Saturday, September 22, 2007

“We’re right at the end of knowledge itself, and you two are busy…blogging!” – Doctor Who

It’s tempting to write off ‘Utopia’ as just a whole lot of set-up towards the big final reveal which leads-in to the final two episodes. Indeed, after first viewing the episode the only thoughts on my mind were “Oh…My…God” and “John Simm will be awesome”. But as further viewings have shown me, there’s a lot more going on in ‘Utopia’ which deserves noting before I come to the obvious gushing about that ending.

We open with a brief return to Cardiff, where a rift in time and space provides the TARDIS with a ‘fuel’ of sorts. Hang on, though – don’t we know someone else in Cardiff? Sure enough, Captain Jack makes his triumphant return this week, running towards the TARDIS and screaming the Doctor’s name. The Doctor normally greets returning companions with a warm embrace, but he’s not quite so happy to see Jack – in fact, he deliberately takes off to avoid him. Of course, this is Jack we’re talking about, so getting rid of him proves not quite so easy. Throughout the episode the two build their comradery back up from scratch, with the Doctor admitting that as a Time Lord he sees Jack as “wrong” because he is unable to die. It’s more than a bit hypocritical (and the obvious metaphor is shoved in our faces a little too much), but soon the two have sorted out their differences. It all culminates in a warm and life-affirming conversation about Rose, death, and the “fantastic” human race.

Jack’s return also allows some plot holes to be filled in. It emerges that his constant search for the Doctor after “The Parting of the Ways” led him to end up stranded in the 19th century; so he had to live through all that time waiting to find the Doctor in the 21st century. Writer Russell T. Davies rattles off this backstory so quickly that you’d never guess it answered questions fans had been wondering on for close to two years. Not only does it explain why Jack was so moody in season one of Torchwood, but it also explains why this moodiness disappears so quickly the moment he’s back adventuring with the Doctor. It’s a welcome relief to see Jack by to his old ways, always livening up the screen with his presence. In a way, it’s a shame that his emotional journey gets lost in all the madness which comes next.

Said madness revolves around Professor Yana, a brilliant scientist who is trying to get the last of the human race on a rocket to Utopia. Yana is played, superbly, by Sir Derek Jacobi. Again, because his character will eventually turn out to be the Master it’s easy to overlook Yana himself. Yet to do so would be a great shame, as Jacobi is simply wonderful in the role. He gives Yana huge warmth and humanity, taking him beyond a stereotypical old genius and grabbing hold of every opportunity to shine. Yana’s final monologue, wondering at the possibility of time travel, is one of the most disarmingly touching moments Who has ever produced.

Mostly, however, the first half hour of ‘Utopia’ is all about having some fun and injecting some comedy. Martha’s reaction to the Doctor having grown another hand is priceless, and many other light-hearted moments abound before the dramatic finale. There are problems – the Futurekind prove nothing more than a plot device/red herring, and even considering this they are totally lame and unexciting. The plot lags a bit in the middle as well, showing that if this had been just another Who one-off adventure it would have basically sucked.

No point considering that, though – this is no normal Who adventure. The last fifteen minutes of ‘Utopia’ are instead a master class in rising dramatic tension. It begins when Yana pulls out a fob watch identical to John Smith’s in “Human Nature/The Family of Blood”, prompting Martha to rightly freak out. Her reaction suddenly makes Yana aware of the watch, and all of his mysterious responses to seeing the TARDIS and to the Doctor’s utterings (which have been happening throughout the episode) suddenly make sense – he’s the bloody Master! It all builds up to an amazing moment: as the rocket takes off in the background, the Doctor and Yana simultaneously realise the truth of the situation. Yana opens up the watch, and his transformation into the Master is shown through a single thrilling shot – we close in on his eyes, as they shift from melancholy wonderment to a malicious glare. Now the Master, he wastes no time in locking the Doctor out and planning his escape in the TARDIS, revealing his true identity to his assistant Chantho along the way: “I…am…THE MASTER!” Now that’s great television.

Thanks to a last minute shot in the heart courtesy of Chantho, the Master’s plan ends up changing a bit. He does manage to steal the TARDIS, although not before the Doctor gets a look at him (watch horror gush into Tennant’s face in that moment – beautifully done). However, the shot forces him to regenerate…into Life on Mars’ John Simm! Simm instantly starts having some fun, leaping about the TARDIS majestically and striking fear into all of our hearts with but a few lines. All the Doctor can do is make an unidentified change to the TARDIS (to be explained next week) before the Master’s off, and we’re left with definitely the best cliffhanger Who has ever produced. And all you can say is, wow.

Sure enough, that’s all I’m really going to say. Just, wow. I’ve seen that moment several times now, but it never fails to strike me with wonder, not to mention giddy excitement more befitting of a five year-old. Those fifteen minutes rank among my favourite Who moments, if not my favourite moments in television. And yet, astonishingly, the best is yet to come…


Dan said...

Agreed. I didn't like Utopia overall, but the last 15 minutes are superb. The best moments of DW yet (even outdoing anything in Human Nature and Blink, imo). It's a shame the 35 minutes before the Master arrives are so plodding and mundane!

Derek Jacobi is magnificent. I actually wish he'd remained as The Master in some ways. Simm is wonderful here, but unfortunately he's ultimately a slight let-down in the next 2 episodes.

I'm glad you're excited for the last 2 episodes, although only Drums works on any level. I think the final episode in particular is one of DW's biggest disappointments, with a few nice ideas/scenes sprinkled about. But that's just my opinion. They're certainly not BAD episodes, but the promise of Utopia isn't capitalized on.

Jon Delfin said...

There was no title/writer card in the opening credits. Production glitch, I presume?