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.
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!