TV They’re indomitable us fans. Predictable even. Even my shiny new computer with its wizbang fast fax/modem (no really - on dial up it’s still an athlete) can’t access Outpost Gallifrey’s forum very well as it crashes under the weight of three hundred odd visitors. As the Doctor himself once said about opening the heart of the Tardis -- it’s not supposed to do that. It’s not supposed to be filled with such overwhelmingly positive reviews either, but there they all are saying things like “That was absolutely sensational.” and “That was quite simply, the most amazing piece of television ever.” in the very place that only a couple of weeks ago, after The Family of Blood was still filled with those moaning minnies.

But was this the most amazing piece of television ever? What better than The Ascent of Man, Civilisation, Elizabeth R, Pride and Prejudice, Cathy Come Home, the whole of BBC Shakespeare, Network 7, The Sopranos, Shooting The Past (and anything else by Poliakoff), Hill Street Blues, some of Dennis Potter's work, My So-Called Life (I’m bias), Spaced, Monty Python’s Flying Circus before John Cleese couldn’t be arsed with it any more, new Battlestar Galactica, the last five minutes of Blackadder Goes Fourth, the seasons of Buffy not produced by Marti Noxon, Screenwipe, Popworld when it was properly ironic and Trumpton? Probably not. What this most amazing piece of Doctor Who ever?

Oh yes.

It’s a debate that’ll probably rage for years which is good because fans like to have something to chat about. The anti-camp and the people who are really anti-camp will point to the fact that once again Russell T Davies is portraying a far future filled with combustion engines, humans who look like humans marching like an army and can’t get through a script without a bit of the gay agenda stuff. They’ll note the Mad Max fueled Future Kind, introduced with rock music and marching about. There’s the matter of the rocket and the appearance by a Blue Peter award winner (who actually I think was rather good given her age, very Newt from Aliens), of the ’flashbacks’ which to some might make the episode as close to a clip show or a Confidential montage as the series proper has ever got and how in the end it was all forty minutes of build up to the big shock ending that really wasn’t thanks to THE FUCKING S*N.

All or some of which are true. But what Davies has cleverly done is not overload his bases. Perhaps noticing his tendency to pile in a morass of concepts and ideas and plot points, and realising that the most important things in the episode are the reappearance of Captain Jack and The Master and the exposition that accompanies both, he’s degraded the importance of the story itself, making that as simple as possible to let all of those important things breath. The Future Kind are scary buggers -- all you need to know. These are the last of the humans (oh the irony), all you need to know. One needs to escape from the other and take to the stars, again all etc. No wonking great plot to confuse matters, take our attention away from what was in the end a piece about characters. The flashbacks even worked too, simple images to remind the casual viewer of what’s been before (it’s a shame though that they didn’t have some fun with it, dropping in things from adventures we haven’t seen (similar to the second episode of the animated Clerks series) or surealism (like the cheese guy from the Buffy episode Restless). Plus it did again what this new series as always done well -- used icons and mythology of the past in a very new emotional way.

Before typing too far into the territory that requires the kind of paper towel only a fan would require, let’s first of all congratulate Graham Harper on another job well done. Like 42, many of the action scenes, particularly the corridor dashed, only really worked because he gave them some wallop, rapid cutting and whipping the actors into a frenzy. If they think its scary, we do to. John Barrowman gave his best performance ever in this episode and I wonder if Harper’s coaching, some of which was seen in Confidential, helped. It was fun though to see Graham slightly star-struck as he gave direction to Jacobi, all hushed tones and what not. But like Euros Lynn and James Hawes, he’s one of the series greatest assets and I do hope he’ll be back next year.

Speaking of Jacobi, wonderful as usual. The one person to still have any dignity left after Underworld: Evolution, I don’t think I’ve seen Sir Derek give a bad performance and to actually see rather than hear him in Doctor Who once again was a treat. Quite rightly he made us love The Professor, a sort of amalgam of the first three Doctors mixed inevitably with John Smith. If I hadn’t known the outcome thanks to THE PISSING S*N, it would have been a classic misdirection and in fact some miscreant on the O.G. (I see now) did post during the episode wondering if he was indeed some future version of The Doctor. Plaudits too to the only other major player in the episode, Chipo Chung, who underneath the latex had the instant likability only a companion the new series has. Actually, she was a bit of a throwback to the girls that Rose used to bump into like, Gwen from The Unquiet Dead in order to contrast the naughties girl with someone her own age from another time.

The interesting contrast was of course that whereas Rose simply wanted to understand, Martha tries to change Chantho, talking her into not using the verbal speech marks that are one of the cultural quirks of her soon to be dead race. It’s to Freema’s credit that she didn’t get swallowed up in the mess of other stuff happening in the episode and to Russell’s credit that he didn’t drop the focus from her too much, giving her a few good scenes. In his Screen Burn column in The Guardian this week, Charlie Brooker called Tennant the best Doctor ever, and this episode offered further ammunition to support that contention, dropping from comedy to horror in moments, the palpable confusion in the climax when his whole universe turns around in seconds and not even the sonic screwdriver can stop him from feeling impotent.

Right, someone pass me the hanky. I’m going in.

The re-introduction of Captain Jack was nicely handled. John Barrowman in the titles! Dash of the Torchwood theme on the soundtrack! Something of a pisstake though for those us who shouted our way through the bad old days of Torchwood as all of the central mysteries of Harkness in that series, the ambiguities, were dropped out in about thirty seconds of exposition to Martha. How he got from the future to the past, when he landed and how long he was hanging about, why he up sticks to Cardiff. All implied in that series, of course, but to give them all away in this fashion was either genius, an annoyance, or both. His presence didn’t jar too much either -- still the man whose been stuck on Earth all those years waiting, brimming with new excitement because the one person he’s been waiting for has returned.

I can’t wait to see how Chris Chibnall deals with it in the next series of Touchwouldn‘t. No really. If I was him, I’d flip the mystery of the new series to make the Scrappy gang wonder why he’s suddenly in such a good mood -- and I’ll be bound that it’ll be because Captain Jack has a new found sense of purpose, that he wants to be there, after whatever happens in the closing episode. Perhaps too his invincibility will be removed, making him mortal. Either way, this episode managed to do the impossible -- actually made me want to watch the next series of Torchwood, on purpose.. Even though, as I mentioned in my final review for that moribund programme, its cliffhanger ending is being resolved in the mother show entirely, which’ll confuse the hell out of Australian and American viewers were they’re showing on different networks. It’ll be Buffy and Angel all over again.

It’s just very surprising to see this series being quite so bald with its approach to its own mythology. Granted it’s something the new series have done on occasion, but for whole conversations to simply relate to what’s gone before is actually quite refreshing, even if at times, in relation to the hand especially, it’s got the subtlety of a mallet - or the Dalek Human. And the reason for the Doctor to have left Jack behind (he was last referenced in Pudsey Cutaway for goodness sake), was surprisingly touching and understandable. He now represents this anomaly in time and space and as we’ve seen before the Doctor doesn’t really like those despite having been a cause of enough of them. Plus it makes some sense of the fact that the Doctor somehow manages to pitch up in the one place were the Master might be hiding. The goodish Captain is something of a bad penny.

The re-introduction of The Master? That was something else. Unlike the past two series, there’s been a conscious effort to make everything tie together, but the last thing I expected was the mcguffin, the watch from Human Nature to be the means by which he did return. It gives the series a wonderful structure, everything interconnecting, relating to one another. Anyone with a degree in this stuff would knock on about the use of binary opposites within the narrative, the interesting way that the real antagonist wasn't introduced to the very end, the watch and how it's been knawing at The Professor all those years to be opened, drum beats in his head an black contrast to the rather benign dreams that visited John Smith.

To hire Derek Jacobi and John Simm to essay the character, two acting giants is, well, really, really impressive. Then, rightly for each of them to bring their own take, to understand, new regeneration, new man -- frankly there’s no words. It’s Doctor Who as you always hoped it could be, indeed as some of the spin-offs proved it could be done. And with a sample of Anthony Ainley’s trademark laugh as a trigger. Hn-hn-hn-hn-hn-hn. I loved the way the words echoed about The Professors head as he realised that not all was as it seems.

Anyone else notice the consistency of Jacobi’s performance with the android version of the Master in The Scream of the Shalka -- if I could access the forums now I’d imagine the Richard E Grant canonicity debate is already raging. I wonder though what the kids made of it -- how many of them will have understood the magnitude of what this all means both fictionally and in relation to the fan reaction to the series. Did the boxset release at the start of the year help? How many times will we be rewatching the John Smith moment over the next week? About as many times as the last twenty-minutes of The Christmas Invasion probably. Either by mistake or purpose, he managed to capture the manic darkness of the post regeneration Doctor when everything was going a bit wrong and he was laughing in that way that freaked Neil out.

So how did The Master end up here? How did he end up being a time lord again? Will they bother to address such things? Do they need to? I suspect not. As the evil nemesis, he’ll always return somehow and despite the old series meticulous essaying of his passage from Delgado to Ainley via a lump of charcoal, I suspect, like the gap between McGann and Eccleston they’ll leave it up to the fan to decide what they believe. Personally, I have two theories. Either that this is somehow a prequel to the old series and we’re seeing a pre-Delgado version of the character or he’s somehow managed to gain the extra set of lives the time lords frequently offered when they wanted him to do their dirty work -- or he’s stole them. Hold on -- that’s three. But you see what I mean, it’s infectious. In a way I hope they keep the mystery, but, as the Captain Jack conversations prove Russell’s in the mood to call a spade a spade. To be fair, this version of the writer would almost certainly have dropped the Davros when he was doing rewrites on Dalek. Now who needs the hanky?

I’ll leave it to everyone else to comment on such things as costume, set design and music, although I suspect no one will. It’s that kind of episode, the kind in which if everyone’s done their job properly they don’t draw attention to themselves. Sneaking a peak at the trailer for next week’s episode and it looks to be a doozy with John Simm’s big performance layered on top a million miles away from Sam Tyler and anything else he’s done. This has been an amazing series and I can’t imagine it’ll stumble at the last hurdle.

Now, would anyone like to guess how The Doctor returns to 2007/8/whatever year it is?

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