Sunday, May 08, 2005

Doctor Who - The Long Game

The TARDIS arrives in the year 200,000 on a space station orbiting Earth. This is Satellite 5 (which implies at least 4 others, or perhaps that this is the 5th and the earlier ones have been decommissioned) and its purpose appears to be to monitor transmissions from everywhere and to add them to some vast database of information. The folks on the Satellite are journalists and have chips in their heads to aid them in their task. Among them are Cathica and Suki. Cathica is some sort of information node (she has what is described as an info-spike chip which allows her access to all the information, wheras the others just have a small chip in the back of their heads which lets them use the computers) and the journalists pump their information through her brain into the main computers. The first question I had here was that assuming the journalists never leave their own alotted floor of the Satellite (we are on floor 139 of 500) then what are they providing news and information on exactly? Cronk burger riots perhaps? The state of the air conditioning? There are screens telling them what is being reported elsewhere (including a network intriguingly called 'Bad Wolf TV' which reports that the Face of Boe - who we met in The End of the World - is pregnant with Baby Boemina) so are they then some sort of critic on the news ... reporting on the reporting perhaps? It's very unclear what the purpose of all this is. And then there's the Editor, a human representative of the financial banks who are running the operation on the Satellite ... he seems to live alone, on the 500th floor, which is freezing cold, and talks to himself a lot. He 'edits' the information, but with 499 floors and goodness knows how many people living on them, how does one man, and a group of immobile zombies, manage to keep track of it all? Does he sleep or rest? And what happens when he does? Does the news gathering/transmission stop? And how can apparently dead zombie-like humans continue to process information after their death? The Doctor says their chips keep working, but their brains would atrophy, surely ... Anyway, back to the plot, and the Doctor, Rose and Adam (who, after a promising introduction in Dalek is totally useless here - worse than Mickey, and that's saying something) faff about a little and get the jist of what is going on before the Doctor decides to find out what is really happening and hacks into the computer in order to check out the air conditioning systems (it is hot on the 139th floor despite the total lack of any visible evidence of this fact - no-one sweats or wears less clothing as a result, but maybe they're all used to it) and finds that all the hot air is being vented down from above. He and Rose then get the access codes for a lift to take them to the 500th floor. Meanwhile Suki has been identified by the Editor as a terrorist named Eva san Julienne and 'promoted' up, only to meet the Editor's boss - which attacks and zombifies her. The 500th floor is freezing cold and it's snowing there too (interesting as the rooms don't seem large enough to have their own climates which you'd need to generate snow). Again, despite any steaming breath or such like, Rose and the Doctor (and indeed the Editor) don't seem to mind the cold, and we finally get to meet the Boss ourselves - it's a huge monster thing which seems to be living in the roof, and which goes by the unlikely (and unpronouncable) name of The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe (or 'Max' as the Editor says he calls him). Once again the creature is achieved through CGI but this time it looks awful and even more rubbery than if it had been made of rubber. I would have far preferred to have seen a real creature for this effect, and the CGI made it all seem so unreal somehow on this occasion, and a far removed threat. Maybe if its saliva had been spattering the Editor all the time it might have seemed more 'real'. Cathica, having seen the Doctor and Rose questionning just about everything (something which she and her fellow workers don't do, which is odd for journalists) and taking the lift up, decides to do the same and follows them. She finds out the truth: that the Jagrafess has been manipulating and holding back humanity for 90 years and decides to reveal this information to everyone else ... and/or to disrupt the air conditioning systems to heat up the 500th floor. The heat causes the Jagrafess to explode with a messy pop and humanity is back on track again. What is it with this series of Who and exploding monsters anyway? The Nestene Consciousness was a sort of already-exploded gloopy alien thing in Rose, then Cassandra exploded in The End of the World, and a Slitheen exploded in World War III ... I almost wonder why the Dalek creature didn't explode in Dalek ... The denoument all seems so simplistic ... the Doctor leaves without a thought as to how the inhabitants of Satellite 5 will manage. What about the Editor ... was he killed? And how did the dead Suki hold on to him to prevent his escape? What happens to the news feeds to Earth now? The whole plot with Adam feels tacked on, and while Tamsin Greig is great as the nurse, none of her scenes add anything to the overall story, and she ends up in the same 'familar face in cameo' position as Ken Dodd was in Delta and the Bannermen. In fact all the cast are brilliant, especially Christine Adams as Cathica and Anna Maxwell-Martin as Suki. Overall, while I enjoyed this episode a lot, it left far too many unanswered questions in my mind, and really felt rushed. Adam was a waste of time and Rose did nothing (again). The incidental music was a mixture of the brilliant (where Suki explores the 500th floor for the first time) and the dire (when the Cronk-burger man is selling his wares). The CGI effects were a similar mix of the inspired and the pedestrian (brilliant for the forhead opening info-spike and the shots of Satellite 5 in space, and awful for the Jagrafess monster at the end). For me this was the weakest episode so far, and I wonder if this is why it's hidden away in the middle of the run. However it's still miles ahead of anything else on television at the moment, and with such high standards set already, it's almost inevitable that some episodes will fare better than others. But why is it called The Long Game? I suppose we have to wait and see, and maybe this refers to the succession of clues we're being given along the way as to some deeper mystery ... The trailer for next week looks intriguing. A sort of 'what happens if you change time' idea ...

1 comment:

The Co-ordinator said...

I have a feeling that come the end of the series, "The Long Game" will be looked at in a better light than presently. Even at the moment though, I still enjoyed it considerably and feel that weaker episodes ("Rose", "The Unquiet Dead" and "World War III") have preceeded it.

Overall, as you rightly say, we are very fortunate in being treated to high quality TV every week - Doctor Who is clearly touching the right nerve with the general public. Long may it continue!