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12 October 2014 @ 07:19 pm
NuWho Rewatch: The Long Game  
I went into this expecting to be disappointed because I recalled The Long Game being the most disappointing story of the season in a `meh' kind of way. In particular it typified the season's motif in which the Doctor does nothing of his own accord but, instead, inspires others to action. The Doctor of The Long Game, I recalled as being particularly passive.

I was therefore fairly surprised to find myself watching a story in which the Doctor identifies the problem, does a fair amount of investigative legwork, figures out how to break into floor 500 and it is really only the final denouement in which Cathica is needed to act in order to save the day. Similarly, I recalled the business with Adam being a side-plot and yet it is Adam's failure which lends particularly urgency to the climax. In lots of ways the story hangs together surprisingly well, with the different themes of news media manipulation, curiosity and the characteristics of a good companion interweaving much better than they do in many Davies episodes. The plot has no glaring holes and the macguffin resolution isn't nearly as pulled out of a hat as it might have been.

Unfortunately, the episode remains somewhat lacklustre, with relatively little sense of threat or urgency. Similarly while Adam comes across as a mixture of manipulative and venal, the action of connecting to the information stream which is the one that actually puts the Doctor at risk is, broadly speaking, one of curiosity which the episode treats as a positive trait. The episode's other weakness is in the world-building, which has never been Russell Davies strength. In particular, the suggestion that the Mighty Jagrafess had somehow altered the course of history feels both out of place and unnecessary. In general I think the early seasons of the new Doctor Who, or at least, this season and the Christmas special were playing with the idea of history in flux but I don't think they ever really committed to the idea and gradually withdrew from it (with talk of fixed points and suggestions that great effort was needed to change history in later stories). We are not given to suppose there is anything particularly timey-wimey about the Mighty Jagrafess and so its ability to alter the course of human history seems oddly jarring - always assuming that is what the dialogue means, it occurs to me that there is just another reading which is that the Doctor is simply unaware of this 90 year blip in the expansion of the fourth great and bountiful human empire.

I think this is still the story I would cut, if a story had to be removed from this season of Doctor Who (at least of those rewatched so far, Boom Town may suffer in comparison), but on rewatching it's a lot better than I remembered.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/130264.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on October 12th, 2014 08:08 pm (UTC)
This story came bottom of the DWM poll for that season and still, I think, tends to do badly in polls, but I've been fond of it ever since transmission and think it gets over-shadowed a bit by becoming a prelude to Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways. It's a fairly solid, traditional piece of Who, perhaps betraying its roots as a storyline originally submitted to the production office in the late eighties.

I don't think Doctor Who has ever been consistent about how easy it is to change the past, either now or in the original run. Probably a flaw for a series featuring time-travel, but production teams seem to have generally wanted to keep their options open regarding the stories they can tell. Agreed that Davies is generally bad at SF world-building and tends to feel (here and elsewhere) that long words with lots of 'x's are sufficient.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on October 13th, 2014 09:34 am (UTC)
I think not tying itself down too firmly wrt. changing history has probably ultimately been a strength because otherwise I suspect they would long ago have painted themselves into a corner. On the other hand, you don't want it to make it seem too easy otherwise nothing ever has consequences. I can't help feeling that RTD had some idea here about the aftermath of the Time War that, at the end of the day, he never felt like pursuing much further.

Having looked at the description of the stories history, it looks like the original submission focused quite heavily on Adam. I wonder if he was pitching to Saward (who frankly doesn't seem to have been all that interested in the companions as characters) or to Cartmel (who clearly was but whose stories tended not to have a particularly traditional presentation). I think one of the stories problems may be that it started out as very Adam-focused and then, for some reason, switched away from him - possibly because it was difficult to make him sympathetic within the general constraints of Doctor Who. In the end Adam just seems like an odd footnote rather than an important part of the direction of the season.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on October 13th, 2014 12:35 pm (UTC)
I think the story was originally pitched to Cartmel. I doubt Adam was in it at that stage, so obviously it would be structured differently (as well as because it would have been longer). Given that it feels a bit like a 2000 AD comic at times and has satirical overtones, I can see Cartmel going for it.

In the end Adam just seems like an odd footnote rather than an important part of the direction of the season.

In Davies' original pitch document, this episode is referred to as "The Companion that Couldn't" so I think Adam's role in the overall direction of the season is primarily to make Rose look good...
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on October 14th, 2014 09:26 am (UTC)
I think that must have been the intention, but I'm not sure he does though really. Adam just seems like a mildly unpleasant person rather than nice but not companion material, which is think was probably what was needed.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on October 13th, 2014 12:41 pm (UTC)
some idea here about the aftermath of the Time War that, at the end of the day, he never felt like pursuing much further.

Forgot to say: at the time I thought the Time War was going to be really important, both shaping the structure of future story arcs and allowing an in-narrative retcon to clear away some of the programme's cluttered history. In reality, very little of this happened, which I still think is a bit of a waste.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on October 14th, 2014 09:36 am (UTC)
I think it did give the production team a license not to worry about past continuity unless they wanted to (not that previous production teams hadn't done precisely that without excuse). I suspect maybe that wasn't as useful as they first thought because the majority of the audience really didn't care about the details of past continuity - there was actually no need for a device to retcon it away and RTD was averse to complex plot arcs.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on October 14th, 2014 01:26 pm (UTC)
I think there is also a sense that the writers (including, no especially Davies) realised that they wanted to play with old monsters and villains and throw in all kinds of continuity references. Looking at the 2005 series, sometimes I can see the seeds of a much more radical reinvention of the programme than we actually got.