"...He has arrived.
Find him before it's too late..."
The Doctor takes Martha to the planet New Earth, in the far future. But when they find the streets being ruled by the sinister Pharmacists, they must brave the ordeal of the mysterious Motorway in order to discover the terrible secret at the heart of the city.
The terror of the Macra.
At its core, it may have been may have been a simple "search and rescue" story but GRIDLOCK, written by Russell T Davies, is a classy and intelligent comment on how the human spirit can stoically flourish - biologically so - in an environment so desperate and toxic.
And there's even an uplifting choral hymn to represent the drawing together of a disparate community.
Brave but beautiful.
This is a Russell T Davies script?
Why do fan-critics give the Executive Producer (and Head Writer) a hard time with his episodes? Every writer will have "off-days", churning out (as even T Davies has admitted in interviews: "I can churn out witty scripts") mediocre, workman-like plots and staid dialogue. In GRIDLOCK, we were cast adrift amid a gritty environment, with heart-beat-a-minute-breath-stopping-palm-sweating roller coaster adventure that had, at its centre, "film-plot" written across it. This episode is the equivalent of SERIES 1's THE END OF THE WORLD and SERIES 2's TOOTH AND CLAW, and is worthy of every viewers second, third, and fourth viewings. All 8.41 million of you. It's a grower.
And the Macra make a I'd-never-thought-I'd-see-the-day return to the DOCTOR WHO platform. An impressive recall, with thanks to the genius of The MillTV.
The episode is littered with "knowing" references to contemporary culture (there's even a copy of the BBC's own listing tone, RADIO TIMES, disguised as a naturist's magazine) & life in addition to links to the CLASSIC SERIES. The Doctor's description of his atomised home world echoes Susan's in THE SENSORITES (1964) - and to a lesser extent DOCTOR WHO - THE TV MOVIE (1996). Even some of New Earth citizens are depicted as throwbacks to (original) Earth's Grant Wood's iconic 1930 painting, AMERICAN GOTHIC, and there's a new New Age Lesbian married couple ( Alice and May Cassini), humanoid female giving birth to kittens, and a underground slumcity inhabited by "mood" (read: legal drugs?) selling vendors.
The wonders of the year 5 billion and 53, and the extraordinary eclectic creativity of the writer.
The central theme amid the grime of Pharmacy Town and the choking fumes of a seemingly endless motorway (literally colonized with orderly ranked VW "camper vans" scuttling forward like a line of worker ants on a go-slow) is one of hope. Hope that at the end of life's journey (whether one of the soul or of the body or the intellect) there will be something deserving and of value that will validate it.
The computer-realised motorway is genuinely inspiring and acutely designed, demonstrating that British technicians can match (and at times, exceeding) the output of film-makers and television creatives elsewhere in the world. Each vehicle is, thankfully, identical - and why not? - but each designated its own space to move within and its own "mass" giving each an individual movement (read: life) in the grid locked queue. Minute detail but demonstrates the attentiveness of The MillTV (and series' Producers). The CGI of a Macra colony, with each generational offspring de-evolving in to singular focussed base-creature, is strikingly threatening, and, strangely, for such a prominent alien we are not permitted to linger on close-ups. Leaving viewers tantalisingly close for a return in years to come? And an action figure?
For the Tenth Doctor and David Tennant alike, GRIDLOCK represents a pinnacle of assuredness. As with Tom Baker in SEASON 18 (1980-81), you know, as the theme music & star-field galloped on to the TV screen, that you would see a performance of quality, of alien charm, and of wit & passion. As SERIES 3 opens, Tennant's characterisation is precise, natural (but not nonchalant) and professional. Whether we see the Time Lord being crazed with anger or subtly naïve or desperately humble, Tennant now epitomises the character that was devised in 1963, matching its originator (William Hartnell) stride for stride. His energy and tone is increasingly becoming a joy to watch. Another stunning performance.
INT: Motorway Vehicle. The Doctor drops in, and sees two naturists.
The Doctor: Don't mind me.
INT: The Doctor quickly leaves the vehicle.
EXT: Pharmacy Town.
The Doctor (to Martha): I lied to you. I like it.
And, even when the Doctor is spoken about it is evocative of the character that has been crafted and homed over the previous episodes.
INT: Motorway vehicle
Valerie (to Martha about the Doctor): The only hope right now is a complete stranger.
The episode is notable for not only the incredulous "vertical" corridor chase scenes that DOCTOR WHO is historically noted for but for resolving (all though his name will surface in SERIES 3's final episode) the mystery (?) of the Face of Boe. A loose trilogy if there ever was one. Who exactly is the creature, and how does he know so much about the Doctor?
INT: The New Earth Senate building
The Face of Boe: Know this Time Lord. You are not alone.
With the Doctor stating in DALEK (2005) that he knows that he is the "last of the Time Lords", why (or what) does the enigmatic alien say this? Has the trauma of The Time War caused the Doctor to purge or block the truth, or do other Time Lords exist, surviving the last great War (as the Dalek Emperor - and the Cult of Skaro - did).
A vision of true hope for the inhabitants of New Earth's New New York and hope for Doctor too. Unless he wants to be alone.
Murray Gold's incidental score is a stirring (even ecclesiastical) and visionary as T Davies' script/plotline, hinting at both the Cadbury's FLAKE advert music and John Barry's epic DANCES WITH WOLVES score. Viewers will curse the day when Gold will have to leave the series for full-time motion picture work - and that day, deservedly so, with come.
It is difficult to relate GRIDLOCK to any episode in SERIES 1 as the content, vigour and craftsmanship is not comparable. Whether it is a greater budget (in association with the Canadian broadcasters), or a understanding of what can and cannot be achieved with a overly tight nine month filming schedule, or a drive within - by all departments - to push the DOCTOR WHO professionalism envelope further and further.
My only hope that SERIES 3 will justify the production of a DOCTOR WHO truly first multi-million pound cinema blockbuster that will engender the world with "our" Doctor. However, it would to much to ask that Tennant will be him.
GRIDLOCK is like devouring a warm, freshly made teatime scone, smothered with rich Strawberry Jam and Devon's finest Clotted Cream. A perfect treat. Once in a while but not everyday or we'll not relish it when baked again.