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More about this three-parter
This three-parter was first broadcast on 16, 23 and 30 June 2007. A brief and somewhat spoiler-ish summary of the plot: the Master is back, and he's got balls.
'Utopia', the first episode of the three, is an extremely mixed bag. We get good pacing, great visuals and an excellent incidental score. Unfortunately, for the first thirty minutes or so we also get a story that seems mostly filler which, with hindsight, I suppose it is. With its huddling remains of mankind and the snarling humans-gone-feral that are hunting them this part of the story has a strong cliché 1980s science-fiction feel to it, though the production values are definitely better now. What makes 'Utopia' worthwhile is Derek Jacobi as the Master, and I wish this had happened in a better episode.
Captain Jack Harkness was an enormously fun character when he first appeared in the 2005 two-parter 'The empty child / The Doctor dances', and his return in 'Utopia' had great potential. Unfortunately, he only seems to be there so that he and the Doctor can talk their relationship to death once and for all. It's like the writer decided to dump the entire 'Background information about Captain Jack and the Doctor' chapter from the 'Doctor Who writer's manual' on us without bothering to have the whole thing make dramatic sense.
'The sound of drums', the second episode, is the best of the three. It's weird and morbid, which I like, and it's a good episode for Martha with Agyeman giving an excellent performance. The whole thing starts to fall apart when the Master reveals his evil master plan to the world, but that's almost the end of the episode anyway.
And then there's 'Last of the Time Lords'. Oh dear. There's so much that I dislike about this episode that I just don't know where to start.
Let's start with Martha as John the Baptist. Martha as Mary Magdalene - with an "I... don't know how to looooooove hiiiiim...." belted out at full volume being the only thing missing from her performance. The Doctor as Christ, rising in a blaze of glory as devotees all around the world ecstatically chant his name. The Doctor as Dobby the house-elf. The Doctor as Tinkerbell. These things are going to evoke a visceral rejection in some people, and I'm one of those people.
Then there are the flashbacks. And the flashbacks. And just when you think there's nothing left to flash back to, there are even more flashbacks. Stories that use this many flashbacks are generally doing so for comic effect, and once the flashbacks start it's hard to see this story as anything other than parody. Needing this many flashbacks to enable the audience to understand what's going on is not a good thing. 'Blink' doesn't use a single flashback.
The plot raises numerous questions. Just to get a couple of the most obvious ones out of the way: if the Doctor had rigged the Tardis so that it could only travel between the end of the universe and Martha's present-day flat, how did the Master become Harry Saxon in present-day England without encountering the Doctor on his way in? And how did the world's population know how to synchronise their "Doctor... Doctor... Doctor..." with the end of the Master's countdown? Was the countdown broadcast in some way?
Though it's relatively minor, there's something else that bothers me. In 'Last of the Time Lords' we have the Archangel network - which does unexplained things with satellites, mobile phones, mind control and the bass notes from the Doctor Who theme - that the Master has been using to control the hearts and minds of the population. The Doctor's plan is to use the Archangel network against the Master since "a door, once opened, can be walked through in either direction".
Now, the "door, once opened" is a reference to 'The girl in the fireplace', where it makes sense when Reinette uses it to explain to the Doctor why she is able to read his mind as he is reading hers. They are two individuals opening up to each other and experience tells us that this is usually a two-way process, so even if none of us have ever used telepathy the notion doesn't seem too implausible.
The Archangel network is different, though. It's a device that has been designed and built by someone, and "door, once opened" isn't how devices behave unless they're designed to do so. However loudly I yell at my TV, David Tennant isn't going to hear me. What 'Last of the Time Lords' wants us to believe about the Archangel network goes against all our experiences with technology, and the story makes no effort to make the whole thing seem plausible.
This is symptomatic for new Doctor Who as a whole. There's more logic and more consistency to the magic in Harry Potter than there is to the technology in Doctor Who, and though this says something about the strengths of J.K. Rowling's writing, I do think this is a problem.
Such wasted potential. Could we go back in time and get this right, please?
My original review of this story:
07/06/21 Doctor Who: Utopia
07/06/30 Doctor Who: The sound of drums / Last of the Time Lords
Doctor Who reviews: introduction
More "oh, dear..." Doctor Who:
Doctor Who reviews: oh, dear...
More Doctor Who with David Tennant:
Doctor Who reviews: 2005 - now
Doctor Who reviews: time travel
BBC Episode guide (Utopia, The sound of drums, Last of the Time Lords)
Behind the sofa (Utopia, The sound of drums, Last of the Time Lords)
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