Monday, 29 April 2013

Review: Doctor Who 3.12-13: The Sound of Drums and Last Of The Time Lords

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The Master reacts to being called insane.
Doctor Who - Season 29, Episodes Twelve and Thirteen - The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Timelords
Written 10/3/13

Charting RTD's relative rise and fall in popularity, one of the first massive fan outcries at something in his reign was the Series Three finale, which was filled with some of the standard RTD moves but which made rather a lot of people think that he'd gone a step too far. While I don't really object to it a lot, I do admit that there are a couple of problems with RTD's writing here that return from his previous finales, and in a way which is much more gradiose and ridiculous. The build-up is great, but I've still yet to see RTD ever deliver a truly satisfying conclusion to a story.
     Using Jack's wristband to teleport to Modern Day London, the gang discover that The Master has installed himself as Prime Minister Harold Saxon (this year's repeated meme) and has created a network of psychic satellites putting the world under his subliminal control. He reveals a race called the Toclafane which, after having a fake first contact situation on the UNIT airship Valient, he uses to take over the world. The Doctor in his posession, he rules over the world for a year before a trekking Martha arrives back in London, discovering that the Toclafane are the humans from the ship to Utopia and that the Master had used a cannibalised TARDIS to hold the paradox in place. Using the effect of the psychic network, The Doctor is returned to full power. The Paradox Machine is destroyed and time rewinds. The Master is shot, and dies in The Doctor's arms (with a silly hook afterwards). Martha, now seeing that The Doctor will never love her in the way she wants him to, leaves to look after her family, and Jack returns to Torchwood.
     John Simm's portrayl of The Master is one filled with a constant manic energy, less of a scheming archvillain and more of a mischevous schoolboy whose managed to convince his parents to let him throw a sickie. His is a character of paranoia and fear, obsessed with his own ego and making small petty victories over his enemies. I really don't know which of the Master's personalities I really prefer, because in a weird way Simm does manage to pull off the Moriarty spiel just as easily as any of his other incarnations. That said, I do think that there were some silly moments that resulted from this change in characterisation. When facing the President of the United States, Saxon was more annoying than anything else - weird for a guy operating under a pretty thin perception filter to be acting like a complete weirdo just for the sake of it. And then we get to the second half. A tenuous tie-in with The Lazarus Experiment lets The Master age The Doctor's body up by a few hundred years, resulting in a strange dwarf-like creature known to fandom as "Dobby Doctor".
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Spacetime tears apart over  the Valiant.
     But for balance, lets look at a few of the good things before I look at RTD's latest deus ex machina. The Doctor and the Master get a great number of scenes to play off one another, at least when Tennant hasn't been thrown in the age make-up, and there's a noticably different attitude to Ten than in previous incarnations. In the Classic Series, The Doctor could afford to make vaguely heroic statements about The Master's evil, whereas here Ten is desperate to ensure that he and The Master reach a peace, albeit on his terms. There's a sense that after all this time, their relationship has reached a point where it's very much love-hate. The Doctor relies on The Master's cowardice to never kill himself, and so The Master orchestrates his own death just to piss The Doctor off. The Doctor and the Master's slightly shippy relationship is one of the things I love about Simm's Master, and it pops up again in The End of Time.
     So, here's the trademark Disappointing Resolution Of The Series. The day is saved by every single person on the planet thinking The Doctor's title at the same time, which somehow translates into The Doctor being de-aged, incredibly strong and being able to float on a bright white fog, in what fandom has lovingly called, "Floaty Jesus Doctor". (Fandom has a lot of words for this episode, but I won't mention the others.) You could argue that of course the Archangel Network and the whole psychic field thing was introduced an episode or two ago, but turning The Doctor into a god based on the power of prayer (yes, the word prayer is used) is both silly and dangerously close to that whole Lonely God thing that I really don't like. It doesn't so much as stretch credibility as it does utterly shatter it.
     This isn't exacty Martha's last episode, but it does mark the end of her tenure as a continuous companion. The finale marks an important part in the development of her character, and with the love subplot that was built up throughout the series. The finale marks the point where Martha realises that she's in a bad scenario, where she takes the initiative and leaves the man who she knows will never feel the way about her that she does about him. In terms of Nu Who, it's quite a remarkable thing. Every companion except Martha has run with this "I want to stay with you forever" thing and have had to have their adventures stopped by circumstances beyond their control. I like that Martha was written with the maturity to leave when she didn't want to travel any more.
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The Master and the Toclafane.
     I realise there are lots of words in this article, but I'll just throw out a few more. I'll cover this more on Friday when I do my series overview, but I've had a ton of fun reviewing Series Three. While this finale had a great number of problems, it never stopped being fun for me and the characterisations that have made this particular series so great still worked wonders. I think, on the face of it, that fun Doctor/Master shipping and watching Martha put The Doctor in his place are more than worth the silliness that comes with Dobby Doctor and Floaty Jesus Doctor. So there. It's not as bad as some in the fandom would make out, and it's the cornerstone on one of the best seasons of the revived series after the first.

Thanks.

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