Dear God. I’m nearing the end of the Tenth Doctor. I anticipate a huge void in my life. And, spoilers.
You may recall that the last time we saw the Doctor, he was quite glum, having exiled Rose into a parallel Earth forever and burning up a sun just to say bye (and getting cut off before he could say those three magic words). However, time and space trundle on, and soon, the Doctor is face to face with Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) who has been teleported from her own wedding ceremony into the TARDIS.
However, there are no such things as accidents in this show, and neither Donna’s arrival nor her fiancé Lance are all they seem. Soon, the Doctor is back on Earth fighting a giant scenery-chewing spider who has her nest at the earth’s core. Her little spiderlings are just itching to eat some humans. There’s some great comedy in this episode, especially when we flashback to Donna meeting Lance and, ahem, persuading him to put a ring on her finger. After the gut-wrenching finale of Season 2, we need a bit of comic relief. Even the baddie, the Empress of Racnoss, is way too hammy to be taken seriously. (Although this might depend on whether you suffer from arachnophobia or not).
Bringing a darker tone to proceedings, Donna becomes worried about the Doctor’s potential to go too far, especially when he begins indiscriminately killing the Racnoss. As she declines his invitation to become a full-time companion, she tells him to find a new companion, “because I think sometimes you need somebody to stop you.”
Series 3 examines the Time Lord’s potential for evil, and hints at dark deeds committed during the Time War.
As Rose is obviously unavailable, the Doctor must find a new companion. Enter Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman).
There’s lots to like about Martha. She’s clever, resourceful, and brave. She doesn’t hug everyone she meets, unlike Rose. As Bill Bryson once pointed out, any 21st century human would instantly pass out from the smell of a Victorian pub, however, Rose thought nothing of cuddling up to terrified Victorians in ‘Tooth and Claw’ and ‘The Unquiet Dead’. Martha, meanwhile, only hugs strangers when it’s highly likely they’re both about to die. This seems to be a far more sensible and prudent policy.
Martha’s family are much less visible presence than Rose’s, and thankfully, there’s no Mickey-like boyfriend to mope over her. While we do meet her warring parents, motor-mouth sister and cool-as-a-cucumber brother, they do form an important element of the story arc (Saxon) of Series 3.
When we meet Martha in ‘Smith and Jones’ she’s a medical student keeping her cool as her hospital is transported to the moon with a limited supply of oxygen. She saves the day, but not before the Doctor delivers a genetic transfer the only way he knows how. It begins all Martha’s troubles.
As I mentioned in my review of Series Two, David Tennant does cold very well. And it’s in this series that he really owns the role of the Doctor, helped, may I add, by a consistently high standard of episodes. There’s certainly no ‘Love and Monsters’, and episodes like ‘Blink’ and ‘Human Nature’ are layered and complex.
While, of course, for a large proportion of the time, the Doctor is his usual exuberant, geeky, pun-loving self, there are times when a real chill comes from his direction. This, of course, is not helped by Martha’s hopeless crush on him. Poor Martha. By the end of the series she’s identifying with every man, woman and alien who have ever experienced unrequited love (which, let’s face it, is just about everyone) and it begins to become a real weakness in her character. When she’s feeling kinship with Jack (who fancies everything in the entire universe) you know it’s time to wind back the dial.
As for the Doctor himself, David Tennant effortlessly channels the air of that boy in school who knew perfectly well that you were crazy about him, and is keeping you at arm’s length until you get over it. And of course, the memory of Rose is never far away. But it’s more complicated than the Doctor merely being hung up on his last companion. He ended up expelling her to another world. The consequences of getting carried away led to Torchwood and the deaths of many during the war between the Cybermen and the Daleks. He simply can’t afford to get attached again.
The Doctor keeps telling Martha that it’s one trip only and it’s only a thank you for saving his life. First up, they visit Elizabethan England and Shakespeare, who finds himself tormented by witches. I’m a bit of a sucker for witchcraft, and enjoyed this episode (“Fifty-seven academics just punched the air!”)
However, after they end up in New Earth, it’s clear that Martha is bound to stick around. The last time we visited New New York, it was a pristine utopia hiding a vast number of diseased mutants (and cat nuns). This time around it’s a hellish motorway which is in permanent jam, and even if you get anywhere, you might get snatched by the villainous Macra (tee hee).
The Doctor meets Father Dougal McGuire in cat form (sorry, Ardal, but it just sticks to you) and his human wife and their adorable kittens, who inform him that it’ll probably take six years to get anywhere.
It’s a wonderful concept for an episode, and will be instantly familiar to anyone who found themselves waiting twenty minutes to be let out of a junction. The finale,where the cars are liberated to the world above and the Doctor finally hears the Face of Boe’s last words (“you are not alone”) is marvellous too. The scene where the Doctor sits down with Martha and tells her the story of Gallifrey is even better.
Were you wondering where the Daleks had gone? Wonder no more. It’s Depression-era New York, and they’re plotting to take over the world with those new-fangled skyscraper things. The double-header is notable for having the adorable Andrew Garfield as Frank, a young southerner who finds himself in a Hooverville, and suggesting that Daleks might be capable of change and evolution. Or not, you know, exterminating everyone.
Not that it lasts for long.
Back to London and the present day, and the Doctor is just about to let Martha go on her merry way when he hears a scientist is about to try and reverse ageing. Of course, you’re not meant to screw around with nature like that, and Professor Lazarus ends up flipping into an earlier evolutionary template; a murderous half-scorpion thing. Which really makes me glad that evolution went the way it did.
The next episode ’42’ takes place on a spaceship where Stella off Corrie (Michelle Collins) has just forty-two minutes(a number that will be familiar to Douglas Adams fans) to prevent her crew from falling into the sun. But the sun isn’t quite finished with them yet. It’s quite reminiscent of ‘The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit’ from the previous season, but Martha gets a bit of snogging done here. Good for Martha. But of course, seeing as he isn’t the Doctor, it doesn’t count.
’42’ is also a reminder that when a Time Lord is on the wrong side, we’re all cooked. The Doctor momentarily gets possessed, and his exhortation to “Burn with me, Martha” is pretty chilling.
The final five episodes are worth blog posts of their own. The ‘Human Nature’/’Family of Blood’ two-parter is based on Paul Cornell’s Doctor Who novel and was nominated for a Hugo award. The Doctor and Martha are on the run from unseen enemies and find themselves in a posh private school in 1913. The Doctor becomes John Smith, an absent-minded and awkward history teacher, and Martha becomes a maid. She even forgives the boys their casual racism, considering next year they’ll be getting blown up in the trenches of Europe.
But it soon becomes apparent the Doctor is not acting. He’s now fully human, and locked the Time Lord part of him away in a pocket watch. He can no longer remember anything about his past, but it comes back to him, in dreams, which he notes down in his journal. And there’s also the school nurse, Jane Redfern, that John Smith is falling for.
But his enemies, The Family, have tracked him down, and begin to possess locals, assisted by an army of scarecrows. Martha must get the Doctor back to normal. Only problem is that the pocket watch is missing, nicked by a young pupil with a spot of ESP.
The episodes are beautifully shot as well as wonderfully written; you can almost smell the country air. The performance of Harry Lloyd as Baines, an arrogant bully who gets possessed by the Family, is unnervingly brilliant. Turns out the Family have far more to fear from the Doctor than vice versa. They’re mayflies, only alive for three months at most, and they need a Time Lord to feed on so they can live forever. And that’s just what he gives them. Living forever is a terrible thing, and the Doctor’s face as he grants them eternal life says it all. Especially considering he has just had an insight into the brief life with defined borders that we experience, and had to give up a chance at love and normality.
Series 2’s ‘Love and Monsters’ was an example of how bad a Doctor-lite episode can be. ‘Blink’ is the exact opposite. Another of Steven Moffat’s creations, it stars Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow, a young woman who likes exploring around abandoned houses. However, she receives a series of messages, telling her not to… blink.
The Weeping Angels are parasites, living off the potential lives of their victims while shooting them back to the past. But they cannot move while you look at them, so you mustn’t blink…
Sally is an engaging character and the Angels are terrifying (paintings used to scare me, but now, it’s statues). One of the finest episodes of the show, which neatly illustrates the paradoxes and wonders of time travel. If you only ever watch one episode of Doctor Who, make it this one.
The three-parter finale sees the Doctor meet the only other Time Lord left, the Master. Firstly they end up at the end of the world where they meet a sweet old scientist, Professor Yana, and his assistant, Chantho, a blue alien with the most irritating speech tic imaginable. They’re building a rocket to send the remaining humans to Utopia. But to her horror, Martha spots a fob watch just like John Smith’s… which means…
Yes, he’s a Time Lord. The Face of Boe was spot on (unsurprisingly, given who he is, wink wink). But he’s not a benevolent Time Lord with a predilection for Converse and bananas. No. The Master is bad.
Regenerating from Derek Jacobi into John Simm, he takes the TARDIS back to the present day and is promptly elected Prime Minister, under the name Harold Saxon. Promising an alien encounter, he unleashes hell on the world; their fellow human beings from the future.
The three-part finale is highly engrossing. John Simm is a wonderful villain, so funny and just downright bad it’s actually a pity to see him go. While it loses its way towards the end (the reset button? The Doctor is basically Jesus? Ooooookaaaaaay) and some of the effects are a wee bit dodgy (aged up to his full 903 years, the Doctor looks like Dobby), it’s still a worthy climax to to a great season.
Martha, going where Mickey Smith never could, decides to preserve her dignity and find a nice human boy to love her back (while resuming her medical career). So there’s the Doctor, despondent again, until the Titanic crashes into the TARDIS….