Thursday, May 22, 2008

17-06-07 "Utopia"

"It would seem something new has arrived." --Professor Yana

I was waiting all season for an episode to knock my socks off, and I’ve found it. I suppose a completely detached person could look upon it as nothing special, but I’m afraid fans far and wide, including me, found it immensely exciting. RTD can still write some corkers. And it’s a three-parter! Ye gods!

I have to say I wasn’t paying as much attention to the opening as I should have been since I’d seen it before on Jonathan Ross. That said, it was very cool, especially since I’d just been standing where the Cardiff scenes were filmed. The Doctor’s around to very quickly explain to Martha the existence of the rift in Cardiff, if you missed Torchwood or the first season (2005). Martha’s not exactly thrilled to be going to "Cardiff?!", a "pit stop." The Doctor recaps his previous adventures; Martha notes there was an earthquake in Cardiff "a few years ago." "Was that you?" "That was lifetimes ago," the Doctor says ruefully. "I was a different man back then." Okay, it’s hard not to smile. Meanwhile, in what is probably the best entrance EVER, Captain Jack, fresh from the end of Torchwood (which I still haven’t seen) hitches a ride on the top of the TARDIS. What’s great is that the Doctor sees him coming (well, who could miss him shouting "Doc-TOR!" at the top of his lungs?) and leaves!

Meanwhile, a bunch of bestial creatures, who I’ve heard variously described as Mad Max characters or from H.G. Wells’ Time Machine, are complimented by a rock soundtrack as they look scary and bear their sharpened teeth. I can’t help thinking of the dysfunctional trolls from 10th Kingdom, which decreases their scariness a bit, as well as the cannibals from the Fourth Doctor comic strip, The End of the Line. Then suddenly, Derek Jacobi appears as a bumbling, likeable professor-type (indeed, his name is Professor Yana) who is dressed, curiously enough, in much the same manner as the First Doctor. First tip-off, in my mind at least. Shall I say at this point I had my suspicions that the Professor was the Master, but I couldn’t reconcile that with the fact I knew John Simm was, too. Duh. I don’t know how I managed not to connect the dots on that one, but it was a wonderful surprise anyway!

Getting ahead of myself. The Doctor’s in a panic because the TARDIS is being wrenched into the year 100 trillion. "Not even the Time Lords went this far," he says. How come I don’t believe the Doctor when he says, "We should really, really go"? Perhaps because of his past conduct in "The Satan Pit"? When the TARDIS lands, Martha and the Doctor find themselves in a Welsh quarry in the middle of the freezing night. It isn’t raining yet, but it will be. Jack is lying, apparently dead on the ground. Martha, like the good doctor-in-training that she is, rushes to resuscitate him. The Doctor mutters darkly, "Hello again, and I’m sorry." It’s very Jack that he waits until Martha’s got her mouth on his before waking up. "And who are you?" he asks. "Oh, don’t start," the Doctor says. "I don’t mind," Martha interjects.

I was curious how Jack and the Tenth Doctor were going to react to each other, and it’s nice to see some continuity from the Ninth Doctor. I know not all DW fans like Jack, but I do, and it’s frankly wonderful to see him more like he was at the end of season 1 rather than the gloomy tight-lipped head of Torchwood. It’s his right, of course, to question the Doctor’s motives: "You abandoned me." And it’s very Doctor-ish to react in an "alien" way: "Did I?" But Jack’s not just curious about himself; he brings up Rose’s apparent demise at Canary Wharf. Martha is annoyed to hear about Rose. There’s some rapid-fire explanations going on about how Jack survived once the Doctor abandoned him (his wrist device got him to Earth but he had to live through the 20th century, including World Wars One and Two). I wonder how casual viewers are absorbing this? It’s nice, again, to see the old gadgetry rivalry revived between the two of them: "I’ve got a sports car and you’ve got a space hopper!" the Doctor angrily exclaims when Jack deigns to draw a comparison between the TARDIS and his burnt-out wrist device. Martha’s a bit stunned (you can even read her blog on MySpace about it) that the Doctor leaves people behind—"not if you’re blonde," Jack snipes. Instead of getting angry, the Doctor spouts, "Here we are in the year 100 trillion and you’re busy . . . blogging . . .?!"

And yes, they are in the year 100 trillion. They see a cool abandoned hive-like desert structure. "All the stars have burned up," the Doctor says broodingly. Again, more continuity—"I’m not so sure about you, Jack." Next, a poor harried individual who looks like he came out of 28 Days Later is running for his life from the ‘80s punk cannibals. Our heroes set out to rescue him, and JB can book it. Freema looks like she’s very tired and doesn’t fancy running. In any case, Jack pulls a gun on the cannibals and the Doctor shouts, "Jack, don’t do that!" (That’s my Doctor.) Jack relents and shoots his gun into the air. They manage to escape to a chain-link fenced compound and are exhorted to, "Show me your teeth!" When someone else commences shooting, Jack wants to know why the Doctor stopped him. "He’s not my responsibility."

In the refugee camp, I can’t help being reminded of "Frontios," which, you have to admit, shares quite a bit in common with this. The Doctor comes up with a fab line about human beings being "indomitable." Rakish Jack wants to know how the Doctor "coped" without him. The fact that all the refugees are waiting (hopelessly, it seems) to leave on a space ship reminded me a bit of "Full Circle." Jack, the Doctor, and Martha go off to meet Professor Yana and his assistant Chantho. Chantho, by the way, is a beautiful bug who adds "chan" and "tho" to every sentence, which is really cool. In a very Martha move, I think, Martha gets her to abandon the sentence sequence, which is considered rude. Like the Doctor, she’s the last of her kind. She’s charming, and her devotion to the Professor is familiar to Martha—"I adore him." "But he doesn’t . . .?" "I am happy to serve." Jack thinks she’s charming, too—"Stop it," the Doctor snaps, while Chantho says, "Chan I do not protest tho." The Doctor then puts on his glasses. I didn’t embarrass myself by whistling this time. (He was wearing his brown suit, though, thank goodness.)

Martha is a bit disgusted to find out that Jack has been carrying around the Doctor’s severed hand in a jar—"Chan is this a tradition among your people tho?" Derek Jacobi, meanwhile, proves that he’s adept with technobabble as he and the Doctor discuss how to get the rocket to work. The cannibals, we find out, are the Futurekind—"they are what we will become." Definite shades of Firefly. The Professor’s head rings with drumming sounds, and the Doctor explains that they’re from "hermits united." LOL. Frankly, his hubris in this part of the episode is becoming a bit unbearable. Meanwhile, the music has been ranging from Torchwood-inspired to echoes of "The Face of Boe." The Professor’s genius concoctions for getting the rocket out would not be edible for the gluten-intolerant.

Part of getting the rocket to lift off involves a guy donning a hazardous materials suit and going into an irradiated room (a bit like the fan at the end of "End of the World," but . . . you know . . .). This culminates in some poor guy spontaneously combusting. A very freaky-looking Futurekind infiltrator (who I suspect might show up in the next few eps?) has sabotaged the rocket. The only one who can fix it is Jack who, as we know, can’t die. "Was someone kissing me?" he wants to know. Then a very funny sequence follows in which Jack starts taking his clothes off, even though the Doctor points out the radiation affects skin not clothes. "Well, I look good, though." He does, I have to say that he does.

If you don’t like Jack, I don’t know how much you will like the following tense scene, but for me it was one of the highlights of the episode. The Doctor reveals to Jack that Rose made him immortal. "All that time, you knew?" "The final act of the Time War was life." There’s a short flashback to "Parting of the Ways" and I hope it won’t go on too long otherwise I’ll start crying. There’s something extremely poignant about Jack going to Rose’s estate in the ‘90s. "I watched her growing up." Is the Doctor jealous? What is his feeling? Oooh, it’s better not to know! "Do you wanna die?" the Doctor asks Jack in all seriousness. Jack’s not sure. The Doctor notes that "You’re the only man you’re going to be happy with." "You’re cheeky," Jack says. And oh yeah, Jack does whatever he was meant to do. While dramatically I think this scene succeeds quite well, on a purely titillating level I enjoyed it, ‘cause they both looked damn hot. Ahem.

Yana is suffering more and more from the drums in his head—"I’m always late, always lost." This is where the episode really picks up. The rocket’s about to take off, so is the music, and Martha sees what looks like the same watch from "Human Nature." Suddenly, everything falls into place for this very excited viewer—the Professor is the Master who is hiding out at the end of the universe and has been inhabiting a human body. He’s never opened the watch, however, and Martha’s a bit freaked out. She runs to tell the Doctor. "Does it matter?" The Doctor realizes as soon as we do, in a stunning, exciting sequence that could be really cheesy but is actually quite heart-pounding that "Yana" refers to the last words of the Face of Boe—"you are not alone." Yana opens the watch and becomes the Master. He lets the Futurekind in and scares the bejesus out of Chantho. "As one door closes, another must open . . ."

Chantho tries to shoot the Master but he attacks her instead. I can’t help feeling incredibly sorry for her, since it must be really terrible to have a crush on the Master (!) even if you didn’t know it, and then he kills you! As her dying action, she shoots the Master, but he runs off with the TARDIS! Frantically the Doctor tries to get in. Derek Jacobi regenerates into John Simm—awesome!—who strikes me as a bit hammy in the role. He takes the TARDIS, the Doctor’s hand, and leaves Martha, Jack, and the Doctor stranded. It’s a great cliffhanger! I haven’t been so excited to see another episode in a long time.


Anonymous said...

John Simm aka "hammy" will chew up the next episode by stealing every scene and spit you out in a quivering, deliriously obsessed wreck at the end.

Just try and keep count of the number of faces this fab actor will charm you with.

Le Mc said...

Is this John Simm writing? :-D