Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Long Game

[2005, Season 27/Series 1, Episode 7]
Between the year 1900 and 2000, over the span of one hundred years, the entire world changed.  Cars became the ubiquitous form of transport.  Humanity conquered the skies.  We sent men to land on the moon, 250,000 miles away.  We sent machines to scientifically examine every planet of the Solar System.  Also, the internet.

Given the change just one hundred years made once ideas could spread immediately, you can scarcely imagine what sorts of things could happen one thousand years from now, not to mention ten thousand or more.

The Long Game is set in the faraway future of the year 200,000.  This, then, is our vision of this distant time:
Pictured: Fast Food and cheap 2005 clothing.

Maybe it’s just me, but if you’re going to go that far out on a limb and jump that far into the future, you’d better come up with something pretty phenomenal (or at least a good excuse for why there’s so little technological advancement, ala Frontios).  In End of the World, Davies pulled this off.  Oh, sure, there were still giant ventilation shafts and humongous fans in the middle of pathways for no reason and such, but there was also one knockout: the ability to hold back a star exploding in order to time it for tourists.  That is a pretty mind-boggling ability. (while we’re at it, they were also able to shift the Earth’s continents to the ones we’re familiar with) That’s a big enough leap that I’ll forgive the vents.

But the world of The Long Game feels like the late 21st century at best.  If the Earth’s tech had been crumbling somehow, it would be more credible, but the Earth Empire stretches over three galaxies.  The Doctor does say that technology seems to be behind the times… by 91 years.
200,000 AD.  One space station.

Whatever.  At the end of the season, there’s a partial explanation for this, if not a totally satisfying one.  Its vision of the future is weak, but that doesn’t mean I can just dismiss the rest of the episode entirely.  After all, there’s some great character work here.

The relationship between the Doctor and Rose is shown through Adam, who Rose convinced the Doctor to bring onboard on their last trip (although why is a mystery).  Right at the beginning, the Doctor tells Rose where and when they are, and she turns to Adam to impress him with her knowledge.  It’s a cute joke on the surface, but there’s more there, too.  The Doctor is clearly pretty possessive of Rose and tries to keep her from latching onto anyone else.  So here, by making her informed, she automatically gets on his side, not Adam’s.  He pulls her away from empathizing with his uncertainty about how strange this all is, and instead gets her to laugh at it from the outside – meaning in the end, she’s his, not Adam’s.  A subtle but crafty bit of manipulation from a master of manipulation.

There’s more good interaction there.  When he begins to suspect that things are really bad, he warns her to leave.

            Doctor: You should go back downstairs.

            Rose: Tough!

Eccleston is terrific here, one of his best performances as the Doctor.  His authority is genuinely menacing, his false goofiness perfectly tuned.  Piper is a delight throughout.

But it’s the villain that really takes the cake.  Simon Pegg is magnificent as The Editor.  Unsurprisingly, he’s great at the comedic aspects, but more importantly, he’s every bit as authoritative and menacing as the Doctor, and stands toe to toe with him without losing an inch.  It’s riveting watching those two actors go at it at the end.

So the question is, are a few terrific characterizations enough to overcome an otherwise so-so episode?  It’s poorly structured – pretty much just 45 minutes of exposition.  Other than the editor, there’s little character development beyond what personality the actors bravely try to bring.  The satire is a yawn, going after a far-too-obvious target with a edge so dull it wouldn’t sell at a flea market.

I’m not good at analogies.  Just go with it.

The last element is Adam.  It’s a great idea: a potential companion who goes on a trip, but doesn’t work out, and is left back at home after a single adventure.  Great concept.   

Unfortunately, it’s undermined partly by his appearance in Dalek.  While he’s not unlikable, he’s not terribly likable, either.  It’s hard to see what interested Rose in him in the first place.

But for all that, the stuff he does here to get thrown off doesn’t seem that bad.  Not bad enough for what happens to him, anyway.  Oh, sure, it’s self-centered and greedy, and could cause problems in the timeline, but it seems more like a naïve rookie mistake than a life-threatening blunder.  I mean, it’s not like Adric who kept “accidentally” betraying the Doctor in every other episode.  Adam’s mistake does make things worse for the Doctor at the end, but only because of lazy writer’s contrivances.

Further, it’s not really relevant to the story itself.  Cut that subplot, and instead of non-stop exposition in a couple cramped rooms to tell a vast and ambitious story, you could actually take the time to show us humanity unknowingly enslaved.

Oh well.  Many Whovians really hate this episode, but I have to say, I loved Simon Pegg’s villainy and the Doctor’s most Doctorishness in the new series yet that I can’t really dislike the episode.  It’s a small notch above Aliens of London/World War III, at least, and enjoyable enough.

But compared to what’s coming up in this season, well… it just doesn’t compare.

* * ½


  • The monster in this one rarely has anything good said about him, but I love the design, the giant blob hanging from the ceiling with those gigantic teeth.  And the speed with which he gnashes about… awesome.  Oh, sure, it’s obviously CGI, but it’s well-used, even if it’s not entirely convincing.

  • On the other hand, did his henchman The Editor have to be another evil businessman?  Yes, it’s kind of nice to have bad guys who aren’t out for world domination just because.  But so far this season, we’ve had Cassandra, the Slitheen, and Van Stanton, and now the Jagrafress.  Seriously, it’s getting old already.  Why the constant anti-capitalism, RTD?  You do know that DVD and merchandising sales are why the BBC keeps spending money on this thing, right?
  • Okay, so, Adam comes back to earth with a giant hole in his head that opens whenever he snaps.  But why does it open when his Mom snaps?  Do they just open up whenever anyone snaps?  Wouldn’t that cause obvious problems?  Should I even have to mention this?  Really, that last scene could have been played poignantly, as a guy who missed his great opportunity, but instead it’s just a joke that doesn’t make any sense.  Yeesh.
  • Man, the cinematography has been really ugly these last few episodes after the gorgeous End of the World and Unquiet Dead.  It makes these screenshots so much less fun to grab.

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