At the heart of Russell T. Davies’s approach to Doctor Who in 2005 was a radical departure from the Classic series. He planned that most of the Doctor’s victories would be the result of the Doctor inspiring ordinary people to be brilliant, rather than the Doctor actively saving the day himself. It is not that this is something that never happened before, but it is foregrounded in this series more than ever, and will never be as strong a theme again (to date). The Ninth Doctor, more than any other, allows other people to take the big roles in his own adventures.
This approach is absolutely brilliant, but quietly faded away, and I think the reason for that is it makes him a little weak and ineffectual, and The Long Game is probably the episode that illustrates that the best. Interestingly, the reason it is flawed here is not because of a fault with the idea of the Doctor inspiring somebody else to save the day, but the choice of character he inspires. In any other story Cathica would be irredeemable. She is sycophantic and over-ambitious to the point that she is more annoyed by missing her promotion for so long than the promotion being to somewhere you get eaten. In the hands of most writers that is exactly what would happen with a character like Cathica, she would get eaten, unredeemed. But Davies makes a hero out of her and it seems like a payoff to a character arc that isn’t quite there within the episode.
This is not to say that the Doctor is redundant in the episode. He stands as a man with an unshakeable, simple moral worldview:
The Editor: Well, now, there’s an interesting point. Is a slave a slave, if he doesn’t know he’s enslaved?
The Doctor: Yes.
The Editor: Oh, I was hoping for a philosophical debate. Is that all I’m going to get, “yes”?
The Doctor: Yes.
The Editor is an interesting character when viewed as a parallel figure to Adam. When Rose calls him out on deceiving his own people he just says simply being human doesn’t pay well, and that’s where Adam comes in as a comparison. The Editor shows where Adam’s selfish approach to life can lead. Neither of them are villains for the sake of being villains. They just have skewed sets of priorities, putting personal financial gain above everything else. This is why Adam gets kicked out.
The thing is, Adam, time travel is like visiting Paris. You can’t just read the guidebook, you’ve gotta throw yourself in.
Rose works as a companion because she throws herself in, just like the Doctor says. Although she is not a strong character in this episode (because there is such a lot going on that there isn’t room for her to be) she is still a useful contrast: the companion who can vs The Companion Who Couldn’t (the working episode title). Instead, Adam looks at what the future can do for him personally, rather than Rose who just wants to enjoy it, and when something is amiss she looks at what she can do for the future. So if the Doctor’s abandonment of Adam (to perhaps in hindsight end up being dissected by Torchwood) seems harsh, the morality behind it is quite clear. It is even implied that the Doctor might have given him a second chance, but then Adam goes and lies about it all when he has his opportunity to fess up. This is all very brave and new. Adam is far from being the first companion to be booted out of the TARDIS when they wanted to stay (Susan, Jamie, Zoe, Sarah Jane) but he is the first to be removed by the Doctor because he just wasn’t good enough (although Susan is the closest comparison – she was removed because she was holding the Doctor back from being the Doctor).
I think it is fair to say that The Long Game has always received something of a mixed reception from the fans, but I think that probably boils down to one thing: it is Davies’s rejected Sylvester McCoy era script finally brought to screen, and in some respects it does feel like it belongs in the wacky, early McCoy era. But I can’t help loving an episode that packs in so much. Having just shown Downing Street destroyed a couple of weeks ago, Davies does a hatchet job on the media, showing humans trapped in a media-created isolationist prison that they don’t realise they are in. Their ability to revolt and escape is dependent on their understanding of how their world is imprisoning them. The house of cards collapses when its true nature is revealed. This is also an episode of crucial importance to the season as a whole, despite seeming to be insignificant on first broadcast. In many ways, the series pivots around this point.
And if that wasn’t enough, we get Simon Pegg and Tamsin Greig in two of the major roles in the episode, two of the most talented comedy actors of their generation, both being as fabulous as you would expect them to be. You can’t ask for much more than that from a Doctor Who episode. RP
The view from across the pond:
“Something is wrong.”
Yeah, something is wrong – with this episode. It has something to do with the plot, but it’s not that there isn’t one. Maybe it’s just not very substantial. Where I felt it worked best was allegorically. Allegorically, it works on many levels. But beyond that, there’s not much to work with. There’s a big hint to the Bad Wolf subplot, and it may be Adam’s finest moment (in that he leaves) but little else. Visually there’s nothing wrong with it; in fact some scenes look great… or was that just Rose? (Was it me or did she look especially lovely in this episode?) There is some humor between the Doctor and Rose when Adam feints:
Doctor: “He’s your boyfriend.”
Rose: “Not anymore.”
And I could appreciate that since I think Rose would be turned off to Adam after this. Let’s face it, the Doctor is very open-minded while Adam is not… (at least not until the end of the episode.) But that might be part of the allegory. It’s about being open minded; a quality that most science fiction fans can at least claim. The first line after the opening credits is the Doctor telling Adam to “Open your mind”. That makes the ending so much more meaningful. In the meantime, it just goes to show that Rose is not your average teenager; she respects knowledge and is open-minded herself, and this quality is praised by the Doctor. (“Rose is asking all the right questions”).
There is a question that this episode raises about Adam: the Doctor tells him to live a quiet life or he’ll be dissected. Seems a real risk: if Adam is discovered, human tech will evolve way ahead of schedule. I am surprised, considering his irritation towards Adam’s interference, that he’d be willing to take such a risk, considering this might have as ill an effect on the time line as Adam’s recorded message would have! Which, one would think, the Doctor wouldn’t be willing to accept.
Eccleston is great as the Doctor: his humorous, childlike nature shows up several times. There a hint of Tom Baker again. When finding trouble he smiles. When talking about being on top of a volcano, he smiles. When “Max” is about to explode, he smiles, waves and leave the bad guy to die! (He’s not the man he was! He’s gone through a trauma and is unwilling to tolerate evil.) When he says, “Someone out there likes me”, I heard that as a reference to the audience and I don’t think anyone can argue that!
What about the villain, Max and the Editor? Max can’t move. He had to be installed in some capacity. What’s that about? As for the Editor, Simon Pegg is excellent. Pegg is completely likable even as the off-beat baddie of the piece. And he brings up an interesting idea when he says that the right word, repeated enough, can “invent an enemy” among other things. Considering the Bad Wolf plot that developed, it might make a lot more sense as to why this episode is called “The Long Game”.
Back to the allegory, The Doctor hates “tidying up”, he tells Cathica. This may be a good lesson for all of us; you can’t just walk away. You have to take responsibility for your actions, and that means follow-through. We’ll know the result of his lack of cleaning by Bad Wolf, but speaks a lot about this Doctor’s childlike approach to his travels. He also sees things more defined in black and white; when asked if a slave is still a slave if he doesn’t know he’s a slave the Doctor answers definitively, yes. Again, I believe that this is a product of his loss; things are seen in a much more black and white capacity since the loss of his homeworld.
But perhaps the greatest allegory of all in this story is illustrated when the Doctor tells Cathica to question things, to think about things and not accept spoon-fed information. In light of “Fake News” this idea is more relevant than ever! Maybe it also tells us in this post 9/11 world, that too much information, too much news, can be a bad thing when we rely on it, and don’t think for ourselves. In that regard alone, this is an interesting episode and worth thinking about! Always be open minded! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Father’s Day