The Pulse: Gridlock

Black Scrolls stalwarts Steve Preston and Gareth Kavanagh unravel Gridlock like a kitten with a ball of wool…

Gareth: Gridlock. Hmmm. Well, a simple little tale but probably my favourite of the New Earth offerings to date.

Steve: That isn’t difficult, there are only two, and the other one is like something out of Season 24. But I hear you thought this crabby entry was rather good. Feeling the pinch?

Gareth: True enough. New Earth is a steaming pile of television offal, and time has been less kind to The End of the World. Nevertheless, I found enough to enjoy in comparison.

Steve: Everyone likes TEOTW because they can smell chips. I could smell a large stinking dog turd.

Gareth: Yes, that last line about ‘effing chips does get a lot of air time. Well that and the plumber. Look it’s the future; and they still have leaky taps!

Steve: Apologies to our readers who’ve tuned into a Gridlock review, but what was all the fuss about the blue plumber anyway, there’s nothing worse than an alien painted blue. Unless it’s one of those scantily clad beauties Captain Kirk is always after.

Gareth: Not unless Kirk suddenly develops a midget fetish, although of course anything’s possible in the Trek universe. More a McCoy bird by the look of her… Back to Gridlock then. I don’t see what you failed to enjoy. It’s a simple and honest little tale about hope and the folly of recreational drugs, told with a nice turn of pace and good sense of humour.

Steve: I found it a rather drab affair to be honest. I wait for ages for an alien planet to come along, and then for a majority of the episode, the plot unravels inside a 10 by 10 motor!

Gareth: I guess a lot of the pleasure for me was from the comic strip references – especially 2000AD, which RTD graciously notes as source for a change. The eternal jam is pure Mega City One, where one of the facets of the city is a transient population who avoid homelessness by constantly travelling round the motorways on auto-pilot.

Steve: It didn’t really have the bite of 2000AD, the drug dealer scenes were thrown away I thought, there could have been some real tension as the dealers, showing signs of heavy addiction themselves, plead, then threaten a sale, rather than all this happy-happy stuff, akin to the burger seller in The Long Game, which I found forgettable too.

Gareth: To be fair, you have a real point there. It was all a bit take it or leave it, with no real immediacy. In fact, thinking on – where were all these people from who hadn’t been killed by the emo-drugs? Where exactly had they been hiding for 20 odd years?”

Steve: Exactly. It would have been terrific if there were some skulking miscreants in the shadows between the dealers and the motorway. All we got were a couple looking for a hitch-hiker. Martha’s kidnap had none of the threat of say Sharaz Jek’s incarceration of Peri.

Gareth: It was a little cosy to be fair. Still, that could have worked really well if it had been, say a pair of old dears with an enormous gun being very polite and offering tea every 2 minutes. Hang on; they hired the wrong bod from Father Ted. They should have gone straight for a gun-toting Mrs. Doyle…

Steve: For me Gridlock had more than a passing resemblance to Paradise Towers. Fair?

Gareth: Very fair actually. In fact, it all goes to underline for me the importance of the designer being in synch with the writer and his vision. And both Paradise Towers and Gridlock are at fault on this point. I mean, RTD clearly wants bright, gaudy Mega City 1, but ends up with a lazy Blade Runner pastiche coz the Director and Design team just don’t seem to get the references.

Steve: I suppose that must be a disappointment in terms of the 2000AD references. Oddly enough, I was hoping for even more of a Blade Runner pastiche, but ended up with what was essentially the Play School edition. What did you make of the Macra’s inclusion?

Gareth: I mean they’re just shorthand for something large and nasty in the darkness. A total waste when you consider they jettisoned the best thing about the Macra first time around; the whole mind control ‘ting, which would have played out nicely with the fake holo-casts in the cabs, luring motorists to their deaths (although they did improve on the clunky realisation of the original, thankfully!) Either way, I bet Ian Stuart Black’s nearest and dearest are smiling all the way to the bank mind…

Steve: The original Macra was indeed rough. Apparently it was a huge fibreglass monstrosity nailed to the top of a van, and then the camera had to do loads of low angle shots to hide the method of the crab’s movement. Hope they put it on the right way, otherwise it wouldn’t be walking sideways! But still, I thought the CGI realisation wasn’t good either. You couldn’t really see them in any detail.

Gareth: Another fair point there son. The original Macra was indeed an unintentionally hilarious effort. Still, it was a shame you saw so little of the mighty beasts this time around. I liked the eyes on stalks homage, but really that’s all they had in common with the original. You may as well try and pass off a gecko as a dinosaur. Bugger; I feel my hitherto solid defence of this morsel weakening as we speak…

Steve: The lacking CGI is forgivable but turning the creatures into unthinking beasts was a terrible shame. It was their intelligence and mind control that set them apart from ‘monster of the week’. The Patrick McGoohan TV Series overtones in the original were palpable, but this one had so little to tell. A stronger environmental message would have helped.

Gareth: Completely. I mean, by far the bravest thing about the original was the whole control aspect of the beasts. By just making the Macra little more than giant crabs at the end of the tunnel, RTD just threw away their most interesting feature in a stroke! What a missed opportunity. The lack of an environmental message was also interesting – almost on a level of ‘drugs kill, but riding around in cars and indeed, the Clarkson/Hamster spirit of the hardy motorist will save the Earth’. What did you make of the cats this time around, by the by? Was it a trip the vets for a swift neutering or a well deserved bowl of Whiskas for the furry little cheekies?

Steve: You know, I thought they were fine. I didn’t have a problem with them first time around either. The make up is incredible. And Dougal from Father Ted was memorable. I didn’t mind the kittens bit, I thought it was quite funny, I’m sure the kitten’s ‘mew’ was a slight re-dub to make it sound more human. Bestiality in Doctor Who ha ha ha I never thought Davies could top the paving slab.

Gareth: Mary Whitehouse would have had kittens, had she still been with us! Aye, they were OK to be fair – and the Father Dougal pilot turn gave us yet another DWM comic strip homage – this time the cat pilot from the Freefall Warriors. Murray Gold was quite restrained again, building on his good work thus far in series 3. I may even be able to hear the dialogue at this rate.

Steve: So give me something to cheer about with Gridlock. I’ve got criticisms piling up here.

Gareth: Well, we’ve got some interesting well sketched little characters in the Father Dougal cat family, couple of old dears and Max Normal homage businessman, energetic performance from Tennant – especially in the car-hopping sequence, an interesting central concept in the endless jam, a tinge of hope in the hymns and ending, and – of course the Face checks out, imparting his all important secret…..

Steve: It’s funny – I can think of lots of other disasters in the plotting, some phoned in performances, the not-very-good Boe animatronics, and of course the all important final four words, which RTD kindly told us in the Dr Who annual years ago – a shame. The story isn’t a complete lost cause though, David Tennant is excellent, and the sit-down chat about Gallifrey worked a treat.

Gareth: Plot-wise that seems a little harsh, for a generally tight and simple little tale. But in terms of Boe – I concede that the words had been a little spoilt in the annual. Still, the ending had a refreshing tinge of hope and overall passed 45 minutes pleasantly. A three pints of San Miguel from me, losing a round for some of the discussed minor plot flaws and a criminal under-use of the Macra.

Steve: For me, a disappointing off-world tale, the established themes weren’t fully realised, where was the environmental discussion, the insanity of the rush hour could have had more telling comments, and the death of Boe lacked gravitas. There are plenty of good ideas, albeit somewhat lifted from other sources, and the coda about Gallifrey was nicely played by David. Below par, but not awful, I’ll give this one only two foaming treats.

Gareth: Boo! Back to the bar you Hartnell-esque skinflint!

2 Star TomHartnell: Hmm?! What’s that boy talking about now Chatterton. Susan, a good smack bottom unless you get your grandfather a pint of Old Peculiar, there’s a good girl.

Gareth: Steve? Steve??

Steve: I’m back! So… what do we tell the Kasterborous crew, we have to give a vote!

Gareth: Got to be a cowardly 2 pints and a whisky chaser (2.5 in other words…)

Steve: You know what I think about cowardly half marks! Grrr!

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