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Doctor Who 3.13: Last of the Time Lords

Oh dear, where to start reviewing the finale of what has undoubtedly been the best series of Doctor Who… The Last of the Time Lords left me feeling a bit empty. It’s like plunging your fork into a great looking pie that turns out to be all flaky pastry and no meat.

Or something.

After last week’s tremendous opener, it seems that The Last of the Time Lords just ran a little bit too fast for the director to keep up with. The first 20 minutes or so had me grimacing at some of the excess on display, and I’m getting tired of waiting for the final reel to get to the real heart of an episode. I’m starting to feel a bit cheated by what’s on offer.

So what’s the Master up to? I’m not quite sure. While for once its nice to see him actually ruling a planet and being triumphant, and it doesn’t amount to a great deal and he seems to spend his days dancing around his bedroom. The Earth is now a downtrodden planet full of slums and slaves, it would have been nice to see the Master stepping out onto a balcony to play the tyrant once in a while and connect him to the world he’s enslaved. But no, we spend a lot of the episode pratting around on the not particularly grand looking bridge of a flying aircraft carrier. It’s a little bit constraining.

Of course, Martha is out there fighting the good fight, travelling the world and searching for a way of defeating the Master. This provides much-more satisfying fare. Freema Agyeman is brilliant as always, commanding her scenes with a confidence that shows how much the actress is at home in Doctor Who. There’s also some exciting running around with the Toclafane, who do make quite nasty villains with their childlike qualities and vicious weaponry.

The revelation of the reality behind the Toclafane is a great moment and quite horrific - they are the humans we last saw in Utopia, who didn’t find the hope they were looking for. Instead they found misery and death, and the Master became their saviour, giving them a life as the Toclafane. This is more like it, and it’s pleasing to see a previous storyline not abandoned to the ether.

But I still don’t know what the Master’s up to. It seems like a typical super villain’s plot - he’s got some rockets, he’s got some deadly balls, and he’s going to launch a new Time Lord Empire from the Earth. Erm… Okay, that’s nice. I don’t quite know how launching a few rockets is going to do that, but it’s probably not worth worrying about.

I similarly found the ageing of the Doctor to a CGI homunculus to be a low point in the narrative. I can see the virtue of reducing our hero to this ineffectual entity - if the Doctor is so broken and destroyed, what hope is there? But the mechanics just failed to work. Top marks for trying to push the boundary of what you can do with CGI on TV, but sorry chaps, it destroyed the emotional thrust that the script was attempting in its overall failure.

But there are big themes here worth championing, even if the actual mechanics of the episode weren’t particularly successful. It’s a familiar Russell T Davies device that the over the top, unreigned silliness is never really the point of an episode. As in Utopia, the Blake’s 7 excess of the first 20 minutes was a sleight to the magnificent climax. And here, the Master can run around like a juvenile Blofeld to his hearts’ content, reducing the Doctor to a wizened piece of CGI and other associated evilness. But this is merely gaudy window dressing.

It’s Martha’s quest that is the heart of the episode, wandering the Earth like a disciple, spreading the word of the Doctor, and keeping hope alive. And that’s brilliant, cutting through the nonsense like a sharp knife, leading to the messianic rise of the Doctor from near death (and being saved from a life of looking like Dobby the House Elf). It’s not the best we’ve ever had from a Doctor Who season finale, but its still beguiling, the Doctor as a symbol of hope to a world. If I was being perverse, I could make an allegorical link to the resurrection of Doctor Who, a once great show that wrinkled away due to neglect in the face of flashier, younger pretenders. It bided its time as the fan base kept the word alive through audio dramas and books. The nation still believed in the Doctor and he rose again.

But that’s just me being a romantic daftie.

But… but… but… I knew the concept of a paradox machine at the heart of the plot was a harbinger of doom last week. And yes, time was reversed and the events never happened. Yawn. Sorry, but that’s just lazy and I was all prepared to cry foul at the invoking of such a hackneyed cop out. But then Davies does what he usually does and takes a sci-fi cliché and relates it to the characters we’ve come to care about. The Jones family remember what happened where the rest of the world doesn’t, and that’s got to be pretty harsh. Okay, I’ll buy that. Just.

It is the last ten minutes that once again provide the most satisfying moments of the episode. The death of the Master is quite an affecting piece of business, as shot down by his own wife. As the Doctor cradles his enemy in his arms, begging him to regenerate, to not leave him once again as the last of the Time Lords, I’ll confess to being a touch misty-eyed. Great turns from Tennant and Simm, as you’d expect and the Doctor’s mournful wail is the most wretched and defeated we’ve ever seen our hero. He didn’t even go that far when Rose went over the rainbow last year.

And speaking of companions, we say goodbye to another one this year - or do we? Martha’s decision to stay behind and look after her family is a brave move, certainly in character terms. This makes Martha so much stronger than Rose. The much talked about Miss Tyler would have followed the Doctor around like a lovesick teenager for the rest of her life if she hadn’t been forcibly removed by the events of Doomsday. Martha becomes much more real for me here as she takes a deep breath, makes her decision and moves on. Good on you girl!

And the best thing about this is that we clearly haven’t seen the last of Martha Jones. Rest assured, dear reader, going by that final scene we’ll be seeing her again very soon. And if the Flash Gordon homage that sees a dainty, manicured hand picking the Master’s ring from the ashes of his funeral pyre is anything to go by, we haven’t seen the last of him either. Heh heh heh…

I have major reservations about this episode. Much of it doesn’t make sense (I mean, what was the Master really doing?), it plays out as silly and lacks substance, certainly for half its run time. Oh, and Jack is criminally underused. As we see, that’s never really the point though, but I do wonder how much longer the audience will let the production team get away with that.

I would like to see how this episode would have been handled by a director like Charles Palmer or Graham Harper. I don’t think Colin Teague provided the strongest hand on the tiller for this episode (although previously I liked his work on The Sarah Jane Adventures).

On the whole then I feel The Last of the Time Lords provided the weakest of the season finales for Doctor Who to date. Entertaining and emotive in parts, it lacked the breathtaking spectacle we’ve come to expect and saw the (hopefully temporary) departure of a much-liked companion. But look on the bright side, Doctor Who will return in Voyage of the Damned. Hurrah!

Roll on Christmas Day!

9 Comments

Interestingly according to the podcast commentary, bits of the episode where handled by Graham Harper as Teague fell down some stairs two days before the end of shooting -- see if you can spot which sections he did.

This episode was disappointing in many ways and again we get the Christ story. What is the fascination with this? Personally, it would have been a lot better if The Doctor and the human race had been rescued by Martha and Jack, rather than this pseudo religious nonsense that keeps getting rammed down our throats.

It seems to me that a total lack of scientific knowledge is behind this reliance on fantasy and magic rather than SCIENCE fiction. Do they actually have any scientific advisors on this show? This is the difference between shows like Star Trek and Space 1999 - where one invented new physics and laws that were followed by the writers, and the other where the science part was not deemed important in favour of pseudo-psychology.

This is a fundamental flaw with both the new DW and TWD. Even Harry Potter, though fantasy, has rules of magic and a definite physics/law of nature that create a believable system. If you totally do away with this notion in the hope that the characters can totally drive the plot and explain the nonsense and plot holes away and be accepted, you are doomed to fail as people cannot then even begin to understand this fantasy world, and are therefore unable to relate to it.

In this episode, if the Doctor had pulled the plug on the TARDIS in the last episode, the plan would have been stopped right there. Other holes where the rewinding of time back to after the president had been killed - though none of the staff (and the body of the president) reappeared, and the president was killed by the spheres - if the spheres could not exist because of the paradox, then the president would still be alive.

It seemed to me that instead of events determining the plot, the plot determined events which is a very poor way of writing. It was always a case of 'wouldn't it be good if...' which meant that the Master was not buried in the Vortex but burned like a Jedi so that he could come back again, after a year of fighting for the Doctor Martha dumps him, Captain Jack's story is resolved totally which removes any element of mystery from TWD...and it goes on. What killed me was that the Doctor regenerated his suit and baseball boots through the power of prayer...come on!

And the Marvel Team-up ending with Jack going back to TWD was just awful.

yes, the episode was rather dissapointing.
but i disagree with your commentary about Rose.
i do not believe she was stronger. equally strong, perhaps, but not better.
what i didn't like about Martha was her unrequited crush on the Doctor. it was rather annoying and it made her selfish at times, like on 'Human Nature/Family of Blood' when she's so troubled that he fell in love with a human and it wasn't her.

Rose didn't follow the Doctor like a lovesick teenager. she was his equal, they loved and respected eachother, in a way i haven't seen the Doctor act with Martha.
Rose was her own person, she wasn't just a companion, she was another lead of the show. she made the choice of travelling with the Doctor, for her it was a way of life, not just a holiday, like Martha saw it. she didn't idolize the Doctor. she realized he wasn't perfect, she didn't believe half what he said and she challenged him often, she made him more human and less cruel.

in HM/FoB, the Doctor rans away to not give into his dark side.
in TRB, Donna tells him he needs someone to stop him.

and Martha didn't quite fill the shoes.
she was nice, but she was too awestruck with the Doctor, like he could do no wrong.
and the one time she stands up to him, it's only to blame him for what's happened to his family, sometimes which is not at all his fault, but is the consequence of her decision. and the Doctor already has enough issues to be carrying the guilt of something that is not his fault.
Rose never blamed him, for anything that happened.

i liked Martha, but i could never connect with her.
she never seemed good enough to be a companion. she wasn't the best. and she wasn't a lead, she was just a sidekick, following the Doctor, doing as he says, agreeing with everything.
hell, she didn't even wander off.

Pssssst....it's GRAEME Harper... ;-)

A fair opinion Mark, and even on the commentary RTD says he feels a bit empty about the episode for about 20 minutes.

Still, it was full of high points and good fun (though the first half was really quite depressing)

Shame to have Martha leave though. She's been great and the sort of person you could happily travel around with for ages. I expect she'll return because she's so popular (despite what The Sun newspaper says).

PS - I don't want "science advisors" on Doctor Who. Don't care. Just make it vaguely believable and I'll go along with it.

Interesting paradox.

Mick criticises the show for a "total lack of scientific knowledge" and then misses the meaning of the classic grandfather paradox by saying "if the spheres could not exist because of the paradox, then the president would still be alive".

Killing the president would NOT bring the grandfather paradox into play if they killed him after he had his children.

Even if they killed the president before he had his children the descendants of all the 6.5 billion other people on the planet would still exist, eventually become spheres and time travel.

The reason why the paradox machine was needed was because the entire human race was going to be destroyed as a consequence of what the Master and the spheres did after the president was killed.

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What a shame so many reviews state their disappointment in the finale. I thought it was great fun. I think Russell T Davies should maybe do less writing for the show but it is still great and still a treat that we have Doctor Who back on our screens once more.

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i personally think what the people involved with dr who are doing with freema agyeman sounds very racist.i find it strange that billie piper was treated so well and freema is jerked around like a puppet after 1 season(mind you ,there was no change in the ratings during her appearance as his new companion) and they want to pretty much replace her with catherine tate and have her comeback halfway during the season? they would not have treated rose tyler like that but i guess it is okay to treat the doctor's only black companion like that right? some things never change. i really believed things were a little different in england but i guess they are no different than in the usa.very sorry to see that.

The first series of Dr Who was aweome. You had a supreme actor in Christopher Ecclestone playing the role.
The scripts and sciptwriters brilliant.I eagerly await the scripts of up and coming writers and other ethnic groups.
However i have found the last 2 series not as good as the first. It was refreshing to see a black companion for the Doctor (at last). And such a positive, intelligent, educated character. However she was written in a way to make her seem second best to the Rose Tyler character. A companion that was never quite as good or better than Rose.
David Tennant is a good acote, but i find it rather tedious with those 90mph string-a-long sentences he does in that high pitched squeak. Chris's Doctor to me was a lot more deeper and had substance. And i'm not saying that because i like him!!
it for lead roles for other ethnic groups.
Is there a hint of socialist idealism that comes through?


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Natasha on Doctor Who 3.13: Last of the Time Lords
The first series of Dr Who was aweome. Y...
clarence matthews on Doctor Who 3.13: Last of the Time Lords
i personally think what the people invol...
Haisley Snook on Doctor Who 3.13: Last of the Time Lords
What a shame so many reviews state their...
pgogborn on Doctor Who 3.13: Last of the Time Lords
Interesting paradox. Mick criticises th...
Ian Robinson on Doctor Who 3.13: Last of the Time Lords
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okelay on Doctor Who 3.13: Last of the Time Lords
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Mick on Doctor Who 3.13: Last of the Time Lords
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Stu on Doctor Who 3.13: Last of the Time Lords
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