Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways
|Production Code||Series One Episodes Twelve and Thirteen|
|Dates||June 11 and 18, 2005|
With Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper,
John Barrowman, Camille Coduri, Noel Clark
Written by Russell T. Davies Directed by Joe Ahearne
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner, Mal Young.
|Synopsis: Bad wolf, bad wolf, watcha gonna do? Watcha gonna do when I come for you?|
You Were Fantastic by Mike Morris 1/9/05
And so this season has drawn to a close, with a whoosh and a wham a general sense of me being unable to talk about anything else to anyone for a few months. So thanks very much, Russell T. Davies; you have made me even more socially inept than previously, and that really takes some doing. But then again, you did it by writing the best television series since Boys from the Blackstuff, so I'll accept that your motives were noble.
The series finale, Transmission (that's its name, all right? Transmission. Emergency Landing, Shell Shock, Transmission; that's what the two parters are called. We have to agree on this now, or future fans will be having all those Daleks/Mutants/Dead Planet arguments all over again, and nobody wants that do they? Think of the children!!!!), is one of the better stories of the season, and indeed could make a legitimate claim to being the best. So it's obviously brilliant, a perfect synthesis of everything RTD has been trying to do with the series. It's a blend of affectionate parody and thoughtful perception, a gleeful mix of kiddish enjoyment and heart-thumping morality, it's exciting and moving, it's vast and epic yet intimate and personal. All things considered, I would make the suggestion that this story is the season's best - a hotly contested award in a season that's been notable for stories that are both varied and cohesive - simply because it has crystallised everything this series has been about. Talking about it in this context is, perhaps, the best way I can tackle the story; to look at how this deals with the themes that this season has addressed with varying degrees of success.
Satire: "Half the world's too fat and half the world's too thin and everyone watches television?"
This new series has never, ever been satirical, of course. Or at least, when it has it's been clunking, obvious satire that just doesn't stand up against anything that's seriously worthy of the name. But it's been clever, it's been sharp, and while the digs at the Iraq War and suchlike have been a bit rubbish, the deeper points being made have always, always been deeply beautiful. So it is here.
There's been a lot of misguided comments about Transmission (or at least, Part One) being a satire on reality television. Jonathan Hili's interesting, thoughtful evisceration of the episode is one I disagree with on many points (although it's an unusual pleasure to read someone being critical of the new series without being wilfully obtuse), but he's quite right when he says it's not satire. There's even the fundamental question of what these shows are (The Weakest Link might be "reality" TV in the broadest sense, but really it's a quiz show and no more Reality TV than, say, Mastermind) and ignores the fact that, if anything, Davies's take on these shows is rather affectionate. Okay, so the Big Brother of the future kills the evictees. But really, compared to the vile, manipulative, degrading exercise in stereotyping that was the Big Brother that has recently finished airing in the UK, Davies' take on the show is positively innocent. There's a certain wicked glee in seeing Trinny and Susannah depicted as evil, murdering inhuman zombies, and it's not surprising that they would lend their own voices to the project with an "oh they love us really" attitude - actually, darlings, I despise you and your vacant, vapid, hateful programme as the spawn of Satan that it truly is. But satire? No, not at all.
(Quite right too. The lazy belief that "reality TV is rubbish" is a silly one that would effectively mean that, say, all documentaries are worthless. The fact that many reality shows are bloody appalling doesn't mean the genre is irretrievably rubbish - at it's best, Big Brother can be absolutely fascinating. Usually it's purely by accident, but that doesn't mean it's dreadful by definition.)
In fact, we're doing something far more traditional. Essentially, this is an example of what Doctor Who does so well; taking something cosy and familiar, and twisting it to become something dangerous. It's far closer to the Killer Wheelie Bin than it is to Animal Farm. Loads of kids have probably imagined being on Big Brother; teenage girls everywhere will have fantasised about being on What Not To Wear. Like it or not, Big Brother is a British Institution, and to see it twisted to something lethal is really quite wonderful. It's not gimmicky, it's current. It's relevant. And it's fantastically entertaining.
If we're having a go at anything, in fact, it's nostalgia - a common trend in contemporary culture I find far more insidious. Lynda's list of popular television shows is, notably, entirely composed of twentieth century programmes - and to refer to Jonathan Hili's piece again, I think he's rather missed the point when he criticises the episode because of this. We're being shown a world where nothing is new, nothing is worthwhile, everything is disposable - so of course there are no new programmes. And a chilling world it is, because of its similarities to our own - a world where everything is "knowing", where people who genuinely believe things seem to be automatically open to ridicule, where we watch terrible programmes simply because they don't challenge us, don't make us work, enable us to feel superior to those we're watching.
Scale: "I made this world."
RTD thinks big. Too big, sometimes, I would suggest - as in what's effectively this story's prologue, The Long Game, which was trying to establish a canvas so huge that it never really had a chance of making it convincing. But then again, it does make stories feel important and he usually does it so well. Even a family taking over Downing Street is made to extend around the world; even a single Dalek in a room has a huge impact. Here, from the moment that Rose is dismissed as the weakest link (goodbye), the stakes absolutely skyrocket. The sheer, mute fury of the Doctor. The enraged energy of Captain Jack. And the beautifully shot, distorted reflection that reveals the true enemy - muffed up by the preview of last week, sure, but it's still a wonderful moment (and we still have the shock of what happens to Rose. So we're not short on surprises).
As events progress - in pretty much the same way that all hell is reputed to break loose - the story does a wonderful job in keeping the settings limited while at the same time suggesting the huge stakes. We're never left in any doubt that the fate of millions of people are at stake, and the freedom of CGI enables us to see some fantastic vistas of Daleks flying through space. The world that we see from the viewing platforms seems real, and we really care for the indolent people living on its surface. It's established, too, through some peerless direction and wonderful acting - a friend remarked while watching this that the main difference between this Doctor Who and the old one isn't the scripting or even the effects, it's that all the guest actors are great.
So this story feels epic, as it should.
Ideas: "And for my next trick!"
And imagination isn't even in it. Davies' stories have been a riot of ideas, begged/borrowed/stolen from other shows where necessary; starting with That Wheelie Bin, really, then exploding onto our screens in The End of the World and lighting up the series. Here, the main idea on show is The Controller, who's a disturbing, visually astounding creation that chews up all the best bits of Minority Report and spits them out - in a single scene. It's all the better because of the perfect way that the English office is evoked elsewhere; two hundred thousand years in the future and we still have blokes in ties making timid passes at hard-nosed co-workers (which leads me to suggest that Jonathan Hili's comments about the contemporary clothes is, again, missing the point; on one level it's jarringly surreal, but at the same time it anchors the programme and makes it feel edgier than a standard space opera. I'd argue that it takes more imagination to have people in the future wear shirts and ties rather than the obvious option of silver pyjamas).
Then there's Bad Wolf - the recurring words, that is - and the story's conclusion. This has come in for criticism, but I found both of them wonderfully satisfying - the jaw-dropping moment of Bad Wolf appearing in the playground elicited an "oh my god" from me, and the actual explanation is terribly pleasing, wrapping up time into a satisfying paradox and ducking the melodramatic cliche of supervillains being behind it all. Sometimes it's as good an idea to have little answers to big questions - the big answers will never be big enough - and the notion behind this is simple and subtle, even if it does span millions of years.
As for the resolution - the term Deus ex Machina has been bandied about a lot in relation to this element, and as it literally means "the god of the machine" it's technically correct. But really, this is the telemovie (and Boom Town) done right. The TARDIS has always been a magic box at the centre of the programme, and this is a wonderfully inventive way of looking at exactly what it can do. It's worth remembering that, for the vast majority of viewers who are new to the series, they won't quite be used to the TARDIS being somewhere rather unsafe. What's important is that it's not something with no consequences - the main problem with the telemovie was that it was hard to see why this wasn't a solution that the Doctor would use all the time, but on this occasion it's clearly something uncontrolled and terribly, terribly dangerous that ultimately results in the Doctor losing his life. Also, the telemovie wrapped up its explanations in technobabble - Temporal Orbit, anyone? - whereas this is something simple and understandable. I thought it was a rather brilliant way to end the series, in fact, a resolution that makes the TARDIS magical but dangerous. It worked really well. So there.
Little People: "An ordinary life."
In many ways, this is the hallmark of Davies' writing more than any other. No-one else would consider taking Rose away from the middle of the action, or indeed to intercut the action on the space station with Rose eating chips with her mother and Micky. And how beautiful it is, seeing the one thing juxtaposed with the other; seeing a story of moral absolutes taking place alongside the dirty, unaware world of contemporary London; seeing the dynamic heroism of Captain Jack "Did-you-say-I-was-hackneyed-Mr-Morris-actually-I'm-the-coollest-thing-on-two-legs" Harkness overlayed on the brave, emotional heroism of Micky and Jackie; to see the Doctor's thumping, breathtaking speech at Part One's cliffhanger ("No... I said no... it means no!") to Rose's fumbling, inarticulate and thoroughly beautiful explanation of what she's learned from the Doctor ("There's a better way of living your life. You take a stand. You say no!"). Real emotion, real values, really right.
Oops - did I say emotion? I'll be calling it soap-opera next. Since my review of Boom Town I've been looking at my attitude to this sort of thing and trying to refine it - thanks partly to some chat with Joe Ford on the subject, thanks partly to a creeping horror that people might think I agreed with Ron Mallett's increasingly tiresome "thoughts" on the subject (the show dares to feature Londoners and occasionally the characters show real emotions, so it's automatically just a load of sub-Eastenders drivel. Of course, some of us just call that "characterisation". Oh well, never mind Brigadier, people will be shooting at you soon).
It goes back to something I talked about in my Deadline review; Doctor Who doesn't have rules, but there's a general tide as to where the show goes. Part of that tide is that it's about huge events - falling empires, people-as-emotions, epic stories of trust and betrayal, love and hate. Going against that is, if you like, swimming against that tide. Which isn't to say you can't do it - just that you have to do it well.
As I said at the start of my Boom Town review, I could see what they were trying to do. The problem with Boom Town was really that the realisation was phenomenally poor - the stuff about Rose and Micky was slow, plodding, and really was sub-Eastenders drivel (Mr Mallett will have a field day with that one, remind me not to bother reading it), and while the Doctor/Margaret confrontation was more interesting it shot itself in the foot by having the whole issue magically sorted out at the end, thereby not making the Doctor face the consequences that the episode had discussed - making me wonder what's the point at all? I firmly believe that this series in its entirety can be talked about in the same breath as any sci-fi/fantasy/magic realist story, in any medium - okay, so The Satanic Verses is clearly better, but this series is still worthy of comparison - but any attempt to compare Boom Town with, say, Anna Karenina is obviously ridiculous. The love/relationships thing is tackled better on The OC, for crying out loud.
But this is another kettle of fish entirely. This is brilliantly done. This is a wonderful, affirming illustration that the cares of one person can be just as important as the cares of millions; that ordinary people and ordinary problems matter as much as big concerns; that a mother and daughter discussing the feelings of one dead man is as important as the Doctor rigging up a delta wave to save humanity. Indeed, Transmission really shows up just how laboured and downright poor Boom Town was, because the entire Rose/Micky discussion is repeated in just one lovely scene here (Rose says there's nothing for her on Earth, and there's a look of terrible pain on Micky's face before he just accepts it and gets on with helping her). It works because, here, the characters have come to represent so much more than themselves. Rose isn't just an average anybody here, she's every average anybody. She's idealism, she's a refusal to accept the world around her, she's a determination to help, she's the antithesis of political laziness, she's courage and she's conviction. She's somebody breaking out of her grey world - not the world of council-flat London and its people, who we see being every bit as quietly heroic, but the world of not caring and not thinking, which is one that pervades throughout society. Jackie Tyler tries to tell her that it's all a long way from here, and that answer is so obviously fatuous, so obviously wrong. Nice that there's a show talking about things like this, in these days when pure-unadulterated-evil programmes like Desperate Housewives are trying to claim that fancying your plumber is the most important thing in the world.
And look at how all the concerns are tied together - look at how Jackie has transformed from being someone whose only concern is compensation to someone who won't let Rose give up, and who brought tears to my increasingly wimpish, girly eyes when talking about her husband. Look at how the Doctor's ordinary life speech is mirrored by Micky here. Look at how the entire series has been honed to a fine, beautiful point.
"An ordinary life. The kind of life he's never had." This has been the nub of the series, really. It's been a series about how ordinary people can be heroes; a series in which the world can be saved by Gwyneth the servant girl, Micky the idiot, Nancy the homeless single mother. It has been a series about how everyone is important. About little people and big concerns. A series about heroes - the Doctor's role has rarely been to save the world, but his presence turns other people into the heroes they always could be.
That's what I'll remember, I think. Even more so than the brilliant plotting (this story is beautifully paced and plotted - some of the stuff about the extrapolator is opaque, but anyone who can find any other plot hole wins some kudos), the fantastic dialogue which is worked everywhere (anyone notice that the Doctor is arrested under "private legislation"?), the level of thought given to the Daleks ("do not blaspheme" - so shocking, so apt), and the sheer brilliance of Eccleston's performance (the mute acting after his arrest is phenomenal, and Part One's cliffhanger is an utter tour-de-force). It's a series that has found drama in places we don't expect, and has underplayed some of the more obvious moments - EcclesDoc regenerates standing up, laughing his way through it - but dammit, it works.
As for David Tennant - nice mad glint in his eye. I think he'll be good, probably not as good as Eccleston - but then again, Eccleston is bloody close to being my favourite Doctor anyway, and had he stayed on for another series I don't think there would be any competition.
So roll on Christmas, I say.
Oh yeah - did I mention that I really, really liked it? I did, you know.
A Review by Finn Clark 4/6/06
Bad Wolf is exactly what you'd expect from the climactic two-parter of an action-adventure series. It presses all your "this is going to kick arse" buttons. It's thrilling and cool... but then The Parting of the Ways pulls the rug out from under you. The more I think about it, the weirder it becomes. However I'll start with Bad Wolf. I don't think I can do better than quote myself from 11 June 2005:
[expletive deleted] me. That rocked, hard... and beforehand I'd been groaning inside at the prospect of yet another TV industry satire. Now that was worth bringing back Doctor Who for! Sad-fanboy stuff I noticed:Bad Wolf appears to be setting up a rip-roaring adventure climax. It starts with a wonderful "what the hell?" teaser in the Big Brother house and thereafter never stops building up the menace until the credits roll and we're practically dribbling. Killer game shows! Scary bio-computer girl! The human race being manipulated for centuries! A fleet of battleships!
- The Doctor quoting Abslom Daak.
- The classic TV21 Dalek spacecraft design!
- The old Dalek control room sound effect.
- The planet Lucifer.
- At long £^%&ing last... "No." If you've seen the episode, you know what I mean.
It's full of cool fanboy touches. As a comics geek I almost squealed at the sight of that massed armada. "I know those ships," says Captain Jack, but you won't if you've only known the TV show, the books and the audios. Similarly the Doctor quotes Abslom Daak ("every last stinking Dalek"), which in the context of the story isn't just fanwank. Daak is another self-destructive Dalek killer with a death wish who wants to wipe out the entire race... which is exactly what the Doctor promises to do at the end of episode one, then twists in episode two. Interesting.
There's even a mention of Torchwood. "The Great Cobalt Pyramid was built on the remains of which famous old Earth institute?" Oh, and if the BBC Books' Enemy really were the Daleks, as was hinted in at least one novel, then now they could have come from Earth!
Bad Wolf leaves no fanboy buttons unpressed, but then The Parting of the Ways comes along and turns all that upside-down. You expected adventure? Hah, sucker! This episode has no plot whatsoever, if you define plot as the struggle between protagonist and antagonist. No one does anything clever. Brave, yes, but the only conflicts are internal. People argue and angst and make emotional decisions, but the actual plot goes as follows. Daleks attack unstoppably, crushing the humans' doomed attempts at resistance, then there's a deus ex machina. Roll credits.
That's not to say that it's bad, of course. It's simply that Russell T. Davies is more interested in how people react to extreme situations than he is in the situations themselves. He's exploring characterisation rather than jumping through the usual hoops of death-defying escapes and plot twists. We hadn't seen the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack in a no-win situation before and there are some surprises in how they jump. Rose in particular voices certain realisations in a manner that's almost hurtful. Similarly the Doctor's decision is what the entire season's been building towards... and arguably also the entire Davros era, through Genesis, Resurrection and Remembrance. Viewed as a whole, the Dalek stories since 1975 have been about one question: "Do I have the right?" Tom Baker said no. Peter Davison couldn't pull the trigger. Sylvester McCoy blew up Skaro. Now, at last when the stakes couldn't be higher, Eccleston finally gives his definitive answer.
Even the Daleks are painstakingly characterised. They're as bloodthirsty as ever ("they're going down!"), but now completely insane. Admittedly they'd never been exactly well-balanced, but no one had hitherto given them religion. In an odd way, they feel like an extension of the dangerously cracked Daleks we saw in Remembrance, with their racist self-hatred and suicidal tendencies blown beyond all reason.
I'd like to quote a fascinating fan theory. It's been suggested that the Controller was really following Dalek orders when she drew the Doctor to the Game Station and thus brought about the Daleks' downfall. Look at the story's themes of self-hatred and self-destruction. The Doctor and the Daleks hate themselves for what they became in the Time War. Consciously or not, either the Emperor or his subjects want to make the Doctor confront the idea that he's as bad as them and do again what he did before, i.e. wipe them all out. I love the fact that Eccleston's stories delve so deep into their themes that people start inventing these kinds of theories, but I'm afraid I don't buy this one. The chief reason is: "No, my masters, I defy you." If she really is defying them, it probably was her idea all along to bring down the legendary Doctor on their heads.
At the end of the day, I adore Bad Wolf and regard The Parting of the Ways as a fascinating eccentricity. Apart from anything else, Bad Wolf is funny! "You have got to be kidding" is one of my favourite lines of the season, but at the same time the story has some fairly savage things to say about television and the consequences of TV addiction. It may be less extreme than Vengeance on Varos, but most things are. Brainwashing via the goggle box is how the Daleks have been controlling us for centuries. Furthermore the real fate of people who got disintegrated was arguably more horrible than disintegration! I like little things (the Daleks' industrial look and their choral music) and big things (Eccleston's last scene).
It's a story about the relationships between the Doctor and Rose, and the Doctor and the Daleks. It's steeped in the past but unlike anything we've seen before. It finally makes sense of the TVM. It's perhaps a little unsatisfying as an adventure climax, but it's heavily emotional and a triumphant conclusion to the season. Roll on The Christmas Invasion!
Warts and all by Thomas Cookson 23/1/07
Last year, The Parting of the Ways left me on a high and I was still mulling over its poignancy and themes months after watching it. It was a high density work that had a bit of magic in everything and that I kept finding myself thinking back to.
Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways seemed to sum up that summer 2005 period when many of us on the Anorak Zone forum were in heated debate over whether Russell T. Davies' lean towards pandering his show to a mainstream audience with shallow points of interest made him a hack or a genius, and his season finale and all the Bad Wolf mythology it took with it suggested that he was the latter. That he'd hooked in a massive audience and then hit them unawares with something so challenging and important.
Bad Wolf starts the adventure with a parody of Reality TV with a touch of Vengeance on Varos thrown in for good measure. This has been the hotly debated aspect of the episode. Many fans were hoping that this would be an attack on Reality TV and a chance to enjoy seeing this media monster being gleefully demonised. However as Steve Cassidy pointed out,
"there is a whiff of homage rather than satire to Bad Wolf. Even the Guardian thought the snuggling up of this episode and Endemol's creation to be too cosy for its liking. What's the point of doing satire if you invite the object of your satire in as a guest?"Since Russell is a fan of Reality TV he is hardly likely to think of it as the spawn of all society's evils; however I think he makes his point around how Reality TV might reflect and highlight ugly modern attitudes but does not necessarily celebrate or encourage them. He certainly uses Reality TV as a means of reflecting the ugliness of society, and crafts a very bitchy and unpleasant environment.
The atmosphere of the games is very effective at being familiar recreations but feeling uniquely futuristic and space age, and this leads to the effect of making this future envisionable and an evolution of our own modern society. The Weakest Link scenes are electric, particularly because we see this through Rose's eyes and witness what appears to be a surreal dream of absurdity that quickly turns into something frightening and inescapeable. Rose's "but I voted for her" still makes me hold my breath, the Anne Droid appropriately resembles a malignant chuckie doll and when Rose inevitably gets the critical answer wrong, we like her believe we are staring death in the camera eyes.
The Doctor has landed in the Big Brother house and has a great moment of moral outrage when he first learns that Reality TV has become a 'charnel house'. I like how they quickly establish the Doctor as an active agent in an otherwise conformist and self-involved environment as he is the first to break out and is intent on causing plenty of damage from there. "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 coming to find you!"
He has a lovely banter with Lynda, his fellow escapee (not sure why the other housemate stayed behind though). I love how the usually curt and contemptuous Doctor struggles to not hurt Lynda's feelings and tells her that she's 'sweet'. The Doctor here is overtly trying to be trendy in a way that seems out of character but I think I've finally put my finger on it. This is an insecure Doctor who wants to fit in and be accepted. He needs to fit in because the Time War has rendered him disillusioned and alone. There's a loneliness and fear somewhere in there and his eccentric low-brow pop culture references are him doing his best to draw others to him.
The moment where the Doctor realises it was his fault that the Earth has become the world of hell that it is now is treated well as a dramatic moment but also as a little acorn in the grand scheme of things. There's a subtle hint at this guilt shock effect earlier on when Rose realised that her deciding vote had killed Fitch. This is what the new Doctor is, a force of fury looking for a crusade and inevitably there will be plenty of broken china, but what is done is done since, as he points out to Rose later on, he can't go back and change what has passed. The story doesn't come to a stop.
I think this particular story shows Christopher Eccleston's best performance as the Doctor. I've recently been branching out into his other roles in Jude and Our Friends in the North and I'm fast coming to regard him as one of my favourite actors. As the Doctor, Christopher Eccleston pins the character down to the Earthy and human and that really bring the story to a tangible level of reality. Somehow through Eccleston's angry performance the show took on a vibrant life not unlike films such as Aliens, Akira, Betty Blue, Nikita and Run Lola Run in which characters like the Doctor could be the living embodiment of furious passion. The old series might have had its poignant moments, particularly when Victoria was a companion to the Second Doctor, but it was rarely this primal.
His mute acting upon believing Rose to be dead is much touted and it makes him the centre of the scene without uttering a word. Everything about the scene where the Doctor is held in custody is hellishly bleak and oppressive, the lighting, the mean-spirited brutality of the guards, reminiscent of the Thal rocket scenes in Genesis of the Daleks. When the Doctor bursts into action we champion him on as he tools up with the big gun, his black expression and the flashing red lighting of the lift makes the scene boil with rage and we believe that the Doctor is going to massacre the operators and we want him to do it, to kill the evil rot of this world so that it can take hold no longer.
I must say I've come to really love what they did with the new Doctor's character in making him a war-scarred, damaged-goods vigilante. There's something very real about how they nailed the character and what such a damaged man would be like. A Doctor consumed with fury, always defensive, thuggish, slightly agoraphobic, trying to hide it with false happiness. Fundamentally, there was a sense that the Doctor had been disillusioned by the Time War and now believed that only violence and destruction could pacify and purify a nasty universe. He could be seen as a relic of old-fashioned revenge and zero tolerance, come to remind us in our good-natured naivety that evil still exists and our metrosexual, empathising society has forgotten how to fight it.
But the progression of the season showed the Doctor gradually regaining his humanity. In Father's Day, he couldn't ask Pete to sacrifice himself even if he knew it would save humanity; in The Doctor Dances his prayers for a miracle are answered and the Doctor becomes the bringer of life instead of death; and so by Boom Town the Doctor has grown a little bit of conscience that won't let him refuse to dine with Margaret and talk with her before taking her to her death, and in that vulnerable moment a compassionate Doctor is fully reformed by a long philosophical dinner conversation.
The moment where the Doctor throws his gun to his own hostage is one I've nitpicked over. It is refreshing to establish that this is still our old Doctor, and I suppose it leaves some mystery about whether the thought of shooting the man ever really did cross the Doctor's mind, and I've concluded that it was an open-ended moment rather than a manipulative one. But still I feel that the scene is played a bit too much for slapstick because it could have shown the Doctor winning by willpower and martyrdom, overpowering the now-armed hostage with the power of words "all right so shoot me then!", instead of making the hostage fumble like a fool with the gun before putting it down.
But from there we quickly move on to the climax of the season: the Dalek invasion force come to obliterate the Earth. In looking back on the season it was very well planned how they'd given each story a levity until the finale. Any global threats were done comically (Rose, Aliens of London, Boom Town) while the more serious episodes dealt with a more small scale threat (End of the World, The Unquiet Dead, Dalek). It seemed like a genius plan of giving the rest of the season some warts so that the finale would be the strongest point.
I wasn't quite sold on The Parting of the Ways the first time I saw it. It seemed to me to be a bit disjointed, rather than driven with momentum, and yet somehow I always knew there was something special about it. It's a story that improves with repeated viewings, to the point where I wonder if maybe I actually prefer it to Dalek.
At the time there was a huge buzz created by that cliffhanger as the sight of CGI armies of Daleks emerging in their droves from saucers represented how New Who could do what the old series never could. This was us finally seeing the Dalek Empire and its legions of armies.
The Emperor's speech about how the Daleks were able to prey on vulnerable humans is vaguely done and yet seems to really expand on the themes of The Long Game. What The Long Game had to say was that the media can have a negative influence on the shape and attitudes of society and did so in a basic and simplistic way. What is wonderful about this scene is that it actually shows metaphorically what can become of such bitter seeds. "The prisoners, the refugees, the dispossessed, they all came to us!" So firstly there are those who are stigmatised and criminalised by the media, then there's the asylum seekers which most newspapers scream at us to close the doors to. These people become easily drawn into whatever evil force is out there. In this land of fiction, they are turned into Daleks whilst in the real world they can be brainwashed by extremists.
It's the central idea of how the superpowers can create the various menaces that plague our society and our world, whether they be gangs of thugs on the street or Islamic terrorists. There may indeed be twisted and evil people out there, but why do they have so many followers? Here the Daleks are used as a metaphor for Al Qaeda, with the message that if we don't reach out to those troubled people in the rest of the world, then Al Qaeda will. Even the use of the controller, plugged into the Dalek's system since she was five, is a classic representation of indoctrination and robbed individuality. It is something of a miracle that she is willing or able to defy her masters at all.
The religious angle of the Daleks is also appropriate in representing them as a ludicrous, undying philosophy for a species that should have given up the fight millennia ago. The Doctor's line "you hate your own existence" was so reassuring for the Doctor who has suffered the loss of everything to the Daleks to recognise that the Daleks are in a worse mental state than he could ever be. He is even able to pity them, and the moment where he has his head against the TARDIS door, listening to the Dalek war cries shows how beneath all his confidence and flippancy in the face of the Daleks he's still traumatised by the news that the Daleks have survived and that the nightmare of his existence has refused to stay dead and has caught up with him once more.
So the action kicks in, and this is where I found myself faulting the episode. The easiest point to lean on about the season finale is that they could do with being a three-parter instead of a two parter. There's certainly a lot of cramming going on here and I think a first time viewing suffers for it. Once the Doctor arrives back at the games station and instructs the crew on how to reinforce the defences it is all done without a pause and I found myself missing a lot of the details. If the episode was longer maybe key points could be repeated. Then of course is the shifting back and forth between the Dalek invasion and the domestic scenes on modern Earth and how I felt for a long time that the Dalek action lacked meat because it was compromised in its screen time and its momentum.
But the story improved with repeated viewings and further consideration. On a superficial level, repeated viewings indicate the little visual details of the Emperor's ship and its on-board operations and really reinforces the cinematic aspect of this story. There are also, of course, the many magic moments such as the Doctor's reaction to realising the Delta Wave will destroy all human life, and how quickly he recaptures his composure to fool Rose - the look on his face when he drops the facade and sends Rose home - and, of course, the way the Doctor's hologram turns to face Rose and advises her on the lesson of the New Series "Have a good life! Do that for me Rose, have a fantastic life!"
I really love the whole bleakness of the action, nicely reminiscent of Aliens. It establishes from the get-go that everything about this plan is going to go wrong. The guards realise that the bastic-tipped bullets don't work and the leading guard screams down the radio to Captain Jack "You lied to me!", and this establishes a conflict in which the whimsical promises of the good are broken and where leaps of faith are betrayed. This culminates most poignantly with the death of Lynda, with the Doctor's promise to protect her betrayed. She was the only one apart from Rose who was able to shed tears at the carnage and the killing, such a warm and compassionate character cast to her death in the cold vacuum of space. But what an extermination! The Daleks were stooping to a real low here in smashing the protective window, and to have the Daleks cry Exterminate in the silent vacuum of space had been a missed opportunity for too long. We can hear it even though we don't.
This really brings the sheer evil and cruelty of the Daleks before a new generation of viewers. The Daleks plugging the controller into the computer system when she was only five years old is inhuman enough. The Daleks actually have no reason to kill the unarmed contestants or Lynda, who is similarly helpless, but they do it anyway out of what appears to be classic Dalek sadism. Similarly the bombing of a pollution-scarred Earth is so below the belt it's like kicking a corpse and it reinforces how bleak this universe is. Interestingly, although the bombing of continents is represented safely on a computer map, we can look back on the season for a more vivid sense of what it must be like for the unseen innocents on Earth. We can simply think back to the German bombing raids shown in The Empty Child and imagine them on a more global scale.
Captain Jack is left as the last man standing and I've barely mentioned him so far, so I've got some catching up to do. This is basically the story that Captain Jack was made into a companion for. In Boom Town, poor Jack is rendered superfluous, but this two parter makes up for it. I always did find Captain Jack a hard character to warm to, precisely because he was so shallow, and this story emphasises that aspect to him in a good way, the conflict between his selfishness and his compassion for his friends. He becomes easily lost in the tacky glamour of the Trinny and Suzanna show, and his "Well ladies, the pleasure was all mine, which is the only thing that matters in the end" is appropriately in character, but his determination to find the Doctor emphasises how he's becoming more responsive to the hero's call, and his animated rage over Rose's 'death' is a perfect contrast to the Doctor's wounded silence and emphasises the sense of love and righteousness within him, which is all the more potent when coming from an initially self-serving character; he's basically the Sixth Doctor done right.
Likewise in The Parting of the Ways, he gets to be the hero of the hour, despite the fact that in his own words he was 'Much better off as a coward!' His continued faith in the Doctor, even after learning about the consequences of the Delta Wave is another touching moment, and as the last man standing he gives his all in a defiant showdown of emptying all his cartridges at point blank range and is even flippant in the face of extermination. What a guy! Although he is brought back from the dead, there is still something sad about his fate, abandoned on a deserted spaceship in orbit of a dead world. For a man who loved people and was able to make people love him it seems so wrong that he should have such a lonely fate.
But whilst all this is going on, Rose is back on Earth, and I'd say that Billie Piper gives the performance of the season here. I love the way that she is consciously fumbling for the words in that cafe scene where she's trying to explain what the Doctor meant to her. "You make a stand! You say 'no!'" I'd say it's my favourite Rose scene of them all for that reason, and also because of what is being said.
What this season has done wonderfully well is to tie together the past, present and future of Earth society. That is why the Earthbound aspect of the season has worked. This episode shows the present and future side by side in linear progression and Rose doesn't let us forget that the world today will shape the nightmarish future that we have seen. That today's Reality TV can be used for evil and will become tomorrow's charnel house, that the bitter seeds of the media will allow the Daleks to grow, and the human blindspots that the Slitheen exploited in Downing Street will still be there millennia later and will enable the Daleks to sneak into Earth's back door. And fundamentally what Rose's outburst is saying is that if there's one thing that will lead the human race to ruin, it is the apathy of the common people. We have actually become a quite docile and pacified populace, and activism is something we no longer have our hearts in, and this scene really sums that up, that cry for action falling on deaf ears because everyone just wants to keep their heads down and stick to their job and forget the bad times and indignities as quickly as possible.
Despite what I said before about how the modern Earth scenes get in the way of the Dalek action, on repeated viewings they work well. Visually, they are a wonderful contrast, but also they each play their part in tying up the season so far. There have been many goodbyes shared between Rose and her family, Jackie and Mickey. What's different here is that now Rose no longer cares about anything on Earth and she just wants to get back to the Doctor and back to the life of really making a difference. She works to get the TARDIS working in a mad panic, tearing herself once more from her family without saying goodbye. She says herself that her attachment to Mickey and her mother is behind her now. She's matured.
There are other loose ends to tie up, such as the obligatory revisiting of the events of Father's Day. It's a wrap-up episode and that's why I was initially apprehensive about it. It seemed like a series of vignettes rather than a full package, but in repeated viewings it becomes a nicely homogenous struggle to save the day. It's kind of like how I initially thought The Descent was a clever but one-trick viewing, much like Saw, until I watched it again and felt the poignant weight of its tragedy. Then there is the Bad Wolf mystery, which was the main tie between all the season's stories as well as all the book and comic spin-off material. This was something that kept even the cynical fans on their toes, wondering if this nicely subversive device would finally deliver something mindblowing to the masses that had been sucked into a disarmingly low-brow series of stories. But the final pay-off of Rose's transformation into the Bad Wolf, where she is able to bring about a deux et machina solution with the wave of her magic wand is a very controversial moment. I'll be honest, a part of me still feels that it is too soft, given how unremittingly gritty the story has been so far.
But before we get to that it is worth bearing in mind the Doctor's plan to press the Delta Wave. The power of this scene didn't hit me until a few months after.
Many have said that the scene was a revisit of the classic 'do I have the right?' scene in Genesis of the Daleks. I'd say that it is far more than that. The Doctor's moral dilemma here is something more fresh and modern and relevant to the world we live in. It is not so much a question of whether he has the right to destroy the Dalek race in one blow, because if the story hung on that then the fact that Rose annihilates them all wouldn't be the cause for celebration that it becomes.
The moral question comes from the fate of the surviving humans on Earth. When we first learn that the Delta Wave will destroy the humans on Earth too, we are reminded by the Doctor that those humans are a lost cause and always were from the moment the Daleks arrived. Those humans will be a tragic sacrifice but a necessary one.
There is a trend in modern science fiction for slightly shady heroes who are able to win through with morally questionable tactics and it is regarded as something challenging and realistic. I think people were looking forward to this coming to the fore here with the Doctor willing to engineer total annihilation. How cool it would be for the Doctor to destroy himself and take all the Daleks with him in one brave last stand. It's about sacrifice and moral courage and it's romantic and we are behind it a hundred percent. It therefore comes as quite a surprise that ultimately the Doctor can't press the switch; even when he's backed into a corner and left with nothing to lose somehow his humanity means more to him.
Consider what the Doctor was about to do and consider the world we live in today. The Doctor was about to kill the innocents on Earth, the very people he was meant to be protecting from the Daleks. He was going to kill the innocents to get at the guilty, and that's exactly what we've been doing in the War on Terror. Even the image of future Earth as a poisoned and crippled planet ties in with how we see the middle east as a no man's land, as though it makes it easier to live with decimating a country that's already on its last legs. We've been bombing civilians to get at criminals and many people think that is necessary and right. In the modern world, violence no longer seems like something that is being contained, whether it's happy slappers or suicide bombers. The perpetrators of violence no longer seem to adhere to any kind of codes of morality, and the police and military seem incompetent at neutralising the menace. That's why I think we are willing to see the terrorists killed at all costs.
The fact is we've always been able to wax poetic about collateral, about accidental deaths and putting innocents to sacrifice for a 'greater good' and that is the problem. We can actually make ourselves feel good about it and it's nothing to feel good about at all.
That's why the Doctor's presence as the last positive male role model we have left on TV is so crucial; his masculinity is key. That's why his refusal to press the button is so beautifully done. It's subversively done, but when you get to its full meaning, it becomes a slap in the face. The Doctor, in his most macho incarnation is saying 'no!' The Doctor is not going to kill innocents even if they are a lost cause. He's going to give them a chance, to let them live to the last moment, and that's centrally what his plan was. To stall the Daleks till the last moment, but the Daleks got in early and there was still some life left on Earth. It is wonderful to see this macho Doctor step down from his macho stance and admit to being a coward whilst saying it with dignity because he did it out of compassion and love. And again, this is important in a story about the expectations of Reality TV and how Reality TV celebrates and promotes bitchiness and ruthlessness and mocks and ejects the good and the regular.
The Doctor's early line "Lynda, you're sweet. From what I've seen of your world, do you think anyone out there votes for sweet?" is crucial to this and here we have the Doctor with all eyes on him, with the humans fighting for him, the Daleks watching him and the viewers at home watching him, and yet he is still proud of his compassion and surprises us all with his individuality.
That is why the deux et machina ending is important, because it emphasises the theme of finding another way. The Daleks are dispatched with ease with no consequences or cost to the innocent because the Doctor wouldn't settle for anything else; it's about morality and if we look upon the deux et machina ending in its literal translation as 'God from the machine', then the episode works because it is centrally about an act of faith. It's about moral decisions and about a good man's soul in a cynical world. It's about the Doctor's faith in morality whilst evil reigns, Rose's faith in the Doctor whilst apathy and the mundane reigns. That's why it's a beautiful story and why it stayed with me long after it was broadcast, and I think it stayed with a lot of the new viewers of the series too and I must say I'm proud of that. The power of this story will probably stay with them, just like Genesis of the Daleks stayed with me when I first saw it at eleven, like The Dalek Invasion of Earth stayed with me when I was seventeen, like Inferno stayed with me when I was eighteen.
But that's not entirely the end, because it is time for the Doctor to regenerate. The deux et machina ending has actually come at a price after all, for the Doctor must sacrifice one of his lives in order to save Rose, and so he regenerates. I did feel that the regeneration scene was also rushed and was a victim of time constraints, but - like everything else that makes up the warts and all of this story I've grown to love - my opinion has changed. It is appropriate that the Doctor's regeneration should be so sudden because it wrenches him from us and leaves us with many questions about what was a guarded character who we never fully got a chance to know, but we loved him because he so earnestly wanted to be loved; the fact that he was so off-beat and didn't quite master a natural charisma made him seem that much more real and more special for giving it his all anyway; and so it conveys mystery and poignancy and a sense of a life lived too fast. It's beautifully done.
The new series might have failed miserably. People might not have been interested, it might have got poor ratings and in which case this could have been the last TV episode of Doctor Who. But if it had, what a great last episode it could have been. A cinematic battle against the Daleks, some in-jokes at fandom (I never really got the 'blasphemy' and 'half human' gag until it was pointed out to me), the Daleks vanquished once and for all, the companion trying to get the TARDIS working, representing the fan in all of us desperately trying to bring the spirit of the Doctor back to life, just as much as the controller bringing the Doctor to the gamestation is an act of faith to a legend. Best of all is the magic moment where the Doctor is finally surrounded by Daleks but he closes his eyes and embraces his fate: "Perhaps it's time." I must say I love the music in that scene too, it's like a burst of refreshing rainfall and it just seems to sum up the weight of the modern electronic and plugged-in world where emotions are live-wired, where life is fast-paced and fragile.
The final years of Doctor Who were never able to do something this cinematic and epic. This was something that lived up to the Dalek space battles of the TV Century 21 comics and if Doctor Who ended here it would have ended climactically. It would have been Doctor Who coming back just once to say something about our world today that everyone needs to hear.
But if it did continue, then it left us hungry for more and, as I said before, it made me believe for a while that Russell T. Davies was a genius. Having said all that needed to be said between Rose and her family, it seemed like we could put that domestic side to rest and say goodbye to the Powell estate. The Earthbound nature of the series had paid off and now we could go to virgin territories of the outer universe. The childish slapstick hi-jinks of Aliens of London had given way to something far more mature and dark and potent and suggested that things could only get better.
For the record, they didn't quite.
Russell T. Davies' Love and Monsters killed that newfound maturity very quickly with some very sickening moments of crudeness.
I don't think Series 2 has gone in the right direction; it was promising and anticlimactic and the show just isn't moving forward anymore and I don't like what it is becoming. But still I like to look back on this story and remember a time last year when it seemed like the New Doctor Who could change the face of television and change the way people look at the world. To remember a time when I believed that Russell T. Davies was a genius.
A Review by Harry O'Driscoll 12/9/10
This story is by far the best of series 1 as it brings together all the themes of the series and sees the Doctor come full circle before leaving in a blaze of glory.
Bad Wolf works great as social satire along with The End of the World, World War Three and The Long Game. The whole idea of a world now run by game shows is a wonderful parody of modern culture, it shows a society now on its laurels, crippled; once they had an Empire now all they do is watch Big Brother and The Weakest link. This relates back to the whole ethos of this series, of escaping the banality of modern life, on how they can be something better something bigger out there but all the world is interested in is the unimportant things. And then when the Doctor finds out how it happened, it was the Doctor's actions that lead the earth to become as it had. Boom Town addresses this issue of the repercussions the Doctor's actions have; it actually brings up the question: is the Doctor actually the good guy?
The Daleks are terrifying in this story. Not just evil but insane, born from the suffering of Earth's rejected people, the Daleks hate themselves as much as the humans they are killing. Dalek set the scene for this story by showing the power of just one Dalek so when half a million storm the Game Station, we really get the impression that it is the end of the world. We see innocent people gunned down by the Daleks, their defences useless; it can't help but seem that the Daleks are unstoppable. But in spite of this, they all die fighting; look at Jack who buys the Doctor every last second of time and dies in the knowledge that he may not have made a difference but it is trying to that counts. This relates to what Rose said about the importance of taking a stand even while everybody runs even if it means certain death.
The Doctor is astounding. Having been born from the aftermath of the Time War, this is a Doctor who has lived a life of anger, unable to put what happened behind him. The Doctor killed his own race to destroy the Daleks and here he is faced with it again. And this time he says no, the Doctor has changed since the Time War through Rose. This is again shown in Dalek when the Doctor is prepared to sacrifice Rose to stop the last Dalek, but when faced with the choice again he can't do it and lets the Dalek through. The Doctor has finally seen the truth that it is better to die as a human fighting the Daleks, than to become a Dalek in order to defeat the Daleks. This underlines the whole point of the story which would be revisited in The End of Time where if you become so immersed in defeating evil you could find you are evil and you have forgotten why you even fighting anymore.
When the Doctor says he would rather be a coward, he is finally able to put the Time War behind him, which is the tragedy as he is then forced to regenerate just when he was able to get the horrible weight of the Time War off his shoulders.