Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways
The Parting of the Ways
|Production Code||Series One Episode Thirteen|
|Dates||June 18, 2005|
With Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper,
John Barrowman, Camile Coduri, Noel Clarke
Written by Russell T. Davies Directed by Joe Ahearne
Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner, Mal Young.
|Synopsis: The Doctor's coming to save Rose and god help anyone who stands in his way.|
Dreadful endings by Antony Tomlinson 25/6/05
Oh for goodness' sake. Can someone please teach Russell T. Davies how to write Doctor Who plot resolutions? Please. Because this was simply not good enough.
Yes, after over an hour of intense thrills, massacres and an unstoppable foe, what did The Parting of the Ways give us? Another deus ex machina resolution. And worse still, a very similar deus ex machina resolution to that we saw at the end of Boom Town. Yes, with a blink of the eye and some mystic technobabble, the terrible threat vanished and the viewer was left wondering "what was the point in all that?"
(Incredibly, this story actually seemed to borrow most of its concluding ideas from the much-maligned 1996 TV movie. It had it all - the magic powers of the TARDIS, weird things happening to companions' eyes, companions inexplicably brought back to life by the power of time. Hmm, some people never learn).
Perhaps as bad as the pointlessness of the resolution, however, was the innumerable cliches accompanying the critical moment. We got a lot of "profound", sub-Star Trek bullshit about the "meaning of time". We also got a pointlessly tacked on "romantic moment". And, heavens above, we got to debate "the Doctor's responsibilities as a hero" all over again, before watching him screw it all up (again).
Equally annoying, however, was the quality of the revelations that we've been waiting for, for an entire series. We find out what the "Bad Wolf" thing is all about - and I'm sorry to say that it's not about much (in fact, its pretty incomprehensible). All the Time War bits are also hurried over and the supposedly "twisted" history of Earth is ignored. And it seems that the boring moments I thought were included in earlier episodes because they would be relevant to the series's ending (much of The Long Game and Boom Town) actually turned out to be as pointless as they seemed at first glance.
We also had the unwelcome return of Mickey and Rose's mum (I was watching with some friends who screamed "NO" as Mickey appeared on screen). The section where Rose returns to Earth was actually fun - and a nice contrast to the main action. And Mickey and Jackie managed to exhibit an enjoyable degree of heroism (although, the fact that Rose achieves her ends by sheer brute force seems very un-Whovian). But we've been over this "I can't take the safety of ordinary life" stuff so many times before. We don't need it all again.
In fact I think Mike Morris puts it well in his splendid review of Boom Town - RTD seems to think that relationships between ordinary people are more important than alien plots to destroy the universe. But how can you think that an everyday relationship is more important than a story of mass-murder, unless you think that science fiction is just something "silly"? And if you think that, then why are you bothering with Doctor Who at all? However, yet again, RTD seems to think that as long as the lingering glances between characters are there, it doesn't matter whether the plot resolutions are worthwhile or not.
OK, enough slagging off, what was good about The Parting of the Ways? Well, the baddies were excellent (and the chief baddie was beautifully designed, had a wonderful voice and harked back cleverly to the glass villain from an old Target novelisation). All that stuff about "blasphemy" seemed a bit pointless, true, but never mind. Their spaceships were cool as well, in a nice, retro way. And the scene when the baddies appear on the outside of a window was terrifying. It's just a shame though that they didn't experience the defeat that they deserved.
As with Aliens of London/World War Three, it seems that most of the oddball ideas that make RTD's scripts so enjoyable were actually reserved for the first episode. But the mayhem and destruction of this episode was fun. And, indeed, until the pathetic plot resolution, I was convinced that this was one of the best stories of the series ever (oh well, I thought that about the TV Movie too).
But, I have to admit, I have reached the end of the series with a bad taste in my mouth. Which is a shame, given the excellent portents for the second series. And, while I have complained bitterly about this episode (and Boom Town), I must remember all the wonderful stories given to us by this season - The End of the World, Dalek, Father's Day, The Empty Child. It's a pretty exciting run of hits, really - we haven't seen anything so consistently good since the 1970s.
So thanks again, St. Russell. But please - learn to write endings (why not watch the fantastic moments of hubris in Genesis and Remembrance of the Daleks, or the carefully structured revenge drama in The Caves of Androzani, or the way that changes in character actually bring about plot resolutions in Dalek [as well The Chimes of Midnight and The Holy Terror]). Please - give it a go.
An Eccles cake and a can of Tennants by Steve Cassidy 30/6/05
So here we have it. This is the end. The season conclusion. The big payoff.
I bet you were wetting yourself at what is going to happen? Who is Bad wolf? How will the Doctor regenerate? How will the Dalek fleet be destroyed? You know the Dalek fleet. A million ships with 2,000 Daleks on each one. It must be tied up properly. No hokey resolutions. After all, Russell T Davies is a proffessional writer - he won't let us down...
Excuse me while I pick myself off the floor laughing.
Bad Wolf was a game of two halves. The first forty minutes are reality show rubbish, but the last five are fantasic Who. The Parting of the Ways is the opposite - forty minutes of brilliance with five minutes of slurry tacked on. Unfortunately it is the slurry which leaves the lasting impression and stops this from being anywhere near a bona fide classic.
OK, I am going to praise this - as it is a good product. But let me get the rubbish out of the way first.
And product is the word to use. I don't remember such hype about a Who installment since Logopolis and the Davison regeneration. It has been no secret. TV Quick has had dual mugs of Tennant and Eccleston gooning down at us from every newsagent in the land. The BBC have made Doctor Who and his production team their darlings. Even before the last episode has aired the Beeb have announced series plans up to 2007. Billie Piper is to stay for the next series and juicy leaks about future writers and directors dot the ether in messageboard land. The world of Who is at its most triumphant. And the climax was this episode. A CGI battle army of Daleks? Conclusion of bad wolf? A regeneration? What could go wrong?
In a word: plot
Never use a bad deus ex machina until you absolutely have to. The Daemons is still being bashed for this thirty years after the event. Fans don't like it - they feel cheated. The audience feels unsatisfied if not explained properly. And citing Boom Town as evidence, this really is something Davies has relied on too often. How much is it worth building up a good story if the Fairy Godmother, that the audience doesn't really know about, is just going to appear and wave her magic wand to make things better? Why get the Doctor into an impossible situation and then get him out of it by using an all powerful force which appears and resolves everything? The special effects are certainly more impressive than ancient Greek theatre, but the principle is the same.
The whole thing is ladled in more sugar then a trip to Tate and Lyle. In fact, the sugar starts fifteen minutes in as the Doctor sends Rose Tyler back to 2005. Cue the violins - I was expecting RTD schmaltz for the final five minutes but after the first fifteen? And what about the galactic post-it note? You know the one - "Rose, do not forget to swallow the heart of the TARDIS when the Doctor's up shit creek one year from now!". So she influenced people throughout time to write something catchy and most likely to be unnoticed by the inhabitants of the timeline - You know the ones? The inhabitants of Victorian Cardiff, the pikeys on the council estate, the owners of a galactic media company - all scribble "Bad Wolf" just to remind our little HEAT magazine reader that at the climax she must be covered in make-up, walk in trance and spout guff from the pen of Russell T Davis.
Stop it Steve! Get a grip! Come on! Say something nice!
I will do that. How about the Daleks were good.
When they are at full spate nothing can touch them. Despite all the syrupy fluff, er, sorry Mr Davis - I meant to say meaningful emotional pieces, this adventure is a good old "Base under Siege" story. Given added bite by having the inhabitants of the spacestation as reality show sheep having to pick up weaponry to take on the pepperpots. There are some unforgettable scenes. Everybody cites Lynda with a 'Y'''s death scene (honestly! Does drawing attention to the way she spells her name really consitute character development?) where the Daleks rise out of the vaccuum of space to blast the window to pieces. The flashing of "EX-TERM-INATE!!" is justly lauded and is a clever bit of fanwank to compare with the hum of the Dalek ship in Bad Wolf. The whole menace of the Daleks sweeping through the gamestation destroying everything in their path is great fun. A new generation sees exactly why these horrors have reached legendary status.
Another mega plus has to be John Barrowman's Captain Jack Harkness who is now in my top five companions of all time. We've been gasping for a credible male companion. The teenage fans don't want a pretty boy genius in the TARDIS - they want someone they can look up to. Someone who can tear around corridors blasting away and do all the sexy violent things the Doctor cannot do. To start with, this is an original character - we haven't had an action man like this since Harry Sullivan. They've also given him a mysterious background, a kind of intergalactic James Bond who swans through space enjoying the delights of both sexes (although this is an old TV writing copout making a character bisexual rather then 100% gay - daring but not threatening if you know what I mean). But most importantly he is there for support. RTD's love of Rose means she always gets the spotlight on her, but it is left to Captain Jack to do the nuts and bolts such as rally the station inhabitants, build barricades agains the Daleks etc. When he is finally cornered he dies bravely, his head is held high, in a moment perfectly attuned to the character.
Also a round of applause must go to the CGI effects. I've become rather a critic of these in my old age and if not used properly can dominate the adventure at the expense of the story, acting etc (ie Revenge of the Sith). But here, probably due to BBC finances, they are used sparingly. There is a wonderful shot of Daleks attacking through space in great long streams where you get the sense and power of these creatures. The CGI spaceships were very impressive, and all the flash-bang wallops of the Dalek assault were as enjoyable as they should be. The old series conveyed the menace of the Daleks without this enormous budget but I am grateful for what we have got. It will certainly impress all those who have decried the wobbly scenery of the series for the last forty years.
And of course we have the Emperor Dalek. The surprise had been spoilt for me by tabloid coverage in the preceding weak but what a creation!! I thought the scene where the Doctor firsts meets him and the gigantic carapace opens up to reveal a bottle with a malevolent alien imp inside was superb. Now if this had been Bad Wolf I could have understood it. It would have provided a credible answer to the series long mystery. Only something like the Emperor Dalek could follow and lead the Doctor and Rose through time guiding their destiny to this one final moment. Who knows I could have even forgiven him the "Daleks in charge of reality TV to turn people into sheep to convert into other Daleks" plotline. Which gets my vote for the worse plotline in the entire series. And, yes, that does include The King's Demons...
I've watched The Parting of the Ways a couple of times now and each way I come away thinking there are ways he could have done that better. Not regarding the production, acting, directing etc - all attributes the JNT efforts regularly fell down on - but the storyline? Would it have worked better as a simple "Base under Siege"? Bad Wolf could just be set in playstation (minus the reality show drivel) and the entire episode could be a lead up to when the Daleks appear. The Parting of the Ways could have simply been a Dalek attack story with the Doctor finally trapped on the top level where his ninth incarnation is destroyed. Rather then yet another moral quandary for the Doctor and Rose. Haven't we had enough of those? Haven't we been beaten over the head with another "shall I? shan't I?" moment? If RTD is trying to go back to the classic Genesis scene then I suggest he rewinds the tape and has another good look. And destroying the Dalek fleet with the "Heart of the TARDIS"? Don't worry folks, next time theres an alien menace all our feisty chip-eating heroine has to do is use a haulage truck to open the heart, swallow it, become the TARDIS and control time, destroy the Dalekfleet and bring people (actually only Jack) back to life. Easy when you know how.
Well, lets be honest there was always going to be a deux a machina resoloution to this one. By scribbling in this massive Dalek fleet he had to get rid of it by pixie dust. In reality we would have had an "Empire Strikes Back" scenario where the enemy force is so massive all the heroes could do is flee. But this is the season climax and there has to be a big spectacular ending. The resolution indulges RTD's ever growing love for Rose Tyler by making her the hero but it doesn't quite work. Its unsatisfactory, and leaves the viewer asking why? There are too many implausibilities here and in many ways it overrides what should be a celebration of the ninth Doctor. I haven't even mentioned Ecclestone/Tennant yet because there are so many other things, good and bad, to write about. I wish David Tennant all the best in the role and it's not a bad regeneration, but the problem for me is that so much else is preceding it - it almost does seem inconsequential.
As a season closer it tried to be epic and most likely succeeds. It is the most Whoish of Who with Daleks, regeneration and use of the TARDIS, and there is nothing about it which doesn't scream that the production team are at the top of their game. But it is let down by the final five minutes which seemed to be written by Joss Whedon, and not in a good way. The last three efforts - The Parting of the Ways, Bad Wolf and Boom Town, all penned by RTD - haven't reached the standard we have been used to. And maybe thats the problem that set against Dalek, The Unquiet Dead and The Empty Child, the faults, mainly the plot and storyline, are glaringly obvious. We haven't had a bona fide classic since The Doctor Dances. RTD is writing six episodes in season 2. Which means we get six episodes of emotional examination that isn't half as profound as it thinks it is, plus toilet humour and pretend plots with pixie dust resolutions. Great.
Deus ex machina by Mark Tompkins 5/7/05
Deus ex machina: a latin phrase meaning "God from the machine". The ending to this story was probably as close as Doctor Who has ever come to literally being this phrase. But have I come to pan the story for that reason? Do I feel cheated? Disappointed? Please read on...
I have one very simple way of judging a Doctor Who story to be a good or a bad viewing experience - did it keep me entertained? For this reason I find even much-maligned (unfairly in my opinion) stories like Nightmare of Eden to be so much fun - (ok, well might as well make that the whole of season 17...) and yet find stories like The Green Death a chore to sit through (in fact a great deal of the Pertwee era which is odd considering season 7 is probably my favourite overall). Anyway, I'm rambling now (first review and everything) so I'll get straight to the point.
The New Series kept me wonderfully entertained throughout.
What I'm going to do with myself come 7pm on a Saturday night now I have absolutely no idea. The past few months have taken me right back to my childhood - I can't remember feeling so excited about a television programme since Doctor Who first grabbed me at the age of 6 - begging my Dad to drive faster so I wouldn't miss my first complete Dalek story - Destiny of the Daleks. (I say complete Dalek story because I have a very vivid memory of Davros being fried by his own creations in Genesis for some reason). I have to be honest and say that when Rose aired I was disappointed - enjoyable but, dare I say it, "fluffy" television - but the series has just got better and better until finally we reach the end - literally for Christopher Eccleston's Doctor - The Parting of the Ways.
And this is where I think some fans miss the point ever so slightly.
The literally deus ex machina ending actually resulted in this Doctor LOSING HIS LIFE - that's it: dead, deceased, an ex-Doctor etc... (sorry about that)
Imagine for a second the Doctor of 1963 still in possession of his 12 regenerations (forget Morbius for a second) and now this hitherto unknown use of the TARDIS:
Daleks trying to exterminate Thals? No problem: just wipe them from all time. You'll die of course but Patrick Troughton's agent says he's available early apparently...
The Doctor would have been regenerated-out sometime in the 60's which is my point really. Russell T Davies built up the Dalek threat beautifully: we had an army of Daleks reshaping the earth - exterminating anything and everything in their path - until the comparative handful (I think the Daleks could spare a few foot soldiers in tracking down and exterminating their mortal enemy?) invading the game station have located the Doctor and surround him while he agonises over activating the delta wave.
I think he may be in a spot of bother...
And that's just it.
Just how the hell do you get out of that one?! I must admit, on first viewing, the ending seemed a touch Star Wars to me but now it makes perfect sense: The Doctor didn't get out of it - he paid with his life.
"Hail the Doctor! The great exterminator!" by Joe Ford 12/9/05
The Doctor Who season finale. Sounds strange to hear that, doesn't it? It says something about the new format of the show and how much television has changed since Doctor Who's hey day. In the eighties Doctor Who was climaxing seasons with Time-Flight, The King's Demons and The Twin Dilemma and they were hardly examples of the show going out in a blaze of glory. These days we have season arcs, shorter episodes that are interlinked and if dealt with properly, all those links converge in the final episode that makes the whole experience take on a greater meaning and hopefully more rewarding. I think I can confidently say that Doctor Who can join the ranks of Buffy and DS9 (in my humble opinion) as those shows that know how to structure their seasons and offer the viewer considerable payoff for sticking around.
I'm probably in the minority here but I found these mad, religious Daleks far more interesting than the lone survivor we met earlier in the season. As I have already explained I feel Rob Shearman attempted to humanise the Daleks in a very Star Trekky type way which I felt diminished their effect but here Russell T Davies proves that you don't have to humanise Daleks to humanise them. When we are told that the human race has been "filleted, pulped, sifted" to create a whole new race of Daleks we get a picture of how grotesque their attempts to survive can get that rivals Stengos' emaciated state in Revelation of the Daleks. These are Daleks that are made out of the genetically altered remains of human beings, beings who the Daleks loathe. Thus their creed of disliking the unlike extends to themselves, they literally hate themselves. How frightening is that? How far would a creature go that despises its own existence? When they launch an attack on Earth these insane, self-loathing creatures are merely reclaiming their home. They will swoop down from the skies and exterminate the human race but all they are really doing is killing themselves, extinguishing that reminder of who they once were and what they loathe about themselves. It's a fascinating new take on the creatures and gives the war machines some real depth without going to extreme lengths to alter their personalities or mission statement (big, nasty EVIL). When the Doctor shouts at these creatures, they retreat and their eye stalks quiver, just small touches like this add so much to their effect.
It helps that the budget extends to finally revealing a huge fleet of Daleks and in several Star Wars-esque sequences we are confronted with just how powerful the Dalek force is. When they swarm the Gamestation/Satellite Five we are treated to a room filled with Daleks, slowly gliding forwards and picking off everybody in their path. They are an unstoppable force of dread and have rarely been this terrifying. The futility of opposing them is brilliantly exploited, that poor bird who joins Jack's tiny army only to be confronted with an evil she can't fight learns this the hard way. The mass slaughter is mostly kept off screen, which (like The Greatest Show in the Galaxy) is far more effective that way. Lynda's shocked reaction to all the screaming and death over the intercom is far more frightening than watching these people die.
What makes this epic confrontation between the Doctor and the Daleks work is Russell T Davies' excellent grasp of character and he adds lots of little moments to the episode which makes this story about people rather than ciphers, without holding up the plot one second. I loved the quick scene between Davish and the Asian chick (proto-Anji!), they don't get much screen time but there is a history implied and a future too. The inclusion of Roderick is nice, so at least we have one character that we really want to be killed. Similarly Rose's quiet reactions to Lynda's (with an Y) enthusiasm speaks volumes without saying a single word. Simon took an instant dislike to Lynda but I thought she was lovely; sweet and loyal... and she was served with the best death of the entire episode (just when you think you know how she is going to die...). It was a little unfair (because she was so nice...) but if you're going to go... that is how to do it!
The best "small" moment is between Rose and her mother when she admits she met her Dad. It is another reminder of the ground we have covered in series one and unexpectedly reminds us of the potent emotions brewed up in Father's Day. Jackie's horrified reaction sees her mind opening up to the possibility of time travel and understand why Rose would want to travel with the Doctor. This is incredible payoff and it isn't even the main plot. Or the secondary plot. Just a moment.
I am fairly certain there will be people up in arms about the fact that Jack gives the Doctor a snog before he walks off to his death. Please God somebody think of the children! It is fascinating how this episode looks at how people will give their lives for the Doctor; Jack, Rose and Lynda all blindly offer their lives in the heat of his battle. In my eyes Jack earns that kiss and a chance to return in series two because he knows he is walking to his death and he doesn't hesitate, he knows he will be fighting an unstoppable force and sacrificing his life to give the Doctor a few more seconds to defeat the enemy. He smiles, tells Rose she is worth fighting for, tells the Doctor he was better off as a coward and walks to his death. Anyone who was unsure about Jack must surely be on side now; he is one of the most selfless characters we have ever had in the show and one of the most open. I love him.
But this story is really about the Doctor and Rose and their turbulent relationship. The Doctor knows the shit has well and truly hit the fan and in a well-played scene (for a while tricking the audience as well as Rose) he fools her into retreating in the TARDIS and has preset the controls to take her home. Rose's desperate reaction, screaming at the console to take her back, is heartbreaking to watch.
It is vital that we return to Jackie back on Earth and not just because the Doctor keeps his promise to keep her daughter safe. In a beautifully-played scene (and Billie Piper's best moment in the entire series) Rose breaks down in front of her mum and boyfriend and tries to explain how the Doctor changed her life. It is a brilliantly deceptive scene which seems to be suggesting that life on modern day Earth is dreadfully dull compared to travelling amongst the stars (the mundane setting and in particular the horrid shot of the rotating chickens puts across the sheer horror of a normal life) but as it continues the scene opens up and has much more meaning. It is about fighting oppression, making a stand and saying no when something unjust is happening... Rose even says it isn't about aliens and travelling, it is about how you live your life that matters. There are plenty of horrors we ignore in favour of going home and eating chips. Poverty, world wars, fights in the street that we walk past with a shrug, deaths that we hear about on the telly which we go "oh dear" but feel glad it didn't happen anywhere near us... RTD is making a bold statement here, but it is one worth listening to. It is a way of using science-fiction to extend to its audience a message that we should pay attention to. "THAT FIGHT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!" Rose screams but is she talking about the Daleks?
Whilst I am pleased that Jackie is back I was surprised to see Mickey in action again. Boom Town seemed to have tidied up his little arc very nicely, with him walking away from Rose and giving her the life she deserved and this seemed a little like going over the same ground. Chats with my pal Mike Morris have seen us arguing over the merits (or not) of the Mickey's contributions to Boom Town and whilst he points to the moment in The Parting of the Ways where Mickey decides to help Rose after she tells him she has nothing to stay for on Earth and suggests this is Mickey's top moment I would say he has already had that moment in Boom Town and bringing it up again is the only example of RTD whacking us over the head with a shovel to make sure we got the point. Mickey is selfless too. I get it. Let's move on.
I have heard many, many people suggest that the ninth Doctor is the most ineffectual of the bunch because he has been so redundant in many of the episode's solutions. Whilst I can hardly deny that he has not been lacking in the climatic resolution department, The Parting of the Ways goes some way towards explaining why the ninth Doctor prefers to manipulate others into getting involved and make the tough choices. The Time War was clearly a devastating conflict and the series hasn't shied away from the fact that the Doctor caused the destruction of both The Time Lords and the Dalek fleet ("I MADE IT HAPPEN!"). It brings us back to Boom Town (that episode has actually set up far more for this one than people give credit; the extrapolator, the heart of the TARDIS, the consequences issues) which dealt with the Doctor dealing with the consequences of his actions. The entire first series has been building up to the scene where the Doctor is surrounded by Daleks and has the decision to wipe them out (and Earth with it) or let them survive. Can he live with himself if he kills so many people to stop the Daleks? Does it make him a coward if he says no? I don't think the ninth Doctor is ineffectual as much as he is scared. He has had a huge reminder of what his conflicts can lead to and is more reluctant these days to make those huge choices. It is what made his horrified reaction in Bad Wolf at the state of the Earth so effective.
BAD WOLF is finally explained and I liked what I saw. I was only annoyed by the fact that Simon guessed what it was perfectly by Bad Wolf and spent the rest of the evening boasting his intellectual powers. The bastard. Still I was concerned that RTD would shrug us off with a lousy explanation but this makes perfect sense and makes the exercise well worth trying, it has gotten the conspiracy nuts in tizzy over the past thirteen weeks and has certainly kept me intrigued. Good stuff.
I once questioned whether it was possible for the Doctor to love any of his companions. At first I struggled with the idea, primarily because of all the icky sex stuff that gets in the way but then I started thinking about love and its complexities and decided that yes, considering he has been willing to lay down his life for the lives of his companions he certainly could be said be in love with them. The ninth Doctor is in love with Rose, which is made abundantly clear in this episode. Not only does he push her away whilst he has to deal with the Daleks (knowing it is too dangerous for her) but he also takes the huge decision to save her life at the climax and take his own. And how else would you express this moment of love but to seal it with a kiss? It is dazzling television because it appeals to our emotions and our senses (it being a beautifully filmed scene too) at the same time. Simon and I were left in tears, hugging each other. This is amazingly sensual TV of the sort that Doctor Who has never really explored before.
I shan't say too much about the last scene except for the fact that it was astonishgly quiet for those of us who were expecting the ninth Doctor to go out in a blaze of glory, but reminds us this series is as much about the Doctor and Rose as it is about adventures in time and space. I loved how he warned her (protecting her to the end) and the final few lines strongly suggest season two will be even better.
Never mind series two, The Parting of the Ways was a triumphant season finale, one that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout and with Bad Wolf created a bona fide Doctor Who classic to go in the history books. The last thing I have to say is about Murray Gold whose underrated music has been vital to this series success and was at an all time high here. Dramatic, emotional, exciting and touching... it was the finishing touch to a brilliant finale.
A Review by Michael Hickerson 24/9/05
"You know what they call me in the ancient legends of the Dalek homeworld? The on-coming storm..."It's interesting that in 40 plus years of Doctor Who, before The Parting of the Ways the Doctor's greatest enemies had yet to feature in a final story of a Doctor's era. Yes, they've cropped up to kick-off an era (Power of the Daleks) but it took until the series' 27th season before they could usher out an era for the good Doctor.
And just as quickly as it began, the Eccleston era of Doctor Who is over.
And while The Parting of the Ways is certainly not up there with The Caves of Androzani as perfect stories to end an era on, it's no where nearly as abysmal at Planet of the Spiders. For the end of an era and a season, it did pretty much all it needed to do. Certainly, I went into The Parting of the Ways hoping for another out-and-out instant classic like we got with Dalek but we didn't get it.
Instead, what we got was a story that while it competently wrapped up all the season's on-going storylines, delivered on the promise of Bad Wolf and generated some excitement for the next season, still suffered from the same thing that every Russell T. Davies story has suffered from this year -- an overall lack of pacing. As much as I understand why we had scenes with Jackie and Mickey, it felt like there was too much built around the trio of Jackie, Rose and Mickey trying to pry open the heart of the TARDIS so Rose could go back and save the Doctor and the world. One scene of this might have been good, but the constant cutting back to it while the Daleks were invading the station and Earth and the Doctor worked on his final solution to stop them got a bit old quickly. I was far more compelled by the discussion of the Daleks levelling Australia than I was in seeing Mickey drive a tow truck and tear up his car.
That said, I did like most of the rest of what we got here. I think the previews sold this episode as being something different that it turned out to be. I expected more of a raging battle with the Daleks -- a drawn out battle along the lines of what we saw in Revelation of the Daleks. Instead, Russell Davies pulled a fast one on us -- giving us a glimpse of the battle scenes in the preview while masking the fact that the end of the Eccelston era would be one in the mold of the traditional Doctor Who stories of yesteryear. Instead of blowing the budget on huge battle sequences, we got a story that examined fundamentally who the Doctor is and what he stands for. The Doctor's building of an ultimate weapon that will wipe out the Dalek fleet and as a side effect take out most of humanity as well as nicely done. And for a long while, I fully thought the Doctor would use it -- his justification that humanity had colonies in the solar system and would survive was a nice twist. And based on what we've seen of the 9th Doctor this year as a character ruled by his passions at times -- the death of Cassandra being one and his outrage that Rose was killed last week being another -- I felt for a long time like he would use the weapon.
But in the end, the Doctor hopes there must be a better way rather than sacrificing himself and the innocents on Earth to defeat the evil. Indeed, I wonder if the Dalek's admonition from Dalek crossed his mind as he considered enabling the weapon... "You would make an excellent Dalek." It ranks right up there with the classic, "Do I have the right?" scene from Genesis of the Daleks as a defining moment in Doctor Who.
Interesting that a defining moment of a Doctor would come in his final few minutes on screen.
Thankfully, the series had a third option -- one that we hadn't considered. And that was that Bad Wolf wasn't an evil thing, but was instead a warning. We find out the identity of Bad Wolf in the story. Turns out it's Rose, who absorbs the energy from the heart of the TARDIS, returns to save the Doctor (after he sends her away to save her life) and wipes out the Dalek fleet. Having seen the revelation of who Bad Wolf is, I now want to go back and examine if the series sets this revelation up well enough over the course of the 13 episodes this year. Right now, I feel like it did, but it could fall apart under closer scrutiny. Also, I have to admit, I found the glowing Rose full of power a bit derivative of Buffy's season six Dark Willow (which was derivative of the X-Men Dark Phoenix plotline). But that's probably my bias as a Buffy fan clouding things there.
I do admit I found the Bill and Ted nature of Rose creating herself as Bad Wolf by sending messages to herself back in time a bit much.
Ironically enough, I didn't mind as much the get-out-of-death-free card that she played for Captain Jack. Of course, that is because it sets up his return next year and he's gonna be pretty upset at being left behind I imagine.
Also, I have to say that we'd better get some consequences to what Rose did next year. In the course of the story, the Doctor sends her out of harm's way and she ignores him. Also, she pretty much throws in Mickey and her mother's faces that her life on Earth is empty and meaningless. It does set up that she can't just go back to her normal life at the end of her time in the TARDIS since she has burned so many bridges. Finally, even though right away she can't remember what she did as Bad Wolf, she should at some point. Or have someone else remind her of what she's done... and see how that affects her.
But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. But it's a good feeling -- knowing we have at least two more years of new Doctor Who to look forward to. A new Doctor is installed and we've got the excitement of seeing where David Tennant will take this role. Eccleston has revived it and now Tennant has to run with it. I know I'm along for the ride.
I enjoyed this season and I can't wait for more new Doctor Who next year. It's going to be a long wait for the Christmas special.
A Review by Ron Mallett 11/10/05
The final episode of the first season of Doctor Who screened on ABC in Australia this Saturday evening. What a mixed bag it was! As usual the production values were beyond compare but once more the main problem was with the writing. While the resolution capped the "Bad Wolf" motif that had been building throughout the season, the resolution came across as being very convoluted and too convenient.
This episode was Christopher Eccleston's swan song as the Doctor and he has left some very big shoes to fill for his successor, David Tennant. The regeneration scene was rather touching and it is certain that his departure will be regretted by all fans. While the images of thousands of Daleks floating through space will be long remembered, some of the more "soapish" scenes were definitely over the top and made worse by a musical score that at times wouldn't have sounded out of place in an episode of Little House on the Prairie. Billie Piper once again was cringeful, this time attempting to play an abandoned companion. Can anyone actually point to single scene ever when she hasn't been totally awful?
The writing wasn't all bad however. The banter between the Doctor and the Emperor was very clever. The fact that the Emperor was taunting the Doctor over his homicidal tendencies in relation to Daleks and making him question how justifiable his actions would be were quite thought-provoking. The savagery of the Dalek attack was quite chilling. The fact that one character in particular was resurrected at the end and not others (or were they and we just didn't see it?) seemed a little heartless but perhaps it would have detracted from the impact of the scene.
All in all the end seemed a little unsatisfying and such convoluted resolutions run the risk of being called copouts! One scene that seemed to be more designed than natural was the kiss between the two main characters. It makes for a solid marketing scene for the teen audience in the TV trailers but... it seemed a little artificial and somehow a conscious effort to open the way for more such indulgences in the future. This is more proof that Davies has made a very conscious decision to turn the show into a half-soap opera and pervert the spirit of the show for no other reason than to make it easier to market to a mass audience. Very sad indeed.
The Second Coming by Hugh Sturgess 29/1/06
As Lawrence Miles has said, both through analogy and rather blunt statement, television over the last few decades has become increasingly petty, insular and safe. Networks are far more likely to broadcast a show about a cast of characters - all with petty secrets and grudges - set in a quite town and suburb than a show about an untrustworthy and vaguely demented alien who travels through Time and Space in a police box, for fear of causing a fuss. One of the major conspirators in the murder of the original series (the Classic Series as the BBC's calling it) was this insular phenomenon, the "look inside" syndrome; people weren't prepared to make such a daring - yes, even at the bland, repetitive end of its absurdly long history, it was still daring, there was no other show like it - show any more, and people weren't prepared to watch such a "far out" show, for fear of being labelled "nerd", "utopian" or just plain "unprofessional" (the last one isn't just rhetoric, our culture's idea of a fully-functional individual is someone who only aspires to get a good park at work and become extremely good at their job; otherwise, they're "weird").
So, surely, no network, especially the insular and ever media-conscious BBC ever make a program that says "look outside, it's better", encourages people to challenge authority, and even (horror of horrors!) leave their jobs. Would they? And no one - short of a few faithful anorak-clad fans with pimply faces and lisps (no offence, I'm just acting as the cultural conduit) - would ever watch it, for fear of appearing weird or nerdish or perverted.
Amazingly, the BBC co-ordinator dared to challenge the status quo and make a show that vaunted all the above values and sold it to a quaint little thing called the "family audience" (the TV equivalent of von Daniken theories - viewed by many as legitimate in their time, but obviously tosh to a modern audience).
(Incidentally, it is the same insular nature of today's culture that debunked von Daniken's theories; no one would want to believe in anything that differed from what "society" taught, at the risk of appearing weird, nerdish and perverted. Though the theories are bunk - and not a little fascistic; "superior species" indeed - we no longer hear of UFO sightings, or theories that aliens visited early humanity, and we haven't come up with equal myths of our own, except for the much simpler and plausible - though as mythical - "serial killer" that'll just kill anything that moves.)
But of course, Doctor Who couldn't possibly exist in today's universe. The idea of a sexless, posh man in a velvet frock coat is just laughable isn't it? I mean, you'd have to be a really sick pervert/nerd/retard to like/believe that. (Again, in today's media culture, belief and personal preference are one and the same. Soaps of the Neighbours variety are "believable", as are indiscriminate serial killers, so you can believe in fiction without appearing weird, nerdish or perverted - I keep mentioning those three words because they're cultural keywords; you could almost survive in them, or variations of them, alone - Doctor Who clearly isn't, so it's rubbish).
Clearly, Russell T Davies thought, some serious reworking has to go on here. Frock coat, lose that - the leather jacket is, however, the best thing about the New Series, it allows the Doctor to be taken seriously again. Sexless, well, bugger that, he'll have a protracted relationship/love triangle between his two companions. Police box... well, I suppose the bigger-inside-than-out appeal is there (before we move on, as opposed to those who considered the destruction of the police box in Shadows of Avalon to be the crumbling of the last moral value in Doctor Who these days, and it's field sowed with salt, I think that the idea of the Doctor travelling through Time and Space in his companion to be the greatest idea in the spin-offs' histories). Hmm, Time and Space. Well, no one'll believe in a spaceship and other worlds and evil genii, so let's drop them and bring in a housing estate with the companion's mother and boyfriend we can drop in on in six of the thirteen episodes (to "enforce the sense of reality" of course). Ah, trying - usually failing, but trying - to realistically portray the future. Nope, let's make it all look like the office job's in the soaps on the other channels (subconsciously fulfilling that urge we all have that our jobs really are essential to the well-being of humanity - The Long Game and Bad Wolf are the worst offenders).
And in doing so, recreating the Doctor for a new era, it falls into all the traps splicing series like this can. The Doctor plainly - a recurring theme about the New Series, don't be subtle, scream it out at the top of your lungs, and repeat it for good measure - says that he doesn't do domestics, yet the series plainly does. The personal problems of the main characters form the basis of several plots - largely Davies's - and there's generally the sense that Rose is just dreaming this all, and that the visits to modern Earth are somehow more "real" than them.
Doctor Who was about alien experience - about "looking outside" - but, as Miles also says, the New Series is about "looking around" - Earth's past and future, the Millennium Eye, the Auton wheelie bin - because no one wants to "look outside". Why would anyone, when "outside" doesn't have a Virgin megastore and a selection of phone ring tones? The Doctor may be a big-eared freak, may insult you, call you an ape, may blow up buildings, but he is still grounded in twenty-first century Earth, permanently it seems, and makes sense within our society.
Another major talking point is the Doctor's relationship with Rose. After all these years, he's suddenly fallen for Billie Piper? This is yet another element of the "modernisation" of Doctor Who. You can't have male and female leads without some tortured love affair. The same way Universal had the Doctor/Grace thing, or the kiss between Steed and Mrs Peel in the atrocious Warner Bros. Avengers movie, the BBC knows that an audience will flick over to Coronation Street again, when they see that the two leads are "emotionally vapid" (i.e. they aren't groping each other all the time).
The first season (referred to be Miles as "Season X-1") is Doctor Who in microcosm. An opening episode told from the perspective of the companion, introducing the Doctor and the basic concepts, the original trichotomy of "past", "future" and "sideways" - the alternate Earth of Father's Day - a Dalek one, an alien invasion with UNIT, a historical, a time travel one, a World War Two story - culturally important to the franchise, though not to the TV series - a story taking in the consequences of the Doctor's actions - NA-style agonising and bitching about interference (and on that note, Ron Mallet has said how it's very bad of Rus to have the police question Mickey about Rose's disappearance; well, he was the last person she as seen with, so who wouldn't question him? And Ron, your claim that the ninth Doctor's gay because he listens to certain music, really, you "of all people should know not to stereotype") and a regeneration story.
Within this context, the kiss between the Doctor and Rose, like the oh-and-they-all-blew-up ending to the Hitchhikers "trilogy", is only acceptable because it's thematically appropriate to the season. Unlike the TVM or the Avengers movie, it isn't wrong on every level. Like a huge, cinematic incarnation of Doctor Who, stretched like some obscene Lord of the Rings trilogy over thirteen weeks, the only way to finish the Series was to have the Doctor kiss Rose. The first season was constructed like a self-contained show, and the final episode is like this show's Survival, and the kiss is the ultimate ending.
With the tenth Doctor, we have a Doctor who does "do domestic", having Christmas dinner with Jackie and so forth, yet is a more obviously "eccentric" than his predecessor. And while the broken windows of the estate is a step in the right direction, I'm still looking forward to the Emmerdale-style episode where an alien spaceship crashes into the estate and levels it. It seems that, rather than breaking out of Jackie's gravitational pull, the series is slipping further into it, rapidly degenerating into soap.
We may only have Doctor Who, or rather, what we can identify as Doctor Who, for a little while longer, so make sure you enjoy it while it lasts.
Of course, it could simply be paranoia and pessimism on my part. The New Series has surprised me on virtually every other point, so why not this?
A Review by David Rosenthal 7/8/06
Parting Of The Ways was the best story in the short Eccleston era. He expresses true emotion and so does Billie Piper. They love each other. How Rose destroys the Daleks is amazing and something you wouldn't expect.
The Daleks are great in this too. The Doctor has a great confrontation with the Dalek emperor. Captain Jack is also played well by John Barrowman and he is left stranded on the space station. The regeneration is really good; I really look forward to David Tennant. His first lines are "New teeth that's weird. Oh that's right Barcelona." I can tell he could be even better then Chris Eccleston. 9.5/10.
"Dissy Daleks! Dissy Doctor!" by Liz Rawlings 11/4/07
Let's get the good stuff out the way first. This was, as ever, entertaining. There wasn't a dull moment. I was moved. I laughed, I cried. My tears were jerked when I witnessed the best ever Rose/Doctor moment (when he sent her back in time, out of danger) and the best Rose/Jackie moment (when J realised that R had actually met her dead father, and perhaps realised just why Rose wanted to travel with the Doctor - you may recall it was the words "By the way, it also travels in time" that made her change her mind at the beginning of the series...) And we had that brilliant silent "Ex-ter-min-ate!" of course...
And finally - "Barcelona!" - roll the credits - settle back with a happy sigh.
If you're happy to just be entertained, read no more.
This episode was supposed to be the climax of the season. As such, it suffered more than the average amount of post-coital triste. Because, just when you though Russell was going to treat you to a "Second Coming", instead you got coitus interruptus.
But let's start at the beginning.
Rose is alive! But she's in the "hands" of the Daleks. "You will do as we say," they say, "or your associate" (nice touch, that word!) "will be exterminated."
So what does our fearless hero do? He makes a rousing speech, telling Rose and the Daleks (via a video link, natch) "I'm going to rescue her ... I'm going to save the Earth ... I'm going to wipe every stinking Dalek out the sky! Rose - I'm coming to get you."
Now, this brought a lump to the throat, it was great, it was wonderful, it was... stupid.
Can you imagine Patrick Troughton making that speech? No, me neither. Because Troughton (and David Whittaker) respected the Daleks. He knew "the suffering they cause". He knew that they were capable of exterminating Rose just because he'd dared to disagree with them.
But they didn't. Not Russell's Daleks. Apparently, all they can do is get in a tizz. "But - you have no plan!" They do, supposedly, have a reason (of which the Doctor was, incidentally, unaware) to keep Rose alive - to "predict the Doctor's actions". Well, OK. So they put her into one of their fiendish torture/mind-reading machines and... oh. No, they ask her politely. And she refuses to cooperate, so they exterminate her... oh. No, they keep her hostage in a cell... oh, no, they use one of their famous neck manacles (which often has to be held in place by the actor in question)... oh. No, they leave her to wander around their control room unfettered. As you do with a captured enemy.
These are DALEKS?
Well, no, as it turns out. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
So, anyway, the Doctor and Jack have to rescue Rose from the Emperor's flagship. That's a big space ship: even the smaller ones hold 2,000 Daleks apiece; the Emperor's must be a mile across, easily. Gosh, I can see there's going to be some problems here! The Doctor doesn't know what the Daleks have done with Rose, so he'll have to materialise the TARDIS in some inconspicuous corner, and they will have to sneak through those Dalek-infested corridors until they can find Rose, rescue her, then make their escape.
Or not. A better plan would be to fly the TARDIS through space (it's not as though it can just disappear in one place and reappear in another, after all) and let the Daleks shoot at it. Because, what with the Time War and everything, they certainly won't have developed any TARDIS-busting missiles, will they? Certainly not one that the Doctor's TARDIS can't withstand, because it's such a super-duper advanced model, isn't it, not a crappy old mark 40 or whatever.
Or not. Still, in some unexplained manner, it allows Jack to charge up a gun he put together out of something he lifted from a makeover show, and a force field, and - I can't be bothered with more sarcasm, yes, Russell has the TARDIS miraculously locate Rose in the Emp's mile-wide ship and appear around her, and then they have a forcefield which follows them around so they can step outside and belittle the Daleks even more, just in case we didn't get the point that the metal monsters have now been turned into pussies.
And apparently the Daleks call the Doctor "the oncoming storm". Very poetic, just the sort of thing you expect from them.
Sigh. This is just one thing that Russell got completely, almost mind-bogglingly wrong. The Daleks. I could write more Dalek-like Daleks. You could. How could he possibly not get them right?
Sigh. So Russell disses the Daleks. OK, let's move on. Without further ado, cutting to the chase, etc...
Then we have the Delta Wave. The Doctor spends most of the episode connecting cables so he can wipe out most of the human race, in order to wipe out the Daleks (which are also, in fact, human beings, pulped, filleted, etc). And he doesn't know whether the Daleks ALSO have colonies and outposts, where they too will survive out there in space. Did they put all their eggs in one basket? He doesn't know. But he carries on, building a machine that he will eventually wimp out from using in any case.
OK, so Russell disses the Doctor.
And we have Rose sent back in time. Nice touch. Nice speech. And then she decides to come back. And she tries to open up the TARDIS with a car. Nope, doesn't work. It's a piece of alien technology, the apes in 2001 may as well have hit the monolith with the jawbone of an antelope. So she tries something clever, like, oh, asking it? She perhaps finds some key, some clue she left herself from the future (the password to open the TARDIS is "Bad Wolf," perhaps?)
No, she uses a tow truck. Nice one. First Russell disses the Daleks, then the Doctor, and now the TARDIS.
Meanwhile, back at Satellite 5, Jack gets to make a rousing speech: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are at war" etc.
And the Daleks finally get to look menacing for a while, as they blast away everyone in sight. Just like in Dalek, the only thing that makes them into even a shadow of their former selves is blowing away extras. No cunning, no other forms of ruthlessness. Plus we get the same "overkill" that turns up again in Doomsday: namely, Russell can't make a few Daleks threatening - we have to have millions. So you know there's got to be some sort of deus ex machina to remove them all, whether it's an extra-dimensional vacuum cleaner or "Vortex Rose" (which also sounds like a vacuum cleaner, come to think of it).
Oh, and I almost forgot, the Daleks have got religion.
What? But, the Daleks have always had religion. Their creed has never changed: "we are the supreme beings, everyone else is scum to be used and lied to as necessary, and then exterminated." Why do they need to dress it up any other way, or try to force other "inferior" beings to "Worship him! Worship him!"? Well, because it's sledgehammer time (again). Because Russell is moralising (again), showing how bad religion is. Never mind whether it makes sense, helps the story, contradicts characterisation, or not, he's got to get that soapbox stuff in somehow.
So, the Daleks invade. Everyone dies, heroically or otherwise. There is a steal from Destiny of the Daleks - "My vision is impaired!" - and finally, with a merry quip, Jack is exterminated, the Doctor is surrounded, there is a showdown with the Emperor, the Doctor wimps out, and . . .
Enter Jennifer Saunders, singing: "With a wave of my magic wand, your troubles will soon be gone..."
Sorry, what I meant to say was, enter Billie Piper and lots of glowing ectoplasm, to save the day.
Now, that's a nice trick. We can use it next time the universe is threatened, surely? Cybermen? No problem. Just get someone to gaze into the heart of the TARDIS, and zap 'em into atoms.
But wait. The Doctor tells us: "No-one's supposed to do that!"
Why not? It appears to work. Is it illegal, immoral, fattening, or just dangerous? Apparently the latter, but this is not explained, and NO REASON IS GIVEN AS TO WHY the Time Lords didn't do the very same thing at any point in the Time War! Couldn't a volunteer have been found to look into the heart of a TARDIS and save Gallifrey, to save all the Time Lords, to save Susan and Romana and the Master and the Meddling Monk and all the others? And whoever did it wouldn't even have to die, because Time Lords can regenerate.
This is incredibly, inexcusably lazy writing. Worse than the earlier miraculous rescue of Rose, worse than the tow truck.
What else? Well, the Doctor continues to prove he's a wimp by not saving the world, as he'd promised to do earlier. So the Earth remains in ruins, presumably. And Jack is resurrected, but no one else is, as far as we know, even though millions of people must have been wiped out.
And what about the "Bad Wolf" business? Gosh, talk about coitus interruptus. We were built up slowly, week by week, to expect something truly wonderful, something utterly brilliant. And then the climax was so . . . pointless. I know Russell can't resolve a plot sensibly to save his life (see The Second Coming, The End of the World, Boom Town, Doomsday etc, etc). But honestly, he could have just read some of the speculation on Outpost Gallifrey and come up with a better idea. Even my "password to enter the heart of the TARDIS" idea would have been better than "Oh yes, must send myself a reminder to rescue the Doctor from certain death."
(Incidentally, speaking of resolutions that didn't quite make it, wouldn't New Earth have been great if only Cassandra had, at the last moment, and unnoticed by anyone else, leapt out of Chip and possessed her younger self, thereby becoming an immortal time loop being? Wouldn't that have been just SO Doctor Who? That's just a random example of how Russell has let down my expectations. I actually think New Earth is his best script so far, except for the Sarah Jane Adventure).
Someone give the man another BAFTA, and tell him he's a genius.
"... in the Emperor's Clothes" by Thomas Cookson 14/2/13
This improves on part one simply by dispensing with the Reality TV crap. I think this story sealed fandom's division. Some fans received stick from sycophants just for questioning Russell's sci-fi credentials even before New Who began. But this story definitely made fans either fall fanaticaly in love with RTD, or feel utterly cheated.
Many fans weren't expecting the new series to be 'our' show anymore. But this story showed millions of Daleks invading Earth just as we'd always imagined but never seen, and penned a poignant love letter to the Doctor, and the utilitarianism and hope he represents and inspired in us. I'll admit this story can still hit my squee-spot now.
Lynda getting sucked out into space is still disquietingly dark stuff, as is the Dalek's silent "Exterminate". Captain Jack's unbroken faith in the Doctor after the Emperor Dalek reveals the truth about the Delta Wave is spirit-raising. The Doctor briefly fooling Rose with an inspired burst of false hope and tricking her into the TARDIS and sending her away is beautifully poignant and Eccleston's face is a picture as he watches the TARDIS vanish. The Doctor's message "have a good life" gains strong emotional weight by the season's progression so far. Jackie for once comes off as genuinely maternal and sympathetic.
Joe Ahearne's direction is superb. Whether panning on the Dalek's eyestalk slats as if representing a double helix as the Doctor talks of Dalek DNA, or filming Rose's frantic attempts to fly a dead TARDIS from a distance to emphasise her helplessness. He also maintains that feeling of the station interior in perpetual spinning motion.
However, it's difficult for him to get mileage out of the gun battles. Because, like everything else in RTD's era, they're too one-sided. Had there been more successful attempts to repel the Daleks, if the laser defences worked initially, slicing the Daleks apart but were quickly overridden, or the bastic bullets destroyed a few Daleks but couldn't hold back the tide, it'd be more riveting and interesting. Making the fight and the numbers matter. Instead the fight becomes almost sterile, lacking conflict. Not quite Doomsday's one-sided Dalek-Cyberman battle excesses that were taken to unpleasant, queasy and unhealthy-to-watch overkill, but not climactic either.
There are also moments I loathe. Mainly in the Doctor's first confrontation with the Emperor. The Doctor's far too jolly and flippant with these all-feared mortal enemies he's supposedly burning with hatred towards. I hated his "okey doke, where were we?" and the Daleks retreating in fear when he yells at them. Why undermine the Daleks and the drama like this? Is it Russell's love of annoying the fans and treating the show's drama and sacred cows so vitriolically? Or did he really think this would balance against the story's darkness and keep it somewhat populist and worthy of the Saturday light-entertainment slot? But it comes off as obnoxiously desperate. Once you've gone down this dark path, why would such silly gurning moments be what the story needs?
It's a shame because otherwise the Emperor's lair scene was a bold, beautiful statement that Doctor Who was back with unfinished business, and that the show's lore wasn't forgotten. Yet I now find myself irritated and cringing when after the Doctor's sad lament of "you hate your own existence", he does that broad 'kiss my cheeks' parting grin to the ranting Daleks.
Supposedly, the war-damaged Doctor often forced his flippant frivolity as a defence mechanism. Sometimes I can believe this. In fact, during the Tenth Doctor's speedy rescue of Rose from the Daleks in Doomsday, I briefly believed Tennant's reckless, hyperactive, high-functioning, narcissistic adolescent personality was like Colin's ruthless Doctor. Regeneration adopting a more daring personality naturally better suited to a dangerous universe and to confrontations and reckless rescues like a one-man army. But most days I just sense cynical popularising and audience-conscious desperation behind it.
What purpose did the religious Daleks serve? Maybe the Dalek concept needed updating. Maybe making the Daleks represent Nazis or atomic mutations worked only back when those themes were relevant and now it's necessary to make them represent something current. Rob Shearman made the Daleks work for an age of psychological study by having the Dalek represent the dark, withdrawn and caged part of the human psyche.
But Russell arbitrarily picked religious extremism, even though nothing suits the Daleks less. He wrote Dalek Caan as a soothsayer prophesising Donna's death, even though this was another RTD metaphorical 'spiritual' death cop-out. Daleks don't deal in 'spiritual death'. If Donna is biologically still alive, polluting the purity of the gene pool, then that's not remotely death from a Dalek's view.
The Daleks are materialists, obsessed with science and genetic purity. Since we live in a superficial materialistic culture characterised by anxiety and insatiable consumerism as an aversion therapy, the Daleks could easily represent that.
But here the Daleks have to represent religious extremists because RTD's a militant atheist who always villainises his opponents. Like how Victor Kennedy and Lance in The Runaway Bride represented his fan critics. Doctor Who was RTD's haven for his chips on his shoulder, one-sided politics and intellectual conceits at their most conceited. Like when the Doctor dismisses the Cat Nuns' arguments about the need for advancing medical science, proving them wrong with an impossible quick-fix solution. Or when Roderick is portrayed as an avaricious money-grubber (who's so one-note characterised he even tells the surrounding Daleks "I'm a winner, you can't do this to me" as if expecting them to deliver his prize money), because Russell needed to villainise him and having him just want to survive the games wasn't enough.
Why was RTD chosen as showrunner? The BBC lately have been messing the show around, which I doubt they'd be doing if RTD was still in charge. The BBC wanted RTD on-board, and they wanted him kept happy. Queer as Folk made him a sought-after writer and the BBC wanted him writing for them rather than Channel 4, but they could only tempt him by giving him Doctor Who. Hence why potentially better showrunners Moffat and Gatis weren't chosen, and why RTD was given total creative control and was allowed to be as tactless as he liked in interviews. No one at the BBC wanted to upset him, and the gap year was so the BBC could keep Russell for one more year. Doctor Who's curse was that its only hope of revival was through a man with massive fannish neuroses and insecurities, cynical sensibilities, egotistical arrogant determination, and who'd built his writing career on his belligerence and vitriloic personality (inspiring similarly rhetorical, militant, belligerent fans).
That's not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe TV needed to reassert its roughshod, spiky anger, like the days of Boys From the Blackstuff, when main characters could show hostile, nasty, petty traits, but still be overall sympathetic and altruistic.
TV has long prepped us for a classless, guiltless, pigeon-holeing culture that thinks itself better, more enlightened and morally superior. We believe we're better people as a result, with everything snobbish, judgemental, spiteful, nasty, negative and unsavoury about ourselves being not so much purged but compartmentalised, hidden and denied, but still there. Like our self-improvement shows, making us feel inadequate, fragile, precious and needy, and that we need to shape up socially to be part of the high functioning, hedonistic high life, to be quick and witty and worth people's time. TV can make people feel inadequate or unfulfilled if they're not part of that (because our culture's so enlightened and groomed, that for anyone who doesn't fit in, the problem must lie within them), and even instills a need to externalise such shame onto others, particularly given how vicarious TV has become.
This probably explains fandom's extreme energies towards compartmentalising and deflecting even our own fannishness, and how sanctimonious, snobbish, and ultimately heartless and cold fandom has become. RTD's era was about unsavoury naked vitriol and spikeyness in our heroes. Even whilst dealing in crass stereotypes, perhaps Russell was planting a seed of doubt within our pigeon-holeing attitudes. Maybe Russell was holding a mirror to our true selves, providing a wake-up-call reality check and breaking the spell that the media has over us. Although a precious part of me always feels uncomfortable with such jarring, vitriolic moments, maybe there's a need to appreciate ungroomed anger and vitriol.
Whilst RTD's writing was cynical, angry and hard to swallow, maybe there was a glimmer of a noble purpose behind Series One's anger. Maybe even the fan-baiting was about galvanising anger and nerd-rage towards a positive goal.
After The End of Time, I was more inclined to think vitriol and cynicism was all RTD ever brought to Doctor Who and fandom. But perhaps here it meant something as Rose made that beautifully inarticulate speech at how sick she is of kow-towing to our passive-aggressive modern way of life, now that the Doctor's shown her something better.
One thing I've changed my view on is the story's moral denouement. Back in 2005, I understood the Iraq War was wrong. Yet the whole War on Terror felt so surreal in its arbitrary idiocy. We were saturated with so much news information that I felt overwhelmed, confused, exhausted and apathetic about it.
I knew the war was wrong but couldn't summon the convictions to truly feel it or say why, because no one could really argue an alternative. There was something diabolical and soullessly evil about 9/11. Everything felt in a haze after that. Maybe the Bush administration's belligerence was worth it for the sake of eliminating bin Laden. But now that's finally happened I feel hollow about the whole war. It wasn't worth it.
Perhaps this morally, intellectually simplistic Doctor Who was needed. A hero of moral certainty, rash judgements and direct action, and Rose's growing realisation that gravitating to the high life isn't as important as being a good person, concerned for her fellow man. I gravitated towards this story as arguing fundamentally and simply that destroying innocents to get at the guilty is always wrong.
But it's a rubbish metaphor because destroying the Earth along with the Daleks actually is a moral imperative. The Daleks ensured neither the Doctor or the population had anything to lose anymore. If he didn't destroy them, they'd go on to devastate every world in the galaxy.
The Doctor constructs and discards his weapon with the same disposability of Russell's own writing and treatment of plot devices. The Doctor promised he'd 'wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the skies', and then breaks that promise, betraying everyone who died fighting, thinking they were buying him precious time to build and use this weapon.
I can speculate maybe he looked at the Emperor and saw himself reflected back, or vainly hoped a Dalek race at war with its own human DNA might eventually appreciate human qualities if allowed to live. Or maybe RTD feared mainstream audiences would feel affronted by the assertion that Earth's population deserved getting put to the sword for watching trash TV.
But really, the Ninth Doctor's refusal to press the button, willing to die a failure rather than take his enemies out with him, makes as much character sense as... contestants willingly walking into a disintegrator chamber. The Doctor relents because RTD says so. I didn't believe the scene or buy the Doctor's decision. I kept expecting he'd come to his senses and press the button.
Even Davison's Doctor would've done it. Suddenly I understand why even 80's defenders complained that Eccleston's Doctor was an ineffectual liability.
The hollow deus ex machina resolution is forgivable if you wonder how it could have really ended any other way, but it's an easy get-out that almost makes this story feel like hollow hype and nothing more. Perhaps it's saved by Joe Ahearne's solid direction, the huge collateral and the Doctor being left as the last man standing, giving the spectacle enough dramatic punch to compensate.
Maybe it's still more than the sum of its parts.