The Sound of Drums
The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords
Last of the Time Lords
|Production Code||Series Three Episode Thirteen|
|Dates||June 30 2007|
With David Tennant,
Freema Agyeman, John Barrowman
Written by Russell T Davies Directed by Colin Teague
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.
|Synopsis: The Toclafane are in control and Earth is going to be turned into a new centre of power. Only one person stands in the way: Martha Jones.|
The Last of a Fan's patience... by Steve Cassidy 27/11/07
"We can't get across London at night, it's full of wild dogs. We'll get eaten alive."I'd have liked to have seen that in The Last of the Time Lords. It would be better then what we got. I'd have quite liked to see Martha and Doctor Milligan race across the capital with slavering, man-eating hounds on their tail. We might have actually got a bit of tension, a bit of believable action - but instead we get a mess. Easily the worst of the season and possibly one of the worst Who's ever written. I say written because the production design, direction, music, acting is all top notch but there are so many presses of the big red reset button that the adventure keeps on self destructing. The shark jumping keeps going on and on until your belief in the programme aches all over from the kicking it has just received.
I've reached the stage now that whenever I see the decals 'By Russell T Davies' on screen I lower my expectations so dramatically that they hit the centre of the earth (and meet Russell's little baby spiders). I don't want flawless storytelling; granted, the Old Series was pretty shaky in that, but I don't want to be embarassed watching the story. When Russell writes well he writes brilliantly - The End of the World, Tooth and Claw, Utopia and Smith and Jones were all terrific adventures. But when he doesn't... I don't need to say more. RTD always seems to use ever-growing scale as a substitute for a new plot. The end of each season of New Who has been effectively the same; the only real distinction is that the number of invaders involved has gone up a scale. "We've gone 5 billion years into the future a few times. We need a new story? Okay, we'll go a few trillion into the future. That's different, right?" No, it's just altering the parameters, it's not a different story at all.
When, oh when, is RTD going to get over this obsession with scale?. It can't be a deadly virus, it has to be a deadly virus that kills a world in seven minutes. It can't be an alien invasion, it has to be an alien invasion that sees six billion maltesers fall out of the sky and wipe out the population, leaving the survivors to live in holes and slave camps. The resolution, though, was predictable in the extreme: not only is he content to betray what drama he creates with a massive reset switch, RTD even flashes that reset switch in our faces the week before as if to dare us to suggest that there might be another way to get him out of the corner he's in as a writer. Like I said at the start, when you scale it up to the point where a deus ex machina turn-back-time scene is your only option, then you've scaled it up too far.
It's not all bad; as I mentioned before, the SFX are pretty impressive (the prosthetics for the head inside the Toclafane is wonderful). Martha is the only one of the regulars who is well used; Tennant is barely there and Barrowman is kinkily chained up for most of the adventure. Martha goes commando (if only?) and tours the world as a preacher of "the word" to get the masses to raise the messiah and destroy the Master. There's a lot of religious imagery in Martha's actions. I'm sure Davies meant it to be "uplifting" and "life-affirming" but for a programme that has always been about rationality and dispelling superstition, it is curiously jarring.
My thoughts on John Simms' Master are covered in my review of The Sound of Drums, but are borne out here in a very strange scene. Martha is hiding with the slaves/oppressed when the Master and his entourage track her down and arrive in a darkened street. The music turns moody and the cavalcade is accompanied by armed men and buzzing Toclafane. Eveything is fine until Simm steps out of the car and delivers the line "I can SEEEE YOU!!" in a high camp way. Any tension just evaporates into thin air.
And then we have the Paradox Machine that no one must touch in The Sound of Drums. This same Paradox Machine that solves all the problems when it is shot with a machine gun a year later. Was the original line, "Don't touch it for a year, and then shoot it lots"? As for the real resolution - I can forgive the Paradox machine, it's a given that things will be reset right there, no problem. What I do have a problem with is the idea that a telepathic network set up to subdue the population could not only be subverted by the subdued thinking one word, but that that subversion would somehow give the Doctor the ability to reverse aging and have magical powers. Let's run that one again. A telepathic system (telepathy, the ability to pass a message on mentally) can reverse aging and create forcefields and levitate people? Just because the Doctor had, a year previous, been able to presume this outcome and tell Martha exactly what to do in 5 seconds of chat.
Don't you feel... cheated when Russell does this time and again? As an example - look at Moffatt vs Davies.
In Blink, we establish that the creatures can't move when observed. The perfect solution is reached by getting them to look at each other. It's clever, it's logical, its neat.
In TLOTTL, we establish a telepathic network is telling humanity to obey. Martha spreads a story of the Doctor around humanity (OK so far), so they can all say "I believe". Will this break the Master's hold over them? Maybe the reversed telepathy will somehow overwhelm the Master - he'll become the slave rather than the Master, if we are trying to be a bit logical... but no. The telepathic field will embue the Doctor with super powers, and reverse aging and just make things all right, you know - because, if you wish really hard, things will get better, won't they?
They will, you know. And then the story can end.
And having gone so overboard on setting up a situation of rock-bottom bleakness, RTD had nowhere to go, and the Master's war plans, presumbly meant to be a focus of tension, were merely a case of "so what?" So here's the real paradox. How come the bigger, the more expansive, the more epic the stories become, the smaller the programme gets?
And what the f*ck were the Sea Devils doing in the Time War, or did I mishear that bit? Riding their Myrkas into battle?
I haven't touched the sharkjumping that happened in the latter stages of this adventure (incorporating ideas from Harry Potter, Superman the Movie, Return of the Jedi and Flash Gordon) because, well, I can't be arsed. I don't really enjoy giving an adventure a hard time and I wonder if what I want from NuWho is different from what an audience wants. There have been some crackers this season - Human Nature/Family of Blood, Shakespeare Code, Blink, Utopia and Smith and Jones. Even The Lazurus Experiment and 42 were enjoyable. Series 3 has been a step up in quality compared with Series 2. But the horse stumbled at the final furlong. The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords has been the worst season finale we have had. I've got friends who defend RTD to the hilt. But they were knocked to the canvas by this one.
Here's to series 4 and better times!
Time's Cramp(ion) by David Blyth 12/2/08
LOTTL seems to be the most hated finale out of RTD's tenure on Doctor Who. This isn't just a case of the people who have never given RTD a fair nod, this is from people divided over RTD, who praise and criticise him in equal measure. People who love everything he does hates this.
Last of the Time Lords is more the victim of bad timing, and too many endings with the same resolution; only the last two finales couldn't exactly boast "the public were built up and made insignifcant".
In Parting of the Ways, the public rise, and die, to defend the Earth against the Daleks. In Army of Ghosts, the public are dupes who make full advantage of the Cybermen's "Ghost" stratagem with celebration, paying the price when the Cybermen and Daleks emerge.
In LOTTL, the human race make another mistake, but when Saxon takes command, Martha begins her "legend", the human race show exactly what the Doctor's always boasting they do... they rise and fight to defend themselves. They are shown to take a stand, they help Martha reach Saxon at the cost of their own lives.
We ARE the public, they are an extension of us, who would love to help the Doctor, be a companion, save our planet, save our country, which half of us would back out of in the blink of an eye if it happened.
When the public are made to forget their contributions, are we supposed to take that as "you don't matter, you benefited us"?.
It may not address it on a direct level, but the sublety of that idea is what fuels a lot of the hatred for this episode.
It's not fair to the human race; then again, all three episodes of this story have reflected that we are supposedly "doomed" to become a delusional, childish, selfish and depraved race of machines who forsake our humanity to enslave our own history out of joy for the wrongs we dealt our ancestors. Do humans have an ego problem?
Yes, but the Doctor's faith in us, the fact that Martha's family will remember, that the soldiers will remember the "lost timeline", means the public aren't as lost to time as we think, and if they remember, their children may be told, and we could ensure the Toclafane never come to be, nor the human race become desperate enough to seek an invisible paradise.
A "Time cramp" such as this should not be seen as a bankrupt idea, but as a way of pushing forth DW's greatest strength: consequence. The Doctor only discovers later any decision he has produces consequence. You didn't see it here, you might read about it later; you might see it later, it depends on writers who choose to think deeper... and writers who will remember what happened.
As for the Doctor whispering to Martha about "the countdown" and its specific time and day, the Doctor could have started tapping into the Psychic Network as soon as The Master started playing Voodoo Child, thinking ahead of his enemy quite literally. How'd he do it? "Faaar mooore than just another time looooooord."
How'd he reverse engineer his DNA decoding and restore his youth? See above. Scenes shouldn't be deleted when, in hindsight, they could explain much more.
Of course, Whovians dont need things explained. We watch Doctor Who to enjoy it, but, more importantly, to also think if prompted. The Psychic Network isn't a plot-hole, it's part of an obvious jigsaw puzzle that, once solved, makes this story the more enjoyable.
On to the performances, dynamic as usual. Freema's character is strengthened as a messenger; too bad her medical background couldn't have been used more effectivly, making her a "healer" as well as someone spreading the message. The inclusion of her supporting cast, the "relatable" human race, had their moments too, as they had to to make us care so much about their place by the episode's conclusion. Simm and Tennant took the concept of being the last of their kind and turned it into a terrrifying and emotional paralel, one being determined to hold on and care for a mass-murderer, pure race-driven bias considering he was going to kill the humanized Dalek in Dalek, and one side delighting in breaking the rules as he's always done, knowing he's likely to survive (well, we know he will), and cheat the Doctor. He may not be alone any longer, but he may as well be figuratively.
My minor nitpick is the cliff confrontation between the Doctor and the Master. What was... that? I think about every fan assumed this was going to be the season's surprise cliffhanger, a surprise "final stand", Reinbeich Falls revisited, Tennant regeneration perhaps?
But, instead, it was more or less this:
The Doctor: Gimme that!
But, prior to that, was that scene gorgeous! Murray Gold's excellent cliffhanger music blaring in the background, the Toclafane missiles preparing to launch, the universe about to be sliced and diced... would LOTTL be as critically spat on if it had been a cliffhanger and we got a full-length Chirstmas Special where The Master falls, Gallifrey is restored, and we have a gap year on THAT note?
So many reasons why the story is hated, and yet... I don't care. LOTTL was, as with Utopia and TSOD, a convulted, yet delightful collection of ideas and sympathetic characters, drama, expansion on exisiting mythology and intensity. Good against evil, wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff. This is RTD emulating Moffat and Christopher H. Bidmed.
LOTTL is truly the soul, the mythology, the spirit, of any strong aspect of Doctor Who. Time cramps, the human race saved, forgotten heroes, the Master, a big freaking ship smashing into the TARDIS, and one day, I hope more people appreciate it like I did.
LOTTL is True Doctor Who, what's all this racket?
Thunderbolt and Lighting, Very Very Frightening by Anna Zinn 6/3/08
When I saw Human Nature, The Family of Blood and Blink, I thought Series 3 had reached its zenith.
These were what you might think of as ideal stories. They were like the TARDIS: the basic idea looked simple, but the inside was bigger than the outside. Nothing in these stories is quite what it seems, but everything fits together elegantly.
Some episodes are like this. They have a cool perfection which resembles the music of Mozart - at least, if his music had ever sent anyone diving behind a sofa.
And some episodes are like Last of the Time Lords.
It's the last of the three-parter which ended Season 3. Elegant, logical, perfect it's not. At best, it's a tour de force. At worst, a gallery of dodgy plotting. Not so much Mozart as Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.
The one-year spoiler ban means I can't say much about the dodgier bits of Last of the Time Lords. It would be fun to try to decide which is the dodgiest. Could it be Harold Saxon's miraculous global organising ability? In a very short period, he accomplishes things which would make our current leaders bang their meaty fists with envy. How does he do it - through local authorities? Or does he persuade the Toclafane to cope with priorities and targets, though they appear to have a mental age of about eight? His scheme of world domination is horrific, but not believable. (Of course, that could be said of a lot of government plans.)
As far as other twists in the episode are concerned, one owes far too much to a certain classic story about the children of the world and fairies, and another possibly isn't so bad - at least, we were warned about it - but comes off with confusion in the detail.
Never mind. A review has to mention this kind of thing, but LTL almost flaunts it - and succeeds anyway.
One of the reviewers of Blink said that he wasn't sure it was an episode you could watch over and over, once you had solved the puzzle. (I've watched it several times - the sheer terror of the 'blink' sequences hasn't faded yet.) But LTL isn't watchable because of a puzzle. It's watchable because of the relationships between the characters - especially the Doctor and Harold Saxon and the Doctor and Martha.
The spoiler ban means that I can't say everything I would like to about Harold Saxon or John Simm's portrayal of him. He's evil, but never simple or obvious. He will remind you of every manipulative person you've ever known - just when he seems to be communicating, you hit the earth with a thump, realising that, for Saxon, everything is about himself, first last and always, and that you've fallen for it again. In one sequence he sings along with his music and tries to make his dysfunctional family of captives into a chorus line - they practise passive resistance, and he goes on undeterred. He radiates psychopathic energy and charm 24 hours a day, never tiring of making the other characters - and us - watch him.
David Tennant as the Doctor tries to ignore him loftily. For a while, he succeeds - but then the battle is joined again. Saxon's tactics range from the crude to the breathtaking and the outcome is the last thing we expect.
The Doctor's relationships with the other characters would bear more writing about, but until the ban is over, I'll just mention his relationship with Martha. Saxon's villainies are her opportunity and she proves herself so thoroughly that not a hair of her new Florence Nightingale hairdo ever falls out of place. But heroic effort often brings changes the hero never intended - and seeing her ride with them is one of the best things about this episode. Freema Agyeman's performance lives up to the scope of her character. Her part-time appearance in Season 4 seems advantageous to me - instead of knowing where we are with her, we have to be curious for three quarters of a year.
LTL is a triumph in spite of itself - too much thunderbolt and lightning, but it works.
A Review by Graham Pilato 25/7/08
What a massive pile of overkill and unwanted, mostly unenjoyable almost-crap! The extra five minutes that people got so excited about in the States and elsewhere where the edited version was broadcast turned out to be a bizarre music video with the anti-Tenth-Doctor John Simm's Master singing (!) lines like "I can't decide whether you should live or die". Aren't we glad we got to see that on the DVD? Never in a million years. I feel dirty in a way that might only be improved by burning so many British pop CDs. And I still love the Beatles and the Verve and so much Oasis. What's wrong with RTD? Did he think that maybe we needed more sugar in our medicine? Covering up some crappy plots with some saccharine songs?
Why does the Master love Britpop you ask? The problem is that you have to ask.
So I loved the big paradox and the revelation about who the Toclafane are. But a shrunken CG Doctor with huge anime eyes? Yet another season-ending tech turnaround where the Doctor gets to be all-powerful for a minute and a half? It's a big, painful cheat to bear. And this time, epic as it all is, it hurts the most. Mostly because of what becomes of the Master, though.
Ask yourself, now, after you've seen this big three-part finale, wouldn't a Britpop-free Derek Jacobi (Professor Yana) have made a much better Master to stay on for the last two parts instead of the manic one? And what a waste this ends up being here, too for this appearance of the Master to be so nuts. I think Simm knew it, too. He puts the rock opera into his performance like only Roger Daltry could do, but it just doesn't make any more sense dramatically for the Doctor to apologize to him than it does for him to do what he does in the last moments of his act. He's just a wild and crazy vengeful Master of madness.
Martha gets a great send-off, though. But her family still feels like a lot of peripheral nonsense, here, even after all of that. They just didn't ever get enough focus. She was no wonder-filled first-year Rose, unfortunately. She was a good performance, for the most part. A bit bland, but who cares? She had a very nice arc, and she's coming back for more in a couple episodes next year. And she'll be on Torchwood. That's something. We'll see how that goes.
"Jump the shark" is a phrase that well and truly deserves to be applied here, but might as well have been thrown out when this show started in with the Shadow Proclamation and the giant Babyfaced aliens in fat human skinsuits. Russell T. Davies knows about pushing the envelope too far, and he likes it. Too bad it only works about two thirds of a time in his episodes.
Dammit. A fine finale ruined by madness and death. I'm highly ambivalent.
Catch 22 by Thomas Cookson 1/6/09
I used to love trying to guess from available clues in the episodes of the running season what the finale would be about. I was sure Season One was going to end on prehistoric Earth where we'd find out that bad wolf is actually a race memory. I was also sure that the Doctor, in Cartmel fashion, would turn out to have been in the know about it all along. Also I noticed how after the story Dalek, where a Dalek absorbs Rose's DNA, there were several references to pregnancy in the following stories. The Face of Boe (who also has some relevance in this story) was announced pregnant in the future news of The Long Game; there was the shotgun wedding bride in Father's Day; Nancy in The Doctor Dances; and even that pregnant woman that Margaret Slitheen showed mercy on. Maybe these were clues that the Dalek was pregnant with Rose's offspring and maybe instead of self-destructing it had teleported somewhere else in time to breed. I also expected the Gelth to return (because the Controller resembled one in the "Next Time" clips).
In Season Two, I knew in advance about the double whammy of Daleks and Cybermen in the season finale, and I had a theory that when the devil fell into the black hole in The Satan Pit, it had entered a gateway to all parallel universes and was going to exact revenge in the finale by unleashing upon our universe both the Cybermen from Pete's world and Daleks from a parallel universe where they won the Time War. A friend of mine had a theory that Rose's 'death' was going to be something similar to Charley in the Big Finish adventures. Rose was meant to die originally and the Doctor would have to kill her or send her to 'heaven' to put the timeline right. Perhaps her existence upsets the space-time continuum and that's why that rip to the parallel universe appeared in Rise of the Cybermen.
Gradually, it became apparent that the puzzle was intellectually beneath me. This year, I just hoped it would be borderline sensible and believable in its gravity and not be too irritating.
My furious venting on the New Series is in some way out of a sense of being 'forced' to like it, for so long having my arm twisted to go along with the praise of the opinion fascist creeps of the Planet Skaro forum.
I think that is what Russell wants. He doesn't want his critics to make considered, thoughtful criticisms, he wants to bait and aggravate them into blind ranting so that their opinions have little credibility with others. And boy was Last of the Time Lords infuriating. Irritating, tedious comedy, saccarine companion mooning over the Doctor rubbish and a deux et machina ending that was such an insult.
Sure, people can say that Doctor Who was always implausible nonsense, making the impossible possible. But, in Inferno, you couldn't pour water to the centre of the Earth. You can't ignore basic physics to that degree. And people can point out the faulty prehistoric dating of The Silurians, but that story didn't feature the Doctor making a miracle cure in 30 seconds, let alone bringing the dead back to life because that's cheating the audience. They cease to care if dilemmas and threats can simply be turned off with no effort, because none of it matters anymore.
But now, with hindsight, I realise that the story was a catch 22. Without those elements above, Last of the Time Lords would have been a far more ugly viewing experience. In fact, it would have been a return to the dark days of Season 21 and 22.
In a way, the season finale has always been like an Eric Saward story. The Parting of the Ways is virtually a remake of Resurrection of the Daleks. Doomsday is a typical plotless, pointless shoot-em-up amidst unlikeable self involved heroes.
But Last of the Time Lords is as ugly and Sawardist as the New Series ever got, except it knew how to hide it.
Well, some viewers were deeply offended by the sub-plot of Mr Saxon's domestic violence leaving a sour taste in the mouth. But it's rather like Planet of Fire where the Master twisted Peri's arm, the moment where the perversely likeable arch villain crosses the line and galvanises the audience for the moment where he is finally killed off. I'll admit it does feel rather cynical, hollow and manipulative, but if we're comparing to the Saward era, at least in its favour it isn't the Doctor indulging in domestic violence as in The Twin Dilemma.
Indeed, that's one thing the story seems to have the right idea of. Saxon is a villain without a plan, which means that much of what we see is simply random violence and villainous gurning. But having Saxon win and gain total subjugation over humanity and the Doctor and have him spend a year bloating himself on his unquenchable sadism, and then we really understand that Saxon will never be able to have the satisfaction he really wants. A typical 80's villain, a mass-murdering yuppie whose homicidal nature reflects an era of excess and unsatisfying consumption.
Reusing the technique from The Leisure Hive (at a time when Tom Baker seemed to have gotten too invincible), the Doctor's invulnerability is snatched away by the sight of him turned geriatric. The fundamental difference being that, in The Leisure Hive, the Doctor looked so old that he was likely to snuff it any minute. This story does away with that by ageing the Doctor a second time by several more centuries. There was a gasp from me as I saw the Doctor's crumpled suit and thought maybe he'd been literally dusted, only to reveal a small wrinkled goblin who spends the rest of the story in a bird cage. I was all ready at that point to write it off. Surely by taking it that far it was reducing the menace to absurdity, and more importantly seemed to make it clear that if this didn't kill the Doctor, nothing could. And yet, it worked at showing the Doctor at his weakest and most frail and showing how Saxon couldn't simply kill the Doctor because that would never satisfy him enough.
But what does bother me is that there's only one way back to normal for the Doctor, and that's hocus pocus; once that happens, you never fear for the Doctor's safety again if he can just magically be rejuvenated like that. So the threat is retroactively reduced to non-existent. And this is just the kind of contempt for the viewer's intelligence that defines this story and most of RTD's efforts.
With the Doctor out of action, Martha has to become the hero today, travelling the world and searching for a way to beat Saxon. Meeting people around the world along the way and telling them how in love she is with the Doctor and how they should have hope and other such saccharine bullshit. She has her trusted perception filter to get her across the treacherous landscape of killer Toclafane. Rubbing in the fact that Martha might as well have been invisible for most of this series as the blandest companion ever. Here, she's part of a plan that's so underwhelming to the point of inconsequentiality that it's hardly her great swansong that leaves me begging for more of this saccharine nonsense. Though, surprisingly, her eventual exit manages to be somewhat memorable by virtue of not being drippy, but I doubt I'll notice that she's gone in Season Four.
She actually pursues something of a red herring plan involving that special weapon in four parts scattered to the corners of the Earth. Why does Russell have to taunt us with a good plot idea before discarding it for a shit one? It turns out that Martha's plan was a worldwide message of hope. Of course, this idea is saccharine nonsense without any fallout. In fact, all the death and devastation is undone, and all the people had to do was think good thoughts. Even Peter Pan never made the mistake of making 'if you believe in fairies' its final resolution. Having the Toclafane butcher families last week seemed too dark for Russell - and lo and behold he eventually chickened out. So the followup to last week's cliffhanger was five minutes of easy resolution, after 40 minutes that didn't really happen and didn't matter.
Even the cop-out conclusions of the old series, like the Master changing his mind and repelling the Autons, or the Daemon self destructing because of something Jo said still conveyed some degree of 'what a fluke, we were very nearly done for'. With Russell's endings, there's no sense that the threat was ever real in the first place.
And that's when I start to think maybe Russell's eventual goal is to ward off the 'nutter' fans, the obsessives or the ones who believe it's all real. So maybe he's been actually vetting his stories of any inadvertent believability, subtlety or detail that would provoke trivial fixation, and making the Doctor cliquey. This Doctor wouldn't want to know a saddo like you and he'd tell you straight.
The Toclafane certainly seemed a dangerous enough threat to deserve better than to be rubbed out with an eraser. Like I said, its ugliness is hidden. A bit like how The Sunmakers and Creature from the Pit have mean-spirited moments that show the heroes killing the villain in cold blood, but in such an absurd way that you avoid taking it seriously. If those stories had been produced in the JNT era and were similarly po-faced, they'd come across like they really mean it, and so would probably get into the same trouble as Attack of the Cybermen and The Two Doctors did.
But the fate of futurekind is probably the most pitch-black, dark idea in Doctor Who, and it's never resolved. It also isn't treated as an imponderable like the weeping statues were or the werewolf blood curse on the Royals were. You can almost hear the story obtusely saying 'Who cares? That story's old and out of fashion now. Let go, you obsessive saddo' in a mocking, sneering fashion.
So instead we get something horribly defeatist. There's no future for humanity and all our achievements are worthless; or, if there is, we don't get to see it. As defeatist as mid-80's Who and its twisted scorn on humanity. The 'You can never evolve or civilise Androgums, they'll always be scum' in The Two Doctors, and 'You humans are pathetic savages for not sharing my suicidal pascifism!' in Warriors of the Deep. Mind you, the 80's was a very conformist, defeatist and scornful decade.
And, like the mid-80's, it's as if the view of humanity has become so degraded that the show and the Doctor even points to cold-blooded killers as deserving of sympathy and praise, like in Warriors of the Deep and Attack of the Cybermen; here, we see something similar with the Doctor's cozy rivalry with his arch enemy, Saxon. The best examples for me of a perfectly mirrored rivalry are Logopolis and the BF audio Davros. Where the Doctor and his enemy really are morally polarised but flipsides of the same coin. Where the polarising symmetry is beautiful and poetic, but also daring. It's not afraid to suggest that the compassion and aversion to violence which separates the Doctor from Davros or the Master perhaps makes him just as monstrous in allowing those monstrosities to go on living and causing death and destruction.
But this, like Warriors of the Deep, crosses the line. Making the Doctor's compassion for his enemy seem like treacherous, twisted favouritism. The Third Doctor may have made a dignified request for the Master to be spared, but he didn't force the issue in as ugly a manner as here. As in Warriors of the Deep, the sight of the Doctor, having been incompetent for so long and failing to protect the innocent, suddenly becoming proactive about forcibly reviving his wounded enemy, forcing back to life an irredemable murderous creature with a death wish, is ugly on so many levels. And primarily, because instead of that polarised poetry, we simply get mawkish emotional arm-twisting.
Besides, any sentiment I may feel is spoilt when the homages to Return of the Jedi and Flash Gordon become so artificial that I just can't care anymore.
Russell seems to have a vendetta against critics of his emotional content. Earlier this ,year he figuratively spat out at fans for being emotionally vacant straight males, and it seems like he wrote this ending in which Martha's love wins over all adversity just as a fingers up to us. Russell has said how, despite the warm reception of Human Nature and Blink, he's going to keep the series from getting dark because dark is bad, and he practically invited us to complain. So, both the critics who hate emotional content and those who actually quite liked Human Nature are wrong. Make your mind up Russell; they can't all be wrong, and there comes a point where your belligerence just pisses off everyone.
But Russell, like Saward, honestly can't seem to see the difference between dark and defeatist. The point is that Doctor Who was at best a pragmatic series, if not a realistic one. A series that understood that death is a fact of conflict and when the taking of life is, and isn't, necessary. This became subverted in the 80's, as villains cheated death for a diminishing return, the violence was used as a cheap shock tactic and became contrived, the Doctor became a cliched shell of his former self indulging in thoughtless violence (The Twin Dilemma) and twisted sympathising with cold-blooded killers over their innocent victims (Warriors of the Deep, Attack of the Cybermen). The violence stopped being pragmatic and became sensationalist, and the ideals became twisted into a nihilistic, defeatist direction whether it be saying that the Doctor can't fight evil without becoming evil, or that you can never truly civilise an Androgum.
But, as much as it's a manipulative distortion to contrive death and defeatism, it's also an insulting cheat to resurrect all the good guys and exonerate the Doctor's fondness for Saxon by eliminating the consequences of Saxon's actions.
And yet, ultimately, it probably was wise to soften the blow of such an ugly story, to the point where it is just disposable. Where it can cop out of showing the Doctor's perverse fondness for the villain, by pressing the literal reset button and undoing all his crimes.
Critics of New Who are often accused of having rose-tinted spectacles. But, if anything, Doctor Who has taught me never to do that. The show's historical and allegorical ethos often saw it looking back to the 'good old days' as our elders called them and brought their ugliness to the fore, whether it be Nazi Germany or even the subtle racism and chauvinism of Victorian England. Indeed, Masque of Mandragora and Brain of Morbius were especially about the importance of breaking with tradition and rebelling against the old guard, lest we remain in the middle ages of witch hunts and xenophobia.
But often saying that New Who is a step above 80's Who is the kindest thing I can say about it. And, with this story, I'm not sure I can even say that anymore. By playing safe, it avoids offending me in the way many Saward stories are, but it's clear that the Saward ethos hasn't gone away. A shame because in the main, New Who had been enough of a reboot and a clean slate that I could happily pretend the old series had ended in Season 17 for all the difference it made. Sure, it was often cringeworthy in its desperate attempts to seem hip, funny and sexy in a way that the humourless, chaste and reactionary JNT era wasn't. But, for most of Series One and Two, the show at last seemed to have a future outside the JNT era's shadow. But not anymore. My first doubt about New Who was my reaction to End of the World's opening scene. When the Doctor takes Rose in the TARDIS to various future stop-off ponts, each time Rose doesn't bother to even have a look. To me, that was just not believable, and displayed some very contrived and clumsy writing. It marked an awkward two-stool transition from televised stagecraft to the cinematic. The aesthetics said total cinema, but the character's actions were showing up the limited budget and stage room. Forgivable perhaps, but it burst the bubble too early in the story. And it didn't improve. When the sun filers fail, the delegates stupidly remain in the room with the biggest window. Strangely, now it seems like it should have been my wake up call of the show's contrived, lobotomised direction.
Even with something outreaching, intelligent and unforgettable like Human Nature or Blink, I'm still only seeing false dawns of quality, just like Enlightenment and Caves of Androzani were false dawns back in the 80's. They don't change how the trashy and lobotomised still dictates the show's direction. And I'm not prepared to sift through the dirt to get to the gold anymore.
Suddenly New Who seems like it barely deserves to be watched.