Heading into this week’s episode, I was prepared for a letdown. The last three weeks of “Doctor Who” had been so great that I figured the series three would come down to earth a bit with an episode that was just good, but no where as good as the past three weeks.
And for the first thirty of so minutes of Utopia, that’s exactly what I got. It was a good story full of action, adventure and a lot of fun, but it was no where near the giddy heights of pure enjoyment I’d experienced watching the show the past three weeks.
Then, there came the turning point of the episode and suddenly everything was edge of your seat fantastic.
The problem is that it’s hard to talk much about this week’s episode of “Doctor Who” without giving the big twists and turns from the last fifteen minutes away. So, I’ll encourage any of you who haven’t seen it yet and want to go in surprised at what happens to please turn back now.
And here we go….
My issue with Uptopia is the same one I had three years ago with Bad Wolf — great ending, not so great beginning. If anything, the first 30 or so minutes of this one felt like a holding pattern for the big events to start happening in the final 15 or so minutes. The Doctor and Martha land on the time rift in Cardiff to refuel. Captain Jack Harkness sees the TARDIS and comes running toward it, shouting for the Doctor. The Doctor ignores him and the TARDIS demateralizes — with Captain Jack clinging to the outside. The TARDIS goes forward in time to the edge of the universe, where the last remanants of humanity are living. Outside their compound exist some kind of mutated humans who are vicious, savage and hunt down [normal] human beings. The TARDIS arrives, Jack comes back from the dead and soon we’re running around a rock quarry. In many ways, it’s your standard “Doctor Who” adventure from the old series.
The Doctor and company flee into the last bastion of humanity, where they discover Professor Yana is builidng a rocket ship. There’s a signal coming from a place known as Utopia and humanity is desparate to get there. Only problem — the propulsion system the professor has devises doesn’t work. The Doctor steps in, helps out and gets humanity ready to head out toward its future.
Up until this point, not much to write home about happens. The story is competent but not terribly ground-breaking. It owes a lot to classic Who elements from the original series. It’s saved a lot by the give and play between the Doctor and Captain Jack and a great performance by Derek Jacobi as Professor Yana. The hook of this is that Yana keeps hearing drums beating and has all his life, but he can’t determine why or where they come from He’s even got an assistant who is an alien-female who has deep romantic feelings for him, setting up a parallel of the situation between the Doctor and Martha.
And then, as the rocket prepares to blast off and Jack is the only man in the universe who can help humanity escape, things take a turn.
Martha discovers the Professor has a watch — a watch that we saw back in “Human Nature” and “Family of Blood.” And as the Doctor and Jack discuss the TARDIS, time travel and Rose over an intercom and Yana tunes in, something starts to happen.
Martha runs to tell the Doctor what she’s found out and Yana opens the watch, restoring his true self. And his true self is revealed to be….(turn back now if you don’t want to know!)
But it doesn’t end there. The big reveal comes with several minutes to go — minutes full of peril, suspense and edge of your seat tension. The story builds and builds, ratcheting up the suspense higher and higher until you’re not sure you can take anymore. And then, it ends… on a cliffhanger. The Master is forced to regeneate and steals the Doctor’s TARDIS, leaving the Doctor, Martha and Jack in peril.
At this point, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor and try to catch my breath. Yes, the final fifteen minutes are that good. Jacobi shows off his acting stuff as pieces of who he really is start to come back to him and the transformation from Yana to the Master is superb. And the clifhanger? Well, let’s just say it’s the Doctor being stalked by something but it’s much, much more than that. He’s really trapped and I can see how they might get out of the situation, but it’s not going to be easy.
And it’s going to be a heck of a wait until Saturday night for part two.
OK, that said, there are some things to praise from the rest of the epsiode. The acting is solid as usual. John Barrowman’s return as Captain Jack is a welcome and the relationship between the 10th Doctor and Jack is nicely realized. The slow warm back up to the freindship they shared earlier is nice as is the conversation about what Jack has now become (he’s a fixed point in time and can’t die, hence why the TARDIS went so far into the future to get away from him). I’ll even give the show credit that it went to an alien world (albeit at the edge of time and full of humanity) and made it feel alien and scary. It felt like old-school Who in the new mold.
And boy did it leave me hanging… begging for more.
Next up: Mr. Saxon’s rise to power…