God save me, I LOVE this show! With Heroes and Battlestar Galactica both on mid-season hiatus, Doctor Who is the best science fiction on television. And even when those two shows are on the air, Doctor Who still gives them a run for their money.
Some spoilers beneath the fold.
What can I say, except (in my best Nick Frost voice)…
I mean, it was pretty obvious early on that Mr. Saxon would turn out to be the Master. But what I really loved was the revelation, and how it was handled. It was done brilliantly. They could have taken it cheap, like the amulet at the end of Buffy; sure, it was introduced at the end of Season Four of Angel, but it was still a sort of deux ex machina, because it had no point at all except to provide an easy out for the end of Buffy.
The Doctor’s watch, however, had an an entire story of its own. It provided the catalyst for "Human Nature" and "Family of Blood", possibly the best two-part episode since "Army of Ghosts" and "Doomsday". There was a provenance for the watch, a reason for its existence, and it wasn’t introduced just for the sake of having a cheap way to reintroduce the Master.
And the explanation for how the Master could have survived the Time War: he used the watch to turn himself human and hid himself 500 trillion years in the future. It’s perfect, not just story-wise, but because it’s a definitively Master way of doing things. The Master was always evil, but he was also always a coward, who would always run and hide from a fight instead of stepping forward; this cowardice is a cornerstone of the Master’s character, just as courage and a sense of moral obligation are the cornerstones of the Doctor’s character. It makes the Master evil; courage makes the Doctor good.
Of course, we also saw that when the Doctor was human because of the watch, some of his essential characteristics — his courage and caring nature — remained, though he was in other ways a very different person. When the Master was human (and incarnated as Derek Jacobi), he was a very different person — although there were hints as to his true nature. "Some admiration would have been nice," he said at one point, "just once". The Master was always a glory seeker. And, "No rest for the wicked", he added. A throwaway line, something we all say, but still telling; the Master was never in denial about his position on the moral spectrum.
What became of his own TARDIS? How did he end up with the watch in the first place? We have yet to find out, but if the quality of the show so far is any indication, we won’t be disappointed.
My only concern about this episode was the "futurekind" who sabotaged the ship. There seemed to be little point to that except to create a crisis that could only be resolved by Jack Harkness; and Jack seemed to be around only to resolve that crisis. A bit of weakness in an otherwise fine episode. Besides, how can you not love Captain Jack?
What I am looking forward to seeing is how John Simms portrays the Master. In the past, in his previous forms — played by Robert Delgado and Anthony Ainley, among others — the Master has always been my favorite of the Doctor’s nemeses, but he’s always been portrayed with an over the top cheesiness that did get wearying after awhile (and don’t get me started about the stupid "Tissue Compression Eliminator"). Simms seems, just in the few seconds that we saw him, to be bringing a vitality and energy to the Master that has always been lacking; and he’ll be playing the Master as a political smoothy, and without that goatee and black velvet that characterized him in the past.
In short, I am very, very pleased with how this episode went. Every time I think the show has topped out, a new surprise comes in and reminds us of why it’s so brilliant in the first place.
Anyway, this all just gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.
And for those of you unfamiliar with how the Master looked in incarnations past (brought to you by the LOLDoctor LJ Community):