Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Doctor Who: Gridlock

Doctor: “Janis Joplin gave me that coat.”

A never ending traffic jam? I think I was in that once. This was a visually stunning episode, with a theme we can all relate to—particularly if you're familiar with the M25.

After a fairly ordinary start, this felt like the first quality episode of the season. The story was good, the CGI was excellent, and there was even the return of a semi-classic foe from the sixties. The last time we saw the Macra was during 1967's 'The Macra Terror', back when Troughton was king and the kilt was still considered acceptable companion apparel. Time has clearly been kind to the Macra—they don't look quite so much like Airfix kits these days. So kudos to The Mill for giving them an improved visual aesthetic.

In fact, this whole episode looked superb: from the never ending motorways, to the slow-moving traffic, to the Doctor's breathtaking dash across the vehicle rooftops. Even the guest spots were delightful, with Father Ted demi-god, Ardal O'Hanlon, acting up a storm as the ever so slightly feline, Thomas Kincade Brannigan, and a surprisingly serious pre-Being Human, Lenora Crichlow, as Cheen. I feared that an episode spent in near-stationary traffic would drag the pace of the episode down, but Russell did himself proud this week. This was probably my favourite Russell T. Davies episode since 'The Parting of The Ways'.

Of course, its premise was preposterous, and you did have to suspend your disbelief to accept that the people of New New York would just accept the inconvenience of an eternal traffic jam—but when you're born into a system, you do accept it blindly. It's how things are, and when there's no alternative, there really isn't a catalyst for change. Chris Rhea's 'The Road to Hell' is a song about the frustration of peak-hour traffic on the M25, and 'Gridlock' exemplifies the struggle of being on a seemingly endless track to a destination that simply refuses to materialise.

The Face of Boe wiring himself into the system to keep the motorway optional—thus becoming the hero—was a decent twist. I do like the face of Boe. He was an interesting character back in 'The End of the World', but tonight Davies used him to far greater effect. His demise was a moving moment, particularly for the Doctor, who saw himself reflected in the dying alien. Despite being a massive head in a tank, there's clearly a kinship between the two of them. Both are the last of their respective kinds—although, if the Face of Boe's last words are to believed, maybe the Doctor isn't quite as alone as he thinks.

This episode was mostly about lies: the lies we're told, the lies we tell others, and the lies we tell ourselves. For the past two episodes, the Doctor's been keeping his dealings with Martha on a purely professional level—a single 'thank your' trip in payment for services rendered. (Which quickly turned into two... and probably three by next week.) But tonight, rather than taking Martha home, he ended up opening up to her. Yes, his lies were self-serving, but they were necessary to save him from his own dire reality. His whole race is gone. Where's the harm in occasionally entertaining the delusion that you may not be alone?

I've resigned myself to the fact that Martha's going to spend the bulk of this season lusting after the Doctor. That's the story arc they've chosen, so there's no point complaining about it. I'm not even sure it's a terrible idea—they're just making such a clumsy job of selling it. There's no subtlety at all. For a guy with over 900 years of experience, you'd think the Doctor would be more aware of the reaction he occasionally engenders in others.

Case in point: Martha Jones. The first time she and the Doctor met he almost snogged her face off; he then repaid her heroics by offering to take her on a wacky adventure through time and space; add to the mix the fact that he can't seem to stop himself from saving her life; and Martha's seriously supposed to believe that he has no interest in her at all? What about all of the wildly over the top compliments he gives her when she does decidedly average shit? To say that the Doctor's giving out mixed signals is an understatement—it's no wonder Martha thinks she has a part to play in the bigger picture.

The Doctor's a thoroughly charming enigma, who's suffering from some sort of emotional strife, and Martha's an actual Doctor—it makes absolute sense that she should see herself as his potential saviour. But does the Doctor want to be saved? And after what happened with Rose, is it too soon to be romantically interested in another companion? These are questions I'm sure the series will answer, I just hope they do it in a more sophisticated fashion in the episodes to come.


Doctor: “Gallifrey skies are burnt orange, with the citadel enclosed in a mighty glass dome, shining under the twin suns. Beyond that, the mountains go on forever. Slopes of deep red grass, capped with snow.”

Martha: “You're taking me to the same planets you took her?”
Doctor: “What's wrong with that?”
Martha: “Nothing. Just ever heard the word 'rebound'?”

Brannigan: “This Martha, she must mean an awful lot to you.”
Doctor: “Hardly know her. I was too busy showing off. And I lied to her. Couldn't help it.”

Doctor: “Novice Hame! No, hold on. Get off! Last time we met you were breeding humans for experimentation.”

1 comment:

Laura Dees said...

An episode that not only looks good, but also is good. Some beautiful visual effects, a great story, some fascinating character interplay, and some nice developing of the Doctor's grief and remorse. I wish Russell had kept writing for the show after leaving as showrunner. He was capable of some good storytelling, when he wasn't bogged down with the burden of the season arc.