Friday, July 20, 2007

Doctor Who: Hey! You! Get into my car!

Spoilers for the latest episode of "Doctor Who" coming up just as soon as I put out the cat food dish...

Like I said last week, I'm a bigger fan of the Doctor's trips into the future -- and/or to other worlds -- than I am of the past, so "Gridlock" had plenty to make me happy: hovercraft traffic jams, interspecies dating/breeding(*), a dead government on autopilot, and of course the final(?) appearance of The Face of Boe.

((*) Though I'm not clear: are the kittens Mr. & Mrs. Brannigan's babies or their pets? Do the cat-people begin life as kittens? Does that only happen with human/cat-people hybrids? Or are they just plain cats? Valerie calls them "children" a few times.)

Russell T. Davies' script does a wonderful job of painting the motorway as a kind of dystopian hell: a never-ending traffic jam the authorities and the upperclass have completely forgotten. Instead, it's revealed to be the salvation of the blue-collar citizens of New Earth, spared the drug-induced genocide of the rich people up above, then kept alive in a kind of benign neglect through the life force of our man Boe. You think it's the worst thing that could have happened to them, you assume the TV presenter's "We're so sorry" sign-off is an apology for keeping these poor people trapped down there, only to realize just how lucky the motorists and citizens of the undercities really are. (Given that the world above was killed "in seven minutes flat," I assume the Face of Boe produced that recording somehow.)

It really amazes me how often the show's able to play that same kind of "Everybody lives!" note from "The Doctor Dances" in season one and still affect me. When the Doctor gets the roof open and Valerie gathers the kittens and tells them, "Children; that's the sunlight," I definitely got a lump in the ol' throat, even though the show's gone to this particular well a half dozen times or more over two-plus seasons. I think it just goes to show how great Davies is at establishing a world and an epic scale so quickly; when the Doctor's around, miracles don't feel routine, even though he so often performs them.

"Gridlock" is also interesting as the first episode where the Doctor acknowledges the way he's been treating Martha as a place-holder and nothing more, as well as the first time Martha realizes how dangerous life with the Doctor can be.

It's also the first moment of David Tennant's tenure when he gets really upset over the destruction of the Time Lords and Gallifrey; until now, Ten has been largely defined as the guy who let go of all the baggage Nine was carrying, but as he talks about Gallifrey, you realize that while the face has changed, the heart's the same, and that hurt still aches over all that it's lost.

(Or is it all lost? Before it dies, the Face suggests the Doctor isn't alone; I don't know what's coming, but I wouldn't be surprised if there's another Time Lord floating around out there. After all, how do you wipe out a race of time-travelers? Wouldn't at least one or two of them still be hanging out at Versailles or the Jersey shore or the end of time at the moment when Nine ended the Time War?)

Finally, I would be remiss in discussing the episode if I didn't point your way towards Ross Ruediger's review over at The House Next Door -- specifically, his paragraph where he discusses the origins of the Macra (the giant lobster thingees that menaced Martha) in an old black-and-white Patrick Troughton episode. Here's a sample:
When the Macra showed up in “Gridlock”, every single old school Who fan popped a boner (yes, even the ladies). Why we did this, I do not know. We did not ask for Macra, we did not care much about Macra, but we were puzzlingly, orgasmically elated to finally see some fuckin’ Macra.
Seriously, go read it. I'll wait.

What did everybody else think?


John said...

Perhaps Mister Saxon knows.

Ross Ruediger said...


Thanks for Macra-Linkage. I thought I was writing a somewhat thought-provoking recap until the Terror that is Macra overtook me and the entire thing just devolved into profane silliness. I think your piece covered the numerous areas of "Gridlock" I neglected.

You were grand company this week and it was ~tres~ cool to chat WHO & SOPRANOS in person. Also, don't forget my classic DW recommendation: "The Caves of Androzani".

(Note to Alan's readers: I'm refusing to let him judge the entirety of DW's previous 26 seasons solely on "City of Death".)

Nicole said...

Having seen the entire season, I can't comment on your speculation regarding the Face of Boe without saying too much, but it does pay off in a big way.

I enjoyed this episode, but this is where I started to tire of the Rose pedestal and the Doctor's neglect of Martha. The Gallifrey moment was nice though, and you already made the link that Nine's hurt was still with Ten.

Taleena said...

I love this episode and trying desperately hard not to spoil anything for those who have not jumped ahead in the series.

One of the ways that Davies gets to you is in the dressing of the episode and not just the dialogue. The dialogue was much more punchy after the "Old Rugged Cross" was sung by the populace with no hint of snideness on the part of unbelieving Martha.

Toby O'B said...

I believe if you start a theme, go to the extreme. This episode had the American Gothic couple, perhaps a "Son of Man" from Magritte, and a cat-man with the name of "Thomas Kinkaide" Brannigan.

So how come, in all those cars the Doctor leapt into, he couldn't find one which had a bunch of dogs playing poker?

I'm hoping we've not seen the last of Brannigan, Valerie (?) and the kids, and maybe Hame might come back in a future season as well.

Those final scenes with the Face of Boe were nice when I first saw this episode, but it packed resonance with this viewing.

If RTD can bring back a Who "villain" like the Macra who only survive as a thirty seconds or less film clip, (as well as the Daleks, Cybermen, Sarah Jane and K9), here's hoping we'll see other classic (and not so classic) characters resurrected on the series!

Menoptera, anyone? (Personally, I'd like to see Sil come back!)

Anonymous said...

Like Alan, my earliest doctor is Christopher Eccleston, so I don't have any particular feelings about the Macra. But reading Ross' review made me think of the Novice Hame's scene with the Doctor. He hugs her, then backs off and realizes that she was a henchman when he last saw her -- this behavior (gut response followed by thoughtful response) seems characteristic of Tennant's Doctor. But now I wonder if Davies' was also mirroring the fan response to the Macra -- "Yeah, Macra!" to "Oh no, Macra!" in the space of a few seconds. An affectionate nod to the fans who look for the "historical" references, if you will.


Anonymous said...

Just a quick note that it was the eighth Doctor, the much neglected TV Movie Doctor that fought in and ended the time war...

Bring back Paul McGann!!

dark tyler said...

Whew, finally caught up. One thing on this episode that amazed me, but didn't see it anywhere. To enter the fast lane, cars were obligated to carry at least three people, but as we saw here, couples were even forced to kidnap people in order to achieve that. Thousands of cars, and it was so rare to be a threesome, that people were desperate enough to break the law.

That is as magnificent an allegory on modern life's isolation as I've ever seen. The rest of the episode was fun and interesting, but this little bit, it just blew me away.

Anonymous said...

RE: "Just a quick note that it was the eighth Doctor, the much neglected TV Movie Doctor that fought in and ended the time war..."

The Time War was concluded in the new series 'Parting of the Ways' when Rose used the Time Vortex to destroy the surviving Daleks, including the Emperor. I think the 10th Doctor confirms this in a later episode of Series 3.