Gridlock

* I distinctly remember watching this episode on broadcast. I was staying with my then-new girlfriend, and it was the first time she saw me cry. Tonight was the most recent time.

* My new-found knowledge of the show’s history makes me appreciate the consistency in the descriptions of Gallifrey, but I’m also more aware that the Doctor is massively romanticising the place. The rose-tinted spectacles are fair enough, considering it’s dead and gone and it’s all his fault, but it was always a place to be feared before. Time Lords are all bastards.

* Father Dougal playing a big old cat! It’s a small role, but a memorable one, imbued with an infectiously cheery personality and a lovely turn of phrase. My only disappointment was that they went down the cute kitten route in depicting the offspring of him and his human wife, rather than the hideous mutation that would surely occur from such a union. I also enjoyed the glimpses of the other cars, particularly the old lesbian couple and the little city gent. The cavalcade of various species that had been cobbled together for a few seconds of screen time each reminded me of The End of the World, which in turn reminds me of Milliways.

* The Doctor fiddling with the police screen in order to get information and attempt to get through to someone reminded me of something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I’ve just realised that an animated McCoy does the same thing in bloody Death Comes To Time. There’s no chance it was deliberate, but if it was it’d be the oddest choice of source material for a callback ever. Until…

* The sodding Macra! After rationing himself to only Autons, Daleks, Cybermen, Sarah Jane and K-9 so far, it’s hilarious that the next thing Russell decided to bring back was a previously one-off monster from a serial that doesn’t even exist any more. In a way it’s perfect, because only those that know the backstory will know that there even is a backstory – when it’s something like Silurians or Sontarans, your casual fan will know the name but potentially be confused about the details and feel like they’re missing out. But with the Macra, you’d just assume they were a new invention, and as such I plumped for them when “characters or species that appeared in the classic and new series of Doctor Who” was a question on Pointless.

* I don’t know why the death of The Face of Boe makes me cry – my reaction surprised me then and it surprised me now. He’s just a big old face, as The Doctor so expertly points out, and he’s barely been in it – he said more words on his deathbed than in the rest of his appearances combined. But there’s something about what he represents that makes him feel important, and it’s the esteem in which The Doctor holds him that makes it emotional. It’s essentially fridging, but with an ancient giant face who may or may not be Captain Jack.

* If it is Jack, he could have been a bit more specific with his message. “You are not alone. However, it’s the fucking Master, and pretty soon he’s going to keep us both imprisoned and tortured for a year. Also, to be clear, the initials of the first four words I said comprise the surname of a professor that the Master is disguised as, so look out for that, and make sure you remember this warning the very second you’re introduced to this man.”

* The final scene is just perfect, Abide With Me and all. I’m an atheist, but I love the religious subtext in this episode. The climax boils down to The Doctor realising that Martha is someone he cares about, and someone he can trust with his secrets. Convenient that he tells her about the Daleks just before she meets them. And unfortunately, “I’m not just a Time Lord, I’m the last of the Time Lords” will always make me laugh, due to a chameleon arch toy I’ve got with a dodgy sound chip, which speeds Tennant up until he sounds like a chipmunk. (Like this video I’ve just found, but mine is worse.) But it doesn’t spoil the best episode of the series so far.

RATING: 10

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The Macra Terror

First of all – NEW TITLE SEQUENCE. And very nice it is too. I think I prefer the new serif version of the logo, just about, but the main improvement is the inclusion of Patrick Troughton’s cheeky little face. My rewatch so far has told the tale of the slow transformation from an unfamiliar early iteration to the format I’m more familiar with, and – cosmetically speaking – this is one of the final pieces in the puzzle.

The serial itself is a lot of fun. In a bizarre precursor to Gridlock, The Macra occupy the same sort of narrative space here as they did when they made their unexpected return. In both stories, they’re a good visceral threat, but they play second fiddle to the real menace: the society that exists around them. This serial works so well because the world it builds is so intriguingly creepy, and easy to get lost in. It’s like a more menacing version of The Land of Oz, with its singing, dancing and ominous off-screen voices.

The Doctor continues to develop into everything I want him to be with each passing story. Here, he shows off his raw genius, solving problems with mental dexterity and sneakily tinkering around to manipulate the situation. There’s some great character stuff with the companions too – Jamie’s loyalty to The Doctor and the value he places in his friendship with Ben and Polly make it easy to see why he went on to be such and enduring and popular companion.

Ben steals the show, though – a great choice as the one to be brainwashed, as he’s always given the impression of someone who’s somewhat suggestible, and one who often obfuscates his intentions. Considering I’d not seen a single frame of him before this rewatch, he’s now become one of my favourite supporting characters, obtaining the status of “classic companion” that Vicki, Steven and Dodo never quite made.

As for Polly, well… erm, she got a new haircut at one point. It’s very nice. Other than that, she might as well not have been there. I hope when they ditch her (which surely must happen soon) they keep Ben, although I’m not getting my hopes up…

RATING: 8