Apparently, I enjoyed this story a lot more than most of you.
"The Long Game", in my book, stands just as strong as the other stories surrounding it and is nice enough to give us something that is considerably lighter in places. "Dalek" is darker than dark and "Father's Day" is sadder than sad. So, squeezing this particular tale between the two of them, I think, was a stroke of genius on RTD's part. We still get some nice sinister moments, of course. Because, in the end, Doctor Who has got to have a scary villain and/or monster (which, in this case, we get both). But there's also a lot of fun. Something I'm glad the show has remembered to maintain. Fans may take Doctor Who far more seriously thant they ought to, but it's good to see that the production team doesn't!
The nicest surprise I got from this story was Adam. I've been following as many teasers and spoilers as a Canadian can (the show, over here, is getting massive ratings but not a whole lot of media attention) and I had not heard a word about a new member of the TARDIS crew. So it was a genuine surprise for me when he rushes into the battered old Police Box at the end of the previous story. Which was pleasant. My desire to spoil almost any surprise this new series can give me was beaten for once, and I thoroughly enjoyed the loop it threw me for!
But what I enjoyed even more about Adam was how he was used in this story. In the 80s, JNT tried something very creative with the character of Turlough: a companion who starts out "bad" but slowly redeems himself. No such luck with Adam. He just totally blows his chances with the Doctor and gets dumped off after just one story. I really liked this idea. It was neat to see a companion who just doesn't end up "cutting the mustard", if you will. It's almost too bad we haven't seen this sort of scenario sooner - it adds a neat sort of "real world" feel to the show. Like us, the Doctor can sometimes pick the wrong kind of company if he's not careful.
Of course, there's some functionalism to dear Adam too. The negative experience the Doctor has with him helps to re-inforce what he feels for Rose. His "I only travel with the best" line (I'm paraphrasing here) was even a bit touching. Thanks to Adam's blundering, we see just how high of an esteem the Doctor holds her in. Great that, an episode later, she totally lets him down! Again, very realistic character dynamics going on. So often, when we put someone on too high a pedestal we set ourselves up to be let down by them. And I like that the series displayed that to us. Again, great plotting on RTD's behalf.
The other thing that really stands out for me in this tale is something that most of fandomn seems in agreement with: the amazing performance by Simon Pegg. What I think I liked most about it was how radically different he was from his character in "Shaun of the Dead" (so different, that it actually took me a moment to place him). Pegg plays the role perfectly - hitting every "beat" of the character just the way it needs to be hit. In terms of all-time favourite "one-off baddies", he's not too far behind big bad Sharaz Jek in Androzani (who, I think, will always be mine, and everyone else's, favourite single-story villain). It was great to see that this new series still knows how to make a classic villain like this one. That was as important to me as the crafting of the lead character or the companion is.
And now, the plot. Like most of the season - it's a pretty straight-forward one. Which is all alot of these stories can afford to be, given the time constraints. But what makes The Long Game a bit more distinctive from a lot of other stories of this season is how effectively it built up its subplots. In fact, a lot of the guest writers could learn something from this story since many of them are just telling one story and that's it. Here, we have the central idea of "something is rotten in the state of Sattelite Five" whilst at the same time we get "the downfall of Adam". At the crucial climax, the two plots become intertwined and the stakes get even higher because of it. Now, the Doctor doesn't just have to try to topple the Jagrafess' control - he also has to save his own hash in the process since the Editor has discovered who the Time Lord really is and what his advanced knowledge and technology can do for him. This, to me, is what "good Who" is all about. Plot threads coming together from all over the place to give us a thundering little story climax. It's what makes a something like "Mawdryn Undead" have such a special place in my heart and it's also what endears this story all the more to me.
Of course, there is a crucial, more understated third subplot too. As Adam disentergrates, Cathica grows. She starts as a two-dimensional overly-ambitious plot cypher - laying out all the basic elements of the story as the Doctor convinces her with his psychic paper that he's an executive. Slowly but surely, she realises the Doctor and Rose aren't who they claim to be and becomes conflicted because of it. Should she stay loyal to the company she serves or follow along with them to uncover what's wrong with Sattelite Five? It's a nice little moral dilemna and I like how her own personal hesitancy is what resolves the plot. Had she gone up the lift immediately with the Doctor and Rose, she would've gotten caught with them during their great confrontation with the Editor. But because her change of heart only comes later, she's able to sneak up to Floor 500, overhear the sinister plot and then choose to do something about it at the most crucial moment. The "stumbling hero(ine)" characterisation is something I love to see in a storyline - and it's executed quite well here. Both on paper and on-screen. And, as annoyed that some fans might get because the Doctor only seems to "save the day" in about half of the stories this season - I quite like this idea. It's not something all that revolutionairy to the show, really. This sort of thing went on quite often in both the 60s and 80s eras of Who. And I, for one, like it when the Doctor works as just a catalyst in a story. Influencing characters to save themselves rather than just running and solving all the conflicts all on his own. I still think he needs to be "the day-saver", if you will, on, at least, a semi-regularl basis. But it's quite nice how often this particular incarnation didn't play the Messiah (obviously, he got all of that out in another RTD series!). So, no quelm from me that Cathica becomes the ultimate solution to the Jagrafess problem. Because, in the end, she still couldn't have done it without the Doctor. And, in many ways, that makes him a far more effective protagonist than if he'd just come in, waved around his sonic screwdriver and saved the day himself.
These are just a few of the more vital elements to this story that made me like it so much. But there are also some very nice "dashes" of other things too. The clever use of Suki, for example - was a great device that RTD used. How often in the show have we seen the villain pick out the Doctor and his companion(s) as a dangerous anomaly and lure them into his lair? Instead, he misses them altogether, at first, and deals with someone else. A wonderful twist that I felt was thrown in there more for us fanboys than the new viewers.
I also liked what the story had to say about media control - a particularly "hot" topic for me. And though the story's message is so obvious that it does almost bite you on the ankle a bit, I don't mind. Cause I was love it when someone rails against the media and how much we allow it to control us. So, the moral high horse didn't bother me any. In fact, isn't Doctor Who, in general, just one giant moral high horse? So really, gang, what's the problem? I, personally, have always loved the show for the strong messages it tries to deliver.
Finally, we also get great performance thrown in by Tamsin Greig. Another comedic performer whose role in this story greatly contrasted the other role I know her best for. Here in North America, typecasting is "King" in the world of acting. So it's great to see such excellent displays of diversity. Again, like Pegg, it took me a minute to place her because her portrayal was so markedly different from her previous work.
Any weak points to this story? Once more, they're fairly minimal and, therefore, hardly worth mentionning. I do think it funny that so many people nitpicked the opening sequence about the relationship between Adam and Rose. "He's your boyfriend"/"Not anymore" struck me as just a fun little throwaway gag and nothing else. Just like Rose teasing the Doctor about the "Tree Lady" in "End of the World". But, as usual, the geeks have to take things for more seriously than they need to and cry out against Rose's supposedly loose morals. Give it a rest guys, I know it's tough for you to get girlfriends and therefore you get very upset over the idea of infedility but you need to understand that the rest of the world has a pretty light-hearted approach to this kind of stuff!
Wow, was I mean there!
Anyway, as I stated at the outset of this review, "The Long Game" is as strong a story to me as the episodes it is set between. And it continues, overall, the trend of high-callibre story-telling that this season has that is only let down ever-so-slightly by the stuff with the Slitheen.
According to the polls and the reviews that I've seen, I'm somewhat alone in that thinking. But I don't mind. As the good Doctor, himself, once said: "I've always been a bit of iconoclast, myself."!