Review: Doctor Who – 3×11 – Utopia


Fan. Bloody. Tastic.

That’s all I have to say on the subject.

Okay, being the kind of guy who has lots to say on lots of subjects, that’s patently untrue. But if I had to summarise yesterday’s episode, that would be where I’d leave it.

Fan. Bloody. Tastic.

I’ll go on at length in a minute, but what was most clear from Utopia was that it was a massive one-finger salute from Russell T Davies to the more critical members of Doctor Who fandom. A nice one, mind, but clearly RTD was smiling a very secret smile as he wrote Utopia.

Scrawled in nine-feet high letters across the entire season, culminating in Utopia, the message from Rusty was clear: “You think I don’t know what I’m doing? You think I’m a soap-opera hack with ego problems, intent on trampling all over your memories with infantile fart gags?

”Well, I can do structure. I can do foreshadowing. I can do mirroring. I can do tension of opposites. I can hide things in plain sight where even you geniuses can’t spot them. By the end of this episode, you’ll forget everything you’ve ever said about me and you’ll beg for my forgiveness. And do you know why?

“Because I am the Master and you will obey me.”

Now the story proper wasn’t that special. We have a load of colonists holed up in a quarry with evil monsters trying to break in. Nothing special so far, and as Graeme Harper rightly pointed out in the Doctor Who Confidential, they looked like a bunch of extras from Mad Max. Indeed, the whole thing looked like someone had been watching the Beeb’s 80s dramatisation of Day of the Triffids, with padlocks, pertrol-driven trucks, automatic weapons and more doubling for tech that should be inconceivably more advanced than our own.

All the same, compared with some of Rusty’s other efforts, the supposed A-plot was still an acceptable piece of storytelling.

But the A-plot wasn’t the point. It was merely there to serve as a backdrop for the supposed B-plots. First up was the return of Captain Jack.

F**k me. It’s true. They’re actually going to do it.

Ho, ho, ho. Clearly, while RTD was typing away with his right hand’s middle finger (“Blogging. Ha!”), his left hand was raised in a similar, steady, fixed gesture at Chris Chibnall (“Mess up my beloved spin-off idea, will you?”) and any Torchwood fan in the neighbourhood. Every single mystery about Captain Jack that Torchwood ever raised has now been cleared up and not even in the show that raised them. That’ll learn you for sitting through 13 episodes of mostly rubbish crud in the vague hope it’ll be worth it.

Rude gestures at Torchwood aside, the return of Captain Jack was the return of Captain Jack proper, not his Torchwood variant. If it moves, he’ll flirt with it. Hoorah. The Torchwood reboot starts here, it seems, and Chibnall isn’t the one rebooting it. Look for a happier, less mysterious Captain Jack next season on Torchwood.

But even the return of Captain Jack wasn’t the the highlight of the episode. No, it was the return of The Master. Now, for old-school Whovians, I suspect there were more than a few shudders of delight (in fact, I would like to suggest “a shudder” as the collective noun for fans. It would be multi-purposed) at the arrival of the other last Time Lord. And what an arrival, firstly as Derek Jacobi and secondly as John Simm.

I’d been dumb enough to spoil myself so I knew the possibility of Jacobi and Simm being The Master was there. Yet knowing what was coming was still no preparation for its arrival. Once the first real hints started to arrive – subtle hints that meant nothing at first – my poor little brain realised what was happening. “F**k me. It’s true. They’re actually going to do it.”* and went into meltdown. It was then just a matter of time, Jacobi’s performance mesmerising throughout, as the Master emerged.

You have to hand it to Rusty, though. Every since The Sun revealed what was going to happen, fans were speculating about how The Master avoided the doom faced by the other Time Lords, how he was going to come back and more. Not once did anyone suggest that RTD would use the same plot device he used just two episodes earlier to do it. Everyone was too busy using existing continuity to notice that Rusty was making up his own continuity as he went along and was free to re-use it later.

Now that’s smart.

Equally smart were all the little similarities he was building into the script between the Doctor and the Master. Now, for most people, the Master doesn’t quite pack the same punch as the Daleks. In fact, odd thought though this might be, he’s unheard of in many quarters.

I’m not sure Who life gets much better than this.

Certainly, when Anthony Ainley’s chuckle came on and I grinned like an idiot and said “It’s the Master!”, my wife’s shrug and “Sorry. I have no idea who that is. Means nothing to me,”** made me realise just how important it’s going to be for RTD to establish the Master as a worthy adversary and an equal of the Doctor.

So you have to admire all the clever mirroring: the sort-of companion, the expertise with science, the same regeneration effect, the “different voice” line with its echoes of Tennant’s “new teeth”, the same post-regeneration lunacy as Tennant, the same fob watch, the ability to control the TARDIS, et al. Marvellous stuff that suggests we’re going to have a battle of the titans for the rest of the season, assuming the Doctor can fix Jack’s watch and get them out of Thunderdome (and then what will they do with the watch? Torchwood fans will know…).

I’m hoping that Simm simmers down a little bit by next episode, since both he and Jacobi went massively over the top as soon as they got to be The Master. I suspect he’ll be more subtle by then.

Key Whovian points this episode, which I’m sure some people will quibble with

  1. Quarries are back in fashion! Yey!
  2. It’s the first time we’ve seen the Master properly regenerate (fill in the blanks about how he’s able to for yourself, assuming Rusty doesn’t next week)
  3. It’s only the second time we’ve seen a proper on-screen regeneration by a Time Lord other than the Doctor
  4. Graeme Harper is now the only director to have directed not one but two regeneration sequences. How fitting
  5. It’s the first time we’ve had any audio or video backflashes to the original series in the new series, other than through the re-use of sound effects
  6. The Sun was completely right again. It was right about Pipes leaving. It was right about Freema taking over. Saying “You can’t believe that. It was in The Sun” is no longer an option, at least with regards to Who stuff
  7. You can’t trust Rusty quotes. Never going to bring the Master back because he’s not got a proper motivation? Hmmm…

There was no trailer at the end of the episode, but there was at the end of Doctor Who Confidential and it looks like John Simm is going to get a chance to do what Delgado, Ainley, Beevers, Pratt and Roberts were never allowed: be really evil, take over the world*** and win. And by George, did I see a Tissue Compression Eliminator in action? Fan. Bloody. Tastic.

I’m not sure Who life gets much better than this. I think I’m going to go off and watch the episode again. I never do that.

The Murray Gold Watch

This week, Murray Gold was mostly drowning out the dialogue and removing all sense of drama by deriving music from… Zulu and his own back catalogue.

* Yes, my brain censors itself with asterisks

** She was more interested by John Simm’s being the Master, though

*** As has been pointed out before by others, but I’ve been holding off from mentioning until now, “Mister Saxon” is an anagram of “Master No. Six”


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.