The Doctor's Deceptions

(You guessed it, spoilers for Last of the Time Lords and a little bit beyond.)Ok, wow, that was a little bit rubbish. Expectations were high because all previous season finales were excellent and the first two parts of this three-parter were great as well. So what happened?

Sure, I was sorry to see the 9th Doctor go, and then even more devastated when Rose left the show, but the blow was softened by three things: 1) anyone aware of media announcements was prepared for their departures, which took away from the surprise maybe, but not the tragedy; 2) those departures were moving, wrenching and irrevocable; and 3) I wasn't constantly bothered by details throughout the set-up.

So then, now, Last of the Time Lords. The media had spoiled John Simm being cast as the Master, but not his death at the end of Series 3. Nor was Martha's departure telegraphed in advance. So no prep. And bothered by details? There was plenty of that. The Doctor and Martha's plan makes them omniscient. Their plan would only work if a hundred things happened, which in the final analysis, smacks of lazy writing. The whole thing about the Doctor being turned into Gollum. I mean, why? How? It was a bold move to have him frail and motionless in a wheelchair, but turning him into a CGI gremlin in a cage was pure nonsense. And then his return, Christ-like, regaining youth AND his suit (???)... I can understand it after the fact: We were told in The Shakespeare Code that words had power, and the Doctor could certainly patch into a telepathic matrix (like Gallifrey's) and use that energy to activate/reverse the Lazarus device, or even reset himself to a year earlier (when he had the suit), but you have to explain it right. It wasn't, and the wire work was underpar as Tennant goes floating across the room.
What's more, what were the drums? That was such an interesting retcon that it's sad not to see it pay off. Just like the reveal that the Utopians were the Toclafane. I don't think that lived up to the Master's hype. AND it doesn't explain the drumming, which now appears to exist just as a cool character trait and a reason to play Voodoo Child. Also, what happened to Martha's brother? Too many questions left unanswered. One answered question was the Face of Boe, but I'll leave that for another post. I'll just say here and now that I don't mind the fact of this, only the way it was offhandedly revealed. Very forced.

So that leaves us with my #2. Were the departures (the Master's and Martha's) moving, wrenching and/or irrevocable? Wrenching yes, but not for the right reasons. For all my misgivings last week about John Simm's performance, he has grown on me incredibly quickly. Other Masters have been moustache twirlers and rather clichéd, even panto villains, but Simm's Master was crazy, funny and unpredictable. I love how he sets his schemes to a soundtrack, love it! So imagine my dismay when, after I made all that effort to like him - really like him - he's taken away from us. Obviously, we're not going to be moved as much by a villain's death, but the cop-out at the end, with a hand picking up his Time Lord ring, deflates even that drama. Oh, he'll be back, ok, ah well. So there's no irrevocability AND we probably lost the actor that made the character interesting anyway.
And then there's Martha. I understand completely why she leaves, it shows the same kind of strength of character that I've enjoyed from her throughout Series 3 (and as a rebel fighter in this episode), and it at least attempts to "break" what weakened her character (being in love with the Doctor). But Martha's my girl! I don't want her to leave. The way she leaves makes sense, but it's too soon! In a year from now, both the Master's and Martha's departures as scripted and played would have been fine. Now, it just feels like wasted potential. And since it isn't irrevocable or permanent (in fact, it's been announced that she'll appear in 3 Torchwood episodes and show up mid-Season 4 for an unknown number of episodes), it's not particularly moving. In both cases, I was moved to frustration, which isn't a good thing.
That said, once the story has been absorbed in the series as a whole, Martha's come back and we justify her absence dramatically, at least in our minds (as a character, it's not credible that she wouldn't complete her medical degree), etc. etc., Last of the Time Lords may seem more palatable. But first impression, when everything's a shocker, the twists and shocks made me unhappy. It'll fare better on future viewings, they all have, with emotions and reactions in check and a clearer big picture. After all, it's only a tv show...

Other thoughts about Last of the Time Lords:
-Some people were put off by the "One year later" aspect, since you knew the paradox machine was going to be used as a giant reset button. But we always knew, didn't we? I liked it because it allowed the Master to show his evil by WINNING. Japan burning, Europe scarred with radiation pits, all brilliant imagery. And don't think we didn't notice how banged up Mrs. Saxon was either. Further, it's not a full reset button. Martha and her family are clearly traumatized and have gone through a character change because they remember everything's that's happened. Very bleak.
-The Master's burned before, and came back in the same body. I don't think he cheated death the same way here, however, and seems poised to come back as the Mistress (he's taken over bodies before, regeneration or no). Russell T Davies has said that he included the scene to open doors for the next creative team because he has no plans for the Master in Series 4. Since it could have been shown as a flashback when need be, I'll go ahead and call that a mistake at this point.
-Scene I could have done without: You've read the essay, take your pick.
-The Ghost of Rose: The Master compares Martha to her unfavorably, but he's so wrong. Not only does she prove it to him, but to herself as well. Too bad exorcising Rose from the TARDIS has also cost us Martha's permanent presence.
-Favorite line: "Doctor Who will return in Voyage of the damned." I'm being facetious, but no matter what, the real disappointment here is that I have to wait 6 months for another dose of new Who. Fun little teaser too.

So is that the end of weekly Doctor Who material on Siskoid's Blog of Geekery? No, I can't let it end this way. I want to do something on the Face of Boe and on the Series 4 companion, so join me again next week, won't you?


Anonymous said...

I actually liked Last of the Time Lords a lot. Yeah, there were admitedly parts that felt like "been there, done that" but they were in a way that I still enjoyed. Hell even though I still love them, I have a lot of respect for RTD for this one for not connecting it with the Daleks 3 finale in a row.

The 900 old Doctor didn't bother me as it seemed like a audience acceptible version of the old tissue compression eliminator. Let's face it, you might have not liked it and thought it was cheesy, but it went off better then "and then he turns his victims into dolls!" like the Classic series did would have with a modern audience.

My biggest problem with it, was for an episode that was 10 minutes longer then usual it seemed like a lot of the themes didn't get explained well enough. Like Lucy's abuse that if I hadn't have listened to the commentary track I'd have never notice. Leo Jones being MIA was apparently a scheduling error with the actor. It's acting, it happens. But they should have cut the scene with him in Martha from the previous week if they weren't able to get him back.

Just made it seem disjointed.

I'd have loved John Simm to have stayed longer, but I knew it wouldn't happen after the interviews he did post Life on Mars (his previous series) He had problems with the BBC and missed his family and latter would have been worse on a show like Who. He gave it his all while he was there and that's all you can hope for. I'm still amused that is seems like they hired two really great actors to be the Master even if just briefly to wash away the stink of Eric Roberts.

Siskoid said...

I'm pretty sure I'll like it more on repeat viewings, as I've said. It's like Aliens of London/WWIII. On first viewing, you're all "farting aliens???", but on repeat viewings, you're entranced by Rose putting her complete trust in the Doctor before he blows up Downing Street.

When the shocks and twists are no longer shocks and twists, it becomes about character moments, which is what I like about New Who.

You make an interesting point about tissue compression though. I hadn't made the link, and would have enjoyed one piece of dialog that might have tied into that. And thanks as well for the behind the scenes info, it helps make sense of some of these decisions.


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