The End of Time

* Of all the one-off companions The Doctor has ever had, Wilfred is by far the best. He’s initially the focus of this epic story; we’re introduced to it through him, and his band of alien-hunting pensioners. How refreshing to have an older man fulfilling the traditional companion role, and for him to prove so worthy of the position – he dives in feet first, his deep love for The Doctor matching that of the audience.

* It’s a bit weird that, from The Doctor’s perspective, this doesn’t carry straight on from The Waters of Mars. It rather undermines the seriousness of that story’s climax; instead of carrying the weight of his huge mistake and his impending death, he swans in fresh from his holidays and boasts about shagging Queen Elizabeth.

* I’d forgotten exactly what Lucy Saxon’s role was in The Master’s resurrection. I’d seemed to recall that she was complicit in the plan – shooting him so that she could then retrieve the ring – but I must have been remembering my theory from beforehand, rather than the actual episode. Turns out that she’d just been caught up in all of it, and in fact managed to throw a spanner in the works right at the crucial moment.

*  Unfortunately, I’m not keen on the effects of her spanner. The whole concept of the resurrection was a very TVM-esque interpretation of The Master as some sort of irrepressible form of energy, rather than mere flesh and blood. I’m not quite on board with this – he’s more scary if he’s just an evil version of The Doctor, not if he’s shooting lightning bolts from his hands and flying about like a comic book villain. I’m not sure why the trauma has made him blonde either.

* Today’s “oh, it’s them!” watch: David Harewood! In a surprisingly small role for someone of his pedigree. June Whitfield! Her and Cribbins are totally at it. The woman werewolf from Being Human! I had to look her up, because I knew I recognised her from something but couldn’t place what. In my defence, she spent most of the episode disguised as a cactus.

* “President Obama has promised to end the recession”. This was less than eight years ago, but wow, the world truly was a different place, back when we had: a) a President who people around the world respected; and b) so few problems that one single action could make a tangible difference.

* It’s not very festive, is it? Other than the odd bit of tinsel, the only major concession to Christmas is The Master devouring a giant turkey. That’s about it until Part One ends with the words: “And so it came to pass, on Christmas Day, that the human race did cease to exist”. Well, Merry fucking Christmas to you too, James Bond.

* The Master making everyone into copies of himself is basically what happens in The Empty Child, but with an evil genius instead of an innocent boy. Honestly, it’s Simm City out there. With nearly seven billion clones milling about, it’s a good job the original Master seems to be in control of them – I’d have thought they’d all want to be in charge, bickering over who got to show off in front of The Doctor and who had to do the minor admin. It’d be like the Red Dwarf episode Me2, except they’d have to call it Me6.8billion.

* Considering all the epic stuff that’s going on, with The Master victorious and bloody Rassilon turning up with his special glove, the first time I felt moved was when Wilfred tearfully told The Doctor he didn’t want him to die. He’s so sweet, and his presence raises the stakes even further – we know that Doctors die all the time, so can be blasé about it, but I don’t want Wilf to lose his Doctor.

* Although let’s face it, how the fuck does he survive jumping from a spaceship and falling face first through a glass ceiling? That should have been it – Tennant dead and buried before the Time Lords even arrive.

* There’s certainly a hell of a lot going on here, but it’s hard to see what the point of anything of it is, other than it all being a prelude to The Doctor’s death. The Master being back was a big threat, but Rasillon undoes everything he’d done within seconds, so that’s all sorted. So therefore the Time Lords are now the big epic thing, but they turn up far too late in the day to really make their presence felt – we were told how dangerous they were without ever experiencing it ourselves. And then they’re dealt with in five minutes. Those five minutes are good, and it’s nice to see The Master getting some element of redemption, but it’s all very hasty.

* And so it comes to pass that what finally fells the Tenth Doctor is none of these things. He emerges unscathed, and the ultimate irony is that it’s poor old Wilf that inadvertently brings him down. That’s a lovely twist, but don’t be angry at Wilf about it, you prick. He was only in danger because he saved someone else, plus you can regenerate and he can’t. This attitude left a bitter aftertaste to the Tenth Doctor’s era – I hadn’t remembered until now, but my dislike for him towards the end has clouded my view of this incarnation.

* Then of course, there’s the famous farewell tour. First up, Martha, who’s left UNIT, dumped her fiance and married Mickey. That’s quite strange; I wouldn’t have pictured them as a couple, and I hope they weren’t put together just because they have one thing in common. I like how The Doctor saves their lives, then does the same for Luke, but that his gift for Jack is to get him laid. He knows him so well.

* I’ve always wondered why he tracks down Joan’s great-granddaughter, rather than going back and just visiting her himself. But I guess it would be a bit traumatic for her if he suddenly rocked up again, plus “Verity Newman” is a lovely touch. It’s sweet that he wants to make sure Joan was happy, and I found it quite touching this time round. Although obviously not as touching as when Cribbins cries again, and therefore I cry again.

* The bit with Rose is really nice, but it would have been infinitely better had she not reappeared in Series 4, so that a distant glimpse at a woman who doesn’t know him was the closest The Doctor got to seeing her again. In fact, that’s true of the whole sequence – it would have had so much impact if Journey’s End hadn’t have happened, and it still baffles me that the big multi-companion reunion wasn’t Tennant’s swansong.

* God, he doesn’t half make a fuss about regenerating this time, doesn’t he? The Universe itself sings him on his way, which seems a bit excessive when past regenerations have been about as ceremonious as getting a bump on the head whilst wearing a blonde fuzzy wig. It doesn’t really seem to be in the spirit of the show by making such a big fuss about one particular Doctor and one particular showrunner leaving – the console room being destroyed and “I don’t want to go” make everything seem so final, which could have really undermined the incoming regime.

* Mind you, we did see much more of the new Doctor than we normally do. I remember being distinctly unsure about Matt Smith at the time, but now with the power of hindsight, it feels like a baton being passed from a good Doctor to an even better one. But that’s another story…

RATING: 8

So it’s the end of an era – my era, in fact, considering I only became a fan thanks to Russell bringing the show back. It wasn’t without its flaws – looking back, I think the constant desire to make everything exponentially bigger and better began to harm the show towards the end – but I’ll always be incredibly fond of Russell’s work on the show, and indeed incredibly grateful. It was the first version of Doctor Who that I fell in love with, and twelve years later, I can barely remember what it was like to not love Doctor Who.

Technically speaking, this isn’t the end of a series, but I feel like I should do one of these anyway:

SPECIALS AVERAGE RATING: 7.5

  • Seasons/Series watched: Still 30 of 36
  • Stories watched: 202 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 756 of 839

It’s taken ages to get through these specials, what with all the spin-offs in between, so I’m really looking forward to having a nice regular series coming up next. I’m about to start the show’s current era, and I hope I can squeeze it all in before it’s no longer the current era…

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Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords

* Yes, I am conflicted about whether this is a three-parter or a single episode followed by a two-parter, but the consensus seems to be the former, which I think is just about right. It’s true that Utopia feels separate from the other two, but it’s got a cliffhanger that Sound of Drums resolves.

* Utopia remains one of my fondest memories of a communal viewing experience. There were a bunch of us watching together, and we were all pretty sure that The Master would be turning up towards to the end, but we certainly didn’t know how it would happen. We were expecting an inconsequential little story about future humans being chased by savages, but then as the focus shifted to Professor Yana, we realised what was going on. Each little clue or reveal was greeted with elation, as if they were goals in a football match. One of my friends summarised the evening perfectly as “we have been sold a dummy, and I’m entirely happy with the price negotiated”.

* Ah, so there’s the Captain Jack that I remember from Doctor Who! Where was he during that interminable fortnight? He’s so much fun here, especially in Utopia before everything gets quite so heavy, and it’s exactly what Torchwood was missing – the guy with the lust for life, who will happily flirt with man, woman or insectoid, no matter how much danger he’s in. The conversation between him and The Doctor while he’s in the radiation-filled room is great, and it should give him closure on a few things, thus making him less of a twat when he gets back to Torchwood for Series 2. Will it, though? Will it bollocks.

* Professor Yana is just adorable. Doctor Who is at its best when it’s making highly respected Shakespearean actors play either bumbling old scholars, or evil supervillains. Jacobi gets to do both, and the episode belongs to him, and Yana’s slow realisation of who he truly is. I only wish there was more time for the Jacobi Master, as those couple of minutes are the most dark and sinister incarnation that there’s ever been. I loved Chantho too, but I was almost egging The Master on to prove himself by killing her.

* Simm’s Master, on the other hand, I have slightly more complicated feelings about. I’ve said before that The Master’s personality is always a reflection of whichever Doctor he’s facing, so it’s only right that Tennant’s nemesis should be young, energetic and extreme. But I think the balance is a little bit off, and I don’t think he has enough sensible moments to counteract the – admittedly highly entertaining – silly stuff. I don’t remember having an issue with it at the time, but now that I’ve seen the every apperance of The Master’s every incarnation, this one doesn’t stack up quite as well.

* The customary celebrity cameos in a finale are fulfilled by Sharon Osbourne, McFly and Ann Widdecombe, thus ensuring some competition for The Master as the most evil entity in the episode. This was before she became a comedy figure on Strictly, so she was just that funny old Tory MP who actively fought against LGBT rights, denied climate change and supported the reintroduction of the death penalty. A strange choice.

* Worldwide mind control or no worldwide mind control, the rise of Harold Saxon is just so unrealistic. As if any civilised country would voluntarily elect as their leader an evil, bigoted psychopath, with no tangible policies, and so many holes in his story, just on the basis of unsubstantiated soundbites and spurious charm? I am saying that The Master is like Donald Trump. Do you see?

* One more thing on The Master. This is the first time, as far as I recall, where he’s actually got what he wanted. He set out to become the Prime Minister and he did, then he wanted to take over the world and he did, and then he wanted to subjugate The Doctor and he did. I’ve always wondered what the next stage would be when a supervillain wins, and the answer is apparently to hang around on a flying aircraft carrier for a year, singing along to the Scissor Sisters and having a big old laugh. Fair enough.

* I find Lucy Saxon to be a fascinating character. The Master has had companions of sorts before at times, but they’ve usually either been there under duress or under his control. Lucy seems to be fully aware that he’s evil, but willingly making the decision to side with him. I love the little moment where she’s tentatively dancing along to Voodoo Child while everything goes mental – she seems to be getting a kick out of the chaos. But then a year later, we see her with a black eye, and it’s never commented on. It’s incredibly effective – an interjection of real life domestic horror, which resonates far more as an illustration of The Master’s character than an abstract off-screen decimation.

* Sadly, the three-parter fumbles the ending a little bit, with the last episode suffering by The Doctor’s absence. The Old Man Doctor is one thing – it’s a great effect and it’s certainly a shocking sight – but it does slightly hamper his ability to affect the story. Although it’s a damn sight better than House Elf Doctor, who’s so far removed from the character we know and love that I find it impossible to get on board with the idea that they are one and the same. Annoyingly, The Master sets it up as a suspension of The Doctor’s past regenerations, with the promise of us seeing all 900 years of his life at once. The possibilities that you infer from that are all way better than what we got.

* I did enjoy Martha’s stuff of travelling around the world. I’d forgotten about the professor turning out to be a rat, but it’s a miracle I’d forgotten anything with all those flashbacks. They’re a useful device when you’re referencing things from past episodes, but it gets a bit ridiculous when you’re flashing back to things that happened five minutes ago.

* It was good that the magic gun turned out to be a McGuffin, and the idea that The Doctor would be able to use The Master’s Archangel network against him is sound. But in practice, the big floating Jesus Doctor is not good. The Doctor is basically resurrected by the power of prayer, then he briefly becomes magic. Nah, not for me. Then there’s the old Superman ending, where time is reversed so that hardly any bad things happened – although the President of the United States did get murdered on British soil. It’s obviously necessary for future series that the events of these episodes are undone, but it can’t help but feel like a bit of a cheat.

* However, beyond the plot, each of the characters got a much more satisfying ending. The Master’s death was exactly the kind of emotional Doctor and Master scene that the episode needed throughout. Despite his previous imperative for self-preservation at all costs, I totally buy him refusing to regenerate just out of spite for The Doctor, even without the possibility that the whole thing was an elaborate ring-based escape plan.

* Meanwhile, Jack is sent back to his role as Chief Grumpy Bastard and Rooftop Stander of Torchwood Cardiff, via some Face of Boe based lols. My theory is that RTD meant it when they filmed it, then changed his mind later on, when he was feeling less giddy, and backtracked. I can see it. They kind of look like each other.

* And then, of course, it’s goodbye to Martha. I like her far more than most fans do. Her unrequited love for The Doctor doesn’t dominate her adventures quite as much as I’d remembered, and instead she just quietly proved herself to be just as brave and capable as Rose, but without the annoying tendency to boast about it all the time. She gets to leave on her own terms, with the promise of an imminent return. Good luck to her – she deserved a longer stay in the TARDIS than she got.

RATING: 9

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.33

  • Seasons/Series watched: 29 of 35
  • Stories watched: 187 of 264
  • Individual episodes watched: 737 of 827

I’m going to have to pause the project briefly there, as I’m once more volunteering at the biennial Red Dwarf convention Dimension Jump this weekend, and I really ought to start getting ready. I’ll be back in roughly one week…

Scream of the Shalka

Another phase of the project is complete, with the last of the assorted attempts to keep the flame going before the glorious return. This is probably the most viable of the various propositions, though I do wish all these reboots didn’t feel the need to be so dark and gritty. As I’ll soon rediscover, RTD knew that Who needs the levity to outweigh the serious stuff at times. And the theme tune doesn’t need to be so self-consciously trendy – it was a neat little sequence visually, ruined by high-pitched sirens being pasted over the top.

The animation in general was above and beyond all of the previous attempts, by some distance. It was still noticeably limited in terms of the number of renditions of each character available, but the design is imbued with that unmistakable Cosgrave Hall style that holds so many nostalgic connotations. And having everyone fully articulated, with their mouths moving in time with their voices, also helped.

It’s only a shame that The Doctor looked so moody all the time, as Richard E Grant gives an enjoyable and likeable performance. He’s suitably Doctorish in his eccentricities and flights of fancy, and of course he’s got such a great voice. Alison too is fun to spend time with, but perhaps a little too aloof to fulfill the audience identification role – it’s good that she’s cool under pressure, but some kind of emotion would be nice somewhere along the line.

As for the other companion, it’s a very bold choice. It confused the fuck out of me for a while. There’s a character in the TARDIS that looks and sounds like him, but you actually see the name in the credits for Episode 2 before he’s explicitly identified on screen. This would never have happened in Neil Tonay’s day. So naturally I assumed he was working with the Shalka and trying to steal the TARDIS, but then it was revealed that he was the companion, and then it was revealed that he’s a bloody robot.

It’s completely crazy, but I really liked the resultant dynamic – he’s essentially a TARDIS-bound K-9, but with the appearance and personality of The Doctor’s worst enemy rather than his best friend. I enjoyed the hints at the backstory that led them to this point, with the mysterious events that presumably involved the death of a companion. Two things: firstly, I hope it wasn’t supposed to be Ace; secondly, he didn’t give this much of a shit when it was Adric.

All of this stuff was clearly intended to be explored in a future series, but while the general set-up is promising, this plot failed to convince me that it would have been worth it. It’s linked to how dark and gritty it all is – that sort of thing bores me. It did all ramp up in an enjoyable way when the actual apocalypse started happening, but then it all fizzled out again and everything turned out to be fine. The same thing happened when The Doctor faced certain death by black hole, then spent ages floating through space before making a magic door – it makes the jeopardy feel like a cheap trick.

It was obviously for the best that this project was so utterly flattened by RTD’s big gay juggernaut, but as footnotes in history go, it’s a pretty interesting one. Plus, there’s an extra level of amusement now too, when you consider that this story features The Great Intelligence, Liz 10, an actual Master and a tiny cameo from the Tenth Doctor.

RATING: 6

Ahhhhh. I was quite looking forward to exploring the wilderness years, but after having a lovely time exploring some of the madness that happened in front of actual cameras, all of these web animations have been a bit of a slog. They’ve been dragging on since before Christmas, and it’s felt like even longer. But now I’ve got a feeling that reminds me of when I’d get through a batch of telesnap recons – eager and excited to watch the proper stuff, even though this time, it’s stuff that I know extremely well.

So then, let’s see what happens to this blog as we enter Phase Three…

The Curse of Fatal Death

Ah, do you remember when Comic Relief used to be good? This is one of the all time great skits, and it actually stands up pretty well as an installment of Doctor Who. All the storytelling staples from your average classic story are there, but condensed into 20 minutes and played for laughs. I’ve always felt that the format lends itself well to a comedic approach even within the series itself, and it’s something that Moffat hasn’t been afraid to do following this dry run.

The key thing is that it doesn’t take the piss out of the series. There are a few in-jokes, such as The Master’s hyperbole and the great “I’ll explain later” running gag, but it’s mostly just clever, interesting concepts mined for comedy instead of drama. The Doctor and The Master travelling further and further back in time to outdo each other is something I could see the current series doing with a straight face, and is The Master crawling through sewers for hundreds of years really so different to Heaven Sent?

Rowan Atkinson actually makes a really good Doctor, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. He gives it maximum smoothness, with a constantly arched eyebrow, and I wouldn’t have objected to him being the new Doctor for real, even so soon after McGann’s one night wonder. I can totally buy him as the latest incarnation of the same old character, but that’s not quite the case with Jonathan Pryce’s Master – he’s good, but he’s a bit more of a generic supervillain.

Then of course the main set piece is the cycle through all the other new Doctors, and yep, I totally want all of them to do it for real too. I’m going to see Richard E. Grant’s second crack of the whip soon, but I can’t get over how brilliant Jim Broadbent would have been at the job. Joanna Lumley is of course superb, and the concept of Time Lords changing gender has evidently stayed in Moffat’s mind. I like to think The Doctor and The Master walking off arm in arm was a precursor to Missy.

Overall, the biggest plus point was that you could feel the love and affection for the series throughout, right down to the choice of music cues for the regenerations. This was made explicit when The Doctor was seemingly dying for real, and Julia Sawalha became Steven Moffat’s mouthpiece as he composed a love letter to the show, perfectly nailing all that it stands for and just how important it is to those who care. Who’d have thought that a decade or so later he’d be given the opportunity to show us how good the show can be, rather than just tell us.

RATING: 9

Destiny of the Doctors

I spent this morning watching a few of the DVD extras for the McGann movie. This ended up being more interesting than today’s main feature, so we’ll get to that in a minute. The long, drawn-out story of how it came to be was fascinating, as was Philip Segal, who seems quite an extraordinary chap. The political backdrop tells the tale of how the BBC – and therefore British television in general – was in the process of changing from the ideal that I’d imagined growing up, into the more difficult reality I discovered when I entered the industry years later.

There was also a great documentary about all the comics, novels, fan productions and audios that helped fill the gap between 1989 and 2005. This is what I needed in order to get into the mindset of how fans must have felt at the time. Knowing that it had a happy ending, I kind of wish I’d been around as a fan during the wilderness years. I’d love to have been there at the start of the New Adventures and Big Finish, so that I could experience them in the same way I have the TV version. There is simply too much to catch up on now, and Big Finish seem to release audios faster than I’d be able to listen to them.

So with this glimpse of the dark days fresh in my mind, I sat down to watch something that barely fits the criteria I’ve set for this project, but I saw it listed as a DVD extra when I watched Survival last week and wanted to watch it, so I decided to bung it in. The impact of Rose will be so much better if I make myself wait for it. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Destiny of the Doctors; ideally, I’d experience the story by playing the game, but the video segments would have to do.

Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t great on a dramatic level, not least because it took me until at least Pertwee before I realised that what I was seeing was each level’s intro video followed by its good ending and then its bad ending. Consequently, it was a bewildering experience to see good old Anthony Ainley Mastering it up in a giant orange mess of 90s CGI, then building a house of cards, then turning up as a cockney train ticket seller, then flailing about on the tube, then piloting a Dalek spaceship…

It’s a testament to Ainley’s presence that he managed to keep my interest throughout, and I ended up with the impression that it was an ambitious-looking game, which must have had a lot of care put into it. But it’s so hard to pass judgement on that I’m kind of regretting including it now – the point of this project is to trace the unfolding story of Doctor Who, and I thought that this might have been substantial enough to feel like it’s part of it. It isn’t, or at least not when it’s reduced to a series of short monologues. Therefore, somewhat arbitrarily, a neutral:

RATING: 5

Doctor Who: The Movie

He’s back, and it’s about time. I clearly remember watching this when it first went out, and as a nine-year-old, it didn’t make me become a fan in the same way Rose did as an eighteen-year-old. Looking back on it now, it’s easy to see why, although it’s not without its charms. Now that I’m more than familiar with the show’s mythology, I can enjoy the direction and design of the opening scenes, but RTD clearly knew what Philip Segel didn’t, which is that you don’t fill the first installment of a revival with baffling back-references.

It was admittedly lovely to see Sylvester one last time, and his performance was just as good as it was seven years previously. It was a shame that the new companion had to come along and kill him. An unconventional introduction, but it was apparent from the start that Grace is a great character. She’s a high achiever like Liz Shaw, but far warmer and easier to empathise with.

The regeneration came along and the show couldn’t decide whether it wanted it to be a parallel of Frankenstein’s monster or the resurrection, until McGann tipped the balance into full on Christ territory. Either way, it was 20-odd minutes before he turned up, but when he did he was right into his stride straight away. The scenes where Grace is helping him to remember who he is were a joy, and they make a great pair.

Meanwhile, The Master has recovered from being a weird spunky snake thing, which I wasn’t keen on, and is coercing Chang Lee into doing his evil bidding, on a truly excellent TARDIS set. Everything was looking extremely promising at this stage, but as soon as the Eye of Harmony is introduced, it takes a steep nosedive into the realm of utter bollocks. Eric Roberts suddenly turned way too cartoonish, and it all became hard to take seriously.

That said, the motorcycle chase and clock theft bits were good fun, and the denouement was nice and tense even though I found the plot to be a bit confusing; I’m still not clear exactly how travelling back to before the events started helps to prevent damage that we’re told is unstoppable. Plus, a few too many liberties were taken with the mythos – I can buy the theory that it’s only this Doctor that’s half-human, but I’m still not keen on it, nor on the TARDIS containing the Eye of Harmony, and all the powers that come with it, which seemingly include eating The Master.

The thing is, whoever the current custodian of Doctor Who is, they’re allowed to pretty much do what they like with the mythology in the pursuit of telling the best story possible. But if you’re going to go as far as to bring back the incumbent Doctor, casually fling unexplained back-references around, and cover everything in Seals of Rassilon, you set the expectation that the history is to be respected. You can’t have it both ways.

Having said all of that, the issues are not so pervasive as to detract a great deal from the overall mood, and it was a perfectly enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half. You can see the similarities to the new series; for one thing the theme tune and title sequence aren’t a million miles away, and the dynamic between Doctor and companion is much more akin to Ten and Rose than the more student-mentor vibe of Seven and Ace. I don’t give a shite if The Doctor wants to snog his companion, and it seems daft from a post-2005 perspective that it was such a huge deal here.

I would have definitely have liked to see more from the Eighth Doctor and Grace. I was surprised and disappointed when she stayed behind at the end – the whole thing needed rounding off with that key moment of her making the decision to join him, in order to really whet the appetite for adventures new. As it stands, I can totally see why it didn’t go any further, but I kind of wish it had.

RATING: 8

Survival

Ladies and gentlemen, I HAVE SEEN EVERY EPISODE OF DOCTOR WHO. Well, heard the soundtrack and seen telesnaps in some cases, but still. I’ve experienced every single televised story; every last moment of every single Doctor and every single companion. I have completed Doctor Who, until Christmas Day at least. This feels great.

And what a cracking story to end on. It felt like it was designed especially for me, not least because the Earthbound bits are set and shot within walking distance of my house. The pub where Ace empties the fruit machine is my nearest pub. Doctor Who literally went to my local. Although I’ve never seen Hale & Pace working in the shop next door. That was a bizarre piece of casting, but a successful one.

The authentic mundanity of the setting helped to sell the more surreal elements, and it made for an imaginative and exciting adventure, with the show doing what it does best by making the everyday unsettling. While the animatronic cats were the least convincing I’ve seen since Sabrina The Teenage Witch, the Cheetah People were nice and fearsome. The action sequences were fun, and the anthropomorphised cat-like behaviour was not quite as good as the stuff Danny John-Jules was doing at the time, but it was great nonetheless.

And my favourite foe The Master was back, after a very long gap by the standards of Ainley’s era. I’ve always harboured a theory that The Master’s characterisation directly matches whichever Doctor he’s up against, and the more sinister, mysterious and macabre portrayal here seems to confirm this. His single-minded pursuit of The Doctor, as a way of channeling the effects of the virus, was a joy to behold.

It was a fitting swansong in just about every regard, with Ace once more getting the chance to do things that were asked of very few previous companions. Sophie Aldred did a brilliant job when it came to flitting between normal and cat modes, and as a cat person myself – another reason this story was perfect for me – I identified with her relationship with Karra. I love my cats dearly too, despite the knowledge that they would happily hunt and kill me if they were hungry enough.

I don’t know whether it was the occasion making me emotional, but Karra’s cruel death – and Ace’s reaction to it – made me well up. She thought she’d lost The Doctor too, of course, and I’m not entirely clear on how he survived the giant motorcycle-based fireball and subsequent battle with the Master on an exploding planet. Nevertheless, his triumphant return to deliver a bittersweet yet rallying final speech was joyous, deeply satisfying and incredibly apt.

Not quite perfect, clearly the slightly botched results of unexpected circumstances, but doing the best it can and with its heart in the right place. It was an ending that expressed the ethos of the classic series perfectly. Thank goodness it was only a temporary pause in the grand scheme of things, but while it’s a crying shame that the curtain was brought down just as the show was back to its best, at least it ended on a high.

RATING: 9

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.75

  • Seasons/Series watched: 26 of 35
  • Stories watched: 155 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 695 of 826

So what now for this journey, and this blog? A little over two years ago, I decided to set about filling in all the gaps in my Doctor Who knowledge, and now that objective is complete. But like I say, thankfully, the story doesn’t end here. I’ve watched from An Unearthly Child to Survival in order, but Survival isn’t the last episode of Doctor Who. And besides, I may have seen every episode, but not every special and spin-off. The only sensible option is to keep going.

As for the blog, well it’s probably going to simultaneously become both more frequent and less regular. Running times of my viewing material will vary, so I won’t always have time to watch daily. But on the other hand, the days of stories spanning several episodes are mostly gone, so whenever I do sit down to watch, a blog entry will usually follow. Out of necessity, these may be shorter than the current format, but if you’ve enjoyed joining me on this adventure so far, I’ll do my best to make you stick around.

And to those of you that have joined me, a huge thank you. I’ve loved doing this so much that I just have to tell people about it, and I’m just as excited to revisit the new series, and of course to tackle the various delights of the wilderness years first. Come on readers, we’ve got work to do.

Trial: The Ultimate Foe

Well, that was absolutely insane. The story of how it came to be is just as shocking as anything that’s in the show, with poor old Robert Holmes passing away, Eric Saward throwing a wobbley, and Pip & Jane Baker having to cobble together the final episode in no time at all, without being allowed any knowledge of the plan for how everything was supposed to tie up.

The result is obviously a complete mess, but I was impressed by how quickly the first part got on with revealing who The Valeyard was and that the trial is a complete sham, in order to create a whole new mini-adventure. This was achieved by the sudden reappearance of The Master, which I suppose is to be expected whenever there’s a desire to throw everything at the script just to see what sticks.

I was surprised to see Glitz again so soon – I was aware that he’s turning up in a future story, but his appearance here was part of a pleasing attempt to incorporate elements from all the component parts of the season into its conclusion. As well as taking Glitz from The Mysterious Planet, you also had the same one-inch-VT-shaped Macguffin, while the shadow of the Terror of the Vervoids conclusion was present throughout.

And of course Mindwarp is represented by the retconning of Peri’s fate, which didn’t bother me because I knew it was coming, but does detract from the boldness of her original exit. What I didn’t know was the detail that she’d been married off to Brian Blessed, which is absolutely hilarious. I’m sure they’ll be very happy together. I was a little disappointed at first that not many other questions about the reliability of the evidence were cleared up, but the more I think about the more I appreciate the opportunity to make my own mind up about what’s real and what isn’t.

Besides, there wasn’t really much time to go over too many specifics, as the last episode ended up with more things to wrap up than it could comfortably accommodate. Even so, they made things even more complicated by including so many intricate twists to the narrative. The depiction of the Matrix was certainly in keeping with The Deadly Assassin, although obviously not as good, despite the best efforts of the excellent Geoffrey Hughes. Multiple Geoffrey Hugheses, in fact. It felt like there were a few too many layers to the illusion, and so it ended up feeling a little disjointed.

This was partly due to a surfeit of potential villains – Glitz, The Master and The Valeyard – all with their own weirdly ill-defined and suspiciously flexible motives, and each double crossing the others at every opportunity. It was fun to be kept guessing as to just whose side Glitz and The Master were on – both in relation to The Doctor vs The Valeyard and to each other – but in the end I felt like I needed a diagram.

“Fun but complicated” seems like a good summary of both this segment and the season in general, but I want to emphasise that I did enjoy it a hell of a lot more than I thought I would. Colin has improved to the point where I think it was a mistake to sack him at this stage – you feel like one more season of developing in the same direction might have ironed out the remaining issues. That said, the improvements to this point haven’t gone far enough to stop him being my least favourite Doctor to date, so I can’t say I’m sad to see him go. It’s just weird that a Doctor’s tenure should end like that. Those are not brilliant last words.

RATING: 7

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.25

  • Seasons/Series watched: 23 of 35
  • Stories watched: 143 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 653 of 826

Which I guess means that the serial The Trial of a Time Lord gets a 7 out of 10 overall. That seems fair. It also means that Season 23 is better than Season 22, but still well below the expected standard, which is also fair. But with the sad realisation that I’m hurtling towards the end of the classic era, I have but one classic Doctor to go, and it’s one that I’ve seen very, very little of before. I’m not sure what to expect, but I’m looking forward to it, even though it’ll be all over in as little as six weeks…

The Mark of the Rani

Like so many stories of this era, the ideas are right, but the execution is pitifully wrong. The opening scenes brilliantly set up an enjoyable, nostalgic setting, thanks to the brilliant, authentic location. Then the guest cast started to speak, and it was all ay up lad, I’ll just sup this gravy then we can get down t’pit and I’ll stand at the bottom of our stairs and eat a barmcake, our mam. I expected this kind of nonsense in the 60s, when people with regional accents were banned from television, but this is a post-Auf Wiedersehen Pet world.

I was looking forward, in a perverse way, to finally meeting the Rani, even though I knew she was a symptom of the show’s decline. My only previous experience of her was Dimensions In Time, so I was expecting a grotesque, shrieking pair of shoulder pads, but I was almost disappointed to find she’s quite normal and understated here. It’s actually a decent performance from Kate O’Mara, at odds with the Dynasty archetype you expect.

The concept of an amoral Time Lord scientist is a decent one, although I felt the episode spent more time telling us how brilliant The Rani is than actually showing us. It also felt a bit cheap to say “oh yeah, there’s this other renegade Time Lord that The Doctor knows, he’s just never mentioned her before”. Most of her tricks were largely the same as The Master’s, but done through chemistry rather than mind control.

Yes, he’s back, and still alive, with barely so much as an acknowledgement that he was burnt to a crisp the last time we saw him. And one of the first things he does is to kill a dog. Great. His presence seemed like another barrier to The Rani becoming a new iconic villain, although I did like the relationship between them early on. The bickering, the posturing, her pointing out all the ridiculous things about him – it was like a multi-Doctor episode.

But by Part Two, it became clear that neither of them are as clever as they think they are, and the plot kind of fizzled away before it really got going. The conclusion was just three incompetent Time Lords taking it in turns to fuck everything up, before the Doctor wins by accident. And again, as with Attack of the Cybermen, they decided to show us how the plot would be resolved in advance, by having The Doctor tinker with The Rani’s TARDIS while there’s still half an episode to go. I know that Chekhov’s gun type scenarios happen all the time in Who, but this isn’t just showing us the means by which the Doctor will win – they’re showing the action actually taking place, and the rest of the episode is just spent waiting for the effects of this action to render everything else irrelevant.

But hey, The Rani’s TARDIS looked lovely, by the way. There were enough decent bits of this episode to make it not-terrible, but too many annoying things to make it actually good. You can’t have The Doctor suddenly remember he hates guns, and then have him hold The Master and The Rani hostage using the TCE. Some of his dialogue regarding The Rani seemed to have a slightly anti-scientific streak to it, which was extremely out-of-character, and indeed at odds with his fanboy adoration of George Stevenson. Or is it just chemists he suddenly hates?

There was also a huge dose of silliness running through, not least towards the end of Part One where it all turned into Last of the Summer Wine. Then there was the boy who was turned into a tree, wrapping his branch around Peri. And the tiny dinosaur embryos coming to life because The Rani’s TARDIS was going too fast. Still, all of these things made me laugh, and while it’s a shame that the laughs I get from Doctor Who are no longer intentional, at least I’m still getting them.

RATING: 5

Planet of Fire

Ah, this is one of those periods where absolutely everything is changing, bit by bit. This story is little more than a backdrop for a succession of significant events, but it’s at least a very pretty backdrop. The location filming in Lanzarote doubles up to portray both itself and an extremely dramatic volcanic surface, which makes the visuals very impressive throughout.

The main plot – a bunch of confused survivors accidentally worship technology,  thinking it’s the work of a god – has most certainly been done, but it’s not important because that’s not the crux of the story. It’s really all an elaborate origin and departure story for Turlough, as the gaps in his backstory are slowly filled in, ready for him to finally say goodbye and head home.

It all unfolds very entertainingly, even though I did predict “he’s an escaped prisoner” very early on. He was especially shifty throughout the story, even by his standards, and it was interesting to see just how strained his relationship with The Doctor became as a result. Between Turlough acting up and Kamelion being taken over (more on that later), The Doctor seems completely isolated at times, which is especially unusual for this Doctor. His mood has definitely been altered by recent events, which is a very New Who thing. There are consequences to his actions.

I will miss Turlough. A lot of the time he was fairly generic, but every now and then he was so alien that he was unlike any companion before or since, and that takes some doing. His departure marks the end of an unusual period in Who history – of having multiple companions and not all of them human – so I’m looking forward to seeing how they adapt to going back to basics.

First impression of Peri? “Christ, that American accent is bad”. To be fair, Howard’s was by far the worse, and I think his was highlighting her imperfections in those early scenes, as it started to sound more natural later on. She seems a little bit over-screamy for my liking, but she did at least display some strength in resisting mind control, and she seems more than willing to roll her sleeves up and get stuck in.

Plus, her scream is nowhere near as horrifying as Kamelion’s. Christ almighty, that will haunt my dreams. It was totally incongruous to have him suddenly reappear as if he’s never been away. The Doctor treats him like he’s part of the furniture, but for the audience, we haven’t even heard him mentioned since the end of the previous season, and even after this serial, he spent far longer on-screen as a baddy than a goodie.

See that thing where they had him morph into the guise of random guest actors in order to avoid using the dodgy prop too much? They did realise that they could have done that all the time, right? Because if we’d have seen more of him, maybe I’d care a lot more about his departure, and also his death. It was clearly supposed to be a touching moment, but I was mostly concerned about how nonchalant The Doctor was about ending a sentient life, no matter what the circumstances. I’d have preferred Kamelion to have turned on The Master and sacrificed himself in some way, leaving The Doctor out of the equation.

Speaking of whom, there was a decent Master story bubbling under the surface. He’s often at his best when he’s motivated by self-preservation rather than just domination; the desperation heightening his powers. My impression was helped by that rarest of occurrences – a decent cliffhanger that I didn’t already know was coming. The reveal of the tiny Master, in a box, is brilliant!

But then, there was another weird bit. I had to check afterwards if I interpreted his last scene correctly, but yep – he’s fucking burnt to death. It’s pretty grim, and The Doctor just lets it happen. Sure, he’s really cut up about it, but because it happens so soon after he’s mercy-killed Kamelion, I’m not sure how I feel about him having quite so much blood on his hands.

If this was most other periods of the show’s history, I’d assume all this dark subject matter was part of a wider plan, but given what I know about the next couple of seasons, I’m not confident that’s the case here. But regardless, I know that the next serial is going to be bitter-sweet, but that I’m in for a treat…

RATING: 8