Saturday, October 19, 2013

Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways - "Before I go, I just want to tell you, you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic."

Bad Wolf (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 1, Story 12 (Overall Series Story #164a)

I worry about the potential for this one not aging well because, and please let this be the case, eventually everyone's going to forget about Big Brother and shows of its ilk and all the references to the the genre are going to stop making sense. Right? Please? More worrying is that "Bad Wolf" may be right to predict thousands of channels of this stuff into the far future. RTD's Doctor Who is very much a TV show that's about TV, at once a celebration and a revival, crafted from bits of the past and elements of the contemporary, but also deeply skeptical of the medium's ultimate role in human development. (You don't make an episode called "The Idiot Lantern" otherwise, right?)

Rose on The Weakest Link ("The Anne Droid!" *collective pun groan*), Jack getting made over, The Doctor in the Big Brother house, it's all daft fun on the warp, made interesting by the weft of menace ... but, that nagging worry that it's going to look terribly dated soon lurks around the edges of our enjoyment. When we realize where we are, back on Satellite 5, and that the Long Game is still being played, it feels like we're recycling sets to stretch the budget. The understanding that the Doctor missed that he'd only taken out a pawn during the previous visit, and that the power pieces were laying in wait, compounds the sense that we've been churning a bit, running around corridors to fill the time, not actually accomplishing much.

It may be though that I'm letting my disappointment that we're now in final hours of Eccleston's Doctor get the better of me. This incarnation's TV run is in its twelfth hour and already we're fast approaching a regeneration. It's not right. Heck, wasn't "The Daleks' Master Plan" itself twelve hours long? (No? Well, it was long. Series 1 is a snap of the fingers in terms of the TV life span, measured in screen time, of a regeneration.) At least we get references to unseen adventures to suggest we only got the stories directly related to the Bad Wolf, but that more happened. (Has anyone written about this crew's visit to Japan, 1336 yet? Have to imagine they met Ashikaga Takauji?)

But that feeling is outside the show itself, so we've got to bear down and focus on what's onscreen. Once we get past the reality show stages, things get more grounded in, well, not reality, but the reality outside the fake reality of 'reality' TV. Two characters start to come into their own: Lynda ("with a 'y'"), the sweet competitor who clearly wasn't going to win her season of "Bad Wolf presents Big Brother"; and, the Controller, a human who's been converted into the wetware OS that runs Satellite 5 on behalf of ... some horrible presence. The Controller's like something out of a Terry Gilliam dystopia but she's retained her humanity and, thanks to some solar flares and the tech she's integrated with, she's got a small window of opportunity to rebel against her masters. Those masters, the players of the Long Game? It's ... dramatic pause ... the Daleks. Lots of Daleks. And, they've got Rose.

Here's where we get the big payoff -- the heroic swell, the Doctor courageously asserting that he'll rescue Rose Tyler from middle of the Dalek fleet. They may have an armada amassed to sweep over him but, even without a plan, he's The Oncoming Storm, if only for the moment, and we get the full sense that this is the Doctor who put an end to the Time War, who can reach down deep and overcome anything. Every grand moment of the Matt Smith incarnation traces its roots back the closing moments of "Bad Wolf".

The next chapter of the story has its work cut out for it to deliver on the promise of this Doctor ready to fight to the good fight ...

The Parting of the Ways (TV story) - Tardis Data Core, the Doctor Who Wiki

Series 1, Story 13 (Overall Series Story #164b)

And off we go! The Doctor and Jack use Blon's tribophysical waveform macro-kinetic extrapolator (super space surfboard) to shield the TARDIS (it needs shields?) from missiles as it flies through physical space (why not dematerialise?) out beyond the edge of the solar system. Oddness of that trip aside, there's another payoff, right at the start -- the Doctor rescues Rose, taunts the Daleks, and moreover we are introduced to the Dalek Emperor. That mad Dalek, driven insane by its travails in and escaping from the Time War is revealed to be the player of the long game. It's ready to lead the race of Dalek-human hybrids it has created on to universal conquest, first stop: Earth. This iteration of the Daleks, self-loathing servants of a mad god are a perfect distillation of the dark side of the religious instinct. That they have a concept of blasphemy is both hilarious and a brilliantly effective way to show how dangerous they are.

The race is on. The Doctor needs to figure out how to defeat the armada of Daleks, get Rose safely out of harm's way, and Jack needs to turn the ragtag group of game show contestants and television executives into a guerrilla force capable of holding off the Daleks long enough to buy the Doctor time to save them all. By building a delta wave generator to kill them all. (Uh, good plan?)  Rose and the TARDIS are shunted back to the 21st century and the real work of saving humanity and destroying the Daleks begins when Rose inspires Jackie to borrow a lorry to crack open the TARDIS console.

This time, not everyone lives. Lynda dies, all the supporting characters die, even Capt. Jack (for now). The Doctor could never fire the weapon he built and he's ready to accept defeat when Rose, who's now the Bad Wolf courtesy of a deep stare into the time vortex, arrives and calmly disintegrates every threat with her awesome new powers. The dialogue breaks down at this point:
DOCTOR: Rose, you've done it. Now stop. Just let go.
ROSE: How can I let go of this? I bring life.
(Jack breaths again.)
DOCTOR: But this is wrong! You can't control life and death.
ROSE: But I can. The sun and the moon, the day and night. But why do they hurt?
DOCTOR: The power's going to kill you and it's my fault.
ROSE: I can see everything. All that is, all that was, all that ever could be.
DOCTOR: That's what I see. All the time. And doesn't it drive you mad?
ROSE: My head.
DOCTOR: Come here.
ROSE: It's killing me
DOCTOR: I think you need a Doctor. 
It's not terrible, per se, but I grit my teeth and groan a bit at the "sun and the moon, the day and the night" line, and again with the last line. Even the bit about how he sees that way all the time doesn't sit right with me. When the Doctor talked about clinging to the surface of the Earth as it falls through space in "Rose," that worked for me, here though it's overwrought, we'll get better lines about how the Doctor perceives time later.

My sense of this season, for which I have no insider knowledge or behind-the-scenes evidence to support, is that Eccleston's decision to depart must've thrown a wrench in the works and added the need to graft in the regeneration where it wasn't originally planned. I love the line quoted in the title of this post. Rose was fantastic and, for the majority of the season, he's right when he goes on to say, "you know what? So was I." But here, at the very end, after his dramatic announcement and flight to rescue Rose, he really wasn't. He sent everyone to die fighting Daleks he had no intention of finishing off. Sure, he wavered on the delta wave device for a moment, but I think he was bluffing the whole time, thinking he could make them back off. He says himself he'll be a coward every time when it comes to making that choice. Here, I take him at his word. We gather during the Time War, maybe when he was the John Hurt version of the Doctor, he was the guy would destroy both sides to end the war; but, he's not anymore.

So his farewell line works as suiting tribute to Christopher Eccleston's portrayal of the Doctor; it just doesn't work as a line the Doctor would say after what all just happened.

And then he's gone.

Enter David Tennant ...

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