Seven hundred and one episodes. Twenty-six years of television in the space of sixteen months. My epic journey through time and space with the iconic Doctor has finally reached its end (or, at least, its last major milestone). Survival is not a proper finale like you would expect these days (it’s not even a monotone finale like we had in 1969), but in its own way, it is rather poignant. It deals with the theme of survival, which is appropriate given the show was killed off. A harsh wilderness, survival of the fittest, survival of a planet, and survival of the Master. It’s Anthony Ainley’s final appearance as the Master, Sophie Aldred’s final appearance as Ace and the last time we see that iffy purple swirling galaxy.
Survival is not the best, but the continuation of Ace’s character-building that started earlier in the season is much appreciated and has hints of the modern style that the show now uses in its revived incarnation. Here, Ace returns to her home of Perivale to reunite with “the old gang”. There’s a kind of sadness to these scenes, of lost youth, good times that have passed, friends that have moved on, and things that will never be the same again. It’s relatable. Then they get abducted by a race of teleporting cheetah-people from a dying planet, and it becomes a bit less relatable.
Survival is quite a personal story. It’s not about some universe-ending disaster. Admittedly, the cheetah-people’s world is falling apart, but it’s really just a story about a group of people trying to escape, trying to stay human, the Master using the Doctor as bait, the Doctor trying to bring Ace back from the point of transformation, and Ace coming to terms with what it means to survive, developing a doomed friendship with Karra, and learning what she truly calls “home”.
Nevertheless, the ending does have a whiff of “we need a spectacular finish” to it. The exploding motorcycles are ridiculous (did the production have excess dynamite to use up?), more so that the Doctor survives the blast without a scratch! The final (brief) battle with the Master is like something out of Star Wars, but I did enjoy that. And the Doctor’s closing lines to Ace, about all the wonders of the Universe that are still out there for them to see, are very nicely done, and really hammers home that this is the end. I understand this speech was a late addition once the producers knew it was all over. Although Sylvester McCoy would return to TV as the Doctor a couple more times, this is basically the end of his run, and I will have more to say about him shortly.
For now, I finish the main bulk of my Doctor Who marathon with a sort of sadness that it’s all over. I never experienced it on its first broadcast, so I can only imagine what it must have been like for the fans still tuning in every week to suddenly realise it was to be no more. Although there are still hints of the cheesy old pantomime / stage drama style, the show’s twenty-sixth season has seen it turn into something vastly improved. Had it continued, I could well imagine a gradual transition into the 2005 series, and I would have traced that change back to here. Alas, it seems the show was not fast enough to adapt, and thus not fit to survive.