BAD WOLF/THE PARTING OF THE WAYS
"You have got to be kidding."
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We take it all back.
Well, sort of. We still stand by everything we said about the other Ninth Doctor episodes. But the scales have fallen from our eyes. We get it. Come back Russell T Davies, all (well, OK, a lot) is forgiven.
He's a sneaky one, that Russell T. Here we were, hating on The Long Game because it had far too many honking weighty themes for too small a space, and it turns out that The Long Game is really the first part of a trilogy. Bad Wolf and The Parting Of The Ways form the other two parts, creating a nice little mini-arc and making The Long Game look a whole lot more deserving of its part in the series. We suspected that The Long Game wasn't going to be the last we heard of that particular set of events (as we said at the time, the title's a wee bit of a giveaway), but we didn't expect it to come back with the satisfying smack it achieves.
Quite the eye-opener. But that's a mere frisson compared to what else the Bad Wolf/Parting Of The Ways finale manages. By the end, what was dim is so bright it hurts your eyes. What seemed like a disconnected jumble of episodes falls into a carefully crafted shape. And most important of all, suddenly it all makes sense.
All series long, the Doctor hasn't been the man we used to know. He hasn't been the guy you can rely on - instead, he's frequently been the most dangerous person to be standing next to. He's bitter. He's broken. He never has a plan. He says sorry, all the time. He might save the day, but don't count on it: chances are it'll be someone else who has to step up to the plate.
At first glance, Bad Wolf/Parting Of The Ways looks like more of the same. In some ways, it is more of the same. Russell T Davies, who clearly sleeps with Genesis Of The Daleks under his pillow, makes the Doctor grapple with the Big Decision. Is he going to wipe out the Daleks and take the humans with them, or is he going to stay his hand even though he knows that if he does any surviving humans will be turned into Daleks? And with a figurative wire in each hand, the Doctor elects to stop short of genocide.
Of course, this still leaves billions of humans dying and/or hoovered up to become baby Daleks. So what's the Doctor going to do about it? True to form, he doesn't have a plan. Theoretically, it's possible that he has Plan B tucked up his sleeve and was interrupted before he could swing into action, but in practice, that ain't gonna fly. You only have to look at his face to know he's got nothin'. It's up to Rose to do the galloping up on a white horse.
So just what kind of limp lettuce leaf is this guy, anyway? After all, take a look at his track record: in Rose, Rose has to save the world from the Nestene Consciousness. In The End Of The World, it's Tree Girl who makes the hard decision to die for the cause. In The Unquiet Dead, it's Gwyneth who chooses to die. In World War Three the Doctor gets to duck the decision whether to risk Rose's life as Rose decides. In Dalek, it's true that the Doctor does make the tough decision, trapping Rose with the Dalek in order to save the world - but when he realises Rose is still alive he elects not to do the same thing again, thus cancelling out the first decision. The Doctor's then faced with whether to be as evil as his enemy, but again is spared when Rose makes the decision. In The Long Game it's Cathica who chooses to risk her life. In Father's Day, although admittedly the Doctor sacrifices his own life, that's not enough and it's Rose's Dad who saves the day. In The Doctor Dances, first Nancy puts herself on the line by acknowledging Jamie as her child, then Jack prepares to sacrifice himself to get the bomb away from Earth. And notoriously, in Boom Town the Doctor's faced with a hard decision but never has to make it.
Pretty crap, eh? We've certainly moaned enough about it. Why, we said, can't he do something? Can't he get a plan? Can't he get a clue? And when's he going to stop saying sorry?
Well, now we know. The Parting Of The Ways suddenly makes it clear that complaining the Doctor's no longer the hero of his own series misses the point entirely. Rose's chip-eating speech puts the whole series into a new perspective: what this Doctor actually does is much less important than the effect he has on others. Look again at that list: every person on it becomes a hero because of the Doctor's influence. And in the end, that's a lot more important than his personal derring-do. He's only in one place for a short time - but after he leaves, his influence on the people he's met goes on, and it's that which makes the universe a better place.
So the Doctor may be saved by Rose in The Parting Of The Ways, but that's not simply because he's lost his mojo and somebody has to do it. It's because of his influence on Rose, and because of his influence on Jackie, and because of his influence on Mickey. There's no doubt he's not the same Time Lord he was, but through his influence he's pulling the strings just as much as he ever did.
Like we said, it all makes sense. Just when we're about to lose him, we finally get what the Ninth Doctor's all about. It's a triumph of writing that pulls together the threads running through all this series and weaves them into a coherent and satisfying conclusion. We might be sad that the Ninth Doctor's gone after so short a time, but it's a good kind of sad.
Of course, when we say satisfying, that doesn't mean we liked everything....
There's the reality TV stuff, for a start. Bad Wolf is marginally more satirical than any of the series's previous attempts, but it still sucks. Let's leave out the stupidity of assuming people are still watching the same TV shows and wearing the same fashions 200,000 years into the future: that jars on us much less than the sheer lack of originality. It's Big Brother, see, only when they evict you, they evict you from life! A thrilling concept, providing you've never heard of Rollerball, The Running Man, Series 7: The Contenders... Even the President Schwarzenegger jokeís been done before in Demolition Man. Apart from that fantastic spinning shot at the beginning and the introduction of Lynda, the Big Brother segment does nothing and goes nowhere. What Not To Wear, complete with smug innuendo and android-groping, is cringeworthy. The Weakest Link does at least inject some genuine menace, although the Rose as a pile of dust thing is lifted wholesale from Red Dwarf. Overall, it's a hideous misfire that seriously weakens the episode. Like we've said before, satire is more than just reproducing something and changing a couple of things: saying "You are live on Channel 44,000" instead of "You are live on Channel 4" is as lame as a duck with a sprained ankle. Lazy stuff. Nul points. (The one exception? Bear With Me. The best joke in the entire series.)
The Controller, too, is although a powerful image a very familiar one: we've seen something very similar in Star Trek and Babylon 5 just for starters. (We're guessing that the character is a nod to Lorraine Heggessey, the then-Controller of BBC1 who gave the new Doctor Who series the green light.) While her actions is whisking the Doctor out of the TARDIS (no, we have no idea how that's possible either) are a terrific link back to The Long Game (we particularly liked her repetition of "They are no one"), the whole thing's full of question marks. How, exactly, did she manage to truffle through the records, formulate her seditious plan and carry it out without the Daleks finding out?
And what about those Daleks, anyway? After the droopy-eyestalk specimen in Dalek, it's a relief to see them back in full menace mode, especially in the kind of gobsmacking numbers CGI makes a breeze. Even if they did insist on bringing a choir with them. The Dalek Emperor, however, we're not so sure about. Insane rantiness, although a refreshing change after all the capitalist villains of this series, only goes so far, especially when it's so... emotional. Why can't logical beings just stay that way? You'd think he was the Cybercontroller. As for the whole religion bit, it has the unfortunate effect of making the Daleks seem just a bit silly. "Exterminate!" is one thing, "Worship him!" is quite another. We fell about. (It does lead to the great in-joke, though: ď..half-human?Ē ďBlasphemy!Ē One for the fanboys.) And while we love the Daleks' inexorable and pitiless advance through the station - it's a particularly bleak base under siege story that works incredibly well - it's undercut by their indecision. So you're not going to give in, then? Right, we're killing Rose. Yes, we are. Don't try to stop us. You just watch. Oh, forget it.
And the Daleks' convenient overlooking of Rose's death isn't the only thing that's painfully squeezed to make the plot work. The TARDIS has a particularly bad time in this respect. How does the Controller get a transmat beam inside? Why does Rose say the TARDIS has no defences and will be destroyed by the Daleks' bombs? (Does Russell T Davies really think the TARDIS is a little blue box spinning in space?) How does it manage to materialise around Rose and a Dalek? Most painful of all is the revelation that you can open the heart of the TARDIS by yanking at it with a tow truck. We don't think we've ever seen a less Doctor Who-ly solution.
One of the big revelations in this two-parter is what Bad Wolf is all about. And while the solution is ingenious, it's also pretty disappointing, not least because it's so unlikely. If we wanted to leave a message to ourselves that we could go back and save the Doctor, the odds are somewhat higher that we'd write "You can go back and save the Doctor" rather than "Bad Wolf". Rose, letís face it, isnít exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer: how's she supposed to work that out? (It reminds us of Rimmer's theory in Red Dwarf that two broken legs represent aliens saying hello, only that was funnier.) Also, the message is in German on the bomb in The Doctor Dances, and what's the likelihood Rose speaks German? Or Welsh, come to that. You'd think she'd clock that when she was being all-knowing. Bad Wolf! No biscuit!
While the Doctor's character thread is nicely tied up, some important plot threads are left hanging. (We know some people think it's the Daleks rather than the Controller who put the Doctor into the Big Brother house, which goes to show how murky some of the writing is.) Most importantly, just what is it that happens to Earth? Rose is all about the bringing life, and we see her bringing Jack back. But does she bring back everyone else on the station? Does she undo what the Daleks have already done on Earth? Or is the "classic Earth" we see in The End Of The World the Earth before the Daleks messed with it? Granted, the Doctor's a bit tied up regenerating, and Rose is a bit tied up watching him regenerating, but neither of them seem particularly fazed by the deaths of billions. If there were still deaths of billions. It's a pretty vital piece of the plot that really should have been treated with a bit more respect.
Characterisation on the whole is pretty bloody good. The Controller is even if not particularly original very well done. Paterson Joseph is a trifle obvious as the me-first villain obviously destined for payback, but he's such a good actor he makes it work anyway. We knew, and so did you, that Lynda was destined for death the instant the Doctor promised to get her out alive, but we liked her character all the same (and she's another in the long line of characters who become heroes because of their contact with the Doctor). We particularly liked her asking the Doctor "Who are you, though, Doctor, really?", echoing Rose's same question to him in Rose. The Doctor can't change everybody (the reason for introducing Adam's character becomes a lot more obvious because of these episodes), but he reaches a lot of people. The way that Rose has grown under the Doctor's influence is less to do with anything special about her than it is about the Doctor: it's clear that Lynda given half a chance could have become a Rose too.
And the main characters? Jack starts out as revoltingly irritating as ever, but he does improve with the touching moment when he kisses both Rose and the Doctor. After that he's just your bog-standard hero: Han Solo without any of the interesting bits. We cheered when he died and groaned when he came back. Props to John Barrowman, who does a great job with the unpromising material at his disposal: it's not his fault that the character's so deathly dull. We devoutly hope that when we see him again he'll have developed a few interesting flaws.
While on the surface this looks like Rose's story, it's not Billie Piper's best work. She does do a great job with most of it: she's believably scared in The Weakest Link and believably impassioned when she's trying to get back to the Doctor. The trouble is, though, that she just doesn't have the acting chops to sell us the possessed by the spirit of time stuff: we were meant to be overawed, but instead we giggled. Rose has been an excellent character, definitely one of the best companions ever, but we're beginning to get the tiniest bit bored with her: we're wondering whether the character has anywhere further to go. Hopefully a new Doctor will bring out some new things for her to do.
Which leaves the Doctor: very appropriate, as the Doctor leaves us. A regeneration story is always very special, and this is no exception: Christopher Eccleston's performance is absolutely stellar. We've always said there are few actors who can do angst better than he can, and here he shows that off in spades. All of itís great, but where heís absolutely exceptional is in the shots where he says nothing, just reacts. Itís all beautifully restrained, and yet his emotions are plainly written on his face. Itís a thousand times more effective than sobbing, and whatís more, in those few shots we come to know him better than we ever have. Itís amazing stuff.
And at the last, we come to the regeneration scene. While it's slightly weakened by the explanation of what's going on (what was wrong with the surprise factor?), nevertheless it's pretty much all we could have asked and more. After the Doctor and Rose's very chaste kiss, we weren't worried that there was going to be some kind of gloopy declaration of love, and they didn't let us down. Instead, the Doctor gets over how he feels about Rose and his upcoming regeneration in a way that's both utterly non-gushy and uniquely him. It reminded us (and this is high praise) of Sarah Jane's leaving scene, where she and the Doctor are the opposite of gushing but their affection for each other is totally obvious. It's a perfect exit.
Then we see our new Doctor. And in a couple of lines, he absolutely nails it. We have a lot of respect for the uniquely talented Christopher Eccleston, but while he had some incredibly Doctorly moments, overall we never really got to believing in him as the Doctor. David Tennant, on the other hand, is the Doctor from the first time he opens his mouth. We can't wait to see more.
It's got some major flaws. But in what it achieves, it's a more than fitting ending to a great series.
MORAL: If at first you donít succeed, get a truck.
If evictees from the Big Brother house are zapped, why is there a door at the other end of the corridor?
ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER
When Lynda and the Doctor get out of the Big Brother house, the Doctor knows (or thinks) that behind the doors all around him people are still getting killed. Yet it never seems to cross his mind to let them out.
How come the Anne Droid's voice can be heard outside the game room? We can't hear any of the other games.
AND IT ALSO EXFOLIATES
Rose is transmatted, not disintegrated. So what exactly does that little pile of dust consist of?
Isn't that flickering image of the Doctor awfully Princess Leia?
I HAVE THE FEELING YOU'RE TRYING TO TELL ME SOMETHING
Yet again, Rose is spectacularly nasty to Mickey. Does she really have to say "nothing" in quite that tone?
In the big " Exterminate!" Bad Wolf finale, why are the Daleks leaping up and hovering like hyperactive hummingbirds?
THEY'RE TOO BUSY KILLING THE CONTESTANTS THE DOCTOR FORGOT ABOUT
There are lots of Anne Droids in lots of Weakest Link games. So why don't they use all of them against the Daleks?
THEY COULD SNEAK UP BEHIND US AND SPIT
Why do the Daleks bother killing the skulking unarmed humans? It doesn't do anything to advance their agenda. And how do they find them, anyway?
KISS ME QUICK
The "is this where I'm supposed to say..." couple are dreadful. A cliche acknowledged is still a cliche. There's even a "noooooooo!"
WE FORGOT TO DRAW THE CURTAINS
The moment when the Daleks rise up outside the station window is absolutely spectacular. It reminded us of the Dalek coming out of the Thames. However, how do they manage to break in when the upper floors are protected by a force field?
If the Daleks have weapons powerful enough to warp continents like silly putty, why don't they just destroy the station?
Why do mysterious forces always make your hair blow around?
NO, YOU EXTERMINATE
Daleks certainly have a gift for the bleedin' obvious. "TARDIS materialising"? You don't say.
PLEASE DON'T MAKE ME
Billie Piper struggles with the conduit of time stuff, but to give her her due, we can't think of anybody who could make "I want you safe. My Doctor. Protected from the fake god" work.
THE FATAL PUNSHOT
"I think you need a doctor"? Shoot that writer. Now.
OH, YEAH, ME TOO. DEFINITELY
When Rose says she can see the past, present and future all at once, the Doctor says he too sees everything every day. What's he going on about? Yes, he can travel in time, but it's abundantly obvious that he doesn't know bits of the future he hasn't experienced.
BUT I LIKE THESE EARS
Using the power of the heart of the TARDIS to foof around through time fixing things opens a squirming can of worms. If that's possible, why doesn't the Doctor bring back all the Time Lords killed by the Time War, for example? He'd only have to sacrifice one regeneration.
The lighting and direction of both episodes is fantastic, but we particularly like the lighting in the regeneration scene, where Rose is lit with a warm yellow light and there's a sickly green light on the Doctor.
Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK US: DVD not available
Buy entire series DVD box set: UK
Buy first and second seasons box set: UK: box set not available US