THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE AFTER THE COMIC
STRIP "BLACK DEATH /
WHITE LIFE" AND PRIOR
TO THE TV EPISODE "THE
SOUND OF DRUMS."
RUSSELL T. DAVIES
'THE COMPLETE THIRD
EXCLUSIVE DVD BOX
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
JACK'S BACK! AS
CAPTAIN JACK COMES
STORMING INTO THE
DOCTOR'S LIFE AGAIN,
THE TARDIS IS THROWN
TO THE END OF THE
16TH JUNE 2007
(45-MINUTE EPISODE, PART 1 OF 3)
I’d heard quite a while back that Utopia was going to end with Sir Derek Jacobi’s character somehow becoming the Master, but until yesterday’s episode of Totally Doctor Who (yes, I’m that sad) I hadn’t for a moment imagined that the third series would end with what is essentially a historic three-part story. And if the truth be told, I’m absolutely delighted about it. If this first instalment is anything to go by, then this three-parter looks to be an epic serial the like of which we haven’t seen since the early days of Tom Baker’s reign.
The episode’s frantic pre-title sequence is brilliant. I first saw it a few weeks ago on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, but that didn’t in any way diminish my enjoyment of it the second time around. Overlapping with the closing few minutes of the Torchwood season finale End of Days, Captain Jack Harkness hears the TARDIS’ engines as it lands in Cardiff for a ‘pit stop’. The Doctor’s hand in the bell jar begins to glow, indicating that this is the version of
the Doctor that Jack needs, and so Jack picks up his rucksack and runs out of the hub as fast as he can, only to see the Doctor try and run away from him again. But he’s not having
it this time: Jack launches himself towards the dematerialising TARDIS and is dragged into the Vortex right along with it, clinging desperately to its outer shell. It’s an ideal opening in every respect. Captain Jack is back, and as John Barrowman’s name has wormed its way onto the title sequence, he may well be here to stay…
Exposure to the Vortex kills him of course, but those who regularly watched Torchwood will know that Jack won’t let a little thing like death stop him. In fact, he probably wishes that he could; that’s what ails him, after all. In The Parting of the Ways, after the Daleks killed Jack, Rose used her “time goddess” powers to bring him back to life. Unfortunately, she over-did
it just a tad and brought him back forever. Two world wars, a cyberwoman, the life-sucking son of the great Beast... even a couple of bullets in the forehead. Jack can take it all; he’s indestructible. And after his crude time travel device malfunctioned and left him stranded in 1869, he had to wait a hundred and forty years for a temporally commensurate version of the Doctor to show up.
“I’ve got a sports car, you’ve got a space hopper.”
Now you have really got to admire Russell T Davies skill as a scriptwriter here. Not only is
he able to bludgeon all of the above exposition into one scene fluently, but also incredibly entertaining. It’s literally over within a matter a seconds; before we know it, it’s “don’t start!” as Jack throws himself at the Doctor’s new companion, followed in short order by a male refugee and an alien insect. He’ll have owt.
Jacobi’s performance aside (which I’ll come onto shortly), much of the first-half of Utopia
is carried by the tension between David Tennant and John Barrowman. One minute they seem to be the best of friends that ever they were, hugging and exchanging stories about Rose (much to Martha’s chagrin), and then the next Jack is making digs about the Doctor leaving him behind on the Game Station. And when they run - whether they’re running away from something or towards it - they race.
“It strikes me Professor that you’ve got a room that no man can enter without dying.
Well, I think I’ve got just the man.”
Of course, the question on every viewer’s mind is why did the Doctor leave Jack behind in The Parting of the Ways? After Jack dies for the second time in twenty-minutes, we finally find out. As Davies says himself in this week’s Doctor Who Confidential, the Doctor and Jack have to be in the middle of a crisis and on two different sides of a hermetically-sealed door before they are able to finally get their issues out into the open.
“It’s not easy even just looking at you Jack ‘cos you’re wrong. You are; I can’t help it... It’s in my guts.
You’re a fixed point in time and space. You’re a fact. That’s never meant to happen”.
It’s a marvellous scene; Tennant and Barrowman are both absolutely electric. There is one particularly stunning shot where Tennant is grinning through the glass, asking “do you wanna die?”, and he almost looks evil. I love scenes like this which cast the Doctor in something of a murky light – maybe he is prejudiced, as Jack contends. Or maybe he was afraid. It’s the old Boom Town argument coming back to haunt him once again. He puts the world to rights and then to hell with the consequences; he just buggers off. Perhaps Martha is right to voice her concerns about being abandoned.
However, when you look at Utopia as a whole, apart from the emotional journey that the five main characters (The Doctor, Jack, Professor Yana, Martha, and Chantho) go on, nothing much happens. At the end of the universe, a rocket containing the last surviving humans is launched towards “Utopia” - whatever that may be – and that’s about the size of it. The end
of the universe is certainly a suitably romantic setting for an episode of such importance – I loved the line about it not being night, there are just no stars – but the so-called “Futurekind” are the most basic kind of threat. They look like a cross between Mad Max and, as Jack amusingly put it, The Beastie Boys. They hunt humans – none of your “gas” or “download” nonsense; good old fashioned “fundamental” humans – and Davies uses them to create a disposable menace in the background whilst he brings his real monster – the monster within Yana – to the surface. After the first ten minutes there is no real action until the last five, yet watching it, you don’t really notice. You’re simply enthralled by the performances; engrossed by the characters. It’s the Doctor Who equivalent of a small stage play.
“Not even the Time Lords came this far…”
In fact, Utopia has much in common with Joseph Lidster’s exceptional audio play, Master, starring Sylvester McCoy and Geoffrey Beevers. In that story the Master is living a good, honest life under the alias “John Smith”, with no knowledge of the malevolent creature that lurks within him. Of course in that story, the Doctor knew full well that John Smith was the Master because he put him there in the first place (hence the familiar alias). Here though,
he doesn’t have a clue, and so the drama functions on another level altogether.
“The call came from across the stars. Over and over again. Come to Utopia, originating from that point. Calling us in. The last of the humans scattered across the night.”
Professor Yana is a wonderful, fascinating character in his own right. Jacobi plays him with
a grandfatherly benevolence that contrasts so well with the entity that lives inside him. His assistant, Chantho, is also quite an endearing creature; the children in the audience are
sure to take to her unique speech patterns, especially as Davies shows her ‘swearing’ at one point – they’ll really appreciate the daft naughtiness of it.
I don’t think I can stress enough just how good Jacobi is in this episode; the gravity of his performance is absolutely stupendous – I’d even go so far as to say that he outshines even Tennant and Barrowman. He has one of those distinctive voices that is ideal for the role –
for the most part it is kind, gentle and wise, but it has that underlying capacity for evil; that
oh-so apposite hypnotic quality. Jacobi makes Davies’ lyrical dialogue sound like poetry.
“The sound of drums, more and more, as if it’s getting closer.”
I really love how Davies has introduced the Master to a new generation. The Doctor’s arch-enemy is a much more difficult adversary to resurrect than, say, the Daleks or the Cybermen were, as for one thing the Master was a notoriously camp and over-the-top villain that might not sit well with a modern audience, and for another he is beset by the most complex and confusing history of any Doctor Who character, including the eponymous Doctor himself.
Above: Roger Delgado as the Master in "Terror of the Autons", the character's first television appearance
Particularly in the 1980s, it became something of a running joke that the Master would be completely and utterly destroyed in one story, only to return a few weeks later. The Doctor would always say to him something like, “oh so you escaped from Sarn” and he’d say “yes” and that would be it – no more explanation needed. He’s the Master. He always survives.
Above: "The Deadly Assassin" introduced the Master's most overtly-monstrous incarnation
By the time the classic series came to an end in 1989, the Master had used up of all his thirteen Time Lord lives as well as another that he had stolen from Consul Tremas in The Keeper of Traken. In the Virgin New Adventures series of novels that followed during the 1990s, an alien race called the Tzun gifted the Master with a whole new regeneration cycle, but unfortunately for our pointy-bearded friend his body (and thus his new-found ability to regenerate) was then entirely destroyed when the Daleks executed him at the start of the 1996 TV Movie. And then, as if it couldn’t get any worse for the Doctor’s best enemy, in the very same film the TARDIS ate the Master’s latest stolen body: Eric Roberts’ Master was sucked into the Eye of Harmony and once again destroyed... only to turn up in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip a couple of years later!
Above: Anthony Ainley's Master prepares to put paid to Tom Baker's Doctor in "Logopolis"
Now Davies could have written a very convoluted episode that detailed exactly where the Jacobi version of the Master came from. I’m thankful that he didn’t – nothing annoys me more than when writers close off possibilities by being unnecessarily specific. Just look
at what Mike Tucker did with the Master in the audio drama Dust Breeding, for instance. What a headache. Here though, Davies leaves it up to the viewers. Where this version of
the Master came from is a purely ecumenical matter.
Above: Eric Roberts played the venomous, resurrected Master in the 1996 US TV Movie
For some reason though, this Master became human, just as the Doctor did earlier in the season. He even has the same type of Gallifreyan fob watch containing his consciousness. And once Martha has broken the perception filter, Professor Yana begins to hear the watch calling to him. We actually hear clips from classic serials: Roger Delgado in The Dæmons, Anthony Ainley’s laugh… It’s a proper ‘chills up the spine’ kind of moment.
“I was found with it. An orphan in the storm… abandoned with only this.”
Graeme Harper shoots this episode so very well. The tension that he creates with those long, lingering shots on Professor Yana’s face when he sees the TARDIS and hears words like ‘regenerate’ and ‘Dalek’ is excruciating. The viewer can almost see the wheels turning
in the back of the Professor’s mind. Whether the Master deliberately disguised himself as
a human to hide from the Time War, or whether the Face of Boe had a hand in this is any-body’s guess, and personally I hope that we never find out. It’s perfect exactly as it is.
“The Professor was a invention. So perfect a disguise that I forgot who I am. I am the Master!”
The Professor’s eyes. Sir Derek Jacobi’s mesmerising performance. Murray Gold’s epic score. Graeme Harper’s out of this world direction. It’s sheer magic.
The Master, his eyes black and cold, walks menacingly towards the camera, Chantho’s point-of-view. He’s bearing down on her with that sparking cable.
It’s spelt out just to make sure. Absolutely awesome, but it keeps on getting better.
Chantho somehow manages to shoot the Master. The Doctor races in.
The Doctor and the Master – face to face. The Last of the Time Lords. The good and the bad. Time’s Champion and Death’s. And they are about to do battle once more.
But despite this being the start of such an epic and monumental story, the Master locks the Doctor out of his TARDIS using what looks like an everyday Yale lock. Absolutely brilliant; so very Doctor Who.
“The Master reborn!”
And then it happens. Believe it or not, Utopia is the first time that the Master has ever been shown to regenerate on screen and it was well worth the wait. Jacobi’s renewal is a glorious corruption of the Eccleston / Tennant regeneration, completely identical were it not for the demonic flash of red halfway through.
The new Master, Life on Mars’ John Simm,
briefly gives us a flash of camp menace that
outdoes even Anthony Ainley’s most insalub-rious outings. However, as he’s only just rege-nerated, this initial behaviour may not be typical of his portrayal. If anything, from the trailer and the clips that I’ve seen of what is to come, Simm’s Master could well be the darkest one yet.
“End of the universe, have fun. Bye bye!”
And what a cliffhanger. Futurekind is breaking down the door, and the Master has stolen the TARDIS and is heading for 21st century Earth to begin his reign of terror…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This story shows us the Master as young boy, arguably debunking Marc Platt’s popular theories concerning Gallifreyan propagation set out in many of his Doctor Who novels. It is feasible, however, that the Master (or “Kochei”, if you will) was born naturally some time prior to the Pythia’s curse which left the women of Gallifrey barren, though this is improbable as he was a contemporary of the Doctor’s, who – if Platt’s works are to be given credence – we know was woven in a genetic loom (much like his “daughter”, Jenny, would be in The Doctor’s Daughter) from which he emerged fully grown Another possibility is that when Platt posited the idea that modern Gallifreyans are loomed ‘fully grown’, this could include nearly fully grown, i.e. adolescent. This
is something of a fudge, but fits a lot better as it also accounts for the Doctor’s frequent references to being
“a child” and “a boy” throughout the series, not to mention the suggestive sobriquet “time tot” often used to describe young Time Lords and Time Ladies.
This story also offers us further insight into the chain of events that saw the Master start down the dark path towards evil. Here it is suggested that from the moment he looked into the Untempered Schism as a youth, his every thought was punctuated by the sounds of drums – a sound that slowly drove him mad. This does
not counteract the explanations put forward in The Dark Path and Master, however, as the Master’s fall from grace appears to have been a gradual one; the Untempered Schism is simply where it all began…
Details of how the Time Lords resurrected the Master during the Time War are not known. Presumably they used a method similar to that employed by the Cult of Saxon in The End of Time, and – given the Master’s evident ability to regenerate again – were a damn sight more successful at it than the Cult would be.
When is now? This episode is set shortly after “present” events depicted in 42 (2008).
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