‘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”)

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