Sunday, September 7, 2014

One-Shot With A Brilliant Social Message And An Alien Of The Week Playing “The Long Game!”

The Good: Acting (especially the regulars and Simon Pegg), Moments of character, Concept
The Bad: Moments of cheesiness, Erratic character development, Special effects
The Basics: “The Long Game” is a better episode in the context of the first season of Doctor Who than it is a decent hour of television.

The concept of a time travel show is an interesting one, especially when it involves travel forward and backward in time. Doctor Who, with its reboot in the mid-2000s, was ballsy in that it went backward and forward in little increments and leaps and bounds, usually episode by episode. Unfortunately, even as the show managed to keep the feeling of being fresh in its seventh episode, “The Long Game,” those who watch the season attentively will find that “The Long Game” is very much the same – thematically – as most of the episodes that preceded it. Doctor Who belabors a theme of greed in its first season, which has a foil in the selfless act at the climax of the season. Until that comes up, though, it seems like every adversary The Doctor and Rose encounter is motivated by pure, unadulterated, greed.

“The Long Game” is an episode that appears to be a standalone episode, though it resonates later in the season with a return to the setting introduced in this episode. The purpose of the episode is largely to dispose of the new companion and illustrate an audacious concept in the Doctor Who chronology. In this version of Doctor Who, time is in flux and The Doctor recognizes differences between what time is supposed to be and what it ends up being. Unfortunately, this revelation – and its relevance later in the season – do not save the episode from being an often-cheesy Alien Of The Week Episode.

The Doctor, Rose and Adam arrive 200,000 years in Earth’s future. There, they find themselves on Satellite Five where The Doctor expects to find Earth at the great and bountiful Fourth Empire, at the height of culture and civilization. While Rose and Adam explore Satellite Five, the Doctor investigates the discrepancies between the history he remembers and the filthy, news-obsessed, somewhat oppressive civilization he finds there. Adam gets Rose’s TARDIS-based cell phone while The Doctor looks at the technology that runs Satellite Five. When their guide, Cathica, is alarmed when her subordinate at the planet’s news organization, Suki is abruptly promoted, The Doctor reveals that time has been horribly altered.

Suki meets with the Editor of the news feed that Satellite Five is streaming out while Adam tries to learn about the advanced computer technologies in the year 200,000 to send back to the past (presumably for his own gain). With The Doctor’s credits buying him a brain-computer upgrade, Adam gains the ability to hack into Satellite Five’s main computer. The Doctor and Rose, watching the heat signatures, head to Floor 500 after Cathica reveals that Satellite Five came on line 91 years prior, which is about how long human evolution seems to be off-course from The Doctor’s expectations. On level 500, The Editor of Satellite Five reveals what is behind the alterations to human history and Adam Mitchell’s interference on Satellite Five puts Rose and The Doctor at risk!

“The Long Game” is a real mixed concept episode. The Jagrofess is a pretty generic alien of the week and the alien and the episode rely largely upon Simon Pegg’s Editor character to sell the concept of the episode. That means a lot of exposition for the episode comes from a surprisingly creepy Pegg. The Jagrofess itself, like the head computer when Adam first uses it, looks ridiculous and it’s hard to watch “The Long Game” and not feel that there is a definite cheese factor working against the episode. Between the computer generated effects and the high camera angle descending upon Suki when she first encounters the Jagrofess and screams (as opposed to attempting escape), “The Long Game” relies a lot on elements that do not work to the benefit of the episode.

But “The Long Game” actually establishes some important conceits for this new Doctor Who. Time is fluid, so the expectations of what the Fourth Great And Bountiful Human Empire is supposed to be is established, but completely undone. The Doctor has knowledge of time and his willingness to change the course of human history . . . without actually fixing the initial problem. “The Long Game” becomes a somewhat disturbing conceptual episode in that, fairly early in the episode, The Doctor is told by Cathica that Satellite Five was created ninety-one years prior. Rather than leaving humanity enslaved for ninety-one years by a force that The Doctor knows is stunting human growth, The Doctor could have taken Rose, Adam and the TARDIS back to the inception of the temporal interference by the Jagrofess and prevented the degradation of humanity. One of the serious issues with “The Long Game” is that the Jagrofess’s temporal incursion is never actually explained. The Doctor knows time has been altered and the cause is the creation of Satellite Five and the appearance of the Jagrofess, but how those events occurred when The Doctor remembers the history of the future differently does not make sense.

On the character front, “The Long Game” is erratic as well. The Doctor is almost an incidental character in the episode until the very end. Ceding the spotlight to Rose, The Doctor lets Rose try to wow Adam before she finds him unworthy of her attention and affection. Adam’s presence pretty much forces the viewer to watch the episode “Dalek” (reviewed here!) to understand. But what follows is a huge chunk of plot exposition where Adam and the setting have more character than The Doctor and Rose. In fact, in the middle acts, the only real character moment for the Doctor and Rose comes when they take one another’s hand and take the lift to level 500.

Adam’s character development mirrors the plot exposition, as laid out by the Editor. Adam is greedy and wants to exploit future technology in the past, much like Rasmussen in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “A Matter Of Time” (reviewed here!). Again, the villain is just motivated by avarice and an inflated sense of profit motive and that, by this point in the season, is getting quite tired.

Fortunately, The Doctor’s actions in the episode’s climax completely justify the lackluster sense of growth throughout the rest of the episode. Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper once again illustrate amazing on-screen chemistry as The Doctor and Rose. They have great timing for their characters’ banter and Billie Piper’s looks of adoration at Eccleston sell her character’s deep-seated feelings for him wonderfully.

Still, “The Long Game” is very average television and while it is amusing and becomes important, on its own it is a much weaker episode than one might hope for.

For other works with Simon Pegg, please check out my reviews of:
The World's End
Star Trek Into Darkness
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader
Star Trek
How To Lose Friends And Alienate People
Run, Fatboy, Run
Mission: Impossible III

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sole season with the Ninth Doctor here!


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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