Timestamp #167: The Long Game

Doctor Who: The Long Game
(1 episode, s01e07, 2005)

 

All the Editor-in-Chief asks is for an open mind.

The TARDIS arrives on Satellite 5, in orbit around Earth during the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire, in the year 200,000. Rose and Doctor do their best to wow Adam, and the new companion responds by fainting in a most unimpressive way.

The trio stumble into a marketplace as the Doctor muses about the fine manners and cuisine among the 96 billion members of the human race. Unfortunately, every vendor is selling junk food. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to steal money from an automatic teller machine, sends Rose and Adam off for food, and meets a pair of journalists who tell him all about the station-wide news station that is Satellite 5.

The Doctor stealing money seems a bit off at first, but makes sense when you think about the non-materialistic and otherwise detached nature of the character. The Seventh Doctor broke a payphone once for cash, and there have been a few instances of the Doctor carrying various coins from across time and space to exchange for goods and services. I get the impression that the Doctor doesn’t care about their intrinsic value.

By the way, someone called the Face of Boe is headline news on BadWolfTV.

Adam is overwhelmed by his trip in time and space, so Rose offers him the use of her supercharged mobile phone. He calls home and leaves a message, but takes advantage of a distraction to pocket the phone. They rendezvous with the Doctor as he uses his psychic paper to pose as an inspecting manager. The trio watch as the journalists interface with a computer, using one of them as the central processor through a hole in her forehead. Adam is amazed by the technology but the Doctor feels that trouble is afoot.

The interface is monitored by a central security agency and a man known as the Editor. The determine that one of the journalists is a spy and promote her to Floor 500 (where the walls are supposedly made of gold). The revelation that once you go to Floor 500 you never come back piques the Doctor’s interest. Meanwhile, Adam takes some time on his own to decompress and Rose gives him a TARDIS key.

Oh, and Suki? She reaches Floor 500, which is freezing cold and covered in ice, finds a bunch of corpses, and is interrogated by the Editor as a member of the Freedom Fifteen anarchist underground group. She points a gun at the Editor, revealing that the Freedom Foundation has been monitoring the satellite and its corrupted signals. She’s then killed by the Editor in Chief, a creature living in the overhead of Floor 500.

The Doctor asks Cathica, the lead journalist on the current floor, about the station. She picks up that he’s not management, but helps him understand the nature of current events. The Doctor states that the Empire is stunted in attitudes and technology, and should have evolved far beyond this point by now. Something has been holding them back for the last 91 years.

Adam accesses a station terminal on the observation deck and learns all about the technology of the future. He tries to relay the information to his home via the supercharged mobile phone, but ends up getting routed to Floor 16 instead. He bluffs his way through an interview, uses the money that the Doctor got for him, and ends up having a chip installed to interface with the station.

The Doctor continues his investigation by accessing the station mainframe. The Editor continues to research the Doctor and Rose, but can’t find any information so he promotes them to Floor 500. Meanwhile, the Doctor, Rose, and Cathica determine that all of the station’s cooling is being directed into Floor 500.

The Doctor and Rose take the lift to Floor 500 and discover Suki’s dead body enslaved to the computer systems. They’re confronted by the Editor and are restrained by guards before meeting the Editor-in-Chief, a creature known as the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe. Or, Max for short. By manipulating the news, controlling the economy, locking the borders, and fostering a climate of fear, they have kept the human race controlled as slaves. Those who suspect the truth are detected by the chips in their heads and are eliminated. The Editor is funded by the banks and the satellite keeps the Jagrafess alive through the cold.

Cathica makes her way to Floor 500 and watches the interrogation. Meanwhile, Adam interfaces with the computer (transmitting the signal home through the mobile phone) and inadvertently offers the Editor all of the information in his head. The Editor plans to use the TARDIS (thanks to the key Adam has) and the information about the Doctor to take further control.

Cathica uses the interface on Floor 500 to override the Editor’s control and disrupt the Jagrafess’s life support system. The Doctor and Rose escape, and Suki prevents the Editor from leaving as the Jagrafess explodes from overheating. The Doctor leaves Cathica to put the human race back on track as he and Rose take Adam home. The Doctor destroys the answering machine, dresses down Adam, and leaves him with his new forehead port and the fear of being dissected if he is discovered.

As the TARDIS leaves, Adam’s mother comes home and celebrates his return after six months away. With an inadvertent snap of her fingers, she activates the port in Adam’s head and recoils in horror.

 

This story reminds me of Paradise Towers, The Sun Makers, and pretty much any other time Doctor Who has made a statement about totalitarian regimes that enslave their populaces and filter their knowledge. Remember, despite what certain fan circles tell you, Doctor Who has been political from the beginning: The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon dealt with two different political issues in the 1970s United Kingdom; The Green Death was overt about environmentalism; and The Mutants tackled colonialism. That just scratches the surface, and as we know, starting all the way back at The Daleks, we’ve had a recurring and iconic enemy that consistently pushes the point home about the evils of ethnic cleansing and cultural supremacy.

It’s the basis of science fiction: Metaphor that tells us about the human condition and how to be better people.

Here, the message is neither subtle nor particularly engaging, but it’s not one that irritates the viewer with a mallet bonking them on the head. It’s up front. Transparent and overt.

We also get the first (and only) televised companion to be kicked out of the TARDIS for bad behavior. We’ve seen companions left behind for their safety or well-being, but Adam was evicted (rightfully so) for greed, avarice, and most nearly mucking up the timeline. Amusingly, the Doctor left a future artifact behind with Adam’s head-port, but the impact of that may be minimal.

I also assume that the Doctor retrieved the superphone during the trip from Satellite 5 to Adam’s house.

 

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Father’s Day

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

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