Friday, January 28, 2011


A bit of legit acting talent can go a long way. In spite of being penned by RTD and thus suffering from the usual drawbacks of hammy villains, nonexistent science, totally unimaginative visions of the future and excessive reliance on continuity, "Utopia" is actually a pretty good episode.
To start off we have the return of Captain Jack, who has been busy starring in the abysmal first season of Torchwood. Frankly I can't think of a particularly valid reason for why RTD bothered bringing Jack back in this story; as usual his role is mostly as Second Technician to the Doctor. I think it's an element of fan service and a bit of wankery on the part of RTD to more directly tie in Torchwood, which as you may be aware is a completely cretinous and insulting spin-off to Doctor Who which degrades its parent show by association and which I like to think is non-canonical wherever possible. I also think it's because Captain Jack is another author surrogate for RTD and he just wants to bring him along. I mean I don't really mind Captain Jack; I know some people, especially Classic Series fans, tend to hate him. I think his presence in just a bit pointless. Similarly I know some people, usually New Series fans, hate Martha because they are all in love with Tennant and want to be Rose, but personally I prefer her as well. She's pretty pointless in this episode too. In fact even the Doctor is kind of pointless, because it's all about the Master.
Oops, did I give away that the Master returns in this episode? Well as usual instead of letting us focus on the issue of human survival and the existential quandries of the concept of the End of the Universe we get the return of a big-name villain. So curiously enough in the First Series we see the return of the Daleks, who I believe had the most encounters with the First Doctor, then the Second Series features the revival of the (stupid Parallel Universe) Cybermen, who had the most encounters with the Second Doctor, and now in the Third Series we get the regeneration of the Master, who by far and away had the most encounters with the Third Doctor. Weirdly enough, next series will see the return of the Sontarans, who had the most encounters (but not by very much) with the Fourth Doctor. I really hope that is a coincidence.
Anyway the Master and his human alter ego Professor Yana are performed with aplomb by the truly masterful (pun intended) Sir Derek Jacobi, and both the doddering old man and the raging, arrogant Time Lord are displayed with equal skill. It's very satisfying to see the show get such a good actor, and one with a history in the show's spin-off merch, in to reintroduce a much-loved Classic Series character, and I for one find that his performance is rather evocative of Anthony Ainley. Now as you may know Ainley gets a lot of stick for his Master being a hammy moustachioed villain compared to the sort of suavity and occasionally even anti-heroic character of the original Roger Delgado persona but personally I thought when the scripts were good (so not "Time-Flight", then) he did a good job of portraying the Master as a complete egomaniac, excessively serious, only ever laughing alone, and full of repressed self-hatred at how much he had alienated himself from his old friend, and I think Jacobi evokes a similar feeling. It's interesting that they reprise the Chameleon Arch concept considering "Human Nature" was only a few episodes ago but I suppose it's as good a reason as any for the existence of another Time Lord to be hidden from the Doctor.
One annoying thing about the episode is how poorly-realised the future is. If humanity still exists in the year one hundred trillion, do we really expect them to be wearing Twentieth Century clothes, driving trucks and scrambling into a rocket that looks like it was made from bits of sheet metal bolted together? I think if RTD wants us to believe that "humanity always survives" it'd be nice if they did it in a slightly more futuristic fashion even if civilisation has meant to have degraded as the end approaches. I'm not entirely sure I believe that the heat death of the universe would even mean such a collapse anyway. Wouldn't all these other powerful alien species have found some way to survive? Wouldn't the future be even more glorious and inconceivable than ever? But that would mean RTD having to use his imagination and I think he exhausted that on "They went there because the TARDIS was trying to 'shake' Jack off," which has got to be one of the dumbest explanations for anything ever.
There's a lot of crap from the Doctor about Jack being 'wrong' and how he's prejudiced but it's all a big joke and there's too much of Jack and the Doctor reminiscing needlessly about Rose. There's even a completely pointless clip of Rose from "The Farting of the Ways" and I really wish RTD would move on from this character. This scene is just annoying and it makes me wonder: why didn't the Doctor help Jack? Even the Ninth Doctor? How come RTD's Doctor is a bit of a jerk sometimes? Well anyway we just have to accept that what's done is done and focus on the bad science. How on earth does the radiation in that room dissolve flesh super-quickly but does absolutely no damage to clothing? Why are they flying everyone to Utopia if they're not even sure it exists? What are the Futurekind, and why are they so needlessly ridiculous like the enemies from a bad Eighties episode? There's a lot more RTD deliberate mystery and it's unsatisfying as ever.
All in all though it's pretty good, and big ticks especially to Sir Derek Jacobi for his performance as the Master. Tennant is mostly good too, and if Martha and Jack are needless it's because RTD cares too much about hype and not enough about things outside keeping his own agenda alive.
Still, good to hear Ainley's laugh and a line from Delgado, huh? And now we can add Jacobi to that mighty pantheon? Oh wait, the Master regenerated...

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