And we’re on the home stretch. Spoilers, natch.
The Doctor is all alone again (naturally). There’s not too much to say about the first two specials. The first takes place in Victorian England, and the Doctor is surprised to find another man calling himself the Doctor, and his companion Rosita, trying to solve some mysterious murders.
This new Doctor, though, is not an especially technical incarnation. He has a hot-air balloon called the TARDIS, and his sonic screwdriver is, well, just a screwdriver. And there’s something else going on. There’s Cybermen about! These are aided and abetted by the villainous Mercy Hartigan (a scenery-chewing performance from our own Dervla Kirwan). The Cybermen need labour to build a giant CyberKing, a spaceship. And who else would you use for labour in Victorian times only children?
As I mentioned before, I’m not much of a one for the Cybermen, but here they are well-used (the scene where they go on a killing spree in a graveyard is particularly effective.) There’s also the welcome addition of the CyberShade, a bear-like Cybercreature. Mercy is a complex and strong character, and it’s Kirwan’s performance that really makes the episode.
Where next? To London, where a pretty young woman (Michelle Ryan) robs a museum of a priceless artefact, Mission Impossible-style. Then she boards a bus in a desperate attempt to escape the police and museum staff. Funnily enough, the security staff of a museum tote assault weapons in a country where most of the police are unarmed. But let’s move on.
While she keeps one eye on her advancing pursuers, a stranger in a long coat starts talking to her. And suddenly, the bus lurches into a new dimension. The desert planet of St Helios.
Unlike in ‘Midnight’, these passengers are more amenable to the Doctor. It helps, too, that our jewel thief, Lady Christina D’Souza, also has an authoritative air. Turns out, planet-eating creatures have a created a wormhole and the only way out is to reverse the bus back out. Walking is not an option, as the bus driver finds out to his cost. Unfortunately, the bus is in a bit of a state. (Trivia fans; the bus was dropped when it was shipped into Dubai for filming, which is why it looks a bit battered).
Meanwhile back on Earth, UNIT are communicating with the Doctor, and a Doctor-obsessed scientist Malcolm Taylor (Lee Evans) attempts to close the wormhole. The slightly psychic Carmen warns the Doctor that death is coming, and ‘he will knock four times’.
It’s a highly entertaining episode, full of the Doctor’s old vim and vigour. Two things spoiled it for me. There’s a line where Lady Christina, despite being an unflappable, physically tough criminal starts squealing about getting sand in her hair. This made me want to hit her. Secondly, there’s a scene where Captain Magambo of UNIT pulls a gun on Malcolm and tells him to close the wormhole (trapping the bus on St Helios). This thread is left hanging and never resolved.
Also, thanks to this episode, I have had the odd reverie of David Tennant sitting beside me on the 25A and offering me some Easter egg. Moving swiftly on…
‘The Waters of Mars’ is as dark as dark can be. The Doctor lands in a newly-colonised Mars, but he quickly realises that this mission is one that ended disastrously in 2059. The captain of the mission, Adelaide Brooke, blew up her base, killing everyone, but no-one knew why. Until now.
The crew of Bowie Base One (nice reference) are falling like dominoes to a waterborne infection which turns its victims into walking drowned corpses, which is every bit as unpleasant as it sounds. The crew get their water from a large glacier in the planet, but due to a failure in the filtration process, the infection has got in. The victims begin to flood the base, and only one drop is enough to infect someone. Captain Brooke begins to prepare evacuation to earth, but she asks the Doctor what he knows. He tells her that her death is a fixed point in time, that it influences too many events to come, and she was spared by a Dalek fifty years before because it, too, knew it couldn’t interfere. He walks away from the base and Captain Brooke pulls the nuclear option.
Until the Doctor, possibly going insane, realises something. He’s a Time Lord. He makes the rules. And if he wants to save the crew, why can’t he? He decides that he is no longer just the last survivor of the Time War. He’s the winner.
So he wings the TARDIS around, rescues the captain, and two other crew members, Yuri and Mia and returns them to Captain Brooke’s home in Earth. All the while he’s ranting on about how great he is, and how he can save the important people, as well as the ‘little people‘ like Yuri and Mia. Mia, quite understandably upset, runs a mile, and Yuri chases after her. Meanwhile, Captain Brooke looks at him in horror. “But I’m supposed to be dead…” She tells the Doctor that “no-one should have that much power.” She walks into her house, pulls out her gun, and we see a flash of blue light. Captain Brooke has decided to die in 2059 anyway (only except now her family will find her body… which is better or immeasurably worse, depending on how you look at it). With her angry words echoing in his head, the Doctor sees Ood Sigma and realises it’s time to die. He’s gone too far.
Dying is a lot like going to the dentist, it’s the type of thing you’d put off if you could. The Doctor lands on the Planet of the Ood wearing a lei and sunglasses, and the Ood tell him he shouldn’t have delayed. Because the Master is back on the scene.
The last we saw of the Master, he was burning on a funeral pyre. But of course, some of Harold Saxon’s old supporters have found a way to resurrect him, notably the extremely creepy Josiah Naismith, who wants the Master to help his daughter live forever.
They forcibly remove a sample of DNA from his wife, Lucy Saxon, but Lucy throws in a poison, interrupting the regeneration. It sets fire to the prison, and the Master comes back anyway, except his life force is dying, he has super-human strength, is disturbingly hungry, and tends to get a bit skeletal at moments of stress. He soon takes over and turns everyone in the world (apart from Wilf, who shelters in a nuclear isolation chamber, Donna, who still has the Time Lord DNA, and two passing aliens) into clones of him. He wants to find the source of the drumming noise inside his head. And we see the Time Lords, led by Rassilon, aka Timothy Dalton. (Seriously, their president is James Bond. Let’s take a minute to think about that.) They have planted the noise in a special white point star in the hope of one day escaping their timelocked state. And it works!
The Time Lords are back. But they’re more like the Doctor at his craziest and egomaniacal, and they want to simply bump the earth out of the way to restore Gallifrey. In a wonderful twist, it’s the Master that sends them back (sacrificing himself too) because he’s so angry with them for sticking that damn drum beat into his head. The Doctor marvels that he has survived. But then comes the four taps on the glass.
The isolation chamber contains two cubicles, which can be only opened by a person in the other cubicle. This means that someone must be in one of the cubicles at all times. Wilf freed a person from the chamber earlier, and now he’s stuck. He knocks four times and the Doctor knows what that means.
So what, you say? Why can’t he use the sonic screwdriver and shimmy Wilf out? Unfortunately, the radiation has reached a critical level and it must be done manually. So the Doctor leaves poor old Wilf hovering while he goes on an unedifying rant about how humiliating it is for a Time Lord to sacrifice himself for a mere human (and an old one at that). But we all know, he’ll do it. “I’ve lived too long,” he says and enters the chamber. The radiation channels itself in its entirety through the Doctor… and he seems fine.
But, even for us mere mortals, radiation sickness is a slow burn. The Doctor’s slow (and doubtlessly painful) death gives him plenty of time to settle his affairs. He visits Martha and Mickey, who are now working for UNIT and are married. I personally thought Martha’s original fiance was a dish, but clearly, that didn’t work out. He borrows a pound from Donna’s late dad and buys a winning Lotto ticket, which he slips into an envelope to give to Donna on her wedding day. Finally, in visible pain, he travels back to 2005 and greets a pre-companion Rose, telling her she’ll have a fantastic year. Clearly, that old wall between universes is back up and insurmountable. Besides, Rose and Ten 2.0 are probably throwing plates at each other by now. Ood Sigma appears and tells the Doctor the universe will sing him to sleep.
And then, with a plaintive ‘I don’t want to go’, we say goodbye to the Tenth Doctor. Here’s to him; witty, cheeky, a lover of a good pun, fond of chocolate and bananas (but not pears), likes kittens, rocks a suit and glasses, and rocks Janis Joplin’s coat even more, extremely clever, has that unfortunate dark streak, but with a goodness that conquers it all. How else can he be described, but brilliant.
Matt Smith is on the scene, with a regretful “I’m still not ginger,” which prompted someone to complain to the Beeb that the Doctor had a anti-redhead agenda. With humans so dumb, why does the Doctor bother at all? Anyway, onto a new Doctor and a new series…