Doctor Who #717: The Long Game

"The thing is, Adam, time travel's like visiting Paris. You can't just read the guide book, you've got to throw yourself in. Eat the food, use the wrong verbs, get charged double and end up kissing complete strangers. Or is that just me?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 7 2005.

IN THIS ONE... Satellite 5, 24-hour news channels gone wrong, Simon Pegg as frozen editor.

REVIEW: After "Dalek", The Long Game is disappointing. In fact, I have very little use for this episode. Aside from acting as a surprise prequel to the season ender - and I don't even think it connects to those events very well - it is sorely lacking in the emotional content the series has been offering to date, even in its poorer episodes (like Aliens of London). If the point it wants to make is that Rose is a good companion, then fine, whatever, we either already believe that or never will. Certainly, it's not by contrasting her to Adam, who fails the test in every way but resourcefulness. He's selfish, opportunistic, deceitful, weak-willed, and prone to fainting AND vomiting (RTD still feels the need to include gross-out humor for the kiddies, it seems). It's not even a comparison. Because if he'd been a smidgeon more honest, she might actually have lost some of her luster. This is a preview of Season 2 Rose, after she stops being audience identification figure (we're seeing the episode through Adam's eyes, in this case, whether he's actually present or not), and acts as a smug mini-Doctor. She's always been flawed - and just flirting with Adam is a slight against Mickey - but here she's arrogant, callous and cruel, getting her jollies by snapping her fingers at the failed companion with the door in his head.

But though we're on Adam's journey, he's not, for all the reasons listed, meant to be a sympathetic character. And that's a large part of the problem. Aside from maybe the Doctor, NO ONE is sympathetic in this thing. The year 200,000 is apparently the Age of Smugness. Rose certainly fits the bill, and the character the Doctor inspires to become a hero this time around, Cathica, remains selfish and thick even in her heroic moment (for her it's revenge for not having been promoted years back, even though she's just learned promotion is death). I can't stand this character, AT ALL. The nurse played by Tamsin Grieg throws her contempt and attitude at the right pitch, but she's still not playing a nice person. And when this first aired, I didn't know Simon Pegg and just saw him as a somewhat over-the-top Who villain. Now that I know his work quite well, from Spaced onward, I'm sorely disappointed by the performance. Where's the innate vulnerability? The Editor is just a two-dimensional cardboard villain. So it's really down to Eccleston, who does his best to move between carnival barker and moody time detective, as the story demands, though RTD fail to give him a great speech. Like the Editor, I was disappointed he refused to discuss ethics when given the chance.

As this is the future according to Russell T Davies, it OF COURSE features some modern phenomenon taken to satirical extremes - continuous news channels that control the world, with the Jagrafess as some sort of Rupert Murdoch figure. I'm into it, except they make the journalists extremely boring. The job involves acting as computer circuits and literal info-dumps, which means they're almost more interesting after they're turned into frozen zombies. The future is also disappointing on a design level. It introduces Davies' future costuming aesthetic that people in the future wear clothes that look a lot like ours. While that might neatly avoid the fashion disasters classic Who was known for, it's also a cheap cop-out, especially once we discover the actual year scarcely matters. What we wear today will be in fashion again in 200,000 and 5 billion, and the 40th century, whatever. This is also a story where a space station has the same bay window as the space station billions of years in the future, so it's not just clothes. But if you're looking for things that don't make sense, you're in luck. The Long Game is full of them and is potentially the laziest script of the season. The Jagrafess is a boiling creature that need to be kept cool... in a station in the freezing cold of space. Should be easy. It's just a big mouth full of teeth, but when it attacks Suki, it turns her into the frozen undead (so not so boiling after all). Why does it even have to BE on the station? Rose is disappointed at Adam freaking out and wanting to go back to the big window, but that was EXACTLY her own reaction to her first time trip. Adam reads graphics that are clearly unreadable. There's more, but I've stopped caring. Let's just jump to the entirely predictable final punch with Adam's mother and go straight to the final rating, can we?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Maybe it's an important piece of the season's puzzle, but nothing in The Long Game seems necessary. Not its point, not its satire, not its characters. Very flat indeed.

11 comments:

Madeley said...

I enjoyed it at the time, and I can appreciate what RTD was trying to do, but I have to admit I've rarely revisited the episode and I've got no plans to in the future.

As a statement of intent, it's RTD underlining that he's playing the long game too, which I think was pretty innovative for British TV at the time, even if the US had been doing something similar in one form or another since Babylon 5. But now that's standard operating procedure for Doctor Who, the episode loses it's raison d'etre in retrospect.

Also, Adam's rubbish. A better actor would have made the world of difference, but even so he's not written particularly strongly so it's not all his fault.

Craig Oxbrow said...

I did quite like Suki, especially the way she dropped the act suddenly.

As does the Doctor at one point, all smiles and then it just drops once Rose and Adam are gone.

snell said...

One thing that bothered me was The Doctor essentially ripping off an ATM. Those credits had to come from somewhere, right? By drawing attention to an aspect of the show that they should never really look at too closely (how do they survive without money in a strange world?), RTD manages to portray D8 as having some questionable ethics...

Siskoid said...

Madeley: I think it fell a little flat for me when first run (of course, how reliable are 8-year-old memories?). It's true, cheeky title in retrospect.

Craig: Yeah, I liked both moments, and Suki, though she was LITERALLY a cipher.

Snell: At the same time, ripping off big banks and corporations is just the kind of thing I'd expect an anarchist like the Doctor to do. (You mean D9 right? OR ARE YOU A MCGANN DENIER??!!)

snell said...

It's early. Forgive me.

Siskoid said...

Hey, don't worry about it. Us early risers have to give each other a break.

LiamKav said...

You make a good point about "all futures are the same". Whether it's 2,000 or 20,000 or 20,000,000 AD, things still look pretty similar. We will get spaceships, and that's it. (It reminds me of a line Doc6 says in "The One Doctor" about the future being boring because everything has been discovered). And while having future people dress like us does stop things looking dated NOW, in about 10-15 years time the show will have the exact same issue. (The benchmark that springs to mind is "Friends". I remember when people tried to dress like the characters. Now, while the last couple of seasons still look okay fashion wise, there is some horrible, horrible dated things going on in the mid-90s episodes. Did jeans really use to be that baggy?)

Anonymous said...

I figure the Doctor has a little bit of the Bohemian ethic in him, where Providence simply provides once in a while. And if you have to goose Providence along with a magic ATM card once in a while, well, the universe is a funny place that way.

I'm not making a moral argument, so much as one that appeals to the Doctor's sensibilities.

Randal said...

Anyone recall the speculation at the time that Adam would end up being Davros somehow? What with his "third eye" thing going on. I remember, at the time, it being a fairly convincing argument...

But Adam did end up getting his revenge...

DAVID WALSTON said...

I love Simon Pegg, just not here.

Siskoid said...

I don't remember Adam as Davros, no, but yeah, he did get (is getting) his revenge ever as we speak.

 

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