Bad Wolf & The Parting of the Ways (Joint review)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 22 June 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

When I saw the trailer for Bad Wolf, I was dreading it - Russell T. Davies's flair for unsubtle, smug and crude satire had been rammed down my throat once too often and the prospect of seeing him riffing reality TV was not encouraging. It was nice to see a glimpse of the Daleks, but I was worried that they'd done a Planet Of The Daleks and ruined what could be an otherwise good cliffhanger by showing us the subject of it a week in advance. Fortunately, the season finale of the first series is not half as bad as I feared and does justice to an excellent reinvention of the programme; I may be disillusioned with Davies, but in fairness only two of the thirteen episodes have got a below-average rating from me and that's an impressive hit rate.

Things certainly get off to an overpowering start with the Doctor trapped in the Big Brother house, not knowing where he is, and with the picture hurtling around like the cameraman has middle ear trouble. The Big Brother theme tune is heard constantly and far too loudly throughout the pre-titles sequence - no disrespect to the people who made that song, but it makes my head hurt at the best of times. On the whole though, the game shows referenced work surprisingly well. Davies was restricted in his choice as he has to pick formats that will be recognisable outside the UK and therefore he has picked three shows that are far from new; I had this episode pegged as being the only story ever to be dated before it had even aired. It works though because Davies only focusses on the most basic elements of the formats rather than specifically picking each show apart. This means that for a person unfamiliar with one of the shows (certainly I have never watched an episode of What Not To Wear, and never intend to) the effect is still maintained as the generic ideas behind it remain undiminished. This means it may stand the test of time better than I expected, assuming that Davies's vision that The Weakest Link is still popular in 200 millennia turns out to be a trifle optimistic. However, I have to say that the Anne-droid is a terrible pun and one of the most annoying elements of the series yet. I know that if they'd just left it at 'android' there would still be a bad joke present, but having Billie Piper spell it out to us from her pedestal just rubs salt into the wound. I must say though that the lack of ITV shows present (ITV being the major supplier of reality TV) makes me laugh.

Even though I am looking for (and seeing) the best in this episode, it does feel like Davies is appealing to the populist audience in the cheapest and easiest way he can, and Captain Jack's nudity adheres to that same philosophy. Even if you really can't stand the reality TV of this episode though - and it's certainly not to all tastes - it doesn't last that long as the Doctor begins looking for a way out straightaway. I should note here that the Doctor gains a new companion for the episode, in Lynda Moss (forever to be known as Lynda-with-a-Y). He's right, she is quite sweet - but I was beginning to worry that the TARDIS would become overcrowded season 19-style. Having said that, the fact that she wants to travel with the Doctor pretty much makes her doomed from the start. The sections of The Weakest Link go on too long; we get the idea of the story without having to sit through entire rounds. The murderous twist is nice but obvious, as it's the only real way of instilling tension and a sense of danger - and what would Doctor Who be without that?

Things really hot up once we leave the games and hit Satellite V, a nice twist again dissipated by the fact that this episode begins with a recap of The Long Game. Having said that the Controller looks absolutely brilliant, streets ahead of her predecessor, Simon Pegg's gentleman villain. The sight of a young woman, atrophied to nothingness, plugged into a machine against her will and treated like another part of the computer is truly chilling, and the disrespect paid to her by her staff help underline the feeling (later to be confirmed) that she isn't really in control in the same way that the Editor was (not that he was in charge, but at least he was enthusiastic for the job).

Back in Captain Jack's storyline contrivance is pushed to new heights: only in a Russell T. Davies script could I say "Jack pulls a gun from his backside" and mean it literally. However, it's lovely to see the smugly sisters getting their heads blown off, even if they are just androids. Meanwhile the Doctor has discovered where he is and has had an enormous amount of back-story delivered by Lynda. For a world where the people are little more than sheep, it would seem that history lessons are unaffected. Lynda listing through the game shows on offer really is indulgent though, and Davies seems oblivious to the fact that in the future his episode may well be wide open to satire itself. It's nice to see that the events of this episode are a result of the Doctor's miscalculation (and it's not even that simple); this is one of the few episodes where we actually get to see the consequences of the Doctor's actions, and find out that the people he helped are actually worse off. Jack flirts with Lynda; I hope he's washed his hands since handling the bumgun.

Rose fake death is very well done, but in this day and age it's very hard to keep secrets and so I was simply left wondering about how she survived rather than whether or not she actually did. Whatever degree of spoilerage is present though, there's no denying that Christopher Eccleston's acting is absolutely flawless in this scene. Soon afterwards the Doctor, Jack and Lynda storm floor 500, giving the Doctor some excellent characterisation concerning his view towards guns.

Now we come to one of the episode's most successful aspects: the reveal of the Daleks. It's immediately obvious to an old-time fan through the use of the heartbeat sound effect onboard their ship, and there's an excellent homage to the wonderful first cliffhanger to The Daleks. The best moment of all is when we see a distorted reflection of one approach the Controller; I know their presence has long been spoiled but I'm always happy to see good direction. It is interesting to note that even in the 21st century the special effects department have decided to stick with retro-style flying saucers, the inherent campness of which makes the doom-laden choral score seem a bit melodramatic and cheesy. Also, the Daleks have gone halogen! The incredibly bright lights on their domes tend to just blend together rather than blinking on and off making them less effective but that's my only real criticism and Daleks en masse look as impressive as ever. The Doctor's promise to Rose is a very obvious set up for a calculatedly-dramatic cliffhanger - but that doesn't make it bad, mind.

The Parting Of The Ways has as many dramatic, sad and exciting moments as you would expect to find in an end-of-season spectacular. The first example of this is when the Daleks attack the TARDIS with missiles, but this has been done before (Timelash) and it seems to be alright. The mystery voice at the end of this episode's preview trailer last time is revealed to be the all-new Dalek Emperor, putting paid to a week of speculation that saw some pretty wild theories going backwards and forwards. The Emperor does look fantastic and Nicholas Briggs does a fine job of replicating the original voice from The Evil Of The Daleks, but that fact that the Emperor is rarely seen in great detail (it's either tight close ups or long shots) means that I'm not sure it will go down as the kind of iconic figure that the original Emperor did, although it's much better than the slobbering version presented in Remembrance Of The Daleks. The problem with giving the Daleks a leader though is that the leader gets all the best lines and so now the Daleks revert back to the old squawkers that do little but shout "exterminate", which to an extent spoils the improvements made to their character in Robert Shearman's episode. Unlike Shearman, Davies definitely overdoes the "exterminate" catchphrase. The Daleks' quasi-religious society is something very interesting, and it's a pity that the episode left so little scope to develop the ins and outs of it.

The Doctor's plan to build a Delta Wave is another case of deus ex machina but it fails anyway and such contrivances can work as long as the other parts of the episode are in place, which in this case they largely are. It just about gets away with the kiss as it works in the context of the scene, as opposed to the TV movie where it's just a science-fiction cliché bolted into place simply through a lack of originality. There are some very effective moments of despair in this episode, and it's well acted on all counts - one of the highlights of the season for me is the beautiful hologram scene, helped by a spectacularly good piece of direction where the phantom Doctor turns to face Rose.

After this, the flipping between time zones can be frustrating but it does help to generate even more tension, drawing out the climax for as long a possible. Rose's moralising does seem overly soapboxy, but the Bad Wolf reference is nicely atmospheric even if it is a little strange that, given that it's written on the ground in massive fluorescent letters, she doesn't notice it straight away. I'm glad the plan to rip open the TARDIS with a Mini fails, as it would cheapen that magical object slightly. The scene where Rose talks about her Dad is quite amazingly acted by Piper, and even Camille Corduri puts in a good performance for once. The character of the mother, as well as the actress, is also redeemed by her acquisition of a tow truck to help her daughter.

I should mention now that there are some superb battle scenes and Lynda's death is genuinely sad. She would have made a good companion, even if two is the effective maximum. These scenes are helped by the simple yet wonderful extermination special effect, which would never have happened without the primitive negative effect that worked so well back at the very beginning.

The Bad Wolf revelation came as a neat surprise (and it's impressive that they managed to keep it one), and Rose is brilliant as a superbeing. The Daleks are totally destroyed for at least the third time; we get to see Jack being returned to life, but it is left ambiguous about the other characters - I suppose it just depends on how romantic you are. The kiss between the Doctor and Rose works but courts controversy; it has shades of the TV movie and that's not a good thing. The regeneration is wonderful, although they're obviously playing it safe so as not to alienate the audience. Consequently we get more of an explanation now rather than the completely unexpected occurrence at the end of The Tenth Planet. It is interesting to note that the flame effect used is the same as for the power of the time vortex, almost like the power is being blasted out of the Doctor and taking his ninth incarnation with it. David Tennant is very promising in his twenty seconds of screen time, although he seems to have completely forgotten about Captain Jack. Leaving a companion behind has been done before with Time-Flight, but Arc Of Infinity showed us that it is hard to write them back in again in a believable way.

This story manages to do in ninety minutes what The War Games did in twenty five (not counting the other three and a half hours of course), but taken on it's own merits then even for a cynic this still makes a stonking season finale. Russell T. Davies just about redeems himself for his past mistakes, although he still leaves a lot to be desired. I'm being very kind to this story giving it full marks; part of me says it fall short of classic status, but a larger part says: who cares?