Doctor Who episode 701: Survival – Part Three (6/12/1989)

‘I felt like I could run forever, like I could smell the wind and feel the grass under my feet and just run forever.’ Rona Munro shows her workings a little bit too clearly as Midge is transformed into a Yuppie, and I’ve never quite understood why – of all things – the Master gets a gang that looks like the Jets from the Soho Men’s Choir production of West Side Story and decides a game of chicken on motorbikes is the best way to get rid of the Doctor. However, this largely lands the ending. It helps that Munro has written a three-part story with three episodes’ worth of material (rather than four or five), and so even if the details of the Master’s plan are wonky we can follow the progress to that point.

Niggles aside, this is really good: the best story of Season 26 (which is, on the whole, a slight disappointment after the highs of Season 25), and very plausibly the best story of the entire JNT years. Yes, its themes are pretty obvious, but they’re done with more poetry and finesse than anything else this season. I admire the way this rebalances the Doctor’s relationship with Ace: after stories where he’s manipulated her, kept her in the dark and used her as a blunt instrument, here he lays out the risks in using her powers to transport back to Earth, refusing to tell her what to do: ‘The choice is yours’. Then, he becomes the blunt instrument in the Master’s game of chicken to save Ace. It’s a shame it had to fall to a female writer to write an empowered female character with agency, but they got there in the end.

Beyond that, as the last “classic” Doctor Who episode (and how apt it should literally feature the Doctor being thrown into a rubbish heap), it doesn’t dwell on the past, but anticipates the show’s ultimate resurrection. It’s easy to overstate the similarities but putting the Doctor and the Master into a London council flat (with the grottiest carpet in the galaxy), having to deal with real people (most of them as irritable as Sylvia Noble) points the way towards Rose. The leap from this story to Russell T Davies’ revival is smaller than the quantum leap between Time and the Rani to Survival. Alan Wareing’s direction helps: dynamic without being overly showy, and using techniques like slow-motion (in Ace and Karra’s hunt) that weren’t part of the classic show’s vocabulary. The result is a story that has a uniquely haunting, elegiac tone, even though now it’s just the end of a chapter rather than the end of the book. The show didn’t deserve to stop here, but there couldn’t have been a better final episode.

Survival3

Next episode: The Pilot Episode

This is the last in the classic series of Doctor Who. But the blog will continue daily for the remainder of 2021 covering the key BBC TV, Radio and BBCi broadcasts of the interregnum, until 1st January 2022, when Rose will go up. I’m currently planning to blog through the new series three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) – maintaining an episode a day when the episodes are longer and working patterns return to normal is a stretch too far. Thank you to everyone who has read so far, and interacted here or on Twitter (@The_Cybermatt), I hope you have a great Christmas and New Year. Matt

6 comments

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 700: Survival – Part Two (29/11/1989) | Next Episode...
  2. Jon

    I really enjoy your reviews. They make me want to rewatch all these episodes but in practice I don’t have the time and I think I get just as much from reading your analysis! Keep up the good work.

  3. Warren

    I’ve just read through all of these over the Christmas.Thoroughly enjoyed them, well done! It’s given me a new perspective on some stories I haven’t revisited in a long time (I think I’ll look back on some of them). Looking forward to reading more.

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