Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways

Hmmm… 200,000 years in the future, and reality TV is still going strong? Humans still haven’t evolved into something more advanced? And still wear 20th century clothing? And fight Daleks with bullets? Where are the laser guns? You know, just set it in 2200 or something. That would be a believable yet distant time period. Half your problems are solved. The other half is not so easily dealt with.

How exactly did the teleport beam enter the TARDIS? How did the controller pilot it or otherwise bring it so she could hide it in archive 6? How did she know about the Doctor and detect the TARDIS in the first place? A lot of getting from point A to point B is skipped in setting this episode up, which a few lines of dialogue would have covered. Smacks of sloppiness to me.

Despite my nitpicking of the plot, I really did enjoy this set of episodes, until the last few minutes anyway. They start strong, build and build and then fizzle, before picking up again for the regeneration, but I’ll get to that in a moment. “Bad Wolf” is an episode that is superficially entertaining and pretty good once you get past the contentions I listed above

I despise reality TV, so I sympathize with the Doctor’s boredom on Big Brother. Game shows are better, but still not worth my time. I imagine a dilemma like Rose’s would be pretty nightmarish. “What not to Wear” is something my wife used to watch but which bored me to tears, so I found Jack’s version of the show much more entertaining. For once his over the top braggadocio seemed in-place as he was clearly having great fun with the androids. I hope he washed his hands after firing that gun though…

So the first half of the show is pretty light, but gets serious once we briefly think that Rose is dead. It’s good to see the Daleks again, and in numbers we could only have realized with models before. The pullback reveal of the Dalek fleet is great. The Doctor’s ‘I’m a tough guy’ speech is cringe worthy though. Really, the whole cliffhanger just lacks credibility. The Doctor goes all macho and talks himself up and generally fails to take the Daleks seriously, which of course invites the audience not to take them seriously either.

Then we come to “Parting of the Ways”, which really does contain some heartfelt emotion and genuine drama. It’s far better than “Bad Wolf”, and one of the better episodes of the season. It has its flaws of course, but is still very enjoyable.

I’ll start with the Daleks. I love CGI, allowing us to realize things that could never have been portrayed convincingly before, and it allows us to see a massive Dalek fleet, as well as hordes of Daleks. I’m sure this is what fans like myself have wanted to see on the show for ages: some sense of vast scale. Also welcome is the absence of Davros, and the return of the Dalek Emperor, who we’ve seen once before. Not so welcome are the emperor’s delusions of godhood and the Daleks’ cries of “Blasphemy” and “Worship him”. It’s difficult to see this as anything other than an attack on organized religion, since as an idea it adds nothing to the story. It doesn’t change the behavior of the Daleks, and allows the emperor to rant in a very tiresome way about how the Earth will become a paradise, and how he’s the creator of all things, blah blah blah. All very clichéd religious nut dialogue. Again, it’s a pity RTD can’t restrain his politics, get off his soapbox and simply tell a good story.

Stupid Dalek moments: the Daleks who can’t quite fathom that the Doctor won’t cooperate with them even when Rose is threatened, and the Daleks who back away when the Doctor tells them to shut up. Are they that afraid of him?

So Rose is rescued and along with the Doctor and Jack, returns to the gamestation, where the standoff begins. This episode really is Captain Jack’s finest hour, as he rallies the few brave station inhabitants to make a stand against the oncoming Dalek fleet and buys the Doctor enough time to set up his Delta wave weapon. Even his “if it moves flirt with it” persona is mercifully toned down this episode. He knows he’s probably going to die, either by the Dalek guns or the Doctor’s weapon, yet like the Doctor and Rose, running away is never an option for him. Again RTD can’t restrain himself and gives us Jack kissing both the Doctor and Rose goodbye. Admittedly both kisses are affectionate and quick rather than lascivious, but they are still unwelcome. And off Jack goes to fight the good fight. He faces death without flinching, and it’s good to see him returned to life by Rose (hope some others made it as well!) and I was genuinely sorry that he got left behind. Some great acting by Mr. Barrowman really conveys the sadness he feels.

The Doctor is almost his old self this episode. He’s generally brave and defiant in the face of an overwhelming Dalek threat, self-sacrificing, technically brilliant and compassionate. Up until the moment he wimps out, but I’ll get to that momentarily.

He comes up with the solution to the problem rather quickly: using the station’s transmitters to project a “Delta Wave”, which I can only assume is some sort of lethal energy. Said wave will destroy the Daleks en masse. The problem being there’s no time to fine tune it to only affect Daleks, so it will kill billions on the Earth as well. Nevertheless the Doctor throws himself into the work while still taking the time to send Rose home to safety. This is exactly what I expect the Doctor would do: get his friend out of danger while he takes the risks. His farewell hologram message to Rose is genuinely touching, as are her frantic cries of “take me back!” Well acted by both Eccleston and Piper. But then after all the humans on the station, including Jack, have given their lives to buy the Doctor time to finish his weapon, he fails. It’s at this point that the episode falls apart, after such a strong beginning and middle.

Once again, as in “Boom Town”, we are presented a situation in which the Doctor’s enemy is put on an equal or higher moral plane than the Doctor and allowed to dictate moral terms. “Coward or killer?” the Dalek Emperor asks. Once again the Doctor, our hero and primary protagonist, is put in his place by the monster. It’s utterly absurd. This idea that the Doctor is no better than his enemies if he stops their actions by killing them is moral relativistic garbage. By doing nothing to stop the Daleks when it is in his power to stop them, the Doctor has indeed become a moral coward and done greater evil than if he had used his weapon. Either he kills the Daleks and humans on earth, thus sparing the rest of the galaxy, or the Daleks kill the humans and in time expand to kill as many others in the universe as they can. Either way the inhabitants of Earth die. Sometimes life is messy, and the lesser of two evils is the only choice to make. It’s a pity that in a show called “Doctor Who” that the title character is outdone by both of his traveling companions, not to mention nameless extras. Standing up to evil, taking responsibility and making hard choices are what the Doctor has always been about, and yet both Rose and Jack manage to do that in this episode while the Doctor fails. Fails utterly. He’s not a bigger man for refusing to kill, but a coward who has saved no one. The point where the Doctor refuses to act is one of the lowest ever for the character, and is a monumental blunder that I hope is not repeated. And of course, all of this happens after the Doctor promised to “wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!” Apparently he can talk tough, but not actually follow through on his bluster. That’s not the Doctor I’ve been watching all these years. I don’t know who this man is.

Back to the story at hand: Rose saves the day. Billie Piper does an outstanding job in portraying Rose’s sadness and desperation in trying to get back to the space station. Her use of the TARDIS energy/time vortex to save the day is well portrayed, and her acting as the possessed Rose is superb. I don’t know if they treated her voice electronically (I imagine so), but its every bit as emotional and sad and just as wonderful to listen to as you can imagine. She finishes off the Daleks, ends the Time War and brings Jack back to life. It’s a great scene, and solves the problems of the episode. Sadly, as with “Boom Town” it also once again allows the Doctor to avoid making a hard choice, or in this case, allows him to escape the consequences of his choice. I’m tempted to just suggest that we change the name of the show to “Rose” and be done with it.

Others have addressed the flaws of using the TARDIS as a magic cure all plot device, so I won’t belabor that point. Suffice it to say, it’s too bad that the Time Lords didn’t figure it out if it’s so easy. I get mental pictures of Time Lord technicians doing routine TARDIS maintenance, accidentally looking at the power source and becoming demigods. “Castellan, we’ve got another one here…”

And then there’s the ending, which is a nice little sentimental regeneration scene, leaving me with some hope that next year we’ll have a happier Doctor in the form of David Tennant. The scene is well played by both Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston, though I’m not sure he was as fantastic as he claims. With the season over, I have to admit that Eccleston, while an excellent actor who really put a lot into the part, never seems very much like the Doctor to me. He doesn’t look like the Doctor with his buzz cut and leather jacket and collarless shirt; and he rarely acts like the Doctor, with rare exceptions. The romantic tension with Rose is often juvenile in the way its portrayed, and somewhat creepy considering they’re 1200 years apart in age.

Overall, “Bad Wolf” and “The Parting of the Ways” are a pair of episodes that encapsulate the uneven nature of series one: Brilliant at some points, hopelessly wrong at others. 7 out of 10 for the pair, though “Bad Wolf” is a weaker episode than “Parting of the Ways”, and “Parting” would get a better rating without the deux ex machina ending. It’s wonderfully dramatic, but crashes and burns when it comes to the payoff.

And with that, we come to the end of series one. Looking back, there are a number of flaws, and a number of strengths. The new series is certainly an improvement on the last few years of the original, with coherent storylines, strong acting most of the time, and some good visuals. I find the overt left-wing view of the world and the constant annoying sexual references unnecessary and offensive, but there’s just enough done right that I can ignore the bad taste left in my mouth and give the next season a chance. Whether or not I follow it after that remains to be seen. What’s just as bad as the general smutty undertones to the program is the fact that the Doctor has been turned into an ineffectual coward.

I’d love to give Russell Davies gushing accolades for bringing the show back, and I suppose he does deserve some credit for that… but if it’s ruined in the process, what’s the point? I’ll take comfort in the fact that no producer stays with the show forever. Maybe the next one will clean it up and return its the family show roots.

Posted in 9th Doctor - Christopher Eccleston

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