The Doctor, despite his initial promise of only one trip in the TARDIS, takes Martha to the distant future, returning to New Earth in the year 5,000,053, some time after his last visit there. But instead of towering cityscapes, the time travelers find slums, where humans tolerate the bleakness of their existence with chemical help from a thriving network of drug-dealing “pharmacists.” Martha is kidnapped by a couple and dragged into an airbus, leaving the Doctor behind. When he tries to enlist the help of another airbus pilot to track Martha down, the Doctor discovers that traffic moves at the rate of mere meters per year – New New York is trapped in a permanent traffic jam worthy of its namesake, and vehicles and their occupants have been disappearing at the lowest altitudes, never to be heard from again. And Martha may soon share that fate when the Doctor’s rescue mission is abruptly cut short.
written by Russell T. Davies
directed by Richard Clark
music by Murray Gold
Guest Cast: Ardal O’Hanlon (Brannigan), Anna Hope (Novice Hame), Travis Oliver (Milo), Lenora Crichlow (Cheen), Jennifer Hennessy (Valerie), Bridget Turner (Alice), Georgine Anderson (May), Simon Pearsall (Whitey), Daisy Lewis (Javit), Nicholas Boulton (Businessman), Erika MacLeod (Sally Calypso), Judy Norman (Ma), Graham Padden (Pa), Lucy Davenport (Pale Woman), Tom Edden (Pharmacist #1), Natasha Williams (Pharmacist #2), Gayle Telfer Stevens (Pharmacist #3), Struan Rodger (The Face of Boe)
Notes: The mysterious Face of Boe first appeared in The End Of The World, and returned during the Doctor’s first visit to New Earth, which also introduced the humanoid Cats. The crab-like Macra threatened the second Doctor and his friends 40 years ago in the 1967 story The Macra Terror; he is quick to observe that they appear to have devolved into mindless beasts. (They also appear to have grown considerably in size – either that, or someone made a macro error in judging their scale of this particular Macra terror.)
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: A marvelous piece of atmosphere, if not necessarily a great example of concise, airtight plotting, Gridlock is a lot like The Fifth Element – its atmosphere and setting and pacing are intriguing enough that I can just about let the story structure go for now. It creates an interesting, densely-layered universe in less than an hour that I would’ve been happy to spend one of the original series’ four-parters exploring. Numerous interesting facets of the culture and mindset that have emerged in the years-long traffic jam are explored through the characters, including an almost inexplicably moving scene where every stranded motorist marks the passing of time by singing “The Old Rugged Cross” in unison, and it’s one of those nifty little pieces of fiction that leaves the viewer wondering about other facets and other characters that might have emerged in the same scenario that we didn’t see on screen. Or at least Gridlock had that effect on me. That all this was achieved relatively economically – all of the hovercraft stalled on the freeway are redresses of a single set – is a testament to the ingenuity of the new show’s creative staff.
In fact, Gridlock may be densely packed with too many ideas for its own good. There seems to be a hint of a bookend concept about a society that doses itself with anti-depressants to avoid some of the more unpleasant inescapable truths of their existence, but this seems to run out of steam at around the same time the freeway runs out of passengers. The circumstances that led to the motorists being trapped in the first place is seemingly glossed over with a little bit of dialogue. And if that’s not enough, we finally follow up on the Face of Boe’s promise/threat to return once more with a secret of momentous import for the Doctor, and Boe apparently knows Ambassador Kosh of Babylon 5 fame. Of course, Rose gets another mention, through refreshingly, Martha starts to rail against the Rose reminder of the week phenomenon. (‘Bout bloody time too.)
But the complaints are very minor indeed – it’s more a case of over-egging the pudding than anything that screws up the core of the story. Overall, in hindsight, Gridlock may well be my favorite installment of the new Who’s third season.