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Doctor Who: Utopia/The Sound of Drums

by Martin Conaghan, posted Jun 27th 2007 7:26PM
Doctor Old(S03E11 / S03E12) I've decided to combine the first two episodes of this three-part finale in to one review, partly because it's only a few days until the finale itself, but mostly because I really don't know where to start with this totally explosive storyline.

When Doctor Who returned to our screens a few years ago, everyone was anticipating the return of old favourites, like the Autons, the Daleks and the Cybermen -- and, sure, those guys notched up the fear factor and excitement when The Doctor faced them down -- but there's one guy we've all been waiting for, and he finally turned up in the strangest of places.

Well, make that two guys...

WARNING: Spoilers after the jump.

Apart from a few flaws in design and setting, this story kicked off with the return of Captain Jack Harkness from both Torchwood, and the first series.

With the first series of Torchwood ending when Jack vanished to the familiar sound of the TARDIS materialising, this story picked up with the Doctor and Martha stopping off in Cardiff at the spacetime rift to refuel -- except, Captain Jack decided to hitch a lift by clinging on to the exterior of The Doctor's ship which ended up being catapulted into the future where it came to a stop at the edge of time.

It wasn't quite clear exactly what caused the TARDIS to make such a leap -- possibly Jack's presence, or perhaps some other as-yet-unknown plot device, but the place where the trio eventually arrived was inhospitable, dark, lonely and dangerous -- housing the remnants of a human society, being hunted by strange throwback creatures of the night.

Deep in the bowels of the planet, inside a massive spaceship, the elderly Professor Yana and his insectoid assistant Chantho were attempting to jump-start the refugee ship which would hopefully transport thousands of humans to Utopia.

But the old professor had a more complex agenda at hand, and when Martha uncovered a watch very like The Doctor's from "The Family of Blood", it soon became evident that the name "Yana" represented something quite different indeed: You Are Not Alone.

However, before The Doctor, Martha and Jack could do anything about it, the prof had tried to kill his assistant and locked himself in the TARDIS, before being mortally wounded -- whereupon he transformed in to none other than The Master, The Doctor's mortal enemy -- portrayed by the brilliant John Simm (Life on Mars).

If you don't know who The Master is, well, he's sort-of The Doctor's half-brother -- a renegade, insane Time Lord from Gallifrey, intent on wiping out humanity (and just about everything else, for that matter).

And just as the episode reached an ending, The Master stole the TARDIS, leaving The Doctor, Martha and Jack stranded at the end of time.

Now, before I go on and describe some of the events in "The Sound of Drums", I should point out that the story arc has not yet concluded -- but I will say one thing about this new story development; John Simm is as inspired a choice to portray The Master, as Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant were to play The Dcotor. He has the right balance of maniacal, power-mad craziness, combined with a sense of wicked fun and over-the-top antics as he set about taking over the planet in the guise of Harold Saxon, the Prime Minister elect of Great Britain.

And the story itself is as nail-biting and captivating as any major science-fiction movie or novel.

But what about our trio of heroes?

Well, you didn't think they would be stranded in the future, did you?

No chance -- not with The Doctor's sonic screwdriver, and Jack's time-jump wristwatch.

Having locked the TARDIS' co-ordinates in the 21st century, The Doctor worked his technical wizardry and the trio managed to make a jump back in time to try and prevent a global disaster. Unfortunately, they found a world where The Master/Saxon was well and truly in in power and thoroughly established in a plot to unleash millions of floating robotic aliens (called the Toclafane) via a paradox machine (a modified version of the TARDIS).

And, well, he did it.

I honestly couldn't believe what I was seeing at the cliffhanger, when literally billions of the Toclafane descended from space and began decimating the population of Earth as The Doctor watched on in his newfound state of advanced age, brought on by The Master's manipulation of his DNA (thanks to technology from an earlier episode this season, "The Lazarus Experiment").

On that very subject, I found it quite refreshing to see plot elements from earlier in the series filtering through -- much in the way a more complex ongoing series such as Lost would do -- such as The Master's watch, the de-evolving/re-evolving technology , and of course, Captain Jack.

As I sit here patiently waiting on the final episode of the series to air on Saturday night, I find myself poring furiously over the details of these previous two episodes, trying to figure out how on earth The Doctor can manage to save the day without causing more harm than good.

I genuinely believe there could be a grim ending on the way, perhaps with a major character's death on the cards, and possibly a heartbreaking development for The Doctor when he discovers the true origin of the Toclafane...

Stay tuned for the finale.

Will a major character die in the season finale of Doctor Who?
Yes109 (31.0%)
No151 (42.9%)
It better not be Martha92 (26.1%)

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FlipC

Well having seen both episodes am I the only one who was not impressed. Let's all run around spouting technobabble and admire the special effects and then drop to a let's sit still spouting technobabble and admire the special effects. For a season finale yeesh!Without wanting to provide any major

**spoilers**

a cop-out deus ex machina ending, a by-the-way that was rammed into the script with the subtlety of a lumphammer, and an cliffhanging ending that was a 'Er no can't do that'

**end**

Only John Simm and the understated Alexandra Moen provided any joy, and the best memory I'll have of these two episodes will be played out to the sound of Rogue Troopers "Voodoo Child"

To foist these two episodes upon us after the sublime Blink is a grave injustice.

July 02 2007 at 11:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Thomas

Ok...

First off, sorry for the double post...entirely my fault. Forgot I posted it when I got up for my midnight (well, 3am) snack. Apologies, all.

Second, to "16. Kurifurisan": Thank you. No, no book, just long-winded 'ole me! I doubt I could keep focused on one topic long enough to generate enough material for an entire book. That's one reason I've always loved "Doctor Who", he and I both suffer from a "magpie" state of mind... anything bright and shiny (tech, ideas, people) and I'm totally distracted...

Now, back on topic.

To "robb":
in the TV movie (which I thought was great, but had a few flaws) the Master, executed by the Daleks for his crimes, asked the Doctor to return his remains to Gallifrey. This however, was a trick, as the Master was still "alive"- albeit in the form of liquid "goo" - and intended to "steal" the Doctor's remaining regenerations, using the "Eye of Harmony", the TARDIS' power source. He possessed the paramedic as a temporary "vehicle" only, as a human body would soon wear out under the stress of being "host" to a Time Lord's life force. At the end of the movie, the Master was cast into the "Eye of Harmony" at the center of the TARDIS, which is a link to a "black hole" that is either the source of the Time Lords power, or an exact copy of that source (depending on what version of explanation you listen to, there are several). It isn't too much of a stretch to believe that the Master survived the fall, as another Time Lord (Omega) did the same. It may be that, when the Eye of Harmony was created, a failsafe was put in, so that any Time Lord who fell in was saved and stored for later rescue. Of course, as the Eye of Harmony is believed to be destroyed - as it was the main power source for the TARDIS, needing no recharge, and now we have seen the TARDIS needing to be recharged twice - there is no possibility that other Time Lords are similarly suspended, awaiting rescue.

The reason I mention this is, if the Master was "rescued" then he is on his last regeneration, but if he was "resurrected", then he is on his second regeneration. The relevance is in the question: is he older than the Doctor, or younger? If younger (as I believe), this would cause his behavior to be erratic, as we all know how trying youth can be to experience; if older, then he'd be trying to steal the Doctor's two remaing regenerations again, or just flat out trying to kill him, i.e. "If I gotta go, you're coming with me!". This would explain, to me at least, his manical energy and bizarre behavior which, though fun to watch, is "out of character" for the Master, as he was always the serious one to the Doctor's more whimsical demeanor. Oh, just thought of this: maybe this is a deliberate move on the part of the writers of the show, in response to how "dark" they've written the Doctor in the new series... hmmm.

To "Doc 8 Fan":
The Daleks, as I understand it, were created by DW writer Terry Nation, and his estate - he died in 1997 - controls the rights to the Dalek chracter. There was a big to-do when the writers from the new show wanted to use the Daleks, and the end result was that, yes they could be used, but only in a limited basis, for the first three series (that's "seasons" for us U.S. types), so that's part of the reason why the Daleks seemed to be everywhere in those first three seasons - the writers had a limited time to use the character (-s?) before renegotiating the use of the Daleks in season/series 4 of the new cycle of Doctor Who. As far as story-wise, the last we saw of Davros, if I remember correctly, was him boarding an escape pod at the end of the Seventh Doctor serial "Remembrance of the Daleks", so it is certainly possible that he could have survived the Time War. The main issue for his character would be an explanation of HOW he survived, for if it isn't:
A) a good one and
B) a hard one
then that dilutes the impact of the Doctor's "I'm the only survivor of the Time War " storyline, which has already been watered down too much: "...except Van Stanton's Dalek...and the Cult of Skaro...and the Master...gee, maybe things aren't so bad after all!". Personally, I'd love to see Davros back on the series, perhaps in a "You killed all my children, Doctor: For this you must SUFFER!!" mode, or perhaps a more repentant state of mind: "Thank you, Doctor, for stopping the monsters I created..."

Now, just a few more observations on some minor points in this episode. The first one is the "revelation" that the names "The Doctor" and "The Master" are actually their

June 29 2007 at 10:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
atropos

Mugsy: So decimate = 1/10th of the population?

Yes, that is exactly what decimate means.

June 28 2007 at 5:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Akbar Fazil

Darkholme, perhaps the Master was the one who set up utopia in the first place and any human who went there was auto-converted into a Toclafane.

As for the kid who was partially psychic, he just was. No reason was needed. Did you question the psychic maid in "The Unquiet Dead"?

June 28 2007 at 3:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mugsy

OK,
We have one more chance this season to kill off Martha. Lets make it happen.

June 28 2007 at 3:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Darkholmme

Thomas,

Though I love your close reading of the Master, there is one problem with one of your (and my own original) thoughts on the Toclefane: the Doctor fused the time circuits in the Tardis, forcing the Master to land in the 21st century. Unless the Master planned all of this out before the Time War (assuming he had a working TARDIS, which it is suggested that he did not by his "resurrection" by the Time Lords rather than regeneration), or unfused the circuit in the 21st century (a possibility), he couldn't have converted all of those humans in Utopia.

The Master fears the drums, and in his own way he fears the darkness. As do the Toclefane. My guess is that we're going to see the Master and the Doctor team up against the darkness. I also still believe that the humans must be the Toclefane from Utopia, because otherwise it would be an unused prop on stage, so to speak. But I"m guessing that they were made that way by a higher power at the end of the universe, the origin of the drums. Perhaps entropy and death itself, considering that a main theme in this season is what part death plays in human nature, or in all things: as an inspiration to do higher things, or as something to be feared?

There are less unanswered questions in this season than last, but one that pops out in my head: how was that kid in "The Family of Blood" slightly psychic? He was so before he got the watch, which suggests an independent power in my mind that begs explanation.

June 28 2007 at 12:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Akbar Fazil

Well Robb, they were different actresses.

Harriet Jones is played by "Penelope Wilton"
and the reporter was Viven Rook played by "Nichola Mcauliffe"

Thomas, glad to see I am not alone in my thoughts on the Toclafane.


To all, I don't think Martin was saying the Master WAS the doctors half brother (which is why he said "sortof") but just inferring to it as the series has over the years.

June 28 2007 at 11:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mugsy

So decimate = 1/10th of the population?

June 28 2007 at 9:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michael

I don't believe it's ever been established in the canon that the Master is the Doctor's half-brother. The final episode of the Pertwee years is rumored to have included this as a plotline, but it was scrapped when Roger Delgado was killed.

And since that time, the series has never confirmed it nor even really mentioned it.

June 28 2007 at 9:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
robb

in response to Akbar Fazil, i still think that was Harriet Jones. am i the only one who sees the similarities between the two characters?

June 28 2007 at 9:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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