Not a “quickie review” because I thought this story merited a full-length review.
Where, oh, where do I start? The magisterial finale to Series 1 never fails to blow me away. It was just a perfect, flawless finale, resolving the first series of the revived series exquisitely. To my mind, although Pandorica is my personal favourite, Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways is still the best and tightest finale of the revived series—it exhibited a standard of writing and production that hasn’t since been matched (although Pandorica comes close). Unlike certain stories in Series 1 (*cough* Aliens of London *cough*), it has aged exceptionally well and retains an X-factor about it making it highly re-watchable.
It seemed to start indubiously enough. “You have got to be kidding me…” the Doctor said incredulously as he found himself in what seemed to be a futuristic Big Brother House. That opening was funny enough, but, nevertheless, from the otherwise comical outset it was clear that there was some mysterious force at work. Indeed, the episode employed a favourite plotting device of 1960s Doctor Who of beginning a story in an ostensibly innocent setting before gradually revealing more and more of the circumstances in which the Doctor has found himself, until the true magnitude of the threat is laid bare. It was really effective in stories like The War Games and works really effectively here, a slow build-up of suspense and plot, keeping the viewer gripped. The moment when this episode started to get sinister was when Fitch was disintegrated by the Anne Droid as the “weakest link”, and then when Crosbie is evicted from the Big Brother House.
The Doctor has come to some horrid places in his travels, but the Game Station has got to be one of the most repulsive. This is Satellite 5, and this is what has become of the human race since the Doctor last visited. The human race is reduced to ogling helplessly over their television sets, their lives consumed by watching mind-numbing game shows which kill their contestants as entertainment. A comment, obviously, on the increasingly television-dependent society of the modern world, where we increasingly live our lives vicariously in front of our TVs, often mesmerised by mindless reality television and asinine game shows.
Of course, it becomes clear that the Daleks are responsible, having been manipulating the human race behind the scenes for generations. The look on the Doctor’s face when the Dalek ships are revealed makes the skin crawl. They were all supposed to be dead—the Doctor saw to that. To see them again, I would imagine, would evoke a mix of indignation, grievance and vengefulness. He said it himself: if the Daleks survived, it means his people died for nothing. He killed his own people in vain. Unfortunately, though—and this is one of my minor criticisms of the finale—we didn’t get to see that in the Doctor. He was astonished, of course, to see so many Dalek ships again, but, apart from that, the Doctor seemed relatively unfazed by the sudden apparition of the Dalek legions. “Oh will you? That’s nice. Hello!” said the Doctor jovially as a Dalek greeted them over a viewscreen. If this were Matt Smith’s Doctor, he would be literally spitting with rage and disbelief. Eccleston has said that he thought he overdid the humour when he played the Doctor. Although I think he was fine, superlative even, up until now, with this I can see what he was getting at.
In any case, the production did a superb job of creating an ominous atmosphere around the Daleks in this episode. The Daleks have always been a slightly corny monster, but they were a truly scary and foreboding presence in Bad Wolf. We didn’t get to see the Daleks until the very end of the episode when the Dalek ships themselves were revealed. Whovians like us would have known, of course, who was behind it all, but, for the regular viewer, the eventual revelation would have been big. I remember being desperate to find out who the enemies were when I first saw this episode, and was suitably surprised when the Daleks were finally revealed. The sound effects also, in no small part, effectively created an ominous and intimidating aura around the Daleks. All this made it all the more awesome when the Doctor defied the Daleks. “You will obey or she will be exterminated,” said the Daleks. “No,” replied the Doctor. How succinct; how perfect. His declaration that he was going to save Rose, save the Earth and then, and I quote, “wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky” was one of those fist-pumping “Doctor” moments that I love writing about.
We discover that the Daleks are not “pure” Daleks, but Daleks created from harvested human cells. It’s a truly grisly, horrible thought, but it made for an interesting spin on the Daleks as we’ve traditionally known them. I almost felt sorry for these Daleks. They had been ensconced in their ships for hundreds of years, “hiding in silence”. The human inside them had driven them insane. They had begun to worship their Dalek Emperor as a god. They hated their own existence, begat of human remains. The Doctor was right that that made them more dangerous than ever. A self-loathing monster is truly something to fear.
The Parting of the Ways, though, was notable for its character-driven story, particularly for resolving Rose’s character arc. The Doctor tricked Rose into travelling back to her home, wanting to protect her. “Have a good life. Do that for me, Rose,” the Doctor’s hologram exhorted Rose. But she couldn’t. Rose had come too far just to return to her ordinary, safe, pre-Doctor life of work, sleep, chips and Mickey. Rose didn’t want to be home and safe. She wanted to be 200,000 years in the future, in mortal danger, helping the Doctor fight a hopeless battle against the Daleks. She would do anything to return to the Doctor, even if only to help him escape, and tried all she could to get the TARDIS to take her back to him. Every fibre of her being militated against meekly accepting defeat. Rose has changed because of the Doctor. The Doctor has shown her a “better way”. “There’s nothing left for me here,” she says—she knows, and he knows, that she belongs with the Doctor now, even if it means losing her life for him. When she’s finally able to return to the Doctor, by communicating with the heart of the TARDIS, it’s the gratifying culmination of her series-long character arc that’s seen her changed thoroughly by her life with the Doctor.
She’s also changed him. The Doctor, when the moment came, could not bring himself to activate the delta wave, killing all Daleks and humans alike. He knew the consequences of his reticence—the unleashing of the Daleks upon the entire universe—but ultimately his nerve failed him. This isn’t the man who said “Everything has its time and everything dies,” coldly as he looked on as Cassandra died, begging for mercy. This isn’t the man who was prepared to blow apart a Dalek to save a base full of people. This isn’t the man who was responsible for the genocide of two entire races. Rose has changed him, just as he’s changed her. When they first met, the Doctor was suffering from the trauma of the Time War. He was full of blood and anger and revenge. He’d been desensitised to killing and death, and cynical about life. Rose helped him recover. Rose reignited his love of life and his moral drive, and saw him become again the man he thought had been lost. The Doctor’s arc was subtle, but it was obvious what had happened to him over the course of this series when he couldn’t bring himself to do what he had already done once.
Between them, the character arcs of Rose and the Doctor were the highlight of this series and what this series was ultimately about. It culminated, of course, in Rose’s return to the Doctor as the Bad Wolf. Both Rose’s and the Doctor’s respective arcs had led them both to this moment. And what a glorious moment it was. Rose, the eerily angelic Bad Wolf, disintegrates the Dalek legions, ends the Time War, with the power of the time vortex. It was a really exhilarating resolution. Rose’s presence was unearthly and hair-raising. Some don’t like it and see it as a deus ex machina like cop-out, and to an extent it was, but, for those who revel in the character-driven plotting that formed the focus of this series, it’s a really gratifying and satisfying culmination. It would be a finale ending that would not be matched again, even by the superb Pandorica.
And then there was that regeneration. It was subtle, understated, but brilliant. The Doctor, although overjoyed that the Daleks had been vanquished, was obviously pained inside by his impending departure. He was not concerned with explaining to Rose what was about to happen—he was experiencing his last seconds of life, and his apprehension, and his sadness, showed through his jovial facade. He did, however, make sure he told Rose before he left that she was fantastic. And she was. And in the words that tied up the Doctor’s character arc: “And you know what? So was I.” No longer the self-hating, vengeful, traumatised, lonely war survivor. He had made peace with himself. He was a new man. Enter the Tenth Doctor.