While they’ve both had their lighter and darker moments as showrunners, one key difference between Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat’s writing style is that Russell’s stories can get very cynical, while Steven has a more optimistic approach to Doctor Who. And while a frothy RTD comedy romp like “The Runaway Bride” or “Partners In Crime” can be amusing, most of his best stories like “Gridlock”, “Utopia”, “Midnight”, “Turn Left” and “The Water Of Mars” involve him playing to his strengths and wandering into some really dark territory. The Series 1 finale is an excellent, early example of what I’m talking about. Right from the dizzy, disorienting opening scenes, the tone and setting of this two-parter feels very hopeless and empty on a guttural level, set in a faceless, grey, clinical television studio in a time period that only grows more and more chilling conceptually the more time the Doctor and his friends spend there. As the sheer magnitude of what our heroes have gotten swept up into becomes apparent, threatening to overwhelm them with each new revelation, dread creeps in and an oppressive bleakness blankets this entire two-parter with very little humor or reprieve from it – not unlike the second half of “The Doctor Dances”, yet so much worse.
By the climax, the stakes have grown incredibly high, befitting a finale, and the conflict between our leads has reached painful, uncomfortable levels until it finally boils over cathartically with the twist of Bad Wolf Rose. The fact that Russell pulls no punches with the Daleks in this finale helps give it gravitas. Basically, everyone in this story except for Rose dies in a massacre, and many of them die cruelly and brutally. “The Parting Of The Ways” being set in the future allows Russell to do whatever he wants with the human race against the Daleks, without having to worry about maintaining the show’s usual status quo, and he uses it to do some serious damage. I wouldn’t want every Doctor Who episode to be filled with this much of death and depression (or even most of them), but as a special occasion, it makes for one hell of a strong finale. In fact, the only real downside to this two-parter is the fact that the reality TV show satire in “Bad Wolf”, exaggerating popular British shows of the 2000’s into deadly versions of themselves, can get quite cheesy and has not aged well over the years. I’m not British, so the only parody I actually recognize is “Big Brother” (because I remember seeing commercials for it a decade ago). Doctor Who loved it’s pop culture references during the RTD era, and there was always going to be a downside to that down the line.
“Bad Wolf” brings attention to the fact that the Doctor has always been a bit of a contradictory character. He’s supposed to be a rebel time lord – a mischievous old man who stole a magic box and ran away for fun, solving problems wherever he goes – and yet he’s simultaneously an authority figure, the same sort he claims to dislike. He’s able to easily command respect from his peers through his confidence, charisma and the sheer amount of knowledge and experience he lords over other people. Initially, Nine is feeling pretty haughty and overconfident. He’s bored out of his mind being trapped inside a tacky and gaudy reality TV show, at least until he learns the contestants die if they lose – that sets off some alarm bells. Nine is convinced that someone has lured him into a trap and he’s determined to get to the bottom of it, when in reality, he’s been drafted. Along the way, Nine is mortified to discover that he’s helped to screw up the development of the human race. A repeated assertion throughout Series 1 is how sensitive and fragile the natural time-stream is to outside meddling, like Adam’s actions in “The Long Game“, or Rose’s in “Father’s Day” or Jack’s in “The Empty Child“. Now it’s the Doctor’s turn in the hot-spot. He showed up in “The Long Game”, he raised hell and beat the bad guy, and then he left others to clean up the mess like he always does. It wound up making things worse in the long run, and now the consequences have come home to roost. In fact, most if not all of Russell’s core ideas about his interpretation of the Doctor come home to roost in this finale: like the consequences of the Doc’s reckless actions, the Dalek-related PTSD the Doctor has gained from the time war, the Doctor having to make impossible (and sometimes ugly) decisions for the greater good of many, and the influence the Doctor has on other people over time, whether it’s empowering them or turning them into makeshift soldiers or both.
When Rose is seemingly killed as collateral damage of the Bad Wolf conspiracy, it seems for a moment that the Doctor is going to go on a furious rampage of revenge, before RTD subverts our expectations about that. Doctor Who is not that kind of show, and whenever it does become that sort of show it’s usually a sign that there’s something seriously wrong with the Doctor. The taut cliffhanger of “Bad Wolf’ has a fantastic dual reveal that Rose is still alive and that the Daleks have returned in numbers. The Daleks warn the Doctor to stay out of their business or else they’ll kill Rose for reals, a deliberate callback to the Dalek’s ultimatum in “Dalek“. Rose has already been established as a weak spot in the Doctor’s judgment several times this season, so you would expect him to bend, like he has done before. Instead, he stands his ground and defies them, declaring (in almost deranged fashion) that he’s going to fetch Rose himself and he trusts her to stay alive until then. Man, you’ve got to love Nine. The Doctor’s rescue plan works successfully, but that’s about the only thing that goes right for him in “The Parting Of The Ways”. The finale is pretty much the Ninth Doctor’s darkest hour, where he can no longer avoid all the guilt, anger and despair he’s been carrying around since the war and has only just started to learn to cope with. He committed double genocide and killed his own people to save the universe, and now the return of the Dalek empire means it was all for nothing. What’s more, the Doctor is clearly out of his depth as one time lord going up against so many Daleks. On an ordinary day, he would do something incredibly clever and think himself and his friends out of trouble. But not this time. This time, he can’t win and he can’t save the Earth. The only thing he can do is send Rose home. So he does what the Doctor does best: he lies to her. Nine is faced with that terrible choice again: the only way he can keep the universe safe from an empire of Daleks is if he nukes all life on Earth with them.
While Russell doesn’t address the idea head-on until “Journey’s End”, I think “The Parting Of The Ways” is the first time it becomes clear that the Doctor’s influence causes people to become more like soldiers over time. Jack is pretty much Nine’s right-hand man and lieutenant throughout this story, the remaining humans on the base become cannon fodder for the Daleks to give the Doctor time to enact his plan, and Rose is more than willing to die for a good cause with her friends. As the Ninth Doctor’s swansong, the finale shows off all the different faucets of his character and features a tour-de-force of acting from Christopher Eccleston: whether it’s breezy, comical Nine, haughty, hubristic Nine, righteously angry Nine, determined Nine, remorseful, guilt-ridden Nine, or even unhinged Nine. In the end, despite all the death and sacrifice from his side, the Doctor can’t bring himself to play God and make that sort of decision again, become an even bigger killer than he already is. There’s a legitimate argument to be made that the needs of the universe outweigh the needs of the Earth, let alone the Doctor’s own soul, but Doctor Who is not the kind of show that would settle for that stance. So Rose returns with a third, far more effective option, and the Doctor saves her life one last time, which causes him to regenerate. Christopher Eccleston decided to resign from the show after just one series for personal reasons, which surprised everyone at the time, but it all worked out in the end. The Series 1 finale is all about the Doctor facing the literal and figurative demons from his past so he can finally start to move on with his life, so it feels like the right time for Nine to bow out, and Eccleston’s last scene as the Doctor is pitched at just the right level of bittersweet. The Doctor is clearly sad that this incarnation of himself has come to an end, like he always is, but Rose is safe, the Daleks are gone, and he’s gotten all his affairs in order, so he tries to go out with a smile.
Billie Piper’s Rose is put through the wringer several times over in this finale. Trapped in a futuristic version of “The Weakest Link”, Rose is at a disadvantage right from the start: she can only guess the most basic of questions, since most of them involve information that’s way after her time. Once she discovers the losers get murdered, the pressure’s on for Rose to stay in the game long enough for her friends to find her, especially since she’s competing against a callous, greedy, opportunistic bastard (yeah, he’s pretty much the only character who you’ll be rooting for the Daleks to exterminate when it happens). When that fails, she gets captured by the Daleks and held hostage on their ship. Compared to other episodes, Rose doesn’t actually get to do much in “Bad Wolf” and she damsels it up for the first half of the finale, which seems strange but in hindsight helps to mask her agency in “The Parting Of The Ways” and the fact that she becomes the game-changing character. The Doctor decides to send her home against her wishes, taking responsibility as the one who invited her along with him so she won’t die a hundred thousand years away from home. Throughout Series 1, Russell has intercut Rose’s surreal adventures with periodic trips back to the Powell Estate, showing her progress, and after everything Rose has seen and all the character growth she’s experienced in a year, her old home and the daily, mundane rituals of a quiet, suburban life feel jarring and tiny now. In fact, they become downright torturous and almost insignificant for her when she knows her friends are fighting and dying, and her home planet is at risk of being destroyed in the future. There is no way in hell Rose is going to just sit on her backside and do nothing, even if everyone else wants her to. For better or for worse, “The Parting Of The Ways’ is the point where Rose accepts that she’s changed irrevocably and she doesn’t belong on the Powell Estate anymore. Seeing all of creation is worth the risk, beating the Daleks is worth the risk, and being with the man she loves is worth the risk.
Rose’s stubbornness and gutsiness were the traits that led her to become a companion in the first place, and now she has to use everything she’s learned this season to try to get the TARDIS to take her back to the future. And just in case you thought Rusty was suggesting an ordinary life had no merit at all compared to a fantastical one, Rose succeeds in her task thanks to some Powell estate grit, ingenuity and support from Jackie and Mickey. Once Rose looks into the time vortex and telepathically speaks to the TARDIS, something surreal happens (even for this series). You see, the TARDIS isn’t just a mode of transportation, she’s alive and she’s sentient, even if she can’t speak. The TARDIS having a mind of it’s own is an idea that’s been played with since “The Edge Of Destruction” in 1963, and there’s eventually an entire episode devoted to the TARDIS’s personality called “The Doctor’s Wife”. It’s just one of many reasons why the TARDIS is a beautiful ship. In any case, the TARDIS loves the Doctor as much as his human friends do, so she teams up with Rose to find him. There’s been a repeated phrase scattered throughout Series 1, “Bad Wolf”, an Easter egg for the audience that the Doctor and Rose finally noticed in “Boom Town“, leading them to their destinies on Satellite Five. It turns out to be a bootstrap paradox, caused by Rose herself. For half of this two-parter, Rose was the most ordinary, out-of-place, and borderline helpless player (besides Lynda), but thanks to her bravery and determination, she becomes a modern goddess. She uses the power of the time vortex to destroy the Daleks, save the universe and revive Captain Jack. Rose has other cool achievements after this episode, like vanquishing the devil in “The Satan Pit” or facing the Daleks again in “The Stolen Earth”, but “The Parting Of The Ways” is easily her finest hour as a companion. The Doctor and Rose share their first kiss, and after a whole season of romantic chemistry and ship-tease moments, the Doctor and Rose have a relationship upgrade from this point on.
“Bad Wolf” serves as Captain Jack Harkness’ departure story as a companion until we see John Barrowman again as a guest character in Series 3, and while I’m sad to see him leave so soon after such a short but fun tenure, “The Parting Of The Ways” is a good send-off for him. Captain Jack has always been the sort to carry himself with swagger and braggadocio, giving the impression he’s more confident and in control than he actually probably is. In this two-parter, he’s firing on all cylinders as a wingman, and as a future companion he actually feels more at home in the alien setting of Satellite Five than any of the other heroes. Whether he’s cheekily showing off with reality TV show hosts, flirting with everyone he encounters, lending a helping hand with his technical know-how, leading the Doctor’s improvised army, or giving the Doctor and Rose his upmost trust and loyalty that they’ve earned from him as things get bleak. Jack was a freelancing, mercenary figure with a military background when we first met him; he became more scrupulous overtime because of his friends’ influence, but his time in the TARDIS has also clearly heightened his instincts as a soldier, or brought them to the forefront. He’s pretty much the Doctor’s lieutenant in this two-parter: fighting in sync with the time lord, handling tasks the Doctor has delegated to him, and eventually rallying troops as a wave of defense for the base. As a conman, Jack mirthfully, noncommittally boasted that when the going got tough, he was usually the first to flee. But his loyalty to his friends and the need to stop the Daleks convinces him to stay once more in this two-parter, even if it means certain death from one side or the other, showing how his character has grown from a selfish rake to a fairly courageous hero in just five episodes. And before he marches into hell, he makes sure to get a kiss from the Doctor and Rose each. Good lad. Jack sacrifices himself to buy time for the Doctor but is (thankfully) revived by Rose, giving him a second chance to do whatever he wants with himself from here on out.
Lynda with a Y is a charming yet tragic character. Lynda starts as a game show contestant on “Big Brother”. She’s sweet, earnest, naive, wide-eyed and fairly affable. She wouldn’t dream of breaking the rules for fear of fatal consequences until now, but she dreams of the great, big outside world and everything it has to offer. Basically, she’s companion material. The Doctor befriends her during his investigation; he takes under his wing, promises to help her and show her a better life, and then he utterly fails to do that. Instead, she gets swept up into a war she barely understands, she witnesses a massacre of her people and her home, and then she gets murdered by the Daleks as the story’s sacrificial lamb. She tries to be brave and helpful, providing information about the local culture, but in the end it’s all for nought. Lynda’s death scene, where the Daleks silently kill her and suck her corpse out into the vacuum of space, is rather chilling and serves as a harsh reminder that sometimes terrible things happen to good people, especially when the Daleks are involved. Furthermore, you’ll gradually notice that the Doctor inviting someone onto the TARDIS when their actress’ name isn’t in the credits is practically a death sentence for them. Just ask Astrid, or Jenny, or Rita, or Osgood. Sad thing is, Lynda was doomed no matter which way this story panned. If she hadn’t accompanied the Doctor, she would have either been killed in the games, or slaughtered when the Daleks came to Satellite Five.
The world-building in “The Long Game” was easily my favorite aspect of that episode, and “Bad Wolf” takes the future conspiracy surrounding Satellite Five to a whole new, tantalizingly twisted level. RTD’s episodes set in the future usually served as social commentary about modern society, by exaggerating the worst traits of humanity to disturbingly perverted levels. “The Long Game” touched on the power of the media, and “Bad Wolf” takes a stab at people’s affinity for television as entertainment. In the present day, people already enjoy TV shows where the contestants hurt themselves for their viewing pleasure. In the year 200,100 this is taken one natural yet obscene step further, and the contestants frequently die. This is completely normalized. The Daleks manipulated humanity’s development and used them as cattle, but they did not make humans enjoy their messed-up entertainment or support it for years. That stemmed from either sadism or a complete lack of empathy for the people on their screens. Like Rose said, it’s sick. Life on Satellite Five is still clinical and utilitarian. Humans are essentially livestock, and their whole reason for existing is to be pawns for the Daleks – whether they’re cannon fodder in the games to keep the masses placated, workers on the base, broadcasting to the planet below, or genetic material that’s used to create more Daleks. From birth to death, they’re measured entirely by how valuable they are to their secret masters, which is shown to it’s full, horrifying extent with the Controller character, a woman who lived in blindness, running the station her entire life since she was five years old. The fourth great and bountiful human empire is pretty much a strict caste society where humans are ignorant slaves with a warped sense of morality, on the verge of being slaughtered by their superiors who have utterly ruined them. The audience is slowly drip-fed this revelation about the Earth’s future, the way of life humanity has become accustomed to, and it is disturbing.
Having been introduced before as campy, hateful, megalomaniacal conquerors, it’s only fitting that the Daleks return as the final boss villains of the finale. The reveal that there’s a whole army of them now, when the Doctor and Rose could barely handle one before, makes for one belter of a cliffhanger and raises the stakes perfectly for the second half of the two-parter. The twist that the Daleks survived the war is significantly less effective when Russell doles it out again, and again, and again for the remainder of his era, to what some would argue was a series of diminishing returns. In retrospect, there probably should have been one less Dalek two-parter than there was in the RTD era (maybe “Doomsday”, since they waltzed in and totally stole the Cybermen’s villain thunder in that episode). In any case, at this point in this series, the Daleks are still mostly unknown, alien and utterly terrifying. Their leader, the Emperor of the Daleks, is a massive kaled who is arrogant, hubristic, spiteful and delusional, even by Dalek standards. The emperor possesses one hell of a god complex and pretty much rebuilt the Dalek race from the ground up after he fell through time, crafting new Daleks from DNA he harvested from dead humans. As a result, the emperor’s Daleks have gone utterly insane with self-loathing. Their blasphemous human DNA conflicts with their innate imperative to always remain pure: they are contaminated. Nevertheless, they worship their emperor for giving them life, and consider him to be a Dalek god. Under ordinary circumstances, the Daleks are already ruthless, war-mongering murderers, but this lot of them are pretty much mad dogs, lashing out at everyone and everything in their sight. Russell doesn’t shy away from how brutal, merciless and cruel the Daleks are as a species in this story, whether they’re bombing the Earth or exterminating every human on the base just because they can. The Daleks are arguably never more frightening in the RTD era than they are in this finale.
Like “The Doctor Dances”, “The Parting Of The Ways” gives me a greater appreciation for Doctor Who’s lighting team, as well as the ones in charge of the color grading. Whereas the former two-parter was set in London entirely at night, the latter takes place on a space station with dodgy, pitch black lighting. Right away, the atmosphere of Satellite Five feels subtly, viscerally wrong, with large, gloomy rooms and sharp shadows casting everywhere. Compared to how colorful and vibrant of a location Satellite Five was in “The Long Game”, the game station has clearly been neglected over the years. I posited back in “Dalek”, a very grey episode visually, that the Daleks seem to subconsciously suck all the fun and wonder out of Doctor Who whenever they appear, and that idea is certainly magnified in the finale. The fact that most of this two-parter is so downcast makes the rare instances of vivid color we do get very striking, like the ultraviolet blue wires hooked up to the Controller, the burning orange ‘throne room’ the Emperor Dalek has, and the ghostly, golden light of the time vortex Rose employs as the Bad Wolf (Nine and Rose’s first kiss in front of the TARDIS is a beautiful visual). For the emotional climax of the season, Murray Gold revisits and ties together many of the themes and leitmotifs he’s been employing in Series 1, like the bold synth of “Westminster Bridge”, the enigmatic, ethereal vocals of “The Doctor’s Theme”, the mad, howling choir of “The Daleks”, the soulful piano in “Rose’s Theme”, and the understated sadness of “Father’s Day”. While Nine regenerates in this finale, his personal theme is retooled into more of a leitmotif for the Doctor in general and reprised numerous times afterwards, meaning a little piece of Nine always lives on in the series’ soundtrack. From Murray’s new material, some of the more dramatic scenes receive some stunning, elegant, and bombastic underscore like “I’m Coming To Get You“, “Rose Defeats The Daleks“, and “Hologram“, the Ninth Doctor’s bittersweet regeneration music.
While Eleven is my favorite Doctor, I think Nine’s swansong in “Bad Wolf / The Parting Of The Ways” is my favorite regeneration story in NuWho. As the emotional climax to the dual character arcs Nine and Rose have been on in Series 1, it’s a smashing success and it leaves you eager to discover where Doctor Who will go next, now that Christopher Eccleston has vanished in a flash and been replaced by a wild-eyed David Tennant.
* “Okay, defabricator: does exactly what it says on the tin. Am I naked in front of millions of viewers?” “Absolutely!” “Ladies, your viewing figures just went up!”
* “Are you unemployed?” “No” “Do you have a job?” “Well, no, but-” “Then you are unemployed, and yet you still have enough money to buy peroxide” Damn, that was bitchy.
* How convenient for Rose that some other dude offered himself up to be slaughtered, just when she was about to back out of the game.
* “That’s a Compact Laser Deluxe!” “Where were you hiding that?” ” You really don’t want to know”.
* As an aside, Captain Jack looks good in leather. The Ninth Doctor also looks good in leather. There are some pretty attractive men in this two-parter.
* “Mind you, have they still got that program where three people have to live with a bear?” “Oh, Bear With Me. I love that one!” “And me. The celebrity edition where the bear got in the bath!” “Got it in the bath!”
* “Let’s do it!”
* “This is what I’m going to do: I’m going to rescue her, I’m going to save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet, and then I’m going to save the Earth, and then, just to finish off, I’m going to wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!” “But you have no plan, no back-up!” “I know, and doesn’t that scare you to death?! Rose!” “Yes, Doctor?!” “I’m coming to get you!”.
* “Those words are blasphemy!” “Do not blaspheme! Do not blaspheme! Do not blaspheme!”
* “I am the god of all Daleks!” “Worship him! Worship him! Worship him!”
* “If you want to remember me, then you can do one thing. That’s all, one thing. Have a good life. Do that for me, Rose. Have a fantastic life”.
* “But it was, it was a better life. And I don’t mean all the travelling and seeing aliens and spaceships and things, that don’t matter. The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. You know, he showed you too! That you don’t just give up, you don’t just let things happen. You make a stand, you say no. You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away, and I just can’t!-”
* “Rose, you can’t spend the rest of your life thinking about the Doctor” Micky, my lad, just wait until she gets to Series 2.
* You’ll notice that Bad Wolf Rose revived Jack from the dead, because she remembered he was her friend, but she let Lynda stay dead. Considering there were some subtle shots of Rose looking jealous at Lynda’s back earlier in the episode, make of that what you will.
* “My head… it’s killing me!” “I think you need a Doctor!” Good old, Rusty, embracing the camp.
* The Doctor and an unconscious Rose wind up leaving Jack behind on the Game Station, which, for a long time, gives the impression that the Doctor didn’t know what Rose did. Later, we discover this is actually a case of the Doctor being a complete ass.
* “It’s like… there was this singing” For a few moments, being the Bad Wolf allowed Rose to hear the soundtrack vocals.
* I do have one little niggle about the Bad Wolf thing. Rose wields the energy of the time vortex for several minutes, which threatens to consume her. The Doctor takes it on for thirty seconds to disperse it. Rose is fine afterwards while the Doctor promptly drops dead. The Doctor said he took the power out of her, he never said he used any time lord healing magic on her. Does that mean time lords are actually more vulnerable to the energy of the vortex than humans are, the same vortex that they use to travel in quite often? Cause if that’s the case, then that is really unfortunate for them.
* “And Rose, you were fantastic, absolutely fantastic. And do you know what? So was I!” Yeah, you were, Doc.