Enter: The Master

(Spoilers for Utopia follow. You've been warned.)

I'm not kidding.

It may already be too late.

Fine, have it your own way.

Well played, Russel T Davies, well played. Going in without benefit of spoilers, the Doctor Who team really hoodwinked me this week. I mean, I knew the Master was set to appear in the finale, and I even know "Mr. Saxon" would turn out to be the Master. What I didn't expect was for the finale to be a three-parter! I thought Utopia was going to be a Captain Jack episode that explains how he got back from 200,100 A.D. and shuffle him back off to Torchwood afterwards.Having him cling to the outside of the TARDIS was a great opener, and I was further intrigued by the cold shoulder the Doctor was giving him, but the story quickly turned to a somewhat ordinary refugees vs. animalistic men conflict and I couldn't see how Jack's story would be resolved. And then Professor Yana started complaining of hearing drums (they weren't just on the soundtrack) and it started to come into focus. Hold on. The next story is called "The Sound of Drums". The whole Utopia plot is just a red herring. The Master's return starts HERE.

Series 3 has been intricately planned out, it seems. The chameleon arch seen in Human Nature is used as a device to hide the Master in plain sight (as the Doctor had been previously), but that hinged on Paul Cornell accepting to rework his novel as an episode, didn't it? Because it was based on a previous work, it worked as a stand-alone story and I would never have imagined that details from it would resonate with the rest of the series. The Master's human identity is starkly different from his true personality, much more than The Doctor/John Smith.
And yet the clues are there. Professor Yana is a scientific genius (a computer made of food?) and his name supposedly stands for You Are Not Alone. Is the sound of drums the same kind of side-effect as John Smith's dreams? Some kind of leakage from the fobwatch? Further, who did this to the Master? It seems likely that he did it to himself to hide from the time war, but it's either odd or revealing that Professor Yana is a lot like the Doctor. He's brilliant, selfless and always on the move. he even has a charming companion who is taken with him (just the kind of likeable character Davies likes to MELT!). Being turned into his opposite seems more like a punishment, as if he was made human to atone for his sins. Something the Time Lords did? Something the DOCTOR did? (He doesn't seem to clue in fast enough for that to be the case, but does ask "uhmm, which Time Lord?" in a nonplussed way.)Derek Jacobi is such a brilliant actor (who'd played the Master before, in webcast animation, and the Doctor, in the Unbound audio Deadline), that I was really sorry to see him regenerate. Nothing against John Simm, but Jacobi is in a whole other league. Which is probably why Doctor Who couldn't hold on to him for a greater/recurring commitment. He's got a great voice, which is important for a villain, plenty of gravitas and subtlety (something Anthony Ainley sadly never brought to the role). Imagine the Master as King Claudius from Hamlet. All we really saw of Simm's Master can be seen as post-regenerative trauma, but he's the current Doctor's manic homologue. More of a Batman villain, right now.Hold on... regenerate? How can that be when everyone knows the Master ran out of regenerations long ago? Here's a quick history for New Whovians: While Roger Delgado was the first Master ever seen, he was already on body #13. Since Time Lords can only have 12 regenerations, according to the old series, the Master's next death would have been, as they say, that. Except he refuses to die, so he shambles through his next two stories as a crispy undead corpse. (He's a survivor, that one). In "The Keeper of Traken", he gains the powers of Traken's Keeper and uses them (presumably) to take over the body of a man called Tremas (Nyssa's father). He really wanted the Doctor's body, but couldn't get it, and then Tremas had the perfect anagrammatical name...From then on he's played by Anthony Ainley until the end of the classic series. In "The Five Doctors", the Master is offered 12 further regenerations (so it's clear that it's a Time Lord GIFT or, if you will, an artificial LIMIT.) He doesn't really respect his end of the bargain, so he probably doesn't get them. Doctor Who and the Master both make a comeback in 1996 with the Fox TV movie, which begins with the Master's ashes being taken to Skaro(?) for burial/safe-keeping. His essence escapes and in the form of some kind of black liquid, he takes over a paramedic played by Eric Roberts. Again, it's a case of stealing bodies, and the essence itself might be some kind of alien creature the Master has possessed. He's still out of regenerations at this point, because his plan is to steal the Doctor's remaining lives. At the end of the movie, the Master falls into the Eye of Harmony, but I don't think he dies. After all, if the TVM had become a series (it was a pilot), the Master would have no doubt returned as Eric Roberts.Then nothing until Utopia. First, is Jacobi's Master another stolen body? Or did he regenerate from some previous form? Or was the chameleon arch responsible for the physical change? In any case, how does Jacobi regenerate into Simm at the end of Utopia? A number of possibilities come to mind. First, it may just be a matter of being inside the TARDIS and using the Doctor's hand in some way, but that sounds a bit cheap.

A better explanation is that because of the Time War, the Time Lords removed all limits on the number of possible regenerations in order to curb the death toll. If that's the case, the Doctor's got unlimited regenerations as well, which fixes the problem of having to end the series in three actors' time. Alternately, being turned into a human may have rebooted the Master's biology. Again this solves the Doctor's quandary as becoming a Time Lord again, means turning a human body (one life) into a fresh Time Lord body (on its first life). The Master does say he was "killed by an insect... a girl" which could be made to sound like he didn't know he was about to regenerate until the process started.

Apparently, the whole thing will be explained in the next episode with a single line. Can't wait to see how right or wrong I was, but the last two solutions could take only one line.

Other thoughts on Utopia: 
-Though it is perhaps unlikely that anyone would still be alive in the entropic universe at the end of time, I really liked how they described its "geography". The Silver Devastation and the Black Matter Reefs are really evocative names.
-The reason why the Doctor is so antagonistic towards Jack all of a sudden is that he is a "fact", a fixed point in history. That seems a little odd, since there's more to probabilities than whether you live or die, isn't there? An interesting idea, but not sure how much water it holds. Perhaps the TARDIS works on improbability (a Hitchhiker's Guide kind of idea), so that avoiding Jack is something similar to "we're part of events". Still, it was fun to see Jack charismatically introducing himself to people again.
-I'm pretty sure his bracelet can be repaired by the Doctor and will be used to get back to the 21st century.
-The Ghost of Rose: We knew she'd come up again with a vengeance, what with Captain Jack sure to ask about her. Jack as her stalker growing up is... somewhat disturbing, isn't it?
-Scene I could have done without: Jack riding the TARDIS is such a strong image, I wish they'd just put the sting right there and let the opening roll. (Hey, John Barrowman got credited in the opener!) The bit of business with the future kind's teeth took the bite out of it (yeah, yeah, pun intended, so sue me).
-Favorite line: "Was someone kissing me?" Aww, you missed it, Jack. (I will not dignify "And you lot are... blogging!" with a response.)
-Did you notice? You can hear Delgado deliver a line when Yana's watch is whispering sweet nothings into his mind. Are there other Masters in there? Maybe Ainley's cackling?

One thing's for sure: Next week is gonna be HAWT!


Steve Flanagan said...

As a whole, I thought that Utopia had some great character business, stuck into an episode of Blake's 7 (they did "the last few civilised people surrounded by Mad Max gangs" time and again, and one variation even included Avon launching a rocket Ark).

On the pre-credits: they couldn't really have cut straight from Jack hanging on to the TARDIS in the vortex to the title sequence, because that is another vortex scene. It would neither have matched nor flowed. And when the TARDIS came into view again, children everywhere would have been asking, "Dad, has Captain Jack fallen off?"

As it was, I know of a few who were asking, "So who's this Master, then?"

Steve Flanagan said...

I forgot to mention: one very good thing about this episode was the return of the real Captain Jack Harkness, not the angsty imposter ho hangs around in Torchwood.

Siskoid said...

Yes. There's totally a difference in characterization. I hope to write an essay on it soon enough (that's what I was preparing for before the twist).

As for the credits sequence, well, why NOT have Jack hanging on? That would have been some COOL. :) But you're right of course.

(With the Black 7/Star Trek/etc. plot too.)


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