Martha: You’ve got your faith, you’ve got your songs and your hymns. And I’ve got the Doctor.
Production Code: 3.3.
Doctor Who Season: S29 (Ep3).
Story Number: 181.
Doctor Who has a famously uniquely flexible format: stories can be set anytime, anywhere…
This strength is also a weakness, as without recurring settings the show could feel incoherent. Russell T guards against that by having us visit certain times and places again and again. The 50 million and first Century (the year c. 5,000,000,000) is one such time – and New Earth is one such place.
All three of these stories (The End of the World, New Earth and this episode) that are set around time are more whimsical in nature than the other future-set stories of Nu-Who. The social satire is brought to the fore, recalling the light-hearted Seasons 16 and 17 and Season 24 too. The influence of Douglas Adams and the comic 2000AD (itself a strong influence on the Cartmel years) can be felt on Gridlock. The plot is more concerned with being a commentary on our 21st Century society than a hard-science sociological depiction of a future society – an approach that seems lost on some fans.
One of the apparent subtexts of this social satire, at least at the beginning, was that here was a literal underclass who were kept in the dark by other levels of society. My initial reading of the use of the religious hymn broadcast was that the famously sceptical-of-religion Russell T Davies was implying that this was “the opium of the masses”. However, expectations were subverted as the story progressed. Respect was shown for these people united by their hymn (“The Old Rugged Cross”) – although maybe the sense of community was being praised rather than the religion itself.
Murray Gold has his critics, but I must say I like the brilliant theme that scored the BBCi “When two worlds collide” trailer so effectively. This theme was also used here to build upon the emotion of the escape from the Macra. (Yes, the Macra. This was another subversion of expectations and a nice nod to the fans.)
As for the ongoing elements from previous stories, the third and final meeting with The Face of Boe was an interesting scene – although any mystery of what those four words would be was diluted by their existence in the Doctor Who Annual 2006 (!). The gradual acceptance of Martha continues here in some well-played scenes.
This was another excellent episode after the triumph of the opening two episodes.
Going back to the subtexts of the story and their multiple readings, one possible reading stood out for me. A community of people, communicating with messages of hope (in a manner like the internet) waiting in the dark for so many years, until the moment arrives and – joy – the Doctor is back.
That is a very good description of the years 1989 to 2005!
2012 thoughts: One of the most layered stories of Doctor Who.