Doctor Who – “Utopia”

I’m even more rushed than usual this week so here goes the stream of consciousness:

I’d say this is an episode of three parts: 1) the early, generic Doctor Who adventure with an actual bona fide quarry and sub-Blake’s 7 baddies but enlivened by Who!Jack instead of Torchwood!Jack, 2) the really rather excellent sense of dawning revelation as the fob watch appears and Derek Jacobi’s character begins to come into focus, 3) the cheesy ending with Murray Gold’s music in full-on gorgonzola mode and John Simm’s performance being disconcertingly flippant.

Returning to the beginning I rather like the interplay between the Doctor and Jack. The Doctor’s initial reaction to Jack is odd and cold, but when we learn why it begins to make a lot of sense and the discussion here makes Jack into far more of a rounded, believable character than all Torchwood‘s fake angst put together. It’s great to have happy, flirty Jack back and this aspect of the episode works well. Sadly the episode that surrounds them pretty much defines the word “unremarkable” with even the production values seeming a little cheaper than normal. Some of the far future stuff does reek pleasingly of HG Wells and Stephen Baxter, although without any real effort being invested by the script.

The episode continues to be fairly shapeless with the injection of Derek Jacobi, and we have to put up with a great deal of sound and fury signifying nothing. It turns out that the reason for the utter blandness of the backdrop is that it’s really the bed of lettuce on which we’re being served the meat of the Captain Jack and Professor Yana storylines.

It’s with Yana’s reaction to discussion of Time Lords, and Martha’s horrified realisation about the fob watch, that the episode, briefly, comes alive in the best possible way. This is great season finale material and just the right way to pull the arc together. Although I’d been massively spoiled about John Simm I had no idea about Jacobi’s connection to the character and that paid real dividends here. I must confess that all my critical faculties went out of the window during this portion of the episode and pure fannish glee took over.

Unfortunately as the episode picks up momentum it goes into overdrive with every element of the production becoming overly frantic. Everyone starts mugging, including the composer. This spoils the pay-off, although Tennant emerges best and his pleas through the Tardis door are very effective: far more so than the Master’s rather hammy gloating.

On this last point I feel I may be having some adjustment issues. For so long the Doctor has changed beyond all recognition with each regeneration while the Master has contrived to be a melodramatic bloke with a goatee beard and the fashion sense of Ming the Merciless. Eric Roberts aside this makes it quite hard to accept the Master as a young, cheeky bloke. In principle I think the change is not only a good idea but almost required in order to make the character work in the modern incarnation of the show. In particular it makes him more like David Tennant, and therefore admirably suited to be his dark mirror. I’ll therefore reserve judgement until we’ve seen a bit more of him because I really want him to work. He’s written and played too broadly in this episode to do so.

Overall, ‘Utopia’ is not ideal. (You see what I did there?) But at the very least the episode serves its purpose as part one of the three-part season ender because I’m very keen to see the final two episodes.

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