The quality of series 3's opening salvo couldn't last forever, and so it is that Gridlock is padded, uninspired and – shockingly, when you consider the presence of an old monster and a major secret revealed – leaves me with no sense of having watched anything particularly important.
Thankfully the self-conscious zaniness that crippled New Earth was gone, and David Tennant is certainly better when free of Billie Piper. In fact, there were one or two scenes tonight where he was almost good. The Rose mentions were better handled, since this time it was Martha who brought the subject up and she was as angry as I was getting. It's explained that the Doctor's treatment of her in the previous two episodes was compensation for his insecurities: this is a good idea.
Unfortunately the two previous episodes were so, so much better than this one, which seems to be a montage of jumping from car to car, meeting a variety of daffy caricatures (none of whom are American, oddly), and moving on again. Martha's kidnappers were oddly touching, but I was really hoping to see Ardal O'Hanlon have to snog his bird in FULL MAKEUP. That would have been worth seeing, but alas, t'was not to be. The Macra are back, but they might as well not have been: although I don't like excessive continuity in general, they're just snapping CGI blobs, a mere gimmick narratively speaking. They have no function but to give the fast-lane scenes a bit of zing, and if it wasn't for the fact that Ian Stuart Black gets a credit at the end then I'd think nothing more of them.
The real problem though is that the numbers are just too excessive to be plausible. A bit like setting it in the year five billion, the “six miles in ten years” idea just gets a reaction of “sorry, not buying that.” People have been on the motorway for up to a quarter of a century, never questioning it, not suffering cabin fever, being healthy looking and seemingly well adjusted...the whole thing rings hollow.
It only really gets interesting in the last fifteen minutes, largely thanks to the presence of the Face of Boe (an idea I've always liked) and the absolutely superb voice work he gets. His major secret though turns out to be an anticlimax, since it's exactly the one everyone predicted it would be a year ago.
Gridlock feels like a forty-five minute wait for the next episode. I wonder if I should be kind and give it average, since it isn't far off and there weren't any moments that seriously made me cringe (apart from Murray Gold's score for the mood sellers). However, the thought of rewatching fills me with nothing but pre-emptive boredom: dull and overlong (alarming in the new format), this episode is like sitting in a traffic jam.