“Bless The Long Game.”

TV In his exit interview for Doctor Who Magazine, Russell T Davies when asked about those episodes that didn’t quite work out said “Bless The Long Game”. Its always been considered something of a runt in the litter of the first season. Too traditional for some, too at variance from proper Doctor Who for others, it’s not the episode I’ve been particularly looking forward to viewing again despite the opportunity to see Anna Maxwell Martin dressed in combat fatigues long before she became the face of period drama at the BBC.

Detailed general production information was still fairly thin on the ground when the episode was originally broadcast. There wasn’t much talk of the need for “double banking” style episodes with minimal participation from the timelord or his plus one or both. So one of the main focuses for criticism was the basically minimal participation for the Doctor and Rose, who effectively, save for a visit to the information room thingy, hang around outside a diner for the first half of the episode then visit the top floor to face down the villain then letting someone else save the day.

Now of course we understand, that because of the horrid work schedule in Cardiff, some episodes are shot simultaneously. In later seasons, the production team took the opportunity to try something a bit special, leading to Love & Monsters, Midnight, Turn Left and of course the Blink, which ironically then went on to voted the second best episode ever in the most recent Doctor Who Magazine poll. Now that we’ve accepted that, we can see that though The Long Game is no classic, as an episode fulfilling a difficult brief, it’s perfectly acceptable piece of entertainment.

For a start, along with Maxell Martin it features a stonkly strong, eclectic cast what with Simon Pegg camping about as the albino controller, Christine Adams who subsequently went to America and became the guest artist de jure notably as Simone Hundin, Emerson’s love interest in Pushing Daisies and oddly, and it really is oddly considering the size of the role, Tamsin Grieg whose benign massage of Adam's ego and everlasting credit is my favourite of the episode, particularly her reaction to the frozen sick (which has a piece of carrot in it – nice touch prop pickers).

Russell at least uses the opportunity to demonstrate to new audiences why the Doctor is careful when choosing his companions (slightly undermined by the next episode Father’s Day but nonetheless), showing us what happens when an opportunist travels in the TARDIS rather than someone essentially benevolent in spirit. He very deliberately intercuts between Adam’s investigation of the station for his own ends and Rose helping the Doctor without a thought for herself or her own safety, the former asking what the future can do for him, the latter doing what she can for the future.

The episode is also a strong allegory for what happens when information stops being democratic, from multiple sources and when people stop questioning the veracity of it. This is the kind of top down conglomerated news control is slowly sapping plurality of thought and as we can already see in large parts of the world, having a drastic effect on our welfare simply because a subset of people don’t realise that they’re being controlled to the point that they think they still have free will even though they really don’t (not naming any particular beverage related movements).

Plus it’s a (not very much any more) secret prequel to the closing finale, with the piqûre dans le conte that despite stopping Max (phew) the course of history still isn’t repaired and in some respects the Doctor's made matters worse. It’s probably worth it for that nuanced moment from Eccleston in Bad Wolf when his character realises the consequences of his actions, something which I don’t think we received later when Tenth stopped the new Golden Age by stuffing up Harriet Jones’s historic premiership leaving room for the Master to tuck himself in (and later tuck into a turkey).

Yet The Long Game isn’t a winner. I used to think it was because of Brian Grant’s direction, but on review he captures nicely the bustle of the space outside the café with verite style shot choices, there are some rather good establishing shots and the moment when the Doctor persuades Cathica to save the day via the reflection is gorgeous. Perhaps it's simply because the rote predictability which is a feature of so much Doctor Who, but usually well hidden beneath the moments of charm and short skirts is too close to the surface in an episode pinioned around trying to get a lift to work. Bless it.

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