Saturday, July 04, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's 3x03: "Gridlock"

Written by Russell T Davies
Directed by Richard Clarke

One thing we had have in this series so far is the first three episodes covering past, present and future and going back to the first season Rose Tyler got Autons in her present, Earth’s destruction in her future and the Gelth in her past while the second season had cat nun nurses in the future, a werewolf in the past and Sarah Jane in the present.

With Martha Jones her present saw her place of work on the moon and the past gave her Carrionites along with Shakespeare. Suffice to say, not only is her one trip extended but The Doctor’s attitude towards Martha is forced to take a shift as well. As for her destination, a reverse in Rose’s pattern in Season One means it’s future time for our would be medic.

That is the other thing about this revival – in the course of the first two seasons we’ve had trips to the year five billion and once again we’re in this time period as our opener sees a 1930’s couple simply credited as Pa and Ma stuck in intergalactic traffic, mostly fretting but quickly getting killed in the most disposable of opening scenes we’ve had.

The disappointing opening scene does mean a somewhat slow pacing in the usually fast paced series, so if you’re the impatient kind, which I am prone to being, then watching this episode might be frustrating.

The third episode into the season we’ve now gotten to the stage where Martha’s awe for The Doctor has extended to curiosity and when he isn’t blabbing on about red suns, he’s doing his best to actually avoid telling Martha that Gallifrey has been destroyed for quite some time, which only heightens Martha’s overall curiosity on her travelling partner.

You can’t exactly blame Martha for asking the right question nor can you chastise her too hard when one of her reactions upon discovering that The Doctor took Rose to the year five billion is disdain and the obvious throwaway line about Martha being a rebound. It’s a perceptive comment as The Doctor’s treatment of Martha is more or less like she’s an afterthought at times.

One of the oddest things about revisiting New New York is not the fact that Russell lived up his promise and finally gave us a real view of a derelict city but it’s the fact that they are shops that literally supply emotions which more or less range from happiness, anger or vengeance as far as I could make out.

Although I’m aware of the moral implications, if I had been stuck in this place and wasn’t feeling although great about myself, a part of me might be tempted to top up on happiness even if The Doctor is quick to realise the dysfunction of this kind of merchandise, especially when Ma and Pa’s daughter suddenly forgets her despair of losing her family.

However before The Doctor has time to do something about the emotion stock, a couple literally pop out of nowhere and grab Martha so despite a slow pacing we’ve already had a murder, mood enhancements and an abduction and suffice to say, not even The Doctor is quick enough to get Martha back so he grills a stall holder for information and then heads for the motorway.

If there is nothing more tedious in the world, then it’s certainly being stuck in the motorway and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a driver or a passenger, being stuck behind excess traffic is a nightmare but in this place, it’s ten times even worse.

At worst you could have to wait to a couple of minutes or even an hour but on the motorways in the year five billion, it could be up to years, which I’m sure many people have cursed about when stuck in traffic. Here, however that fear has taken literal form as three sets of cars have had era of their lives on the motorway.

For Martha’s would be and not remotely evil captors, Milo and Cheen, they’re on the verge of becoming parents and once Martha get over her annoyance of being snatched in broad daylight, she’s quick to berate Cheen for wearing an honesty patch and she looked amazed that Cheen knew so far in advance the sex of her unborn baby.

Cheen and Milo’s motives for snatching Martha are simple – they want to move to Brooklyn but can’t get anywhere in traffic without another person and seeing as Martha just happened to be standing there, they chose her.

The casting for these particular characters is once again great. I didn’t think I would actually like Travis Oliver seeing as I hated Footballers Wives: Extra Time but his performance in this episode, while it may not be BAFTA winning is great no less and of course, I was seriously delighted with the casting of Sugar Rush’s Lenora Crichlow as Cheen.

Her performance in this episode is exceptional in some moments and she has a great rapport with both Travis Oliver and Freema Agyeman. It helps that both Milo and Cheen are sympathetic characters but it’s even better than we have two actors who bring more to the characters than expected really.

The Doctor meanwhile continues his search for Martha and by doing that we encounter two other significant couples, one of them being an old lesbian couple called Alice and May, whose ingenuity with other cars proves useful and helps forwards The Doctor’s search for Martha. However it’s the fact that Russell finally writes for lesbians in a truer and not with the nonsense titillation angles we got in Torchwood that is the bigger achievement.

Another couple who are important in this is a benevolent cat man named Thomas Kincade Brannigan and his lovely human wife Valerie, who come to the early conclusion that The Doctor is both enigmatic and a tad loopy and in fairness, even I agreed with them.

Then again you would think that too when you have random stranger in your car wanting to violate all kinds of road safety rules in order to rescue a girl that he’s spent most of his time keeping at arm’s length. Again the casting of Brannigan is excellent with Irish actor/comic Ardal O’Hanlon delivering his best TV performance since to be honest his role as hapless priest Fr Dougal in Father Ted.

Proving that not all cats are evil, Brannigan and Valerie (when they aren’t telling The Doctor to shut it) have some cute little kitten kids but if I have to think about those two consummating, I will definitely throw up but overall it’s nice to see that every cat in this era is evil as Brannigan remains a goodie right up until the end of the episode.

Losing patience and speeding up wonderfully, the first moment this season where the need to cry and deeply think occurred when in traffic that annoying TV presenter Sally Calypso broke out a haunting hymn and if ever there was a TV moment in which you as a viewer was made to feel that time had stopped it would be this.

It’s a moment so beautiful and haunting that when Martha, Cheen and Milo all silently break into tears you are past being sucked in. It’s moments like this that are unforgettable in TV landscape and it’s a credit to Russell to even come up with it.

Of course there are two other nagging problems – one of them being the fact that Ma and Pa met their maker on the very same motorway which only goads Cheen into mentioning the dangers of being down a certain layer and when things start to snap and Milo’s dismissive attitude is seen like a sign of danger, the only that does surprise me is the fact that no-one says “from beneath you it devours”.

The thing could be anything but when The Doctor goes down enough layers he soon learns it’s his old enemies the Macra. Yes, those crab like beasties last seen in the Patrick Troughton era of the series make their 2007 debut and just like the Autons, Daleks and Cybermen, not only do they look great and threatening but it’s a little moment like that that purists and newbies can revel in together.

Sadly though the most disappointing thing about the Macra is the lack of emphasis on them because while they are snatching people and even manage to get a hold of Martha, Cheen and Milo they get upstaged by another beastie – The Face Of Boe.

Our favourite pickled big face in a jar managed to get reformed Novice Hame from “New Earth” to nab The Doctor against his will and soon enough the three of them are working together and managing to stop the Macra by exposing the survivors of the unsafe New Earth and those stuck in traffic by using the computer and even sacrificing Boe’s life to expose the city to the sun.

It’s a beautiful moment further heightened by Murray Gold’s first standout score of the season but again while the defeat of sorts of the Macra and the revelations of what has happened since The Doctor’s last visit to New Earth, it’s really the fact that The Face Of Boe has finally and that means a certain secret needs revealing and seeing as the poor thing hasn’t got long to live, it’s time for that secret to come out now.

With Novice Hame doing her best to restore New Earth and Martha somewhat catching up, The Face Of Boe imparted his secret to The Doctor and the four words we have waited to hear for nearly a year – “you are not alone”.

I really wish I had set up a bet because like every other viewer out there I knew that The Face Of Boe was going to say and if it hadn’t been those exact words, then it would’ve alluded to the same thing. The Face Of Boe might have been the last of his kind before dying and making them extinct but The Doctor is not and I have a feeling he might know this too.

Long since the show’s return viewers have not completely bought into the claims that The Doctor is the last of the time lords and even when he finally breaks down his guard and lets Martha in on his feelings and tells her about Gallifrey, I doubt anyone is still convinced.

The Daleks were involved in the same time war and were allegedly wiped out, only to keep reappearing every now and then to create trouble, so the prospects of other time lords out there, including corrupt ones like The Master are high.

Not only is this episode great for The Doctor finally letting Martha but it’s also great for Martha questioning how she was willing to leave everyone behind and journey with a man she hardly knew. One thing that isn’t clear is The Doctor accepting Martha as a full time companion. He’s been on two trips with her and he still hasn’t told her he wants her to stick around with him despite his change in attitude towards her presence in the TARDIS.

Also in “Gridlock”

This is the second episode this season where the opening scene hasn’t featured The Doctor and Martha.

The Doctor: “How do you fancy that?”
Martha: “No complaints from me.”

Did anyone think that Ma and Pa look like that painting that features in the opening credits to Desperate Housewives?

Martha: “Are they selling drugs?”
The Doctor: “I think they’re selling moods.”

Cheen: “I’m sorry but that’s not a real gun.”
Martha: “Yeah you would say that.”

So they are patches for knocking people out and for honesty. Why was Cheen wearing an honesty patch anyway?

Brannigan: “Feels like yesterday.”
Valerie: “Feels like twelve years to me.”

Cheen (re Macras): “Something huge and hungry and if you get lost on the road, it’s waiting for you.”

Brannigan has been on the road for 12 years, Alice/May 23 years. Milo/Cheen mentioned it taking six years to get ten miles.

Brannigan: “This Martha, she must mean an awful lot to you.”
The Doctor: “I don’t know her; I was too busy showing off.”

The Doctor: “The Face Of Boe.”
The Face Of Boe: “I knew you’d come.”

Please tell me we’ll never have to wait until 7:40pm to see an episode again. At least it wasn’t put back a week.

Cheen (re The Doctor): “He looked kind of nice.”
Martha: “He’s a bit more than that.”

Martha (to Cheen/Milo): “You’ve got your faith, you’ve got your songs and your hymns and I’ve got The Doctor.”

Cheen asked Martha if she and The Doctor were lovers, which sort of reminded me of Jabe asking The Doctor the same question in a funnier manner about Rose.

The Doctor: “Don’t forget I want that coat back.”
Brannigan: “I reckon that’s a fair trade.”

Random stuff: Every motorist/passenger was a different race or time period, Cheen was expecting a boy, Milo’s car was 465 Diamond 6 and The Doctor got his jacket from Janis Joplin?

The Doctor (to Martha): “They’re all gone, my family, friends, even the sky.”

Chronology: Over 24 years since “New Earth”.

Man, this was a hard episode. Some slow pacing in the first half made “Gridlock” a bit of a grind and while The Face Of Boe’s revelation was thoroughly predictable, it still didn’t lessen the impact and at least we know that this season will be going somewhere exciting. Plus the quiet, emotional moments including that hymn got to me so there’s no way I could possibly hate this episode.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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