“Well, it looks like the same old Earth to me.”
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You’ll love this one. Or you’ll hate it. Or you’ll be somewhere in between.
Insightful, huh? But we think it can be scientifically determined: your enjoyment of this episode will be in precise inverse ratio to how annoyed you are by the dumbness quotient.
And alack, dumbness there is aplenty. Let’s take as read the idiocy of going five billion and change years into the future to find near-future tech and present-day clothes: we’re used to that by now. So, shovelling that pile of dung aside, the most indigestible idea we’re asked to swallow is that people could go round and round a motorway system, chattting with each other, for decades without anyone ever working out between them that none of the exits are open. Um. Yeah. Seems it’s not just the Macra who are devolving.
Yes, it’s that Russell T Davies special: the plot utterly dependent on the wilful stupidity of everybody in it plus the viewers. If the elderly lesbians were amongst the first on the motorway, then why would they think it’s reasonable for it to have taken them more than two decades to get where they’re going? Wouldn’t they have arrived straight away? And if you can reach speeds of up to thirty miles an hour in the fast lane, why would the pregnant couple think it’s going to take them six years to get to their exit? Also, if the fast lane’s that fast, why wouldn’t everybody get together in threes? Why would that be too expensive when the trip is so short? If it’s so expensive, how come the cat couple pick up the Doctor straight away? And why do they need to save fuel anyway when the cars make it themselves?
Oh, and the oh-so-clever recycling system that turns “waste” into food? There’s no food value in it. That’s why it’s waste. And the (yawn) moods as drugs? Since when is honesty a mood? Or sleep, either?
It’s enough to make you crabby. And speaking of the Macra, don’t they eat gas? So why are they trying to grab the cars? Wouldn’t they be a bit gristly for a gas eater? And now that the gas has run out, where are they going to start looking for lunch, since the Doctor’s run away and left them where they were?
Then there’s this virus. Which is airborne. Which kills everyone upstairs in seven minutes. Seven minutes. Must have been a bloody breezy day. And as for closing off the lower city: what on New Earth were they doing with a system like that all ready to clang into place?
And what about the anvil-on-the-head parable about traffic and pollution? Yes, yes, all very Seventh Doctor, but doesn’t the fact that the cat nun has a Blakes 7-alike emission-free teleport bracelet make the entire thing pointless?
Then there’s the stuff that’s not so much dumb as utterly bizarre. Like the couple dressed like the American Gothic painting. Or the guy from Judge Dredd (we’re clearly having quite the Judge Dredd moment this series). Or the whole minute and a half of mystifying Old Rugged Crossing that has absolutely zero to do with anything else. Were they running under time or something?
If you found all of this intensely maddening, you probably hate Gridlock. We can certainly see why if so. But despite all of the above, we liked it. While we’ve obviously enjoyed many of the new series episodes, this felt like real Doctor Who to us in a way that only the Impossible Planet duo has since the new series started.
We're not entirely sure why that is. Some of it's about the fact that it's not on Earth, of course (and even New Earth is better than Earth). Some of it's about the Doctor figuring out what’s going on through a mixture of derring-do and deduction and putting things right without shooting anybody. Some of it's about a companion strong enough to work brilliantly with the Doctor but still not his equal partner. Some of it’s about the fact that despite all the repetition of what’s gone before and the present-day bollocks there are still interesting new things to look at. Yes, other episodes have ticked many of these boxes, and yes, classic Doctor Who broke all these rules at one time or another. Shrug. What can we say? It feels like Who to us.
The Doctor's great here. Sure, there’s too much tra-la-laing at the beginning, but it's clear he's putting on an act and he repents of it, so we forgive him. And we can do without the shouty drugs lecture, but that's a minor infraction. Otherwise, he's absolutely stellar. The dropping from car to car, as well as being a thrifty wheeze that only requires redressing one set, is a winning combination of brawn and brains that shows off the guest cast nicely. Professional Irishman Ardal O’Hanlan, instantly recognizable even with whiskers, is probably the pick of them, but they're all terrific and give a fun glimpse into this society. Of course, since the nun teleports the Doctor back, it was all a bit of a waste of time, but hey, if they can get away with it in Caves Of Androzani...
And once he catches up with his old bud in a jar the Face of Boe, it's even better. David Tennant invests these scenes with an impressive gravitas that gets us sniffling away over the sadness of it all, making us forget entirely that the Doctor's deep and abiding friendship with old Facey adds up to less than five minutes of screen time. And the capper is his beautifully done realisation that he's been showing off to Martha so much he's barely seen her as a a real person.
Freema Agyeman is well up to the challenge: Martha goes from strength to strength here. From her hilarious comments about the Doctor on the rebound at the beginning, to her quick wits in mid-claw, to the supremely excellent moment when she sits down on a chair and refuses to move until the Doctor stops being so mysterious, she’s everything we could hope for in a companion.
Not a lot that’s new new, and much stupidity, but hey, it works.
MORAL: Where there’s seafood, there’s gas.
THE SKY AT NIGHT
Burnt orange, silver leaves. Don’t say you didn’t squeal like a girl, because we don’t believe you. And ditto for the Macra.
SOME SORT OF CRABBY THING
We know he’s only got 45 minutes, but still, does the Doctor always have to know the aliens? It would be a lot more interesting if he weren’t a walking Big Boys' Book Of Monsters. (Yes, he gets a free pass for the Macra.)
KITTY KITTY KITTY
Didn’t the Doctor say he wasn’t a cat person? Maybe he’s got over himself since then.
Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK