Guest contributor Kieran Brennan continues his journey through the Divergent Universe arc with The Last!
The Doctor and co arrive in a new interzone, though with significantly less life than one might expect. They travel through the wreckage of a world destroyed by nuclear bombs, soon finding the final few survivors of the planet. However, some of the people aren’t aware of the faith of the world outside their bunker, and some aren’t as distraught over the faith of the world as you might think. The end is near, and there can only be one last man standing.
Y’know, as I’ve read about the Divergent Universe arc, I heard a lot of complaints, but I have to say I just don’t see it. Yes, The Creed of the Kromon and The Twilight Kingdom were weaker stories, but Scherzo, The Natural History of Fear, Faith Stealer and now The Last are all memorable, creative and intriguing stories. No, it’s not the quality of the stories I think people have a problem with, I think it’s the tone. The Last is regarded as one of the most depressing stories in Doctor Who history and after listening I can fully see why. In fact, upon reflection I think the entire reason this arc is controversial at all is because of the depressing tone hanging over the entire thing, with The Last so far being the climax of it.
With a companion being incapacitated for the majority of the story, our heroes just kind of giving up hope, no real good people except for our heroes, the fallout of a horrible war and multiple character talking about the alluring of suicide, The Last is definitely challenging in terms of how much dour content one can take from their light hearted Saturday night family science fiction adventure show. Personally, I’m quite enjoying it. Maybe I’m a sadist, but I enjoy seeing characters be challenged and going through spells of hardship, now this of course will have a limit but as of yet I haven’t reached it. I just wish the Doctor and co would react appropriately.
Really my only fault with this story is that in the face of all this incredibly depressing scenery and horrible things that happen to his friends and those around him, the Doctor doesn’t really seem to care. No, he cares, just not that much it seems. Without getting into spoilers there are several moments, particularly in the final part of this story where the Doctor’s lax nature genuinely shocked me more than the events I was hearing. Throughout the entire arc the Doctor has been increasingly distant to his companions, but he displays little emotion during this story. This is probably the first time I’ve ever had a problem with Paul McGann’s performance, even still I’m more inclined to put the blame on Gary Hopkins’s script that succeeds in every other aspect apart from this. Really I thought this story was great and a really interesting adventure, but it just made this smaller detailing stick out so much more.
Of the main three, I’m inclined to say Conrad Westmaas does the best here, further battling his demons and questioning his sanity in this nightmarish world. However, the real highlight acting wise is Carolyn Jones as Excelsior. She absolutely sells the apparent madness of a woman coming to terms with, or failing to come to terms with, dooming her world. She’s played and written incredibly well, definitely one of the most memorable characters from this arc who makes her presence felt in every scene she appears in.
As long as you’re in the mood for quite a depressing story, The Last is a fantastic time. Gripping from start to finish, it’s slow but deliberate pace keeps you engaged in this simple but surprisingly effective story.