Doctor Who #767: Last of the Time Lords

"So this is me, getting out."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.30 2007.

IN THIS ONE... The Master reigns over Earth for a year and turns the Doctor into a CG creature, but Martha saves the world and takes her bow.

REVIEW: After that great set-up, the finale gets it all wrong. Well, not ALL, but a lot of it. The continuation of the initial premise is still quite chilling, with the episode boldly pushing the time frame a year forward where the Master has basically killed billions of people, raped the Earth for resources, and plans to use it as a trampoline for the invasion of other worlds. On a more personal level, he's been pushing an aged Doctor around, performed sadistic experiments on immortal Jack, kept Martha's family as servants, and obviously been abusing his wife, both physically and mentally. His callous remarks about replacing her are perhaps a parody of the Doctor/companion relationship, but sets up an incredibly dark tone that shots of dark streets and terrorized people can't alone achieve. The Master, a supreme egotist, sees everyone and everything as existing for his amusement, and I like how he's built statues to himself, included himself on Mount Rushmore, and has even given the P.A. system's pre-recorded messages his voice. This is a man so in love with himself, he can't believe he can possibly be beaten or outwitted, certainly not by Martha Jones. In the end, the only way he CAN win is by escaping the Doctor's clutches and allowing himself to die without regenerating. (Future revelations mean he actually WASN'T completely outwitted, though those are complaints for another day.) The Master's death is emotional, but is hampered by the shot of a hand picking up a Time Lord/Lazarus ring, a clue that tells us he'll be back, so maybe we shouldn't care.

With the Doctor impaired through most of the story, Martha truly comes into her own, which makes it even more of a shame that, unlike Rose Tyler, she leaves after a single season. Martha walked the Earth for a year, events actually chronicled in a tie-in novel (I've yet to read it, but do own it), putting the Doctor's plan into action. Some of it must have been her own, because there's no way he whispered ALL of that in a matter of seconds, including the fake Time Lord gun, manipulating one of the Master's informants, and so on, though this distraction wasn't strictly needed, except to get Martha on the Valiant to witness events. The cracks start to show. Now, obviously, the paradox machine was going to be involved in a reset, but on that personal level where New Who really lives, the characters we know and love REMEMBER that year of hell. It happened because it happened to them. I like Francine's quiet acceptance and gratitude at the end, another reason to feel the sting of Martha's departure. What would that relationship been like, going forward? Martha's strength is evident without having her say she's NOT second best, but maybe it needed to be said by SOMEone after all that Rose fetishization. And her leaving is a by-product of that strength; it makes sense for the character. It's a lovely scene too. She tells the Doctor she's leaving with but a look, and though she initially gives an excuse about taking care of her traumatized family, she makes herself go back - perhaps a fake-out to make the audience believe she's changed her mind - to tell him the real reason. It shames him, but along with her call to the handsome Dr. Milligan, closes the book on that subplot. With Martha, traveling with the Doctor was always on her terms, and leaving him is as well. And now she has HIM on speed dial, so they'll meet again, and again, it will be on HER terms. This is why Martha's my favorite New Who companion, kids.

So what went wrong? RTD went and made some very strange decisions, gleefully, if we go by various interviews and DVD extras, which really harm the final product. Chief among these is turning the Doctor into a cheap Gollum (with the Master's earlier Gandalf joke, the comparison was inevitable). This is apparently what happens when a Time Lord grows very very old without regenerating. I mean, WHAT?!! It's nonsense, just like the Doctor's aging make-up meant to represent being just 100 years older (Hartnell would have had to be a CG puppet if any of this was true). It's as unearned as the climax, which takes the Doctor-as-Christ-figure one step too far, with people praying to His Name, restoring his youth AND his suit, allowing to awkwardly float on air and telekinetically bat the Master's laser screwdriver out of his hands. Which is followed by "I forgive you", which would be trite even if Captain Jack hadn't already pulled that trick in Torchwood's finale. I'm quite good at getting myself No-Prizes, and I could go back into the script and add a line here and there that would make sense of this using the Carrionites' word power (after all, Martha does reference The Shakespeare Code) and Lazarus' youth machine, but the episode doesn't explain it well enough, and it's just stupid plot magic and shoehorned religious thematica. The one shocking revelation I hated first time around and now can tolerate is that the Utopians are the Toclafane. Not that this is well handled. I originally thought it would be a great way to torture the Doctor if the little balls were somehow the Time Lords, brought back through a paradox, and part of a Sophie's Choice in which the Doctor would once again have to relegate them to nonexistence, this time to save the human race. That would have fit with the Master's contention that he was recreating Gallifrey, and TRULY broken the Doctor's hearts. Instead, it just seems like the Master is over-egging the pudding, and we the script has to do contortions so any given Toclafane can quote little Creet from Utopia so Martha and the audience can be shocked. A missed opportunity. And if the Master could only go from 100 trillion to the "present", give or take 18 months, when did humanity have the time to convert themselves into childish metal balls as the story goes? Lucy witnessed this future, so it's improbable the Master stuck around for years to see (and help) the change happen. Again, major plot points that are complete nonsense, and frustrating rather than satisfying to boot. One last one? Okay. I abhor the idea that Jack is the Face of Boe. This is another cheeky joke that RTD put in there to make himself giggle while he trolls the fans. The dialog sounds so unnatural too. Gah! (And see Theories to see how I demolish the premise.)

THEORIES: So let me tell you why Jack ISN'T the Face of Boe. First, from a production standpoint, he wasn't until RTD's cheap reveal. The Face had been created before Jack, but in any case, by the first time it spoke, Jack HAD been introduced and the production team had John Barrowman available to them to voice the character. They didn't do that, so the Face has a different voice, a different accent, and a different personality. Calling the Doctor "old friend" doesn't quite cut it because the Doctor starts calling him that first, and though Hame's stories are steeped in legend, she still refers to Boe-kind, so in other words, FoB is simply the last of an ancient species. Doctor Who has spawned enough prescient characters and species that the Face's "You are not alone" prophecy need not come from Jack's foreknowledge of the events on Utopia. Why would even code it as an acronym? Knowing of the prophecy changes absolutely nothing to the way events unfold in Utopia. There's no reason for Jack to do it. If the "proof" is that people who age but aren't allowed to die turn into weird creatures, just as the Doctor was turned into a wood elf from Harry Potter - quite apart from the ridiculousness of it - we would expect the Face of Boe to continue to evolve over time. But it's basically the same in 200,100 and 5 billion. So huge change in the next 100 000 years, then nothing for the next 5 billion? Doesn't wash. If we look at JACK and what we know of HIM, I think we get a clearer picture. Jack is cheeky, DAMN cheeky. So this could easily be a joke at the Doctor's expense. Think about it. He traveled with Rose and the 9th Doc for an indeterminate amount of time (unseen adventures are alluded to and he is featured in 3 novels). Surely, somebody recounted the story of The End of the World, possibly that of The Long Game, and mentioned the Face of Boe in those tales (telling stories seemed a ritual in Boom Town). Jack might even know about the Face of Boe from his days as a Time Agent (the Face was already an icon worthy of news in 200,100, so it was probably already ancient). Regardless, he would have heard the words "Face of Boe" from Martha in Utopia, he knows what he's saying there. So to me, it just sounds like a bit of silly word play inspired by his place of origin having a syllable in common with the big head's name.

SECOND OPINIONS: The Doctor's Deceptions, my original review, was even less kind to the material.

VERSIONS: In an extended scene on the DVD, Jack lays his line about everything changing in the 21st century and agreeing with the Doc that's it's just nonsense that sounds good. So the scene could actually have been worse.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - There are some good bits in there, which makes it all the more frustrating.


snell said...

One of my biggest frustrations about the episode is Lucy. What a fascinating concept--a companion for the Master. Yet nothing is done with it. No origin story, no explanation of who she is or why she's cool with him.

Which becomes especially frustrating since her turn becomes a crucial point at the climax of LotTL. She was clearly on board with his evil plans--she had no qualms about murdering the reporter, and dances with joy at the prospect of murdering 10% of the Earth's population. So why the sudden turn?

Sure, we can infer he abused her during the year...but surely such an important plot point deserves more than making the audience infer. And what, he didn't abuse her before? She was willing to stand by him as he kills billions, but now she turns on him? I wanted much more here, and got nothing.

Also, it should be noted that the final fate of the humans headed for Utopia seems to be a repudiation of everything the Doctor stands for--a gloomy genocidal dystopia is inevitable for the human race--yet at the end it's completely forgotten, with nary an afterthought. No sighs for the human race? No return trip to see if he can help? Nothing?

Siskoid said...

Pile it on, brother. Pile it on.

For Lucy, she's even more underwritten than that thanks to the events of The End of Time where it is pretty much revealed that she was "programmed" to shoot the Master as part of an insane plan to come back from the dead if things didn't work out here. So that "turn" isn't even based on anything in her backstory, the missing year, or any kind of psychology.

Jeff R. said...

I still say that, absent the Master's intervention, the humans of Utopia eventually develop powerful time travel and go back to the beginning of time, settling on a variant of the human body plan with a backup heart and the capacity for regeneration. And the events of this story then explain exactly how the Time Lords acquire a fairy tale about the Toclafaine.

Siskoid said...

I like it, at least that last bit!

LiamKav said...

Regarding the inconsistent approach to Time Lord aging... I have similar qualms with "The Time of the Doctor", but I guess we'll get to that in a couple of months...

(But, basically, it's the same thing. The Doctor is trapped on a planet for a few hundred years and gets really old, yet when he wanders around for two hundred years before getting shot by the Impossible Astronaut he doesn't seem to age a day?)

Siskoid said...

I defended it on G+ only yesterday, saying there might be a "best before" date on a Time Lord body/regen. After all, Smith was the Doctor "longer" than Hartnell (at 450 years) and in about the same shape. You might keep your vitality for a couple centuries, but beyond that, the body would start to decay and eventually force a regeneration.

It may also have something to do with the TARDIS and its "timeless" environment. The Doctor's aging in any give story always has him cut off from the TARDIS.


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