THE LONG GAME - 7th May
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
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.