The Sound of Drums
Last of the Time Lords
Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords
The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords
|Production Code||Series Three Episodes Twelve and Thirteen|
|Dates||June 23 and 30 2007|
With David Tennant, Freema Agyeman
Written by Russell T Davies Directed by Colin Teague
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner.
|Synopsis: The Master has assumed control of the Earth.|
Last of the Russell Scripts by Dom Kelly 17/6/08
(I'm referring to this as just Last of the Time Lords for this review. Dunno why, I just am)
It's hard to look at Last of the Time Lords as anything but the ultimate end result of the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who. Like the very era that it appears to draw to a close, Last of the Time Lords is capable of powerfully fantastic scenes and ridiculously puerile scenes. It's everything that Russell T Davies has ever wanted to say condensed and honed into 95 minutes of footage, and it's an incredible experience.
In terms of basic story structure, Last of the Time Lords is Russell doing epic as he's wanted to do every single season finale. Bad Wolf was the end result of a season's worth of "Bad Wolf" references, of the Rose-holding-back-the-Doctor's-darkness relationship, of the Ninth Doctor himself (and Captain Jack, to an extent). However, it was set in the far future, which immediately divorced itself from Rose's actual place of origin and thus meant that Jackie and Mickey made brief cameos at best, which certainly defeated the whole purpose of their support in Series One. In Doomsday this was thrown on the opposite side of the coin; Jackie, Mickey and Pete were all integrated directly into the story, and there were links to Harriet Jones (who only got a brief mention, but was whose mention was certainly important for Series Three's progression), as well as the end result of a season's worth of "Torchwood" references, which then allowed the series Torchwood to spurt out as the illegitimate (but interesting) lovechild. However, Doomsday, unlike Bad Wolf, was forced to sideline its enemies as a result; a Cyberman vs. Dalek war should have felt momentous and powerful, yet Captain Jack and a couple of news reporters shooting at Daleks in Bad Wolf somehow had more impact as a depiction of war. Worse, Doomsday ended up being a tired run-around with no real plot at all, and simply ended in a manner that was deliberately geared to deal with Rose and her family. And, finally, the last thing these stories both have in common is a get-out clause from the danger at hand, which is magic yet annoyingly unrealistic at the same time (what an odd criticism!); Rose absorbs the TARDIS power and destroys the Daleks with a wave of her hand, whereas the Doctor opens a hole and the Daleks and Cybermen are sucked in.
Last of the Time Lords manages to be the first of the three finales, then, to actually balance the epic side of things and the domestic side of things really well. All right, so Leo's buggered off who knows where, but elsewhere Martha's family are very much woven into the narrative. It was Martha's mother, after all, who spent the second half of Series Three, post-The Lazarus Experiment, confiding in Mr Saxon's agents, which unknowingly betrays Martha. Not only are the mother and father taken, but Tish is too, and all are forced to wait on the Master's every need. A fascinating scene is the three of them arguing over which of them will kill the Master in the end, and it's not just talk either, as, say, Mickey's macho posing in Doomsday is; Martha's mum actually picks up a gun and is fully prepared to shoot the Master before the Doctor makes her realise that that'll make her no better than him (of course). On the other hand, we have the epic, which also works rather well. There are the Toclafane, which allow, ala Bad Wolf and Doomsday, the surprise appearance of a previously acquainted species, and there are scenes of them falling from the skies in the same ways that Daleks tore out of their spaceship in Bad Wolf, or the Cybermen appeared throughout the world in Doomsday. Better yet, the Toclafane are even more interesting than both of the aforementioned races, being far stronger in numbers, and much weaker and more futile alone.
The Paradox Machine helps Russell T Davies establish the epic nature of the script without compromising anything. Previously, with stories such as Aliens of London and The Christmas Invasion, Russell has been forced to show through stories such as Love & Monsters how such catastrophic alien encounters can shake up the British public for a day or two and then disappear into obscurity. It worked, but also felt a tad silly; furthermore, it meant that, in Doomsday, Russell could only allow himself to have one person on the street shot, which meant that the whole Dalek/Cyberman war didn't even really extend beyond Torchwood Tower (or whatever the building is called). Here, Russell finally stops being cautious. In the buildup at the end of episode one, after all, it's difficult to speculate as to how the Doctor can possibly cover up what the Master's done as he has before; the president has been shot and the Master, posing as prime minister, has betrayed his people on air and allowed millions of Toclafane to rain down and destroy everything. In the second part, which is set a year later, it's immediately obvious that these things finally have consequences, that most of the human race has been destroyed, that the Master really does rule everything. The Paradox Machine allows Russell to show us a disturbing image of what would happen if the Master won without so drastically changing contemporary Earth as to make, say, the next companion's opening story a story set in a destroyed city.
People have criticised the Paradox Machine for being a far too obvious way for everything to be reverted to normal, but I think this is missing the point. The Master needs the Paradox Machine to have the Toclafane kill their own ancestors without any ill effects, and therefore it's obvious from the outset that things cannot possibly be this way. In the end, it's worth pointing out that even though things are restored to normal at the end of the story, everyone still remembers their experiences. If you think about it, Martha remembering the Master's regime and it affecting her personality is no different to Martha remembering the events of The Family of Blood and that affecting her, despite John Smith being a paradox of sorts himself. It has an impact on the characters, and that's the important bit.
Anyway, it also means that, for the first time, a deus ex machina ending is signposted way in advance in a finale, and it makes its use much more conceivable than, say, Rose using the TARDIS or the hole in Doomsday (I know that both were technically signposted to an extent, but they still felt incredibly tacked on and, well, tacky). Unfortunately though, as if addicted to the idea of magical endings, Russell for some reason decides that we need the Doctor to be rejuvenated by millions of people across the world thinking the word "Doctor", which tips the balance into silliness.
Last of the Time Lords is the ultimate expulsion of Russell T Davies' desire for constant political satire (or perhaps more accurately, political comment) in the series, too. In Aliens of London, there were obvious digs at 9/11 and its ramifications, including the inept capabilities of the security forces. In The Long Game, there were digs at the media and its censoring of the news - and the use of emphasis on particular words to create fabrications within the truth. There was more political satire in Boom Town and The Christmas Invasion as well. Last of the Time Lords, then, goes much, much further. A charismatic and slightly strange posh man in a suit rises to Prime Minister and screws over his country; the Tony Blair parody is obvious. Having that said, though, it's interesting that the Master kills off the American president whereas most parodies would depict the Blair character as kissing the Bush character's arse. In fact, I'm not certain why the President remains dead by the end of the story, either; is this Russell finally killing off the man he truly hates? Or is there going to be some continuity springing from here? Then, almost as an extension of The Long Game, Saxon's satellite network is mind-altering and manipulative, forcing the public, unknowingly, to vote for him against their own will, and to tap endlessly. We even get, ala the Blue Peter parody in Aliens of London and the Eastenders scene in Doomsday, appearances from barely-famous people telling us to "Vote Saxon!", such as boy band McFly.
All of the political satire is here interesting, and that's mainly because of Harriet Jones. Now, Harriet isn't at all in this story, but her presence is, strangely, felt throughout. If we think about it, it was the Doctor who ended her regime, and then inadvertently caused a worse regime with Saxon at its head; could this be a prophetic forewarning about the Blair to Brown changeover? I do really marvel at Russell's vision in showing us a continued political interest in all of these alien invasions and the Doctor's reaction to these, because even if they get a bit preachy and too politically minded at times, it's sometimes fascinating to see just how they deal with it all.
In an interview for DWM, Russell said he had decided against bringing back the Master up until Last of the Time Lords because he hadn't worked out how to write him. If anything, it's much easier now to look back at the previous series and see his efforts at trial runs of just this. Simon Pegg playing the Editor in The Long Game? If that's not an attempt at creating a Master-like character, then I don't know what is. The same applies, albeit less so, for Headmaster Finch (his name even has "master" in it!) in School Reunion. Yes, I'm aware that Russell didn't write that episode, but his hands were certainly all over it (Toby Whithouse didn't even know Doctor Who continuity, after all). In Last of the Time Lords, Russell has quite obviously clocked how he's going to do the Master - just as in Series Three the Doctor is much better portrayed. John Simm is both cheeky and nasty at the same time. He's been described as the Anti-Tennant (which makes for some interesting speculation; what would the Anti-Eccleston have been, then? Robert Carlyle?), and it's evident to see why. The jokey nature of his character is set directly from the moment that he enters the cabinet and insults everyone, pulling silly faces, and then gasses them to death, giving the thumbs up as he does so. Later examples include the "What has reduced you to this? Oh, that's right... Me! Ha ha!" speech, and his obsession with pop music. Remembering Chris Eccleston dancing to Soft Cell and Britney Spears in The End of the World, and Dave Tennant deciding to dance his socks off in Tooth and Claw, it is rather interesting that the Master does the same here. To be honest, I feel that this works better: I'm not at all enamoured with the songs, but at least both, lyrically, do have some relevance to what's happening on screen, and there's something inherently fascinating - and despicably evil - about a villain who listens to pop music.
Speaking of dancing... Last of the Time Lords also does some interesting things to the "companion as lover" concept that Russell has been throwing at us since Series One. It's very easy to compare the Doctor and the Master here, because both acquire blonde female companions. However, the difference between them is quite pronounced too. Since Mrs Saxon in episode one is enjoying herself but not intruding on the Master's business, it's easy to see her as Rose in Series One. Now, Rose in Series Two suddenly decided to become too big for her boots, smug and needing compliments every five seconds, which the Doctor annoyingly succumbed to. However, it's slightly redeemed because here it's easy to determine that Lucy Saxon must have gotten too big for her boots too, and what did the Master do? Well, I'm not entirely sure - apparently she was supposed to have a black eye, but it was so subtle that it didn't show up on camera - but we do see the Master acquiring many other female companions, and Lucy does shoot him at the end. Whatever he did to her must have been bad and it really makes the Master feel like a much nastier version of the Doctor, who would never do such a thing, no matter how much they have in common. Some people have suggested, since she picks up the ring at the end, that this was a prearranged assassination on the Master's behalf (ala Snape and Dumbledore in Harry Potter), but this implies that Lucy has unwavering loyalty to him and I doubt this if he beats her up (even though it's possible). Ultimately, I feel that she despised him; however, if she returns in Series Four and the above speculation turns out to be true, I'll not only eat my hat but vomit on it in surprise.
Oh, as if the comparisons weren't enough, what other Doctor/Master comparisons do we have in this story? The Master has a laser screwdriver, which completely and utterly shits all over the Doctor's (annoyingly overused) sonic - and it appears to have isomorphic controls too, so the Master's a paranoid and self-serving bugger. What's interesting is that the Master decides to punish the Doctor by aging him considerably and imprisoning him (although the little troll bit goes way too far), which, presumably, is a deliberate revenge act against him being forced to spend a long life in Professor Yana's body.
Which leads me nicely on to the Time War. Russell's investigation of the Time War and the effects that it has had on the Doctor reaches its culmination here. The inclusion of the Master compounds this immediately; here's another Time Lord who, despite being a rival, the Doctor wants to keep alive because he wants another of his kind still alive. After saying "We don't have to do this anymore!" furiously in Utopia, the Doctor both says he forgives the Master all his crimes, and then cries out in rage and frustration (a high point of acting from Mr Tennant) when the Master refuses to regenerate and dies in his arms. The burning of the Master's body is a tidying up act for the Doctor, a final destruction of all hope he had of his people ever being restored in any form.
All of this is nicely supported by our first (New Series) glimpse of Gallifrey, marvel that it is (and much better than the shitty sets of the Classic Series, although only on par with the NA and DWM comic versions). We see Time Lords, and, more importantly, we see the initiation ritual into the Academy. The inclusion of the sound of drums in the vortex as a motive for driving the Master mad is very effective, as it both works with past continuity (or doesn't contradict it, I should say ; it even works with Master [the audio], actually) and gives the audience a window into this man's inner workings. If they had of portrayed him as a Delgado/Ainley figure, it would have been lame and very easy for the audience to criticise. I'm also glad that instead of rounding out the Time War pantheon by bringing back the Daleks, Russell did no such thing.
Interestingly, instead he brings in the Toclafane. When Utopia aired, I assumed that the Toclafane and Utopia plot would have no relevance to Last of the Time Lords, and that it was a final ending to the future human arc. If anything, the final ending is here; although the Toclafane were but a paradox and could potentially return, I find it unlikely. This really does, more so than Utopia, wrap up Russell's future human arc incredibly well.
In fact, Last of the Time Lords is full of RTD fanwank, except this time he's wanking over his own material. I already mentioned the Harriet Jones plotline, but we also get the return of Captain Jack, which gives a nice window into how Torchwood fits into the Doctor Who universe and marries the two series incredibly well. The Face of Boe explanation is rushed and clumsy, but as a way of tidying up the Russell T Davies era and leaving no threads hanging, it's excusable. Then there's the references to the previous stories in the series, such as The Lazarus Experiment and The Family of Blood (the latter more so in Utopia, admittedly, but still).
And Martha? Well. Martha's exit was highly unexpected, but also rather satisfying. After all, for a lot of fans - and the press, I suspect - Martha has suffered from the "curse of the second album" syndrome, alienating viewers attached to Rose (oh, grow up, you lot - even if Rose didn't), and she was certainly regarded as a "rebound" (Gridlock) by the Doctor and not really a true companion, even though, by the end of Last of the Time Lords, it's obvious that they share great affection for each other. This exit allows Martha and Freema to leave on their own terms without risking staleness in further seasons (even though, yes, she's scheduled to return). And it's worth noting that, despite being apparently second hand, Martha achieves more in Last of the Time Lords than Rose ever did in Bad Wolf and Doomsday.
The "sometimes brilliant, sometimes crud" aspect that I referred to at the start of the review carries over into the production. The acting is of course of a high standard - Tennant in particular excelling here, and not getting anything annoying to say, which is unusual - but there are other points of interest. The direction is absolutely astonishing; particular scenes of note are the Gallifrey scenes where the Master stares into the vortex and the burning of the Master at the end. The music, on the other hand, is both terrible and great. For some reason, Murray Gold peppers some scenes with great, different music, such as the scene where the Master ages the Doctor a second time to a weird warbling effect, but on other occasions he forgoes the pepper and goes instead for the salt, which he pours into the wounded scenes and attempts to remind us, as ever, what emotions we're supposed to be feeling. I will admit that it's harder to care about this when I do genuinely feel a lot more sorry about the death of Master than I do about Rose in Doomsday, but it's still not wholly satisfactory. And, finally, the effects? Mostly really good, other than the hangar that they, er, hang out on (what a bad pun). At any rate, this doesn't really matter.
Last of the Time Lords, or Last of the Russell T Davies Scripts? For all of these reasons, Last of the Time Lords truly does feel like the end of the era. It wraps everything up in spectacular style, whether it be continuity, or simply the messages that Russell puts in the series, whether they be political or life-affirming - such as, which I haven't mentioned yet, the juxtaposition of needing to live life with that of immortality being an absolute curse. This is the ultimate Russell T Davies script, and, whether it may fluctuate in quality or not, it's the perfect time for him to bow out of the series and leave us with an open new slate for the future.
Which, he didn't... and cast Catherine Tate instead. He can be very unpredictable sometimes...
What this story really needs, right now, is a reassessment by Richard Evans 4/9/12
Three is the magic number, or so they say. I don't have a lucky number, but if I did, it would probably be 3. The reason for this is related to Doctor Who. I've just whispered it into my friend's ear, and I'll reveal what it was that I said in about a year's time. For now, a comprehensive look at the Series 3 finale is in order.
2007 was undoubtedly a very good year for David Tennant. This was the year in which he stopped being "the new Doctor" and commanded much more on-screen authority than he had done in 2006, which was still a good year for Doctor Who, albeit marginally less good than 2007. I still remember when my dad, who has always enjoyed the show (although I am the more dedicated Whovian by far), remarked that the 2007 series had been very strong, with "much better scripts" than before. He's absolutely right; this was a deep, ponderous series that never starved its actors of intriguing material. He also shares my view that the consistently underrated Freema Agyeman was a major player in making 2007 such a terrific year: Martha Jones easily outplays Rose Tyler in terms of intelligence and formidability, and she appears to have a stronger awareness of her own place in the world, thus making her more humble and less blustery.
Nevertheless, after being both mesmerised and thoroughly taken aback by Utopia, I initially concluded that the 2007 series was a great run that ended on a low note. To my immature, ultra-conservative 13-year-old self, The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords were boring episodes which made little narrative sense and had no positive emotional power. I'd been blown off my feet by the previous two season finales, both of which were full of unexpected twists (and Daleks), and I was hoping for more of the same from The Sound of Drums, preferably the reappearance of a classic monster. Since I didn't get that, I wasn't terribly pleased: in effect, my reaction was, "You've redecorated your series finale, haven't you, Russell T Davies? I don't like it." Even the scene in which the true nature of the Toclafane was revealed left me cold. That revelation was just about the only thing in the entire story that I was really looking forward to, because, unlike Bad Wolf and Army of Ghosts, it's possible to see exactly where The Sound of Drums is going from the offset. Unlike the Bad Wolf and Torchwood series arcs, the Saxon arc is brushed under the carpet almost immediately: "Mr Saxon is the Master. He's Prime Minister. Mr Saxon is fictional. Is that it? What an anti-climax!"
With regard to that last point, maybe it would have been better if we'd seen Mr Saxon at some point earlier in the 2007 series (probably in The Lazarus Experiment), but the Doctor had completely missed him. That way, we could have acquired a mental image of this mysterious future Prime Minister and learnt just a few things about him, and it would have been so much more alarming when John Simm appeared in the TARDIS in Utopia.
Those were my complaints after watching The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords on their original airing. Recently, I rewatched the story and realised that it was actually quite magnificent in its own way. Now that I have a very keen interest in modern history, I am simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by the basic plot: the Master becomes world dictator, and he enjoys every second of it. Simm's portrayal of this despot is exactly what Doctor Who has been looking for post-2005. Whereas Delgado and Ainley interpreted the Master as a shifty, Machiavellian villain, Simm creates a thoroughly believable character with bucketloads of both smugness and energy. In short, he is the oft-quoted anti-Tennant, so pitting him against the actual Tennant is an ingenious clash of the titans, something that a Davison-Ainley battle could never match. Initially, Simm's Master is extremely irritating, as he lectures the Cabinet while pulling silly faces; what we should deduce from this is that the Master is never short of certain that his monstrous plans will be achieved. By the midpoint of The Sound of Drums, he has become omnipotent, Great Britain has turned into a police state, and the Doctor, Martha and Captain Jack are helpless. Murray Gold capitalises on this scenario perfectly.
15 minutes later... what can I say about the end of The Sound of Drums? The Master goes from being the silent dictator (a la Than Shwe of Myanmar) to a very noisy, visible dictator who is partial to mass murder (a la Stalin). These events, from the killing of the US President to the "remove one-tenth" line, are so violent and distressing that you cannot (or should not) help but be moved. Back in 2007, these events gave me two major causes for complaint: Martha escapes the Valiant and goes to Earth, making it rather too obvious that she will be saving the day; and the Tenth Doctor, "my Doctor", is brutally turned into a decrepit old man, which genuinely upset me. Nowadays, I assess these things very differently. Martha escapes the Valiant and goes to Earth, but she is emotionally hurt and would rather not do it. She lands in an empty field and witnesses millions of spheres destroying London; suddenly, the scale of her quest is palpable. The Tenth Doctor, "my Doctor", is brutally turned into a decrepit old man, in a scene which inflates the Simm Master's malevolence to levels that may never be scaled in Doctor Who again (the Doctor's second rapid ageing, in Last of the Time Lords, is even worse). What is strangely beautiful about this is that the depiction of an old David Tennant had been quietly foreshadowed in The Family of Blood, which shows him on his deathbed (albeit in human form and within the vision of the human life that he never got to live).
Last of the Time Lords opens with a hauntingly tranquil, bleak shot of Martha running onto a beach at night, just after a voice informs us that the human race faces extinction. This, of course, is one year after Martha announced that she was "coming back". The sudden time-jumping within the story stretches the plot almost to breaking point, as is evidenced by the maniacal scenes of the Master dancing around on his airship and talking about his life experiences; it looks like time has only moved on by a day whenever the two Time Lords are on screen, but when the Jones clan takes centre stage, this suggestion is shattered. Perhaps I should be thankful that the 365 days in between the episodes are not depicted, because, like the Last Great Time War, they were an unimaginable hell, best confined to my mad imagination. The closest we get to seeing what happened during those 365 days is a number of conversations between Martha and "Gary from Miranda" (aka Tom Ellis), in which they discuss labour camps and the "sinking of Japan"; surely enough, a few words paint a massive picture, so all due merit goes to Davies for that.
The aforementioned scene of the Toclafane being identified as [spoilers] may have left me cold at first, but it shouldn't have done, because it beautifully (and, once again, grimly) answers two key questions: what really happened to [these people] after they [went somewhere], and why did the Master need to build a [nasty timey-wimey thingamajig]? Even so, something else leading up to the revelation still leaves me unimpressed, given that I am a scientist at heart: the bringing-down of a Toclafane by exposing it to a current of 58.5kA and a charge of 510MJ. For one thing, the unit of charge is the coulomb, not the joule. For another thing, if we take the charge to be 510MC (mega-coulombs), it would take nearly two and a half hours to hit the Toclafane with all that charge at that current, and yet it is brought down in four seconds. It is so regrettable that such an intricate script can still be blemished by such sloppiness.
Eventually, Martha's worldwide walk comes to an end, as the apparently invincible Master comes to her street and finds her. Agyeman's portrayal of outright terror is spot-on, as is Simm's of the man with supreme power over everyone else in the shot. This is actually among the most terrifying moments in Doctor Who's history. If you disagree, ask yourself if you would like to be hiding in a house with Stalin standing at the end of your road.
Minutes later, of course, the Master experiences his Ceausescu Moment, as the people of the Earth join forces to revive the Doctor and overthrow their dictator. His sense of bewilderment and bitterness as his empire collapses is both hilarious and powerful. Tennant tops the moment off with a downright corker of a line: "One thing you can't do is stop them thinking". (By the way, Ceausescu was the dictator of Communist Romania from 1965-89, and his regime fell in December 1989 when he was unexpectedly booed by Romanians at a mass rally.)
What happens next is indicative of why Last of the Time Lords is such a divisive story in fan circles. The two Time Lords fall to a cliff edge on Earth, and there is a face-off. Gold's score for this event is some of the most exciting music you'll ever hear. Davies, however, has clearly not seen Episode 3 of Survival, so the Doctor-Master clash is rather underwhelming; it could have been the battle to end all battles, on the scale of the Reichenbach Falls, but no. The Master's final fate also feels very wrong. This is the ultimate villain, and yet he goes out with a whimper, and with the Doctor crying over his body. Compare that with his reaction to losing Rose. True, the relationship between the Doctor and Master is intriguing, multi-layered and a bit ambiguous (unlike, for example, the relationship between Superman and Lex Luthor). But the Master doesn't get his just deserts here. Maybe a more fitting and moving ending would have been for the two Time Lords to end up in a physical scrap on the cliff, and for the Master to appear to fall to his certain death when the [nasty timey-wimey thingamajig] is destroyed; the Doctor would return to the Valiant, assess the damage and then run frantically to the TARDIS so that he could find the Master. It would then be implied or shown that the Master was dead - or simply vanished without a trace - and the Doctor, as in the televised episode, would be sad to realise that he remains the only Time Lord in existence. What if one of Martha's family had been injured in the preceding minutes, and the Doctor seemingly cared more about the Master than his companion's clan, thus giving Martha another compelling reason to leave him? Yes! I've been waffling on for so long that I've forgotten to say something - I'm brilliant! (As spoken by the Tenth Doctor in Utopia. Or at least words to that effect.)
Finally, Last of the Time Lords turns out to be another in the long list of "stories in which companions leave". Jack and Martha are both written out tenderly and believably, ignoring that jaw-dropping suggestion about Jack. It's obviously false. The final 20 seconds are equally jaw-dropping and actually can be called earth-shattering, but the way that this cliffhanger is resolved in Voyage of the Damned is disappointing. I'll save that episode for another day, I think.
My abrupt U-turn regarding The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords left me wondering why I suddenly liked them so much. I immediately pinned it down not to my interest in world history, but to the fact that I have played the Master myself. I wasn't strictly acting, however; I chose to dress entirely in sinister black clothes for a school charity event last year, when other people were choosing more obvious "horror film" looks, such as fake blood and ghost masks. How could I miss the opportunity to portray the greatest villain of them all? It could even be argued that I bear a vague resemblance to John Simm, although I dressed up with the Ainley Master in mind. That lunchtime, I stood outside our darkened sports hall, which had been styled into a haunted house (complete with fake skeletons and scary sound effects), and controlled the long line of students waiting to go in. I acted as if I was sending them into my terrifying trap, like lambs to the slaughter! For some strange reason, this experience gives me a special sense of enjoyment watching the Master take over the world (while spouting out some brilliant lines of dialogue such as, "I get to kill him again!").
So there you have it. Last of the Time Lords is now in its rightful place, up there with the other classic Davies scripts.
Footnote: Recently, my friends and I were voting for the recipients of a few awards, including the "Most Likely to Rule the World" award, which I won by a margin of 1 vote. I have also played someone who took great pleasure in ruling the world. If this isn't prophetic, I don't know what is...!
"A clean slate" by Thomas Cookson 10/11/15
There's no denying my previous separate reviews of this two-parter were rank. Clearly written when I didn't care anymore and was just ranting incoherently.
Let's try again.
Many negative reviews of this revolve around wasted promise, since Utopia was a thrilling set-up for the Master's return. I can somewhat go with that, but I've always felt bringing the Master back after The Deadly Assassin was a mistake in the 80's and a mistake here. Much that's wrong with this story can be pinned on that.
Why did the Master ever work, and why did he stop working? Well sometimes comes a villain of such devious cleverness, ingenuity and sheer unfeeling stoicism you can't help admire and secretly want them to win. He wasn't as sophisticated as Iago, but you felt a little less guilty rooting for him because of it. The people he exploited for their feeble-mindedness or greed, or self-important obtuseness, were often petty, officious windbags that weren't people we cared about. In fact, his distain for authority and officialdom made him and the Doctor almost kin.
Classic Who was ruthlessly retributive in justice for villains or unlikeable people. The Master was exceptionally lucky and determined in escaping his fate, but he often also ensured his fellow villains never escaped theirs. Like The Mind of Evil where all the hardened criminals and the Keller machine's creators meet their fatal comeuppance.
Through charm, deception, humour and shrewdness, he played a sophisticated game with the easily fooled and manipulated, whom he delighted in toying with. His presence amidst red tape and his subtle attack on it, unseen amidst the duty-bound and obtusely self-important, had satisfying bite to it. Even his warmongering political manoeuvrings felt like exposes of the failings of political diplomacy.
The Deadly Assassin maintained the officious setting the Master works best in, but any hints of friendship or long-running gentleman's duel between the Doctor and Master had no place here. In the gothic-horror era, the Doctor was now a Van Hellsing character who knew that evil could be made no acquaintance with and must be destroyed at all costs. Genesis of the Daleks was anomalous to this era and was something of a Letts/Dicks legacy. Certainly the Master was only welcome once here before being exorcised, and he should have stayed gone.
The Davison era was a depressing step back, where it was made impossible to even root for the pathetic hero, so what chance did the Master have? But also the era didn't provide settings where the Master could work the way he used to.
He becomes a far less endearing villain when operating in places of innocence and naivety like Traken, or of altruism and penance like Logopolis. That's where the Master just feels too nasty and too bullying, and it feels too easy for him. There he goes from a devilish suave trickster to an outright monster, and a poorly defined one. Half pantomime villain, half Mike Myers with nothing in between. As the 80's went on, this overkill edge was worn down, leaving just the crap pantomime villain.
I always felt bringing him back in New Who would be a mistake. Many fans wanted otherwise, but the new show just seemed a completely different animal that didn't suit his presence. It was easy not caring about the Master's nameless collateral in The Sea Devils. But imagine if they were the cast of Father's Day. Real, believable people with families we empathised with. It'd make the Master too monstrous and bring the Doctor too much into question for long allowing him free reign and even a modicum of admiration or sympathy.
Being weak-minded, easily tempted or greedy or officious tended to be the road to being used and disposed of by the Master. In a dark shadow of the Pertwee era's Buddhist themes, it seems the bad frame of mind will get you punished severely.
New Who was far more secular and neo-liberalist, and stood against the idea of fanaticism. At its most altruistic, it was about the post-9/11 reality that our way of life and culture of blissful naivety is one that's murderously hated. But that doesn't mean we're wrong or that it's deserved. It's not our fault, but it is our problem, and that's a reason to try to be the best that we can. Series One was about Rose teaching the Doctor that humanity is better than the lowly standards he regards us with when practically apologising to the Nestenes for our patheticness.
It's possible, in fact, that the Dalek substitutes, the Toclafane, might have worked better in Series One. Where Rose's cafe speech would be as much about not letting them become our future, as standing against them (maybe the Doctor's refusal to press the Delta Wave would make more sense too). Here they're marginalised in favour of the Master and dismissed and forgotten via insipid wishful thinking.
So how could the Master fit here? In a show about valuing life, how could we root for a death merchant? In a show about being a nobler person, wouldn't the Master's constant evasion of justice upset this message? He doesn't suit New Who. Not the idea of true evil or of the Doctor having any kind of leniency or old allegiance toward a deadly threat to the innocent. In a show about the importance of a good life, the reminder of a Doctor who once considered a remorseless cold-blooded killer worthy of friendship and second chances is problematic.
Yet Russell, having dumped a boatload of Gallifreyan politics and continuity in the Time War, decided to go against that for the sake of bringing back the most tedious and redundant Time Lord of all. Not Romana? Not Susan? Someone actually worth caring about in this new 'emotional' era?
And why would the Time Lords ever bring the Master back? In The Deadly Assassin, he nearly destroy Gallifrey forever. Why would anyone think he was good material for saving them?
This is something I put down to Russell following his inner fanboy and bringing back the Master because he thinks Doctor Who isn't Doctor Who without him. I don't think this Master arc did the show any favours in terms of casual viewer reception. I don't really think it was the same New Who they'd fallen in love with. It certainly wasn't giving them anything new to endear itself to them.
You might suggest this is why the Doctor and the Master needed radically redefining by Russell for a modern context. But the Doctor started life as a grumpy curmudgeon. In the 70's, he changed into your favourite left-wing hero written for a generation that needed one. This may seem a ridiculous leap, but it isn't. It's entirely feasible that the Doctor's scientific visionary quality could develop into a progressive social vision, and Hartnell rubbed shoulders with hippies in his first Dalek story. It's a question of taking the best aspects of the character and leaving behind the rest.
Russell's philistine conceit scoffs at this approach. You have to look very hard to see the essence of the Doctor in his adolescent, anti-intellectualist version, whilst wilfully ignoring a plethora of obnoxiously blatant aberrations. Likewise, there's more of contempt than progress to his approach with the Master. But how do you likewise update a villain where playing on their worst attributes seems more the done thing? Well you play on what made them a good villain in their better stories.
Again, Russell doesn't do that. He turns the Master into such a slapdash, loud, attention-seeking wanker who acts completely mindlessly and flippantly that it'd make more sense to create an entirely new villain. Why bother calling him the Master and suggesting it's the same character at all? Hence why I fundamentally feel that RTD isn't the rejuvenator of Doctor Who so much as its parasite, leeching off its name and past ideas shamelessly, without respect for what it was, and giving nothing worthy back.
Okay, my review's gone slightly bi-polar now. But so is a lot of RTD's era. The Master's characterisation here, much like Eccleston's, just comes off as frankly brain-damaged and lacking any cognitive thought. What is the Doctor or the Master without that? So yes, sometimes in fits and starts, that altruistic moral I highlighted above shows through, but is so often sharply undermined by RTD's trademark mean-girl cattiness.
Here it all goes to die. Russell doesn't give us an ingenius version of the Master. He just keeps the masses as stupid, easy opposition for him. In fact, one of his cabinet has to ask six times for the Master to explain and clarify that he's about to gas them all to death rather than fleeing the room like any sane person would.
When Tennant's Doctor describes the Master as an exceptionally devious foe they must be one step ahead of, it offers a glimpse of what this story could be, with a villain a cut-above any other on TV. But that's what Russell thinks he's written. What's onscreen with Simm's Master is intolerably asinine.
And the comedy scene where the Master keeps childishly opening and closing the airtight door on Redford's dying screams? Well, there's the Master's witty gallows humour, and there's teens getting drunk in a graveyard and pissing on someone's grave for a laugh. This is the latter, and it's just as appalling on television as in real life.
Last of the Time Lords loses even that kind of appalling shock value. It just becomes nulling after a while. The Master kills people meaninglessly, dances around like a prick, and the whole thing is just a sad, depressing parade of pain that gives us no inspiring insight into the human condition, that usually tends to make something like Othello or Dalek Empire into something better and grander than just a parade of pain.
It's also troublingly indicative of Russell and his sycophants' mindset that, at all costs, the New Who celebrations both on and off screen must not stop. It must all be fun. The desperate party must be seen to continue even when the entire world is suffering and evil reigns supreme. And it sets a horrible precedent for Let's Kill Hitler. This is dark, but we have to find ways to crowbar 'fun' into it, through the Master and the Scissor Sisters (you know sometimes I wish Doctor Who was a public embarrassment again that trendy bands would be ashamed to be affiliated with). This kind of mindset is just downright sociopathic and marks where all Russell's 'emotionalism' and 'heart' went out the window. I see only ugly-heartedness here. If Doctor Who needed to come back as this, you might as well have not brought it back at all.
I've since wondered if maybe my appreciation of Series 4 came from a sense the excesses of this ugly heartedness had been exorcised and purged here (in Journey's End at least the party celebrations are saved until victory). But perhaps I just stopped caring.
What does this mean to casual viewers? Was it mindless fun or a mystical glimpse into another lost legend like the Doctor but who's evil yet just as wacky and funny? I don't know. I dismiss it all as fanfic indulgence. What if the Master won and ruled Earth? What if the begrudging respect between the Doctor and Master was the love that dare not speak its name (who cares what this'd mean for Susan)? The trouble with all these "what if"s is it necessitates making the Doctor completely ineffectual, and New Who's canon can't accept the story, so it gets meaninglessly, inconsequentially erased, and we can never trust any RTD story from hereon won't do this to us again.
On top of that, there's no part of us that could ever root for the Master if he were a sleazy woman-beater. Or for a Doctor who forgives him.