Category Archives: Season 29 (Season 3)

Utopia / The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords

On Saturday the 16th of June, 2007, I was over at some friends’ house. They were Doctor Who fans, in a stronger sense than I. I had only been watching the last couple of seasons, casually but with growing interest. As I recall, there were rumours at the time of a particular character returning to the show, so as we sat down to watch Doctor Who that evening, there was an air of anticipation. I’d never watched the programme in a group before then, nor, sadly, since; but there was something special about that night, an excitement in the air that hasn’t been repeated. As Professor Yana looked up from that old pocket watch, into the eyes of his former assistant, and mouthed those four immortal words, a great cheer erupted from the room. It led into the best twist this show has ever thrown out, something it had been saving up for the right moment to have the biggest possible impact. That moment was now, and whether it was the atmosphere of that room or simply a work of great suspense, it left with me an affection for this thing called Doctor Who that I have not felt since. Those four simple words, as delivered superbly by the great Derek Jacobi, were: “I… am… the Master.”

I couldn't help cheer myself as those last two words left Derek Jacobi's lips after a suspenseful pause. It was a memorable evening. Subsequent viewings have lacked the same impact, sadly.

I couldn’t help cheer myself as those last two words left Derek Jacobi’s lips after a suspenseful pause. It was a memorable evening. Subsequent viewings have lacked the same impact, sadly.

Things have changed since that night; I’m not the “n00b” I once was. I’ve now seen all of the old serials and know who this Master character actually is and why he’s so important. I know that he was last seen in the 1996 TV movie, falling into a time/space vortexy thing at the heart of the Tardis. I’ve also started watching Torchwood in parallel, so Jack Harkness’s sudden arrival at the start of Utopia now makes a bit more sense. Jack’s character has taken a turn for the dour throughout the first season of Torchwood, not unsurprisingly so, having been brought back to life, travelled back through time and forced to live on Earth for over a century. But as soon as he’s back with the Doctor, that brooding character evaporates and the Captain Jack from Doctor Who is back, full of life and energy again.

Jack Harkness, intergalactic flirt, comes back to life in more ways than one.

Jack Harkness, intergalactic flirt, comes back to life in more ways than one.

Utopia is ostensibly a standalone episode, before the significance of its plot becomes apparent towards the end of ‘part 3’. On its own, it’s an uplifting tale of human perseverance and longevity, of hope amidst despair, as the last ever human beings at the very end of a dying universe, jet off in a last ditch effort to find a new home. But at the time, this plot fell by the wayside next to the more exciting revelation of the Master, disguised as the human Professor Yana, using the same metamorphosis technique that the Doctor only recently used to become human himself (how convenient!). The whole history of Doctor Who is recited in an info-dump that would have been excessive were it not intercut with Yana dramatically hearing the words in his mind that he should not understand: Vortex, Time War, Daleks, Regeneration. The build up of the music, the professor’s expression, the flashbacks of the Face of Boe reciting those words, “you… are… not… alone”, as the B plot suddenly becomes the A plot, the rocket full of humans now insignificant next to this, it is one of the best dramatic sequences they’ve ever done. It’s also the end of this particular run of high quality episodes, which has, in my opinion, yet to be bettered.

The perception field overcome, Professor Yana finally opens the pocket watch and the Time Lord essence hidden within comes flowing out.

The perception field overcome, Professor Yana finally opens the pocket watch and the Time Lord essence hidden within comes flowing out.

Everything after this can only fail to live up to expectations. It’s not that The Sound of Drums and Last of the Time Lords are necessarily bad, in fact this is probably my favourite of the three ‘finales’ so far, but it’s as totally overblown as finales always are. More so, frankly; the stakes are so ridiculously high this time that the planet Earth couldn’t possibly recover from everything that happens to it, so the big reset button has to be pushed, rewinding time to its previous state before the invasion of the spheres can even happen. That’s what you get when your plan to rule the world relies on a fragile paradox machine to keep everything held together, and then you let an immortal with a machine gun inside of it. John Simm is fine in his own (perhaps overly comedic) way, playing a version of the Master for the modern age, his exuberant personality and dramatic flair a mirror for the type of Doctor that David Tennant plays now… and yet, every time he’s on screen, I wish the role was still played by Derek Jacobi, who not only does a superbly menacing Master, but skillfully portrays the kindly human professor too. Still, had he stayed, the following episodes would have turned out quite differently.

Saxon says "yes" to gassing.

Saxon says “yes” to gassing.

Harold Saxon, of course, was the Master all along. Russell T. Davies must have been planning this as far back as The Runaway Bride when the name Saxon is first dropped. We never see him, of course, but everyone on Earth knows him, due to the telepathic field that the Master has managed to bounce off of satellites around the planet. For me, this is the best series arc yet. Better than clumsily name-dropping Torchwood everywhere they go; a better resolution than the Bad Wolf wizard turning up to wave its magic wand and save the day. This is the Doctor staring the Master in the face for more than a year without him even knowing it, finding him in the far future, and then being responsible for sending him back to the past to become the person that has been cropping up all throughout the season. It’s inspired, it’s superb, and it’s a shame that it has to have such a blow-out ending.

Swarms/fleets attack the Earth again. Yawn.

Swarms/fleets attack the Earth again. Yawn.

A giant rift, presumably unrelated to the Cardiff rift, and indeed the visually similar 'crack in the universe', opens in the sky above the implausibly high-tech aircraft carrier, Valiant.

A giant rift, presumably unrelated to the Cardiff rift, and indeed the visually similar ‘crack in the universe’, opens in the sky above the implausibly high-tech aircraft carrier, Valiant.

It’s great that Martha gets to save the world, seeing as this is her final regular appearance, but “the power of love” saving the day is such a lame and overdone thing now, and would Martha really be able to traipse across the whole planet in just a year? And still look so clean and pretty at the end of it? The Doctor temporarily gaining invincibility is too similar to the end of The Parting of the Ways. Yes, it is sort of set up in advance by the whole psychic satellite thing, but the details don’t have enough time to sink in, so the resolution feels very much like “winning with technobabble”. Just once, I’d like to have a low-key finale, a plot that doesn’t involve “huge swarms of invading things”, big CGI set-pieces and ridiculous levels of peril. I will give it bonus points, however, for the correct use of the word “decimate”.

Why does the Doctor turn into Dobby from Harry Potter when he's super-aged? This is very silly.

Why does the Doctor turn into Dobby from Harry Potter when he’s super-aged? This is very silly.

There were some nicely “big” moments that did work for me. All of the flashbacks to Gallifrey, complete with colourful costumes and big collars, were nicely done. We hardly ever learn anything about Time Lord society, but here we get a short history lesson about 8-year-old Gallifreyans looking into the Time Vortex as part of their initiation into the ‘Academy’ (whatever that is). It’s suggested that the Master has been hearing the drums in his head all of his life, but this is the only time it’s ever been mentioned. It’s worth noting, however, that the drum rhythm (da-da-da-dum, da-da-da-dum) is the same as the baseline in the Doctor Who theme, a rhythm directly associated with the Time Vortex at the start of every single episode. I’d never noticed before now, but that’s clever. There’s also an in-joke where the Doctor scoffs at Martha’s suggestion that he and the Master are brothers (this almost happened for the third Doctor’s finale, but the death of Roger Delgado meant it was written out). The story ends with another jokey suggestion that the almost immortal Captain Jack is in fact the Face of Boe himself – however, whether this should be taken at ‘face’ value (har!) is open to debate. It’s certainly a fun theory, but it could equally be Jack’s idea of a joke.

I think he'd have to have a lot more work done to end up looking like a giant head in a jar. I wouldn't put it past him.

I think he’d have to have a lot more work done to end up looking like a giant head in a jar. I wouldn’t put it past him.

Martha leaves us as a regular now, returning to the family that needs her, the only people on Earth who will remember the events of the ‘missing year’. Martha makes the decision to move on from the Doctor for the sake of her own feelings. I don’t like the fact that Tennant’s version of the Doctor has to be this heart-throb angsty wanderer that everyone keeps falling for, however I absolutely prefer this way of companions leaving of their own accord, and not through contrived set-ups, magic gateways and overblown emotional music.

But where would a finale be without some twist of an ending, whether it be a mysterious hand finding a ring at the Master’s burning remains or… the Titanic breaching the wall of the Tardis? What?

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Blink

Blink is a “Doctor-lite” episode, a recurring event once per season that gives the main cast some down time and gives the writers the chance to do something a bit different, the chance to show what the Doctor is all about from an outsider’s perspective. Love & Monsters was pretty naff, although it showed promise. With Steven Moffat writing this one, Blink is, shall we say, a considerable improvement. In fact, it’s not only my favourite episode of Doctor Who, it’s one of the finest 45 minutes of British television I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch.

Should-have-been-companion Sally Sparrow explores the spooky house like a member of the Scooby Gang.

Should-have-been-companion Sally Sparrow explores the spooky house like a member of the Scooby Gang.

It’s remarkable to think what this episode achieves within such a short space of time. It introduces us to the life of Sally Sparrow and her friends, while creating an incredibly clever story around a predestination paradox. It’s the first mention of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff, and, of course, it’s the first appearance of the Weeping Angels, a brand new scary monster, the first new baddies that are good enough to stand toe-to-toe with Daleks and Cybermen. Monsters so good that they have been gradually ruined through overuse and degraded into shadows of their former selves.

This is, of course, the cleverest way to defeat the Weeping Angels. See, even the resolution makes sense! This episode does nothing wrong!

This is, of course, the cleverest way to defeat the Weeping Angels. See, even the resolution makes sense! This episode does nothing wrong!

But all of that is still to come. For now, these ‘quantum-locked’ creatures are terrifying, preying on our deep-rooted childhood fears, the monsters that exist when we close our eyes. Not only is the idea of creatures that turn to statues when you look at them a wonderful piece of science-fiction, it plays into the real world, making any children watching at home suddenly fearful of the statues they see around them in a brilliantly cruel way. “Don’t blink, little Timmy, or they’ll get you!” That’s so much worse than the clockwork clowns, Moffat, you ingenious bastard.

Larry resists the urge to blink. I would have tried alternating each eye, but there you go.

Larry resists the urge to blink. I would have tried alternating each eye, but there you go.

Blink manages to tell this terrific and complicated story without falling over itself. Here we have a story whereby the Doctor and Martha have been zapped back through time by the Weeping Angels and have to use a specially-prepared set of documents to communicate by forty year delay with the person who gave them said documents, before she gave them to them, in an effort to get her to activate the Tardis and send it back to get them. The scenes with the DVD recording are particularly well done, and what’s great is that it handles all of this with good humour and wit and doesn’t dwell too much on the technicalities. It’s both clever and excellently structured.

Somehow there's even time for tender moments like this, as old Billy dies in the presence of the girl he met for two minutes a lifetime ago.

Somehow there’s even time for tender moments like this, as old Billy dies in the presence of the girl he met for two minutes a lifetime ago.

Blink is one of those rare episodes that you could equally turn to as a great introduction to newcomers and as something for long-time fans to enjoy. It’s not often that Doctor Who deals with the perils of time travel in such a thoughtful way as this, and to create the best new monster the series has had in forty years as well is an amazing achievement.

Human Nature / The Family of Blood

Doctor Who can be a pleasingly versatile thing when it wants to be. While this season has been a little run-of-the-mill so far, the format is due for a shake-up, starting with this imaginative two-parter that sees the Doctor become human in order to hide from a family of pursuing aliens.

Amongst the journal of John Smith's dreams are images of the Doctor's former incarnations, for the first time since the show's 2005 revival.

Amongst the journal of John Smith’s dreams are images of the Doctor’s former incarnations, for the first time since the show’s 2005 revival.

These episodes may essentially revolve around the Doctor having to outwit aliens of the week in Earth’s history, but they also tackle broad themes of love, war, prejudice and many more, and do so with excellent writing and performances. As the Doctor’s anchor during his transformation, Martha’s role from the position of a humble servant is difficult but absolutely critical and she really comes into her own here. John Smith’s relationship with Joan as a human may be rushed, but it’s touching, and it’s heartbreaking to see the Doctor essentially having to give up a “normal” life and become a lonely wanderer again. We see the struggle he has to go through to give up a life that he realises isn’t his and we see Martha have to bury the feelings she feels she cannot have.

John and Joan, and the life that could not be theirs.

John and Joan, and the life that could not be theirs.

This is one of David Tennant’s best performances, with the Doctor and John Smith showing off his range as an actor. I think I actually preferred him as the ordinary school teacher, without all of that Time Lord wackiness and bravado. There are many dual roles in these episodes; one in particular that stands out is that of schoolboy Baines, whose snooty arrogance transforms into ice-cold menace as he is inhabited by a member of The Family. The crooked smile, the vacant stares and the calm voice are brilliantly performed. It’s also pleasant to see a historical episode where the period characters actually behave like they’re from another time. It is both gripping and infuriating to watch some of these scenes play out, with all the class and racial discrimination, all the pomp and ceremony, and training children to fight a war that nobody knows is coming. The theme of war feels a little surplus to the main story, but it’s another touching and well-written facet and concludes with a tear-jerker of an ending.

The possessed Jeremy Baines senses the Doctor's presence.

The possessed Jeremy Baines senses the Doctor’s presence.

This story doesn’t deal with ultimate good or evil. The conclusion isn’t a moral victory, or scarcely a victory at all. The entire ordeal is torturous for the Doctor, the sort of thing that will affect him for the rest of his live(s), one would imagine. Was it right to create John Smith, only to destroy the possibility of his future, in order to become the Doctor again? And how many lives could have been saved if he’d never gone there in the first place? True, it’s a battle of survival and for the greater good of the Universe, but then the Doctor goes to rather excessive lengths to cruelly imprison the Family in the end, seemingly an act of cold-blooded revenge.

This story plants the idea of a personality hidden within a pocket watch with a perception filter protecting it, nicely foreshadowing the upcoming reveal at the end of the season.

This story plants the idea of a personality hidden within a pocket watch with a perception filter protecting it, nicely foreshadowing the upcoming reveal at the end of the season.

Although that raises the question of how threatening the Family was in the first place. They were going to chase him relentlessly through time and space, and yet the Doctor, once recovered, was able to waltz into their spaceship, press some buttons to blow it up and then systematically trap each of them in a personal hell. Could he not have done that in the first place without all of that painful genetic manipulation? And turning Baines into a scarecrow is hardly inconspicuous; somebody is bound to pull the sack off his head at some point, leading to all sorts of awkward questions. (Unless he put a perception filter around him, I guess.)

Yes, the scarecrow soldiers are a tiny bit silly, but I think they're pretty scary too.

Yes, the scarecrow soldiers are a tiny bit silly, but I think they’re pretty scary too.

Despite some minor nitpicks, then, this is a really great example of the high standards the show can achieve. It’s the sort of thing that you might expect to not get made because “there’s not enough action” or “the kids will find it boring”. Thankfully, such nonsense didn’t stop it this time.

42

The third series of ‘NuWho’ has been a little disappointing so far, all too eager to revisit previous locations and rehash ideas, trying to iterate on some “perfect formula” that doesn’t exist. So, here we find the Doctor and Martha on a grimy industrial spaceship again, cut off from the Tardis again, terrorised by possessed humans again, as their ship spirals out of control into some stellar phenomenon… again.

The S.S. Pentallian falls into the gravity of a star.

The S.S. Pentallian falls into the gravity of a star.

42’s twist is that the whole episode takes place in the space of 42 minutes, in realtime (like 24, see?). Forty-two minutes is all the Doctor has to stop the spaceship and its forgettable crew from plunging into a star that turns out to be a vengeful lifeform that doesn’t take too kindly to being mined for fuel. On the plus side, the episode doesn’t drag for a second. Everyone rushes about, shouting, panicking, no-one has time to stop and talk. It’s one of the most continually exciting episodes of Doctor Who yet made, however this comes at the expense of almost any character development. Forty-two minutes is just not enough time to get to know everybody. Some of the characters have literally seconds of screen time before they’re offed.

Okay, who had "scary monsters hidden by helmets" on their Doctor Who Bingo card? Anyone?

Okay, who had “scary monsters hidden by helmets” on their Doctor Who Bingo card? Anyone?

It’s hard not to compare with the far superior The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit, not least because it seems to reuse a lot of the same props, costumes and set decoration. No doubt it looks good, with a striking blue and red lighting style, but it doesn’t go much further than that. You get a bit of development with the captain and her husband, a little bit with Martha, her mum and the bloke in the escape pod, learn very briefly about the crew’s mission, and… that’s about it. Not that you’d necessarily want any more than that; the episode’s primary focus is to put the characters into a fast-paced adventure for 42 minutes and see how they get out of it. It really cuts it fine, too. The Doctor has to use his quota of Stupidly Brave Things To Do In A Spacesuit per space episode and Martha gets to be a doctor again, briefly.

The pod launch sequence is rather well done, actually. A few minutes of silence are all the more poignant in an episode where time is of the essence.

The pod launch sequence is rather well done, actually. A few minutes of silence are all the more poignant in an episode where time is of the essence.

It’s all over so quickly that there’s barely time to question whether what’s happening makes any sense. A star that’s alive? Okay, fair enough, that’s an idea that will come back in a later series. A star that’s alive and can “infect” humans and control them? Er, sure, okay. I mean, that’s not far removed from Inferno, really. A star that’s alive and can infect and control people just because they looked at it through glass? Erm, hang on a mi-… Humans with hydrogen instead of oxygen inside of them, with eyes that glow and burn people to death without harming their own bodies? Erm, time out! Hold up, let me think about this for a-… no time, stuff is exploding, wooooo!!!

Despite his eyes being ON FIRE, the Doctor is absolutely fine a few minutes later. He should join the X-Men.

Despite his eyes being ON FIRE, the Doctor is absolutely fine a few minutes later. He should join the X-Men.

Oh well, while I’m glad the grimy industrial future got another look-in, this is a forgettable adventure within it. Fortunately, as far as I can recall, this is the last underwhelming episode in this season. A string of more original and better quality stories are about to unfold, starting with the next one. Meanwhile, more interesting things are happening back on Earth, as the mysterious Mr. Saxon is showing an unusual interest in Martha and her adventures with the Doctor. Election day is coming, and with it, the best revelation in Doctor Who’s history!

The Lazarus Experiment

I’ll say one thing for the Tenth Doctor: he’s a lot better at directing the Tardis to the right time and place. Whereas the Ninth accidentally took Rose twelve months off her point of origin, Ten manages to land Martha just twelve hours later, so nobody realises she’s even been gone. Conveniently, this return just happens to coincide with the grand public unveiling of the anti-aging experiment of Professor Richard Lazarus, for whom Martha’s sister is working. A quick reminder, then: this is one where Mycroft Holmes transforms into the Scorpion King. Thankfully, it’s not as bad as that sounds. Nor as awesome.

Mark Gatiss didn't write this one; he's just in it.

Mark Gatiss didn’t write this one; he’s just in it.

There have been plenty of stories like this throughout the show’s history – mankind delving into things it doesn’t understand and releasing a monster or other catastrophe (see Jon Pertwee’s first season for the most of these!). You could argue the show has a fundamental anti-science stance, but I think it’s more that it has a lack of faith in the intentions of mankind. We humans simply can’t be trusted to wield great power. The Lazarus Experiment is the perfect opportunity for the Doctor to lecture about the perils of immortality and ending up alone (he should know!) and, admittedly, he gets some good dialogue with Lazarus – in between the murderous rampages, that is.

The old man make-up is surprisingly good.

The old man make-up is surprisingly good.

Basically, it’s a monster story, and a standard one at that. Usually, these types of stories don’t reveal the creature straight away, or keep it in the shadows, but this episode is only too keen to show it in all its grotesque CGI glory. To the BBC’s credit, the visual effects are reasonably impressive, without too much of that obvious compositing going on. Yes, it still looks fake in a way that better direction could have avoided, but these virtual creatures have come along since the burping bins and rubbery Slitheen of season 1. The violence is mostly implied and not shown, horrific without being bloody (see Torchwood for the opposite) but instant freeze-dried corpses can be just as effective as gore.

Well, erm, it looks better in motion. Mostly.

Well, erm, it looks better in motion. Mostly.

There’s no apparent alien influence in this episode at all; this experiment is all the work of a human messing with his genes and accidentally becoming a genetic throwback. The science is implausible to say the least, but I am accustomed to such nonsense in countless Star Trek episodes, so it kind of washes over me. That said, however, there is a reference to Mr. Saxon’s involvement in the project – it’s not too far-fetched to suggest that Saxon’s true identity (more on this later) has been sabotaging Lazarus’s work, perhaps causing results beyond what you’d expect of simple genetics – although the Doctor doesn’t appear to suspect any external influence.

It's been a while since he had to reverse the polarity.

It’s been a while since he had to reverse the polarity.

This is also the Doctor’s first chance to “meet the family”, get annoyed (and slapped) by another companion’s interfering mother, and be regarded distrustfully, even though he clearly knows what he’s doing and demonstrably saves people’s lives. There’s just no pleasing some people. Martha is finally upgraded from ‘temporary passenger’ to ‘full-time travelling companion’, as she leaves her dysfunctional family behind for more adventures out in the universe.

Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks

Now that the new Daleks are well-established in this series, their appearance has lost its impact. Bringing them back for each season is a mistake in my opinion. But they’re here, the four-strong Cult of Skaro, and this time they’re really the last of their kind. Really really! And to survive, they’re going to have to evolve. This “last of the Daleks” stuff might have had more impact, but knowing they’re going to be dragged back in time and time again after this, it’s hard to care now.

The Cult of Skaro.

The Cult of Skaro.

The most interesting thing about this story is the Daleks’ changing attitude to what it means to survive. As ‘pure’ supreme beings, all they have achieved is their own demise, but is becoming human hybrids a step too far for them? This was touched upon in The Parting of the Ways. Can they still call themselves Daleks if they splice themselves into human form? Conflict within the Dalek community has always been good fun to watch, and here we see Dalek Sec’s loyal brethren question their orders and turn against him.

Dalek Sec. A Dalek in a suit with a New York accent. Oh yes.

Dalek Sec. A Dalek in a suit with a New York accent. Oh yes.

Other than that, I can’t say I enjoyed this very much. The New York setting makes a nice change, but the accents sound awful to my ears. Granted, I’ve not yet been to New York (and not in 1930), but most of the characters sound like they’re putting on stereotypical accents rather than real ones, particularly Tallulah. Admittedly, it’s not as bad as the accents in the 1960s episodes of The Chase or The Gunfighters, but that’s not saying much.

Frank is played by Andrew Garfield. It’s strange to see a (now) big Hollywood star in a bit part on Doctor Who. Thankfully, his American accent has improved significantly since this was made!

Frank is played by Andrew Garfield. It’s strange to see a (now) big Hollywood star in a bit part on Doctor Who. Thankfully, his American accent has improved significantly since this was made!

So much of this story is just boring or silly. The Daleks use slaves to do their work for them. Makes sense, but why turn them into pigs? (They had a better idea in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, where they used robo-men, although they weren’t much help either.) The biological engineering necessary to transform humans into pig-men just doesn’t seem worth the end result – an army of conspicuous monsters that can’t blend in. And why pigs again? The Slitheen loved pigs. The Daleks love pigs. Does somebody in the BBC production really fancy some bacon? (See also: the aliens = animals problem.)

Oink, oink!

Oink, oink!

The Daleks’ plan to produce a race of human/Dalek hybrids goes to pot when the Cult of Skaro rebels against Sec. Suddenly, humans can be wholly Dalek by fusing their DNA differently, even though they still look like human (so they’re non-human how, exactly?). And for some reason the Doctor’s DNA can travel through electricity? And gamma rays from the sun arrive in the form of lightning? What? Somebody get the writer a science book, this is just nonsense.

Solomon keeps the peace in the Hooverville shanty town.

Solomon keeps the peace in the Hooverville shanty town.

The Doctor’s “I’m so sorry” routine is getting really old now as well. This time, he also seems to have a death wish, commanding the Daleks to shoot him on two separate occasions (he’s surprised when they don’t, so I don’t think the first time is a bluff) and then getting himself zapped while climbing up the Empire State Building’s spire. That’s not the first time a story has ended with the Doctor climbing up some big thing and being zapped. It’s boring, sorry.

Gridlock

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.

Oh, look, it's the Macra! You might remember these from The Macra Terror, but you probably won't.

Oh, look, it’s the Macra! You might remember these from The Macra Terror, but you probably won’t.

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.

Must be a Friday night. Traffic's a nightmare!

Must be a Friday night. Traffic’s a nightmare!

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.

Bah, who cares? KITTENS!!!

Bah, who cares? KITTENS!!!

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.

The Face of Boe reaches the end of his long life.

The Face of Boe reaches the end of his long life.

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.