THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Long Game
The Parting of the Ways
Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways
BBC
Bad Wolf

Story No. 172 Ready for your face-off?
Production Code Series One Episode Twelve
Dates June 11, 2005

With Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper,
John Barrowman
Written by Russell T. Davies Directed by Joe Ahearne
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner, Mal Young.

Synopsis: The Doctor, Rose and Jack are trapped in the worst nightmare imaginable - reality TV shows.


Reviews

Keep the Faith by Antony Tomlinson 21/6/05

Good heavens. I don't believe it. Russell T. Davies has made possibly the best, most exciting and most enjoyable episode of Doctor Who ever. I'm serious. After the disappointment of Boom Town last week, I thought that our saviour was beginning to lose it a little. What I didn't realise, however, was that he was saving up all his energy, ideas and humour for this marvellous, universe-shaking romp. I still find it hard to believe that something this good could have appeared on British television in 2005. I keep pinching myself - I can't believe that it wasn't all a lovely dream.

Of course, I am rather biased towards this type of story. I love big, epic, light-hearted space adventures (give me The Daleks' Master Plan and Dan Dare over Ghost Light and Solaris any day). And this episode was probably the best example of the genre yet seen on British TV (no, sod that, on TV full-stop [after all, Star Trek sucks]).

The main joy of this episode, for me, was the variety of its settings, threats and characters. The episode starts off as a far superior version of Vengeance on Varos. The characters find themselves in colourful, but lethal versions of modern UK game shows. This is done with a great deal of humour. Nevertheless, despite the apparent frivolousness, the superb acting of the leads helps the horror of the situation hit you in the stomach.

The story then turns into a typical Tom Baker-era fight against time, with lots of hurtling down corridors, punch-ups with security guards and gleeful sabotage. It's terrific fun and John Barrowman, in particular, proves what an asset he is to the TARDIS crew - a wise-cracking cross between James Bond and Flash Gordon, toting two machine guns and flirting wildly whilst all is about to explode. The guy could have his own show.

Finally we discover who's behind the chilling events that we've seen over the last 35 minutes. The enemy is cleverly introduced with subtle hints, before finally exploding onto the screen in a way that will convert even the greatest CGI-hater into a fan of the technique. During this time, Eccleston gets to shine with some splendid dialogue, and at last becomes truly heroic. It's hard not to feel a lump in your throat when you realise that this splendid Doctor, who we've only just really come to know, will soon be off. Sniff.

This episode, then, clearly demonstrates Davies' strengths as a Doctor Who writer. The story is packed with terrific oddball ideas, many tossed off almost casually (the pitiful controller, futuristic fashion, the mini-laser, the end of the news). The pacing of the story is also perfectly balanced in a way that RTD stories have rarely been before - it fills the 45 minutes perfectly without feeling rushed (Rose, The End of the World) or dragging (The Long Game, Boom Town).

So thank you Mr Davies - you've made my week, and given me feelings of anticipation for "episode 2" that I haven't felt since Sylvester McCoy was chased up some stairs in 1988.

Nonetheless, I have to tinge this review with a little pessimism. For, the fact is, I am ready to be disappointed by The Parting of the Ways. The trailer does look fantastic, but I've been here before. I've seen RTD's willingness to use cop-out endings (see World War Three and Boom Town in particular) and I am ready to groan as the whole story is resolved with a tweak of a sonic screwdriver, a phial of "anti-baddie" formula or a button on the TARDIS console.

But I'm hoping to be proved wrong. And until next week, let this euphoria continue. Long live New Doctor Who.


Who's afraid...? by Joe Ford 17/8/05

It sounded as though Russell T Davies had gone absolutely barmy. Big Brother. What Not to Wear. The Weakest Link. And Daleks? And yet it has resulted in one of the best episodes of the year, a cutting satire that reminds you of the extremes reality TV can be taken to and a gripping build up to the final, climatic episode. I was astonished at how excited I got during this episode; at the beginning I was groaning, halfway through I was roaring and at the end I was positively glowing. If anybody was still unconvinced that RTD is the man to bring Doctor Who back on the screen, then surely this episode has put that to rest.

I think a lot of this episodes success is down to Joe Ahearne's outstanding direction. To be fair to the man, he has not delivered a single bad shot yet (and I would have to disagree strongly with Mike Morris when he says it was a mistake to give him Father's Day... his moody, tense direction was by far the best thing about that particular loser) and has already wowed us with his dramatic flair (creating an electric air of danger in Dalek) and his visual eye (capturing the locations of Cardiff beautifully in Boom Town). This had to be Ahearne's trickiest episode yet and the one that could so easily fall flat on his face if he didn't get the atmosphere perfect. And he has done it in the only way possible, playing the "reality TV gone homicidal" idea deadly straight so that the viewers are on the edge of their seats, willing the participants to survive. It could have been so easy to camp it all up and poke fun but instead RTD and Ahearne take the very simple premise of "you lose, you die" to the extreme and the result is nail-bitingly tense. I loved it.

After Dalek had aired I exchanged several e-mails with Mike Morris discussing the merits (or otherwise) of trimming Jubilee down into its TV counterpart and losing its disgusting humour. I said, and maintain, that something defining was lost in that transition, that Jubilee's unique brand of sick humour was what made it so unique. You were laughing at the macabre events taking place (such as the insane President of the English Empire receiving a gift of a midget from the American people who he wants to shove inside another Dalek casing and pretend he has his own Dalek army. Alas, the midget is too big and he has to cut his arm off to fit him inside!) but you weren't sure whether you should be laughing because it is all so gross. I love it when a story can have that effect on me, making me feel uncomfortable enough to squirm. Bad Wolf had a similar feel to it. Clearly the idea of game shows like The Weakest Link being run by an Anne Droid (brilliant name) who kill off its contestants when they lose is an absurd idea and very funny but when played as seriously as this (look at the first actress to be voted off, she is absolutely shitting herself!) it becomes something worth getting worried about. This brand of confliction kept me riveted throughout. The only game show that didn't leave me in a cold sweat was What Not to Wear, but that featured one of my favourite sequences on television ever (where the unbelievably horny Captain Jack, stark bullock naked, pulls a gun out of his ass!) and to be fair it was certainly the funniest of the lost, provoking shrieks of delight as the man was stripped off his clothes (we're a very sheltered bunch!).

I have for a long time now been despairing at the state of the TV schedules and the overload of trashy reality TV that has been forced upon us. I asked a friend at work the other day what on Earth did we have left that could possibly be analysed. Celebrity toilets? Public executions... you vote for the method? Reality TV seems to me to the laziest excuse for television, a cheap way of filling up the screen time and making stars out of complete nobodies who do not have a shred of talent (unless you really think that Jade Goody is worth listening too?). Drama's (Doctor Who) recent win against reality TV (Celebrity Wrestling) has proven that the public have grown out of these childish excuses for television want something that has had a bit more effort out into it. They want plots. They want characters. They want television that you have to watch rather than any old dispensable rubbish you can switch over halfway through. It cracks me up that Doctor Who is providing that service whilst also sending up reality TV. And Bad Wolf shows you just how far it can go if you let it. Look at "I'm a Celebrity Get Me out of Here"... you may as well be executed after serving a poor term on that show - your career is as good as over! The sad truth of that matter is that reality TV as portrayed on Doctor Who is far more entertaining than your standard reality far because people are being killed off. I think it would be dangerously addictive if this were reality. I think we should stop this cancer before it spreads! Gosh, I do have a flair for the melodramatic but you get my point, the potential for this to get out of hand and be hugely successful is there. Never underestimate how far people will go to be entertained... how many people used to attend public executions in good Queen Mary's time?

I haven't experienced buildup frenzy this good since the good old days of DS9. Russell T Davies sure knows how to whet your appetite for next week. It's a shame that the Daleks' involvement was spoiled in the teaser last week (although I'm sure that couldn't be helped, what with the ratings to worry about and all) as he has constructed this script very skilfully to conceal their involvement until the last possible moment. He has been building up this episode and its surprise re-appearance of the Daleks since The End of the World and it is very rewarding for the constant Bad Wolf references to finally get brought to the fore. He even manages to salvage something from The Long Game, answering some of my criticisms about the Doctor's suddenly rush to leave in that story, explaining how and why the Jagrafess was installed AND (most brilliantly of all) clarifying what that incomprehensible (at the time) title meant. Very, very clever, considering how impressed I have been with his plotting and climaxes (oo-er). I should have known better to have doubted him. See Cornell, this is how it should be done.

Eccleston has really hit his stride now and is delivering flawless work week after week. It is a shame he should be cut away from Barrowman and Piper so much considering this is their penultimate episode together but that cannot be helped in a script that requires each of them to face a different challenge. I love that sense of danger he portrays now, with each successive episode the ninth Doctor is becoming the scariest Doctor of the lot and not because he is wrestling people next to a vat of acid (nowt wrong with that anyway) or cyaniding them to death, but because he constantly acts as though he has got nothing to lose. As the last surviving member of his race there is a bitter, resigned side to him that cannot abide evil in the universe and will snuff it out through whatever means necessary. So when he says he will escape the Big Brother house, you believe him. When he rushes to save Rose from the Anne Droid, you believe he will. When he stands in front of thousands of Daleks and tells them he will bring them down no matter what you bloody well believe him! He's one mean mamma and not somebody I would ever want to cross. No other Doctor has seemed quite so determined to do things his way and considering his status as the last of the Time Lords, he appears quite reckless. I like that a lot, Eccleston finally has a hook and runs with it. It's shame we wont be seeing more of this dangerous Doctor as I fear this nasty streak could be taken to real extremes and provide some great drama (although the sight of him facing off with a Dalek with a bloody great bazooka was scary enough!).

Billie Piper and John Barrowman continue in their periphery roles as companions with their usual panache. It shocked me how well the Doctor and Linda (with an Y) were getting on in this episode, for a while it felt as though he had forgotten Rose and was willing to pick up anyone as a companion as long as she was sweet. I can see how Rose could be written out of the series now; she has served her purpose as the new companion, adjusting newcomers to this madcap life of the Doctor's and taking the show in fresh new directions dealing with all the family issues that come with it. I don't want that to sound like faint praise because I think Rose has been the key to this series' success and Billie Piper has been infectiously good in every episode. The only fresh place they can take her now is to deal with the Doctor's regeneration which I have no doubt Piper and RTD will handle with their usual aplomb. Smartly, the show is so fast and constantly throwing up surprises I think the show demands a change of regulars next year to keep the audience on its toes. Captain Jack on the other hand can stay a while simply because we haven't had this sort of dynamic with the Doctor before, a charismatic action man who deals with much of the comedy and action and leaves the Doctor to do all the clever stuff. Barrowman is extremely confident with his characters identity and we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of this sweet macho man. Certainly his scenes in this episode are brimming with confidence and his chemistry with the Doctor is highly entertaining. Plus, you know, you see him starkers.

This episode is one of the most visually stunning of the series so far with some excellent lighting and visual effects. The controller was another of RTD's whacko ideas that he pulls off, bleached in blue light, with fluorescent cables hooked all over her body, this is a highly disturbing image. Each of the game shows looks utterly authentic and snaps you into the banal and colourful world of reality TV with ease. The exterior shots of Station One are amazingly complex and the awe-inspiring vista of Dalek ships will leave shivers crawling down your back. Boom Town was obviously the money saver for the last two episodes and it looks like it was money well spent. I love the retro look of the robots too (I wasn't sure at first but when they pulled out the mouth laser, chainsaw and scalpel-scissors I was in love!), it matches the old fashioned Daleks and their colourful spaceships... it almost takes you back to the sixties when they were at the height of their power. And the final shot is certainly an eye opener; surely we have never had such a convincing picture of Dalek firepower painted for us before...?

Anything that didn't work? I'm not sure about Jack waving that huge bazooka thing about... looked a bit too camp for my liking. And the Daleks behave rather like how you would expect them to rather than acting with the newfound menace from Rob Shearman's tale. "WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS NEGATIVE!!!" ...hmm, looks like they are back to their old, campy selves. And astonishingly considering its reputation this episode doesn't have half of the depth of Boom Town, focussing on spectacle over character drama. Although it does work brilliantly on that level I hope there is little more depth next week to balance out the clever ideas and action.

But considering the list of hurdles this episode had to leap over it is amazing that it turned out as good as it did. Dark, dangerous and electrifyingly climatic, this is the most surprising episode of the year.

And that voice in the trailer for next week... OH MY GOD!


Bad Wolf Makes Bad Viewing by Jonathan Hili 26/8/05

Drivel. After watching Boom Town and thinking nothing could be worse, along came Bad Wolf. Having sat through The Web Planet, Horns Of Nimon and Delta And The Bannermen, Bad Wolf ranks up there as one of the most embarrassing episodes in the series' history. Where can one start to explain just how embarrassing this pretence at cleverness is?

The first point that people seem to hold is that Bad Wolf is a satire. I am pretty gobsmacked by the amount of people who have hailed this episode as, to quote one site, "a brilliant satire on modern reality-TV and game shows". Which is rather funny when one considers the meaning of the word satire: "a literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit." And while there's plenty of derision coming from Eccleston's Doctor (as usual, for example, the "whole human race reduced to mindless sheep" line, repeated from The Long Game, although one wonders why since reality-TV doesn't imply that people are mindless sheep, just that they have very bad taste), the only irony here is that Bad Wolf contains all other aspects applicable to what most people would call a satire. Compared to The Sun Makers, it has the subtlety of a bull in a china shop; compared to the genuine moral messages in Vengeance On Varos, it is filled with irrelevant platitudes; and compared to The Happiness Patrol, it lacks both creativity and feeling. This is an episode that displays more sophistry than sophistication. That RTD has used popular contemporary game shows (and hosts) rather than invent his own, which could either mirror the content of said game shows or reflect similar themes, is sheer laziness. It's not clever, it's not trying to poke fun or be witty, it's just a cheap ratings-grabber completely lacking in originality. What more do you need to justify this claim than the fact that 200,000 years in the future (exactly as in The Long Game) everyone is wearing 20th century clothes! Even when they were just jumpsuits with exotic symbols drawn on them or spikey foam attached, Doctor Who costumes have always tried to be different, no matter how ludicrous some of the outcomes. That people in the far-flung Fourth Great And Bountiful Human Empire wear the same clothes we do, act the same way we do, watch the same shows we do, is not reflective of a genius writer but an uninspiring hack. And this doesn't bother anyone?

(And again on creativity: why have all the stories in the season been set in London, Cardiff or a space station? When the series first began in '63, the travellers ended up on an alien planet in the second story! And here we have gone one whole season without. I guess what's really worse, is not just that all the stories have been set in these rather dull locations, but that The Long Game and Bad Wolf are actually set in the same location!)

The second point is on death. Now from what I can see, the only point of introducing Lynda was as a Rose substitute so that after Rose's apparent death, viewers would assume she had really died and that Lynda would now be taking her place on board the TARDIS. (It's not for nothing that the two characters are almost identical.) Is this a clever ploy to fool the audience into believing that Rose is dead? Perhaps, and if it is, it is quite clever. Unfortunately, like many similar moments in the new series thus far, the illusion is completely let down when Rose is revealed to be safe and well about ten minutes later! At least when we thought Peri died in Trial Of A Time Lord, we didn't find out she was still alive until several episodes later.

The whole issue of using the death of main characters in drama to create tension, pathos or some such reaction from the audience, is only useful when the character really dies or at least is dead for an extended period of time, long enough for the audience to become accustomed to the fact. We have already had one Slitheen come back from the dead, we've had the entire cast of The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, we've had Rose's dad (who came back from the dead twice!), now we have Rose, and in The Parting Of Ways it will be Captain Jack. And then there's the Daleks. It's great to see them back and they do look superb but it's annoying that here we have a species who were extinct bar one but six episodes ago. And now they've returned in force through a less-than-dramatic loophole only to be completely exterminated again as a species in the next episode! Arrrggghhh! What is the point of killing and reviving characters so frequently??? We know the Daleks will be back in a season or two anyway, so why make grand claims to have destroyed them completely?

Point three: the Bad Wolf arc. Now this is something laughably ridiculous. Lots of people have commented how Super Rose, having been able to send messages back in time and space, sent such obscure and unhelpful ones. Very few people have commented, though, that the messages Rose did send to herself were actually rarely seen or heard by her! The references in The End Of The World, Dalek, The Long Game, Father's Day (give or take), and The Doctor Dances, would probably not have been noticed by Rose, either occurring when she was not present, being so small as to go unnoticed or else being in a foreign language! Once again we have what has become typical of the new series: a pretence at cleverness, and only that. There is nothing clever at all about the Bad Wolf arc. Even the revelation of what Bad Wolf is is unsatisfying and sloppy. Many of the theories fans have come up with are far superior than the one RTD has, which begs the question why he is penning so many episodes. Yes, people will get down on their knees and worship RTD for bringing back Doctor Who, but when it all comes down to it, a review is a review, not a homage. I am glad that the new series is back and while some of it is really good, with some cracking stories, a lot of it is a pale imitation of Doctor Who of old.

And the last point, although there are many more I could make and I'm sure others will make one day when everyone's stopped worshipping RTD, is regarding characters. For me, one of the greatest disappointments of the new series is the lack of hero-figures it contains. When I watched Doctor Who as a kid, the Doctor and his companions were always people you could look up to, to emulate in life and try to make a better world. This new series has very few such characters.

The Doctor seems more incompetent than effective, unable to resolve any issues himself and makes blunder after blunder. After presenting the Doctor throughout this season as a killer, we see him in Bad Wolf realising that his past actions have created the world in which he now is. Strangely, however, he only dwells on this very important point for a minute, as opposed to the half-hour of pedestrian philosophy and padding for a plot we had in the previous episode, Boom Town. The way the Doctor has been shown in this new series, one has to wonder why he even bothers to do anything at all, since he can't seem to get anything right and tends to make things a lot worse. The idea was already raised in Trial Of A Time Lord and rightly resolved as being mostly irrelevant since not only are the Doctor's intentions good but also in the utilitarian balance of things, he tends to do far more good than evil. So why bother to raise the point again - and not just raise it, but leave it unresolved?

Then there's the Doctor's line about "wiping every last Dalek out of the sky" (which is technically wrong, since space isn't sky). While I don't have a problem with this intense machismo, which seems to be a very strong trait with Eccleston's Doctor, it is, as usual, the machismo of a eunuch. Regardless of the Doctor's boasts, it will be Rose/Bad Wolf who destroys the Daleks in the final episode of the season, leaving the Doctor doing bugger all. Again this reflects the trend of the entire season: a Doctor who is supposed to be a hero but rarely seems to have the answers to anything and finds himself in situations where he relies on others to do things for him (characters or props, viz. the overuse of the sonic screwdriver - you can see why JNT decided to get rid of it!). The 9th Doctor is so useless that he might as well give Rose control of the TARDIS and retire. And when the Doctor even confesses to loving "Bear With Me", I'm sure we have to agree that it adds no small amount of "greatness" to his character.

So that's the star of the show, although more of a red dwarf than a neutron star. What about the rest of the characters? Captain Jack's main motivation in the show seems to be trying to sleep with everything he comes across or else making constant sexual passes and innuendos, to the point where every conversation involving his character is one. Although he adds some needed humour and action to the show, I'm sure most parents would love their children to display that certain quality of sexual perversity inherent in Captain Jack. His character is yet another example of how low the show has sunk. A critic of the new series has rightly pointed out that sexual (overtly homosexual) references may have some place in Doctor Who provided that they complement the context and themes in the story. However the gutter innuendo RTD seems to enjoy injecting into the series is pointless, probably just there for cheap jokes and to seem "contemporary", and completely irrelevant to both plot and context. That the Doctor should spend even a line of dialogue in a 45-minute show trying appeal to Captain Jack or telling him (when the latter tries to pick up one of the station controllers in this episode) that "there's a time and place" for that sort of thing, is abysmal and would have William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee rolling in their graves. RTD doesn't seem to understand himself that "there's a time and place" for that kind of muck, and the time and place certainly isn't contemporary Doctor Who. I guess that's what happens when one person on a programme has so much power he can sanction his own ideas, being both producer and main script-writer. He might be a great soap writer, but RTD sure has a hell of a lot to learn about writing either science-fiction or Doctor Who.

Rose is the only character that is in the slightest way admirable in the new series, even if she is incredibly stupid at times (and this is "incredibly" for a Doctor Who companion). And while all these characters may be entertaining - I'll admit, they're not boring in the slightest - the level of morality they exhibit leaves more than a lot to be desired.

Ultimately Bad Wolf is an episode in a series that is generally pretending to be clever and creative, but really can't be bothered trying or else doesn't have the talent to do so. (2/10)


A Review by Michael Hickerson 17/9/05

It only took until the penultimate episode of the new season of Doctor Who to get the cliffhanger that every Doctor Who fan has been waiting for and anticipating since it was announced the series was coming back and it would feature the Daleks -- the one with the Daleks running about, shouting "Exterminate!" It's a standard Who cliffhanger for just about any story featuring the Doctor's arch nemesises. And it's been 12 episodes in coming.

Was it worth it?

Yes. As a good friend in college used to say, "Oh my, my... oh hell yes!"

At last the wonders of modern special effects technology are put to their best use as we get the Dalek cliffhanger we've always wanted. Not just four to six Daleks in a room shouting "Exterminate" but instead a massive space-ship full of the metallic monsters, shouting their catch phrase, getting ready to attack Satellite Five and open hostilities with the Doctor. And then the stinger hits and we realize that we now have to wait seven long days for the pay-off. Seven long days for the ultimate battle between the Daleks and the Doctor.

It was five minutes or so of specutacular, fist-punching-the-air Doctor Who. It may be the best five minutes the series has seen so far. And if the final episode of the season lives up to the promise of the last five minutes of Bad Wolf, we may be looking at another instant classic from the new Doctor Who.

But beyond those five minutes of down to the tips of your toes thrilling, was the rest of Bad Wolf worth the effort? Yes and no. Since the previews and the press gave away that the Daleks are behind the reality show nightmare on Satellite Five, it wasn't so much a matter of wondering who was behind it, but as to when the big reveal might take place. But I will say this -- I was never bored with the surreal nature of the reality-shows-gone-wrong that we found the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack involved in this week. The tension that "once you're elminated, you die" was nicely done.

Also, seeing the Doctor's actions not produce the consequences he intended worked well. Turns out the Doctor's assistance in shutting down the Satellite Five newsfeed at the end of The Long Game only created a vaccum the people of Earth wanted and needed filled. So, they created these reality shows in which contestants fought for the ultimate prize -- to continue to live. Doctor Who has done some shows that are rather surreal in the past -- Web Planet, Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Mind Robber -- and all have worked fairly well. And the rather surreal premise holds up farily well here for the length that it's on-screen. (I'm not sure having the actual voice of Anne Robinson a the evil android version of herself on The Weakest Link segments was all that necessary, but it was kind of fun).

Watching this episode, I slowly started to realize how much I'm going to miss Eccleston as Doctor. His work here is nothing short of superb. His reaction at finding out that Rose has been killed was perfect -- the slow burn and then over the top anger that was replaced by child-like joy at finding out that Rose was still alive all worked. And his work in the final scene as he tells the Daleks "no" and that he won't surrender to them or be pushed aside and then tells Rose he's coming to rescue her. Eccleston shines in the story and it's a real shame that his time as the Doctor is coming to a close. He's stepped up and owned this role ever since Dalek and his continues to do wonders with it here.

If there was one thing that frustrated me about Bad Wolf it was the lack of promised answers. All season, we've had an arc building and it seemed as if the first half of Bad Wolf was bringing those threads together into a tapestry. We still don't know the identity of "bad wolf" though we do know that the phrase is following the Doctor through time. We do get some idea of why the stories this year have been centered on Earth as opposed to the rest of the universe. We also get to see the results of the Doctor's actions in The Long Game. Certainly Bad Wolf helped to give a bit more credibility and importance to the events of The Long Game but I'm not sure if it was enough to redeem the episode as a whole. I have a feeling I am going to have to rewatch the season again to make that call.

But then again, this is not the season finale, but rather the lead-up to it. So, there could be answers right around the corner for us. I will implore Davies to not drag out the Bad Wolf thing more than one season. It's been interesting but it could easily become an albatross around the series' neck should it be drawn out too much longer. It's been fun to watch and speculate, but I really would like some answers in The Parting of Ways.

And just like last week, I am counting days until I see it. And just like Bad Wolf I have a feeling that at the end of story, I will be going -- no, that wasn't just 42 minutes! It only felt like five.


Sad Wolf! by Ron Mallett 4/10/05

Well this Saturday Australian viewers were able to watch the penultimate episode of this season's Doctor Who, Bad Wolf. This episode went from the soaring heights of seeing Billie Piper disintegrated-> to the lows of being asked to believe that the Daleks despite having the power to pluck the Doctor from the TARDIS are stupid enough to let him live and place him inside a life or death game show instead of just frying him.

Well Russell T. Davies has forced us to return to the Space Station Nerva rip-off Satelitte 5 to "enjoy" a convoluted epic. Ignoring the annoying re-cap of The Long Game (is it really necessary, there was enough exposition in the script and I'm not aware the series has even sold to PBS in the US yet?), the story starts with the Doctor finding himself in a deadly version of Big Brother. Now while The Long Game was thematically very strong, this rehash doesn't even pretend to have any meaning at all expect being mind candy. This story has further reinforced the impression of how closely intertwined many of the stories have been in this first season, particularly the 8 scripts written by Davies personally.

Now it wasn't all bad. Captain Jack was rather funny, pulling a gun from somewhere the time vortex doesn't shine to free himself and then displaying his overt bi-sexuality by flirting with both the Doctor's "new companion" Lynda and male programmer Davitch in short order. Some of the send ups of wearisome TV programs such as The Weakest Link were quite amusing (if not a little unoriginal - see The One Doctor). But it was the unrealistic revelation that it was all a plot on the part of a giant Dalek fleet who seemingly did not all die in the Time War and now run around the universe calling themselves the Bad Wolf Corporation! It's almost as if Russell had got under his doona one night and thought up as many things he thought would look cool on TV and then went to work the next morning and strung them together in any unconvincing manner he could think of.

Still the technical production in full, and particularly the CGI effects were exquisite. The "x-ray" effect of the Dalek rays are fantastic. Still the Dalek fleet looked a little like the fleet from Mars Attacks and have clearly been based on the originals featured in ,a href=dalei.htm>The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Joe Ahearne's direction was once again very filmic and one would be hard-pressed to find any artistic faults with any thing other than the writing. The acting from the regulars was business as usual, with Christopher Eccleston clearly giving his all, John Barrowman was charismatic and Billie Piper was out-performed by a pile of dust. The guest cast was also strong with the pathetic character of the Controller being well realised by Martha Cope. Her death scene was very derivative of a certain scene in Day of the Daleks... and so I return to Davies bashing.

Are ratings all important? Is that all that matters? I wonder if the mock-TV shows that were featured were meant to be satires or simply inserts made to appeal to the targeted audience? I can tell you now that those who watch Big Brother wouldn't have a flipping clue what happened in Japan in 1336! I think we'll give Russell the benefit of the doubt but he does come across as a bit of a ratings whore and obviously thinks nothing of debasing an institution in order to jump up another rung on the ladder in his career.


A Review by Steve Cassidy 13/1/06

"Anyone who dismisses an entire genre, an entire taste, is just an idiot," he says. Imagine doing that to prose: 'I don't like prose. I won't have prose in the house. Prose stinks.' OK, idiot. Reality TV at its best - and Big Brother is undoubtedly the best - shows you things which have never been televised before, things that you have never seen so clearly anywhere..."
- Producer Russell T Davies asked if there was too much reality TV these days, DWM
Well, I must be an idiot then... because I can't stand reality TV.

I believe it is the worst thing to hit British culture in generations. The exploitation and ritual humiliation of people makes very cheap and "wipe your hands clean" television. Ironically it was Doctor Who's success against the empty reality shows that ITV put against it that was the surprise of the summer. "Empty wannabees" fighting each other in a televised house or well thought out drama in time and space? Not much of a decision really is it?

Doctor Who was given up for dead for 16 years. Its fans were ridiculed, its memories tarnished and something else crept into the schedules during primetime. We were deluged in housing programmes, gardening programmes, programmes telling you what to eat, programmes telling you what to wear, programmes telling you what not to wear. Drama that was different was deemed too risky. Drama that that had people crying in an Australian jungle is fine but those set involving spaceships and alien worlds - well, that belongs with sad geeks who live with their mother.

2005 proved them wrong - an ancient idea of a alien traveller plus assistant travelling in time and space worked. It beat the opposition in a fair battle. Now there is lots to commend Bad Wolf. The acting, direction, production design and music are top notch. The regulars are on fine form and there are a couple of interesting secondary characters. The adventure moves at a brisk pace and there is not a boring moment. There is a lovely twist and it moves up another gear for the last five minutes. The SFX and CGI action is sensational. The revelation of the alien spaceships (I don't think it is a spoiler to say that it is the Daleks) and their fleet numbering into hundreds is a great moment combined with Murray Gold's music. It's a brisk exciting adventure...

So why is it my least favourite of the new season?

Well, a lot has to do with 3/4 of the story. The reality show section is going to date very very quickly. The mentioned "Ground Force" has already left our screens, and "The Weakest Link" is already banished to BBC2. Big Brother is the new media phenomenon. It has spawned a thousand imitators. What started off as a television experiment became a all devouring monster that supermarket rack magazines began to rely on for circulation. There have always been a place for fads in Doctor Who. The Chase featured The Beatles (and a certain Doctor had a Beatles haircut). But to base an entire story on one flash-in-the-pan genre...? And the premise that it will be going 20,000 years in the future is stretching credibility too far. Doctor Who should be creating genres not copying them.

And 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?

Aha, say the defenders of Bad Wolf. Russell didn't say it was a satire - that was the media..

If it wasn't a satire, what was it? Christ, even The Long Game had a point. If it isn't a satire then why are their lines like "someone's been playing the long game, controlling the human race for generations...". And as one of the number is evicted the Doctor is unimpressed "She'll get a good deal on the outside - selling her story, fitness videos, make a record..." If it isn't a satire then why is it purposefully stating the carnage of "Playstation"?. The fact that there are sixty games going on at the same time - a pointed fact that hundreds are being killed in this television arena. I, like everybody else thought it was to show the ultimate future of these shows - the spectacle to be upped continuously. A warning to programme-makers and watchers alike.

Doctor Who has done satire before and on this subject. Vengeance on Varos was a satire on the ultimate conclusion of reality television and it managed to pull it off magnificently. The themes of Varos still resonate today. Varos didn't try and hide its hard hitting roots - it was there to scare you that your society could go down that path. Bad Wolf, on the other hand almost seems to glory in the fact that this is the future. Whenever it begins to make a point (and remember according to some people this isn't satire) it pulls it up quickly ie the "Bear With Me" discourse.

On the plus side the reality TV productions were quite exceptional. From the spinning camera in the diary room as the Doctor wakes up from unconsciousness, to the real set from 'The Weakest Link'. Trinny and Susannah are fun robots but no one in twenty years time is going to know who they are. The defenders to this argument shout that all Who is dated. It immediately becomes so after transmission. But we never had Jon Pertwee star on 'Sale of the Century' trying to get the questions right or Jo Grant get thrown in the Moulinex home pastry chef. Or Tom Baker appear on Blankety Blank. Actually, that could have been good fun. I can imagine his grinning answer to _____ space, or ____ time - while Leela garrottes Terry Wogan with his silly microphone.

The regulars aquit themselves well and are the best team since the Fourth Doctor, Romana II and K9. When they are separated the acting and chemistry is so good that you root for them to get back together. They even throw in a proto-Rose in the sappy "Lynda with a Y" who is a pathetic bunch of cuteness. This in itself is dated. The latest contestants wern't cute little things, they were media-savvy wannabes who turned the place into a piranha tank. She gets a couple of good scenes with Chris Eccleston who we sadly only have for another episode. Eccleston's Doctor is becoming a force of nature, obliterating everything and everyone else in his path. There are a couple of Pertweesque rippings into officialdom ("I'm only doing my job!" "And with that remark you have forfeited the right to even talk to me!") And Eccleston's expression of disbelief when he looks at the remains of his companion is just heartrending.

When it was first broadcast the fans seemed to go wild. The mix of Daleks, SFX, drama and contemporary culture seemed to go down a bomb. I tend to think that the last ten minutes after Rose's removal are the reason for this. It is almost designed for fan approval - the hum of the Dalek ship taken from the sixties, the eyestalk viewpoint, the new chrome and bronze pepperpots with CGI showing them in their thousands and of course the "I'm coming to get you Rose!" speech at the end which is Eccleston at his most powerful (and only a handful of past Doctors could have got away with it). But there is something unoriginal about Bad Wolf. Gameshows and comments on the slide of television morals have been done before. I can state Big Finish with their hysterical One Doctor which doesn't make any apologies for being a comedy. But this one? I don't know - it smacks of unoriginality, it smacks of self indulgence. Sorry Russell, but we have seen it all before.

I have a theory why Russell went for this genre (apart from his love of trash TV). Doctor Who was a terrific gamble by the BBC. There was no real guarantee of its success. It could have dropped out of the ratings very easily. Time had passed and the country had moved on. Sci-fi was something way back in the seventies or done by the Americans. They had no idea whether it would work or not so they played safe. They channelled in lots of familiar bits - the mother, the council estate setting, no real alien planets or societies. Something Auntie Joan or cousin Sharon could relate to. And with this was the reality show section. They knew it would get media coverage if they got Anne Robinson or Davina McCall in to do the voices. In fact HEAT magazine declared in its review that it was an episode squarely aimed at them.

Instead of the cutting edge TV Russell proports it to be, Bad Wolf is in fact breathtakingly safe. And incidently, surely the "Daleks being in charge of reality TV for thousands of years to turn people into useful sheep" is a terrible plotline. Hardly Isaac Asimov, is it? Terrance Dicks would have laughed it out of the office when he was script editor. It almost makes one nostalgic for Time Destructors, the Hand of Omega and Movellan plagues. But this is the future. This is what the series was always going to be when it came back. The production team judged that the public could not cope with hard science. It is easier to give them something soft, easy on the brain and populist. And believe you me - that is exactly what we got. Russell doesn't trust us with anything else.


"Just invisible men..." by Thomas Cookson 5/10/12

Some would say my best review here was on Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways. Now I'm burning that bridge by recounting my praising opinion and admitting to myself it was more flawed than I dared acknowledge.

Maybe the story caught my 'at life's crossroads' mood back then. Maybe I wanted to like it and reformed it into something I did like. Maybe I wanted to give RTD the benefit of the doubt and take one of his stories I slightly liked and elevated it to greatness, since his Doctor Who was the only game in town. Maybe because if I was going criticise his work, I needed a standard to refer to.

Classic Who couldn't be my standard. It was always a work in progress. Even Hinchcliffe's golden age produced few stories I'd seriously nominate as a template for a modern revival series. Genesis of the Daleks seemed ahead of its time in its themes and pacy editing, even back in its 1993 repeat, but now it seems too serious, too cliched, too old fashioned. I'd ironically look to the show's declining years and pick Revelation of the Daleks as the perfect template: stylish, humourous, satirical, strange, post-modern, quirky, morally ambiguous and topped off with the DJ blasting Daleks with rock music laserbeams.

Maybe, given the RTD's sycophants' tendency to punitively question and suspect any critic's motives and draw psychological profiles, my praising of this was my way of deflection. My desperate attempt to prove them wrong and dodge their diagnosis. To prove to myself I was a good fan and a good person, no matter what they might say (if RTD's era was all 'emotional' and 'fun', why are his sycophants such suspicious-minded, humourless, cold jobsworths)? And I got smug satisfaction from thinking those fans criticising the Reality TV business were overlooking its thematic import about social Darwinism.

I was a supercillious fool, pretentiously aspiring to be some quasi-spiritualist, but knowing little about my own heart. Caught between a pretentious, sniffy, student scene, and a pretentious, sniffy and snidey fan scene, even being myself took practice.

Recently rewatching Bad Wolf, I saw it in a new, unflattering light. Many said RTD's era would date quickly, and I'm surprised how right they were, how obviously desperate Russell's stories were to pander to the then-zeitgeist. Only Moffat's stories, Human Nature/The Family of Blood, Tooth and Claw, and Midnight have stood the test of time. Even Dalek seems dated by its American stereotypes and by never getting to be the story it could've been as a two-parter (imagine the Dalek actually reaching Salt Lake City at the climax).

Okay. First, debunking.

Often Russell's stories go wrong from the first scene. The End of the World went wrong from the TARDIS scene where the Doctor kept dropping Rose off at various future destinations and not once does the impulsive, spontaneous Rose even consider going out to have a little look before being swiftly moved on. They didn't have the budget to show what the Doctor described, so drawing attention to these future spots was a stupid approach, an unfulfilling tease that stretched Rose's own credibility.

Here we're introduced immediately to the Doctor's housemates. Sweet, bubbly Lynda and a man-bitch who starts being obnoxious to the Doctor, because every RTD character has to be immediately obnoxiously overstated and caricatured for camp comedy effect (like Gridlock's street dealers, and the predatory OAP's in The End of Time). All semblance that these outgoing, narcissistic types are living under the shadow of death and were raised in a toxic hell-planet goes immediately out the airlock window.

It's basically a blatant case of cynicism overriding story plausibility. The death games maybe serve the Darwinism theme. But they're clearly only introduced to boost the ratings and pander to what's hip at the time. The scene where Rose votes for Fitch, then realises her vote was a death sentence, was macabre and daring. But what happens afterwards? After each round they all must vote. But the implications are completely dodged. Who does Rose vote for, how does she live with herself if she does vote? Does she find a way around it? We're never shown. The implications get swept under the carpet as though none of it ever happens. Basically, the game format doesn't fit the story but was included anyway for the sake of ratings. It gives the impression the story ceases to happen and the characters cease being real people wrestling with difficult decisions the moment the camera moves elsewhere. This goes beyond nitpicky faults to outright insincere storytelling.

Given how Russell's cynicism and choking dearth of imagination was overlooked by fans, despite its blatantness, I can only conclude that by accident or design Russell managed to successfully hide it in plain view.

Next, the Big Brother evictions. If these people really knew they were due to die, they wouldn't willingly walk into the disintegrator chamber. They'd be desperate to escape and security guards would have to force them kicking and screaming into the chamber. So a horrible JNT trend reasserts itself, of treating its cipher characters as blatant puppets, even when it requires them to behave completely contrary to all human survival instincts, in a way that's completely artificial and involuntary.

Then there's the Doctor offering to take Lynda with him and give her a chance to live. So fixated was I on the line "Do you think anyone actually votes for sweet?" that I deliberately blinded myself to the scene's most glaring fault. Her other flatmate stays behind, and the Doctor does nothing to persuade him to come along too. What kind of Doctor would leave him behind, or leave anyone behind who was fully able to come with him and under risk of death?

For all the talk of RTD's emotional take on Doctor Who, there's a horrible whiff of selective compassion to his work. Building up the heart of individual guest characters we're meant to like, but still stubbornly maintaining a generally sneery, contemptuous view of the masses as unintelligent and unimportant, and evidently not worth saving. Was the old series ever about the idea that some innocent people 'weren't worth saving'? Well, there was The Silurians where the Doctor declares of Dr. Lawrence during the plague "I'd be very happy to lose him" which is wrong on every level.

That's the problem with holding up Classic Who against New Who; the old stuff has uneven moments too. But then, the Doctor's always been an old-fashioned, detached Kantian hero, who doesn't deal in the fate of individuals but more the greater good. I find it alluring in Terror of the Autons that both the Doctor and Master share similar kin, greater intellect and skant regard for the feelings or lives of humans, and both treat this gentleman's duel as a bit of jolly fun, despite the deaths of innocents. Whenever the Doctor becomes re-imagined as a new age sensitive man, we may initially get stories like Kinda, The Visitation, Dalek or Father's Day, where the Doctor is passionately determined to save everyone, and suddenly all previous Doctors look like unfeeling dinosaurs by comparison. But unfortunately this sentimentality gradually makes the new Doctor an outright liability, crippled by his own consientious impotence, especially when having him look mournful and regretful after a contrived tragedy becomes too appealing to writers (Voyage of the Damned), and neither the character nor the show can withstand it without becoming completely self-contradictory.

The glorious exceptions being the Big Finish audios where the Doctor's consistently written as being as affirmingly moral, intelligent and compassionate as we always believed him to be. With all the years to rethink the show and what it should ideally stand for, I see no excuse for Russell getting it so wrong, unless he wilfully forced the worst, most contemptuous aspects of himself onto the series, as Tennant's rant at Wilfred being "not remotely important" in The End of Time seems to prove.

Besides, there are some things I can never picture any previous Doctors doing. Like in World War Three where the Doctor forces his electrified ID card onto the Slitheen and leaves the electricity active and runs out. Ignoring the possibility some of the UNIT personell might have still survived electrocution if he cut the power off. Sure it goes both ways; I could never see the modern Doctor cyaniding Solon like in The Brain of Morbius. But again, the old Doctor dealt in greater, less insular stakes.

Speaking of RTD's selective compassion and what Johnathan Hili described accurately as emotional imbalances, there's the scene where the wired-up controller has limited time to tell the Doctor about the invader's plan and how she brought them here. He blames her for Rose's death and she says "that doesn't matter" which garners an angry, threatening emotional response of "Don't you dare tell me that!" Now this I could never see any of the previous Doctor's doing. Yes the Doctor's upset, but the Doctor has always understood cultural differences and how upbringings shape individuals and how to treat such individuals with the required respect. Effectively, he's dealing with an immobile, helpless child, abused and emotionally stunted since childhood. What good could come from the Doctor reprimanding and silencing her so viciously when she literally can't understand the worth of a human life because her upbringing robbed her of that capacity? The old Doctor would understand that, and maybe have instead said "I know you can't understand this, but it does matter. All life matters." A more imaginative writer might have Captain Jack reprimanding her whilst the Doctor shows more enlightenment and tries to calm him and explain this.

A cynical part of me always wondered if the Ninth Doctor was based on a gay man's idea of a straight man. Unintelligent, territorial, domineering, thuggish, belligerent and without empathy. But really, I just think it's Russell's own arrogant, antagonistic and vitriolic personality. Narrow boundaries, short temper, snappy judgements, riding roughshod over other's feelings, recklessly treating his show disposably.

Tennant's Doctor embodied all RTD's crassest fan-fiction tropes, but back here RTD was cautiously writing the Doctor to be as unDoctorish and common as possible. Removing his articulateness, learned speech, Victorian demeaour and turning him into a common macho, silent, strong man with an element of the borderline-pyromaniac unstable teenager. All to make the Doctor more relateable, but he wasn't the same character any more. Post-Time-War trauma became the contrived excuse for why he changed, and gradually the Time War concept became unsustainable, silly and eventually utterly demystified. It only worked in Dalek, which retreaded Power of the Daleks, whilst allowing the audience to sympathise with the Doctor's hatred of the Daleks and not be morally alienated. But if everything of the character had to be changed for modern audiences, then why bring the show back at all?

The truth is RTD just never trusted modern audiences with Doctor Who. His era's marked by his distrustful, sneery view of the masses. The same suspicious-mindedness that informs his showing the British Government turn into Nazis first chance they get, out the blue in Turn Left. The BBC gave RTD Doctor Who to tempt him from Channel 4, but with this Big Brother pandering, he clearly brought Channel 4's worst sensibilities with him. For all his supposed emotionalism, there's nothing genuinely open-hearted about his era, hence why I've always sensed a chill heart to fandom's celebrations of the revival.

Sure "You can kill me for I have brought your destruction" is beautiful and inspiring. Independent thought and defiance in the shadow of death after a lifetime's subservience. The Doctor's Abslom Daak rant is rousing stuff. Even if it required me to pretend this was a continuation from a classic series that had ended with Earthshock in order for this ruthless, reckless Doctor to work (which birthed my fixation with amputating the 80's).

But like Earthshock, ultimately the only thing holding this story together is the director, giving it more passion and coherence as a piece of visual storytelling than it really should have.