We quickly recap “The Long Game”, which I never expected to hear about again. But the Doctor’s comment that humanity’s progress should resume is used as a plot hook to propel us another hundred years into the future, where the Doctor wakes up disoriented in a changing room. It’s disorienting for the viewer, too, helped along by the aggressive techno dance soundtrack. A young blonde woman, Pigtailed Rose, rushes over to help him up.
We gather (aided by the subtitles) that the Doctor has been dumped into a garish version of the Big Brother TV show that I thankfully haven’t heard of in years. Also in the room are a black woman wearing loud pink and a man in a bootleg Rolling Stones shirt. He complains that eviction (which we all know is code for “someone’s gonna die”) is just five minutes away, what’s with dropping someone new on them now? Black Rose agrees that if “the rules” keep changing like this, she might just repaint the walls as an act of defiance.
Given that her color scheme is just as loud as the house’s, I’m not sure what kind of threat that is.
The Doctor is promptly led off to a private room to tell the audience how his day is going. Meanwhile, Real Rose comes to looking into the face of a man who tells her that the android is the Law. I hope it flies around eating frogs, because that sounds more appealing than what I expect from the House O’ Roses. The Weakest Link is as sordid as I care to get in the reality show genre.
Oddly enough, Rose is led onto a Weakest Link set. I honestly did not know that was coming. The android is an Anne-droid with red hair and red eyes and actually says this is The Weakest Link. Either the BBC owns the British version, or the parody laws are very strong across the Atlantic.
Meanwhile Captain Jack Harkness finds himself on Robot Eye for the Omnisexual Guy. The robots in question remove his clothing for the edification of millions of viewers. Jack confidently responds that “your viewing figures just went up.” Not sure how this scenario is supposed to lead to deadly peril, but at least we’re getting a variety of shows.
The Doctor is back in the House, sonicing his surroundings to find a way out. Pigtailed Rose (who claims her true name is Lynda) pesters him to tell her what the viewers think of her. The Doctor pleases her by telling her everyone thinks she’s sweet. Then he remembers how he was captured: a white light emanated from the wall of the TARDIS and sucked everyone in. The inside wall of the TARDIS, while they were in 1300s Japan saving the locals from Cyberkaiju or something. That’s quite a feat, too much of a feat for their abduction to be anything other than deliberate. He looks into a camera screen and delivers the typical Doctor warning.
A man listening in lowers his headset and moves closer to a bank of computers. Like in “The Long Game”, but the operators aren’t zombies. He tries to get a woman’s attention, but she’s busy segueing us back to Rose, who decides she’ll win a trivia game based on popular culture several hundred years into her future. Fortunately, there are enough simple questions that she doesn’t lay a total egg. We learn that Torchwood (who?) became famous and is now destroyed. This cracks Rose up. Headset Man and Segue Woman are concerned by this: “I think she knows.” Headset Man says the Doctor just appeared without explanation: “It’s like the game is running itself.”
The fashion robots have replaced Jack’s white shirt with a different white shirt, and well, that’s about the extent of their ambition thus far. One robot tells Jack he should “do something about that face”, to which Jack agrees that he’s considered cosmetic surgery and cups its crude plastic boobs. Okay then. But just when it seems Jack’s storyline is going smoothly, the other robot reveals that it’s equipped with a chainsaw and a Death Star torture kit.
Speaking of pain, Annedroid is making small talk with Rose. Annedroid burns her by asking how she has money to dye her hair, then asks why she voted for Fitch. Rose says Fitch (who looked distraught when she got a biology question wrong, to let us know who would lose the round) got a few questions wrong, to which Annedroid replies with a bit of venom, “And you’d know about that.” Meanwhile Fitch is starting to blubber, because naturally getting voted out means death here too. Instead of a trapdoor, or even eye lasers, however, Annedroid sticks out her tongue and disintegrates Fitch.
Rose declares that everyone is sick in the head and she won’t play anymore. So the actual weakest player, Broff, breaks down and declares he won’t play anymore, so that Annedroid can shoot him down to railroad Rose back into the plot.
The Doctor is very bored with playing along and impatient to get back to clicking on objects so he can solve the puzzle and escape the room. When Black Rose is evicted, the other two embrace her tearfully while the Doctor flops down on the couch in irritation. “We’re going to get you!” the announcer voice announces gleefully, and soon Black Rose walks into a clean white box and is zapped into powder.
Meanwhile, Headset and Segue mention a rumor that something is concealed “under the transmissions”, possibly something that the Controller can’t see, even though she should see everything. Well, this took a hard U-turn straight back into “The Long Game”. We meet the Controller: a woman with lots of tubes and fiber optic cables coming out of her, her eyes staring at something and nothing, her mouth gibbering uncontrollably. The visual and music combine to be horrific.
The Doctor learns that Big Brother contestants are chosen at random, the winner is happy to escape alive, and nobody (in an admittedly small pool of respondents) seems inclined to question this status quo. But hey, there are only sixty Houses right now because of cutbacks. He sonics a camera to death so that he can be evicted, escape death, and then find Rose.
While the others stare their mortality in the face, Jack has decided that this white tennis outfit just isn’t him. The robots zap that off and announce that they will proceed with the “face-off”. “I think you’d look good with a dog’s head!” one of the robots declares, and they proceed to get more inventive, again with a little venom. Jack shoots both their heads off.
A fairly obvious inference by now is that someone or something blames the Doctor & associates for not sticking around to set things right in “The Long Game”. The temporal teleportation powers remain unexplained.
Rodrick tells Rose he’s keeping her alive so he can beat her in the finals, then says the Bad Wolf Corporation is behind all this Television To Die For. Cue the sad oo-ooo-y music as Rose remembers all the times we’ve seen Bad Wolf crop up, with an overlay of the Time Vortex for spice. We’ve seen all this, we remember enough of it, especially given it was pointed out just last episode. Show us something different, like Pretty Samurai Moon using her Sparkling Bad Wolf Justice Strike against Cyber-Mothra.
The Doctor pumps his fists excitedly on hearing he’s been evicted. The disintegrator powers down, no worries: whatever brought him here wanted him alive. Because nobody ever wants to see an enemy die ironically, or humiliatingly in front of millions . . . but this is standard Doctor Who logic, so we’ll let it go. He breaks out of the Death Room, then tries to break through his fellow occupants’ conditioning so they’ll follow him to safety. Pigtailed Rose obliges.
He recognizes his new environment as Station 5, and humble-brags to Pigtailed Rose that he helped solve a little problem here a century ago. She rattles off all the death-oriented TV shows that Bad Wolf produces and says well, naturally everyone watches them. She finally has enough of the Doctor being strange and wants to know who he is. The Doctor brushes her off with possibly the biggest fib he’s ever told: “All I’m after is a quiet life.” She asks if she can tag along on his travels, he likes the idea, gentle music is playing, and she’s just doomed herself to a gruesome end. The Doctor can afford one chick at a time, Lynda, the production budget isn’t infinite.
The Controller tells Headset to ignore the “no one” contestants wandering around the Satellite’s innards, then tells Segue that she’s not allowed to look inside Archive 6 to figure out what’s going on. Clearly the Controller is in on it.
The Doctor now finds that Earth is super-polluted to death and everyone just passively watches each other die on game shows. Pigtailed Rose tells him that when he shut down the news, society plain fell apart. The Doctor is just a little horrified.
Jack has made a laser rifle and tracked down the Doctor, who is stressing out over a balky computer. He finds evidence of the extra transmission thing, but more importantly they find Rose is facing death from Annedroid. Off they go, while Rose tries desperately to win the final round. She puts up a respectable fight but loses by one point, then starts to lose all her composure. The Doctor comes rushing in, but too late: Rose gets turned to ash as she runs toward him. Well, good thing he’s got a spare after all! Jack starts waving his gun around (not a euphemism), and Security comes in and arrests everyone. The Doctor hardly notices.
He remains blankly silent through the frisking, grilling, and sentencing. But when the last guard turns his back, he signals Jack and the guards are dispatched. Up to Floor 500 they go! Headset tries, but can’t evacuate anybody before an angry time traveler shows up with an angry man with a phaser rifle.
The Doctor points a gun at the Controller and demands answers. The Controller continues to drone on about a solar flare. The Doctor aims at Headset as thanks for offering advice, then scoffs at his fear before tossing him the gun. An amusing bit follows with Headset being very uncertain of what’s expected of him now. Then Jack barges into Archive 6 and finds the TARDIS waiting for him.
Segue tries to get the Doctor to let the staff go free, but the Doctor has no sympathy for the feelings of people who murder hundreds every day, even if they are “just doing their jobs.”
A solar flare causes the room to go eerie blue, and the Controller drops her distant facade to talk to the Doctor. She’s been using the flares to hide her messages to the Doctor so that her “masters” won’t detect them, finally bringing him to her station to speak to him in person. She can’t bring herself to name these masters, who have been ruling Earth from the shadows for centuries. Jack comes in with a demonstration he put together with the TARDIS’s help. He disintegrates Rose 2.0, then reforms her, to demonstrate it’s actually just a transmat beam. Presumably the one that whisks random people away to be the next contestant on The Price Is Death looks different.
The Controller gets zapped away for telling the Doctor Original Rose’s coordinates. The Controller herself finds herself blissfully free of body horror, but surrounded by Daleks. She happily accepts her death, certain that the Doctor will end her tormentors.
The Doctor explains to Headset and Segue that “someone’s been playing a long game,” someone behind the Jagrafess and Annedroid, someone waiting patiently until the end of the series to air this sequel. Continuing the layers upon layers theme, he finds that the main extra signal cloaks something hovering over Earth. Disabling it, he finds an entire fleet of half a million Illuminati! Er, Daleks. They call him up and demand he stay out, because look at our hostage. The Doctor simply says no. It quickly becomes an angry no as the Doctor’s hackles raise at the reappearance of his hated enemy.
The Doctor signs off, and the Daleks announce that this means war. The episode ends with random Daleks floating off of the floor as dozens more crowd into the shot.
I expected this to be a message episode, a harsh send-up of reality shows. In fact, I put this episode off partly because I half-expected to be beaten about the head with it. But no — the Doctor even shares a warm memory with Lynda about an ursine reality show. There are a few ideas touched upon — unintended consequences, news is important, maybe people are the sheepiest sheep ever after all — but none dominate.
This is a good enough episode, it just doesn’t stand out for me, and the subject matter isn’t something I find fun. I’ll round down, but I may regret it.
Special mention to the occasionally startling camera work, and to the actress playing Lynda (Pigtails). She manages to convey, just here and there, that there is an undercurrent of, well, sweetness within while still being just another conditioned member of this dystopia. And perhaps that is the best takeaway for this episode. Sometimes dystopias don’t contain total wrecks of people, and rarely do they contain heroic people who valiantly fight just the way we think heroes should fight, their flame unquenched beneath a layer of grimness and dirt. The true tragedy of a dystopia is the untapped potential for good, and for better, in its downtrodden citizens.
Rating: 2 nonexistent gardeners
Favorite dialogue: Doctor: I said no.
Dalek: What is the meaning of this negative?
Doctor: It means no.
Dalek: But she will be destroyed!
Doctor: No, ’cause this is what I’m going to do. I’m gonna rescue her. I’m gonna save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet. And then I’m gonna save the Earth. And then, just to finish off, I’m going to wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!
Dalek: But you have no weapons. No defences. No plan.
Doctor: Yeah. And doesn’t that scare you to death.
Supplementary favorite dialogue: The Doctor: Death, destruction, disease, horror. That’s what reality television is all about, Anan. That’s what makes it a thing to be avoided. You’ve made it neat and painless. So neat and painless, you’ve had no reason to stop it. And you’ve had it for five hundred years. Since it seems to be the only way I can save my crew and my ship, I’m going to end it for you, one way or another.
Silliest future name:
Broff. He died as he was named: pitifully. Nope, it’s Strood. There must have been a fad in the next few hundred years where people started naming their babies after food.
One wonders: whether The Weakest Link is the new standardized test to which schools feel obligated to teach?
My electronica ’70s cover band is named: Crosbie Lynda and Strood, except we’re never going to cover “Judy Blue Eyes” because the goal of a band should not be to put audiences to sleep. Actually, nobody would want to be Strood, so scrap the whole idea.