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"Create a climate of fear, and it's easy to keep the borders closed. It's just a matter of emphasis. The right word in the right broadcast repeated often enough can destabilise an economy, invent an enemy, change a vote."
— The Editor
Rose, Adam, and the Doctor land on a space station in the year 200,000. The Doctor expects to encounter the centre-of-the-British-Empire satire such as was seen in old Who
episodes like "Kinda"
, and proudly tells them to prepare for "Humanity at its height!", with splendid cuisine and high culture. But what they get is a satire of Britain as it is today: a dingy station where people eat things like Kronk-burgers and beef-flavoured shakes, and "high culture" turns out to be the future equivalent of "zillions of channels and nothing on". All anyone aspires to is a trip to the fabled 500th Floor, which is rumoured to have walls made of gold
. Also, there's a Bad Wolf channel.
Rose and Adam are still too new to the whole travelling thing to be disappointed, but the Doctor is thoroughly mystified. He befriends Suki and Cathica, a pair of journalists, and convinces them he's from Management. This leads to them showing him how journalism is done in the future: it consists of Cathica opening a hole in her head
and having data beamed through it. Now the Doctor is also
The intruders have started to attract the attention of the mysterious Editor (hey, it's Simon Pegg
!). He lives in the icy dump of the 500th floor, overseeing the flow of information. The Editor is even more
intrigued when the computers of the future reports that the Doctor is "no one" and Rose is also "no one". Meanwhile, Adam has sneaked off to have his very own hole put into his head by the local head doctor (hey, it's Tamsin Greig
The Doctor and Rose discover that the Editor is an employee of the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe (Max for short), an ugly, toothy, slimy monster living on the ceiling of the 500th Floor. Max has taken control of all information on Earth and is responsible for preventing the "humanity at its height" timeline from happening. He's also using the space station as a fridge to keep himself cool. Adam, meanwhile, uses his new head port and Rose's superphone to send information of the future to his mum's answering machine — unfortunately, this gives the Editor access to everything he knows about the Doctor and Rose, including where to find a key to the TARDIS. Whoops.
Fortunately, Cathica hacks into the computer, shuts down Adam's feed and tampers with the heating to deep-fry Max. Happy ending for everyone in this satellite, except of course for the evil guys. And the good guys who died earlier. And Adam, since the Doctor decides he's too stupid to be a companion. So the Doctor boots him out of the TARDIS, fries his home phone to remove the evidence of his tampering with history, and he's left home with a hole in his head. Just in time for his mother to inadvertently make it pop open....
Continued in the Prisoners of Time
- Ancient Conspiracy: The Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire has been controlled by its news station for close to 100 years. Of course, there is a deeper conspiracy bankrolling Max's actions.
- Arc Words: "And over on the Bad Wolf Channel, the Face of Boe has just announced he's pregnant."
- Artistic License - Economics: The Doctor gives Adam a credit stick containing "unlimited credit" (a vendor earlier gave a price in credits, so we know that "credit" does not refer to a loan).
- Blatant Lies: There's an implication that the Doctor might have reconsidered about Adam, or at least treated him more leniently than he ended up doing, had Adam not foolishly chosen to lie about the information he'd downloaded onto his home phone when the Doctor had already worked out what the score was. ("Is there anything else you want to tell me?")
- Canon Welding: With Children's Ward. Adam's mum is a nurse played by Judy Holt, who played a nurse in Children's Ward who had the same surname as Adam. Of course, it may just be an Actor Allusion.
- Continuity Nod: The Doctor expects this to be the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire. The Second Great and Bountiful Human Empire was the setting of "Mission to the Unknown" and "The Daleks' Master Plan" back in the Hartnell era.
- Creative Sterility: The Jagrafess's plan involves encouraging this in humanity. The Editor is so used to it he has no idea how to react when Cathica surprises him.
The Editor: I'm trying, sir, but — I don't know how she did it, it's impossible! A m-member of staff with an idea....
- Death Glare: There is a reason that Adam was initially afraid the Doctor was just going to kick him out of an airlock when the dust had settled. The look on his face as he stalks over to Adam without even saying a word is terrifying.
- The Dog Bites Back: Turns out the Jagrafess should have promoted Cathica years ago.
- The Dragon: The Editor.
- Epiphanic Prison: The Editor and the Jagrafess are keeping the entire population of Earth in one, manipulating the media to discourage travel.
Is a slave a slave if he doesn't know he's enslaved? The Doctor: Yes. The Editor:
Oh, I was hoping for a philosophical debate. Is that all I'm gonna get, "yes"? The Doctor: Yes
. The Editor:
) You're no fun.
- Evil Albino: The Editor, played by Simon Pegg with bleached hair and beard.
- Faux Affably Evil: The Editor has a twisted sense of humour, as quite impressively portrayed by Simon Pegg.
- Innocuously Important Episode: By the end of the first series of the return, this episode is revealed to have a key role in the entire series arc. It also throws off a major arc in the comics that involves all twelve doctors.
- Istanbul Not Constantinople: Suki claims she was from the Independent Republic of Morocco. Since it's currently known as the Kingdom of Morocco, either Suki didn't get her facts straight or it adds to a massive shake-up in world politics that Doctor Who is always hinting at. Since the episode is set almost 200,000 years in the future, the latter is pretty likely.
- Long Game: Trope Namer.
- The Man Behind the Man: The Jagrafess. The Editor claims that they represent a consortium of banks with an interest in keeping the human race under control. Come the finale, the truth turns out to be much worse.
- The Millstone: Adam
- Mistaken for Special Guest: Thanks to that wonderful psychic paper of the Doctor's.
- Never My Fault: Another nail in Adam's coffin — "It's not actually my fault, because you were in charge—"
- Oh Crap: The look on Adam's face at the end when he sees the look on the Doctor's face.
- Overly Long Name: The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe. (The Editor: "I call him Max!")
- Plot-Sensitive Button: After Rose's manacles short out, she has to free the Doctor using the sonic screwdriver. "What do I do?" "Flick the switch!"
- Room 101: Floor 500 isn't all that it's cracked up to be.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: "Actually, sir, if it's all the same to you, I think I'll resign. Bye then!" The Jagrafess disagrees.
- Self-Deprecation: A small one, when the Editor is going through Eva / Suki's video bio, confronting her about it.
Suki: I want work for Satellite Five because... the pay scheme is really good—
The Editor: LIAR!
- Shout-Out / Mythology Gag: Kronk burgers were a delicacy in the Fourth Doctor comic "The Iron Legion".
- Some Call Me Tim: "Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe. I call him Max."
- Starfish Aliens: The Jagrafess is... a big pink mass with a nasty-looking mouth growing out of the ceiling.
- Taking You with Me: Either Suki / Eva or the Jagrafess via possessing her to the Editor.
- Technology Marches On: At the end of the episode, Adam is mortified by his mother snapping her fingers and activating his head-hole. Now considering that there's apparently a lot of overlap between holes' activation signals (the surgeon tells Adam that finger-snaps are the most common), wouldn't people be opening each other's holes all the time? With the advent of Google Glass's use of bone conduction microphones, which allow for only one person to be picked up by the mic, this now seems out of place. Unless the Jagrafess suppressed that technology.
- That Liar Lies: Suki Macrae Santrell's biography is called out as being the work of a liar by the Editor.
- Thrown Out the Airlock: What Adam was afraid the Doctor had in store for him.
- Title Drop: One doesn't occur here, but the episode gets Title Dropped in the series finale.
- Timeline-Altering MacGuffin: Adam copies information from the Satellite 5 computers, including the future history of computing, to his mother's answering machine. Even a single invention from the year 200,000 would be worth billions.
- Tranquil Fury: At the end, the Doctor doesn't say anything; he just stalks towards Adam with a Death Glare on his face while Rose tells him to keep calm and Adam babbles while desperately trying to think of an excuse / justification.
- The Unintelligible: The Jagrafess.
- Unusual User Interface: A hole in the head. As seen in the picture.
- What Year Is This?: Adam asks this at the beginning.
- Yes-Man: Cathica is an ambitious, ladder-climbing suck-up. She was willing to do whatever it took to make it to Floor 500, and even after she realises the walls aren't made of gold she was still mad she wasn't promoted years before. It's implied that everybody was scrambling to get to Floor 500, but she was the most blatant about it. Interestingly she ultimately ends up being the hero of the day.
- You Have Failed Me: In a Rare non-villain example. After Adam installs the brain chip and becomes a liability when he almost creates a time paradox by recording the data on his mother's answering machine to use the information for profit, The Doctor kicks him to the curb and leaves him at his home, as he is now a walking paradox waiting to happen.