Tonal whiplash can often be a problem in Doctor Who as you can have highly dramatic stories followed by highly comedic stories or vice versa. It is a phenomenon where the contrasting tones diminishes the quality of a story as it changes rapidly and many would argue that The Last suffers because of it. This is due to the story being summed up in the word bleak. The Last takes place in a Zone where there is a nuclear winter. Radiation permeates everything and much of the population has been killed in a war while the government is safely kept in their security bunker a mile beneath the surface with the leader being blissfully unaware of the casualties of war. The setting however isn’t the only thing that is bleak as Hopkins uses his story to put the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz through hell and back in what might just be the best of the Eighth Doctor main range stories which I will of course explain why it isn’t near the end of this review.
The plot sees the Doctor, Charley and C’rizz go to the next zone where the Doctor immediately realizes that this is a nuclear winter where they must quickly find shelter when a massive rockfall paralyzes Charley, separates C’rizz and disorients the Doctor. The Doctor and Charley end up inside the security bunker where they meet the leader of the zone Excelsior, who is mad, and her ministers for war and peace who are all working on the fact that the world is still at war even if there is nobody left to fight. Excelsior is ready to go to the surface when the bunker begins to fill up and the rest of the story’s plot is basically escape the sinking ship. The plot is traditional but extremely interesting as it focuses on the subplots of the ghosts of the inhabitants of this zone and Hopkins excels at writing it. The great writing has Paul McGann in his best performance in ages as the Doctor is pushed to his absolute limit. This is not the breathless romantic of the other adventures, but a man pushed past his limits and ready to kill so he can try and survive. The things the Doctor sees in this story are horrifying to say the least as everyone in the story, but him, dies. Yes even Charley and C’rizz don’t make it out of this story alive as they are murdered by Excelsior played by Carolyn Jones, who has gone mad. Excelsior is a vile woman in every sense of the word. She has kinetic powers to control acids and thinks she is doing Charley and C’rizz favors by putting them out of their miseries. The character is fascinating as Jones does a subtle performance which works much better than an over the top performance other actors may have given.
Charley Pollard actually has stuff to do in this story as she gets paralyzed from the neck down and has come to accept that she is never going to walk again. She offers herself to be sacrificed if someone has to stay on the planet and die a slow and painful death as she is only going to slow them down. Her death is extremely tragic as we have spent the most time with Charley over the course of the adventures with her as the audience surrogate. C’rizz also gets to have development as he watches over Charley whom he cares for immensely even though they have only known each other for a couple of weeks. Their relationship in this story is great as C’rizz is truly a caring person who wants to see Excelsior dead when he realizes it could only be her who killed Charley. C’rizz is also the only person who can see Requiem, the ghost haunting them. Requiem isn’t a villain as he is the leader of the dead population on Bortrosoye who has the subplot that all must die so the titular last can reset everything to peace which segues nicely into the story breaking flaw of the story.
The following is going to contain major spoilers for the story which I have to reveal to accurately rate this story. If you haven’t listened to this story yet stop reading now, buy the story and listen to it before coming back here to read the rest of the review. So it is revealed near the end that the zone has been stuck in what serves as a time loop with the final survivor of the events having to be the one who resets everything. He is the Last the title refers to and in this version of the loop it is the Doctor who remains standing once the dust settles and Requiem gives him a decision. He can either commit suicide to reset everything most likely for the last time or just keep going until they naturally reset. Of course he decides that he is going to reset everything so he can save his friends and get out which of course is the path he chooses. This is just infuriating as Gary Hopkins is a writer with balls who has made us seen the character development of the Doctor which is only undone by this major twist that psyche everything is fine. This deus ex machina ending ruins any sort of dramatic tension you have on relistens as you know that everything is going to turn out fine no matter what happens.
To summarize, until its final part The Last is a brilliant story with a writer who has the balls to kill off major characters and have the Doctor have critical reactions to the events taking place but it is ruined by its deus ex machina ending that just hurts. 60/100