Return of the Master: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Three, Part Five

We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! This week, we wrap up Series Three with the revived series’ first three-part story: Utopia, The Sound of Drums, and Last of the Time Lords! We’ll say goodbye to Martha (for now), and hello to another classic villain. Let’s get started!

One quick note: Beginning next week, I’ll be changing up the format of these posts to eliminate spoilers as much as possible. (I can’t promise there won’t be any at all; that’s the nature of a review—but we’ll eliminate the plot summaries, at least.) However, I opted not to begin with this week’s post, as today’s post marks the end of Series Three, just as yesterday’s post wrapped up the Destiny of the Doctor audio series. So, for today, we’ll continue as we’ve been doing, and institute the changes on Monday. Thanks again!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not seen these episodes!

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As previously seen in Boom Town, the TARDIS returns to the Cardiff spacetime rift to refuel—a shorter process than last time, as the rift has been active. Jack Harkness runs to the TARDIS and grabs onto the outside as it dematerializes. Something goes wrong inside the ship, and it begins to hurtle toward the end of time, finally coming to rest in the year 100 trillion (or perhaps beyond)—further than the Time Lords ever dared to go. Outside, Martha and the Doctor find Jack, who is dead from his exposure to the vortex—until suddenly, he revives. After some uncomfortable reintroduction, the trio sees a man running from garish humanoids, the Futurekind. They rescue him, but are forced to abandon the TARDIS and run themselves, ending up inside the nearby, human-occupied Silo base.

Inside, they meet an elderly man called Professor Yana, and his insect-like assistant, Chantho. They are welcomed warmly, as the Doctor is also a scientist; Yana eagerly enlists him to help with the final hurdles on his work in progress. There is a massive rocket inside the Silo, with a majestic purpose: it will carry the last humans to Utopia. Yana means it literally; there is a signal coming to them across the dying stars, calling the humans to a home where, hopefully, they will find a way to survive the end of the universe. The Doctor asks a departing patrol to recover the TARDIS, and sets to work, while Martha gets to know the humans and Chantho, who is the last of her kind.

While the Doctor and Jack work on some electronics near the rocket, the TARDIS arrives, and Martha assists Yana and Chantho. He tells her his life story, and of the memories he lost before he was found by the last humans. He shows her a fob watch that was found with him; and to her horror, Martha recognizes it as a chameleon arch receptacle, much like the one the Doctor possesses. Meanwhile, it is revealed that Jack cannot die, or at least not permanently, and he goes into an irradiated chamber to make repairs needed for the rocket. He survives, but as he comes back, Martha arrives. She tells the Doctor and Jack about the fob watch, theorizing that Yana is a Time Lord in disguise, a survivor of the Time War like the Doctor. Unbeknownst to them, the comm channel is open, and Yana can hear them; and their words stir memories in him. As the Doctor gets the rocket running, and it loads up and blasts off, Yana overcomes the watch’s perception filter and opens it…and learns his true identity: the Doctor’s old friend and nemesis, the Time Lord called the Master. At that moment, Martha reminds the Doctor of the Face of Boe’s last words: You Are Not Alone…YANA.

The Master locks the lab door, with the TARDIS inside with him. He opens the front gate, allowing the Futurekind inside to ravage the base. Chantho, appalled, stands up to him, and he electrocutes her; but before she dies, she shoots him. He enters the TARDIS, taking with him the an item from Jack’s travel bag: a container that holds the Doctor’s hand which was severed by the Sycorax. Just as the Doctor, Martha, and Jack get the lab door open, he locks the door, then regenerates, becoming young again. He taunts the Doctor, then leaves in the TARDIS, leaving them to die as the Futurekind break in.

In The Sound of Drums, the Doctor, Martha, and Jack materialize on 2007 Earth, courtesy of Jack’s vortex manipulator. He reveals that the Master will be here; as the Master was leaving in the TARDIS, the Doctor used the sonic screwdriver to fuse the controls so that it can only travel between 100 trillion and 2007, give or take a year or two. Martha realizes where she has heard his voice before: he is Harold Saxon, a politician with a recent and sudden rise to power—and today, he is assuming the position of Prime Minister. They see him on television making a speech; not only is he Prime Minister, but he has married a human woman, Lucy, as well. At 10 Downing Street, the Master meets with his new cabinet, and promptly kills them all with poison gas.

Martha takes Jack and the Doctor to her apartment, and they research Saxon’s rise to power. At Downing Street, a reporter meets with Saxon’s wife, Lucy, and confronts her with evidence that Saxon is not who he seems; Lucy admits it, and is in on it. Saxon enters the room, and summons several spherical robots, which kill the reporter in dramatic fashion.

The Doctor questions Martha about what she knows about Saxon, but her answers are vague, and he catches her tapping out a four-beat rhythm with her fingers. Saxon comes on the television, and they realize he is aware of them and targeting them; they escape just ahead of an explosion in the apartment. Against the Doctor’s will, Martha calls her family, not knowing they are being monitored by Saxon’s people; they try to get her to come home. She takes the Doctor and Jack to the house, where they see Saxon’s people take her parents into custody (and later her sister as well), and shoot at them. They escape, but barely. They abandon the vehicle, and Martha calls her brother, but Saxon breaks in on the call. The Doctor talks to him, and tells him how the Time War ended; he explains how he escaped. He reveals he can track them via security cameras, and they are forced to run again.

The ball-shaped creatures are the Toclafane, and they have an agreement with the Master. It will be executed at 8:02 the next morning. Meanwhile, the Doctor explains about the Master’s insanity and broken childhood, and Martha explains about the ubiquitous Archangel cell phone network, which has implanted the four-beat drumming sound in everyone’s mind. The Master himself hears that sound, and has since childhood, and it is what has driven him mad. The Doctor alters three TARDIS keys into perception filters so that they can travel unnoticed.

The Master has announced on television that the Toclafane have made contact, and will arrive in the morning. The US president arrives and assumes control of the situation under UN authority. He relocates to UNIT’s flying aircraft carrier, the Valiant, and the Master and Lucy join him there. The Doctor, Martha, and Jack sneak aboard with the vortex manipulator. They find the TARDIS aboard, but it has been transformed into a paradox machine—a device for maintaining an otherwise-unstable paradox.

When the Toclafane arrive, they will only deal with the Master. He orders them to kill the president, and resumes control. He captures the Doctor, Jack, and Martha, having been unaffected by the perception filters. He kills Jack, with his laser screwdriver—an improvement over the sonic, allegedly—and gloats about getting to do so repeatedly. He brings in Martha’s family to watch his victory. He reveals that he funded Richard Lazarus’s experiments in aging, then engineered the technology into the screwdriver. He uses the screwdriver to age the Doctor into an old man. He activates the paradox machine, opening a massive rift to the future in the sky, and billions of Toclafane pour through; he orders them to kill one-tenth of the population. Unseen, Jack revives and gives Martha his vortex manipulator, and she teleports away.

In Last of the Time Lords, a year has passed. The Master has built a fleet of ships, and is preparing to send them out to conquer the universe. Each one has the power to create a black hole, destroying any opposition. He plans to create a new Gallifrey and a new empire, forged in his image. Earth is enslaved and largely ruined. Aboard the Valiant, the Doctor, with Martha’s family and Jack, surreptitiously stages an attack on the Master, but it fails.

Martha has walked the earth for a year, and her legend has grown. She returns to Britain and meets a man named Tom, who takes her to meet one Professor Docherty, who can help her capture a Toclafane. With difficulty, they do so, and manage to get it open; they discover that the misshapen being inside was once human. The Toclafane are the human remnants from Utopia, transformed and regressed, and totally devoted to the Master. Martha reveals she has a gun that uses four chemicals, which will kill a Time Lord and suppress his regeneration. With it she plans to kill the Master. However, Docherty betrays her presence to the Master, who has her son in custody. That night, Martha is captured by the Master, who destroys the gun; he is about to kill Martha when Tom sacrifices himself to save her. The Master reconsiders, and delays her death until the Doctor and her family can watch, as the fleet launches. He takes her back to the Valiant, and prepares for his moment of triumph.

Moments before launch, Martha laughs at him. The gun was a ruse, and the resistance was aware that Docherty would betray her; it was all a ruse to get her here, now, with the Doctor. Her year of travel was used to plant one order in the minds of the people: at the moment the fleet is activated, everyone on Earth will think one word together: “Doctor.” The Doctor, meanwhile, spent the last year attuning himself to the still-active Archangel network. The combined psychic intent of humanity, amplified by the network, sends a surge of power into the Doctor, restoring him to health and youth, and letting him deflect the Master’s attacks. He backs the Master into a corner…and embraces him, forgiving him. Meanwhile, Jack breaks free and takes some loyal soldiers to destroy the paradox machine, but the Toclafane delay him. The Master uses the vortex manipulator—taken from Martha—to teleport himself and the Doctor to Earth. He has a remote for the fleet, and will activate their black hole convertors—if he can’t have the world, no one will. The Doctor manages to teleport them back to the Valiant, just as Jack destroys the paradox machine. Instantly time reverts to the minute when the machine was activated a year earlier, leaving no casualties except the just-killed president—and no Toclafane can come through the rift except the few that were already present. Only the Valiant and those aboard are unaffected; no one on Earth will remember the year that never was.

The Doctor declares that he will take the Master in custody and be responsible for him. However, Lucy Saxon—now long since disabused of her loyalty to the Master—shoots the Master. The Doctor begs him to regenerate, but in a final moment of selfish victory, he chooses not to, and dies.

The Doctor cremates the Master, but later, an unidentified woman takes the Master’s ring from the embers of the fire. Jack explains that he will stay on Earth with Torchwood, as the Doctor cannot reverse his immortality. However, the Doctor disables the time-travel and teleport functions on the vortex manipulator, ensuring he will get in less trouble. Jack leaves the Doctor and Martha with a cryptic comment that indicates he may one day become the Face of Boe.

Finally facing her feelings for the Doctor, and that they will never be resolved, Martha chooses to stay on Earth as well, and return to her life, family, and studies. However, she leaves her phone with the Doctor, and insists that he respond if she calls him. The Doctor—who has recovered the severed hand from Jack—prepares to leave—and as he does not have his shields up, he is rattled when the TARDIS crashes…into the Titanic.

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I’m a lifelong fan of the Master, and when I learned that he would be appearing in the revived series, I was thrilled. I wasn’t disappointed when the episode aired, and Utopia has become one of my favorite episodes. Derek Jacobi’s portrayal of the elderly Master is, in a word, terrifying, even though he doesn’t do much. He’s ruthless and evil as though he has to make up for lost time, which I suppose he does. He’s very much like the classic version of the Master, especially during the Delgado years, bitter and cold and full of rage. It’s a shame that we didn’t get more time with him in the role, although I understand that he plays a different incarnation in the Big Finish audios (I haven’t reached them yet, but I am looking forward to it). John Simm gets much more flak for his portrayal, I suspect because he is the polar opposite of Jacobi, Delgado, and others. Where they are reserved, he is unleashed. In them, the insanity glows; in him, it blazes. I, for one, love both versions, though it goes against popular opinion; no one should expect one incarnation to be the same as the others, as we know from years with the Doctor. It doesn’t seem strange to me that Simm’s Master should be unhinged, capricious, or wildly cruel. He’s still the Master—still very evil, and still very much in control of the situation, even if not entirely in control of himself. It’s completely brilliant, coming and going. (We’ll deal with the other side of Simm when we get to The End of Time.)

Simm’s version of the Master is more than just a maniac, though. I talked in last week’s post about the religious metaphors in this season’s presentation of the Doctor, especially as seen in Human Nature/The Family of Blood. I stand by what I said there, and I think it was leading up to this story, where the messiah imagery is fully executed. If the Doctor’s experience with the Chameleon arch represents his death, temptation, and resurrection, then this story represents his second coming, in the form of his restoration from old age. I find it interesting that when Martha refers to the population’s thoughts about the Doctor, the Master refers to it as “prayer”. And in true messianic fashion, he chooses not to judge, but to forgive. (That’s not entirely consistent with the biblical narrative—all the parts are there, but in the wrong order—but that’s a topic for another time.) If all that is true, then the Master is the antichrist in this metaphor. I’ve mentioned in other places that “anti-“ doesn’t simply mean “against”, it also means “in place of”, and here we see both aspects. The Master is certainly against the Doctor, and even makes early attempts to kill him; but he’s also very similar to the Doctor, and would supplant him if he could. He’s young, of similar stature and physique to the Doctor, and dresses similarly (suits and ties). He has his own screwdriver. He has a fob watch like the Doctor’s. He eats Jelly Babies, a dig at the Doctor’s past lives. He even mimics the Doctor’s mannerisms; when Lucy challenges him on the success rate of the Archangel network, we get this… Lucy: “You said Archangel was 100%!” Master: <sharp intake of breath, tilting head> “Well…99…98?” It’s a mannerism and mode of speech that we’ve seen the Tenth Doctor use a dozen times or more.

In light of those points, I noticed something else here, though I doubt this was intentional. It’s long been theorized—and canonized in the VNAs—that the Leader in the Inferno universe was a version of the Doctor, who took power in Britain. I think that the Master, here, is an exploration of the same idea: What would happen if the Doctor went dark and stole power? This series wasn’t ready for a dark Doctor, something that has only been sincerely attempted once, via the Valeyard; but by substituting the Master, we can play with the idea, without committing.

This story is, naturally, the revelation of the Saxon arc that’s been playing out slowly since Love and Monsters. I won’t call it the resolution, because…spoilers for The End of Time–we’ll get there. Some recapping takes place, especially with regard to his involvement in shooting down the Racnoss Webstar. There’s also acknowledgement of Torchwood, though the team doesn’t appear here, Saxon having sent them “on a wild goose chase in the Himalayas”. We will, however, see them in Journey’s End. This story fits in the middle of an arc that really began with The Parting of the Ways, runs through Torchwood series one, and will not conclude until The End of Time, depending on your perspective. I wonder how much of that was planned in advance.

Some random observations and references: Jack knows a lot about regeneration, but I don’t recall it ever being explained to him in detail, and he has not witnessed it. The scene where the advisors are killed is reminiscent of Aliens of London with the Slitheen. The Doctor and the Master are a creepy sort of bromance, and it could only get creepier if one of them became a woman…oh wait. The Master refers to the Dalek Emperor taking control of the Crucible during the War; this will be expanded in Journey’s End. The Master’s monologue at the end of The Sound of Drums is echoed in Rassilon’s monologue (slight spoiler, sorry) at the end of The End of Time, part one. What an impossible coincidence, that the Toclafane Martha takes down should be the one child that she spoke to in the Silo! This is unintentionally a Doctor-lite episode (Last of the Time Lords), as David Tennant only actually appears at the beginning and end, with a CGI mini-Doctor in the middle. There’s a lot of foreshadowing of next season, with the recovery of the ring, and mentions of the Medusa Cascade and Agatha Christie. Lucy exists solely to mock the Doctor’s habit of taking companions; the Master even partially acknowledges this. As well, there are indications that he may have abused her during their year on the Valiant, which helps explain her betrayal at the end.

There’s more I could say, but I think that’s enough. Again, it’s one of my favorite stories, and I could go on much longer. What a way to end an excellent series!

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Next time: In addition to some format changes, we’ll look at the Time Crash mini-episode, and then we’ll examine the Christmas special, Voyage of the Damned, before launching into Series Four. See you there!

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

Utopia

The Sound of Drums

Last of the Time Lords

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