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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘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

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