Aired 7 May 2005
‘The Long Game’ is not the best episode of this series of Doctor Who so far, but it unequivocally the most ambitious, trying to juggle an incredible number of storylines while proving once and for all that the programme can remain loyal to the past while still remaining socially relevant in the present.
There is a lot to commend in ‘The Longest Game,’ and even if some of the story’s aspects fail to live up to their full potential, it’s hard to fault a bold science fiction story that is unafraid to tackle bigger issues like media corruption and its effect on the public at large. This may be the second episode set far in the future, but the drama within the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire here fits much more in line with a traditional Doctor Who story than ‘The End of the World’ managed, the stakes and mystery being so much bigger here than the characters themselves.
Christopher Eccleston continues to do wonders in the role of the Ninth Doctor, his bitter anguish possibly making him the most humanized of the Time Lord’s many incarnations yet. In fact, one of the Ninth Doctor’s strongest traits is his ability to read and to manage others, inspiring them to take action against their situation, although this does come at the cost of him staying more on the sideline when the actual time for action comes. Whether or not this characteristic is related to the traumatic events he experienced in the Time War or not, it will be fascinating to see if this continues because it essentially takes the hero of the show out of the more heroic situations. At the same time, however, it does prove how successful Doctor Who can even by taking the focus off of the Time Lord and putting it instead on the individual people themselves.
Yet arguably the biggest issue with ‘The Long Game’ is that there simply isn’t enough time to devote to Bruno Langly’s Adam as the new addition to the TARDIS crew. He’s clearly not prepared for the situation in which he finds himself, and whereas there is some degree of implicit trust between the Doctor and Rose, Adam finds himself essentially separated from the main action until the very end as he lets his curiosity get the better of him. In fact, he comes off as a rather one-dimensional character, one who eventually decides to use his situation to better his own personal circumstances, and his time in the TARDIS is understandably forcibly cut short despite the burgeoning chemistry between Rose and Adam. The Doctor may seem a bit harsh in his execution of his final decision to cut ties, but the sentiment is the correct one. Adam seems to have been brought aboard solely to show that Rose is something truly special, and to that effect he is has to be deemed a success; still, his character is sadly lacking in any deeper development or motivation, and so he can also represent a failure of the Doctor’s willingness to change and inspire others.
Character arcs and motivations are only a part of Doctor Who and ‘The Long Game,’ in particular, and this episode does a good job of stepping back from classic monster stories and offering an episode steeped more in social commentary. The space station itself is an obvious class system, each group kept separate from any others while all try to reach the top, Floor 500 where the walls are made of gold. There are plenty of examples throughout of the stronger exploiting the weak in this capitalist setup, and the promises of glory on Floor 500 naturally end up being a lie devised to keep the people happy and living in hope as they carry on their tasks. As events progress, it’s clear that humanity has taken a wrong turn as they live in an environment where they are completely unaware that they’ve become slaves themselves and are being completely manipulated. In fact, the station itself is so rich with life and culture despite the circumstances that it’s a shame more time cannot be devoted to fully fleshing it out and making it a more-rounded character itself. Regardless, the fact that the broadcasts are so fine-tuned that they can subliminally implant suggestions into people’s minds so that they accept anything without second thought is incredibly frightening and a truly exciting avenue for this episode to explore.
In the end, ‘The Long Game’ is not a perfect episode, but it is an episode that aired at the perfect time given its commentary. Simon Pegg is superb as the human Editor below the true threat, and even if there are simply too many concepts brought up to fully explore, the ambition and scope of this story cannot be faulted. With Adam having apparently served his purpose and the Doctor further humanized, this first series is still on a solid trajectory going forward.