In the seventh episode of the first series of Doctor Who, the Doctor travels with Rose and their new companion, Adam, to the year 200,000. Experiencing life during the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire, the Doctor realizes something has been holding life back from progression. Oh, and SIMON PEGG!!!! Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
Do people really not like this episode? Perhaps it’s part of a larger picture and I’ll understand it as I watch more Doctor Who, but this episode was fun, exciting, and had a great self-contained story. Also SIMON PEGG. Thank you for not spoiling that he was a guest star on an episode. I didn’t actually recognize him at first and once I did, the episode became even greater to me.
What I’m coming to love about Doctor Who is the show’s capacity for satire that is both funny and educational. I know quite a few of you have mentioned in the comments that this show was created as a way to be an educational program for families to watch. It’s still a strange thought that it’s still considered a family show. I mean, if I had a family, I would certainly let them all watch Doctor Who, but I also live in America, where family entertainment is usually puerile. This show is definitely not that.
So, “The Long Game.” Here, Russell T Davies tackles quite a few things at the same time and does so effortlessly, weaving the story of Adam’s first experience traveling through time, the future of media communications, and an unbelievably frightening alien. What is immediately jarring about the human experience in the year 200,000 is that things really aren’t quite as different as they should be. I didn’t realize that it was so strange because the Doctor knew the future. I thought it was so weird that there was still news and fast food. I meanâ€¦.fast food. I love a good hamburger (vegan, of course!), but that food cart seemed to have progressed maybe a year or two into the future.
Using that amazing ID card, the Doctor tricks two employees into believing he is upper management. Eager to get a promotion, Cathica (played by the gorgeous Christine Adams) answers all of the Doctor’s questions. In the year 200,000, 96 billion people make up the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire, all connected by Satellite 5, a 600-channel news broadcasting system used by the Empire to keep its humans informed. The employees who work at Satellite 5 all have one of two things installed in them: computer chips that allow them to transit and read the news, or ports in the center of their forehead to process all news available in the entire Universe. So it’s like downloading everything that current exists ever all at the same time. Talk about overload.
I’ll just say that whenever a society wants to install a computer chip in your brain, it’s never used as a good thing. Is that a trope? I tried to find it on TvTropes, but couldn’t. But yeah, as soon as the episode started using that, I knew that someone or something was up to no good.
We start to see what that is when Suki is exposed by a man called “The Editor,” played by Simon Pegg. (I’ve since read that Pegg was a huge fan of Doctor Who, so it had to be a dream for him to be on the show.) The Editor has an battalion of dead employees, whose computer chips he is still using to spy on other humans and obtain as much knowledge as possible from the whole universe. The problem is that there’s no one who quite understands the entirety of the history of the universe as much as the Doctor, who continues to believe that something is awry. Davies sets up a confrontation between the two of them early in this episode. Obviously, it was inevitable that they would meet, but I love the contrast of their knowledge. As a Time Lord, the Doctor’s knowledge largely comes from lived experience; The Editor’s knowledge is stolen as he sits in an editing booth, controlling the universe. The Doctor doesn’t know everything, and is ready to learn first-hand. The Editor knows virtually everything and has no interested in lived experience.
Even better? Contrast that all with the foolish way that Adam acts in “The Long Game.” Adam comes into contact with knowledge and immediately acts to exploit it in a way that will directly benefit himself. He keeps Rose’s modified mobile phone and even goes far to consult with a nurse on floor 16 (omg Tamsin Greig, who was also in Shaun of the Dead with Simon Pegg SORRY I GET EXCITED ABOUT SUCH THINGS) and get a port installed in his brain. NO REALLY, ADAM, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING.
We’ll get back to that. I want to spend some time talking about Cathica. I think it’s rare that guest characters on most TV shows get a full treatment from the writers, especially when the main focus is only on one or two people. What I really grew to love about Davies’s writing in “The Long Game” was the amount of time spent on Adam and, most especially, Cathica. Cathica is a strong, powerful woman who believes she’s been cheated of what’s due to her. Davies never reduces to her to any sort of stereotype and also never strips her of her individuality; if anything, the Doctor merely enhances by doing something this current society forgot how to: ask questions.
The Doctor isn’t patronizing to Cathica’s condition, since she clearly can’t control the chip in her brain. Instead, by demonstrating just a few inaccuracies and inconsistencies with the life she’s known, he begins a slow process in her brain. It’s great that we get scenes where we get to see her begin to sow the seeds of doubt in her brain; we watch her world unravel and it’s not a bad thing. She starts asking questions, something she’d been programmed not to do.
The real treat, though, is the conversation the Editor and the Doctor have once they head up to floor 500. It’s not at all a stretch of the imagination that broadcast news can control a population. We’ve all seen how it happened in regards to the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the way American news has dominated the conversation about terrorism, Muslims,Â immigration, and health care. The actual truth is nowhere near as interesting as the tidbits and buzzwords that networks can (and did) sell us.
THE EDITOR: Create a climate of fear and it’s easy to keep the borders closed. It’s just a matter of emphasis. The right word in the right broadcast repeated often enough can destabilize an economy, invent an enemy, change a vote.
And what’s controlling all of this in the future?
THE EDITOR: ‘That thing,’ as you put it, is in charge of the human race. For almost a hundred years, mankind has been shaped and guided, his knowledge and ambitions strictly controlled by its broadcast news, edited by my superior, your master and humanity’s guiding light, The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe.
Or, “Max,” as the Editor refers to him. And I loved the CGI that created him, mostly because it was consistent. Also, IT’S AN ALIEN BLOB ON THE CEILING WITH A MOUTH FULL OF DEADLY TEETH. That’s pretty awesome.
It’s cheesy, sure, but I love that what ultimately takes down Max and The Editor is doubt: asking the right questions at the right time because you don’t believe what you’ve been told. It’s also a great moment for Cathica and I wish we’d see her again, but I imagine we won’t see her again. I feel the same way about Adam, in the sense that I’m sure we won’t see him again. However, Adam’s actions are the opposite of Cathica’s epiphany. He moves without questions through the future and instead interacts with the world around him in a way that will best benefit him. The Doctor’s rage at what he’d done is actually kind of scary; it’s different than what we saw in “Dalek,” where his anger was motivated by a very emotional, personal trigger. Here, it’s Adam’s ignorant foolishness that threatened to rewrite history. To be honest? I’m glad the Doctor left him behind. I wouldn’t trust him again after seeing what he’d done ON HIS VERY FIRST TRIP TO THE FUTURE. I mean, way to make a good impression, dude.
- “The thing is, Adam, time travel is like visiting Paris. You can’t just read the guide book. You’ve got to throw yourself in, eat the food, use the wrong verbs, get charged double and end up kissing complete strangers—or is that just me? Stop asking questions. Go and do it!”
- I love that the Doctor gives Rose info at first so she can impress Adam. It’s cute.
- A question that you can answer if it’s not spoilery: the Doctor tells Cathica that she “should chucked this out years ago” when referring to the technology in her head. Does that mean that history is different from what it should have been? How is that possible? Doesn’t someone need to come correct it then?
- “And on the Bad Wolf Channel, The Face of Boe just announced he’s pregnant.” OH GOD Bad Wolf again? And The Face of Boe still scares me. 🙁
- NO THANK YOU TO THE VOMIT-O-MATIC.
- “I only take the best. I’ve got Rose.”
- OMG more than halfway done with Eccleston. SAD.