Monday, June 8, 2015

Essential, Unremarkable, Doctor Who Makes “Gridlock” Work!

The Good: Surprisingly engaging story, Decent performances, Good special effects
The Bad: No real character development, Simplistic plot (exposition heavy)
The Basics: “Gridlock” makes getting stuck in traffic underground surprisingly engaging television!

One of the things that has been missing from the new, Steven Moffat seasons of Doctor Who is a sense of place for the universe of Doctor Who. The Russell T. Davies episodes of Doctor Who had places The Doctor returned to or referenced multiple times. One of the recurring destinations was New Earth, which was appropriately introduced in the episode “New Earth” (reviewed here!). With a new Companion for The Doctor, the old becomes new again and revisiting New Earth affords The Doctor a chance for a new adventure.

There are very few hours of television that I find myself wanting to revisit where nothing actually happens. Perhaps the best episode of television where nothing truly occurs is Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Darmok” (reviewed here!). In Doctor Who arguably the best episode where there is a much more intimate sense of scope and very little in the way of plot is “Gridlock.” “Gridlock” was exciting for me because before I ever watched an episode of Doctor Who, I had read the book The Macra Terror. As a result, I was geeking out when I saw the Macra claw in the background of “Dalek” (reviewed here!) and I was waiting for the Macra to show up again. They finally did in “Gridlock!”

The Doctor offers Martha the chance to go to another planet and she wants to see Gallifrey. But, The Doctor decides to take her to New Earth instead. There, the Face of Boe communes with one of the cat people who insists she find “him.” Arriving in the slums under New Earth, where Martha is annoyed because she realized The Doctor took Rose there, The Doctor is alarmed to see people selling emotion patches and he hears ominous talk of The Motorway. Before they know it, Martha is abducted by two people who need a third person in order to enter the “fast lane.” The Doctor learns that beneath the city of New New York, the traffic is so thick that Brannigan and his wife (whose car he ends up in) have been on the Motorway for twelve years!

As Martha and her car near the fast lane, they hear sounds of something huge and ominous that, she is told, picks off cars that descend. The Doctor is in communication with another car, occupied by a carspotter and he quickly reasons out that the traffic never truly moves and the police never respond. He decides to risk everything to find Martha while Martha and her car reach the fast lane and encounter the horrors that exist down there (and find all the exits closed!). The Doctor is rescued from his trip into the underbelly of the Motorway by Novice Hame (a catwoman from his past) and he learns the truth about the current state of New Earth from the Face Of Boe!

“Gridlock” is definitely an episode that is better for existing fans of Doctor Who than those who are just getting into the show. Too many of the relationships – the significance of New Earth, the Face Of Boe, and the magnitude of Novice Hame’s issues from “New Earth”- are very much glossed over in “Gridlock.” There is no real character development between The Doctor and Martha Jones in “Gridlock” – they spend most of the episode separated from one another. Instead, The Doctor realizes he has been showing off for Martha Jones and Martha makes explicit that she does not truly know The Doctor.

In heavily-serialized television, there are episodes that sometimes seem truly innocuous . . . until they are put in context. “Gridlock” is an episode that is heavy on foreshadowing for the third season of Doctor Who. On its own, “Gridlock” is the episode where The Doctor tells Martha Jones that he is the last of the Time Lords and he has his confession to her about how he ended the last Great Time War. But, the Face Of Boe gives The Doctor what is essentially a prophecy and he sets up the mechanism for the direction of the episode. In an episode that is otherwise, generally, stalled, “Gridlock” has essential elements to understanding the larger arcs of the season of Doctor Who.

David Tennant is good in “Gridlock,” though Freema Agyeman is given more to do in terms of emotive acting. Agyeman cries on cue well and Tennant gets through his longer scenes of exposition in an engaging enough way to keep viewers entertained. The performances in “Gridlock” are enough to make the episode entertaining and the special effects are decent.

The result is an episode of Doctor Who that is not terribly compelling, though it is necessary to the season.

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


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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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