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.
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.
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”?