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7 January 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 737: The Long Game

Dear diary,

Oh, poor The Long Game. It’s always had a reputation of being the black sheep of Season One, hasn’t it? I didn’t really wander in to online fandom until sometime during 2006, but I can recall learning very quickly that this wasn’t an episode that people really liked. I can also remember being a little bit surprised by the fact, because I’ve never really though of it as being a weak episode, it’s just A. N. Other episode of Doctor Who. Perhaps that’s the problem? People talk of the stories they love, and the stories they hate, and episodes like The Long Game just disappear down the cracks between the two sides, nestled forever with the likes of The Smugglers.

I can’t help but wonder if it’s partly because The Long Game is situated here in the middle of Series One for a very specific purpose. It’s not an episode as exciting as last week’s, which you can just pop on and watch because you want to see some action; it doesn’t hold the same emotional punch that we’ll get with the next episode, and I don’t think it’s even scary in the way that the Steven Moffat two-parter on the horizon will be. It’s far more about the relationships between the characters, and taking stock of where we’ve been so far, and where we’re yet to go.

Most obviously, this can be seen in the relationship between the Doctor and Rose, but I’m only noticing just how nicely done it is on this viewing, perhaps because the pace of one episode a day is allowing me enough time to ruminate on them, without leaving it so long that I lose the subtleties. Those first three stories of the season were very much about the Doctor taking Rose out to show her the universe. Expand the horizons of a girl who felt trapped in her humdrum life. Oh, sure, Rose get’s to be central to these episodes and not just a tag-along, but she’s very much the novice. By the time of Dalek, they do something very clever - stepping out into Van Stattan’s museum, both the Doctor and Rose get to recognise an exhibit. Suddenly, she’s not the new girl anymore, she’s a somewhat seasoned traveller.

The Long Game then comes along and reminds us that she’s not really up to the Doctor’s level yet, though, and we get the brilliant scene of the Doctor priming her on their new time and place so that she can showboat to Adam. Ah, yes, Adam. He’s the other very clever thing about this episode, and he’s in some ways the heart of it - right back in Davies’ initial pitches for this episode, it was always ‘the companion who couldn’t’, and it further helps to reinforce Rose’s position in the ship. It’ll have knock on consequences for later in the season, too, when we get another male companion coming aboard who is the right material for life with the Doctor.

Adam also gets to play an important role in re-shaping the Doctor post-Time War, too. I commented the other day that Series One, and the Ninth Doctor, is all about building to that rebirth that allows him to really be himself again. This incarnation more than any for a long time really sees humans as a bit thick, by and large. And yet both Micky and Adam - two people he mocks brazenly - as questions he initially dismisses before realising that they’re exactly the ones to ask. They serve a purpose in helping him remember to listen to the little people.

Otherwise… it’s no wonder he goes a little bit off the rails, is it? They’re not long on the station before the Doctor and Rose have swanned off to investigate and explore, and he ends up just wandering around on his own like a kid in a sweetshop. For someone who’s incredibly tech-savvy and has spent years studying alien artefacts… it was never going to end well, was it? I love the idea of a companion coming aboard and then being immediately kicked out again because they’re just not up to scratch - and it’s a bold thing to do in the first ‘new’ series of the show, really helping to cement Rose, Martha, and all the others to come as being the cream of the crop.

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