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Doctor Who – "Gridlock" 9/10 April 15, 2007

Posted by cobaltmale in actors, bbctv, doctor who, totty.

Cars, cats, crabs … and hope.

Whatever else this story was, it was a victory in one long-running battle – this chalked up when “Doctor Who” overtook “Star Trek” (in all its forms) for episode numbers, not that it didn’t start out in front of course. This was the 727th episode since 1963.

Anyway, I was really impressed by one of RTD’s best efforts for the series. Like his “Tooth and Claw” last April, it seeded the season finale as well as playing out the main plot. My only real niggle was bringing back a previously one-off 1967 foe in the form of the Macra and then underusing them. The vast majority of the giant crabs’ screen time was as CGI pincers snapping from the depths. Of course the Doctor did explain that they had ‘devolved’ (as in the the opposite of ‘evolved’ rather than setting up their own parliament) and here on New Earth certainly they seem mere scavengers exploiting a situation not of their making.

The ‘situation’, as I understand it (for it was a little complex), was that most of the population of New Earth were stuck in transit in an unending, decades long, traffic jam. The rest inhabited a drizzly slum area called the Undercity, populated by The Pharmacists – who pushed mood-altering chemical ‘tabs’ to hopeless clients. The hope for those transiting above is that they will finish their journey and reach a better place, while a cheery TV reporter called Sally Calypso feeds that hope with traffic reports. Meanwhile they all live a cramped existence in their low-tech, personalised flying camper vans where even their waste is recycled as food. But the disparate lot do have a form of community and keep in touch by CB radio or something very like it. Foremost among the travellers we meet are Thomas Kincade Brannigan (Ardal O’ Hanlon) and his wife Valerie. Curiously (and controversially for some) Brannigan is another of the feline race we met on last year’s trip to New Earth, albeit the first male to feature, while Valerie appears quite human. The shocking cat/human coitus is underlined by the presence of their ‘kittens’ in Brannigan’s van!

The Doctor gets involved when Martha is suddenly kidnapped by a young man and woman shortly after the TARDIS lands in the Undercity. Though it transpires that the couple, Milo and Cheen, mean no harm and are merely looking for the third passenger they need to progress to the precious ‘fast lane’. We later find that’s where the Macra hang out and that’s what had happened to the doomed Ma and Pa (styled after the earnest couple in the famous ‘American Gothic’ painting) who we saw despatched in the pre-title sequence.

Digressing, but I have to mention here that I was also very impressed by Travis Oliver (pictured above) playing Milo. Hot, hot, hot! I shall have to procure a viewing of Oliver’s most notorious TV ‘exposure’ when he attempts intamacy with a vacuum cleaner in a typically barmy storyline during “Footballers’ Wives – Extra Time” …

Midway through, we are misdirected to think Novice Hame (the only surviving cat nun, last seen under arrest) is gunning with a vengeance for the Doctor, who she eventually intercepts while he is on a carjumping quest for Martha. Again, it’s another benign kidnap – Hame is working for the Face of Boe, who is now even more ancient and close to death but urgently needs to pass a message on to the Doctor. Hame has dedicated her life to nurse the Face once more.

But the Face is also responible for the Gridlock of the title. In doing so, he has saved the Undercity and the travellers – all the inhabitants of the gleaming Overcity perished in 7 minutes from a plague that mutated from the Bliss tab, so Boe has quarantined it from the rest of New Earth, causing a permanent jam. Sally Calypso is a hologram on a loop.

Once the Face sacrifices the last of his life-force and Doctor has done some clever rewiring to open the roof (OK, a lttle too pat) it’s time for the Face of Boe’s overdue message. It was a surprise to no-one that considered themselves a fan that the four key words were “You are not alone”, but the Doctor’s response that the Face is lying is somewhat perplexing and the preceding words somewhat contradictory. This also means the Doctor has to give Martha the whole truth about him being the last of the Time Lords, the Time War and (with great timing for next week) the Daleks.

The final scenes are best seen, rather than explained, to be properly appreciated and were among the finest of the revamped run. Bringing a tear to a few eyes was the final demise of the mythic Face of Boe. His job done, his giant jar splintered open and he lay prostrate on the floor, tended by the Doctor and Hame. And then there was the tension between the Doctor and Martha, as the latter proves she’s no second-hand Rose but her own person and not in awe of the Time Lord. Notably it was this episode that Martha had to cope largely on her own and did so with merit. The Doctor needs to point out the TARDIS wardrobe though …

It was clear this episode was ripe with allegories and homages which you may or may not choose to read in. The visuals are very influenced by the likes of “Blade Runner”, “The Matrix” and “Minority Report” as well as the 2000AD comics. The allegory I saw was not the obvious one about traffic congestion and noxious gases, which appeared more as symptoms of the dystopia. The big clue for me was the hymns that featured (“The Old Rugged Cross” and “Abide With Me”), as sung by the travellers to keep their spirits up. The travellers have a faith and a hope. It may be a blind faith (the journey ends only with death, not a better place) and an artificial hope (engineered by the Face of Boe to keep them alive) but appeared a more positive existance than the faithless, hopeless types in the Undercity. Like the wiped out inhabitants they fall back on chemical highs. Now this is a story written by one atheist being appreciated by another, but I think the notion of faith and hope is a more general one than that of organised religion. The travellers include a quaint old lesbian couple, a cat/human interbreed and even a couple of nudists, perhaps so as to steer clear of ‘religious’ stereotypes. Saying all that though, even I found the hymns moving because of their clever use in the episode.

You could even stretch the hope allegory to the Face of Boe waiting for the Doctor, and the Doctor himself who surely secretly hopes he is indeed not alone.



1. P J - April 18, 2007

9/10 ? Hardly. It was ok, but let’s get a sense of proportion here. Unless, of course, you’ve set a much lower bar for the revived series. I’d give it 6. Best one of the current season so far.

So where’s that Shakespeare Code review then ? That’s over a week. Not exactly rushing into print, are we ? Do I detect a little less enthusiasm regarding Story 2 ? I’m Personally hoping that it goes the same way as ‘Loves Labour’s Won’ ie. never seen again. Ta ta 🙂

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