Note: The post below was originally made for the first, abortive incarnation of this blog, which spluttered to a halt almost immediately when I realized that I wasn't actually all that interested in writing a blog at all. Time will tell if that's changed this time around, but in the meantime, while I've deleted the other remnants of Blogge The Firste for reasons of irrelevance and dullness, I'm leaving this post intact, largely because I find it mildly interesting to have a time capsule record of my own reaction to the episode in question fresh from the initial viewing. Particularly interesting, to me if nobody else, are the areas where it differs from my current, hindsight-assisted take on the same story.
So, Season 3 (or, if you’re a pernickety nerd like wot I am, Season 29) of Doctor Who concluded last night, in a manner that was, if nothing else, spectacular. I’m actually planning to write a general overview of the whole season at some point in the next few days, but for the sake of actually getting some actual content up on this blog, I’m going to give my - somewhat garbled - initial impressions of the finale here. The following is based loosely around the notes I made on the second viewing of the episode, earlier this morning, and as such, may not be entirely coherent. I would apologise for this, but since it seems eminently appropriate to the episode in question, I’m not going to.
Oh, and a (fairly obvious) warning – the following will not only reveal substantial quantities of the plot to 'Last Of The Time Lords', but will probably make very little sense to anyone who hasn’t seen it.
ROLL OPENING CREDITS.
- Possibly the greatest single problem with the episode becomes apparent with the opening scene. I was suspecting this would happen after last week's cliffhanger, but from the moment this episode began, it was obvious to anyone with a brain that it was going to end with the whole time-line being reversed somehow. Large-scale alien invasions are one thing, but having the Earth as a ravaged post-apocalyptic wasteland simply isn't a viable new status quo for the type of show Doctor Who has always been, so it was inevitable that they weren't going to stick with it. Being aware of that, it was very difficult to make any emotional connection with what happened from that point on - every new horror was simply another thing which I knew was going to be undone, so why care?
- Martha was able to visit just about everywhere on Earth in a single year? On foot (apart from the bit when she single-handedly sailed the Atlantic)? Really?
- She’s still wearing her magic key o'invisibility, which shields her from the Toclafane scanners, but she tells the resistance guy that he can see her "because he wants to". Umm...so what about that scene last week when the Doctor demonstrated how the key worked by putting it on? Did Martha not want to see the Doctor, or something?
- Right. Everyone who didn't see where the "Battered Wife" storyline was heading from the very second Lucy Saxon slumped onto the screen with shoulders bowed and face bruised, would you please raise your hands?
OK, anyone with their hand up is a fucking moron. Not only is it numbingly predictable, but the way "she's a victim of domestic abuse!" was used as an all-purpose substitute for any kind of fleshed-out characterisation is extraordinarily lazy writing, bordering on the genuinely offensive. It’s also a shameful waste of a character who, when she first appeared last week, seemed rich with potential.
- The dismal, doomed-to-failure escape attempt by the captives onboard the SHIELD helicarrier was actually rather effective. But when did the previously-human (albeit-immortal) Captain Jack develop super-strength? He pulled a set of metal chains out of the wall with his bare hands, an action which my knowledge of physical reality informs me would, in fact, simply result in a pair of dislocated shoulders, and two resolutely un-pulled-out chains. Yes, the show is sci-fi/fantasy, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t strive for an internally-consistent reality. The sudden manifestation of superhuman strength by a character who’s shown no previous tendencies towards it is the sort of thing which really should be commented upon within the plot – or, preferably, avoided altogether.
- Speaking of Martha's family (which I was for a moment there), where the hell was her brother? What exactly was the point of his "escape" last week? Very slapdash plotting, and one of a number of plot strands which were established in previous weeks, only to go nowhere here.
- The computer-generated Gollum/Yoda version of the Doctor looked rather good, as a special effect (the cutesy, big-eyed design struck me as a mistake, mind). However, and this is important, it was still a rather good-looking ONE-FOOT TALL GOLLUM-DOCTOR, and if I have to explain why that's retarded, you're simply never going to see this in the same way as I do. Suffice to say that it takes the character rather further from reality than I’m comfortable with – yes, he’s alien, and at times he should seem very much so in characterisation terms, but the physical nature of his body has always remained essentially human-looking, for good reason.
- OK, so now it seems that the drumming which was introduced last episode is something that the Master's been hearing all his life, which has simply never been mentioned before. That's a big ol' retcon, that is – which would be fair enough (although still a very awkward fit for anyone who's actually seen the earlier Master stories, in which he never seemed particularly distracted by imaginary noises), if not for the fact that the way the drumming was introduced last week made it seem specifically relevant and significant to the current storyline. It’s a basic writing error – plot elements, once established, need to be resolved one way or another – and one to which Russell T. Davies seems unusually prone.
- "I'm going to kill the Master". "No, I'm going to kill the Master." "No, I'M going to kill the Master." Ferfooxache. At least when the exact same scene occurred in the Simpsons episode 'Who Shot Mr. Burns?' it wasn't meant to be taken seriously. Clumsy, unconvincing and heavy-handed.
- So, the Doctor knew that the Master would be planning a big global countdown at which point everyone who believed in fairies could clap their hands, did he? And, what's more, he knew that this countdown would be broadcast worldwide, to the entire population of Earth? Even the ones without access to (non-functioning, apparently) televisions? And he was able to convey this to Martha with approximately 3 seconds of whispering?
- Come to think of it, what were the Little Population-Subjugating Silver Balls Of Death doing when everyone was gathering in big, suspicious crowds all over the world?
- Ah, the Power Of Love resolution, as seen before in such masterpieces as last year’s 'Fear Her', and all of the really crap episodes of Buffy (and, in the one documented instance of this particular plot device being used well, in the final issue of Grant Morrison’s JLA run). But really, what the fuck? I can't even begin to get my head around how this was supposed to work. Leaving the basic implausibility of the conceit aside (tricky, but give it a go), how exactly did a global telepathic field of Belief In The Doctor disintegrate his cage, or provide clothes for the newly re-embiggened Doctor? Did the tiny suit the Master had, presumably, made for his tiny pet simply stretch?
- And now, a melodramatic cliff-top confrontation! For no reason!
- OK, so the time-reversal was pretty much inevitable, as I mentioned earlier. But why did everything revert back to that specific moment? If the Toclafane are trapped at the end of the Universe, and the whole thing never happened, how did the President die? Lame.
- The direction was very weak throughout, with several key sequences feeling flat and lifeless, visually-speaking. The accelerated-aging effect for the Doctor, in particular, was laughable.
- What the hell was up with all those flashbacks? The whole episode was littered with them, to a genuinely-intrusive degree. Was it just lack of confidence in the audience on Davies' part, or was he so stung by the criticisms of the Bad Wolf/Torchwood non-arcs in the previous seasons that he decided to go all-out to prove that no, really, this time IT’S ALL CONNECTED?
- Speaking of genuinely-intrusive, wasn’t Murray Gold’s cloying, overwhelming score annoying? He’s done rather better this year than in previous seasons – the absence of tinny-sounding synth drumlines was appreciated – but all the flaws in his work were present here. Also, the sound mix was appalling – to hear the dialogue clearly, it was necessary to turn the volume up so high that the music was deafening. This has been a problem all season, but was particularly glaring this week.
- Couldn't Davies have come up with a slightly better structure to the episode than "keep everyone in the dark for half an hour, then fill in everything in one big, tedious chunk of clumsy exposition"?
- The whole episode was so shamelessly derivative that it's hard to get worked-up about the Funeral For A Jedi moment at the end, or with Ming The Merciless picking up the ring. But still...there you go.
- Given the fact that they'd already committed to an unrequited-love character arc months ago, Martha's farewell to the Doctor was about as good as it could have been - and at least she came to that conclusion on her own. Still, it begs some serious questions about the wisdom of her entire character arc over the course of the season. The constant, forced comparisons with her predecessor were desperately annoying, not least because they served to highlight the degree to which Martha actually was a better person than Rose. I'm not saying she was a better character, either in conception or execution (I think she was, personally, but that's not the issue), but her final scene, in which she – quite rightly - stays behind for the sake of her family, is a direct contrast to a similar situation at the end of Season 2, when Rose made precisely the opposite decision. What was that about? Were we supposed to realise that actually, Rose was a bit of a cow, making the Doctor even more of a dick for treating Martha as second-best all season? I doubt it, but that's the impression I was left with.
That aside, though, the idea that we needed a whole season, an entire character's 13-episode journey, to finally show the Doctor getting over Rose (which this week's Doctor Who Confidential explicitly states was the intention behind Martha's character) is fucking ridiculous. What, exactly, was 'The Runaway Bride' for, then? Unlike a lot of old-school fans, I'm not fundamentally opposed to the introduction of a romantic aspect to the show - I thought that last year's 'The Girl In The Fireplace' was one of the best Doctor Who stories ever, for example, in a way which simply wouldn't have been possible in the pre-Davies era - but I find RTD's continued self-congratulatory insistence that Rose was the ideal companion/love of the Doctor's life deeply embarrassing. It wasn't really an issue in Season 1 (whatever the writers intended, the onscreen chemistry between Piper and Eccleston simply didn't suggest a romantic relationship to me), and the sudden change in the central character dynamic was a large part of the reason I found much of Season 2 disappointing. The fact that we are still being smashed over the head with it a full year later is downright absurd. Having the Master - who not only never met Rose, but has no reason to even know she existed - make a direct reference to her, instead of to one of the many companions he's actually met and been defeated by, was simply the icing on a particularly stale cake.
There were, of course, some things I liked. The reveal of the Toclafane's true identity was a good one, although not something we haven't seen before elsewhere (most recently in Grant Morrison's excellent Seven Soldiers series in fact - it wouldn't surprise me if that's where Davies got the idea from, since he's not shy about being something of a comics fan). That's not really a problem, though, and neither is the fact that I figured the twist out a good few days ago - it was pretty much the only explanation which made sense. At least it resolved my major criticism of The Sound Of Drums, which was that it rendered most of Utopia utterly pointless.
John Simm was an absolute delight from start to finish as the Master, with his opening song-and-dance routine to the Scissor Sisters’ 'I Can't Decide' ranking as a particular highlight of scenery-chewing arch-villaindom. Unfortunately, his gleefully over-the-top performance served largely to highlight the desperately po-faced self-importance of the rest of the episode. One gets the feeling that Davies was deliberately setting out to write a Big, Important, Epic Story, and had a list of items to check off in order to achieve this. Sadly, Big, Important and Epic aren't enough on their own, and he somehow failed to check the box marked “coherent plot”.
All of that said, I'm still cautiously optimistic about Davies' continuation as producer for at least another year. After all, the lameness of the conclusion doesn't diminish how good the rest of this season has been, particularly in terms of coherent tone and direction – a massive improvement on the meandering, unfocused second season, and something which is due largely to Davies’ work as show-runner.
More importantly, the bits and pieces of this story that appear to be setting the scene for the next season are, in themselves, quite promising. It seems that the Doctor has, finally, removed the Rose-shaped chip from his shoulder, and Martha's not-quite-a-total-departure leaves me hopeful that we'll be seeing something a bit different in regard to the setting and overall structure of the next season. With Martha's Emergency Phone to provide a handy reason for the Doctor to visit contemporary Britain (and Captain Jack in place to make guest appearances if/when he does), they've got the space to try something a bit different in terms of companions, alien worlds, and season-long arcs. Whether or not they’re going to take advantage of that is uncertain, but I'll be interested to see where it goes from here.