TV Review: Doctor Who Episode 3.03 “Gridlock”

3.03 Gridlock (killcolor) 5

Episode 3.03 “Gridlock”
Written By: Russell T. Davies
Originally Aired: April 14, 2007

Synopsis: “The Doctor and Martha return to New Earth to find it has been laid out as a horrendous trap, stuck in a giant and long traffic jam under the streets of New New York.”

A rather grimy, almost claustrophobic episode is this one. We return to New New York (first seen in Episode 2.01 “New Earth”) to find it a dystopia. The premise is ridiculous, but a bit frightening precisely because it’s based on something relatable: we’ve all felt, at various times, that we were spending most of our lives stuck in traffic. Well, the residents of New New York really do spend most of their lives stuck in traffic! And their flying cars float in a massive underground tunnel-road, meaning they can only get out of their vehicles every few months, when they inch up to a loading dock.

Bring a bandana...or a gas mask! The flying-car fumes are that bad.

As an adventure it’s fairly interesting and well done. Martha gets kidnapped by a desperate couple who need her in order to, essentially, use the carpool lane, and the Doctor gives chase. The best parts feature him jumping from rooftop to rooftop of flying cars while searching for her. It’s a near impossible task, but he never gives up.

But it’s not an episode that demands rewatching. The setting is convincingly portrayed, but ugly because of it. Some of the side characters are interesting and well-played (including the young couple that kidnaps Martha), but writer Russell Davies again indulges his political ideas by going out of his way to include lesbian characters (and, rather uncomfortably, a marriage between a human woman and a cat-man that produces children). The gap between Davies’ morals and Christian morals is made more awkward by the usage of the Christian hymn “Abide With Me” to celebrate the liberation of the citizens at the end. I like the song, and I like that the humans sing it, but coming from the pen of Davies it almost feels like mockery because we’ve seen how little he cares for Christianity.

Aviator cat-man-with-Scottish-accent is really cool, but it's creepy that he married a human woman.

The main reason to see this episode is for the reappearance of the Face of Boe, that ancient and mysterious creature that was first, and briefly, introduced in Episode 1.02 “The End of the World.” Reputed to be the oldest living creature in the universe, he is now dying, and he chooses to gives his last words to the Doctor; it’s a prophecy, in fact: “You are not alone.” What does it mean? Martha presses the Doctor, but he sadly rejects the possibility that there is another Time Lord out there. The Time Lords are all dead, he explains, having died in the Time War against the Daleks along with their planet. So the Face of Boe must be wrong, or must mean something else, he insists. Of course, this is a plant for something to be revealed later in the series, but it does lead to the Doctor opening up to Martha with a beautiful description of Gallifrey, his long-destroyed home planet, in its prime. After two adventures, he finally pulls up a chair and tells her something of who he is and where he comes from. It’s nice to see him recognize how important this is for a companion to hear. The adventure is over, now it’s time to talk.

Martha: When you say “last time”, was that you and Rose?
The Doctor: [he pauses, somewhat taken aback by the question] Um… Yeah! Yeah, it was, yeah.
Martha: [looking put off] You’re taking me to the same planets that you took her?
The Doctor: [surprised, oblivious] What’s wrong with that?
Martha: [disappointed, upset] Nothing! [starts to stalk away] ‘Cept have you heard of the word “rebound”?

Source of Photos: Killcolor
Other Review: Doctor Who Reviews

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Author: David

I’m a young Christian American reader writer dreamer wanderer walker flier listener talker scholar adventurer musician word-magician romantic critic religious idealist optipessimist man.

30 thoughts on “TV Review: Doctor Who Episode 3.03 “Gridlock””

  1. I feel the same way about this episode: It was a good over the hump episode, and I love Martha’s attitude at the begininng– which was, “I’m on the worst First Date ever….” It had to be frustrating, because as a science nerd, she’s hardly going to turn down a trip into time and space; but as attractive, intelligent woman having an adventure with an equally attractive man, it was a fizzle. The episode was worth it because we meet the Face of Boe( but this is in retrospect). And I especially liked the spirit Martha showed –then again she was a junior Doctor– in getting the Doctor to open up to her about Gallifrey.

  2. Yay for Doctor Who! I watched the three seasons of it that CBC actually showed here in Canada, but this was one of the episodes I got to see. I thought the concept of “gridlock” was really unique. What if you actually WERE stuck in traffic forever? And people were desperate to get into the carpool lane? But then, there were some elements I didn’t enjoy, just like you. Doctor Who has some great stuff, but in the end the philosophy behind it is kind of empty.

    1. It’s a recurring problem with this show, to be sure. Series 4 has some even better stories, but also more weird philosophical issues that make me go “Uh, things don’t work that way, and that’s kind of offensive anyway…”

      1. Well, I kind of thought that in the Shakespeare’s Code with it message to young African-Britons that the worst thing they had to worry about in 1599, during the period (1596-1601) Queen Elizabeth issue orders to expel all deport, through forced enslavement of Africans, was being called something other than Englishperson. It was more insulting to pretend the slave trade didn’t exist than it was for the Doctor to acknowledge the danger. He merely had to tell Martha what he tells all of his companions, “Don’t wander off.” Therefore, I thought it worked very well, that Martha was kidnapped right under his nose when he takes her to the future. However the vision of humanity evolving into drug culture, stuck on a poisonous highway and dependent on the last gasp of a giant face living among the corpses of their leaders was pretty disturbing.

        1. Well, I thought “The Shakespeare Code” handled it pretty well. It acknowledged the racism of the time without focusing unduly on it. This is, after all, a light adventure show, not Amistad, and the purpose of the episode was to meet Shakespeare, not engage in all the pressing issues of that period.

          I don’t mind the fact that Martha was kidnapped in this episode, and the Doctor had to rush to get her back while feeling the just guilt that he is responsible for endangering her. Except that, as you said in your first comment, it kind of robbed her of the chance to display her intelligence and medical knowledge. Fortunately, she gets more opportunities in some later episodes.

          1. Rose felt free to talk about Slavery in the OOD episode, and the same with Donna. Why we should we suddenly take refuge behind the excuse of “light entertainment” when the one of two companions who would have been directly affected by human slavery asks about it?

            Suggesting that Martha is mistaken, when she becomes offended by spate of politically incorrect terms from a man who is attempting to flirt with her IS NOT acknowledging racism. In fact, from the Doctor’s cynical dismissal of Martha:( ‘Political correctness gone mad”) it is suggested that Racism only existed in Martha’s over sensitive imagination.
            The purpose of the episode was to meet Shakespeare, who wrote “Fair is foul, Foul is fair”, in an episode with a fair woman who is a witch and the Doctor’s companion who at the time, by her dress and color and proximity to a strange death would have been arrested on the spot as a wtich.

            We are supposed to believe Martha inspired the Dark Lady Sonnets. The real Dark Lady sonnets very much deal with how Darkness is perceived as opposed to the beauty of the woman he’s attracted to.
            So why not be honest about the atmosphere of the time?

            As light entertainment, the Episode was not afraid to suggest that Shakespeare had bi-sexual tendencies, or that the period was ignorant when it came to disease, or that someplace like Bedlam, where mentally ill people were whipped like animals, existed. I don’t think the audience would have drew back in shock if the Doctor told Martha, “Now that you mention it might be better if you don’t wander off because of the Queen’s decree.” No the Doctor can’t do anything at all about the slave trade but he doesn’t have to preach about it or make judgment on the institution to acknowledge the danger. The Seventh Doctor talked about English with a POC bartender in an episode, wondering if he could go back and change humans taste for sugar. Frankly the timidity and dismissal of the subject was disappointing. Even the SJA when Clyde went to the past had more conjones than that.

            1. Yikes– need editor on this thing! Sorry, forgive me for double posting, but I wrote that first paragraph and I can’t understand. What I meant to say was;

              Rose felt free to talk about Slavery in the OOD episode, and the same with Donna. In fact the Doctor/Donna become liberators. Why should we suddenly take refuge behind the excuse of “light entertainment” when one of the two companions who would have been directly affected by human slavery asks about it?

              1. No worries; my own posts usually contain numerous dumb typos until I’ve had a few hours (or a day or so) to weed them out.

                That’s a legitimate question to ask, I admit, especially when put in the light of how Rose and Donna did address slavery more directly. If the writers wanted to explore something of the history of racism or slavery, Martha would have been an exceptional Companion with which to do it. And yeah, they could have had the Doctor pass a warning on to Martha to not stray from him, because of the chances of her being treated as a slave or servant. I do think that the Companion is somewhat protected from being noticed as out-of-place by the mysterious effect of the Tardis, in the same way that hardly anyone ever notices their modern clothing. It’s not foolproof: in “Tooth & Claw” the Queen and her guards remarked on Rose’s “nakedness,” and obviously in this one Shakespeare clearly notices Martha’s skin color. But no one else seems to notice her skin color, so I just chalked it up to the lingering Tardis effect and Shakespeare’s genius-level immunity to it. But put into perspective of the show’s other discussions of slavery, I see what you mean.

                Though as to your other observations of what the show often includes in their light entertainment, well, I’m not too fond of those. Davies set a standard for pushing his political and sexual opinions at every turn, which the other writers bought into, and which I think is wholly inappropriate for a family show. Also, for a family show, I think they go too far with some disturbing material and endings.

                1. The TARDIS thing doesn’t work for me Because of the Dicken’s episode, and the classic episodes. People notice. And Russell admits to wanting to push the instances of Doctor’s insenstivity towards Martha, but I think he got carried away and the Doctor just comes off as mean. Still, my favorite backstage story of Season Three is the one of David drawing the line at Ten stripping to his skivvies before he hopped into to bed and invited Martha to join him.

                  I think when it comes to directly dealing with race you get science fiction writers — say something like Deep Space Nine, or Quantum Leap who will just jump in, but that is because these writers understood that they were not writing about intolerance alone, but, but endurance, courage to stand even in the face of rejection or failure for right thing. England is the country that gave us Amazing Grace, for heaven’s sakes. Introducing complexion and slavery into the story did not be about prejudice and the refusal of liberty. Why not stress Shakespeare’s resistance to the idea that dark=evil, the underlying theme of the Dark Lady sonnets. With Fair Lilith they had the perfect platform without having to preach– but hindsight, is not worth much. 🙂

                  1. Sheesh, that would’ve really been bad! I’m glad Tennat refused to do that. Would’ve probably made me hate the Shakespeare episode if he’d done it.

                    They do address racism more directly in “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood,” though.

                    1. To David: I’ll wait until your review of Human Nature to address what I found good and what I found regrettable about the writer’s represenation of racism. But instead of the almost exploitive use of Martha’s complexion to show “racism” as a fabric of that time, it would have nice to see the writers represent the movement towards equality which was very much part of the fabric of the time. And again, no preaching or grandstanding would have been necessary. Just a glance at the November 11, 1913 Daily News. would have put the Farringham teachers and students treatment of Martha in better perspective.

                      Do you think “resentment” is too harsh a word? Maybe. This is just my opinion, but it is the impression I got, especially during Utopia/Last of the Time Lords. I keep recalling Tennant’s statement that the Doctor never truly accepts Martha, and Doctor’s words to Donna about her later and that famous discussion about guns that we will save until you get to Season Four. Had Martha been less resourceful, less courageous, less kind, forgiving (to the point of enabling), thoughtful; or had she attempted seduction instead of trying to hide her feelings, I don’t think the Doctor would have felt any guilt or regret about his treatment of Martha. Often when a decent person looks back on a situation where he or she has behaved shabbily, I think there is some resentment.

  3. Doctor Who really hinges on the writing as much as the actors. Episodes when the writing is good are fabulous. Episodes where the writing is weak (often from paying more attention to preaching than the characters and plot) aren’t so hot. Still, I am a fan. My favorite part of the show so far, though, is Donna Noble. 🙂

    1. Donna was fantastic. I’ll be talking a lot about her in my Series 4 reviews, to be sure. She might be my favorite companion, but I’m infuriated by what her finale did to her. But more on that later.

      I’ve always found even the weak episodes to have lots to enjoy, from the witty quips, the neat ideas tucked in the corners, and, naturally, the consistently fun performances. But the weaker, preachier writing (worse because it’s usually preaching something I don’t believe in) really infects everything around it like a disease. That’s what’s so frustrating — this should be a great family adventure show, one of the greatest ever, but I wouldn’t show it to many kids (I’m thinking maybe 10 and up, if that). It’s not an innocent show. It’s guilty of many things.

      1. I don’t know if you were a fan of the classic show, but if I were point to something that is missing it would not be innocence, but charm. I watched Liz Sladen’s first episode the other night, and saw immediately what was missing. There was a sense a of delight — possibly spurred on because I miss the actress and had just watched her last episode, but I’ve always felt this. There was a bit of the old charm in Season One, and I recall Chris E. as being a kinder, Doctor with less ranting. If you get a chance watch Battlefield from the classic show. It features a wonderful courtship between two characters– Brigadier Winnifred Bambera and Arthur era knight, Ancelyn–. It was pure romp, they wrestle early in the series and later Winnifred falls asleep on Ancelyn’s shoulder, with the Seventh Doctor smiling knowingly at them. It was playful and romantic without being overtly sensual–even when they fighting as the actors threw themselves into the scene with such glee and sincerity, it is funny rather than titalating. But I think both Moffat and Davies sometime forget that Doctor Who is still pushed as a young peoples program, but they are not alone in this industry.

        1. I haven’t seen any of the classic show, although I intend to after catching up with the current series. (see my discussion with M.J.S. Schneider on the “Daleks in Manhattan” review) What you describe sounds beautiful. I do agree that the Ninth Doctor’s run seemed to have more joy in it. The stories weren’t as strong, in general, (some great ones being “Father’s Day” and “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”) but the ton was more lightly adventurous, something I enjoyed. I think they intended Nine to be a “darker” Doctor, with more recent war scars, but he actually seems much lighter than the way Ten is turning out.

          1. I never got that part– that Chris E. was supposed to be the Oncoming storm. He played the Doctor with a broken heart, and his Doctor’s personality was much more attractive– and I find the Eleventh Doctor much more attractive as well. He plays the Doctor with an obvious nod to the Classic series- it was all romp, no one took it as seriously as today’s fans seem to during Tennant’s run. David Doctor is a darker, more angry character, and to his credit, especially in the Third Season, Tennant is very vocal about the change. David Tennant went as far as calling the Doctor’s insenstivity towards Martha as shocking. i.e. extending an invitation to a person, then turning around and telling them they’re not quite good enough to travel with you. It stands out that Nine compliments not only Rose on her appearances, but is kind to others, and Ten is the same, except when it comes to Martha. You will have to listen to David’s and Mark Gatiss (the commentary) talk about this, I love that Tennant and Gatiss actually make fun of the Doctor’s love-agnst.

            1. Eccleston is my first Doctor, and my favorite, for much the same reasons you state. I do love Ten as well, even though I’m increasingly frustrated with the writing of his character. Tennant’s characterization is brilliant and attractive to me; it’s the where the scripts are forcing him to go that seems more unpleasant.

              Which commentary is that? (and if you know, which DVD is it on?) I’d love to hear it.

                1. The link works — thanks. I didn’t know the commentaries were available online; quite useful since I don’t own the DVDs. They’re fun to listen to. In “The Lazarus Experiment” commentary Mark Gatiss also calls the Doctor rather “cruel” for trying to just drop Martha off at home.

  4. Her finale was rough… I look forward to your review, though, to know what aspects of it bothered you. She is definitely my favorite companion, just in herself, and how she and the Doctor bond.

    There’s usually dialog, and moments in each episode that I like (though less so lately, alas!) but I am allergic to strong preaching in stories even when I agree with what is being preached. It is hard to find a current adventure show that I would consider innocent. In fact, I can’t think of a single one.

    1. It’s such a sad phenomenon, because once upon a time a fair level of “innocence” (or at least good taste) was closer to the norm even for adult shows, and they were better for it.

      1. I understand your concerns but The Doctor as Messiah comes later in the season. In Gridlock, the Doctor is not the Savior, the Face of Boe is. And in the end the simple Faith of the humans humbles the Doctor. (The fact that Martha is virtually a stranger and the Doctor had no intention of taking Martha any where but home, also helps him open up.) To Martha’s credit, although she was hurt when he tells her, “that no, Boe didn’t mean her,” she still asks for the truth. When the Doctor tells her how much he has lost, she just offers her sympathy and sits and listens– something no one has done since Jade, the Tree Lady with the Ninth Doctor. IMO Moffat is brilliant, and considering the bawdy, frank texture of British humor, this is about as tasteful as a show for English pre-teens- teens from England will get. It’s not perfection, and the plots are not as controversial as some of Russell Davies scripts were, and there are a few situations that are brow raisers, but once again we have a Time Lord with heart, but who is alien, but “human” enough to have concerns and flaws. Gone is the Brooding, moping, Lonely God Time Lord, who is our Savior. The classic Show was written by people like Douglas Adams and Terry Nation, writers who were not exactly considered champions of the COE, and from the beginning critics were skittish about the images of faith in Doctor Who because the Target audience is pre-adolescence to young (17-20 ) adults.

        1. Martha is certainly the kindest soul that the Doctor has traveled with in the new series. She’s almost a direct answer to the insensitivity of Rose.

          While the bawdiness, bluntly liberal politics, and materialistic worldview of the show aren’t surprising considering the state of English pop culture, I still don’t count it as an excuse. Perhaps the status quo is just as bad or worse, but I still blame Davies for setting that tone in Doctor Who. Moffat certainly runs with the same ideas in his own stories, injected with more cynicism (usually), which always act as a painful speedbump to my enjoyment of them. I’m really interested in seeing what he does as the showrunner, but also wary. But that’s still to come for me; we’ll discuss that plenty when I’ve got some reviews of Series 5 and 6 up!

          1. Martha was kind, but take a look at Rose in Season One. She had wonderful moments, epecially with that lone Dalek. And underneath all that brashness, Donna had plenty of heart.

            I sometimes think of the three companions as stages of growing up.
            Rose represented that youthful, willful stage, when we are certain we are always right, and everthing is fair, and we’re always going to win. After the fall of his world, I can see why the Doctor latched on to that spirit.

            Martha represented especially in Smith and Jones that slippery step forward into a life of accomplishment and responsiblity, and wanting to hang on a bit of the carefree path. And we see that Martha middle child takes care of everyone.

            And it was interesting because we realize that the residents of New, New York possibly used mood enhancement drugs when the Doctor first visited with Rose. But with Rose, the Doctor was having fun. He doesn’t take a jugemental stand until he saw the disdain and dissapointment in Martha’s reaction. Part of his resentment towards Martha might have been that she forced him to “act” like a grown up– and I don’t think the Doctor knows how to become a grown-up without becoming a tyrant.

            Donna, once you get past the abrasive surface, is that everywoman at thirty , who always wondered if she had really given her all, tried her best, or is she just making do.

            1. I really like your way of looking at these three women. It fits very well. Rose certainly had some wonderful moments, and, as I said in the Overview (and in the Series 1 and 2 reviews), she really grew on me. This was helped by the fact that Jackie Tyler was far more charming than any of the Joneses.

              But when did the Doctor ever exhibit resentment towards Martha? He overlooked her many times, failed to consider her properly, and was unintentionally rude some times. But resentful? Still, I think you have a good point about how he fluctuates between these extremes of childlike joy and heartless tyrant, and has trouble finding the right middle ground.

              Donna is wonderful, my favorite Companion thus far. Which is why I absolutely loathe her ending in the Series 4 finale. BUT MORE ON THAT LATER.

      2. *to David* aye.

        *to Hunter* Moffat has some brilliance, but he has some failings as well. I am, at present, very not-happy with Moffat.

  5. I also thought the setting was rather weak. I mean, the idea that the people of the world lives in traffic is interesting, but it was left at face value which didn’t sit well with me. (I tend to over think these shows and want to know the “why” and “how.”) In the end, it felt more like someone’s bad dream than a possible reality.

    As for Davies’ worldview coming through and his use of Christian culture, I agree. It was rather insensitive and rather irritating. Unfortunately, I think it only gets worse as the show progresses. I’m not sure if you’ve watched season 6, but as a Christian I was really uncomfortable with how the Doctor was portrayed. One of my friends said that Davies laid the foundation, but Moffat has taken it to a whole new level. It was actually quite blasphemous at times.

    Wow, I need to stop before I get way off topic. Suffice to say, I miss Ten a lot.

    1. No, I haven’t reached Series 6 yet. The next episodes I have to watch are the Tennant specials. I’m sad to hear that about the Moffat seasons, although I’ve heard hints and rumors to that effect already. It seems the latest season has been greatly polarizing.

  6. now on the relationships in this episode i’d find it weird if there weren’t relationships between different species by that far off in the future and so i don’t think that’s a very valid complaint, nor is the whole complaint about the two old women as again that far in the future??? i sincerely doubt that would be a concern as it is today, and i’m saying that ignoring my beliefs on the subject, as for the darkness of doctor who under these writers, I LOVE it, even as a could growing up watching this show, it was amazing, and when tennant left and was replaced with smith and things all became lighter and more kid friendly I was devastated, and i was still only 10 or 11 at that time mind and i still have trouble watching season 5 and up because the dark elements of 1-4 are seriously toned down and its just goofy

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