* Yes, I am conflicted about whether this is a three-parter or a single episode followed by a two-parter, but the consensus seems to be the former, which I think is just about right. It’s true that Utopia feels separate from the other two, but it’s got a cliffhanger that Sound of Drums resolves.
* Utopia remains one of my fondest memories of a communal viewing experience. There were a bunch of us watching together, and we were all pretty sure that The Master would be turning up towards to the end, but we certainly didn’t know how it would happen. We were expecting an inconsequential little story about future humans being chased by savages, but then as the focus shifted to Professor Yana, we realised what was going on. Each little clue or reveal was greeted with elation, as if they were goals in a football match. One of my friends summarised the evening perfectly as “we have been sold a dummy, and I’m entirely happy with the price negotiated”.
* Ah, so there’s the Captain Jack that I remember from Doctor Who! Where was he during that interminable fortnight? He’s so much fun here, especially in Utopia before everything gets quite so heavy, and it’s exactly what Torchwood was missing – the guy with the lust for life, who will happily flirt with man, woman or insectoid, no matter how much danger he’s in. The conversation between him and The Doctor while he’s in the radiation-filled room is great, and it should give him closure on a few things, thus making him less of a twat when he gets back to Torchwood for Series 2. Will it, though? Will it bollocks.
* Professor Yana is just adorable. Doctor Who is at its best when it’s making highly respected Shakespearean actors play either bumbling old scholars, or evil supervillains. Jacobi gets to do both, and the episode belongs to him, and Yana’s slow realisation of who he truly is. I only wish there was more time for the Jacobi Master, as those couple of minutes are the most dark and sinister incarnation that there’s ever been. I loved Chantho too, but I was almost egging The Master on to prove himself by killing her.
* Simm’s Master, on the other hand, I have slightly more complicated feelings about. I’ve said before that The Master’s personality is always a reflection of whichever Doctor he’s facing, so it’s only right that Tennant’s nemesis should be young, energetic and extreme. But I think the balance is a little bit off, and I don’t think he has enough sensible moments to counteract the – admittedly highly entertaining – silly stuff. I don’t remember having an issue with it at the time, but now that I’ve seen the every apperance of The Master’s every incarnation, this one doesn’t stack up quite as well.
* The customary celebrity cameos in a finale are fulfilled by Sharon Osbourne, McFly and Ann Widdecombe, thus ensuring some competition for The Master as the most evil entity in the episode. This was before she became a comedy figure on Strictly, so she was just that funny old Tory MP who actively fought against LGBT rights, denied climate change and supported the reintroduction of the death penalty. A strange choice.
* Worldwide mind control or no worldwide mind control, the rise of Harold Saxon is just so unrealistic. As if any civilised country would voluntarily elect as their leader an evil, bigoted psychopath, with no tangible policies, and so many holes in his story, just on the basis of unsubstantiated soundbites and spurious charm? I am saying that The Master is like Donald Trump. Do you see?
* One more thing on The Master. This is the first time, as far as I recall, where he’s actually got what he wanted. He set out to become the Prime Minister and he did, then he wanted to take over the world and he did, and then he wanted to subjugate The Doctor and he did. I’ve always wondered what the next stage would be when a supervillain wins, and the answer is apparently to hang around on a flying aircraft carrier for a year, singing along to the Scissor Sisters and having a big old laugh. Fair enough.
* I find Lucy Saxon to be a fascinating character. The Master has had companions of sorts before at times, but they’ve usually either been there under duress or under his control. Lucy seems to be fully aware that he’s evil, but willingly making the decision to side with him. I love the little moment where she’s tentatively dancing along to Voodoo Child while everything goes mental – she seems to be getting a kick out of the chaos. But then a year later, we see her with a black eye, and it’s never commented on. It’s incredibly effective – an interjection of real life domestic horror, which resonates far more as an illustration of The Master’s character than an abstract off-screen decimation.
* Sadly, the three-parter fumbles the ending a little bit, with the last episode suffering by The Doctor’s absence. The Old Man Doctor is one thing – it’s a great effect and it’s certainly a shocking sight – but it does slightly hamper his ability to affect the story. Although it’s a damn sight better than House Elf Doctor, who’s so far removed from the character we know and love that I find it impossible to get on board with the idea that they are one and the same. Annoyingly, The Master sets it up as a suspension of The Doctor’s past regenerations, with the promise of us seeing all 900 years of his life at once. The possibilities that you infer from that are all way better than what we got.
* I did enjoy Martha’s stuff of travelling around the world. I’d forgotten about the professor turning out to be a rat, but it’s a miracle I’d forgotten anything with all those flashbacks. They’re a useful device when you’re referencing things from past episodes, but it gets a bit ridiculous when you’re flashing back to things that happened five minutes ago.
* It was good that the magic gun turned out to be a McGuffin, and the idea that The Doctor would be able to use The Master’s Archangel network against him is sound. But in practice, the big floating Jesus Doctor is not good. The Doctor is basically resurrected by the power of prayer, then he briefly becomes magic. Nah, not for me. Then there’s the old Superman ending, where time is reversed so that hardly any bad things happened – although the President of the United States did get murdered on British soil. It’s obviously necessary for future series that the events of these episodes are undone, but it can’t help but feel like a bit of a cheat.
* However, beyond the plot, each of the characters got a much more satisfying ending. The Master’s death was exactly the kind of emotional Doctor and Master scene that the episode needed throughout. Despite his previous imperative for self-preservation at all costs, I totally buy him refusing to regenerate just out of spite for The Doctor, even without the possibility that the whole thing was an elaborate ring-based escape plan.
* Meanwhile, Jack is sent back to his role as Chief Grumpy Bastard and Rooftop Stander of Torchwood Cardiff, via some Face of Boe based lols. My theory is that RTD meant it when they filmed it, then changed his mind later on, when he was feeling less giddy, and backtracked. I can see it. They kind of look like each other.
* And then, of course, it’s goodbye to Martha. I like her far more than most fans do. Her unrequited love for The Doctor doesn’t dominate her adventures quite as much as I’d remembered, and instead she just quietly proved herself to be just as brave and capable as Rose, but without the annoying tendency to boast about it all the time. She gets to leave on her own terms, with the promise of an imminent return. Good luck to her – she deserved a longer stay in the TARDIS than she got.
SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.33
- Seasons/Series watched: 29 of 35
- Stories watched: 187 of 264
- Individual episodes watched: 737 of 827
I’m going to have to pause the project briefly there, as I’m once more volunteering at the biennial Red Dwarf convention Dimension Jump this weekend, and I really ought to start getting ready. I’ll be back in roughly one week…