THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE AFTER "THE
STORY OF MARTHA"
PRIOR TO THE TV
OF THE DAMNED."
THE TV EPISODE "TIME
CRASH" IS SET DURING
THE CLOSING MOMENTS
OF THIS EPISODE.
RUSSELL T. DAVIES
'THE COMPLETE THIRD
EXCLUSIVE DVD BOX
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
EARTH HAS BEEN
CONQUERED AND THE
MASTER RULES SUPREME,
WITH THE DOCTOR AS
HIS PRISONER. ONLY
MARTHA JONES CAN
SAVE THE WORLD...
30TH JUNE 2007
(50-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 3 OF 3)
In the future, when another generation of fans look back on the new series as we do on the original, I’m sure that many of them will be confused as to why The Parting of the Ways and Doomsday were not named the other way round. To me, it seems that the title of each is far more suited to the other. However, originally used as a working title for the never- produced 1990s Coast to Coast / Green Light Doctor Who movie, I doubt very much that another episode will ever come along that could deserve the now notorious title Last of the Time Lords any more than this one does as Russell T Davies’ third season finale in a row explores in great depth what it truly means to the Doctor to be the last of his kind.
“It’s ready to rise, Doctor. The new Time Lord Empire. It’s good isn’t it?”
Of course, at the start of the episode he isn’t. The Master is not
only alive and well, but ruling the world and harbouring even loftier
ambitions. A full year has passed since the events of The Sound
of Drums, and the Master has not only destroyed half the world
and built a massive fleet of warships but has also imprisoned the
Doctor, Jack, and (most of) the Joneses in the most dreadful of
conditions. The withered Doctor is kept in a cage like an animal,
the Joneses are forced to cater to the Master’s every whim, and
poor old Jack is spread-eagled and manacled to a wall. Even
Lucy Saxon, dressed in a very fetching red dress, nurses a black
eye. To the sound of the Scissor Sisters the Master is living his
dream; he’s ruling the world. Amazing what a bit of tinnitus will
drive you to.
And as you might expect it’s a joy to watch, but – and it’s a
big but – I had one major quandary which all but ruined the
episode for me. If you’re even slightly shrewd, you know that
the Master can’t be allowed to conquer the world and wipe
out a huge proportion of its population – at least, not in the
present day or thereabouts. Doctor Who and especially
Torchwood are both grounded in contemporary settings,
and so this year of hell simply couldn’t be happening. But as
it obviously is happening, I knew without absolutely certainly
that it would be undone. And I hate cop-out endings; deus ex
machina; the old ‘reset button’ and all that. When I don’t see
them coming, it’s not so bad; Star Trek: Voyager could just
about get away with their “year of hell” that never was, but
however good Last of the Time Lords was, from the moment
it said “One Year Later” I knew exactly what was coming.
And it’s a great shame because otherwise the episode is brilliant. The way that Davies shows Martha walking the Earth and spreading the word is exceptionally profound. It’s a testament to the Doctor’s nature that he doesn’t try to save the day with guns or bombs –
he does it with faith and hope.
“The human race. The greatest monsters of them all.”
Moreover, as I mentioned in my review of The Sound of Drums, Davies plotting of this tale is stupendously good. The Toclafane are the humans from the year 100 trillion. Their “diamond skies” didn’t exist; all they found when they reached their Utopia was fire and darkness. And so they changed. They butchered themselves. And the Master, he promised them the Earth. But if these humans go back in time to the 21st century and decimate their ancestors, then surely they could never have existed in the first place in order to do so? Enter: the Paradox Machine. The Master cannibalises the Doctor’s
TARDIS so that he may use its power to allow
this paradox to endure. See what I mean? A
plot and a half! If only it wasn’t crying out to be
Another major gripe I have is that the magnificent chemistry that we saw blossoming on screen between David Tennant and John Simm in the preceding episode was savagely curtailed by an gratuitous, albeit impressive bit of CGI. Not content to age to the Doctor’s current incarnation by a century, Davies went for it full throttle and had the Master manipulate the Doctor’s DNA to make him look his actual age. The result is a cute little homunculus-like creature, a weird amalgamation of Yoda and Golem. It‘s certainly a fabulous achievement
for the Mill, but again I ask – why? All it does it knock the Doctor down a peg or two so that his return to form at the end has an even greater impact. The same effect could have been achieved in many different ways, all of which could have involved Tennant and Simm acting together in the same room. Sadly the audience-grabbing gimmick robbed us of what could have been many delightful scenes between the two actors throughout the episode.
Nevertheless, the banter between the Doctor and the Master is nothing short of breathtaking. Not normally one to indulge the fans too much, here Davies spoils us with talk of Sea Devils, Axons, and the Time War. We learn that the Doctor “sealed the rift at the Medusa cascade” single-handedly; one of those wonderful, potentially throwaway lines like “I was there at the fall of Arcadia” that help to build up the picture of this epic, all-consuming war in the viewer’s heads. Earlier this year Nicholas Briggs suggested that a Time War could never be dramat-ised, and perhaps he’s right. But I suspect that Davies could do it if he had a mind to.
Some fans may have also noticed the Master’s sardonic comment “Time Lords and humans combined. Isn’t that what you’ve always dreamed of Doctor?” referring to the Doctor’s ‘gen-etic abnormality’ revealed in the TV Movie which only the Master (and Grace Holloway!) are aware of…
“I forgive you.”
And, although predictable, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the episode’s climax tremendously. Every human being on the planet simultaneously thinking “Doctor” is a very potent image, and as I have intimated earlier it’s great to see the Doctor being victorious through means of faith and hope (and a year’s worth of Archangel jiggery-pokery). Making him visibly god-like was a bit too far my tastes, but fair dues; it worked. And you know what happens now...
The final showdown on Earth between the last of the Time Lords is immensely fulfilling; just as memorable as their climactic confrontation on the Cheetah Planet in the last few minutes of the last-ever episode of ‘classic’ Doctor Who, Survival. Davies stays true to the Master’s nature – as the Doctor so deftly puts it, “over all these years and all these disasters and I’ve always had the greatest secret of them all. I know you. Explode those ships and you kill your-self. That’s the one thing you could never do”. But then – and this is the truly ingenious bit on Davies’ part – the Master goes against his nature.
After making the Master’s survival instinct so explicit, Davies has the Master refusing to regenerate. His stunning lady in red shoots him, and then rather than regenerate and spend eternity with the Doctor trying to save his soul, the Master chooses to die. And in doing so
he breaks his old friend’s hearts. He finally wins.
“You and me. All the things we’ve done. Axons, remember the Axons?
And the Daleks? We’re the only two left. And no-one else. Regenerate!”
The Master dies in the Doctor’s arms and the Doctor weeps openly and publicly. For the Doctor, he’s going through it all again. Losing his people. Evil or not, for the Doctor the Master is the Time Lords in microcosm, and he’s losing them all over again.
The Doctor places the Master’s body on a funeral pyre, and in a scene that just screams out Return of the Jedi, we see the Master’s body immolated. Is he gone forever? Don’t be daft! We’ve seen his body consumed by fire before, only for him to show up a few stories later saying “I’m indestructible. The whole universe knows that”. I’m sure that the writers of today would never bring him back with such a deliberately feeble line, but someone wearing red nail varnish did pick up his ring from beside the pyre. Lucy Saxon, perhaps…?
After time had reversed a year (sigh) and the world was saved, for the first time since the revived series began we had a happy ending to the season. And to be frank, I enjoyed the change. Captain Jack heads home to Torchwood, citing that he misses his colleagues too much to travel with the Doctor full-time. After quizzing the Doctor about what he thinks he
will look like when he is a million years old, Jack then drops into the conversation that his nickname used to be “the Face of Boe” as he grew up in the Boeshane Peninsula and was something of a “poster boy” there. My reaction to this ‘revelation’ (or mischievous yarn...) was exactly the same as the Doctor and Martha’s...
And then comes the counterpoint to Doomsday. Following the attraction to Milligan that
she felt during her year walking the Earth, and realising that her affections will never be returned, Martha decides to leave the Doctor’s company. Freema Agyeman is adamant
that the tabloid rumours of her ‘sacking’ aren’t true, and judging from the way that Martha gives the Doctor her phone I don’t think that they are. She’ll be back; if not as a fully-fledged companion, then I get the feeling that she will at least be around in a ‘Mickey Smith’ kind of way.
“I’ll see you again Mister.”
When Martha leaves the Doctor, he seems remarkably resigned to it. All he has to say to her is “thank you”, and I think it’s pretty obvious what he means. She’s helped him out of his rut. He’s himself again. He’s over Rose. Or at least, as over her as he ever will be.
But for the reasons that I’ve outlined above, I don’t think that Last of the Time Lords was a patch on either The Parting of the Ways or Doomsday, and the episode’s shortcomings were only heightened by the superlative quality of both Utopia and The Sound of Drums which it followed. All in all though, Last of the Time Lords was a good episode and, even
as a season finale, works very well. However, with the cast available – who were all, without exception, exceptional – and the high quality of CGI that the Mill are churning out, I just can’t help but feel that it could’ve been so much better. This third series has been so impossibly good, a finale that is merely ‘good’ just does not do it justice.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This story shows us the Master as young boy, arguably debunking Marc Platt’s popular theories concerning Gallifreyan propagation set out in many of his Doctor Who novels. It is feasible, however, that the Master (or “Kochei”, if you will) was born naturally some time prior to the Pythia’s curse which left the women of Gallifrey barren, though this is improbable as he was a contemporary of the Doctor’s, who – if Platt’s works are to be given credence – we know was woven in a genetic loom (much like his “daughter”, Jenny, would be in The Doctor’s Daughter) from which he emerged fully grown Another possibility is that when Platt posited the idea that modern Gallifreyans are loomed ‘fully grown’, this could include nearly fully grown, i.e. adolescent. This
is something of a fudge, but fits a lot better as it also accounts for the Doctor’s frequent references to being
“a child” and “a boy” throughout the series, not to mention the suggestive sobriquet “time tot” often used to describe young Time Lords and Time Ladies.
This story also offers us further insight into the chain of events that saw the Master start down the dark path towards evil. Here it is suggested that from the moment he looked into the Untempered Schism as a youth, his every thought was punctuated by the sounds of drums – a sound that slowly drove him mad. This does
not counteract the explanations put forward in The Dark Path and Master, however, as the Master’s fall from grace appears to have been a gradual one; the Untempered Schism is simply where it all began…
Details of how the Time Lords resurrected the Master during the Time War are not known. Presumably they used a method similar to that employed by the Cult of Saxon in The End of Time, and – given the Master’s evident ability to regenerate again – were a damn sight more successful at it than the Cult would be.
When is now? This episode is set shortly after “present” events depicted in 42 (2008).
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