Sunday, July 08, 2007

Doctor Who Season 3 - "The Sound of Drums" / "The Last of the Time Lords"

That's it then. "Doctor Who" season 3 has finished airing and whilst the season overall was fantastic, the finale was a disappointment. Still, let us begin at the beginning. "Utopia" finished with the Doctor, Martha and Jack stranded at the end of the universe and without the TARDIS after Professor Yana recovered his Time Lord essence and became the Master then was forced to regenerate into John Simm's Master before stealing the TARDIS. Oh and if you're not familiar with Classic Doctor Who, then I should explain that The Master is even more of a renegade Time Lord than even the Doctor plus he's insane and very intent on wiping out humanity (and just about everything else, for that matter !).

Anyway, the Doctor uses his Sonic Screwdriver to fuse the co-ordinates on the TARDIS so that the Master can only travel between the end of the universe and the last place she had visited (Martha's London). He then repairs Jack's Vortex Manipulator and he, Jack and Martha use it to travel back to Martha's London where they discover that Harold Saxon (aka The Master) has just been elected Prime Minister. The trio repair to Martha's flat where they search the internet for information on Saxon before tuning into a TV broadcast in which the Master announcing he has some new alien friends, the Toclafane (causing the Doctor to demand "What?" in utter disbelief) before making a reference to medical students, that causes the Doctor to check the back of Martha's TV (where a "comedy" batch of dynamite is fixed). The three race out of the flat just in time to avoid being blown up (of course!), then Martha rings her mother where she and Martha's father are being guarded by Saxon's agents. Martha insists, against the Doctor's wishes, on going over to her mother's house, only to find Saxon's agents are waiting for them (cue stunt driving from Freema Agyeman to make their escape).

The Tenth Doctor gadget building again.

The three abandon Martha's car and the Doctor engages in a lengthy conversation in which he futilely tries to reason with the Master before they are forced to go on the run after spotting a TV broadcast which claims they are terrorists. They hide out in a warehouse where the Doctor explains, briefly, just who the Master is, before discovering that the Master has been using the worldwide Archangel phone network which he was responsible for having installed, to subliminally influence Britons into voting him into power at No. 10. The Doctor then does some technical jiggery-pokery and turns his, Martha's and Jack's TARDIS keys into perception filters that make the trio unnoticeable, rather than invisible, so long as they're quiet and stealthy. The trio set off for the airport where the US President has just arrived on AirForce One to join the Prime Minister in officially meeting the Toclafane. After some snippy dialogue between the PM and the President, a van arrives with Martha's parents and sister Tish aboard. The Master sends them off to the Valiant, the aircraft carrier on which the Toclafane meeting will take place. The Doctor, Jack and Martha use Jack's Vortex Manipulator to transport themselves aboard the Valiant (a la Star Trek).

Transporting aboard the Valiant.

Once aboard the Valiant, the trio find the TARDIS only to discover that the Master has bastardised the TARDIS and turned into a red-lit Paradox Machine and the Doctor has no idea for what he's planning to use it. The trio sneak into the conference room where the Doctor is hoping he can place his TARDIS key perception filter around the Master's neck so that everyone will see him for who he really is. Unfortunately, it doesn't work and the Master turns his Laser Screwdriver ("because who'd have a sonic one?") on the Doctor, having acquired the technology used by Professor Lazarus (way back in episode 6) and the Doctor's DNA (from his severed hand he took aboard the TARDIS before he regenerated) and ages him up by 100 years, leaving him at the Master's mercy. The Master also shoots Jack and the Doctor tells Martha to use Jack's Vortex Manipulator to escape from the Valiant as the Master uses the TARDIS Paradox Machine to open a rift through which millions of Toclafane come flooding in order to decimate the Earth's population (and he even explains he means kill one tenth of the population!).

The Tenth Doctor looking rather less sprightly and gorgeous than usual.

So off Martha goes, to save the world - we hope - though no one can guess how she might achieve that without the Doctor's help. "The Last of the Time Lords" opens one year later with the Master in full-on megalomaniac mode, singing along to the Scissor Sisters as he whizzes the Doctor around the conference room in a wheelchair. Martha meanwhile is returning to Britain, having spent the last year walking alone around the world, apparently collecting the separate components of a gun created by either UNIT (an old ally of the Doctor's with whom his third incarnation worked) or Torchwood in order to kill the Master. She goes to see an older woman professor to ask for her helping in finding out what the Toclafane are and discovers they're actually the people who were waiting to take the rocket to Utopia (in the episode of that name), who did get to Utopia and found it far from perfect and whom the Master has brought back to earth via the TARDIS (which you will remember can only travel between the end of the Universe and Martha's London). The Toclafane have come to destroy the population of Earth in one of those peculiar destroy your ancestors paradoxes (see The Grandfather Paradox for example).

Martha witnesses a TV broadcast from the Master in which he decides to age the Doctor to look like his real 900+ years (and at the same time suspends his ability to regenerate), leaving him looking like a cross between Yoda and Dobby the House Elf (at least the production team went for CGI not prosthetics for this bit), but Martha's not fazed because the Doctor's still alive. She sets off to go and collect the final part of the gun from an old UNIT base somewhere else in London. Hearing that Martha is back on Earth (the Professor reports this fact since she wants to find out if her son is still alive), the Master leaves the Valiant to pick up Martha and finds her at a house half-way to the UNIT base where she's gone, with her guide Tom, to spend the night before continuing on to the base the following day.

The Master takes Martha to the Valiant so that he can kill her in front of the Doctor, but she reveals that she hasn't been travelling the world to pick up the gun components, as she told Tom and the Professor; instead she's been telling as many people around the world as she can about the Doctor with the intention that everyone will think of the Doctor at a very specific time - just as the Master's about to launch his rockets to begin a war on the rest of the universe. During the preceding year the Doctor has been "tuning into" the physic network that the Master has deployed via the Archangel network so that when the time comes and everyone thinks of him, he will be restored to his usual youthful self - and apparently also gain some super powers (this is probably the most hokey aspect of this episode). He prevents the Master from using his Laser Screwdriver, then turns back time by a year and a day, to the moment when the US President has just been killed. He then tells the Master the one thing that he doesn't want to hear, that he forgives him. The Master tries to run away but Jack stops him; the Doctor says he will make the Master his responsibility and keep him aboard the TARDIS. Martha's mother threatens to shoot the Master, but the Doctor takes the gun from her; however Lucy Saxon picks it up and shoots him instead (no, it's not made clear why). Instead of regenerating, the Master chooses to die in the Doctor's arms so that he will "win" and thus ensuring that the Doctor really IS the last of the Time Lords after all (or is he - knowing Russell T Davies, I won't put money on that!). The Doctor burns the Master's body on a huge pyre then takes Jack back to Cardiff and his Torchwood team, before taking Martha to see her family. She then returns to the TARDIS to tell the Doctor that she's not going to be travelling with him because her family needs her. And yes, that does feel like a kick in the teeth to Martha's fans, especially when she tells the Doctor that she's been feeling like she's second best (because of his regular references to Rose), but now she knows she's not second best at all. The only good news is that RTD has promised that Martha will be back later in season 4, after a three episode stint at Torchwood. The episode ended with the Titanic (apparently the cruise-liner, but it's not clear) crashing into the side of the TARDIS and the Doctor shouting "What? WHAT?" (just as he did when Donna Noble turned up in the TARDIS at the end of last year's finale "Doomsday" - it's getting old, Davies, do you hear me ?!) This was a teaser for the Christmas Special, "The Voyage of the Damned", which will star diminutive pop songstress, Kylie Minogue.

The Tenth Doctor, waiting for his Companion to rejoin him.

Talking of Donna Noble, it's been announced that she will be the Doctor's full time Companion during season 4. Fans were largely shocked and many of us are hoping that RTD will have toned down Donna's rather aggravating character who shouted alomst incessantly and was actually pretty thick, to make her more believable Companion material.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Boy Who Lost His Face - Louis Sachar

Louis Sachar's The Boy Who Lost His Face is an intriguing book, that's mostly a look at peer pressure, but also considers friendship and responsibility.

David Ballinger is desperate to be part of the popular crowd to which his best friend since second grade, Scott Simpson, now belongs. He goes along with Scott, Roger and Randy when they decide to play a cruel stunt on an old lady, Mrs Bayfield. The boys have decided to steal her snake-headed walking stick, but they don't stop there; one tips her backwards in her chair, another pours lemonade in her face; they also trample her flowers and break a window with the lemonade jug. David stands and watches, but doesn't participate. Then, as he's about to leave, he makes a rude gesture at Mrs Bayfield who appears to put a curse on him.

Soon afterwards David starts to feel very guilty about what the boys have done. He soon comes to believe that the old lady is a witch and that the curse she put on him is affecting his life when things start to go wrong, such as when he breaks a window and nearly injures his baby sister with his baseball. Things get progressively worse - his adoring younger brother Ricky, suddenly hates him and he walks into his Spanish class with his fly undone. The last straw, though, comes when David's trousers fall down just as he's talking to the girl of his dreams about going on a date. Convinced that this can't just be bad luck, he rushes off to see Mrs Bayfield who tells him to bring back her walking stick. He thinks that she will remove the curse if he does so. But things don't turn out quite the way that David expects.

I thoroughly enjoy reading The Boy Who Lost His Face - I've actually lost count of how many times I've read it, but it's probably at least six. And even though I know what happens and how it ends, I still enjoy the suspense of Sachar's repetition of "Little did he know that one day his own face would be hanging on her wall." Somehow that remains spooky and slightly unnerving, even on re-reading. I love all of Sachar's books that I've read; his sense of humour and playfulness are always very apparent, and his themes are never conveyed in a heavy-handed manner. I was surprised to discover this morning, a reference to it being a frequently challenged book.

What do you think of this book, and in particular, what are your thoughts on the Epilogue ?