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Monday, May 09, 2005
Doctor Who: The Long Game
By Russell T. Davies
Directed by Brian Grant

If last week’s “Dalek” was a high-point for the current Doctor, showcasing a great homage to the past while still having all the conventions of a more modern story, than “The Long Game” is its exact polar opposite—a story that shows off gets lost in the weaknesses of past stories, showing them off once again for all to see.

The thing about it is—I can’t really bring myself to loathe “The Long Game.” It’s in there swinging, trying very hard to be something, anything. But on the other hand I can’t bring myself to love it either. It was 45 minutes of Doctor Who and while I was reasonably entertained by it, I’m not left with any strong feelings about the story either way. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t bad—it was just sort of there.

Part of it may be the “been there, done that” feeling I got from the story. Not even a month ago, we got the new companion’s first trip in the TARDIS is to a far-flung future space station orbiting the Earth. I guess I can see Davies point in trying to set up a parallel compare and contrast between Rose and Adam, but did we really need it? Adam doesn’t take well to time travel. He’s not able to take it quickly in stride, despite his professions last week of wanting to see something outside of Earth. His sense of awe and wonder lasts all of two minutes and then he’s off trying to pull a Marty McFly and get rich via knowledge of things to come. Adam’s phoning back to his own time to leave a message on the machine about the next generation of computer processors could have been fun, if it wasn’t something that had been better done in Back to the Future, Part 2.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Rose start asking a lot of questions about the current situation on board the space station—specifically why there aren’t a lot of aliens about. (The cynical part of me says the real reason it’s cheaper for the BBC that way, but I digress). And the station is kept extremely warm. Investigation reveals that some kind of evil mind-controlling alien that needs a lot of A/C and generates an unreal amount of heat is lurking upstairs, controlling everyone through the use of news broadcasts that are created on the station. It’s Rupert Murdock or Ted Turner gone horribly, horribly wrong as it were—controlling the masses.

Which it’s not to say this wasn’t terribly exciting. It just felt a bit clichéd. We had about half the story with the monster hidden and the Doctor and Rose observed from afar by the forces of evil behind this week’s plot. At one point, I glanced at the clock, wondering if and when this week’s story was actually going to start. I think it was about fifteen or so minutes into the story. Between Adam, the Doctor and Rose’s banter, the attempts to keep the monster in the background as long as possible and establishing the situation and back story of other players in the drama, this one took a long time to get rolling. And just as it does, it’s time for it all to end.

I found myself wondering—did Davies think he’d stretch this one out to a two-parter and then decide to pull it back a bit? It seems as if the leisurely early story-telling pace warrants this, but yet I’m not sure we had enough plot here to really sustain 90 minutes of screen time.

For one thing, I’m not really sure what the motivation of this week’s big ugly was. Now, I know we don’t much in terms of motivation when it comes to Doctor Who monsters, but what was the reason this week’s ugly digitally created alien wanted to control humanity’s minds? Other than it just seemed like a really evil thing to do at the time. Doctor Who has always been about the monsters at least having some motivation or agenda for what they’re doing. They may be like the Daleks and intent on only wiping out all of humanity, but at least we can understand it as we root against the monsters.

“The Long Game” certainly also showed off one of the excesses of the 80s with guest casting. How many times did we complain in the 80's about guest stars cast for their big names and not for their being right for the role?

It’s taken to the next level here. Simon Plegg does a great job in his role as the Editor. But looking at the story as a whole, it feels as if Davies wanted to include Plegg in the series and wrote a character with him in mind. He then built the story around the character of the Editor. But what we got in the end didn’t necessarily add up to a whole, complete story.

That’s not to say there weren’t isolated bits.

The Editor’s finding out about who the Doctor was and repeating it to him was nicely done. Couple that with the Doctor’s reaction to finding a Dalek last week and I am starting to think the Doctor is hiding from something. It may explain why he’s only traveled near Earth in the first seven episodes. But what I don’t buy is how quickly Adam had knowledge of the Doctor’s entire back-story. It seems like that is not something he’d volunteer until he knew Adam a bit better.

I also liked the Doctor’s reaction once he found out what Adam was up to. Eccleston excels at righteous indignation and anger and it shows here. His terse, quick goodbye to Adam as he throws him out of the TARDIS is nicely done. As is his almost dark pleasure in the fact that Adam has a computer in his head that will open up every time someone snaps their fingers. (Yeah, it was a funny joke if a bit too set up)

And I liked Rose’s loyalty to the Doctor. I also liked the comparison between she and Adam. We’ve seen a lot of companions join the TARDIS over the years, but none has ever had the issues with it that the Adam does. And to see him try to exploit things instead of simply traveling for the wonder of exploring the universe was interesting. Until now, we’ve had mostly altruistic companions in the TARDIS and the contrast with Adam was nicely done.

But these little, isolated bits didn’t make for a complete story. I didn’t love “The Long Game” and I didn’t hate it.

It was just sort of there.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 5/09/2005 03:01:00 PM | |
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