Season 29 Episode 10 – Utopia, by Russell T. Davies

May 11, 2008

review by Martin Odoni.

Oooooh boy.

It wasn’t… ba-a-a-a-a-a-ad. In fact, for the sheer continuity excitement, the ending was as gripping as any episode of Dr Who I can think of. But I do find myself sighing in hindsight again, because far too often the new series does depend on the ‘dramatic revelation’ as a substitute for a real plot. “Wahey, the Master’s back! Now, to write a story for it… oh why bother? As long as the Master’s back, everyone will be hooked anyway. A good story’s wasted here, I’ll write something rubbish.” Trouble is, I actually don’t think very much of the Master, I always found him a bit dull, and beyond the sheer nostalgia of it, there’s not much appeal to seeing his return. So I’d rather just have a plot, thank you very much.

To be fair, Derek Jacobi was outstanding both as the amiable (if stereotype) elderly Professor Yana, and then as the reborn Master. His diction and timed delivery of the Master’s lines were completely in keeping with Roger Delgado at his very best. Jacobi, for those fleeting moments, proved to be far better than the likes of Antony Ainley could ever have been in the role. It was also a lovely touch hearing sound clips of Delgado and Ainley to highlight Yana’s repressed memories.

But then came the regeneration – more about that needs mentioning, and will be later – and John Simm turned him into a cross between David Tennant’s Doctor and Richard E. Grant’s send-up in The Curse Of Fatal Death. It’s not right, dammit, the Master isn’t a zany, fast-talking, shouty type, he isn’t! (And nothing against John Simm, who’s a decent actor, but it says something about how superficial and ‘Cool Britannia’ the modern series is that it casts aside a truly splendid leviathan of the modern theatre like Jacobi after less than one episode to replace him with a moderately-gifted TV performer with a receding hairline. Just because he’s younger I suppose? Russell T. Davies showing all his usual depth and appreciation for real talent…)

On the issue of the Master regenerating… how? His regeneration cycle ended long, long ago. The last two bodies we saw him ‘wearing’ – Tremas and some Los Angeles security guard – were both possessed, not even Time Lord bodies. Suddenly he seems to be able to regenerate again. For that matter, how come he’s even alive? Last we saw, he fell into the Eye Of Harmony in the Paul McGann movie and was digested by the TARDIS. How did he survive, and how come he can regenerate? Did he draw rejuvenative power from the Doctor’s severed hand? Did he possess another Time Lord between the end of the movie and the start of the Time War? Possible I suppose, but it would have been nice to get some kind of explanation, or at least a clue. But then maybe that will follow.

Much of the rest of this episode was highly forgettable, and seemed like a lazy Mad Max rip-off, complete with generic punk rocker monsters with horrid teeth. The business of being a hundred trillion years in the future was just stupid, doubly so when we see that once again the human race has evolved not a jot even by the end of time. If we could even get that far, we’d be three hundred feet tall and probably have only one eye!

The idea of a journey to ‘Utopia’ had the makings of an interesting plot angle, except it depends on the audience misunderstanding what Utopia means. Most people misinterpret it as meaning ‘the perfect society’ or ‘heaven’, when in fact it just means ‘nowhere’. Once you realise that, it becomes easy to calculate already that the rocket is heading down a blind alley that it will never return from, rather spoiling the dark surprise presumably in store ahead.

Captain Jack’s return was a plus. He seems to work better with DT than he did with Eccleston; back in the first season, Eck with all his gravitas and depth was basically out-acting Barrowman off the screen most of the time. But DT and Barrowman are both lighter and less brooding, and they spark off each other quite well; perhaps the similarities make it easier for each of them to spot when they shouldn’t go over-the-top. “Should I pull the crank here? Hang on, let’s see what John’s doing… Oh God, that’s a bit wild, I’d better not be any more extreme than that!!”

Martha is very much doing the hanger-on role here, as she has been increasingly in recent episodes, while Chantho appears to be something bordering on a racist joke about the supposed submissiveness of Oriental women. As for the rest… meh, take it or leave it.

7/10. Five of which are for Jacobi’s performance on its own.

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