Diary of an old cheeser

Hi there! Like other blogs, this is my chance to wax lyrical (some might say talk utter cr*p) about a) what's happening in my life b) all of my pet obsessions in particular music, tv, movies, books and other generally connected things, quite often of the retro, old and "cheesy" variety. Hence the title of my blog. Feel free to leave a comment if the mood takes you. There's nothing like a good chinwag about one's favourite topics and besides I love to meet new people! Cheers, Simon

Monday, April 16, 2007

And you thought the M25 was bad...

Last Saturday saw the broadcast of story numero three in the current season of Dr Who - "Gridlock" by Russell T Davies. And yes, the name of this episode really is referring to a big traffic jam on a motorway.

In this episode the Dr takes Martha on "one final trip" (we've heard that one before), this time in the form of a visit to the future - to planet New Earth (previously visited in the Season Two opening story of the same name) and the city of New New York no less! In "New Earth" the Dr and Rose visited a hospital which was in the vicinity but in this story we got to see the actual city itself. And a rather grim and depressing place it was too, with citizens being sold mood drugs in order to make their existence bearable whilst the majority of the population appeared to be permanently stuck in their cars in an underground motorway, taking literally years to reach their destination (and you thought the M25 was bad). The whole gridlock-cars-pollution concept was an interesting one, not to mention highly portentous - perhaps our society and environment really will end up this way if we don't keep tabs on things. Not to mention mankind's dependence on drugs and the dire consequences this could have (we later find out via cat lady Novice Hame that the entire population of New New York "above ground" has been wiped out by an airborne virus, borne from a drug called Bliss - nasty...)

However, one rather important question which wasn't answered was exactly how all the cars/drivers/passengers got stuck down on the motorway in the first place? And why had people chosen to go there? Wasn't there another route they could have taken? Presumably this was linked to the deaths of all the people on the surface, making it a necessity for the drivers to remain down below, but if that was the case it wasn't exactly made explicit.

These gripes aside, the actual visual realisation of the city and the motorway were pretty well done. The shots of the cityscape at the end of episode were beautiful and I thought reminiscent of the city of Coruscant in the recent Star Wars trilogy. The vistas of the millions of cars all lined up on the motorway were obviously CGI but they didn't look too bad. I liked the "van" style of the cars and it was also fun seeing how the interiors of different vans reflected the personalities of the different owners - the business man driver with his water cooler and the two old ladies with their granny flat style van, for instance!

And talking of the characters this was where the real enjoyment of the episode lay for me. I loved the cross section of car driver/passenger characters and the way in which they reflected the diversity of this society - Thomas Kincade and his wife Valerie; young couple Milo (rather a nice-looking fella) and Cheen; a couple of punky-looking Oriental girls and we even got to glimpse a couple of naturists!

In particular, male cat man Thomas Kincade Brannigan was played to perfection by "Father Ted" actor Ardal O'Hanlon - a feisty character with a nice line in humour - I liked his line "Stop that modern talk, I'm an old fashioned cat" when he speaks to the elderly female couple who reveal they are married! It was a shame we weren't given any insight into Thomas' background though - as he wasn't human where was he supposed to be from? Was he related to the cat nuns? And erm, I was rather intrigued to know how he and his human wife had managed to produce an offspring of real cats...well, I suppose it doesn't take that much working out but it kind of stretches belief. But that aside I thought Thomas and Valerie's relationship was touchingly portrayed and Thomas' cat make-up looked excellent!

Even lesser characters like the Businessman were good fun and it was a great touch having an old lesbian couple - why not? (Even if I can't help thinking that RTD does have a bit of an obvious gay/lesbian agenda at times). It would be nice if the Doc made another visit to New Earth in the future and hooked up with some of these people again!

The vendors at the start of the story, all trying to sell the Dr and Martha different "mood" drugs, were also a nice idea, and another comment on our consumer obsessed culture, with its need for a quick fix in order to feel good. A bit of a nod to "Brave New World" and other similar sci-fi stories - the masses being brainwashed in order to keep them suppressed, something the Dr, with his strong sense of justice, was very much against. The young girl briefly encountered by the Dr and Martha, was a sad instance of someone wanting to escape her problems - taking the "Forget" drug so she could forget losing her parents to the motorway.

It was also good to see the return of Cat nun Novice Hame - now older and wiser - played with integrity by Anna Hope. I liked the way she was set up as a potential enemy - she goes searching for the Dr with a gun - but it then turns out she has reformed and is now the servant of the Face of Boe.

Then of course there was the matter of something nasty lurking in the "fast lane"- which turned out to be none other than the Dr's old enemy, the Macra, a crab-like race of monsters not seen since the 1960s Patrick Troughton story "The Macro Terror". In all honesty I thought that the inclusion of the Macra was pretty pointless. At the end of the day they were just a nasty monster down below and the fact that they were an enemy from the Dr's past was neither here or there - they were just there to menace the motorists and kill them, something any old monster could do. Did RTD stick them in there just so he could reference yet another old alien? And - yes Old Cheeser comes back with yet another criticism!! - what happened to the Macra at the end??! The Dr saved the day by opening the roof to the motorway, thus allowing all the cars to escape, but presumably they were still there, weren't they? This seemed to get forgotten almost immediately. Erm, they're not just going to go away. Why wasn't this addressed?

The other significant aspect of this story was the Dr's third and final meeting with the Face of Boe, who was there to impart one final secret to the Dr before dying. This being the words: "You are not alone". No the Face hadn't been listening to Michael Jackson records, he was there to inform the Dr that he was
NOT the last of the Time Lords! Shock horror! Of course keen fans of the show like me had seen this one coming a mile off, so it wasn't that much of a surprise. Even the Dr himself seemed distinctly underwhelmed by this information and reluctant to discuss it further - which would seem a rather contrived effort on the part of the Dr Who production team to hold back on the real truth until the season finale! (Timewarden shares the same view). It's almost as if they're afraid that if too much information is given away now, people won't want to tune in later.

It was encouraging then to see Martha prompting the Dr to reveal more about his background and past in the final scene. I liked the Dr's end speech in which he recalled the glorious scenery and weather on his now destroyed home planet, and the pain and sadness in his face as he spoke about this was moving to watch - he really did look as though he were about to cry. When David Tennant puts a stop on all of his silly trademark tics he can actually be very convincing.

I thought Martha was pretty good in this episode too and Freema Agyeman's performance continues to grow in stature. Her dismay on learning that the Dr has taken her to the same place as Rose - i.e. New Earth - was amusing, as was her comment: "ever heard the word rebound?" She also exhibited a gusty, fighting quality that was great to behold - when Milo and Cheen kidnap her she puts up a real struggle, yelling: "I'm going to kill you myself - let go of me!!" Then later she threatens them with a gun, telling them to take her back to the Dr (but little realising the gun isn't loaded). The passive, screaming girl companions of the old Dr Who are clearly long gone, thank God! I also liked Martha's curt "What?" when she's told that the journey to Brooklyn is going to take six years - well, we'd all probably react the same way! She was also resourceful and quick-thinking - telling Milo and Cheen to turn off the engines and lights in the car so the Macra wouldn't sense them (even if she later admitted she'd seen submarines do this in movies - still, good thinking girl!) And her unwillingness to just accept the Dr at face value is also good to see - she wants to know more about him and his past and is obviously intent on finding out.

All in all, an enjoyable romp and - usual Cheeser criticisms aside! - with lots to recommend it.


  • At 10:40 pm , Blogger TimeWarden said...

    The more I think about this episode the more I like it! There were many scenes to savour. The Doctor’s indignation when ordering the pharmacists to shut up shop before his return was terrific. The light beaming through the slats of wood, before he enters the motorway, was reminiscent of the end of “Blade Runner”, specifically when Deckard is playing cat and mouse, if you’ll pardon the pun, with Batty.

    I didn’t care much for the Face of Boe, two years ago, and now I see a character with great dignity. Anna Hope’s Novice Hame was my favourite of the cat nuns seen in “New Earth” and it was good to see her embrace the Doctor, despite his initial misgivings. I just think the story beautifully set up its own little universe which was wonderfully self-contained that worked within its own laws.

    Nothing is perfect though and, as we agree, the Macra were an unnecessary addition. It’s also time the Doctor stopped reminiscing over Rose. In real life, we undoubtedly remember lost loves every single day of our lives but in a drama like “Doctor Who” one needs to move on and look to the future. It is about time travel after all! He didn’t miss Sarah Jane as much, when she originally left, and she was far more worthy!

    Interestingly, you wondered whether or not Boe had been listening to Wacko Jacko records! I was thinking more along the lines of ATB’s “You’re Not Alone”!! The lyrics work for me, “I’ll wait till the end of time for you…” All in all, “Gridlock” is a gem. My favourite episode of the first three. Not undermined by anything silly but enhanced by a terrific closing speech from a tragic wanderer in the fourth dimension.

  • At 6:55 am , Blogger Steve said...

    I agree. I thought Tennant's closing speech was a terrific piece of acting - they really need to give him more emotional stuff to work with so he can flex his acting muscles a little bit more. Although I like Tennant I sometimes miss the gravitas that Eccleston managed to bring to the role...

  • At 9:20 am , Blogger Samarcand said...

    Well, I finally managed to get around to seeing it last night (and, hopefully tonight I'll see the last episode of Life on Mars. My life is so busy...) and I really liked it. So far, I think this series is the best one of the three.

    I agree with you that the Macra could have been dealt with better rather than just being forgotten about, although I think that it was quite a nice touch to use an old Doctor monster rather than come up with a new one. (I don't know the story of The Macra Terror and indeed wasn't sure if they were a Troughton or Pertwee monster - thanks for filling in that piece of info, I knew I could rely on you!)

    One thing though, I did think that, rather like the Judoon, RTD was channelling Judge Dredd a bit again. The setting was very Mega-City One, much more than it was Blade Runner and the Businessman character immediately reminded me of Dredd's old nark Max Normal. Not that I'm complaining, mind. If you're gonna steal, steal from the best. Just make sure Ol' Stoneyface don't catch you! (Can you tell I'm re-reading old 2000ADs at the moment?)

  • At 4:55 am , Blogger matty said...

    OK. I do not know what else I can do.

    Can you email me and tell me what DVD of Dr Who with which I should start?

    I have a region free player --- so I will order from Amazon.com UK.

    But, I haven't a clue as to where to start!?!!?? ...this show has been around forever!

    Tell me, please! I must investigate, watch and understand!!!

    Oh! And, do you crochet or knit? If you do or know someone who does also drop me a line or check out my blog today --- cool project going down for a friend of mine!!!!

    kisses from GayTown and cluess about Dr. Who! ...but, only for now!


  • At 8:01 am , Blogger Minge said...

    I thought the first twenty minutes were boring. I couldn't make up my mind if there was lots going on or if nothing was happening. But I enjoyed the second half. However, on watching through again, I enjoyed it an awful lot.

    Of course, there are plot holes, like how all those people ended up in an enclosed motorway like that in the first place, but that's RTD for you.

    Anna Hope is amazing. I love her.

    And Freema is growing on me.

  • At 8:08 am , Blogger Minge said...

    Matty - get the complete season starrng Christopher Eccleston. It's fabulous. Episode one is called Rose.

  • At 2:29 pm , Blogger matty said...

    Oh, dear! But which DVD set is the one to which you refer? I see several with this actor in them.

    I'm thinking of starting with the one with Catherine Tate cause -- I love her.

  • At 9:49 pm , Blogger Flaming Nora said...

    Those cat people were too scary. Maybe I should stop watching?

  • At 2:35 pm , Blogger matty said...

    I selected a DVD set. I picked the one that had the best looking Dr. Who -- I think it is this David T person. Anyway! I can't wait! Then I can offer my personal insights and not feel totally clue-less.

    I'm just a little worried that it might be like Star Wars. ...Or, no. Star Trek. I don't know. See? I get my sci-fi mixed up. I don't like the one with Leonard Nimoy and the pointed ears. Tho, William Shatner was kind of hot in the day.

  • At 11:44 am , Blogger Steve said...

    He looks kind of swollen and ruddy now... though he's very funny in Boston Legal!

  • At 5:34 pm , Blogger Minge said...

    Any will be fine, Matty. But I'd have recommended the set starring Christopher Ecclestone.

    Do you think the Welsh have eaten Simon?

  • At 8:38 pm , Blogger Boz said...

    And now the Daleks in depression era Manhattan is just cool...


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