Monday, 22 April 2013

Review: Doctor Who 3.11: Utopia

The last story of this series is really three parts long, but for my own sake I'm going to split Utopia off.

File:Chantho utopia.jpgDoctor Who - Season 29, Episode Eleven - Utopia
Written 9/3/13

Spoilers out the way first. If for whatever reason you've not seen Utopia, go away and watch it, because the episode and those following it rely on an awesome twist that won't be half as good if you know it's coming. That said, Utopia is really quite spectacular. It manages to shove a lot of high-scale concept and really fun sci-fi in alongside a whole heap of references to the past, within both NuWho and the series as a whole. RTD is good at build-up; we know this. It helps that in this series, we have this whole extra episode for him to do that build-up.
     Carrying straight on from The End of Days, Jack runs out of the Hub to find the TARDIS refuelling. Seeing him, The Doc tries to get away, but Jack clings to the outside, causing the sentient machine to travel to the end of time to try and shake him off. When he ressurects, The Doctor introduces Jack to Martha and they have a Rose-related catch-up session, before discovering a silo of humans sheltering from agressive, savage versions of themselves. Led by Professor Yana (Sir. Derek Jacobi), they're attempting to reach a place far off in the stars called Utopia. As The Doctor helps him, he realises too late that Yana has a Chameleon Arch pocket watch, which reveals him to be The Master - who, upon awakening, steals the TARDIS and strands them near the end of the Universe.
     The reveal of The Master was one of the first things in Doctor Who that I had spoiled for myself. I remembered Ainley's Master from the Classic Series, and was excited that the last of the Classic Series' most important villains was making his comeback. Jacobi is wonderfully unassuming in the role, and equally bitter and hammy once his identity is revealed. We didn't really get to see much of the Master in the episode itself, so I'll discuss my views on the Simm incarnation next week, but for now it's safe to say that we were pretty hyped for the return.
     The execution of the future concept was done in a way which gave it a uniquely bleak atmsophere that Who doesn't manage to pull off very often. The toothy "Futurekind" were a tad cheesy, what with their slightly anachronistic name ("Future" to whom?) and their narmy cries of "HUGH-MAN!". But that felt fairly inconsequential next to the rest of the setup. This episode's focus was never going to be on the sci-fi ideas, it was always going to be on the characters.
Beginning to ship Jack/Ten. Just a lil bit.
     Jack's return is handled wonderfully, and Barrowman spices the series up no end. There's a scene near the end where Jack's immortality is used to help launch the ship (something to do with Radiation, don't ask me.) The chat between The Doctor and Jack that follows is a sign of how flexible RTD's writing became when discussing Jack's adventures outside of Who. RTD was adamant that Torchwood wasn't for kids, and thus he prevented The Doctor from ever crossing over. The episode manages to explain Jack absence in such a way as to both work with and without seeing the spin-off. Which is nice.
     Utopia is what I could call a perfect, archetypical episode of RTD's Who. It's got an action-packed plot that's balanced by high-concept sci-fi and somewhat intricate character work that never fails to push the audience's buttons. It often gets overshadowed by the finale and by Simm's barnstorming portrayl of the Simm Master, but it shouldn't. It's my favourite part of this trilogy, and it's one of RTD's best stories.


NEXT WEEK: It's essay time. We cover Simm's Master when we look at The Sound of Drums/ The Last of the Time Lords.

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