Doctor Who episode 717: The Long Game (7/5/2005)
‘We have absolute proof that the facts are being manipulated. You are lying to the people.’ An episode that has, if anything, become more relevant in an era of “fake news”, “culture wars” (immigration has been reduced because of ‘all the threats’) and increasingly pervasive social media. Nowadays, the villain would be a Mark Zuckerberg type CEO rather than a news editor, but the basics could largely be the same. The society of the year 200,000 is hooked on 24/7 content; everything is gamified (promotions are announced like the winners of a reality show), and the news defines the political agenda rather than vice versa.
Which means it’s a shame it’s the first stumble in the new series. I can think of all sorts of possible explanations for that: it’s clearly an episode that exists to seed the series finale; it was designed as the cheap one; the Doctor and Rose get less to do than normal; it’s a bit too close to The End of the World (another orbital space station with a heating system problem and a monster that overheats and bursts). But none of those is hugely problematic, and there’s loads of interesting stuff going on. The setting feels like it’s ripped from the pages of a DWM comic strip, with kronkburgers and images like the snow falling on Floor 500, and the Jagrafess itself. The idea of giving us a “companion who failed”, someone more interested in their personal gain rather than the adventure, is brilliant, and Adam’s venality (not unexpected given his previous employer) is offset by his vulnerability so he never becomes totally hateable.
There’s a theme of ambition being the enemy of personal growth, so Cathica’s laser focus on her career has come at the expense of her journalistic integrity, and Adam’s selfish greed blinds him to the wider experience of time travel. Even the expensive info-spike reduces its users to passive processors of information rather than actively learning from it.
With so much to enjoy about the episode (Simon Pegg’s smarmy Editor is just right, but so are all the guest cast), and nothing egregiously wrong (the CGI effects aren’t amazing, but they’re good enough to tell the story without being distracting), I think my mild disappointment is purely that, after six episodes that have spoiled me with their ambition, this feels like the show doubling down (or possibly, RTD had already mined his old 1980s script he revisited here for its best ideas). We know Rose is exceptional because we’ve already seen her contrasted with Mickey. We’ve already seen the Doctor confront a massive, blobby CGI monster. We saw Gwyneth retain her personality after death to help defeat the baddies, so Suki’s posthumous heroism isn’t as surprising. The Long Game’s biggest problem is it’s stuck in the middle of one of the show’s best series: it’s a B+ student in a season full of A-stars.
Next Time: Father’s Day