With an enclosed motorway teeming with Macra, Martha kidnapped so that a desperate young couple can get into the fast lane and the Doctor seemingly trapped in a car with a talking cat and his wife, poisonous gases and no sign of sunlight, you might be forgiven for thinking that Doctor Who has finally gone all Blade Runner.
Of course, things aren’t quite as they seem, and while the rain, futuristic urban degeneration and flying cars were visually thrilling, they lacked substance. Thankfully however, the characters made up for it.
This New Earth setting saw the Doctor lose Martha to kidnappers, encounter crablike foes the Macra, go car-hopping and encounter for the final time the Face of Boe (at least in Boe’s timeline…). However while the return of Boe – and his dying message – has been hinted at for quite some time, and was thus the subject of intense speculation (would it be the message we expected or another…?) the main meat of Gridlock was about the new dynamic of the TARDIS team, about the Doctor and Martha Jones.
So is this a missed opportunity? Could Gridlock have said something valid about pollution and environmentalism? Could Gridlock have made a more explicit – or at least pointed – comment about the fast lane/fast track analogy that I’m sure was hinted at but wasn’t quite there? Could Russell T Davies have actually managed to tie up a couple of plot points in Gridlock rather than ignore them (how did the street stalls close, exactly? How did no one for the previous twenty-five-odd years fail to realise that something was terribly, terribly wrong?)
In many respects the Macra were almost token, used it seems because they already existed and it was therefore quicker than creating another gas guzzling crab. They were well-realised, if completely two-dimensional, and who knows what happened to them next…
As I’ve already said however, this was a piece about the Doctor and Martha, and how they managed to get through the adventure separately. As such, each was given the opportunity to shine, with David Tennant superb as he dropped in on a selection of New New York citizens each with their own bizarre personality (superbly realised by a nice bit of make up and set dressing) while Freema Agyeman outshone her drivers who both refused to accept what was going on in the motorway and what was going on in the plot.
These two – so dull I can barely recall their names (so dull in fact that no one has bothered to update IMDb with their particulars) – receive a special mention in the annals of Kasterborous. They are quite simply the worst performers in Doctor Who since Silver Nemesis in 1988. How modern Doctor Who could sink so long in what is otherwise a good episode is beyond me, but the reputations of these individuals will no doubt be saved by the performances of Agyeman and Tennant, as well as O’Hanlon.
CGI-wise New Earth looks better basking in golden sunlight than it does in the dark, and while the architecture may be a bit shiny future, it nevertheless looks magnificent. Set dressing too, deserves a mention, as David Tennant and Freema Agyeman occupy several different cars throughout the episode, each one the same set dressed in different ways, as well as the senate building where the Face of Boe resides, which recalls the interior of the space platform in The End of the World where we first met Boe.
Concluding the episode, and this review, was an amazing, sparkling description by the Doctor of Gallifrey, finally opening up to Martha whose distress at being lost in the future was alleviated by the Doctor’s relentless search for her. We never saw the Doctor talk to Rose like this, and once we get past weekly references to her I imagine we’ll forget her completely. Despite some plot misgivings, there is much to appreciate in Gridlock.