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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?