Otherwise, beware there are lots of reveals, lots of comments and plenty of confusion/delight.
Here we are then.
First, an up front confession. I had some really mixed feelings about the finale episode when I was watching it last night. I predicted in my head within seconds of the show's the beginning - let alone its journey and ending - that there would be a strong "God, that was SHIT" brigade coming down hard on RTD. Limited Doctor? Messianic religiosity? Gollum/Dobby? Hyper-mania Master boogying on-down to the Scissor Sisters?
But here's the thing that I'm going to dare to say.
I think Season 3 has been the most consistent of all the three new Who series so far. They still can't quite get that first two-part episode moment right, but overall there has been MUCH that I have loved from this season. S1 had a lot to do and didn't always get it right - as much as I thrilled to its return (and I wasn't spoiling myself as much back then: a moral to my tale?). The stand-out hit of "Girl in the Fireplace" aside, I found S2 thoroughly enjoyable but the internal consistency of episodes got patchier as the season went on (I liked the screen caps from Fear Her MUCH better than the episode itself). And S3? Well, I was pretty much the only person who didn't think the Daleks episodes blew farts at the audience so I already felt we were on a higher plane than last year (and I liked Rose, really I did). Okay, so I did feel some initial stomach-dropping anxiety with regard to last night's episode of bonkers, totally BONKERS-ness, but somehow, some way, against every pile of odds set against it (not least the degree of expectation) it all worked as a whole. [Maybe expectation has been the series biggest enemy? It certainly did for S3's Dalek tale, with its possible postponement crisis, and with such a HUGE build-up, perhaps this week's finale did suffer a little from it too...]
Anyway, since it's been raised elsewhere, I'm treating the final three episodes as a six-parter storyline. It seems just right to try to do so.
Utopia / The Sound of Drums / The Last of the Time Lords
It takes a really harsh critic to be utterly untouched by the massive fanwank overload that was 'Utopia'. For a start we had 'Degsy' (whose giggling at what people should call him, as reported in this months DWM, I can absolutely confirm via lovely Lisette who has spoken to him herself and had a similarly giggling exchange). Now I had managed to keep myself pretty unspoiled - apart from the 'can barely duck anywhere without running into mention of John Simm being in NewWho as... Ta-Dah, The Master' - so it was with MUCHO pleasure that I began to leap and shriek and generally lose all fan inhibitions when sweet cheery Pertwee-esque period Professor Yana regained his true identity and revealed himself as The Master (incarnation number... oh who's counting...?).
Some have said that the 'Utopia' episode was only a set-up to the final 20 minutes when the watch started to take on a new significance, but I would have to disagree. Okay, so there was some fudging of the Torchwood ending (which I still love, and for all its faults as a series I am still going to get and rewatch before S2 kicks off).* And though seeing a quarry bought back chuckling frissons of Who past, I was somewhat unconvinced by the FutureKind. Still, I did giggle at the 'you're busy blogging' remark - though yesterday's bloggers conversation decided it was more 'Twitter' than blogging. And there was something gloriously hopeful about the end of humanity trusting to find its way out before the end of the universe (even if it was further evidence of RTD's love of Really Big Numbers). For me, the highlight before those uproarious final minutes was that utterly delightful, quietly still, blistering with darkness exchange with Jack and the Doctor which was worth its weight in 'drama'. I was also pleased to see some good running (more convincing than in 42 I thought) and I liked the relationship of Yana and Chantho - which was made all the more poignant by that exciting culimination of the episode.
ANYWAY. The thing is that whilst part one of this six-parter was cracking, part two (the second half of Utopia) was truly in a league of its own. And THAT was what made it feel as if the first part was weaker [I take it as only a comparative thing]. The fanwank cross-references are well noted elsewhere, and despite some friends telling me otherwise I stick by my remark that these would only really confuse NewWho fans with feeling they were missing something IF they were watching it with someone who knew and loved the Classic Who series [though I firmly place myself in a jointly loving Who camp**]. Certainly Cloud was a little bit 'huh?' but that was probably because by the time we were hearing Roger Delgado whispers and menace from Jacobi that blew the roof off I was practically bouncing off the sofa with SQUEE. (And understandable OTT-ness from Simm aside, getting Tennant, Simm and Barrowman in the same episode was a little bit like a girls' fan-fic heaven).
ANYWAY. ANYWAY. It would have been hard to follow through with a sufficiently detailed cliff-hanger resolution, and so it proved. With a little sonic-screwdriver - what else? - we got a nice teleport to the present and a post-election Saxon setting. Actually, I thought that was both genius and a cop-out. We didn't really want to be waiting to get out of the ends of the universe did we? Thought not. And the nice crash-landing scene was well-handled, both from the point of moving things along AND visually. So overall I thought that was well-handled.
What 'The Sound of Drums' did bring us was a littering of the assorted curios and quirks that we have come to expect from RTD - substituting the Clangers for the Teletubbies was inspired; the happy/sad faces of the Master in cabinet just about worked - mostly because of the shift into the hysterically creepy excess of the thumbs-up gas-masked Simm doing his tappity-tap thang; there was even the hilariously jarring and yet somehow utterly charming pop music cameo (yes, I DO believe RTD had Voodoo Child on repeat writing the episode). To top everything there was still a bumper load of cross-references, too many to mention but not least the SQUEAL flashes of Gallifrey. (And the Magpie TV as the bomb in Martha's flat? Nice touch). Having briefly considered and then blocked the significance of the ever-present drum sound in 'Utopia', I loved the realisation of what 'tappity-tap' really was [something that was neatly mirrored with the finale's 'two-parts'] even if it DID take me way too long to get it. I loved the dismissive references to Jack's gang (the 'Doh!' team surely?!). And I was thrilled that Martha finally started to have some purpose, and her family more so. I even finally felt something for her when the virtually oblivious Doctor casually grins his remark about perception filters - "and they don't even notice you..." - and I actually wanted to hug her and Jack when Jack replies "you too, huh?" Far more than I felt when the crunching line from Human Nature "...and it wasn't me" was delivered.
Of course it wasn't hard to feel hurt when, at about the midway point to the six-parter, we had to see the Doctor reduced to old age - though MUCH worse was to come - but somehow it all worked. From the maniacal Master to his accommodating wife (still not sure we saw the last of her); the 'load of (space) balls decimating the earth - good use of language - to the departure of Martha back to earth. Against all the odds it ALL worked.
How the hell could the final two parter hope to top that.
Well, 'The Last of the Time Lords' was certainly EPIC as Anna rightly acknowledged. And it had dark (with Rosby's accurate prediction that the Toclophane would be the bastardised, transmogrified humans in pursuit of Utopia***). On that front, they were made very Davros/Emperor Dalek-eque weren't they? Though I think I was most creeped out when they flashed back to the charming Cree and the "skies are made of diamonds" speech and you suddenly realised how horrifically childlike and manipulated these monsters had been made to be: at the mercy of the pathology of the Master. Shudder. It also had the Doctor made his most vulnerable: not enough to make him old, the Mill turned him into Gollum/Dobby. That's a real slap to anyone watching the series from the perspective of 'any-excuse-to-watch-David-Tennant'. Good job I'm a little less shallow than that, eh?
Seriously though, I could cope with the Scissor Sisters opening (Lisette was thrilled by this BTW: as it's her favourite track from the album I'm letting her have that as a personal shout-out) because it again showed up the Master for the twisted psycho-sociopath that he is as the Doctor's mirror self [though unlike the Buffy/Faith version of that tale, there's no real sense that the Master is ever redeemable: instead he metaphorically slaps the face of the Doctor and takes a different route out****] And I really loved the efforts of the Jones gang - minus the 'my-agent-fcuked-up-big-time' missing Reggie - plus 'here-we-go-again-Jack' to try and get the Master. But what was really pleasing was that in the opening half of the episode (part five if you will), Martha was really given the meat she deserved from the get-go, and could have had more of with more consistent writing and direction, and dare I say acting prowess...? Anyway, here she was walking the earth, supposedly gathering the components of a KillMasterGun, being the "mythical" Martha Jones on her quest. And we even had some rounded sub-plot characters to go with her: a touching appearance from Ellie Haddington as Professor Docherty (who gave such a wonderful performance in Lawless Heart) and excellent work from Tom Ellis as Thomas Milligan (which pressed another pile happy buttons for Lisette). Good work: a bit of proof that back-story characters can be brought in succesfully.
And so to what MediumRob called "the exact same cocking deus ex sci-fi get-out clause". Here's where I part company with the great Carusometer man a little. I rather LOVED the resolution (mind, I loved 'Doomsday' and 'The Parting of the Ways'). Yes, I did wince somewhat at Martha's pre-surrender preaching of the Holy Doctor of Galifree myth - hey, I am an atheist after all! - but the idea of the whole world believing in the Doctor, of a thought bringing back something thought near-death to life again (not really a metaphor for the series at all...), of the subversion of the Archangel network, of everyone - Jack, the family Jones, even Mrs Evil herself - murmuring 'Doctor' in a breathy, adoring intonation*****... sheesh, I'm tingling just thinking about it. And so what if the Doctor rejuvenated into a floating, sparks flying Matrix Neo/Christ? He's back dammit! The Doctor was back!
And so it was that Tennant and Simm got their big scene of emotional resonance: they do that sort of wringing angst and frustration so well don't you think? Time swung back. The earth - and the universe by extension - was saved. Jack even surprised us all one last time as the Face of Botex Guest: I really didn't see THAT coming and it was a charming way to finally explain the tender affection the Doctor had for that "Big Old Face". Just lovely. I hope that not-so-angsty Jack is the one who finally gets it back with his team in Torchwood - should they manage to get back from the Himilayas...
And Martha went home. Warmed but wiser; walking away from the damaging non-relationship with a modicum of dignity intact, bless her. Hopefully when she comes back she will have kept more of that persona and we'll be able to welcome her back with more open arms.
In the meantime, we have another "WHAT?!" conclusion and opening to look forward to with the Christmas special. All that and Titanic too. WTF???!!!
Just to keep you in the picture, here's a collation of selected reviews.
MediumRob: thumbs up (even if he hated the deux ex Matrix and the need for huge amounts of NerdFilla TM)
Anna: thumbs up
Marie: [she'll be coming soon no doubt] UPDATED: as she eloquently puts it "both thumbs down my own throat in hatred and loathing" - so that'll be a 'hated it' then...
TV Today: an ambivalent thumbs up from a pro-Martha enthusiast
TV Scoop: an even more ambivalent thumbs sideways (with a downward tilt I think)
Stu-n: thumbs up and arguments about Rob's Deus Ex Machina...
UPDATE: And some more ambivalence from Rosby, who - as always - is worth waiting for.
* Sidebar 1: I think over the three epsiodes as a whole they've rather backed themselves into a corner on this. Torchwood watchers - or more accurately Capt Jack/Barrowman fans - will have been delighted to see Jack back with the Doctor, and looking happier than he ever really did in Torchwood except for when he was getting his rocks off with Ianto [was that on-screen or just expanded in the of-screen fan-fic? It was sometimes hard to tell...]. But there was more than enough Jack to interest younger viewers to the point where there may be very awkward questions about why they can't be allowed to watch Torchwood [mind, Chibnall's in Charge without enough Graeme Harper to rescue him should put them off].
** Sidebar 2: that sounded much clearer and less obscene in my head.
*** Sidebar 3: I'm going to show myself up here and offer my thought on what it might have been. My thoughts when the sky ripped apart last week were that the Master had opened up some kind of semi-route from the Void. And that the
**** Sidebar 4: anyone else believe we saw the last of the Master? Thought not.
***** Sidebar 5: anyone else sleep fitfully with a breathy murmuring of 'Doctor' on their mind...? Just me then...