It marked the death of the Face of Boe and his final words to the Doctor, concluding an arc that had been hinted at in New Earth. The Face of Boe's last words would eventually become relevant in Utopia. It also saw the first televised appearance of the Macra since their introduction in 1967's The Macra Terror.
American newscaster Sally Calypso gives the daily travel news to all the cars. Ma and Pa are seated in one of the camper-vans. They call the police for help as they are apparently attacked by something from outside. They are placed on hold by the police computer system and scream as their car is torn apart.
The Tenth Doctor offers Martha one trip into the future, to visit another planet. She asks if he can take her to his home planet, and speculates as to its beauty. He describes Gallifrey's Citadel, mountains, orange sky and other features as if they still existed, but claims he does not want to go home. Instead, he takes her to the year five billion and fifty-three, into a dark alleyway where it is raining, and introduces her to New New York, a city of New Earth. The Doctor mentions that he last visited the planet with Rose and Martha becomes slightly upset, muttering, "Ever heard the word 'rebound'?"
As the Doctor and Martha walk through the run-down streets of the Undercity, three pharmacists open their market stands and try to sell them patches that dispense "moods". The Doctor is intrigued when a young woman buys a Forget patch after losing her parents to "the Motorway", leaving Martha disgusted by the similarities to drug dealing.
Suddenly, a young couple armed with guns grab Martha and haul her away, subduing her with a patch inducing Sleep. The Doctor chases them but they escape in their hovercar. The Doctor returns to ask the pharmacists for directions to the Motorway; they comply, but warn him that he may never see Martha again. He tells them to find alternative employment as he promises to shut down their enterprises by that very evening.
Martha wakes up inside the car and grabs one of the couple's guns, only to learn it is a fake. Her kidnappers introduce themselves as Milo and Cheen. Cheen says she is pregnant and Milo explains that they only took Martha so they could get on the Fast Lane, which requires three adult passengers. They say they can drop her off when they reach their destination — in six years.
The Doctor arrives at the Motorway, where he discovers thousands of hover vans in an underground traffic jam. He starts to cough and choke from the fumes. A cat person invites him into his car, introducing himself as Thomas Kincade Brannigan and his human wife as Valerie. Their kittens, two months old, were born in the car and have never seen sunlight or trod on ground. The Brannigans themselves have been driving for twelve years, and have travelled only five miles.
As Milo, Cheen and Martha head for the Fast Lane, the Doctor calls the police but is put on hold. Brannigan speaks to some old friends, the Cassini "sisters", who identify the one car from Pharmacytown that has gone to the Fast Lane. The Doctor learns that the Cassinis were amongst the first to join the Motorway and some people haven't left their cars in upwards of twenty years.
Milo, Cheen and Martha are dropping down to the Fast Lane when they hear strange roaring noises. Cheen tells Martha of stories about lost cars disappearing at the bottom of the Motorway but Milo insists they only hear the ventilation shafts, despite the filthy air outside.
The Doctor asks if Brannigan and Valerie can drive him down to the Fast Lane (seeing as there are three adult passengers in the car) but they refuse, fearing for the safety of their kittens. The Doctor asks whether they or the Cassinis have ever seen any authorities. The Cassinis reluctantly admit they have not seen any police or ambulances in 23 years of driving. The Doctor believes that the people have been trapped in the Undercity and abandoned, before Sally Calypso announces the Motorway's "daily contemplation", as the drivers sing the "Old Rugged Cross" hymn in unison, signifying their sense of hope and togetherness.
Deciding to make his own way toward Martha, he opens the shaft on the floor of the car and drops down to the car below. He then moves through several cars, opening the roofs with his sonic screwdriver and continuing through the floor to the car below, posing as a Motorway Footpatrolman to the bemused occupants. In this fashion, he meets several characters including hippies and a nudist couple.
Milo and Cheen's car finally enters the Fast Lane, but the exits are all closed. A nearby cat driver tells them to escape to the slow lanes above as the roaring outside grows louder, but Milo does not believe in the danger until he hears the other driver's screams. Meanwhile, Brannigan's car is sliced into by what they assume to be pirates, only for Novice Hame to poke her head inside instead. Holding them at gunpoint, she demands to know where the Doctor is.
The Doctor reaches the last level, just above the Fast Lane, in the car of a Bertie Wooster-like business man. The Doctor clears the fog so that he can see what's below and discovers that the bottom of the Motorway is filled with Macra. The Doctor explains to the business man that the Macra feed upon toxic gas. Once in history they built an empire using human slaves to mine gas to feed them, but have since devolved into hungry non-sentient beasts.
As Milo and Cheen's car races along the Fast Lane, the Macras' huge claws attempt to crush it. Reasoning that the light and motion of the vehicle attract the Macra, Martha has Milo turn off the power. It works and the car is plunged into silence, but they now only have eight minutes of air. Novice Hame makes it to the bottom of the motorway to the car that the Doctor is in. She tells him how she has repented her sins under "his" guidance and teleports the Doctor against his will to the Overcity.
The Doctor demands to see the Senate over the trapped people in the Motorway, but Hame tells him that they are inside the Senate. Willing the goddess Santori to bless them, she turns on the lights to reveal the Senate chamber, tiered seats filled with skeletons. The Senate, the city and everyone else died twenty-four years ago. When the Doctor asks how, Hame removes a mood patch from one of the dead: a new mood drug, Bliss, was created and everyone became addicted to it, unable to stop taking it. A virus mutated inside it and became airborne, killing the entire world in seven minutes flat and dying itself when there was no-one left to feed on. However, there was just enough time to seal the walkways and the flyovers to the lower levels, denying the virus access to them. The citizens in the Undercity have not been betrayed and abandoned - they have been saved.
The Doctor questions how Hame could have survived, and she tells him that "he" protected her and has waited for all this time. Hearing a familiar telepathic voice, the Doctor runs to meet the Face of Boe. Hame explains that she was made his nurse as penance for her sins and that the Face shrouded her from the virus with his smoke, but the city's power grid died with no-one maintaining it. The Undercity would have fallen into the sea, but the Face of Boe wired himself into the mainframe, giving his vital life force simply to keep the basic functions going. The Doctor questions why they did not contact any of the surrounding worlds for help, but Hame reveals that the last act of the Senate was to declare New Earth unsafe and activate an automatic quarantine which lasts for one hundred years. The Face of Boe implores the Doctor to save the trapped people.
On the Motorway, Milo's car is running out of air and, despite Milo and Cheen's doubts, Martha expresses her faith in the Doctor and says he will think of something. Inspired, Milo starts the car's power up again, giving them air but exposing them to the Macra's grasp. As the car races along, they are briefly caught by one of the claws but are knocked free by another Macra. In the Overcity, The Doctor asks Hame to help him restore power, but there is not enough. The Face of Boe, in one last act of self-sacrifice, gives even more of his "life force" to power the equipment. The Doctor pulls a lever, opening the seal at the top of the Motorway.
In Brannigan's car, they hear a loud booming noise and Valerie hides the kittens whilst Brannigan looks out of the hole Novice Hame left in the roof. High above, the roof of the Motorway begins to split open in sections, allowing the sunlight to flood in and warm the Undercity for the first time in two decades. Taking the place of Sally Calypso, who was just a hologram anyway, the Doctor broadcasts to the ecstatic motorists, instructing them to drive upwards and out. Led by a whooping Brannigan, the thousands of trapped cars accelerate upwards and into the light. This clears the way for Milo's car to escape from the Macra. Meanwhile, Hame cries out as the Face of Boe's glass begins to shatter.
Martha arrives at the Senate building where she sees the skeletons and meets the dying Face of Boe, who is sprawled out on the floor. The Doctor urges him to live since, as Boe says, the two of them are each the last of their kind; but the Face responds, "Everything has its time. You know that, old friend, better than most." As promised, he whispers his great secret to the Doctor — "Know this, Time Lord; You are not alone" — before passing away. An expression of shock and disbelief crosses the Doctor's face as Hame weeps.
Martha and the Doctor arrive back at the alleyways of the Undercity, where the pharmacists have all closed and left. Martha asks what the Face of Boe meant and whether she is the reason why the Doctor is not alone. The Doctor shakes his head; he does not want to talk about Boe's words, but Martha refuses to move until the Doctor tells her the truth. The Doctor admits he is the last of his kind, explains about the Last Great Time War and the Daleks and then goes on to describe Gallifrey. Far above the slums, the Overcity thrives with the newly freed motorists, who begin to sing again. The sun sets orange over New New York, which lives once more.
- The Doctor — David Tennant
- Martha Jones — Freema Agyeman
- Brannigan — Ardal O'Hanlon
- Novice Hame — Anna Hope
- Milo — Travis Oliver
- Cheen — Lenora Crichlow
- Valerie — Jennifer Hennessy
- Alice — Bridget Turner
- May — Georgine Anderson
- Whitey — Simon Pearsall
- Javit — Daisy Lewis
- Businessman — Nicholas Boulton
- Sally Calypso — Erika Macleod
- Ma — Judy Norman
- Pa — Graham Padden
- Pale Woman — Lucy Davenport
- Pharmacist#1 — Tom Edden
- Pharmacist#2 — Natasha Williams
- Pharmacist#3 — Gayle Telfer Stevens
- The Face of Boe — Struan Rodger
|Executive Producers Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner|
|Not every person who worked on this adventure was credited. The absence of a credit for a position doesn't necessarily mean the job wasn't required. The information above is based solely on observations of the actual end credits of the episodes as broadcast, and does not relay information from IMDB or other sources.|
- Ma and Pa wear the same clothes as the couple (actually father and daughter) in the painting "American Gothic".
- The Japanese kanji for "Bad Wolf" appear on a poster on the wall of the Japanese hippies' car.
- The travellers of the Motorway sing the hymn "The Old Rugged Cross".
- The hymn playing over the rebirth of the city is "Abide with Me".
The Doctor's items
- The Doctor says that Janis Joplin gave him his coat.
- The Face of Boe meets the Doctor once more as he promised on their previous meeting. He later expends all his energy to open up the Motorway exit and dies, imparting the Doctor with his last words, "You are not alone."
- Alice and May began their journey twenty-three years ago.
- New Earth suffered a pandemic from the man-made drug Bliss.
- Brannigan uses the word "Jehovah".
- The working title for this episode was Chasing Fumes.
- Russell T Davies explains in Doctor Who Confidential as well as the audio commentary that the look of this episode was inspired by Mega City One from 2000 AD's Judge Dredd comics. The character of the Businessman was modelled after the character Max Normal.
- The Face of Boe's secret is revealed in this episode to the Doctor: "You are not alone." The meaning behind this statement is revealed in the episode Utopia. Initially, Davies had intended to have the Face of Boe reveal this in New Earth, however he decided to postpone this revelation when Billie Piper informed him she intended to leave at the end of series 2.
- This episode formed the final chapter in a loose trilogy about the fate of the human race after the expansion of the sun destroys the Earth in the year 5,000,000,000. The previous two episodes in this trilogy were The End of the World and New Earth.
- This episode is the first of series 3 to feature the recurring motif of fake guns, foreshadowing the fake gun in Last of the Time Lords. In this episode, Martha is kidnapped at fake-gunpoint.
- The Macra appear for the first time in 40 years. They last appeared in The Macra Terror.
- Gridlock aired 40 minutes late due to the BBC's coverage of the FA Cup.
- Russell T Davies mentions on the audio commentary that Murray Gold wrote a different hymn with choral voices for the finale, but it sounded too much like part of the soundtrack score rather than the travellers singing it. Therefore they used Davies original choice of "Abide with Me" instead.
- Martha points out that selling "moods" is no different than selling drugs.
- Brannigan and Valerie's children were played by real kittens, which proved difficult to direct.
- In the original outline, the action would have been split between the wealthy inhabitants of the Overcity, the downtrodden denizens of the Undercity riding the Motorway, and the gargantuan creatures living in New Earth's oceans.
- In devising an appropriate aquatic monster, Russell T. Davies considered both a Godzilla-like reptile and a giant octopus before recalling the Macra.
- One story strand excised involved baby Macra, which were feeding upon the drivers of the Motorway's lowest level.
- The Motorway was entirely constructed out of CGI aside from a single car set; it was the first time an episode was set inside a "CGI world".
- The role of Brannigan was offered to David Threlfall.
- Brannigan's appearance was taken directly from Ratz, a character created for Live & Kicking.
- This was unknown actress Erika McLeod's first and only acting role.
- The couple seen in the pre-credit sequence are made up to resemble the father and daughter in the Grant Wood painting, American Gothic.
- The cars were decorated to look like they had been lived in, and incorporated futuristic and well-known home objects.
- The production team shot for four days in the "6-foot by 6-foot" car, which Russell T. Davies called a "nightmare" because not many camera angles were available and only one crew member could adjust the props and lighting at a time. In addition, smoke was generated around the car so it would blend in with the CGI smoke from the CGI cars.
- The small set was intended to benefit the actors, as they would feel claustrophobic.
- For the scene in which the Doctor jumps from car to car, the underside of a car was built and suspended ten to fifteen feet above the top of the car set with a green screen all around to get as many angles as possible. Russell T. Davies preferred action sequences that moved up and down, a scale that is not seen much on television.
- The artificial rain proved difficult in some shots, as the production team had trouble getting one of the side walls wet.
- The character of Sally Calypso was an homage to The Ballad of Halo Jones, which featured a similar character named Swifty Frisko.
- Alice and May Cassini are the first homosexual married couple featured in the series.
- Martha states she got the idea of turning the car off to avoid detection from a movie. In The Matrix movie, the Nebuchadnezzar crew turn off the power to avoid the Sentinels.
- David Tennant got very attached to one of the kittens and didn't want to let it go.
- 8.40 million viewers - BARB final ratings
- 8.0 million viewers - Overnight ratings
- 0.83 million viewers - BBC3 repeat ratings
- Due to Milo's similar hairstyle, his appearance in the Series 3 Coming Soon trailer led many people to believe that the Ninth Doctor would return in this episode.
- The scenes between the Face of Boe, Novice Hame and the Doctor were filmed at the Temple of Peace in Wales.
- The drivers' seats in New New York are on the right side of the car. This is despite the fact that New New York is based upon New York, where the drivers' seat is on the left side of the car.
- When the Doctor opens the bottom door of the Businessman's car, the computer's voice does not say 'capsule open' as it did in the all the other cars he passed through to reach the bottom.
- In the scene where Martha is told they have two minutes of oxygen left, a TARDIS dematerialisation sound can be faintly heard. Once Martha mentions the Doctor, a portion of the opening theme plays in the left sound channel at a very faint volume.
- The Face of Boe previously met the Ninth Doctor in orbit of Earth (TV: The End of the World) and the Tenth Doctor on New Earth. (TV: New Earth)
- Novice Hame also met the Doctor on his previous visit to New Earth. (TV: New Earth)
- The mood drugs bear the emblem of the Sisters of Plentitude. (TV: New Earth)
- The Doctor describes his home planet much as his granddaughter did. (TV: The Sensorites)
- Martha says that she comes from "a long way away" and that she barely even knows the Doctor, having joined him without thinking, echoing Rose's words on her own first trip with the Doctor. (TV: The End of the World)
- The Doctor mentions his previous visit to New New York was with Rose. (TV: New Earth)
- The Doctor mentions once befriending the Duke of Manhattan. (TV: New Earth)
- Upon exiting the TARDIS, the Doctor removes the arrow that had been stuck in the side since it last dematerialised. (TV: The Shakespeare Code)
- Cheen says the air smells like apple grass. (TV: New Earth)
- The Face of Boe saved Hame by shrouding her in his "smoke". (TV: New Earth)
- The Face of Boe mentions how "everything has it's time", echoing how the Ninth Doctor said likewise about Cassandra having to die. (TV: The End of the World)
- The Face of Boe tells the Doctor, "You are not alone." This is revealed in Utopia to refer to the survival of the War Master as Professor Yana, an acronym of "you are not alone". It also indicated that Captain Jack Harkness, who was with the Doctor when he discovered the truth about the Master's survival, is possibly the Face of Boe, explaining his knowledge of this and how he could live for billions of years. (TV: Last of the Time Lords)
- The Face of Boe would be among those remembered when Davros asks the Doctor how many have died in his name. (TV: Journey's End)
Home video releases
- This story was released with Smith and Jones and The Shakespeare Code on the Series 3 Volume 1 DVD.
- It is also included in the Series 3 DVD box set.
- Official BBC Website - Episode Guide: Gridlock
- The Discontinuity Guide to: Gridlock at The Whoniverse