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April 16th, 2007

Episode three of this season of Doctor Who was entitled “Gridlock,” a word which invariably causes me to recall an old Saturday Night Live bit featuring Dana Carvey as Ross Perot and Phil Hartman as his running mate, Admiral Stockdale. It was right after Stockdale’s infamous debate appearance, and Hartman played him as a doddering crazy prone to shouting “Gridlock!” Which has nothing to do with Doctor Who; it’s just one of those things that I can’t get out of my head. I can’t remember my dad’s birthday, but I can remember “Gridlock!”

Anyhow, “Gridlock” (not “Gridlock!”) was a quirky tale set on the far, far, far future world of New Earth, involving automotive passengers trapped in a perpetual traffic jam in the underground of a massive city. Sure, it’s beyond mere exaggeration to present a society in which decades pass trying to reach the next interchange, but anyone who’s ever been forced to park on the expressway can relate to the inspiration of the story.

I gave this episode big props for several reasons. First, for breaking out of the alien invasion/end of the world box which modern Doctor Who frequently inhabits. Yes, there were monsters, but they weren’t behind the situation, and nor were they even the central issue.

Second–and this is a big spoiler, so beware–for having the cheek to feature a reappearance by an almost entirely-forgotten foe from the lost, black-and-white episodes of ’60s Who. I can’t imagine anyone ever expected to see the crablike Macra again, of whose original appearance only a lone publicity photo survives. This was one of those times I really wish that I’d stayed spoiler-free, so as to fully enjoy the punch-the-air moment of fan service. And while I suspect that this decision on Russell Davies’ part was little more than “I need a monster, so why not the Macra?” it’s the sort of thing that delights the fanbase while remaining transparent to new viewers.

However, now that the roll call of obscure Doctor Who creatures has been invoked, I think it only reasonable to call for the return of the Rills, the Fish People and the Taran Beast!

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