As Captain Jack storms back into the Doctor's life, the TARDIS is thrown out of control, to the end of the universe. Year One Hundred Trillion.
On the planet of Malcassairo, they find the savage Futurekind ruling the wilderness, while a lonely Professor tries in vain to save the last of the human race.
Found on the sofa (and sometimes behind it), glass of wine in one hand, remote control in the other and on a Saturday evening watching the goggle box.
Russell T Davis' UTOPIA, however, is a odd creature in so much as it is not the overall episode plot takes the lead in entertaining viewers but the denouement. The "last" human civilisation, billions on years in the future, their salvation and the threat from the feral "Futurekind" is surprisingly edged to the sidelines. A misbalanced television event that for the majority of viewers only wanted witness the reappearance of the renegade Time Lord, the Master.
In a way the 1981 story, THE KEEPER OR TRAKEN - once again reintroducing the character - was substantially more plotted and engaging (even if the CLASSIC SERIES format for the story was the equivalent of a two-parter in today's terms). However, key to THE KEEPER OR TRAKEN's success was the lack of leaks, leaving the final episode's reveal to be a complete surprise. There was, and is, not such event for NEW SERIES viewers with plotlines wilfully leaked. BBC WALES "Ruiners" themselves.
However, with that said, UTOPIA (the first episode of a three-parter) was "hooking" throughout.
How on Earth did Jack Harkness hold on to the TARDIS is traversed the space & time vortex itself (though he "died" upon the arrival on the planet Malcassairo)? Why and how did the Master decide to use his TARDIS's Chamealon Arch device to rewite his biology? What threat did he foresee after the last Time War and decide to "hide"? Did The Face of Boe rescue the humanised Time Lord from the Silver Devastation, and how did he recognise the person as a Gallifreyan, and why didn't the he just tell the Doctor (in NEW EARTH) that "Yana" was a Time Lord? What long game is The Face of Boe playing?
David Tennant is handed (yet another) Doctor defining episode by Russell T Davies with a TARDIS interior opener which echoes THE IMPOSSIBLE PLANET;
INT: TARDIS interior
THE DOCTOR (to Martha): We should really go.
(His expression changes from concerned to gleeful,
grinning like a
Cheshire cat/Ninth Doctor)
And to genuine admiration of a fellow scientist:
INT: The Laboratory
THE DOCTOR (to Professor Yana): You've built this system out of food and string and staples. Professor Yana, you're a genius. YANA: Says than man who made it work.
THE DOCTOR: Aah, it's easy, coming in at the end. But you're stellar, this is, this is magnificent!
And whilst DOCTOR WHO fans across the UK are punching the air with knowing satisfaction, Tennant remains charmingly clueless, his face showing care for the Professor.
INT: The Laboratory
YANA (to the Doctor): Still, no rest for the wicked.
Tennant's Doctor is, and we must remember that he is nearing the end of his natural Gallifreyan life-cycle (of 13 bodies), a myriad of personality from egocentric, cheeky, ruthless and dangerous, and with every episode a new set of circumstances that tests his true metal. Whether he is as likeable as his Ninth incarnation, or tenacious as the Fourth, it is certain that his easy-going adventurer will be fondly remembered.
Freema Agyeman continues to impress, as Martha Jones (though writers should include more medical jeopardy for the character to attempt to solve - even at the resolution that a life is lost. Medical science is her true vocation and just glib passing remark or situation is insulting to her character). Her goading of Chantho to "swear" seemed to echo the Seventh Doctor's streetwise companion, Ace.
INT: The Laboratory
Chantho: Chan, that would be rude, tho.
Martha Jones: What, like swearing?
Chantho: Chan, indeed tho.
Martha Jones: Oh, go on. Just once.
Chantho: Chan, I can't, tho.
Martha Jones: Oh, do it for me.
A devilish streak to Miss Jones, I think.
Derek Jacobi is truly "stellar", and, it is reassuring to know, has always wanted to be in DOCTOR WHO since the 1960s. The wait has been worth it, and who else, apart from Russell T Davies could write & David Tennant could deliver a line of dialogue of with such conviction:
INT: Silo 16 corridor
Yana: Good, Good, Good, Good, Good, Good, Good, Good, Good, Good, Good, Good, Good.
Professor Yana has to be portrayed with no hint that the actual physical vessel is the misguided Time Lord, and Jacobi, of course without question (in fact you start to question if BBC WALES has sold the largest, the freshest Herring - of a red hue - in persuading every fan that Jacobi was actually playing the Master), commands the screen and relishes the role. Understated, Jacobi is of the "old school" of acting that you see very often in today's television (though Tennant frequently adopts the approach as he scratches his right ear) - acting with hands-near-the-face. Keep everything in the television frame, giving the viewer added value. It is odd to watch but so natural.
Once Yana (another classic Russell T Davies plot device that, quite frankly, I am glad I avoided in reading in nefarious DOCTOR WHO fan forums) had opened the Time Lord "fob watch", Jacobi assumes a chillingly guise (if, sadly, briefly on-screen) of the Master. Another "punching the air" moment for viewers. The despatch of his former companion, Chantho, is as close to seeing blood & gore that we will see in this NEW SERIES of DOCTOR WHO. However, surely, the Malmooth's body could have been charred and disfigured by the "electrocution"? And why did the Master remove the Utopia disc from the mainframe computer?
In a way, I felt heartbroken for the Doctor as he initially dismissed Martha's report that Yana owned a Time Lord "fob watch" - "Don't be ridiculous" - and then the symbiotic realisation that he was, indeed, not alone. Since the Time War he had accepted he was the sole remaining of his kind - perhaps, he enjoyed, in his hearts, the fact this he was unique and a survivor. But, for an instant, the simultaneous awareness that he was both not alone and not so special must have been disorienting and depressing. But not for viewers. Quite the opposite.
The "re-birth" of the Master, if I could use a well-used phrase, was masterful. Predictable phrase but suitable.
John Simm had a blank canvas onto which he, like Van Gogh, unleashed an persona of chilling eccentricity. There is more to come. Oh, yes.
UTOPIA, after viewing the episode again a week later - as I do to allow time for reflection - it seems very CLASSIC SERIES. Very wordy, very chasey, and very top (read: last five minutes of the episode) heavy, and CLASSIC SERIES director, Graeme Harper, does little to disguise the fact - part from the addition of visual effects (the subtle, very STAR WARS, "conglomeration" dwelling of the Malmooth CGI matte painting, and the violent regeneration scene). The curse of the CLASSIC SERIES rears its ugly head - too much lighting, both in the exterior shots (I thought that the night sky was devoid of any sun-lit bodies?) and in the silo. It was all too bright, too sterile for an environment on its last legs.
As a first-parter, UTOPIA was a breathtaking, heart-in-your-mouth, how-is-the-writer-going-to-do-this episode that whets the viewer's appetite for the continuation (and final resolution in LAST OF THE LORDS) next week.