Aired 16 June 2007
Following three consecutive stories that will assuredly be present on may ‘best of’ lists, there was a pervading sense that ‘Utopia’ would fail to reach such heights and instead be a bit of a letdown heading into the proper two-part series finale. While the story progresses along at a quick clip and offers plenty of action and intriguing concepts, it’s not until the last fifteen minutes or so that the story elevates itself into something amazing in its own right as well.
‘Utopia’ is steeped in Doctor Who mythology, both from the classic and modern series, and it does a good job of incorporating it all without feeling crowded or rushed. Before getting into the true story, Captain Jack Harkness forces his way back into the Doctor’s presence, finally acknowledging that the pre-regeneration Doctor seemingly left him behind. Of course, Jack has since had a lot of his story filled in on the spin-off Torchwood, but Russell T Davies doesn’t assume that viewers have knowledge of these events and straddles the line between giving too much information about Jack and not enough wonderfully. The Doctor doesn’t really acknowledge his past actions until absolutely forced to, but it finally gives some further definition to his still-apparent yearning for Rose as well as Martha’s continued frustration with Rose still being such a presence after all of this time.
What ‘Utopia’ does well with its two regulars and the returning Jack is allow them to slowly gain a better understanding of each other. So while Martha is initially put off by Rose being mentioned and cannot quite fathom Jack carrying around the Doctor’s original hand he lost in ‘The Christmas Invasion,’ she shows that she is slowly coming to terms with what it really means to travel with the Doctor when she compares companions to stray dogs. In particular, the conversation between Jack and the Doctor as the immortal Jack willingly sacrifices himself to the radiation is incredibly deep, and even though it can come off as an excuse to bring in more of a backstory, the common experiences result in the Doctor being able to talk to someone like he is so rarely able to do.
Setting the story in the year 100 trillion on Malcassairo- the last vestige of life as the universe is ending- is a bold choice, and although the Futurekind come off as a bit campy even with their purposefully more primitive characterization, it works very well. Being set this far in the future, it’s tough to reconcile the presence of modern weaponry and such, but otherwise the script does a superb job in portraying a society stripped down to a very basic state after everything else has fallen apart.
Derek Jacobi, of course, steals the show in his guest role of Professor Yana, a man who is so aptly able to sum up what it means to be a man who has lived past the time of galaxies, trapped in the dim closing moments of the universe. He’s a man living past when living actually has meaning, and Jacobi poignantly and emotionally encapsulates this futility perfectly even as he still toils to give his fellow citizens some sense of hope by creating a beacon.
This sense of hope is dashed as the old man complaining about not being able to tell time pulls out his old fob watch, one that Martha recognizes from her previous adventure in ‘Human Nature’ and ‘The Faimly of Blood.’ She unwittingly draws Yana’s attention to it and, just like with the Doctor in that earlier tale, a Time Lord unconsciousness is released back to its host. Jacobi subtely but perfectly portrays the change in persona as he becomes the Master alongside some clever audio editing using previous incarnations’ voices, the Doctor’s most nefarious foe. It’s also fitting that a being who so loves disguises is quick to both complement and condemn the sheer perfection of his Yana disguise. The look on the Doctor’s eyes when he realizes what has happened speaks volumes about the severity of the situation, and the Master’s menace is brought about quickly and perfectly as he kills the lab assistant Chantho, the last of her species.
With perfect characterization of the main characters and the surprising return of the Master, making sense of the earlier ‘You Are Not Alone’ speech from the Face of Boe, ‘Utopia’ ends up being a thrilling addition to this run of episodes after taking some time to truly set events in motion. Though Jacobi’s time as the Master is over all too quickly, regenerating into the much more Tennant-esque John Simm, his presence will be felt for long to come, especially now that he has stolen the Doctor’s TARDIS and left the Doctor, Martha, and Jack stranded at the end of the universe.