"Trouble?" "Oh, yeah."

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It goes without saying, right? We're grateful. Deeply, heartfeltly, gratefully grateful to Russell T Davies for getting Doctor Who out of the cupboard and back on screen where it belongs. We'd iron his underpants. We'd wash his car. We'd have his babies. (OK, so maybe he wouldn't be terribly interested in that last part.)

But gratitude, sincere and all though it is, can't paralyse our critical faculties. And the sad truth is that The Long Game is a long way from being a good episode.

When we first saw it, we were appalled. The second time through, we'd got over our shock enough to notice the good bits. But despite those, alas, it still hadn't morphed into passable while we weren't looking.

The problem is that while there's some nice stuff in here, the basic premise is horrendous. Plot, logic and common sense are all sacrificed on the altar of the most thuddingly unsubtle satire we've seen since Happiness Patrol. (You're right, we didn't like that either.) Most of us are comedy writers here at Androzani (what do you mean you hadn't noticed? Shut up), and when it comes to satire we're of one opinion: to do it well, it has to be more than presenting things as they actually are and just changing a few names.

Mr Davies is of the view that the Rupert Murdochs and Robert Maxwells of this world are (or were, as the case may be) intent on flooding the world with a stream of misinformation with a political purpose, which the populace uncritically gobbles up. Well, you don't say. For anyone with two brain cells to rub together, this is as axiomatic as that the sky is blue and that it rains in the mountains because clouds get stuck on the peaks and rip open. Or is that last bit just our collective amnesia about geography lessons? Anyway, we have no quarrel with that, go him, more power to his elbow, etc. It's an Important Point about Modern Society.

So how, then, to get this point across? Poor us, because Mr Davies's choice is to show someone named Max (unggh!) controlling a news organisation which floods the galaxy with a stream of misinformation with a political purpose, which the Glory Hallelujah Human Empire, or whatever it was called, uncritically gobbles up. There's an Editor. There's an Editor-In-Chief. There are journalists who never ask any questions. There are people working there who are brain-dead. Ow! Stop dropping anvils on our heads! Want really effective comment on the media? Vengeance On Varos is the place to go, managing to decidedly make its point about TV violence and be prescient about reality TV, all in one go. In comparison, The Long Game's satire's just one big duh.

If only that were all. But there are a few more hobbyhorses in Mr Davies's stable, and by God, he's going to thrash them till they drop. Remember Cassandra and her plan to boost her share prices? And the profit-oriented Slitheen? And the cold-remedy-withholding Van Statten? Evil capitalists to a, er, being. And guess what? Here they come again! The Jagrafess isn't interested in invasion or anything. No, sirree. Instead, it's a consortium of banks that's behind all the evil. We've moaned often enough in the past about motiveless villains, but please, give the capitalist-bashing a rest. It's so tediously one-note it's making us nostalgic for insane rantiness.

Then there's the question of immigration. And if you thought the satire was unsubtle before... Sorry, but lines like "I suppose immigration's tightened up - it's had to, with all the threats" and "Create a climate of fear and it's easy to keep the borders closed" are simply unforgivable. We can be trusted to join a few dots all by ourselves, and if we'd been allowed to, the impact would have been ten times what this didactic lecture manages.

So the satire's about as delicately glancing as an attack from an enraged bulldozer. But bad as that is, it's not what sinks The Long Game. The real problem is that having decided on all the points he wants to hammer into our brains, Mr Davies proceeds to nail them to a structure so wobbly that it can't help but collapse into a disjointed tangle. He's got a huge story spanning billions of humans and aliens, and cramming it into a couple of sets means something's got to give.

One casualty, unfortunately, is showing rather than telling, as everyone from the Doctor to the Editor to the medical technician laboriously explains what's going on rather than us being able to see it for ourselves. As well as being dull, it's intensely frustrating: it's like jumping up and down trying to peer at something over a high wall and only getting glimpses of it, while someone drones on about it in your ear. We don't want to hear about it! We want to see it! Why pick such a big topic if you only have forty-five minutes for it?

Trying to squeeze a massive idea into a tiny cupboard also leads to a plot full of loose ends and stupidity. So it's terribly difficult keeping the heat levels down thanks to the Jagrafess, is it? Well, why not vent it outside, for God's sake? So the Editor knows everything about the Doctor via Adam? Yeah, we really believe the Doctor sat down with Adam and confessed his life story to him just after meeting him. And why do they need dead people to work the upstairs stuff, anyway? They had no trouble finding one person to sell humanity out, and call us cynical, but we doubt it would have been too hard to find another few.

So there we have it: a clunking satire, shoved into a plot that's forced to bend and stretch in unnatural directions just to accommodate it. But there's more here than just the satire plot: what about the Adam story?

We can't help but like the idea: after all these years, a story exploring what happens if a companion chooses greed over the innocent wonder of exploring the universe is long overdue. The trouble is, though, that it's not done as well as it should be. We get the point with the space station setting and the phone call home that it's meant to be a mirror of Rose's introduction to time travel in The End Of The World, but the problem with that is that the repetition, while thematically meaningful and all, is also just a bit boring. Considering how often we keep ricocheting back to modern-day London in this series, having two very similar locations in the off-Earth episodes is seriously uncreative.

The other major problem is with Adam's character. He doesn't get off to a great start in Dalek by wibbling on about his genius, and here we're clearly supposed to be tut-tutting about his venality and figuratively high-fiving the Doctor and Rose at the end when they're making fun of his brain vent, but we dunno. He just doesn't seem that bad a guy to us: we suspect trying to profit from peeking into the future would cross an awful lot of people's minds in that situation. Not that we like him particularly either. In fact, try as we might we can't scrape up any emotion about him at all. And that's why in the end his story falls pretty much flat on its face. Full marks for trying, but bundling a companion out of the TARDIS so quickly has the built-in effect that the audience isn't going to be too worried about it either way.

Where Adam's story does work, though, is in the way his presence throws more light on Rose and the Doctor's relationship. Like we've said before, the Doctor is jealous of anyone who takes Rose's attention away from him - in this episode, that's actually spelt out in so many words, in the "That's her gone, Adam's given up, looks like it's just you and me... good" dialogue. Saddled with Adam, the Doctor goes out of his way from the beginning to underline his relationship with Rose and make Adam the outsider. Left to herself, Rose would probably empathise with Adam's timesickness, since she's gone through it so recently herself. So to avoid that, the Doctor slips her the information about the year and the location: when Adam emerges, instead of empathising with him, Rose aligns herself with the Doctor as knowledgeable. Sorted.

The Doctor also goes out of his way to point out how feeble Adam's being, whereas when Rose in The End Of The World was similarly confused, he was all with the helpful hints. As Adam says, "It's going to take a better man than me to get between you two" - he's right here, of course, and who knows, he may be even more right in the future. After all, the episode is called The Long Game.

Rose is, as usual, very good: she doesn't have a great deal to do, but she does it beautifully. Suki and Cathica are perfectly competent: it's not their fault that their characters are as dull as ditchwater that's keen on model trains. Tamsin Greig is reliably excellent in the somewhat thankless part of the medical technician, injecting character into it that really isn't there in the script. Simon Pegg is a revelation: he's great at the comedy parts, as you'd expect, but is also mesmerisingly good at being bad - there's genuine menace there, and he even manages to stand up brilliantly against the Doctor when he's explaining his evil plan. We were impressed.

And the Doctor? Brilliant. We love, love, love the moment when after smiling at Rose she turns away and the smile drops off the Doctor's face. We also love the way we see him using the mask of manic cheeriness on Suki and Cathica - we know him well enough now to understand that if that seemed fake when he first met Rose, it was because it was fake. And how about when he's pacing towards Adam as Adam stands nervously near the TARDIS? Woah. Genuinely scary. He got lots of thespy marks for his ranting in Dalek, of course, and he's been excellent lots of times elsewhere, but this is the first time we've felt he's absolutely the Doctor to the core. Bravo.

Some good. Mostly bad. Sorry. Not good enough.

MORAL: If you want life at the top, make sure you can stand the heat.



Isn't all that Floor 500 stuff rather too Logan's Run? And what's with the walls being made of gold? What good would that do anybody? It reminds us of the joke about the man who makes a deal with God to take his wealth with him when he dies: as he unpacks his gold bars at Immigration, St Peter says "You brought pavement?"


Why don't the Doctor and Rose understand what Max is saying except at the very end? They understand all the other aliens.


We love the addition of the dog in the answerphone scenes - it's a great way of adding some movement to what would otherwise be a pretty dull shot of the phone. Now that's good direction.


Nanotermites? Frozen vomit? Wha?

Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK Buy Doctor Who DVD at US: DVD not available

Buy entire series DVD box set: UK Buy Doctor Who DVD at Buy Doctor Who DVD at

Buy first and second seasons box set: UK: box set not available   US Buy Doctor Who DVD at

Download Doctor Who episodes at