Utopia

DVD NTSC
Region 1
14-episode
box set

DVD PAL
Region 2
14-episode
box set
DVD PAL
Region 2
3-episode volume
(Doctor Who Story No. 191, starring David Tennant)
  • written by Russell T. Davies
  • directed by Graeme Harper
  • produced by Phil Collinson
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 45 minutes
Story: Captain Jack Harkness catches a ride with the Doctor and Martha to the planet Malcassairo in the far, far future, where Professor Yana is racing against time to launch a rocket that will take the last pure humans away from the mutant Futurekind and into Utopia. But why is the professor's concentration plagued by the sound of drums? What dark secrets lay in his past that even he cannot fathom? And what really awaits Mankind in Utopia?

DVD Extras (box sets only) include:

  • Audio commentary by writer Russell T. Davies and actor David Tennant (The Doctor).
  • Doctor Who Confidential featurette: 'Ello, 'Ello, 'Ello (12 min.) adding Freema Agyeman (Martha), John Barrowman (Captain Jack),
    Derek Jacobi (Professor Yana), director Graeme Harper, and producer Phil Collinson.
  • David Tennant's Video Diaries (11 min.) with Tennant, Barrowman, Agyeman, Harper, 1st assistant director Gareth Williams,
    location manager Gareth Skelding, and focus puller Steve Rees.
  • Out-Takes & Bloopers (season total: 5 min.)
  • BBC One trailer promo

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program.
To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.


Season 29 scores again with this extremely busy little gem. Russell Davies pulls a lot of different elements, and even more long-term series' references, in to this adventure - most of which work wonderfully. While this means the episode is not as self-contained as would be ideal - depending on knowledge of some past stories, needlessly throwing away spoilers for other past stories that some of the audience may not have seen yet, and leaving many an unanswered question for the story that follows - "Utopia" still manages to encapsulate the mythology of this particular season and do it more justice here than anywhere else. It does, however, play dangerously with the balance between anticipation and delivery, and any audience member's expectations and knowledge of what is yet to come will likely play a great role in how they receive the episode.


Thankfully, we get a proper materialization of the TARDIS to start things off right; it's been far too long since that happened! Composition of the shot is unusual and okay, yet not all one could hope for. On first viewing however, the following shot that shows us where we are was a great disappointment. Earth again!? And a re-run locale in England to boot. Not to worry though, it was just a quick stop to pick up Captain Jack. "Utopia" quickly and thankfully became one of the few stories to take us across the galaxy to another planet. Kudos.

Sci-fi aficionados will not fail to spot all the elements pinched from the novels of H.G. Wells. First come the parallels to "The Time Machine", with the TARDIS's run-away flight from present-day into what wants to be the farthest future we've ever seen on the show, where society is no more and wild creatures roam the terrain. This comes complete with the ruins of a lost city built vertically in a great crack in the ground. A nice bit of cultural eye-candy, which, along with a unique reason for shooting at night, spices up the typical quarry location doubling for an alien planet enough to make the exercise extremely worthwhile without breaking the budget. They should do this kind of thing more often, for God's sake.


The Island of Dr. Yana

The strongest and most lasting bit of pinched imagery however comes from "The Island of Dr. Moreau", with a fenced-in scientific compound guarded from wild, primitive creatures, while the mad scientist himself toils away with a loyal female creature by his side. And yes, he's very civil with guests, as our protagonists discover when they come knocking at his, er, fence.... all until his secrets come out and they discover his plans.

If you saw these parallels as I did, your sense of anticipation may well have tanked as mine did. The creatures of "Island of Dr. Moreau" have never been successful on the screen, not in the Val Kilmer / Marlon Brando feature film, not in the rip-off Season Three finale of Sliders, and certainly not here either. The bunch of painted-up extras with false teeth here suffer the same problems as the bear-suit man at the beginning of "The Androids of Tara" (story no. 101), trying desperately to look scary without the script giving them any really threatening thing to accomplish. Director Graeme Harper gets a major minus mark here for allowing them to come off as retarded as they eventually do. Other than as rip-offs of the "Moreau" story, there really doesn't seem to be any reason for them being what they are, when they could have been some more interesting sci-fi threat.

But thankfully, "Utopia" never intended to dwell on them, and the plot of the story shifts significantly until it mirrors parts of "Star Trek: First Contact" and any other older sci-fi show that was about the launching of a rocket. Nice move, delivering us something far better, far more sci-fi, far more "Who-ish" than we at first anticipated. And Professor Yana turns out to be far more engaging and charismatic than any version of Dr. Moreau. Excellent!

Chantho also turns out to be a decent, multi-faceted character, giving us a good insight into the original civilization of the planet. All good. Too bad we don't get to learn more about Chantho's culture, and its downfall, but better to leave us wanting more than to under-deliver with a budget-conscious flop. Oddly enough, the deviance of the Moreau story is in part booted out of place by the usual Davies love-in for the human race, exemplified during the scene of Creet's guided tour of the refugee halls, while the Doctor's narration drives the angle home. Not very original for this show, but much better than "Moreau". The rocket launch, in combination with the threat at the fence, gives us all we need to make the stratagems of the middle act very satisfying and give the Doctor and Captain Jack a good number of solid victories. Nice.

Of the musical pieces unique to this story, the ones released on the season's official music CD are chiefly of the bombastic, frenetic variety, not speaking to the deeper mythological revelations in the piece - which is sadly how many of the key turning moments were scored. Indeed, "All the Strange, Strange Creatures" comes back with even more panicky embellishments added on top, yet doesn't manage to sound different enough to warrant being included on CD yet again as the first half of the track entitled: "Yana (Excerpt)". And on the other hand, other subtler pieces for the boarding of the rocket and for the first repair in the stet radiation room seemed to be more deserving candidates for CD release.

However, many pieces better known for the next story make their debut here, as though this story's music and the next all belong to one big mutual score, and some portions of the stellar "This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home" only seem to feature in this story. Also featuring are a new rendition of "Rose's Theme", and some reprises of the Torchwood/Ghostshift music from "Doomsday" (story no. 181). "Utopia" seems keen to tie "Gridlock" (story no. 185) for having the greatest number of series' musical references and CD-released repeat tracks.

Music by Murray Gold
"The Futurekind", "Yana (Excerpt)",
"Martha's Quest",
"The Master Vainglorious", and
"This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home"
are available on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who:
Original Music from "Series 3"

More info & buying options


Arch Enemy

Derek Jacobi's stellar performance is undoubtedly the highlight of the story. In particular, he is very, very excellent as Professor Yana. His performance doesn't quite seem to be as much on the money at the very end of the story, when he becomes the Master. Perhaps he's trying too hard; perhaps he displays too much anger. It may in part also be the look of the character now being so different to what we older fans remember and expect and want to relive.

Indeed, the climax of this story is like the eye of the needle through which all the season's story arcs need to thread themselves, and this is the fulcrum upon which the biggest balance of anticipation and delivery will teeter. For new fans of the modern show only, the delivery of the Master may easily satisfy, although they may indeed not appreciate all the hype surrounding the anticipation and build up. For older fans, the build-up works wonderfully, and has probably been stretched out too long, yet when it comes to delivery, it's just too different from what we expect and want.

Whenever a new Doctor comes along, we fans allow him to be different from his predecessors in style. Should we allow the Master the same luxury? Anthony Ainley and Roger Delgado were similar enough that the character has not really challenged us in that way.... until now. Even with the Doctor, or Romana or Borusa for that matter, certain aspects of the character need to remain constant, otherwise it's really a completely new character that you've got who deserves their own name and title. There's a certain combination of charm, elegance, deadliness, and glee that defines the Master, and the goatee beard combined with dark features added something to the elegance part of that equation that Season 29 deliberately chose to not aim for.

There is something about the Derek Jacobi version that suggests the Master isn't quite back yet, which works within the story. But if there is something missing from that version, there's even more missing from the John Simm version that later takes over - and if the extras are to be believed, it was specified in the script. Simm goes over the top all too easily. The elegant, restrained charm that one expects has given way to a theatricality that tries way too hard and seems designed to entice only the limp of wrist, if that. Perhaps there's a reason why Davies usually only writes women and monsters as villains.

In the end, the best presence that the Master makes in Season 29 is in the voice over flashback. Anthony Ainley's distinctive evil chuckling, followed by Roger Delgado's line from "The Daemons" (story no. 59) "You will give your power to me!" mark some of the best moments of the story, and the season for that matter. Excellent!

The Master's motivations get a clean bill of health in "Utopia", where he is obviously in need of regaining the full sense of self that he had before, as well as ensuring that he remains free. There are hints of grander ambitions as well, remaining as mysteries unrevealed. Revenge is restricted to stranding the Doctor and friends without revealing his plans - a side consideration as it should be. The only questionable part of his motivation is brought up by Captain Jack in this tale - not so much the Master's response to the "Time War", but rather the ridiculousness and believability of the "Time War" itself. I suppose we can't penalize this tale any more than half of the others this decade for that impossible element.

One other much-loved element conspicuous by its absence is the Master's TARDIS, which hasn't appeared in Doctor Who since "The Trial of a Time Lord" (story nos. 144-147). Surely this would be the Master's first choice for reaching his goal of freedom? Why does he settle for less? If his TARDIS was a casualty of the "Time War", or prior to that got impounded by the Daleks in the backstory to "The Untitled Paul McGann TV Movie" (story no. 160), or has been separated from its owner since his first teleportation to the planet of the Cheetah-People, some character should come out and say so on a proper episode of Doctor Who.


The conclusion of "Utopia", being more cliffhanger than resolution, also leaves too much at stake, and too many ends dangling loose, for the story to work completely on its own. It creates HUGE anticipation for the season finale, and is in some senses dependant on the success of the season finale in order to validate itself. Was it all worthwhile? The final word belongs to our next review....



This story has become available on DVD:
DVD NTSC Region 1
14-episode boxed set
for the North American market:

DVD PAL Region 2
14-episode boxed set
for the U.K.
DVD PAL Region 2
plain 3-episode volume
U.K. format only

Note: The full season sets contain commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and other extras. The smaller volumes only feature the plain episodes.


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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Sound of Drums"



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