The Long Game
Series One, Episode Seven
For a show with a twenty-six year back catalogue, Doctor Who spends little time wallowing in nostalgia. That's a good thing. Nonetheless, sometimes you get a whiff of the old days. The Long Game feels like something from the late '80s: it's satirical, talky, a bit obvious. No doubt about it, this is the weak link so far. (A bit like late '80s Who in general.)
|Above: nobody's favourite era.|
Not much seems to be at stake, either. The Jagrafess, crooked controller of Satellite Five, is distorting information and holding back the human race. This possibly explains their unimaginative dress sense, but what does it mean? Almost no one on board is aware of it, let alone the billions of people on Earth below. The Doctor says they should have advanced beyond this point already, but setting aside the curious impossibility of history having changed when he wasn't looking, so what? They're not exactly in the dark ages, and as they don't know they're doing it wrong, they're not terribly unhappy either. I'm not saying that living like this is a good thing, and the Doctor's right that a slave is a slave even if he doesn't know about it. But ignorance seems blissful enough for the time being. There's no ticking clock, no sense that it needs to be sorted out now.
The decidedly "meh" feeling all this inspires is easily explained: it's satire. The news corporation with its own agenda. The mindless zombie journalists. Aliens kept out by immigration. The populace living in the dark. Yawn – I see what you did there, but what else have you got? Satire is all very clever (when it is clever), but it's hard to make a snarky point about society and ground it in a good story. Here, the stuff propping up the satire is even worse. A brilliant place nobody ever returns from, its walls supposedly paved with gold? An all-seeing centuries-old monster who's a couple of re-routed pipes away from overheating to death? Do me a favour. There's enough plot here to cover a crisp packet, and still leave room for the ingredients.
And what goes in the crisp packet? Why, padding of course! (And quite possibly, crisps.) When the Doctor and Rose nip upstairs to investigate, they're detained by the sinister Editor, who asks them questions for ages. Well, question. "Who are you?" And again, and again and again. The 45-minute format is often an excuse for moving things along at a frenzied gallop, but it doesn't explain the action grinding to a halt so our heroes can stand there and look on.
In the episode's defence, there is other stuff going on. Adam, the genius Rose picked up in Dalek, is skipping around Satellite Five gobbling up information and sending it back home. He's got the tools, thanks to the Doctor giving him unlimited (stolen) funds, plus Rose lending him her super-phone, plus both of them forgetting about him. So begins How Not To Be A Companion, starring Bruno Langley. Is it enlightening, seeing someone get it totally wrong? Not really. Probably the only reason Rose hasn't tried the same thing is she didn't think of it first. Besides, Adam didn't ask to sign up, and nor was he invited – Rose just brought him along for the ride. On her head, as the Doctor said.
|Meanwhile on Floor 500, Charades has failed|
and Rock, Paper, Scissors reaches a grim stalemate.
On top of all this, it's dead, dead, dead boring cutting away from the talky peril on Floor 500 to Adam spending his pocket money. Tamsin Grieg is delightful as his surgeon, but come on. It's obviously a struggle just to fill the minutes.
With the Doctor and Rose getting a bit comfy in handcuffs, and Adam browsing, chatting and having time for brain surgery, it's up to recent acquaintance Cathica to sort things out. This might be a tribute to the wonderful effect the Doctor can have on a person, but if so it's wasted on this tediously promotion-obsessed nonentity. Frankly, any adult stupid enough to believe all that bollocks about walls paved with gold is going to have to work to earn our respect, and "You should've promoted me years ago!" isn't much of a learning curve. (Really, love? They should have promoted you to the place where you get killed?)
Simon Pegg relishes the somewhat thankless part of The Editor, although some of the dialogue's horrible. Russell already wrote a "literally" gag in Aliens Of London, and it was ghastly then, but guess what? "He's overseeing everything. Literally everything. If you don't mind, I'm going to have to refer this upwards!" Ugh. Most of the really naff Bond villains would turn down this dialogue.
|Well he sure looks like someone with influence|
and a long, difficult-to-spell name. He looks verbose.
Okay, it's not all bad. Christopher Eccleston is on another stratosphere for most of it: apart from all that stupid Adam stuff (and there's more to come), he's Doctoring fabulously, dropping his happy-go-lucky smile when Rose isn't looking, and communicating gravity and menace with ease. "This technology's wrong." "Trouble?" "Oh yeah." Sometimes his performance can seem a little at odds with what we know of the Doctor, but he is utterly, utterly the Doctor in this. (And not just because of the cheesy nostalgia cloud.)
But ah, the Adam stuff. Finding out Boy Blunder has broken the cardinal rule (which he wasn't forewarned about or prepared for), the Doctor drops him back home with his click-activated brain-hatch thingie, makes a crass joke about dissection, compliments Rose and continues on his way. Any worries about changing history are swept away as Adam's responsibility, and Rose is fine with that. (This is after considering Adam a potential new boyfriend, or at least not disputing the Doctor when he suggests it. What, does she figure the future counts as a different area code to the one with Mickey in? What a piece of work!) Not for the first time, the TARDIS dematerialises and I haven't got a solid reason to like anyone in it. Charming.
There's a lot wrong with The Long Game, but the really important bit is, it's boring. Dissecting it is more fun than watching it. Want a long game? I recommend Scrabble.