Friday, 2 April 2010

Doctor Who: Gridlock

“This Martha- she must mean a lot to you.”

“Hardly know her. I was too busy showing off. And I lied to her.”

We’ve had the introductory story for the new companion, we’ve had the celebrity historical- must be time for a story set in the year five billion then. The RTD era has been around long enough now to have established their own traditions, and in this case that’s a significant part of the narrative; Martha notices that the Doctor’s taking her to places where he took Rose.

This is where the Doctor’s cavalier treatment of Martha goes horribly wrong; after a few minutes in rather grotty surroundings she’s quickly kidnapped, ultimately ending up in great danger, and the Doctor spends the rest of the episode trying to hide her and regretting his behaviour.

This is another example of RTD’s 2000 AD style aesthetic for the more futuristic stories, this time even with an appearance by Max Normal from Judge Dredd. But it’s more than the aesthetic that’s taken from 2000 AD, it’s also the blackly humorous political allegory elevated above realism. If you try to analyse this world in realistic terms it doesn’t make sense- how can a traffic jam possibly continue spontaneously for 24 years? But realism isn’t the point; this is absurdist punk sci-fi, Mega City One style. And I love it.

There’s real thematic depth, too; at the very moment the Doctor suggests to Brannigan and Valerie that they may be on their own, there could be no one in charge, and the hopes they’ve been clinging to are deluded, the whole motorway stops to sing a hymn. This is a nice moment to showcase the power of faith (not necessarily of the religious kind), and hope, and togetherness.

Bizarrely, 39 years after The Macra Terror was shown and probably about 35 years after the prints were destroyed, it gets a sequel. It’s a nice touch, although I hate the line about their having “devolved”. Even I know that’s not how evolution works!

There’s a nice scene where Martha, waiting in the car without power, stops to reflect on the enormity of her decision to travel with this total stranger to times and places so very far away. But crucially she doesn’t fall to pieces, keeps her confidence in the Doctor, and takes charge of the situation. And even the story’s big moment- the dying Face of Boe telling the Doctor that “You are not alone” is as much about her as it is about him; she hears that the Doctor is the last of his people, which isn’t what he told her earlier.

The final scene is wonderful. At last the Doctor opens himself to Martha instead of showing off, talking movingly about the world he grew up on in similar words to Susan back in The Sensorites when the Marathon was young.

Well, that’ll be the third consecutive 5/5 of the season then.

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