1.7 – “The Long Game”
TARDIS newbie Adam gets his first (and, as it turns out, last) adventure when the gang land on Satellite 5 – a space station broadcasting news to the “Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire.” But all is not what it seems. Any station employee “promoted” to Floor 500 mysteriously disappears and it seems as though humanity is being manipulated by the news being broadcast from the station. Satellite 5’s Editor also seems to have a boss above him, whose managerial skills are definitely “out of this world…”
“The Long Game” poses a question that many Whovians – myself included – have pondered over the years; what if The Doctor picked the wrong companion? Okay, so Adam Mitchell was picked by Rose rather than The Doctor himself, but it only takes one trip in the TARDIS for him to prove that he’s not quite up to scratch. What I love about this concept is that really, in the entirety of time and space, it’s bound to happen eventually. Probably more than once. I mean think about it; people are flawed. You put an average guy – who’s spent a huge portion of his life dreaming about exploring the stars and experiencing time travel – into space and it’s bound to turn his head. It does so with Adam. It literally turns his head; INTO A PORTAL STRAIGHT TO HIS BRAIN!!
I love the idea of the show exploring the concept of a human companion whose motives for travelling with The Doctor aren’t quite as pure as “saving the world.” Adam gets overexcited and does something wrong. Something pretty majorly wrong, maybe, but does that make his character inherently bad? I don’t think so. But of course, his actions give The Doctor a chance to remind us that he really is often the show’s moral compass. Sure, even he makes mistakes, but he has a strong idea of what’s right and wrong and his immediate dismissal of Adam reminds the viewer that The Doctor gives his companions a chance when he takes them away in the TARDIS and that if they blow that chance, there won’t be a second. To put it another way: try to use your adventures in the TARDIS for your own gain and you’ll end up in Coronation Street.
Anyway, what about the plot itself?!
Well, Satellite 5 is supposed to be at the heart of a mighty human empire, with a million species all mixed in together. But when The Doctor only spots humans on-board the station, he realises something is wrong. The station’s employees talk in raptures about Floor 500, where the walls are made of gold. Thing is, anyone who goes to Floor 500 is never seen again and The Doctor quickly works out that in this case, when something seems too good to be true, then it almost certainly is. Floor 500 is manned by the station’s sinister “Editor,” played rather brilliantly by Simon Pegg (whose performance reminds me of John Simm’s interpretation of The Master at times and, from me, that’s quite a compliment). Above the Editor (literally) is a creature called “The Mighty Jagrafess of The Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe. Or “Max” for short. The concept of the Jagrafess is pretty scary – a creature controlling humanity, enslaving the human race by manipulating the news and creating a climate of fear, destroying anyone who begins to suspect the truth. In many ways, it’s a clever satire on the modern media’s grip over our social prejudices and the Jagrafess does work on some level as a Doctor Who “baddie.” However, it’s basically a slimy mass on a ceiling, with big teeth poking out. There’s not enough interaction for me to be genuinely freaked out by it. Simon Pegg’s Editor is, in my eyes, a better villain than the monster he’s working for.
Possibly scarier than this episode’s actual monster is the idea of people being so entirely controlled by the media and the powers above them that they’re willing to have chips put in their heads that enable them to open up their foreheads, allowing energy beams to send information directly to their brains. Whilst the person doesn’t retain any of the information once the energy link is broken, during the connection, they transmit data to the 600 channels Satellite 5 broadcasts to. It’s a pretty freaky idea and although it’s clearly very powerful technology, it is, as The Doctor says, “the wrong technology.” It’s not only fairly immoral, but open to misuse, as Adam proves when he has a chip installed and, whilst connected to the energy spike, calls home and leaves an answerphone message for himself, hoping to glean knowledge of the future that he can use for his own gain.
Of course, it is Cathica, the character we first see undergoing this “energy spike,” who later ends up saving the day, when she overhears The Doctor talking with the Editor and realises that humanity has been manipulated and controlled for years and that everyone is in great danger. New Who in particular has a habit of allowing The Doctor’s human companions and friends to become heroes and I love that about it. I particularly like that it’s Cathica, a character who is very much a pawn of the old system, who turns against her Editor and his alien boss and ends up saving everyone in the process.
It’s not an easy one for me to call, to be honest. I like the ideas put forward in “The Long Game”, but in spite of brilliant appearances from Simon Pegg and the always great Tamsin Greig, for me it doesn’t entirely live up to its possibilities. That said, the episode does a good job of foreshadowing the end of the series, with references to Bad Wolf and it being set in the same place as the series finale. I do also genuinely love the exploration of the concept of “the wrong companion.” I was thinking 6/10 but I reckon that might just be because I’m overtired and slightly grouchy. With that in mind, I’m bumping it up a mark and I’m going with 7/10.
Written and edited by Emma Tofi