Doctor's fault, his first act after his regeneration was to instil a vote of no-confidence in Harriet Jones. What a simple idea the Toclafane are, floating orbs with child-like voices and psychosis that weild scalpels and lasers to cut people to pieces. I think they look very impressive on screen. Watching the Master’s speech to the country makes me remember just how good Davies was at world building; 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. Colin Teague's direction really comes into its own during the explosive scenes in Martha's flat, all skewered angles during the exposition and a marvellous low angle shot in slow motion when the bomb showers glass onto the street. 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 them on the streets. How gripping is the sequence of Martha trying to contact her family and watching as they are captured by Saxon’s forces, closing in on them like an iron grip? I was on the edge of seat again (much like the climax of Utopia). 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 has been on the run from armed forces before and it feels as wrong now as it did then...but in the most dramatically satisfying manner. 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. It is hard to think those dismal corridors and cafes from Arc of Infinity are a part of this magnificent structure. I felt like a seven year old who had been given a bag of sweets when I saw the Valiant. This is Doctor Who, Spooks style on acid. More dark concepts in the idea of the TARDIS being raped by the Master, a blood red interior with the console locked away behind an iron cage. It hurt the Doctor to see the TARDIS violated in such a way. Great to see that The Lazarus Experiment was setting up a future developments (although I found it perfectly watchable in its own right). It does give the story extra credence, however. The ageing of the Doctor wouldn't be half as harrowing to watch if it wasn't speeded up. The final set piece has to be seen to be believed with the Master creating a hellish rip in the sky and allowing the Toclafane to come pouring through and rain down on the Earth. Voodoo Child rocks on and even the TARDIS starts dancing as the paradox machine kicks in and Hell descends upon the Earth. It's 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 let's 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 and threatens to spoil what has been a wonderful character scene. Speaking as someone who lives nearby, Leo really isn’t in Brighton.
The Shallow Bit: Martha looks absolutely gorgeous with her hair down, it's almost as if she has deliberately dressed kick ass just as she it is needed. 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 thrilling Doctor/Master relationship, which veers 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 stand-out scenes it would be impossible to name them all but with highlights such as the flashback to Gallifrey, the murderously childlike Toclafane's first appearance, the very real threat of guns and bombs threatening the Doctor and the awesome reveal of the Valiant this is a hard episode to top. It's an episode packed with incident, character drama, action and revelations and closes on one of the best ever cliff-hangers in the shows 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 had a mixed response, 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 series three. The last ten minutes are near flawless with superb direction, music and effects combining to make the mother of all climaxes: 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. It's 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 a 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. It's 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 for 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. It's 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 ruse 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 well 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 it's at this point that Jack is superfluous to requirements and has to be chained up for the entire episode. It's 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 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? It's cute and clever and 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). In many ways this is far cleverer and better disguised a twist than the Melody/River one. And it's packaged in a much simpler way too.
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 the 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. It's 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.’
- It's 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 early add there Davies to get yourself out of that one. It's gloriously barmy, headache inducingly macabre and astonishingly dark. I love this twist for its power in the moment and its implications. Unlike much of Moffat's twists it works because it has been well thought through and prepared for. 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. Family, huh?
- 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. It's 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? It's 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 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). It's 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. It's 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. It's so over stressed and twee that 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. It's 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. Was 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. A shame the answer is so...meh.
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 a 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 it 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. It's controversial in what it suggests for the end of humanity and in how it tries to probe the Master but the story never shies 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