Doctor Who #706: Survival Part 3

"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on, Ace, we've got work to do!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Dec.6 1989. A dark day.

IN THIS ONE...
The Master recruits the Perivale youth club, the Doctor rejects the violence he offers, and it's the end, for now.

REVIEW: Though I've been comparing it to New Who a lot, with Part 3 Survival emerges as a distinctly 80s story. As Midge is turned into a "cat" who dresses in suits an wears dark glasses, doing a hostile take-over of the youth club, I was reminded of the ethics of Oliver Stone's Wall Street. Survival of the fittest, in the 80s, was really about selfishness and greed, the darker side of individualism. That's the corruptive influence at work, something much easier to identify than "evil", and the danger present even in Karra's friendship with Ace, that she might turn on her to survive. The Doctor's ethos is the opposite, to help others even if it means one's own death or hardship, and Ace embraces this even as she comes to accept her own selfish side as represented by the Cheetah planet's wild influence. In the story, there's a moment when she can't feel herself go to that place, the most dangerous evil the one we don't identify as evil. Though Paterson is theoretically tying to help the community by teaching the boys self-defense, he's really harming it by emphasizing self-reliance at its expense. He teaches them it's every man for himself, weakening their bonds and potentially turning them against one another (as originally scripted, the boys would have turned on Midge and killed him). Paterson is a blind character, quick to dismiss the things he's seen because they don't fit his world view, and his community is a depopulated wasteland, which all points to this truth, as does Perivale's echo on the Cheetah planet, a world literally falling apart because of in-fighting.

As a collection of allusions, it works quite well, and is even daring. Over the course of the last couple seasons, Doctor Who has gone beyond the literal and done something you don't see a whole lot of on television, created worlds that are about ideas and that work on a poetic level. It's like doing The Prisoner, except starting all over with a new theme every 3 or 4 episodes. Unfortunately, the production side of things isn't always up to it. The scene in Midge's flat is the best example, with its unconvincing child actor and even less convincing kitty corpse. Midge doesn't look as fearsome as he should as the Master's pet (though Ainsley himself gives his best performance, finally dialing the evil chuckling down to reasonable levels). McCoy's Doctor is never at his best when he's shouting, which makes his "If we fight like animals, we die like animals" fall flat, and knowing a bit of what was in Rona Munro's script, I find the final result underplays the themes and muddies them (Midge committing suicide at the Master's command, and so on).

Being the last Doctor Who episode of the classic series does give it a bit more heft and if I was underwhelmed by the first 15-20 minutes, it took the stuffing out of me in the last act, reaffirming the program's mission statement AND why the two stars are my favorite Doctor-companion team in one fell swoop, while also hinting at the unhappy endings that might have been. Had they known it was really over, they could have ended the Doctor's adventures definitely, either by letting him get corrupted by the Master's trap, or have had him die. Those outcomes are there on screen, only overturned at the last moment. In the latter's case, Ace believes the Doctor dead after his motorcycle crashes into Midge's (poor Sophie Aldred, hired because she had motorcycle skills, never got to ride one), and is then immediately faced with her "sister" Karra's own death (Lisa Bowerman would end up playing the Doctor's first New Adventures novels companion, Bernice Summerfield, in audio format, so this is Bennie and Ace together for the first time, in a way). Back in dreary Perivale, the Doctor gone, she would hopefully have gained the emotional tools in the past few stories to forge ahead and create her own future. It could have ended there, and many companions WERE left behind in just such a way. It would have been fitting, slightly ironic perhaps, but certainly in keeping with the arc we'd been following. Because the last moments are among my favorites of the entire series, I'm glad they went with "and the adventure continues" with no end in sight for EITHER character. Ace, with the Doctor's hat and umbrella, a hint that she's become more Doctor-like since we met her, crying. The Doctor comes up behind her, and there's no happy embrace, just a wry smile on her part, facing away from him. She knew it all along. He survived against all odds. Wonderful. And then the Doctor's last speech, one of McCoy's best, filled with poetry both alien and of the every day. Gets to me every time.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization excludes the end monologue, has Paterson as police sergeant rather than an Army one, shows Derek (the one that looks like Eric Stoltz) one of several murders committed by Midge after he returns to Perivale, and has the grocers taken to the Cheetah planet by the Master.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - There's an unfortunate cheesiness to a lot of Perivale stuff, working against the script's allusiveness. But the ending isn't Medium-High. It's not even a High. It's Sky High.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: High
- Survival continues Season 26's focus on strong themes and on building up Ace's character. It's often under-valued, though it's far from perfect and just a little less iconic than its three sister stories. But the fact that it's the last story of the classic era and seems to know it makes it more worthy of your attention than it otherwise might have been. After such a strong run of stories, and really, a new way of doing Doctor Who that is uniquely thought-provoking, it's heart-breaking that the series has to end here. It's actually painful. Better to go out on a high, of course...

16 comments:

CiB said...

I don't think it does know it's the last episode.

The ending speech was recorded only on the 23rd of Novemember 1989.(which is months after the story has been recorded), and actually the show wasn't cancelled until August the next year (although the fact that no new episodes had been commissioned by that stage was ominous, work was still being done on stories for a season 27 until then) The speech was only put there because it was suspected that the show may be going on a hiatus and it may be 18 months until a new season (as had happened before)- not to cover cancellation.

On this story, I know a guy who hated this story for years. Claimed it was one of the worst ever. Then he rewatched it and enjoyed it. Turned out the only reason he hated it was because he kept watching it with "This is the final classic Doctor Who story" in the back of his mind, and could only watch it without that after hearing some Big Finish stuff.

For myself, it's the weakest part of season 26, but still a very good story. Season 26 I think is probably the best season in terms of story quality and consistency.

Madeley said...

I would have loved to see more of this Ainley Master going forward. Don't get me wrong, I've got a bit of a soft spot for his pantomime Master- as much as I think it's important to have nuanced, believable villains, I also like the screaming laughing nutjobs. But a slicker, darker, more reserved Ainley versus McCoy's craftier, more subtle Doctor was a pairing I'd have loved to see more of. It's certainly the most that Ainley has resembled the Delgado incarnation, in appearance as well as the way he manipulates the Alien Race of the Week for his own purposes.

It is a shame that the first half of the episode doesn't live up to the rest of the serial, but the last brawl between the Master and the Doctor is great, and Aldred is fantastic. I love how explicit the story is about how potentially dangerous Ace is. What kind of person does an angry arsonist from a cursed lineage grow up to be? It's played mostly for laughs, but teenagers with knowledge of explosives are pretty scary even without becoming pawns of powerful alien intelligences.

Looking back over Season 26, it seems to me that what actually happened was that, in Ace, the Doctor had found a Davros, or a Tobias Vaughan, or a Magnus Greel- only at a point ten or twenty years before she's given in to the predator inside her. It's not just about finding a worthy apprentice to draw the sword from the stone and realise her potential as a human Time Lord, but about giving her the tools to change her fate, to stop herself from becoming one of the power-crazed nutters the two of them routinely face.

Siskoid said...

CiB: I may have been overstating it. But it SEEMS to know it. That's obviously a filter the viewers, years down the road, are placing on it.

Madeley: Ace as aborted supervillain is a fantastic idea. For good or ill, the New Adventures would certainly showcase the predator, making her something of a female Abslom Daak.

Timothy Brannan said...

Excellent to the series, and by that I mean your reviews of the classic series.

Compared to some other stories this season this is a weaker one. I also felt it was one of the weaker Master stories.

But the last line really redeems it and it is still far better Who than some of the worst JNT years.

What's next for you?

DAVID WALSTON said...

I still miss Ace!
I had such a crush on her!

Anonymous said...

Tom Baker, stop making a creepy face and talking about your crush on Ace! It's weird.

DAVID WALSTON said...

@ Anonymous
IT'S A MEDICAL CONDITION!
I can't help my spasms.

Siskoid said...

Tim: All the answers you seek

d said...

Just knowing its the last episode I've never been able to bring myself to watch the end of Survival. I've also never watched Joe Carter's home run against the Phillies in the '93 World Series so maybe that's just a personality flaw of mine.

Siskoid said...

But it isn't really the end, like CiB said. And in fact, it's not even the end for the 7th Doctor and Ace in the television medium, as I will prove over the next couple days.

John Nor said...

"Over the course of the last couple seasons, Doctor Who has gone beyond the literal and done something you don't see a whole lot of on television, created worlds that are about ideas and that work on a poetic level"

Yes, this era of Doctor Who is brilliant.

"the last act, reaffirming the program's mission statement"

Survival is, I think, one of several Doctor Who stories which are about the ethos of the programme itself (not merely the final speech, but the whole "Survival" theme) another being The Rings of Akhaten, (which bafflingly was voted the least-favourite for the most recent DWM Season Survey).

"Survival continues Season 26's focus on strong themes and on building up Ace's character. It's often under-valued, though it's far from perfect and just a little less iconic than its three sister stories"

I actually think the last 3 stories of this "last season" are near-perfect, (the other story, not so much), and the "Ace Trilogy" they form adds to their greatness, they are some of the best of the programme.

Congrats on completing Classic Doctor Who!

Madeley said...

John Nor- What on earth is it with people not liking Rings of Akhaten? I thought it was a great episode, and Hide too.

Siskoid said...

I didn't dislike any of Clara's stories, except maybe Nemesis in Silver, myself.

I thought Rings had been well received, unless people were somehow expected Neil Cross to write a Whovian Luther episode?

Anonymous said...

Just want to add my thanks for all your time and effort for doing this. For nearly two years, you did the entire classic series episode-by-episode and *never* missed a day or phoned one in. That in itself is pretty remarkable.

There are other blogs and sites on the internet that review Classic Doctor Who, of course, but yours has been the best. A thoughtful nugget each day, respectful towards the series even when critical. Even when I haven't agreed with you, I've enjoyed your opinion and in some cases you've gotten me to rethink my own.

- Jason

Madeley said...

Hear hear, Jason. Well said.

Siskoid said...

Thank you kindly, Jason.

I suppose I COULD phone them in, but it would take a long time to read the day's review to all the subscribers...

 

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