It seems a most curious thing to my mind, that Russell T Davies, a man who has made his fame and fortune on television, should turn around and be highly critical of the power and influence television has on the masses. Perhaps, to use a Vulcan expression, only Nixon can go to China. It is good for us to examine what a force the telly has on our lives. Given that, The Long Game could have been a sharp critique of the industry. However, Davies appears to be unable to control himself in introducing certain running motifs in his Doctor Who scripts, one that push this story down.
The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) along with his regular Companion, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and newbie Adam Mitchell (Bruno Langley) arrive on Satellite Five in the year 200,000 (why a Conan O'Brien skit comes to mind, I don't know) during the Fourth Great & Bountiful Human Empire. The station broadcasts all the news there is to the galaxies in the great beyond (talk about Sky Television--perhaps a sly jab from the BBC?) and while Rose and Adam marvel at it all, the Doctor senses something is wrong. The heat on Satellite Five, the lack of non-humans, there is something off.
Aboard Satellite Five is Cathica (Christine Adams) and Suki (Anna Maxwell-Martin), journalists aboard the station who mistake the trio for Senior Management. Deciding to show them just how good they are at their jobs, Cathica locks her mind into the master computer while a group of men, women, multisexuals, undecideds, and robots use the chips in their own minds to show how they can link up and get information into Cathica's mind. Observing all this is The Editor (Simon Pegg) who suspects something is amiss...but it isn't the three new people. Instead, he zeroes in on Suki, who gets "Promoted" to Floor 500, much to Cathica's irritation. When Suki goes up to Floor 500, she does not find walls of gold but a frozen level. Coming upon the Editor, she is unmasked as the last of the Freedom Fifteen, which I figure is trying to bring down Satellite Five. Suki attempts to kill the Editor, but the Editor-In-Chief takes care of her.
Adam goes off on his own, allegedly to recover from the shock of seeing the future, but really to get at future information so as to profit for when he gets back to his own time (apparently like in Back to the Future II). He goes and has the chip (along with the outlet to connect into the mainframe) inserted into his own brain so as to get all the information he wishes. Cathica now sees that something is off with The Doctor and Rose, and so does the Editor. The latter two go up to Floor 500 and discover who the Editor-In-Chief is. Unbeknownst to them, Cathica secretly follows them to Floor 500; meanwhile, Adam is starting to get all the information he desires, calling his parents via Rose's supercell phone and leaving a message on their answering machine.
We discover that The Doctor's suspicions are correct: Satellite Five has been controlling the information given to the Fourth Great & Bountiful Human Empire, manipulating the news to keep the humans in check. This is done at the bidding of the...get ready for it...The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe (Max for short), a giant monster who emits so much heat that he has to be kept in a cold environment (hence, the heat in all the lower floors). The Doctor sees Cathica, and subtly gives her clues to help them, while he and Rose see to their horror that Adam, instead of receiving information from Satellite Five, is giving information to the Editor and Editor-in-Chief (aka Max). Cathica locks into the system, bringing the information she has about Satellite Five to the universe. This allows the three travellers to escape and raise the temperature of the Satellite. The Editor attempts to escape, but Suki (who I should point out is technically dead but whose chip is still being used to get information) grabs his leg and forces him to remain underneath the collapsing Max.
The Doctor, furious with Adam's duplicity, takes him to his parent's home, destroys the answering machine, and exiles him from the TARDIS. Unfortunately for Adam, he still has this outlet inside of his head, which can be opened by the mere snapping of fingers. The Doctor and Rose leave him there, just as his mom is coming back from apparently a shopping trip. She is thrilled to see her son back, and comments how long it's been: six months, which flash by like that...
It may be just my imagination since I've no way of reading Davies' mind (I have no outlet to connect my brain to), but I sense a certain series of motifs and themes running in anything he writes for Doctor Who. There is a penchant for strange and excessively long names (the Moxx of Balhoon from The End of the World, the planet Raxacoricofallapatorious from Aliens of London Parts I & II, now the Mighty....). There is the motive for all the mayhem: whenever evil is done, be sure Money (and by extension, the evil of profits) is involved (making money off the deaths or enslavement of beings being the motives in The End of the World, Aliens of London Parts I & II, and now The Long Game, since the Editor represents in his own words, "a consortium of banks"). I think I see yet a third motif within Davies' scripts: namely, his utter hatred and fury about the Iraq Intervention. This one I'll grant is the one I have the least evidence for and is purely speculation, but think a moment. Aliens of London Parts I & II was in subtext about how the government (in this case the more evil than Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, those bloodthirsty tyrants George W. Bush and his poodle Tony Blair) lied to the public in order to enter into an illegal and immoral war against a thoroughly benevolent foreign government that loved its people. While it is only speculation, The Long Game may be Davies' response to how the press also lied to the public, manipulating the news to keep the people docile.
I don't think it's so far out of the realm of possibility to speculate that this is a subtext of The Long Game.
No one will stop you because you've bred a human race which doesn't ask questions...believing every lie
The Doctor shouts at the Editor and Editor-in-Chief. Davies is a smart man, so would it really be a far-out idea that he would include his private views on the press' complicity in the Mass Deception around the Iraq Intervention?
I think it is possible that I'm reading far too much into the story, so I digress. The Long Game, as I've stated, could have been a far richer story, not necessarily about the manipulation of the press on an unsuspecting public, but on how we instinctively trust what we see and what we're told. One only needs to look at the quiz show scandals of the 1950s to see the public can be hoodwinked by this medium called television. The Long Game could have tackled how the search for truth and knowledge can have a high cost and what power those who control the information have, whether it's the BBC or MSNBC or FOX News or the New York Times. However, this theme was done in by other outside factors.
For example, it is hard to take any monster seriously when you give him such a silly, almost unpronounceable name (apparently, guest star Pegg had such a hard time with the name that Max's roar had to cover up part of the line so as to not show how hard it was to actually say). Second, director Brian Grant used the trick of seeing things from the monsters point of view until near the end (which perhaps may have been unavoidable), but once we see the actual brains behind the operation, it is such a disappointment. The Editor-in-Chief is really just a giant slug. When he meets his fiery end, all that crossed my mind was, "I'm melting, MELTING!"
Second, we have the character of Suki to consider. She was fine until we discover she's really not this sweet and bumbling girl, but a fierce revolutionary. It isn't so much this twist that causes problems in The Long Game, it's the fact that if you take it at face value she certainly isn't a smart revolutionary. If this had been a story from the classic era, over two or three episodes we could have been given a hint of her true identity, but because it's only a forty-odd minute show, she just is...and in an ironic twist on a story about accepting everything we're given, we HAVE to accept that she is a revolutionary, who apparently never thought that once on Floor 500 she would have to face the actual source of the evil she was fighting against.
As a sublet to Suki's problem, it strikes me as a convenient deus ex machina that once we're told she is dead (but the chip inside her is still working), she suddenly comes alive in a roundabout way to stop the Editor from fleeing. How does a corpse (which is what she basically is) know to grab hold of her adversary's leg? It is just a little TOO convenient.
Langley and Adams give good performances, mainly because The Long Game is really about them, not about the Doctor, or Rose, or even the Editor or Editor-in-Chief. Adams' frustration as Cathica is relate-able, for most people feel the irritation of being passed over for promotion they have worked long for. In an odd way, so is Adam's fall into the temptation of profiting from future knowledge. He does falter slightly when he tries to have comedic moments prior to the operation, I think because there appears an attempt to make these moments lighter. They don't work.
Pegg is unrecognizable as the Editor, with great makeup work by Supervisor Davy Jones. He appears to be relishing a chance to be a bit over-the-top, but since the Editor is really just a stooge for a more powerful force, we can accept that. Eccleston and Tyler, unfortunately, don't seem to be a major part of The Long Game. In fact, it's Cathica, not the Doctor, who saves the day in the end.
As for kicking Adam out of the TARDIS, I don't see this as controversial in any way. Rather, I see this as the only logical thing to do. Adam has proven himself not just untrustworthy, but downright dangerous. If he were to go on another adventure (say, into the past), what is to stop him from trying to change history and profitting from it? His greed (perhaps not for money, but for inside information) shows him to be a weak man, and a weak man is the last thing the Doctor needs. As a side note, there are a couple of good moments in The Long Game: when the Doctor comments to Rose, "You and your boyfriends" (referring to Adam and Mickey), he shows an unexpected light side that adds a touch of true levity to the story.
I can't get over the feeling that The Long Game was really a lost opportunity; what could have been a sharp commentary on the power of the visual medium are human's reliance and unquestioning acceptance on the news we're given gave way to a second-rate monster and a less-than-thrilling story. Granted, it may tie in to another future story, but the title never really fits into the story itself. We don't have an idea as to what the long game actually is. In the end, The Long Game is not a story that will stop the presses.
Next Story: Father's Day