Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 10.7
Utopia/The Sound of the Drums/Last of the Time Lords
With the Daleks and Cybermen taking up the mantle of Epic Season Finale Baddies the previous season the writers needed to pull something big out of their pocket for this season. That, of course, leaves only one option…the greatest nemesis the Doctor ever faced. Throughout the series there’s been a mentions and hints of a mysterious ‘Saxon’ who seems to wield immense amounts of power in great Britain, which the Doctor hasn’t taken heed of whilst he adventures around. In this trilogy of episodes Saxon is revealed to be the Master, an insane Time Lord bent on conquest. Throughout the centuries the Doctor and Master have battled numerous times and respect each other as opponents.
The showdown begins with the TARDIS landing in Cardiff to recharge using the rift (as in ‘Boom Town’). Before departing they pick up a hitchhiker in the form of Capt. Jack Harkness, who grabs onto the outside of the TARDIS. Arriving at their new destination – out of control due to their stowaway – they find Capt. Jack as died en route. Fortunately the events in ‘The Parting of the Ways’ has granted him immortality and only a few moments pass before he picks himself up again. The Doctor, Capt. Jack and Martha find themselves at the end of the universe where the last few humans eke out an existence surrounded by cannibals and trying to reach ‘Utopia’. Amongst the humans is the elderly Professor Yana, working on repairing a rocket ship.
Unbeknownst to both the Doctor and the Professor himself, the Professor is the Master. This is revealed when Martha notices the pocket watch that he wears is identical to the one worn by John Smith in ‘Human Nature’. Even before this the Professor is often distracted by the sound of drums in his head. Once the Master is revealed and regenerates he steals the TARDIS and returns to modern London. By the time the Doctor, Capt. Jack and Martha have caught up with him he’s infiltrated the government and gotten himself voted Prime Minister.
Now in power the Master takes to the skies in the Valiant, a giant airship from where he rules the planet. With the remnants of the human race from the end of the universe now converted in the ‘Toclafane’ to suppress mankind and the Doctor captured and weakened there’s very little to stand against the Master. Over the course of the first two episodes the rule of the Master is established and by playing a couple of different angles of the drama the writers do a good job of creating a global epic. With even the Doctor out of commission it is left the Martha to travel the world putting together a solution to the oppression.
There’s some things that work well in this story and some things that don’t. The Doctor reverted to an old man is fine, but when he get changed into a midget thing it just looks silly. Likewise his glowing-flying-attack at the Master at the end is way over the top. When Martha unleashes her plan it is an emotionally effective moment but it’s right up there with the cheesiest Disney moment.
I may get a degree of hate for this, but I’m not a fan of this incarnation of the Master. He’s hammy, goofy and altogether a bit silly. When he first appeared on the screen played by Derek Jacobi it looked like a perfect choice, but then he regenerated into John Simm and immediately lost all his menace. What made the earlier incarnations of the Master so effective was his sense of menace – he was cold, calculating and dignified. In many regards he was the perfect counterpoint to the Doctor and the respect they had for each other made their clashes all the more exciting to watch. This time around it’s a goof-off with the Doctor breaking down in tears at the end of it all.
When the episodes work they work really well. The conflict is of a massive scale and the tension racks up high before the finale. Toning down off the corniness would have been welcome though.
Voyage of the Damned
While the last season ended with the Doctor finding a mysterious bride appearing on the TARDIS, this season stepped it up by having the starship Titanic crash into it. Certainly a memorable cliffhanger! With the Master dead and Martha returned to Earth the Doctor decides to board the ship and get some down time by flirting with Kylie Minogue. Everything is going swimmingly, with the Doctor endearing himself to folk by showing up the snooty rich passengers and enjoying the view of Earth from orbit but, naturally, things aren’t as simple as that. The Titanic collides with an ice asteroid and begins a crash course towards Earth. The Doctor and a band of survivors begin their dangerous pilgrimage to the other end of the ship, Poseidon Adventure style.
Certainly a great set-up and the disaster movie tropes fit in nicely with the Doctor Who canon. The writers do a remarkable job of giving each of the survivors a bit of personality so it feels like a genuine loss when one of them doesn’t make it. There are some pretty heavy moments here. Kylie Minogue is at the fore of the group, playing a waitress with a sense of adventure who gravitated towards the Doctor as soon as he boarded the ship. She certainly turns in a fine performance in her role as the Doctor’s sidekick, but the writers were clearly trolling us by setting her up to become a companion.
This is an action packed episode and the pacing keeps the sense of tension running high through out. As an action film it holds up very well and avoids many of the pitfalls that many Hollywood productions fall into. There’s a connection with the characters, the threats feel genuine and the pacing is spot on. The only real issue is the role of the villains. With the dangers of the collapsing ship always present they weren’t needed and as interesting as the design of the Heavenly Host is they don’t quite fit in. Max Capricon seems just a bit goofy for what he represents.
The expectations and scale of the Christmas episodes sometimes outweigh the actual delivery, but not in this case.
Partners in Crime
After the less than cheerful conclusion to the previous season it was high tide for some silliness. Enter the Adipose and one of the strangest alien invasions ever depicted in the show (a show which made a recurring villain out of store mannequins). By selling human beings on the idea of a pill that will kill off one kilo of fat every 24 hours. The reality is that fat turns itself into a little creature called the Adipose who detach themselves form the host and begin making their way back to their ship.
Not only is the Doctor on the case from the beginning of the episode, but also Donna Noble from The Runaway Bride is doing her own investigations. Having regretted her chance to adventure with the time traveller she’s been trying to cross his path again by turning up at every strange occurrence she can find. What follows is a comedy of errors as they barely bump into each other time and time again. It was a smart move to play this for laughs more than try and take it seriously, and the scene where they do finally spot each other is comedy gold.
Although this is an episode that divided the critics you’d have to be pretty gold not to get a chuckle out of it. The Adipose are downright adorable and again never get played as anything but silly. The return of Catherine Tate as Donna Noble is a surprising turn, as she originally appeared as a once-off special guest. Initially Donna was pretty grating (granted she was having a pretty bad day) but this episode gives her the chance to bring her comedy prowess to the fore and the show is better for it.