If the early episodes have done their job of easing you into “Doctor Who” and getting you hooked on the show, I generally find the sixth and seventh installments are when you’ve fully gotten into the swing of the series’ premise and start anticipating it. For Series 5, it’s “The Vampires Of Venice” and “Amy’s Choice”, and for Series 1 it’s “Dalek” and “The Long Game”. Right from the pre-titles sequence, where an excited Nine and Rose and a shell-shocked Adam take in the fact they’re onboard a space station orbiting the Earth in the far future, I was psyched for another time-traveling, mystery-solving adventure. Unpopular opinion time: I really like “The Long Game”. In fact, every Doctor has one or two episodes that the fandom really dislikes that I’m partial to myself. For Ten, it’s “42”, for Eleven, it’s “The Curse Of The Black Spot”, and for Twelve, it’s “The Eaters Of The Light”. “The Long Game” refreshingly serves as a slow-paced, breather episode. Since things got really intense in “World War Three” and “Dalek“, and are about to get really depressing in “Father’s Day”, it’s slotted in just the right place (and like “Dalek”, it stealthily acts as a lynchpin episode in the season’s arc). I enjoy the core concept of this episode: the Doctor and Rose investigating a corrupt news station in the future. One of the great things about Series 1 is that it’s filled with bold, creative ideas that grab the audience’s attention, like alien socialites gathering in the future to watch the Earth burn, or gas mask zombies running amok in World War II, or aliens faking a crash landing to cause mass hysteria. Even “Boom Town” has the novel idea of the Doctor being forced to spend a night with a captured enemy he’s taking to her death. “The Long Game” also features some pretty frank, on-the-mark social commentary from Russell T. Davies about the dangers of a corrupt media, which actually resonates more now than it did a decade ago.
The Ninth Doctor is in top form in this episode, and Christopher Eccleston has clearly settled into the role at this point. As usual, the Doctor intends to be just a tourist at first who enjoys the future, but it’s not long before he starts to notice that something is wrong about human society – little details that don’t add up – so he latches onto some clues and works his way backwards from there. Every little thing he discovers worries him more and more. Like “The Beast Below” in Series 5, the Doctor catches wind of a grand conspiracy in the future, going all the way up to the government, and he’s determined to get to the bottom of it, no matter how outrageous it sounds. The Doctor was written as a rebel time lord, an anarchist and a non-conformist in the classic series, and that aspect of his character shines through in this episode. He’s direct and to the point when he’s sleuthing, and he doesn’t have the time or the patience for willful ignorance when it comes to the locals who would prefer to stick their head in the sand, like Cathica. But despite what he tells her, he doesn’t actually give up on her thinking for himself, and when she comes to rescue him in the climax, the Ninth Doctor does what he does best: empower other people to stand up for themselves. The Doctor is thoroughly pissed-off when Adam betrays him, but on some level, he saw it coming. Considering Adam worked for Henry Van Statten, an amoral jackass, of course he probably wasn’t a good fit for TARDIS life. When the Doctor evicts him, it’s worth noting what he says about Rose in comparison. The Doctor and Rose have gotten along swimmingly for a while, and she just stopped him from crossing a major line in the last episode, so he’s started to put her up on a pedestal in his head as an ideal woman, forgetting that she’s human and she mistakes too – an illusion that will be shattered in the next episode. After toppling a corrupt society, Nine also swans off and leaves Cathica to deal with the power vaccum, an irresponsible habit of his that will catch up to him eventually.
Like the previous episode, Billie Piper’s Rose is given less to do than usual, but this story still feels like a growing experience for her. At the start of their adventure, Rose is eager to show off to Adam and mentor him in the ways of time travel, showing him just how much fun and excitement the TARDIS can offer. As the episode stretches on, it becomes clear that Rose didn’t just bring Adam along because she fancied him (though that certainly contributed), but also because traveling in the TARDIS is always incredible and she would like to have someone else to share that experience with. She offered Mickey a spot in the TARDIS as well a few episodes ago, but he turned her down. It’s interesting how much Rose’s stance changes after she and the Doctor have a relationship upgrade in the finale. By “School Reunion” the following season, Rose firmly believes three is a crowd. RTD includes a moment where Adam acknowledges (albeit to butter her up) that she clearly fancies the Doctor and he can’t match up to him, which is usually one of my least favorite motifs in the RTD era. The Doctor and Rose are Russell’s one true pairing, and no other person in the universe can hope to stack up to them in comparison. It gets annoying when RTD frequently disses Martha and Mickey for his Doctor / Rose ship, but I don’t mind it with Adam, because Adam really is a slimy prick. Fully in the spirit of adventure, Rose has become a lot more gung-ho about seeking out trouble and mysteries, and she and the Doctor have become quite a team. They can always count on each other to have each other’s backs, and they indulge in quite a bit of flirting. Their cheeky, genial camaraderie is fun to watch, and it also serves to set up the harshness of their first, really big row in the next episode. Rose is utterly disappointed when Adam betrays her and the Doctor’s trust, and she never repeats the mistake she made with him again. When Adam actually has the nerve to try to play on her sympathies a second time, I love that she just coldly steps back inside the TARDIS and leaves his ass there.
For the first act of the episode, Bruno Langley’s Adam just seems to have a foppish, dull and milquetoast personality, but he gradually reveals himself to be sneaky, manipulative and greedy. I love that Adam’s subplot in “The Long Game” serves as a twisted mirror to Rose’s journey in “The End Of The World“, which was certainly a deliberate parallel, since Russell wanted to use Adam’s character to demonstrate that not everyone is fit to be a companion. Where Nine and Rose gazed down on a future Earth in wonder, Adam apparently faints. Where Rose ran off on her own to cope with her terrifying mortality, Adam does it to do treacherous things. Where Rose phoned home to feel the comfort and familiarity of London, Adam does it to try to get rich. Instead of seeing the sights of the future, appreciating the culture, or even trying to help the Doctor and Rose with their case, Adam’s first thought, when he gets to travel through time, is to try to make himself rich. Wow. Even worse, he takes advantage of the Doctor and Rose’s hospitality to do it, which is at best rude, at worst super ungrateful. Again, he worked for Henry Van Statten, it’s no surprise he has such a skewered, petty perspective. The problem with Adam is that he’s a bit too clever for his own good, while also being quite stupid where it counts. He actually undergoes surgery to have a chip permanently installed in his head as part of his plan, which not only almost gets the Doctor and Rose killed by costing them their protective anonymity, but also causes the TARDIS to almost fall into enemy hands, which would have brought about the end of the world (as seen in the climax of Series 3). Once the crisis is over, the Doctor takes Adam straight home and leaves him to deal with the consequences of getting his chip, which is a pretty harsh eviction, but I can’t say the brat didn’t deserve it. Adam never returned in the series, but he did have an arc in the comics where he returned to try to get his revenge on the Doctor and Rose.
The world of “The Long Game” is a fascinating one to gradually unravel. For his second foray into the future, Russell opts for your classic dystopian world, albeit one that seems clean, appealing and innocuous on the surface. The advanced technology of the future allows humans to turn their brains into literal computers, sharing and downloading information from across the stars in an instant, creating a supposedly enlightened age, but it also means they have no privacy whatsoever. They’re tagged with chips from the day they’re born to the day they die, and big brother is always watching. The Editor, portrayed by a chilly Simon Pegg, is in charge of running Satellite Five, the news station that broadcasts across the great and bountiful human empire. The Editor is a very snide villain. He loves order, he loves a good puzzle, and he hates being deceived. He likes to feel in control at all times, and he has a sick sense of humor. Most of all, he’s a very demanding boss. All the workers in Satellite Five are equipped with chips so they can work the systems, and the chips allow their decaying corpses to keep working non-stop, long after they die. The Editor’s disrespect for the dead is obscene and depraved, but as far as he’s concerned, it’s efficient. As it turns out, he’s just a lackey, a representative for a beast called the Jagrafess who really owns the station, and by extension, humanity. By manipulating the daily news feeds, the Editor and the Jagrafess can build whatever narrative they choose to influence humans everywhere. They can have an effect on the economy, they can push for certain leaders to be put in office, they can keep humans thick and complacent so their own personal empire will stay running smoothly. They’ve been spreading their lies for a century, and they’ve managed to stunt the progress future humans have made expanding outwards. It’s a great idea for an episode. It’s also a great cautionary tale from Russell about how much influence the media has on the collective masses of humanity from day-to-day, and how easily that influence can be abused.
Cathica is a work-obsessed reporter, social climber and somewhat irritating side-character who gets sucked into the Doctor and Rose’s investigation as the episode progresses. Like your average employee, she doesn’t step outside her lane or question the way things are done. She keeps her head down, gets her job done everyday, and tries to butter up upper management so she can get a promotion. When her co-worker, Suki, is picked over her, she can barely hide her jealousy. Russell’s episodes set in the future usually shine some light on the less than pleasant aspects of human nature, like the sadism and dehumanization on display in “Bad Wolf” when it comes to the humans’ entertainment, or the blind trust in authority figures that the motorists have in “Gridlock”, or the mob mentality that erupts out of fear and self-righteousness in “Midnight”, or the mad desire to cling to life in a dying universe that’s twisted into something really ugly in “Utopia”. In “The Long Game”, Russell suggests that humans have a habit of willfully staying in the dark about things, downplaying or ignoring uncomfortable inconsistencies so their lives can go on normally. The Doctor considers it to be one of their most annoying traits. Cathy has a nice character arc in the background of the episode, where she overcomes her desire to conform and literally saves the day by thinking for herself. Suki doesn’t too shabby either. In an unexpected twist, the mild-manner reporter turns out to be a spy who goes into the belly of the beast and gets killed on. However, the Editor made a grave mistake keeping her corpse around like the other workers. Like Gwenyth in “The Unquiet Dead“, Suki’s consciousness hangs onto life just long enough to keep her killer in place and get her revenge by taking him down with her when the whole lair blows up. That bit of karma is still just as satisfying the second time.
Brian Grant’s direction proves to be very lively and competently handled throughout the episode, especially as we get closer and closer to the climax. “The Long Game” was primarily shot in a dressed-up warehouse and a variety of other locations around Britain, so as a destination, Satellite Five looks pretty impressive, with massive rooms packed full of people and a variety of sharp, striking colors thanks to some beautiful lighting (Suki stepping out of an ultra-bright elevator and wandering around an empty, navy blue floor 500 has to be one of the most visually appealing scenes in the episode). A combination of CGI and matte paintings helps to create the illusion, and they go a long way in giving this episode a decent sense of scale. “The Long Game” has some of the best CGI we’ve seen since “The End Of The World”, which feels appropriate considering how much this episode harkens back to that one. The rotating satellite orbiting the Earth in the wide shots still looks great after thirteen years, and I like the outrageous, carnivorous blob design the Jasgrafess is given (the sort of thing you’re only ever gonna see in “Doctor Who”). Murray Gold’s score is entirely unreleased in this episode, he writes some good, ominous pieces for the environment of Floor 500, as well as some pleasing variations of “Westerminster Bridge”.
I really enjoyed “The Long Game”. As its own standalone story, it’s a fun, compact, and occasionally thought-provoking mystery that does some surprising things with Adam and contains a nice message from RTD. In light of the finale, it’s also significant for what it sets up later on.
* After leaving behind Van Statten’s base, the Doctor, Rose and Adam jump straight from one period in history where the Daleks have resurfaced to another, with the audience none the wiser. Sneaky, RTD, sneaky.
* “He’s your boyfriend” “Not anymore”.
* “The thing is, Adam, time travel’s like visiting Paris. You can’t just read the guide book, you’ve got to throw yourself in. Eat the food, use the wrong verbs, get charged double and end up kissing complete strangers. Or is that just me?”
* One of the news stories is about how the Face of Boe has gotten pregnant, again. Jack, what have you been getting up to in your old age?
* “The process of news gathering must be open, honest, and beyond bias. That’s company policy.” “Actually, it’s the law” “Yes, thank you, Suki”.
* “What is that?!” “Your boss. This has always been your boss, since the day you were born”.
* In most of her scenes, Tasmin Greig seems overly-wooden as the nurse character, but she starts sending out some serious creepy vibes when it becomes clear she’ll say or do anything to make her sale. She’s a viper, that one.
* “Floor five hundred?” “Something up there is generating tons and tons of heat” “Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m missing out on a party. It’s all going on upstairs. Fancy a trip?”
* “Come on. Come with us” “No way” “Bye!” Heh, sassy Nine is the best Nine.
* “So all the people on Earth are like, slaves” “Well, now, there’s an interesting point. Is a slave a slave if he doesn’t know he’s enslaved?” “Yes“.
* “Time lord. The last of the Time Lords in his travelling machine. Oh, with his little human girl from long ago”.