Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

23 June, 2007

Sir Derek Jacobi Rocks!

The rumors had been floating around for weeks and there was much anticipation. "Utopia" would begin the push towards the end of series 3 with the return of an old friend and…

The Doctor lands the TARDIS in Cardiff – on The Rift – to recharge its batteries, so to speak. Out of the blue, a familiar face runs towards the TARDIS yelling "Doctor!". It's Captain Jack. Inside, The Doctor looks at a viewing screen of the exterior and sees him barreling at the blue box which causes of look of consternation to cross his face. He makes a hasty dematerialization but Jack leaps onto the TARDIS and is taken for a ride. By clinging onto the exterior, Jack causes a wee problem and the trio are hurdled forward 100 trillion years to the end of the universe.

They land on planet Malcassairo. Exiting, The Doctor and Martha find Jack lying on the ground. Being a medical student, Martha tries to revive him but to no avail. Suddenly he gasps a big breath and comes back to life. The Doctor seems none too thrilled to see Jack but the reunion takes on a happier tone when Jack asks about Rose and is told that, although she is stuck in a parallel universe, she is safe and with her mother and Mickey. Wandering about, they see a man being chased by a group of people called the Futurekind who look like they're right out of Mad Max. They are cannibals with sharpened teeth to match their bloodlust. Making a swift advance to the rear, they find safety at The Silo, a fenced-off compound where the last of human race shelters itself.

There they meet Professor Yana and his assistant Chantho who are desperately trying to prepare an arc which would take the remaining human to the far-off destination of Utopia. Unfortunately, Yana is unable to get the new-fangled propulsion system to work. Yana is masterfully played by Sir Derek Jacobi. In the Confidential interview with him, he said that he's wanted to be on Doctor Who for ages and that he was thrilled to finally get the chance. He plays the avuncular and slightly bumbling professor just perfectly. How can one not love him? But something is amiss as Yana has these flashes where he hears the sounds of drums and becomes disorientated.

The Doctor is able to get the propulsion system up and running and preparations for lift-off get underway. But a member of the Futurekind has infiltrated The Silo and she wreaks havoc with the power system. The only way to fix the problem is for Jack to enter a room flooded with deadly radiation and fiddle with these cylinder hoolies. With The Doctor standing outside, Jack and he have a heartfelt conversation. Jack relates how he came to know that he was immortal and The Doctor explains why he left him behind back on Satellite 5.

As the boys have their heart-to-heart while disaster looms, the drums in Yana's head get louder and Martha's description of the TARDIS triggers voices. He is obviously pained and very confused. Martha tries to lend comfort and he shows her a very familiar looking pocket watch that he's had since he was an orphaned boy. It is identical to that used by The Doctor in "Human Nature". She asks him if he's ever opened it and he tells her that he never has – it's been broken since he's had it. Martha, knowing something is terribly wrong, goes to fetch The Doctor. But the seed has been planted.

The drums and the voices in Yana's head beat ever louder. Back in a hallway, Martha pleads with The Doctor to listen to her but he and Jack are busy trying to get the rocket launched. Amidst the din, Martha pieces it all together. In the laboratory, Yana opens the watch and an amber vapor oozes out towards his face. The Doctor recalls the last words of the Face of Boe from "Gridlock" - "You are not alone." YANA.

With the rocket safely hurtling away, the Futurekind storm The Silo. The Doctor, Martha, and Jack begin to make their way back to the laboratory. Inside, the newly-transformed Yana reveals to Chantho that he is The Master and lurches towards her with a loose power cable.

With the Futurekind just behind them, our heroes arrive at the laboratory door only to find it locked. Inside, The Master prepares to TARDISjack The Doctor's transport. Chantho, however, is not quite dead and she musters enough energy to shoot The Master with her laser equivalent of a Saturday night special. Although wounded, The Master staggers into the TARDIS just as The Doctor, Jack, and Martha manage to break the door's lock mechanism and get into the lab. He seals the TARDIS so that The Doctor cannot open it from the outside. Wounded, The Master regenerates into a younger form. As Martha and Jack struggle to keep the Futurekind out of the laboratory, The Doctor is being taunted by The Master who bids farewell to his archenemy and the TARDIS dematerializes.

I can imagine that many children watching "Utopia" were a bit confused and wondered who exactly The Master was. Here's a handy picture someone put together with his various incarnations:

I started watching Doctor Who in 1982 or so when the PBS affiliate in Chicago was broadcasting the Fourth Doctor and thusly my first encounter with him was in "The Deadly Assassin" where the arch villain wasn't doing so hot. (That's him at the top center.) This run was followed by that of the Fifth Doctor so Anthony Ainley (upper right) was The Master that I grew up loving to hate. Unable to avoid spoilers, I knew that The Master was returning this season and so I was just giddy with anticipation while watching this story. Having been a fan of the show for 25 years plus the fact that he hadn't been seen in 18, there was almost no way I wouldn't love "Utopia". I felt like a kid again – "Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy! The Master is returning!"

Sir Derek Jacobi was so great here. As he his character slowly changes from avuncular professor to becoming The Master, his facial expressions change, the lighting gets moodier – the tension was so thick, you could cut it with the wrong side of knife. When you've been waiting 18 years for one of your favorite villains to reappear, how can you help but get fired up? "Blink" scared the crap out of me and "Utopia" made me nervous and anxious. Two fantastic episodes in a row. With his taunting from inside the TARDIS, John Simm looks like he'll be a great Master. The glee with which he readies the TARDIS to take off and abandon The Doctor is priceless. Simm remarked in the Confidential that his young son is a big fan of the show and that he just couldn't pass up the role. He loved the show as a boy too as did many of the writers, producers, and other actors and it must be quite a thrill for them all to do what they do. Their love for the program really comes through and I adore how they make little nods here and there to fans like me who grew up watching the classic series. For instance, as The Master taunts The Doctor, he says, "Why don't we stop and have a nice little chat while I tell you all my plans and you can work out a way to stop me? I don't think!"

I've heard folks say that, while they loved The Master, they were disappointed with much of the rest of the story. A common criticism was that the Futurekind were just too reminiscent of the characters in Mad Max. OK, but did that really distract you? (When I saw the piercings and teeth, I thought of Ghosts of Mars myself.) These people are long-time fans who knew The Master was going to return. How could they sit there and piss & moan about the Futurekind instead of biting their nails while watching Jacobi's fantastic performance? Plus they land in a quarry just like so many episodes from the classic series. And you get some back story on Jack and, to top things off, it's the first of a three-parter.

Aside from just the visceral thrill of The Master's return, the episode opened many a can of worms. How did he escape The Eye of Harmony? The Master ran out of regenerations long ago so how is he able to regenerate? Perhaps that gizmo that The Doctor used to make himself human and store his essence in a watch resets the regeneration count. Did The Master have one of those as well as The Doctor? How come the watch looks exactly the same? Last we saw, Tim Latimer had the watch used by The Doctor. Or it might be that The Doctor's hand was able to give him that power? Did I mention that Jack was able to find the TARDIS because he had The Doctor's hand which he had lost in a sword fight in the 2005 Christmas special?

There were a lot of converging elements in "Utopia". Jack was made immortal by Rose after she looked at the time vortex and assumed its massive power. He was somehow able to cling onto the exterior of the TARDIS which causes it to travel to the end of the universe where The Master just happens to be trapped in what appears to be The Doctor's watch/essence repository. Hmm…

Also, where do these events fit into the Torchwood timeline? Jack was much more sober in Torchwood – almost a taskmaster yet, when he appears in Doctor Who, he's much more easy-going and flirtatious. For instance, at the beginning when he is lying next to the TARDIS, Martha gives him CPR but to no avail. When he suddenly springs to life, Jacks asks, "Was someone kissing me?"

Martha's role here is pretty minimal. She is an able assistant and some of her dialogue precipitates background explanations from Jack and The Doctor. But, on the whole, she is pretty mute here. However, I have a feeling that this will change in the last two episodes of the season.

Another question is: what is Utopia? It is never revealed its exact nature. We do find out that it's far, far away and the a "Science Foundation" created a "Utopia Project" to preserve the human race so it can survive the "collapse of reality". Could it be an even newer New New York? Or just a bit of sci-fi mumbo-jumbo like reversing the neutron polarity?

And how did the Face of Bo know that The Master still lived? TFoB is described in "The End of the World" as having come from the "Silver Devastation" which is where Professor Yana says that he was found as a boy so there certainly appears to be some connection.

Regardless of all this, tonight is the penultimate episode of the season and I am getting fired up for it.

|| Palmer, 11:23 AM


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