THE LONG GAME– 7th May
Written by Russell T. Davies
Review and Commetary by Andrew Panero
An anti-capitalist satire; after much consideration I believe this is the best way to understand this episode. Set on a giant space station in the year 200,000, the main themes of this story are ostensibly about the power of the mass media to influence society for good or for ill. Dig just a little deeper however and it is surprising how much of the plot revolves around ideas that are common currency on the left.
Take the opening scenes for example, where the TARDIS materialises on Space Station 5 with the Doctor, Rose and Adam, who tagged along after last week. The Doctor informs them that they are in the time of the 4th Great and Bountiful Human Empire. This is a fantastic period of history he tells his companions, a time of great art and culture, fine cuisine and good manners. Almost as soon as he says this a great mass of people appear and a fast food franchise opens up in the middle of the square. People jostle with each other in the queue as the stool holder barks at them to take their turn; Rose jokingly asks the Doctor if he’s got the right period of history in mind. He is astonished, aware that things are not as they should be; Adam notices that the crowd are all human and that no aliens are present. The Doctor is more perturbed- that is not right either.
So while Rose and Adam may feel somewhat at home the Doctor knows that humanity should have reached a higher stage of development, instead of humanity’s apotheosis we have a reproduction of 21st Century consumer culture complete with fast-food cartons and multi-channel television. There are also cash points, or their equivalent, which the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver on to blag Adam and Rose some spending money.
The Doctor approaches two women, Cathica and Suki, (Christine Adams and Anna Maxwell-Martin) who turn out to be journalists employed on Satellite 5. When he asks them a series of naive questions Suki assumes that he is a management test, all workers have to be versed in ‘company promotion’ as part of their contracts. Cathica is eager to impress as she is desperate to get to Floor 500 where ‘the walls are made of gold.” The Doctor is all too happy to play along with this deception and soon finds himself and his two assistants invited to a news broadcast.
Cathica, who is clearly the most ambitious of the journalists, has a type two implant (a ‘news spike’) fitted into her skull. This allows her brain to become part of the computer and to directly download all the information from all over the empire directly to her colleagues (who have type one chips implanted in their skulls) for distribution through the various news networks. Essentially the job of the ‘journalist’ had transformed, through technology, into a completely mechanised business where the human component had become part of the hardware. Although Adam and Rose are bowled over by this technology the Doctor knows for certain that something is wrong now, because the technology is at least 90 years behind what it should be. This makes him even more determined to find out what is really going on behind the scenes.
Meanwhile Cathica is annoyed to find that Suki has been promoted to Floor 500; in the giant satellite the media workforce are located mainly on Floor 139 where they work, eat and sleep. Promotion to the other floors comes via an invitation and a key to the lift, (ironic mirroring of the class system perhaps?)
Particularly coveted are invitations to Floor 500 where the Editor (Simon Pegg) resides, along with his master. Instead of walls of gold, Suki finds a fridge with corpses wired up to machines, the dark heart of the corrupt media empire. The Editor has not summoned her to his office because he wishes to promote her, but because he has discovered she is an anarchist agent working to uncover Satellite 5’s secrets. She pulls a gun on him, which causes the monster on the ceiling to intervene; when we next see her she is a corpse wired up to a computer.
Down below various plots are cooking up. Adam turns out to be a self-seeking sneak, he takes Rose’s mobile (with its time-travelling upgrade) and unsuccessfully tries to relay to his parents answer phone in the 21st Century developments from the far future. That he cannot see beyond his own narrow self-interest to the wider issues involved seems to have been the main theme of this particular episode. It is mirrored in the attitude of Cathica to her world, which she unknowingly helps to manipulate through her involvement with its media outlets. As the Doctor points out to her that she is a journalist and should be asking questions she is at a loss to explain why there are no aliens on Satellite 5, or why the it is so hot on Floor 139.
The Doctor is soon able to answer this question when he hacks his way in (literally) to the computer system and finds a diagram outlining the stations cooling systems. From what he can gather hot air is taken from the top floor and pumped around the station. To Cathica’s horror he then proceeds to steal an entry code for the lift so that Rose and he can go up to investigate. She refuses to have anything further to do with them, frightened of the consequences, but her curiosity gets the better of her. Using the entry code for herself she follows them up some minutes later.
Adam has in the meantime managed to purchase himself a type 2 implant after letting himself be persuaded by a Nurse on Floor 16. Equipped with his news spike he then proceeds to find an access point for all the knowledge contained on the station.
On Floor 500 the Doctor and Rose confront the Editor, who explains to them who the real power is behind the media empire. This turns out to be a giant mouth attached to the ceiling with a thoroughly unpronounceable name. The Jagrafess has ruled the media empire for nearly a century and is three thousand years old. The Doctor concludes that it must have such an immense metabolism that it must need the cooling system running at full pelt to stop it exploding. The purpose of it being in charge of the station is that through the media it is able to manipulate and hold back human development.
There are some very smart exchanges between the Doctor and the Editor; he is representative of a consortium of bankers and businessmen who saw their long-term interests being served by the Jagrafess. The Editor is cynical of his own kind, who obliviously pursue their individual lives, unaware of the bigger picture. He is unaware that Cathica has made it up stairs and is overhearing their conversation, but he is most curious about the Doctor and Rose, who he has no information on at all. Satellite 5 is a repository of all human knowledge in the Empire, so to have two individuals who he knows nothing off is quite a threat. However the Doctor refuses to furnish with him with any information, wisely observing that it is this lack of information that is keeping Rose and he alive.
By this point Adam has had his type 2 implant fitted and has accessed a terminal with the news spike, downloading as much information about Station 5 through Rose’s mobile and onto his parents’ answer-phone. However he does not realise that this is a two way process and that his implant allows others to access information in his mind. This he finds out to his cost as the Editor does just that and finally finds out who the Doctor and his assistant are. He squawks with triumph, telling the Doctor that they can use the TARDIS to prevent humanity developing at all. The Doctor screams his defiance at the Editor and bemoans the fate of the human race who would so willing be lead to their deaths like docile cattle.
Cathica hears this last part and decides to take action for herself. Using another access point she takes control of the station’s systems, using the knowledge she gained earlier to reverse the flow of the ships cooling system. Hot air is pumped into floor 500 causing the Jagrafess to scream in agony, plunging the station into chaos and allowing the Doctor and Rose to escape. Realising his master is about to explode from overheating the Editor announces that he is quitting. However he is unable to get away in time as Suki, who has been turned into a news zombie, grabs his legs and brings him crashing to the ground. (An interesting aside here- is she in control of her actions or as the Jagrafess intervened to stop his mouthpiece from deserting him?) The Editor looks up just as the Jagrafess blows up, smothering Floor 500 in a layer of gristle.
With the continued development of the human race assured the Doctor still has Adam to confront. Hauling him back in the TARDIS to the 21st Century they materialise in his parents’ living room. The Doctor destroys the answering machine with his sonic screwdriver telling Adam that ‘one second of that message could change the course of history.’
Adam seems truly repentant, but the Doctor is having none of it, telling him that he only chooses the best. Together with Rose they leave Adam to explain himself to his mother who has just come in the door.
‘The Long Game’ is certainly a return to form for RTD after the rather shaky two-parter he penned last time. The script is very tightly packed and works on a number of different levels, the dialogue and characterisation are excellent and there is just the right mixture of humour and darkness to add texture to the story.
The sub-plot involving Adam was very neatly done, the motives for his transgression hinted at rather than spelled out. We already knew he was something of a vain self-seeking person from ‘Dalek’; in this story we see the consequences of this in the context of his travelling through time.
The last scene where the Doctor tells him that he only takes the best because he has Rose is particularly poignant when one knows what next weeks show is about. Next week Rose faces her greatest test so far it seems, for she and the Doctor travel back to 1987 to the day when her father dies.