The Doctor awakens somewhere unknown, falling into a flat that’s been hit with a Pop-Art stick. Three inhabitants regard him with varying degrees of welcome and suspicion. “They never said you were coming!” one exclaims. “What’s your name then, sweetheart?” “The Doctor. I think,” the Doctor replies (eep?). “You got chosen,” his guide informs him: he’s a new “Housemate” just in time for eviction. A robotic voice summons him to The Diary Room, explaining, “You are live on Channel 4400. Please do not swear.” The Doctor grips the sides of his funkadelic red chair and snaps, “You have got to be kidding!”
Rose wakes in a different location. A man hovers over her explaining the “transmat does your head in.” Just remember, her new acquaintance says, “the android’s word is law,” so don’t provoke it. “I’m not supposed to be here,” Rose blurts, asking for the Doctor. But “it says Rose on the podium,” he points out. Rose gets behind her designated spot, and realizes android = Ann Droid, who when activated barks, “Welcome to the Weakest Link!” with Ann Robinson’s voice.
The third confused camper in our space-traveling triumvirate, Jack, wakes up to hear androids murmuring they’ve “got our work cut out for us.” They’re here to give him a brand new image, they tell Jack, who protests, “I was with the Doctor—why, is there something wrong with what I’m wearing?” I love how Jack acclimates most quickly, but he’s also the most susceptible in that he starts playing along immediately. To get rid of his “Oklahoma farm boy thing,” they aim the “defabricator” his way. It does just what it says on the tin, getting rid of his clothing. He’s naked in front of millions of viewers. Jack grins, saying, “Ladies, your viewing figures just went up.”
The Doctor tries to Sonic Screwdrive his way out while his Housemate Lynda (with a “y” as opposed to another Linda with a, you guessed it, ‘i’) asks, “Do people like me? Am I popular?” Though he’s got no idea what she’s on about, “Everyone thinks you’re sweet,” he hurries to say. His memory kicks in—they were in Kyoto in 1336 and only just escaped (don’t mess with emerging shogunates, Doctor) when a white light reached into the TARDIS. “The transmat beam…that’s how they pick the housemates,” Lynda chimes in. But the light that brought him was fifteen million times more powerful than a stupid transmat, “which means this isn’t a game.” He leans toward the camera. “Well, here’s the latest update from the Big Brother House. I’m getting out, I’m going to find my friends, and then I’m going to find you.”
Flash to a media control room, where a Pavale asks his female coworker for a word. “Let me finish this,” she replies, switching to the Weakest Link countdown. When Rose panics, “Shut up and play the game,” scowls Rodrick, the contestant who woke her. Fine. If it’s a game, she’ll play to win. The rapid-fire questions start (with sly meta mixed in: one answer is “Torchwood”). Rose gets giddy, laughing, “How should I know?” at one question. Back in the control room, “I don’t think she knows,” the woman at the console realizes. Her colleague agrees: he’s got a housemate who appeared out of nowhere. “I told you, it’s like the game’s running itself.”
“A little dash of pirate and just a tweak of President Schwarzenegger,” the androids exult over one of Jack’s outfits. “Works for me,” he agrees when they fawn over a jacket that “shows off the bum.” I bet it does! “Ever thought about cosmetic surgery?” one asks. Sure, Jack’s thought of getting a little lift or tightening. “Let’s do something more cutting-edge,” the android suggests, exposing a chainsaw forearm out of Jack’s line of sight.
Rose does her chat with the host portion of the game, saying she travels. “Another way of saying unemployed…yet you can still afford peroxide,” Ann Droid points out. Like others, Rose voted for Fitch as the Weakest Link. Fitch weeps, saying “God help me,” just before the Ann Droid disintegrates her. “Blasted into atoms,” explains a contemptuous Rodrick when Rose seems not to understand. “But I voted for her,” Rose says, horrified, accusing them all of sick behavior “I’m not playing,” another contestant shouts, running away. Ann Droid catches him while Rodrick advises Rose not to run away: “It’s play or die.”
A disgruntled Doctor gets pulled into the Housemates’ hand-holding couch confab, awaiting the results of who has been evicted. The other woman is named, and Lynda and the male Housemate say they’re so sorry, calling her a smashing cook and excusing her for stealing the soap. The Doctor shrugs, looking bored as she says her good-byes. It’s only a game show and she’ll make a fortune selling her story, releasing a record, or making a fitness video. But the camera lingers on the evicted Housemate until, as she cries, she’s disintegrated. “What was that?” the Doctor demands. “She’s been evicted,” Lynda explains. “From life.”
I freaking adore how each of our main characters has been caught in what is for them a personal hell. Poor Rose, always worried she’s dull and slow, gets shunted into a game designed to separate out the smartest and make fools of everyone else. The Doctor, who despises the “domestic” interactions of petty human concerns, is trapped in a House with peevish Housemates who insist he get enveloped in their personal drama. And Jack, used to being the handsomest thing within several light years, thinks he’s getting a fun make-over but really is caught with two robots designed to destroy his confidence and his biggest asset, his physical appearance.
Maybe there’s something to those stories, Pavale says to his coworker. The transmissions might be hiding something. She argues if so, the Controller would know. Allow for human error, he suggests but she whispers slyly, “I don’t think she’s been human for years!” We view the Controller, upright, immobile, and plugged in at every point with transmitting cables. This ep just gets more Philip K. Dick-ian at every turn.
The Doctor rails at the remaining Housemates, asking if fame is so important they’ll just jump in front of disintegrators. “You’re talking like we have a choice!” Lynda interrupts to explain. Everyone on Earth is a potential contestant. They’re chosen whether they like it or not. This isn’t the only House—there are 60 Big Brother games running. “They’ve had to cut back,” the male Housemate says, adding nostalgically, “It’s not what it was.” The Winner gets to live. “Isn’t that enough?” Lynda asks at the Doctor’s anger. Why was Linda with an “i” evicted, the Doctor demands. Damaged property. “Like this?” he asks, shooting out the camera with the Sonic Screwdriver.
In crisp tennis whites, Jack swings a racket in front of a mirror. “No, I’m just not getting this,” he complains. “It’s too safe, too decent, and you’d never keep it clean.” Time to move on to Stage Two, one droid announces, “the Face Off.” Jack gets excited at the prospect of facing another contestant (you probably think this song is about you, Jack), but it’s literally face off. He’d look good “with a dog’s head, or no head at all,” one proposes, or perhaps his legs stitched to the middle of his chest. When they come at him with dismembering weapons for hands, he pulls a Compact Laser Deluxe. Where was he hiding it? “You really don’t want to know,” Jack answers before shooting them. Accentuates the bum indeed!
At Rose’s game, they gradually winnow down to her and Rodrick. He’s been voting strategically because he thinks “you’re stupid.” If she stays, he’ll be assured to win and get a stack of credits “courtesy of the Badwolf Corporation.” Rose stops him, because she’s heard those words before. She flashes back to Gwyneth talking about the big bad wolf; Van Statten’s helicopter called Bad Wolf One; the Cardiff power station Blaidd Drwg; “Bad Wolf” graffiti on the TARDIS; and back on Satellite 5, the Face of Boe on the Bad Wolftu channel. “It’s written all over the universe” she realizes.
The Doctor must be evicted according to House rules. “Open up!” he shouts at the disintegration corridor. “It’s like you want to die,” Lynda wails. He smiles up at the disintegration ray as they count down the eviction. Nothing happens. “Someone brought me into this game,” the Doctor says, doing his thinking on his feet like a boss! “If they’d wanted me dead, they could have transmatted me into a volcano!” “Are you following this?” he shouts as the control room workers watch. “I’m getting out!” Engineering his escape with the Sonic Screwdriver, he extends a hand to Lynda: “You’re sweet, and from what I’ve seen of your world, do you think anybody votes for sweet?” She joins him and flees.
“I’ve been here before,” the Doctor realizes as they stumble into a large room. It’s Satellite 5, the “game station” now, exactly one hundred years after the Doctor left it. “You’re looking good on it,” Lynda compliments him. “I moisturize,” the Doctor says modestly. Though he’s got to find Rose and Jack, Lynda explains there are a hundred different games, including ten floors of Big Brother along with shows like Call My Bluff (“with real guns!”), Wipeout (“speaks for itself”), and Stars in Their Eyes (another literal one, where contestants who don’t sing are blinded).
“You keep saying things that don’t make sense,” Lynda tells the Doctor. Who is he? “Just a traveler,” he says. “Believe it or not, all I’m after is a quiet life.” It’s a funny jibe at the Doctor’s love of trouble and danger, but I do think he yearns for the ordinary life he missed out on. If he wanders off again, “I could come with you,” Lynda suggests. “Maybe you could,” he says with a smile. “I wouldn’t get in the way,” she promises. “I wouldn’t mind if you did,” he flirts back. Doctor/Lynda with a y is my Game Station OTP! As they enter another room, she sees a Bad Wolf Corporation sign, saying “Your lords and masters!” The Doctor stares, dumbfounded.
Pavale and his female colleague decide to go to the Controller. But her answer to every problem they enumerate is “Continue working!” When Pavale’s colleague tries to get into Archive 6, a shock goes out, hurting the Controller who cries, “Archive 6 is out of bounds!” She mumbles about solar flares while Pavale and his coworker stand bewildered.
Over at Jack’s game, he’s turns one of the android’s defabricators into a gun. “Well ladies,” he says jovially to the headless droids (he’s literally blown their minds with his Compact Laser Deluxe—and clearly it’s not the size, but how you shoot it). “The pleasure was all mine, which is the only thing that matters in the end.” I hear that’s why you do better with dudes, Captain Jack! It’s fairly awesome that he’s taken the device used to strip him and turned it into a weapon.
“Two hearts, that’s him,” Jack tells his wrist computer as he jogs off to find his companions. “Which floor?” And can I just point out that Jack, though he obviously cares about Rose, urgently seeks the Doctor first? It’s a good old-fashioned pan-dimensional interstellar crush, kids.
“Blimey!” Lynda exclaims at the sight of planet Earth from the observation deck. It’s a grey mess of smog and waste. “Half the world’s too fat, half the world’s too thin, and you just watch telly?” the Doctor asks. “The human race,” he says with no little disgust. “Brainless sheep being fed on a diet of—mind you, have they still got that programme where three people have to live with a bear?” OH MY GOD, I WOULD WATCH THE HELL OUT OF THAT! “Bear With Me!” Lynda exclaims (they’re both fans of the “celebrity” edition).
But a hundred years ago, the Doctor set humans to rights. “No, but that’s when it first went wrong,” Lynda says earnestly. The complete shutdown of news channels caused the collapse of the government, the economy, and “one hundred years of hell.” “I made this world,” the Doctor realizes in horror.
“Hey handsome, good to see you,” Jack exclaims as soon as he finds the Doctor. “Any sign of Rose?” Oh right, Rose! Sure, maybe Jack couldn’t locate Rose first, if she’s still in the shielded rooms. But a second later he hands his wrist computer to the Doctor, saying, “Patch that in. It’s programmed to find her.” Ahem.
Jack introduces himself to Lynda, and “Do you mind flirting outside?” the Doctor objects. “I just said hello,” Jack protests. “For you, that’s flirting,” the Doctor corrects him. I like to think he’s annoyed on the grounds it’s “domestic,” as well as being jealous of both Jack and Lynda. He kicks a console (and Jack immediately helps him tear off the front). The systems are twice as complicated as a basic broadcaster needs to be, so it has to be transmitting something else. “This whole Bad Wolf thing’s tied up with me,” the Doctor worries. “Someone’s manipulated my entire life. It’s some sort of trap and Rose is stuck inside it.” And that’s the Doctor’s real hell, an ambush not just to imperil him but to keep him from rescuing an endangered Rose.
They locate Rose and rush to find her in time. The final round broadcasts, tricky questions fired at Rose and Rodrick (with Rose getting at least one answer right—the Face of Boe—based on her travels with the Doctor). “You’ve lost,” Rodrick gloats when Rose bombs the last question. “I have to find the Doctor,” Rose shouts, panicking. “He wouldn’t just leave me!” Jack and the Doctor barge in, yelling, “Stop this game!” But they’re too late. The Ann Droid zaps Rose, and the Doctor’s left, stunned, to touch her pile of ashes on the floor.
Jack, Lynda, and the Doctor are taken into custody. The Doctor remains silent, seeming in shock, while they take profile pictures of him and explain they’re all sentenced to a lunar penal colony. But “Let’s do it,” he suddenly instructs Jack. They rapidly take out the guards and seize their weapons (Jack his defabricator, the Doctor his Sonic Screwdriver) while Lynda gets right on board and grabs the guards’ guns.
As Pavale and the other workers panic, the Controller keeps sounding the alert about upcoming solar flares. The Doctor runs in, demanding, “Who killed Rose Tyler?” before tossing his gun to Pavale and asking why the Controller won’t answer him. She doesn’t recognize him as staff; installed when she was only five, she doesn’t have a name or any life of her own. Pavale quickly confirms the Game Station is hiding something; the unauthorized transmits and encrypted signals point to someone else running the game.
“That’s out of bounds!” Pavale’s co-worker calls when Jack goes for Archive Six. “Do I look like an out of bounds sort of guy?” he asks incredulously, brandishing his weapons. Hell no! Once past the door, he spots the TARDIS. Inside, he sees Rose’s jean jacket flung over part of the ship and pauses before rushing over to the console. “What the hell?” he asks. At least let the staff go, Pavale’s coworker demands. The same staff who execute hundreds each day? When she protests they were just doing their jobs, the Doctor interrupts her, “And with that sentence you just lost the right to even talk to me.”
The solar flare dims power all over the station, and the Controller calls for the Doctor. She’s blind, and can only see numbers, but when the solar flares hide her, her masters can’t hear. Her masters have been hiding in the dark space, watching and shaping the Earth for so many years. Yet “they fear the Doctor, my masters.” “The TARDIS worked it out,” Jack announces, returning with a request for Lynda to stand still. He seemingly disintegrates her, but she reappears next to the Doctor moments later. “It’s a transmat beam. Not a disintegrator, a secondary transmat system. People don’t get killed in the games. They get transported across space. Doctor, Rose is still alive!” With a joyful shout of laughter, Jack and the Doctor embrace. Eeee, I love the love the three of them have for one another!
Rose awakens elsewhere, immediately caught in the sight of a lens. “It can’t be,” she protests. “I saw you die!” Back on Satellite 5, the Controller quickly feeds the beginning sequence of Rose’s location to the Doctor, but her masters transmat her away. “Oh my masters,” she says, trembling. “You can kill me, for I have brought your destruction.” She’s shot by a Dalek.
“Use that,” Pavale urges the Doctor, giving him the end of the sequence according to the unscheduled transmissions he’s noted. Jack compliments him, introducing himself with a flourish and adding smoothly as Pavale replies, “Nice to meet you, Davitch Pavale.” “There’s a time and a place,” the Doctor says irritably, because Jack’s introductions are like indecent proposals. The Doctor quickly explains the entire set-up of the Game Station. It’s part of a long game someone’s been playing with the human race for generations. Another signal underneath the transmission hides something; the Doctor cancels it, revealing a Dalek fleet of 200 ships.
“Alert, alert, we are detected!” the Dalek shriek. They open communications, ordering Rose to stand. “I will talk to the Doctor,” one yells hysterically. “Oh, will you? That’s nice. Hello!” the Doctor says, waving. Their fleet is almost ready. “You will not intervene!” they screech. “We have your associate. You will obey or she will be exterminated!” “No,” the Doctor says coldly.
Everyone, including the Game Station’s staff and the Daleks themselves, does a double-take. “What is the meaning of this?” the Daleks demand. “It means no. I’m going to save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet. And then I’m going to save the Earth, and then, just to finish off, I’m going to wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!” But he has no weapons, no defenses, and no plan. “Yeah, and doesn’t that scare you to death?” the Doctor shoots back, grinning. “Rose?” he calls. “Yes, Doctor?” “I’m coming to get you.” He ends the communication with the Sonic Screwdriver, and hordes of hysterical Daleks yelling “Exterminate, exterminate!” flee to their battle stations.
Ooo-weeeehhheeeoooo-ooooh! I love these two-part complex-arc stories! *clappy hands* We end this week with another cliffhanger of an episode, and a cliffhanger wait for the next recap! Join me Tuesday for a shortened week of the Summer of Doctor Who—I’ll recap “The Parting of the Ways” and “The Christmas Invasion” Tuesday and Wednesday, then return the following Tuesday to start watching and recapping Series 2!