Monday, 11 November 2013

Utopia, The Sound of Drums, Last of the Time Lords & Voyage of the Damned


‘Utopia’ is the sort of episode which makes you sit up and take notice. It’s gritty, fast-paced, and strongly directed by Graham Harper, written by Russel T Davies. It leads directly into the two-part season finale involving the (spoiler alert) Master, espouses high-production values and an exceptional performance by one of the great British actors, Derek Jacobi and Professor Yana.
Chipo Chung
In fact the only real problem with this episode is that it promises so much for the next two, and that promise is not really delivered on sadly. We see the return of John Barrowman as Captain Jack, and whilst he is a welcome return to the cast, I’m not sure his character was essential for any of the three episodes he appears in.

‘Utopia’ is set about as far in the future as anyone could conceive, on a far off planet where there are no stars and the human race is struggling to live in a dying universe. Now, I’m not sure how they survived on a planet with no sun or stars. Seems to me the temperature would be a thousand below freezing, if that. But hey, we all have to suspend our disbelief on occasion.
Derek Jacobi

The future-kind are hunting the humans there, most of which are waiting behind a gate in a hill where Professor Yana and his assistant Cho Tho (delightfully played by Chipo Chung) are readying a rocket to head to Utopia, a place that has been calling humans for hundreds of years. In some ways not a lot happens during this story, other than preparing the rocket to take off, which it does. The Future-kind get in in the end too. Again, the Future-kind if I had to be critical, were too clean. What’s with that? A common issue for creatures in both new and classic series. Sorry, digression!
It’s all about the big reveal, and the build-up to Yana opening his fob watch and realising he is the Master is handled perfectly. The way that things are being reincorporated into the series – like a fob watch (Human Nature), shows wonderful fore-thought and planning by Russel T Davies.
Derek Jacobi is really only the Master for five minutes, and how brilliant is he? It’s heart breaking for Chan Tho to be killed by him, but it’s this sort of rawness to an episode that makes you sit up and take notice. Then a regeneration, the Master’s this time, into John Simm and goodbye! The Doctor, Martha and Captain Jack, who we have learnt can’t die now, are stuck on this planet with the Future-kind at the door, and…
‘to be continued’
Oh how very dare you!

The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords

John Simms as the Master, with his wife in the background.

When last we saw our heroes, Jack, Martha and the Doctor, they were trapped on a far off planet with evil creatures about to rip them to shreds. So Mr Davies, the LAST thing you want to do is resolve that cliffhanger in some lame-arse way which suggests they never had a problem at all. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what he did.
And sadly, it never quite recovers. BUT I will say that I was not as disappointed as I thought I would be. My good friend Andrew was dreading these two episodes, however, even he thought they ‘weren’t as bad as I remembered’ after this viewing. However, the start is something not quite recovered from. I thought it was going to be brilliant to see how the Doctor got out of the sticky situation he was in, but no, Captain Jack had a vortex manipulator and zap! They were back on Earth on the Master’s tail straight away.

The Master, who was Mr Harold Saxon, who had just become Prime Minister of Great Britain. Strange choice in a way, that they would go back to number 10 Downing street again, which has been rebuilt, apparently exactly how it was – the interior looks exactly the same as ‘Aliens of London’!
The power of everyone on Earth revives the Doctor.
The first episode is better than the second. To be honest, the biggest issue is they pushed it all too far. The Master and his Toclofane friends – actually humans from the far future cannibalised by the Master – have built a fleet of rockets to wage war on the Universe, a huge percentage of people on Earth are dead and the world will never be the same. Davies has taken us to a point in the story that for the programme’s continuation there can only be one resolution – reset button.

The Master has converted the Doctor’s TARDIS into a paradox machine to allow the Toclofane to destroy their own past. Destroy the machine (apparently by shooting it as Captain Jack does) and everything goes back to the way it was. The only problem was the fact that the Master was holding all the cards. So Martha gets everyone on Earth to think the word “Doctor” at the same time, which allows the Doctor (who by the way has been aged to near death and for a time is a small piece of CGI in a cage) to become normal and then powerful and stop the Master.
Goodbye to Martha Jones.
It just didn’t do it for me. The cast is a mixed bag for this one too. My issues are with two cast members really. Freema Ageyman has been solid throughout the series, but to be honest the writers have not challenged her or done anything with her character. Having said that, I like Martha, I just think that more time was needed to be devoted to her characters. When suddenly she is supposed to be ultra-strong and clever, I’m not convinced. Besides the plot concept of her travelling the globe and spreading the word about the Doctor was a poor choice in my view as well. We fly into the realms of fairytale stuff at times in these two episodes.
John Simms as the Master. Look, he is what Delgado was to Pertwee in a way, to Tennant. Sharing traits with the lead good-guy but with that dark edge to it. And that’s ok, but some of the laughing and silly stuff and the use of pop music to accompany his mania (not his fault in anyway) just left me wondering what freaking drugs Davies was on when he wrote the thing.
The Master has a wife (Alexandra Moen). Hmmm, Davies didn’t feel any need to expand on that. Why? For appearances? And she seems to not like him, or does she? In the end no, she (spoiler alert) shoots him. Tell us more, we want as an audience to understand characters. If the story doesn’t allow you to explain sufficiently what are significant characters, then maybe they shouldn’t be significant characters. Likewise for Martha’s family, throughout the series they were little more than tools and that continued here. Martha’s mum didn’t like the Doctor, she was scared of him, but come these episodes that’s been forgotten because the series’ arc needs it to be.
But nothing is as disappointing as a great build up, which started in ‘Utopia’, being ruined by the answer being the reset button. NOTHING. So perhaps this one is disappointing because of what could have been. At least Martha chooses to leave the TARDIS in the end, and fair enough too. It makes sense, as far as her character is concerned. She’s realised she ain’t gonna marry the Doctor, and moves on.
It’s still a bit of fun, and the first episode is a lot better than the second. Hard to rate.

Voyage of the Damned

So by now the idea of a Christmas special appears to be very ingrained into the formula of Doctor Who. This is definitely the biggest of the three they’d done up to this point, being incredibly extravagant and looking like the entire BBC budget was spent on what is essential a combination of movies involving big cruise ships and disasters, transported into space. The one that this story borrows most of its plotline from is curiously NOT ‘Titanic’, (after all, the ship is called ‘Titanic’), but the 70s film ‘The Poseidon Adventure’, starring Gene Hackman and by coincidence one of my favourite movies of all time.
So perhaps it’s natural that I would like ‘Voyage of the Damned’ too. Disaster in space, a group of passengers led by the Doctor must make their way through the ruined ship to save their lives, and in this case the lives of the royal family and London, as that’s where the ship is heading. Add Kylie Minogue to the mix as Astrid, plus Geoffrey Palmer as the Captain of the vessel, spend a lot of money on it, a megalomaniac in charge of the company, and you have a great Christmas special. Oh wait, you need to add Christmas to it.
We also have the wonderful Clive
Swift (playing Mr Cooper) who previously appeared in Doctor Who as the repulsive Jobel in ‘Revelation of the Daleks’. It’s very very well cast, we have a great set of characters. There’s the lovable overweight couple who both meet a tragic death, there’s Banakafalata, a small strange spiky red creature who is really a cyborg, the despicable entrepreneur who survives for some reason to make a mint off the disaster, and of course Astrid, who wants to see the Universe and took a job on the cruise liner for just that reason.
It’s very well done, despite the opening which tied in with the ending of the previous season when the Titanic crashes into the TARDIS which in the end meant nothing because the Doctor reversed in all by pushing a couple of buttons. Also, three characters die in one scene, where it might have worked better to space the deaths out, but the story was 70 minutes not 90 so I guess their hands were tied.
I enjoyed this one immensely, even though I understand that may not be the common experience in fandom. It looks superb. The best Christmas special by far.


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