Doctor Who – The Long Game

Reinstated from Scary Rob’s Doctor Who Blog

I’ve had mixed feelings about most of the episodes so far, the notable exception being The End of the World, but here I feel vindicated in my assertion that what makes or breaks a story as realised on screen is not necessarily the quality of the script but the quality of the direction. In The Long Game, we have another corker of a script by Russell T Davies which, like The End of the World is not butchered by the comical direction of Keith Boak. And it shines. The whole thing, despite its occasional daftness, has a dark and sinister tone, with a setting that manages to be both open and claustrophobic in its scope at the same time. The station feels like it has a monumental size, yet the dark walls, the crowds and the fact that the action is confined to only three levels gives the feeling not so much of being trapped but of being limited in one’s movements – much like the inhabitants of the Fourth Human Empire. And, unlike Boak’s episodes, Brian Grant’s direction plays up the sinister aspect and doesn’t let the jokes get out of hand.

The acting in this episode also deserves high praise here, if only because it was better than I thought it was going to be. Tamsin Greig seems to have made the nurse her own, even though it was just a cameo, and Simon Pegg is unrecognisable as the Editor, seeming both cold and sinister, yet like an annoying middle manager at the same time. Even Bruno Langley seems more convincing as Adam, although I’m still disappointed that he was safely returned home rather than killed horribly by an alien nasty… Well, you can’t have it all. Maybe someone could have poked his brain while his head was open… No?

The major pain in the arse with this story, though, was the plot. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed every minute of it, but it was the peripheral details that made it for me, making me forget the childishness and the holes until after the event. It’s a failing of all of Davies’ scripts (barring The End of the World) that the stories have some very good ideas behind them but the plot is only there as a flimsy entity to hold the ideas together. In terms of plot, Gatiss’ The Unquiet Dead and Shearman’s Dalek have shown up the principal writer’s work to be flimsy and shallow in outlook. This is a crying shame, really, because it’s the only way that this series doesn’t compare favourably to Doctor Who of old, whose plots were generally more coherent and better thought out (although for sheer childishness, Davies has yet to sink as low as The Invisible Enemy…). However, in terms of characterisation Davies seems to have a touch of genius: the ninth Doctor finally feels like a well rounded character rather than a shallow act of rebellion against his previous, almost aristocratic, incarnations. I’ve even got used to Christopher Eccleston’s inane mugging and begun to see how what I once though were weaknesses in his delivery are actually a part of the Doctor he’s playing. Take the scene in the observation deck of the station – Eccleston’s delivery of the speech about the state of the Earth in the year 200,000 sound like a cheesy, pleased-with-himself tour guide and it feels right, even if the idea that Tom Baker or Paul McGann would have given that speech more of a sense of wonder or gravitas is still muttering discontentedly at the back of the mind…

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~ by Scary Rob on 8 May, 2005.

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