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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Utopia”

(intro to my Who blogging, please read before commenting / previous: Episode 10: “Blink”)

I listen to the end credits music of every episode, on my home-burned DVDs full of illegally downloaded broadcast-on-the-BBC* Doctor Who, and the Beeb doesn’t interrupt the end credits as much as the Sci Fi Channel does. So I can really hear those strains of oo-WOO-ooo, and every time it’s like, tee-hee!, I still can’t believe Doctor Who is back.

And why is it back? Why am I being tormented so? I was fine. I was comfortable. I was resigned to the fact that I was going to have to live my life here on boring old Earth at the tedious pace of 60 minutes to the hour, seven days to the week, 365 days to the year, ten years to the decade. I was no longer haunted by and subjugated to the tyranny of having my head full of the 900-whatever-year-old Time Lord and his adventures and how I so deserve to be out there traveling with him. I had accepted that this would never happen, and I went on with my life.
But now he’s back, via Russell Davies — and may whatever gods exist damn him to hell for all eternity — and now I’m obsessed again, and my head is full of all this nonsense again, and I’m reminded, again, how much I need to not be stuck in the mundane here and now. And it’s pathetic. It’s pathetic. And it’s totally Not Fair.

And it’s worse. Davies has to keep torturing us, as if it weren’t enough that we had enslaved ourselves to him instantly three years ago, when Christopher Eccleston — oh my god, Christopher Eccleston — debuted as the Ninth Doctor. Nooo, Davies has to keep demanding that we constantly renew and even up our devotion. He had to go and give us the most seductive — in all ways — Doctor ever in David Tennant. And now… And now…

Oh. My. God. Derek Jacobi on Doctor Who. Derek Jacobi as the Master on Doctor Who. Oh. My. God. No matter how many times I watch this episode, it’s always chilling to hear him say “I. Am. The Master.”

I so want to have Derek Jacobi’s babies. I know he doesn’t do vaginas, but still — it’s not rocket science, right?

I think I must go lay down and cry in abject worship at the perfection of him, and at Davies’, for actually managing to get Jacobi to agree to do this.

And I’d never even heard of John Simm before, but, again: Oh. My. God. Simm is so hot as the Master — wait till next week — and I never thought I’d ever say anything like that. Crazy as a loon, but hot and sexy and scrummy in that totally deliciously evil way that’s only tolerable in fiction. (In real life, no: it would be a straitjacket and a padded room for the man, and probably massive doses of lithium, and a request to please stay as far away from me as possible, thankyouverymuch.)

And then there’s the irresistibly luscious John Barrowman. Captain Jack Harkness can say hello to me any time.

I might explode.

Oh, my head hurts. But in a good way. There’s so much jammed into this episode that I can barely process it all. It exists on so many levels: on the simple surface level of the drama it depicts; in the space of fannish extrapolation of both the decades-long mythology and the soap opera of the last few years; in the longing of us fans for more about the things merely hinted at here.

We have here the pain of “the Professor,” all of who he is tucked away into that little watch — Russell Davies has made us feel bad and sad for Cybermen and Daleks, but I never thought he’d make us feel that way about the Master, the Doctor’s archest of archenemies, but he does (and wait till the season finale in two weeks!). And yet we also have the newly regenerated Master’s snarking of “Why don’t we stop and have a nice little chat when I tell you all my plans and you can work out a way to stop me? I don’t think!” That’s… funny. Ya can’t help but sympathize with the Master here as he escapes not just from the end of the universe but — on a meta level — from the clichés of pulp fiction. That’s part of the brilliance of this new Who, that it works on that meta level as well, that it manages to make us care about characters who, at least some of the time, seem to realize that they are merely characters in — if we’re honest about it — outrageously silly fiction.

I love the Doctor in this episode — there’s so much going on with him. All the “we should leave, we should leave, not even the Time Lords came this far” stuff, and then that huge grin of delight at the prospect of being very naughty and having a look round anyway… he’s like a little boy in some ways, for all his advanced age and unfathomable experience. It’s not the little-boyness of evading responsibility and indulging in juvenile recklessness but an enthusiasm and a sense of adventure and possibility. But then there’s also the childish defensiveness. “It’s like I’ve got a sports car and you’ve got a space hopper,” he says to Jack about their methods of time travel, and all a gal like me — and, apparently, Martha too — can think is: “Okay, someone get a ruler.” The Doctor simply was never into metaphoric dick-measuring before, but Jack brings out the worst in him. It’s more than just the “you’re wrong” business about Jack being, apparently, unkillable. Why does it bother him that Jack flirts with everybody? (“Maybe later, Blue…” Hee hee.) I mean, ya gotta fill up all those long years doing something — having lots of sex sounds like a good way to do that. But it’s weird to see the Doctor so discombobulated by someone like Jack… and yet, there’s something flirtatious in their conversation through the door, too. Maybe the Doctor doesn’t even know what to make of Jack.

I know, simply know, that there are tons of stories with the Doctor, Rose, and Jack traveling together that we never saw. (I hear the siren call of fan fiction again…)

Random thoughts on “Utopia”:

• The Doctor panicking, panicking, and screaming… we rarely saw him genuinely afraid before, and there’s a lot of that here…

• It’s worth remembering that all of Torchwood so far, which we’re still in the middle of seeing here in the States, happens before this episode. So when Jack jumps onto the outside of the TARDIS in the opening moments, he’s already dealt with a lot of alien crap in Cardiff, which has, it seems, been all about keeping his eyes open for the return of the Doctor.

• “I’m happy drinking my own internal milk,” Chantho says. Oh, TMI! Even the Professor thinks so.

• The year 100 trillion… would there be recognizable humans that far into the future? It seems unlikely to me, or so I thought through five or six viewings of this episode. And then I finally heard the Doctor say that humans “might have spent a million years evolving into clouds of gas, and another million as downloads, but always revert to the same basic shape,” which at least acknowledges the unlikeliness if it doesn’t quite explain it away entirely. That something like this is a mere throwaway line is an indication of how densely packed these episodes are.

• We need a Time War movie, and it must star the lovely Paul McGann as the Doctor. Cuz we know he had just regenerated into the Christopher Eccleston Doctor when he meets Rose — he has his first look in a mirror in Rose’s first episode.

• “Life will find a way,” the Doctor says. Oh, the Doctor so knows “chaotician” and Jurassic Park consultant Ian Malcolm. Ian has traveled with the Doctor, I think. Hello! There’s a bit of fan fiction I must go and write…

• “All the stars have burnt out and faded away.” So where is Utopia? Where are the humans going? Who sent “the call [that] came from across the stars”?

• “You two! We’re at the end of the universe, right at the edge of knowledge itself. And you’re busy blogging!” I would have said “gossiping,” but whatever — the Doctor is awfully touchy when it comes to talk about Rose. Something else for me to deal with in my new fan fiction, which I’m being driven to write even though I don’t have time for it, and even though I’m way too old for this shit. Damn you, Russell Davies. Damn you.

*I just would like to point out that having seen these broadcast-on-the-BBC-and-shamefully-downloaded-from-the-Internet-to-my-American-TV episodes has not stopped me from watching them again on the Sci Fi Channel and hence contributing to whatever ratings number a non-Nielsen household such as mine can contribute, and I even watch the commercials, so no megacorporation has lost out on whatever revenue it would otherwise have gotten from me merely because I downloaded episodes when, speaking from a strictly legal perspective, I shouldn’t have. And also, if there were some way for me to pay for a British TV license in order to help support the U.K.-government-funded network in exchange for legally getting to see episodes of Doctor Who — as well as some other British TV — I would be delighted to do so. I would so have paid 20 or 50 bucks or whatever to have had the opportunity to watch Doctor Who at the same time it first aired in Britain. Make it possible for me to not have to wait — holy fuck — months to see new Doctor Who that dorks in England have already seen, and I’ll so be your bitch. As soon as the megacorps get their heads out of their asses about “piracy” and start offering viewers what they want when they want it, as is clearly already technologically feasible, we will all — audiences and megacorps alike — be a lot happier. I mean, the BBC throws up a firewall on its Web site that you can bypass with a credit card and start downloading, and I’m there.

(next: Episode 12: “The Sound of Drums”)

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
tv buzz
  • PaulW

    Go to YouTube. Type in Whogasm. See what comes up.

    The reasons we don’t have and will never see, a Time War episode, or even a miniseries:
    1) The sfx budget, to do that episode/series any justice, would equal the GNP of every European nation added together.
    2) It would totally ruin the 159,042 fanfic stories already out there about how that Time War was fought.
    3) All the actors needed for the job are currently tied up filming the next two Harry Potters.

    Jacobi’s already played the Master, in audio format, so it was old hat for him. Plus, there’s this thing about playing bad guys that British actors so dearly enjoy doing, the chance to play one of England’s greatest villains since Professor Moriarty had to be too tempting.

    I don’t have any problems with Davies. I love what he’s doing, he’s showing the storytelling savvy of Whedon and Gaiman combined. I have a problem with the SciFi channel though: dammit move Dr. Who back to 9 pm! We don’t need Flash Gordon (makes one wistful for the campy movie), and Nick’s got the Avatar on at 8:30 and I don’t have TiVo! Mutter grumble…

  • Joanne

    The Doctor Who Confidential for this episode has quite a lot of Jacobi being interviewed – and he’s clearly so happy about being involved it’s just great. I mean, here’s one of the greatest actors of the current time, being all geeky about being on Doctor Who. Tennant and Barrowman are pretty happy about him being involved too.

    About the recognisable humans: I have less problem swith the recognisable humans than I do with the recognisable truck. I think we’d have developed beyond trucks in the year 100 trillion. Otherwise … well, apart from wonderful technology humans now don’t appear to be all that different from humans 2000 years ago, really; our culture and hobbies and languages and politics are different, but physiologically and fundamentally we’re no different from the ancient Romans or Greeks. We seem to have basically stopped evolving in a biological way, apart from getting a bit taller and fatter on the whole. Who’s to say we won’t ever evolve further, particularly if we can keep on developing cures for what kills us?

  • Branden

    I had been watching the episodes off of my DVR, but after watching “Utopia”, I absolutely had to see the last two episodes right away.

    I have only ever watched the new series, so who the Master is and what he means to the doctor is kind of lost on me, apart from what was discussed in the episodes, but it was a great story arc.

  • Yes, Russell Davies is, if not the spawn of Hell, the actual Devil himself. Which reminds me, check out Orbital’s Dr Who dance theme on YouTube. Awesome. Can’t remember what cd it’s on, though. And as for the Whogasm, my friends who came over to watch it last night (who’ve not seen any of this season), well, let’s just say they scared the dog. A lot.

    My main pet peeve with this episode? Derek Jacobi, whom I’ve been in love with since I was 9 and he was Clau-Clau-Claudius, is not returning as The Master. I’ve got nothing against John Simm, he was wonderful in Life On Mars, but I fear he won’t give the (The?) Master proper gravitas.

    I loved Blue. Love Cap’n Jack (who doesn’t?)…ye gods I need this on dvd.

  • Lee

    Great review! Great episode! BUT… *Continuity fanwank!*

    If Chris Eccleston’s Doctor was brand new in “Rose,” then how did Clive get all of those pictures of him?

    I figured the Doctor’s reaction to his own face was the same one I get–wow, do I really look like *that*?

    Of course, what you do in your fanfic is your own business… ;)

  • Drave

    Lee: Easy. Just because events take place in our past doesn’t mean they don’t take place in the Doctor’s future. Just ask Sally Sparrow. Any one of those photographs could have been taken in between any episode of season one.

  • Mike Brady

    I don’t remember the exact quote now – the message that the last bastions of humanity received. “Come to Utopia,” or somesuch. Call me cynical, but my inner Douglas Adams is convinced that this broadcast was part of a marketing campaign for some long-defunct galactic resort. Humankind will expend all their resources in a last-ditch effort, only to discover that they’ve been chasing a shill. Something about Advertising being responsible for the final snuffing-out of all humanity tastes like delicious irony.

  • jakob1978

    You’d never heard of John Simm? You must track down Life on Mars (which I’m sure you’d absolutly love) and State of Play (which is just amazing television).

  • The best part for me is when the Professor, newly transformed into the Master, slowly turns around and looks at Chantho with those cold, merciless eyes. As Russell T Davies says in the accompanying Confidential, how do actors do that?

  • Diane

    John Simm is a national treasure in England…and we in the USA have yet to unwrap his talent. Life on Mars was some of the best tv ever produced and very much due to the acting skills of Mr. Simm and the rest of the crew. There is so much great Simm work on film…if you have never heard of him…get busy because you are missing an incredible talent!

  • bats :[

    Derek Jacobi.

  • Poly

    The language in the final interaction between the Doctor and the Master has a distinct playground ten-year-olds-scuffling feel to it:
    The Doctor: Please… please, I’m asking real properly, just stop! Just think!
    The Master: Use my name.
    The Doctor: Master… I’m sorry.
    The Master: Tough!

    I don’t say that as a complain. It immediately implies a relationship that goes way back, that has deep emotional implications, and combined with the Doctor’s raw emotional state (longing and regret and hope and panic), it shows that there is more at stake than the fate of the universe.

    Something that will be lost to US viewers is how evenly matched are David Tennant and John Simm. Not only in talent and charisma (which you can see), but in the way the audience feels about them. In the last couple of years they have captured the british public’s imagination almost in equal measure, so when you bring John Simm to play the Master to David Tennant’s Doctor, there is an immense sense of occasion. (if Derek Jacobi playing The Professor / Thr Master was not enough).

    As people said, try to catch State of Play and Life on Mars. The former is being remade into a film with Brad Pitt, and the latter as an american tv series. Try to catch the originals.

  • JSW

    Actually, this isn’t the first time Sir Derek Jacobi has played the master.

  • jakob1978

    indeed he did play the Master in that audio play…and he’s also played the Doctor (sort of), in a “Big Finish” play


  • Good episode, but I do have one notable quibble with the science: Namely, assuming that current scientific theory is correct, the “end” of the Universe won’t be in the year 100,000,000,000,000 AD (100 trillion, or 1014)… not even close. It’s certainly probable that by that time, there won’t be any stars left, even if humanity (or whoever) takes to cultivating them by herding the remaining matter together into stellar masses so that new stars can form. The killer of being in the year 1014 is that expansion of the Universe will have separated most matter from other matter by tremendous distances (read: tens to thousands of light years)… so everything will be really, really spread out.

    The “end” of the Universe, in any meaningful way, should occur somewhere around the year 10117 (within a few orders of magnitude of that, anyway), when the last baryonic matter dissolves due to proton decay. We know with a high degree of certainty that protons have a half-life of 1066 years or so, and once gone, there’s no way to get them back. By year 10117 or so, all of the protons will have dissolved, and there will be no more matter in the Universe, beyond a wash of photons, free electrons, neutrons, and neutrinos.

    Of course, beyond that the Universe itself will just keep on expanding and existing… but there won’t be anything useful inside of it.

    The whole thing about humans still existing in their current bipedal form that far downstream is something I just let slide due to the fact that we employ human actors. 1014 years of random evolution or purposeful self-alteration would likely leave us as immortal, energy-based beings who we humans would probably perceive as aliens or gods… or we might devolve back into beings without consciousness in an attempt to avoid the horror of awareness of a dying and increasingly-hostile, cold, and empty Universe.

  • OK, “boo” to the blogging software for properly showing my superscripted dates (10^14, 10^66, 10^117) when I previewed my entry and then dropping my tags when I actually posted the entry.

  • Poly

    So, Clayj, it’s a long time from now :)
    (sorry, not a head for astrophysics).

  • Mike Brady

    Like Joanne, I also find myself chafe whenever they travel to some really far away time and technology hasn’t *really* progressed. Considering how far technology has come in the last 100 years, it should be completely unrecognizable by the time Satellite Five rolls around in the year 200,000 (never mind 10e14!).

    That said, I’m usually (if grudgingly) able to suspend disbelief in the name of good storytelling. After all, as Mary Ann pointed out in her Battlestar Galactica commentary, if the technology looks too alien then you tend to focus more on the alienness and less on the humanity. But if the goal is to relate it to humanity, why use these absurdly distant years? I would have found 3000 C.E. a much more believable setting for Satellite Five. Personally it seems like the Doctor should be hanging around much closer, relatively speaking, to the 21st century (which is, after all, when “it all happens”) to avoid making it look like humanity is incapable of any further technical innovation. The really distant times should be used very sparingly and should throw in a bit more of the fantastic than trucks and automatic guns.

  • MaryAnn

    You’d never heard of John Simm? You must track down Life on Mars (which I’m sure you’d absolutly love) and State of Play (which is just amazing television).

    *Life on Mars* has been on BBC America here, but I don’t get that channel, and *State of Play* hasn’t played here at all, as far as I’m aware, so, no, I’ve never seen John Simm before. But I just ordered a region-free DVD player, and I expect to spend a small fortune ordering DVDs from Amazon UK.

  • BTW, awesome reference to Doctor Who in tonight’s Star Wars-themed episode of Family Guy:

    Han Solo (Peter): “Wow, hyperspace always looks so weird.”
    [cue Tom Baker-era theme music and opening sequence, complete with a shot of Tom Baker’s Doctor]

  • MaryAnn

    That *was* hilarious, but any DW fan worth her salt had already noticed the similarities between the two. And it’s very interesting to note that Tom Baker was the Doctor at the time that SW was being produced, partially, in England.

  • Katie

    Geez, I decide to wait till Monday for once and look what happens…I’m ridiculously late to the party.

    This episode is amazing. There’s so much amazing stuff in it. Everything is just amazing.

    I love Captain Jack in this episode more than words can say. “Captain Jack Harkness. Stop it! I was just saying hello.” “Was somebody kissing me?” Teehee!

    I love the image of the Doctor and Jack running down the hallway with their coats billowing.

    I love Derek Jacobi and John Simm. “So sad. Bye bye.” The Master is absolutely psycho and yet so much fun.

    And I think you’re right, this is the first time we’ve heard the Doctor yell.

    There are tons of fan fic stories about the Doctor/Jack and the Doctor/Rose/Jack. I mean Jack is Jack after all – a pansexual intergalactic sex machine. And he and the Doctor are sorta-flirting all over the place in this episode. It’s so much fun and totally made of love.

    This episode is made of giddy giggle squee inducing win.

    Oh, and I agree with everything you said in your *.

  • allochthon

    … and I’m reminded, again, how much I need to not be stuck in the mundane here and now. …

    Have you read
    The women men don’t see
    by James Tiptree Jr (aka Alice Sheldon)?

  • MaryAnn

    I love the image of the Doctor and Jack running down the hallway with their coats billowing.

    Yes! There’s something very sexy about that. I can’t quite explain it — let me go watch it a dozen more times so I can figure it out. :->

    Have you read
    The women men don’t see by James Tiptree Jr (aka Alice Sheldon)?

    Of course! I suspect that ANY woman who’s a real fan of SF has read that.

    I don’t think I’m a woman that men don’t see. But many men are not worth being seen by. :->

    The Doctor would be worth being seen by, and worth going off traveling with for several years. At least.

  • And it’s worse. Davies has to keep torturing us, as if it weren’t enough that we had enslaved ourselves to him instantly three years ago, when Christopher Eccleston — oh my god, Christopher Eccleston — debuted as the Ninth Doctor. Nooo, Davies has to keep demanding that we constantly renew and even up our devotion.

    I know you’re only being tongue-in-cheek but if Davies really was the sadistic bastard you keep “hinting” he is, he would have made this episode the season finale.

    Nay, he would have made it the series finale…

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