Doctor Who 3.03: Gridlock

Written by: Russell T Davies

Directed by: Richard Clark

Rating:

The double-edged sword of this episode is the basic concept of an enclosed motorway. It’s a clever idea, because it allows for the sort of episode fans have been crying out for – an episode set in a truly immersive alien realm – while using up very little of the precious FX budget (just think about how much time is spent in tiny sets). You’ve got to admire the lateral thinking. On the other hand, once you start questioning the plot it begins to falls apart. An undercity totally unaware of the death of the rest of their civilisation? People driving around for 23 years without going crackers? Why would anyone ever set off on such a journey – living in a slum’s a better life! And how did a bunch of mega-crabs get inside the motorway if it’s been sealed off for decades?

However, as usual, Russell T Davies’s script is so replete with audacious notions that you can forgive any number of troubling plot holes. “New Earth”
was one of last year’s less impressive episodes, but by showing us a different side of New New York, Who delivers a quirky sci-fi realm that’s as near to the future visions of Blade Runner as they’re ever likely to go on a BBC budget. It’s brimming with irresistibly quirky ideas (mood drugs; talking kittens) and visual treats (the “American Gothic” couple in the teaser; a feline rocker; Doctor Who’s first bare naked lady!). Special props to whoever was responsible for the humorous attention to detail – look out for a jar of pickled eggs in one car, and a stack of toilet rolls in another!

As returning monsters go, the Macra (last seen in 1967, when they were a hell of a lot smaller!) are a bizarre choice, but one that on reflection makes sense. Given that the production team are mostly limited to CGI creatures that don’t speak (lip-synching is too expensive), one suspects that Davies flicked through his episode guide looking for an old monster that would fit the bill. We’re glad he did: since their original story no longer exists in the archives, their return is a welcome gift to the fans – for most, a first chance to see them in action.

One final criticism? Well, the actor who plays Milo is pretty… pretty wooden. But Freema and Tennant balance the scales. In particular, this is a great showcase for Freema’s talents, who pulls off all the emotions the script requires – wonder, fear, anger – with aplomb. Billie? Billie who?

Meanwhile Tennant’s reaction to the Face of Boe’s bombshell (sadly underwhelming for hardcore fans, since they gave it away in the Doctor Who Annual two years ago…) and his speech about the wonders of Gallifrey are beautifully played.

A vivacious romp that has more than its fair share of hanky moments, “Gridlock” may not stand up to close analysis too well… but by God it’s fun!

Dialogue
Brannigan: “A fifty-foot head – just think of it. Imagine picking that nose!”

Ian Berriman