Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Bad Wolf & The Parting of the Ways written by Russell T Davies and directed by Joe Ahearne

This story in a nutshell: A Daleks are back to their old tricks…but this time they've found religion.

Northern Adventurer: The Doctor’s tired look and exclamation of ‘you have got to be kidding me!’ is what I imagine was Christopher Eccleston’s reaction was when he read the first half of this script. It's wonderful to see his Doctor in some darkly played comedy because it allows us to see him do what he does best, be all broody and mysterious and yet be very funny at the same time (without some of the excesses earlier in the season).  You believe the Doctor’s threats when he points directly at the audience and tells the creators that he is going to stop them. I would hate for this incarnation of the Doctor to be after me. When the Doctor holds his hand out for Lynda to join him all I see is a charismatic and wonderful man, the ninth Doctor has truly arrived and he’s offering the universe up to strays again. We’ve had the Doctor return to the scene of a previous adventure and see the consequences of his interference before (The Face of Evil) but 100 years of suffering because he thinks he was doing the right thing, that has got to hurt. The idea of somebody manipulating the Doctor’s life to trap him is (as he so often says himself) fantastic. You feel every second of the Doctor’s guilt and pain as Rose is (apparently) blasted to death in front of him… at these moments I always think of Jackie and how she is going to kill him. I’m not all that fond of big, rousing speeches and do think they got more and more ridiculous as the series went on (especially the one in Voyage of the Damned… ‘I’m the Doctor! I’m 900 years old and I think rather a lot of myself' blah blah…) but I have to say Chris Eccleston does a fine job with some pretty cheesy dialogue (‘every last stinking Dalek' – what is he Abalsom Daak?). You believe him and are pretty scared for the Daleks, that’s how convincing Eccleston is. The idea that the Time Lords died for nothing since the Daleks always seem to survive haunts the Doctor, the fact that we later learn that he was responsible for their deaths must make him ache with guilt. The Doctor screams at the Daleks so dramatically they physically recoil. There is an unforgettable shot as the camera zooms in on the Doctor resting his head against the TARDIS doors as the Daleks scream at him from outside. It is one of my favourite moments from the first season – it sees the Doctor tired and defeated, sagging with guilt at his actions and facing the impossible task of having to deal with a race of self loathing Daleks that he has helped brought into being Daleks. It’s a beautifully small moment that is packed with so much meaning. The Doctor’s awkward goodbye with Lynda is really sweet where he kind of goes to kiss her but ends up shaking hands. He hasn't quite got the hang of this personal stuff. Tricking Rose into entering the TARDIS and sneaking her off to safety against her will is the most selfless act he performs in his ninth incarnation. How can you fail not to love the ninth Doctor during these scenes? ‘That’s okay, I hope it’s a good death’ he says about facing an enemy that cannot be defeated. Telling Rose to have a fantastic life is enough to bring a tear to the eye. His solution to wipe out the Daleks but also all of humanity forces the Doctor to confront his actions in the Time War and he looks truly pained as he considers which way to jump. He's been here before and lived to see the consequences of his violent actions. Has the Doctor ever been this interesting before? I can think of three times – the initial spiky first Doctor who I was not sure was an ally or an enemy, the second Doctor forced to confront his past and face up to his actions in The War Games and the fourth Doctor dancing around the decision to wipe out his deadliest enemies in Genesis of the Dalek. Davies has really made the show about the Doctor rather than an adventure serial that simply features him. We get to understand the universe as the Doctor does; he sees all that is, all that was and all that ever could be all at once. The ninth Doctor dies because he absorbed all the energy of the time vortex and every cell in his body dies but not before snatching a quick kiss from his companion. Has this been a love affair all along and this moment of intimacy the culmination? I'll leave for you to decide but I certainly didn't object to the act and it is pulled off with some stirringly romantic music and effects. I love how the Doctor tries to explain the process of regeneration to Rose before it takes place to make it as easy as possible for her. He doesn't seem at all unhappy to be going, perhaps recognising that he will shirk off this war torn incarnation and get a chance to start anew without all the baggage. Unlike when the eleventh Doctor stepped out of the tenth's shoes and you knew instantly that this was a mad and cheeky fella that you will have a lot of fun with the tenth Doctor’s brief appearance here is confined to a few lines and it is hard to grasp what he is going to be like. However the whole thing feels so gloriously upbeat and bright that I was sure that it wasn't going to be a disappointment. A shame to lose an actor of Eccleston's calibre in the role but he provided us with an unforgettable season and many startling moments. I remember feeling quite perturbed at the time that he would so willingly walk away from the series not it was a success for whatever reason but time has tempered my feelings and now all that is left is his incredible legacy in the part which will never be forgotten. Eccleston was great and I genuinely believe the show needed an actor of his gravity to force people into giving the show a chance again. Good on him for giving it a stab and making such a great job of it.

Chavvy Chick: If these two episode had seen the end of Rose’s character I think a lot of people (including me) would be declaring her one of the all time best companions. It's astonishing how right both the writing and Billie Piper’s performance feels compared to the rather more irritating version of Rose who turned up in series two. She looks great in this story and it really is the character at its height both in terms of her relationship with the Doctor and her confidence. You can’t help but laugh along with Rose as she enjoys the Weakest Link piss take. The first touch of Rose’s jealousy as Lynda refuses to leave the Doctor and she looks mightily miffed that somebody else cares for him as much as she does. If only it had stayed as small looks in the next series but she is about to turn into the green eyed monster. I can't believe that I was ever unconvinced about Piper's ability to play the part...the scene where she screams at the TARDIS to her back to the Doctor is heartbreaking and one of the few moments in Doctor Who that gives me goosebumps every time I watch it. The sheer mundanity of stepping from the TARDIS to dreary Central London with the thought that this is going to be her life once more really makes you feel that the character has lost something substantial in a very visual way. This is the moment when Jackie comes around to liking the Doctor because he brought her daughter home when things got tough. The whole point of the discussion of Rose's safety in World War Three is to make the pay off in the finale so rewarding. Jackie steps up to the plate and helps her daughter return to the horror that the Doctor is facing because she can see how devastated she is. And she understands that the Doctor needs her more than she does. The Doctor/Jackie relationship is far less fractious from now on (it helps that Tennant is much more cuddly and owes his life, literally in The Christmas Invasion, to the Tyler clan). Her speech about the Doctor showing her a better way of living her life is beautifully written and performed. How loaded with emotions is the scene between Rose and Jackie when she admits she met her dead father? I was moved to tears again. Davies is so good at this sort of thing, tugging at your heart strings from natural human interaction. I miss these moments.

Jack of All Trades: I tend to forget what a great little run for Jack these first five episodes were before he wound up on Earth in charge of Torchwood. He here's quite irresistible, his flirty behaviour, forthright bisexuality and rude sense of humour are all very new to Doctor Who and very welcome. I love the little nod he gives to his cock when the defabricator does its business – this is an actor that doesn’t lack a certain amount of irresistible charisma and clearly nothing to be afraid of. Nothing could quite have prepared me for the scene where Jack pulls a gun out of his ass – I still heave with laughter every time I see it. Imagine this in Hartnell’s time! For Jack saying hello is flirting, according to the Doctor. Does he look like an out of bounds sort of guy, he asks with a machine gun in each hand? Jack telling Rose that she is worth fighting for single handedly justifies his existence in the series and how he quietly kisses both of them is a perfect touch. He hasn't been around for long but Davies manages to convince the audience that there have been a wealth of adventures between The Doctor Dances and Bad Wolf, such is the strength of feeling between them. Jack doesn’t batter an eyelid when the Doctor saves Rose and leaves him there to die. He admits that he was much better off as a coward and can see how much he has grown as a character spelt out in his selfless actions in this story. What a casually brutal death he suffers. What a world of fascination his character is about to undergo after Rose brings him back to life. Simon got in a right paddy the first time we watched this because Jack (his favourite character) got left behind. If only he had known.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Am I naked in front of millions of your viewers?’ ‘Absolutely!’ ‘Ladies! Your viewing figures just went up…’
‘Then you are unemployed and yet you’ve still got enough money to buy peroxide.’
‘And then we’re gonna get you!’
‘But that’s a compact laser deluxe!’ ‘Where were you hiding that?’
‘Driven mad by your own flesh. The stink of humanity. You hate your own existence.’
That’s how good the Doctor is!’
‘My head is killing me.’

The Good Stuff: I remember when the premise for Bad Wolf was announced and a friend of mine wasn't even willing to give it a chance because he was convinced it was going to glorify reality television and he thought Russell T Davies had finally gone mad. He texted me afterwards to say how much he loved it. Davies is clearly a lover of popular television culture and he manages to poke fun at reality TV without ever demeaning it in this episode and provides a lot of laughs and scares by taking recognisable shows and turning them deadly. It might not be entirely convincing (would anybody really watch the Trinny and Susannah bots committing facial surgery on unwilling subjects?) but it's a bloody good laugh all the same. The pre titles sequence is one of the most surreal and I really love that they drown out the moaning drivel of the house mates with the best thing about Big Brother – the music! This might be the gayest observation I have ever made in my life but those multi coloured hand chairs in the house are simply divine. I want one. The lighting for The Weakest Link is naturally dramatic and so it makes a terrific moody setting for Doctor Who. It’s a symbol of how much faith people put in this first series of Doctor Who that Anne Robinson, Davina McColl and Trinny and Susannah all agreed to take part and send up their own shows. The first mention of Torchwood is very subtly handled. Davies allows you to relax into the daft parodies before suddenly slapping you around the face when things suddenly get nasty. You can see how this insane premise is going to work. The Controller is a masterpiece of design and lighting, so simply achieved and yet it looks so striking on screen. I wish we could have had the time to learn more about her. Davies wasn't a fan of the design of the Droids but I rather like them, art deco tech with deadly appendages. Bad Wolf being written all over the universe is the first time Doctor Who had attempted to weave an invisible arc into a series and it might be because it was so novel but I still think it is one of the most effective (the planets disappearing in series four is the only one that thrilled me more). Suddenly I have to give The Long Game more consideration as the location is revealed to be Satellite Five - even the title makes a whole lot more sense now. This is an Ark in Space/Revenge of the Cybermen scenario where the two shows can share the same sets and spread the design budget a bit further. Davies is very good at creating a whole world out of a line (the great Atlantic smog storm with news bulletins that let you know when it is safe to go outside and breathe the air) in precisely the same way Robert Holmes did. Creating whole worlds out of words. I realised this has been pitched at just the right level when I was actually shouting with excitement at the screen as Rose plays sudden death and the tension cranks up even further. Subtle use of continuity (the Isop Galaxy, Lucifer) will please the fans but otherwise go unnoticed. exactly how it should be. I love the idea of the Controller bringing the Doctor to the game station to defeat the Daleks - it makes sense of how the Doctor, Jack and Rose happened to be involved in the first place. She’s a fascinating character and it is a shame that she was killed off so quickly (although the shot of her being ripped from her station is startlingly dramatic). I'm not of the opinion that just because you can visualise an entire fleet of Dalek saucers that you should (and they try and pull it off a couple of times a year these days which has become quite tiresome) but that doesn't mean that I was an excited eight year old again when they were revealed. Seeing half a million Daleks streaming through space makes you tingle all over with fanboy joy. Dicks and Letts happily admit that this is the sort of scope they were trying to achieve in stories like Frontier in Space/Planet of the Daleks. The cliffhanger is so unique I don’t know how to judge it, it’s so rare to have a cliffhanger that is as optimistic as this (the only other example I can think of is in Evil of the Daleks) but its definitely sitting in this category because it is desperately exciting and upon first transmission had me bouncing on the sofa desperate to see the next episode. Missiles being fired at the TARDIS? How dynamic is his story? Finally somebody bothers to write a scene where the Daleks simply try and murder the Doctor as soon as they see him. It has always bothered me that they have never done that before. The thought of the Daleks harvesting humanity to create more of their kind repulses and throws open the interesting notion of their self-hatred. One of the defining characteristics of the Daleks is their racial purity and the notion of perverted humanised Daleks murdering because they despise themselves a genuinely frightening idea and psychologically much more interesting than the norm. A little mention for Jo Stone-Fewings who gives a wonderfully understated performance as the male programmer (what a shame he didn’t get a name!) – it’s the sort of strong incidental character that Davies excels at. The function of his character could have been performed by anybody but his inclusion adds more depth to the story. The concept of the TARDIS standing on a street corner gathering dust for all eternity made me choke up. After all, that's how it all begun. The shot of those revolving chickens is so appallingly routine it brings home everything that Rose has lost. There’s something pleasingly old school about the Daleks streaming through the corridors and cutting down the resistance. If Power of the Daleks is half as exciting as this it will be quite a treat when we finally get to watch it. The Daleks take a little detour just to murder innocent people and decide that bombing whole continents is the way to bend the Doctor to their will. They truly are the epitome of evil. Best death of the year: Lynda being sucked out into space by the silent Daleks, it is an astonishingly well executed sequence that had me on the edge of my seat and an unforgettable end to a pleasant character. The idea of pouring the TARDIS into a young woman’s head is highly original and proves that Neil Gaiman (as fantastic as The Doctor’s Wife was and it was brilliant) is simply borrowing a great idea. To have the Doctor explain the process of regeneration to Rose and thus reassuring the kids in the audience that this is perfectly natural is a touch of genius.

The Bad Stuff: ‘She’s been evicted…from life!’ should never have made it to the studio. Jack actually looks pretty ridiculous with that bloody daft giant gun made out of the defabricator. I know it was the idea but Roderick is as annoying as pubic louse! Jack screaming and waving his big gun about is ultra camp (‘your stupid freaking game show killed her!’). I realise it would rather spoil the well-filmed surprise return but the Controller should really have said ‘the Daleks’ rather than ‘my masters.’ ‘What is the meaning of this negative?’ is another duff line. Thankfully the Emperor comes along because the Dalek dialogue is as banal as ever. What a shame the new Emperor is no where near as visually impressive as the original – they should have knocked up a CGI version of the Evil of the Daleks one and we could finally see him in all his glory. While I love the insanity of the Dalek psychology on display I could have done without the religious leanings which I felt did them no favours at all. Making this a battle of Gods doesn’t make the material more epic. Whilst the long shot of the chalk on the playground is striking it seems a little odd that Rose doesn’t notice BAD WOLF in huge letters right in front of her! In real Eric Saward fashion Davies kills off his entire guest cast because they have fulfilled their plot function. ‘Am I becoming one of your angels?’ – ugh. Despite where it leads and how strong the scene the Rose/TARDIS is the ultimate deus ex machina. I don’t object to sealing the regeneration with a kiss after all if I was going to go I would probably lock tongues with Rose too but ‘I think you need a Doctor’ is one of the worst lines in Doctor Who history.

The Shallow Bit: Jack squeezed into black jeans and a tight white shirt...phwoar. Rose is practically edible in this story. I can’t believe they gave the Trinny and Susannah androids breasts…or that Jack actually cups them at one point! Jack in the noddy is shot as risqué as a family show will allow and perhaps we should be pleased that the gratuitous butt shot was excised (besides suggestion is far more arousing than revealing everything). We get our first companion on companion kiss and the first time the Doctor locks lips with another guy and the world doesn’t end. Go figure.

Result: With a few forgiveable flaws Doctor Who’s first attempt at a two-part season finale is a complete success with many memorable, shocking and dramatic scenes. Joe Ahearne’s handling of the material is superb and he manages to pile on atmosphere and scares whilst always highlighting the actors and giving them the focus. This story mixes the epic science fiction world of Doctor Who with Davies’ enchanting domestic character-based vision for the show to blistering effect and the eleven weeks of material that have come previously inform so much of what takes place here. No Doctor Who season has been structured this skilfully before so that so much of the finale rewards. Somewhere in the second episode around the time where Rose is sitting in that god awful takeaway restaurant I realised that not only had Davies' unique approach to the show really worked but it was starting to produce some of the most epic and personal Doctor Who material we had ever seen. The reality TV parodies work like a charm, the first episode making me laugh like a nutter before things turned very black and for once a Dalek invasion feels positively cinematic. The massacre that takes place in the second episode puts the Daleks on a level of menace that is way above anything we have seen in the previous season. Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper have managed to bring the show back with an explosive real bang and save their best performances for their last story together and the ninth Doctor and Rose are simply made for each other at this point. It’s unique in Doctor Who’s history to have a cliffhanger and a regeneration that both feel so positive and the ending promises great things for the future. Both episodes earn a practically perfect 99/10


Tyrionhalfman said...

Of all the NuWho finales this is easily my favourite, genuine drama and it didn't leave me disappointed due to prior fandom hype. Yes, Davies handled the other finales well but his resolutions always felt like a let down. In honestly though Parting of the Ways didn't. I love stolen earth far more than journeys end. but with this I found bad wolf almost like a great prelude without having to go to far, whereas the Stolen Earth was great because it gave the fans the emotional hype we had expected, which was immediately brushed aside in the next episode for the sake of pure Dalekmania.

Tyrionhalfman said...

Of all the NuWho finales this is easily my favourite, genuine drama and it didn't leave me disappointed due to prior fandom hype. Yes, Davies handled the other finales well but his resolutions always felt like a let down. In honestly though Parting of the Ways didn't. I love stolen earth far more than journeys end. but with this I found bad wolf almost like a great prelude without having to go to far, whereas the Stolen Earth was great because it gave the fans the emotional hype we had expected, which was immediately brushed aside in the next episode for the sake of pure Dalekmania.

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David Pirtle said...

A great finale to a great season. The conclusion was a bit convenient, like how did Rose survive when she had absorbed the Tardis power so much longer than the Doctor, but whatever. On an emotional level it was a terrific ending.