Sunday, June 17, 2007
Doctor Who - Utopia
I feel so torn by Utopia. On the one hand, I really enjoyed it. It's exciting and gripping and rattles along at a great pace. It hit all the fannish buttons in me: the Master returning, but also the tremendous pace and the ending. But it also has little or no plot, and, in common with many of the episodes written by Russell T Davies, seems to exist solely to acheieve an objective: in this case to introduce the Master to a new audience. But I'm not sure it even does that very well.
The opening had a very much 'been there done that' feel. Cardiff again, and the TARDIS needs to re-fuel. Again. And Captain Jack. Again. I'm not sure how he knew where the TARDIS would be though. Perhaps he has bionic hearing like Jackie and Mickey have at the start of The Christmas Invasion. He races for the ship, and in a moment which must have had evil bus drivers the world over clapping with joy, although the Doctor sees him on the monitor, he takes off anyway. Leaving poor Jack clinging to the side of the TARDIS as it headed through the Vortex. Hmmm. Not sure about that. Visually great, but not really explained and not in keeping with what we've heard about the Vortex before.
Anyway ... Jack's presence sends the TARDIS hurtling into the distant distant future. Again. But this time they arrive on the planet Malcassero - a deserted and decidedly quarry-like place. I half expected to see a bunch of extras from Blake's 7 there. Malnourished and tribal, dressed in the remnants of their costumes and managing to somehow survive ... hang on ... there they are! And they're chasing a human.
Said human is naturally rescued by the Doctor, Jack and Martha and they all race to somewhere called the Silo. There they gain entry and the ragged outsiders, with their pointy teeth clashing, are locked out. But what is young laddo doing running about out there anyway? Everyone else is in the Silo, patiently waiting to board the rocket to take them to Utopia, the promised land. It seems that the pointy toothed ones eat humans ... well they must be pretty starving then as there's not much evidence of them out there!
In the Silo is Professor Yana and his assistant, the insect Malmouth, called Chantho. The Professor is trying to get the rocket working but is failing to do so. So the Doctor helps and before you can say 'reverse the polarity' he has buzzed with his sonic screwdriver and it's all fixed. But first, five lever things have to be set in a room full of deadly radiation. I get it. This place was designed by the same committee who did Platform 5 and that spacecraft from 42. It's the only explanation as to why the radiation can't be turned off, or even why the switches are in a lethal zone anyway.
Handy Jack gets it sorted though - there are advantages to being immortal - but meanwhile Martha discovers that the Professor has a fob watch the same as the one the Doctor stored his Time Lord self in a couple of episodes earlier. This was a lovely touch. Very unexpected. Of course it points towards the Professor being a Time Lord ... perhaps even the Doctor!
But it's obvious something is up. The voice the Professor hears is evil and old ... and I cheered out loud when I heard a clip from The Daemons in there of Roger Delgado's distinctive voice ... we know what's coming.
The Professor opens the watch and becomes his Time Lord persona ... that of the Master! I liked the idea of the Professor's name relating to the Face of Boe's message 'You Are Not Alone'. Y. A. N. A. Very clever.
Now, all avid fans know who the Master is. We know the history and everything. But new viewers don't. He's just a bad guy. Another Time Lord admittedly, but that's about all we know. Put it like this, if it wasn't the Master, and was someone called Askwith, would it have made any difference. Nope. Hopefully we will get more of a sense of the Master and why he is special in the next couple of weeks. I just hope it doesn't involve him unexpectedly growing a goatee beard and chuckling a lot. Oh, and wearing black leather gloves.
While all this has been going on, the Doctor and Jack have allowed the rocket to take off, and race back to the Professor's lab. The Master has opened all the external gates allowing the great unwashed to enter, and so the final moments of the episode are a chaos of running, snarling, exciting music (some of which seemed to be pinched from the soundtrack to one of my favourite horror films, Phantasm) and shouting.
The Master electrocutes Chantho (Chan. Well, her stupid language was starting to get on my wick as well. Tho.) and she in turn shoots him. The Doctor recognises his old adversary, but the Master gets into the TARDIS and locks the door against the Doctor. He then regenerates into the form of John Simm. Very nicely done, but I wish it hadn't looked the same as the Doctor's regeneration ... I guess the production team was providing a reference point for the viewers though.
Simm seems far more like Tennant's Doctor, and is manic, energetic and rushing. He promptly leaves in the TARDIS after a last gloat at the Doctor over the speakers (and Martha recognises his voice) and we leave the episode with the Doctor TARDIS-less, and Jack and Martha trying to keep the tribe of Blake's 7 extras from getting through the door.
On the utterly awesome front was Derek Jacobi. What a brilliant performance. Full of pathos and love as the Professor, and then cold and hard when the Master took over. I did sense the scenery being chewed a little in these scenes, but that's forgivable I feel. John Simm? Not enough to really tell. The only question of course being whether he is in a coma, dreaming, or really in the far future (sorry ... you have to have watched Life on Mars to get that).
On the 'a bit rubbish' side, the plot - there wasn't one. The whole Utopia thing and the savages - or futurekind - outside and the running about and snarling. Maybe Utopia is significant later on in the season - the Master did take the disk from the machine which was showing its location. Captain Jack was a bit of a wet fish, though I did like the Doctor's 'stop it!' every time Jack said hello to anyone (though quite how a blue insect girl would be attracted to a human is hard to fathom).
Overall then, a true example of style over substance. From the sublime and superbly plotted and acted adventure of Human Nature, The Family of Blood and Blink, we regress to a plotless runaround which is just crammed with great bits. Rather like an unthemed buffet meal consisting of everything you enjoy, but with no structure or menu to make palatable sense of it. I really enjoyed it, but feel that in time it won't stand up to repeated viewing.
Next week looks like some sort of party political broadcast as Mr Saxon takes centre stage ... Listen for those drums though.