Sunday, July 01, 2007

"Will the drumming stop?"

Ohhhh, so nearly. I know The Lovely Jo and a number of our friends just didn't like Last of the Time Lords at all, but I thought it was doing pretty well.

I liked that it started one year on from last week - showed that the Doctor wasn't just going to pull it out of a hat then and there, gave some scale to the proceedings, allowed for lovely throwaway lines about burning Japan and so on that gave some weight to the Master's evil-doings. I liked that, far from zapping straight back with an instant solution, Martha had to trek around the world for a year laying the groundwork for the Doctor's plan. I liked the little musical number at the start, despite not entirely liking last week's pop moment. I liked David Tennant's hundred-year-old acting.

All things considered, I thought it was going well - but then, alas, the resolution. My viewing of this episode went something like this: brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, oh cheese, CHEESE!!

Just threw it all away, that resolution. That Russell T Davies and those series finales, he can set 'em up, he can follow 'em through, but it seems he just can't wrap 'em up without resorting to deus ex machina (sorry, plural, di ex machina). And what a monstrous one this was, with the Doctor shedding magic fairy dust and flying across the room. And as if that weren't bad enough, pressing the reset button as well and reversing the preceding episode's worth of story. I mean, even though Magic Rose wiped out those Daleks and brought Captain Jack back to life, she didn't actually undo anything. To have a deus ex machina or to press the reset button may be deemed a misfortune; to do both looks like carelessness. (Cf the Paul McGann TV Movie.)

And then, having attempted to salvage something from the wreckage by killing the Master and having that touching (if very strange) moment between him and the Doctor, to stick that Flash Gordon scene onto the end - impardonable.

In fact, it was strangely like watching the last episode of Torchwood. Uncannily like it. Starts out looking grittier, more believable, more earnest, like they're actually going somewhere with this. Then suddenly out come the big CGI guns, a messianic figure (for an atheist, RTD doesn't half have this thing for them) defeats the bad guy with his amazing superpowers, forgives his adversary, then vanishes off at the end leaving all kinds of questions unanswered. (For one thing, where's Martha's brother? He went into hiding last week, and he did such a good job they haven't been able to find him since. For another, what political climate is the Doctor leaving Martha in now that two world leaders have been assassinated live on international television?) And this felt cheesier than the end of Torchwood. It can't be a good thing that I'm even making that comparison.

So overall I think this deserves 5 out of 10. From the best finale set-up last week to the worst finale wrap-up this week. Just marginally better than "The Exciting Further Adventures of Manlek". It shouldn't be possible for a bad last few minutes to drag down a perfectly fine first forty minutes, but I think in this case it just about does.

And yet, let's not forget that for a while there, this was looking like a much better episode than it turned out to be. Some bold bleakness in there too - it emerges that not only does humanity not find a way out of the end of the universe, they end up sticking their heads into murderous flying metal balls and going completely crazy (although it isn't exactly clear why they would do that, unless they went crazy first, and even then it's not exactly the first thing you'd expect them to think of doing). Plus, even though They Woke Up And It Was All A Dream, Martha's family still remember it all and are apparently quite traumatised by it. Also, nice feints with the Doctor's attempted rebellion and that business with the quest for the special gun. The CGI Doctor was regrettable, although it was amusing that just after calling the Doctor "Gandalf", the Master should turn him into Gollum. (Online fans suggest "Dobby the House-Elf" instead, which is visually more accurate - painfully so, in fact.) But who's going to forgive RTD for that ending?

So for my money the final run-down of DW Series 3 looks like this, in descending order of greatness:
The Family of Blood
Human Nature
The Sound of Drums
Smith and Jones
Daleks in Manhattan
The Lazarus Experiment
Last of the Time Lords
Evolution of the Daleks
The Shakespeare Code

The Family of Blood remains the only second part of a two-part story that I've enjoyed more than the first part. The overall season quality doesn't seem much different from last year's, although last year we had more of a steady run, while this year seems to have reverted to Series 1's pattern of highs and lows. Roll on the Christmas special.


Ben said...

Agreed - that opening caption "One year later" came out of the blue and I think pulled the rug away from beneath a lot of critics. Stormin'. But then, Doccy the House Elf and "clap if you believe in fairies ..." Hmm. It could have been worked around. And if Martha is doing such a great job spreading the word about the Doctor, how come no one in the house she visited had heard of him?

There would have been a bit more emotional impact if Brother Leo had been the resistance hero instead of Dr Handsome but Forgettable.

And I think we all worked out in about 0.5 seconds last week that the key to the thing was the paradox machine - get rid of that and the problem solved itself.

John Toon said...

"Hi, ev'rybody!"
"Hi, Dr Handsome-But-Forgettable!"

Oh, I agree it was pretty obvious how things would pan out, but y'know, one hopes. Jo's big grievance against this episode was precisely that it was too predictable; mine was more that, having set it up, RTD went ahead and did the predictable thing anyway. Consider that fantasy quest nonsense with the gun and its four chemicals - I was pleased to see that thrown away as too obvious. I dared to hope that the real, actual resolution that was about to be sprung upon us would be shatteringly brilliant. It wasn't.

(Tying the Toclafane back to "Utopia" was also the obvious thing to do, but I was kind of thrown there by that bit about there being six billion of them. I'm now inclined to think the Master was merely talking about the humans he was about to decimate, rather than the Big Money Balls falling from the sky, and that I misheard/misunderstood. Fool that I am.)

Jo's other grievance against this episode was the one you kind of raise there, that there wasn't enough emotional impact. And y'know, I can see that. Certainly compared to the emotional juggernaut that was "Doomsday", but even next to "The Parting of the Ways".

It was interesting to see RTD try to make the Master the emotional focus of the episode at the end there, but unless (I imagine) you're a living saint and big into compassion for each and every one of God's psychopathic bastards, there's not a lot of mileage in sympathising with a) the Master finally getting it in the gut, or b) the Doctor, even though he is effectively losing his race again, wailing over the corpse of the Master after all said fiend put him and everybody else through. Let's just say I can see it in the abstract, but I can't in all honesty believe it.

Skeeter said...

How did 6 billion humans all fit on that tiny spaceship?

John Toon said...

3 billion in the front, 3 billion in the back.