“The Long Game” – Review: Redux

The Editor: “Create a climate of fear and it’s easy to keep the borders closed. It’s just a matter of emphasis. The right word in the right broadcast repeated often enough can destabilize an economy, invent an enemy, change a vote.”

The Long Game

“The Long Game” is one of those episodes that might have had everything going for it. To begin with there was a stellar guest cast including the Olivier Award-winning Tamsin Greig (Episodes, Green Wing), double BAFTA winner, Anna Maxwell-Martin (Bleak House, Poppy Shakespeare) and Simon Pegg (Star Trek, Mission Impossible and every Edgar Wright movie ever). There was the added dynamic of having a new companion on board (although almost everyone viewing knew that Bruno Langley’s Adam was not going to be travelling onboard the TARDIS for too long). And there were two lead actors who, by this time, were settling in to their roles with gusto. Where then, many fans will ask, did it all go wrong?

That’s an interesting point of contention but I don’t think that it went as wrong as some people might insist. This episode was noteworthy as being the first of the ‘double-bankers’ or ‘Doctor-lite’ episodes (followed by Series Two’s “Love & Monsters”, “Blink” in series three, etc) where production was undertaken simultaneously with another episode and was thus designed to have less screentime for the main protagonists. This may be one of the reasons why they saw fit to try and book such an impressive cast and it works quite well: a little morality play about greed and control and the media. It may have been the fact that again, the Doctor was a bystander for much of the 45 minutes, that put some people off TLG but for me it was initially an interesting diversion away from the main arc of the series that could easily have been entitled ‘How Not To Be a Companion’ [In fact, I have vague recollections that this actually had a similar production to this]. To be honest, I did finish watching originally and felt a little bit empty. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing and the conclusion to Series One picked up on many of the themes raised here, especially the Satellite 5 location and the dark forces manipulating the Earth’s history. Therefore, watching it again and in the context of the season for this retrospective series, I found a lot more to get my teeth into and enjoy. An episode, like a fine wine, that I feel is maturing with time.

It was at about the time that TLG was originally broadcast that I remember reading in certain dark corners of the internet that, for a few folk, some of the gloss of the new show was rapidly wearing off. I was probably quite naive at the time (probably still am) so tended to assume that all fans were having a whale of a time with the new series, just like I was. Wrong. It was in the week after TLG aired I first stumbled over the phrase “RTD-bashing”, there were fans out there who weren’t enjoying this new spin on their beloved show. This was pretty much the first time in my dalliances with other Who fans online that I’d seen a few (and I emphasise that this was very, very much a minority) quite spiteful comments getting posted and it soured my mood a little. This was pre-Twitter and Facebook and before the rise of the social network, but smack dab in the middle of the internet age and I had been enjoying sharing thoughts with the like-minded online. However, to find out that there are people who will, with equal vigour as me, nail their colours to the mast as a Doctor Who fan, but then to find out that they dislike some element or era of the show with as much passion as I was enjoying it, made me re-evaluate a few things for the better.

Russell T Davies’ writing has been widely touted as amongst the best that new British talent had to offer. He is one of the first generation of writers who grew up predominantly in front of the box rather than involved in the older mediums of film, play and the published word, that were probably more highly regarded than the old goggle box. So, he has focussed his talent on creating stories for the small screen and his CV is testament to his success in his chosen field. While the vocal minority of a few disgruntled fans was having little impact on the commercial and critical renaissance that the show was enjoying, it is perhaps worth thinking about the criticisms being levelled at the show’s Exec Producer. It seemed to me that their focus was split between (a) the recurring focus on “domestic” issues in RTD’s stories, and (b) a certain lack of depth in the plots.

The pros and cons of the arguments will probably be argued ad infinitum as long as there is a fandom but in summary, I have to come down on the pro-RTD side. The domestic side of the stories is a deliberate attempt to keep the series grounded and broadly appealing rather than going off on a purely sci-fi storyline as we see in Farscape, Stargate and other such niche shows. This enables the more casual viewer to connect with the characters, and mainstream success is what was being sought. The counter argument that, if you had a TARDIS and could go anywhere in time and space, why continue to stick with Earth all the time? The answer for me is straightforward: if I was travelling in such a way, I would want to take the opportunity to see where mankind had come from and where it was going, while the idea of travelling off to some galaxy far, far away would hold no emotional resonance whatsoever. Series One is, by and large, Rose’s story and it’s quite right that the setting is by and large Terran. Meanwhile the plots are deliberately devoid of too much exposition and are lighthearted in nature, so spotting the odd inconsistency that isn’t explained onscreen and nit-picking at some details, is not necessarily a bad thing so long as it doesn’t break into the viewer’s suspension of disbelief.

Highlight: Just the name “The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe”

Lowlight: Set in the year 200,000 and humanity looks just like it does today

Talking Point: Is a Doctor-lite episode a good thing?

Demon’s Run Rating: 12 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 7th May 2005

Marathon Status: Lucky number seven

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