Saturday, October 10, 2015

Return Of The Hero And The Foil At “Utopia!”

The Good: Great acting, Wonderful character development, Good plot development, Awesome make-up effects
The Bad: Secondary villains, One cut
The Basics: “Utopia” ties together the disparate episodes of the third season of Doctor Who into an incredible first part of the three-part finale.

When my wife got into Doctor Who, there was very little that I knew about it. After a very little bit of research, I learned about the essential premise of the show and the basic adversaries – the Daleks, Cybermen and The Master. The Master was from Gallifrey like The Doctor and while The Doctor is characterized as highly ethical and motivated by a desire to do good, The Master is characterized as a psychopath. So, with the reboot of Doctor Who in 2005, there were relatively quick appearances of the Daleks – in “Dalek” (reviewed here!) – and the Cybermen – in “Rise Of The Cybermen” (reviewed here!) and fans were left waiting for some incarnation of The Master. The third season finale, which technically begins in “Utopia” gives fans what they were waiting for!

“Utopia” also marks the return of Jack Harkness, who had been off on Torchwood for a decent chunk of his absence from Doctor Who. And the idea of finishing big for a season finale plays out well in “Utopia.” For newbies to the franchise, “Utopia” provides all of the essential information viewers need. In addition, “Utopia” enhances the Doctor Who franchise with both one of the most memorable characters – Professor Yana – and one of the most distinct new alien races, in the form of Chantho.

After a quick stop to Cardiff to recharge the TARDIS on the rift that repowers the time machine, The Doctor notices Jack Harkness running like mad for the TARDIS and tries to get away from the former time traveler. Harkness leaps onto the outside of the TARDIS and the time machine tries desperately to get away from him. It takes The Doctor, Martha, and Harkness to the planet Malcassairo in the year one hundred trillion, which The Doctor defines as the end of the universe. There, they encounter humans running from feral humans with sharp teeth – the futurekind. The Doctor and his team meet Professor Yana and his assistant, the last of the Malcassairans, Chantho.

Yana is working on a gravity-based footprint launching system to take the human colony ship from Malcassairo to the legendary planet Utopia, which is where humans are attempting to go to outrun the collapse of reality. While Yana has been stumped on how to launch the ship, The Doctor almost instantly gets the colony ship ready to launch. But the futurekind attack the colony ship to prevent it from launching. While Harkness is able to survive the radiation in the chamber the futurekind attack, Martha discovers that Professor Yana is in possession of an artifact that she is familiar with . . . and entirely changes The Doctor’s perception of their new ally!

“Utopia” is very much a reward episode for fans of Doctor Who. The return of Jack Harkness means very little to non-fans and while the essential information from earlier episodes in the season like “Human Nature” (reviewed here!) is presented again to make “Utopia” work, “Utopia” is enriched more as part of the whole than on its own. So, for non-fans, “Utopia” seems to devote an inordinate amount of time to explaining the characters in the episode. More than a Doctor episode, “Utopia” is a Jack Harkness and Martha Jones episode.

In “Utopia,” Jack Harkness’s immortality is explained. While he was resurrected in “Parting Of The Ways” (reviewed here!) and has been off on Torchwood unable to die, the reason for it is not explained to him until “Utopia.” The Doctor has a decent amount of exposition to fill Harkness in. Harkness, for his part, is ridiculously unsurprised by the information.

Martha Jones has her own companion in “Utopia,” in the form of Professor Yana’s companion, Chantho. Chantho has an emotional attachment to Yana the way Jones is attracted to The Doctor. Jones is integral to figuring out Yana’s secret and she shares with Chantho a common sense of sorrow. Freema Agyeman plays Jones with wonderful subtlety in “Utopia” and she steals all her scenes.

The futurekind are a somewhat generic adversary in “Utopia” opposite the very specific Yana and the reappearance of Harkness. Between that and a single bad cut by director Graeme Harper near the end of the episode – there is a dramatic musical cue as the camera focuses on Yana that is cut very abruptly – are all that robs the episode of perfection.

Part of the thrill of “Utopia” is in the quality of the performances. While the episode spends a huge chunk of time in a single room, the episode does not feel at all unengaging. That is arguably because Professor Yana is played by Derek Jacobi. Jacobi is an exceptional actor and he plays the slow epiphany Yana goes through over the course of the hour with an incredible physical presence. His portrayal of Yana at the outset is almost completely different from his body language at the climax of the episode and that is incredible.

“Utopia” is the first part of a three-parter and it comes to feel like that as it sets up to the peak of the episode.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the second season of the Tenth Doctor here!

For other works with Derek Jacobi, please check out my reviews of:
My Week With Marilyn
The King’s Speech
Gosford Park


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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