Monday, 11 March 2013

Review: Doctor Who 3.3: Gridlock

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You've obviously never seen the M6 at rush hour.
Doctor Who - Season 29, Episode Three - Gridlock
Written between 11th and 12th February 2013

Before we look at Gridlock, we in fact need to take a little sojurn to the wonderful black-and-white world of 1967, for the famous Patrick Troughton story The Macra Terror. The story featured a colony of humans in the future ruled over by a mysterious woman, who was in fact a front for the Macra, a race of hyper-intelligent giant crabs. It's often been very highly rated, if one ignores the rather thorny problem of the serial not existing any more. And, despite the hubub over JNT doing the same all those years ago, you'd be very wrong to think that RTD wasn't going to shy away from making references to a story that literally no-one has seen since transmission - what was, at the time, a gap of exactly 40 years.
     RTD's New Earth trilogy, which began with the okay The End of the World and continued with the amominably silly New Earth, ends here with a final appearance by the Face of Boe and a final trip to the city of New New York. As Martha points out, it's a tad suspect that one of the first places The Doctor takes Martha to is the place where his incarnation first took Rose, but I really don't want to have to think about that right now. While they're in the city, they discover that everyone's gone spooky on drugs, and then Martha is suddenly stolen away by a young couple, one of whom is played by a post-Sugar Rush but pre-Being Human Lenora Crichlow. The Doc, in his attempts to find Martha, discovers that most of New Earth was wiped out by a plague carried on the drug patches, and that the people of New New York have been kept in a never-ending system of Gridlock by the Face of Boe in the interest of their safety, not knowing that at the base level live the degenerated form of the Macra.
     I flipflop when it comes to Gridlock, really. There are times when I find it eminently forgettable, and that's something of a crime, really, because the rest of the time I think it's a bloody masterpiece. Well. That's a bit hyperbolic. It's more akin to several very good things stitched together in a way which doesn't necessarily complement each other, but which doesn't detract from the beauty of the original pieces. By that, I mean that the episode is very, very full with various different messages and ideas, and I'm not quite sure what we were meant to come away with. There's a strong anti-drug message, there's an obvious commentary on pollution and the environment, there's something in there about marriage equality (which for some reason Rusty chooses to make an issue in the 50-Million-and-first-Century). There's also a lot of mythology stroking, with Tennant getting to lament about Gallifrey a lot and making many references to both the Classic Series and to the present arc running up to the return of The Master.
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The death of the Face of Boe, and a prophecy that doesn't
really get as tiring as the whole "four knocks" thing.
     The episode's main gimmick, and possibly its greatest strength, is its reliance on a single set (the inside of a hovercar) just jazzed up in many different ways. There's a sense of confinement to the character interactions that, while not completely getting across the sheer tedium of the 3D Gridlock, certainly makes The Doctor's search for Martha that more powerful. By this point with Rose, the two were ready to die for one another, while the progression here is a tad more natural, and The Doctor admits that Martha is practically a stranger to him. That's probably why I like Ten in this season - he may be moaning over Rose now and then, which can get irritating, but he seems to gain a sense of self-awareness to go along with the pizazz and the charm.
     So, overwhelmingly, I think that Gridlock is pretty good. There's a sense of intelligence hiding behind the standard adventure that manages to mix a few messages in with some pretty good character development. It's been argued that the slow pace of The Doctor and Martha's relationship at this stage maybe damaged the series, because it was half-way into her series before she felt like a true companion. I'm really not getting that in this run-through - Martha is a companion with a very different mindset to the ones before and after, and for the moment that's really quite fascinating. Next week, I'm afraid, I won't be so positive.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: The story that made all the Biologists in the world cry simultaneously - it's Daleks in Manhatten/Evolution of the Daleks.

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