Timestamp #204: The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End

Doctor Who: The Stolen Earth
Doctor Who: Journey’s End
(2 episodes, s04e12-e13, 2008)

 

The return of a long-dead enemy and the rise of a family.

 

The Stolen Earth

The Doctor and Donna race back to Earth to find that everything is fine. It’s a calm Saturday, but the Doctor knows that the walls of the universe are breaking down because Rose has been able to travel between realities. When they return to the TARDIS, the planet begins to shake. When the violent tremors subside, the Doctor and Donna look outside to find themselves in space.

The TARDIS is in the same place, but the Earth has been stolen.

Far across the universe, Martha Jones wakes up in New York with her UNIT team. In Cardiff, Torchwood Three are picking up the pieces. On Bannerman Road, Sarah Jane Smith and Luke dust themselves off before Mr. Smith tells them to look outside. Sylvia and Wilfred look upward as well.

The planet Earth is among twenty-six other stolen planets, all of them visible in the sky above, and Rose Tyler has just arrived with a big freakin’ gun.

Back in Earth’s orbit, the Doctor and Donna puzzle over the mystery before setting a course for the Shadow Proclamation. On Earth, Torchwood Three discovers that the planet still maintains atmosphere and heat. Both Torchwood and Mr. Smith detect a space station and a fleet of ships. UNIT spools up their alert status as the two hundred ships enter orbit.

As rioters swarm the streets, Rose stops a pair of looters before using a stolen laptop to get an update.

Martha calls Jack as the planet intercepts a single repeated signal: EXTERMINATE! It rattles all of our heroes to their very cores as Dalek saucers open fire on Earth. The Supreme Dalek declares that they are now the masters of Earth.

The TARDIS touches down at the Shadow Proclamation and is greeted by a squad of Judoon. The Doctor meets with a member of the Proclamation and learns that twenty-four planets have been taken. Donna reminds the Doctor that Pyrovillia and Adipose 3 are missing. Adding the lost moon of Poosh, they have twenty-seven planets taken out of time and space and formed into an engine. The Doctor recalls that someone tried to steal the Earth a long time ago, but it can’t be…

The UNIT forces decide to activate Project Indigo, their top-secret project that Jack doesn’t think will work. Martha puts on a backpack apparatus, is handed something called the Osterhagen Key, and teleports away using Sontaran technology. Jack believes that she is scattered into atoms because the technology lacks coordinates and stabilization.

On the Dalek station, the Supreme Dalek orders the fleet to commence landing and rounding up of humans for “the Crucible”. A familiar-looking form asks about the Doctor, warning the Supreme Dalek about his pride and that Dalek Caan has an uneasy prophecy: The Doctor is coming.

Donna is deep in thought when a member of the Proclamation gives her sustenance. She knows that something was on Donna’s back and is sorry for the loss that’s about to come. The Doctor asks Donna what he’s not thinking of and she reminds him that the bees have gone missing. The Doctor says that it means that they were going home to the planet Melissa Majoria before the Earth vanished. The Doctor uses that to trace the planet’s course – an act that forces the Proclamation to order him to join their war fleet, which he declines – and the TARDIS is off to the rescue.

On Earth, the humans in Wilf and Sylvia’s neighborhood resist. The Daleks respond by destroying their homes. Wilf uses a paintball gun to try blinding a Dalek, but it doesn’t work. Before the Dalek exterminates Donna’s family, Rose rescues them by destroying the Dalek with her gun.

The TARDIS materializes in the Medusa Cascade, a place that the Doctor hasn’t visited since he was ninety years old. They’re in the middle of a rift in time and space, but there’s no trace of the missing planets.

Torchwood and Bannerman Road listen as the United Nations surrenders the planet to the Daleks. Their sorrow is interrupted by a mysterious (familiar sounding) signal from a “subwave network”. The caller is Harriet Jones (former Prime Minister) and she links Torchwood, Bannerman Road, and Martha Jones (who materialized at her mother’s house). Rose can only listen in since Sylvia considers webcams to be “naughty”.

Introductions are made around the table – Jack admires Sarah Jane’s work, but Sarah Jane has been staying away because of all the guns – and Harriet Jones warns that they will not use the Osterhagen Key under any circumstances. Rose is a bit jealous.

Using a sentient computer program from the Mr. Copper Foundation, the subwave network can boost the signal to reach the Doctor. Sure enough, the Doctor’s Army pools their resources and opens a channel, but the Daleks are hot on their trail. The TARDIS locks onto the signal as the Daleks blow a hole into Harriet’s home. She transfers control and faces them down before they exterminate her.

The TARDIS materializes in the middle of the missing planets, now one second out of sync with the rest of the universe. The Doctor opens a channel and makes contact with everyone but Rose. Moments later, Davros breaks into the signal and reintroduces himself to the Doctor. The Doctor saw him destroyed in the first year of the Time War, but Davros was rescued by Dalek Caan after the mad Dalek hybrid shifted through the time lock and rescued him. Davros returned the favor by donating his own DNA to rebuild the Dalek Empire.

The Doctor pilots the TARDIS to Earth while Dalek Caan predicts death for the most faithful companion. Jack uses Martha’s coordinates to fix his vortex manipulator and teleport to her location as the Daleks descend on Torchwood. Ianto and Gwen mount a defense.

Sarah Jane leaves Luke in Mr. Smith’s care as she races to the TARDIS’s landing point. Rose also teleports away with a wish of luck from Donna’s family, appearing behind the Doctor and Donna on a street full of abandoned cars. The Doctor and Rose race to each other, but a Dalek rounds the corner and shoots the Doctor. Jack appears and destroys the Dalek, but they’re too late.

Rose, Jack, and Donna take the Doctor back to the TARDIS. Rose and Jack know what’s coming, but Donna has no idea. The Doctor’s hand begins to glow.

Sarah Jane is trapped by Daleks. Torchwood is under assault.

The Doctor begins to regenerate.

 

Journey’s End

The Doctor channels the regeneration energy into the hand in the bubbling jar, leaving his companions baffled. Meanwhile, Sarah Jane is rescued by the surprise appearance of Mickey Smith and Jackie Tyler, and Torchwood’s certain doom is stopped by a strange bubble in time. It’s a time lock developed by Tosh before her death, but it means that Ianto and Gwen are trapped in Torchwood HQ.

The Doctor used enough regeneration energy to heal himself, but refused to change his face. The Daleks surround the phone box and place it in a temporal prison before transporting it to the Crucible. Sarah Jane warns her saviors to put down their guns before they all surrender to the Daleks, intent on being sent to the Crucible. Martha uses Project Indigo, but only makes it as far as Germany.

Rose tells the Doctor about the coming darkness and how all the timelines are converging on Donna. The loss of power on the TARDIS also means that the capsule is as fragile as the wooden doors that it resembles. These are, after all, the Daleks that fought the Time Lords. The TARDIS lands at the Crucible, but Donna is lost in thought once more. The Doctor and his companions exit the TARDIS, certain of their fate as they face the Supreme Dalek, but Donna doesn’t leave the ship.

The TARDIS door closes and the Daleks eject the time capsule into the heart of the Crucible. The Doctor fears that it will be destroyed and begs for Donna’s life. On the TARDIS, Donna is enthralled by the hand in a jar, and she reaches for it, it glows with regeneration energy and explodes into a fully formed duplicate of the Doctor.

The new Doctor – the Metacrisis Doctor – pushes a button and the TARDIS vanishes. Everyone in the Crucible above believes it to be destroyed and Jack opens fire with his revolver. The Daleks exterminate him and lead Rose and the Doctor away as Jack revives and plays possum.

The Metacrisis Doctor fixes the TARDIS and bonds with Donna, discovering that he only has one heart. He’s a human-Time Lord hybrid, and he believes Donna to be special. They’ve been heading to this moment from the very beginning, from the runaway bride to the convenient parking of Donna’s car near the TARDIS during the Adipose incident. But time or destiny or fate or whatever is not done yet.

Martha arrives at a castle, one of the Osterhagen bases. The caretaker threatens her by gunpoint not to go through with the plan, but Martha presses on.

On the Crucible, Jack escapes disposal and is free to find his allies. Meanwhile, Sarah Jane and her new friends arrive. The Doctor and Rose are put in confinement beams and converse with Davros, who the Doctor calls the Daleks’ pet. Davros reveals Dalek Caan, the last of the Cult of Skaro, and says that the Supreme Dalek is afraid of the mad hybrid’s prophecies about the Children of Time. Davros revels in the darkness with the Doctor, but the Time Lord puts it away as quickly as it surfaced when he learns about the secret weapon: A reality bomb.

As the prisoners are processed, Sarah Jane and Mickey escape with her sonic lipstick. The Daleks test their reality bomb on the prisoners, using the neutrino energy channeled through the aligned planets as a weapon. Just as it’s about to fire, Jackie’s teleporter recharges and she escapes as the prisoners are vaporized. They literally vanished from existence.

Davros plans to destroy the entirety of creation, every single corner of reality in every universe. The only thing to remain will be the Daleks.

Jack meets up with Sarah Jane, Mickey, and Jackie. Jack and Mickey share a manly hug as Sarah Jane produces a warp star – a warp fold conjugation trapped in a carbonized shell, or an “explosion waiting to happen”, gifted to her by a Verron soothsayer – to destroy the Crucible. On Earth, Martha makes contact with the other Osterhagen bases and opens a channel to the Crucible, threatening to use a chain of twenty-five nuclear warheads around the globe to destroy the planet. Jack also makes contact, threatening to use the warp star to destroy the Crucible, and Davros is pleased to see Sarah Jane once again.

Davros is pleased that the Doctor, a pacifist, has honed his companions into weapons ready to kill. He asks the Doctor – the man who keeps running because he dare not look back for fear of the shame – to consider how many others have died in his name. The drama is a distraction as the Supreme Dalek locks onto all of the Doctor’s allies and teleports them to the Doctor’s location.

The Daleks then initiate the reality bomb.

One the TARDIS, the Metacrisis Doctor and Donna rig a device to cause the reality bomb to backfire. The TARDIS materializes in the Crucible and the Metacrisis Doctor races out, but Davros strikes him with an electrical charge before trapping him. Donna picks up the device and is similarly dispatched before Davros destroys the weapon. Unfortunately for the Daleks, Donna stops the reality bomb, Davros, and the Daleks with knowledge that she shouldn’t have.

The creation of the Metacrisis Doctor was a two-way street. It created the Doctor-Donna, which was sparked by Davros when he shot her.

The Time Lords and humans send the missing planets home and round up the Daleks. Davros asked why Dalek Caan couldn’t see this coming, but the truth is that Dalek Caan put everything in motion to end the Dalek reign of terror. The Supreme Dalek tries to stop them, but Jack destroys it. As the Doctor rushes into the TARDIS, the Metacrisis Doctor decides to send a surge of energy into the entire fleet to prevent the Daleks from attacking the universe.

As the Daleks explode, the Doctor is appalled at the bloodlust of his duplicate, and he rushes his allies into the TARDIS. The Doctor offers sanctuary for Davros, but earns the name “Destroyer of Worlds” in return as his offer is declined. The TARDIS takes off but cannot break free of the time bubble, so the Doctor contacts Torchwood and Bannerman Road – including K9! – to break free with every companion on the console.

Just as the TARDIS is meant to be flown.

The time capsule tows the planet Earth back to its rightful place in our solar system. As they arrive, having saved the world in epic fashion, the console room erupts in a celebration that bleeds onto the planet below.

The Doctor bids farewell once again to Sarah Jane, who tells him that he has the biggest family on Earth. Mickey decides to stay behind in this reality as the Doctor disables Jack’s vortex manipulator. Jack and Martha walk away with Mickey in close pursuit.

The Doctor takes the TARDIS to Bad Wolf Bay in Rose’s parallel universe. Jackie tells the Metacrisis Doctor that she needs to find her husband and son, and the Doctor tells Rose that he’s leaving his clone with her. The Metacrisis Doctor is exactly how Rose found the Doctor, full of anger and fury, and he needs Rose’s influence to grow and change. The big difference is that he is part human and will grow old with her.

She asks the Doctor what he was going to say on the day he left her behind in Bad Wolf Bay. The Metacrisis Doctor whispers the answer to her and they kiss as the TARDIS vanishes from sight.

As the TARDIS flies, Donna’s Time Lord knowledge begins to overload her brain. She wants to stay with him, but if she does, the metacrisis will destroy her. She cannot be with him forever as she wanted. She begs him not to leave her behind, but he has no choice but to say goodbye as he wipes her mind.

He delivers her home and makes Wilf and Sylvia promise that she can never remember anything about her travels with the Doctor. If she remembers any thread of it, she will die. Wilf is understanding but angry, and he takes solace in the fact that she saved so many in her travels. For one shining moment she was the most important woman in existence. Sylvia says that she still is. The Doctor reminds her to tell Donna every once in a while.

Donna awakens and rushes in, but she doesn’t remember any of it. The Doctor bids her farewell as John Smith, and Wilf promises to look up to the stars on his behalf every night. The Doctor walks away in the rain takes flight in the TARDIS once more.

Time Lord victorious. Time Lord alone.

 

It is no secret that this story earns every last bit of a high rating.  The balance of action and dramatic tension as all of our heroes from the last four years come together to defeat one of the Doctor’s oldest enemies is masterful. They all bring strengths and weaknesses, and they leverage all of them together to save the world. The universe. All of creation.

The cinematography was quite impressive. I was blown away by the beautiful dichotomy between the close shots of the celebrating family and the long shots of the Doctor alone and somewhat defeated.

There’s also a great deal of attention paid to the franchise’s mythology, both old and new. It’s important for them to do so because, hey, it’s the Daleks. We met Davros in Genesis of the Daleks and watched him lose his hand in Revelation of the Daleks. UNIT gets another crack at the Daleks after their first encounter in Day of the Daleks. The Daleks tried to steal the Earth before in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, which is also where we first encountered a Supreme Dalek.

We last saw Davros and the Supreme Dalek in Remembrance of the Daleks as the Dalek Civil War came to a close, and that’s a really interesting dynamic: Davros commanded the Imperial Daleks and the Supreme Dalek commanded the Renegades. After the Time War, it seems that bygones are bygones as there is only one faction of Daleks now.

Of course, in the post-Time War era, we’ve seen the Cult of Skaro. Survivors of the Time War, it adds a twist as a hybrid helps give birth to the new Dalek empire before destroying it.

In more comical callbacks, we’ve seen Daleks disabled by attacking their eyestalks – The DaleksPlanet of the DaleksResurrection of the DaleksRevelation of the DaleksThe Parting of the Ways – often screaming, “My vision is impaired!” This time, the trope was flipped to both humorous appeal and heightened tension.

The Doctor has been shot by a Dalek before, but this is the first time it was effectively lethal. When the Third Doctor took a hit from a Dalek cannon in Planet of the Daleks, he was only paralyzed for a short time.

In terms of the missing planets, the theft of Earth is nothing new since it was stolen by the Time Lords (and renamed Ravolox) in The Trial of a Time Lord. Earth’s twin planet Mondas was moved and became home to the Cybermen.

We heard about Adipose 3, Pyrovillia, and the Lost Moon of Poosh through this series. We’ve never seen Shallacatop or Jahoo, but three others have been mentioned in one way or another: Clom was the home of the Abzorbaloff (Love & Monsters), Woman Wept was the site of an off-screen adventure for Rose and the Ninth Doctor (Boom Town), and Calufrax Minor could be in the same vein as the miniaturized Calufrax from The Pirate Planet.

Then we get to the Children of Time.

I know that Rose is a fan favorite, but I stand by my assessment that Martha was superior in every way. Rose is a liability to the Doctor, almost costing him his life in the middle of a war. Sure, the reunion was touching, but her jealousy was nearly intolerable.

It’s a little ironic that an avatar resembling her will be the key to saving the Doctors, the Time Lords, and Gallifrey down the road.

The consequences of the Rose and Doctor relationship also gives us the notion that Time Lords have some degree of control over their regenerations.

Martha, Sarah Jane, and Jack continue to bring their strengths to bear in a conflict, each tackling the problem with their unique skillsets. I had the biggest grin at Sarah Jane’s line about Torchwood using their guns too often, and Jack’s fanboy nature over Sarah Jane was adorable.

Gwen (who gets the callback to The Unquiet Dead) and Ianto holding down the fort at Torchwood makes sense, particularly since they’ve never encountered Daleks before. The same goes for Luke and Mr. Smith. I was also pleased to see Mickey (“Us Smiths gotta stick together!”) and Jackie following Rose through the breach and, in a natural evolution since their debut, fighting for their planet.

That leaves us with Donna. Oh, Donna. Her departure is heartbreaking, particularly since she wanted to travel with the Doctor for the rest of her life. She considered him to be her destiny, and she was correct thanks to Dalek Caan. Now she doesn’t remember any part of her adventures with the Doctor, even though the universe remembers her.

Donna Noble was the Doctor’s conscience, saving him with her direct nature and wide-eyed innocence more than once. She reminded him of his empathy, which Davros tries to use against him by reminding him of those who sacrificed themselves for him and those he couldn’t save – Harriet Jones, Ceth Ceth Jafe, the Controller, Lynda Moss, Sir Robert MacLeish, Angela Price, Colin Skinner, Ursula Blake, Bridget Sinclair, the Face of Boe, Chantho, Astrid Peth, Luke Rattigan, Jenny, River Song, and the hostess – and how easily any of his Earth family could join those ranks.

None of the Doctor’s companions physically died to save the world, but the Donna that he knew is gone. She didn’t love him, but she loved everything about him. She believed in him. She saved him.

And he saved her in turn.

I’m going to miss her.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Series Four Summary

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #199: The Doctor’s Daughter

Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Daughter
(1 episode, s04e06, 2008)

 

It’s time to meet an impossible child.

The TARDIS topples wildly through time and space, tossing Martha and Donna about as the hand in a jar bubbles madly. As Donna learns about the hand’s origins and the time capsule comes to a halt, the team takes a look around before being captured. The Doctor’s hand is shoved into a device where a sample is taken.

His DNA is processed into a clone: The Doctor has a new daughter.

The humans are quickly overrun by an enemy called the Hath. The Doctor’s daughter blows up the tunnel, stopping the Hath advance, but not before Martha is taken by the beings. Donna chastises the Doctor’s daughter and the Doctor tries to find a way through, but the soldiers stop him at gunpoint. They’re headed to see the commander.

On the other side of the rubble, Martha offers medical assistance to a wounded Hath, gaining their trust through her compassion.

Donna and the Doctor find out that the daughter is pre-programmed with military knowledge and tactics, something that the Doctor calls a generated anomaly. From that, Donna offers the woman a name: Jenny.

Jenny likes it.

They arrive at a makeshift barracks, previously a theater, and meet General Cobb. Freedom of movement is restricted, but the Doctor wants to know more about the Hath. The general gives the team a quick briefing, although most of the history behind the place they call Messaline is lost to time. The general seeks something called the Source, a creation myth of sorts driven by a goddess. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to uncover a hidden layer of tunnels on the map, and the general gives his troops marching orders to explore them. The Doctor, meanwhile, is imprisoned with Donna and Jenny for his pacifism.

Meanwhile, Martha is taken to the Hath headquarters. She analyzes the same map and, when the new layers emerge, fears that she has started a war.

In their cell, the Doctor schemes while Jenny finds similarity in his every move to that of a soldier. He alters Donna’s phone to contact Martha, and they figure out that both armies are marching on the same location.

It’s a massacre in the making at the temple of the Source.

The Doctor refuses to allow Jenny to travel with them, but Donna uses a stethoscope to show the Doctor that Jenny is his progeny, a potential Time Lord though the Doctor refuses to admit it. As the Doctor’s theme runs under his sadness, he talks of the war, his part in it, and the destruction of his people. Jenny says that his situation then is pretty much their situation now.

Martha plots a path over the treacherous, radiation filled surface as Jenny wiles her way out of the cell. The Doctor’s team sneaks through the human base and Martha emerges on the desolate surface. As they move, Donna takes note of the random numbers scattered around.

The Doctor, Donna, and Jenny come to a tunnel filled with deadly lasers. The Doctor disables the laser net as Jenny considers her programming, finally using her rifle as a distraction. Unfortunately, the lasers turn back on, so Jenny tumbles her way through without a burn.

On the surface, Martha falls into a pit and is saved by her Hath companion’s sacrifice. The act devastates her, but she presses on to a large tower in the darkness.

Talking while walking, the Doctor offers to take Jenny on the TARDIS with him. Overjoyed, Jenny rushes ahead and the Doctor talks to Donna about his history as a father and the pain of losing all it. Donna believes that Jenny will help him heal, but the Doctor is skeptical.

Martha and the Doctor’s team enter the tower at the same time, discovering that it is a spaceship. Strangely, it’s still powered and functional. The Hath and the humans are not far behind. The Doctor finds a mission log that explains how the commander died of sickness and the crew divided into factions.

Donna discovers that the numbers are dates and that the war is only seven days old. Of course, the cloning machines can create twenty generations in a day. Martha reunites with the travelers and they continue their search for the source, coming across a giant arboretum along the way.

At the center is the Source, the matrix that terraforms planets.

The warring factions arrive simultaneously, and the Doctor offers them peace with the promise of a new world. He declares the war over with a crash of the terraforming matrix, and the factions lay down their arms in reply.

Unfortunately, Cobb wants none of it and takes aim on the Doctor. Jenny steps in front of the bullet to save her father, dying in his arms.

He begs his companions to wait for her regeneration, but Martha warns that it won’t come. Once again, he is the last of the Time Lords.

The Doctor’s fury rises as he picks up the general’s gun and holds it to the man’s head before shaking it, angrily telling Cobb that he never would. He begs the factions to make that their driving force: A society where a man never would.

The planet terraforms around them as the new civilization memorializes Jenny. She was an endless paradox, one that the TARDIS brought the Doctor to meet only to first create. The travelers return to Earth and Martha bids her friends farewell. Donna, on the other hand, wants to travel with the Doctor forever.

Back on Messaline, Jenny exhales with a golden-green energy – regeneration or the Source? – before waking up, taking a ship, and blasting into the sky.

She has lots of running to do.

 

There are a lot of things to love here, and those elements keep this otherwise by-the-numbers run-and-gun plot from falling into the just average pile. The subtle use of the TARDIS translation circuits as Martha drove her side of the plot was a nice narrative touch. I also loved that Donna had to teach the Doctor to accept his daughter as more than an anomaly, helping him to heal and declaratively find something to live for. After all, there’s always something to live for.

The fun part was seeing Jenny’s evolution as her nature overrode her programming (can we call it her nurture?).  We don’t definitively know if the physical Time Lord traits carried over or not since Jenny’s resurrection wasn’t explicitly a regeneration – remember that not all Gallifreyans are granted regenerations – but if we consider recent events in Doctor Who lore, she might have had the power regardless.

I do love how this show keeps us guessing!

Finally, the Doctor’s adamance about warfare and destruction gave birth to this brilliant retort:

You need to get yourself a better dictionary. When you do, look up genocide. There’ll be a little picture of me there and the caption will read, “Over my dead body!”

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Unicorn and the Wasp

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #198: The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky

Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem
Doctor Who: The Poison Sky
(2 episodes, s04e04-e05, 2008)

 

The Undefeated meets his match on Earth.

 

The Sontaran Strategem

Reporter Jo Nakashima is physically thrown out of Rattigan Academy by Luke Rattigan and his students. Jo threatens to find someone who will listen to her about the threat posed by the ATMOS system, which is installed on her car and others around the globe. As she drives to UNIT Headquarters, Rattigan recommends to a hidden boss that she be terminated.

Sure enough, the ATMOS system leads Jo to her final destination: A body of water where her sealed car drives itself into the depths.

Meanwhile, in the depths of space and time, Donna is driving the TARDIS and trying to avoid putting a dent in the 1980s. The Doctor receives a call on a special mobile phone only to find Martha Jones on the other end. She’s bringing him back to Earth.

The TARDIS materializes in an alley near Martha. The Doctor and Martha embrace each other, check in on her family, and discuss her engagement to Tom Milligan. Martha and Donna hit things off right away, and Marth introduces the Doctor to her new job at UNIT as they storm an ATMOS during Operation Blue Sky.

A familiar three-fingered figure watches the festivities from a remote location.

Martha takes the Doctor and Donna to meet her boss, Colonel Mace. Mace salutes the Doctor, impressed by what he’s read in the files of the Time Lord’s service in the ’70s – or was it the ’80s? – but Donna likens it to how the Americans run the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Mace tells the Doctor of fifty-two simultaneous deaths worldwide, all linked to ATMOS. Since UNIT can’t figure out how the system killed so many people at once, they called in their expert scientific adviser on the hunch that it might be alien tech.

In the depths of the factory, two UNIT soldiers find themselves in a restricted area. When they investigate further, they find mysterious technology and a humanoid creature in a crypt-like box. The soldiers investigate the embryonic form before being introduced to a Sontaran.

The cordolaine signal in the room renders their weapons useless. The soldiers are disabled and sent for processing. Their assailant is General Staal of the Tenth Sontaran Battle Fleet, better known as Staal the Undefeated.

Well, there’s a bit of foreshadowing if I ever saw one.

The Doctor takes the ATMOS system apart and investigates it piece by piece, impressed by Martha Jones but warning off the UNIT troops and their guns. Donna finds the HR files on ATMOS personnel sick leave, or rather specifically how none of the workers ever take time off.

While Donna and Martha look into the personnel issues, the Doctor learns about Luke Rattigan, the child prodigy developer of the ATMOS system. Martha talks to Donna about family matters and how she needs to be careful with them and her travels.

The Doctor gears up to visit Luke Rattigan, but Donna wants to go visit her family. The Doctor misunderstands, thinking that she’s leaving him forever, giving her a good laugh. As they depart with a UNIT escort named Ross Jenkins, Martha examines a factory worker named Trepper with strange results.

The UNIT soldiers, Privates Harris and Gray, are hypnotically programmed to further the Sontaran stratagem before Staal returns to his ship via transmat. Harris and Gray watch the Doctor and Donna leave before escorting Martha to what she thinks is a meeting with Colonel Mace. Instead, she’s locked away in one of the Sontaran cloning vats.

Donna returns home, thinking over her adventures so far with the Doctor, before sharing an embrace with her grandfather Wilfred. Donna tells him all about the Doctor, but she refuses to tell her mother about the experiences.

The Doctor and Jenkins arrive at Rattigan Academy, scoffing at ATMOS the whole way there. Rattigan gives them a tour, and while the Doctor is impressed at the science lab he is skeptical about the technology’s origins. He recognizes that it’s been a long time since anyone has told the boy no, but he also recognizes the teleport pod in Rattigan’s office. It takes him to the Sontaran ship and back, and he’s followed by Staal before he disables the teleport with a wave of the sonic.

Jenkins refers to the general as a baked potato in armor, but the Doctor displays the Sontaran’s weakness by ricocheting a racquetball into the armor’s probic vent. While the Doctor and Jenkins run, Skaal and Rattigan repair the teleport and return to the ship. Skaal orders Commander Skorr to begin the invasion of Earth, which involves visiting Martha Jones and the cloning vat.

Sure enough, he’s breeding a clone of Martha.

Rattigan suggests using ATMOS to kill the Doctor, and Skaal links the name to the survivor of the Last Great Time War. He relishes the thought of killing the last of the Time Lords. Sure enough, the UNIT jeep drives itself to the river, but the Doctor uses a logic trap to stop the jeep and blow the UNIT in a not-so-spectacular pop of sparks.

The Doctor finds himself on Donna’s doorstep. As he examines Donna’s car, he meets Wilf for the second time (but the first time proper) and tries to warn Martha, unknowingly calling the clone instead. Martha’s mother, Sylvia, recognizes the Doctor from Donna’s wedding as he unlocks the ATMOS unit. This triggers a Sontaran battle group to head for Earth as the travelers figure out that ATMOS means to poison everyone on Earth.

Wilf ends up locked in the car as every ATMOS vehicle starts gassing the planet. The car is sonic-proof, the planet is choking, and the Sontarans are chanting.

It’s a perfect place for a cliffhanger.

 

The Poison Sky

Sylvia saves Wilf using a totally low-tech option: An axe through the windshield!

UNIT is on high alert, unaware of the mole in their midst as the Martha clone accesses the NATO defense system. She transmits the information to the Sontaran ship as Donna rushes off with the Doctor and Jenkins to fight the Sontarans.

The travelers return to the UNIT mobile headquarters, and the Doctor hands Donna a key to the TARDIS as he rushes off. Donna finds fresh air in the time ship, the Doctor beckons Clone-Martha to follow him, and the mole dispatches Harris and Gray to steal the TARDIS and transmat it to the Sontaran ship.

Donna figures out her predicament as Rattigan returns to Earth and the Doctor figures out that his TARDIS has been stolen. He laments being trapped on Earth (again) before returning to the command center. The UNIT forces find the Sontaran ship and the Doctor makes contact with them. Donna rushes to the monitor, just missing Rose, to catch the transmission as the Doctor handles the Sontarans and ruffles their feathers about the war with the Rutan Host. He also sends a secret message to Donna, asking her to contact him, but she doesn’t know how yet.

She calls home instead to check in with her family. She promises that the Doctor will save them. The Doctor has his own problems as he puzzles over the gas and UNIT spools up the world’s nuclear arsenal to attack the Sontarans. Even though the nuclear missiles wouldn’t even dent the ship, they stop the launch, and the Doctor begins putting the pieces together about Martha’s identity.

The Sontarans storm the factory, killing the UNIT troops in their path including Ross Jenkins. The Doctor is downright furious and Colonel Mace finally starts listening to him. The Time Lord wishes that the Brigadier was there, but Mace states that Sir Alistair is stranded in Peru.

He’s been knighted! Good for him.

Rattigan outlines his plan to take his students off-world and restart the human race. His students are unimpressed with his plan, including his mating program, and they abandon him. He reports back to Staal and finds out that the students would have been sacrificed. Rattigan’s plan was a Sontaran ruse, and the boy returns to Earth to avoid being shot down. The Sontarans lock down the teleport system.

The Doctor borrows a mobile phone and calls Donna, calling her his secret weapon and asking her to go into the ship and re-open the teleport link. He walks her through how to disable a Sontaran with the probic vent and open the ship’s doors before he’s interrupted by Mace’s battle plan.

The Doctor heads outside with a gas mask – “Are you my mummy?” – while ignoring Mace’s briefing. He’s sure that it will not work, after all, but still marvels at the Valiant‘s arrival. After all, he remembers it from a year that never happened even if no one else does.

The UNIT “helicarrier” clears the air with its powerful turbines before attacking the factory. The UNIT troops storm the facility as the Doctor and Clone-Martha follow the signals to the cloning facility. He finds Martha’s body and reveals that he’s known about Clone-Martha all along by her off smell. He removes the memory transfer device from Martha’s head, which disables the clone, and opens communications with Donna again.

While Martha consoles her clone, the Doctor with Donna to fix the teleport. The clone tells Martha that the gas is clone feed, set to convert the planet to a massive cloning facility. Remarking on Martha’s soul brimming with life as the character’s theme takes on a military air, the clone dies.

The Doctor saves Donna by teleporting her and the TARDIS back to Earth. He then teleports Donna and Marth to the Rattigan Academy, throws Luke’s gun from his hands, and uses the boy’s colonization tech to build a device to ignite the planet’s atmosphere.

As the atmosphere burns, the Doctor begs for the plan to work. It’s quite the parallel as his planet burned to death, but the Earth burns to life. The air is clean again and the world rejoices, but the Doctor’s job is not done.

The Sontarans level their weapons on the planet below. The Doctor runs to the teleport and bids farewell to his companions, planning to sacrifice himself to end the Sontaran threat. He heads to the ship to give them a choice: Leave or be destroyed.

The Sontarans refuse to yield. Staal is eager to end the Time Lords and humans once and for all. But the humans get the last laugh as Rattigan swaps places with the Doctor, yells “Sontar-HA!”, and presses the button.

The Sontaran ship is destroyed and the threat is done. Donna heads home to share the moment with her family, and Wilf tearfully tells her to go see the stars. She kisses him goodbye and returns to the TARDIS. Martha is there to say goodbye, but before she can leave the TARDIS slams the doors and takes flight on her own accord.

As the TARDIS rocks, the Doctor’s hand bubbles away happily in the jar.

 

As I write this in the year 2020, Doctor Who fandom is beset by complaints that the show has become too political and too obsessed with “social justice”. One thing that I’ve learned over the course of the Timestamps Project is just how much Doctor Who has been political and socially conscious since 1963:

  • Unchecked capitalism’s effect on ecology (Planet of the Giants);
  • The rights of indigenous peoples (any story with the Silurians and/or Sea Devils, starting with Doctor Who and the Silurians);
  • The debate over nuclear energy (most notably Inferno) and nuclear war (starting with The Daleks);
  • Peace and war (permeates the entire series, once again starting with The Daleks, but especially The War Games and The Caves of Androzani);
  • The role of the military and the threat of the military-industrial complex (any episode with UNIT, particularly Robot and Battlefield, and while we’re at it, anything to do with the Sontarans);
  • Environmentalism, destruction of resources, and ignoring scientific warnings for personal gain (most notably, Inferno and The Green Death);
  • Membership of the European Economic Community and labor strikes (The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon);
  • Sexism and feminism (particularly Jo Grant’s and Sarah Jane Smith’s tenures);
  • Genocide (most notably, Genesis of the Daleks);
  • The responsibility and power of the media (The Long Game);
  • Taxation (The Sun Makers);
  • Margaret Thatcher (The Happiness Patrol and The Christmas Invasion);
  • LGBTQIA+ representation (the revival era gets quite a few props for this, but (despite the classic era’s hands-off approach to the topic) give some deep consideration to the queer-coding with The Rani, Ace and Kara in SurvivalThe Happiness Patrol, and The Curse of Fenric)
  • Racism and xenophobia (the entire series as the Doctor relates to every alien species he/she encounters);
  • The threat of technology overtaking humanity (any episode featuring the Cybermen);
  • Nazis, including intolerance, xenophobia, genocide, racial purity, racial supremacy, totalitarianism, and everything that evil regime stands for (literally any episode featuring the Daleks).

And that, without the slightest hint of hyperbole, is just barely scratching the surface. After all, we just tackled assimilation and slavery last week. Let’s face facts: The Doctor has been what is disparagingly known today as a “social justice warrior” since 1963.

And here we are again, tackling ozone depletion, air pollution, and technology to reduce both. Tangentially, this story also hits on carbon emissions and the environment, as well as the social justice implications of detainees and unchecked military power. I mean, Donna’s mention of the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay is square on the nose.

Doctor Who has been politically and socially conscious from day one. The show was even co-created and helmed by a woman, and directed from day one by a gay man of Indian descent. Come for the monsters, stay for the moral at the end of fable.

[Inadvertently (but equally) right in the snout is my watching this end-of-the-world pandemic during the COVID-19 crisis, but I digress.]

 

On top of all of that – and by the gods, it is a lot to digest – I deeply enjoyed the return of both Martha Jones and the Sontarans. Freema Agyeman is a delight, and the Sontarans are a force of nature. Add to that the emotional depths of Donna’s relationship with Wilf – one of my absolute favorite family members and the embodiment of every child who’s ever looked at the stars and wanted to fly among them – and this story just rocks.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Daughter

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #TW21: A Day in the Death

Torchwood: A Day in the Death
(1 episode, s02e08, 2008)

 

“If there is even a tiny glimmer of light, then don’t you think that’s worth taking a chance?”

Owen Harper, still a walking dead man, meets a woman on the edge of a building. Maggie Hopley wants to jump to her death, and Owen relates the story of the last three days to her. He tells her about being dead.

Following the events of Reset and Dead Man Walking, Jack relieves Owen of his duties and places him in the care of Martha Jones for study. Owen is reluctant, but he eventually relents despite the frustration under the surface. A quick pep talk from Ianto buoys him up enough to start the medical exams.

The team meets about a man named Henry Parker who hasn’t left his home since the 1980s. While the team deploys with their assignments, Owen is left without a task. As Martha continues her examination, Owen inadvertently cuts his hand open with a scalpel. Martha sews it closed, but since it can’t heal on its own, it will have to be restitched every week. Owen is upset about the fragility of his immortality.

Without a substantial job to do, Owen heads home. Television doesn’t hold his interest, so he dials up some music on his iPod and removes everything from his house that he no longer needs. After that, boredom sets in. At some point, Tosh makes a house call and tries to tell him about her day, but Owen tunes her out.

Owen asks why she bothered coming around. She wants to help him, and she reminds him that she loves him. Owen angrily replies that he’s broken, breaking his own finger as evidence. He storms out and runs to the Cardiff canal where he jumps into the water and sinks to the bottom.

He spends thirty-six minutes underwater. He doesn’t drown despite his best efforts. He emerges to find Jack watching him.

The Torchwood team wants to retrieve the alien device that Henry Parker has, but they can’t go in with all of the sensors on Parker’s property. Owen volunteers since he is able to defeat them. The team helps Owen sneak into the house by diverting guards while he disables the site’s electrical generator. He gets past the internal security guard and locates Henry Parker, a bedridden man who has suffered three heart attacks and relies on the object to keep him alive. Owen tells him that the device doesn’t have any life-sustaining properties. Instead, it’s building up energy like a bomb.

The men have a discussion on the nature of life and death. Owen, still a medical doctor, tends to Parker as he convinces the dying man to surrender the device. After giving the object away, Parker goes into cardiac arrest and dies. Owen tries CPR, but since he has no breath, the effort is wasted.

The device’s energy output skyrockets. Owen says his farewells as he offers to absorb the object’s energy.

Owen returns to headquarters and bids farewell to Martha Jones – “Thank you for everything.” – as she returns to her job at UNIT. She makes the rounds, giving Jack a kiss as he offers her a job when she’s done with UNIT, before walking into the darkness.

Later, Owen and Tosh share a moment: Owen is scared of the darkness that is death, and Tosh offers to stand by his side. As he walks home, he comes back to the framing story.

Maggie wants to jump because her husband died on their wedding day. Today is the anniversary of their wedding and she believed that it would all get better. It never did. Owen’s story captures her attention, especially when he pulls the device out of a bag. He explains that it is a reply from alien life to mankind’s broadcasts into the deep dark of space.

It is proof of life among the stars. It is hope.

 

There is a good character story here, particularly with the typically self-centered Owen breaking out of his element to save a single person. I’d like to believe that he takes time out for Maggie because either he’s truly good at heart or he’s trying to make up for losing Henry Parker.

Perhaps both.

We have to overlook the narrative shortcuts here about the talking dead. The act of speaking requires airflow over vibrating vocal folds in the larynx, so Owen would be able to perform rescue breaths without issue. It’s the same talking dead narrative shortcut that applied in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel when discussing talking vampires, so it’s easy to hand-wave away.

We get some touches from the past in this episode. First, flashes of Owen’s life come strictly from our time with him, specifically Everything Changes, Ghost Machine, Out of Time, Meat, and Reset. Second, Henry Parker was played by Richard Beiers, who we last saw as the Chief Caretaker in Paradise Towers.

The story is touching, but it moves a bit too quickly to maintain the narrative punch needed to sell Owen’s predicament. It feels rushed and less cohesive than the rest of this trilogy of episodes. Still fun, but not as good as it should have been.

 

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: Something Borrowed

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #TW20: Dead Man Walking

Torchwood: Dead Man Walking
(1 episode, s02e07, 2008)

 

It’s a dead man’s party.

Picking up immediately after Owen died on the asphalt, Martha Jones prepares to conduct his autopsy as the team observes. Jack bursts in and puts a stop to the procedure until he gets back from seeing a young tarot card reader. Her ominous prophecy leads Jack to the abandoned St. Mary’s Church, home to a clan of Weevils. He navigates the creatures and locates a safebox. When he returns to the Hub, he opens the box to reveal a resurrection gauntlet. A different one than they used before.

Jack plans to bring Owen back.

Gwen warns him away from the plan, but Jack will have none of it. He dons the gauntlet and pulls Owen back from the clutches of death. Jack makes the rounds, asking the team to say farewell. When his two minutes are up, Owen slips away again, presumably for the last time.

And then he wakes up again.

As they tend to Owen, the team fails to notice the gauntlet twitching on the floor. Owen has no vital signs except for brain activity. Jack quarantines Owen until the team can analyze the gauntlet and figure out what’s going on. While they work, Gwen calls Rhys to talk about her really hard day.

Owen starts to have visions of whispers in the absolute darkness of the Void. Whatever it was, Owen says it was waiting for him. Martha determines that his body is changing into something but the team can’t determine what it means. Later on, he has another vision, during which his eyes turn black and he speaks in tongues. Despite the quarantine, he decides to leave the Hub and go to the local bar.

Which is a fruitless exercise since his bodily functions are shut down. He has no need to eat or drink, and since his blood isn’t pumping, he can’t have sex either. Jack finds him, leading to a confrontation on the dance floor. The pair get arrested and tossed in jail as two Weevils look on. Amusingly, they bond over Owen’s post-mortem bodily functions and their shared experiences with death. Jack says that he brought Owen back because he wanted a miracle.

Jack uses his Torchwood authorization to free them from jail. Once outside, they are pursued by a pack of Weevils, but once the humans are cornered they find a surprise: The Weevils bow down to them. Owen, eyes black, replies in a strange language.

Tosh and the team review the CCTV footage of Owen’s episode, correlating it with another incident during the time of the Black Death. A little girl died and the town priest resurrected her with the gauntlet. Death itself came back in her place, seeking to take thirteen souls and walk the Earth permanently. Death was stopped, apparently by faith, at twelve deaths.

Owen’s words translate to “I shall walk the Earth and my hunger will know no bounds.” He fears that he will become Death, so he asks to be embalmed and frozen to stop his neurological functions. Before Martha can start the procedure, the gauntlet twitches and attacks her. In the scramble, Martha’s life force is drained, transforming her into an elderly woman. Owen destroys the glove and then transforms, pouring black smoke from his face until everything goes dark.

When Jack awakens, the team has taken Martha and Owen to the hospital. Owen feels better, no longer possessed by the entity, and the team starts looking for Death there when they spot Weevils swarming outside. Sure enough, Death makes the rounds and takes twelve souls. Torchwood evacuates the hospital, but they miss a young leukemia patient named Jamie.

Death notices the straggler.

Owen saves Jamie from Death, but they get stopped by the locked outer doors. Tosh tries to pick the lock while Ianto reviews the historical records. Owen figures out that “faith” was the girl, Faith, who was already dead. Tosh breaks the lock, but once she and Jamie are outside, Owen locks himself inside and confronts the dark beast.

The altercation is violent, but as the team watches in protest, Owen pulls the life force out of the entity and sends it back to the darkness. The day is saved, and Martha is fully restored.

Back in the Hub, Martha reveals that the energy the Owen absorbed is bleeding away, but they don’t know how long it will take. Owen asks Jack if he can go back to work as a doctor to make restitution for the twelve lives that were lost.

Jack looks unsure as he muses that Death can never truly be beaten.

 

There is a delicate balance in this episode between the character drama and the humor that lightens the mood. Bodily gags, such as passing gas and vomiting, are usually cheap and easy. Here, they work because of the immense weight of the conflict with Death and our team.

The gauntlet is a great misdirection since previous attempts only granted the recently deceased a matter of minutes to pass a few nuggets of information. The rapid aging of Martha to place another of our heroes in mortal danger was also a great piece of drama.

Overall, it was a great story to play with the idea of teammates in peril and the complexities of death in the Doctor Who universe.

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: A Day in the Death

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #TW19: Reset

Torchwood: Reset
(1 episode, s02e06, 2008)

 

Side effects may include indigestion, paralyzation, needles to the eye, and death: Ask your doctor if the mayfly is right for you.

In the darkness of night, a hunched Weevil scurries into a warehouse followed by the agents of Torchwood Three. The Weevil ditches the team near a corpse which they take back to the Hub. Jack is stumped, so he invites Martha Jones to join them on the case.

Jack makes introductions, revealing that Martha is working for UNIT. Together they discover that the victim’s records have been wiped from the networks. While Tosh digs for info, Jack and Martha catch up on happenings after leaving the Doctor. It turns out that she was hired at UNIT based on a recommendation from the Doctor. Martha and Gwen also hit things off pretty well, and Owen is… well… Owen.

The team responds to another attack, but this time the victim, Marie Thomas, is still alive. Owen and Martha set to work in the lab and discover that the modus operandi is to destroy evidence in the bloodstream by injecting compounds into the eyeball. Further analysis of Marie’s blood finds a foreign body in her system, and after she has a seizure and insects fly out of her mouth when she flatlines.

Marie was cured of HIV and another victim’s diabetes through something called the Reset from the Pharm. The insects are alien larvae and the Reset drug restores the human body back to “factory settings” with the parasite in tow. Effectively, it’s a Trojan horse malware masquerading as an anti-virus program.

The team finds the Pharm and interviews Professor Aaron Copley, the director of the highly-guarded facility. They fail to gain any access to the facility when Jack refuses to listen to Whitehall after his last encounter with a politician. When Tosh discovers that the Pharm is looking for volunteers for trials, Martha offers to go undercover with her medical expertise.

Ianto gives her a briefing and cover story, Tosh gives her contact lens cameras, and she goes to the Pharm as Samantha Jones, a hepatitis sufferer. The team watches through Martha’s eyes as she works her way into the program. As night settles in, Owen and Tosh discuss Martha and their own relationship. Tosh comes clean about her feelings and Owen agrees to go on a date with her.

Martha sneaks down to the Administration office. Tosh hacks the numerical lock and takes remote control of the computer, but Martha is captured on her way out as a large mayfly creature escapes. The team discovers that the Pharm has its own squad of hitmen and all communication is lost.

The team locates a Pharm client who is scheduled for execution and they capture the assassin. The hitman talks freely with a little help from a Weevil, but he dies soon after thanks to a mayfly in his stomach. Meanwhile, Martha is strapped to a table and confronted with her Torchwood allegiance. Copley is fascinated by the traces of temporal radiation in Martha’s cells and wants to experiment with her immune system.

Tosh concocts a method to animate the assassin’s corpse and get them into the Pharm. Ianto, Tosh, and Gwen go to the research labs while Owen and Jack rescue Martha. In the research labs, the team discovers that the Pharm is experimenting with multiple alien creatures to further medical technology. In the medical lab, Martha is dying from mayfly larvae in her stomach.

After two earlier failures, Owen finally calibrates the singularity scalpel and cuts the larva out of Martha while Copley runs. The Torchwood team shuts down the facility, but as they’re about to leave, Copley confronts the team. Owen takes a bullet meant for Martha before Jack kills Copley.

Owen dies on the ground as the team watches helplessly.

 

The story is a straightfoward monster adventure combined with a little creepy body invasion. It also follows a theme of humans using alien creatures for their own benefit, one of which we’ve already seen this season. The beautiful part about this one is bringing in some outside help to solve the case, particularly with the return of Freema Agyeman as Martha Jones. The references to The Year That Never Was were great, especially when you consider that (of the assembled team) only Martha and Jack remember the events.

Given that the episode was so straightforward, the surprise death at the end hits hard. Not counting Jack, Owen is the second member of the team to die on the show, and it really comes out of nowhere. It smacked of the Joss Whedon approach (ref: Serenity) with a slight bit of the sci-fi “don’t get too attached” trope given how Owen had finally opened up to Tosh.

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: Dead Man Walking

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #193: Utopia & The Sound of Drums & Last of the Time Lords

Doctor Who: Utopia
Doctor Who: The Sound of Drums
Doctor Who: Last of the Time Lords
(3 episodes, s03e11-e13, 2007)

 

From the end of the universe to the end of the world.

 

Utopia

The TARDIS materializes on the Cardiff Rift in the modern day in order to refuel. They only expect to be there for twenty seconds, during which Martha and the Doctor discuss a little problem with the Slitheen on the Rift, and the Doctor almost avoids picking up an immortal hitch-hiker. Something propels the TARDIS to the year 100 trillion, at the very end of the universe, and Captain Jack Harkness is hanging on through time and space for the ride.

In that far future, a human hunt is underway by the Futurekind. Professor Yana and his assistant Chantho regret the event in motion, but they cannot spare the guards to save the lost soul. They are on a quest for a place called Utopia. When asked for a status report, Yana is unable to focus due to the sound of drums in his head.

They also detect a new arrival as the TARDIS touches down.

The Doctor is apprehensive – almost scared – since this place is farther than any Time Lord has gone before. (Remember that there was a rule among Time Lords that they shouldn’t travel beyond a certain time.) As they leave the TARDIS, they find Jack’s dead body. Luckily, he springs back to life. The Doctor dissuades Jack from hitting on Martha as they exchange tense pleasantries. Jack notes the Doctor’s new face and asks after Rose, relieved to know that she’s still alive.

As they explore, Jack shares his story with Martha as the Doctor criticizes his method of time travel. Jack used his vortex manipulator to bounce from the battle with the Daleks to Earth in 1869. From there, he waited for the Doctor to arrive, eventually settling on the Rift. Martha frets about being left behind like Jack was, but the Doctor focuses them back on their task. They have found a city (or hive) and the Doctor muses on the decline of the universe as it dies around them. They then spot the hunted human and rush to his aid.

Jack draws his revolver and fires warning shots into the air. The horde stops long enough for the travelers to set their sights on the Silo, a safe space for humanity. The Silo is also home to Yana’s lab, and he is excited to learn that a doctor (of everything) has arrived. As the humans in the Silo offer aid, the Doctor asks them to bring his TARDIS to the camp.

As they walk through the refugee camp, the Doctor praises the indomitable spirit of humanity. They also figure out (by almost falling to the bottom) that the Silo is a literal missile silo, home to a rocket to take people to Utopia.

Professor Yana finds the Doctor and puts him to work as a consultant, but the Time Lord doesn’t recognize any of it. Meanwhile, Martha finds out that Jack is carrying the Doctor’s discarded hand, prompting a discussion of the Doctor’s status as the last of the Time Lords. Chantho is also the last of her kind, and Martha is downright obsessed with the Doctor’s new hand.

She’s never seen him regenerate, so this is all new to her.

Yana introduces the Doctor to Utopia: A signal from the depths that calls to the last of the humans scattered across the night. The Doctor is intrigued but also concerned as the professor has another attack of the drums. He also recognizes that the rocket will not be able to fly, and with a wave of his sonic screwdriver the circuits are complete.

Humanity is ready to fly.

As the Futurekind watch from beyond the gates, the humans board the rocket. Martha talks briefly with the young child they met on their arrival, unaware of a Futurekind spy nearby. Meanwhile, the Doctor praises Yana’s work which he recognizes a system of “food and string and staples.” Yana reveals that he will be staying behind with Chantho, and the drums intensify as he sees the TARDIS on a nearby monitor.

As the Doctor uses the TARDIS to help make final launch preparations, he seems to recognize the professor’s symptoms. Meanwhile, Martha bonds with Chantho (who begins each sentence with “chan” and ends it with “tho”) before aiding the professor with monitoring a coupling room. The room is flooded with Stet radiation, but it also controls the gravity footprint on the ship.

While work proceeds in the coupling room, the Futurekind spy sabotages the system. As radiation rises, Jack jumpstarts the override by passing the current through himself. It kills him momentarily, but his resurrection proves useful as they need someone to go in and finish the work.

As Jack enters the flooded chamber, the Doctor reveals that he’s known about the immortality since the battle with the Daleks. Jack, a single person, is a fixed point in time. That’s something that should never happen. Rose’s power as the Bad Wolf gave him that gift. The Doctor asks him if he wants to die, and Jack says that he doesn’t know.

While Martha and Chantho monitor Jack’s progress, Yana’s internal drumbeat intensifies again as he learns about traveling in time and space. The discussion between the Doctor and Jack reverberates through Yana.

The Gallifrey theme (“This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home“) punctuates every step, but comes crashing to a stop as Yana produces a pocket watch. He’s had it since he was found as a child, and he’s never been able to open it.

Martha recognizes it. She goes to find the Doctor.

Jack finishes his work and the countdown commences. As they work, Martha tells the Doctor about the watch. The Doctor is shaken by this news because it means that he is not the last of his kind. But the perception filter is slipping. Familiar words and voices flit through Yana’s mind as the rocket lifts off, and he opens the watch.

Remember Boe’s last words: You are not alone. YANA.

Professor Yana is the Master.

He locks the Doctor’s team in the launch control room and opens the Silo to the Futurekind. The Doctor breaks out, but he’s too late to stop the Master from killing Chantho. The Master takes the disc regarding Utopia, puts the jar with the hand in the TARDIS, and disconnects the TARDIS from the laboratory. He takes a fatal gunshot from a mortally wounded Chantho before jumping into the capsule and locking the door.

The Doctor breaks into the lab and begs with him to let him in, but the Master takes the opportunity to regenerate. He taunts the Doctor with a voice that Martha recognizes, but despite the Doctor’s apology and attempt to stop him with the sonic screwdriver, the Master dematerializes with the TARDIS.

The travelers are stranded in the future and left to fight the invading Futurekind.

 

The Sound of Drums

The Doctor fixes the vortex manipulator and is able to jump the travelers to modern-day London. As Martha and Jack discuss how they’ll find the Master, they realize that they have arrived on the day after Election Day.

The Master has been elected Prime Minister, and his name is Harold Saxon.

On Saxon’s first day, he’s a little overwhelmed by the demands of the job, but he’s happy to have Martha’s sister Tish on his staff. His cabinet is dismayed by his odd behavior, particularly when he calls them all traitors.

He rewards their loyalty by killing them all with toxic gas.

Martha, Jack, and the Doctor retreat to Martha’s apartment to research Saxon. She’s stunned to realize that they’ve only been away for four days since she first met the Doctor, but the Master was able to use the TARDIS to change history for the duration of his campaign. All of it started after the downfall of Harriet Jones.

In a sense, the Doctor paved the way for the Master’s ascendancy.

Meanwhile, Vivien Rook of the Sunday Mirror tries to convince Lucy Saxon, Harold’s wife, that her husband is an imposter. She provides proof that his life is a forgery, starting only eighteen months before around the launch of the Archangel project. Lucy is faithful to her husband, however, and Rook ends up dead shortly thereafter by the hands of the Master’s death probes.

Lucy is beside herself that someone could put it all together, but Saxon reassures her that everything ends the next morning.

In Martha’s apartment, the Doctor reveals that he fused the TARDIS controls when the Master stole the capsule. It had no choice but to land eighteen months before their current location. The Doctor recognizes that Saxon’s campaign speeches were laced with the drumbeat, impregnating it in the minds of the electorate.

They watch as Saxon announces the arrival of the Toclafane, reassuring the viewers that this won’t be like the previous alien encounters – namely the destruction of Big Ben, the ghosts and Cybermen, and the Christmas Star – before cueing the Doctor that Martha’s apartment is boobytrapped (complete with a Magpie Electricals television set). They escape before it blows up, and Martha tries to warn her family that they are in danger. Saxon’s forces are faster, and her entire family is locked away while the travelers run.

The Master intercepts Martha’s call to her brother, and the Doctor takes the opportunity to talk with his friend and rival. The Doctor reveals the fate of Gallifrey. He also learns that the Master was resurrected by the Time Lords to fight in the Last Great Time War, but that he ran when the Dalek Emperor took the Cruciform and used a Chameleon Arch to become human.

The Master refuses the Doctor’s offer of help, showing the Doctor on television that he and his friends are now enemies of the state. He’s also dispatched Torchwood Three to the Himalayas on a wild goose chase. When he disconnects, the travelers have no choice but to run.

The Master is later contacted by one of the Toclafane – the spheres of death – demanding to know if the machine is ready. The Master says that it will be by the next morning, and despite the threat of the coming darkness from which the Toclafane must run, there’s nothing he can do to speed it up.

The Doctor, Martha, and Jack hide in an abandoned warehouse. While snacking on takeaway chips, they discuss the origins of the Master. The Doctor speaks highly of the known image of Gallifrey. At the age of eight, initiates are taken to look upon a gap in the fabric of reality known as the Untempered Schism, a window into the temporal vortex. It inspired the Doctor to run but it probably drove the Master mad.

Jack reveals that he works for Torchwood, but promises that he rebuilt it from the ashes of the old, corrupt regime. He downloads a video sent to Torchwood about the Archangel Network, a new phone service that the Master controls. The carrier wave is the sound of drums, whispering to the world to trust the Master. The Doctor devises perception filters for three TARDIS keys, one for each of them. He also reveals that Time Lords can detect other Time Lords, even through regenerations.

The team moves from the warehouse as Air Force One delivers President Arthur Winters to London. The President orders Saxon to cede control to UNIT and is dismayed by the Prime Minister’s childish antics. The President has arranged for first contact on the USS Valiant, a UNIT aircraft carrier. The travelers watch the goings-on from the side of the runway, and the Master is suspicious but overall unaware. Martha is upset to see her family paraded on the tarmac, and the Doctor reinforces that he wants to save the Master, not kill him. They use the vortex manipulator to travel to the Valiant, where they discover that it is an aircraft carrier in the sky.

As morning dawns, the Master prepares for the first contact meeting while eating jelly babies. The travelers find the TARDIS, but subdued lighting and the Cloister Bell alert the Doctor that something is wrong. It has been configured to be a paradox machine, set to go off at 8:02 AM.

But the Doctor has a plan.

They sneak into the meeting room, intent on putting a key around the Master’s neck and canceling his perception filter. The first contact begins, but the Toclafane specifically (by name) request to see the Master. Saxon reveals himself as the Master and assassinates the President. The Doctor is taken into custody before the Master kills Jack with a laser screwdriver.

The Master uses the Lazarus experiment and the Doctor’s genetic code (courtesy of the hand in a jar) to advance the Doctor a century in age. He then brings in Martha’s family for the main event.

A crack tears open in the sky above the carrier as six billion Toclafane emerge and start murdering humans without prejudice. Ten percent are killed immediately. Martha takes one last look at her friends and family before using the vortex manipulator to teleport away. She emerges on the planet below and runs into hiding, promising to return.

Until then, the Master has won.

So it came to pass that the human race fell and the Earth was no more. And I looked down upon my new dominion as Master of all. And I thought it good.

 

Last of the Time Lords

It’s been one year since the invasion of the Toclafane. The planet Earth has been quarantined as it enters its final extinction. Martha, still fighting the good fight, is traveling the world. She just returned home to find Professor Alison Docherty, and her liaison Tom Milligan believes the legend that she can save the world.

On the carrier Valiant, the Master is still riding high as lord of the planet. He treats the Doctor like a pet dog, Martha’s family like slaves, Jack an eternal prisoner, and his wife like an abused plaything. He also knows that the Doctor has worked out who the Toclafane are, and that the epiphany has broken his hearts.

The Doctor sends Francine a signal – the number three – which she passes along. Meanwhile, Martha and Tom come across a field of thousands of spaceships, ready to wage war with the universe. They are challenged by the Tocalafane, but Tom is a doctor and Martha still has her perception filter.

On the Valiant, the prisoners revolt at 3:00pm as planned. In the chaos, the Doctor gets ahold of the Master’s laser screwdriver but can’t operate it due to isomorphic controls keyed to the Master alone. Martha’s family is locked up, Jack is killed (again), and the Doctor is back to being taunted in a leather chair.

The taunting includes mentions of The Sea Devils, The Claws of Axos, and something about closing the rift at the Medusa Cascade.

Martha and Tom find Professor Docherty. She tunes into a broadcast from the Master during which he ages the Doctor through his entire lifespan regardless of regenerations. The now thousand-year-old form of the Doctor has withered into a being unable to fit his own clothes, but Martha finds hope in the fact that he still lives.

Docherty says that the Archangel Network is continuously broadcasting a fear signal to the planet, keeping the humans in line. Martha produces a disc with information about one Toclafane sphere that was destroyed in a lightning strike and using that data they experiment on a sphere.

The Master and Lucy visit the Doctor, contained in a birdcage suspended from the ceiling, and tell him that they will launch a fleet through a hole in the Braccatolian space. He will only stop when there is a new Gallifrey in the heavens, and that the Doctor should be proud. After all, he’s doing this for the Toclafane, which the Doctor loves very, very much.

The Toclafane that Martha experiments on is the orphan kid from the end of the universe. The whole race is built from the humans who were launched toward Utopia. The Master took Lucy there and discovered them, transformed into the spheres, regressing into children. There was no Utopia. Just death.

The TARDIS, the paradox machine, keeps the fabric of time in place while the Toclafane exist.

Docherty asks Martha if the legends are true. She shows them a gun developed by Torchwood and UNIT that supposedly halts regeneration and kills a Time Lord permanently. She needs one last chemical component, apparently housed at an old UNIT base. After Martha and Tom leave for a safehouse, Docherty transmits Martha’s location to the Master in exchange for information about the professor’s son.

As Martha tells the assembled survivors in the safehouse about the Doctor, the Master comes for Martha. He flushes her out by threatening the survivors around her. He destroys the anti-regeneration gun, kills Milligan when he defends her, and takes Martha back to the carrier to kill her in front of the Doctor.

At the moment of her execution, the moment when the fleet is due to launch, Martha starts to laugh. The gun was a ruse since the Doctor would never endorse her killing the Master. Instead, the weapon was the story of the Doctor. If the world thinks of one word at the same moment within the Archangel Network’s telepathic field, it would restore the world.

The word: “Doctor.”

The world turns against the Master and the Doctor is restored, having spent the year integrating himself into the network. The power of his restoration is so strong that the laser screwdriver is useless against him. The Doctor corners the Master and shatters his world with one phrase: “I forgive you.”

Which is better than the Master’s actual fear concerning the Doctor.

The Master rallies the Toclafane to protect the Paradox Machine, then teleports the two Time Lords to the planet below using Jack’s vortex manipulator. The Master threatens to detonate the Toclafane, each with a black hole converter capable of destroying the Earth.

Meanwhile, the humans on the Valiant defend the ship against the Toclafane assault. Just as Jack destroys the paradox device, the Doctor manages to teleport himself and the Master back to the Valiant. The previous year is reversed to the point just after the President of the United States was assassinated. Everyone on the Valiant will remember the year that never was, but the rest of the universe will not.

The Master is apprehended, but Francine threatens to kill him. The Doctor stops her and decides to keep the Master on the TARDIS. Unfortunately, the plan is destroyed when Lucy shoots the Master. He collapses in the Doctor’s arms, but faced with the prospect of being locked away forever in the TARDIS with the Doctor, he refuses to regenerate.

Once again, the Doctor is the last of the Time Lords. The drumming stops. The Master is dead.

The Doctor’s raw fury and sorrow resonate thanks to David Tennant’s wonderful acting talent.

Later, the Doctor cremates the Master’s remains, ensuring that no one can harvest the Time Lord’s DNA. Martha finds Docherty and forgives her, even though the professor has no idea what’s going on. Martha and Jack say their farewells – Jack loses his ability to use the vortex manipulator – and Jack inadvertently reveals his nickname from his home on the Boeshane Peninsula: The Face of Boe.

The looks of simultaneous shock and amusement on Martha’s and the Doctor’s faces are incredible.

The Doctor prepares to leave, complete with the hand in a jar. All that’s left is Martha Jones. Unfortunately for the Doctor, Martha takes her leave of the TARDIS. She can’t continue on with all those people left for her to care for. She gives the Doctor her phone number, reminding the Time Lord that she’s not second best, and finally reveals her unrequited feelings for him. She makes him promise to come running if she needs him, and steps out of the TARDIS one last time.

The Doctor dematerializes the TARDIS, alone once again, unaware that the Master’s signet ring has been taken by unknown forces. But the moment is broken when a ship crashes through the TARDIS walls.

Her name is Titanic.

 

This trilogy of episodes earns every bit of the high ratings, from the drama and the effects to the characters that bind the whole thing together. Oh, the look on Francine Jones’s face when she realized that she had been used this whole time to get to the Doctor and Martha.

In terms of the overall franchise, this is a return to classic form. This is the first three-part story since Survival (the last story of the classic era). If you count the Torchwood episodes, this is the first story with more than four parts since The Armageddon Factor (or Shada, had it been fully completed and aired).

We also get the first appearance in the revival era of the Doctor’s best friend and nemesis, the Master. The callbacks to the classic era are a welcome addition with lines from Roger Delgado (prominent through the Third Doctor’s era and last seen in Frontier in Space) and trademark laughter from Anthony Ainley (who took up the role in The Keeper of Traken and carried it all the way to Survival). It’s worth noting that Eric Roberts (the Master from the TV movie) gave his permission to include his voice, but Fox refused.

The Roger Delgado lines were doubled by Sir Derek Jacobi (Professor Yana), who previously appeared in Scream of the Shalka as an alternative version of the Master. After this performance and the 50th anniversary televised special, he also worked with Big Finish to tell the story of his Master during the Time War.

The Master’s heritage was also on display with John Simm’s costumes, from the black single-breasted suit, white shirt, and black tie ensemble (from Planet of Fire) to a Pertwee nod (black overcoat with red satin lining) and the trademark evil Time Lord black leather gloves. The young Master also wore an outift similar to the Time Lords in The War Games.

Doctor Who mythology also makes a couple of debuts here.

First, we get to see Gallifreyan children on screen. Sure, we’ve heard about time tots before – lest we forget the tales of röntgen-bricks in the nursery – but the youngest Gallifreyan we had ever seen was Susan, and she was 15 during An Unearthly Child.

We also get introduced to the concept that regenerations are far more controllable than we saw from Romana in Destiny of the Daleks. The Master bypasses the Doctor’s regenerations to artificially age him – this is certainly not a new trick for either the Doctor or the Master – and he also willingly halts the process after being shot by Lucy. We will see this crop up again in the future.

The Ninth Doctor’s dark line – “I win, how ’bout that?” – also echoes from beyond Dalek as the Master (supposedly) dies.

I previously mentioned the majestic Gallifrey theme, which can be found on YouTube, but Murray Gold was also on fire with the haunting “Martha’s Theme” and the purely energetic “All the Strange, Strange Creatures” throughout this story. The use of modern pop music (also as digetic music) was fun, including “Voodoo Child” by the Rogue Traders – “So here it comes/the sound of drums/Here come the drums here come the drums…” – and “I Can’t Decide” by the Scissor Sisters.

Basically pulling out all the stops, as they should for the last full-time adventure with Martha Jones, an exemplary hero and companion. She saved the day, and (in my eyes) is better than Rose Tyler ever was.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Series Three Summary

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #192: The Infinite Quest

Doctor Who: The Infinite Quest
(13 episodes, Animated Special, 2007)

Timestamp 192 The Infinite Quest (1)

The Key to Time… er, the Infinite.

A being named Baltazar and his robotic parrot Caw are all set to destroy the planet Earth when the Doctor and Martha materialize the TARDIS on the ship’s bridge. Baltazar plans to engulf the planet in plasma fire to turn everything into diamonds, but the Doctor tries to distract him with a spoon. Baltazar destroys the spoon, unleashing a fungus within that eats the ship around them. The travelers hop in the TARDIS, after letting Caw free, and set course for Copacabana Beach.

Unfortunately, Caw saves Baltazar. Otherwise, we’d have no story, right?

Some time and distance later, Caw catches the TARDIS in flight and drops them on his home of Pheros. Caw brings news that, several years ago, he sold out Baltazar and sent him to jail. Baltazar has been set free and is now looking for a force from the Dark Times – a time when the Racnoss, the Nestene, and the Great Vampires ran rampant – called the Infinite.

Caw produces a data chip that will lead the Doctor to the Infinite by acquiring a series of them in order. He also gives Martha a brooch in honor of her compassion. The Doctor and Martha leave for the planet Boukon, revealing Baltazar as the TARDIS dematerializes. Caw placed a tracker on the TARDIS and Baltazar is ready to track them to the Infinite.

While on Boukon, Martha and the Doctor run into some oil pirates. Captain Kaliko dispatches a spider-like oil rig in Empire Strikes Back fashion and siphon the oil to fuel the poor since the market prices are too high. The captain and her (literal) skeleton crew deem the travelers to be Oil Corp spies and nearly throw them overboard, but they are saved by First Mate Swabb by offering to put them in the downed rig and setting it ablaze.

When made to walk the plank, the Doctor disables the ship with his sonic screwdriver. Swabb mutinies, himself a spy for Oil Corp, and sets the oil rigs on the retreating pirate ship. The ship crashes and Swabb threatens to transfer his consciousness into Martha’s body. Martha distracts him long enough for the captain and the Doctor to knock him overboard, and then the Doctor asks the captain for her earring (which is the next Infinite chip).

The captain jettisons herself overboard and lands near the TARDIS. The Doctor and Martha catch up and find her earring but not much else. Captain Kaliko has been murdered, and the travelers have no choice but to travel on.

I’m sure that will be relevant later.

The next stop is the planet Myarr. They land near an abandoned city and are swarmed by insects, but the Mantasphid bugs are driven away by the toad-like Ulysees Meregrass. There is a war being waged around them, and a sonic attack blasts a nearby tower made of dung. The Doctor and Martha find themselves before the queen of the Mantasphids. The queen rebuffs the Doctor’s attempts to negotiate, claiming that Meregrass has already won the position of adviser.

A robot crashes in, but Martha determines that the pilot of the robot is panicked. The Doctor uncovers the human pilot within and learns that the Mantasphids destroyed Pilot Kelvin’s home and family. The queen turns on Meregrass, denying his payment for arms smuggling, and another wave of attack ships swarms in to burn the bugs out.

The queen asks Meregrass for his advice, but Meregrass refuses. The Doctor works with Kelvin to surrender for the Mantasphid queen because all of them still have a right to live. After negotiating the surrender, the Doctor asks the queen to provide light for human farms to combat the oil shortage. They later find Meregrass’s slaughtered body, but can only take the Infinity chip and move on.

I’m sure that murder will also be relevant later.

They travel to Volag-Noc, a cold planet with a prison below the surface. The Doctor is imprisoned – he has 3,005 convictions and 6,000 in consideration, ranging from minor traffic violations to evading library fines and 18 counts of planetary demolition, resulting in a two billion year sentence – and finds an android cellmate in pain. Martha meets with the prison governor where she spots the Infinity chip next to the sonic screwdriver in his safe.

The Doctor removes his cellmate’s inhibitor chip and they blast out and make their way to the governor’s office. Turns out that the real governor is in the android body and the fake governor is a prior convict named Constantine Ethelred Gurney who has a score to settle. Meregrass sold him the means to swap faces with Governor Lok. Once back in place, Lok orders that all of the prisoners should be killed in order most effectively rehabilitate them. Gurney shoots Lok and loots the safe while the Doctor stops the kill order. The travelers pursue Gurney to the surface where Martha watches Baltazar and Caw swoop in for the final data chip.

Gurney fatally shoots Caw, who then admits his role in this affair to Martha. After the bird dies, Baltazar takes the travelers to the TARDIS and confesses to killing the previous chip holders. He reveals that his tracker was in the brooch that Caw gave to Martha, setting the tiny bird named Squawk free. He forces the Doctor to find the Infinite’s location and set the TARDIS on course before shooting the Time Lord and depositing him in the snow outside.

Baltazar takes Martha in the TARDIS as it closes in on the Infinite. Once they land, Baltazar forces Martha to search the hold where she finds the Doctor. At least, she thinks it’s the Doctor, but the real Time Lord arrives on Squawk and crash lands. Baltazar tries to turn Squawk and fails, and as Martha figures out that the false Doctor is her heart’s desire, the real Doctor comes to her rescue. The heart’s desire tries to sway the Doctor but it fails.

The ship once contained one of the Great Old Ones, but it has long since died. The echo of its power tempts those it encounters with their heart’s desire, but the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to shake the ship apart. The Doctor and Martha take off in the TARDIS while Squawk swoops Baltazar away to Volag-Noc.

The Doctor asks Martha for a destination and away they go.


This story is obviously set and televised during Series Three, so I’m covering it with the rest of the series.

The similarities to The Key to Time series are obvious, but that series was better overall. The characterizations were good and the animation on par with what we’ve seen previously – Real Time, Death Comes to Time, Scream of the Shalka, and Shada – but the story was rushed. Instead of being cohesive and driving, the elements of the plot became confusing in their rapid-fire approach.

This story would have been better served in a 90-minute or two-hour format.

On the plus side, this story does add an element introduced in the Virgin novels to the televised universe. The Great Old Ones, one of which died on the Infinite ship, were introduced in the 1990s with White Darkness, All-Consuming Fire, and Millennial Rites. Previous televised elements like The Great Intelligence, the Nestene Consciousness, the Gomagog, Fenric, the Celestial Toymaker, and the Black and White Guardians were retroactively added to their ranks in various forms, effectively canonizing the concept of the Great Old Ones in the television side of the house.

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: UtopiaDoctor Who: The Sound of DrumsDoctor Who: Last of the Time Lords

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.

Timestamp #191: Blink

Doctor Who: Blink
(1 episode, s03e10, 2007)

 

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually – from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly… timey-wimey… stuff.”

Photography Sally Sparrow engages in a little light breaking and entering to capture images of fallen chandeliers and moss in fireplaces. The place is definitely run down and falling apart, but it holds a message written on the wall, shrouded by wallpaper: “Beware of the Weeping Angels.”

The message calls her by name and tells her to duck. When she does, a rock impacts the wall where her head once was. She only sees an angel statue outside the window, but the wall is signed: “Love from the Doctor, 1969.”

She returns to her friend Kathy Nightingale’s home to find numerous televisions all displaying a certain familiar man wearing glasses and warning people not to blink. Sally prepares a warm drink, meets Kathy’s brother Larry (who is nude), and tells Kathy about what she experienced.

Sparrow and Nightingale go back to the abandoned house the next morning to investigate. Sally notes that the Angel has moved. When the doorbell chimes, Sally finds a delivery man who calls her by name and hands her a letter addressed to her. Meanwhile, Kathy continues poking around, oblivious to the fact that the Angels are moving when she’s not looking. The deliveryman, Malcolm Wainwright, notes that the letter was sent by Katherine Wainwright, previously known as Kathy Nightingale, also known as the man’s grandmother. When a shocked Sally looks for Kathy, her friend has disappeared.

The Angel touched Kathy and transported her to 1920. The letter tells Sally the entire story, but she doesn’t believe it. She rushes upstairs to find a group of Angels, one of which is holding a key. She grabs the key and rushes after Malcolm, but the man has disappeared. Sally takes the letter to a local coffee shop and reads it with interest. After telling her life story, it directs her to a local DVD shop to talk with Larry.

Larry is watching the videos of the Doctor and Martha again. Sally tells him that Kathy has left town for a while and loves him, which throws Larry off a bit. They talk about the videos – an Easter egg or hidden extra on seventeen unrelated DVDs – and the mystery behind them. The video seems like half a conversation, and when Larry leaves the room for a moment, she actually fills in a couple of the blanks. Shaken, she gets the list of DVDs from Larry and takes the story to the police.

At the police station, she experiments by blinking around two Angels that are across the street. They vanish and reappear next to the window. She meets with DI Billy Shipton who shows her a collection of items related to the abandoned house, including several cars and a big blue locked police box. Billy asks her out for a drink and she gives him her phone number. When she leaves, Billy notices four Angels taking an interest in the TARDIS. He investigates and blinks.

Sally puts the pieces together about the key and the lock on the box, but when she returns both the TARDIS and Shipton have disappeared.

Shipton arrives in 1969 and meets the Doctor and Martha. The Doctor explains that the Angels feed on temporal energy generated by sending their targets back in time. He tracked Billy’s arrival using his makeshift timey-wimey detector – “It goes ding when there’s stuff.” – and gives him a mission to warn Sally Sparrow.

Billy calls Sally, summoning her to a hospital. She finds an elderly and dying man with a message from the Doctor: “Look at the list.” Billy gave up on being a police officer, instead getting into publication and then video publishing. He was the author of the DVD list and the developer of the Easter eggs. Sally stays with Billy until the rain stops, which is when the accidental time traveler dies.

Sally discovers that the list of DVDs is the exact contents of her personal video library. She summons Larry to the abandoned house with a DVD player and together they fill in the other half of the Doctor’s conversation.

Through the video, the Doctor tells Sally and Larry the story. Larry writes down the conversation as it happens, and that transcript is how the Doctor developed the video in the first place. He also explains who the Weeping Angels are – they are as old as the universe and quantum locked, frozen by the sight of any living creature – and that they have the phone box. Sally asks how to get the TARDIS back to the Doctor, but that’s where the transcript ends. The Doctor warns them not to blink.

But one has snuck up on them.

Sally and Larry work out a plan to escape the house, eventually finding that the basement is the only path open to them. The Angels have stored the TARDIS there, and Sally approaches the box with the key. The Angels cause the lights to flicker, gradually advancing on the pair as they work the lock. At the last moment, they get inside. A security hologram orders them to place the DVD in the TARDIS console as the Angels assault the time capsule. The TARDIS dematerializes around them, leaving the humans surrounded by the Angels, but since they are all staring at each other they are quantum locked.

Some time later, Sally and Larry are working at the DVD store. Sally has been documenting the experience and trying to figure out how the Doctor knew about the transcript. Larry goes on a grocery run as a car pulls up with the Doctor and Martha inside. Sally rushes outside, figuring out that this version is from an earlier point in his timeline, and delivers the information.

Hand in hand, Sally and Larry go back inside the shop – Sparrow and Nightingale’s – as we are treated to examples of just how many Weeping Angels surround us every day.

Don’t blink.

 

I’ll start with this being a fantastic episode. Spoilers for the end of this timestamp, but it earns the 5 in my book. It’s a suspenseful thriller with elements of the horror genre spread throughout. Even with it being an ontological paradox – the information travels in a causal loop with no defined beginning or end point – the time travel elements are believable. The enemies are a new threat and are also downright creepy: They don’t directly kill, but they do feed off of the victim’s temporal displacement, they are everywhere, and they are virtually unstoppable.

This episode’s position near the top of the charts is well deserved.

On the downside, we come to writer Steven Moffat. Many of the elements that will haunt the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who are in plain sight here, from the more juvenile antics of the Doctor – timey-wimey and devices that go ding – to the last-minute deus ex machina “clever” saves. Don’t get me wrong, those elements are fine in moderation (just like they were fine here), but as the Moffat era progressed, they became staples of the Doctor Who brand. There’s only so much of the same thing that is acceptable in a show inherently about change and evolution.

What I do know for certain is that the Weeping Angels were never better than in this story.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Infinite Quest

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #190: Human Nature & The Family of Blood

Doctor Who: Human Nature
Doctor Who: The Family of Blood
(2 episodes, s03e08-e09, 2007)

 

Martha Jones: The woman who waited.

The chase is on as the TARDIS door swings open and our heroes hit the deck before an energy beam slams into the console. The Doctor sets the TARDIS into motion but their enemy is following them courtesy of a stolen vortex manipulator. He tells Martha that, as long as they never saw her face, they can be safe. Their lives depend on a simple pocketwatch.

Dr. John Smith snaps awake from a nightmare as a maid named Martha delivers his breakfast. He tells her of a fanciful dream, one in which he is a time traveler named the Doctor. She reminds him that it is 1913 and that he is merely human. After he dresses, Dr. Smith goes about his lessons at Farringham School for the Boys as Martha works alongside fellow maid Jenny. Two unpleasant cadets sling not so subtle racism at Martha, but she dismisses it. Jenny notes that those boys may be running the country in a matter of years, but Martha quietly responds that they probably won’t. World War I is just on the horizon.

Dr. Smith later encounters Matron Joan Redfern, the school nurse, and they awkwardly hit it off. The encounter ends as Dr. Smith falls backward down the stairs. Matron Redfern tends to his injuries as Dr. Smith muses about his dreams and Martha tidies up. Smith talks about having two hearts – Redfern clinically dismisses that notion with a stethoscope – and shows the matron his Journal of Impossible Things. She’s wowed by his drawings and stories, but takes it anyway to read it later. She later discusses the mysterious doctor with Martha and emphasizes that she remember her place.

Later on, young Timothy Latimer is bullied by Hutchinson. The aggressor is irritated by Latimer’s knowledge of things he shouldn’t know, and Jeremy Baines defuses the situation by offering to fetch a beer from a secret stash in the woods. Martha and Jenny also share a drink outside the local pub – they’re not allowed inside due to their social status – as a green light flashes across the sky. Smith arrives and explains it away as a shooting star before retiring for the night. With Smith safely tucked away, Martha runs off to investigate, and Jenny tags along.

The light turns out to be a ship and Baines runs into it, quite literally. He’s able to get aboard just before Martha and Jenny arrive, and the ladies return home. Meanwhile, Baines talks with the ship’s occupants, the Family. He asks to see them but they refuse before attacking and taking his form. Baines returns to the dormitory without any beer, acting not quite like himself. The students call it a night while Latimer nervously polishes his boots.

The next morning, Martha checks in on the powered-down TARDIS while she remembers the events following their pursuit through time. The Doctor used a device known as the Chameleon Arch to become human, literally rewriting his DNA, and hide in 1913 to wait out the Family. He left her a set of twenty-three recorded instructions, including the last-resort directive to open the watch in an emergency. Martha tearfully wishes that he would return home.

Young Latimer visits Dr. Smith and finds the pocketwatch. He sees premonitions of what resides inside and takes the device, opening it and learning about Time Lords. Unfortunately, this alerts the Family to the Doctor’s presence. Baines (the Family’s Brother) telepathically calls back to the ship and orders the soldiers to be activated.

The soldiers take the form of scarecrows on a nearby farm. They assimilate Mr. Clark on the farm as the Family’s Father and Lucy Cartwright (a nearby girl in the wrong place at the wrong time) as the Family’s Daughter.

Smith is engaged in weapons training as Latimer deals with visions of the pending war. Latimer is dissuaded by the thought of killing African tribesmen with machine guns, and Hutchinson takes the opportunity to punish Latimer. Meanwhile, Redfern and Smith take a walk and talk about warfare. Smith saves a woman from death by falling piano with a cricket ball and a good arm. They walk the countryside and talk about Smith’s journal, and when they stop to fix one of the scarecrows, Smith talks about his childhood in Gallifrey, a place that he’s not quite sure about. Later that night, Smith and Redfern share a romantic moment that is interrupted by Martha, prompting his companion to seek solace in the TARDIS.

The Doctor didn’t leave instructions for what to do if he fell in love. Especially if it wasn’t with her.

Latimer has an encounter with the Family as the scarecrows assimilate Jenny as the new Mother. She returns to Martha’s side and learns some clues about the mysterious Doctor Smith, but Martha realizes that something is amiss. She runs to Smith, dodging the Mother’s laser fire, and discovers that the pocketwatch is missing. She fails to convince Smith of the truth, and after striking him, is dismissed from his service. She runs to the TARDIS (encountering Latimer en route) as the Family snoops about in Smith’s office.

Smith and Redfern attend a local dance as the Family track the schoolteacher down. Martha arrives with the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver and talks with Redfern, leaving the dancing duo speechless with the device from Smith’s dreams.

The Family arrives and vaporizes the doorman and the organizer of the party. They put the pieces together, but Smith still can’t recall anything. The Family wants a Time Lord, so they threaten Smith, Martha, and Redfern, but without the pocketwatch he is unable to do anything.

The standoff ends as Latimer cracks open the watch, distracting the Family. Martha takes the Mother’s weapon, forcing them to release Redfern and prompting Smith to evacuate the building. Martha is ambushed by a scarecrow but escapes. The Mother taps into Jenny’s memories and sends the Father to the west in search of whatever Martha walked to each day.

Smith rouses the school to defend against the Family’s invasion. The Sister gleefully sneaks inside to spy on the defense as Martha confronts Smith, urging him not to engage in violence. The headmaster demands an explanation but believes Smith and Redfern. Martha and Redfern search for the pocketwatch – Latimer listens to it as it whispers caution in his ear – as the headmaster and Mr. Phillips confront the Family outside the school’s gates. The Son taunts the headmaster with visions of the coming war, then sends him back inside for Smith after vaporizing Phillips.

The headmaster rallies his students, now his soldiers, to war. The Son does the same with his scarecrow army as the Father discovers the TARDIS.

Meanwhile, Martha baffles Redfern with her knowledge of medicine, something that a “girl of her color” shouldn’t know. Redfern leaves to tend to the students and plumbs the depth’s of Smith’s childhood history. She also plants the seed of pacifism in John Smith’s mind.

Latimer and Hutchinson share the younger boy’s visions of the future. Convinced that they survive the battle, Latimer runs but finds the Sister. He opens the pocketwatch and stuns the Sister with a vision of the Doctor at his most merciless, keying the Family into the need to find Latimer and the watch.

They begin the assault and the students mow down the scarecrow army with tears in their eyes, poignantly punctuated by the strains of “He Who Would Valiant Be.” The headmaster assesses the destruction – not a life was lost since they were all filled with straw – and is soon vaporized by the Sister. Smith orders a retreat as the Brother reanimates the scarecrow army and storms the school. Latimer distracts them again with the watch, saving his classmates from execution. The students and staff evacuate the school as the Father brings the TARDIS to the front doors.

Martha shows Smith the blue box and Redfern confirms what the schoolteacher wrote in his journal. Smith has a breakdown and runs into the woods, and Redfern offers them a place to hide as the Family spools up their next assault. The cottage belongs to the Cartwrights, whose daughter is now the Sister. The family is now dead. Latimer arrives soon after with the watch in hand, explaining that he was scared and that the watch asked him to wait. He’s seen the Doctor – “He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time and can see the turn of the universe. And, he’s wonderful.” – but Smith refuses to take the watch.

The Family begins an assault on the village. Smith takes the watch, momentarily speaking in the Doctor’s voice, and listens in horror as Martha explains the plan. Smith doesn’t want to go but finds out that if the Family wins, they will be free to burn the universe. Redfern embraces the doctor, and together they share a vision of what could be if Smith remained: They marry, have children, and he dies happy.

But the Doctor could never have a life like that.

Moments later, Smith arrives at the Family’s ship and begs them to stop the bombardment. He offers them the watch and asks them to go, but the watch is empty. It was a ruse. The Doctor has returned, and he’s set their ship to self-destruct.

The Family and the Doctor escape from the ship in time. The Doctor, in his kindness, imprisons each member of the Family in a unique way for all eternity instead of executing them: The Father is wrapped in chains forged at the heart of a dwarf star; The Mother is enveloped in the event horizon of a collapsing galaxy; the Sister is trapped in every mirror in existence; and the Son is a scarecrow, protecting the fields of England.

They all get their wish in the end. They all get to live forever.

The Doctor returns to Redfern when all is said and done. The school is closed for the time being. He won’t change back for her, but he offers her the chance to travel with him. She declines since the wounds of loss are too deep. Especially since had the Doctor never come to her time, no one would have died.

The Doctor returns to the TARDIS and tells Martha that it’s time to move on. He thanks her for her sacrifice, and then together they bid farewell to Timothy Latimer. The Doctor gives Latimer the watch as a good luck charm before disappearing into time and space once more.

Years later, on the battlefield of World War I, Latimer checks his watch and tells Hutchinson that it is time. Latimer saves his former classmate from incoming fire, looks to the sky, and thanks the Doctor for his good luck. The Time Lord’s example continues to influence.

Farther into the future, a wheelchair-bound Latimer attends an Armistice Day ceremony and spots the Doctor and Martha, each wearing poppies. The silently acknowledge each other as the service continues.

 

This is one of the deeper stories in Doctor Who lore.

First, by taking the hero and title character out of the mix, the show takes an opportunity to look over the mythology with reverence to the history of the show. The Journal of Impossible Things contains the basics (the former eight faces of the Doctor, the TARDIS, the console room, and the sonic screwdriver) along with specifics from across the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s travels.

Second, it introduces a critical plot device of the biodata module. Carried in this story by the popular time travel trope of a pocketwatch (which we have seen before), it further plays with the ability to separate a Time Lord’s essence from his or her body, much as we saw with the Watcher at the Fourth Doctor’s regeneration. It also introduces the Chameleon Arch, which can literally rewrite a Time Lord’s DNA to any other form.

This brings up an interesting theoretical tangent: What of Susan? It will be definitively established in the future that Susan left Gallifrey with the First Doctor, and since off-worlders are generally prohibited on Gallifrey, we must assume that she’s at least Gallifreyan and potentially trained as a Time Lord. But the First Doctor was also comfortable leaving her behind on post-invasion Earth, circa 2164. Would he have left her behind, knowing that she could potentially regenerate in the presence of otherwise ignorant humans? Is it possible that he use the Chameleon Arch prior to their stop at 76 Totter’s Lane to change her into a less conspicuous human being?

We may never know, but it’s fun to speculate.

Third, I am quite impressed with Martha Jones. I mean, sure, she really wants the Doctor to love her, but her relationship with the Time Lord evidently goes much deeper than romantic love. She willingly sacrifices her mobility, her rights, and her freedom in order to save the Doctor and the universe at large. The amount of racism and discrimination levied toward her in this story is heartbreaking and far from acceptable, but Martha stands strong in the face of it. She withstands the assault on her character in service of the mission, her responsibility, and her love.

She does this because she loves the Doctor, but on a level (honestly, unbeknownst to her) far exceeding anything she ever expected. And the Doctor trusted that she could fulfill her mission.

Martha surpasses Rose with this story. She’s an independent, strong, and worthy companion, even if her emotions are a bit misguided.

Finally, in a beautiful nod to the origins of this franchise, the Doctor named his parents as Sydney and Verity. That statement was, in fact, true.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Blink

 

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.