|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by James Tricker|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Robert F.W. Smith|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Calum Corral|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Mick Snowden|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Angus Gulliver|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Will Valentino|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Mark Hain|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Geoff Wessel|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Peter Neafcy|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by A.D. Morrison|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Paul Hayes|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Eddy Wolverson|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Billy Higgins|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Simon Fox|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Charles Martin|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Rob Stickler|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Kevin Lahey|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Frank Collins|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Paul Clarke|
|15 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Joe Ford|
|22 Apr 2007||Gridlock, by Richard Gill|
This RTD effort is best described as a mixed bag ? a fairly good plot, somewhat reminiscent of the more whimsical McCoy stories of the late Eighties ; a nice nod to the past with the return of the crab-like Macra, who first appeared as far back as season four of the old series ; and a really excellent supporting cast.
Whatever gravitas is ostensibly achieved by the " Old Rugged Cross" interval (a scene not too dissimilar, at first sight at least , of the Earth High Minister's pep talk in the Ark in Space) soon evaporates with the realisation that the self ? labelled "deeply atheist" RTD has simply used a fine hymn to make a tiresome and well worn anti-religious point about this sort of stuff being the opium of the masses, no better than the other drugs they take, but ultimately providing false comfort whereas, naturally, the Doctor can offer something more tangible, a genuine chance of escape. Just in case we missed the point, Martha spells it out for us : you have your hymns and your faith, I have the Doctor, she says. Is it too much to ask that one of these days we can enjoy a story penned by new Who's chief writer without being treated to the gospel according to RTD?
The revelation of the old Boat Race that the Doctor isn't alone is a terribly predictable and disappointing secret. This ancient and noble creature breathes (we presume) its last just to introduce a future storyline. This wasn't textbook enigmatic this time. I'd have kept it to yourself mate.
Enjoyable despite the above, Gridlock scores a respectable 7.5/10.
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
Re-watching The Shakespeare Code, for one thing I was pleased to find I enjoyed it as much as last time, but more importantly I'd utterly missed the bit where the Bedlam guy offers to whip the inmates for the Doctor's amusement, which is an excellent reason for the Doc to dislike him. And also, the Doctor himself looked like he was wearing his old brown suit instead of the blue one he ended Smith and Jones in. Now, I could be wrong, but if not, isn't that a continuity error?
As for Gridlock itself, it fell into the same pre-credits trap as The Shakespeare Code last week ? that is, they were irrelevant and not particularly special, leading me to think that they should ease up on the pre-credits openers a bit, only using the device for scripts that justify it, such as Father's Day and both of Stephen Moffat's scripts. Oddly enough, the return to the 'opening credits, story' type was a significant factor in my great enjoyment of Smith and Jones! Russell T also returns to his stock hawking-your-wares sequences; it was annoying in The Long Game and it wasn't great here. David Tennant wheels out his OTT outrage again, for a short time, as well, but more than makes up for it later on with a cute and tender scene featuring kittens! Now I defy all but the most hard-hearted people not to go all mushy for that bit; I know I did. And am I mistaken, or were those kittens starting to talk?
The setting of Gridlock is a standard case of satire turned up to eleven. It's been argued that the cardinal rule of satire (a major interest of Russell Davies, of course) is simply to take a prominent feature of your own day, and exaggerate it ? this Russell does, and then some, which is how we come to have the first story in Doctor Who history to be set in a traffic jam! There's a fair bit of anti-drug stuff, too, which isn't anything like as bad as it might've been. As settings go, the grime and horror stand in stark contrast to the chilly beauty of the Moon and the warm yellows of Elizabethan London, giving the season a welcome feeling of variety, and it was certainly horrific, though I need to mull it over a bit more before I decide whether or not it made sense (within itself, as a piece of drama, that is).
The whole episode, needless to say, was an excuse for the Face of Boe to tell his big secret, which I'm sure we all saw coming since, ooh, New Earth? The Face has become a big hit ? he seems, from the brief appearances he's clocked up in the show, to be fundamentally a really nice guy (Face), so his death is moving. The Doctor's stubborn insistence on discounting what he says as he breathes his last is pretty odd, but fits with this incarnation's dismaying hostility to anything he doesn't understand, trust, or want to acknowledge. But it was good to see him pull off the same trick as he did last time he visited New Earth, saving tens of thousands, possibly millions, of people from a fate worse than death in one amazing stroke (with the Face's help).
The episode's twin highlights, however, topped and tailed the episode, with some lovely stuff about Gallifrey ? the description of its silver leaves, burnt orange sky et al is a happy mix of the 60s TV stories, the comics and the novels. The final scene of the episode was especially good, with David Tennant playing it? not exactly subtly, I suppose, but movingly. I was never happy with the off-handed way Russell got rid of the planet of the Time Lords, seeing it as a cheap and thoughtless way of darkening the role; rather than any actual targeted characterisation like that seen in the Seventh Doctor era, a mere throwaway line in The End of the World set the bar for what was to come (and set it very low, IMO), and provided pretty much the sum total of both the Ninth and Tenth Doctor's characterisation, although Gallifrey has taken a back seat in DT's Doctor's tormented mind since Rose's disappearing act.
And flipping heck, the Macra?! I mean to say! Oh, I'm not complaining; I'm just surprised. What on earth was the point of that?? They don't even do anything (mind you, neither does Martha in this one). I was delighted to see them, personally, though in a sadly reduced state. The restraint from the team in electing not to show them in the trailer last week was admirable, as it would have totally ruined a surprise for which there was actually no pay-off after the initial shock. Russell T Davies baffles me sometimes. Because it's not like you can really use the Macra in a script, obviously, so I guess it's just some fan service he cooked up in a fit of generosity. The Macra? Why?
Martha continues to suffer at the Doctor's unwitting hands, although at the end her sit-down protest demanding his attention and a serious talk pays off, and she ends up getting his back-story (in recycled dialogue, but she's not to know!) But even she seems to have realised what I've been saying is true about semi-conscious behaviour patterns being the reason that he picked her up in the first place, and early in the episode you can see the light bulb go on over her head as it becomes clear that he's on some level trying to re-create what he had with Rose. This subplot would be really unpleasant if it wasn't for the fact that the Doctor actually does seem to be getting to like Martha and to enjoy her company; as it is, it's quite a poignant storyline, and the Doctor-Martha relationship is more engaging than the Doctor-Rose love-in ever was. Just a shame that the love-in still isn't over, even in the dratted girl's absence!
Series 3, I am happy to say, is continuing to perform beyond expectations. It's got to the point where seeing Doctor Who on a Saturday evening has really cheered me up, rather than given me a sick feeling like it frequently used to, post-2005 ? the episodes are mostly enjoyable at the moment and there is nothing really to complain about (nothing new, anyway), whereas throughout Series 1 & 2 there invariably was. Rock on, Doctor. And please, please, please, don't let the space pigs spoil everything. Oh God, I can see it now?
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
Sometimes the mix of each Doctor Who episode is as important as everything else. Perhaps there is too much of one thing and not enough of another. But tonight, Russell T Davies perhaps showed the true merits of his scriptwriting abilities with an absorbing episode which had laughter and disaster, frivolity and seriousness, living and dying, the ethos of the timelords, being caught in a futuristic traffic jam and just to round things off...?re-launching the Macra in a glorious nod to the wonderful early years of the programme from over 40 years ago.
?The real beauty of this episode was that it was not overstated but just a great blend of everything. It was a delight from start to finish. The return to New?Earth was a great idea?and the traffic jam?realisation was a marvellous sequence. Some great laughs as the Doctor?pops into different passing vehicles and then the arrival of the Marca?who looked wonderful in all their CGI beauty.
?The Face of Boe and the catnurse was also a welcome return?and the great final message?to the Doctor certainly gave him quite a perplexed look. Some great lines throughout and Martha is?now striding through the episodes with real style...?a?very smooth transitition.
?It just had me gripped all the way through. Ardal O Hanlan was good as the cat pilot but came across almost as a bumbling C3PO kind of personality. A bit of a sop in other words!
?The death of the Face of Boe was neatly handled and that was a great move releasing him from his glass tank to say his final words and breath life.
?A very high standard and a most enjoyable futuristic episode ... one of the best they have done so far. There was no really big fanfare for this particular story after Shakespeare and the arrival of Martha in the first two episodes but Gridlock was stylish, imaginative, and above all, great fun from start to finish.
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
Two words sum this one up. When I heard rumours that the Troughton era creature that would return in Series 3 would be the Macra, I thought "Well, at least they may be able to improve on their last outing". But this rather poor take on the "something lurking in the undercity" storyline takes away the one thing that made the Macra anything more than mutant crabs. Coupled with the fact that this isn't even the main plot, we waste rather a lot of the episode finding out about them.
Take away the Macra, and concentrate on the main story (the destruction of New Earth by a virus), and you have a much better plot. This should really have been expanded on. The Face of Boe's return is the first time that Boe has been anything other than an alien face in the crowd. Novice Hame's story of redemption is engaging enough.
However, bearing in mind the content of the Vote Saxon sites started by the BBC, the revelation made by the Face of Boe is hardly shocking.
Unfortunately, because of the tedious inclusion of the Macra Mcguffin, this return to New Earth is scarcely satisfying. Once more we get Davies by numbers ? an episode designed purely and simply to move the series' arc plot along a notch.
I really wish, now, that RTD would just stop writing the episodes on concentrate on producing them. Increasingly, the RTD-penned stories are the least satisfying ones.
Lets hope next weeks Dalek episode picks up a little.
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
We've bought a new television, and its fairly large....too large according to my wife. During our second viewing of The Shakespeare Code she remarked, "I can see the Doctor's nose hairs! That thing is too big". In Gridlock I can report that there were no nose hairs visible save those of Novice Hame and Brannigan the cat.
So what of Gridlock? I thought it was a welcome return to New Earth, and under different circumstances. I have few gripes, maybe Pharmacy Town was too deserted for belief, but the story generally held up well. The characters on the motorway were all different and amusing (if not entirely believable). The idea of being stuck in a trafic jam for years really should get people on the M25 thinking!
I thought bringing back the Macra was justified, though we are left to assume that they will quietly die off without the exhaust fumes rather than explaining their fate. Macra would have been a real surprise had I not read some spoilers. A nice little plot twist was Novice Hame seeming to be an enemy turning out to have repented. When she first appears she seems to pose a threat, that was handled well. Russel's script was full of little fun ideas such as the Doctor inventing a new sport of jumping down from car to car.
And to the face of Boe's dying words. I quite like the Face of Boe, so its a shame that we presumably won't see him again (time travel notwithstanding). Nothing we didn't expect but still sent a chill down my spine.
And Martha, showing she can hold her own when separated from the doctor - and that she is realising the implications of travelling with the Doctor more quickly than Rose did. I did like the fact that the Doctor clearly thinks he is over Rose until Martha mentions "rebound". Very well handled, the Rose references are only placed where necessary.
One of Russel's better stories, and a word again for the Mill. Fantastic effects.
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
It was back in 1980 during the New York City Transit strike that the newspapers started to use the word "Gridlock" to describe traffic congestion in New York City. Sam Schwartz, NYC chief traffic engineer has admitted the internal departmental use of the word began as early as the 1970's. In GRIDLOCK the BBC's latest Doctor Who offering, we see the Doctor and Martha traveling back to the future to New Earth and rediscovering New New York as any good traveler should - when Martha is kidnapped and the Doctor enters on one of his most perilous quests ever to retrieve her.? GRIDLOCK is a high concept episode that wildly succeeds to entertain, while successfully bringing the "Face Of Boe" arc to a close, and reintroducing, a most unexpected return of a 1960's era Doctor Who enemy.? Riding shotgun in the backseat on a most unusual Doctor Who adventure is once again, the perennial favorite Russell T Davies, who pulls all stops and releases to deliver a whirlwind chase episode that had this fan on the edge of his seat and wondering just how would the Doctor ever be able to retrieve Martha Jones. And so GRIDLOCK begins!
The episode opens almost as a harbinger to the strangeness that would follow in a subterranean area of New New York .No apple grass and gleaming skyscrapers to be seen here.? The sense of d?j? vu that was notable in THE SHAKESPEARE CODE is present once again, only this time, explained away by Davies when Martha discovers The Doctor is taking her to the same places he took Rose. The Doctor and Martha work so well together that it's hard to imagine the Doctor consciously doing this to help him deal with Rose's loss. The Doctor is damaged goods and Martha is beginning to see his pain blistering through the cracks in the wall he has put up between them. Yet his dedication to her, is never in question. David Tennant's Doctor is one who seems to be increasingly angry at the universe and the way things are and he is self-assured to threaten anything that stands in his light. His reaction to the "Mood" dealers him and Martha first encounter sets the tone for the entire episode. There is no attempt to mask the anti ? drug theme of GRIDLOCK, but Uncle Russell's paradoxal script is designed to mask several themes being interwoven at once. The unfiltered anti drug message is perhaps the most noble element of any RTD script imparted as a moral lesson to youngsters and even adults watching the series. Of course Davies liberal left has crept in between the lines of scripts to deliver even stronger messages in a new age and time and once again GRIDLOCK is never as innocent as it seems.
Chris Rea recorded a song a song in 1989 called " The Road To Hell", a song about a never ending traffic jam., an" upwardly mobile freeway " that had become "The Road To Hell"? Chris Rea's "Road to Hell" was much more than just a highway, and Russell T. Davies? motorway beneath the gleam of New New York is a metaphor for something much greater? than just a Gridlock. Martha is kidnapped by Milo and Cheen; two mislead refugees from the motorway, looking to start life in the fast lane. With the Doctor in pursuit, it is here on the motorway where most of the story and much of the action takes place in GRIDLOCK. Entering the motorway, the Doctor, is quickly picked up by Thomas Kincaid Branigan, and his fair Valerie who has just given birth to a litter of very furry felines. The Doctor learns the couple has been circling on the motorway now for 12 years and suspects that something is amiss in New New York.? After realization and coming to terms that he lied to Martha, the Doctor sets out to find Martha amidst the Gridlock of spaced age mini vans in a dizzy, death defying search, leaping from car to car. Branigan and Valerie's remarks that the Doctor is "insane" but "magnificent" sums up Tennant's portrayal perfectly, even on a Wednesday afternoon. The Doctor, leaping from car to car with his sonic screwdriver in hand in the carbon monoxide fog is about as crazy as it gets in GRIDLOCK, and all this is executed very well and takes boldly where no DOCTOR WHO episode has taken us, or the Doctor before.
At first you really don't believe GRIDLOCK can pull it off, but as the Doctor goes from car to car in search of Martha, we are introduced to a carnival of Fellini-esque characters that could only turn up in one of Russell Davies scripts, or at one of his martini parties! Our hasty introductions are punctuated with some light heartened humor as the doctor encounters a nudist couple reading "Hanging Out" magazine amongst an array of strange characters. None stand out more prominently than the Cassini Sisters who are friends of Thomas Kincaid Brannigan, who after 23 years circling New New York have a log book of the journey and a 1930's period d?cor in their hyperspace aged mini van that would give "Old House Interiors "magazine a run for their money. Ironically each car the Doctor enters has a specific personality, from the man with the white suits to the Man in the Bowler hat who helped him get to the lower lanes to discover Ian Stuart Black's 1960's creation, the MACRA, tossing up one of the meanest crab salads ever seen on BBC TV. The characters the Doctor and Martha encounter in the GRIDLOCK are indeed memorable, if only for their brief appearance. A credit here to Mr. Davies, is that you genuinely do start to care about Branigan and Valerie and even Martha's unlikely kidnappers become likeable in their life and death struggle in the Fast Lane. Everyone on this motorway is on his or her own journey and somewhere in this GRIDLOCK Russell T Davies has parallel -parked a thought provoking commentary on the human race.
Davies has taken the threads of the "Face Of Boe' arc and woven them perfectly with a revisiting of "New Earth" as well as presenting to us a dazzlingly adventurous, fast paced story that also serves to hammer out the characters of Martha and the Doctor in the shape of the new series. By the time Nurse Javitt the Cat arrives to teleport the Doctor to the Senate at the request of the Face Of Boe, our minds have been flooded with the tapestry of souls who have been caught in the Gridlock. It is here in the Senate the Doctor learns of the Death of New New York. As Milo and Cheen's? car sits disabled at the bottom of the motor way in the fast lane, we learn a lot about Martha's character? and her resourcefulness as well.? It is unusual to say the least to find a spirituality woven through a Russell Davies script. The man is a self-professed atheist and is very outgoing in his distain of organized religion. THE PARTING OF THE WAYS treaded similar controversial territory but never even blinked an eye even as it bordered on blasphemy. Fortunately, Davies is much softer here than Daleks who discover religion. Trapped in their cars, for years on a freeway to know-where, we discover that the one thing this fellini-esque gathering of misfit refugee's had in common was religion. Faith, songs and hymns for a new age generation. The big difference is in Russell T Davies church of man, Everyone, people of all denominations, species, cats and dogs and men in Bowler hats are welcome, and maybe this is Davies secret message he would wish to bestow on us. In the middle of the GRIDLOCK, I think Russell Davies tried to tell us that whoever you are on a journey, the journey's end is worth the ride!?? When the Doctor with the help of Boe frees the cars from the gridlock and saves Martha from the scissor like claws of the Macra, he tells all the cars to proceed upwards. As the cars rise into the sky, we see the sunlight on the faces of this band of tired New New Yorkers for the first time in 23 years. The Senate scenes and the Doctor's reunion for the third and final time with the Face Of Boe bring all the ends of the story together perfectly. While the Macra in the story was a total hands down surprise, Boe's final words have been buzzing the blogs and forums for months now, with some speculation that Boe may very well be the Doctor himself. In fact, being billions of years old, he may very well have been the creator of the universe and as such, his death would be considerably more difficult to accept.? His death still left a lot of mystery still unknown about Boe, but what an enjoyable thread through the series he has been.
This episode was executed perfectly and once again; you cannot dissect the story without gaining a profound admiration for Russell T Davies and his unique ability at constructing literary vehicles capable of delivering so much without sacrificing believability and entertainment value. He is a true alchemist whose scripts elevate the characters portrayed in them. His one major failing lies in his inability to free his scripts from modern day pitfalls. Davies takes great pains to make the motorway journey of Milo and Cheen, believable- he does it with science and technology that will long be outdated by the time New New York is built. But then again, not everyone is Isaac Asimov either. It was indeed a funny moment when Martha was chewing on a cracker while being told the waste along the journey is recycled back into a food product.? His ability to revisit past character, places and stories successfully is never more apparent than in this particular story.? The Doctor's explanation to Martha about his home world and him being the "last" of the time lords smacks a bit to similar to Chris Eccleson's Doctor's soliloquy to Rose in the First Season.? When Martha offers her solace that he has her and maybe this is what Boe meant in his final words to the Doctor, the Doctor is too quick to steely deny this. His coldness to Martha is surprising-almost as if he is defending his heart.? Again however, it is going over ground already established in season in a far too similar way.
The Doctor leaves New Earth and New New York with "just what every city needs?. cats in charge" and once again another strong outing for Russell T. Davies that leaves one wondering if Janis Joplin is ever going to want her coat back!
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
Something that fans of Doctor Who need to remember is that the show is first and foremost a family show. It's possible that sometimes RTD and the gang get away with so much (cheeky humor, violence, etc) that people forget that. When you watch this episode there are a few things that require a HUGE suspension of disbelief. The most important item, obviously, is that people would actually get stuck in a traffic jam for anywhere from six months to 20+ years and not go insane. If you get that out of the way, 'Gridlock' is an extremely entertaining episode.
No one could argue that there are some excellent moments in this episode. I don't usually recap episodes in these reviews but if you haven't seen the episode yet...
The talk of Gallifrey in the episode is excellent. Being a long time Doctor Who fan, I always hope for more discussion of past adventures or companions but Tennant is such a good actor in his description it is done very well. The doctor and Martha's relationship is growing along at just the right pace as well. He is still putting up barriers at the beginning of the episode, acting like Gallifrey is alive and well and at the end giving her the truth.
In the past three years, there have been some excellent moments in the show for longtime fans of the series, the major ones being the return of the Daleks and the "return" of the Cybermen. The Face of Boe now gives us something even more exciting to look forward to. In a very touching moment he tells The Doctor he is not alone! I never understood The Doctor's stubborn, absolute belief that every single Timelord perished in the Time War. It is almost insulting as a longtime fan because we know there are Timelords out there such as The Rani, The Meddling Monk and of course The Master who wouldn't help someone change a tire, much less help save their race against the Daleks. Still, I hope it it someone else entirely The Face of Boe refers to.
Once again, in my honest opinion, this episode was a home run. If you are able to get past the premise of happily living many years in gridlock traffic, the effects were absolutely top notch. No episode of Doctor Who has had this much CGI and it looked exactly the way it should. The acting from all of the extras, Brannigan, Martha's kidnappers and of course Doc and Martha themselves were all excellent. The only real complaint I have is the throwaway use of a previous enemy. I have no idea what made RTD decide that the Macra were a good monster to use again, but they aren't really used here at all. In fact, they are really quite useless! There is a huge drug epidemic on the surface of New Earth that kills everyone. The people in traffic below the surface are all saved thanks to The Face of Boe. So why (besides, of course, the added action) do the Macra even need to be in the episode? Where did they come from? Why did they de-evolve and how did they get down there in the first place? Once again, I am a longtime fan so any tie to previous episodes (especially one of the best Troughton era stories) is cause for happiness. Yet, I can't help but think RTD might have well just put a mechanical menace down there instead. It would have saved quite a bit of questions. Still, they do live on gas and they did look awesome so I guess I can just accept it.
Oh and the couple that dies at the beginning supposedly 'lied' about having three passengers to get to the fastlane but later The Doctor finds out the controls are locked. Plus, Brannigan seems to drive the vehicle when the traffic moves 20 yards.
That's nitpicking however. Kids don't ask these type of questions and if you watch this episode with an open mind, I believe this season continues to be the best season of the new series yet. Plus, next week, DALEKS!
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
So. "Gridlock" then.
First off, much better than last week's, although really IMO they didn't have to try TOO hard in order to accomplish that. A wider array of characters, from Ma and Pa out of the "American Gothic" painting (the Hell?!), to Brannigan, to a Max-Normal-looking businessman type. Oh, and Novice Hame, now a worshipper of the Face of Boe. Looks like we won't be seeing any more of him tho. Shame, really.
New Earth, meanwhile, has devolved somewhat to a society of Moods and Pharmacists, and everyone else is stuck on the Motorway. And have done for quite some time now. A very...VERY long time indeed. Er. You know, just between you and me, I get shitty if I'm stuck in traffic on I-465 for more than a few minutes, how has this entire society been able to tolerate being stuck indefinitely for decades? Enough to start families and such? Everyone singing "The Old Rugged Cross" in unison? Huh?? No warning, no nothing. Who would stand for it??
Within this, I'm really starting to see some disturbing trends with RTD. First, the need to create something in order to utterly destroy it the next time we see it. Cases for this study would include: Harriet Jones, Satellite 5, and yeah, even Rose Tyler. Now we have a New Earth that, yes, was harboring a nasty secret in the hospital, but the rest of the society seemed to be OK. When next we see it, the Mood Bliss contained a virus that went airborne and wiped out much of it, and the rest devolved to what we see in this episode. Why the need to show everything or everyone in decay?
Second, I'm starting to have some issues accepting that in the far-future, humanity just humbly and meekly accepts its fate, no matter how far back the species is in retrograde. We already saw this not once, but twice, with the denizens of Satellite 5, but now with New New York as well? I'm really not feeling this. Sure, one could make some pointed commentary about our own societies, but this bad? And repeatedly?
The Doctor, will he finally get over it regarding Rose? Taking Martha, who I thought was maybe a little more muted in this episode than the previous two, but still kept it together rather well, over to New Earth mainly just because he'd already taken Rose there was a bit much. IT'S TIME TO MOVE ON NOW, methinks. At least the Doctor realized that getting Martha into this mess was all his fault.
The Macra ... well, didn't see THAT one coming.
The Face of Boe's final message...er, why was that such a big hush hush secret that he couldn't have said that in "New Earth," exactly? Oh, wait, less opportunity for Doctor-Emo, right.
And as far as that final message.... good Lordy, PLEASE let it not be him. PLEASE GOD ANYTHING.
And you KNOW I am so all over next week's.
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
Episode three already and the new series is still not doing its job. Gridlock is a worse than usual example of Russel T Davies' "Effect Without Cause" writing policy. A series of pretty cool, yet random ideas strung together without any attempt at a linking narrative or plot, some crushingly badly judged scenes and the new girl Martha's sub Hollyoaks acting prowess all conspire to make this one of the most painful Who episodes in a long, long time.
The story sees the Doctor returning to New Earth. Martha makes a point of getting uppity the the Doctor is bringing her to the same places he brought Rose (ha, ha), yes, the tiresome "Companion is a metaphor for girlfriend" shctick which was done (almost) well in School Reunion resurfaces pointlessly here. Turns out, New Earth is not the Utopia that the Doctor had previously made it out to be - minutes after landing in a drug-filled slum, Martha is kidnapped by a couple and dragged back to their Back To The Future Car. Now, the reason they have done this is because the automated traffic system which governs the city will only let them in the "fast lane" if there are three people aboard.
Now, it's here that the episode really starts to lose the excuse for a plot. First of all, we are expected to swallow the fact that people have spent YEARS in this traffic jam. They live in their cars, give birth, eat, drink, sleep and whatever else in their cars. Which they'e been living in for twelve years. So, aside from the fact that each car must have an inexhaustible food and drinks supply, plumbing system, not to mention a bit of cabin space to ensure the passengers didn't get Deep Vein Thrombosis...aside from that, how did you feel last time you were stuck in a traffic jam for over an hour? Or even half an hour? By the end of the first day, people would be clawing each others' eyes out. Yes, Russel, we know you're attempting to be satirical but your point was so far removed from reality as to be completely innefective.
Interestingly, Russel T Davies, who I am led to believe is an atheist, here throws in a bit of religion for the trapped motorists. A strange U-turn after his "No Religion" line in "The End Of The World". It is quite a nice idea that perhaps religion is all these trapped souls have left to hang on to. Of course, this being a 45 minute RTD script, it's never fully explored, it becomes just another of the random elements tossed into the mix, used and then forgotten. But even this scene is ruined by a hopelessly badly judged "hymn sequence" during which the camera cuts to the pained faces of the various motorists as they meaningfully clutch each others' hands while singing along with the song. Why was Martha crying? Because of the Hymn? Because she felt sorry for the people? Because she was trapped? I really don't know. What was the point in this scene, other than "I saw Magnolia once"?
Of course, one of the strangest things about this episode was the re-appearance of an obscure enemy from the show's past - the Macra. Why it had to be the Macra seems unclear - no one who wasn't a hardcore fan would remember them - their one and only appearance was in a story from the 1960s (which doesn't even exist any more) so it can't have been a nostalgia thing, and the Macra in Gridlock have "devolved into beasts", so they aren't the same Macra that the hardcore Whovians would remember anyway, so it clearly wasn't for the fans. So they could have been any monster really, couldn't they? This has a strange echo of the Judoon a couple of episodes back, a race that was very similar to a classic series race called the Sontarans, but inexplicably...wasn't.
Another point about the Macra - we're told they feed on the gas of the exhaust fumes. So why are they attacking the cars in the first place?
Perhaps the most important point in the episode comes with the Face of Boe's final revalation that the Doctor is "Not Alone" - but even this is problematic. First, how does the Face Of Boe know this? Did the Master pop by and say hello sometime prior to "New Earth?" Why did the Face keep this secret to himself instead of warning the Doctor earlier? Yes, I know it was supposed to be portentous and grandiose, but why would the wisest being in the universe withold information about a potentially dangerous survivor of the Time Lord race?
This sort of writing is "Effect Without Cause". RTD is perfectly willing to sacrifice a logical (or even quasi-logical) explanation in favour of a "cool" scene. Sometimes it comes off, most of the time it doesn't. But there's really no reason why he can't do both.
The episode fizzles out with an appallingly truncated scene in which the Doctor begins to tell Martha about Gallifrey. Tennant's performance as he remembers the Doctor's destroyed homeworld was hear wrenching to watch. Lovely. For about thirty seconds. Then the camera pans away, sting, end credits. Just a nice bit of noise. No emotional payoff, nothing. Almost as if the production team realised "Oh, wait a minute, this bit might actually be GOOD. We can't have that. Quick, pan the camera away!"
And this brings me to my next point. David Tennant is amazing. I've always known he was a good actor, but you put him in a situation where he has barely a script to work with, his companion acts like she's reading an autocue and everyone else on the production team seems to have become complacent with the show's flagship status and he STILL delivers above and beyond the call of duty. The Gallifrey reminiscence scenes are amongst my favourite of the new series so far, and it's all through Tennant's performance. What a shame he was struggling through this turd of an episode.
Poor Freema Ageyeman. Billie's shoes were always going to be hard to fill - and I admit I was a Billie naysayer until I saw "Rose". She proved is all wrong by being an incredibly versatile, believable actor. For once, the companion was as good an actor as the actor playing the Doctor. Freema is nothing of the kind. Her stilted, soap opera delivery makes any scene she's pivotal to clunky and awkward. To be fair to her, she is giving it a good stab, and good luck to her. But she needs to adress certain issues pronto lest the "non actor companion" becomes the norm again.
As always, the script is full of flimsy story points ("He protected me with his smoke" etc), some worse than usual supporting acting (with the exception of Ardal O'Hanlon's cat person), and a complete lack of narrative through line. The Macra living down below, the malfunctioning traffic system and the virus that killed the senate seem to have nothing to do with each other - it wouldn't have been hard to link these elements together and provide us with a bit of dramatic satisfaction, surely? How about this: The Macra were controlliong the senate in order to ensure a steady supply of cars to the lower levels perhaps? Wouldn't that have been better? No? Well, you know best Russel, you have got a Bafta after all....
From essential viewing to banal drivel in less than three seasons. What a terrible shame.
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
Well, it seems like pigs are finally flying as for the first time since Tooth and Claw I have something positive to say about one of RTD's episodes. And I am surprised as anyone else who may be familiar with my normal stance on New Who. But in spite of the sporadic irritating RTD tokenisms sprinkled here and there during this episode, Gridlock to my mind is not only the best episode of Series Three so far, but also by?RTD's best written episode since Tooth and Claw way back near the start of Series Two. In fact, in terms of its almost classic Who-style 'oddballness' (strongly reminiscent of the likes of The Happiness Patrol and Greatest Show in the Galaxy - and their better aspects at that), it is actually more distinctive and interesting than Tooth and Claw's gripping but rather hackneyed gothic horror approach. What I mean to say is, Tooth and Claw, excellent in places though it was, played things safe - whereas Gridlock, at least on first viewing in my eyes, does push out the boat more and risks some possible stylistic misinterpretations because it is, at last, an example of RTD trying to offer something a little bit different to the usual banality and predictability of his other episodes.
And I am willing to stand up and say that RTD has pulled it off this time. In many ways, and on paper, he shouldn't have, as this episode does contain some rather ludicrous aspects and is, let us not forget, a kind of sequel to the atrocious New Earth: cat people, the return of the Face of Boe, incongruously retro and old-fashioned clothes and accoutrements in an implausibly far flung future (5 billion years hence)... and so forth. But this time, finally, it actually just about works. And the reason for this is impetus: this episode has a plausible and fairly imaginative plot which sustains itself pretty much throughout, while making possibly for the first time from RTD's pen, some pretty astute polemical comments on our contemporary society: in this case an hilariously extreme satire on overt car use and congestion, in which the scenario imprisons its protagonists in decade-long traffic jams. Here RTD finally manages to get to the crux of true satire: painfully prophetic humour. Light years away from the shambolic literalism of Bad Wolf - and in terms of thought, imagination and scripting, several giant leaps on from the utter banality of last year's finale, Army of Ghosts/Doomsday.
Gridlock has that same inimitable self-confidence and drive that only Dalek and Impossible Planet have so far displayed.
But most importantly: by and large it really felt like Doctor Who. It was a scenario which no other science fiction series could pull off with as much integrity and energy as Doctor Who can. For me, it harked back, in a good way, to some of McCoy 'oddballs' as I previously mentioned: we even had one driver dressed in a pinstriped suit with a bowler hat just like John Normington's literalistic bureaucrat in the deeply misunderstood Happiness Patrol. Yes, I know I have previously accused RTD of fluffing up in his other episodes with literalist satire, but the image of the pinstripe and bowler is far more generic and inspired (in a sort of Lewis Caroll sense) than such ephemeral and periodically- specific - and specious - motifs as Britney Spears and Big Brother. Here RTD seems to be picking up again on the classic series' more intriguing oddball facets. And I hope he continues to do so. We even had the ludicrous though endearing depictions of the two old lady sisters sat in what could easily be a lounge in the mid-late 20th century, inside their car, with impossibly old-fashioned - for the year 5 Billion - decor replete with frilly lampshades and so on, strongly reminiscent of the less eerily depicted 'Ressies' in the imaginative but appallingly directed Paradise Towers. But here RTD gets the balance just right (and the director more importantly) - not something I say every day.
What we have here is a very kitsch, retro version of the future, which works far better than any other previous new Who depiction. This is arguably the first true oddball episode of new Who so far, and in that is a very refreshing change. The kebab-kiosk-style touters of 'mood drugs' scenario is very well realised and quite witty; it's not over-done, and is a good comment on the likes of Ecstasy and so on. This concept of selling 'moods' to people could so easily have backfired, but strangely didn't. I liked it. This whole grotesque dystopian scenario worked in the same way that the likes of Carnival of Monsters did back in 1973: implausible and in-your-face, yes, but imaginatively and wittily so. Gridlock's bizarre scenario works - because for once there is sufficient scriptural leaven to hold it all up to close scrutiny.
And onto the final icing on the cake: the belated return of the Macra! I think this was a really inspired move. The Macra Terror has always been one of those lost stories that has intrigued me the most, from having listened several times to a hissing audio copy of it. The idea of a futuristic holiday camp being nightly stalked by giant crabs who feed off its incumbents like foxes?off a pen of chickens has been a long-enduring plot-ghost in the cannon. And what RTD has done is take the frankly banal scenario of a future alternative Earth, as introduced in the facile New Earth of last year, and drawn from it something far more imaginative, interesting and entertaining than anyone could have possibly predicted: New Earth's population some time on is decimated by a virus, most of its surviving inhabitants trapped in a perpetual traffic jam deep beneath the surface, imprisoned in immunity, but imprisoned perpetually nonetheless (this episode really convinced with its claustrophobia in this sense). And then, quite plausibly, the heavily polluted 'motorway' is infested by the Macra, who thrive off the gaseous emissions there. This is a far more convincing and substantiated return of an old foe than was managed with the Autons or Cybermen. I take my hat off - for the first time ever - to RTD for this. An inspired choice of past foe. Crikey, it's been roughly 41 years since the Macra appeared in Who - and it is almost moving in a sort of autistic way (which only classic series fans will appreciate) that such a distant one-off but highly memorable monster should be resurrected so far on in time. I would argue that the Macra, a bit like the Nestene in Rose, are slightly underused in this story - however, what we do glimpse of them is reasonably well done, especially the first shot of the lit-up eyes coming through the smoke, and then the first sight of pincers and crab-like bodies. The Doctor's slightly flippant reference to these particular Macras having degenerated over time into sort of pale, unthinking, mutant versions of their Troughton-era predecessors, is perhaps a slight flaw in that it is an excuse not to examine the monsters and their motives too closely. But the juxtaposition of said-creatures capitalising on the flaw of a human dystopian society fits in well with the Macra's mythos and is, as I say, quite plausible.
We also had a nicely pitched inclusion of the well-realised Face of Boe, who played a very important and - again - convincing part in the plot. Some tantalising hints from his worryingly static lips regarding the Doctor 'not being alone' - well, I think we all know where that is leading. But his scenes were well done, and the sets were very impressive too.
Criticisms: well, not too many for once, I have to say. Obviously the token 'rebound' soap regarding the Doctor and Martha is still to my mind inappropriate and tedious, but when an episode is as imaginative and energetic as this, I can just about ignore it. The almost consciously retro look of these futurists' clothes was slightly irksome and reminded me of all the Satellite Five rubbish of Series One a bit, but frankly I could forgive it this time as it oddly fitted with the generally eccentric style of this particular episode. The inclusion of the Welsh hymns was utterly bizarre and incongruous too of course - and more than a hint towards the producer's nationality and the Cardiff-centricity of the series as a whole - but again, just about came off given the special surrealism of this episode. The Father Ted-veteran as the cat pilot just about avoided the sort of irksomeness I had previously predicted. The kitten children was a rather ludicrous and frankly sexually disturbing concept - but again, I can forgive it due to the drive of the whole. Obvious chances for sheer silliness were blissfully missed throughout - something which both writer and director deserve to be congratulated for, as they had many a potential opportunity to send it all up.
Finally, I think this was the most satisfactory and least-jarring performance David Tennant has done as the Doctor since, well, probably Tooth and Claw ironically. And this was almost symbolised by a slightly shorter and flatter hair cut.
Certainly this Season is unpredictable - it is going to be a slow-burner: this episode, one which I was dreading for all the RTD ingredients it promised, is something of a revelation. It is the first episode since The Impossible Planet which has genuinely surprised and entertained me, chiefly by its deviating from my gut instincts for how it might turn out and pleasingly impressing me in where it went. It is one of the most classic-Who style episodes of the new series to date. And it is the first episode of Season Three which has truly entertained me, and which I may very well watch a second time. That certainly says something.
Gridlock is an episode which gets the post-modernism of new Who just right, and the first to provide true wholesome satire.
An enjoyable, witty, imaginative and surprising episode. We need more like these. So keep them coming. 7/10.
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
Well that was terrific. By far and away the best episode of series three thus far for me, although as we're only three episodes in it admittedly doesn't have huge amounts of competition yet. But it's also one of my favourite episodes in the whole of the new series to date ? full of spirit and adventure and clever ideas, funny bits, dramatic bits and mysterious bits. Just, basically, a damn good slice of Doctor Who, one of those episodes that makes you thrilled to pieces that the show is back and putting out stuff as good as this.
Rather shockingly, I had been secretly hoping that the infamous football match beforehand would end up as a draw at ninety minutes and thus Gridlock would be put back a week, as that would mean the grand finale of this series would no longer clash with my father's sixtieth birthday party, which is going to present something of a problem in ten weeks' time. Watford's porous defence put paid to that idea, sadly, but no matter ? a minute or two into Gridlock and such thoughts were far away from my mind.
A return to the year five billion era makes sense, as it's a chance to revisit some of the mythology the new series has laid down for itself, rather than having to mine the classic series for it. Having said that, there was a slight concern in my mind given the problems with last year's New Earth, which had seemed disjointed and lacking. Fortunately, this episode was more in tune with the original five billion story, The End of the World, which is also one of my favourite episodes from the new series ? so ambitious and at the same time assured. Gridlock had that same sense of everyone being involved being at the top of their game.
In some sense, though, this was quite an atypical episode for modern Doctor Who, as despite all the impressive special effects work and CGI for the cityscapes and the Macra, much of it was contained within those tiny car sets. A bit retro, really, and harking back to what the classic series always managed to pull off so well ? making three people talking to each other on one small set seem so engaging. I am not entirely sure how gripping it may have been for the younger members of the audience, but they still had the thrill of the Doctor jumping from car to car, the talking cats and of course big giant crabs!
Speaking of which, wasn't the presence of the Macra a nice little nod for all the Troughton era fans watching? How marvellous to quite randomly revive one of the programme's more obscure and, let's face it, originally quite rubbish foes. They didn't really do a great deal, but it was nice for them to pop up and wave a claw about. I'm only sorry that I accidentally found out about their presence in the episode a couple of days before it aired, and thus wasn't as surprised as many others were by the revelation of them. Fortunately for most, though, they seem to have generally been one of the better-kept secrets of the new series.
The same alas can't be said for the Face of Boe's final words, which everyone and their brother has known or guessed for the past eighteen months or so. Davies made sure of this himself, admittedly, by having the cryptic message at the end of the Doctor's profile in the 2006 annual and then telling DWM that the message would be four words long, so he probably wanted the hard-core fans to guess it, knowing at the same time the general audience and the kids wouldn't know or wouldn't care. In the scheme of things it's not a major issue, as it's just a teaser, setting up as-yet-unguessed at events for the series finale. It's not so much what he said that's as important as what he meant, and we can't yet be sure of that.
Alas we can be sure that the big old Boe Face is dead and gone, and as one of the elements that are purely new series to have caught on and been a success, that's rather sad. Like a little piece of the new mythology brought to us in 2005 dying off. There are only Jack and the Daleks left now from the comeback, just two short years ago ? frightening sometimes just how quickly the pace of this series moves on!
Things have moved on for Novice Hame from New Earth too, and I liked the way her prosthetic make-up had been 'aged up' ? not the sort of detail you suspect they would have bothered with back in the day. I'm quite glad that she gained redemption for her crimes, although it's rather sad that the fate of the city means all of the Doctor's actions back in New Earth were essentially pointless, and the people he saved all died off anyway, or at least most of them.
Hame's not the only cat we encounter, although we'll gloss over that weird black thing who becomes a victim of the Macra along with her two young ladyfriends ? best not to go too far into that one, I think! What I will go into is how good the prosthetics were on all the cat creations, although that's to be expected after the success of their appearance in New Earth, one of the few elements from that episode that could be said to have been an unqualified success.
I think Ardal O'Hanlon as Brannigan was probably the best guest star of the third series so far, an excellent character and it's a shame Davies has indicated we won't be going back to New Earth again as I thought he was well worth a return appearance. He didn't get to do all that much, admittedly, but then again nobody in the traffic jam really did; that was the whole point of them, sad little character sketches trapped in their hopeless, go-nowhere lives forever.
Sadly, Martha didn't really get to do all that much this episode either, although she did get to show flashes of her intelligence once more when she suggested the 'turn everything off' submarine-type trick to evade the Macra. A shame that without the Doctor they would all have thus suffocated, but hey ? the woman can't be expected to think of everything! Nice to see though how much faith she already has in the Doctor in only their third adventure together.
The Doctor was terrific throughout ? especially when David Tennant was given some of the more contemplative stuff he's really not given enough of sometimes. As I have said in many of my Doctor Who episode reviews, I love it when we are given little snippets of information that enhance the mystery of the character and his background and history, so I of course loved the descriptions of Gallifrey he gave to Martha, especially so given that some of them were directly taken from Susan's description of the planet to Ian and Barbara back in The Sensorites.
Admittedly, the final scene of the story was very similar to that of The End of the World, but I thought they just about got away with it, partly because Rose and Martha's approaches to the Doctor were so different. This was underlined when Martha was asking if she was the one the Face of Boe was referring to, and he was firmly and a little rudely of the opinion that she was not! So, despite all its echoing of that End of the World scene, I liked that ending as the Doctor sadly reminisced about his home.
Plus of course it worked well for introducing Martha to the concept of the evil Daleks, something that might stand her in good stead in the not-too-distant future.
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
"You're taking me to the same planets you took her to? ever heard of the word rebound?"
I wasn't really looking forward to "Gridlock" all that much. Don't get me wrong, like every other Doctor Who fan out there I was on the edge of my seat praying that Man Utd vs Watford didn't go into extra time, but even so I wasn't looking forward to "Gridlock" with the same sort of bated breath that I am, for example, the "Human Nature" two-parter, or even next week's Dalek story.
I think that this is largely down to "New Earth". David Tennant's first regular outing as the Doctor was a bit too light for my liking; it was fast and it was fun, but it didn't possess the same sort of weight that a lot of my favourite new series episodes do. However, whilst "Gridlock" may be set on New Earth, this time around the tone is much darker.
Russell T. Davies' script is a rare example of a Doctor Who story that is about the Doctor. In this episode we tend to see things from his point of view, as opposed to his companion's. At the start of the episode when Martha incessantly interrogates him about his homeworld, the whole audience is cringing because we know she's opening up a can of worms. She sends the Doctor off into his own little world, talking about Gallifrey as if it still exists, vividly describing the magnificent Citadel and the "burnt orange sky".
However, as much as the emphasis of "Gridlock" is on the Doctor, the episode certainly does not neglect his newest friend. This episode sees Martha have an "End of the World"-style epiphany. When she is kidnapped by Milo and Cheen, much like Rose on her first trip into the far future she realises that she could die and that her parents would never know her fate. She realises that she doesn't even know the Doctor at all.
"I didn't really think? I just followed the Doctor? There's so much he never says?"
Yet she trusts him. Implicitly.
The plot itself is intriguing in concept and audacious in scale. "New Earth" saw Russell T. Davies get on his soapbox about 'animal' experimentation, but here he chooses a topic that far more people can relate to; one that affects almost everybody's daily life - traffic! On the motorways of New Earth it takes on average ten years to travel six miles. The pollution is so dense that if you breathe it for any length of time it is rumoured to make your head explode. Untold numbers of cars are packed into the undercity, not only in horizontal queues but also in vertical ones. It is the ultimate Gridlock. A prison. A nightmare.
"You think you know us so well, Doctor. We are not abandoned. Not while we have each other."
Somehow though there is charming and uplifting sense of unity amongst this mass of imprisoned 'humanity'. Their singing of "The Old Rugged Cross" and "Abide By Me" in unison is a moving and a powerful moment, and their 'Friends Lists' are a wonderful reflection on modern society and people's inexplicable obsession with things like My Space and Facebook. Says I, www.myspace.com/historyofthedoctor. Here once again, Davies manages to unify the profound and the (seemingly) trivial into one whole that manages not only to entertain, but also make a strange sort of sense.
And then living amidst the gas in the depths of the Fast Lane lurks an old foe of the Doctor's. In all the pre-season hype many speculated about which 'old enemy' would be returning. Zygons? Ice Warriors? I would never in a million years have guessed the Macra would be making a comeback! It was the biggest shocker since the Nimon showed up in "Seasons of Fear"! And what's more, they're awesome. The C.G.I. Macra look phenomenal. Okay, they could have been substituted for any ravenous monster - new or old ? but their inclusion is a lovely nod to the series' long history; it certainly can't hurt. In "Smith and Jones", the Doctor appeared to know all about the Judoon, yet they never showed up in the classic series. His knowledge of the Macra (and his lovely pr?cis of "The Macra Terror") is no more conspicuous than his familiarity with the Judoon. Newbies won't even have blinked.
"Gridlock" is also populated with a trademark collection of Davies' weird and wonderful aliens. Red people. White people. Hippies. Nudists. Even a Mr. Benn look-alike! And of course we have the return of the Cat-People, albeit in a much more benevolent guise. Brannigan is a wonderfully endearing character; Ardal O'Hanlon imbues the cat with his innate amiability so that even the Doctor can't help but get over his recent bad experiences with his kind. Until "Fear Her", the Doctor had always been a cat-lover, and he should be again in my opinion! I wanted him to keep one of the kittens! Maybe he'll get a cat in "Human Nature"?
In it's darkest moments, "Gridlock" is also an allegory about the dangers of drugs. Those cars may all be trapped on the motorways, but that is a much better fate than the armageddon that 'Bliss' wrought upon the cities on New Earth. Literally everyone above ground is dead and were it not for the Face of Boe, those in the undercity would have perished alongside them.
Now the return of Boe is something that I was very excited about. I'm not ashamed to admit that I had goosebumps as his theme tune played (you know the show is a hit when a character who has been in just three or four episodes has his own theme) and I heard his telepathic voice. His entirely expected demise was also an incredibly touching moment, but even that was overshadowed by his final revelation:
"Know this, Time Lord. You are not alone."
And with that he dies, leaving the Doctor to puzzle out the conundrum. The Doctor knows that his world is gone and that he is last of his people. He is also sure that Boe wasn't referring to Martha ? in fact, that possibility was dismissed far too quickly for Martha's liking. So what could it mean? I think we all know really, the only question is how? Personally I'm hoping for a characteristically blas? explanation: "Ah, so you escaped from?"
The final scenes of "Gridlock" are a thing of beauty, both literally and figuratively. The mass exodus from the undercity is a stunning image; the splendour of New, New York looks like a stunning hybrid of contemporary New York and Coruscant from the Star Wars prequels. The 'folding chair' scene is an equally beautiful character moment; it marks a key stage in the relationship between the Doctor and Martha, and it also sets up next week's Dalek adventure very nicely. Under the burnt orange sky of New Earth, the Doctor sits Martha down and tells her of the Time War.
"I lied to you 'cos I liked it. I could pretend. Just for a bit I could imagine they were still alive underneath the orange sky. I'm not just a Time Lord. I'm the last of the Time Lords. The Face of Boe was wrong; there's no-one else. They've all gone now. My family. My friends. Even that sky."
The only negative comments I would have about "Gridlock" are that a couple things didn't make all that much sense to me. If it takes ten years to drive six miles, why not walk? And what happens to the Macra? Do they live happily ever after in the gaseous Fast Lane?
Those two points aside, "Gridlock" came as a wonderful and welcome surprise to me. The quality of this third series continues to astound me. Doctor Who now has more episodes in the canon than in the entire Star Trek franchise and, to end on a clich?, year after year it just keeps getting better. It's three hits out of three for Series Three.
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
In the days when I used to partake of an ale or 12 of an evening and come home with the munchies, I would scour the kitchen and deposit various (vaguely edible) objet da in a frying pan, apply severe heat, and see what the results tasted like. It was a bit hit and miss. Sometimes, it found the spot, and I prepared my application form for Ready Steady Cook. On other occasions, it set me en route to frequent conversations with the big white telephone in the bathroom. I'm getting to the point . . .
Gridlock was a bit like one of those death-or-glory fry ups - writer Russell T Davies chucked a lot of ingredients in there. But you know what? The results were mighty tasty.
I was rather ambivalent about this one pre-transmission - neither The End Of The World nor New Earth are anywhere the top of my favourite New Who episodes, so the prospect of a third trip to Year Five Billion (ish) didn't greatly enthuse me. However, as part of RTD's attempts to build a new mythology for the series, the logic of The Doctor taking new companion Martha to New Earth for her first trip into the future was sound.
It was a very bleak future, though - the TARDIS landing in a distinctly lo-tech slum, where chemically-enhanced patches were sold to the desperate few who lived there. Before The Doctor could investigate further, he faced a more-pressing matter - rescuing Martha, who was kidnapped by a young couple, to provide them the numerical requisite to speed their passage on the severely-congested motorway. To Martha's horror, she then finds out this is the traffic jam from Hell, taking years to travel a short distance in flying cars which double as tiny mobile homes. And not only that, something terrifying is lurking in the depths below the gridlock.
Meanwhile, The Doctor has also joined the traffic jam in pursuit of his young charge, hitching a lift with Brannigan, a cat person, and his human wife. Realising that there's a probability the jam never ends when he hears Brannigan has been flying this road for 12 years, The Doctor sets hopping from car to car when he encounters an old acquaintance, the giant crab creatures, the Macra, which are the monsters from the depths, devouring those in cars who venture too low. Then, The Doctor meets another familiar face, Novice Hame, the cat nurse from New Earth. Hame has been tending the mysterious Face Of Boe, and teleports herself and The Doctor to the dying Boe's side.
The Doctor learns that the inhabitants of New New York (so good they named it 15 times) had been all but wiped out by a virus, and the sole survivors were trapped below ground for their own safety. Boe and The Doctor combine to bring the motorists back into the now-disease-free city and saves Martha from the claws of the Macra.
Sadly, the effort expanded by Boe leads to his death, but not before he imparted his great secret to The Doctor - "You are not alone" . . . does that mean The Doctor isn't the last of the Time Lords?
I really enjoyed this episode, maintaining the consistently-high standard at which this Series 3 has started, and this was my favourite of the "New Earth trilogy". Of course, it was far too short to be developed properly at 45 minutes, but that's the nature of these single episodes. The pace is absolutely unrelenting, but the highlight of the episode for me was when it did slacken at the end to allow some lovely interaction between the show's stars.
In the opening scenes in the TARDIS, The Doctor is extremely cagey about revealing details of who he is and where he's from. In fact, he even goes as far as to lie when he gives the impression Gallifrey still exists. But by the close of this adventure, he has realised Martha is someone in whom he can confide, and gently explains about the Time War, how he is the last of his race (despite what Boe says) and mention of the Daleks sets up next week's episode nicely. A touching closing scene, totally in contrast to the high-octane action beforehand and beautifully played by David Tennant and Freema Agyeman. Three episodes in, and Freema has barely put a foot wrong. She's been such an impressive addition to the show that the loss of the excellent Billie Piper hasn't been felt at all.
The death of Boe was also quite moving - wouldn't go as far as to say I shed a tear for old giant rubber chops, but what a great piece of work from the prosthetics team he was. Sad to see him go. Of course, his dying message has to be significant in the context of the series - and the wordage was one of the worst-kept secrets in Doctor Who history.
Guest star Ardal O'Hanlon put in a pleasing performance as a cat person, and it was a decent supporting cast. Director Richard Clark did a fine job of delivering the claustrophobic feel required inside the cars, and there was hints of Blade Runner in there, plus numerous other sci-fi genres, RTD never having made any secret of the fact he's quite happy to borrow - to be generous - ideas from elsewhere, and sourcing Judge Dredd as his inspiration for the bowler-hatted businessman encountered by The Doctor in one of the cars. Also loved the scenes of The Doctor dropping from car to car - gave a real idea of scale.
The Macra are borrowed from Doctor Who history - 1967, to be precise, and it was a nice touch to revive a little-known historical monster. The Patrick Troughton story, The Macra Terror, in which they featured, is visually familiar to few. However, a nice little nod to fans. I didn't think the Macra were quite as well realised from a CGI point of view as the flying cars, but another impressive effort from The Mill, as the bar continues to be inched up episode to episode.
Eight out of 10. Slightly the pick of the three episodes so far. Great stuff - but looking forward to getting a two-part story now, to allow the story a bit more time. And can't wait to have the pepperpots back, of course . . .
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
Well, so far the new series of Doctor Who has in turn made us laugh and cry, but with the episode that beat Star Trek's total number of episodes, it also knocked all other competition into a cocked hat by making something truly beautiful. With this third series, David Tennant speaking Russel T Davies' words encapsulates Doctor Who perfectly. The collaboration between these two men is now at its zenith. And what a wonderful place it is too - I just hope that said zenith lasts as long as possible. Ably assisted by the brilliant Freema Agyeman, the series really is striding confidently through the television schedules, and much like the good Doctor himself, scattering chaos in his wake as he shows what British television really can do.
The central idea - a perpetual traffic jam in which people are born and die and live there for years and years without seeing daylight or hope - is a brilliant one, and one that will strike a chord with anyone who has spent a whole afternoon trapped on the North Circular in baking heat and smog. A lesson there for all us, perhaps. The fact that there was nobody outside the gridlock of the title to save the trapped motorists really is the stuff of nightmares. And, in true Doctor Who style, there are monsters below to boot...
It is the mark of a series when it crams in so much thematic and particular incident that its difficult to take in all on the first sitting. In this day and age, that can only be a good thing. Doctor Who, probably like few other programmes on the box, will be picked apart for years on end by the fans and rewatched by casual viewers on Sky Plus, so that can only be a good thing. So, not only did we get CGI'd up return of a classic series monster in the giant crab like Macra, but the Face of Boe and Novice Hame too, to complete the very loose trilogy of the year 5 Billion.
The effects of the Macra and the vast traffic jam were nothing short of brilliant. The Mill seem to have gone really to town of late, and it shows. The prosthetics, too, were nothing short of astounding. Ardal O' Hanlon's cat make up, and that of Hame's, were utterly convincing. Not that iI want to think too much about the birth of the kittens...
And then there was the death of Boe, the sad coda to the end of this story and his prophetic words: You are not alone. The look on the Doctor's face said it all, matched only by the lump in my throat that returned with the release of all the travellers and the Doctor's heart rending admission to Martha as he describes the long gone Gallifrey. Smashing stuff.
This is Doctor Who at it's best. We've never had it so good.
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
The short summary: I liked this one a LOT more than I expected I would, given the setup. Davies shows no signs of giving up his excessive indulgences, but his gifts -- the characterisation of the Doctor, the dialogue, the lovely amounts of real emotion he works into those scripts -- all win out.
That said, that doesn't mean I don't half have some nits to pick. Martha isn't the only one who groaned when she found out she's retreading planets Rose visited, I was right there with her. There was absolutely ZERO need to revisit New Earth to make this story work (particularly as the Face of Boe was seen LEAVING the planet at the end of "New Earth"), other than getting to hear David spit out "Newnewnewnewnewnewnewnew York" again (and it's fun, but that's still no good reason!).
There were some logic problems as well. As the story really begins, we found our heroes have landed in NNY's undercity. It's revealed later that this area is completely sealed off, but when we first see it, it's raining (how does that work in a sealed off area, we wonder?). That whole sequence paid a nice homage to both Blade Runner (the rain, the drugs) and Brazil (kidnapping Martha because you need a third adult to get into the Fast Lane?!), and was the first of many surprises in this story that gave it a more original feeling than we'd reckoned.
Much of the rest of the episode takes place on one set, the (continually re-dressed) car that people live in. One wonders why they can't just walk to where they're going (easily explained a half- dozen ways, but not made clear in the story), or why they want to get away since the non-Motorway part of the undercity doesn't seem THAT bad, but put those things aside and enjoy the campy, overplayed stereotypes of drivers the Doctor cleverly comes across (a very Sixth Doctor idea of getting from A to B, I felt).
My other major issue with Gridlock is down entirely to the writer, Davies. As with the Daleks, I do think RTD is overamping the necessity for a "gay statement" in nearly every episode he writes. I love gay people but this nearly-constant reference to them (particularly when the story has to take a significant detour to get there) is wearing. Note to RTD: No Daleks AT ALL next season, and you can only put gay characters in if they're significant to the plot (like Capt. Jack).
Lastly, I'm afraid I didn't care much for Brannigan. Unlike most people in similar roles/disguises, Brannigan came over painfully as a guy with lots of makeup on his face rather than selling the character. I felt much the same way about the Absorbaloff (Peter Kay), but I recognise that sometimes the public love of a personality (like Ken Dodd) overcomes the lack of sincerity in their performance. I don't think Brannigan (Ardal O'Hanlon) has that kind of admiration. I also think I may be getting old, since I was a bit bothered by the idea of a human female giving birth to kittens. Probably just me though.
So a few things not to like. There were, as balance, plenty of things to like. I was surprised, and deeply moved, by the inclusion of the "Old Rugged Cross" scene in the show. This is precisely what I love about Doctor Who: no other show throws me these curveballs so delightfully well. It was a really touching moment beautifully handled, and again at the end when they sang "Abide in Me."
The revelation of the "devolved" Macra was a nice touch, but if they wanted a true homage to the original story they could have at least put together ONE scene where the Macra weren't CGI (specifically, I wanted one giant half-offscreen cardboard claw to grab someone!).
Martha continues to find her feet, but the qualities that make her a companion are starting to come to the fore. Whatever worries I have about this "crush" business are starting to fade. She can even say things Rose would have said and it doesn't bother me a bit.
At last we come to Novice Hame and the Face of Boe. I'll admit it for the record -- I got a tear in my eye when Boe passed on. This is the only show in the entire world that can make me cry for a prop head. Damn that's good television. Anna Hope (as Hame) really got to show all sides of her character, and I was greatly amused when the Doctor recognises her and moves to embrace her -- before remembering that she was attacking him last time they met.
I was annoyed that Boe's "last great secret" as prophecied in "New Earth" was merely to let the Doctor know that he is both the last of his kind (Time Lord) *and* not alone. I think I've got that meaning worked out, but of course we'll see. Martha finally puts her foot down and demands to be brought up to speed, and the Doctor reluctantly agrees -- a nice scene nicely realised.
Overall, "Gridlock" was better than "Smith & Jones," and probably on par with "The Shakespeare Code." It's a tribute to the production team that they can go from richly historical location shooting at the Globe Theatre to a small prop car set on a greenscreen stage in Wales and still make everyone buy into it. Season Three might not yet have really taken off, but while we wait for the "Fast Lane" of Important Stories with Major Plot Revelations, the entertainment factor we've seen so far is pleasingly high.
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
I thought Gridlock was visually impressive from the off. A shame all the cars had to be the same (especially after such a variety of designs in New Earth) but the CGI sequences were great I thought. And the lovely grimey feel of the 'undercity' was your classic dystopian future - marvellous stuff.
If you hold your magnifying glass up to the plot you're going to notice the odd flaw, definitely but as far as Saturday night entertainment goes Gridlock was it. Martha is an absolute pleasure, and a breath of fresh air after Pouty Pants Tyler. The dynamic between Rose & Martha is so much more interesting than;
Rose: I love travelling with you.
Doctor: Yeah, we're bloody great aren't we.
Audience: Bleuuurgh! Oh look I've sicked up on my egg and chips.
DT is consistently spot on in all his scenes now. Witness the shouty softly shouty approach to reasoning with Martha's kidnappers. The sad smiles as he tells Martha about Gallifrey like it's still spinning away in the constellation of Kasterberous. And the lovely ending - but back to that in a second.
Father Brannigan was great fun, I really wasn't looking forward to him being in it (it's his fault for doind that superhero dross for the BBC) so that was a pleasant surprise.The sequence where the Doctor descends through the traffic to get to the Fast Lane was just great. It looked great on screen, it showed the Doctor as your proper dynamic action hero and it let the Who design team recreate great bits of 200AD history, (just a shame Max Normal didn't have his authentic speech pattern!).
The Macra! How cool is that? 'Why?' Scream a thousand crabby Macra fans on Outpost Gallifrey (who knew there were Macra fans?), Why not? Says I. Then I sing to them; 'Whats-a Macra you, eh? Why you look-a so sad?'
The end of that big old Boat Race. Do I get a prize for guessing his message. Yes I do, but not for another few weeks. A bit touched by the passing of the Face, and the idea of Hame stuck there with him for all those years keeping the surviving population alive.
Anyway, it all comes down to two plastic chairs in an alley. There's the pay off. The middle thirty five minutes is quite possibly a bit of candy floss and very enjoyable too. But the episode is bookended with lovely Doctor/Martha scenes that show more depth of character in the old Time Lord than forty years of the old show. The look on his face when Martha asks if the Face meant her; just lovely. Maybe I enjoyed it in spite of it's flaws but I loved this episode.
Series three is raising the bar as far as I can see. I just hope they sustain this level of quality.Some bad ju-ju next week methinks. 'They always survive while I lose everything.' Dalek Sec and his bretheren back again. I hope he manages another emergency temporal shift at the end. I like Dalek Sec.
The best thing about keeping pretty spoiler free is that the series can surprise me this year, and it's doing so. Despite what we know, or think we know, I wonder if there's more to this last of his kind/you are not alone stuff.Here's to another ten weeks.
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
Imagine a world where drugs are everywhere. Then add a virus spread by a new drug and threatening to wipe out everyone. Picture a few survivors trying to seal up part of the world so that millions could reemerge after the threat passes. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Someone could probably make a great Doctor Who episode out of that description. Unfortunately, no one did. They made this instead. It includes a speech where you find out about the exciting events that happened 23 years earlier, but don't actually witness them.
So what is this about? Not much, as close as I can tell. The episode starts out with people being attacked by monsters on another planet. A promising start. I am so sick of London. For some reason the production team is under the impression that everyone wants to see London over and over again. 7 straight weeks of London stories. I don't remember anyone ever telling me they thought the old show was good, but that they really needed to stop going out and exploring the universe. For some reason RTD thinks this is how we all think.
But thankfully we are away from Earth and... oh wait. We are on New Earth again. Gee, that seems like a bad idea. Last year's season premiere was funny, but had an awful plot. Spraying sick people with intravenous drugs to cure them. It was the kind of thing that fans used to be embarrassed about when non-fans would walk by and see what you were watching.
Well, just cause we are on New Earth doesn't mean they can't make an entertaining episode. I'll be positive about it. After all, we are going to get monsters. True, great monsters are hard to do, but I assume we are returning here because RTD had something really good to show us.
Now the show starts and we have rain and some drug dealers... OK, not exactly taking off, but I'm still positive. Then a kidnapping. Now the episode will get going and... why do they have Tennant threatening, snarling, and yelling? In his first few episodes he did that and the effect wasn't very impressive. The show seemed to recognize that and stopped having him do it. Instead, in Army of Ghosts, he sits calmly and challenges Torchwood woman to pull the lever and destroy herself. Very well done... but not here. Here we have snarling Tennant threatening everyone. Did I mention he doesn't do that very well?
Whatever. Stay positive. Now we get to the expressway and are introduced to a very strange world that feels like it just came out of a Douglas Adams story. Except for two things. One, I am having a hard time figuring out where this traffic jam idea could possibly go. I could swear that you couldn't actually develop it into an entertaining plot. Two, it isn't very funny. It is just one joke: The people have been there a long time. Ha-ha.
The scene where he goes from one truck to the next was good, but hardly great. And then the whole episode goes down hill. The people aren't going to go somewhere to start a new life. They aren't being held against their will. They, apparently, are just too lazy to park their cars and go walk somewhere and save themselves.
Back in the classic series, the plots tended to have giant holes in them. It was common for some fan to point out that: hey, why didn't the Doctor just tell them such and such and the whole story would have ended. And in response I could only say: your right, but I was having so much fun I didn't notice or care. This episode... they don't start out showing the Doctor trapped. The Doctor doesn't break down a wall or use the TARDIS to get through a solid barrier or something. Instead, they show that people are living in the open air and can (and do) come and go from their cars virtually whenever they want. They, apparently, just don't want to leave their cars! What a horribly constructed story. What a stupid plot!
Oh, but what about the monsters that started the episode? They are nothing. They don't cause the problem, they aren't preventing anyone from leaving. They just sit there and try and crush passing cars. Wow. What creativity. I wish I could come up ideas this brilliant. I can only imagine what it must have been like when RTD pitched the story:
RTD: I'm putting monsters in the story.
Underling: Really? I see that all they do is sit in a hole and try and crush passing shuttles.
RTD: You're point being? Underling: Well boss, usually you put a monster in a story to make it better. Otherwise you don't actually need to add the monsters at all.
RTD: I suppose you have a point... I know! I'll give them the same name as an old 60's monster.
Underling: Of course! That way, people will associate your mindless creatures with an intelligent, manipulative monster and save you the trouble of coming up with anything creative. You're a genius, boss.
Just for the record, I normally like RTD's scripts. I loved season 1 when he wrote the majority of them. But that doesn't change the fact that he just didn't bother with the plot on this one. In fact, in the two scripts he has written in season 3, both ended with the Doctor either plugging or unplugging extension cords. That just isn't worthy of this show.
Also, although some of the shots looked good (the Doctor jumping from car to car and the city at the end come to mind) the monsters looked terrible. Just awful. Looked like someone had cut a cheap cartoon in the middle of a live action feature.
But there is more to this episode. After the silly traffic sequences, we have the face of Boe. I remember in New Earth when they put in The Face, but didn't actually use it to make the episode interesting, just say he has a mystery and leave it at that. It didn't look like a good idea to me, but I heard some other people say that they thought it was going to lead somewhere good and were looking forward to seeing him again. Well, here he is and they brought him back so he could just sit there and die. Wow. Great idea. Is there no one at the BBC who can kick RTD in the ass and say, "Hey, that's bad. Don't do it."? (ASIDE - As I think about it, I kind of get the feeling that no one had the guts to tell RTD that New Earth was a bad episode. That the plot was awful. That it was only watchable because it had some funny lines. Maybe RTD doesn't know that. Maybe he was thinking he should recreate the great success of that earlier episode even though he couldn't think of anything funny to put in it, but since it was so great it would work out anyway. I hope I'm wrong. - End of ASIDE)
So here we are at week three and could we please have some character development concerning Martha? They are having her say and react to things the same way Rose did when she met the Doctor. She seems like she should be a good companion, but instead we get her wondering if the Doctor "likes" her. Who cares! I want adventure! I honestly couldn't care less if Martha falls for the Doctor or not. And I don't want anymore references to Rose. I don't want Martha compared to Rose. I don't want Martha insulted because she isn't Rose. I just want Martha and the Doctor to explore and battle bad guys. Is that really too much to ask?
The season started off OK. Episode 1 was kind of forgettable, but it was entertaining even if it again started in London. Just a light bit of fluff.
Episode 2 was better. Still in London, but Shakespeare was good. It looked great. Contrary to what I wrote above, the scene with them in the same bed was good except for the mean spirited insult at the end. This episode was even more entertaining than the last one, but it was still flawed. Putting magic in Doctor Who can be fun, but it is lazy script writing and in the long run will ruin the brand. Also, because RTD insists on 45 minute episodes, there was no time to develop the villains. I don't know why he doesn't see it, but there have been virtually no memorable villains in the entire new show and the reason is because of time. Again, I image the story meetings go something like this:
RTD: More single episodes.
Minion: But the fans are starting to complain about the simple plots and forgettable villains. We need someone who can stand up to the Doctor in a battle of wills.
RTD: Well, just add more cackling. Nothing makes fans happier than cackling villains.
Minion: Good idea boss. You're a genius.
Gridlock didn't even bother to have a villain, unless you count the monsters sitting in their hole. The show needs better plots and villains and that means more two parters.
Anyway, after two entertaining, but flawed episodes, we get this which takes all the weaknesses of the show and combines them together. This was just a filler episode so that The Face of Boe can tell his big secret and RTD threw in some traffic jokes to make up the time. In fact, except for the nice scene of the Doctor describing the sunsets on his home planet the whole episode should be burned. Some episodes of the new show haven't been that great, but I'd happily sit through everyone of them except this one.
Now before I go, I want to comment on what some other people are saying about this episode. I noticed that quite a few people on various forums are saying things like: Loved it. Best episode since the show came back three years ago. An instant classic.
This is kind of odd, because even if you didn't mind the many flaws I've listed, I'd like to point out that almost nothing happens in this episode. No great puzzle to solve, no great villain to over come, the Doctor and Martha do almost nothing (and don't have much screen time together). I tried to understand some of the things fans of this episode were saying, but they didn't make much sense to me.
Some statements were along the lines of: Russell T. Davies can take something as mundane and irritating as a traffic jam and expand it into an exploration of how determined people can be to struggle on in the hope of a better life, and how much they are prepared to endure and sacrifice to achieve that for themselves, their loved ones, and their children.
Has the whole world gone nuts? It was an episode about a group of people too stupid to get out of their cars and walk up a flight of stairs!
Others talked about how great it was that it included an old monster. I guess naming things that just sit in a hole after a classic monster was a good idea.
RTD: Told you.
Peon: Great idea, boss. You're a genius.
And others talked about how great the Face of Boe was. They even said things about how they almost cried when it died. It had maybe 10 lines in 3 appearances! It had no personality. It was supposed to have a mysterious secret, instead it just had one piece of information that could have been told at any time. Imagine this happening to you:
Boe: I'm dying so I'll tell you MY secret.
You: Duh, OK.
Boe: Your brother is alive and lives about 4 blocks over on west 53rd street.
You: Really? Why didn't you tell me this before?
Boe: I wasn't dying then.
You: Well that makes sense... you're a genius.
And of course, how does the Doctor react to "the secret" the Face tells him? Boe, the fountain of wisdom. The great being as old as the universe... The Doctor just says he was mistaken. Pretty much par for the course.
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
Faith, hope and charity are now major themes in the new series and Russell T. Davies puts further emphasis on them in his latest, and for the moment, best script for the series. Has Russell suddenly got that old time religion? 'The Old Rugged Cross' and 'Abide With Me' heard in the same episode! No, he's not changed his mind but is merely showing how faith works as a concept without recourse to singling out any particular deity or belief system in which to place your trust. The only trust and faith you need is the one Martha clearly shows us, the faith in the Doctor, and a notion that even under the greatest pressures all creeds and colours can have trust and faith in each other as thinking, breathing beings. Davies' use of hymns is not just a symbolic representation of this but it's also a clever critique of how organised religion often provides an opiate for the masses, a pacifying salve for an unquestioning society.
'Gridlock' comes over as 'The Pilgrim's Progress' gene-spliced with the venerable '2000AD' comic. It's a giddy vortex of comic strip images, very cinematic in their scope, and a claustrophobic dystopian tone poem with nods to 'The Fifth Element' and 'Blade Runner' as well as the classic series 'The Macra Terror'. It also reinforces Davies' obsession with vertical narrative. We travel from the Macra (devils in Hell?) infested depths, through layers of trapped cars (souls) and ultimately into 'heaven' when the sky splits open. The episode is very Dante-esque in approach, with everyone trapped in a bizarre, smog filled Purgatory and requiring either the Doctor or the Face Of Boe to lead them through the various circles of Hell, including the Over City, into a climactic light-filled redemption. How 'religious' is this episode!? I don't think it's making any comments about any particular religion as such, just using archetypes and imagery to illustrate various points about the redeeming power of trust and faith. In fact, the book-ending of the story with those quiet moments about Gallifrey are perhaps indicative of Davies' attempt to say that even though the old time religion of the Time Lords, once itself a choked gridlock of elitist attitudes, has gone it's the Doctor's clear love for his home world that ensures that something remains of the balancing force of that supposedly dead race.
It may be full of bonkers ideas, but Doctor Who has never been about getting the science and the realism 'right'. World building in the series should never be to the detriment of the drama and it would be churlish to criticise the vagaries of the concepts here. It is simply the idea of different kinds of beings living in this way that we need to refer to rather than the exact domestic arrangements or the technobabble that allows them to fly their cars. It's all part and parcel of the visual metaphors that the story uses. I loved the way the story switched from one couple to another, giving us different views into each of their private little worlds. Certainly seeing the naturists, the bizarre black cat and its accompanying virgin brides, the city gent et al are both hilarious and surreal moments in a dark, sinister story where drugs wipe out an entire city population and the survivors have to run the gauntlet of giant crabs. The inclusion of the Macra was a lovely nod to the past and they were simply there as another flavour to the story and to have expected the story to focus on them would have been na?ve. This is a Russell T script, after all.
The death of Boe, like the death of King Arthur, is a significant step towards a greater narrative we have yet to see play out. The literal death of the 'god-head' here does signify that Davies is more interested in the collective power of people rather than their subservience to a God. The flip side of that is that of course without Boe none of those trapped in the circles of Hell would have survived. Another instance of self-sacrifice for the greater good in the series that seems to follow in the wake of God-like figures and I'm sure we'll see more of this as the series plays out this year.
Beyond the deeper questions that the script throws at us is the outstanding performance from David Tennant. He lies to Martha about Gallifrey and by the episode's conclusion understands that he can't get away with it and must be open to her about his status as the last of his race. He and Boe are both ancient, lonely creatures and both realise that they must be true to their nature without jeopardising the lives of others. Tennant's final scene with Martha in the alleyway should be seen as the single example of why this actor is right for the role. It brims with sadness, lost hope and is played as a confessional between them both. And he finally lets Martha in.
Agyeman continues to excel, with Martha's exuberant obstinacy, honesty, and no nonsense intelligence shining through here and allowing her to put a singular stamp on the role. Ardal O'Hanlon as Brannigan and Anna Hope as Novice Hame were great supporting characters and praise should go to the stunning make ups by Neill Gorton.
Finally, The Mill should also be congratulated for their work on the episode, turning the gridlock, the city and the Macra into spectacular images that continue to make this series such a thrilling experience. You really did get a sense that all departments were pushing to make this an episode to remember.
Overall, it's a fitting conclusion to the New Earth trilogy started in 'End Of The World' containing some very interesting views about organised religion, the class system and population control. A bold script from Davies for a third series that doesn't even want to rest a little on its laurels.
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
Well, that was? odd. 'Gridlock' manages to be entertaining whilst deeply flawed, succeeding against the odds, but only just. I enjoyed it more than it deserved really, which is especially unexpected as I have several major criticisms of it.
The basic premise of 'Gridlock' manages to be simultaneously ludicrous and amusingly bizarre, with a world in which everyone is perpetually trapped in a traffic jam on an endless motorway to nowhere having merit as a novel modern urban nightmare. It doesn't stand up to any real scrutiny in terms of logic, and the total lack of explanation for why huge numbers of couples haven't gone mad from cabin fever and slaughtered each other seems less like an oversight and more like something that Davies has ignored purely because he hasn't got a good explanation for it. Still, it makes for an interesting if unlikely set-up.
Then there are the Macra. For anyone unfamiliar with 'The Macra Terror' or indeed the classic series as a whole, the inclusion of the Macra here as big scary monsters probably works quite well, but for two small points. Firstly, unfamiliar with the creatures or not, the line about them once being "the scourge of this galaxy" is yet another example of Davies' style of "tell not show" writing, upping the ante by using throwaway dialogue to make his villains/monsters seem like a more formidable threat than they otherwise might, and it's terribly, terribly lazy (and if you are familiar with the creatures, it's about as convincing as being told that the Krotons once ruled the entire universe). Secondly, they vanish from the plot, their function fulfilled, as soon the Doctor opens the roof of the motorway, and they aren't mentioned again. It would have been nice, and not I feel too much to ask, to find out what happens to them. Do they all die when the fresh air is let in? Do the inhabitants of New New York plan on clearing them out at a later date? Or are they just left to lurk in the under city like unusually big rats?
On the other hand, viewers familiar with 'The Macra Terror' get the cheap fannish thrill of a largely unexpected old monster making a comeback, but I ended up wondering why Davies bothered. Given their modus operandi in 'The Macra Terror', I was briefly expecting that the Macra were responsible for the traffic jam and were using it as a sort of battery farm/flying larder, so the revelation that they have devolved into mere beasts and have simply mindlessly taken advantage of an ecological niche felt like a wasted opportunity. Although it wasn't as disappointing as realising that Davies' obsession with Joss Whedon has now led him to rip-off bits of the plot of Serenity. And whilst the Macra aren't exactly revered as the best designed monsters in Doctor Who, their claws here are so disproportionately big that instead of wondering if the car carrying Martha would escape, I found myself wondering why the Macra don't keep toppling onto their fronts.
Speaking of Martha, she gets rather a good outing here, and Agyeman continues to impress. Despite the teeth-grindingly annoying "rebound" conversation, and Martha speculating on whether the Doctor really likes her or just enjoys company (which, incidentally, briefly makes her sound like a prostitute, which is amusing but presumably unintentional), she gets to show her intelligence again when she realises that the Macra won't be able to find the car if they power down its systems. Her brief anger at Cheen taking drugs whilst pregnant is a nice moment, since it is a perfectly believable reaction for a medical student, but her best scene comes at the end, when she forces the Doctor to tell her what happened to his people in a way that Rose would never have got away with. Given the direction that this series is rumoured to be going in, and with the Daleks returning in the next episode, this not only works as a good character moment, but provides a timely catch-up for casual viewers into the bargain.
It's also a good scene for the Doctor, with Tennant, continuing to show restraint, emoting convincingly as he talks about Gallifrey and the Time War. He generally gets a good episode too, especially when he's dropping from car to car, and he again gets to save an entire world. Some reviewers have already complained that throwing a big lever constitutes another Davis ex machina ending, but to be fair it feels more logical than some such finales, as repairing the city's systems seems like a sensible approach to the problem in hand. My main problem with the Doctor concerns Davies' typically unsubtle anti-drugs message, as the Doctor waltzes into a street of small businesses that he has no reason to believe are anything other than perfectly legitimate and high-handedly and pompously threatens to close them down. So presumably Russell, he'll be taking the same stance with off-licenses and pubs the next time he's in present day England, or don't you have a self-righteous axe to grind with that particular drug?
As for the supporting characters, only Ardal O'Hanlon's Brannigan stands out, and only because he's quite likeable, but at the same time all of the others work perfectly well here and the old ladies are nicely handled, with one of them cheerfully drawing on a passion for car-spotting to trace Martha for the Doctor. The actors playing the two people who die in terror in the pre-credits sequence also deserve a mention, for conveying fear very convincingly. Although the self-conscious eccentricity of the man in the bowler hat is irritating, and the idea of a woman giving birth to cats falls firmly into the bizarre category. In terms of production, Richard Clarke's direction is adequate: there's nothing especially outstanding, but I've seen worse and it gets the job done. And anyone reading this can take it as read that the music of Murray Gold, the twenty-first century equivalent of Keff McCulloch, detracts from my enjoyment of any episode in which it appears.
And then we have the Face of Boe. The third and final meeting between the Doctor and him promised back in 'New Earth' takes place and we learn his last great secret, which is that the Doctor is not alone. Which might have been a great dramatic moment were it not for the fact that the tabloids have already blown the big surprise in store later in the series, and had Davies not already revealed the Face of Boe's secret in the tie-in book Monsters and Villains some two years ago and decided that he wanted to use it in the series. Normally, I'd accept that as a fan I'm more likely to have picked up spoilers than the casual viewer, but lots of people (unfortunately) read the tabloids, and I'm assuming that many of the younger new viewers have read Monsters and Villains, so it does rather seem like an anticlimax rather than an exciting surprise revelation. Nevertheless, if the series is going in the direction that many of us have led us to believe, it does work in that context as part of the build-up. I just hope Davies doesn't do anything as witlessly stupid as the Bad Wolf revelation come the series finale?
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
Just superb, I'm not sure what has given the production team behind Doctor Who a kick up the rear end but they have certainly opened series three with some of the most ambitious and spectacular episodes of the series yet. Gridlock features some imaginative concepts, some decent world building (in 45 minutes!), great characterisation and a few excellent shocks. As a overall package, script, FX, music, acting and direction it is easily my favourite of the year so far, although there really hasn't been any losers.
Has something depressing happened to Russel T Davies between series two and three? Smith and Jones and Gridlock both feel much more dark and gritty than his work on previous series and it is totally to the advantage of his latest scripts. Whilst I do enjoy the giddy thrill of stories such as World War Three, it is episodes like Gridlock, that play it straight and go for the chills, that I love the most. I love this vision of the future, as Russel says in the Confidential this week it is ripped totally out of 2000AD but where is the harm in that when it is pulled off this well? A world of smoke and exhaust fumes, of back alley drug dealing and gunplay. It is like re-visiting the Eric Saward era but it feels special because we do not inhabit this universe every week.
Add to the world building some marvellous concepts, which give this episode a unique feel. I love the idea of selling moods, simply because it is pretty damn obvious that if this was the case in our world it catch like the latest mobile phone. It reminds me slightly of Gareth Roberts' programmable emotions from Only Human. Also the thought of the Gridlock, the ultimate in traffic jams where you could going around and around in circles on the motorway is too frightening for words. What I especially liked about these two ideas is that they are not gratuitous, they have a purpose in the story, the entire plot is built around them and both lead to intriguing twists, one horrific and one which turns your entire perception of the episode on its head. It strikes me that Russel T Davies' has suddenly figured out how to plot a perfect Doctor Who episode, with no flabby bits and lots of payoff. I cannot imagine us getting another The Long Game this year.
So what of the Doctor and Martha and their burgeoning relationship? Who would have ever thought that switching from one companion to the next would have such emotion mileage? In the past the Doctor has just swapped one companion for another. Even companions such as Jo Grant, who the Doctor clearly has a hard time saying goodbye to; he soon forgets she ever existed when Sarah Jane comes along in the next story. I'm not sure if I buy that his relationship with Rose would mean so much to him that he would be quite so rude as he has been to Martha but it does keep the dynamics of their relationship interesting. The trouble with the Doctor and Rose last year was that after School Reunion their relationship became a little predictable, they loved each other and that was fine but for week after week there was nothing new to spice things up. It looks as though the production team have decided they don't want things to get too easy for the TARDIS crew this year and I can still forsee some bumpy times ahead.
Martha is such a terrific character played by such an enthusiastic performer it is impossible not to like her. Freema Agyeman has terrific chemistry with David Tennant already and her solo exploits in this episode leave us with no illusion that she can hold her own. What is interesting is how this episode plays with her feelings for the Doctor. Initially everything is the same as last week, she is enraptured in the giddy thrill of flinging open the TARDIS doors and seeing what is outside. But it is not until she is trapped on the motorway with an unseen menace that she realises that she is on her own, on another planet and her only hope of salvation a man that she doesn't even know. It's almost as though the delirium of adventuring clears your mind of such thoughts but the fear of imminent death brings it all home. Her speech about her faith in a man that she barely knows is excellent. Even better is the last scene which highlights an important difference between her and Rose, she stubbornly refuses to enter the TARDIS until the Doctor opens out to her. This is going to be a relationship of equals.
The Doctor's plight in this story allows David Tennant to show off his acting skills even more. The series is taking the Doctor down some interesting psychological paths and watching his attempt to cover up the fact that Gallifrey is dead from novice Martha is both sweet and disturbing. He is a man of secrets but he needs to talk to somebody about them and their final scene together, where the Doctor looks on the verge of tears talking about his home is very touching. There is of course the Face of Boe's almighty secret but you will have to watch the episode to find that out. Needless to say I think the Doctor has a disquieting time ahead.
Visually this episode is amazing. Recently I have been comparing Doctor Who's production values with SF stalwarts such as Battlestar Galactica and Stargate but for sheer imagination it is topping even those. The Gridlock itself is masterfully artful but images such as the city in sunlight and the Doctor jumping between cars are worthy of a feature film. The BBC should be justifiably proud of their FX work these days and the viewers should reap some pleasure too, it is because we have been watching and buying the goods that the BBC have had such faith in the show and pumped so much budget into its blood.
There is one special effect that came as a total surprise. Do you recall when fandom jumped up in joint hurrah when the Cybermen returned in Earthshock? I had chills down my spine when this week's monster was revealed. I couldn't stop going on about it and Simon had to tell me to shut up so he could watch the rest! Needless to say this is an audacious bit of secrecy on the writers part and a collective punch in the air from fandom as an old (and pretty crappy) monster is brought back with some CGI menace. The hilarious thing is that rubbish monsters can be kept in the dark and provide more of a genuine shock but the popular monsters like the Daleks and Cybermen have to be advertised well in advance to exploit their ratings potential (see next week). Bravo.
What else is there to say about Gridlock? The last five minutes are about as uplifting as Doctor Who has been and rather than feeling twee the sentiment feels totally justifiable because we have seen the hopes and despair of these people throughout the episode. Brannigan was a great character who I hope we will see some more of in the future. And the Face of Boe's death is genuinely poignant, how on Earth can you care so much about a huge rubber head?
Other points of interest:
A woman giving birth to kittens? I couldn't get my head around that?
Ooh! Both Milo and the nudist were very, very cute.
I loved the two old dears in their chintzy spaceship. Well done, that designer!
The score from Murray Gold is again fantastic, especially when Martha's party prepare to fly through the toxic enemy.
Doctor Who goes from strength to strength and Gridlock is another example of why this is the best show on television. Sorry, what was Primeval again?
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor
"Gridlock" ? at times very impressive, beautiful even, yet tainted with frustration and a sense of "what might have been".
I've read many reviews on Outpost Gallifrey in the last year or two, and only now have I found it necessary to add my own thoughts to the mix. I've not felt compelled to write a review before this and I'm still not sure what has encouraged it now. Suffice it to say that "Gridlock" had the hallmarks of being a great story, in the mould of say "The Impossible Planet" or "Father's Day", yet niggles which seem to have developed over the last season or so have dogged what could have been a firm favourite.
Let's start with the good points then. The obvious first one is the continued excellence of David Tennant. Someone recently wrote in the press that he's dangerously close to becoming the definitive Doctor, and I have to say I agree with this estimate. Tennant conveys each facet of the Doctor's personality with equal ease. The humour he displays at certain points through his interactions with even the minor characters he encounters in his quest to reach the fast lane is balanced with the anger he shows at the "mood sellers" encountered early on in the episode. Tennant is excellent at the anger. We've certainly moved on from the Sylvester McCoy days? Whereas Christopher Eccleston's Doctor seemed to use anger as his raison d'etre, Tennant's Doctor is more sparing here, the occasional outbursts seeming more effective than a permanent coil of what seemed to be the Ninth Doctor's resentment at his life. Of course this is probably best explained within the context of the overarching storyline. Eccleston's Doctor had witnessed first hand ? or so we are led to believe ? the Time War. The anger, profound shock and frustration built up seemed to be mixed with a fear that maybe the power to regenerate had been lost. Now that the Doctor has changed again, there seems to be a new found optimism that things are returning to the Doctor's favour ? he can regenerate, he can defeat villains and monsters and so on. But this is digression. David Tennant has tapped into the Doctor's character so successfully and so effectively blends all aspects of this together in what is such a powerhouse performance, that you tend to forget he had nine predecessors. You simply cannot take your eyes from the screen when he's on as there's always something happening ? he's an electric presence, and yet alien at the same time. I know how he does it ? good acting, but it's a revelation every week. I'm reminded of feeling like I'm back at school again watching Tom Baker ? it's very strange. I must admit to trepidation when I heard Tennant was succeeding Eccleston; I was hoping we'd finally get an old Doctor again, and I still think the late lamented Ian Richardson would have made a superb Doctor, but there you go! When you watch the final scenes of Gridlock, when the Doctor talks about Gallifrey, you almost physically see inside his head and gain some sense of wonder, sadness and loss. Was I the only viewer who thought, "hang on, he's going to cry"? A powerful moment, beautifully acted, and beautifully written by Russell T Davies.
Add to this Freema Agyeman's performance and you start to see, if you've not already done so, why this Doctor and companion work so well. She's extremely assured as Martha, and a superb foil for the Doctor. Agyeman's confidence shines through in every scene, and the different dynamic to the Tennant-Piper relationship is highlighted by her greater pragmatism. Maybe I'm just cynical, but I can't help feeling that her faith in the Doctor is going to be shattered by the end of the season ? is she going to react to the Daleks in much the same way as Tegan Jovanka did, or will she become a victim of the expected end of season revelations and be treated in the same way as Ace in "The Curse of Fenric"? (Look it up newbies?). It's early days though and Agyeman makes Martha such a likeable character that again, you tend to forget Rose? My only concern is that Russell T Davies might reintroduce the family again ? I wasn't keen on the Tylers, and I'm not sure the Joneses will be much better, but let's reserve judgment for now.
Perhaps the other excellent point in the episode was the use of music. I know Murray Gold comes in for a lot of criticism on this site for his "intrusive" music, but I think in this episode he seemed to get the balance right. I'm a massive fan of his theme arrangement - an orchestral version was long overdue ? and here the use of hymns was a beautiful counterpoint to the action, without being overly cloying. All right "Abide with Me" was perhaps a little obvious for the final monologue, but the arrangements were simply exquisite and fitted perfectly. The visuals and the music at the end of the episode were simply excellent, and show how far the show has progressed under the modern stewardship. Full marks also for the stand-out turn by Ardal O'Hanlon as Brannigan; although he was really Thermoman in a cat-suit, he's always likeable, and it would be good to see him return. I'm not sure what everyone else made of him, and perhaps he should have been given a greater role to play within the story, but that's the problem with trying to complete a story in 45 minutes.
And there's the problem in a nutshell. 45 minutes. I was OK until about an hour after the episode, until my subconscious came up, tapped me on the shoulder and said "But what about the Macra?" I'm sure I must have missed something ? and maybe I'll have to watch the repeat, but I'm certain the Doctor just saved the people trapped on the motorway and left the Macra to it! Five minutes to save the world ? let's do what we can seems to be the motto now. All right, maybe the lack of fumes from the traffic would mean the Macra would die anyway, but it seemed that this aspect of the story was rushed. No doubt I'll have started a flame war on these pages now from the forum writers telling me to concentrate, but that's life? Patrick Troughton's Doctor ? or any other Doctor ? would have made sure that the Macra were thoroughly removed. It might have taken four episodes to do it, but the job would be done. My concern here is the speed at which the current stories run. OK, we'll never have six episodes of corridor running, thank heaven, but I think one episode is too short a length for a number of stories, and Gridlock was a case in point. Some stories are perfectly suited to one episode, "The Idiot's Lantern" or "Father's Day" for example, whereas two episodes was a perfect length for "The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit". I just felt the balance was wrong here. It deserved a cliffhanger which would have allowed the action to move from the motorway to other parts of New York. A cliffhanger also allows of course for the dramatic possibility that the Doctor might not just throw a switch and win ? he might have to make sacrifices or really have to think about how best to defeat the monsters. The honour (and the great benefit for youngsters watching) is in the fact that sometimes it IS hard to defeat the enemies, but you grow stronger for doing so, and learn in the process. The Doctor shouldn't really be glib and be able to knock a solution up in five minutes.
Unfortunately I thought the re-introduction of the Macra was wasted. There was nothing really for the Doctor to "confront" as such ? villains or monsters always seem to work better when there's been the direct give-and-take between them and the Doctor. A faceless monster which had no interaction with the Doctor has only really worked a couple of times ? most notably in "Fury from the Deep", ironically again from the Troughton era. Much better perhaps to have reintroduced the Yeti or even the Ice Warriors?
The 45-minute format is too short I think to tell some of the stories which are being told. Far better I think for the production team to have the confidence now to push for 16 episode seasons, have say 6 double episodes with the occasional single episode story. So many of the stories written during the new series have deserved longer screen time, and I think that without being over-critical of Russell T Davies ? he who is the golden-egg laying goose ? his ideas deserve longer expression over two episodes. There are almost too many ideas competing for attention, and I think maybe an editorial re-think is needed. And if Russell's reading this, no-one has yet written a more tense half an hour in the new series yet than in "Bad Wolf" with Rose's supposed death and the reintroduction of the Daleks ? "We have your associate" is still the best line in the new series for me - written so well and delivered with such venom that it makes you feel 12 again, which is what it's all about.
Other negatives ? the nagging feeling to older viewers like me who barely struggled to escape the late 1980s episodes that it's all becoming a bit derivative. I know that's like saying the Grand National's derivative as it always uses the same course, but it's getting easier to spot the origins of each episode. "Gridlock" had a strong smell of "Paradise Towers" left on the shelf for just a bit too long, whereas I was thinking "It's the Unquiet Dead again" during "The Shakespeare Code". Let's have some more variety ? we're big enough and ugly enough to take it. We must cater for the younger viewers of course, and I know we're not going to get Chekhov at 7pm on a Saturday evening, but let's have a couple of real thrillers with some good cliffhangers, political thrillers, or a few more psychological dramas.
We're so nearly there. Just a few tweaks needed, and we can start talking seriously about Golden Ages?
Filters: Television Series 3/29 Tenth Doctor