"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!"
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...