TV review: “Doctor Who,” the complete series three

This review was originally posted just under four years ago (which was still a full year after their initial broadcasts). I watched a couple of episodes out of order in college that spring, then watched the rest of the season over the summer with my sisters and subsequently composed the review. This is why I sometimes make reference to earlier viewings throughout the piece.

The Doctor Who reviews are, for me, a major highlight of my livejournal account; I hope you enjoy this one.

Spoilers ahoy!

Episode 0: The Runaway Bride: The Doctor tries to figure out why Donna Noble (soon to be married) has inexplicably materialized inside the TARDIS.

Not terribly imaginative, except for the Huon radiation, and the TARDIS flying alongside the car. Admittedly, I didn’t expect Lance (the fiancé) to turn out to be a villain, but I don’t think it really added anything to the story. Also, even I had to admit that Donna was incredibly annoying. Unlike with Rose, the writers got the message and reworked her character for Season 4 (and may I say, well done) but that doesn’t do anything for this episode.

Not spectacularly bad by any means, but not particularly good, either.

Episode 1: Smith and Jones: The Doctor and new companion Martha Jones try to figure out why Martha’s hospital has been transported to the moon.

A pretty good episode, not terribly original, but more than some. The Judoon are interesting—moreso than the villain. Of course, it literally would’ve killed writer/producer Russell T. Davies to have them not kill the guy who hit one with a flower pot, which is a shame, as it would’ve made them even more interesting, and more original … for this show.

The line about “Crossing into established events is strictly forbidden—except for cheap tricks” is itself a cheap trick by Davies to avoid explaining why the Doctor can do some things and not others. Which of course, just makes the joke even funnier.

Episode 2: The Shakespeare Code: The Doctor and Martha travel to see Shakespeare in 1599, only to find that he’s being manipulated by witch-like aliens.

Another fairly unoriginal episode; evil aliens trapped in another dimension, need Shakespeare to free them, etc. etc. However, the part about the Carrionites using words instead of numbers for their science is interesting even if it is likely bunk.

Shakespeare ad-libbing a “spell” to send the Carrionites back is pretty good … up until Martha drags Rowling in. Doctor Who is (usually) much better than that.

The whole interaction between the Doctor, Martha, and Shakespeare is pretty fun. When Shakespeare says he considers the line “To be or not to be” “pretentious,” it occurred to me that this whole episode was rather pretentious, what with all the quoting and “you can use that line.” Still, points for having Shakespeare realize eventually that one of the lines they quote is his own.

The episode also mentions Martha’s skin color and possible ramifications thereof, if not really addressing them. It appears that rhetorical color blindness (not to be confused with clinical color blindness) as pro-equality is an even bigger fad in Britain than in the US. I’d like to see them try to do an episode with Martha set in the American South in the 50s. Still, I suppose I should be grateful the show even has main characters who aren’t white Anglo-Saxons.
Episode 3: Gridlock: The Doctor takes Martha to New New York on the planet New Earth, where all the people they encounter are stuck in decades-long traffic.

See how much more creative and interesting we can be when we simply eliminate the villains? And what a twist to find out the people in the cars were the only ones left alive. I seriously expected it to turn out that they’d been left there for some stupid, selfish, sadistic motive on the part of the upper city’s denizens.

Also, cat-person/human couple with kittens: awesome! Screw biology, it’s sweet.

I find it kind of sad though that Russell T. Davies (a gay man) thinks that homosexuality won’t be accepted five billion years from now. Yes, I know it was only a joke (made by one half of an interspecies couple at that) but why is it even still an issue?

This brings up a problem I often have with speculative fiction: no real attempt at presenting truly alien cultures. Oh, there’s different fashions and a few “exotic” customs or quirks, but when you scratch away the surface, most future or alien societies in North Western media are infinitely less alien than most Southern and Eastern societies. This definitely holds true for Doctor Who.

Good episode, though.

Episodes 4 & 5: Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks: The Doctor discovers that the Cult of Skaro have hidden in Manhattan during the Great Depression, where they are planning to convert humans into a new Dalek army.

Me, after watching both episodes: “Well that was about eight minutes of good entertainment.”

The Daleks don’t lend themselves to originality in any case, and in the new series, they tend to be even less original than in the old. Neither episode has anything that hasn’t been done before and done much better.

The really maddening bit is that the writers are going to keep beating a dead horse by bringing the Daleks back again and again (they’ve been extinct what, five times in the new series alone?) even though they’re just covering the same old tired ground over and over and over again.

Also, has anyone else noticed that every single Dalek two-parter of the new series so far has involved the Daleks having the Doctor, his companions, and/or some other characters at their mercy (not even counting the humans they’re controlling, that I can forgive) and then deciding for whatever reason not to exterminate them? Sure they had their reasons: they needed to know about the Time War, the human-Dalek hybrid was starting feel compassion, and so on, but after a time the excuses start to get dull. If the writers can’t handle a race of creatures whose only thoughts are “Exterminate,” and “create more of us to exterminate more,” maybe they should stop writing them.

Can anyone explain to me why the Cult of Skaro, after carrying off their rebellion, didn’t just exterminate the Dalek Sec-human hybrid? Apart, of course, from the writers wanting the Daleks to do it in front of the Doctor to make the scene more dramatic. (*best mechanical voice* “Daleks do not humiliate! Daleks destroy!”)

True, the old series had a fair bit of this too, but it didn’t take itself nearly as seriously. And at least some of those Dalek stories actually showed signs of creativity and imagination.

I must admit I was surprised that Frank survived, and somewhat pleased, as I liked the character well enough, but I don’t feel like there was really any payoff with his character, which was unfortunate.

But speaking of Hooverville denizens brings me to the one part in the story which really and truly offended me. Solomon, the de facto leader of the Hooverville community dies because he tries to make peace with the Daleks, with his enemies. He dies for doing what any good leader should do.

It’s a shame. Hooverville was one of the few elements of the story that had any redeeming potential. “Daleks in Manhattan” set up some great social commentary with Solomon’s question about how they could have homeless people dying in Hooverville with the Empire State Building under construction not two miles away (even if it was heavy-handed). Of course, writer Helen Raynor quickly threw the social commentary angle overboard to focus on the Daleks. Because really, what could be more interesting or original than Daleks?

The story’s one true saving grace was Lazlo, the half-converted pig-human. Lazlo was a goner from the time he started investigating that strange noise in the teaser for the first episode, and every subsequent appearance only emphasized the fact that he was doomed. So the part where the Doctor goes into Super-Efficient Badass mode (“I am not having one more death!”) was genuinely cool and surprising. I liked Lazlo as a character, and that at least one writer had realized they didn’t have too kill off all mutants and other “unnatural” creatures created throughout the course of the story.

So the ending was actually rather good, and why I said “eight minutes of good entertainment” instead of say, two. Still, eight good minutes out of ninety. You do the math.

Episode 6: The Lazarus Experiment: Professor Lazarus tries to rejuvenate himself and winds up transforming into a terrible monster that the Doctor and Martha then have to deal with. Go figure.

Just when I thought nothing could top the unimaginative lameness of the previous two episodes, here comes “The Lazarus Experiment.” The story tries to tack in some philosophical something-or-other about the meaning of death towards the end, but it’s not worth sitting through thirty-five minutes of unoriginal, unexciting, uninteresting plot to get to.

Cast side note: Professor Lazarus (old and young) is played by Mark Gratiss, the idiot who wrote the season two episode “The Idiot’s Lantern.” Believe it or not, associating with this episode was a step up for him.

Episode 7: 42: The Doctor and Martha have 42 minutes to save a spaceship that’s falling into a star.

I watched this episode in college and had zero interest in wasting another 42 minutes on it.

The plot is again maddeningly predictable, and feels almost like someone condensed the plot of series two’s “The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit” two-parter (a mildly entertaining story, but nothing to write home about either) into a single episode. The premise of a sentient sun has several interesting possibilities, and it’s a bit of a shame they had to waste it on such a wretched and uninteresting plot.

And no points for guessing that Captain Whats-‘er-name (Captain McDonnell, according to Wikipedia) would have to resolve the situation with a noble sacrifice. She was a recently bereaved spouse, and a sinner in need of atonement (even though she didn’t even know what she’d done). Either of these two tropes would’ve demanded Death by Noble Sacrifice in any self-respecting Western media hack story. It was the perfect stupid, cliché ending to a stupid, cliché story.

Also according to Wikipedia, this episode was written by Chris Chibnall, who has written many of the episodes for the Doctor Who spin-off series, Torchwood. Anyone who has seen the first season of said series should be unsurprised by “42’s” performance. I was amazed to learn that of Chibnall’s four episodes in Torchwoood series one, one of those was the good one.

Episodes 8 & 9: Human Nature/The Family of Blood: The Doctor transforms himself into a human and hides himself on Earth in 1913 to escape four terrible creatures known as “The Family.”

The plot is decent, the villains are slightly more original than most on this show, and fairly interesting. One gets the feeling that the story does live up to the premise, but that an amnesia episode could’ve been much better.

I thought the Doctor vs. John Smith angle was an interesting idea, and well handled, but as my sister pointed out, in the end it came down to another excuse for angst in an already angst-ridden show. Ditto John Smith’s romance with Nurse Redfern. (Ironically enough, my sister’s two biggest complaints about the new series is that they’ve become an angst-fest and a romance (well, sexual tension)-fest. John Smith had a point: the Doctor really should have considered the possibility that he would fall in love, or at least that someone else would fall in love with him.)

I have to disagree with Nurse Redfern’s assessment that John Smith was braver than the Doctor in the end because “[the Doctor] chose to change, [John Smith] chose to die.” Quite the opposite, in fact. (Who was it who said “Dying is easy, comedy is hard”?)

Also, the Son’s line about the Doctor “being kind” by hiding himself as a human disturbs me. I think Joan Redfern had a good point about the Doctor getting so many people killed because he decided to hide in 1913 “on a whim.” However, the Son’s comments suggest that such hiding wasn’t even necessary. Is writer Paul Cornell expecting us to swallow the idea that the Doctor went to all that trouble and put all those people at risk just so he wouldn’t have to play rough with the Family?

I must compliment both actor Lauren Wilson, and the sound and stage crew for making a little girl in a pink dress—with a red balloon, no less—genuinely creepy.

As long as we’re on the subject of actors, casting Harry Lloyd as the Son was possibly the single greatest decision connected to this story. I suppose I should give a nod to the camera crew and special effects and everyone else who contributed to Lloyd’s effect, but it was Lloyd himself who provided the raw material for them to work with. That twisted smile, unfocused look, and slightly mechanical way of speaking were infinitely more alien than the makeup/prosthetic/computer graphic monsters on the show.

To round things out, it should be noted that David Tennant delivered a stand-out performance both as the genial-but-implacable Doctor and as the sensitive, frightened John Smith. Though the angst in the series may be horribly overdone, Tennant played his part to perfection. His performance deservedly won him a 2007 Constellation Award for Best Male Performance (there’s more to the title of the award, but that’s a big enough mouthful already).

This one has more to do with character than with acting, but points to Martha for grabbing the gun and getting the Family to back off at the beginning of part two. Given this show, I would’ve expected an outside save, probably deus ex machina, and almost certainly coming from the Family suddenly deciding “no, we need them alive for [insert patent nonreason here].”

Not that Freema Ageyman’s performance as Martha in these and the other episodes of the series wasn’t spot-on. If there’s one thing the new Doctor Who tends overwhelmingly to get right, it’s the acting.

One detail of the story which really bothered me was the death of the headmaster, who I believe was named Rocastle. He seemed more three-dimensional than most characters in similar roles, so killing him off was rather a let-down. My real problem, though, was the way he was killed off. I know it was sexist and childist of him to assume a little girl needed protecting from danger, but dammit, it was a good and noble sentiment. He died because he tried to get somebody he thought to be in danger out of harm’s way.

Episode 10: Blink: Sally Sparrow receives strange messages from the Doctor and Martha, who are trapped 38 years in the past.

Oh my god. Steven Moffat is a ***ing genius. A twisted, maniacal, logic-snubbing genius. (Though he can screw up. See upcoming review of series fours’ “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead.”)

His depiction of time-travel is utter nonsense, and his “alien” villains scarcely less so, but they’re So. Darn. Cool.

Every single element of this episode might as well have had “awesome” at the beginning of its list of ingredients, and to give them their due, the actors and crew entirely live up to their script. Particularly noteworthy in an episode stuffed with win is the hilarious and mind-bending conversation between Sally and a recording of the Doctor in 1969, with interruptions by Martha and Larry Nightingale.

Another great moment that comes to mind is the DVD store clerk’s remarks: “Go to the police, you stupid woman! Why does nobody ever just go to the police?” (As someone who annoys the hell out of friends and family with constant chatter to the TV along similar lines, I probably found this particularly funny.)

One of the few irritants to this episode was Sally’s relationship with Larry. Don’t get me wrong, Larry was a sweet guy, and I’m glad he made it through. But even if inverting the genders is somewhat original, it still fits the cliché of the main character first meeting their love interest when said other character is naked. Like I said, small irritant.

The montage at the end, taking one last poke at the viewer, is pure conceit, but it’s so appropriate and over-the-top that the audience has to laugh along with it.

According to Wikipedia, “Blink” netted a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, a Constellation Award for Best Female Performance for episode star Carey Mulligan, and two Best Writer awards for Steven Moffat. It also lost a Nebula Award for Best Script to Pan’s Labyrinth, and having since seen Pan’s Labyrinth, I must confess I consider it an undeserved loss. (I’ll go into more detail about my thoughts on Pan’s Labyrinth in a later review.)

Episodes 11-13: Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords: The Doctor is reunited with Captain Jack Harkness and with his old enemy, the Master. When the Master succeeds in taking over modern-day Earth, it’s up to Martha to stop him.

The plot of the first episode evokes a sort of Olde Doctor Who feel, like it could’ve been a story from the original series. However, apart from Jack being Amazing (well, everybody being amazing in fact, I only noticed Jack in particular because a) he was a guest star and b) it was such a welcome change after the first season of Torchwood to see him actually in-character) it’s also fairly dull. The story really doesn’t pick up until the professor opens up his fob watch and releases his true personality.

I admit I didn’t realize what was going on until almost the last minute, even with the barrage of clues Russell T. Davies sprinkled throughout the episode. I mean, I even knew the Master was coming back, but I figured “he must not come in until the second episode.” (In my defense, I’d already seen the Master on the cover of the box set and figured out who he was, so I was expecting quite a different actor.)

I was disappointed that he killed Chantho. Not so much because I liked or disliked her character (though it’s always nice when the writers throw an actual alien in here and there), but it showed how completely the Master was divorced from Professor Yana. Admittedly, John Smith was a far cry from the Doctor, too, but in the Master’s case, the gap is much wider.

Professor Yana is an essentially decent person (despite having those drums knockin’ around in his head all his life), whereas the Master is certifiably evil. It wouldn’t’ve hurt the Master’s status as villain to leave him with a few of the professor’s more positive characteristics, such as his affection for Chantho. (Indeed, it probably would’ve improved it. If there’s one thing the myriad Dalek and Cybermen reboot episodes of the new series have illustrated, it is the utter and complete banality of evil.)

But he does kill her, though she manages to shoot him before she dies. The Master regenerates into a younger body, and promptly skives off in the TARDIS, leaving the Doctor, Martha, and Jack to die.

Episode 2 of the story, “The Sound of Drums,” picks up with the Doctor fixing Jack’s time-hopping watch in time to bring the three of them back to modern-day London. The Doctor already knew the Master would have to be there, as he’d locked the TARDIS’ coordinates, but the team is horrified to discover that the Master has been elected Prime Minister of Great Britain.

The new series of Doctor Who has been anything from dreadfully abysmal to amazingly awesome in terms of quality (which, to be fair, also applied to the original series). Even so, there are a few things that would, all by themselves, be sufficient reason to justify resurrecting the series. David Tennant … Steven Moffat (well, except in series four …) … “Blink” … The return of the Master is one of those things.

Maybe I just haven’t seen enough Master stories from the old series, but from what I have seen, he never came across as a Magnificent Bastard. Bastard, yes, but not very Magnificent. Then, we got the new Master/Harry Saxon, played to absolute perfection by John Simm.

The Master does all the standard iniquitous skullduggery the audience has come to expect from a card-carrying Evil Overlord (both on and off this show), but he does it with such flair and humor as to make these horribly cliché actions the epitome of art. The sequence in the Prime Minister’s cabinet, culminating in the Master gassing the entire room, is one of the greatest moments of the series. The murder of the journalist Vivien Rook wasn’t quite as good, but having the Master open the door twice to listen to her dying screams made it worthwhile.

Then there’s the scene where he’s on TV, announcing first contact with the Toclafane. At the end he puts an emphasis on mentioning “medical students,” meaning Martha. The Doctor and Martha, horrified, then pull Martha’s TV set around, only to discover that the Master has attached an explosive to the back. They escape of course, but the Master has made his point.

The phone conversation between the Doctor and the Master is another priceless moment. Tennant and Simm have great chemistry, and in this one scene, they depict the incredibly complicated relationship between the two characters, which is clearly founded as much on friendship as on enmity.

I think this scene like no other in the story-arc best expresses the relationship between the Doctor and the Master. In all the following scenes, one or the other of these antagonists clearly has the advantage between them. In this scene, while the Master has the upper hand, he’s not in full control of the situation. Both characters are in their element here: the Master in command, the Doctor on the run.

Jack, of course, continues to be awesome. He even manages to redeem Martha’s crush on the Doctor. In any other episode, the Doctor’s ironic “… like when you fancy someone, and they don’t even know you exist” line would’ve been just another spot of angst for Martha. Jack’s follow-up, “You too, huh?” makes it funny.

All-in-all, “The Sound of Drums” is the best episode of the three, hands down.

In the third episode, “Last of the Time Lords,” the Master has taken over the world with the help of the Toclafane, has Jack imprisoned, Martha’s family in servitude, and the Doctor aged and helpless (though really, he’s go to be over a thousand years old by now anyway, why should a hundred more years make so much difference?) Only Martha Jones escaped, and now, one year after the Master’s takeover, she returns to have it out with the Master, whom rumors say only she can kill.

Try as Davies and Simm might, the Master just isn’t as fun in this episode as in the last one. He’s still great, just not as good. Perhaps because this episode, set after he’s won, is a lot more grim and serious and self-important than the previous ones. The new show often takes itself way too seriously, as it most definitely does in this episode.

Then of course, there’s the implication that the Master is a wife-beater. What the f***, Davies? On ferretbrain, several of the regular contributors have pointed out that rape or attempted rape is often used as shorthand for irredeemable evil in fantasy novels. It’s a novelist’s way of signaling to the audience “This person is evil through-and-through and deserves to die.” In other words, it’s a cheap shot.

Now, since this is a family show, Davies can’t very well portray the Master as a rapist, but a spouse-abuser? That he can manage. The Master has largely escaped the tired, trite actions the writers on this show use as shorthand for characters who deserve to die (by making them hysterical, if nothing else), but even he does not come out unscathed.

I’m not saying this is a big problem, mind you, just a very annoying one. No, the big problem (one of them) is the Messiah Complex at the end. I know it would’ve been trite and cliché to have Martha tell the people she talked to “you’re the only ones who can save you,” but god dammit, it’s true.

Instead, Davies has Martha “Not an allegory at all” Jones going out into the world to spread the good news of God the Doctor to the helpless, hopeless masses. “Only the Doctor can save you. Trust in the Doctor. Believe in the Doctor.”

(I’d seriously like to see someone write a fanfic about what would happen if destroying the Paradox Machine didn’t cause a big ol’ Reset Button effect. What if everybody in the world remembered the Doctor had saved them from the Master and the Toclafane? The Doctor would leave, and Martha would either go with him or eventually die of old age. Meanwhile, in the years following the Master’s defeat, a few intelligent, white, upper-class men would found a new church of Doctor worship, claiming to know the Word of the Doctor and to interpret it for the common people. The world’s established religions would probably try to work him into their teachings as a new prophet of their faith, but the majority of ordinary people would convert to the new Church of the Doctor. Martha, if she stayed, and Sarah Jane and the Brigadier and anyone who knew the Doctor personally and still survived would try to get the truth out, but they couldn’t be everywhere, whereas belief in the Doctor would be. Within a hundred years, the Church of the Doctor would be the world’s biggest religion by an overwhelming majority.

(You could then write a story about the Doctor visiting Earth in the year 5000 say, to find it a theocratic republic or theocratic empire, where belief in the Doctor is the only state-sanctified religion in existence and all others are outlawed. Leading theologians would preach the Doctor’s hatred of homosexuality and abortion, or whatever the hot-button topics of the future are. White men, possibly with glasses, would be the dominant race and sex, as those most like the Doctor in appearance. It would be interesting to see if the next highest rank was for black women like Martha as the first Prophet of the Doctor, or if she would’ve been retconned as another white male somewhere down the line. The Doctor could then have a staple new series Angst!Fest about “What have I done?” and then try to find some way to reverse the damage. It would be interesting.)

It’s all very, very disturbing.

That said, the way they rejuvenate the Doctor and give him the upper hand over the Master is clever, and quite reasonable and logical for the show’s established science.

Getting back to the Master, he loses serious badass points for deciding, re: Martha, “No, let’s not kill her just yet.” With the Doctor, it’s understandable. With Martha, it’s plot-driven. She doesn’t even have the plot armor excuse, since she would’ve been subject to the final status quo ante like the rest of the people not on the Valiant. (And think how much more delicious angst the Doctor and Martha’s family would’ve been subject to after it was all over. “We went through the year of hell and Martha doesn’t remember a thing.” As it is, you can imagine brother Leo’s gonna have a much harder time relating to his parents and sisters for a while.)

Speaking of the reset button maneuver, I thought having the Valiant remain because it was at the “eye of the storm” was a pretty good excuse for resetting the events outside the main action while leaving events for the main characters unchanged.

There’s a small nitpicker alert for this scene, though. The Doctor says the Valiant is returning to “just after the President was killed, but before the Toclafane arrived.” But the first four Toclafane to appear were the ones to kill the President. Maybe the Valiant did return to before US President Winters was killed, but because his death took place on the Valiant, which wasn’t effected by the reset, he stayed dead. It’s not like I care about the President one way or the other, you understand (I voted for the other guy), it’s the continuity I care about.

My second biggest problem with “Last of the Time Lords” is the death of the Master. If Davies didn’t realize it when he was writing this story, he must’ve figured out when they got John Simm onto the set that they had something fantastic going here, even for Doctor Who. The Doctor’s suggestion of taking the Master with him on his adventures would’ve been infinitely more original, fun, promising, and satisfying than just killing the villain off. It would’ve opened up so many doors for future seasons. The Doctor and the Master’s unique, complicated relationship would’ve made for a wildly different and more nuanced companionship than any of the others on the show (no offense to Donna, Martha, Jack, Mickey, and any other minor companions I may be forgetting). Plus, it would’ve been so hilarious it would’ve made the show so far look merely lip-twitchingly funny.

This fate for the Master also makes the whole “Face of Boe’s last message” angle look stupid and useless. At first it seemed like “You are not alone” was a message of hope for the Doctor … which would’ve been a breath of badly needed fresh air for this show. Then, when it turned out the other was the Master, it looked more like a warning.

Now, if the Doctor had taken the Master with him, it could’ve been both. “Yeah, one of your worst enemies is going to come back and try to get you, but on the plus side, you’ll get a companion from your own race out of the deal.” As the Doctor said, in one of the most touching moments of the new series, he’d have someone to care about now.

Even if the Master had survived and escaped, it still would’ve validated the message. (It also would’ve left the Doctor feeling really conflicted, because he’s glad that he’s not the last Time Lord anymore, but on the other hand, he knows the Master’s going to cause a whole lot of trouble in the future.) But if the status quo is just going reset itself after three episodes, then all that buildup about “the Face of Boe’s final message” (which goes all the way back to the second season’s “New Earth”) was a colossal waste of time.

It also really ticks me off that with all the emphasis the new series puts on the Daleks and the Daleks are back again and the Daleks have escaped again, when they get a really interesting villain, they decide to kill him off for real in his introductory story. Next season it’s again with the frickin’ Daleks.

My sister maintains that the only reason the Master died was to meet Davies’ angst!quota. It is true that Davies (and possibly the rest of the new Doctor Who team) buys into the idea that indiscriminate angst and tragedy=quality. This notion is the driving force behind such stupendous storytelling blunders as Legacy of the Force and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, among many, many others, and it continues to permeate Western fiction like a malevolent cloud.

I’m not saying there is no merit to tragedy and sadness in fiction. What I am saying is that fiction which (like Legacy of the Force, Harry Potter, and, far too often, Doctor Who) shoves angst and tragedy into the narrative with no point other than that its’ “quality” only delivers nauseating melodrama. (Really, if the Master equates “winning” with “the Doctor suffers” he should’ve just regenerated, gone with the Doctor, and then sat back while Davies and the rest of the team proceeded to kick the stuffing out of the Doctor for the next umpteen episodes. They’ve already come through on their side.)

I think, though, that there were one or two other factors that contributed to the Master’s fate. The first being that the entertainment industry as a whole still has a very close-minded view of what can be done with villains: they can be killed off, or they can escape. True, there are exceptions, but they are in the extreme minority even today.

The other reason I would cite for this development is that Davies and his team are married to the status quo, and too codependent to see that they’re badly in need of a divorce. I can sympathize with having things planned out in advance, and with not wanting to get sidetracked, but not with being so set in your ways that you turn down a brilliant twist when it metaphorically walks up and slaps you in the face.

As a side note, I’m disappointed they didn’t further explore the whole thing with the drumming sound in the Master’s head. It’s lasted at least two body-switches (not counting regenerations) and one outright death and resurrection so far, but it never went anywhere. Pity.

A few final thoughts:

Leaving the last remnants of humanity trapped at the end of the universe with no means of escape struck me as uncharacteristically bleak for Doctor Who, new series or old. The new series is often melodramatically tragic (or is it vice-versa?) but not bleak.

Still, the Toclafane were a good twist on the fate of the humans in “Utopia.” One of those things you should expect but don’t. Glad Davies completed their story, at least.

Russell T. Davies appears to have a formula for writing female companions’ families: the mother is an incredible nag and the primary parent-figure to the character, the character’s parents are separated for one reason or another but they get back together in the character’s final episode as a full-time companion. It’ll be interesting to see how that latter formula plays out at the end of series four, as I believe the actor who played Donna’s father in “The Runaway Bride” is sadly no longer with us.

One good thing about the final episode: the Doctor’s “one thing” he had to say to the Master. Every time that came up, it featured the Doctor at something approaching his awesomest. He ought to do that more often.

Bottom Line: Despite slowness in the first episode and serious flaws in the third episode, this is the first genuinely good season finale of the new series. The Doctor is brilliant as ever, Martha is cool, the Master is diabolically funny, and Jack is refreshingly back to his uproarious self again. Good times.

Season overview: “The Runaway Bride” is so-so, and the less said about “Daleks in Manhattan”/“Evolution of the Daleks,” “The Lazarus Experiment,” and “42,” the better. That leaves nine episodes ranging in quality from pretty good to beyond excellent. So skip the bad episodes and enjoy.

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