Finally! A Russell T. Davies episode that I really enjoyed!
Ok, so I liked “Rose”, and “The End of the World” was good. “Aliens of London” and “World War 3” just made me want to cringe at times. Taken as a whole, Mr. Davies episodes have been the weaker ones of this run of Doctor Who, being somewhat lean in the plot department and filled with left-wing political preaching, sexual innuendo and juvenile humor in the form of flatulent aliens or burping trash bins. “The Long Game” avoids most of these pitfalls to one extent or another (apart from the ever-present left-wing politics… one would think we’re watching televised NAs here), though it has a few of its own. On the whole, it’s pretty good.
Just to knock out the complaints first, so I can get on to the strengths of the episode, let’s start with the year: 200,000? I mentioned this in my review of “Bad Wolf” since the setting is the same, but there’s no way that I can accept so many similarities to the 21st century would exist 198,000 years in the future. Look at how much societies have changed in 2000 years, or 5000. It’s night and day, and yet the year 200,000 looks not too dissimilar than our own time, some technical and architectural details aside. It’s absurd.
Leaving that aside, the idea of a society manipulated and made docile by the mass media is nothing new, but it’s handled well enough here. The Doctor, Rose and Adam arrive during the time of “the fourth great and bountiful human empire” to find that empire’s growth has been stunted by media manipulation. People don’t think or question, they just accept what they’re spoon-fed on the 24-hour news and information network, broadcast from Satellite Five. Evidently they don’t have the sense to turn the TV off.
Naturally, the Doctor smells a rat and starts to sniff out the source of the problem. In the context of this story, unlike others this season, it seems appropriate that he does not himself end the threat, but instead leads Cathica to the truth of events so that she can end it, since his goal once he determines what the problem is, is to get people to think for themselves. Of course, there’s likely to be anarchy and chaos for a while if the population is as dependent on media as the episode makes them out to be.
Cathica and Suki were both well-realized characters. The episode’s only real “uh-oh, something’s wrong here” moments came when Suki steps from the lift into the glorious floor 500 only to find an icy room with dead people. It wasn’t hard to guess that this was where she would end up, but the scene still worked well, as did her sudden change into freedom-fighter mode, which I did not expect. The misdirection at the beginning of the episode where the Editor talks about someone being out of place is well executed as well. I (of course) expected that he was talking about the Doctor and Rose rather than Suki, so her singling out as the one out of place and promotion was a nice little twist.
Cathica’s desire to avoid trouble and not be involved with the Doctor’s little bit of anarchy is nicely realistic, but it’s also nice to see that she has enough curiosity or concern to take the elevator up to the 500th floor and see what’s there. And it’s nice to see that she has the courage to act when the true facts are presented to her. My friend who watched this episode with my wife and me got a good laugh out of the “you should have promoted me years ago” line, and decided that the moral of the story was “always promote your good employees”.
I like the villains of this episode. I’ve not seen Simon Pegg in anything else, but he seems to be enjoying his role in this episode, and is indeed one of the highlights. His character, The Editor, is mean and nasty by virtue of his actions, but he’s also amusing and fun to watch. I get the sense that he enjoys his job, though I wonder how he got it, and what happened to the marketplace of ideas when it comes to news, if indeed the Jagrafess and satellite 5 have a monopoly on the media. The Editor says that he works for a consortium of banks, seemingly another swipe at the free market and capitalism by RTD, when ironically the free market and competition of ideas would solve the problem presented us by the episode.
The Jagrafess is a big nasty zit with teeth, with no real motivation. Cool monster, but if I were him, would I hang around in a space station playing network executive? Not likely, but maybe that’s what Jagrafesses the universe over like to do.
As for the regulars, temporary and otherwise, they all get a decent amount of screen time. The Doctor acts as troublemaker and motivator, a typical but well-executed role for the character. Rose has less to do than usual, but we get to watch the rather interesting idea of a companion who is along for the ride so he can get something out of it. Adam has some backbone to get that thing installed in his head, if not a lot of common sense. The Doctor’s condemnation of him and unceremonious dumping of him back home is rather cruel, especially considering that the Doctor facilitated his actions in the first place by encouraging him to jump in with both feet, and by giving him the unlimited finances that enabled Adam to pay for his operation. The ending of the episode leaves a sour taste in my mouth since Adam in no way deserved quite so harsh a punishment. Hopefully we’ll see the situation remedied somewhere down the line.
Overall: a nice self-contained episode where nothing terribly cringe-worthy happens. The message of the episode does not overwhelm the plot and the guest actors are all excellent. 8 out of 10.