Last of the Time Lords

1. Martha. Iain credited me with calling Martha’s leaving, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch, since I didn’t guess either the circumstances or the reason, and I’m pretty sure I was wrong about what the follow-up will be, too. Despite that, it worked for me. I particularly liked (a) that it wasn’t due to any one factor — it wasn’t “because I spent four years training to be a doctor”, it wasn’t “because I have to look after my family”, it wasn’t “because I need to get out”, it was all of the above; and (b) that she has enough sense of her own value to be able to tell the Doctor all those reasons, to his face, in so many words. I originally thought that this turn of events would be followed by the Doctor realising what he’s lost, but now I’m not sure that’s the case; I think he does realise what he’s lost, but also on some level realises what he did to Martha and realises that there’s no way he can invite her back permanently. Essentially, Martha’s arc was that she fell down, emotionally, and spent the season getting back up again; in fact my one reservation is that in retrospect, it looks like they decided the Doctor was going to have this kind of rebound, and then came up with a companion who could plausibly leave without collapsing in on herself — who had enough to go back to. Which would explain why the aspects of her character that enabled that choice — her presence of mind, self-awareness, self-reliance — never seemed to be in the foreground; Martha as means to an end, rather than as a character in her own right. Still, I’m sure that phone will ring at some point and that we’ll see her again.

2. … and then there was the rest of the episode. Somewhat bizarrely, I find myself in the position of liking the finale more than almost anyone else I’ve spoken to or seen a writeup from. Martha got to be awesome (I don’t think the Doctor telling her what to do diminishes her awesomenosity; she still had to go out and do it), within the limitations of the budget the dystopian Earth was quite claustrophobic and dark (some good dialogue helped with that), the Toclaphane being the humans from “Utopia” was perfect, and I didn’t even mind Incredibly Aged Doctor. Floating Telepathic Jesus Doctor, on the other hand … well, even in concept it’s ridiculous, not least because two literal gods out of three season finales just looks lazy, and the execution only made things worse. And, of course, the total bollocks overdrive was only just getting going: suddenly, the paradox machine that could blow up the solar system if you tampered with it can be taken out by a machine gun. I could, perhaps, even forgive that reset if it wasn’t for the fact that everyone who remembers what happened has been shuffled off-screen (except the Doctor, of course, but I doubt he’s going to be dwelling on it much).

3. In spite of this, I find myself looking favourably on season three as a whole. For the first time, I’ve found myself watching out of interest and enjoyment, rather than out of some peverse desire to be able to call my Who-loving friends wrongheads from an informed position. “Smith and Jones” was a good start; the next four episodes (“The Shakespeare Code” through “Evolution of the Daleks”) were mediocre to dire; the next two (“The Lazarus Experiment” and “42”) were competent, entertaining runarounds and the run from “Human Nature” to the end of the season was, until the final fumble, either good or very good. Actually, I’m inclined to go so far as to say that “The Last of the Time Lords”, flawed as it is, was the best season finale Who has managed since it came back; if nothing else, it’s moved the Doctor on to a new and interesting place, since I can easily imagine a season 4 without a permanent companion — a few episodes with Martha, a few with Jack, perhaps someone else towards the end of the season, but essentially a season with the Doctor alone, perhaps undergoing some self-examination, perhaps trying to overcompensate for his alone-ness with some vast, hubristic scheme, such as bringing the time lords. And if nothing else, there’ll be another Steven Moffatt two-parter.

22 thoughts on “Last of the Time Lords

  1. I’d like it very much if the scenario you lay out in point 3 turned out to be true, but I suspect we’re going to have Martha back as a permanent companion. Which is why I can’t find it in myself to feel as positively about her character arc as you do. You’re right that Martha has been a means to an end, but how will that change in season 4?

    Part of the problem with this season is that the writers seem to be locked into a certain set of forms. The Doctor has to have a single, female companion (male companions only get to travel briefly, and usually on their journey somewhere else). Their relationship has to have strong romantic undertones. The season has to proceed from Christmas special to first (and usually shitty) two-parter to second (and usually strong) two-parter to low-Doctor-presence episode to big finale. It’s hard to imagine that, within this climate, the writers would be willing to make changes to either Martha or the Doctor’s attitudes towards one another, or the configuration of the TARDIS crew (on top of your suggestion, another solution might be to have more than one companion).

    I didn’t even mind Incredibly Aged Doctor

    Not just me, then.

    Floating Telepathic Jesus Doctor, on the other hand

    Yeah. On the bright side, perhaps now that we’ve had an example of the real thing, we will finally see an end to the claims that the end of “The Parting of the Ways” is a deus ex machina.

  2. I’d like it very much if the scenario you lay out in point 3 turned out to be true, but I suspect we’re going to have Martha back as a permanent companion.

    It looks like we’re both half-right. The beeb says:

    Freema Agyeman is also set to join the cast of Torchwood, where she will continue to play the character in three new episodes before returning to Doctor Who in the middle of the fourth series.
    The new announcement leaves a vacant space in the TARDIS. A new companion for The Doctor, who will join the new series for the entire 13 week run, will be announced shortly.

  3. The current rumour mill (official announcement imminent) is that Tom Ellis (Tom Milligan in ‘Last of the Timelords’) will join the crew, presumably as Milligan. This would be interesting in a number of ways 1) The Doctor has very rarely travelled with a single male companion (only thing I can think of from Classic is Adric and that was between Romana leaving and Nyssa joining – so no televised stories) and 2) if it *is* Dr Milligan that is returning does he start to remember something of the year that never was?

  4. Hmm. This could be very good or very bad, and it all depends on a) Torchwood not turning Martha into a despicable person and b) the new companion being something other than a Rose clone/substitute.

    Somehow, I don’t feel very hopeful.

  5. Part of my objection to the stupid dobbie-doctor was that it meant John Simm was, as someone on my f-list said, acting his little heart out, at this wretched thing that was disfiguring the screen.

    More than one person on my f-list has made a formal complaints of racism to the BBC, re the portrayal (or perhaps they mean betrayal) of Martha. This isn’t my perspective, but I thought you might be interested.

  6. I saw the racism objections, Alison. I didn’t mention them purely because I’m still mulling over what I think of them. (If nothing else, it seems to assume that having the Doctor fall in love with you is a good thing, which I think is at least arguable …) I also nearly linked to this count of male vs female characters and deaths in old vs new Who; my initial reaction is that too many of the assignments are too subjective for the analysis to have much weight, but it doesn’t hurt to think about it.

  7. On the subject of the Doctor with a single male companion, there are similar points where a female companion leaves at the end of one story and a new one joins in the next, leaving only a male carrying through from one to another in the eras of the First, Second and Fifth Doctors. Two of these are pretty minor – Victoria leaving at the end of ‘Fury from the Deep’, Jamie staying, then Zoe joining in ‘The Wheel In Space’, and Tegan leaving at the end of ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’, Turlough staying, then Peri joining in ‘Planet of Fire’. Two are a bit more sustained. Ben and Polly technically leave at the end of ‘The Faceless Ones’, leaving the Doctor with Jamie, prior to Victoria being picked up in ‘Evil of the Daleks’. But in fact Ben and Polly disappear in episode 2 of that story, and only reappear very birefly in episode 6, leaving Jamie as the Doctor’s only companion through most of it. (And Victoria doesn’t actually appear until episode 2 of ‘Evil of the Daleks’.) Most sustained is a period in 1965-66. At the end of ‘The Myth Makers’. Vicki leaves the TARDIS crew, but is replaced by Katarina, who joins the Doctor and Steven. But Katarina is killed four episodes into the next story, ‘The Daleks Masterplan’. For the remaining eight episodes, Sara Kingdom functions in the female companion role, but is herself killed at the end of the story. For the next story, ‘The Massacre’, there is no female companion at all, as Dodo does not arrive until the very end of episode four. But there’s actually hardly any Doctor – he’s not seen from the first episode to the fourth.

    (Also, does ‘Keeper of Traken’ count as a male-companion only story? Nyssa doesn’t actually join the TARDIS crew in this story, though she appears – it’s only in ‘Logopolis’ that she starts travelling with the Doctor.)

  8. I didn’t even mind Incredibly Aged Doctor

    For me the problem is in the gulf between the concept, which is good–and even the concept drawings seen on Doctor Who Confidential, which were solid enough–and the dewy-eyed reality. The CGI Doctor’s face needed to be just a notch more low key and less of a facial caricature of David Tennant. In particular the eyes needed to look less like Droopy Dog. For me that design sucked all of the pathos and drama out of the Doctor’s predicament.

    The current rumour mill (official announcement imminent) is that Tom Ellis (Tom Milligan in ‘Last of the Timelords’) will join the crew, presumably as Milligan.

    Shame. I was going to vote for Sally Sparrow to be rescued from domestic bliss. I can see her as someone who wouldn’t just fixate on the Doctor.

    Martha was great in the finale and her departure scene was near-perfect. I very much appreciate the depiction of her as a smart enough person to take her leave, and a strong enough character to come back on her own terms next year. I do worry that Torchwood will inevitably take the shine off her, though.

    More than one person on my f-list has made a formal complaints of racism to the BBC

    I’m struggling to see the accusations of racism in the way Martha has been portrayed. I haven’t seen the comments but if it’s simply that the Doctor didn’t fancy her I think this has nothing to do with her being black and everything to do with the writers wanting a different dynamic to the Doctor-Rose love-in. Obviously unrequited live was not the only way to accomplish this, but it’s still preferable to requited love. And a strong, smart, sexy black leading character is surely a good thing.

  9. Here are some discussions about race. This seems to be the nub of it:

    All without ever a “thank you” or “I’m sorry” outside of fanfic. But plenty of comparisons to the previous companion, and in full knowledge that she feels second best. At the very end of this season, she outright says “I’ve felt second best all along, but I’m pretty impressive.”

    And the Doctor says nothing. Not “you are impressive.” Not “I shouldn’t have let you feel second best. I only take the best.”

    Nothing. Leaving us all with the message that like Rose’s opinion of Mickey, no matter how solid, dependable, brave, and loyal Martha is, she’s just not as good as the one who was taken away from him.

    Even in the alternate universe where this episode was the end of Martha’s story, rather than a checkpoint, I think this would be nonsense, not to mention factually wrong (the Doctor thanks her for looking after him in “Human Nature”). The fact that the Doctor says nothing, to my mind, tells us what I suggested above, that he realises he’s wronged her and can’t make it right. The Doctor could completely lack this awareness, of course, and just keep quiet because he really doesn’t care about Martha that much. But either way, it’s about what the Doctor thinks. You really have to torture the scene to end up thinking it’s telling us, even inadvertently, that Martha isn’t as good as Rose. Later in the same post I quoted above, the writer says, “And DAMNIT, Doctor Who is SUPPOSED to be about the dignity of all species!” To my mind, Martha is the one who comes out of that scene with dignity.

  10. he realises he’s wronged her and can’t make it right.

    In Doctor Who Confidential David Tennant was praising that very scene for the moment when the Doctor drops the manic energy and simply says “okay”, because (in Tennant’s reading) he knows that he’s been unfair to her.

    I suppose you can also read the scene as him not caring, but as written and played I think it’s clearly about him understanding and accepting why she needs to go. He does say thank you at the end, as he does in the recording in Human Nature.

    I think you’re absolutely right that Martha emerges from the scene with dignity. Indeed the scene explicitly tells us from Martha’s own lips that she *is* as good as Rose, and we’re not given anything to make us think that we or the Doctor should doubt this.

  11. because (in Tennant’s reading) he knows that he’s been unfair to her.

    I knew it!

    If I had more time on my hands, and the willpower to engage in the arguments that would result, I would probably write a short rant on how poisonous, not to mention ironic, it is that so many commenters seem to need the white male protagonist to validate Martha’s awesomeness.

  12. I rewatched most of this episode last night, and I’ve come round to it not actually being the pile of dross I thought it was. While I still dislike the transformation of the Doctor into Dobby and then Tinkerbell, it’s actually got a lot more good stuff than I remembered, particularly with the Master being genuinely menancing instead of camp. And I cheered when Martha told the Doctor she wasn’t second-best.

  13. A much saner perspective on Martha and the power of storytelling in this season:

    Jackie (god, I love Jackie!) forces a promise out of the Doctor about Rose’s safety. A promise he keeps – twice, in fact: first during ‘The Parting of the Ways’ and then in ‘Doomsday’, even though Rose doesn’t want to be kept safe either time. Francine is also terrified about her daughter travelling around with this dangerous stranger, and chooses another way to try to protect her – enlisting Mr Saxon’s help. It’s a bad move, and one Francine comes very much to regret. But the Doctor, when he sends Martha away, doesn’t send her into safety, like he does with Rose. He sends her away on a very desperate, dangerous, and uncertain quest. Martha is capable and resourceful. And she is the emotional adult in that relationship: one of the first things she does in ‘Smith and Jones’ is assume responsibility and tell the Doctor not to worry about being on the moon. Pretty much the last thing she does is give him her phone and say, “You’d better come when I call you.” Not: “Call me and I’ll come running.” Martha does not need her mother’s or the Doctor’s protection, but neither does she need the Doctor’s constant companionship. She still has a hotline to the Doctor, but he is only one of her many intellectual and emotional resources. Martha is grown-up, but without making the mistake of putting away childhood things such as fantasy and story.

  14. Kev: I think that the sheer madness of the psychic-power ending and the funeral pyre caused me to forget some of the better earlier parts. Either that or it was the beer affecting my memory.

  15. A lot has been said about Martha falling in love with the Doctor, most (all) of it pretty negative. The consensus seems to be that this shows a view of women as just needing a good man in their lives. Now as a good man I can assure you all this is not true of most women.

    But seriously, consider this: You meet a man like the Doctor, handsome, witty, adventurous, clever… and then he takes you to see the end of time, the birth of planets, the whole of history. You meet Shakespeare, in a pub! And whilst all this goes on you have the adrenaline rush of terror as witches, daleks, space rhinos and statues pursue you and the high of knowing you are saving lives on a massive scale. Now tell me, how, especially in the comedown, would you not fall at least a little bit in love with the man who did that for you? Jack did. Rose did. Why not Martha?

  16. Martha doesn’t fall in love with the Doctor because he sweeps her off her feet and takes her to see the stars. She falls in love with him, and then he takes her to see the stars. By that point, she’s so intensely focused on him that she doesn’t even notice them. You have to go back to “The Shakespeare Code” to see Martha truly enthralled by the notion of travel in time and space. After that point, it’s traveling with the Doctor that enthralls her. Rose got to the point where the Doctor, and not the chance to see the universe, was her primary motivation for staying on the TARDIS, but it took her a whole year to get there, not a single episode.

  17. I don’t think the distinction is as clear cut as you make out.

    The reason she finds the Doctor so remarkable is not just because he’s a great conversationalist. Being with him “to be with him” is also by definition being with him to do the kinds of things he does, see the kinds of things he sees. He is his lifestyle.

  18. In theory, yes.

    But in practice, in terms of what we see on the screen? It doesn’t take very long for Martha’s sense of wonder to give way to doe-eyed infatuation.

  19. But right in the middle of her first encounter with aliens (ok Space Rhinos) this dashing, handsome hero kisses her. That would throw me, maybe set me on the road to infatuation quite easily, why not Martha?

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