When, oh when, is RTD going to get over this obsession with scale? It can't be the future, it has to be the year five billion. It can't be a deadly virus, it has to be a deadly virus that kills a world in seven minutes. It can't be an alien invasion, it has to be an alien invasion that sees six billion marbles fall out of the sky and wipe out the population, leaving the survivors to live in holes and slave camps. For a year. In many respects Last Of The Time Lords attempts to replicate the atmosphere of The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, with its monumental, world encompassing proportions. Now, I'm not planning to pull an “x episode of the original series is better than y episode of the new” job, especially since TDOE is hardly a classic itself, but the point is that El Tel at least had the foresight to set his story far enough into the future to provide us with a coda that matches the scale the rest of the episode attempts to portray – this is a world that is going to take decades, possibly the rest of the century, to put right. But by transplanting the same story ideas into the modern day, the only credible and logical outcome is suddenly no longer an option. Consequently, Last Of The Time Lords ends with exactly the kind of reset-switch fakeout that I had predicted last week. It wasn't, on the whole, edge of the seat stuff.
What saved it was moving the narrative forward a year. This does lead to some rather odd characterisation, with the Master suddenly asking the Doctor twelve-month old questions as if he hasn't been doing precisely that since the cliffhanger. However, the benefit is that RTD is able to throw the brakes on the horrible mashed-up tone of The Sound Of Drums and give Last Of The Time Lords a better sense of its own identity. It's still overstuffed trash TV, but it doesn't feel like one long piss-take any more. That indulgent scene at the start with the Master wheeling the Doctor about on board the Valiant is a bit of an exception, but this week scenes like that are the exception whereas last week they were the norm.
The episode didn't take the most obvious, gutless paths I was predicting last week – the Toclafane turned out to be neither the Time Lords nor the Daleks, and I'm grateful for that, although what's the betting that there'll be at least one “year hundred trillion” story for season four, possibly to replace the New Earth stuff now that the Face of Boe arc seems to be over. Nice touch revealing it to be Captain Jack by the way, as long as you can accept that all the “last of my kind” stuff is just a big fat-arsed lie. The new series thankfully retains its dramatic backbone of keeping the Doctor the sole survivor of the Time War, and I really hope that the Master is dead for good. The character was worth bringing back as a one off, but after years and years of increasingly tenuous and implausible escapes from certain death there isn't room for a regular slot any more.
The resolution, though, was predictable in the extreme – not only is he content to betray what drama he creates with a massive reset switch, RTD even flashes that reset switch in our faces the week before as if to dare us to suggest that there might be another way to get him out of the corner he's in as a writer. Like I said at the start, when you scale it up to the point where a deus ex machina turn-back-time scene is your only option, then you've scaled it up too far. And as for the Doctor being restored to his full health...how crap was that? I can perfectly accept the Archangel stuff, and the psychic field – that was fine. But the Doctor's brilliant plan relies on Martha talking to nigh-on everyone alive on the planet in the space of a year, and to tell them about the Doctor. And then, even though they're all living in hovels and slave camps, organise mass protests around the world (without the Master or the Toclafane noticing, naturally) and give a massive psychic Mexican wave at the exact same time at three minutes notice. Literally three minutes. RTD seems to think that plots and stories are necessary structurally, but that ultimately they just get in the way and are to be tolerated for as short a time as possible.
Last thing then...Martha leaves. I like her, but I'm glad she's gone. I look at the way Rose went in her second season, and I didn't want Martha to go the same way.
This episode: ***