Wednesday, 14 November 2012

No More Mr Nine Guy

Doctor Who
Bad Wolf and The Parting Of The Ways
Series One, Episodes Twelve and Thirteen

Talk about a game of two halves.  The Series One finale starts out as a sequel to The Long Game, and to be honest it's not much of an improvement.  By the end, though, things have escalated to epic proportions.  The second episode juggles emotional highs as if they were satsumas, and ends the Ninth Doctor's brief era in triumph.  Blimey.  Where did that come from?

Surprise! It's not as crap as it looks!
First, this sequel business.  Finding out The Long Game was only there to set up this situation might explain why it contained barely enough incident to fill a Previously montage, but does knowing the grand plan suddenly make it a good episode?  Nope.  It just turns a seemingly unfortunate failure into a deliberate one, which is actually worse.

Onto the plot.  The Doctor, Rose and Jack find themselves teleported into Big Brother, The Weakest Link and What Not To Wear, but not as we know them.  100 years on from The Long Game, the shows are running en masse, and the losers are executed.  You'd have to be a newly-arrived alien toddler to think this was a brand new idea, and the sheer imagination fail goes all the way down.  Okay, gameshows that kill you.  Dumb idea, and we don't need to see it three times in the same episode, but it could work.  But... literally Big Brother, with the same theme music and everything?  Hundreds of thousands of years in the future, and we're still watching the same TV shows, albeit with different outcomes, with the same presenters, albeit as robots?  We're even wearing the same clothes.  Much of that isn't the case now, seven years later, let alone in the distant future.

The worst thing isn't just the total absence of imagination on the part of the writer: it's the suggestion that our feeble brains just couldn't handle anything else.  Going to the future?  Better make it all exactly the same, or our heads might explode with confusion!  Give us some credit.  (I know they do this to avoid dressing people up in tin foil and making random guesses at how technology will work, but there has to be a middle ground between that and just not doing anything at all.)

It might work if it made any kind of satirical point, but none of it adds up.  There are some shows where you don't even die, like Stars In Their Eyes (hey kids, who remembers Stars In Their Eyes?  Don't all jump at once...), where you get blinded.  Then there's the contestants: The Weakest Link bunch are terrified, apart from one who's coldly bent on self-preservation, whereas the Big Brother morons seem to have almost no problem with any of it, acting exactly like contestants from the present day.  Meanwhile on Earth, people watch this stuff for fun, even though contestants are picked at random and anyone could be next.  Huh?  As for the Doctor opening their eyes to how this is A Bad Thing, well thanks for that, Captain Obvious.

It's not all bad.  It's fun to hit the ground running for once, and the Doctor's immediate dark suspicions that something deeper is going on nearly renders all that buffoonish Anne-droid stuff quite exciting.  (Though seriously, Anne-droid?  Y'know, some jokes take all of five seconds to come up with because they're no damn good.)  The Doctor's scenes with Lynda are a nice repeat of the Doctor-meets-companion process, and a timely reminder that there's more to the companioniverse than just Rose.  (Not that she's especially glad to hear it, and not that we can keep her while we've still got Blondie.  Still, it's perfectly valid seeing that sometimes it doesn't work out.)  Also, it's great seeing what happens when the Doctor affects history in a bad way, all of this being arguably his fault.  Shame we can't really examine what that means, but hey, the consequences are dire, so he certainly pays for it.

Can we keep he...oh, forget it.
Even so, you might as well spend the first thirty minutes doing the dishes.  Until Rose gets discintegrated which let's face it, was always going to be a highlight Bad Wolf is largely dross.  But then the Doctor gets mad, and things heat up very, very quickly.  With a big gun in hand and Jack as his loyal bulldog, he barges upstairs to get some answers.  (He's not going to use the gun, of course; it's a nice moment when he scares the staff to death, then wins them over on the spot.)  The tension is palpable, and hearing the Contoller talk of her "masters", who speak of the Doctor and fear him, is a bag of chills even if you saw the Next Time trailer the week before and already know it's the Daleks.

Eeeeeee!  Daleks!  You can forget about the friendly one we met earlier this series; these guys are the real deal.  If anything, they're crazier and more dangerous than the ones us fustery old fans are used to.  They've got religion, thanks to their power-mad Emporer, and it's bliss watching them rant, wobble and exterminate everything in sight.  That's more like it, boys.

We end on a cliffhanger that forgoes scary for awesome.  The Doctor's going to get Rose out of their clutches and then kill 'em all over again.  It's been building to this.  All that Time War angst, that guilt, comes volcanically to the surface.  Oh yes.

But the next episode isn't all Doctor Who Goes To War.  The Parting Of The Ways does the big stuff you've been waiting for, and it does all that really well, but it's the smaller character moments that make it a real knock-out.  Little bits like "I never doubted you." "I did", and the way the Doctor snaps between showboating for the Daleks, and resting his head against the TARDIS doors in probable defeat.  Never mind the camp satire, the bad jokes and the stupid plot handwaving.  It's little conversations and moments Russell T Davies does best, and this one's full of them.

There's gobs of stuff about Rose and the Doctor, and their relationship.  Just before he sends her (unwillingly) to safety, the Doctor beams at her refusal to suggest simply legging it in the TARDIS.  Rose certainly ain't perfect, but at last we've laid bare what the Doctor actually likes about her: the courage to help people, no matter what, something she's learned from him.  Ignoring all her less flattering aspects (and he does), she's living proof that he's doing good.  Of course there's other stuff, like how terribly nice it is for him to feel needed, but that has to end some time.  He sends her away, knowing he's probably not going to make it and that if she survives, he'll have done something right.  This whole sequence, from the Doctor's knowing looks to the emergency hologram telling Rose to lead a good life, works brilliantly.

"Oh, TARDIS, I'll miss you.  That and what's-her-face."
Back home, she's forced to re-evaluate her commitment to the Doctor.  It's wonderfully wrong being stuck in a cafe eating chips while the Doctor faces certain death in the future.  Of course, most people wouldn't see it that way "That's years off", according to Jackie but Rose has learned to see time differently, and this conversation puts that marvellously into perspective.  It shows how she's grown apart from everything she knows, and does it with far more grace than the general smugness she radiates in other episodes.

Also great?  Rose using her experiences, specifically getting to meet her dad, to convince Jackie that the Doctor's worth saving.  It's a satisfying dollop of continuity, and it's great to see Jackie consider things from more than one point of view.  Mickey's got a lot to work with too, silently raging at Rose's lofty ambitions but ultimately helping her anyway, because it'll make her happy.  It's just a shame these two had to start out completely one-dimensional to underscore how far they've come.  (Similar applies to Captain Jack, although he hasn't grown so much as picked one of his random attributes, and stuck to it.)

Not so great, though, all that stuff about ripping the TARDIS open.  Yes, it vaguely ties in with the end of Boom Town, and I know I just said I like a bit of continuity, but heartening as it is seeing Mickey and Jackie working together to help the Doctor, what difference is a tow truck going to make to an ancient spaceship?  What's holding it together, Cellotape?  Surely Rose can't hope to gain much from transforming into a foetus, and that's all she's seen the heart of the TARDIS actually do.  Then, after a lot of time spent vaguely wondering what Bad Wolf means, it turns out it means Really Silly Thing That Makes No Sense.

What is the Bad Wolf?  The time vortex, apparently.  Or is it the TARDIS?  God knows.  Is it God?  Apparently it's in the Doctor's head all the time, although that doesn't seem likely since having the Bad Wolf in his head immediately kills him.  Sending the words through time seems like a neat idea, but they don't have anything specific to do with Rose's rescue plan, so you've got to wonder how much they really help.  "Of course!  I can try to save the Doctor!  Now all I need to do is come up with a way to actually do that!"

It gives Rose God-powers to make the Daleks go away, simple as that.  How much this works or annoys you depends on you.  Is it a cheat?  Probably, since what little we know of the TARDIS doesn't suggest it's possible.  But it's intended more as an emotional climax than a plot-point and... okay, I'm not even convincing myself here.  It's stupid, I agree.  And to top it off, after all that splendid work fleshing out their relationship, Eccleston has to say "I think you need a Doctor"?  Ugh.  It's even worse than "Anne-droid".

This makes Colin Baker falling off his
exercise bike look like complete pants!
There's an old adage: wow them in the end, and you've got a hit.  This one does.  Never mind all that dumb stuff could there be a more amazing ending than this regeneration?  What with his Time War Trauma, the Doctor's never been more in need of a clean slate, and the old gimmick of changing the lead actor allows for a brilliant conclusion to his story.  The whole sequence is unforgettable: the Doctor's reaction is beautifully varied, the script handles it with sensitivity and wonder, and the special effect is none too shabby either.  It's quite possibly the Best Regeneration Ever.

The Doctor's on top form throughout, facing the Daleks en masse, making that tough decision about Rose, and finally realising he can't go through it all again.  He'd rather be defeated than sacrifice another species.  (This is still a bit muddled, as Earth has by this point been bombed to pieces by Daleks, so it wouldn't make much difference if he did wipe out humans and Daleks alike.  But, hey, the point stands: he's had enough.)  We've only known him for thirteen episodes, but Doctor No. 9 goes out with a bang.  Doctor #10, in all of ten seconds, arrives with one.

Out of the ashes of a mostly-rubbish first episode, and despite some total idiocy in the execution, The Parting Of The Ways somehow leaves me satisfied every time I see it.  It's grand in the action stakes, sublime in its character beats, and well, two out of three isn't anything to sniff at.  Not everything gets tied up Earth is left a depopulated bombsite, and for all his noble do-goodiness, Jack is unceremoniously stuck there – but it ends on a spectacular note, and that's what I'd hoped for.  Goodbye, Big-Ears.  I'll miss you.


  1. Not going to bother discussing since I tremendously dislike this episode, but GOOD TITLE for you review. :D

  2. Interesting read, but I think you might find this post on Shabogan Graffiti interesting: It takes a look at the Bad Wolf episode in particular and reads a bit more into it, I think the guy finds some really interesting things to say about the episode and what it's trying to say :)

    Cool blog dude - love the name :)