Utopia Reviewed

Trouble brewing for The Doctor in Utopia.Well… I’m not sure if there is any point to watching Doctor Who any more – after all how can it get better than an episode that saw Sir Derek Jacobi playing a kindly old scientist who is really the Master who steals the TARDIS and then regenerates into John Simm who is actually Mr Saxon, leaving the Doctor, Martha and of course the returning Captain Jack Harkness stranded at the end of the universe.

That’s pretty exciting stuff, and I have to say that I sat spellbound for the full 45 minutes as the plot developed. Alright, it wasn’t The Usual Suspects, but it was still different, despite the trademark half-sci-fi ideas of sharp-toothed degenerate “futurekind” humans running around a quarry chasing humans for food, an alien with an odd turn of speech and the bonkers dating (5 trillion?! It makes New Earth look like tomorrow!), a genial scientist and a race of humans looking for “utopia”.

As per usual with a Russell T Davies script, it was the dialogue and the performances that made the adventure. Graeme Harper’s direction, too, minimised the use of the quarry and enhanced the quality of the turns, with Sir Derek Jacobi’s Professor Jana sharing centre stage with the returning John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness.

With a story that builds in tempo as the plot progresses, culminating in one of the most iconic moments in Doctor Who ever (up there with the Daleks in the Void Ship at the end of Army of Ghosts), you have to step back and congratulate the director, Graeme Harper for his marvellous work on the episode (particularly the lighting in the “I. Am. The Master!” moment) and Murray Gold’s tribe-rock soundtrack. At one point I thought it was going to break into Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast” with the muted power chords and reveal of the Master.

The presence of Derek Jacobi meanwhile rose (if that is possible) the performance of David Tennant. He has been absolutely tip-top all season, displaying toned down, darker performance years away from the “Who ya gonna call!?” moment of Army of Ghosts. In fact I would go so far as to compare the difference in his performance with the difference between Tom Baker’s in The Ark in Space and The RIbos Operation. So there I go again, comparing the Tenth Doctor with the Fourth. Just give me a reason to favour you over him, David – another 5 years?

Speaking of giving more time to the role – I would have gratefully taken hours more of Jacobi as the Master. Wonderful, effortless, sublime – superlatives, each and every one of them, but he possesses such presence and grace; I’ve never looked forward to a performance and been so happily rewarded in many a year.

Tying up the mystery of “You Are Not Alone” was inspired; Professor Yana (I spent most of the episode thinking it was spelt “Yarner”, and I was probably not alone in that) being the answer to The Face of Boe’s riddle, however, is another matter entirely. After all, if you cast your mind back to the two adventures on New Earth, Boe seemed to know the Doctor of old…

chan-What did you think of the wonderful alien creature, Chantho-tho? Personally I found her quite lovely, and I hadn’t felt so fond of an alien since the female Eldrad in The Hand of Fear. Her interaction with Martha was reminiscent of that between Rose and Gwyneth in The Unquiet Dead, too, very watchable.

Ah. Rose. There she is again. Now I fully expected mention of the blonde bombshell in an episode featuring the return of Jack, but I didn’t expect the Doctor and Jack to go beyond the “She’s fine!” moment. Was it too much? Is it necessary to the plot? I don’t know, only the production team in Wales know, but right now it feels too much. Then again, this is Series 3, currently the finest we’ve even seen in Doctor Who’s long history, and there is very little to complain about so far…

While it was good to see John Barrowman back doing what he does best as Captain Jack, erasing memories of the miserable version from Torchwood, the explanation for the Doctor leaving him in The Parting of the Ways seemed a little – I don’t know – wrong? I suspect, however, that there is more to learn about old Jacky-boy, just as there is with the Master…

A self-indulgent, yet completely validated nod-to-the-past took place as Professor Yana opened his Gallifreyan watch, and long-term Doctor Who fans the world over were rewarded with the evil chuckle of Anthony Ainley and a snippet of Roger Delgado from The Daemons. It was a joy to behold, and I suspect that even at this point casual viewers were still watching as this unassuming man became the embodiment of eternal evil as opposed to switching off in their droves because they felt excluded. This wasn’t “Look it’s the Master, this is for the Fans, we don’t care what you think” – instead it was “Look – the Doctor isn’t the last Time Lord. There’s another, and he is BAD!”

Climaxing on THAT cliffhanger, with an omnisexual, 200 year old Time Agent trying to stop a tribe of Futurekind heroes from ripping the TARDIS team to shreds as the old girl departed, was a Master-stroke, and having watched the last 12 minutes 7 times, I suspect Series 3 is going to get even better.

Yes. Better.


Christian Cawley

About

A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.


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