Doctor Who, Utopia

Russell T. Davies seems to be using the word utopia in its more original and truer sense in this episode to represent, not a better place, but rather a no-place. With a universe on the verge of blinking out of existence this couldn’t be more apt.

I’ve learnt that you have to look past the sillier aspects of a Russell T.Davies Doctor Who story. Like, for example, at the very end of the Universe, countless billions of years in the future, you will find human beings as we know them today. Human beings driving 21st century trucks and firing 21st century weapons, just before they board their interstellar (can you still say that when there aren’t any stars left?) spacecraft. The explanation given for this is that human beings have somehow re-evolved into their favourite form, but this smacks of a lazy writer using technobabble to reduce science fiction to a branch of fantasy.

But when I said, “you have to look past ” I really did mean it! If you don’t you’ll miss out on the wonderfully constructed climax of the story. There is the clever use of a plot device, originating in Paul Cornell’s Human Nature, to reintroduce to the series the character known as The Master. Everything else is just staging to enable that moment, though the staging is familiar. There are the huddled human survivors existing in underground tunnels reminiscent of The Terminator. The apparent evolutionary dead end of beings stalking them, known as the Futurekind, that hark back to Blake’s 7 -Terminal, and Doctor Who’s Survival. While the episode was filmed in that favourite of all Doctor Who locations, a quarry.

Davies might have left it at The Master reborn, excitement enough for many fans, but he didn’t. He gave David Tennant an opportunity to show us an almost paralysed Doctor, traumatised by the realisation that he isn’t the last Time Lord after all. Good stuff.


    Ian McNicholas

    June 17, 2007

    Yet another edge-of-the-seat episode in many respects, no one can ever accuse RTD of boring us. While I agree that some of the period setting was iffy, particularly the 20th century army trucks at the end of the universe, and the somewhat plastic appearance of the Chantho, the plot was gripping, and the decision to use northwalians as the major threat group was simply brilliant !


    June 17, 2007

    My god ! I was litterally at the edge of my seat, from that scene with Martha, Professor Yana and the pocket watch, leading up to the regeneration, Doctor Who at its best. Sadly, from a geek perspective, I had suspected it all along, we all know John Simm was The Master, I just didn’t know how he got from Derek Jacobi. I can’t wait for next week, my saturday nights are ruined – Must See TV.

    Mark Woods

    June 17, 2007

    From an American perspective, Dr. Who has always reminded me of a broadcast British sci-fi style which smacks of intentionally low-budget retro-futurism.

    Kubrick’s low-key approach to ‘Future Britain’ in Clockwork Orange( 1971) is probably the best British example of intentional retro-Futurism, but Woody Allen also uses it to comic effect in Sleeper (1973).

    In other words, not attempting to create futuristic verisimilitude, and settling for what you describe as ‘lazy’, is actually a self-reflective activity of the film’s author.

    European filmmakers observed how Japanese Monster films played in the post 1960s U.S. television market, and resisted being pushed (by budgetary limits) into becoming a similar caricature of themselves.

    To accomplish this, directors like Hitchcock opted for a minimalist understatement, which masked the relatively low-budget, low quality special FX of their productions, and The Birds (1963) is a good example.

    Dr. Who on the other hand, has always been read as a ‘Jules Verne’-style retro-Futurism by American audiences, and that funky and clunky lack of attention to details has made the story more important than the FX and mise-en-scene.

    Willy Wonka is the height of self-deprecating Victorian retro-Futurism, displayed in the first film (1971), but sort of parodied by Tim Burton in a gritty, timeless past/future Industrial reality in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

    The current Dr. Who might be seen as derivative of Terry Gillam’s Brazil (1985), which trademarked funky Brit retro-future sci-fi for good.

    Russell is simply following an established tradition, and giving his larger U.S. audience what they expect of this brand of Brit Sci-fi.

    Peter Grehan

    June 17, 2007

    You make some interesting points Mark, but I??????m not sure I agree with you regarding RTD following an established tradition. He has never made a secret of the fact that he is a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and would have loved to write for the series. If you look at his Doctor Who and Torchwood scripts they appear to owe as much, if not more, to Joss Whedon as to any British tradition. His approach seems to be biased towards the Buffy fantasy tradition and, at best, (from a science fiction perspective) he can be said to write science fantasy. He??????s not interested in science or scientific accuracy, which is why he prefers to write fantasy, sometimes disguised as science fiction. So I maintain, he??????s being lazy, but he??????s probably one of the few writers who can get away with it.
    The amount that BBC Wales is spending on its FX budget is phenomenal for a British SF series. In the past the TV executives were an elitist bunch who considered SF so much escapist twaddle. Doctor Who would be expected to perform with the same sort of budget as a police drama series like Z-Cars. That it did so well with what it had was amazing and resulted from the ??????borrowing?????? of other BBC production??????s sets and props. This probably had more to do with its eventual style than any conscious attempt to follow a European/British tradition I think. I could be wrong of course, since influences in film and television are subtle and ubiquitous.

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