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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Gridlock”

(intro to my Who blogging / previous: Episode 2: “The Shakespeare Code”)

Very delayed. Sorry. Blame Harry Potter.


I’ve seen this episode three or four times now, and each time, I think more highly of it. I’m not crazy about the New New York stuff for starters — it’s just not alien enough for five billion years in the future, but, okay: whatever. … Wait. No. The cat guy tells the old ladies not to sully his ears with reminders that they are not, in fact, sisters, but a married couple, and he says, “Stop that modern talk, I’m an old-fashioned cat!” I mean, Christ: if we’re still worrying about who fucks whom in the year five billion, it’s long past time for a fork to be stuck in the human race.
Still, it’s not worth getting too upset over — all science fiction is about now, not about the year five billion or whenever, right? So, good job on the hellish vision of endless traffic jams and “10 miles in six years” being a good rate of movement and kidnapping strangers so you can get into the HOV lane. God, it feels like I’ve been stuck on that highway. I never picked up the Doctor as a hitchhiker though, more’s the pity. Why are itinerant Time Lords never hitching a lift when I’m driving?

More, though: the satire of the underclass forced into horrible circumstances, taking terrible risks, all for the promise of “getting ahead”… that’s brilliant. And it’s all an empty promise, of course, a dead end, what with the motorway exits all closed. But hey, as long as there’s hymns and religion to keep the masses down and, you know, not rising up against their overlords, everything’s fine. Everyone’s so taken in by the system, which is completely designed to keep them running in circles, that Doctor’s posing as “motorway foot patrol” actually works, actually fools people. And then genuine revolution does bubble up from the undercity, from the underclass anyway. Take that, overlords.

The best aspects of this episode, though, are the best aspects of every episode of Russell Davies’ reimagination of Who: the fan fiction fodder, the stuff that seems to come straight from fan fic itself. Ah, the Doctor, and his guilt when it comes to getting his companions in trouble, which is not entirely a new thing. Martha’s pushing back, though, is: “You don’t talk — you never say,” she cries, exasperated, when the Doctor evades her personal questions yet again. And then he does. He talks about Gallifrey:

The skies are burnt orange, with the Citadel enclosed in a mighty glass dome shining under the twin suns. Beyond that the mountains go on forever, slopes of deep red grass capped with snow.

That’s actually before Martha got mad. And after:

You should have seen it, that old planet. The second sun would rise in the south and the mountains would shine. The leaves on the trees were silver — when they caught the light every morning it looked like the forest on fire.

And David Tennant sells it so well: his Doctor is hurtin’ something fierce, like we fans always knew he was (and that was before the Time War!) and like the old show never really showed us. Gallifrey sound so familiar, so real — I was convinced I’d heard the planet described like this before. I actually went back to one of my own fan fiction stories to see if I’d used similar descriptions — I would have sworn I have. But no. My Gallifrey couldn’t have been more different:

Thousands of years before I was born, a renegade Time Lord called Morbius waged terrible war on Gallifrey. The planet was rendered uninhabitable, but by the time I got there, the world was healing itself. Now, though, we all lived in great domed cities — the Outside was wild and untamed and peopled with savage Shobogans and overrun with ferocious, mutated animals. At least, those were the stories children were told… not as entertainment, of course — strictly as history….

It was so strange to have rocks and dirt under my feet instead of the carpet and tile of the city. I kicked some gravel around for the sheer joy of it. A small, sickly white sun was suspended in the grey sky, and a sharp wind whipped through me– Well, I’ve told you about Gallifrey before, Ayren — it’s a desolate hole.

(That’s from a story I wrote in the early 90’s called “Hunt Mates.” I’m considering posting some of my Doctor Who fan fic, just for fun. Should I?)

But it turns out that Davies is picking up ideas about Gallifrey from way back in the show’s history, which have probably been repeated in other writers’ fan fic or other noncanonical stuff, like the novels. That’s probably where I came across similar descriptions before. It’s not that I’m so keyed into this silly show that it resonates so deeply with me. Nothing like that all.

All this Face of Boe stuff: this will come back later on, so remember this “You are not alone” stuff. What I don’t get, though, is why the Doctor is so mysterious here. “Legend says the Face of Boe has lived for billions of years,” the Doctor tells Martha, but he knows for a fact that this is true: he encountered the Face of Boe at least as early as the year 200,000 (Boe was on a TV screen on Satellite 5, the news space station, back in the Eccleston season, in “The Long Game”), which is definitely billions of years earlier. So why the equivocation? I don’t have an answer for that…

Random thoughts on “Gridlock”:

• The New New York Gothic couple at the beginning — hee hee!

• Janis Joplin gave the Doctor his coat? Cool

• The Doctor likes kittens!

• “He’s completely insane.” “And a bit magnificent.” Best description of the Doctor ever.

(next: Episode 4: “Daleks in Manhattan”)

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
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  • This episode was cute, but I found the end very rushed, a big build-up to not a lot.

    I find it funny that people dress the same so far in the future. It really bugs a friend of mine, but to me, it dispenses of one of the worst aspects of even the best science fiction – future fashion. It’s almost always dreadful and stupid. Best to not worry about it, I think.

  • Joanne

    Yes, you should post your Who fanfic.

    I love Gridlock. It’s so beautifully bookended by those two descriptions of Gallifrey and Tennant is just so wonderful delivering them. I think he’s equivocal about the Face of Boe because he’s too used by this point to being equivocal and a bit shady. He hasn’t yet opened up to Martha completely – that happens in the next scene. And also I think he likes being mysterious.

    And the singing. It’s just lovely.

  • PaulW

    Always post your fanfic. What’s the point of writing fanfic if noone gets to see how cool your Mary Sues are? ‘-)

    Try fanfiction.net as a depository. I’m sure they’ve got a Dr. who section now.

  • the singing was lovely, but also a bit of a drug for the masses, wasn’t it? it leads them to believe they “are not abandoned”. but who do they think is singing to them? or do they thing that god has not abandoned them? the Doctor looks at them all as if they’re a bit insane for being so comforted by this antique music!

    i also love the idea that Brannigan — who is a *cat* remember, married to a *human* woman, with a litter of kittens — is a bit shocked by the two women saying they’re married!

  • but who do they think is singing to them? or do they thing that god has not abandoned them?

    But they weren’t abandoned, were they? Don’t forget that while their situation was pretty horrible, it was also necessary in order to keep them alive.

  • MaryAnn

    Always post your fanfic. What’s the point of writing fanfic if noone gets to see how cool your Mary Sues are? ‘-)

    Oh, people have read my fanfic. It was published in zines that were pretty widely read (as zines went) in the late 80s and early 90s.

    My Mary Sue was cool. But she rapidly became something far less Mary Sue-ish…

  • Russell T. Davies is quite an atheist – anyone who
    hasn’t seen “The Second Coming” with Eccleston really should, it’s absolutely brilliant and a model for the characterization of the Doctor.

    The religious thing will come up again this series and seen through my understanding of Davies’ views – which I share – it has always seemed to me he is acknowledging the unifying quality of religion, its ability to soothe by purporting a purpose and a plan, and its grandeur through its artistic expression even as it is based on nothing other than people’s need for all these things.

    In Davies view, religion is the result of mistranslation of the facts. It’s really one of the central themes of the third series.

  • MaryAnn

    Russell T. Davies is quite an atheist

    Ah, now I love him even more. And he still won’t be interesting in letting me have his babies…

  • Poly

    It’s interesting that at the Gridlock commentary, Russell T Davies says that in his script the Doctor had a positive reaction and was moved by the singing, and David Tennant thought that the Doctor’s reaction should be more ambivalent, because the Doctor sees both the uniting power of the faith and the resulting trap. And that’s what ended up on screen.

    I love this episode exactly because of this ambivalence: there is no good and evil, the people are trapped because someone tried (and succeeded) to save them from the virus, but their situation now is almost as bad. Equally their faith is what keeps them alive and a trap itself and the monsters are just survivors at the bottom of the pit.

  • Charlie

    One thing that bugs me about “Gridlock” is that out of all the monsters from the classic series that Russell T. Davies wanted to revive, why would he chose the Macra from “The Macra Terror”, a Troughton era story which is one of the most forgettable stories from the Troughton era with the Macra being a very forgettable monster?

    Anyway, MaryAnn, I read somewhere that you found 60’s black & white stories slow-paced. Whilst that may be true, they offered some scary or thrilling alien monster stories from like The Dalek Masterplan, The Evil of The Daleks, The Invasion, Fury From The Deep, The Web of Fear/The Abominable Snowmen which exist entirely on audio now(the voice of the Yeti/the Great Intelligence still creeps the hell out of me.), and outstanding historical dramas like The Massacre (awesome solo speech with Hartnell and great drama), the darkly comic The Romans, The Smugglers or even the adventurous The Crusade.

  • MaryAnn

    It’s true, I’ve never been crazy about 60s-era *Who.* It starts kickin’ ass for me in the 70s, with Pertwee.

  • Crhis!

    What is si confusing about the Face of Boe? The Doctor has seen the creation of the Earth and visited the end of the universe yet he is only about 900 years old in this episode.

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