HAS there ever been a more chilling line of dialogue in all of Doctor Who than I am the Time Lord victorious?
The Doctor, drunk with the power of overturning time itself, of ripping up the universe, of being the sole survivor of his race – arrogantly crowing about it and simultaneously showing us a glimpse of the terrible possibilities of the dark side of our Time Lord guardian. The Master times one billion.
The lonely god indeed.
Those stunning few minutes at the end was the key moment in a fantastic episode that while it wasn’t the scariest Who ever, as it had been billed, still tilted the Whoniverse off its axis and into the darkness of an oncoming storm.
For that we have to thank co-writers Phil Ford and – of course – Russell T Davies, who brought the harder, more adult edge he used so effectively in Torchwood: Children of Earth to this tale of pioneers on Mars fighting to survive against an inexorable, mysterious foe made of water.
That battle was well realised as the zombies looked creepy and Bowie base realistic, even if the bastard child of Wall E and Johnny 5, Gadget the robot, was a huuuge mistake that made me want to cheer for the flood and Murray Gold’s soundtrack was shockingly out of step with the action at times.
Given how quickly we were plunged into the action and what was revealed about the Doctor, the usual culturally diverse mix of astronauts on the base were pretty much superfluous as they fell prey to their damp adversaries.
Right from the start the Doctor seemed to think so as he tried to go against his instincts and uncharacteristically leave them to their fate, because what happened on Mars was a fixed point in time that he knew he could and should not alter.
He went to great lengths to explain to base commander Adelaide Brook (the excellent Lyndsay Duncan) what her death means for her family and for mankind’s future, to the point where she accepted her place in the Universe and seemingly inevitable death. It made for unsettling viewing as Davies gleefully stripped away the certainties we have come to know and love over the past few years.
But as he finally left them behind – and the Doctor and we as viewers heard their impending doom over the radio – the Doctor threw away everything he knows from bitter personal experience that he has a responsibility to honour and uphold and turned back.
To hell with time, to hell with the rules – I am the last of the Time Lords and what I say goes. As Stuart Burns on Behind the Sofa pointed out, he is undone not by some mind control device, but by his own compassion to do the wrong thing.
As character developments go, it was a seismic shift and one beautifully conveyed by Davies and Ford’s writing and Tennant’s performance, which was as good as any he has given in the role.
From quiet, resigned stillness he transformed to a ball of manic, out of control energy until, as always in Davies’s Doctor Who, one of his human companions brought him back from the brink.
All his confidence and cockiness, his certainty in his new role as absolute arbiter of how the universe works, was punctured by Adelaide as she realised the horror of what he has become and showed him how wrong it was, not through a few well chosen words, but through her suicide. A bloody suicide in Doctor Who!
By this stage my jaw was on the floor and even though we saw the Master, the Ood and all, I still have no idea what will happen next.
Yes, Tennant’s Doctor realised his hubris when he said I’ve gone too far, but the ending, with the cloister bell tolling as the Doctor (I think) enigmatically says no and heads off to parts unknown, means all bets are off.
What is certain is I cannot wait for The End of Time and will be ticking off the days to Christmas more assiduously that any child waiting for Santa.
RTD and David Tennant are going out in style and if they didn’t know it before (and I’m sure they did) Steven Moffat and Matt Smith really have big shoes to fill.