This three-episode story is almost too beautiful, and too sad, to write about. I love how each season works its way towards a multi-episode climax, as if the writers and actors are saving up their energy and their ingenuity to make sure they end well. Each ending-story is kind of a summary of all the themes that have preceded in that season, as well as the emotional high point of the season
Similarly, this three-episode story summarizes all the themes I've been blogging about in this series, and raises the theological and emotional stakes of all those experiences
The Shape of the Story
I wrote about how all stories follow a narrative arc, and that the size of each part of that arc changes with the length of the story (number of pages or minutes). Each of these three episodes has its own shape, and then the three-episode story has a larger shape of its own. “Utopia” and “The Sound of Drums” each follows only an upward trajectory: those each end on a “cliff-hanger,” a crisis, without a following resolution. This means that the overall story goes up and up and up, with three peaks, three moments of crisis, and only one resolution. There are mini-crises, too, when the character or the audience think a disaster is impending, or when a disaster actually happens. So the three-episode story form is an excellent shape to use for ramping up tension. Within the story, it corresponds to just how awful things are: the very family Martha loves has betrayed her, then been captured and endangered in turn; the one person who promised to take care of the human race has betrayed them; and the one person who could be a real friend and companion to the Doctor has betrayed him. Each horror is big enough that it deserves, and receives, its own narrative high point.
But then the length of the three episodes allows for a good resolution, too. All that tension needs to be diffused, and it is, in the glorious, magical, Peter-Pan-style ending.
I Am You
I wrote about the tradition in comic books, superhero stories, and epics, forthe bad guy is a foil for the good guy. Sometimes this is expressed in the chemistry between the two, which gives the feeling that if they weren't enemies, they'd be best friends. Sometimes each is delighted to find a worthy enemy. Sometimes their hatred runs deeper than any fellow-feeling and each is the exact polar opposite of the other. Some versions of this paring may be found in:
antagonist and protagonist to be paired in an equal-but-opposite
Batman vs. the Joker
Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker
David Dunn vs. Mr. Glass in Unbreakable
Indiana Jones vs. Rene Belloq
Kirk/Spock vs. Khan
Harry Potter vs. Voldemort/Tom Riddle
Eragon vs. Murtagh in the Inheritance Cycle
Cockatrice vs. Chauntecleer in The Book Of The Dun Cow
Picard vs. Shinzon in Star Trek Nemesis
Gandalf vs. Saruman (or more generally, the Wise vs. Sauron, Morgoth, and Ungoliant)
Ransom vs. Weston in Perelandra
Sherlock vs. Moriarty
This theme is very strongly developed in the “Last of the Time Lords” story, because the Doctor has finally found an equal. The Master is just like him: a Time Lord from Gallifry, a time-and-space traveler who can regenerate, a brilliant scientist and engineer who can fly the TARDIS, someone who shares his past and his memories and experiences: someone who should be his best friend. If they joined together, they could multiple exponentially the good that the Doctor does alone.
And there is the final temptation scene that almost always happens in these kinds of stories: “Turn to the Dark Side, Luke!” – but it is in reverse. The Doctor begs the Master to regenerate, to join him, to turn to the side of Good and join him. He won't, and his loss is as heartbreaking as the loss of a family member.
This seems to be a biblical principle: there is no criminal so bad that I do not resemble him. And there is no criminal so lost that I should wish for his destruction rather than his redemption.
The Doctor is Jesus
On that note, I have written about literary christology throughout Doctor Who. I don't think I need to say much here; it's so obvious, and so well developed, in this story. Two quotes stand out for me in relation to this theme:
“I didn't come here to kill him; I came here to save him”
“You know what happens now....You wouldn't listen... Because you know what I'm going to say....I forgive you.”
I don't think any commentary is required!
It's The Story that Saves
There's another biblical parallel going on in “The Sound of Drums” and “The Last of the Time Lords.” Martha leaves, and the viewer is horrified: Where is she going? What is she doing? How can she leave the Doctor and her family for a year? When she returns, she claims to have been seeking out the components for the one gun that will kill the Master. When I first heard that, I was kind of horrified, kind of skeptical. The Doctor wouldn't ask her to do that, would he?
And of course, he didn't. So what was she doing?
She was telling a story. Just telling his story:
I travelled across the world. From the ruins of New York, to the fusion mills of China, right across the radiation pits of Europe. And everywhere I went I saw people just like you, living as slaves! But if Martha Jones became a legend then that's wrong, because my name isn't important. There's someone else. The man who sent me out there, the man who told me to walk the Earth. And his name is The Doctor. He has saved your lives so many times and you never even knew he was there. He never stops. He never stays. He never asks to be thanked. But I've seen him, I know him... I love him... And I know what he can do.
What a wonderful way for that season to end.
Now, further up and further in!