Saturday, 5 April 2014

'Bad Wolf' / 'The Parting of the Ways'

‘I’m coming to get you…’

Can the best Doctor Who stories be summed up in a question?
Is it possible to gather together all the elements of this whole complex 2005 season and, taking a great long run-up, jam them into a headfirst collision with every Dalek War fan fantasy your audience has ever had?

Best moment for Old School Who?
It must be the Dalek fleet and the cohorts of golden Daleks swimming in formation through space and converging on a tiny, decrepit space station where the Doctor and his friends and allies appear to be doomed. For all those times when Star Wars and Buck Rogers and Star Trek blew Doctor Who out of the water with their whizzy effects; for every space fleet built out of washing up liquid bottles limping through the firmament and every time the Daleks didn’t quite seem as deadly as they ought. This was what we’d been waiting patiently for. And we learned that a Doctor Who season climax – something we’d never really had many examples of before – has to be something you could imagine drawing on a huge sheet of card with felt tip pens when you were nine. Those are the best ones.

Best new thing?
Rewatching the whole of the 2005 season in just over a week – I’ve realized that lots of things distinguish it and elevate it over many that went before. Yes, there’s all the fabulous effects, the wonderful actors, the tighter plotting, the shorter episodes, the story arc stuff, the shedding of overt continuity, the use of clever continuity points, the homages, the in-jokes, the stunning revelations and innovations… but the thing that stands out in all of that – for me – is quite simple. It’s fidelity to characterization. And here in the finale, everyone is spot on. Everyone gets their moment to prove themselves – and all the characters we’ve loved all season get their moments of closure.

They’d never have got away with that in the 20th century…
In many ways it’s a classic Twentieth Century Dalek adventure – the base under siege by the murderous tin gits and everything at stake. But our route into it is very strange. The Daleks have been hiding for centuries, building up their forces and going gradually crazy in the dark. They’ve also taken over Earth’s television stations and filled the minds of every human being with enervating pap. The Doctor and friends begin this two-parter by being interpolated into trashy, futuristic versions of TV shows the audience at home will know very well. While at the time, this seemed a stunning and audacious approach – it’s also a reference back to Eighties Doctor Who, which had already dabbled with satires about reality TV and stories in which insane Daleks hid in the dark, turning human compost into their next generation. The look of this double parter even echoes 1980s Who.

What 80s Who would never have pulled off is the sudden spinning off into Rose stranded on Earth and how she gets her way back into the story. Her mother enables her to save the day – by borrowing a pick-up truck. It’s dizzying and gratifying for the audience to see the whole season arriving at a crescendo like this. Throughout the thirteen episodes we’ve been asked to consider a world in which Jackie Tyler’s precinct, pizza shop, and fluffy mules exist alongside Dalek fleets and mutated emperors. Now we get to see it all in one go.

Hurray for Jackie Tyler – best guest moment?
I love the poor ‘Controller’, who’s been the Daleks’ controller of TV programming since her childhood, strung from wires and unable to speak her mind until the solar flares erupt. It’s a lovely, short performance. I also love BB contestant Lynda, with whom the Doctor flirts and Rose looks askance. She’s one of those people the Doctor can’t save – and it’s a great little story, tucked inside the bigger one. And, of course, Jackie Tyler is back, doing a wonderful Jackie turn – angered by Rose telling her she went back in time to meet her dad. And then turning up with a ten tonne truck… helping her daughter even when she knows it’s going to break her heart.

The ‘I love me Nan…’ moment
It’s tight as anything. No room for sentimentality or self-indulgence here.

The Daleks are crazy fundamentalists, worshipping the Emperor! The Doctor finds himself in a position to wipe out all the Daleks (again!) at the cost of the planet Earth. This is how the Time War ended and, from what we surmise through the season, that time he actually did it – and blew the Time Lords and Daleks out of existence. But now we see him tested and he can’t do it again. He can’t bring himself to perform such a monstrous act, even in the name of peace.

(This is all very interesting, from a 2014 point of view – now that we’ve actually been back to see what really happened at the end of the Time War…)

The only glitch I really feel in this is the sudden escape of most of the space station’s inhabitants. We’re told there’s been an evacuation, but the whole place feels as if it’s had about twenty people in it, tops, throughout the whole story. It’s a small grumble, though – especially when the fate of those left behind is handled so gruesomely.

Where was I?
Holding my breath for the whole duration of both episodes. I loved the Doctor in the Big Brother house – giving away the fact he must have watched as many episodes as I have, the way he knew its dynamics inside out. I was caught out by every twist and turn and – crucially - I believed in them. The twists grow out of characterization – not out of a writer’s desire to wrongfoot the viewer. I completely believe that the Doctor would sent Rose home by tricking her, and that she would do anything – even stare into the heart of the TARDIS – in order to go back and save him. The build-up to the regeneration is majestic – as good as Logopolis. Better. And then the bathos of this chirpy cockney sparrow grinning at us in the final frames. It restores to us that lovely old feeling Doctor Who regenerations always gave us: Who the hell is this? Where’s the real Doctor gone? Does the new bloke even remember what he put us through..?!

Singlemost fabulous thing
I think it’s the hologram of the Doctor. We realise he’s tricked Rose and is sending her home. A pre-recorded message appears and tells her what he’s arranged. She will be safe. It’s too late for him. The TARDIS will die, gathering moss on Earth. Everyone will forget both him and it. Rose must go on with her life. And here, just for a second, we glimpse a possible ending to the Show. If the season hadn’t worked, if it hadn’t taken off – if thirteen new episodes were all it was going to be – this would be the ending. The hologram turns – with strange precision – to stare straight at Rose and the audience at home. And the Doctor says what seems to be a final goodbye.

But it tuned out a success after all. The Show was nowhere near the ending. But the moment is dangerous and wonderful.


  1. That hologram turning to look at Rose is, I think, the single strongest moment in all of Doctor Who.

    1. Agreed! It's just one of those shivers down the spine moments. Plus it makes me cry.

  2. THe thing that bugs me is that there must be in the 200000s, a late-90s, early 00s comeback.