This episode played well on the very relatable real-world frustration of traffic jams. It took the scourge of commuters everywhere and turned it into a nightmarish satire. Imagine spending 23 years stuck in traffic, never even to arrive at your destination. The undercity traffic jam plot was an intriguing idea realised spectacularly onscreen by wonderful use of CGI and by a fleeting tour through the cramped vehicles of the befuddlingly placid commuters: an inter-species couple, some octogenarian lesbians, a pair of mobile naturalists… The Macra were an interesting addition to the story, and portraying them as having devolved from highly intelligent beings to little more than carnivorous beasts was an interesting twist on the old 1960s monster. They, too, were realised impressively by CGI, and the “car chase” scene involving Martha’s vehicle careering through the festering swarm of Macra was genuinely exhilarating. The plot twist, i.e. that New New York had been brought to its knees by the dissemination of dangerous “moods”, with the commuters in the undercity the only survivors, was ingenious.
Martha continues to endear herself to me. I thought she was excellent in this episode. She proved herself to be more than capable of taking care of herself when she was separated from the Doctor. She particularly shone when she arguably saved herself and Milo and Cheen when she had the ingenuity and the instinct to urge Milo to cut the power, warding the Macra away from them. Damn clever that girl, and damn resourceful. I like that Martha is obviously being more open about her feelings for the Doctor than Rose was, a refreshing change from the unspoken “will-they-won’t-they” of the Ten-Rose relationship. I also like that she’s willing to stand up to the Doctor and make him treat her properly, as she did at the end in making the Doctor stop brushing her off when she asked about him and his people.
The Doctor is obviously on the rebound here with Martha, although he may not admit it to himself. The fact he took Martha to the site of one of his dates with Rose is pretty conclusive. The lingering effects of the Doctor’s agonising separation from Rose is going to hang over his and Martha’s relationship for a while, which is to be expected, but I wouldn’t blame Martha for being resentful, and I would hope the writers have the sense to ensure it doesn’t overshadow the Ten-Martha partnership unduly (I haven’t watched Series 3 in a while so I can’t remember if it does). In any case, I think Martha is exactly what the Doctor needs after the emotional devastation of his separation from Rose, and I really hope he comes to see that and value Martha properly.
The Time War, and its effects on the Doctor, seem to be a theme that’s gathering momentum here. The Doctor’s eulogy to his lost planet at the beginning was touching, filled, as it was, with nostalgic affection and a painful sense of loss. David Tennant portrayed the Doctor’s continued, futilely repressed suffering over the loss of his home and his people at the end of the episode, when Martha forced it out of him, extraordinarily movingly. Furthermore, the Doctor seemed in astonished disbelief when the Face of Boe made his enigmatic revelation, suggesting how much it would mean to the Doctor to be reunited with another of his kind. The Face of Boe’s final scene, by the way, was beautiful—the dialogue just wonderful.