Tag Archives: Utopia

Doctor Who – Jumping the Shark?

So after a disappointing finale, and a couple of major announcements about the series, a number of fans can hear the sounds of Fonzie readying a pair of water ski’s… All of this is more amazing following on mere weeks from the triumphs that were Human Nature, Family of Blood and Blink.

So what has brought the turnaround? Firstly there was the finale of the series. As I said at the time, Utopia was about one thing, bringing back the Master, and once it got to that point it was pretty gripping. The following two episodes The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords were successively more disappointing with Last of the Time Lords being the first to poll more people being dissatisfied with the episode than liking it in the Behind the Sofa poll – looking at the table you can see Human Nature, Family of Blood and Blink polling 94%, 95% and 97% respectively.

Towards the end of this blog posting condensing the plot of the three series so far, there is a comment that sums things up well:

R. T. Davies: Hello. I am R. T. Davies and I am excellent. I apologise for the interruption, but I have run out of ideas on how to finish this storyline. Instead, I shall steal elements from Greek mythology, Superman, Douglas Adams, Batman, the Carry On films and …err… Flash Gordon and hope nobody notices the complete dog’s dinner I’ve made of what was, until I got my hands on it, a rather excellent series. Sorry. All sorted. Happy ending. I’ll be off now.

Certainly the big reset button resolution can work, although it is always seen as a bit of a disappointing cop out – the Star Trek Voyager episodes Year of Hell being a good example, however as has been pointed out numerous times on Behind the Sofa, things didn’t reset – time rolled back to the point where the billions of Toclofane appeared, but totally forgot the four that were there already. Alongside this, the whole Face of Boe/Jack thing doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny of watching the previous appearances of the Face of Boe in The End of the World in particular.

Following on from this we had confirmation of the casting of Kylie Minogue in the upcoming Christmas special Voyage of the Damned. This produced some light-hearted puns in news stories based on Kylie’s hits, but nothing too negative – fans seemed to be used to a bit of celebrity casting at Christmas. However all of that was obliterated by the massive negative reaction to the news that last years bit of celebrity Christmas casting, Catherine Tate who played Donna, is to be introduced as a full time companion next year. The reaction seems to be almost universal – you only need to listen to this news item take a look through the angry comments on Have Your Say to establish that. A point raised by many of the comments is that in terms of recent guest stars there is another, much better possibility for a new companion in the form of Carey Mulligan and the character Sally Sparrow that she played in Blink.

Having said that, lets not forget that this isn’t the first negative reaction to a casting decision, nor accusation of celebrity casting. The choice of Billie Piper raise a few eyebrows back in 2005, and more notably there was a similar outcry to what has happened this week when Bonnie Langford was cast as Melanie Bush in the series back in 1986.

So is the show about to Jump the Shark? Although the last couple of episodes were disappointing, and the casting of Catherine Tate has come as somewhat of a shock I think not. Over the past three years it has become clear that although Russell T Davies should certainly get the credit for spearheading the return of the series, he is not the best of the writers. Perhaps because he does write the majority of the episodes, and despite the fact that he has produced some relatively good episodes in the past, he does seem to have been responsible for the majority of the absolute clunkers. Other writers such as Paul Cornell and Steven Moffat are the ones who have won the awards, but it is worth remembering that they are only contributing one or two episodes compared to the four or five that Davies produces. Rumour has it that Davies (along perhaps with David Tennant) will leave the series at the end of season 4.

The thing to bear in mind is that the programme has by many peoples definition already Jumpped the Shark and recovered. Although there is debate over the later Sylvester McCoy stories most people seem to think that the programme hit a low patch during the eighties, similarly shown by the falling ratings and ultimate axing of the show. Even before that there have been points where due to falling ratings it was in danger and radical changes were made, a prime example being in 1969 when amidst falling ratings and an unhappy star, Derrick Sherwin took the decision to make the next season earth-bound and brought in the characters and massive change of style of the UNIT era. Currently ratings look strong, and it remains to be seen whether the initial opposition this week translates into falling ratings next year. Even if that happens, the BBC have certainly discovered what a massive money-spinner a well funded Doctor Who can be, so I don’t doubt that if that happens the series will transform again, and like other era’s we’ll be looking back on the Russell T Davies era and looking forward to something else…

The Last of the Timelords

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So after all the speculation, we now know what happens. The Master has been defeated and is dead (or maybe not), Martha is back with her family, Jack is back with Torchwood, and the Doctor is back travelling the universe.

As the episode opened, time had moved on by a year from the cliff-hanger at the end of A Sound of Drums. The Master and the Toclofane have absolute control of the world, enslaving the human race to build a fleet of war rockets to take over the universe. The Doctor, having been aged by the Master has been kept almost as a pet, humiliated. Meanwhile Martha has been travelling the world on a mission to save the world.

One of the big questions outstanding from last week was who or what were the Toclofane. The answer was perhaps the most straightforward, especially when you remember that the Doctor said last week that the Master could only travel between the twenty-first century and the end of the universe. The Toclofane were all that was left of the human race – not surprisingly Utopia wasn’t an escape, and the Master had travelled to the far future and offered to ‘save’ them by bringing them back in time. This also explained the paradox machine created by the Master which was needed to hold everything together as the Toclofane changed their own past. Ultimately it was the paradox machine that held the key to resolving what had happened – with the machine holding the paradox removed, everything reverted to normal.

As with last season and with many series, the major plot was resolved relatively early on in the episode, giving a chance to ‘reposition the pieces’ ready for Christmas.

Having captured the Master, there is a nod to Scream of the Shalka which included an android Master – voiced by Derek Jacobi – who lived in the TARDIS in that the Doctor decides that despite what the Master has done, he can’t allow him to be executed, and as the only other time lord, the Master is his responsibility, and he is going to imprison him in the TARDIS. However this plan is curtailed by Lucy Saxon, the Master’s wife, who shoots her husband. Whilst the Doctor begs his enemy to regenerate, the Master appears to deliberately stop himself from regerating, and dies in the arms of the Doctor. The interesting comparison to this is a scene mere moments before, when the Doctor has grabbed the Master as he attempts to escape using Jack’s vortex manipulator. Having failed to escape, and finding themselves near the fleet of rockets, the Master then threatens to blow the ships up killing both himself and the Doctor. However, the Doctor calls his bluff, saying that the Master would never do it because it involved his death. The Master hands over the control to destroy the rockets, and returns with the Doctor. Then moments later he is goading people to shoot him, almost as if he wants to die – and when someone actually shoots him, he doesn’t regenerate all a bit odd…

Alone, the Doctor takes the body of his former enemy and places it on a funeral pyre. However, then the odd behaviour and rocket scene make a bit more sense. In a scene reminiscent of many classic sci-fi serials you see a woman’s hand retrieve the Master’s ring from the pyre, and hear a familiar chuckle. Perhaps, as he has done before, the Master has cheated death, and by letting his time lord body die (remember the Doctor appeared to know the instant the Master became time lord again two weeks ago) managed to evade the Doctor to return again.

That is not the only revelation in the last few minutes. I’ve commented a couple of times on the paradoxes included in this series. Back in episode 1 there was a minor paradox when Martha meets a future Doctor, then in the Shakespeare Code, the Doctor has to leave in a hurry as he is chased by troops for something his future self has done. Blink also includes a paradox that is key to the whole story. However as the Doctor drops Jack off in Cardiff they discuss the fact that he is ageing but will never die, and then Jack comments that in his home era living on the Boeshane peninsula, he became a poster boy, and was known as the Face of Boe – perhaps explaining how the Face of Boe knew how many times he would meet the Doctor, and also the fact that the Doctor was not alone.

After that revelation, there was one final twist as Martha decides that she is not going to leave with the Doctor. Whilst he tries to act as if nothing has changed, having spent a year away from the Doctor, she knows that everything has changed. Having said that, she apparently isn’t out of the series, and may well also be appearing in Torchwood too. This neatly arranges everything for this years Christmas special, where the special guest companion is apparently going to be Kylie Minogue. Much as with last year, we also get a Titanic cliff-hanger – as it appears that the ship has smashed it’s way into the TARDIS.

All in all I found it a really enjoyable episode, and a definite improvement over last week. I was a lot happier with the characterisation of the Master too, with the zany moments of last week toned down. The relationship between the Master and the Doctor being at the heart of the episode, and some very moving scenes between the two. There were also some great references back to previous battles with both time lords mentioning the Axons. Amusingly after a whole series of moments where I expected the Master to not be dead, the moment where the hand picks up the ring and you hear a familiar laugh did produce a big smile. Also the reason for having Jack around became clear – although I don’t think I can cope with a million years of Torchwood waiting for him to age…

Can You Hear the Drums?

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When Doctor Who returned two years ago, outside the basics, the team behind the programme seemed to quite deliberately avoid too many references to the old series. Wind forward to the present series and the situation is almost the reverse. Following on from the sight of images of all the previous faces of the Doctor in Human Nature, to the voices heard by Professor Yana in Utopia last week, we get a positive overdose of fan pleasing moments in the first part of the finale, The Sound of Drums.

Taking the plot first of all, it is all a relatively straightforward affair. The Doctor repairs Captain Jack’s vortex manipulator allowing them to escape. Whilst the Doctor had been unable to stop the Master escaping at the end of Utopia, he had managed to jam the TARDIS controls causing it to return to the same place it left – twenty-first century Earth. However they quickly realise that the Master has returned somewhat earlier, and that the mysterious Mr Saxon is in fact the Master – the mysterious Mr Saxon who has just been elected Prime Minister.

The Master is working with a race of aliens that he calls the Toclafane – although the Doctor believes this to be a made up name. The Master has also prepared traps for the Doctor, and has arrested Martha’s family. He has managed to win the election through the mobile phone network – the same technique that he has used to hide from the Doctor over the preceding months.

The Doctor and his companions manage to sneak onto the secret UNIT airship where the Master is to reveal the Toclafane to the world. However they fail to stop the Master’s plan, indeed the Master uses technology created by Professor Lazarus to age the Doctor, and incapacitates Jack, with only Martha managing to escape. The Master uses the TARDIS – which he has significantly modified and cannibalised, to open a rift and let in the Toclafane – ordering them to immediately destroy one tenth of the population of the world.

Alongside the main plot, there were a lot of back story and references, some very definitely for the fans. Chief among them is an explanation of how the Master comes to be alive and able to regenerate in the first place. Back in the TV Movie the Master manages to escape extermination by the Daleks but has to take over a human ambulance driver to do so. With his new human body decaying, he tries to take over the Doctor, but in the final climactic battle is sucked into the Eye of Harmony at the heart of the TARDIS. During the course of tonight’s episode we find out that during the Time War the Time Lords resurrected him in order to fight, giving him a new life-cycle much as was promised to him for helping the Time Lords in the Five Doctors. However, having been present during a key battle he fled and hid, using the Chameleon Arch to hide his identity. This explanation throws up interesting questions about what involvement the Doctor had in the Time War as he was unaware of the Master being resurrected, perhaps implying that the Doctor only becomes involved later on, after the Master has fled.

There are also several moments that hark back to well remembered Master scenes – for example at one point the Master is seen watching the Teletubbies, harking back to a scene in the Sea Devils when the Master is seen watching The Clangers.

Perhaps the biggest moment from a fan point of view is the first appearance of Gallifrey and of the Time Lord’s themselves as the Doctor describes the origin of the Master. Thanks to modern CGI, we see a panning shot from snowy mountains towards the gleaming Time Lord citadel covered by it’s protective dome. We also see a young Master surrounded by Time Lords, staring into the abyss of the time vortex. There is a definite effort to ramp up the Time Lord mythology, with the sequence reminding me very much of the epic style of movies such as the Lord of the Rings. From comments made by Russell T in the subsequent Doctor Who Confidential the return of the Master was on his list to do, and he implies that there are other things still to do – a return for Gallifrey and the Time Lord’s? Next weeks episode is called The Last of the Time Lords – whether this is because the Doctor has to destroy the Master, or is ironic due to the Doctor rediscovering his people remains to be seen.

It wasn’t only Time Lord references. After the Master has announced to the world that he is going to make first contact, the President of the United States arrives to take over control with UNIT citing that thanks to an agreement in 1968 – a reference to the episode The Web of Fear. Amusingly, considering that the real United Nations has asked that it’s name not be used in reference to UNIT, there were a number of points in the episode where the two organisations were referred to closely together, without ever explicitly stating what the acronym stood for! Having said that, the big budget has also extended to UNIT, with their base of operations this time being The Valiant, a vast airborne aircraft carrier, designed in part by the Master.

However, I’m suspecting that maybe not all the changes will be so welcome. Probably chief amongst the complaints will be the character of the Master, who is even more insane than he has been on previous appearances. Whilst at times there are elements of the dark and brooding character of before, at others he is cracking jokes, and being almost comic, showing many of the traits of David Tennant’s interpretation of the Doctor that so infuriate elements of fandom. John Simm mentions in his Doctor Who Confidential interview that he played the part exactly as written, perhaps passing the buck somewhat in advance of criticisms from the long term fans. Having said that, whose to say that being resurrected and then being long term disguised as a human didn’t unhinge him significantly?

So what is coming up next week? The trailer implies that there is a resistance movement to the Toclafane – but really I’m expecting that that is only going to be a small part of what is going to happen. Return of the Time Lords? We’ll have to wait and see…

Continuity Error? Or Something Else…

Watching Doctor Who didn’t seem to do anything to resolve the apparent continuity error between End of Days and Captain Jack turning up at the beginning of Utopia.

This You Tube video highlights the issues:

If anything tonight’s episode adds more to the error as during Utopia it transpires that Jack is carrying the Doctor’s hand in his bag – and yet as the camera pulls back at the end of End of Days, the Doctor’s hand is still sitting in the hub.

There has been quite a bit of speculation as to whether the TARDIS appearing at the start of Utopia and Captain Jack leaving in End of Days are the same, or different events. I was leaning towards them being the same event, but with a continuity hiccup between the two series. However with the Master taking the TARDIS at the end of Utopia, which includes the container with the Doctor’s hand – plus the knowledge that the Master is Mr Saxon and has been around for a while on Earth, maybe Gwen’s line at the end of End of Days is absolutely right – he has been taken, deceived by the the Doctor’s hand reacting to the presence of itself – and the Captain Jack who climbs aboard the TARDIS in Utopia is a future Jack

Of course, it could just be one great big continuity mistake, but with the somewhat intricate plotting that Russell T puts in place for these story arcs – references to Mr Saxon go right back to Love and Monsters – I’d be surprised if he let such a significant continuity error through.

He’s Back

Lets be clear, in Utopia the apparent main plot, about the last of humankind trying to escape a dying planet on a rocket was really an irrelevance. This episode was about one thing, and one thing only – bringing back the Master.

The rumours had already let slip key facts, that John Simm was going to be the Master, and that Derek Jacobi was playing a character who could be a Timelord – possibly the Master, however tonight was when all the pieces were put together. Rolled into the mix was the return of Captain Jack who quite literally jumped onto the TARDIS for the ride.

Having picked up Captain Jack the TARDIS is sent hurtling into the future where they find a group of humans barricaded in a rocket silo, hunted by ‘Futurekind’ the de-evolution of humans to savages. Inside the silo kindly Professor Yana is struggling to build working rocket to take the humans to Utopia, a legendary place believed to be a colony of humans.

The Doctor and Professor Yana quickly build a rapport, as the Doctor helps the professor fix the problems with the rocket. The professor drifts away into his thoughts at times, and says he hears the sound of drums, but has done since childhood. He does not know his origin, aside from being found as an orphan on the home planet of the Face of Boe – the creature who told the Doctor he was not alone back in Gridlock.

The Doctor asks to have the TARDIS retrieved and brought into the silo, which the humans do, but this produces a strange reaction in the professor. It seems some how familiar – he starts hearing voices (voices that would certainly be familiar to fans of Doctor Who…) but is still confused as to what is happening. Then Martha sees that he has a pocket watch – a watch that is identical to the watch used by The Doctor to become human to hide from the Family of Blood. She tells Professor Yana enough to get him to examine the watch, and then Yana starts hearing another voice insisting that he open the watch. Martha runs to tell the Doctor, and whilst she is telling him of the watch, Yana gives in to the voices and opens the watch. Gone is the kindly personality, and the Master is released. As the effects of the Chameleon Arch are reversed the Doctor senses that he is no longer alone – another Timelord now exists.

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As the Doctor races back to the professor’s lab, the reawakened Master tries to block his way by shutting down the doors, and letting in the Futurekind. Confused as to what is happening, the professor’s assistant pulls a gun on the Master, but is murdered by the Master by electrocution. The Doctor reaches the lab in time to see the Master shot by his former assistant with her dying breath, and stagger into the TARDIS and lock the door.

Inside the TARDIS the Master regenerates, and taunts the Doctor over the intercom. The Doctor begs him, telling him that they are the last of their race and to put their old battles behind them – Martha says that she recognises his new voice. However despite the best efforts of the Doctor to stop him, the Master takes off in the TARDIS leaving the Doctor and his companions stranded at the end of the universe.

All in all it was a fantastic ending. Despite the spoilers, the production team had managed to keep enough secret that even though you knew the Master was returning, the kindly Professor Yana threw you off the scent, and the rest of the action kicked along enough that you didn’t get a chance to think back until the pocket watch is revealed. You were also thrown off somewhat by the return of Captain Jack and the need to resolve issues left over from The Parting of the Ways.

In terms of the return of the Master, there are some unresolved questions. One of the memories that Professor Yana hears from the pocket watch before he opens it is of the final battle between the Master and the Eighth Doctor, at the conclusion of which the Master is sucked into the core of the TARDIS, having survived the death of his Timelord body at the hands of the Daleks using a creature that has allowed him to possess a human body. How did he escape the TARDIS? Perhaps during the events of The Parting of the Ways – but that still doesn’t quite explain how he has returned as a Timelord with a renewed power to regenerate (the goal he was seeking over many of his previous appearances) and with access to a Chameleon Arch. Perhaps all will be explained in what now transpires to be parts two and three of the final three part story, The Sound of Drums, and The Last of the Timelords.

Torchwood Goes Out on a High

I commented a few weeks ago about how bad Torchwood was getting – thankfully it turned out that in general the episodes improved a good deal, so the final double episode we sat down to watch as part of post-holiday catch-up was really rather good.

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Interestingly, although shown as a double episode, this was really two separate episodes shown back to back. The first, Captain Jack Harkness appeared to be primarily a character piece where whilst investigating reports of 1940’s music coming from a derelict dance hall, Jack and Tosh find themselves pulled back in time to a dance in 1941 – a dance attended by the real Captain Jack Harkness the day before he looses his life in the war – the man whose identity Jack has assumed. However the episode also introduces the character of Bilis Manger, who is the manager of the dance hall back in 1941, and also the caretaker in the present day – looking no older. In both cases he has the same, clock filled office. He also, back in 1941 has a file marked ‘Torchwood’ and is also taking pictures with a Polaroid camera that hasn’t yet been invented. Subsequently he sabotages a plan by Tosh to leave equations to safely open the rift to bring them back, trying to trap them in the past.

Meanwhile in the present day, the team are arguing over how to bring Jack and Tosh back, and when they discover that the equations to open the rift are incomplete, Owen opens it anyway, despite being shot by Ianto in the process. This brings Jack and Tosh back to the present day, but Bilis Manger is not captured.

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The opening of the rift leads directly to the events of End of Days. Having incorrectly opened the rift, fractures in time start to occur – UFO’s are sighted over the Taj Mahal, soldiers from the English Civil War, and Roman times are appearing in present day Cardiff, and bubonic plague breaks out at the local hospital. Various of the Torchwood team also receive visions of dead loved ones, all suggesting that opening the rift fully would be the way to fix the problems. In amongst this, the mysterious Bilis Manger appears again, this time in his shop, ‘A Stitch in Time’ which sells antique clocks and time pieces. When questioned, he suggests again that the rift should be opened, and also confirms that he can move through time as easily as walking into another room. He demonstrates when Jack tries to take him into custody.

Jack leaves, but Gwen goes back, and meets Bilis again. He shows her a vision of the future where her boyfriend has been brutally murdered. This convinces Gwen to bring Rhys to the safety of the Torchwood base, however Bilis appears and murders him in the cells. This leaves everybody in Torchwood except Jack convinced that the rift should be opened. The reason why everybody needs to be convinced becomes clear – to open the rift fully requires authorisation of all the Torchwood staff via iris scans. Utterly convinced that they need to open the rift, Owen shoots Jack dead to obtain the scan.

As we have previously learnt from the episode Everything Changes, Jack cannot die – however he takes time to recover from any experience such as being shot, so he is unable to stop the rift being opened. Although all the anomalies, including the murder of Rhys resolve themselves, the opening of the rift also releases Abaddon, a Biblical demon that, like the Beast in the Satan Pit has been trapped beneath the rift – indeed the creature is referred to as ‘the son of the Beast’. It transpires that Bilis knows of the presence of the demon, and has been manipulating events in order to release him.

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The giant Abaddon stalks Cardiff, killing anyone who falls under his shadow, and Jack realises that only someone who cannot die such as himself can defeat the demon. He goes to face him alone.

As with the other victims when the shadow of the demon reaches Jack, he is affected, but he doesn’t die immediately eventually white flows of energy form between Jack and the demon, and it appears that the energy that is keeping Jack alive, is too much for the demon, and Abaddon dies. However it leaves Jack apparently dead too. Most of the Torchwood team are convinced Jack is now really dead, except for Gwen, who keeps vigil by his side. Gwen is proved to be right, and after many days, Jack wakes up, weak and shaken, but alive.

We then get an intriguing epilogue. With Jack catching up on paperwork in his office, he has a conversation with Gwen. He again suggests that he ‘needs the right kind of Doctor‘, to help his condition. Then the hand that has been kept throughout the entire series, the Doctor’s hand from The Christmas Invasion starts to glow, and a familiar sound is heard, that of the engines of a TARDIS landing. Jack runs towards the sound, whilst Gwen stands shocked. When she gets over her surprise she follows, but Jack is gone.

It is well known that Jack is due to return to Doctor Who next season, in the eleventh episode Utopia. However the exact details of how and why he returns are not yet clear. From the end of End of Days most people are assuming that it is the Doctor who has just picked up Jack. But why pick him up so quickly without stopping – and if he is able to pick Jack up so accurately – knowing exactly where he is, why hasn’t he done so sooner? On the other hand, could it be accidental, the TARDIS briefly appearing, and Jack jumping on board – the last time Jack met the Doctor he looked somewhat different, so there doesn’t seem to have been time for any sort of discussion of the change of face.

However what is intriguing is that although you hear a TARDIS materialise, you never see whether it is the TARDIS, nor do you see the Doctor. All you see is Jack running towards the sound, and subsequently being gone – could it be a kidnapping? Remember also that Bilis Manger was again not captured or destroyed – Jack’s apparent immortality was a closely guarded secret, not known to even all of the Torchwood team. Certainly I would not be surprised to find that Bilis Manger is more than he seems, so maybe a careful watching of the details of Utopia is in order. A number of Doctor Who forums are discussing theories (including the fact that ‘Mister Bilis Manger’ is apparently an anagram of ‘I’m Master, bring Lies’), although the opinion that people are reading too much into it all seems to feature pretty prominently too – I guess we’ll have to wait to the spring to find out!