“I only take the best. I’ve got Rose.”
There might be someone new on board, but this episode belongs to Rose and the Doctor from the minute they open the TARDIS door. A few weeks ago, Rose asked the Doctor to hang back so she could take the first step into history; now the two of them step out together while their guest waits inside. This is their game. Brought together by their mutual frustration with literally everyone, Rose and Nine lean on each other, hold hands, tease mercilessly, and charge into danger. The costume designers could not have picked a better week to dress Billie Piper like a late 90s pop star. Her updo sings the song of how done she is with you. Rose asks the right questions. She won’t put up with people who aren’t interested in lending a hand. And when she doesn’t do what the Doctor says, he likes it, because nobody tells Rose Tyler not to stand up against oppression.
The Doctor makes people better, but if he made them all better, and all in the same way, then there wouldn’t be anything distinctively wonderful about his companions. We need Adam, the companion who couldn’t, to remind us that being changed by the Doctor is a choice made on both sides. It’s about discovering what you’re already capable of, and the best companions give that to the Doctor as much as he gives it to them. When the Doctor leaves Adam behind, he tells him to be average and keep quiet, which is about the worst thing the he can ever wish on a person. It’s the kind of life the Doctor thinks no one should lead: the kind that doesn’t touch others.
Adam isn’t interested in changing because he believes he can do no wrong. He actually tries to pin his mistakes on the Doctor, which is especially rude given that the Doctor is already rolling in guilt. Rose has been aware of that from day one. She owns her decisions, and that keeps the Doctor from getting too weighed down by his. Not everything that happens around him is on his shoulders.
He’s being self-deprecating to gain trust, but that doesn’t mean the Doctor isn’t a little bit serious when he insults himself. Nine is all about calling people “stupid apes,” but that’s never been a way of excusing them. He believes people can do better—and, especially now that Rose is in his life, he believes we’re not defined by our mistakes. The Doctor wants people to know that no matter what, they all have something to give. Adam, like the Editor and the Jagrafess, just wants to take.
There is a gorgeous kind of selfish, and Adam isn’t it. In The Writer’s Tale, Russell T. Davies describes Rose as “heartfelt, to the point of being selfish, wonderfully selfish.” Rose fights for what she wants because she knows that she deserves it, and she balances that out with compassion and generosity, because she believes that everyone deserves the same. Adam doesn’t. He shows a flash of potential when he asks why Satellite 5 isn’t more diverse, but that just about does it. As soon as he gets his bearings, he stops asking questions.
The ability to question is really key here. “The Long Game” hits the theme about manipulative news media without much subtlety and without bringing anything particularly new to the discussion. In typical Doctor Who fashion, it’s much more successful when that message is scaled down to the individual level. Why aren’t people curious anymore? The Doctor scolds Cathica for being a journalist and never ASKING. This isn’t that old sci-fi fear that technology will make people stop thinking for themselves; if anything, the Doctor is upset that technology hasn’t progressed enough. PEOPLE (and the Jagrafess) set this system in place, and people are complicit in keeping it going—which also means people can break the cycle.
Where Adam fails, Cathica eventually steps up and does the right thing. She’s not one to challenge the system, but once the Doctor has planted ideas in her head, she has to run with it. People take risks like this in almost every episode, and we never see them again, so it’s easy to accept that the Doctor just does it to everyone. He doesn’t, and Adam is proof. Letting the Doctor bring out what’s bold and good inside of you is always a leap. He only takes the best.
Most of my notes for this one are variations on the theme “Be more adorable, I dare you.” Rose and the Doctor smile at each other SO MUCH in this episode. I actually had to keep pausing it to deal with how in love they are.
“The thing is, Adam, time travel’s like visiting Paris. You can’t just read the guide book. You gotta throw yourself in. Eat the food. Use the wrong verbs. Get charged double and end up kissing complete strangers. Or is that just me?”
“You’re gonna get a smack, you are.”
The fact that people are still buying the “made of gold” line is genuinely upsetting.
“And over on the Bad Wolf channel, the Face of Boe has just announced he’s pregnant.”
“All right, I’ll hug anyone!”
Rose just LEANS ON HIM.
“Rose, tell her to button it.”
CATHICA: I dunno, we keep asking, something to do with the turbines.
DOCTOR: ‘Something to do with the turbines!’
How this moment is not giffed and YouTubed to all eternity, I’ll never understand.
DOCTOR: Now Rose, look at Rose. Rose is asking the right kind of questions.
ROSE: Oh thank you.
Rose wants Cathica to come with them and the Doctor is just:
DOCTOR: Looks like it’s just you and me.
DOCTOR: The walls are not made of gold. You should go back downstairs.
“I call him Max.”
“The right word in the right broadcast repeated often enough can destabilize and economy, invent an enemy, change a vote.”
EDITOR: Is a slave a slave if he doesn’t know he’s enslaved?
EDITOR: Oh, I was hoping for a philosophical debate. Is that all I’m gonna get, ‘yes’?
Rose digs in the Doctor’s pocket for his sonic like it’s not the first time she’s had her hands inside his jacket.
“And I’m sorry, and I’ve said I’m sorry!” Adam, are you five?
“You’ll have to live a very quiet life. Keep out of trouble. Be average, unseen. Good luck.”
What are your favorite moments from this episode? Exactly how many times did you have to pause and catch your breath? Let’s talk about it. I’m bringing these flashback reviews BACK this summer, so let’s do this thing.