Doctor Who #765: Utopia

"We're at the end of the universe, right? Right at the edge of knowledge itself and you're busy... blogging!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.16 2007.

IN THIS ONE... Jack's back, and Sir Derek Jacobi is revealed as the Master in the year 100 trillion.

REVIEW: At the time, Utopia was a massive red herring. It looked like a one-off episode that guest-starred Captain Jack and maybe would resolve his immortality subplot, as well as Derek Jacobi as an absent-minded professor, was set in a dark quarry, where the last of humanity tried to escape the cannibalistic Futurekind. The plot is a forgettable mislead, mere backdrop to the revelation that Jacobi's Professor Yana is the Master, hiding in human form (as set up in Human Nature), and up to a point, to various subplots, mostly Jack's, but also the Face of Boe's prophecy. But that'll prove to be a mislead too, since Utopia's plot makes itself relevant in Last of the Time Lords (not to my enthusiastic approval, though it's at least set up by the Master taking the Utopia disc from his computer). Is Russell T Davies playing fair with us? Probably not. He certainly isn't when he retcons the 9th Doctor as having left Jack behind on purpose, and is being very silly by making the Master's human identity an anagram of You Are Not Alone (over-egging the pudding with complete nonsense).

Jacobi is, of course, brilliant. His Professor Yana is a sweet soul who can't quite juggle everything that's going on in his head. He's immediately sympathetic, which makes his Master all the more repellent for being everything Yana is not. We don't get to see a lot of his Master, mind you, and I would like to think he had the same acid wit Jacobi gave the android Master in Scream of the Shalka. But it's certainly interesting that Yana is more Doctor than Master. A brilliant scientist with a charming assistant (I love Chantho - note how Martha corrupts her by making her "swear", as a prelude/clue to Yana's own corruption) who helps people with no thought to his own welfare. Is there some brotherly envy at work there? As the reminders of Time Lord existence pile up, Yana is overwhelmed with emotion, and his fobwatch starts whispering sweet nothings in the voices of former Masters (we hear Delgado and Ainley for sure). It's all beautifully played, and the sound design really helps, a mix of war drums, strange tribal singing and whispers contrasting with the industrial rock beats of the A-plot. Kind of sorry he had to turn into John Simm, though he's clearly more of a "match" for David Tennant.

As for Jack, it's great to see him in romp mode again, something he wasn't allowed to do in Torchwood. He's flirting with everyone he meets, while the Doctor tells him to stop it, and I love the bit where he wakes up asking if someone was kissing him (not only did Gwen do the same recently, but Martha's mouth-to-mouth has also "saved" the Doctor). But despite the cheeky banter, the Doctor is surprisingly aloof towards the good Captain. The notion that Jack is a "fact" and more importantly a "fixed point" (check you Doctor Who Bingo cards, that's the first mention of this concept, although in a very different context) makes the Time Lord and the TARDIS recoil. Not sure what that means, given that other complex spacetime events (like River and other Time Lords) aren't a problem, and Jack's life IS rewritten on occasion (in Turn Left, for example). But riding on the back of the TARDIS through the vortex, getting undressed just for show, and until then thinking the Tylers had been killed at Canary Wharf, I'm glad to see him back. He and Martha make a good pair, comparing notes that unfortunately bring out Martha's uglier side, her jealousy towards Rose (which the Doctor doesn't appreciate, he's the only one unable to laugh about it). That I'm still watching her despite the fact that she's surrounded by these extraordinary men is a testament to how sympathetic she is.

THEORIES: Time War shenanigans... RTD seems to suggest the Doctor might have become the Bad Wolf during the Time War, which is how the destruction of the Daleks and Gallifrey was achieved. He says a Time Lord looking into the heart of the TARDIS would become a vengeful god, and only Rose's humanity allowed her to be something else. Well, we now know this isn't what happened, so that's a bit of a disconnect, though who knows what kind of memories the War Doctor was implanted with to cover the paradoxes involved? Especially since an echo of the (Rose) Bad Wolf was present.

SECOND OPINIONS: My original review, Enter: The Master, talked at length about the Master and what he might have been doing since we'd last seen him, how me might be able to regenerate, etc.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A forgettable main plot, but it's all about the characters here, the three members of the TARDIS crew as much as Yana and Chantho.


Nicholas Yankovec said...

Only medium high? These three episodes, for me at least, comprise probably my favourite New Who story. Derek Jacobi and John Simm, both playing the Master, perfection... The only thing that spoiled this for me, was the British press revealing who Derek Jakobi was playing beforehand. Why, press, why?!

Anonymous said...

I didn't like John Simms at all; "wacky" psychopaths have been done to death, and I can't take most of them seriously. Derek Jacobi Master was cold and calculating in just the right ways. Would have liked to have seen more of him.

Would also like to see a middle-age Doctor again, but when's that ever gonna happen? Probably not in a million billion years. Now if you'll excuse me my TiVo says it's got new shows for me.

Siskoid said...

Nicholas: You can always depend on the British press to ruin things. Hell, ANY press, really.

Utopia itself is only M-H to me because much of it is a red herring in service of what's to come. The Sound of Drums I love. Last of the Time Lords has great moments and abysmal moments. But I'm giving spoilers here!

Anon: Yes, WHENNNNNNN?????!!!! ;-)


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