The Case for… Utopia

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Guest contributor Samuel Rahaman makes the case for the Series 3 episode.

While ‘Utopia’ is not as widely panned in the Doctor Who community as say ‘Love & Monsters’, it does not receive the acclaim that I feel the episode deserves. ‘Utopia’ has been cast aside by many as a rather tedious episode that only serves as filler, to make way for the finale. (This does not relate to people on this site as such, but to other internet communities that I’ve come across.) While it is true that it is essentially the first of a three-part finale, I find the criticisms made are grossly unfair.

‘Utopia’ was, in my opinion, a delightful episode. Now, there will be some of you reading this and thinking: “Really? What makes it so special?” Well I can easily say that ‘Utopia’ was, and still is, one of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who. “Why?” you may ask. “What is there to like?” Well, I believe that Russell T Davies wrote a wonderful script here. He set the episode in the year one hundred trillion, the end of the universe itself with humanity on the brink of collapse, which is somewhere no writer has dared go before (within Doctor Who at least). He also reintroduced two well-known and well-loved characters.

Firstly, there is Captain Jack Harkness, who originally appeared in Series 1. Secondly, the Master, the Doctor’s arch-nemesis and perhaps one of the greatest Doctor Who villains of all time, first appearing in the Classic serial ‘Terror of the Autons’. These two characters were great additions to the episode.

I find one of the biggest criticisms of the episode is that it is dull and lacklustre. I completely disagree. Take the opening sequence for example. The Doctor and Martha stop at Cardiff Bay (the Rift) to refuel the TARDIS. The Doctor notices the rift has been active for some time. We then see Jack running towards the TARDIS. Within the first moments of the episode, RTD propels the episode into high gear, Murray Gold’s magnificent soundtrack adding to the excitement. I still remember shouting at the TV “It’s Jack!” while pointing manically at the screen. We then see Jack launching himself at the TARDIS, just as it takes off, immediately followed by an explosion in the console room. The Doctor announces that they are going to the end of the universe. This is action at its best, and sets up the episode as a joyous thrill of a ride. How can you say the episode was dull with that opening sequence?

What people should also remember when re-watching the episode is that the cast are on top form: all of them deliver stunning performances, in particular David Tennant, and the marvellous Derek Jacobi as Professor Yana (a.k.a. the Master). Yana is a wonderful man who has, throughout his long life, been tortured by the sound of drums, which have resonated in his mind since he can recall. Both of these actors bounced brilliantly off one another, the dialogue perfectly complementing the characters. Jacobi was brilliant at portraying Yana, but also gave a chilling and sinister performance as the Master, very reminiscent of Roger Delgado, who some believe to be the greatest incarnation of them all – no mean feat, then, to capture the spirit of such an iconic performance. If anything, I would say Jacobi is one of the highlights of the episode. It is a deep shame that his appearance as the Master was a one-off.

The episode is not without faults, however. I believe the monsters in this episode, the Futurekind, were not used to their full potential. They were left to the sidelines for most of the episode, baring their teeth and waiting outside the gates of the human base, biding their time. They only became active in the last few minutes of the episode. I believe the Futurekind were a wasted idea from RTD. It would have been brilliant if we could’ve learnt more about how the the human race became these horrific, murderous cannibals. I for one would love them to return so their origins could be explored in greater detail.

I also believe another wasted character in this story was Martha. It seemed she too was pushed into the background. She seems to completely ignore the fact that she is looking at the future of her race, observing how broken they have become. However, there is no emotional response from her. She has no reaction when seeing the Futurekind; it wasn’t believable. Surely, she must have felt disgust at what they had become? The only time she does show any sympathy is when speaking to the child: you see Martha smile at the child’s hope that “the skies are made of diamonds”. It was a lovely moment, and becomes even more poignant in ‘Last of the Time Lords’, but there could have been so much more from her.

However, these are only small niggles, and it does not detract from how brilliant ‘Utopia’ is, especially when exploring the emotions of the characters, namely the Doctor and Yana, and the chemistry that develops between these two geniuses. I believe this what Davies excels at in his writing: he gives characters depth and meaning. As an audience, you do nothing but hope that the humans reach Utopia and salvation; you wish for Yana’s last experiment to work and you want him to finally have success in his life. Davies makes you truly empathise with them; the sign of a great writer.

Finally, what I loved most about the episode – and what makes ‘Utopia’ one of my favourite episodes of all time – are those last 10 minutes: that magnificent cliffhanger. I remember mine and my parents’ reactions vividly, like it was only yesterday. Who didn’t gasp when Yana pulled out a fob watch, shouting at the screen when Martha turned it around to see the Gallifreyan markings inscribed on the back?

What I loved most about this scene is that it didn’t just appeal to the younger viewers (including myself at the time), but it also struck a chord with the older audience. When the Doctor realises the message “You are not alone” forms the Professor’s name, I remember my mum and dad looking at each other in shock. They were whispering: “It can’t be him!” I looked at them. I cried: “Who? Who can’t it be?” My mum replied: “There was someone the Doctor knew, a long time ago, they were enemies – but it can’t be him!” Finally, the professor opens the fob watch. He looks to the screen and declares: “I. Am. The Master” My mum and dad gasp in surprise: “It is him!” I was ecstatic, as the newly regenerated Master took hold of the TARDIS and de-materialised, leaving the Doctor, Jack, and Martha to face the menace of the Futurekind.

This is what makes ‘Utopia’ such a brilliant story: it was able to touch all audiences, both old and the new. Not only could the younger audience gain excitement from the fact that the last of the Time Lords was no longer alone as they once thought, but the older audience could relish in the return of one of the Doctor’s greatest enemies, and the inevitable face-off between these legendary minds. What RTD managed to do was unite these different generations, creating forty-five minutes of sheer brilliance and entertainment they could all enjoy together. He also successfully managed to resurrect one of the Doctors most beloved foes, introducing newer generations to a definitive part of the Classic era. This is what makes ‘Utopia’ a masterful episode, and will remain in my memories for the rest of my life.