With all of time and space at his fingertips, why does the Doctor keep coming back to the same places? Particularly when he’s taking his new companion on a trip to same planet and era he took Rose – that’s just going to stir up some uncomfortable memories, surely. It’s New Earth, again. It’s New New York, again. But the city is not thriving anymore and strange things are happening in the slums and beneath the hovercar motorways.
Gridlock is all about traffic jams, and if you’ve ever spent a significant amount of time stuck in a traffic jam, you’ll certainly find a lot here to relate to. It wears it influences on its sleeve – you only have to glance at this dystopian scene to see hints of Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, Star Wars, Judge Dredd, and any sort of sci-fi with oppressed underdwellings and glistening cityscapes towering above. Gridlock is broadly satirical – the idea that you could be stuck in traffic for so long that you could live there is just ridiculous enough to make you think. It’s amusing, and it’s the sort of thing I find appealing in science-fiction, but as soon as you start to analyse it, it stops making much sense.
For instance, the chain of events that led to this situation would have to be incredibly specific. The entire planet was overcome by a dangerous drug/virus simultaneously, at which point every single hovercar was trapped under the city. Entropy would demand chaos from order, but the gridlock itself is incredibly orderly and everyone seems to accept what’s happening, despite no contact with the upper levels. Why does nobody make a break for it? There’s plenty of room between the cars. Why not fly up a bit higher when the Macra are snapping away at you? These could just be VFX goofs, I suppose. Who plugged the Face of Boe into the system? And was it really only the Doctor who could fix it to get the roof open again? How, biologically-speaking, do an alien cat man and a human woman have kitten children? Why is everybody in New New York British except for the news reporter woman? Who is she anyway?! And so on, and so forth.
But I don’t really want to pick too much, because you start to lose the interesting aspects of this story. It doesn’t really matter that it’s not believable, it’s just fun to see characters in this bizarre situation and how they react to it. It’s interesting that there’s no villain or malevolent foe in this story, simply a system that has failed. The Macra, previously seen in The Macra Terror, are not responsible for any of this, as far as I can tell, they’re just down in those depths for some reason.
But the most interesting thing about this story is nothing to do with the gridlock itself, but the Face of Boe, who returns for his third and final appearance to finally give the Doctor his dying message… “You. Are. Not. Alone.” Martha demands answers and the Doctor has to go through his “I’m the last of my people” routine again, only this time with some lovely descriptive imagery of Gallifrey. I sense a trust developing between the Doctor and Martha, which is probably why he hasn’t taken her back home yet. There’s a lot more to see and do before things start to get… interesting.