Friday, October 05, 2007

Doctor Who: Jump up, jump back

Spoilers for the "Doctor Who" season three finale coming up just as soon as I put on my walking shoes...

There were times this season where I felt like I was the only person on this blog who hadn't already watched season three in its entirety two or three times. If nothing else, "Last of the Time Lords" makes me feel glad that we're all on the same page. (Mostly, anyway; as I understand it, the British cut of the episode was significantly longer, including -- did I hear this right? -- a musical number.)

I'm also happy that this very uneven season had a fairly strong ending. The John Smith two-parter and "Blink" are tough acts to follow, what with them being the three best modern episodes and all, but the Master three-parter sure wasn't boring, if nothing else. Decimating the earth's population (and using the proper definition of the term), reducing the Doctor to a feeble old man (and then a CGI hobbit), leaping forward one year to show both dystopia and Martha Jones as the messiah, the whole of humanity coming together to save themselves with a Martha-suggested Tinkerbell moment... Russell T. Davies isn't afraid of working on a large canvas, is he?

Based on some of the responses I've seen to last week's episode, both here and elsewhere, some people feel like Davies likes the broad strokes a bit much, that John Simms' performance and the world-bending stakes of these episodes represent a series merely fixated with topping itself. I can see that point of view, and I've certainly grown to resent other TV creators whose primary urge involves being more outrageous with each new season (David E. Kelley and Ryan Murphy, to name two), but as this series is the only "Who" I know, I've come to expect these apocalyptic season finales just as much as I assume we'll take a trip to New Earth, spend an episode with the Doctor largely absent, etc.

And yet at the same time, I continue to wish that Derek Jacobi was still playing the Master -- or that someone, anyone, had talked Simm into dialing down his performance (or talked Davies into requesting the same). The events of these episodes were so grand and horrifying that I think having someone this bug-eyed crazy in the villain role was one step too far over the top. I understand that the Master is doing all of this because he's lost his marbles (if he ever had them in his previous incarnations), but there are ways to play insanity without bouncing off the walls.

And yet (and I apologize for the flip-floping; I'm attempting to write this while watching this extremely tense Yanks-Indians game, and it's both distracting, depressing and frequently clarifying) there were many things I liked about the episode, not least of which was the Martha Jones going from barely accepted hanger-on to believable savior of the world. I think Freema's been doing a good job all season while rarely (outside the John Smith episodes) getting the kind of spotlight writing that so often went to Billie Piper, and this was a great transformation for the character. It felt earned, and it may make me watch "Torchwood" next season just to see how a more worldly Martha Jones operates on a regular basis.

And speaking of "Torchwood," I sure didn't see the Captain Jack/Face of Boe revelation coming, but I like it. I'm suddenly envisioning Jack becoming like Marvin the android from the Hitchhiker's Guide books, forever bouncing back and forth through time without dying, until he becomes far older than the universe itself, with a very long, wide face to match. Gonna have to go back and rewatch all the New Earth episodes again to see how differently they play now.

And I'm sorry, but I have to watch this game, good outcome or bad. Perhaps more thoughts in the comments after the Yanks win or lose. What did everybody else think?


Alan Sepinwall said...

Razza-frazza stupid Yankees.

We now return to your regularly-scheduled Russell T. Davies bashing.

Michael said...

Not quite a musical number. The Master sings along to a few bars of I Can't Decide by the Scissor Sisters.

Though I didn't see the US version, so I don't know what else was missing, or how they managed to cut it out. It seemed like a pretty important scene to me.

Toby O'B said...

As much as I disliked the way these last two episodes turned out, I give RTD credit for coming up with that circular explanation for how the Face of Boe knew all that he did and why he called the Doctor "Old friend".

Like I've said in the past, RTD is a great idea man, but he should pass them off to someone else to give them the polish they need.

Nothing more frustrating in sci-fi than the whole "Make it never was" scenario. Where's the suspense in the future if you have "rewind" capability?

floretbroccoli said...

Wait! Jack, Face of Boe? What'd I miss?

Nicole said...

I think the Face of Boe revelation makes Jack much more of a tragic character and may explain why he is so moody in season one of Torchwood. It links him with the Doctor, who is also alone in the world.

The reset had to happen only because there is no way a children's show could move forward with a tenth of the Earth's population killed. But I agree with you that the reset shouldn't have been used. The build up for each cliffhanger in the final three episodes was a little too easily undone by the end of the following one, and while I get that's why people are peeved with RTD, the overall pace made me overlook this in the initial viewing.

I truly felt for the Doctor when the Master was killed (or was he?.. ) and Tennant once again brought out the fear of being alone in that scene.

And Martha finally got the showcase she deserved. I felt she was shortchanged for this entire series with the unrequited crush garbage, always placed below the "perfect" Rose. Don't get me wrong, I like Rose when she was on the show, but intentionally or not, the writers made me start to really dislike her because Martha was always in her shadow. I don't think Rose could have done the "saving the world" thing on her own, and knowing that the Doctor was in such a weak place.

Anyway, perhaps Martha will be able to work her magic with the second season of Torchwood and bring with her the happy Jack of DW.

J said...

Hey, kids! Do you want your hero to escape from the very, very bad men? Why, if we all just close our eyes and wish very very hard...

The Face of Boe revelation was a good one (though Martha MENTIONED The Face of Boe right in front of Jack in Utopia). And I thought the freaky little guy from the Six Flags commercials did a bang-up job as The Doctor (though he had so little to do during these eps (before he got to fly, for freak's sake) they might as well have been Doctor-less.

Hey, what's a Paradox Machine? Can I use it to get out of jury duty?

If anyone has a freeze frame of the CGI turdlet that The Doctor will eventually become, I'd love a copy, so's I can scrawl "I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER?" on it.

Anonymous said...

... and, for the people who lived through the year, and were immune to the Reset button, how else are they to respond to the inherent destructiveness of a Time Lord?

Those who would be debriefed by Torchwood -- the groups that aren't Jack's gang, who work under Jack's nose -- wouldn't they advocate the exact same preparedness that Queen Victoria and Harriet Jones suggested? Find the TL killa, get that concept of a gun working, through the artifacts they have? All those survivors saw the Doctor treat the Master better than he did his companions, and how he let the Earth deeply suffer, for a year.

Why wouldn't they clamor for a project as big and as secret as the Manhattan Project, to stop crazy Time Lords in their tracks?

floretbroccoli said...

Oh, I AM an idiot. I stopped watching the DVR before the last little segment. At least I didn't delete the show, so could go back and watch.

Ross Ruediger said...

I think Davies recently said he has no plans to return to New Earth, but then again he says a lot of things to mess with viewers' minds. I remember back during S1 when he said he had no plans to bring back the Master and that the Time Lords were history (although can a Time Lord ever really be "history"?). When he was recently called on the carpet about that he said, "I was lying".

Alan, I'm glad to see you enjoyed this after all. I pointed out in my yet-to-be published House piece that the worst cut was a scene where Francine pulls the gun on the Master which took place immediately before Lucy shot him. In the version broadcast, there are still remnants of it with Martha cradling Francine in the background. Cutting that moment really destroys the pacing of that entire scene IMHO.

The cutting of the "musical number" is a huge shame, although aside from a few visual cues, I don't think it impacts the narrative all that much. What it does do is somewhat change the tone of what's going on on the Valiant.

Toby O'B said...

I knew I wasn't imagining Martha's Mom as having the gun when I first saw this!

And maybe I looked away to the Red Sox game at the crucial moment, but I think they also cut where Martha visited the scientist and told her that she forgave her, even though technically she never got the chance to betray Martha in the rewind. Martha also checked in on Tom and there was a hint that maybe she might see him again now that she severed ties with the Doctor.

But you have to make room for the commercials! ::sigh::

Anonymous said...

I think the Jack as the Face of Boe revelation is entertaining at first, but once you give it some thought you realize it doesn't make any sense and isn't true to anything that we saw in the episodes with the Face of Boe. As in the Face of Boe is the last of Boe kind, implying that there is some sort of race of boes (or faces). Plus, it's been a long time since I've seen the End of the World episode where he was introduced, but I'm pretty sure there was no recognition on his part of Rose...and I certainly think someone would have some reaction to the person that essentially made him immortal (and whom he hasn't seen and missed for a very long time). So, cute gimmick, but unfaithful to the story we've been watching for 3 seasons.

All in all, I thought this episode was the weakest of the 3 part season ender. Especially now when I watched it on it's own (a few weeks ago, I watched all three online). I'm always amazed how they cut some of the most memorable stuff on the SciFi channel; like the Master's dancing, singing and torturing the Doctor, Martha's mother trying to shoot the Master, also two that haven't been talked about--Martha's companion (I forgot his name) tells her he was a doctor before all the craziness started, and after everything goes back to normal she looks him up and calls him to make sure he's okay, and takes the professor flowers and forgives her.

But when I watched all three episodes a few weeks ago, I was really moved (and kind of depressed) for a few days afterwards. Mostly by the Doctor being left alone, yet again, at the end. I think one of the themes of this show is about loneliness and how it affects all of us, so the doctor losing Martha, Jack and the Master all at once and being left alone yet again was really sad for me. Not as sad (or as good) as the ends of season one or two, but I don't think we really established enough of a connection to Martha to miss her--for so many of the episodes she was just Not Rose.

Anonymous said...

Oh and I forgot to say, the "rewind" was a little too much like the end of Superman for me.

a said...

This episode was all kinds of "one the one hand... on the other hand" for me. Holes and missteps galore, yet emotionally compelling, due in no small part to the tremendous momentum built in the preceding episodes, and really salvaged for me by Martha's outstanding farewell. Like Alan, I thought Freema Agyeman did yeoman work with the little she was given; when she was brought to the fore in the latter part of the season, she was outstanding.

Anonymous said...

I liked this ender (John Simm's manic despotism worked for me) but I hated that Tennant was in old-man makeup and then transformed into Dobby for the most part. I felt like this three-parter crackled when Tennant and Simm faced off, and watching him in house-elf form didn't have the same impact. And the "resurrection" of the Doctor didn't work for me.

But I was glad to see Martha Jones become the Martha we first met. I loved her speech at the end, and I think she'll be a better character when she's not mooning over the Doctor.

Jon88 said...

Seemed like there was something cut just before the 3:00 (three fingers) escape scene, though it might just have been lousy editing.

Anonymous said...

Do the region 1 DVDs have the same cuts as the Sci-Fi Channel?

Toby O'B said...

Nicole Marie:
Having been a Time Agent, I think Jack/Boe would know that he couldn't acknowledge any hint that he already knew Rose in the past, or else he might have caused some bad "Timey-Wimey stuff", just as Billy Shipton was warned re: Sally in the "Blink" episode.

As for Boe-kind, a couple of million years was certainly long enough to establish a convincing backstory for himself to throw the Doctor off any suspicions as to whom he might be.

Having seen the finale and then going back to watch the Face of Boe's death scene in "Gridlock" certainly gives that more resonance when he calls the Doctor "Old Friend"....

Ross Ruediger said...

Jim Treacher asked:

Do the region 1 DVDs have the same cuts as the Sci-Fi Channel?

No, they're the original BBC versions. Buy/rent them in good faith.