Doctor Who: Death Comes to Time
(5 episodes, 2001-2002)
One more round with Sylvester McCoy before returning to the canon timeline.
After a brief introduction filled with metaphor and symbolism, we are witness to a massive and bloody battle in space. General Tannis decimates the fleet and destroys the city of Annit, obliterating nine million people before Admiral Mettna surrenders unconditionally. Thus begins the Canisian invasion of the Santine Republic. The admiral is killed despite her surrender, the Santinian president is assassinated by Tannis himself, and the Republic falls.
As Tannis begins his reign of terror, the Seventh Doctor and his companion Antimony arrive. Antimony knocks out the guard as the Doctor meets Senator Sala, the leader of a blossoming resistance. The Doctor takes the survivors away and works out a plan with them to stop the threat. When the Doctor spots burning trees, he realizes that someone wants to contact him and the travelers depart.
Elsewhere, a being identifying himself as a “God of the Fourth” arrives on a spaceship, enthralls the guards, and rescues a prisoner.
That prisoner is Ace.
Her mysterious benefactor is named Casmus, and he rescued her in order to teach her. He’s very much a Yoda to her Luke Skywalker.
As the Doctor and Antimony travel to the Temple of the Fourth on the planet Micen Island, the Doctor has a premonition which he ascribes to a nightmare. In the temple, they find statues of long dead Time Lords with an inscription: “We serve the many, for the many are One, until twilight falls and death comes to Time.”
The Doctor is met by a fellow Time Lord named the Minister of Chance, and he is the one who sent the fiery message. The Minister informs the Doctor that two Time Lords, the Saints Antinor and Valentine, have been murdered on Earth. The Minister fears a greater evil at work, and he takes over the Santine crisis while the Doctor investigates the threat to their kind.
Tannis punishes his guards for their failures: The lost resistance group nets one guard a bullet while Ace’s disappearance results in her guard Golcrum being exiled to the barren world of Animapersis. As he muses on how even Time Lords die, he reveals bigger plans in motion.
The Doctor and Antimony arrive at a radio telescope analysis center as the Time Lord delivers a lesson in temporal philosophy and mentions an encounter with an allosaurus. They meet with Dr. Kane, who explains that Valentine and Antinor were killed by animals, presumably a dog or large cat. The Doctor asks her what they were investigating, discovering that black holes are being created and expanding at a drastic rate. The fabric of space-time has been torn.
Antimony investigates the crime scene and encounters two policemen, Campion and Speedwell. They grill him before meeting with the Doctor, and Speedwell is called away to another animal attack in the East End. The Doctor accompanies the officer, but Antimony is left behind in handcuffs. The Doctor finds bite marks on the woman’s neck, her corpse drained of blood. They also find the body of a policeman and a bar with twenty additional corpses. A dark figure flees the scene, and back at the laboratory, Antimony encounters Campion in a similar state, and discusses the event with a dispassionate Kane.
Across the universe, Ace wakes from a dream about the edge of a whirlpool and a friendly yet dangerous man. Casmus teaches her how to remember dreams – perceptions uncluttered by shadows of matter – and tells her that they will soon visit the Kingmaker at Mount Plutarch to test her abilities. On Santine, the Minister of Chance arrives, dodges Tannis’s troops, and meets with the leaders of the resistance.
Back on Earth, the Doctor and Speedwell find more corpses and note that there are two distinct styles of killing. Some are for feeding, but others are were just in the way and used as a distraction. The pair dive into a manhole and track down the killer, the vampire Nessican. The police officer’s gun proves useless since severing the spine is the only way to kill a vampire. Nessican attacks the Doctor, but the Time Lord had eaten garlic so his blood poisoned the vampire. The pair get a call pointing them back to Kane, and they arrive at the lab just in time to kill her too. With her dying moments, she tells the Doctor that the tear in time is the work of a Time Lord.
Before his death, Nessican sent a message to Tannis: Earth is rich in resources and defenseless. Tannis is overjoyed by this report.
The Minister of Chance takes Senator Sala to the Canisian army. Captain Carne, the detachment commander, suspects a trap but accepts the gift and sends her away to be tortured. He also plans to kill the Minister at a later time. On the Canisian homeworld, Premier Bedloe and Tannis announce the defeat of the Santine Republic. Simultaneously, Tannis’s troops have surrounded the city and taken Bedloe’s child hostage. When Bedloe confronts the general, Tannis explains that he intends to use the leader as a front while Tannis conquers the universe. Premier Bedloe is left in the care of Major Bander with orders to kill the leader on command.
The Doctor analyzes the black holes and realizes that the tears in space-time could only be caused by another Time Lord misusing his powers. Antimony wonders whether it could be the Minister of Chance, but the Doctor thinks otherwise, planning to strike on Alpha Canis while the Minister occupies Tannis on Santine.
Sala is tortured and returned to her cell with the Minister. The Time Lord heals her wounds, enabling her to infiltrate the base and find the other political prisoners. The Minister sets a trap for Carne.
As Ace and Casmus travel to Mount Plutarch, her lessons continue. There is no true chaos in the Universe, just an order of greater complexity than can be easily perceived.
When the captain interrogates the Minister, he is told that the Santine resistance plans to attack a prison at Luria. The reaction reveals that the prison really exists, which they had not known with certainty. They spring the trap by threatening to inform the general’s incoming envoy – the Fleet Pilot – that Carne revealed the secret, so Carne shows them a prison map in exchange for their silence. The Minister tells him where the resistance intend to attack, then uses a word of power to crash the planetary computers. In the confusion, the Minister and Sala flee while Carne deals with his own skeptical troops.
The Minister has a lot of strange powers that seem overboard for Time Lords.
The Doctor and Antimony arrive on Alpha Canis, and the Doctor explains why they can’t just kill the general outright. The Doctor plans to turn Premier Bedloe against Tannis, and he surrenders himself to the authorities under the pretense that he has kidnapped Bedloe’s children. The Doctor’s ruse works out, but his presence is reported to Tannis. Bedloe questions the Doctor personally, and the Doctor strikes a deal to rescue the children from the general’s personal villa in exchange for Tannis.
After dispatching Captain Carne, the Fleet Pilot reports the Minister’s activities to Tannis. The general orders the Time Lord located so he can deal with the threat personally. Elsewhere, Ace and Casmus stargaze while the human woman realizes that she will never have normal relationships with other humans again. She now has a special relationship with time and is introduced to the loneliness of being a Time Lord.
Nice. She’s being trained as a Time Lord.
The Doctor and Antimony break into the villa, rescue the child, and return him to Bedloe. Unfortunately, their deal is broken when Tannis strikes a new bargain with Bedloe.
On Santine, the Minister of Chance and Sala try to find their way back to the resistance. Sala asks about his name, which he explains is given perhaps by what they did but is unpronounceable by her tongue. In the end, she just calls him “Snake”. The path is treacherous and she is still weakened from the interrogation, so the Minister uses his healing power once again. When she questions why the Minister doesn’t use his powers to save everyone’s lives, he explains that she cannot understand his people’s position. They are soon intercepted by a resistance member and share the intelligence about the Lurian prison camp.
Ace is subjected to a test known as the “Cavern of Infinite Death”, wherein she must pass through the cave on the stalagmites without touching the red liquid covering the floor. Ace gives it the old college try, but falls in nonetheless. When she panics, Casmus reveals that the liquid is benign. The lesson: Soon she will be able to break the rules of the universe, but such power can easily be misused even with the best intentions.
In this particular story, Time Lords guard time and can manipulate it with a thought. The power is that over creation itself, and the place of a Time Lord is only to fight evil, not destroy it with a single stroke.
This is rather intriguing.
General Tannis threatens to shoot the Doctor or Antimony, and then reveals his secret: He is a Time Lord. Of course, unlike the Doctor, the Minister, or any of the other Time Lords, he wants to use his powers to rule the Universe. The Doctor tells Antimony to run, but the companion refuses, and Tannis suggests that Antimony sees the Doctor as his father. The next big reveal: Antimony is a robot, which Tannis displays by shooting the companion multiple times. Having seen so many companions leave or die, the Doctor built a companion who would always stay with him. Unfortunately, while Tannis taunts the Doctor, the general shoots Antimony in the head and leaves the Doctor to watch his companion die.
Tannis returns to Santine and discusses the Minister with his Fleet Pilot. Tannis realizes that the Minister cares for Sala, and he explains why he’s concerned about the Time Lord. One time, Tannis dropped a plague on a particularly obstinate planet to exterminate the population, but three days later, the plague was gone and the population was unharmed. Later, Tannis discovered a cult dedicated to a god they called “Manaster,” whom the general presumed was the Minister.
The Santine resistance mount their attack on the Luria prison, but Tannis traps them with a fleet and orbital fire. Sala pleads with the Minister to use his powers to save them, and he refuses until Sala is killed. The Minister loses his self-control and unleashes a hellish rage upon Tannis’s ships. Despite his extensive losses, Tannis orders retreat and decides to visit Earth.
Finally arriving at the home of the Kingmaker, an old woman who watches over the Time Lords, Ace is tested with a mission to Animapersis, the same world where Golcrum was exiled, a planet ravaged by biological and psychic warfare. She is tasked with restoring the planet to its rightful inhabitants without abusing her new powers. She is given a TARDIS and a wand, the latter of which she is told can manipulate time, but is warned against using. Casmus promises to wait for her, but the Kingmaker knows his time is nearing an end.
Ace arrives on Animapersis to find a cave filled with terrified survivors. She declares that she intends to defeat the ghosts and reclaim the planet, and a young woman named Megan offers to guide her to the nearby crater.
While he waits for his student, Casmus is visited by Tannis. The general explains that he has killed off the rest of the Time Lords and set the Doctor and the Minister at odds against each other. Tannis demands to know where the girl from his ship is located, and Casmus tells him that she is on Animapersis. Casmus toys with Tannis, explaining that the more important discussion is what Ace has become. She means something to both Casmus and the Doctor, which is why Tannis wants her dead.
She is a Time Lord not because of anatomy or appearance, but because of what she embodies and does. She is the envoy of a new age.
On Animapersis, Ace and her companion reach the edge of the crater and descend into its depths, facing the entrancing whispers of the spirits within. The spirits threaten to take Ace’s TARDIS and terrorize the universe unless she gives them Megan. Ace is overwhelmed and collapses, awakening on her TARDIS with a strange but talkative man who we know as Golcrum. The survivors are missing, and Ace realizes that she has killed the spirits and survivors with her newfound powers.
The Doctor visits Mount Plutarch, distraught and pleading with the Kingmaker for help in stopping Tannis. Since the general has not broken any laws of time despite amassing power and weapons, the Kingmaker refuses to interfere. She also points out that Tannis is the mirror of the Doctor’s power, and that the Doctor was summoned here to destroy the Minister for his violations.
Ace and Golcrum return to Casmus’s garden to find her mentor dead. The Doctor reunites with his former companion and brings word that Tannis killed Casmus. In turn, she reveals what she did on Anamapersis. The Doctor consoles her with the revelation that it was a test, and that every person there was an illusion. It was a Kobayashi Maru-style scenario designed to instill a memory of failure in recruits and remind them of the scope of their power, a power that that Ace does not yet possess. She mentions the wand, but the Doctor has her look at it again with new eyes. The wand is nothing more than a fancy stick.
The Doctor and Ace formulate a plan to stop Tannis: Ace and Golcrum head for Earth to intercept Tannis while the Doctor deals with the Minister. On the Canisian homeworld, the Doctor finds a village in flames. He confronts the Minister on a nearby mountain, pleading for help against Tannis. When the Minister refuses to help, the Doctor revokes the Minister’s ability to travel via TARDIS, a move that opens the former Time Lord’s eyes and guilt.
On Earth, in the NASA mission control room, the operators (does anyone else want to beat Bob with Ace’s stick?) are startled to find a fleet of spaceships approaching the planet. The President of the United States is informed, and Tannis offers an ultimatum: Surrender or he will bomb London. While the President stalls, the Prime Minister calls with word of countermeasures. The bomb explodes inside the gunship’s hold and a fleet of shuttles emerges from behind the moon, commanded by none other than Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart with Antonín Dvořák’s epic Symphony No. 9 (New World): IV. Allegro at his wings.
Tannis orders a ground invasion, descending on Stonehenge to begin a march on London, but they are confronted by Lieutenant Colonel Speedwell (who was previously undercover, I suppose) and the might of UNIT. As the battle rages, Tannis abandons his troops and searches for the Doctor. He finds Ace first and starts beating her, but the Doctor intercedes. Tannis knows that, under the law, the Doctor cannot use his powers to stop him, but the Doctor surprises Tannis with a flash of blue behind his eyes. With a choice between abusing his powers or leaving Tannis to abuse his own, the Doctor decides to unleash the might of the Time Lords, an act that destroys Tannis and kills the Doctor.
As UNIT celebrates their victory over the invasion, Ace brings word to the Brigadier of the Doctor’s fate. She travels to Mount Plutarch where the Kingmaker confers the full power of the Time Lords upon Ace, marking the beginning of a new age.
This story was an amazing extension of the mythology constructed in the classic era, presenting a natural path of evolution for the Time Lord civilization. If it were placed in the franchise’s continuity, it would act like a world-breaking tale that could potentially reboot everything and carry it forward with fresh eyes.
And, oh, would I love to see more adventures with Ace in her new role, because she is amazing.
But it would also mean the end of the Doctor, and presumably, the end of the series under the title Doctor Who. In that regard, I’m glad we didn’t get that path going forward.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.