So after all the speculation, we now know what happens. The Master has been defeated and is dead (or maybe not), Martha is back with her family, Jack is back with Torchwood, and the Doctor is back travelling the universe.
As the episode opened, time had moved on by a year from the cliff-hanger at the end of A Sound of Drums. The Master and the Toclofane have absolute control of the world, enslaving the human race to build a fleet of war rockets to take over the universe. The Doctor, having been aged by the Master has been kept almost as a pet, humiliated. Meanwhile Martha has been travelling the world on a mission to save the world.
One of the big questions outstanding from last week was who or what were the Toclofane. The answer was perhaps the most straightforward, especially when you remember that the Doctor said last week that the Master could only travel between the twenty-first century and the end of the universe. The Toclofane were all that was left of the human race – not surprisingly Utopia wasn’t an escape, and the Master had travelled to the far future and offered to ‘save’ them by bringing them back in time. This also explained the paradox machine created by the Master which was needed to hold everything together as the Toclofane changed their own past. Ultimately it was the paradox machine that held the key to resolving what had happened – with the machine holding the paradox removed, everything reverted to normal.
As with last season and with many series, the major plot was resolved relatively early on in the episode, giving a chance to ‘reposition the pieces’ ready for Christmas.
Having captured the Master, there is a nod to Scream of the Shalka which included an android Master – voiced by Derek Jacobi – who lived in the TARDIS in that the Doctor decides that despite what the Master has done, he can’t allow him to be executed, and as the only other time lord, the Master is his responsibility, and he is going to imprison him in the TARDIS. However this plan is curtailed by Lucy Saxon, the Master’s wife, who shoots her husband. Whilst the Doctor begs his enemy to regenerate, the Master appears to deliberately stop himself from regerating, and dies in the arms of the Doctor. The interesting comparison to this is a scene mere moments before, when the Doctor has grabbed the Master as he attempts to escape using Jack’s vortex manipulator. Having failed to escape, and finding themselves near the fleet of rockets, the Master then threatens to blow the ships up killing both himself and the Doctor. However, the Doctor calls his bluff, saying that the Master would never do it because it involved his death. The Master hands over the control to destroy the rockets, and returns with the Doctor. Then moments later he is goading people to shoot him, almost as if he wants to die – and when someone actually shoots him, he doesn’t regenerate all a bit odd…
Alone, the Doctor takes the body of his former enemy and places it on a funeral pyre. However, then the odd behaviour and rocket scene make a bit more sense. In a scene reminiscent of many classic sci-fi serials you see a woman’s hand retrieve the Master’s ring from the pyre, and hear a familiar chuckle. Perhaps, as he has done before, the Master has cheated death, and by letting his time lord body die (remember the Doctor appeared to know the instant the Master became time lord again two weeks ago) managed to evade the Doctor to return again.
That is not the only revelation in the last few minutes. I’ve commented a couple of times on the paradoxes included in this series. Back in episode 1 there was a minor paradox when Martha meets a future Doctor, then in the Shakespeare Code, the Doctor has to leave in a hurry as he is chased by troops for something his future self has done. Blink also includes a paradox that is key to the whole story. However as the Doctor drops Jack off in Cardiff they discuss the fact that he is ageing but will never die, and then Jack comments that in his home era living on the Boeshane peninsula, he became a poster boy, and was known as the Face of Boe – perhaps explaining how the Face of Boe knew how many times he would meet the Doctor, and also the fact that the Doctor was not alone.
After that revelation, there was one final twist as Martha decides that she is not going to leave with the Doctor. Whilst he tries to act as if nothing has changed, having spent a year away from the Doctor, she knows that everything has changed. Having said that, she apparently isn’t out of the series, and may well also be appearing in Torchwood too. This neatly arranges everything for this years Christmas special, where the special guest companion is apparently going to be Kylie Minogue. Much as with last year, we also get a Titanic cliff-hanger – as it appears that the ship has smashed it’s way into the TARDIS.
All in all I found it a really enjoyable episode, and a definite improvement over last week. I was a lot happier with the characterisation of the Master too, with the zany moments of last week toned down. The relationship between the Master and the Doctor being at the heart of the episode, and some very moving scenes between the two. There were also some great references back to previous battles with both time lords mentioning the Axons. Amusingly after a whole series of moments where I expected the Master to not be dead, the moment where the hand picks up the ring and you hear a familiar laugh did produce a big smile. Also the reason for having Jack around became clear – although I don’t think I can cope with a million years of Torchwood waiting for him to age…