The Doctor (David Tennant) is back to New New New…Earth, where humanity fled upon the destruction of Old Earth in the year Five Billion or so. He takes Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) there, to the City of New New New.,..York, where venders in the street sell mood-drug sticky patches to help the huge population deal with their crowded life. A couple named Milo (Travis Oliver) and Cheen (Lenora Crichlow) kidnap Martha in an alley. They have done so because three passengers are required to use the fast lane and Cheen is pregnant. They promise to drop Martha off when they reach the hospital, ten miles away. Unfortunately, the traffic is such that the trip will take six years.
The Doctor heads off to rescue Martha on the Motorway, completely enclosed beneath the city, filled with thousands of hover-vans stuck in gridlock. Brannigan (Ardal O’Hanlon) helps the Doctor locate Martha’s vehicle heading for the fast lane. The Doctor calls the police but is put on hold. Because the TV in the vehicle is looped, he realizes there is no way out of the motorway and people spend their lives there. He breaks into and out of vehicles to get closer to Martha, running into all kinds of strange characters, jumping from van to van.
Martha, Milo, and Cheen get to the fast lane. Unfortunately, below the highway are giant crabs called Macra, who live on hapless motorists. Martha realizes the Macra are attracted to the light and motion of the vehicles and if they cut the power they can hide in the fog. Novice Hame (Anna Hope), one of the feline nuns of New New Earth, teleports the Doctor to the Senate of New New York. She explains that a virus mutated in the drug Bliss and wiped out the entire surface population until the virus itself died out. Those in the motorway survived because they were quarantined and sealed below the city. The Face of Boe (voice of Stuan Rodger) wired himself into the system to run it but can’t unseal it.
The Doctor succeeds in doing this with the help of Novice Hame. The Face of Boe dies fixing it, allowing the ceiling to open and freeing the motorists. Martha arrives at the surface. The Face of Boe gives the Doctor his last words: “You are not alone.” The Doctor does not believe it. He is certain that his planet Gallifrey was destroyed in the Time War and he is the last Time Lord.
Someone at the BBC obviously got stuck on the Motorway in the UK. Much of the story was inspired by the comic books 2000 AD and Mega City One, home of Judge Dredd. The giant crab Macra first appeared in the story The Macra Terror in 1967, with Patrick Troughton as the Doctor. New New York owes much to Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, and the planet Coruscant from Star Wars. Much of the story was CGI, but some actors were stuck in a 6x6-foot car with cameramen and technicians, a nightmare similar to the traffic jam. As the Doctor and Martha leave the TARDIS, the Doctor pulls an arrow out of the door, shot at them by Queen Elizabeth’s soldiers in the previous episode The Shakespeare Code. The couple in the beginning are made to look like the characters in the Grant Wood painting American Gothic.
Alice and May are the first gay married couple in the series. The vehicles are designed to look like the iconic VW bus. The Doctor’s description of Gallifrey is the same as the one given by Susan in the Sensorites (1964). We learn that the Doctor’s longcoat was given to him by Janis Joplin. Murray Gold’s music is like a character in the story. The traffic jam is rather horrific, the characters make for amusing satire, and the final scene with the Face of Boe is touching. This would have been a great DVD to have in the car if you were stuck in the traffic jam on Montreal’s Decarie Expressway in March 2017, when the entire highway was filled with motionless cars and trucks all night long in a snowstorm.