Timestamp #196: The Fires of Pompeii

Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii
(1 episode, s04e02, 2008)

 

Just one act of kindness can make all the difference.

The TARDIS door opens on what the Doctor calls ancient Rome. Donna is enamored, particularly by the translation capabilities of the time capsule. She tries a bit of Latin, but it comes out as Celtic with a Welsh flair. He also mentions that he had nothing to do with a certain great fire in Rome, but we all know that to be a lie.

They round a corner, muse about the missing landmarks, and glance to the horizon as the ground starts to shake. There’s a volcano ahead of them. It is Mount Vesuvius, which means that they are in Pompeii, and it is eruption day.

While the travelers run for the TARDIS, a red-hooded woman reports back to her fellow sisters and the High Priestess of the Sibylline Sisterhood that the “blue box” has arrived as written in prophecy. Speaking of the TARDIS, it has been sold by a local shopkeeper to a marble merchant named Caecilius. The merchant considers the box to be a lovely piece of modern art, and his family is very superstitious. His daughter, for instance, is training to be a seer in the Sisterhood, and spots an irregular being in the vent leading the magma below.

Donna wants to save everyone in Pompeii, but the Doctor tells her that it is an impossibility. The event is a fixed point in time and cannot be altered. The Doctor and Donna find Caecilius and pose as both Spartacus and marble inspectors. Donna tries to tell them about the volcano, but the locals don’t even have a word for it.

Lucius Petrus Dextrus, the chief augur of the town, arrives and gives the Doctor praise during a verbal sparring match. Caecilius has developed a piece of art for the augur, which looks just like a circuit board, and Caecilius’s daughter Evelina arrives to shed light on the travelers. Both Evelina and Lucius see though the travelers, prophesy her return, and speak of Donna’s future.

Later on, Donna visits with Metella as she cares for Evelina. The girl is sickly and her arm is turning to stone. Meanwhile, the Doctor consults with Caecilius about the creature in the vent and how the vapors from the geothermal exhaust have enabled the soothsayers to predict the future with uncanny accuracy.

The Doctor and Quintus make a midnight trek to Lucius’s home where they find a wall of the circuit engravings. Lucius declares that the gods are using them to gift him the future, but the Doctor decrypts them as an energy converter with an unknown purpose. Lucius declares that the Doctor should die, and the Doctor escapes with Quintus after revealing the augur’s stone arm.

Lucius responds by sending the creature underground in pursuit of the time lord.

Donna continues her visit with Evelina, revealing the future of Vesuvius, which is transmitted to the Sisterhood as a new prophecy. The High Priestess declares that Donna must die for her foresight.

As the Doctor and Quintus return to Caecilius’s home, the creature erupts from the vent. The family treats the being like a god, but turn on it when it kills a man by dousing it with water. In the commotion, the Sisterhood kidnaps Donna.

He tracks Donna to the Temple of Sibyl and rescues her just before she’s murdered. He tells the Sisterhood about Sibyl, noting that she would be ashamed of them. The High Priestess demands to speak to the Doctor and reveals herself as nearly changed to stone. The Doctor recognizes that the people are being seeded by an alien species and demands that they reveal themselves. The being declares itself as a Pyrovile, a species that arrived a millennia ago and were awakened by the 62 earthquakes. The Pyroviles are a psychic race that can see through time. The Doctor holds the High Priestess back with a water gun as Donna opens the hypocaust and they escape into the volcano.

As they walk on, Donna asks about the fixed points. The Doctor replies that he can see them because that’s how he views the universe as a Time Lord. She’s still aghast that he will not save the people of Pompeii, but he cannot break a fixed point.

They reach the heart of Vesuvius, which is inhabited by the Pyrovile in their adult form. They spot the circuitry of an escape pod and recognize it as the same pattern that the augur has been coveting. Speaking of, Lucius reveals their presence. During the standoff, Lucius reveals that the Pyrovile homeworld is missing, and the creatures want to take Earth for their own. Donna and the Doctor dive into the pod and figure out that the Pyrovile are using the energy of Vesuvius to advance their plan. To save the world, the Doctor must allow Pompeii to be destroyed. It’s a question of 20,000 people versus the entirety of Earth, and Donna helps the Doctor choose.

They choose to save Earth.

Pompeii erupts around the pod, destroying the Pyrovile and ejecting the pod into Pompeii. The travelers rush to the TARDIS as the villagers panic and the Sisterhood is lost. Donna tries to help the people, but it is no use. With a heavy heart, she begs the Doctor to save Caecilius and his family, but he starts the TARDIS dematerialization sequence.

As they take off, she levels her fury at the Time Lord. Her frustration gives way to sorrow, and the Doctor tells her that he cannot save the people of Pompeii anymore than he can save his own people. Donna reasons that he can save just one family.

So he does.

In a burst of light, the TARDIS rematerializes and the Doctor extends a hand of salvation.

They all watch from a nearby hilltop as the town is destroyed. Caecilius takes solace in the thought that Pompeii will be remembered, giving the name “volcano” to the carnage. Evelina has lost her power of sight, but the family is united in strength through sorrow.

Donna and the Doctor sneak away. She thanks him and he tells her that she was right: Sometimes he needs someone, and she’s welcome to be that companion.

Six months later in Rome, Caecilius’s family is happy and healthy. Quintus is studying to be a doctor, and before he leaves for the day, he gives thanks to the household gods. The relief reveals them to be the Doctor, Donna, and the TARDIS.

 

This story hits the mark on every level. The dialogue is quick and witty, but also serves to propel the plot forward instead of simply being clever. The setting is well crafted and makes Pompeii feel large even though it’s obviously the same street set redressed a few times over. Donna’s pleas and the Doctor’s internal battle tug at my emotions every time I see it.

The franchise mythology is on full display here, from the past (mentions of Gallifrey, identifying the Doctor as a Lord of Time, citing the Shadow Proclamation, nodding to the classic era while exploring the mysteries of the revival era’s Last Great Time War) to the future (the Doctor Who debuts of Peter Capaldi and Karen Gillan, laying some groundwork for the rest of this series as well as the future of the franchise, and beginning the lore of fixed points in time).

That “fixed point” business? It’s always been there, all the way back to The Aztecs when the First Doctor told Barbara that she could not change a single thing (“not one line”) in history without suffering dire consequences. The trick is making a difference in history without changing history. Thus, the blessing and curse of the Time Lord.

Some of the more obscure trivia about the episode includes the TARDIS as modern art, which is a nod to City of Death – one of writer James Moran’s favorite classic stories – when the Fourth Doctor parked the time machine in an art museum. The humor Mary Poppins gets a bit of screentime here with the “positions!” scramble to save breakables from the rumbling. We also get a nod back to Barcelona, which is where the Ninth and Tenth Doctors wanted to take Rose.

The Fires of Pompeii is a masterful episode of television.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Planet of the Ood

 

 

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 #195: Partners in Crime

Doctor Who: Partners in Crime
(1 episode, s04e01, 2008)

 

Only this diet plan can help repopulate a society.

After the introduction of a new electric theme mix, we find Donna Noble walking down the street toward a high rise office building. The Tenth Doctor is also arriving, though he breaks in through a back door instead of the lobby. Both of them are posing as officers from Health and Safety, and they crash a press conference presented by Miss Foster of Adipose Industries.

Penny Carter, a science journalist from The Observer pushes for more details while our heroes independently make their way through the call center, inspect the gold pill-shaped necklaces presented as subscription gifts, and look to the printer for a copy of the client list.

The duo track down separate Adipose clients. Donna chats with Stacy Campbell while the Doctor interviews Roger Davey. At 1:10am every morning, Roger wakes up to the burglar alarm but there’s no movement in the house. The Doctor presumes that the cat flap (but not cat people) has something to do with it. Meanwhile, Donna gets personal with the problem as Stacy’s fat literally pops off into an adorable little blob.

The incident triggers a tracking device in the Doctor’s pocket as Miss Foster initiates full parthenogenesis after Stacy witnesses the creature’s birth. In short, she dissolves into a herd of the little guys who jump out the window. Miss Foster’s security team arrives at Stacy’s house to capture the little guys as Donna and the Doctor search for them in a series of near misses. Neither of them catches up to the security van.

Miss Foster reviews the security footage and figures out that they have a spy in their midst. The necklace that Donna took triggered the event. Meanwhile, Donna goes home and suffers through nagging lectures from her mother. Donna takes her leave and joins her grandfather Wilf as he stargazes with his telescope. The pair are great together, and Donna makes Wilf promise to let her know if a blue box appears in the night sky.

She’s never told her family about what happened at her Christmas wedding, but she knows that she’s waiting for the right man.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is talking to himself as he analyzes the necklace. He’s a lonely man, still missing Martha.

The pair return to Adipose Industries, both in blue vehicles, and make their way upstairs. Donna hides out in the restroom and waits for the office to close. The Doctor does the same, but in a utility closet in the basement. While Donna waits, she’s interrupted by Miss Foster and her hit squad. They find Penny Carter and take her to the corner office for interrogation.

The Doctor and Donna both follow, one outside on a window washing rig and the other just outside the main entrance…

…and then we come to one of my favorite scenes in the revival era of Doctor Who as our heroes cast their gaze on the pill that gives rise to the creatures of living fat.

Let’s leave this comedy gold to the shooting script:

The Doctor lifts his head up… looking left, to the desk.
Donna lifts her head up… looking right, to the desk.
Then the Doctor looks straight ahead, seeing –
Donna looks straight ahead, seeing –
The Doctor!!!!
Donna!!!??!
Big long moment, both just boggling, open-mouthed. Then, all shot through the glass, in silence, big gestures:

The Doctor: Donna???
Donna: Doctor!!!!
The Doctor: but…what? Wha… WHAT??!?
Donna: Oh! My! God!
The Doctor: but… how???
Donna points at herself! It’s me!
The Doctor: well I can see that!
Donna: oh this is brilliant!
The Doctor: but… what the hell are you doing there???
Donna’s just so thrilled, she waves! Big smile!
The Doctor: but, but, but, why, what, where, when?
Donna points at him – you!! I was looking for you!
The Doctor: me? What for?
Donna does a little mime: I, came here, trouble, read about it, internet, I thought, trouble = you! And this place is weird! Pills! So I hid. Back there. Crept along. Heard this lot. Looked. You! Cos they…

And on ‘they’, she gestures and looks towards Miss Foster.
Who is staring at her. As are the guards. Penny, too.
Donna freezes. Oops.

Miss Foster sics her goons on the duo, so Donna and the Doctor run. They rendezvous in the stairwell and head to the roof where the Doctor rigs the window washing crane while Donna talks about her efforts to track down the Time Lord, the Titanic buzzing Buckingham Palace, and the disappearance of bees.

The Doctor and Donna descend, but Miss Foster uses a sonic pen to sabotage the car and break the cables. The Doctor and Donna dangle during feats of derring-do as he disarms Miss Foster and takes her sonic pen. He opens a window, dives inside, and rushes down to rescue Donna and free Penny.

The Doctor and Donna run into Miss Foster – who is really Matron Cofelia of the Five-Straighten Classabindi Nursery Fleet, Intergalactic Class – and learn about the adipose. She’s been hired by the Adiposian First Family to breed the next generation from the people of Earth after losing the breeding planet. When Foster threatens to kill them, the Doctor uses both sonic devices to stage a diversion.

They rush downstairs as Foster captures Penny and accelerates her plan. After all, the Doctor has notified the Shadow Proclamation of her illegal plan to seed a Level Five planet. The Doctor hacks the building’s induction core while he and Donna discuss Martha, Rose, and Donna’s quest to find him.

A series of miscommunications result in Donna being invited to travel on the TARDIS. Meanwhile, one million customers across Great Britain start decomposing into adipose. The human witnesses look on as the adipose march through the streets toward their wet nurse. As Foster doubles the power of the signal, Donna comes to the rescue with her necklace and disables the inducer.

In the end, ten thousand aidpose walk the streets as Foster’s ride arrives to take them all home.

Hilariously, Wilf is listening to music and looking in the opposite direction as the nursery ship enters the atmosphere.

The nursery ship uses levitation pulses to take the adipose aboard. The Doctor recognizes this and runs with Donna to the roof, refusing to blow up the ship with all the children aboard. Martha has done the Doctor well, Donna remarks. Unfortunately, he knows that the First Family plans to eliminate Foster to cover their crime. Sure enough, they cut the levitation beam and she goes splat.

The Doctor drops the sonic pen in the trash as he and Donna head to the TARDIS. Donna begins pulling luggage from her car – she’s been planning on this since Christmas – but loses her head of steam as the Doctor looks on with a forlorn gaze. He draws a line in the proverbial sand: He just wants a mate.

No, not to mate, Donna! A friend. A traveling partner.

A companion.

Donna agrees and rushes off to leave the car keys for her mother. She finds a trash bin and phones her mother, leaving instructions with a nearby observer.

That observer is Rose Tyler. She vanishes just after Donna leaves.

Donna’s first request is a fly-by over Wilf’s hill. She waves at him as she leaves on her trip through space and time.

After all, she’s finally found her man.

 

This episode fires on all cylinders. The humor keeps an otherwise by-the-numbers plot entertaining – particularly the classic comedy trope of characters missing each other by fractions of a second, just like the companions in The Romans, and the aforementioned miming skit, which echoes the Third Doctor and Jo Grant in The Sea Devils – and Donna Noble’s obvious homage to sneaky investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith is a nice nod. Donna has a bucket load of character development here, and it’s refreshing after the last two companions.

Donna doesn’t want a relationship with the Doctor. She wants an adventure with the Doctor.

And with these two and their amazing chemistry, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii

 

 

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 #194: Time Crash & Voyage of the Damned

Doctor Who: Time Crash
Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned
(Children in Need and Christmas Specials, 2007)

When you look deep into the pockets of the universe, you never know what you find.

Time Crash

Immediately after Martha left the TARDIS and the Doctor once again took flight, the blue box goes haywire. The Doctor stabilizes the time capsule, but he finds himself face-to-face with the Fifth Doctor. The Fifth Doctor is confused but the Tenth Doctor is amused, getting nostalgic about the frowny face, the hat, the coat, the crickety-cricket outfit, the brainy specs, and even the decorative vegetable on his lapel.

The Fifth Doctor is beside himself, but his frustration is interrupted by a warning that two TARDISes have merged and have the potential to blow a hole in the space-time continuum the size of Belgium. The Fifth Doctor thinks that the Tenth Doctor is a fan, possibly from LINDA. The Tenth offers the Fifth a sonic screwdriver but remembers that he went hands-free at this point in his lives.

At the moment of Belgium, the Doctors initiate a supernova and a black hole at the same time and separate their capsules. The Tenth works to send his predecessor home, curious if Nyssa and Tegan were with him, or whether he has encountered the Cybermen, the Mara, or the Master yet. The Tenth Doctor admits that he just faced the Master, prompting the Fifth to ask about “that rubbish beard.” The Tenth replies that the beard is gone, replaced by a wife.

Oh, Steven Moffat and his jokes about homosexuality.

As the Fifth Doctor returns his time, the Tenth takes a moment to say goodbye. After all, the Fifth Doctor was his Doctor.

The moment is broken when a ship crashes through the TARDIS walls.

Her name is Titanic.

Voyage of the Damned

The Doctor uses the TARDIS console to regenerate the capsule’s walls and materialize aboard the cruise liner. He finds a Christmas party in full swing, complete with aliens and seemingly robotic angels, as the starliner Titanic settles into orbit with the planet Earth spinning around below.

The ship’s captain offers his stalwart crew a tot of rum to celebrate the holiday. The bridge crew leaves except for a midshipman who quotes regulation to the captain, and he’s allowed to stay behind.

The Titanic is a Max Capricorn cruiseliner, which the tuxedo-clad Doctor discovers as he views a promotional ad before rejoining the party. He finds that the robotic angels, the Host, are the shipboard information system. The ship was named after the most famous vessel of the planet Earth and is en route from Sto to observe the human holiday. The angel short circuits and is taken below to the engineering section with all of the other malfunctioning robots.

Among all the lovers in the room, the Doctor meets Astrid Peth, a member of the ship’s staff who accidentally drops a drink tray. She wants to travel like the Doctor, and realizing that it’s never too late, he reveals himself as a stowaway. She’s impressed – almost like love at first sight – and offers a drink instead of reporting him. The Doctor joins a table with Morvin and Foon Van Hoff, a couple in sparkly Western-style dress who are being mocked by the black-tie guests. The Doctor uses the sonic screwdriver to pop a champagne bottle and douse the bullies before joining the Van Hoffs for a trip to the planet below. En route, he spins Astrid around and brings her along. After a poorly researched historical brief, the party is joined by a small spiky red-skinned alien before they all transmat down to a deserted city.

The Doctor is perplexed: London should be bustling with people, but there’s not a soul in sight.

He asks Wilfred Mott, a newsstand operator, where everyone is on a night like this. He points to the last two Christmas invasions as examples that drove people to flee the city just in case. Better the devil you know, right? The Doctor and Astrid are beamed back up, mid-sentence, due to irregular power fluctuations on the ship. The Doctor is intrigued.

Meanwhile, the captain has magnetized the hull to draw in nearby passing meteors. The midshipman is perplexed. The Doctor discovers that the shields are down and tries to warn the bridge, but he’s ignored and apprehended. He tries to warn the passengers but is taken away. The captain also shoots the midshipman to prevent him from stopping events. He has been extorted in some way.

The passengers start to come around but everyone is too late to stop the collision. The ship is struck on the starboard side and mayhem erupts. As the Host come back to life in engineering, the Doctor notes that the chaos has stopped for the time being. He also remarks that Titanic is a bad name for a ship and that his tuxedo is awfully unlucky.

One of the crew inadvertently causes a hull breach but the Doctor re-enables the oxygen shield. He also watches as the TARDIS drifts by. Luckily, it locks on to the nearest planet and flies into the blue. Unfortunately, they can’t reach it.

Another bit of bad luck? The Host are now programmed to kill.

The Doctor makes contact with the bridge and Midshipman Frame. They discover that the storm drive engines are spooling down. If ship loses locomotion and plummets into the planet, it will cause a nuclear explosion and a planetwide extinction event. The ship is a timebomb.

The Doctor – “I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I’m nine hundred and three years old and I’m the man who’s going to save your lives and all six billion people on the planet below. You got a problem with that?” – believes that it’s never too late and asks the survivors to confide in him. He takes charge and rallies them to both escape and save the planet. Astrid really believes in him.

As they move through the ship, Mr. Copper, the historian, keeps getting information about the planet below all wrong. They discover a disabled Host and the Van Hoffs (who are robotics experts) start trying to fix it. Meanwhile, Bannakaffalatta (the small red alien who is really a cyborg) scouts ahead through the wreckage as Astrid and the impossible Rickston Slade try to move enough wreckage to get everyone through. Astrid and Bannakaffalatta develop a special relationship as they go.

Midshipman Frame discovers that the Host are corrupted after they kill survivors in the galley. He warns the Doctor just as the Van Hoffs fix their disabled robot. The group of survivors rush to safety, learning on the way that the Host are being controlled from Deck 31. The Host assault the bridge, forcing Frame to deadlock the hatches and seal himself in without escape.

The survivors take a meal break while they have a chance. The Doctor and Astrid continue building their relationship while Copper reveals that he lied to get his job. The Host banging on a nearby bulkhead force the survivors to press forward, but that leads them to the space above the nuclear engines. The space between bulkheads is spanned by a narrow bridge, and as Morvin declares that he and Foon will go last, the deck gives way and he plummets to his doom. Astrid comforts Foon as Slade crawls across the bridge.

Bannakaffalatta goes next, followed by Astrid and Copper. Foon refuses to cross and the Doctor promises to come back for her. The Host stops banging on the bulkheads, but only because they take flight and start using their halos as deadly discuses. Bannakaffalatta reveals his nature to the survivors with an electromagnetic pulse, disabling the Host but giving his life in the process.

Copper salvages the electromagnetic transmitter as a remaining Host rises. The Doctor stumbles onto a security override that allows him three questions, so he learns that the Host have been instructed by their leader to kill the survivors. The Host raises its halo to strike but Foon wraps it in a rope and jumps over the side, sacrificing herself for the group.

Vowing that no more shall die tonight, the Doctor sets everyone to work. Astrid makes her case to join him on the TARDIS and he agrees that it would be wonderful to have her step back in time with him. He sends the survivors with the EMP unit and his sonic screwdriver, and with a kiss from Astrid, he rushes down to Deck 31.

Astrid, Copper, and Slade successfully defeat a group of the Host while the Doctor reveals himself as a stowaway and negotiates his arrest. The survivors make it back to the ballroom and while Copper and Slade work on the distress signal, Astrid convinces Frame to give her enough power to transmat to Deck 31 and help the Doctor.

The Doctor arrives on Deck 31 and meets the ultimate authority behind the night’s events: Max Capricorn. Or rather, the disembodied head on a rolling robotic life-support system, running the company by hologram in a culture that distrusts cyborgs. Capricorn is angry that the ship hasn’t crashed yet, and the Doctor takes the time to unravel the plan. Capricorn’s company has failed and he has been pushed out by the board, so if the Titanic destroys the Earth, he gets revenge as the board gets jailed for murder. Capricorn will survive in a special chamber and live out his life far away.

Capricorn reveals that he can remotely shut down the engines, forcing the Titanic to crash. As Capricorn orders the Doctor’s execution, Astrid rushes in with a forklift and drives Capricorn’s robotic body over the side into the engine below. The Doctor, begging inside for just a little more time, watches as she falls to her death.

The resolute Time Lord declares himself as the next highest authority on the ship and orders the Host take him straight to the bridge. They burst through the deck and the Doctor takes the helm from Midshipman Alonso Frame, steering the ship straight into the atmosphere. He calls up Buckingham Palace, ordering the Queen and her corgis to evacuate just in case his calculations are off. On the street below, Wilfred screams at the sky.

The Titanic barely misses the palace (but gets a Christmas greeting from the Queen) and sails into the sky, using the heat of re-entry to restart the auxiliary engines. The Doctor did it again.

He has an epiphany and tries to use the teleport bracelets to restore Astrid using their safety protocol. He’s only partially successful due to the damage in the system, bringing her back as only a fragment of her former self. The Doctor apologizes and kisses her in a bittersweet goodbye before opening a porthole and sending her atoms to fly among the stars forever.

Frame, Copper, and Slade, the only survivors of the starliner Titanic say their farewells to the Doctor. Copper offhandedly remarks that, if someone could decide who lives and who dies, it would make them a monster. The Doctor hands him a bracelet and they teleport to the surface. The Doctor refuses Copper’s request to travel with him, but he does explain that the credit card that Copper carries for Earth incidentals makes him a millionaire.

Copper dances away with the promise he will make the Doctor proud… and that he will always remember Astrid.

The episode closes on a dedication to Verity Lambert, OBE. She was the first producer of Doctor Who, and she died a month before this story was originally aired.

Both of these episodes were pure fun. Starting with Time Crash, we get the first multi-Doctor story of the revival era as well as the first time a classic-era Doctor’s actor was in the opening credits. It was directed by Graeme Harper, whose first credited directorial work in Doctor Who was Peter Davison’s last story.

It’s a better two-Doctor story than The Two Doctors, but that’s not hard to do.

It also marks the return of Steven Moffat to Doctor Who, a name we will see one more time in the Tennant era. The Curse of Fatal Death, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, and this small story are leading to bigger adventures for him in the coming years.

Moving to Voyage of the Damned, we get a rollicking adventure with a celebrity guest star as a one-shot companion. Kylie Minogue is magnetic in this story and it’s a shame that we didn’t get the chance to see her as a regular. She did a magnificent job in driving the contrast between the lonely Time Lord and one who travels with companions. She also indirectly proved the points that the Doctor is not a god and that he is not infallible.

The Host look very similar to the Axons and the Capricorn cyborg is reminiscent of Davros. We also get a couple of cameos with singer Yamit Mamo (including original song “The Stowaway“) and BBC journalist Nicholas Witchell. If you look closely at the Titanic‘s band, you’ll also note Murray Gold and Ben Foster.

The big drawback to this episode was the overuse of the Hans Gruber moment. The slow-motion shot of someone falling while looking up towards the camera happened four times – the steward, Foon, Morvin, and Astrid’s respective deaths – and that count is bordering on comical.

Regardless, this pair of stories was an entertaining adventure and a fantastic lead-in to Series Four.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

UP NEXT – Torchwood: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

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: Series Three Summary

Doctor Who: Series Three Summary

 

Tennant’s sophomore year is a winner.

The big arc for this series was the story of Martha Jones. She starts as a medical doctor and ends up saving the world, and I consider her one of the best companions in the history of the franchise. It’s easy to see her as the Rebound Rose, particularly since that’s how she feels for the entire run, but I think that her presence on the TARDIS is so much more important than that.

Martha is enamored with the Doctor, but she’s perpetually perplexed by the unrequited feelings. The Doctor doesn’t romantically love her, but I saw that he develops a different type of love for her over the span of adventures. Her journey starts as a thank you for saving the Doctor in Smith and Jones, but by the time that we reach Human Nature we see a different side of the Doctor. She’s gained his confidence and respect, and he trusts her with his life, even though guarding his identity will be one of the most trying things she’s ever done.

She faced abuse and racism because of the Doctor but she kept to her mission because she loved him. He loved her enough to place his life (and the fate of the universe) in her hands. It’s a good reminder that not all love is romantic and that platonic love can be a force far stronger than sexual attraction.

When we get to “the year that never happened,” he shows that trust and respect once again, and Martha comes through to save the universe one more time. Martha’s character grew even more when her family got involved with the Saxon campaign, providing her a choice between saving her loved ones or saving all of existence. It was a clever move from the Master, and a brilliant choice to present to Martha. The entire time, Martha remains Martha. She doesn’t change herself to win the Doctor’s love, and she has enough self-respect to walk away when she knows that her efforts are futile.

It’s a far better relationship than we saw with Rose, the woman who melted for the Tenth Doctor and changed course from the shop girl we met way back in Rose. I know that fans love her, and that’s their prerogative, but I felt that she became less of a companion and more of a groupie as she went on. Rose had an important role in helping the Ninth Doctor heal after the events of the Time War, but Martha definitively showed the Tenth Doctor that there was more to life than death.

 

I don’t want to take away from Donna Noble’s debut in The Runaway Bride. She was amazing and took no nonsense from the Doctor. I’m glad that we get to see her again.

 

Series Three comes in at an average of 4.3. That’s a tie for third with Series One, coming behind the Ninth classic seasons and the Eighth Doctor’s run.

 

The Runaway Bride – 4
Smith and Jones – 5
The Shakespeare Code – 5
Gridlock – 4
Daleks in Manhattan & Evolution of the Daleks – 4
The Lazarus Experiment – 4
42 – 4
Human Nature & The Family of Blood – 5
Blink – 5
The Infinite Quest – 2
Utopia & The Sound of Drums & Last of the Time Lords – 5

Series Three (Revival Era) Average Rating: 4.3/5

 

As the Doctor Who universe continues to grow, the path for the Timestamps Project gets a little wibbly-wobbly. Next on the agenda is the first series of the Sarah Jane Adventures. We get back to Doctor Who for a brief moment with Time Crash and Voyage of the Damned, but then dive into the second series of Torchwood before returning to Donna Noble in Series Four.

We also have a rapidly approaching holiday season on the horizon.

Allons-y!

 

UP NEXT – Sarah Jane Adventures: Revenge of the Slitheen

 

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)

 

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.