Thoughts on: Gridlock

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.

Rating: 8/10.

Thoughts on: New Earth

The first episode of David Tennant’s first series started with a… whimper that could have been a bang. It’s true: my view of New Earth is that it was an unspectacular story that nevertheless had a lot of potential and could have been executed much better. The plot—of cat nurses on humanity’s new home in the distant future concocting advanced remedies for all manner of afflictions by breeding their own humans, infecting them with deadly diseases, and testing their remedies on them—was quite an original and interesting idea, but the episode, I think, rather let itself down by pitching itself to a certain audience, namely, children. We saw this in the way the episode spent a lot of time on faux action sequences, such as the Doctor and Rose/Cassandra running around to escape the diseased people. A particularly grievous plotting offence this episode committed was the resolution, where the Doctor just mixed all the remedies together and sprayed them at the diseased. I mean, come on. That resolution was worthy of a first-time fanfic writer, not a professional writer of a high-profile television drama. Honestly, it felt like the producers were following a “How to Make an Authentic Doctor Who Episode in 10 Quick Steps” guide when they made this. All the standard, predictable plot and production devices were thrown in, knowing the audience wouldn’t notice that they’d been skived. It felt like the writers were simply going through the motions, and that the episode was made with little critical scrutiny about how it could have been improved so as to make this episode stand out and not be ultimately consigned to being the forgettable, positively average episode that it is.

That said, there were a few golden moments and features of this episode. Both Billie Piper and David Tennant showed off their acting abilities when they were playing their characters as possessed by Cassandra. David was particularly hilarious when he was portraying Cassandra’s fascination at finding herself in a male body—a male Time Lord body no less. The scene where Cassandra, in Rose’s body, gives the Doctor a big wet snog to the Doctor’s dishevelled astonishment, was also brilliant. The character of Chip, played by Sean Gallagher, was also amusing, albeit creepy, although Gallagher gave a wonderful performance at the end when he was possessed by Cassandra, and was coming to terms with her (his?) impending death. I wasn’t so impressed with David’s manic, jumping-up-and-down elation at the end when the diseased people were being cured. That felt like cringe-inducing overacting again.

I wasn’t sure what the purpose of including Cassandra in the story was, except perhaps to tie up her character. I’m not sure whether I think Cassandra’s inclusion was beneficial or irrelevant to the story, but, at the very least, I think her inclusion facilitated the few genuinely quality scenes of this episode, and her absence would have made an already forgettable episode even more forgettable. The final scene where Cassandra, in Chip’s body, confronts her younger self and tells herself that she’s beautiful before promptly snuffing it at her feet was… beautiful. It was easily the strongest scene of the entire episode. Shame that it had nothing to do with the plot.

Rating: 5/10.

Quickie review: The End of the World

Upon this rewatch, to my pleasant surprise, I found myself enjoying The End of the World more than I remember. I recall this episode being fairly nondescript in terms of plot, and, admittedly, the plot isn’t this episode’s best aspect. But, just as with Rose, I found myself not concerned with the simplistic plot so much; the plot isn’t necessarily the main focus of this episode, but a device through which to develop other aspects of the story: expounding upon the Doctor’s mysterious backstory, developing the relationship between the Doctor and Rose, and developing the character of Rose herself. All these respective aspects are given satisfying and effective treatment in The End of the World. It is—remarkably, I know—only upon this rewatch that I came to the epiphany, which perhaps explains my prior indifference to this episode, that this episode, and indeed all of Series 1, is best watched in chronological order, as part of a series-long run. Together they form a 13-episode long narrative tracing the respective character arcs of Rose and the Doctor, and follows the development of their relationship. Watching episodes from Series 1 detached from this “context” doesn’t necessarily detract from their watchability, but doing so diminishes the quality of stories like this one when one unduly focusses on the plot rather than the character aspects, when one takes an episode out of its context in the character arc.

The End of the World is my earliest (vague) memory of Doctor Who, aged 10. I distinctly remember Christopher Eccleston and Yasmin Bannerman in a dark, cramped corridor, the Doctor looking sombre as he fussed over some piece of futuristic machinery on the wall. I wasn’t paying much attention at the time, but I now realise that I was witnessing one of the first moments of genuine personal pain for the Doctor of the new series. It was, of course, the moment Jabe was revealing to the Doctor that she knew what he was, and was expressing her sorrow for the fate of his people. We saw the Doctor shed a tear—something, I think I can say with confidence, we never saw in the classic series. New Who was making a stark departure in regards to the character of the Doctor: not only is he the last of the Time Lords, but between then and the last time we saw him, something has had the effect of fundamentally changing him. This was conveyed emphatically when the Doctor looked on mercilessly as Cassandra died, begging for mercy. “Everything has its time and everything dies,” he growls.

Rating: 7/10.