I'm a week behind in viewing and two weeks behind in reviewing this season of Doctor Who. Let's look at episode 3 - "Gridlock"
We begin with a couple in a futuristic VW van that flies instead of rolls along. Something attacks their hippie bus but calls to the police go unanswered so the van and its passengers are torn apart.
In the TARDIS, The Doctor offers another trip to Martha so she can go into the future as well as into the past. She asks to be taken to his home planet. Rather dolefully, The Doctor reminisces about Gallifrey's beautiful orange sky and the Citadel before saying that he doesn't want to return to his home planet. Instead he takes Martha to New New York (or more properly, New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New York) on New Earth. If that sounds familiar, then it should
. The Doctor has taken Martha back to a place where he'd also taken Rose. It's a rainy alley that is kind of like Android Row lite. Instead of food vendors and barkers hawking androids, there are shopkeepers proffering transdermal patches of mood-altering drugs.
We then cut to the Face of Boe who is being tended to by Novice Hame – two characters from last season's "New Earth". The Face intones, "He has arrived. Find him before it's too late." Hame grabs a gun and departs.
Back in that rain-soaked alley, a man and a woman waving pistols burst onto the scene and kidnap Martha. They slap a sleep patch onto her neck and put her inside their dingy VW van and take off. Returning to the alley, The Doctor finds out how to get to the expressway. He discovers that it's a vast cavern with rows and rows of thousands, if not millions, of those same vans just hovering there – stuck in gridlock.
Martha regains consciousness and finds out from her kidnappers, Milo and Cheen, that she was taken so that they could use the fast lane which requires 3 adult passengers. Their destination is now only 6 years away. Meanwhile The Doctor has taken to entering one a hover van and finds out from Brannigan, a cat person, that he and his human wife have traveled 5 miles in a dozen years. In a fun sequence, The Doctor jumps from van to van and lets himself into each one with his new sonic screwdriver. He encounters quite a few characters including a nudist couple. Reaching the van of a business man which hovers at the lowest level before the fast lanes begin, The Doctor sees that there are Macra down on the surface. These crab-like creatures were first seen in the series back in the 1960s and they feed off of gases deadly to humans. In this case, a giant cavern full of exhaust fumes. This is bad news because Milo is taking his Cheen and Martha down to the fast lane. They end up nearly getting killed by the massive pincers of the Macra.
Hame finds The Doctor and transports him to the room where she and the Face of Boe have been living. She explains that a virus from some of those patches – for bliss – killed everyone living on the surface of New Earth. The lower levels, including the expressway, were sealed off so as to save the folks down there. Boe is wired to the system and is able to keep the lower levels afloat but he is not powerful enough to open it up and free the people there. And so The Doctor jury rigs something which fails. Boe then expends the majority of his "life force" to get the system running. The giant doors atop the expressway open, the sunlight shines in, and everyone is free.
The Face of Boe is dying but it delivers the message it promised to in "New Earth". He tells The Doctor "You are not alone". This enigmatic phrase causes Martha to ask The Doctor to explain it. He refuses at first but then tells her about the Time War, that he's the last Time Lord, etc. Fin
I enjoyed "Gridlock" quite a bit but it's one of those stories that suffers under the new series' format. Apart from having cheesy special effects, it would have benefited from the old format of three or four 25-minute episodes. As it stands, the revelation of what was tearing apart hover fans in the fast lane came too soon for me. In the classic series, this would have come much later allowing for the mystery to build up more. Similarly, the explanation of what happened to the surface dwellers came all at one. I think it would have been more effective for The Doctor to find everyone dead and been forced to find out what happened. Here, it all comes in one fell swoop which lessens the impact.
But, as I said above, it was still fun. The Doctor and Martha were separated for most of the episode and we got a chance to see The Doctor at his most intense. He is desperate not to lose Martha as he lost Rose. For her part, Martha has got spunk and is quite capable of taking care of herself. When the hover van she is in is being clawed at by the Macra, it is she who figures out that they are attracted to the movement of the van and that powering down would buy them some time. OK, so she proceeds to tell Milo and Cheen that The Doctor will save them. Nonetheless, she used her brains and showed some initiative. Just give her some time and she'll be more than capable of holding her own.
The specter of Rose still haunts The Doctor but it was played up less here than in the first two stories this season.
Did anyone notice in the first episode this season, "Smith and Jones", that, during a news clip, someone says, "All this just goes to prove Mr Saxon right"?