Thursday, December 14, 2006

My Review of Doctor Who's: "Survival"

Written by Rona Munro
Directed by Alan Wareing

The Master: “Why, Doctor! What an unexpected pleasure.”

1989 saw a good few things happening. Well I was four years old and Michael Keaton made an amazing impression in Batman but on a serious note, after 26 seasons it was also the time that Doctor Who itself was coming to an end.

It’s often hard to muster a direct feeling to the show’s ending. On one hand, this series could’ve well gone into the 1990’s but given that most shows in the sci-fi and fantasy genre are lucky to run for a third of what Doctor Who ran for, was ending it really the worst thing ever?

On paper this might not smack of an epic series finale to end all finales but the more I’ve watched this serial, the most enjoyable it’s become and there is senses of closure in certain parts throughout the story as well as The Doctor and The Master have one of their better confrontations.

Ace and The Doctor come back to Perivale purely because the girl wants to catch up with her mates. Given that the previous two serials “Ghost Light” and “The Curse Of Fenric” went out of their way to flesh Ace out as a character, it makes perfect sense to bring trouble to her own location.

When it comes to Ace (and also going by the sleeve for this serial’s DVD release), she really does feel like a precursor to Rose Tyler. In this serial even more so than ever. While her return isn’t met with people assuming she was dead, there are a string of conflicting emotions that Ace goes through.

On one hand she actually doesn’t like Perivale. She finds it rather boring and given that I often feel the same way she does about my own home town, I can relate to her during those moments. That being said, the Perivale we see also has some trouble involving felines. Well The Doctor does seem to get into trouble with this lot.

A lot of Ace’s friends have gone missing in recent times and instead of giving her a straight answer, the rather annoying Sergeant Paterson spends his time lecturing the girl on not contacting her mum. Needless to say, this bothers Ace for a good time afterwards but The Doctor’s too distracted.

There might be many things The Doctor’s ever had to face but clearly boredom was never one of them. He realises that there is a black cat acting oddly and proceeds to try and track him down. During that he also manages to annoy Ace’s misanthropic friend Ange as well as some store owners.

To be fair The Doctor probably should’ve stuck with his Girl Friday. Ace manages to attract the cat and then a Cheetah person on horseback before being taken to the Cheetah planet itself. The Doctor also winds up there along with Paterson, whose penchant for sticking his nose in really grates.

In a serial with a decent enough array of guest characters, it’s only Paterson that truly annoys me. Ace meanwhile manages to find her friends Midge and Shreela as well as a newcomer called Derek. The four of them have conflicting ideas of how to deal with the Cheetah people though. Ace wants to fight them, the rest prefer to hide. Both sides raise good points for their arguments.

The Doctor meanwhile realises that The Master is also on the Cheetah planet. It’s actually nice for a change that the writers didn’t try to hide his return. We knew within the first ten minutes of the episode that he was here as he used the black cat to spy on The Doctor.

However because of Paterson generally being in the way, The Doctor has to save him from getting eaten before reuniting with Ace. The next course of action is for the newly assembled team to try and get to a safe place away from the Cheetahs. That goes awry as soon as everyone including Ace starts fighting them.

As for The Master, it seems his motives are a lot less grand here than you’d expect. He’s not after destruction for once – he simply wants to get out of there. Being trapped on the Cheetah planet means that he’s slowly becoming one of them and while his mind is strong to resist, he’s beginning to falter.

It’s interesting to see him and The Doctor have a fairly civilised conversation. With the planet on the brink of destruction and The Doctor unwilling to help him, The Master preys on Midge to get his back to Earth. Seeing Midge becoming affected wasn’t much of a surprise though.

Ace becoming affected on the other hand was. Hearing her describe to The Doctor her feelings of running forever when Karra wasn’t trying to seduce her with the thrills of a good kill made for some great moments. Sophie Aldred consistently gets to shine in this serial and Ace is also used to get the remaining people out of their.

The Master’s plan to use Midge as a means for killing The Doctor wasn’t his best. Still at Paterson met a grisly end and there was something genuinely nasty in the way The Master was able to easily kill both Midge and Karra in the final segment. It’s good to have solid reminders of how genuinely menacing The Master is as often you can forget what callousness he’s capable of.

However for me, the best scene is between him and The Doctor. The Master has never lacked in trying to kill The Doctor but predictably enough he’s always failed in doing it. When the two of them go at it on the Cheetah planet, it’s the first time in perhaps a long while that the stakes really feel high.

For all his loathing of The Doctor, it was The Master who lured him to Cheetah planet and to be fair, these two have always had a ‘can’t live with/without him’ dynamic. It’s pretty much left uncertain of whether or not The Master got out of Cheetah world but given that in “The Movie”, he’s arrested by Daleks the lookout for escape is good.

The final scene between The Doctor and Ace is also pretty poignant. She was convinced that the motorcycle debacle had him killed and there’s something great about the way the writers didn’t over egg their reunion. No instead The Doctor and Ace simply walked away and talked about further travels. It’s quite sweet actually.

Also in “Survival”

It’s interesting that the first episode of Doctor Who was a four parter and this one was a three parter. They did mix it up in the last few seasons.

The Doctor: “So what’s so terrible about Perivale?”
Ace: “Nothing ever happens here.”

I just spotted Emmerdale actress Adele Silva as Squeak. A lot of actors/writers from that show have worked in various mediums of Doctor Who.

The Doctor: “What happens when the lion comes out?”
Shopkeeper: “What lion?”
The Doctor: “Better get your running shoes on.”

Ace: “People don’t just vanish.”
Ange: “You did.”
Ace: “That was different.”

Originally if this show had gotten another season, Ace would’ve left halfway through it and we’d have gotten a cat burglar for a companion.

Ace: “Nothing’s invincible.”
Midge: “That’s right, Ace. You tell us. You sort them out.”

Ace (re The Master): “Do you know any nice people? Ordinary people. Not power crazed nutters trying to take over the galaxy.”
The Doctor: “I don’t think he’s trying to take over the galaxy.”

In a twisted way, you almost wonder if The Doctor wasn’t so resistant to helping The Master in distress, would it actually change The Master in some ways?

The Doctor: “Why did you bring me here?”
The Master: “I need your help.”

Ace: “I thought cats hated water.”
Karra: “I’m not a cat, I’m Karra. I’m your sister.”
Ace: “No I’m not. Why do you keep calling me that?”

Karra is played by Lisa Bowerman who will go on to play novel and audio companion Bernice Summerfield.

Karra: “When I’m hungry, I hunt. When I hunt, I eat.”
Ace: “Would you eat me?”

The Master: “You are my hunting dog, Midge. You’re my teeth for my trap. Trust me, Midge. Trust me.”
Midge: “Yes. Trust me Midge.”

Some of the original titles for this serial were “Cat Flap” and “Blood Hunt” but I think “Survival” is a better title.

Karra: “I can run into the dark. Run forever.”
Ace: “Just wait. I’ll get you something.”
Karra: “Good hunting sister.”

The Master: “It seems we must always meet again.”
The Doctor: “Well they do say opposites attract.”

Judging by that line and some stuff from “The Mark Of The Rani”, no wonder Russell T. Davies had absolutely no problems with playing with the homoerotic tension between The Doctor and The Master in “Utopia”, “The Sound Of Drums” and “Last Of The Time Lords”.

The Doctor: “There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea is asleep and the rivers dream. People made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on, Ace, we've got work to do.”

This was released on DVD in April 2007 with some excellent extras including a fan commentary as well as one from Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred. The “Endgame” featurette is a must see too.

“Survival” may not be the kind of serial you would expect a long running series like Doctor Who to end with but as series finales go, I actually like this a little more than other shows who know in advance that they are about to end and still don’t produce anything satisfying. Bringing back The Master is a good way to end it and the Cheetah plot overall works for me. Plus in terms of DVD releases, the extras really do go all out.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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