Thursday, January 20, 2011

Postclassical Who - "The Long Game"

"Not as bad as I remembered" probably isn't the most glowing recommendation in the world but it's genuinely true about this story; this was the one which I thought might surpass Aliens of London/World War Three in terms of poorness. As usual the problem is that the setting, characters and concepts are all reasonably interesting, but they're underdeveloped and the plot is hokey nonsense. What does it mean that the human race's development is being held back? The Doctor spends a lot of time saying things are 'wrong' but then claims that the development of humanity has been held back by 'about ninety years', a curiously specific and rather insubstantial period in astronomical terms. All in all it's a pretty heavy handed satire of the dangers of mass media networks and corporations, and while its message about mass conformity and thought control, keeping people in line by preventing original ideas and so on, is not without its relevance, it's not exactly delivered with a great deal of subtlety, which doesn't seem to be RTD's strong point. Indeed I find that a lot of his satirical points are delivered in such an over the top fashion, in this case with people's heads opening, that it's easy to miss the message entirely and think that it's just trying to convey the tiresome 'the future will be weird and unpleasant' idea for cheap laughs.
Then there's Adam. He decides to try to change history, accidentally reveals a lot of information about the Doctor, and gets sent home packing. It's not a punishment we've seen before, but he's been in the TARDIS for about five minutes and frankly his character is such a cypher it's impossible to care about what happens to him. Maybe if he had stuck around for several episodes, had a bit more ambiguity to him that the Doctor was suspicious of but hadn't fully seen, a la Turlough, and had finally cracked and done something like this, then it would matter and I would care, but he doesn't so I don't. He shows up in the future, has a bit of a panic and gets punished for his troubles. Apparently the Doctor only travels with 'the best', which is apparently Rose due to her bravery, altruism and motivation to travel for the wonder and experience rather than material gain, which is fair enough, but it kind of makes you wonder what the Fifth Doctor was feeling when he was being the slightly older brother to the Adric/Nyssa/Tegan trio of squabbling adolescents. It's not like his companions haven't been stupid, reckless or greedy in the past, especially the men. Maybe this is why he travels with women so often?
It's a shame Simon Pegg is wasted in this episode too, because as much as his portrayal of the Editor is very watchable and even enjoyable, I can't help but feel that he could have been better utilised in a more important and better crafted story. In fact with the suit and the beard going on, and that malevolent sense of humour that no one else laughs with, I can almost see him doing an interesting portrayal of the Master, but we'll get to the issue of that other notorious Time Lord renegade in due course.
What about Eccly and Rose? The Ninth Doctor is still very Ninth Doctor-y here, good at enabling people to change their minds and improve themselves, encouraging people to be brave and stand up and so on, he's deceptive, he's inquisitive, he's doing everything a Doctor should do. That actually probably contributes to how by-the-numbers this story feels. The Doctor shows up in the future, something seems a bit iffy, he investigates, confronts the bad guy, and some people he's met help him blow said bad guy up. I think the villain has been blown up in every story so far. Let's see: Nestene Consciousness got hit with anti-plastic and exploded along with random parts of the building it was in, Cassandra dried out and burst, Gelth got blown up, Slitheen were hit by a missile, Dalek blows itself up and the Jagrafess heats up until it detonates. Yep, five for five. I guess it's a convenient method of representing wholesale destruction but it's getting a bit tired. Rose is pretty serviceable in this episode too, although she's rather dismissive of Adam just like she was of Mickey. I mean yes the Doctor's great and all but... well that doesn't mean you have to be harsh on other people just because they don't have a time machine and nine hundred years of experience with the universe to grant them chockloads of knowledge and bravery.
Satellite Five is reasonably interesting but the confined area means we don't get to explore enough of the nature of the Human Empire in order to understand the Doctor's repeated claims that things are wrong. Sure, people's heads open up but how do we know that's 'wrong'? Tamsin Grieg is reliable as the Technician and the characters of Cathica and Suki/Eva do their jobs but are reasonably one-dimensional. All in all it's a pretty bog standard futuristic conspiracy run-around that reminds me vaguely of the Fourth Doctor story The Sun Makers but really it's pretty much elevated only by Simon Pegg and Eccly's performances. The music is dire, the story is complete nonsense and the character of Adam is a pointless waste when more screen time could have been devoted to Eccly Investigations, Inc.
Still, not as bad as I remembered.

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