The Long Game
|Production Code||Series One Episode Seven|
|Dates||May 7, 2005|
With Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper,
Written by Russell T. Davis Directed by Brian Grant
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner, Mal Young.
|Synopsis: Satellite Five is news central. They don't just report the news, they are the news.|
What's Wrong With The Long Game? by Jo Eadie 13/5/05
Apart from Simon Pegg – what isn’t ?
A Long Term Investment by Mike Morris 19/5/05
“It’s just a matter of emphasis. The right word in the right broadcast repeated often enough can destabilise an economy, invent an enemy, change a vote...”Blimey. This series hasn’t been shy in looking at the world we live in, but this subtext certainly packs a wallop. As for the text itself, that’s another matter.
There are Doctor Who stories which we term neglected. Which begs the question, who decides what’s neglected anyway, and who does the neglecting?
Thing is - and this is just a theory - there are all sorts of reasons why a story might end up not being discussed as much as it should be. Image of the Fendahl suffers from the ‘neglected’ tag, and it’s hard to know why as it’s comfortably the second-best story of Season Fifteen. Actually, it’s got quite a following anyway, but... it could be because it’s uneven in the production department, or because it sits uneasily with the rest of the Williams era, or because it’s superficially similar to the much-loved Pyramids of Mars. It could be all sorts of things and it’s not easy to understand.
And yet it’s not hard to envisage that, in twenty years time when people are writing guides to the long-forgotten first season of Doctor Who starring that Eccleston chap, they will say something like “An oddly neglected story, The Long Game is very effective. With some tense scenes and cunning political undertones, and featuring an impressive performance by Simon Pegg as the first real out-and-out villain of the series, this merits a good deal more praise than it regularly receives.” Or something. Anyway; this is what ‘neglected’ stories look like when they happen.
There are a number of superficial difficulties with The Long Game - the setting, for example, is far too similar to The End of the World for comfort (space station orbiting Earth in the far future), which deprives the opening of its wow factor. Bruno Langley doesn’t really have the acting chops for the role of Adam, and Rusty, here’s a tip; you come up with monsters and let others name them. Oh, and are you trying to tell me that The Face of Boe has a life span of 5,499,800,000 years?
The big problem, though, is length. Having only recently been convinced that Doctor Who can make 45 minute stories work at all, this is a terrible disappointment; this is almost exactly what I thought the format might lead to.
This is a story about broadcast news being deployed to limit the development of an empire of a million planets over the course of a century. You can’t tell a story that big in 45 minutes. You just can’t. There was no need, really, to make the canvas that huge; it’s resulted in vast areas left unpainted. We’re being told about this gigantic empire, but we’re inhabiting three rooms on a space station. And while this is the sort of magic trick that Doctor Who is so damn good at, the numbers here are unfeasibly large. This channel broadcasts to one million planets? It’s two hundred thousand years in the future? Leaving aside the question of whether it’s actually that nice to hear the glorious and bountiful Human Empire (note the word empire) has taken over the entire galaxy, this is stretching credibility. Two hundred thousand years ago we were still hanging in the trees! One might imagine that, two hundred thousand years in the future, we’d be worrying a bit more about whether we’ll be promoted or not.
More seriously, this is (or should be) a subtle story with subtle nuances that can’t adequately be developed in three-quarters of an hour. The Doctor is making huge assumptions about the entire society when he’s met exactly two people. As a viewer you just haven’t seen what the Doctor’s talking about, and that’s profoundly unsatisfying; when the Doctor says “this society’s the wrong shape,” you pretty much have to take it on trust, the viewer hasn’t even seen a sniff of the million planets of which we’re talking, or even had time to really form a view of the behaviour on Satellite Five - for all we know, the Doctor’s just met a couple of slightly dull people. The concept doesn’t have room to breathe or to manifest itself. Even more annoyingly, at the conclusion we’re not told exactly where the Jagrafess came from, why it’s holding Earth society back, why it would be interested in the notion of preventing its development, and why it would spend its incredibly powerful life hanging around on someone’s ceiling.
For all that...
This is ridiculously entertaining, all the same. The collision of a sophisticated and important idea (the tone of the news massively affects how we think) and a fun kiddish one (space station heating system being tampered with) is just the sort of “family programming” that this new series has grasped so well. Meanwhile, the info-spike bit of body-horror - or rather, body-black-comedy - is highly effective, and the sideline commentary about immigration is an example of how Doctor Who can make genuine points about the world we live in without lapsing into didacticism.
And then there’s the Editor.
I have a confession to make - I doubted Simon Pegg. It’s a strange thing for me to say, given that I consider Spaced to be the best sitcom of the last ten years and adored Shaun of the Dead (not to mention that my mum watched Spaced, turned to me and demanded “why did they make a programme about you?”). However, Pegg played the same character in both Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, and whenever I’ve seen him play anything else he’s either been anonymous or plain bad. I was concerned. I was dubious. I was, happily, completely wrong.
It’s easy to focus on the comedy quirks, such as his giggle when held at gunpoint, his cheeky wave to Suki, and “I call him Max” (echoes of Robert Maxwell are entirely coincidental) and yes, these are great. But Pegg’s done his research and his performance is deceptively studied and subtle. He plays marvellously against the script, underplaying the overtly villainous lines; “I can see the smallest doubt and crush it” is delivered with a giggle, “simply being human doesn’t pay very well” comes out like a sulky teenager, and most notably “die all you like,” is nothing more than a verbal shrug. Instead he finds the horror in incidental lines like “Money prefers a long-term investment.” This, people, is real creativity (and dammit, couldn’t they get him to write a script?). Look at the way he keeps brushing his suit, the way he glances at his watch just before putting someone to death, the clicks of the fingers as he walks easily around his ‘office.’ His “Liar, liar, LIAR!” is genuinely frightening. And his confrontation with the Doctor is by far the best face-off that we’ve seen in this wonderful season. Far from being a blot on the story, Pegg is the best damn thing in it. He takes a role that could easily have been clich? and hammy, and finds enough gold in it to become the best guest star of the season to date.
As for that man Chris, who I simply have to stop raving about, he’s wonderful. There’s a terrific scene early on when he banters with Rose about her first date, usual grin on his face, then as soon as she’s gone his face changes utterly. While his character seems to have followed a natural continuum, it’s worth noting that he’s very, very different from the guy we met in the first couple of episodes. His asides are brilliant - the bald directness of his “I can see better,” or the flat delivery of that “Yes” scene. And at the end, Adam wasn’t the only one who thought he was going to get thrown out of an airlock.
Speaking of Adam, he works here, in spite of a portrayal that’s shaky. In Dalek he didn’t seem good enough, not least because he was surplus to requirements in a script dominated by four people. Here, he remains drippy for a self-confessed genius… but that, of course, is the point. He’s there to not be quite good enough, and - by extension - to show just how good Rose is. Fact is, if I was in that environment, I would probably behave a bit like Adam. Even when indulging in a pretty minor betrayal - at least from his point of view - he’s tense and uncertain, apologising to the nurse for wasting her time and constantly on the edge of funking out. As a viewer, of course, we’ve got the edge; when he starts fiddling with the computer you want to pull him away, when he goes to get a chip in his head you want to shake him, and when he gets the full monty... stop it! Aaargh! What’s he gone and done? There’s a lovely conclusion as well, in which the Doctor tells him that he’ll have to keep his head down and “be average” - it’s almost as vicious as a kick in the teeth. And reflects wonderfully on Rose, who is extraordinary even though she only wants to be average. I’m not convinced that we’ve seen the last of Adam, but he’s a welcome diversion to the TARDIS crew.
There are no scenes in this story that aren’t good, and quite a few that are wonderful; not least Suki’s initial exploration of floor 500, which is laced with a sense of doom and danger that just keeps on running. Great end for the Editor too - possible nod to Shaun of the Dead there? However, it’s a story that suffers very badly from its truncated length, and the lack of motivation of the main villain is infuriating. The first time you watch it, it’s fun. The second time, it’s smarter than you think, but the themes are nowhere near developed enough.
The Long Game lacks the definite identity that other stories have (The Auton One, The One when the world ends, The One with Charles Dickens, The One with the farting aliens, The Dalek One). Personally, I find myself wavering between seeing this as a fun 45 minutes with some clever moments, or a waste of a tremendously intelligent story. Perhaps this is why it might not leap to mind at the end of the season, even though it’s well acted, well-scripted, good in all departments and has an intelligent subtext. So I hope The Long Game doesn’t mind being “neglected” for a decade or so; it shouldn’t worry. I reckon the fans will come around eventually.
Gah! by Joe Ford 1/6/05
Nice to know that the new series can make some really naff Doctor Who...
Following on from Dalek was always going to be a chore and to be honest they probably should have avoided having Adam around for another episode and headed straight into Father's Day which thanks to a gripping trailer looks set to be one of the best of the year. The Long Game just doesn't have the oomph to be placed where it is, at the halfway point in the series and the signpost of quality for the rest of the year now that the audience has been won over.
There have been some mightily unfair statements made about Russell T Davies' scripts in comparison with Gatiss and Shearman, which to me seems a tad ungrateful since we wouldn't be enjoying a new series of Doctor Who if it wasn't for him. What's more he shaped the first season, which has so far proven to be delightful with some of the most consistent and evolving characterisation Doctor Who has ever boasted. What's more the first three scripts he has written (Rose, Aliens of London and World War Three) have all been winners in one way, the first a confident re-introduction of the series, the second a healthy dose of domestic drama and the third a humorous and dramatic slice of action adventure. The Long Game is the only stumble he has made in my eyes, simply because there was so much potential in this idea and much of it is largely wasted.
I have heard many people complaining about the 45-minute episode format, saying that it just isn't enough time to tell a satisfying story with any great depth. I have dismissed their comments up to this point because RTD and company seem to have produced a winning formula, one that leaves no time for flabby padding or needless digressions from the plot (a common problem with the old six part Doctor Who stories). But with The Long Game the formula has failed totally, as this was a story that begged to be told at length and on a much grander scale than it is. The central idea of the episode (a media-controlled culture with the news used as a weapon to enslave the human race) is fantastic and it is obvious why RTD was so keen to use it but it is abused on a script that has to move so fast that we never get to see the culture that is being manipulated or even glimpse at the Earth besides an establishing planetwide shot and consigns the story to three rooms. Establish the setting and the problem, deal with the problem, that's about all the length allows this episode to do. Even worse is the Doctor's casual "I'm leaving and you can sort out all the consequences... oh and the Earth should develop at its usual rate now I've interfered... okay byeee!" (okay he doesn't say it quite like that but it is equally blase and thoughtless) because the episode doesn't have any time to deal with the cost of his actions. I understand the limitations 45 minutes places on a writer but compared to RTD's last script World War Three, which managed to give its plot amazing depth without affecting the high action content this is lazy work.
Vengeance on Varos managed to exploit its media theme by cutting the action with scenes set in the average workers' home and showing the reactions of regular person receiving the transmissions. And it managed to be traditional Doctor Who runaround with it. The Long Game only wants to be a traditional Doctor Who story with none of the cleverness of Varos, and it wants to be traditional in the sense of the old series AND the new series. You've got the smooth talking villain who answers to a horrid creature (old series). And you've also got Adam's first glimpse of space being that of Earth from a space station and a quick call home to his parents (both scenes pasted here directly from The End of World). It merely enhances the feeling of lethargy to the script that we've seen it all before in both series and that there is little to distinguish itself as anything special. A great shame as I fear this would have made a fantastic two parter with two plotlines taking place, one on the station and one on Earth so we can witness cause and effect of this fake media sham.
Adam, what is the point? To show a teenager on the road to villainy, his ambitions cut short by the Doctor? To show how well Rose has adapted to the time travelling business? To put a bit of male totty on the screen to keep my boyfriend Simon happy? Just because...? Whatever the reason this has got to be the biggest misstep the series has made yet. Not only does it split the episode in half and thus leave us with even less time to explore the BIG IDEA OF THE WEEK but by writing out the character after just one week it exposes as a monumental waste of time and the viewer's attention. I don't want to insult Bruno Langley who gives everything the script requires of him but he is lumbered with a totally thankless character, one I didn't warm to OR dislike (which I fear was supposed to be my reaction... let's be honest I think we would all have a stab at what Adam tries in this episode). He was just sort of there, going through the motions, not giving enough of a personality or motive or screen time to make his character anything but worthless. It isn't RTD's fault; I didn't think much of Adam in Dalek either (and he was practically ignored in favour of the much more interesting plot anyway). The best thing I can say about this gaping hole of illogic is that Langley is mouth-wateringly gorgeous and even that wasn't enough to keep me interested. Guess I'm not as shallow as I thought.
I want to say something nice about The Long Game so here I go! Simon Pegg! Wonderful, marvellous, witty, engaging, lickably perfect Simon Pegg! What an actor! RTD how right you are when you suggest how mind-numbingly dull this episode would be without Simon Pegg. This character is the only one who was scripted with any real style and Pegg brings the Editor to life with charismatic relish. Every line that came out of his mouth was a delight and I was cheering every time the episode returned to floor 500 and this quirky character. He is basically the same as every other quick witted stooge who appears to be running the show in Doctor Who with that marvellous mix of humour and horror (there was a spine-tingling shot of the Editor when he says "GOT YOU!") and gets the same fate as is the usual (a horrible death). Who cares? This is the best "villain" we have had yet, funnier than van Statten, better acted than Mr Slitheen and creepier than Cassandra. Pegg was inspired casting and actually makes this traditional role (which in other hands would be as cliched and dull as the rest of the episode) something special and the episode well worth watching in spots.
Even the Doctor and Rose are wasted, left to do all the boring investigating whilst Adam gets up to the mischief. The usually dynamic pair are joined by some particularly unmemorable guests characters (I forget their names, such was their impact) and the tedium is infectious. Eccelston seems as bored as I was; at least until he is paired up with Simon Pegg and then at least there is some electricity. But that only comes at the end of the episode; we all know where the Doctor is going to end up but it seems to take age for him to end up there. Instead of enjoying himself spitting insults with the Editor he rambles on about plumbing, for Christ's sakes!
Add to all this an uninspiring production (the lighting is pretty good, especially on floor 500, but the sets look particularly plastic this week and it is the first week I have actively disliked the music) and truly lousy final joke and you have the first stinker of the new series.
After his previous magic I expected much more than rehashed old stories from RTD. There are many similarities to The End of the World. Except one, this was shite.
A Review by Michael Hickerson 11/8/05
If last week's Dalek was a high-point for the current Doctor, showcasing a great homage to the past while still having all the conventions of a more modern story, than The Long Game is its exact polar opposite - a story that gets lost in the weaknesses of past stories, showing them off once again for all to see.
The thing about it is - I can't really bring myself to loathe The Long Game. It's in there swinging, trying very hard to be something, anything. But on the other hand I can't bring myself to love it either. It was 45 minutes of Doctor Who and while I was reasonably entertained by it, I'm not left with any strong feelings about the story either way. It wasn't good, it wasn't bad - it was just sort of there.
Part of it may be the "been there, done that" feeling I got from the story. Not even a month ago, we got the new companion's first trip in the TARDIS is to a far-flung future space station orbiting the Earth. I guess I can see Davies point in trying to set up a parallel compare and contrast between Rose and Adam, but did we really need it? Adam doesn't take well to time travel. He's not able to take it quickly in stride, despite his professions last week of wanting to see something outside of Earth. His sense of awe and wonder lasts all of two minutes and then he's off trying to pull a Marty McFly and get rich via knowledge of things to come. Adam's phoning back to his own time to leave a message on the machine about the next generation of computer processors could have been fun, if it wasn't something that had been better done in Back to the Future, Part 2.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and Rose start asking a lot of questions about the current situation on board the space station - specifically why there aren't a lot of aliens about. (The cynical part of me says the real reason it's cheaper for the BBC that way, but I digress). And the station is kept extremely warm. Investigation reveals that some kind of evil mind-controlling alien that needs a lot of A/C and generates an unreal amount of heat is lurking upstairs, controlling everyone through the use of news broadcasts that are created on the station. It's Rupert Murdoch or Ted Turner gone horribly, horribly wrong as it were - controlling the masses.
Which is not to say this wasn't terribly exciting. It just felt a bit cliched. We had about half the story with the monster hidden and the Doctor and Rose observed from afar by the forces of evil behind this week's plot. At one point, I glanced at the clock, wondering if and when this week's story was actually going to start. I think it was about fifteen or so minutes into the story. Between Adam, the Doctor and Rose's banter, the attempts to keep the monster in the background as long as possible and establishing the situation and backstory of other players in the drama, this one took a long time to get rolling. And just as it does, it's time for it all to end.
I found myself wondering - did Davies think he'd stretch this one out to a two-parter and then decide to pull it back a bit? It seems as if the leisurely early story-telling pace warrants this, but yet I'm not sure we had enough plot here to really sustain 90 minutes of screen time.
For one thing, I'm not really sure what the motivation of this week's big ugly was. Now, I know we don't get much in terms of motivation when it comes to Doctor Who monsters, but what was the reason this week's ugly, digitally-created alien wanted to control humanity's minds? Other than it just seemed like a really evil thing to do at the time. Doctor Who has always been about the monsters at least having some motivation or agenda for what they're doing. They may be like the Daleks and intent on only wiping out all of humanity, but at least we can understand it as we root against the monsters.
The Long Game certainly also showed off one of the excesses of the 80s with guest casting. How many times did we complain in the 80s about guest stars cast for their big names and not for their being right for the role?
It's taken to the next level here. Simon Pegg does a great job in his role as the Editor. But looking at the story as a whole, it feels as if Davies wanted to include Pegg in the series and wrote a character with him in mind. He then built the story around the character of the Editor. But what we got in the end didn't necessarily add up to a whole, complete story.
That's not to say there weren't isolated bits.
The Editor's finding out about who the Doctor was and repeating it to him was nicely done. Couple that with the Doctor's reaction to finding a Dalek last week and I am starting to think the Doctor is hiding from something. It may explain why he's only traveled near Earth in the first seven episodes. But what I don't buy is how quickly Adam had knowledge of the Doctor's entire back-story. It seems like that is not something he'd volunteer until he knew Adam a bit better.
I also liked the Doctor's reaction once he found out what Adam was up to. Eccleston excels at righteous indignation and anger and it shows here. His terse, quick goodbye to Adam as he throws him out of the TARDIS is nicely done. As is his almost dark pleasure in the fact that Adam has a computer in his head that will open up every time someone snaps their fingers. (Yeah, it was a funny joke if a bit too set up.)
And I liked Rose's loyalty to the Doctor. I also liked the comparison between her and Adam. We've seen a lot of companions join the TARDIS over the years, but none has ever had the issues with it that the Adam does. And to see him try to exploit things instead of simply traveling for the wonder of exploring the universe was interesting. Until now, we've had mostly altruistic companions in the TARDIS and the contrast with Adam was nicely done.
But these little, isolated bits didn't make for a complete story. I didn't love The Long Game and I didn't hate it.
It was just sort of there.
Media Shark! by Ron Mallett 21/8/05
The Long Game premiered this weekend on Australian televisions. It must rate as Russell T. Davies' best effort to date. Although it has the advantage of featuring the wonderful Simon Pegg, the show was probably the most thought-provoking and creative episode so far.
The story basically deals with the Doctor, Rose and Adam's arrival on Satellite 5 during the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire. While Adam gets up to mischief by using Rose's supermobile phone to download priceless info to his answering machine at home (198,000 years in the past), the Doctor and Rose investigate why advancement in the empire seems to have stagnated. Directed by Brian Grant, the episode has a more solid, unpretentious Doctor Who feel to it than the others that have preceded it.
Having been taken from 2012 in the story Dalek, we are to learn that "pretty" Adam Mitchell is a failure as a companion. Perhaps more of a short-term comic relief device, the character is supposedly meant to highlight how capable companion Rose Tyler is (chortle, like the peroxide teeny-queen was designed as a three dimensional character!). From Adam's fainting at the prelude, to the sneak peek his mother is given of his brain at the end of the episode, the character's potential is pretty much wasted. Very much in the Zoe mould of decades ago, it is hard to believe that the very obviously gay Doctor would prefer to travel through space with a shallow, blonde than an accomplished scientist and genius.
The episode is as stylishly directed as ever and the incidental music is again top class being provided by Murray Gold. If you ignore the blonde nightmare and a couple of indulgent references to The Face of Boe and Bad Wolf (?), there is a half-decent story to be enjoyed. The idea that the media can influence the course of history and be misused is an idea that is worth exploring. If you substitute Rupert Murdoch for the creature (the Jagrafess) lurking up on level 500 then you will see the analogy with the modern world. Simon Pegg gives a sterling performance as the ice-cool Editor and the rest of the supporting cast put in some good work particularly Christine Adams as Cathica and Anna Maxwell-Martin as Suki. Christopher Eccleston portrays a very realistically pissed-off Time Lord at the end of the show. His interpretation of the Doctor has at times been the only bearable foundation stone that the show has been built on.
The only strange thing about the story is the title. I assume it is a reference to the ninety or more years that the Jarafess has taken to slowly assert its will on the human race for its own ends... I think a snapper title like Satellite 5 might have been in order.
A Review by Finn Clark 27/4/06
It feels like Eccleston's only filler story, but that doesn't make it bad.
It's amazing how much Eccleston's thirteen episodes interlinked. It's almost like one big thirteen parter, or in classic series terms a twenty-six parter. Every story is in some way part of the big picture, either in terms of setting, character or story. We kept returning to London and Rose's family, to Cardiff and Satellite Five, to the Daleks and the Slitheen... The Long Game has heavy plot links with the concluding two-parter , but it still feels throwaway in terms of the season's overall shape. All the other stories bring something unique to the table, but The Long Game is basically a traditional little time-waster with some nice SF worldbuilding, the year's best villain and some Orwellian stuff about media dystopia.
 - damn Russell T. Davies for not creating umbrella titles!
One thing I appreciated is that this was the first episode where I didn't feel I knew where everything was going within five minutes. All the other stories had fallen into particular sub-genres, so even when I didn't know what specific twists to expect (e.g. Dalek), I felt I knew what the shape of the episode was going to be. The Long Game, however, is happy to kill time just pottering around and exploring Satellite Five in the year 200,000. We're tourists, like the Doctor, Rose and Adam.
Eventually it fell into a familiar category, albeit one that had unfolded more in the books than the TV series, but it took a while to show its hand and until then I was genuinely wondering.
I like its future, though admittedly it helps that I'm a bloke and don't notice clothes. (The year 200,000 is full of off-the-peg high street fashions from 2005, or so say people who know such things better than me.) Nevertheless historicals and contemporary settings are all very well, but Doctor Who needs its fix of alien worlds and space stations. I also like the way Russell T. Davies characterises the future. The End of the World took us among the super-rich, which is why it more closely resembled the traditional SF "operating theatre" look. The Long Game however takes us into a world of office politics and promotion-chasing wage slaves. It's down-to-earth. It's almost grotty. I thought it was fun and convincing, although as I said before I don't notice clothes.
Incidentally the "no aliens" thing is an issue that you'll only appreciate fully in the context of the Daleks' later plans. We know they're already at work. They may hate using humans in their genetic recipes, but presumably using a hotchpotch of aliens would have been even worse. After all, Genesis of the Daleks showed us that Kaleds were very similar to humans.
The best thing in this story is clearly Simon Pegg. He's great fun, taking an unexceptional role and really bringing it alive. I'd go so far as to call him the main reason for watching. However there's also Adam, the new companion who drew quite a lot of comment, some of it silly. Like Adric he's like a certain species of fanboy, clever academically but stupid about the things that matter. (Also like Adric, he's light-fingered.) He's mundane rather than charismatic, but I didn't find him annoying. On the contrary I found his story interesting and worth telling, especially in the context of the season and its thematic exploration of the Doctor and the companion. If he's the worst thing fans can find to call "annoying" in New Who then we're doing pretty well.
His fate also felt right. If I were the Doctor, I'd have done that too. It's better for everyone, including Adam. He's not meant for that kind of life. Admittedly he hadn't meant his actions to have those kind of potential consequences, but when you're adventuring in time and space then greed and thoughtlessness isn't much better than outright villainy. Besides, he's hardly being sent to the salt mines. He goes home. Given that his previous story was Dalek, I'd say he's lucky to get that much.
He really blows it by trying to hide the answering machine, but personally I'd have booted him out just for his last line on Satellite Five. "It's not actually my fault because you were in charge." That's a weasel, not a man. And remember that this man saw a chance to make money and had a hole drilled in his head.
I like the story's message. Ask questions. Don't automatically trust what's on the telly. The stuff about chips in your brain would have had George Orwell wishing he'd thought of it, although given the march of technology since then you can hardly blame him for not doing so. Many non-fiction books written today have wilder and wackier technology than SF novels from fifty years ago.
The Long Game is unlikely to change anyone's world, but it's a fun episode. It's also more important than it looks to the season as a whole, both in terms of plot and thematic exploration. It even has a comedy punchline! I liked it a lot.
A Review by Joseph Gillis 19/8/07
If I had to choose the weakest episode of this series of Doctor Who, it would have to be this one. It's still a good episode by all means, but it's lacking the quality that the other episodes have.
It has two good villains, the Editor and the Jagrafess, but the other villain, Adam, comes across as really stupid and a Vislor Turlough-rip off, even after his great performance in the previous episode. It was no help that Russell T. Davies even confirmed the similarity between the two in the episode's Doctor Who Confidential program. Back to the Editor and the Jagrafess, they were brilliant, although the Jagrafess looked a bit too similar to the Nestene Consciousness. The Editor was a great and menacing villain, as he was dangerous and sarcastic, something that Simon Pegg, his actor, could only do.
The story itself was good, but most of it did seem like it was trying to set up Bad Wolf/The Parting of Ways, which topped it in every single way possible.
Overall, a bit below average for Eccleston and definitely the weakest episode of the first series of the revival. Still, it was entertaining and had two of the strangest enemies yet.
A Review by Brian May 17/4/11
Oh dear, and it was all going so well...
I suppose the new series had to stumble somewhere along the line, and with The Long Game it trips and falls in an undignified heap. It gets just about everything wrong: the obvious indictments of mass media and public apathy; an unimaginative monster with another ridiculously long name (and more proof CGI doesn't necessarily mean quality); the simplistic, rushed ending. Even the humour is signposted, although the poor quality of the jokes means this doesn't count for much. The bland pre-title sequence is evidence of this, as we wait for a punchline but instead get a feeble wet slap. There's also the poor American Express commercial gag, which is purely imitative so there's no laugh value at all (as opposed to The Goodies, who got it hilariously right in "Goodies and Politics"). Nothing happens at all, either. This is taking into account the unengaging Adam sections, which I intend to return to, and the odd sidetrack which quickly becomes a cul-de-sac, such as a character turning out to be a Domino Harvey clone. And there's one pure gross-out moment; as if the idea of frozen vomit wasn't disgusting enough, did we actually need to see it?
One of the curses of 1980s Who rears its head here: celebrity casting. Or, I should say, celebrity miscasting. It's natural the makers of the revived series would seek well-known names to boost their programme, and from the actors' perspective it still seems that appearing in Doctor Who looks good on their CV. A great piece of casting was already evident with Zoe Wanamaker in The End of the World, but for one of the worst cases just look at Simon Pegg as the Editor. He is so wrong for the role in every possible way. He's an actor with an impressive comedy background, and although he might be trying to play against type, he's not successful. It's down there with Beryl Reid and Joan Simms. Pegg also copycats Jonathan Pryce from Tomorrow Never Dies, and while I'm not particularly fond of that James Bond film, both it and Pryce are more entertaining than this.
Tamsin Greig is another well known comedy actor, whom I personally happen to adore as Fran in Black Books, but here she's not really acting, rather posing. She swans about with such a "Look at me!" ticket on herself that is dreadful to watch. The rest of the cast aren't much to write home about either, and that includes the regulars. I've never given Christopher Eccleston or Billie Piper a bad review, but here it's obvious they are unenthused by the script and their characters are underwritten, used merely as ciphers for the scant plot to be explained and propelled. I liked Bruno Langley in Dalek up to a point: that was when Adam stepped aboard the TARDIS. His subplot offers as little enjoyment as the rest, and one suspects it is all just filler to pad out an already desperately empty storyline, and Langley is unable to redeem these scenes. I'd have much preferred him as a one-tale, never-was companion.
I was initially going to start this sentence with the words: "In all fairness to the writer" but then decided not to. Satellite Five has a more substantial role to play for the ninth Doctor come Bad Wolf, but on first viewing that's five weeks away. Russell T Davies would like us to excuse him the paltry background and plotting as he plays his own long game with his audience, setting up the series finale. It's a link in his story-arc-chain, but that's no excuse for delivering such a poor outing in what ranks among the most forgettable Doctor Who adventures ever. 1/10
It's so rare not to know something. Who are you? by Evan Weston 24/5/13
While I liked Aliens of London/World War Three more the second time I saw it, I felt the opposite about The Long Game. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad episode by any stretch of the imagination, but I remember it being a story teeming with really interesting ideas and a ripping plot. Turns out both of those things are there, but they're just not developed enough into a cohesive whole.
This is new Doctor Who's first attempt to really make a socio-political statement about something. Sure, we can count The End of the World's picking on plastic surgery or Aliens of London/World War Three's winks at the British government and the Iraq War, but never has a Russell T. Davies social comment ever mattered so much to the plot of a Who episode. Largely, when Davies attempts to get philosophical with the show, he fails, and this is the first example of that. Doctor Who is usually left best to telling us a phenomenally original sci-fi story with gripping, interesting characters that teaches us something about ourselves. Commenting on politics isn't really the show's style.
Nevertheless, the comment being attempted is interesting. Broadcast news is a touchy subject in the 21st Century, with both sides of the aisle flinging accusations of bias at each other. Liberals cry foul about Fox News; conservatives point fingers at, well, just about everything else. Davies tries to take that a step further by casting the news as evil, pointing out how their words can control people. The Editor snarls, "It's just a matter of emphasis. The right word in the right broadcast, repeated often enough, can destabilize an economy, invent an enemy, change a vote." This is all the seed of really good social commentary.
And that's it. The idea goes nowhere outside of those lines, because suddenly Davies is more interested in how the heating system of Satellite 5 is keeping the Jagrafess alive than how broadcast news controls people. And the story is pretty good, and we'll get to it, but a stunted attempt at satire is worse than no satire at all. The Jagrafess doesn't help, and its presence turns the commentary into some mutant parody, to the point where we're not sure what it's trying to say. I wouldn't knock this if the episode wasn't so obviously trying to say something, but since it is, I think it's fair game.
All right, onto the plot. I was right about the main storyline: it's really good. The Doctor and Rose show up expecting the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire, and instead they get well-dressed twenty-somethings running around getting information blasted into their heads. Cool start. The Doctor does nicely through here, teasing Rose and generally having a good time. Still, there's not too much for him to do, and it's probably Eccleston's worst performance in the role to date. That's not a knock, simply a statement that there's not much here for him. Same goes for Billie Piper as Rose. The real star is Christine Adams as Cathica, who is sufficiently annoying for the first 35 minutes that we don't expect anything from her, and then she becomes the big hero at the end. Not for unselfish reasons, mind you; the best line of the episode is "you should have promoted me years ago!"
The villain is a strong point, too. I'm gonna tell you a secret: Simon Pegg is a really good actor. While at this time in his career he was typecast in stoner comedies (and the wonderful Shaun of the Dead), Pegg is clearly having an absolute blast as the Editor. He laughs through his lines, but not in a way that suggests he's gunning for comedy. Rather, this is a man who is sadistic enough that he enjoys his job shepherding the human race through his boss' plan, even as we slowly learn that he's as much a sheep as the people are. Less effective is the Jagrafess. I already went over the monster's effect on the attempted commentary, but the CGI isn't great and all it does is roar and serve as a plot device. The Editor acting on his own volition would have been a better choice.
So this is a really cool story, except it only takes up about 25 minutes of time. The other 20 minutes are spent with Bruno Langley's Adam, and I'm sorry, but I didn't give a rat's behind about this character. You know exactly what he's going to do the entire time, there's zero risk involved, and the way he's worked into the main plot is so silly and superfluous. I bet Davies realized he was telling two stories at once and felt compelled to just tie them together. The TARDIS key floating? Please. Langley's pretty-boy acting doesn't help matters, and there's no way I believe Rose is attracted to this child. I bought her flirting in Dalek as a ruse to help her get down to the cage, and here she doesn't really do much besides bat her eyes at him, but still, there's no reason for him to be there. The only satisfying element to Adam is the Doctor's beatdown of the character at the end.
I've done a fair amount of bashing in this review, haven't I? The Long Game is still a pretty good Who story with an intriguing plot and a really fun villain. It just feels like this story could be great, and it's merely good. I think that sense of disappointment drove me to write a somewhat negative review. Luckily, the crew redeems itself in a big way with the next episode.