THE PARTING OF THE WAYS– 18th Jun
Written by Russell T. Davies.
A highly emotional episode this week as we bid farewell to Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor. With Rose held captive by an army of half a million Daleks, the Doctor launches an assault on their flagship with the TARDIS. With the ‘cosmic surfboard’ left behind by Margaret the Slitheen, Captain Jack and the Doctor are able to generate a force shield around the TARDIS that protects the ship from a volley of missiles. Continuity purists may well be wondering what has happened to the invulnerable TARDIS that Jon Pertwee’s Doctor referred to as it fell off that cliff back on Peladon.
They would be even more shocked by what happens next when the Doctor neatly materialises the TARDIS around Rose and a Dalek. The Dalek opens fire inside the TARDIS, so violating the state of grace that allegedly exists within the ship. Not only that but Captain Jack himself opens up with a volley that destroys the Dalek, thus breaking the state of grace twice in less than a minute!
However, nice rescue nevertheless and we barely have time to catch our breath before the Doctor is outside confronting the enemy, fortunately the force shield that surrounds the TARDIS is able to protect the Doctor as he menaces his oldest foes with his sheer presence. Naturally enough the Doctor is curious about how the Daleks survived the Time War. A booming voice enunciates that ‘they survive through me.’
Now my powers as a soothsayer aren’t that great but I think that I’d already guessed this voice belonged to a Dalek rather than Davros. In fact it is the Emperor of the Daleks, as many fans had already guessed, although last week I’d toyed with the idea that it was the Dalek in episode six that had somehow metamorphosed itself. Not the case however, since it seems that the Emperor’s ship had survived the Time War and had been lurking in the ‘dark space’ outside Earth’s solar system for hundreds of years. So we are to assume the Daleks were responsible for the Jagrafess, as they have been manipulating humanity’s development for hundreds of years.
A word or two about the Emperor, his present incarnation owes something to his conceptualisation in ‘Evil’ with a little nod to the glass Dalek in David Whittaker’s ‘Dr Who in an exciting adventure with the Daleks’ novelization.
The Emperor is huge, bigger than in ‘Evil’ and mounted on a set of three cantilevered joints that are fixed onto an outer shell. The shell is open so that the mutant, a monstrous tentacled thing, is exposed, floating in a great tank of liquid. Above the shell sits a conventional Dalek headpiece, only super sized, whilst below the tank are fixed two manipulating arms that hang down.
I would assume that somehow the segments of outer shell could be closed up if necessary, which is why I think we may be seeing more of this emperor in future. But given what I’ve said about soothsaying…
Back to the story; the Emperor has been ‘filleting’ humans for genetic material to build an army of Daleks. Along the way he has developed religious delusions and now calls himself ‘the God of All Daleks.’ I wanted to weep at this point, not with sadness but with fury that RTD had beaten me to it with that particular idea. I was even more chagrined when the Daleks started rebuking Rose for saying they were ‘half-human’ with the chant ‘do not blaspheme!’
Nevertheless, my own bruised ego aside, this sequence is probably the best in the show, even if on a personal level I still preferred the way the Emperor looked in ‘Evil.’ With Rose safe the Doctor returns to Satellite 5 to plot the Daleks demise, and from there onwards the plausibility of the story starts to drift.
The thing about RTD’s scripts is that even when they lack overall sense they are still massively entertaining. There is no doubt that the man is a consummate genius when it comes to writing television and this is reflected in the fact that this new series has been a tremendous success. What you get is big on spectacle; great drama, excellent acting and an ending that is, as one fan put it, total bollocks.
The Doctor begins work on transforming Satellite 5 into a Delta Wave generator; thankfully Captain Jack is on hand to decipher the techno babble. This will send of wave of energy out that will fry the brains of any living thing within a wide area; already we begin to feel that this won’t just kill Daleks. ‘That’s great,’ says Lynda from the Big Brother house. Already a certain degree of jealousy has become evident in the way Rose reacts to this latest potential companion, and the Doctor doesn’t help with his clumsy flirtatiousness when Lynda speaks to him. (Once again Billie Piper demonstrates her great skill as an actor- all of her reactions to Lynda are conveyed purely in glances and body language).
Jack meanwhile says goodbye to the Doctor and Rose, controversially giving the Doctor a full on the face kiss by way of farewell. It’s a no brainer to say that the controversy stems from Captain Jack’s multi-sexual persona and a few fans have seen this has being one of RTD’s particular soapbox items. Whilst there are certainly elements of that about it, I guess it is also possible to just take this on face value as a farewell kiss of a warrior about to go into battle. Jack’s purpose, as with many male companions before him, is to form the fighting muscle of the group. So in a way, Captain Jack’s rampant and indiscriminate sexuality aside, this is a quite traditional scene in many ways. ‘I wish I never met you Doctor, I was much better off as a coward’ is a great cliché and an apt one in this particular moment.
With Captain Jack off to fulfil the particular expectations of the male warrior, the Doctor becomes the father figure and acts to protect Rose. That this involves deceiving her into entering the TARDIS so that he can operate it by remote control (with his sonic screwdriver of course) just makes it all the more poignant. Rose is outraged at being tricked and not at all consoled by the hologram of the Doctor that appears to explain why. The Doctor had ‘sworn to protect her’ and didn’t want the TARDIS to fall into the hands of the enemy. He anticipated this kind of time would come, when he was about to face death and so had made a recording for her benefit. She was being sent home at last, to her mother and her boyfriend, to the familiar life she had before. He wanted her to forget about him, to let the TARDIS rot in obscurity and to have a great life.
This is a purely wonderful scene, truly harrowing to watch as Rose frantically pulls and pushes at the TARDIS console trying to reverse its course and bring herself back to the Doctor.
The action then becomes split between Rose in the 21st Century and the Doctor in the year 200,100. A few fans have rather patronisingly said how good Mickey and ‘even’ Jackie were in this episode. I have never had a problem with how Noel Clarke and Camille Coduri portrayed their characters. I think a lot of fans seem to make the classic mistake of conflating the actors with the characters they portray; Mickey and Jackie were meant to be shallow and irritating. To a large degree they still are the same people they were before the Doctor came into their lives. But they have also been changed, both characters suffering as a result of Rose vanishing from their lives. They have matured enough to recognize that they can’t talk Rose out of her grief and instead are prepared to help her get back to the Doctor, even though they realise they could lose her again. I think it is this attention to detail in the ‘domestic’ sequences that makes them work so well and is why they are not just soap opera.
Rose also begins to see what ‘Bad Wolf’ could be when she sees the words chalked in giant neon coloured letters on a playground’s tarmac surface. She sees them as a sign that she can save the Doctor after all. So she hits on the idea of forcing open the TARDIS control console in order to telepathically link with the soul of the machine.
Whilst Rose is reunited with Mickey and Jackie in the 21st Century, the others prepare for an assault by the Dalek Fleet. With Earth unwilling or unable to provide any help it is down to those left on Satellite 5 to mount a defence. Jack has managed to get the Cosmic Surfboard to project a force field around the station, particularly concentrated on floors 494 upwards. A group of people are stuck on Floor 000, left behind when most of the staff and contestants were evacuated. Amongst them is Roderick (Paterson Joseph) whom we saw last week beating Rose in the ‘Weakest Link’. He is more worried about where his prize money is than a Dalek invasion, ‘they died out centuries ago’ he insists to Captain Jack who is trying to recruit a resistance force. When Captain Jack informs those who stay behind to keep quiet when the Daleks are upstairs you just know that they’re all going to die.
Indeed the body count starts to rise dramatically as the Daleks hover over to the station from their impressively realised flying saucer. There is no doubt that the new series has given them an edge that they haven’t had in nearly forty years, and the scene where Lynda dies is both chilling and very moving. By this time it is also clear to the audience that if the Doctor succeeds with his Delta Wave he will bring about the death of all life on Earth. The Dalek Emperor is well aware of this and the enormous moral conundrum that it presents for his enemy and takes wicked delight in putting the Doctor in position of ‘the Great Exterminator.’
Now this is where the problems really start, from the plot’s point of view. I can just about accept that the Daleks are mad enough to risk their own destruction on trying to capture the Earth whilst the Doctor rigs up a weapon of mass destruction on a TV satellite. But why the Doctor, having seen the Daleks melt the continents on Earth, and faced with the prospect of humanity being harvested, decides not to push the plunger at the last minute is a mystery. What RTD does to resolve this situation is have Rose appear complete with her god-like powers that she has absorbed from the TARDIS. Having taken the ‘space time matrix’ into her mind Rose is able to leave a message for herself (‘Bad Wolf’) throughout time and space. She is also able to annihilate the Dalek Fleet on the point of victory.
Now I know a lot of fans have seen this as yet another cop out on RTD’s part, a dues ex machina being the highly appropriate description. Normally in Dalek stories, and to a certain degree in other Who, the enemy is undone by their own machinations. Some way in which they are trying to win is turned against them or some hidden flaw is found such as an allergy to gold or magnets. Here we have the TARDIS as wishing well reaching out through the Avatar of Rose to kill Daleks and resurrect Captain Jack. In other words we have pure bollocks.
However, in Mr Davies defence, I can only say that I was so swept up in the drama and the spectacle of it all that of course I was only to willing to accept it.
That I feel is where the man’s genius resides, in getting us to suspend disbelief and to accept this denouement on an intuitive level. That is why I think the ‘soap opera’ segments with Mickey and Jackie are also important. They provide the character base from which all of the fantastic things that follow are made explicable.
For it is clear that the level this story is supposed to work at is the narrative of the Doctor and Rose. It is their relationship and the fact that they are both willing to give their lives for each other that makes this a poignant scene. We also have some well cheesy lines (‘I think you need a Doctor’ indeed!) and another Doctor/ Assistant kiss, but unlike the TV movie this one makes more sense and works well in context.
Having absorbed the energy of the space-time vortex, the Doctor saves Rose’s life at the expense of his own, fortunately he still has one or two lives left to give.
“It’s a bit dodgy, this process,” he explains to a bewildered Rose as the TARDIS whizzes away from Satellite 5. “It means I’m going to change.”
Characteristically the Doctor is cracking corny jokes within moments of his ‘death’ and his last words to Rose are that she was ‘fantastic.’ Then the energy of the vortex streams out of him changing him before our eyes into Doctor number ten, David Tennant.
“H’mm new teeth? How strange,” are the Doctor’s first words before he picks up the conversation they were just having. As the titles roll we are left with a strange feeling of emptiness, knowing that we’ve just lost someone who we were getting attached to.
I began this series of reviews with a question about whether it was truly possible to resurrect Doctor Who. Such pessimism was justified in terms of the show’s history in the last ten years of broadcast when it slowly and painfully bled to death in front of us. The fact that RTD and co. have managed to bring it back and with such style, has truly surpassed all expectations. Doctor Who is once again part of mainstream culture and not a guilty secret for the over thirties. Even Michael Grade, one time scourge of 80’s Who, has praised this new series.
Of course there was a price to pay along the way and I feel that the decision to start again with a new Doctor in a totally different format were justified. I do still miss the wonderful multi-part stories of the past and it has to be said that the show sometimes goes overboard in references to pop-culture. (But then again isn’t ‘Doctor Who’ part of pop-culture as well? Maybe a lot of us fans forget that sometimes).
So what of the Ninth Doctor and his one season tenure? When one looks at the Eighth Doctor dressed as Byron in the TV movie, the thing that really strikes home is how incongruous it all is, which distracts from the character and the story. Eccleston brought a degree of dynamism to the role that I never found in Paul McGann’s solo appearance or on any of his audio dramas. Paradoxically Christopher Eccleston also portrayed a great deal of vulnerability in the Doctor: I’ve never known a season before where the companion spends so much of her time saving the hero, something that was unheard of in the old days.
So I will miss Christopher Eccleston and his no-nonsense, emotionally labile Doctor. I will miss his humour and his banter and all the sexual tensions with his companions and his ‘northeness’. Let’s see how well David Tennant fills those shoes in the next series.