Region 1
box set

Region 2
box set
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

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

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. This comes complete with a nice bit of cultural eye-candy from visual effects, which spices up the 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". 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. They suffer the same problems as the bear-suit man at the beginning of "The Androids of Tara" (story no. 101). 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, 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, with the Doctor's narration driving the angle home. Not very original for this show, but much better than "Moreau". The challenges and stratagems of the middle act are very satisfying and suit the characters we have very well. 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, some of the other subtler pieces seemed to be more deserving candidates for CD release.

However, many pieces better known for the next story make their debut here. Also featuring are a new rendition of "Rose's Theme", and some echoes 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

Anticipation and Delivery

Derek Jacobi's stellar performance as Professor Yana is undoubtedly the highlight of the story. In particular, he is very, very excellent in the early and middle acts. His performance doesn't quite seem to be as much on the money at the very end of the story - it's almost as if he's trying too hard. But even after coming "down a notch", the bar for his work is still quite high.

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 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.

There's a LOT more to be said in the In-depth Analysis version of this review, which of course I won't repeat here to avoid SPOILERS. Come back to it after you've seen the show.

"Utopia" is a great story, creating 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 Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "The Sound of Drums"

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