Having come late to the Doctor Who party, I’ve been power-watching the new series over the last couple of months, and then discussing what I watch because I have a website that needs content. Also, I like talking about Doctor Who. Today, it’s the second half of season three, my favorite stretch of episodes so far. We’ve got Weeping Angels, the return of the Master, the Family of Blood, and more tears than you want to hear about it. So let’s get to it!
42 – The Doctor and Martha end up on a spaceship that’s hurtling toward a sun in this real-time episode. Martha and a crewman work their way to the controls through a series of thirty deadlocked doors that only open with the correct answer to trivia questions, while the Doctor tries to help repair the engines. This is all complicated when Korwin (one of the crew) is possessed by the essence of a being from the heart of the star and sets out trying to kill everybody.
There’s nothing terribly notable in the broad strokes of the plot – it’s actually kind of similar to “The Impossible Planet” / “The Satan Pit” from last season. All Korwin needed to do was manifest some runes on his body, and we’d be there. Still, there are some really good bits. The Doctor fighting the infection from the star is pretty great, especially when he has Martha freeze him. And thanks to Martha getting her phone upgraded for universal roaming (Took you long enough, Doctor!), there are some nice scenes where she calls her mother for trivia answers and also to talk to her one last time. And I’m unreasonably giddy to see the Doctor don a spacesuit. (This is what happens when you’re friends with Larry Young.)
On the whole, this is pretty much a filler episode that gets a boost from some really good performances. We get a little bit of a setup for the season finale when we learn that Mr. Saxon has reached out to Martha’s mother. Oh, also I assume that the episode title is a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference. It’s also the number of minutes that they spend plunging toward the sun, but come on. Douglas Adams wrote for this show back in the day. Of course it’s a reference!
I’m kind of blowing through this one, because from here on out it’s straight heat, no skits. Things are about to get awesome in here!
Human Nature / The Family of Blood – Yeah, this two-parter is fantastic. Written by Paul Cornell (who wrote Season One’s “Father’s Day” and also the best Lex Luthor comics of the last ten years), it kicks off with the Doctor and Martha pursued by “The Family of Blood”. They can track them across the universe but have very short lifespans. The Doctor decides that they need to hide, which only works if be becomes completely human, using something called the Chameleon Arch.
They arrive in 1913 England– when we pick up, the Doctor is a teacher (“John Smith”) at a boy’s school, while Martha is his maid. She knows what’s going on, but his memories and essence are all sealed inside a pocket watch. While the Family of Blood animate murderous scarecrows and being possessing bodies, Smith is haunted by dreams of his past and draws things like the TARDIS and his past incarnations in a “Journal of Impossible Things”. He falls in love with Joan Redfern, the school nurse – this is upsetting to Martha partly because she doesn’t know what to do in this situation, and he didn’t include the possibility in his instructions. And partly because of her own feelings for the Doctor. (And if the reason he didn’t have feelings for her was because he’s a Time Lord, well, it’s pretty crushing when he becomes human and still doesn’t have those feelings.) Meanwhile, a young boy named Timothy steals the watch. When he opens it briefly he sees some of the Doctor’s memories (as well as a glimpse of his own death only a year away), just enough to terrify him and alert the Family.
Scarecrows attack the school, fought off by the boys and their machine guns. (War is coming, and this is an important part of their education.) Tim gets the watch to Smith, who authentically does not want to lose his humanity. The scenes where both Martha and Joan (who knows she’ll lose the man he loves) are some of the must gut-wrenching in the entire series, and this was where I absolutely fell in love with David Tennant. It’s such a fantastic performance here. He doesn’t want to be the Doctor anymore, losing everything that he is. And when Joan reminds him that nobody would have died if the Doctor hadn’t picked this time and place on a whim, it’s devastating.
We don’t see his decision, but John Smith later enters the Family’s ship to surrender the watch – they can use it to become immortal. Only the watch doesn’t work because he’s the Doctor again, and while pretending to fumble around, he’s actually activated the self-destruct. And then, we see the Doctor at his most unforgiving as he metes out punishment to the Family – each one of them will live forever now, but it’ll be a hellish existence. (“He never raised his voice. That was the worst thing: the fury of the Time Lord. And then we discovered why, why this Doctor who had fought with gods and demons, why he had run away from us and hidden. He was being kind.”) And in the last minutes, we see Timothy use the knowledge from the watch to escape his WWI death, and as an old man he sees the Doctor and Martha waiting solemnly at a remembrance ceremony.
Yeah, these two episodes are pretty much perfect. I spent the last half of the second part in tears – Tennant is amazing here. John Smith is a very different person than the Doctor, and Tennant somehow gives him weight – there’s a real sense of loss in his performance, and it’s just great. And when you see the Doctor actually get angry, it’s terrifying. It’s quiet, but chilling. Excellent.
Blink – Oh man, you guys. Steven Moffat is throwing the heat here. “Blink” is this season’s Doctor-light episode, with the Doctor and Martha only making brief appearance. (As in last season’s “Love and Monsters”.) And it still introduces one of the more popular concepts from the new series, and is one of my favorite episodes ever. This one is fantastic.
In 2007, Sally Sparrow (played by Carey Mulligan, who got really famous shortly after this) goes to an abandoned old house to look for photography subjects. What she finds are angel statues and messages behind the wallpaper, specifically addressed to her, warning her not to blink. She returns to the house later, with her friend Kathy. Kathy investigates the upper floors, and we can see that the angel statues change positions when the camera isn’t on them. Finally, we see an angel that appears to be shrieking, teeth bared, and then Kathy disappears.
At that moment, a young man brings a letter to Sally – a young man who claims to be Kathy’s grandson. The letter (and a scene that we get to see) explains that Kathy ended up back in 1920, where she lived out the rest of her natural life. A moment ago, she was upstairs, and now she’s dead of old age years earlier. The letter asks Sally to let Kathy’s brother, Larry, know that she’s gone but she’s fine.
Larry is much more focused on an Easter Egg that’s appeared on 17 unconnected DVDs. It’s the Doctor, looking into the camera, having half of a conversation. Larry gives her a list of the DVDs containing the feature, and then Sally heads off to notify the police about Kathy. She meets the nice detective, Billy Shipton, who tells here there’ve been a rash of disappearance in the area and then shows here the abandoned vehicles they’ve impounded, including the TARDIS. They flirt and exchange numbers. Sally leaves, then turns back for one last question, but Billy and the TARDIS are gone. And then she gets a call from a much older Billy.
Sally goes to see a dying Billy, who explains that he found himself in 1969, where he met the Doctor. Billy started a video production company and he’s the one responsible for putting the Doctor on the DVDs. That’s when Sally realizes the 17 DVDs are the same seventeen that she owns – the message is meant for her. She and Larry take a portable DVD player to the house where it all began, and she has a conversation with the Doctor. Larry takes notes of her responses, and the Doctor explains that the statues are Weeping Angels. Immensely powerful beings who are “quantum locked” – they can’t move if anybody is looking at them. That’s why they cover their faces; so they don’t accidentally see one another. If they lay a hand on you, you go back in time. And that’s when the Angels attack – Larry and Sally are surrounded, so no matter where they look, there’s always an unseen angel. They escape to the basement to find the TARDIS. Sally’s able to open it, and the sensors detect a control disc – her DVD. Angels surround the TARDIS, and after reading the disc, it disappears and leaves Sally and Larry behind. But because the TARDIS vanished, it left the Angels looking at one another, freezing them forever.
Much later, Sally meets the Doctor and Martha. They don’t know who she is, because the adventure hasn’t happened to them yet. She gives them the transcript of the conversation, so that the Doctor knows what to record, and then the Doctor warns us all not to blink. Ever.
So awesome. This is a near-perfect standalone episode, even without much Doctor in it. Just a couple of things to note – this is the first time the Doctor uses the phrase “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” to describe a confusing concept. Also, speaking of confusing, this episode contains what they call a “bootstrap paradox”. The Doctor knows what to say on the DVD, because Sally gave him a transcript of the conversation. But she transcribed the conversation based on what he was saying. And he was saying it because of her transcript. The information was never created! (Which is not a criticism of the plotting. I like paradoxes!) For a less-confusing version, watch the Futurama movie “Bender’s Big Score” – the time-travel tattoo was never created. It’s on Fry’s ass because Bender peeled it off of Lars and applied it to Fry. And that version of Fry aged into Lars. Again, the tattoo was never created. I love it.
And I really enjoy when Sally meets the Doctor and Martha, because it’s another iceberg scene. They have to get somewhere quickly so they can kill something with arrows. We don’t get more of an explanation than that, but they both have bows and quivers. That cracks me up. In conclusion, watch this episode.
Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords – That’s right, we close out the season on a three-parter. I won’t go through them in lurid detail, because we’ll be here all day. But there’s still a lot to talk about. So… The Doctor stops off in modern-dayCardiff, where Captain Jack Harkness finds him. Jack manages to grab onto the TARDIS as it dematerializes and it drags him to the end of the universe. The Doctor and Martha figure out what’s going on, and there are introductions all around. (Also, Jack tracked the Doctor using the severed hand from “The Christmas Invasion”. I knew that wasn’t gone for good!) After escaping from some mutant cannibals, they find a research facility where the elderly Dr. Yana and his assistant aren’t able to launch a spacecraft meant to take them to Utopia. Yana complains of constantly hearing the sound of a drumbeat in his head, and Martha notices his broken pocketwatch. (Like the Doctor’s in “Human Nature” / “Family of Blood”!) The Doctor and Jack manage to fix the rocket after the Doctor realizes that Jack is immortal and thus can hang out in the radiation room. The rocket takes off, only without our heroes or Yana.
Meanwhile, Martha puts it together and realizes that Yana may be a Time Lord. She informs the Doctor, who then flashes back to the Face of Boe’s final words – “You Are Not Alone”. Or, in acronym form,YANA. And that’s when Yana opens his watch and realizes his true nature. He is The Master. Yana’s assistant manages to shoot him, but he regenerates into a younger form and steals the TARDIS, leaving Jack, Martha, and The Doctor alone with the mutant cannibals.
So that’s part one. Larry explained the Master as the Doctor Who equivalent of the Joker. He’s a rogue Time Lord, and apparently he survived the Time War because he was stuck in human form. And the drumbeat he talks about is a four-beat rhythm that approximates the sound of a Time Lord’s hearts. This will be something to remember next season, by the way. Aside from bringing back the Master, this episode also gives us the payoff to the Doctor’s hand and to the Face of Boe appearances.
I didn’t realize that the Torchwood spinoff had actually been going on at this time – I thought it started after Russell T. Davies left Who. Apparently the Doctor’s hand was in Season One of that show, too. I’ll have to recap Torchwood at a later date. I like the way the Doctor is trying to protect Martha from Jack, plus the way the two of them sort of commiserate over their doomed crushes on the Doctor. Also, as long as we’re talking about Jack, it’s established here that Jack’s immortality (a result of Rose bringing him back to life at the end of Season One) is a problem for the Doctor and possibly the entire timestream. There will be more discussion of that later. So let’s move on to part two!
In part two, our heroes get to the present when the Doctor fixes Jack’s Vortex Manipulator with the sonic screwdriver. They realize that the Master has taken the identity of Harold Saxon (you know, the guy they’ve been talking about all season) and got himself elected Prime Minister. He’s set up an Archangel phone network, which actually allows him low-level psychic control over the population, and he turns everybody against Jack, Martha, and the Doctor. While they’re on the run, Saxon announces contact with an alien race known as the “Toclafane”.
The President arrives for the first contact. (On the bridge of a flying aircraft carrier. Does SHIELD know about this?) At this point, the Toclafane, floating metal spheres, assassinate the President. Our heroes discover that the Tardis has been rebuilt into a Paradox Machine for unknown purposes. When they confront the Master, he uses Professor Lazarus’ machine (told you it was coming back!), powered by DNA harvested from the Doctor’s severed hand to age the Doctor 100 years. He kills Jack (temporarily, of course), and Martha teleports away with the Vortex Manipulator after the Doctor whispers something in her ear.
The Master brings Martha’s family, The Doctor, and Jack to the Paradox Machine, and then six billion Toclafane appear in space with orders to decimate the human race. And that’s our cliffhanger!
There’s a lot to process here – the backstory of the Master is interesting, but I don’t want to be here all day, so I’ll skip over it. Maybe we can talk about it when he returns. We get more Time War backstory, and now it’s spelled out that the Doctor wiped out the Time Lords himself. I feel like I already knew that, but I have been screwing around on Wikipedia and asking my friend Larry questions, so it’s possible I spoiled myself.
Also, and it’s explained in the next episode, the Toclafane are the last remnants of humanity from the year 100 billion. The Paradox Machine is what allows them to kill humans (their ancestors) without wiping themselves from existence. Just accept it, and we’ll move on to part three.
Part three starts one year later. Humanity has been all but wiped out. The Master still has the Doctor (now forced to live like a dog), Jack, and Martha’s family enslaved on the flying aircraft carrier. Martha’s been traveling the world to assemble a special gun that can kill a Time Lord and to spread the word about the Doctor.
The Master messes with the Doctor some more and ages him 900 years, his true age. He looks like a weird Yoda. It’s very upsetting. The Master’s forces catch Martha and bring her aboard the carrier, he destroys the gun and then starts the countdown to launch Toclafane all over the universe. And that’s when Martha explains that the gun never meant anything. The real plan, as relayed in the Doctor’s whispered instructions, was to travel and spread the word so that, at the exact same moment, every single human being on Earth would think about the Doctor.
Their collective will, linked by the Master’s own Archangel network, is enough to restore the Doctor. And just to make the point that he’s definitely a Christ figure right now, the Doctor forgives the terrified Master. Martha’s family frees Jack, who destroys the Paradox Machine – the effect is to erase the last year. Only the people at the eye of the storm (the people in this scene, basically) will remember what happened. For everybody else, time jumps back to the moment after the President’s assassination. While they debate what to do with the Master, Saxon’s wife shoots him. The Master refuses to regenerate, leaving the Doctor alone in the universe.
The Doctor burns the Master’s body on a funeral pyre, and later we see a woman’s hand take a ring from the ashes. Jack returns to Torchwood, and Martha announces that she has to stay on Earth. She wants to finish medical school and make the world a better place, and she knows the Doctor will never reciprocate her feelings. She leaves him with her phone so she can call him at any time. The Doctor leaves, alone. And then the TARDIS crashes into the Titanic, and that’s the end of the season.
Awesome. So, let’s deal with Jack. The Doctor makes a big deal of deactivating the Vortex Manipulator, so Jack can’t timejump anymore. Which seems harsh, since the dude spends his time saving the world and that might come in handy. But Jack is immortal, and jumping through time means that at some point, he will definitely backtrack over his own timeline. And that has disastrous, universe-destroying consequences. Since there aren’t other Time Lords to keep an eye on things like that, the Doctor is being quite responsible here.
Also, Jack mentions that even though he’s immortal, he does still seem to age (albeit slowly). Then he mentions that he was the first Time Agent from Boe, and they used him in an ad campaign. In fact, they called him “The Face of Boe”. Yep. The Face of Boe, the one who called the Doctor “old friend” almost immediately is the far-future form of Captain Jack Harkness. Awesome.
Now, the climax with the Doctor being resurrected by the will of humanity is more than a little hokey and new age-y. It’s also awesome. As I may have mentioned, I’m a sucker for this kind of thing, and I tear up pretty good when the Doctor is saved by the gratitude of humanity. This is the part of me that cries like a baby when they unveil the Batman statue at the end of Dark Knight Rises, or when everybody chants “We are all the Doom Patrol” in the “Last Patrol” episode of The Brave and the Bold. Yes, I’m an emotional wreck. STOP JUDGING ME!
Man, this last half of the season was fantastic. I’m going to take a bit of a breather for the holidays, and then we’ll jump into either Who Season Four or Torchwood Season One. Anybody have any strong opinions either way? Either way, I’ll see you next year!