Planet Earth is under threat. Again. But from whom is the greatest threat - Humanoid or by "machine"?
Can the Doctor defeat the menace he knew so well? Will Martha opt to stay with her family or continue to travel in the TARDIS? Will the Master survive at the Doctor's hand?
There's a quote by the BBC Continuity Announcer just before the broadcast of LAST OF THE TIME LORDS that could sum up Russell T Davies' end-of-series finale:
BBC Continuity Announcer: It's looking grim for us humans.
Never a truer word was spoken - from the mouths of babes and BBC Announcers. LAST OF THE TIME LORDS seems either like an episode of THE BANANA SPLITS or even the sixties fest of madness and manic multi-sequential misadventure loosely sold to a bewildered viewing audience as THE MONKEES high on amphetamines and marihuana. Both cult series, on the surface, beguiled the young viewers (that had been metaphorically signed-up to their relative "Cult Camp") that would accept anything & everything thrown at them. Looking back at the two series now you can see that nothing made sense (even through the haze of both illegal & legal drugs), frippery & froth before the "serious" telly that would follow.
LAST OF THE TIME LORDS , for me, is the same. Endless concepts, meaningless sub-plots (that have, on certain DOCTOR WHO fan websites, become known, regrettably, as "fan-wank". An aspect of DOCTOR WHO NEW SERIES that was absent from SERIES 1 where solid story telling was delivered episode after episode after episode) and an unambiguous foray into religious iconography.
And, I guess, that is why I am writing this review in February 2008 and not in June 2007. I needed distance from an episode that bored me. Thinking of it as an Easter Egg (the confection as opposed to a DVD item) - big, colourful, self-promoting, seemingly expensive but within hollow, veiled-luxury, valueless and, eventually, the majority of it throwaway leaving only a mere morsel to satisfy mere moments.
Sorry, Russell T Davies, it just didn't work.
How about a series finale two parter that is literally creates cliff-hanger over two separate series (in the way that the post STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION series adopted)? But then again, if that was used, the following "Christmas Day" episode would not work as a "stand-alone" story for the casual viewer.
So, what worked and what didn't?
Certainly, the set-up from THE SOUND OF DRUMS should have made this episode essential viewing, with the kettle standing cold for 50 minutes and voicemail taking errant incoming messages. Initially, it was. The "narrated" introduction was, in fact, a work of genius with the line, "Planet Earth is Closed" being genius. The intervening "one year later" summed up succinctly & professionally by T Davies. However, whilst that was very DOCTOR WHO, "There you go, Gramps" wasn't, and neither was the Master salaciously discussing a planned massage
THE MASTER: Time for my massage. Who shall I have today. Tanya! Come on, sweet heart! Lucy, have you met Tanya? She's gorgeous!
To Lucy Saxon (his Wife)
You two might like to get to know each other. That might be fun!"
No. Just no! It spoils everything to have that sort of verbal garbage in a quality family-orientated drama. Shock value? It's the Harkness-Ninth Doctor kiss all over again. Restraint, T. Davies. Restraint as in "limit" and not "bondage and CP". It's a like a schoolchild swearing in the playground for shock value to amuse his/her peers who in on the joke.
However, adjacent to the dire diatribe there were gems that define this new version of the Master that marries that the past version.
THE MASTER: The last of humanity screaming at the dark.
THE MASTER: My masterpiece, Doctor. A living TARDIS. Strong enough to hold the paradox in place. Allowing the past and the future to collide in infinite majesty.
Now, that's more like it, T. Davies. A distillation of cunningness, deceit and contempt for all living matter that has, since 1971, defined the "renegade" Time Lord. Perhaps, a courtesy at least, the final two episode's scripts could have been delivered to CLASSIC SERIES Writer/Script Editor/Executive Producer, Barry Letts - the co-creator of the Master.
Add to the crafted Master's eulogies should be the (mostly) inferred brutality and duplicity, defined by John Simm's haunting performance, toward his consort, Lucy Saxon. In previous incarnations, the Master's aides or cohorts were swiftly despatched once their usefulness had been reached but here we witness "domestic violence" (note the physical "scares" across Lucy Saxon's face) and abusive exploitation (The Master using Lucy for his own social climbing/development. Inwardly, we can assume, she is hurting but, through psychological manipulation or physical dependency from or by her husband, she is unable to remove herself from the relationship even if she wanted to).
In the end, Lucy is able to extricate herself by killing what she loves, adores and worships unfalteringly. "You always kill the one you love" as Wilde reminds us (The Ballad of Reading Gaol - Oscar Wilde) and in doing so she deprives millions of DOCTOR WHO fans of a Doctor/Master re-match.
A subtle but creative device that is worthy of T. Davies skill and dexterity (a device that was tangibly used in the underrated character-piece series 1's BOOM TOWN).
Whilst his adversary is proactive throughout, the Doctor - again, stunning performed by Tennant as he was born to play the role - is impotent. Seemingly so.
Tennant is supported in his almost wordless performance as the "aged Doctor" by Neill Gorton (Millennium FX - http://www.millenniumfx.co.uk/ ). Where do you start?
With his team, Gorton has produced compelling designs for DOCTOR WHO and with the "aged" Doctor it is genius personified. As was the realisation of the "de-regenerated 900 year old" CGI Doctor by THE MILL. Cinematic quality.
As with most television series quality is often offset by "cutting corners" and my minor "if only they had thought about it just for a minute" is the ceiling drapes within the Valliant Bridge set. White fabric billowing with studio lights seen through it. Hardly the most innovative design for a high-tech vehicle. BBC WALES set designers; watch episodes of THE WEST WING for excellence in lighting & set design.
One of the contentious elements, by many within the British establishment, within LAST OF THE TIME LORDS focussed upon the "resurrection" of the Doctor following the world's faithful "praying" for Time Lord, rising up in crucifix form as redemption is garnered. Messianic. The liberator. The Cult of the Doctor.
THE MASTER: Is that your weapon. Prayer.
THE DOCTOR: I forgive you.
A brave inclusion by a not-averse-to-controversy T. Davies. As far from the Kandyman as you could possibly get.
Whether the Master will return - the form of John Simm - to the series is doubtful, though not beyond hope. The cremation of the body seems irreversible but may not have the ring of truth about it.
SERIES 3 has been a journey for both Martha Jones and actress, Freema Agyeman and with LAST OF THE TIME LORDS the trip of a lifetime it concludes. For now. Unfortunately, DOCTOR WHO fans cruelly lambasted (eyeofhorus.org.uk has always supported the actress) Agyeman as an "another bad Soap actor" without seeing her DOCTOR WHO performance broadcast. Catherine Tate attracted the same kind of unkind attention.
However, Martha's contribution has been outstanding - a questioning naiveté developing over the thirteen stories into a maturity, a sense of self and understanding of trust & relationship.
And for Freema? She became Martha and not "Rose version II", and that is a great compliment.
LAST OF THE TIME LORDS came hot on the heels of a number of "classic" NEW SERIES episodes (42 , HUMAN NATURE, THE FAMILY OF BLOOD, BLINK, UTOPIA) that watered down the impact of both this and the preceding episode.
Sorry, Russell T Davies, it just didn't work.