THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV EPISODES "THE
AND "DALEKS IN
RUSSELL T. DAVIES
'THE COMPLETE THIRD
EXCLUSIVE DVD BOX
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
THE DOCTOR TAKES
MARTHA TO NEW
EARTH IN THE FAR
FUTURE, ONLY TO FIND
THAT AN ENTIRE CITY
HAS BECOME A TRAP...
14TH APRIL 2007
I wasn’t really looking forward to Gridlock all that much. Don’t get me wrong; like every other Doctor Who fanatic out there I was on the edge of my seat praying that Man
Utd versus Watford didn’t go into extra time, but even so this scheduled return to New Earth didn’t spark the same fervour that, say, the upcoming Human Nature adaptation has done, or even next week’s Dalek story. This is largely down to New Earth - David Tennant’s first regular outing as the Doctor was fast and it was fun, but it didn’t possess the same sort of weight that a lot of my favourite episodes have done.
“You’re taking me to the same planets you took her to. Ever heard of the word rebound?”
However, although Gridlock may be set on New Earth, this time around the tone is markedly darker. And better still, Russell T Davies’ script is a rare example of a Doctor Who story that is about the Doctor. In this episode we experience events from his point of view, as opposed to his companion’s.
Nevertheless, as much as the emphasis of Gridlock is on the Doctor, the episode certainly does not neglect his newest friend. This episode sees Martha have an End of the World-style epiphany: when she is kidnapped by Milo and Cheen, much like Rose on her first trip into the far future, she realises that she could die and that her parents would never learn of her fate. She realises that she doesn’t even know the Doctor at all.
“I didn’t really think… I just followed the Doctor… There’s so much he never says…”
The plot itself is intriguing in concept and audacious in scale. New Earth saw Davies get
on his soapbox about vivisection, but here he chooses a topic that far more people can relate to; one that affects almost every Brit’s daily life - traffic! On the motorways of New Earth it takes on average ten years to travel six miles, and the pollution is so dense that
if you breathe it for any length of time, it is rumoured to make your head explode. Untold numbers of cars are packed into the undercity, not only in horizontal queues but also in vertical ones. It is the ultimate Gridlock. A prison. A nightmare.
Somehow though there is a charming and uplifting sense of unity amongst this mass of imprisoned souls. Their singing of The Old Rugged Cross and Abide By Me in unison is
a moving and a powerful moment, whilst their respective ‘Friends Lists’ are a wonderful reflection on modern society and our obsession with social networking sites such as My Space and Facebook. And so once again, Davies manages to unify the profound and
the (outwardly) trivial in one whole that manages not only to entertain, but also make a profound sort of sense.
“You think you know us so well, Doctor. We are not abandoned. Not while we have each other.”
And then living amidst the gas in the depths of the Fast Lane lurks an old foe of the Doctor’s. Many speculated about which old enemy would be returning this year, but I don’t think anyone suspected that it would be the Macra making a comeback!
But fair dues, the CG Macra look
phenomenal here. Granted, they
could have been any ravenous
monster - new or old – but their
inclusion here is a lovely nod to
the series’ long history, and it
really can’t hurt. In Smith and Jones, the Doctor appeared to know all about the Judoon, yet they never showed up in the classic series. His knowledge of the Macra (and his lovely little précis of the events of The Macra Terror) is no more conspicuous than his familiarity with the Judoon was; newbies won’t have even blinked.
Gridlock is also populated with a trademark collection of Davies’ weird and wonderful aliens. Red people. White people. Hippies. Nudists... Even a Mr Benn look-alike! And of course we have the return of the Cat-People, albeit in a much more benevolent guise. Brannigan is an endearing character; Ardal O’Hanlon (Father Ted) imbues the upright cat with such innate amiability that even the Doctor can’t help but get over his recent traumatic experiences with his kind. Until Fear Her, the Doctor had always been a cat-lover, and he should be again.
In its darkest moments, Gridlock is also an allegory about the dangers of drugs. Those cars might all be trapped on the motorways, but that is a much better fate than the armageddon that “Bliss” wrought upon New Earth. Everyone above ground is dead, and were it not for
the Face of Boe’s timely intervention, those in the undercity would have perished alongside them.
“Know this, Time Lord. You are not alone.”
Now the return of Boe is something that I was very excited about. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had goosebumps as his theme tune played (you really know that the show is a big hit when a character that has appeared in just a handful of episodes has his own little theme tune) and I heard his telepathic voice. His entirely expected demise was also an incredibly touching moment, but even that was overshadowed by his final revelation: “Know this, Time Lord. You are not alone”.
And with that he dies, leaving the Doctor to puzzle out the conundrum. The Doctor knows that his world is gone and that he is the last of his people. He’s also fairly sure that Boe was not referring to Martha – in fact, that possibility was dismissed far too quickly for Martha’s liking. So what could it mean? I think we all know really, the only question is how? Personally I am hoping for a typically blasé explanation: “Ah, so you escaped from…”
The final scenes of Gridlock are a thing of real beauty, literally and figuratively. The mass exodus from the undercity is a stunning image; the splendour of New, New York looks like
a stunning hybrid of contemporary New York and Coruscant from the Star Wars prequels.
The ‘folding chairs’ coda is equally beautiful, marking an important stage in the relationship between the Doctor and Martha, and also setting up next week’s Dalek adventure very deftly indeed. Under the burnt orange sky of New Earth, the Doctor sits Martha down and tells her of the Gallifrey, and that Time War that destroyed it.
“I’m not just a Time Lord. I’m the last of the Time Lords. The Face of Boe was wrong.”
Ultimately then, Gridlock came as a wonderful and welcome surprise to me. Doctor Who may now have more televised episodes to its name than the entire Star Trek canon but, to end on a cliché, year after year it just keeps on getting better. It’s now three hits out of three for Series 3.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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