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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Last of the Time Lords”

(intro to my Who blogging, please read before commenting / previous: Episode 12: “The Sound of Drums”)

I call bullshit on the Sci Fi Channel. Bullshit, I tell ya.

With this episode, for the first time, I compared the British broadcast with the version that aired on Sci Fi, and I’m furious! Sci Fi cut out some really vital stuff, vital to plot and theme and character and color. What did you miss if you saw only the Sci Fi broadcast? How about this: Right at the opening of the episode is a little advisory to traffic in this part of the galaxy:

Space lane traffic is advised to stay awy from Sol 3, also known as Earth. Pilots are warned Sol 3 is now entering terminal extinction. Planet Earth is closed.

Chilling, right? And nowhere to be found for American audiences.
And then… and then… there’s this: The Master’s first appearance in the episode has him bounding onto the bridge of the Valiant to the song “I Can’t Decide” by the Scissor Sisters. The relevant lyrics:

I can’t decide whether you should live or die
Though you’ll probably go to heaven
Please don’t hang your head and cry
No wonder why my heart feels dead inside
Sold and bought and petrified
Lock the doors and close the blinds
We’re going for a ride

Oh I could throw you in the lake,
Or feed you poisoned birthday cake,
I won’t deny I’m gonna miss you when you’re gone
Oh I could bury you alive
But you might crawl out with a knife
And kill me when I’m sleeping that’s why

I can’t decide whether you should live or die
Though you’ll probably go to heaven
Please don’t hang your head and cry
No wonder why my heart feels dead inside
Sold and bought and petrified
Lock the doors and close the blinds
We’re going for a ride

Along with these horrendously dark lyrics is a frothy, bouncy tune, and the Master dances gleefully around the bridge swinging Lucy around and passionately kissing her in such a way as to suggest that he takes geniune pleasure in dominating her (and when she swings away, you can see from the look on her face that she is no longer taking pleasure in being dominated). He throws a cup of cold coffee down in front of Francine — she’s obviously not doing a bang-up job of attending to his needs. He rings a bell in time with the music to wake the Doctor, whom we learn has been sleeping in a tent on the floor — straw is strewn on the floor of the tent, and there’s a dog food bowl next to it! The very elderly Doctor crawls out, whereupon the Master throws him into a wheelchair and zooms him around the room. All the while, the Master is singing along with the song and having a grand time with himself.

(Oh, and “I Can’t Decide” is indeed track 3. The song is so perfect for this episode that I figured it had to have been written especially for the show, like “Love Don’t Roam” from the “Runaway Bride” episode, but no, it wasn’t.)

It’s a brilliant evocation of the Master’s insanity — John Simm is hilarious and terrifying at the same time — and it sets up the whole episode, thematically and plotwise and everything. And it’s nowhere to be found in the Sci Fi Channel version. Disgusting! Bullshit!

Fortunately, you can watch it on YouTube:

It’s such a fantastic scene, and I keep watching it over and over. Oh, and have I mentioned? I’m now madly in love with John Simm — not the Master, of course, he’s demented, but Simm? Sure. Perhaps not quite as madly as I’m in love with David Tennant, but still.

The bit with Lucy and look of revulsion of her face is so vitally important for later, for the end, when she shoots him: we need to understand that she is, at minimum, not exactly delighted with him anymore, if she ever truly once was. Whether he has somehow hypnotized or brainwashed her, or whether she’s just a perfectly demented match for him, something has to have changed for her to shoot him.

More missing Lucy/Master stuff: Later in the episode, she and the Master enter the bridge, and she’s got a shiner all of a sudden — he’s smacking her around, the implication seems to be. And then as this scene continues, he’s very cruel to her, psychological, tells her his masseuse, Tonya, is “gorgeous”; tells Tonya, in Lucy’s earshot, about the exotic places out in space he’s gonna take her (supplanting Lucy, that is); and then suggests, in a very roundabout way and with a cheerful leer, that a threesome might be “fun.” Lucy watches and listens, thoroughly repulsed, but she’s also jealous. She’s utterly broken by him… though later, when he is obviously leading her off to bed, she’s all over him. Is that just her placating him, so she doesn’t get hit again? And why is the Master is still wearing his wedding ring, long after there’s any need to maintain the fraud of Harold Saxon, respectable married politician? Does the marriage, perhaps, actually mean something to him, in some weird, twisted way?

It’s really complicated, and it’s all gone. Don’t these people know that we fans are all about character? We need this stuff. This stuff is what makes the show so much fun.

Oh! And then there’s this: In one scene deleted from the American version, Francine talks of how she’s going to kill the Master (and Martha’s father and sister say, no, no, they’re gonna kill him). Later, also deleted, in that last confrontation, it’s Francine who picks up the gun first and points it at the Master — and he’s all like, yeah, go ahead, do it, shoot me, do me a favor — until the Doctor talks her out of it. That’s all Francine being vindicated, for those of us who never could quite grasp why she was such a bitch early on. And it’s gone.

Also gone, though of course this was intended: An entire year! A whole year has passed, and clearly much has happened. Martha’s journeys (some of the deleted stuff is about showing how her odyssey has toughened and changed her, has intensified her love for the Doctor). All the scheming among the prisoners on the Valiant. It’s all beautifully played, and may well be the first time that the science-fictional conceit of the giant Reset button works in a way that doesn’t feel like an enormous cheat.

Random thoughts on “Last of the Time Lords”:

• It’s the Doctor’s fault… again. Even the Master knows it. Utopia, the Master’s trip to Utopia with Lucy, even, perhaps, Lucy’s complicity in the Master’s plans, and then, so, Lucy’s shooting of the Master in the end. It’s all the Doctor’s fault. Man, that’s some harsh narrative hatin’ on the Doctor.

• The Archangel satellites are broadcasting fear? Hello, today’s real world, with our media broadcasting fear.

• When the Master asks the Doctor, “What if I suspend your capacity to regenerate?” Jack looks both startled and hopeful at this, like maybe he’s wondering whether the Master could do the same for him.

• The power of a word — Doctor — and its resurrection of the Doctor seems a bit too supernatural for my taste, but at least the satellite network and its psychic field lends it a bit of a scientific (or pseudo scientific) explanation.

• Wait a second! The Doctor would be willing to settle down in order to babysit the Master imprisoned on the TARDIS, but he wouldn’t do that for Rose or Sarah Jane or whomever? Bastard. Of course, the Master won’t outlive the Doctor by exponential factors, but still: the Doctor is twisted in all sorts of strange and intriguing ways.

• Time rewound, but not quite far enough to prevent the death of the U.S. president — tee hee!

• There’s a nice quick little moment with Jack taking the gun from the stunned Lucy, and they both looked relieved in completely different ways.

• Best last words (or almost last) ever? “I win.” You can win by dying? Only the Master could come up with that one.

• Jack is the Face of Boe? Interesting… and interesting that he drops that little tidbit about being a poster boy. Because he heard the Doctor and Martha discussing, in “Utopia,” the fact that the Face of Boe had told the Doctor he was not the last of the Time Lords.

• How can Martha walk away from the Doctor after all this? Yeah, her family is suffering from a kind of posttraumatic stress that they can never see a shrink about, but they’ve got one another. The Doctor has no one. I’d stay, and be crazy in unrequited love. Because as Sarah Jane said, some things are worth getting your heart broken over.

• That’s Lucy’s hand, with her red nails, picking up the Master’s ring (not the wedding ring, the other one), with his maniacal laugh in the background. Now, is this merely the still-devoted Lucy taking a memento of the man she loved, in whatever perverse way she did, or are we meant to believe that the Master has somehow secreted himself away in that ring, which bears marking much like the pocketwatch that did the same job did? I, at least, know that the Master isn’t dead because he’ll be back in the season’s worth of stories I’m gonna write, and it’s awfully nice of Russell Davies to leave that opening for me.

• Speaking of Davies: For someone who supposedly doesn’t like the Master as a character, he certainly made the Master more fascinating than ever.

(next: Season 4, Episode 0: “Voyage of the Damned”)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
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