Sunday, July 22, 2007

Doctor Who - Last of the Time Lords

And so we come to the final episode ... the one that it's all been leading to. I'll add some final thoughts at the end of this piece, but for the moment, we pick up where we left things last week ... well almost.

It's one year later and the show opens with a graphic and a voice telling us that Sol 3 is 'closed' ... I wondered where this was coming from and why? From the last episode, it's obvious that first contact has yet to be established as the business with the Toclafane spheres was big news ... so who has decided that Earth has reached terminal extinction?

Cue Martha, who arrives in England in a boat. It's the first time she's been back for 365 days ... and I wonder how she got away from England so quickly anyway. It would take a few days to reach the coast from London, and who in their right mind would be sailing ships/flying planes while the Toclafane wiped out a tenth of the population! Maybe she is very resourceful indeed. We are told she walked across America ... is that even possible with limited supplies ... and how long would it take? And as if that wasn't enough she's been in Japan and all over ... this is stretching my credibility somewhat.

But she has returned to seek out Professor Docherty ... not sure why just yet ...

Meanwhile the Master hasn't really been busy at all. He's still on his skybase. His wife looks even more drugged up (and has a rather nice red dress on) and looks as though she has been beaten - she has a bruise on her cheek. The aged Doctor lives in a tent with some grass under it and a dog bowl and Martha's family all work on the skybase while Jack is chained up. The Master also enjoys music by The Scissor Sisters ...

It's 24 hours to launch date and the Doctor and Martha's family plot a coup at 3pm ... we learn about the rockets being built to fire into space ... to destroy what? Martha mentions it's to create an intergalactic war ... but they would take days, years even to reach anything worth destroying ... so what is the point of it? These was something about opening rifts to go through but it's all very confused. The Master is plainly insane so maybe it doesn't have to make any sense. Would be nice though.

The Doctor's coup predictably fails as the Master's laser screwdriver is isomorphic (and the fanboys sigh with pleasure). To rub this in we get the Axons and Sea Devils namechecked as well. The Master transmits a message for Martha ... and by an amazing coincidence she and Tom have just arrived at Docherty's, and Docherty has just managed to get a TV working ... to the second! While Martha watches the Master blasts the Doctor again with his laser and the Doctor is bizarrely changed into a Gollum or Dobby-like character with tiny shrunken body, big head and large puppydog eyes. By this point I was watching with mouth agape, having no idea what was going on and why Doctor Who seemed to have turned into some sort of collision between The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. The CGI on the Dobby-Doc was amazing though. But why!!!!

Martha, Tom and Professor Docherty capture a Toclafane sphere using some information Martha has on a CD and discover that inside it is a face. It transpires that these creatures are actually the future of Mankind - they are the remains of the humans sent off to Utopia by the Doctor. This was a nice touch and neatly tied up that loose end - but why did they evolve into faces and change so much! How long did all this take? Especially as the Master could not travel in time - as stated a couple of times, all he could do was to go from the year 100 trillion to 2007 ... so how could he possibly have influenced humanity to become hi-tech flying balls so quickly? Incidentally, the BBC site points out that 'Toclafane' roughly translates to 'Fool the Fan' in French ... I wonder who was trying to fool who here?

Now we discover that the Master is trying to create a new Gallifrey. I'm not sure how or why, or why firing lots of missiles into space helps that, nor how releasing millions of Toclafane spheres onto the Earth helps as well ...

Martha tells Docherty about her secret gun to defeat the Master which needs a fourth chemical from North London ... while she and Tom head off to get it, Docherty reports them to the Master as he is holding her son hostage.

So the Master arrives as Martha is telling some humans in North London about the Doctor, and she gives herself up. Tom is predictably killed which is a shame as he was quite a nice character, as was Docherty. I like how the series has presented several great older characters - Doctor Constantine and Mrs Moore spring to mind as well as Docherty here.

So back on the Skybase and we're nearing endgame. As the Master's countdown to launch approaches zero, Martha explains that she told everyone about the Doctor and asked them to think his name when the countdown reached zero ... aside from the fact that the Master seems to be making his plan up as he goes along, there was no mention of a countdown and so how would the Doctor or Martha know there would be one, and how does everyone worldwide know when it will reach zero anyway? The idea is that the Archangel network of satellites will boost this thought power and allow the Doctor to restore himself as he has hooked himself into the Archangel network.

And lo it came to pass. The people of Earth prayed for their saviour to the Archangel and he rose again. Floating arms outstretched to forgive the Master ... In the chaos the Toclafane go to protect the paradox and Jack heads off to destroy the thing ... the Doctor and the Master transport to a clifftop for no reason where the Master wants to use more technobabble and black holes to wipe the world out, but the Doctor knows he won't succeed as he can't kill himself.

Jack manages to get past the whole three Toclafane defending the TARDIS (where were the rest?) and starts blasting away with a machine gun inside the TARDIS - didn't the Doctor say they couldn't do this in the last episode? He destroys the paradox machine and the Doctor and the Master are brought back on the skybase as a wind blows and time rolls back.



You do not write good science fiction by rolling time back at the end. What a total waste of time. It makes a mockery of everything Doctor Who has always stood for. Total and utter rubbish.

So the Doctor wants to keep the Master in his TARDIS but, after Francine cannot shoot him, Lucy Saxon does. The Master dies in the Doctor's arms as he refuses to regenerate. We get more mentions of Axons and Daleks (that's three mentions of the Axons in two episodes ... a clue there perhaps?).

As if we cared any more, the Doctor burns the Master's body on a pyre ... why? This seems to be the question of the episode. Why? Nothing is really explained and we don't really care anymore anyway. Martha also gives Docherty a bunch of flowers for something she never did and never will do ... why?

Finally (almost) Jack returns to Torchwood and the Doctor disables his teleport. The final shot across the bows is the intimation that Jack is, in fact, the Face of Boe. Shaking my head in disbelief and cries of 'What!' from my family ... this was the final nail in the coffin of silliness which was this final episode. And then Martha decides not to travel on with the Doctor proving the newspapers correct and the BBC barefaced liars.

As if all the preceeding nonsense wasn't bad enough, we then cut to the embers of the Master's pyre and a female hand (well I assume it's female ... could be Eddie Izzard for all I know, which would actually be far more likely given the way the series is going) picks up the Master's ring - an artifact previously unmentioned in the episodes. Evil cackling sounds and we all intone 'The world will hear from me again' in good old Fu Manchu as this cliched and useless Flash Gordon moment plays out.

But then ... the bow of a ship crashes through the TARDIS internal wall. The Doctor is quite right to cry, 'What!' as this should be impossible. Moreover the ship appears to be the Titanic ... and the 'Next Episode' caption announces that the Christmas Episode will be called Voyage of the Damned ... I may be going mad, but I remember a panel in Doctor Who Magazine of the prow of a ship crashing through the inner wall of the TARDIS ... any ideas?

And so ends one of the most confused, unexplained and basically dreadful episodes of recent Who. I have no idea whether anyone had a clue as to what was happening, and Russell T Davies seemed to be indulging himself in anything which came to mind in order to provide a climax to a series which had been rather good up to this point.

Overall I felt that the third season was stronger than the two previous ones by quite a long way. There were a few really dud stories: I disliked Gridlock (though others loved it) and 24, the second part of the Dalek adventure was a wasted opportunity, and this final episode was very disappointing indeed. But the duds were far made up for by the genius of Smith and Jones, Blink, Human Nature, The Family of Blood and the first part of the Dalek story. David Tennant was brilliant throughout and always watchable, and Freema Ageyeman was mostly very effective as well. It's such a shame that she's not continuing though, and I feel that this decision is, like most of the final episode, poorly thought out. The series needs a 'normal' person to act as an anchor, and the news that the dreadful Catherine Tate is returning as Donna for the whole of next season fills me with dread. Tate is not an actress, she's a comedienne with a one-trick piece of shtick which won't wash for the season. She was only bearable in The Runaway Bride as she was guesting and there was lots of other things to see ... but to be stuck with her for a whole 13 weeks!

It's not just me as well ... friends who are not fans think this is an awful idea as well ... it's the equivalent of Bonnie Langford all over again! For thoughts on that, head over to Lawrence Miles' Doctor Who blog at where he eloquently sums up my thoughts on the whole situation far better than I could.

So overall ... a great season but with a cop out and ill prescribed ending. Allowing the effects and ideas to get in the way of the plot ... fatal for what is after all a drama series, and which needs to make sense.

Doctor Who - The Sound of Drums

First of all, apologies for the delay in posting up my thoughts of the last couple of episodes of this year's Doctor Who. The real world intruded in that my sister decided to get married on the same day as Last of the Time Lords meaning that the family had to take a trip up to Glasgow for the event - this being the same weekend as the airport there was hit by failed bombers, and the same weekend as Britain was drenched and flooded for the first time ... so I was quite pleased we travelled by train all told.

We managed to see the final episode in the hotel room, though, but then back to drinking and festivities all night. Then the following weekend, there was more things to do and sort out ... and you know how it goes.

Anyway, I've finally managed to make the time to sit down and re-watch the final two episodes again, and so here's the first of the reviews.

The Sound of Drums starts with something I thought we'd seen the back of ... a fake cliffhanger resolution. We had left the Doctor, Martha and Jack facing off against a group of cannibalistic humans in the year 100 trillion as the Master nicked the TARDIS. Yet here we start with our trio arriving on Earth. They used Jack's transporter device and what a useful McGuffin this is. Able to transport them 100 trillion years when even the Doctor was alarmed about the TARDIS going so far forward in the last episode.

One of the things about the final episodes is that they move at such a pace that you can't really take it all in. I found that I enjoyed them more a second time as I could pick up on more of the nuances, but it makes trying to write the plot down near impossible! Anyway, I'll do my best. On Earth, Harold Saxon is now Prime Minister and he is also the Master as Martha now realises. And her sister Tish is working for him (poor girl doesn't have a lot of luck does she). The Master gasses all the cabinet members and we start to get the impression that he is not in full possession of all his marbles.

His wife, Lucy, is the female equivalent of Tim Nice-But-Dim and comes over as very cowed but totally devoted to the Master. I wish he had hypnotised her at some point - like when the Jean Rook-alike journalist is slaughtered by the Toclafane sphere - as then we might have had a reason for her trance-like behaviour. I guess we just have to imagine what he might have done to her mind.

So the Master is using these Toclafane spheres (a name that is made up, apparently some sort of Gallifreyan boogieman) to pretend he has been contacted by aliens. He's also somehow able to plant a massive bomb in Martha's apartment which blows up at a convenient moment as the Doctor, Jack and Martha flee for their lives. Nice effects, but it's all a little convenient.

Martha is more than a little pissed at this, but her family is taken into custody by Saxon's men in short shrift and she's on her own. The Doctor uses her phone to talk to the Master and we get bags of backstory ... Time War, Daleks, Torchwood team gone to the Himalayas ... and then we see the Master watching TellyTubbies in a nice reflection of the scene in The Sea Devils where he watches Clangers ... a Toclafane sphere says the Darkness is coming ... what Darkness? Is this the end of all things in the far future? Or the same thing they were going on about in Torchwood? Or are they looking forward to seeing Justin Hawkins and his band on tour?

More continuity - I feel the spirit of JNT looming! - the Master is not the Doctor's brother. Excuse me ... you seem to have confused me with someone who cared! I'm afraid that this sort of fannish referencing is a little lame ... why bother to even mention it? It's as though someone has a checklist of Mastery things and they just have to tick them all off. Next we'll have references to previous adventures with Axons and ... oh ... we do have those. Check. What about the Master as a boy on Gallifrey ... check. We have to have those nifty Time Lord collars in ... check. What about a time portal ... have to have a time portal ... check. Sighs

So the child Master looked into the total perspective vortex and saw the whole of creation ... and it drove him mad and he now hears drumming all the time (and the drumming is never explained). But they also said that all young Gallifreyans look into the vortex as part of their initiation ... so why is only the Master driven bad and mad?

Now the Doctor gets all A-Team and builds some TARDIS keys with somebody-else's-problem fields in them so their wearers are not seen, and the team head off to watch what's happening.

The Master meanwhile assembles everyone on Valiant - a skybase nicked from Colonel White and Spectrum - and the President of the US is killed by a Toclafane. The Doctor, Jack and Martha use the transporter to get there - a very useful device indeed - and find that the Master has converted the TARDIS into a paradox machine (a what?). All hell breaks loose after the President is killed and the Doctor, Martha and Jack are uncovered. The Master uses the power of referencing another story (The Lazarus Experiment) to age the Doctor into someone we saw in The Family of Blood.

Are you still with me. The problem with all this is that it feels so ... so unoriginal. We saw an aged Doctor in The Family of Blood, and there it was a shock and felt right. Here it feels like they loved the make up so much they just had to use it again. And the first incarnation of the Doctor was something like 450 years old when he regenerated, so why would adding 100 years to the Doctor now make him age so dramatically? I guess we just have to go with the flow.

So the Master keys his favourite pop record to play, 'Voodoo Child' by Rogue Traders, and as they sing out about the Sound of Drums, so Mrs Saxon bops cutely, and the Toclafane spheres descend from a rip in the sky. Again, we've seen this before. There were the Daleks descending on the Earth to wipe it out, then the Cybermen, then the Daleks and the Cybermen ... it all feels old when it should feel new and exciting.

Martha listens as the Doctor whispers something to her, and then escapes with that handy transporter as the Toclafane start to decimate the Earth, killing one in ten of the populace. Standing on a hill, overlooking a devastated London, she vows to return.

Meanwhile the Master is getting all biblical (foreshadowing how this all ends) and mis-quotes from Genesis as he and his wife and the Doctor look down on the Earth ... cue the credits.

So ... an exciting episode yes, but one which increasingly felt as though the show had started to go off the rails. There was little that we hadn't seen before, and scenes reminded me of similar set ups in any number of earlier stories. The whole thing was suffused with backstory and menky bits of information about Gallifrey, Time Lords, the Master, techno-stuff about mobile phone networks (didn't Lumic use that trick?) and Paradox Machines (unexplained), Jack's super-transporter which seems better than a TARDIS, and keys which make you invisible ...

However it sets up some nice mysteries - who or what the Toclafane are for example, that could have potential. How the Doctor and Martha get out of the mess they are in, and whether the Master actually has some sort of plan or whether he is just completely barking mad.

Only one episode to go ...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Who is the Greatest Who

While you patiently wait for me to find time to pen words about the climax to the recent Who season - it's getting there! - have a look at Where you can vote for your favourite TV Doctor. There's also a Doctor Who weekend on the 14/15 July with several great stories being shown on the UKTV Drama channel. Check it out David