The Parting Of The Ways

Doctor WhoWith the help of the terrified (and mostly unarmed) broadcasters and civilians of Satellite 5, the Doctor and Jack mount what appears to be a frontal attack on the Dalek command saucer via the TARDIS, but then the Doctor feigns the TARDIS’ destruction from a Dalek missile attack and materializes in the heart of the Daleks’ command center, saving Rose. With the TARDIS projecting a shield around him, the Doctor emerges and finds that the Daleks have recovered their Emperor – an enormous mastermind Dalek the Doctor thought he had destroyed in the final battle of the Time War. The damaged Emperor escaped the carnage, however, and rebuilt the Dalek race – using dead humans as a replacement for now-extinct Kaled mutants. The Emperor has also risen to prophetic heights of megalomania, declaring itself the god of the Daleks and vowing to attack Earth and turn its population into billions more Daleks. The Doctor vows to stop the Emperor at any cost, though he discovers that the cost is horrific: his own defense could destroy humanity as thoroughly as the Daleks will.

Order the DVDDownload this episodewritten by Russell T. Davies
directed by Joe Ahearne
music by Murray Gold

Guest Cast: John Barrowman (Captain Jack), Jo Joyner (Lynda), Paterson Joseph (Rodrick), Nisha Nayar (Female Programmer), Noel Clarke (Mickey), Camille Coduri (Jackie), Anne Robinson (voice of Anne Droid), Nicholas Briggs (Dalek voices), Barnaby Edwards (Dalek operator), Nicholas Pegg (Dalek operator), David Hankinson (Dalek operator), Alan Ruscoe (Android), David Tennant (The Doctor)

Reviews by Philip R. Frey & Earl Green
LogBook entry by Earl Green

Earl’s Review: The Parting Of The Ways has a lot to accomplish. It has to wrap up a mammoth cliffhanger and deal with the Daleks’ impending assault on Earth. It has to usher in a new Doctor. And, at long last, it has to explain the meaning of the constant sightings of “Bad Wolf” throughout the show’s 13 episodes. No sweat, eh? With all that to get done in 45 minutes, it’s almost inevitable that at least one of those balls will be dropped.

The Dalek element doesn’t disappoint. With literally millions of CG Daleks streaming through space, or swarming into rooms like a flood of water, Parting Of The Ways gives us the Daleks of old: their strength is in their overwhelming numbers and near-invincibility. When the Dalek Emperor starts going off about being the god of the Daleks, and a swarm of Daleks (voiced by Big Finish’s own resident Dalek, Nicholas Briggs) shrieks “Wor-ship-him!” in unison, things get extremely strange – this isn’t a way we’ve ever seen the Daleks portrayed before (and it’s my main “evidence” in my theory that the organic component of the Emperor is what’s left of Davros, but we’ll save the retconning for another time). But honestly, the sudden addition of religious fanaticism to the Daleks doesn’t figure prominently in the story after the scene introducing the Emperor.

The biggest mess Parting Of The Ways gets us into is with the Bad Wolf/heart of the TARDIS angle. Having the characters openly make a big deal about Bad Wolf since Boom Town, Russell T. Davies is forced to pay it all off here – and the payoff isn’t that satisfying. I’ll say this: I like the idea of the TARDIS’ “soul” inhabiting Rose briefly, though it effectively serves as a deux ex machina (literally!) in this episode. The visuals accompanying this phenomenon aren’t a million miles away from the “fairy dust” that brought Chang Lee and Grace back to life in the 1996 TV movie, which is a neat (though perhaps unintentional) bit of post-original-series continuity. And this story made the TARDIS a living, breathing character for me far more convincingly than, say, the Zagreus audio play did. (It helps that Billie Piper gives possessed-Rose a completely different bearing and even a different accent, and with the help of some effects wizardry comes off as being rather creepy.) But the Bad Wolf payoff makes absolutely zero sense when subjected to even the tiniest bit of scrutiny. Even the clips from prior episodes used to illustrate the recurring Bad Wolf phenomenon reveal this weakness: one clip from the beginning of Dalek, showing a helicopter landing with an offscreen voice announcing “Bad Wolf One descending!”, occurred without Rose and the Doctor there to witness it. So how can Rose be having a flashback to it, and why/how would it have happened before the TARDIS arrived anyway? The season would’ve been just fine without the Bad Wolf element; the stories would have been the same, and we wouldn’t have had this big buildup to something which turns out to be much ado about nothing. Memo to Russell Davies: I like most of your Doctor Who scripts, but if you want some real signs and portents, maybe you should go to the experts, like, oh, say, J. Michael Straczynski.

The regeneration, believe it or not, is enough to make me set aside the Bad Wolf misfire and enjoy a classic moment of Doctor Who history. It’s a very different regeneration from what we’ve seen before, though also very much in line with the final moments of the fifth and sixth Doctors. (Note that, in both of those cases as well as here, regenerations that take place in the TARDIS seem to be noisier-verging-on-explosive, which becomes a blinding visual metaphor here. It seems like the regenerations that occur away from the TARDIS – Pertwee-into-Baker, Baker-into-Davison and McCoy-into-McGann – are quieter events where the Doctor’s new features simply morph into place.) Down to his last moments, Eccleston’s Doctor is engaging, intriguing and off-the-wall, and as much as I like the choice of David Tennant as his successor, I can only walk away from this episode feeling that Eccleston’s time in the TARDIS hot seat was far, far too short – like Colin Baker, we didn’t get to see whatever long-term plan might have been in place for this Doctor play out. Russell Davies may have done the impossible and gotten Doctor Who back on the air, but Eccleston and Billie Piper should be credited with compelling the public (and therefore the BBC) to keep it there with their performances. (Kudos also to John Barrowman, who is just bad ass in this episode. He even gets to do a death scene and lives to tell about it!)

The Parting Of The Ways is ultimately a very, very mixed bag – and perhaps a case of a five-pound bag trying to contain twenty pounds of story that very rightly could’ve been a three-parter – but its confused whole contains several very enjoyable parts. The first season of Doctor Who’s miraculous return to TV, overall, was a lot of fun – maybe not quite on a par with the stellar first seasons enjoyed by Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker’s Doctors, but memorable and fun all the same. It almost reads, in hindsight, like a fan’s laundry list for a perfect season: a story arc connecting everything, the return of the Daleks, a hint of the Cybermen, big new developments for the Time Lords, and even a regeneration to top it all off. Not too shabby a season at all.

Philip’s Review: When is a Dalek not a Dalek? Apparently, when it’s under the aegis of Russell T. Davies, that’s when. The Daleks have existed for over forty years, and even at their stair-hampered silliest, they always worked. Why Davies feels the need to give us pseudo-Daleks (first in Dalek and now here), I cannot understand.

These Daleks, like the lone previous one we’ve seen, have been altered by a touch of humanity. It’s apparently driven them into a religious psychosis. Their “Emperor Dalek” (who could be Davros, which would almost fit its megalomania) has declared itself to be some sort of god. His new “Daleks” (actually massively altered humans) are all too willing to go along, having gone exponentially stir crazy after hundreds of years without exterminating anyone.

The Doctor, par for this incarnation’s course, simultaneously feels sorry for the poor things and decides to blast them out of the sky. And, par for the course, he’s awfully pessimistic. Likes the fatalistic approach, this one does. Even though we’ve seen millions of years into the future, he’s keen to destroy the Earth and the whole future rather than let the Daleks live. Where’s the damn-it-all-I’ve-always-defeated-you attitude? I suppose he lost it in that Time War we still keep hearing about, but he never actually explains. (Am I the only one who thinks the Time Lords will eventually show up, even more hidden than the Daleks were here?) And wasn’t it fun watching him run from one tube to the next over and over again throughout the middle of the episode? No? How about the build-up to big action and then not doing it in the end? No?

Of course, there’s a reason why the Doctor doesn’t actually do anything for most of this episode: it’s to make way for the “drama” that 2005’s Doctor Who is famous for. It’s full force soap opera mode for Rose most of the time, with plenty of opportunity for Billie Piper’s trademark weeping. (And good heavens, she can run at the mouth, can’t she?) Captain Jack, on the other hand, has his Schwarzenegger switch turned on and is successfully auditioning for his own series. He is perhaps a smidgeon less annoying this week than usual, but he still loses points for engaging in the single most obvious piece of Russell T. Davies fanwank wish fulfillment of the entire series (and, no, I’ll say no more about it).

I’d like to note that I noticed an odd return to an attitude from the first episode here, when the Daleks massacre those who stayed behind (and didn’t we all know that was going to happen, kids?), they don’t actually show the massacre. It’s that same, strange have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too notion that made the Auton rampage so off-kilter. I can’t explain why they chose to do this, as it seems to show a hypocritical attitude towards the death that Doctor Who so regularly traffics in.

Ultimately, the whole “Bad Wolf” thing fails to pay off and fails quite spectacularly. I swear, the moment Rose exited the TARDIS, blocked the Dalek shot Vader-style and declared that she was behind the whole thing, I cracked up and could not stop laughing. I’ll admit that I had read a few spoilers, so I had kind of gotten the gist that she was somehow the “Bad Wolf”, but this? I never expected this. Twelve episodes of build-up and all I get is a nonsensical Moebius strip of an explanation? Oh, my giddy aunt, I couldn’t have guessed how bad it would be. More TARDIS tomfoolery follows, bringing Captain Jack back from yet another perfectly good death, Rose/TARDIS-thingy destroys all the Daleks (until next time, of course) and then the finale.

Which, I have to admit, is pretty good. Regeneration scenes are hard to screw up. The only really bad one is in Time And The Rani and without Colin Baker’s participation, nothing was going to save that. And the one that Davies gives Eccleston is effective. If you didn’t know it was coming, it would prove quiet a shock and very dramatic. Perhaps the greatest moment in the Ninth Doctor’s life is when he ceases to be.

The 2005 season of Doctor Who is a hard thing to define for me, in the final analysis. Mostly, I disliked it (a shocking revelation, I know). I found it far too self-indulgent and full of itself. I found the Doctor unlikable and his companions unsympathetic. I found the effects sub-par and overused. I found the attitude condescending and insulting, except when it was overly camp.

Yet, there are good things to say. There was an honest attempt to update the formula. If it didn’t entirely succeed, it wasn’t for lack of trying. There were a few decent episodes (Rose, The Unquiet Dead) and one quite good one (Father’s Day). They only fall down because they can’t stand on their own, since everything all season is connected.

And this is, perhaps, what I most hope will change in season two (since the Ninth Doctor has already gone the way of the dodo). I hope they don’t come up with another underlying theme. It was a legitimate idea for season one because it was a re-introduction and a theme (and many common locations) could theoretically have helped make it all palatable. But another like this would just be even more disappointing. It’s time to skew more towards the original show. They need to get away from Earth and stop running into the same people all the time (not that the advance word on The Christmas Invasion makes that seem likely).

But at the heart of my problem, as I already indicated, is a Doctor that I cannot bring myself to like, no matter how often he smiles at me and says nice things. He was too arrogant, too insulting, too mean to be someone I could get behind. He’s honestly the first Doctor I was happy to see the back of. The Tenth may fare better. Here’s hoping he does.