“Utopia / The Sound Of Drums / Last Of The Time Lords”, the three-part finale where shit gets real. The entirety of Series 3 has been building up to the events of this finale, with Chekov’s guns, arc words and underlying themes. “The Shakespeare Code” stressed the power of words in the right place and the right time. “Gridlock” highlighted just how much the Doctor still misses Gallifrey, and gave us the Face of Boe’s warning that he’s not the only time lord out there. Humanity’s ability to always find new ways to adapt and survive throughout history was made apparent in “Gridlock” and “Daleks In Manhattan“, which led to a clash between the Doctor and the Daleks about what it actually means to be a human being. As a counterpoint to that, the darker side of human nature was illuminated in “The Lazarus Experiment“: how twisted and evil humans can become when they refuse to accept their own mortality.
Ever since “The Lazarus Experiment”, Harold Saxon has been reaching out to Martha’s family, using them as pawns to get more information on what the Doctor’s up to. The second half of the season has been putting the Doctor out of commission in pivotal moments, to show how hard it can be to save the world without his guidance, which has consequentially led Martha to step up and become more of a hero herself in episodes like “42” and “Human Nature“. “The Family Of Blood” revealed that time lords can actually rewrite their DNA and become human if they choose to. “Blink” reminded the audience that the Doctor’s ship (the TARDIS) is an exceptionally powerful time machine, and if it ever fell into the wrong hands it could actually be used to destroy the world. All the pieces have been carefully put in place over the last ten episodes by Russell T. Davies, and now we finally get the pay-off.
The Doctor, Martha and Captain Jack take an unplanned, unsuspecting trip to the year 100 trillion, which sets off a line of disaster dominoes that eventually results in a madman being set loose, a time lord called the Master who actually takes over the show for several episodes. The Master steals the Doctor’s TARDIS, goes back in time as ‘Harold Saxon’ to get into politics, and recruits the help of insane future humans who want to avoid the end of the universe to take over present day Earth. After the Doctor and Jack are taken prisoner by the Master, it’s left up to Martha to save everyone. “Utopia” definitely catches you off-guard on your first watch. All the season finales we’ve had up to this point have been two-part endeavors, but Series 3 bucks the trend with the show’s very first three-parter.
“Utopia” has its share of action, but it’s mostly a pretty downbeat and insightful episode that aims to be a character study, and it certainly succeeds in that area, since there are some great character dynamics to explore with the main cast of Ten, Martha, Jack and Professor Yana, before the last fifteen minutes take a sudden swerve into darker territory. “The Sound Of Drums” is just as strong, continuing the momentum “Utopia” gained towards the end by showing everything going from bad to worse for our heroes. “Last Of The Time Lords” is easily the weakest of the three, and tends to be the most divisive part of the finale. There’s a general rule of thumb with trilogies that the last act never quite manages to live up to the first two or wrap things up in a way that satisfies everyone. And Doctor Who (despite being a TV show) is not immune to that tradition either with its three-parters, considering “Last Of The Time Lords”, “Journey’s End“, “Hell Bent” and “The Lie Of The Land” are usually singled out as the weakest parts of their respective trilogies – though I would hardly call most of them bad episodes.
Series 3 has steadily fleshed out the Tenth Doctor’s personality by exploring his faults, like his tactless attitude towards Martha in the early episodes, or how he carelessly put everyone in “Human Nature” in grave nature. In “Utopia”, it’s revealed that the Doctor left Captain Jack behind in Series 1 on purpose, because he didn’t want to have to deal with his paradoxical nature after Rose turned him into a living fixed point in time – even though Jack helping the Doctor with his crazy, suicidal plan (which he backed out of at the last minute) is what got him killed. What a dick move. A good chunk of “Utopia” is devoted to the Doctor making amends with Jack and the pair of old friends reconciling, and it’s good to see them pick up where they left off here, as a reminder that despite seeming totally different on the surface, Nine and Ten are still the same person.
Among the bleak, dreary setting of the distant future, Ten remains an optimist and is impressed by the indomitable spirit humanity still has after all this time, getting along especially well with Professor Yana, a fellow man of science with a good heart (and their camaraderie turns out to be quite an ironic bit of foreshadowing). Whenever Ten feels nostalgic about something he’s lost, he often tends to look back on it with rose-tinted glasses and put it up on a pedestal, and that habit unexpectedly bites him in the backside at the end of “Utopia”. Every time Ten has spoken of Gallifrey to Martha, he’s always romanticized it as an incredible, beautiful place, so she had to no reason to assume something disastrous would happen when she encouraged the professor to open his fob watch. Ten however immediately freaks out and assumes the worst when he realizes another time lord is nearby, even before he knows it’s the Master – which rather tellingly implies that he’s still not telling his friends everything about how twisted and corrupt the high council of Gallifrey actually was by the end of the time war, which later episodes like “The End Of Time” and “Hell Bent” dive into.
The Doctor missed all the signs of Professor Yana’s true nature until it was too late, despite his own experience in “The Family Of Blood”, and he spends the last fifteen minutes of “Utopia” being uncharacteristically terrified, scrambling for any sort of control. I really love the cliffhanger where the Master manages to steal the TARDIS. The Doctor can sometimes feel a bit too invincible as a hero, so it’s good to see him actually lose a battle for once. Things don’t get much better for the Doc and his friends in “The Sound Of Drums”: with a time machine at his disposal, the Master is way ahead of our heroes, making them fugitives on the run from the law, limiting what they can do to stop him even further. With the Master on the loose, the Doctor knows full well what’s at stake and he becomes singlemindedly focused on finding him. Ten wants to stop the Master from doing any damage to modern day Earth, but he also wants to save him from himself.
It’s implied that his goals in this three-parter are a bit more self-motivated than he would like to admit. The Master is his former best friend and the only other time lord in existence – Ten clearly wants to pull him back from the brink so he can have some company with his own kin once more. One of the best scenes in this episode is the chat they have over the phone, which feels as much like two old enemies snarking at each other as it does two former friends catching up after spending several decades apart. They have a complicated and twisted rivalry: the Doctor wants to rehabilitate him, while the Master sees their murderous encounters as a challenge, a delightful sport, and neither side is going to give in or concede any ground any time soon. There’s also a war of ideologies going on in this story: Ten is an eternal optimist who still sees hope for humanity in the distant, dying future, while the Master is a fatalistic nihilist who only sees emptiness, despair and futility in the face of oblivion, with that difference between them being pit head-on in the final episode.
The second best scene in “The Sound Of Drums” has to be our first good look at Gallifrey in NuWho, the pay-off for the Doctor’s nostalgic waxings in “Gridlock”, as he reminiscences on a simpler time when he and the Master were still just boys. It’s a beautiful sequence and it tells us quite a bit more about his character, after several seasons of the show teasing out his backstory. At the end of the second episode, poor Ten is beaten twice in a row and left in an even worse state than he was at the end of “Utopia”, when the Master ages him into a decrepit old man. It’s a devastating turn to watch, and I don’t think we’ll see the Doctor become this powerless again until “The Pandorica Opens” in Series 5. The Doctor and his friends spend the next year as the Master’s personal slaves being tortured onboard his ship, which is where this story starts to get weird (especially when the Master rapidly ages the Doctor into some kind of elf-like creature, that kind of resembles Dobby).
As it turns out, the Doctor and Martha learned a valuable lesson from the Carrionites about how you can convert thoughts into psychic energy with a big enough transmitter: they spent a year spreading the Doctor’s legend around the globe and uniting billions of humans so they could free the Doctor. The best part is it was the Master’s own technology that allowed them to do this, turning his own power against him – a personal favorite trick of the Doctor’s. Russell has gone on record that he’s an atheist, but ironically, the latter half of the RTD era indulges in a lot of messiah imagery for Ten – the very next episode, “Voyage Of The Damned“, goes even further by having Ten soar with angel robots to save everyone on Christmas morning. Russell also has a habit of getting his characters out of peril by having one of them undergo a last minute power-up through deus ex machina, with the most absurd example being the Doctor-Donna from “Journey’s End”.
After all the losses, all the death and all the cruelty in this finale, it feels great to finally see the Doctor and Martha get some of their own back and score a win (even if the visual of a flying, empowered Doctor is incredibly cheesy). After everything the Master did to him over the last year, Ten still tries to offer him forgiveness once he gets his strength back, which segues into the next dilemma over whether or not it’s actually the Doctor’s place to do that, and if he’s denying everyone else justice who suffered because of the Master. Again, the Doctor’s own personal biases are at play here. He doesn’t want to be the last time lord in existence anymore, so he plans to keep the Master prisoner onboard the TARDIS and work on rehabilitating him there.
Considering the Master is every bit as smart as the Doctor, this is a disaster waiting to happen, and it would only be a matter of time before he escaped to do more damage again. Also keep in mind that the Doctor condemned the Family of Blood to horrific fates worse than death for all eternity only a few episodes ago, and they did far less than the Master did, but they didn’t have the luxury of being genocidal maniacs that the Doctor was personally attached to. In the end, Lucy solves the problem herself by shooting and killing the Master (and absolutely no one would blame her for doing that), so this potential story arc of trying to reform the Master will go to the Twelfth Doctor instead, many seasons down the line. Still, it’s a cruel twist for the Doctor, who only just got the Master back and then has to watch him die in front of him, and David Tennant does a fantastic job of selling Ten’s pain and anguish. Considering Martha and Jack elect to leave the TARDIS to take care of their own scars, Ten is once again left on his own to stew in his grief by the season’s end, a recurring pattern for the poor time lord.
“Utopia” is Martha Jones’ (Freema Agyeman) last adventure as a companion and the audience’s stand-in character, as she’s brought up to speed on the events of Series 1. Martha is thrilled to meet Captain Jack, a familiar face from the Doctor’s past who’s easy on the eyes, and beneath his friendly exterior she quickly discovers he’s a kindred spirit who knows what it’s like to feel like a third wheel in the TARDIS and who doesn’t always agree with the Doctor’s way of doing things. Martha and Jack bond by venting about their frustrations, and Jack proves to be a supportive guy, knowing just how to offer her comfort as a more experienced companion. I really like their friendship, so I’m glad we got to see more of it in Series 2 of “Torchwood”, once they also have the solidarity of being only a handful of people who remember surviving the Master’s hellscape.
At this point, Martha is about as tired of hearing everyone talk about Rose as the audience is, but she also finds herself feeling some sympathy for her, once she discovers what actually happened to her and her family, and her jealousy towards Rose disappears for good after “Utopia”. Even by the usual standards of her travels in the TARDIS, Martha is blown away by everything she sees at the end of the universe, the sheer scale of it all, and she has to process a lot of impossible things in one episode (like Jack carrying around the Doctor’s hand in a jar). She quickly sets about striking up a rapport with the locals, which is something I’ve always liked about Martha’s character. While the Doctor and Jack are busy with the big picture of getting the humans to fly, Martha feels plenty of compassion for the people on the sidelines, like little Creet. In particular, she decides to befriend Chantho, who also carries an unrequited torch for her colleague. So to get her to take a load off, Martha encourages her to indulge in a bit of naughtiness for fun, in a rather cute bonding scene.
At the end of “Utopia”, Martha makes a mistake out of ignorance, because she thought it would make the Doctor happy, and it winds up costing her dearly. Because the professor’s fob watch is a bit like Pandora’s box: once it’s open and all that evil is out in the world, there’s no putting it back in and no going back. In “The Sound Of Drums”, the Master as Harold Saxon doesn’t waste any time attacking Martha’s family to spite her, and she undoubtedly regrets not coming clean to them about the Doctor earlier, because she could have warned them about Saxon. Throughout this episode, the fact that our three heroes unwittingly gave the Master the means to cause so much trouble (Jack by sending them to the future, Martha by encouraging him to open the watch, and the Doctor by owning the TARDIS) is undoubtedly weighing on their minds, which is why it’s imperative to them that they set it right. In particular, rescuing her family and protecting them from the Master is Martha’s top priority.
“The Sound Of Drums” marks the point where Martha’s innocence dies, a tragic thing that happens to every companion eventually. During the heartbreaking final act, the Doctor is taken out of commission, Jack is captured as well, and her family is in chains, so it’s up to Martha to stand on her own against the Master – swallow down her fear and her guilt and teleport away, leaving all her loved ones in that bastard’s clutches. That shot of Martha looking around the coast at the slaughter going on around her, which now she has to survive somehow, will certainly give you chills. Martha doesn’t have the Doctor’s technical know-how, or Captain Jack’s experience: throughout this adventure, she was just an ordinary young woman pulled along for the ride, trying to keep up. But like Rose in “Bad Wolf“, her status as the most normal member of the party winds up masking the fact that she’s the player who makes all the difference.
Whenever the Master shows up, I always feel bad for the companions a bit more than I do for the Doctor. Because the Master is a true sadist and he targets the Doctor’s sidekicks just as much as he targets the Doctor. He does his best to either try to kill them or break their spirits (which Clara and Bill can attest to), and they’re not as durable as the Doctor nor do they have his mental fortitude: they can’t shrug off their scars. “The Family Of Blood” made it clear that Martha has a lot of emotional strength and that’s really put to the test in “Last Of The Time Lords”, which is set in a post-apocalyptic timeline. Martha spent a year wandering the Earth, trying to survive, watching people die, knowing her friends and family were going through hell all the while, with the added knowledge that if she was killed it would be game over for all of humanity.
As a result, she’s become a bit more scarred and hardened, but she still refuses to compromise her principles. She still has hope, she still has a plan, and she still has faith in the Doctor – the same faith that’s kept her steady and strong since “Gridlock” – and she shares her faith with the huddled masses. Considering the events of this three-parter officially kicked into high gear with Martha and the Master having a personal conversation, it’s fitting that it also comes full circle and ends with them having a showdown. Relying on nothing but her own strength and her wits, Martha plays a long game with the Master – who may be an insane manchild but is also a genius, dangerous time lord – and successfully outsmarts him to save her friends, which is quite the accomplishment, and I am so proud of her. But even after the reset button has been pushed and the show’s status quo has been restored, nothing between the Doctor and Martha can ever be the same again, since she elects to say goodbye.
Martha’s family is still horribly scarred from the Master’s torment, and she wants to stay behind and look after them – to say nothing of her own trauma from the experience that she still needs to process. Beyond that, she has long since come to accept that the Doctor will never love her back the way she loves him, and she knows that wasting years of her life pining away for him isn’t good for her. It’s worth noting there are parallels to Martha’s storyline in this three-parter with the Master’s twisted variants on the usual Doctor / companion dynamic. Chantho was Professor Yana’s loyal assistant: she carried a flame for him and she stuck by him for years and how did he repay her? By betraying her and killing her horribly. The same goes for Harold Saxon’s sordid affair with his dear wife, Lucy. She was his accomplice, the Harley Quinn to his Joker who helped him cover up his schemes and seize power, and in return, he drove her mad to the point where she shot him the first chance she got.
Now obviously, the Doctor is not the Master: he’s not a vicious, murderous psychopath. But the Master does serve as the Doctor’s shadow self with a few traits in common, and the implication Russell is aiming for here is pretty clear – that Martha really needs to let go of this time lord and move on with her life before his influence does irreversible damage to her (and some might argue it’s already a bit late for that after this finale). Martha’s decision to part ways with the Doctor is the organic conclusion of everything she’s experienced this season (as well as a nice contrast to Rose’s exit, who was ripped away from the Doctor against her will), giving us a poignant, dignified and mature farewell to her character. Martha started this season feeling uncertain and insecure about herself, but now she no longer needs the Doctor’s validation. She’s grown into a bolder heroine in her right, and she sets out at the end to forge her own path.
The teaser for “Utopia” always gets me hooked right away, by finally bringing back my boy, Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). Much like River Song in the Moffat era, Jack is a character who I always remember appearing in the show more often than he actually did, since he usually showed up during important arcs. In reality, Jack made around five appearances during the RTD era, and most of his character development occurred in the spin-off show, “Torchwood”. If you haven’t been watching “Torchwood”, “Utopia” is the first time we’ve seen him since the Series 1 finale, and he’s changed quite a bit during the interim. Like always, he’s a very flirtatious, high-spirited, knowledgeable jack of all trades with plenty of good humor, but he’s also become more serious, weary and troubled. He’s looking to finally get some answers for his unique condition, and hopefully find a cure.
When Rose brought him back from the dead, she made him permanently immortal, and over time, he’s come to see that as a curse. He eventually resigned himself to his circumstances, but he’s mostly been going through the motions. “Utopia” winds up resolving the character arc Jack had during Series 1 of “Torchwood”, by reinvigorating him and giving him a new purpose. Up until now, Jack has been hanging around to see the Doctor again and finally get some closure, but from this point on, he starts living for himself and his team, making the most of his immortality that can either be seen as a gift or a curse. Jack’s change of perspective in this finale does affect his characterization over on “Torchwood”: he becomes a happier and more easygoing character in Series 2 and 3, until the end of “Children of Earth”, when things get depressing again. Running with the Doctor and Martha in this adventure, Jack falls right back into old habits, and it’s a lot of fun to see how he clicks with a different Doctor who is younger and brighter but still very stern.
As you’ll recall from episodes late in Series 1 like “Boom Town“, Jack grew to highly respect the Doctor and became his unofficial lieutenant, his second-in-command, but the initial differences between them never quite went away, especially since they were both the ‘alpha male’ brand of hero who knew how to take charge during a crisis. There were times when Jack seemed to be chafing under the Doctor’s way of doing things, and that bit of conflict has only grown more pronounced after two seasons, when Jack has started to forge his own path – becoming an even more capable and accomplished leader / adventurer than he was before. The Doctor and Jack have a brief bickering session over how quick the latter is to resort to using guns to solve his problems, and another one over the organization Jack is currently affiliated with.
As we established in “The Runaway Bride“, Ten holds just as much of a grudge against Torchwood as he does the Daleks for losing Rose in “Doomsday“, so he’s not happy at all to learn Jack is working with them now. But considering the Doctor is the one who left Jack to fend for himself on a space station full of corpses, I really don’t think he gets much of a say. During “The Sound Of Drums”, it feels really good to have Jack around – not just because he has a really fun personality and he knows all about the physics of time travel, but because he provides an extra bit comfort for our fugitive heroes than if Ten and Martha were on their own as things rapidly spiraled out of control. In particular, he gets along really well with Martha, who he sees as a kindred spirit when it comes to liking and respecting the Doctor but finding him deeply frustrating at the same time. Losing that extra bit of security and guidance at the end, when the Master completely takes control of Britain, hurts almost as much as losing the Doctor.
Jack isn’t given nearly as much to do in “Last Of The Time Lords”, compared to how much of an active player he was in “Utopia” and “The Sound Of Drums”, but we do continue to get some insight into his resilient personality and how much of a fighter he is. Out of all the prisoners held captive onboard the Master’s ship, Jack seems to be coping the best out of the bunch, and it’s rather disturbing to think that, by this point in his life, Jack is so accustomed to horrific things happening to him that he can casually shake off being tortured and killed by the Master, over and over again, for a whole year (seriously, compared to some of what he’s subjected to over on “Torchwood”, this isn’t even the worst of Jack’s experiences). Jack’s superpower as a living fixed point in time once again comes in handy when he’s the only one who can face the Toclafane and survive, and deliver the final blow to the Master’s evil plot.
Like Martha, by the journey’s end, he reaches the organic conclusion that as much as he likes the Doctor and feels nostalgic for the great times they had, he’s also pretty much outgrown him and he doesn’t need his validation anymore – he wants to focus on being a better leader and a father figure to his own team – so the two men go their separate ways on good terms. Seeing the Doctor again in this story clearly did Jack some good, allowing him to move on with his life, but it also helped out the Doc as well. Going by the next series, Ten finally lets his grudge against Torchwood go after this finale, knowing that, at the very least, the organization is in better hands now with someone he knows and trusts. Russell also includes a playful hint that Captain Jack will become the Face of Boe in his future, meaning our boy Jack has a good, long life of adventure ahead of him before he finally finds peace and rest in “Gridlock”.
The biggest star of this three-parter though has to be the Master, a villain who I personally love to hate. Initially, Professor Yana is characterized as a kindly old genius with a dry sense of humor, who’s decided to put his vast intellect to good use to help refugees who have nowhere else to go. For all his faults, like being inattentive and a bit condescending, the professor is shown to be a good man and a pillar of his community. He enjoys spending time with the Doctor, a fellow intellectual, and he shares with him some of the regrets he might have as he nears the end of his life, which is a genuinely touching scene between David Tennant and Derek Jacobi. But as likable as the professor is, the audience is clued in early on that there’s something not quite right about him, something worrying.
He suffers from some sort of mental illness, a deafening never-ending drumbeat that keeps ringing in his head, threatening to drive him mad, and he’s lived with it all his life. It’s a pretty creepy clue that the professor has some secrets, skeletons in his closet that not even he is aware of, which is proven to be terribly correct in the last act. “Human Nature” went to great lengths to establish the fact that time lords can rewrite their DNA and become human beings if they choose to, and that set-up for a fairly phenomenal two-parter also turns out to be a major Chekov’s gun for the series arc, since Professor Yana is also an amnesiac time lord and throughout “Utopia”, our heroes unwittingly triggered his repressed memories. When Russell T. Davies rebooted Doctor Who, he decided to play the long game. Instead of dumping a whole bunch of confusing lore and a cascade of villains onto the audience all at once, he decided to introduce the franchise’s major antagonists one season at a time. The Daleks got the spotlight in Series 1, the Cybermen got their time in Series 2, and now it’s the Master’s turn.
Even if viewers have never seen Classic Who before and they have no idea who the Master is, the final fifteen minutes of “Utopia” are still a huge deal, because we’ve never seen another time lord in NuWho before besides the Doctor. Out of the show’s major antagonists, the Master is my personal favorite. The Daleks and the Cybermen are both very strict villains with very rigid motives – the Daleks will always want to exterminate people, and the Cybermen will always want to convert people – and sometimes I wonder if that can make them a bit limiting to write for. By comparison, the Master is mainly in it for the chaos, and what he wants can and does change on a whim – ranging anywhere between craving power, status, fun, revenge, self-preservation, or petty spite towards the Doctor (and those desires are not always mutually exclusive). A good example of how flexible the Master can be is “The Witch’s Familiar”, where Missy spends that whole two-parter playing every side at once and gleefully backstabbing everyone at some point, pirate style, to try to get what she wants.
Throughout all of “Utopia”, Derek Jacobi has been a very warm, friendly and welcoming figure as Professor Yana, but he does a complete turnaround and gives a chilling performance as the Master’s true self once he opens his fob-watch. He’s a cold, cruel, arrogant man, with plenty of boiling rage inside of him when he’s challenged. He kills Chantho without a second thought, and doesn’t waste any time resuming his usual rivalry with the Doctor by leaving him in the future to die. Here’s an interesting bit of food for thought though: considering how John Smith inherited a lot of Ten’s mannerisms in addition to having his own personality traits, one can’t help but wonder if Professor Yana’s affable personality was entirely fictional. Did the Master use to be a bit like him, a long long time ago, before he went insane? Is that part of the reason why he and Ten got along so well? We shall never know.
The Harold Saxon arc of Series 3 turns out to be one big bootstrap paradox, which I find to be pretty cool. The Master already lived through the events of “Utopia” by the time the season started in “Smith and Jones”, and for the Face of Boe in “Gridlock”, they were just a distant memory. There are even points mid-season where the loop is briefly in jeopardy: like if Ten had really dropped Martha off at home for good in “The Lazarus Experiment”, or if Ten and Martha had really come around to Francine’s house for tea at the end of “42” instead of lying and saying that they would, think of what would have happened to the space-time continuum. The loop finally catches up to Ten and Martha on their end in “The Sound Of Drums”, when the Master springs his traps that he’s had plenty of time to set.
John Simm is pretty damn fantastic as the Master, distinct from Derek Jacobi but creepy in his own way, and his Master seems to be modeled after the Joker (chewing even more scenery than Harry Lloyd did as Son of Mine, which is quite the achievement). He loves chaos and anarchy and he gets off on killing people, so his scenes tend to be both comical and creepy, as he constantly flips the switch from being a quirky manchild to being a brutal, cold-blooded murderer, showing just how apathetic to everything he really is. As a time lord living among humans, he’s a haughty and self-important man, and the only person he even remotely takes seriously is the Doctor. The Master and the Doctor’s personal talk over the phone is a fascinating bit of insight into his character – it’s about as serious and earnest as Simm’s Master gets, while still being quite dark and intense. He’s still haunted by the time war he ran from years ago, and still tormented by the drums pounding away in his head. For a villain who’s such a twisted monster, and enjoyable precisely because he’s a complete bastard, it’s rather impressive that Russell still manages to make him almost pitiable at times.
Ever since Classic Who, the Master has always wanted to conquer a planet and make a name for himself, so he decides to claim Earth for his own, become an actual slavemaster over humanity and create a brand new Gallifrey with himself in charge as a testament to his ego. As time passes, he has to find new ways to amuse himself, and it becomes pretty clear that despite his advanced age, he never fully grew up. John Simm’s Master is a vain, spoiled, petty, entitled manchild with one hell of a vindictive streak, often acting out of pure spite towards the Doctor as much as his own sadism and lust for power. Luckily, he has the same weakness that often trips up the Doctor in his lower moments: time lord arrogance. The Master doesn’t think much of Martha, a simple human woman from a primitive planet, so he underestimates her. He also falls for her phony quest for a macguffin gun, a classic bit of misdirection. It is way out of character for the Doctor to ask Martha to kill someone, but the Master does not strike me as the most self-aware guy, and he clearly tends to project his own standards onto other people.
The Master not only loathes the Doctor, he’s also fundamentally opposed to his idealistic, sentimental, nomadic way of life, so he considers Ten’s idea to keep him prisoner and try to reform him to be an insulting, humiliating and degrading form of existence. He’s almost glad when Lucy shoots him and spares him from that kind of misery. The scene that follows is probably the best example of how much of a twisted, unrepentant bastard John Simm’s Master is. The Doctor humiliated him and took away his victory, so he got his revenge by going so far as to let himself die, just because he knew it would hurt the Doctor. Saxon goes out the way he lived: mugging for the camera for all that it’s worth. The Master was one hell of a villain for this three-parter, and I’m quite happy to say that we haven’t seen the last of dear old Harry yet.
“Utopia” has a rather dark, eerie and bleak setting on an empty planet, far far away from home, that immediately sets the tone for this three-parter. Remarkably, mankind still exists trillions of years into the future; the future humans have found ways to survive the natural heat death of the universe, but they’re still going extinct like everything else – huddling together for warmth and comfort as stars go out and planets die around them. They’ve set up base camp on the last planet in the universe, and they’ve clung to the hope of there being some sort of salvation out there – some new world they can colonize outside the universe.
The first threat our heroes encounter in the year 100 trillion is the Futurekind: rabid, bloodthirsty cannibals who look like a cross between emo vampires and rejected “Mad Max” extras. Despite coming across as being feral, they’re apparently clever enough to infiltrate the humans’ base camp and sabotage their rocket to prevent their food source from escaping. And as antagonists, they serve as a nice red herring for the viewers to hide who the true villains of this three-parter are: Professor Yana and the human race itself. The Doctor and his friends being their usual, kind-hearted selves and helping the human refugees to fly comes back to haunt them just as much as reaching out to Professor Yana did, in a way they could never have predicted. The humans’ space expedition turned out to be a total failure, condemning them all to death, and once they lost hope, over the years they went completely insane – mutilating themselves and mentally regressing into children as a last ditch effort to hang on to the last light of the universe.
With the Doctor’s time machine, the Master reached out to them and promised them sanctuary on present day Earth, if he could use them as foot soldiers to spite the Doctor. Now dubbed the Toclafane, the future humans decided to change the past, kill their ancestors and steal the Earth for their own, making it their new home for the next 100 trillion years. The Master gets his empire, and they get to avoid the inevitable for a whole lot longer. This cautionary tale with the future humans harkens back to a lesson the Ninth Doctor imparted on Rose, way back in “The End Of The World“: everything has its time and everything ends eventually. By refusing to accept their deaths as a natural part of life to a completely insane degree, violating the laws of time and space to hang on, the humans devolved into perverse, deranged monsters – a lot like Professor Lazarus back in “The Lazarus Experiment”, but on a much larger scale.
Russell T. Davies has always had a cynical streak as a writer, and I like seeing it come out in full force in his Doctor Who episodes. He’s never been afraid to dive into the uglier side of human nature (Series 4’s chilling standalone story “Midnight” does the same on a much more personal level), and “Last Of The Time Lords” serves as a grim reminder that while most of this show involves the Doctor having to protect humanity from outside threats, humans can be every bit as cruel, depraved or monstrous as the aliens the Doctor regularly fights. Still, Russell does bring in a ray of hope to balance out all the bleakness. The Doctor’s optimism scores a major win over the Master’s cynicism, when the modern day humans rally together and restore the Doctor to full health, showing how they can be a united force for greatness as well as destruction. The year 100 trillion made for a pretty inspired setting, and after the dark turn this story arc took for mankind, I figured we would never see that time period again after this finale. But sure enough, we do return to the year 100 trillion during “Listen” in Series 8, and it’s still creepy.
“The Sound Of Drums” has a pretty funny example of how Russell is not the most knowledgeable person about American politics as a British writer, since US President Winters is described as being the ‘president-elect’ – someone who hasn’t been sworn into office yet and has no real authority. That writing slip-up does make it funny to think that this dude’s ego is so big that he immediately flies overseas to get involved in first contact, when he’s not even really president yet and he has no sway, simply so he can have the glory of being there – and it gets him shot. I also find it a stretch that no one ever mentions the Master killing the president again after this story, even though the reset button didn’t erase it. If one world leader murdered another world leader on live television, it would cause a massive international incident, and America would rain a media shit-storm down on Britain for years.
The season-long subplot devoted to the Jones family is resolved in this story, when Francine’s decision to rat out Martha to Harold Saxon backfires horribly on her and humbles her a lot. The Jones family is left horribly scarred by their ordeal, but if there is one silver lining to it, it’s that they’ve grown closer as a family again, and the rift between them that’s been there since the divorce has finally begun to heal by the end of this story. Martha shares a lot of screen-time in the last episode with Tom Milligan, a scruffy medic turned freedom fighter who is besotted with her (Martha’s dude magnet status is not going away anytime soon), and it’s implied she’s interested as well. A pretty strange offscreen romance occurs between the two of them in Series 4, which never actually amounts to much, since she winds up hooking up with Mickey Smith instead in another romance that happened largely offscreen. Martha’s love life gets kind of weird after Series 3.
“Utopia” is helmed by Graheme Harper, one of the show’s best directors, who gives the first episode a lot of kinetic energy and a sweeping sense of scale with roaming establishing shots, extreme close-ups and cross cuts galore. Like “42”, “Utopia” benefits from having some great lighting and is filled with vivid, harsh, clashing colors to make the setting of the humans’ base camp really stand out from the rest of the grey planet. “The Sound Of Drums” and “Last Of The Time Lords” are directed by Colin Teague, and immediately you can sense the difference between the two men’s directing style, though Colin does an impressive job with the rest of the finale as well, choosing his shots carefully: particularly during the car chase scene in “The Sound Of Drums”, which shows off some more of the razor-sharp editing Series 3 has been sporting all season.
The special effects in this three-parter are pretty good for the most part, and sometimes even stellar, since the latter half of the RTD era is right around the point when the show’s production values started to improve. Like “Human Nature”, the final three episodes feature some of Murray Gold’s best music for the season. He composes a new arrangement of “All the Strange, Strange Creatures” called “The Futurekind“, with plenty of electronic synth, for chase scenes involving the cannibals. The Master naturally has his own leitmotif, featuring angry whirring strings and unrelenting percussion to create his sinister drumbeat, while “Martha’s Quest” provides plenty of doom and gloom for the end of the world. “This Is Gallifrey” is a stunning, beautiful and fairly intense piece of music, summing up the Doctor and the Master’s bittersweet longing and nostalgia for their home world. “Martha Triumphant“, a significantly more confident and assertive variation on “Martha’s Theme”, puts a lovely bow on her character arc, giving her the proud, noble send-off she deserves after all her character growth.
Upon rewatch, I can see why Series 3 is my favorite season from the Tenth Doctor’s tenure, because this whole season kicked so much ass and was a large, welcome step up from Series 2 as the latter half of the RTD era really hit its stride.
* “The year one hundred trillion? That’s impossible!” “Why? What happens then?” “We’re going to the end of the universe”.
* “Will you join me?” “Chan, I am happy drinking my own internal milk, tho” “Yes, well, that’s quite enough information, thank you”.
* “Oh, excuse me. That is not time travel. It’s like, I’ve got a sports car and you’ve got a space hopper” “Ohoho, boys and their toys!”.
* “Is that what happens, though, seriously? Do you just get bored with us one day and disappear?” “Not if you’re blonde” “Oh, she was blonde? Oh, what a surprise!”
* “Oh, I’ve missed this!” And I’ve missed you, Jack.
* When the gang is running from the Futurekind, you’ll notice Martha falls way behind the others, partly because she has shorter legs. Run faster, girl, unless you want to become cannibal food.
* “Oh, don’t tell him to put his gun down” “He’s not my responsibility” “And I am? Huh, that makes a change” I am loving Jack’s savage streak in this episode.
* “Oh, my God. You’ve got a hand? A hand in a jar. A hand in a jar in your bag!” “But… that’s my hand!” “I said I had a Doctor detector”.
* “A hermit with friends?” “Hermits United. We meet up every ten years and swap stories about caves. It’s good fun, for a hermit”. I would legitimately watch that happen.
* “But how did you do that?” “Oh, we’ve been chatting away, I forgot to tell you. I’m brilliant” No, Doctor, just no. Don’t get cocky. Nothing good ever happens when you get cocky.
* “You’d give your life so they could fly?” “Oh, I think I’m a little too old for Utopia. Time I had some sleep”.
* “Professor, you’ve got a room which no man can enter without dying. Is that correct?” “Yes” “Well, I think I’ve got just the man”.
* “So what you’re saying is that you’re, erm, prejudiced?” “I never thought of it like that” “Shame on you”.
* “That is not my name! The Professor was an invention. So perfect a disguise that I forgot who I am” “Chan, then who are you, tho?” “I am the Master“.
* I always roar with laughter at Chantho’s sudden and unexpected revenge on the Master. She knew she only had one shot, and she went for it.
* Sally and Larry wouldn’t be happy to learn that they risked their lives protecting the TARDIS in the last episode for nothing.
* “Killed by an insect. A girl. How inappropriate. Still, if the Doctor can be young and strong, then so can I. The Master… reborn!”
* “This country has been sick. This country needs healing. This country needs medicine. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that what this country really needs right now, is a Doctor”.
* “Before we start all that, I just want to say thank you. Thank you, one and all. You ugly, fat faced bunch of wet, sniveling traitors” Well, you would certainly know a lot about betrayal, wouldn’t you, Master?
* I have to say, I have mad respect for Clive trusting his gut and warning Martha to get out of there when the Master’s employees are clearly setting her up. I also always laugh at Francine screaming her lungs out at him in frustration, especially since the scene keeps cutting back Martha looking speechless on the other end of the phone.
* “We’ve got to help them!” “That’s exactly what they want. It’s a trap!” “I don’t care!” Hell yes, Martha.
* “Doctor” “Master” “I like it when you use my name” “You chose it. Psychiatrist’s field day” “As you chose yours. The man who makes people better. How sanctimonious is that?”
* “What did it feel like, though? Two almighty civilizations burning. Oh, tell me, how did that feel?” “Stop it!” “You must have been like God”.
* “The drumming. Can’t you hear it? I thought it would stop, but it never does. Never ever stops. Inside my head, the drumming, Doctor. The constant drumming. It’s everywhere. Listen, listen, listen. Here come the drums. Here come the drums”.
* “Doctor, what do we do?!” “Run Doctor, run for your life!” “…We run” “I SAID RUN!” Hot damn, Master, calm down.
* “Tell you what, though. No mention of Leo” “He’s not as daft as he looks… I’m talking about my brother on the run. How did this happen?” Reckless time travel is how it happened, girl.
* “So what is he to you? Like a colleague or-?” “A friend, at first” “I thought you were going to say he was your secret brother or something” “You’ve been watching too much TV”.
* “The children of Gallifrey are taken from their families at the age of eight to enter the academy. And some say that’s when it all began. When he was a child. That’s when the Master saw eternity. As a novice, he was taken for initiation. He stood in front of the Untempered Schism. It’s a gap in the fabric of reality through which could be seen the whole of the vortex. You stand there, eight years old, staring at the raw power of time and space, just a child. Some would be inspired, some would run away, and some would go mad…”.
* “What do you say I use this perception filter to walk up behind him and break his neck?” “Now that sounds like Torchwood” “It’s still a good plan”.
* The Master was already a campy, scenery-chewing bastard, but he somehow manages to top himself when he dances along to “Voodoo Child” during a massacre, which is enjoyably insane.
* “Wow, is there anything else I should know?” “I’ve met Shakespeare” “The Shakespeare Code” really was Martha’s favorite episode from this season, wasn’t it?
“Oh, do you know, I remember the days when the Doctor, oh, that famous Doctor, was waging a Time War, battling Sea Devils and Axons. He sealed the rift at the Medusa Cascade single handed. And look at him now. Stealing screwdrivers. How did he ever come to this? Oh yeah, me”.
* “The drumming, the never ending drumbeat. Ever since I was a child. I looked into the vortex. That’s when it chose me. The drumming, the call to war. Can’t you hear it? Listen, it’s there now. Right now. Tell me you can hear it, Doctor. Tell me” “It’s only you” “…Good“.
* “The human race: greatest monsters of them all” I don’t know, Master, you’re giving them some pretty good competition in this three-parter.
* “I have some information for the Master, concerning Martha Jones” Top ten anime betrayals. If Ten is space Jesus in this story, and Martha is his prophet, spreading his word, then Professor Docherty is their own personal Judas.
* “I traveled across the world, from the ruins of New York to the fusion mills of China, right across the radiation pits of Europe. And everywhere I went, I saw people just like you, living as slaves. But if Martha Jones became a legend, then that’s wrong, because my name isn’t important. There’s someone else. The man who sent me out there. The man who told me to walk the Earth. And his name is the Doctor. He has saved your lives so many times, and you never even knew he was there. He never stops. He never stays. He never asks to be thanked. But I’ve seen him. I know him. I love him. And I know what he can do”.
* “Nothing will happen! Is that your weapon? Prayer?” “Right across the world, just word, just one thought at one moment but with fifteen satellites!” That choral reprise of “The Doctor’s Theme” that kicks in right as the Master realizes he’s done fucked up feels so right. Well done, Murray Gold.
* “Tell me the human race is degenerate now, when they can do this!”
* “We can’t get in, we’d get slaughtered!” “Yeah, that happens to me a lot”.
* “Over all these years and all these disasters, I’ve always had the greatest secret of them all. I know you. Explode those ships, you kill yourself. That’s the one thing you can never do” You sure about that, Ten?
* “All those things, they still happened because of him. I saw them” “Go on then. Do it”. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Master, you are one messed-up time lord (that petulant scowl he makes when he fails to corrupt Francine makes me laugh every time I see it).
* “Come on, it can’t end like this. You and me, all the things we’ve done. Axons. Remember the Axons? And the Daleks. We’re the only two left, there’s no one else. Regenerate!” “Heh, how about that. I win“.