Tag Archives: Chameleon Arch

Can You Hear the Drums?

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When Doctor Who returned two years ago, outside the basics, the team behind the programme seemed to quite deliberately avoid too many references to the old series. Wind forward to the present series and the situation is almost the reverse. Following on from the sight of images of all the previous faces of the Doctor in Human Nature, to the voices heard by Professor Yana in Utopia last week, we get a positive overdose of fan pleasing moments in the first part of the finale, The Sound of Drums.

Taking the plot first of all, it is all a relatively straightforward affair. The Doctor repairs Captain Jack’s vortex manipulator allowing them to escape. Whilst the Doctor had been unable to stop the Master escaping at the end of Utopia, he had managed to jam the TARDIS controls causing it to return to the same place it left – twenty-first century Earth. However they quickly realise that the Master has returned somewhat earlier, and that the mysterious Mr Saxon is in fact the Master – the mysterious Mr Saxon who has just been elected Prime Minister.

The Master is working with a race of aliens that he calls the Toclafane – although the Doctor believes this to be a made up name. The Master has also prepared traps for the Doctor, and has arrested Martha’s family. He has managed to win the election through the mobile phone network – the same technique that he has used to hide from the Doctor over the preceding months.

The Doctor and his companions manage to sneak onto the secret UNIT airship where the Master is to reveal the Toclafane to the world. However they fail to stop the Master’s plan, indeed the Master uses technology created by Professor Lazarus to age the Doctor, and incapacitates Jack, with only Martha managing to escape. The Master uses the TARDIS – which he has significantly modified and cannibalised, to open a rift and let in the Toclafane – ordering them to immediately destroy one tenth of the population of the world.

Alongside the main plot, there were a lot of back story and references, some very definitely for the fans. Chief among them is an explanation of how the Master comes to be alive and able to regenerate in the first place. Back in the TV Movie the Master manages to escape extermination by the Daleks but has to take over a human ambulance driver to do so. With his new human body decaying, he tries to take over the Doctor, but in the final climactic battle is sucked into the Eye of Harmony at the heart of the TARDIS. During the course of tonight’s episode we find out that during the Time War the Time Lords resurrected him in order to fight, giving him a new life-cycle much as was promised to him for helping the Time Lords in the Five Doctors. However, having been present during a key battle he fled and hid, using the Chameleon Arch to hide his identity. This explanation throws up interesting questions about what involvement the Doctor had in the Time War as he was unaware of the Master being resurrected, perhaps implying that the Doctor only becomes involved later on, after the Master has fled.

There are also several moments that hark back to well remembered Master scenes – for example at one point the Master is seen watching the Teletubbies, harking back to a scene in the Sea Devils when the Master is seen watching The Clangers.

Perhaps the biggest moment from a fan point of view is the first appearance of Gallifrey and of the Time Lord’s themselves as the Doctor describes the origin of the Master. Thanks to modern CGI, we see a panning shot from snowy mountains towards the gleaming Time Lord citadel covered by it’s protective dome. We also see a young Master surrounded by Time Lords, staring into the abyss of the time vortex. There is a definite effort to ramp up the Time Lord mythology, with the sequence reminding me very much of the epic style of movies such as the Lord of the Rings. From comments made by Russell T in the subsequent Doctor Who Confidential the return of the Master was on his list to do, and he implies that there are other things still to do – a return for Gallifrey and the Time Lord’s? Next weeks episode is called The Last of the Time Lords – whether this is because the Doctor has to destroy the Master, or is ironic due to the Doctor rediscovering his people remains to be seen.

It wasn’t only Time Lord references. After the Master has announced to the world that he is going to make first contact, the President of the United States arrives to take over control with UNIT citing that thanks to an agreement in 1968 – a reference to the episode The Web of Fear. Amusingly, considering that the real United Nations has asked that it’s name not be used in reference to UNIT, there were a number of points in the episode where the two organisations were referred to closely together, without ever explicitly stating what the acronym stood for! Having said that, the big budget has also extended to UNIT, with their base of operations this time being The Valiant, a vast airborne aircraft carrier, designed in part by the Master.

However, I’m suspecting that maybe not all the changes will be so welcome. Probably chief amongst the complaints will be the character of the Master, who is even more insane than he has been on previous appearances. Whilst at times there are elements of the dark and brooding character of before, at others he is cracking jokes, and being almost comic, showing many of the traits of David Tennant’s interpretation of the Doctor that so infuriate elements of fandom. John Simm mentions in his Doctor Who Confidential interview that he played the part exactly as written, perhaps passing the buck somewhat in advance of criticisms from the long term fans. Having said that, whose to say that being resurrected and then being long term disguised as a human didn’t unhinge him significantly?

So what is coming up next week? The trailer implies that there is a resistance movement to the Toclafane – but really I’m expecting that that is only going to be a small part of what is going to happen. Return of the Time Lords? We’ll have to wait and see…

He’s Back

Lets be clear, in Utopia the apparent main plot, about the last of humankind trying to escape a dying planet on a rocket was really an irrelevance. This episode was about one thing, and one thing only – bringing back the Master.

The rumours had already let slip key facts, that John Simm was going to be the Master, and that Derek Jacobi was playing a character who could be a Timelord – possibly the Master, however tonight was when all the pieces were put together. Rolled into the mix was the return of Captain Jack who quite literally jumped onto the TARDIS for the ride.

Having picked up Captain Jack the TARDIS is sent hurtling into the future where they find a group of humans barricaded in a rocket silo, hunted by ‘Futurekind’ the de-evolution of humans to savages. Inside the silo kindly Professor Yana is struggling to build working rocket to take the humans to Utopia, a legendary place believed to be a colony of humans.

The Doctor and Professor Yana quickly build a rapport, as the Doctor helps the professor fix the problems with the rocket. The professor drifts away into his thoughts at times, and says he hears the sound of drums, but has done since childhood. He does not know his origin, aside from being found as an orphan on the home planet of the Face of Boe – the creature who told the Doctor he was not alone back in Gridlock.

The Doctor asks to have the TARDIS retrieved and brought into the silo, which the humans do, but this produces a strange reaction in the professor. It seems some how familiar – he starts hearing voices (voices that would certainly be familiar to fans of Doctor Who…) but is still confused as to what is happening. Then Martha sees that he has a pocket watch – a watch that is identical to the watch used by The Doctor to become human to hide from the Family of Blood. She tells Professor Yana enough to get him to examine the watch, and then Yana starts hearing another voice insisting that he open the watch. Martha runs to tell the Doctor, and whilst she is telling him of the watch, Yana gives in to the voices and opens the watch. Gone is the kindly personality, and the Master is released. As the effects of the Chameleon Arch are reversed the Doctor senses that he is no longer alone – another Timelord now exists.

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As the Doctor races back to the professor’s lab, the reawakened Master tries to block his way by shutting down the doors, and letting in the Futurekind. Confused as to what is happening, the professor’s assistant pulls a gun on the Master, but is murdered by the Master by electrocution. The Doctor reaches the lab in time to see the Master shot by his former assistant with her dying breath, and stagger into the TARDIS and lock the door.

Inside the TARDIS the Master regenerates, and taunts the Doctor over the intercom. The Doctor begs him, telling him that they are the last of their race and to put their old battles behind them – Martha says that she recognises his new voice. However despite the best efforts of the Doctor to stop him, the Master takes off in the TARDIS leaving the Doctor and his companions stranded at the end of the universe.

All in all it was a fantastic ending. Despite the spoilers, the production team had managed to keep enough secret that even though you knew the Master was returning, the kindly Professor Yana threw you off the scent, and the rest of the action kicked along enough that you didn’t get a chance to think back until the pocket watch is revealed. You were also thrown off somewhat by the return of Captain Jack and the need to resolve issues left over from The Parting of the Ways.

In terms of the return of the Master, there are some unresolved questions. One of the memories that Professor Yana hears from the pocket watch before he opens it is of the final battle between the Master and the Eighth Doctor, at the conclusion of which the Master is sucked into the core of the TARDIS, having survived the death of his Timelord body at the hands of the Daleks using a creature that has allowed him to possess a human body. How did he escape the TARDIS? Perhaps during the events of The Parting of the Ways – but that still doesn’t quite explain how he has returned as a Timelord with a renewed power to regenerate (the goal he was seeking over many of his previous appearances) and with access to a Chameleon Arch. Perhaps all will be explained in what now transpires to be parts two and three of the final three part story, The Sound of Drums, and The Last of the Timelords.

The Family of Blood

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Quite often with two part stories, the second part is by far the weakest, almost as if the writers had put everything into a spectacular cliff-hanger, and then don’t know what to do with part two. With Human Nature being such a great first part, coming to part two there was a definite question mark over whether The Family of Blood would live up to it. I’m glad to say therefore that part two more than lived up to it, indeed in ways it possibly even surpassed it giving a fantastic conclusion.

Ultimately, the episode turned into a character piece. The cliff-hanger was resolved not by a flash of the Doctor through the Doctor John Smith persona, but purely by Martha. Indeed at one point Nurse Redfern has to encourage a shocked and confused Doctor John Smith to even escape. In the course of the escape Martha even comments how hopeless he is as a human.

They return to the school where Doctor John Smith mobilises the boys, all of whom have been training to protect King and Country, and they mount a defence of the castle. However faced with the Family of Blood and the scarecrows they have little chance, and with the headmaster and another teacher vaporised the boys run. John Smith, Martha and Nurse Redfern end up hiding in an abandoned cottage, whilst the Family of Blood start bombarding the village. Reunited with the pocket watch that holds the essence of the Doctor, we have the heart of the episode, where Doctor John Smith has to choose between a normal life as a human, or to sacrifice himself to become the Doctor again and save humanity.

Essentially, the episode boils down to very much a character piece. When ultimately Doctor John Smith chooses to open the watch, and to return to being the Doctor, the actual defeat of the Family of Blood is very brief. You see almost snapshots of how the Doctor despatches each member of the family – giving them the eternal life they crave, but trapped for eternity in various ways.

Then the final few minutes finish off the story of Tim, the boy who has been hiding the pocket watch, and also continue the First World War theme. The Doctor gives him the watch for good luck, and thanks to his vision of the future seen in episode one he survives the war. The episode finishes with Tim, now an old man, sitting in a wheelchair at a Remembrance Day service, holding the pocket watch. As the priest says the familiar words of the service, the camera pans from a tearful Tim holding the watch across to the figures of the Doctor and Martha on the other side of the green.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

This in some ways very much pointed back at the often forgotten parallel aspect of the show to educate the children watching about history. In the early years this was through purely historical stories, but here the end of the episode is devoted to connecting the characters shown in the rest of the programme through the horrors of the First World War through to the reasons why we wear poppies, and the services at war memorials. Whilst I’m sure there will be some who will bemoan the time spent on these sequences against seeing The Doctor despatch the baddies, ultimately this was the heart of the story, the tragedy of many of the boys in the school being trained for war, a war from which they will never return and also the personal tragedy of Doctor John Smith and Nurse Redfern who thanks to the watch get shown a vision of their future, if
the Doctor is never brought back.

In both cases – Tim, and Doctor John Smith they realise that it is something that has to be done. As Nurse Redfern says to the Doctor when she refuses to come with him, Doctor John Smith was by far the braver man choosing to sacrifice himself, whereas all the Doctor did was hide, and in doing so caused the unnecessary deaths of the villagers who the Family of Blood had killed.

The two episodes had complex themes, themes that I’m sure will take time to explore. However they also turned in some fantastic performances.

Freema Agyeman again had a chance to shine as Martha, with David Tennant giving a great performance in the dual roles of Doctor John Smith and the Doctor. This was especially highlighted in moments when he first held the pocket watch where the two characters switched back and forth with a moment when he was clearly the Doctor, and then returning to an increasingly scared Doctor John Smith, having to choose what to do.

Perhaps the episode was so good because of it’s genesis as a book, although a number of elements of the book were changed for the TV story, however you can now see for yourself, as the BBC have replaced the eBook of the original novel so if you want to compare the two you can. To help you along, you’ve also got extensive authors notes about the original book, plus Paul Cornell’s own notes about adapting it for the screen.

Suddenly Human

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One of the favourite techniques used by regular weekly shows is to have an episode that plays with the underlying concept, so for example we have the Mirror Universe stories in Star Trek, or stories such as Superman II where the hero either looses or gives up his powers. Doctor Who has done similar concept breaking episodes at times in it’s history, and this week was one of those times, where we had a story where the Doctor wasn’t himself – indeed he wasn’t even the same race – as in order to hide from a group of aliens referred to initially only as ‘the Family’ he uses a device in the TARDIS called the Chameleon Arch that creates a new character and biology for him, allowing him to hide. His Timelord persona is safely stored away in a device disguised as a pocket watch ready for when he is able to come out of hiding.

The episode, Human Nature is based on the 1995 book of the same name, however whilst a number of plot elements and character names are reused, the plot is somewhat changed. The basic concept of the Doctor becoming human, and the main location as an English public school in the winter before the Great War are retained, but characters are changed. For example the widow Joan Redfern who falls in love with Doctor John Smith becomes a nurse in the TV episode, whilst in the book she is a science teacher. The reason for the Doctor becoming human is different than in the book too.

The episode operated on many levels. On the surface you have the story of the Doctor hiding from aliens who need the last of the Timelords, however as Beth pointed out in many ways it is a tragic story. Alongside the simple surface story one of the boys, Tim, appears to have telepathic powers and can see the future. Whilst these are partly in the main plot to allow him to see visions of Martha’s real life, he also at times gets premonitions of the impending war, including his death alongside a fellow boy from the school in an attack. There is also an element of tragedy surrounding Joan Redfern, who having lost her first husband is attracted to Doctor John Smith, but who you ultimately know will loose him as the personality and life are artificially generated and will disappear when the Doctor regains his previous character.

The episode is also a great opportunity for Freema Agyeman to shine as Martha Jones. Doctor John Smith obviously doesn’t remember who she really is, and believes she is just his maid. Whilst the Doctor is blissfully unaware, except through strange dreams, of his true identity, she is tasked with keeping him safe, and if something goes wrong bringing him back, her only guide being a list of instructions that the Doctor has left behind in the TARDIS, also hidden away so as not to attract attention.

Quite aside from having a great multi-layered plot, we also have some nice moments for the fans. Doctor John Smith has been keeping a journal of his strange dreams, and as he shows Joan the notebook, we see pictures he has drawn of creatures from the new series, but then for the first time an on screen acknowledgement of the previous series with the journal including images of many of the previous Doctor’s. Later on when Doctor John Smith is talking about his family he mentions that his parents are called Sydney and Verity, acknowledgement of Sydney Newman the Canadian TV producer who created Doctor Who, and Verity Lambert it’s first producer.

All in all I thought it was one of the best episodes of the new series, nicely evoking the atmosphere of the period, along with some scary badies whose traits were more unnerving compared to the cringe-making give-away of the Slitheen. Amongst all of that you also had a noticeably different character in Doctor John Smith at the centre, who even when he is confronted by the badies in the cliff-hanger, still can’t remember who he is. Great stuff, and I’m now really looking forward to the conclusion next week. Hints about that episode seem to imply that ‘the Family’ are part of a bigger plan. Part of the Mr Saxon story arc? We’ll have to wait and see.