Opinion dw-s3-utopia-watch

Published on March 11th, 2012 | by Scott Varnham

Utopia (Re)calling

When this piece was commissioned, I decided not to cover one that I’ve already reviewed in some place or another (taking out anything from Planet Of The Dead onwards and frankly, it’s better that I don’t talk about most of Series Fnarg.2 for fear of angry fingers destroying the keyboard) so I looked to the past, among the murky waters of the Russell T. Davies era. And what better episode to cover than one that I know so well I don’t need to watch it?

Sir Derek Jacobi as The Master With a hop, skip and a full-on sprint towards the TARDIS, Captain Jack runs back into the Doctor’s life as the TARDIS takes him, the Doctor and Martha to the far, far future, to a planet called Malcassairo. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Utopia

I’m going to start with the negatives so that I can sum up all that was positive about this episode near the end. First of all, I don’t like Martha’s portrayal in this episode, forced to be the exposition lady so Professor Yana can be conveniently in earshot. And sticking her as a gossip-buddy with Chantho proves what I’ve always said – stick two women together and they will gossip until the end of time.

The character of Chantho herself was annoying as hell, making her eventual fate rather satisfying and the Master’s confession of what he really thought of her was a sentiment no doubt shared by many other viewers. (For the record: “And you, with your ‘chan’ and your ‘thos’ driving me insane!”) Of course, mileages may vary even within this site, with Our Benevolent Overlord describing her back in the day as “…quite lovely, and I hadn’t felt so fond of an alien since the female Eldrad in The Hand Of Fear“.

The Futurekind were all kinds of pointless existing as they did to chase the heroes and glare at them occasionally. The traveller that they meet, Padra Shafe Kane, had much the same problem without the glaring. In fact, I’ve worked out he had two purposes: 1) to introduce us to the Futurekind by showing us what they do and 2) knowing where to go to find other humans. Rusty must’ve realised this, because as soon as he gets in the Silo, he’s reunited with his mother and is never seen again.

For fear of the angry words covering my keyboard in Anger Slime á la Ghostbusters II, I shall move on to the reasons I love this episode. If you want an example of an episode doing everything right then I’d point you in the direction of The Big Bang, but this one is my favourite because I love it despite its flaws. I love it for the thrilling return of Captain Jack. I love it for the interactions of Tennant and Barrowman. But most of all, I love it for the return of the Master, in the form of Derek Jacobi no less!

On the subject of the Master, I would’ve gladly seen more of Derek Jacobi’s Master. I realise some of the more physical aspects of the Simm Master would probably have been beyond him (a Jacobi CGI image leaping 30 feet into the air, for example, would’ve looked ridiculous and farcical) but he was the Master for all of 10 minutes and it would’ve been a pleasure to see more of him. He plays the dual role so well that you could seriously believe they got a different actor in to play Professor Yana! (Oh, um, spoiler alert! Sorry.)

By a marvellous quirk of fate, I chose Utopia without being aware that it aired last night on BBC Three and is now available on the iPlayer, so if you’ve not seen it before or just can’t be bothered to get the DVD out, then you know where to go! And why wouldn’t you? It’s up there with the best of its era, if not the best. I hope that of all the episodes of Who, this one will still be around in the year 100 Trillion.

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About the Author

In his spare time, Scott writes for Kasterborous, his personal blog at WordPress and the revived Starburst Magazine. He’s also on Twitter (as @Scott_V_Writer) where he tries to be interesting and verbose in 140 characters.




9 Responses to Utopia (Re)calling

  1. Philip Bates says:

    I liked Utopia on first transmission, but its since been tainted a bit by the folowing two episodes. Last of the Time Lords was the first Doctor Who I didn’t like (minaly for Gollum-Doctor!). It was a really huge, sad moment for me.

    Derek Jacobi was perfect as the Master, and I loved John Simm too – it’s just a shame he was never written very well.

    I also liked how the Futurekind were just a distraction, really. But my, weren’t they sinister. That leader one saying, “hungry” was just plain creepy.

    Jack and the Doctor was a great match too.


  2. “a Jacobi CGI image leaping 30 feet into the air, for example, would’ve looked ridiculous and farcical” – because the CGI Simm looked so much better? It reminds me of the Sacred Heart novelty toy in Father Ted: “You know, with something like this, it would have been so easy to make it look cheap and tacky.” Truly terrible.

  3. Gavin Noble says:

    I was actaully enjoying Utopia on its first viewing until it started to become obvious that Yana was The Master. I have never strongly liked or disliked The Master in classic Who – some stories were fun with him, others less enjoyable, but from that point in NuWho Series Three things went downhill rapidly.

    John Simm was simply awful as The Master (both here and in The End of Time). The two part finale of that series was by far the worst finale of NuWho and I echo Phillip Bates’ dislike of the stupid Gollum (though I called him Dobby!) Doctor. The only plus point was that at least it wasn’t the Daleks in the finale again…

  4. Rick Lundeen says:

    Of the Master trilogy, I liked Utopia best. Still do. And it really all comes down to Jacobi and his internal struggle and his later re-found identity. A *real* shame we could not have seen more of him. but the more we saw, I think the less we’d want a replacement. Never know.

  5. penfolduk01 says:

    Yes, it was Dobby the House Elf Doctor!

    That always seemed to be a bit silly in my opinion.
    As was The Doctor’s immediate reinstatement via the psychic field.
    I’d have preferred The Doctor using the psychic power to force The Master to reverse the ageing effect using his laser screwdriver.

    It would have been interesting to see more of Jacobi as The Master.
    Maybe if they ever do something around the Time War…?

    Although I think that the Time War is something best left to viewers imaginations. Much like the inside of the Mothership in Close Encounters.

  6. CastellanSpandrel says:

    Utopia – thrilling ending, wasn’t it? But what came before it was mostly a lot of yak – far too many continuity references and ends being tied up via dialogue between the Dr and Jack, but Chantho is charming and Jacobi is in top guest thesp mode.

    Not a great episode in itself but the last 10 minutes are among the most thrilling bits of Who ever.

  7. John Harley says:

    I still think that Utopia is one of the best episodes of the new Who! I wasn’t happy with the next two shows but this one had what it needs for Doctor Who mythology. I’d rate this near to Dalek I think..

  8. Amber says:

    I agree with CS above, as soon as he turned the watch over this episode was thrilling, even though I’d unwisely read spoilers explaining who Yana was. It isn’t too tainted by what came after for me, at least it was more credible than the “I believe in fairies” resolution of The Pandorica Opens.

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