This is one of those times when I'm not sure where to start. So much happened! I'll go backwards from my usual and tell you I'm giving the story 9 out of 10. This is to say it's about 10 times good and 1 part bad, so 9. I'll save the bad bit for the end.
Though it's meant to be one two-part story, in a way it's more like a "Seeds of Doom" type story where it's got a long prologue at the start before the real serious stuff begins. The prologue in this case is the satire on game/reality shows, specifically, the UK versions of "Big Brother," "The Weakest Link," and "What Not to Wear." Fortunately for me (non-UK person), I have seen the latter two shows on BBC America and consequently got all those jokes. And I'm familiar with the concept of the "Big Brother" show, even though I've not watched it, so the comedy here was blunted a bit for me. This was all very funny stuff, particularly the Anne Droid and how she apparently kills the weak link contestants. I do wonder though why Earth in the year 200100 is only recycling shows made in the UK in 2005... I know TV loves to repeat proven success, but surely some other formats must have become hits in the intervening 198095 years? And what about imports? Surely "Survivor" or "The Apprentice" deserved floors as well? (I would _love_ to see a Donald Trump droid!) Still, I loved seeing this genre getting skewered, though to be fair, Russell's not the first to use "Doctor Who" to do this. We've already heard this be done twice before on Big Finish, once in the DWM freebie disc "The Ratings War" where Beep the Meep was using reality TV to weaken the populace, and once in "The One Doctor" where none other than Rob Shearman's wife Jane Goddard did an Anne Robinson impersonation, again playing an android version of her (or was it a hologram?), in a Weakest Link-like scenario to test the mental mettle of Mentos, the greatest computer ever made. I wonder if RTD had to pay off Clayton Hickman, Gareth Roberts, and Steve Lyons for their ideas?
The games are all a front, however, to keep the population of Earth distracted from the rebuilding of the Dalek army on their doorstep and not expanding into the 4th human empire that the Doctor said should be developing after the events of "The Long Game." Back then they were doing it with news channels, and their collapse at the Doctor's hands brought about a global depression of sorts, though to be fair to him, I'm sure that was partly engineered by the Daleks, given that we find out they were behind the news channels too. His "mistake" was in not seeking out the masters of the Jagrafess back in "The Long Game." The front could have been anything... that Russell chose to make it reality TV is probably his way of jabbing at us today and how we're too busy getting involved in watching stuff like this instead of doing more useful and productive things. The news channels weren't any better though; the solution is to just not watch TV much at all.
Along the way to the Dalek revelation, it appears that Rose is killed by the Anne Droid. They play this out for a good ten minutes, and though the viewer knows that she can't really be dead if the viewer's aware of the advance cast listings, you still get a good sense of what the effect of her death would be from the stellar reactions we get from Christopher Eccleston and John Barrowman. Eccleston's Doctor just shuts completely down and says absolutely nothing while the satellite guards do their usual "you will be taken to the lunar penal colony" nonsense, then switches completely on again when the right moment comes to escape and get to floor 500 for the confrontation. I also liked the moment where Jack enters the TARDIS and sees Rose's jacket... Barrowman's double-take almost brought a lump to my throat. That Rose was actually transmatted by the Daleks wasn't that surprising to me... the Daleks worked the same trick on Susan Mendes in "Dalek Empire," and then there was that dust on the floor that the transmat left behind. I wonder if in an earlier draft the Doctor suddenly realized it was zanium. (and said "It looks serious!")
Along the way in the first part, we meet some more contestants and station personnel, and the stand-out here was Lynda with a "y," who was absolutely perfectly cast. Jo Joyner personified the word "sweet," and I might just start looking for other things she's been in; I liked her that much.
Also along the way, more "Bad Wolf" clues get dropped, but we're still none the wiser as to what it all means, despite the episode being titled "Bad Wolf." Given how it all turns out though, I think this is a perfect umbrella title for the story, if an imperfect one for the first part.
"The Parting of the Ways" begins much as "Bad Wolf" did, with the Doctor and Jack wasting absolutely no time in just snowplowing the TARDIS into the Dalek ship, materializing it around Rose and a Dalek, and then killing the Dalek with Jack's one-shot gun. (And can I just mention that this is the only time we've ever seen a Dalek inside the TARDIS? Cybermen, Sontarans, the Master, sure, but no Dalek had ever got inside before this... not that this one wanted to. (unless "The Mutant Phase" is canonical... but then those events reversed themselves, didn't they?) I liked how the momentum at the end of "Bad Wolf" continued right on into this, with nothing stopping the Doctor to this point.
And then it was time for a chat with the Emperor Dalek, which looked very impressive, and I was glad to see that it was back in charge of things, as it has been in most of the Big Finish audios. It's at this point where my one gripe with the story came in, but again, I'm going to save this for the end.
Then it was back to the satellite to try and hold off the Daleks from invading and destroying Earth, with the Doctor starting to rig up a Delta Wave that'll fry the brain of anything within the transmission radius. (I'm guessing the name comes from the techobabble of "Kinda," by the way.) Before the Dalek attack begins though, Russell's character strength writing kicks in full power as the Doctor sends Rose and the TARDIS back to her home so that she'll be safe. That he would do it really really works, and that Rose would hate that he did it also really really works. But what really really really works is all the material on Earth between Rose, Jackie, and Mickey, as Rose tries to find a way to get the TARDIS to take her back to the Game Station. There's a terrific ping-pong game going on between the characters as each one tries to convince Rose that life back on Earth eating chips won't be so bad, when she knows that this just running away isn't the way she wants to lead her life anymore. The best of all of this was the call-back to the events of "Father's Day," where Rose reveals to her mother that it was her who saw off her dying father when the car hit him, and how her dad would've wanted her to do whatever it took to save the Doctor. That this is what changes Jackie's mind and gets her to come up with the goods that they need to bust open the TARDIS console (namely that big truck) is fantastic character development that I didn't see coming yet completely understood when it did. That's just the way I like it. Billie Piper acting her socks off through all of this helped a great deal too. The work she did in this episode, particularly when she has her breakdown in the restaurant, is better than anything any previous companion has ever done. It'll be a very unfair day for her if she doesn't get nominated for a BAFTA for this when the time comes. And on top of all of that was the reappearance, in a bigger and actually quite scary way than ever before yet of the "BAD WOLF" graffiti everywhere Rose looks. And even at this stage, we still don't know what it means, except that Rose had better find a way to get the TARDIS moving.
The Doctor shows off his character development as well, though his big moment waits a bit until the Daleks have exterminated the entire station, including Jack, and we get to the point where he can fire off the wave and destroy all the Daleks, but only if he also wipes out every other living thing on Earth at the same time. And the Emperor Dalek taunts him expertly, asking if he's a coward or a savior, and when the moment comes, the Doctor realizes that he can't do this, and says "coward - every time." This is the reaction of the Doctor we used to know... the one who wouldn't put those two wires together on Skaro, the one who wouldn't shoot Davros in cold blood, and the one who couldn't shoot Charley Pollard to save the universe. It is not the reaction we saw from him earlier in the series, when he let Cassandra die horribly, or when he got himself a gun and was ready to shoot the "Dalek" Dalek even though it was becoming something new. Those reactions were what the war damage I've talked about here were doing to him. "Dalek" was a turning point, where Rose showed him what he was becoming... "The Doctor Dances" was the story where circumstances worked in his favor and for once everybody lived, and he loved that to death. He's been healing in the second half of the season, and it's complete by the time he doesn't push that switch here. Some will want to debate the morality and pragmatism of his decision here, but not me. I get the point now just as I have in those earlier instances; that is that the Doctor knows deep down that doing something so evil, even in the name of destroying greater evil, cannot lead to a good result.
And in the end it was just as well he didn't do it, because the Bad Wolf comes to the rescue. Rose gets the TARDIS console open, looks at the heart of the TARDIS, and the two sort-of become one hybrid being that calls itself the Bad Wolf. It scatters the words through time to wherever Rose can see them, so that she will remember them and know that she must return to the Bad Wolf Corporation's satellite as this new time vortex being and save the day. The Bad Wolf creates itself. I like it. It's a very elegant and very time travel-y thing to have happen. I'm still a bit fuzzy on whether they just took the name from the Corporation or whether they came up with the name and named the Corporation that too. I _think_ it's the former. There's also some poetry to it... Rose refuses to be just another sheep in the herd; she chooses to be the big, bad wolf instead. The whole "it's the power of the time vortex" stuff about how she time-destructs the Daleks works for me too. It's as though the Rose/TARDIS Bad Wolf creature is a sort of Chronovore. Rose has taken on the TARDIS' interstitial time powers, and it's taken on her sentience and desire to save the Doctor. The Bad Wolf wipes out all the Daleks, and also brings Jack back to life.
This can't last, however, without the effect killing Rose, and so the Doctor kisses her and takes it on (in a scene that I'm sure owed nothing at all to the Doyle-gives-Cordelia-her visions thing from "Hero" on "Angel" ), then directs it back into the TARDIS. This has the knock-on effect of it "killing" him instead, but he can save himself by regenerating, which he does, but not before he has a touching last scene with Rose in the console room. For once, the companion gets some warning about what regeneration is and what it'll do to him, and I like that this one happened with the Doctor standing up. I also really liked that they managed to give David Tennant some lines before the credits rolled.
Christopher Eccleston's final lines were nicely done as well: "Before I go, I just want you to tell you, you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And do you know what? So was I!" The way I read that is that he's "dying" happy with how he himself acted here... happy that he's healed, and happy that it was Rose who helped him get there. And you know what, Russell T. Davies, this was fantastic, and so were you when you wrote this material.
And now I'll list some smaller moments that I really liked through the episode...
the fact that the Anne Droid did better against the Daleks than anything else Jack could muster, taking out three of them before they got her.
Lynda's death scene was really chilling. It hurt that she was dying, because I liked her so much, but the way they milked it with the attack seeming to come from the door, but then some Daleks sneak up on her from the window, flash "Ex-ter-min-ate" silently in the vacuum at her, and then blast the window to depressurize her room was just _nasty_. Well done here Joe Ahearne.
All the CGI of the massive Dalek armies and the spaceships, etc. It looked wonderful. Extra kudos to The Mill!
Jack being brought back to life was nice because I like him, but left behind and not even mentioned in the final scene was a bit odd, though there were bigger things going on at that point. Hopefully this gets addressed in the first scenes of "The Christmas Invasion."
Jack kissed a couple people goodbye before leaving for the battle he knew would kill him. That was nice to see. That one of them was male, and was the Doctor, I've no personal problem with. I can see this being a big sticking point with some US networks that might be considering the purchase of the series, though, if they are a network that skews towards family and kids programming, because the right wing pressure groups will work through the advertisers to try and have this sort of scene stopped. It wouldn't affect a more general "adult" network though, like Bravo or BBC America.
Finally, we come to the one beef I have with the episode, which was the Daleks getting religion. I can see what Russell was trying to do here, which was to graft his distrust (and many other people's it must be said, including mine) of organized religion and how it can steer the masses in the wrong direction, onto the psyche of the Daleks, and use them to illustrate the dangers of it in the same way that they used to be used to illustrate the evil of fascistic racism. This is a potentially very good science fiction idea, but it doesn't belong layered on top of what's already present in the Daleks. Whatever else Daleks are, they are _scientists_, with a dependence on rational thought. As the Doctor said, "since when did the Daleks have a concept of blasphemy?" The Emperor's answer that it reached into the dirt and made new life doesn't explain why he himself starting thinking of himself as the god of the Daleks as a result of doing that. He should be the most rational one of them all, and his hierarchical command structure worked well enough before this... I just see no reason for him and the others to start using religious dogma instead of just "obey." This really jars to me. Hopefully with all of this set of Daleks destroyed, we won't see this idea recur. I do think it's a good motivating idea to base an alien monster threat on... just not on the Daleks because they've already got a perfectly good motivation. Partly related to this was the voice of the Emperor, which I was also disappointed in. The modulation was right, and the sound was right, but the performance wasn't. I much preferred Nick Briggs' earlier Emperor Dalek performances for Big Finish... this one is a much more human-sounding Emperor Dalek and less the imperious overlord. He was more "lordly" before, which is ironic since this one thinks its God. I'm not going to lay the blame for this at Nick's door though... I don't think this is a decision he would've made on his own... I'm guessing Joe Ahearne or Russell T. Davies asked for this different version, and in my view, it was the wrong call. Oh, also, these new more radio-controlled Daleks are a gear too slow for my liking... I think I liked them better when their operator could shake them back and forth a bit and twitch agitatedly.
Overall then, 9 out of 10. 10 for the Doctor, Rose, Jack, Jackie, Mickey, the Bad Wolf, Lynda with a "y," the game show parodies, the CGI, and the direction, but subtract 1 for the new religious Daleks.