Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)


The episode begins where the last episode of Torchwood left off – with the Doctor picking Jack up from inside Torchwood's dank HQ. No, wait, in this version, the TARDIS lands outside, and Jack runs towards it screaming "Darrk-torrrrrrrrrrr!!!!" before leaping in slow-motion towards it as it dematerialises.

This is already not working for me.

The TARDIS lands at the end of the universe. This is a great hook, and for the first time since 1989, the episode is set on an ALIEN PLANET!


Despite being 500 trillion years in the future, right at the end of the universe, everything looks like the 1960s,
b. It's populated by humans,
c. The fact that it is the end of the universe is never explored. In fact, it's all about the humans hoping to travel to another planet and begin a new life, even though the universe is about to end.

Even the savages are called the "Futurekind," although there is no future.

I can't help but compare this with Lance Parkin's imaginative book Doctor Who: The Infinity Doctors, which featured several chapters at the end of the universe, exploring the idea with backwards-living characters who were burning history books to keep warm, because everything was getting unstoppably colder. In this show however, the actual impending end of the universe is irrelevant.

The Doctor and Jack have a very long conversation in which they try to explain away plot-holes from earlier episodes, mostly ones by this author. Perhaps inevitably, this quickly backfires.

I hate writing these things, but someone has to...

a. The Doctor says that in The Parting Of The Ways, he knew that Rose, with the power of the Time Vortex (= power of God - the only way I can describe such a terribly easy story-ending), had brought Jack back to life and accidentally made him immortal.

Unfortunately, the Doctor didn't know that Rose had brought him back to life. Afterwards, Rose didn't know either. Of course, the Doctor did possess the power of the Time Vortex himself for maybe ten seconds just after that moment, so that would be the only possible occasion when he could have discovered this.

Except that he could also have fixed it at that moment, but didn't.

As for whether either of them subsequently remembered those events, there's been contradictory evidence both ways since then. The easier-to-reconcile explanation is that he just watched the episode on the telly.

b. The Doctor says he left Jack behind because he was immortal, and that was wrong. I'll bite the bullet and just accept that one, though it doesn't sound like a reason to me, and certainly not a Doctorish one. There's no evidence of this whatsoever in the episode.

Finally the aging Professor Yana turns out, entirely by coincidence, to be the Master. I've been waiting for this ever since I read that the Cybermen would return a year after the Daleks. He's only just made it in time.

This is done quite well. Derek Jacobi plays an innocent old man who comes across as so real, that he just doesn't quite fit into a fictional show. That's not a criticism, rather a measure of how good the old luvvie is. As his true identity breaks through in his mind, I caught a snatch of Anthony Ainley in the role on the soundtrack. If it's from after Logopolis, this would be only the third allusion to the post 1981 episodes of the original series, which have so far been quietly glossed-over.

The Doctor has a flashback to the face of Bo's dying words "You are not alone," and as expected, there's still no explanation why he didn't say "The Master is alive" or why he didn't tell the Doctor earlier. It's the bad wolf plot-chasm all over again.

Derek Jacobi, unfortunately, doesn't seem to have been told who the Master is. Even his thinking out loud – "If the Doctor can be young and strong, then so can I, the Master" – could imply that he's just finding out things like regeneration and his own name for the first time. And, given that he's just getting his memory back, that might be fine, except that the actor he regenerates into – John Simm – displayed no knowledge of the character either.

The Sound Of Drums

Having regenerated, the Master steals the TARDIS, heading back to Earth in Martha's recent past and becoming the "Mr Saxon" character whose name has been repeatedly mentioned without any context this season. Just for a change, most of those references have actually turned out to be valid though, although the regeneration makes the character's personal absence so far a real missed opportunity. How great would it have been for the Master to regenerate into a character who we had already met and trusted? Oh well.

No explanation for why he's been a local election candidate in two different countries though, with his name on posters in both London and Wales.

By the time the Doctor, Martha and Jack have caught up with him, the Master has just become Prime Minister. You'd have thought that would make quite a good story, but this isn't it. Like the end of the universe, the Master's hypnosis of the public into giving him the premiership is quite irrelevant to what follows. What a shame. What a battle of wits that could have been.

Like all TV bombs, it has a helpful countdown-display, and only begins beeping when they see it
Although he thinks that the Doctor, Martha and Jack are trapped at the end of the universe, the Master plants a time-bomb at Martha's flat anyway. When they unexpectedly return, and discover the bomb at the exact moment it's about to go off, well, we can only imagine the Master's astonishment at his astronomical good luck.

That or he knew they were going to be there at that moment because he'd watched the episode on the telly.

Confronted, the Master then claims that the Lazarus experiment was a trap for the Doctor, "Professor Lazarus – remember him? And his genetic manipulation device. What, did you think little Tish got that job merely by coincidence? I've been laying traps for you all this time," which as I pointed out in my review at the time, he couldn't have been. Indeed none of the questions posed by that episode were answered in this story. Even the guy who they inadvertantly implied was Saxon, wasn't, and doesn't even appear in this story.

The new improved Lazarus machine needs the Doctor's biological code to work, unlike the earlier inferior model.

The Master ages the Doctor, which for those of us who are familiar with William Hartnell's three years in the role, should prove no setback at all.

The Master leads the last humans back through time too, and has them mass-invade the Earth, exactly like the Cybermen in the season finale a year ago, and the Daleks in the season finale a year before that, (both by this episode's writer) to subjugate and kill the population, before starting an interplanetary war. There was probably a reason why, but I must have missed it.

Everyone dumbly stands around and watches this. However as soon as the Doctor, Martha and Jack find that the Master has turned the TARDIS into something called a "paradox machine," it's fairly inevitable how this time-travel story, like so many before it, is going to all be resolved, even before the last humans' identity has been revealed.

I guess that the future humans, in their alien-looking casings, unfortunately must qualify as zombies.

Seeing her family held prisoner, Martha apparently abandons the aged Doctor and escapes.

Last Of The Time Lords

With the Earth devastated yet again, an entire year passes. Well, it passes on Earth anyway. In the room where our heroes are, there's little evidence that even a day has gone by, but in fact a year has passed for them too. Who knew.

The immortal Jack is tied up and, very helpfully, fed.

The Master ages the Doctor again, for no apparent reason other than to market toy replicas of his new gun. The Doctor is shrunk to the size of a parrot, and gets lost amongst his unaffected clothes.

In his next scene, he's fortunately found something more his new size.

Martha has spent the entire year following the Doctor's last instruction to get everyone on Earth ready to think the word "Doctor" at the exact moment that the Master's countdown reaches zero. She repeatedly has flashbacks of him telling her to do this.

Unfortunately, the Doctor never said any such thing to her last episode. In fact, no-one knew anything about the countdown until a year later. Either Martha is sadly losing her grip on reality, or someone really should have left that footage in the previous episode where it belonged...

The plan works however, as at the moment that everyone on Earth thinks the word "Doctor", he becomes superheroically younger, returning to his normal size, and floating and controlling things like, like, well, like Rose in the season finale by the same author two years ago.

Fortunately his clothes enlarge into a replica of his earlier ones too. Or maybe he just picked them up again and got dressed in front of everyone. Eat your heart out, Bruce Banner.

The great thing here though, is exactly how the rejuvenated Doctor defeats the Master. After the five of them have spent an entire year held captive virtually in the same room as him, now at last the Doctor...

... gets his gun off him.

Jack, having had nothing to do so far, (nothing new there then) at last gets to serve the plot by helping to destroy the paradox machine, so time rewinds and, except for the main cast, it's unexpectedly as if the last year never happened.

The Master's wife, who has also had nothing to do so far, shoots him.

The Master chooses to die, rather than spend the rest of his life in the Doctor's custody. Despite all the times that the Master has cheated death, the Doctor still believes he's dead.

The End.

Whew, and now I can recount what I particularly liked about this story:

The Good Stuff

Although he still has so little to do, Jack's involvement is quite welcome. In his original stint in the show two years ago, he was very bland and had little characterisation, but a season of Torchwood has enabled that to change. Barrowman now knows who he's playing, even if he still finds it a bit of a challenge.

Jack says he escaped from the space station and went back in time to Earth in 1869, after which he lived through both world wars, going through the second one a second time.

This is great because, perhaps by accident, it actually retcons his three contradictory origins into finally making some sense:

i. As a time-cop, Jack comes to earth during WW2 and steals Captain Jack Harkness' identity.

ii. He meets the Doctor and Rose in The Empty Child, and goes travelling with them in the TARDIS.

iii. On Satellite 5, Rose makes Jack invulnerable, so the Doctor abandons him.

iv. Jack then uses his burnt-out vortex-manipulator to travel back to earth in 1869.

v. Jack joins the army under another name. (or both identities would have shown up when Gwen had him checked-out in Everything Changes)

vi. In 1909 he encounters the fairies.

viii. For some unexplained reason, when Jack ultimately joins Torchwood, he re-assumes his identity as Captain Jack Harkness.

That's all fine. Whew.

Alas, in the present, Jack goes onto claim that he then waited for ages for a version of the Doctor to show up that would know who he was. He also claims to have spied on Rose a couple of times while she was growing up. All he really had to do then, once events had caught up, was phone her.

He can't have been a very good time-cop.

These talky scenes between the Doctor and Jack are the highlight of the first episode though. The respectful hostility between the two has real bite. The scene in the radiation-flooded chamber sees the Doctor in a rare moment with many of his usual defences down.

Just like in his original stint in the show though, once the conversation is over, Jack stands through the rest of the story with nothing to do.

While on the run, the Doctor, Martha and Jack turn their TARDIS keys into perception filters to avoid being noticed. The return of a great idea, though not rigidly adhered to, as they keep changing the rules about who can see them. Unfortunately, this will be completely forgotten in the next story when they'd come in handy again.

The Doctor's time as a CGI Time Lord in a cage is a good idea, and well-realised. A shame he couldn't have stayed like that for a few episodes. Farscape would have left him like that for half a season.

Torchwood is actually acknowledged as competing with UNIT, which finally makes the two very similar organisations' simultaneous existence acceptable.

The joke at the end about the face of Boe was funny, and I didn't see it coming. What a shame they didn't either, at any point in the last three years.

What I Really Didn't Like

Finally, I have to put a few words together about the one thing in this story that was an all-round misfire – the Master.

The intention when bringing back a villain from the original series, as with the Daleks and the Cybermen, is surely to appeal to both new viewers and old as well. It's something of a rip-off then, to promise the return of such a well-remembered and well-loved old character, only to ultimately present us with a brand new character instead.

This guy might be called "the Master", and be a Time Lord, but those really are the only similarities.

Everything else about him is different.

The last five actors all played him the same way, with a little variation. Serious, brooding, scheming, full of conviction, and dead straight. His special powers were disguising himself, shrinking people, and possesing his own, fully working, TARDIS.

You can believe that all these guys are playing the same character:

As you can see, even Jacobi and the kid managed to fit-in by just prudently underplaying him.

This rewrite has John Simm joking, larking around, doing silly voices, making fun of people, singing and dancing along to pop music, and overacting like a children's party entertainer.

Neither John Simm nor Derek Jacobi showed any knowledge of the Master at all. Neither had the Master's trademark chuckle. Neither had the Master's smug smirk. They hadn't even been given the Master's whole catchphrase to say. At one point Jacobi gets as far as saying "I am the Master," but stops talking there. (and I think that much was a fluke)

Contrast that with all the old mannerisms that Eric Roberts assumed when he brought back the role in 1996. Consequently, you knew who he was. He was the Master.

It's such a shame because, far from seeing an old character again, this story made it clear that the Master will never now return.

What a cheat.

Thanks to for the pictures of Eric Roberts.

Labels: ,

0 comment(s):

Post a Comment

<< Back to Steve's home page

** Click here for preceding post(s) **

** Click here for following post(s) **