A Special Look at: Utopia

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There are several great reasons I love Utopia: Sir Derek Jacobi as Professor Yana, the return of Captain Jack Harkness, and the return of The Master, played by John Simm.

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A Brief History of The Master

The Master is another Time Lord within Doctor Who with a very extensive history.

The Master first appeared in the 1971 serial, Terror of the Autons, a story which served as a sequel to the first Third Doctor story, Spearhead from Space. (Additionally, which companion Jo Grant also first appears in this serial.) He would appear in every serial in the eighth season, including The Mind of Evil, The Claw of Axos, Colony in Space, and The Dæmons. He would appear again in the ninth season serials The Sea Devils, and The Time Monster, before appearing last in Frontier in Space.

The Master wouldn’t return until the sixteenth season serial, The Deadly Assassin, alongside the Fourth Doctor.

He would once again take a hiatus until the eighteenth season serial, The Keeper of Traken. He would reappear in the following serials, Logopolis, and the nineteenth season premiere, Castrovalva, alongside the Fifth Doctor.

He would return soon in Time-Flight, before appearing in the twentieth season serials, The King’s Demons and 20th Anniversary Special, The Five Doctors.

He would appear again in the twenty-first season serial, Planet of Fire, and twenty-second season serial, The Mark of the Rani, alongside the Sixth Doctor and fist appearance of The Rani.

He would appear again in the final serial of the twenty-third season known as The Trial of the Time Lord, in The Ultimate Foe.

This incarnation would make it’s final appearance in the final serial of Doctor Who, Survival, alongside the Seventh Doctor.

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Before appearing in this story, The Master last appeared in the Doctor Who film, played by Eric Roberts.

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A Brief History of Captain Jack Harkness

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Captain Jack’s history is largely less extensive, thankfully. He first appeared in The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances in Series 1, alongside the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler.

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He would continue travelling with Rose and the Ninth Doctor through Boom Town.

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And Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways.

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It is in The Parting of the Ways, that Rose-as-the-Bad Wolf Entity brings back Captain Jack Harkness as immortal, which will addressed in this episode.

His next appearance would be in the pilot episode of Torchwood called “Everything Changes.”

He would be in every episode through the finale, “End of Days.” This episode continues from this ending from Captain Jack’s perspective.

According to the IGN review:

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In its first two seasons, the revitalized Doctor Who, as run by writer Russell T. Davies, established a pattern of ramping up for its finale. The final few episodes tend to build into a crescendo that leaves fans breathless and sated. The first season ended with a massive battle with the Daleks and the farewell to Christopher Eccleston. The second season featured a battle with Daleks and Cybermen with a terrific and emotional farewell to Rose. As we’re coming into the final leg of the third season, we’re treated to “Utopia,” in which the final arc is revealed.

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The episode doesn’t start that well. While it’s nice to see Jack Harkness (taking a break from Torchwood to spend some QT with the Doctor), his introduction is a bit silly, complete with goofy dive and odd music. It doesn’t help to have Jack holding on to the Tardis as he hurtles through space and time. It seems like a bit out of a parody of Doctor Who. Then, when the gang arrives “at the end of all existence,” the remnants of civilization look like Mad Max rejects being chased by space vampires. Knowing this is usually when Doctor Who kicks off its big final arc, these were disconcerting moments to say the least.

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It’s amazing what a little high minded exposition delivered by David Tennant can do to save an episode. The Doctor explains that what we’re seeing is the “penultimate’ form of humanity. We’ve evolved into gaseous beings and other forms over the millions of years, but we always come back to being “human” as we all know it. This holds true to the idea that Cassandra (from “End of the World” and “New Earth”) was “The Last Human.” She was for that era, at least. The Doctor marvels at how humanity is still clinging to life and optimistic about its future here at “the end of everything.” The inhabitants of this planet are building a massive rocket that will take them to Utopia, a fabled last stand for life in the collapsing universe. There are some nice ideas in here, and at times it’s high concept science fiction at its finest.

John Barrowman does what he does so well by charming up the episode rather quickly. It’s a lot of fun to see him meet Martha, but even more touching to see him talk to The Doctor about Rose. We finally find out Jack’s story, why he is the way he is and cannot die. This revelation comes across in a terrific scene that explains why these two actors have received such acclaim for playing these roles.

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It was only a matter of time before The Master returned. The idea of a Russell Davies Master story has had fans buzzing from the day the series re-launched. How would they do it? When? Who would play him? The answer is now, and Derek Jakobi would assume the role. There’s probably not a better actor on the planet you could ask for to reintroduce the Doctor’s most dangerous villain. The presence of Professor Yana’s pocket watch is a terrific call back to the mythology introduced in “Human Nature” and is a great device to bring the character back into the fold.

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John Simm has a job few actors would embrace – replace Derek Jacobi playing the same role he was playing only moments earlier. Simm does embrace it – and almost steals the episode in his brief moments towards the end. His line “Ah, new voice” recalls Tennant’s first appearance (“New teeth! Weird.”) and emphasizes the dual nature of these two characters. Simm has a manic and explosive energy not unlike that of David Tennant and immediately you can see how he’ll be the perfect foil for The Doctor.

The Doctor was the last of The Time Lords, now he’s one of two – and the other one is the last Time Lord he would ever have hoped to meet again. Everything about the end of this episode works – the music, the plot twists, the performances and that last moment where the Doctor truly looks at a loss for what to do next. A lot of ideas are at play here, as are many threads introduced throughout the series and this season in particular. This is one hell of a way to kick off the finale episodes of the season, and leaves fans clamoring for more.

In tradition with the Russell T Davies Era, this is yet another dystopian future, such as Gridlock.

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7 thoughts on “A Special Look at: Utopia

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