Doctor Who: Series 3

Series 3 of the Doctor Who revival – including a Christmas special to be aired at the end of 2006 – was commissioned at the end of the enormously successful first series. It would mark the first series without Billie Piper as the Doctor’s companion Rose Tyler, and the second series starring David Tennant in the lead role. It was decided not to introduce the new companion in the Christmas special, and so they introduced a special one-off companion (or so they thought at the time…), Donna Noble. Then the first episode of the series proper introduced Martha Jones (played by Freema Agyeman), a medical student who’d become the second “main” companion of the New Who era. Martha Jones was written out at the end of the season, in an epic serial that starred another of the Doctor’s long-standing nemeses – the Master.

  1. The Runaway Bride – ☆☆☆ – watched 29 Jan 2023
  2. Smith and Jones – ☆☆☆☆☆ – watched 3 Feb 2023
  3. The Shakespeare Code – ☆☆ – watched 4 Feb 2023
  4. Gridlock – ☆☆☆½ – watched 7 Feb 2023
  5. Daleks in Manhattan – ☆☆☆ – watched 9 Feb 2023
  6. Evolution of the Daleks – ☆☆☆½ – watched 10 Feb 2023
  7. The Lazarus Experiment – ☆☆☆½ – watched 12 Feb 2023
  8. 42 – ☆☆☆ – watched 16 Feb 2023
  9. Human Nature – ☆☆☆☆☆ – watched 21 Feb 2023
  10. The Family of Blood – ☆☆☆☆½ – watched 21 Feb 2023
  11. Blink – ☆☆☆☆ – watched 22 Feb 2023
  12. Utopia – ☆☆☆☆½ – watched 23 Feb 2023
  13. The Sound of Drums – ☆☆☆☆ – watched 26 Feb 2023
  14. Last of the Time Lords – ☆☆☆ – watched 28 Feb 2023

The Runaway Bride

Thought this was all right – more enjoyable than the previous Christmas special, for sure. I felt a bit dissatisfied with how Donna was written – early on in the episode she’s pretty obnoxious and screamy, and there are a lot of nasty jokes in the script (not just in the first half) at her expense (like that she “can’t find Germany on a map”, or that time the Doctor told Lance “good luck” being married to her, or how she failed to notice all the previous alien invasions, or how she didn’t notice Lance wasn’t really that into her when she was nagging him to marry her). She definitely starts out as a caricature, rather than a character. Then in the second half of the episode she starts to become a believable character, which is obviously GOOD, but it made me mad that she wasn’t treated like that before. I was kind of surprised that the Doctor offered for her to become a companion at the episode’s end, because I felt like the narrative hadn’t treated her well enough for that. (And he changes his mind in retrospect anyway, right? Isn’t it that when he re-encounters her in Partners In Crime, she’s all super excited while he’s like… oh no…)

Other than that, the “monster of the week” story was pretty fun. Maybe it took a bit too long to get going, because I found the first half of the episode way worse at holding my attention than the second half (too many action sequences!), but the Racnoss were interesting and whoever played the Racnoss Empress put in a delightfully camp performance, lol. I didn’t like the Doctor’s flashback to Rose at the non-wedding reception, but the other dialogue about her, as the Doctor’s “friend” that he “lost”, was good.

1. Smith and Jones

I remember I didn’t see this episode until YEEEEEARS after it first aired, because I got dragged somewhere else that Saturday night (DAMN YOU, having things to do on Saturday night) and there was no iView back then. In fact, maybe I never did see it until now, because I didn’t remember anything much about it.

IT WAS SO GOOD! Oh my God. Martha is brilliant right from the off – she’s clever, courageous, she asks all the right questions, she has a hilariously chaotic family (they remind me of my in-laws tbh), and her banter with the Doctor (even, or maybe especially, the flirtatious stuff at the end) was immediately infinitely more delightful than any scene that ever took place featuring him and Rose. I don’t know why he suddenly went “JUST ONE TRIP!” at the end of the episode; maybe it’s because he suddenly realised the exact depths of her awesomeness and got scared that another gross Rose-like situation was inevitable. IDK man.

Seriously, this episode was great. I was buzzing at the end of it and rattling off quotes to my partner. Even the “monster of the week” plot (which actually is 75% of this episode’s plot, it’s not a plot-lite episode like Rose) was a hell of a lot of fun. It has a silly premise – the Judoon are intergalactic space cops, hot in pursuit of a non-human criminal, and they zap the hospital Martha works at up to the moon to investigate. But only a limited amount of oxygen got zapped up to the moon with the hospital, which adds considerable tension (even though it seemed kind of inconsistent how much the characters were suffering oxygen deprivation at any one time – there’d be times when they were struggling and in the next scene, totally fine), and the non-human criminal is also on the darker side – a Plasmavore, which is kind of like an alien vampire that can “assimilate” the biological forms of the beings whose blood they drink. Anyway, I enjoyed that part of the episode too.

2. The Shakespeare Code

So, uhhhhhhh, not as good as the episode before. The Doctor treats Martha very badly (dismissing her concerns about racism out of hand, making her share a bed with him, whinging that he can’t stand travelling with “novices” (since when?), telling her to her face that he thinks Rose was better, etc.), I don’t like the depiction of Shakespeare as some genius virtually unrivalled across all of time when he was really just some dude who was good at wordplay (like an Elizabethan Alex Turner)1 and his flirting with Martha was very cringey (ahem, basically racist), and the whole plot with the witches strained my suspension of disbelief too much.

What was good in this episode? Well, there was no real “dead time”, with minimal pointless running around. Martha was mostly enjoyable to watch. And Shakespeare was OK when he wasn’t doing unrealistic “genius” things or flirting with Martha. That’s about it, lol.

3. Gridlock

This is another one of those episodes that has a pretty ridiculous premise – the slowest-moving expressway ever (ten miles in six years…) where no one ever thinks to get out and walk – but if you suspend your disbelief to accept it, it’s basically pretty good. In short: the Doctor and Martha return to New Earth, where they arrive in the undercity of New New York. Not long after they arrive, Martha is abducted by a young couple who need a third person in their car to gain access to the “fast lane”. However, the fast lane is a lie; that’s where you get eaten by Macras. It turns out that the undercity is sealed off from the “real city”, because a virus (somehow linked to mood-altering chemical patches) ripped through the inhabitants of the “real city” until the only beings left alive were the Face of Boe and the cat nurse that seemed nice in New Earth. The cat nurse teleports the Doctor up to see the Face of Boe, he unseals the undercity allowing all the expressway motorists to escape, and the Face of Boe’s statement that “you are not alone” prompts a heart-to-heart between the Doctor and Martha about how much the Doctor misses Gallifrey.

I really liked the first half (maybe even a little more than half, idk) and the final heart-to-heart. The part of the episode where the Macra were introduced and then the resolution had my attention wandering a bit. I don’t know if it’s too much to hope that given the way this episode ended, the Doctor can stop being such a dick to Martha now…

4. Daleks in Manhattan

RTD really loves his pig “aliens”, doesn’t he…2

Other than that: the pace was kind of slow, but this was otherwise decent. I don’t think the episode did a particularly good job evoking New York (exaggerated accents aside), considering we spent most of our time in the back rooms of a theatre or in a sewer. However, I liked Tallulah and Laszlo, and the Daleks were more interesting than usual (although the pig-slaves thing was naff). The Doctor wasn’t being a dick to Martha either, yay.

5. Evolution of the Daleks

I feel like this is one of the MANY New Who two-parters that’s really compelling and enjoyable but the ending is just kind of unbelievable. In this case, I didn’t really quite believe… basically any of the genetic transfers that happened. The abductees to pig people, or the other nearly-dead abductees into “Dalek humans” with “just a bit of Time Lord DNA” (transmitted via electricity 🤔) or “dying Laszlo” into “no longer dying Laszlo”. But pretty much everything else about this story was so good. Like I mentioned, it has one of the most interesting spins on the Daleks, with these Daleks finally starting to wonder why they keep losing all the time if they’re oh-so-great. I loved the conflict that broke out between the leader, Dalek Sek, and the other members of the Cult of Skaro. Dalek Caan’s escape was pretty good, as was the rumination that “the Daleks always survive”. The Doctor and Martha are both good here (although I probably could have done without Martha moping that the Doctor doesn’t like her as much as Rose), and so are the guest stars. At no point during this episode did I get bored and want to check my phone. It was engaging throughout and even if the plot was held together with string and duct tape, there were interesting ideas here.

6. The Lazarus Experiment

Pretty enjoyable. We’re reunited with most of Martha’s family; her sister Tish is head of PR for this dude, Professor Lazarus, who reckons he’s invented a way to reverse the process of aging, and reset an elderly person back to young adulthood. (Well, young-ish. Gatiss, who plays him, doesn’t look that young.) Martha’s mum takes an instant disliking to the Doctor because she wants Martha to focus on her medical degree and not get distracted by ~*~boys~*~, and then she feels vindicated because some mysterious guy appears out of the shadows to tell her “your daughter should choose her friends more carefully” and then, “the Doctor is dangerous”.

The main thing that I disliked in this episode was that the magical makes-you-young device also turns Lazarus into a monster, which seemed superfluous and reduced a lot of the episode to boring chase scenes. I reckon you could build an interesting enough plot just examining the social ramifications of rich people making themselves eternally young and the inequality that’s indicative of. Together with the warnings the Doctor has against idealising immortality that are present in this episode. But that would’ve required the episode to be a bit more clever and less of a monster-of-the-week plot. The monster CGI wasn’t very good either, and I also didn’t like that weird subplot about Lazarus sexually harassing Tish, which Tish magically becomes fine with once Lazarus is “young”. Also, this isn’t a problem with this episode alone, but the sonic screwdriver was massively overpowered, to the point it might as well have been a magic wand.

Nonetheless, I loved that Martha finally confronted the Doctor to the point that he relented on his “just one trip” bullshit, and I liked pretty much everything involving her family in this ep. I saw some other people reviewing this who bitched and moaned that Martha’s mum’s immediate hostility to the Doctor is “unrealistic” and I was immediately like ummmmm… tell me you only know white people without telling me you only know white people. That was the single most realistic thing in this episode, lol.

7. 42

I remembered pretty much nothing going into this and I think it’s mostly because it’s a less-good retread of the Impossible Planet/Satan Pit two-parter last season. There’s a base (or in this case a spaceship) full of humans somewhere far away, they’re being picked off one-by-one by an incomprehensible enemy that possesses their bodies to use them to attack the others, etc.. It is a whole epi­sode shorter, so the crew members aren’t fleshed out as fully – mainly just the captain. I thought this ep was fine, but if I was in the mood for this kind of story I’m not sure why I’d rewatch this instead of last season’s two-parter (except for Martha being consistently more interesting than Rose). That said, it was still more enjoyable to watch than a bunch of more mediocre episodes.

8. Human Nature

This one, I’ve seen MANY times (albeit all over a decade ago) because my little sister loved it and would play it again obsessively. Anyway, it is excellent. On the run from some kind of superpowered alien bloodhounds, the Doctor is forced to put his true self inside a fobwatch and have the TARDIS rewrite every cell of his body to make him human (complete with a lifetime’s worth of false memories). Then, he hides in 1913, with Martha (who is fully aware of what’s happened) as his servant. “John Smith”, as his human alias is known, works at some English public school and falls in love with the nurse, Joan Redfern. But the alien bloodhounds track them down, and the Doctor doesn’t remember who he is to save them…

I do always feel awful for Martha rewatching this story; she has a really rough time, constantly being treated as lesser because she’s black and a servant, and having to watch the Doctor (even if he’s not really the Doctor) fall in love with someone else, and even her only friend in this setting (that other servant) has her body possessed by the alien bloodhounds and turns into a villain. The story has a lot of other great (one-off) characters too, to really suck you in. Just a great story.

9. The Family of Blood

A very emotional conclusion to the two-parter, and successful in that respect. I did have some quibbles with that final confrontation with the alien bloodhounds (whose actual name is the Family of Blood, lol, hence the title), namely that it was so easy for the Doctor to trick them with that “olfactory misdirection” trick. If it was that damn easy, why not just do that in the first place instead of this whole rigmarole with the fobwatch???

Actually, I was also perplexed earlier in the episode, when Daughter of Mine has just killed the school headmaster and rather than shooting her, as they’re all set up to do, the heroes decide to retreat into the school building. I sort of brushed that off as being part of Doctor Who’s usual aversion to guns and outright killing enemies, but then later on the Doctor traps this character in a mirror… oh, sorry, “every mirror”… for all eternity? How is that better than just shooting her. (Also, it broke my suspension of disbelief.) idgi

However, I loved all the foreshadowing of the First World War as well as, of course, that very emotional conversation between John Smith and Joan Redfern in the Cartwrights’ house before he decides to open the fobwatch (and then go save the day in that very rushed and not-so-believable way), as well as the emotional conversation afterwards where the Doctor tries to convince Joan to come travel with him (as if Martha doesn’t exist though, which is pretty dodge after everything she’s been through this story) and she refuses with that beautiful line: “John Smith is dead, and you look like him.” and also: “If the Doctor had never visited us, if he’d never chosen this place on a whim, would anybody here have died?” “…” “You can go.” Look, I’m nitpicking at what I see as the logical flaws in this episode, but emotionally I think it hits the bullseye.

So this is widely seen as one of the all-time greatest episodes of the show, and it’s definitely pretty good but coming right off the back of one of the other greatest episodes of the show, it had a bit of the shine taken off it imo. Anyway, this episode follows Sally Sparrow (played by future movie star Carey Mulligan!) as she unravels a mystery revolving around two things: the Weeping Angels, a villain that “kills” by sending victims back in time to live out their lives somewhere in the past, and which can’t move when it’s being observed; and a bootstrap paradox – basically Sally pieces together the mystery by having clues delivered to her at regular intervals, and the Doctor knows to have those clues delivered to her because he’s received all the documents about wtf happened at a later date.

There are some good characters here, especially Sally Sparrow herself and, of course, Billy Shipton (her love interest, until the Angels get involved). I think, insofar as this episode fell flat for me (which is RELATIVE; I’m still rating it 4 stars), it’s because it took me way too long to remember that the reason the Angels still couldn’t move on the millions of occasions the protagonists took their eyes off them is because we, the audience, still had our eyes on them, and because I didn’t really get the whole “the Angels feed off the potential energy of all the days their victims could have lived” thing when their victims are still living, just in the past. Unless the Angels are shortening their victims’ lifespans at the same time (which they didn’t seem to be), that seemed like some real violation of the “conservation of energy” principle.

11. Utopia

I wasn’t too keen on the way this episode started (snubbing Jack Harkness like that and then the “Futurekind”), and it definitely had some eye-rollingly over-the-top moments, but you just can’t get past the way it builds and builds into one of the most incredible cliffhangers of the show, can you? The fobwatch reveal, the return of the Master, the confrontation with Chantho, the Doctor begging the Master to let him back into the TARDIS… Plus there were great moments before that too, like the Doctor and Jack Harkness’s conversation while the latter is pulling up heavy things in the radioactive room, and Chantho’s character is great.

This episode was produced as a standalone, but really it’s the first episode of a three-part finale, and it’s awesome as such. The necessary set-up of the fobwatch was done much better than the “heart of the TARDIS” set-up in Series 1, too. When I was a teen, series 3 had my favourite out of all the RTD-era finales and when I watched this now, I felt that excitement all over again.

12. The Sound of Drums

So, this is a pretty good follow-up to “Utopia”. The Doctor, Martha and Jack Harkness are able to get back to Earth by means of Jack’s time travel wristwatch thing, which the Doctor fixed in a rush after the events of the last episode. They find that the Master has beaten them back by eighteen months, and in that time ingratiated himself as prime minister of Great Britain, having subtly hypnotised everyone through his “Archangel” mobile network. Over the course of this episode, things go from bad to worse for them – Martha’s family is all arrested (except her brother Leo, who escapes), the trio become fugitives after being announced as public enemies #1, #2 and #3, and while the Doctor starts to develop a plan it’s not a very good plan, especially because he doesn’t know who the “Toclafane” are – he says it’s just a made-up name, “like the boogeyman”.

My favourite part of this episode was definitely the Master. Apparently Simm’s Master is one of the less-liked ones by fandom, but I don’t really know why, because he was great. Absolutely batshit crazy, but great. I loved every part of his conversation with the Doctor over the telephone in the middle of the episode, and I also kinda liked his sleazy sense of superiority with his wife Lucy and even with Tish, whose job (he tells her) is to “stand there and look pretty”. I mentioned in my blog post about how I hate the Doc­tor/Rose ship that I see Time Lord/human relationships as pretty much inherently imbalanced and predatory, and here the Master’s relationship with his wife is depicted exactly the way I see it, basically. Lucy is aware of who he really is, and thinks she’s “in on it” (in the same way that Rose believes she’s actually the Doctor’s equal!), but she’s just not. I found that pretty compelling.

13. Last of the Time Lords

Definitely the weakest part of this three-parter. The bulk of the episode takes place one year on from the events of the previous; Martha’s been travelling the world, telling the story of the Doctor to all the poor and downtrodden, and also supposedly looking for components of a special Time Lord-killing gun; her family, Jack and the Doctor have all been imprisoned on the Master’s base in the sky, the Valiant.

There are a few things that feel bad and weird in this story. The “Dobby Doctor” is kind of notorious, as is the “Jesus Doctor” who he becomes after all the people on Earth think his name at the exact second that countdown ends. (It really is not established that the “psychic satellites” can’t just subtly control people’s thoughts but can also radically physically transform people like that.) Also, in retrospect this makes Martha kinda like one of Jesus’ disciples spreading the “good word”, which to me is an uncomfortably religious allegory. I also felt the part of the story where time just rewound by a year was kinda cheap (although I’m not saying I would’ve preferred all future “modern Earth” episodes to take place in a timeline where all that stuff still happened). I felt like Simm’s Master got too ridiculous in this instalment and ceased to be so compelling for me (although he still had some good moments, like when he refused to regenerate, and even when he personally went to hunt down Martha on that street). Jack Harkness has nothing to do all episode. Finally, Tom Milligan had a RIDICULOUS resemblance to some guy I used to know IRL and that was incredibly distracting every time he was on the screen.

But despite all that, it’s reasonably entertaining and there are some good things about it: the Toclafane reveal, Martha Jones just being the greatest ever all episode long (I LOVED her departure, going out on her own terms and telling the Doctor exactly why, and how chastened he is by that), and Lucy’s character development – even though the exact events she’s been going through all year are only hinted at3 – is pretty interesting.

  1. Now I think of it though, an episode that called on Alex Turner to save the day with one of those lyrically tricky Arctic Monkeys songs would be a riot. At least, it would’ve been better than this. lol ↩︎

  2. Yes, I know this two-parter was written by Helen Raynor, not RTD himself. I’m still going to blame him because it was apparently him who made her include them. ↩︎

  3. I mean, considering the cuts under her eye, the dead look she gets on her face when the Master kisses her, the fact that he gropes her arse at that part where they walk into a lift together, and his ongoing love of “pretty girls” (one of whom he forces to give him a massage) this episode, I think we can guess. ↩︎