In the thirteenth (and final) episode of series one of Doctor Who, our heroes face an increasingly bleak situation in their fight against the Daleks, who reveal their plan is much more insidious and evil than original expected. When Rose makes a drastic choice to take matters into her own hands, she changes history (and the future) forever. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
The uniqueness of the medium of television is what allows it to tell compelling stories and is one of the reasons I was so eager to start Mark Watches late last year. The nature of “hour-long” episodes (really, 40-45 minutes each) forces a couple of things: compact scripts that are able to tell their stories (not necessarily resolve them) over a brief period of time, and storytellers to be compelling from episode to episode. Like comic books, there generally has to be some element of the show that is serial in nature (though sitcoms appear to have broken that trope here in America). Perhaps it was my obsession with waiting for comic books to be released or my love of stories like Star Wars, which are ongoing film series, that makes me appreciate the long story form for books and film/TV.
For television, I’ve also been drawn to long stories, or long cons. It’s why I loved LOST, The X-Files, The Wire, and came to love Fringe and Breaking Bad in the last few months. It had been a long time since serial dramas and thrillers were a staple on television, though it’s entirely possible I’ve truly missed out on a lot of good television in the last decade. Because Doctor Who is such a long-running show, I wasn’t sure any of this was truly going to be serialized; since I’ve seen so much of the show via GIFs (no, seriously, like half the Tennant/Smith years are in GIF form right now), I thought the show was much more about one-offs in terms of storytelling.
I was wrong and I don’t think I’ve ever been more satisfied to completely misjudge a show. In “Bad Wolf,” we learned how the Daleks manipulated the Doctor through a long con that last throughout the entire first series. This “long game” comes to it’s completion here in “The Parting of the Ways” in a manner that is deeply emotional and resonant and is a testament to the fantastic character writing the new batch of showrunners have given us. Christopher Eccleston was only with us for just under ten hours over the course of the show, and yet I couldn’t help but tear up during both of his goodbyes to Rose.
Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s reflect on how unbelievably and unendingly bleak this episode was. Davies wrote the Dalek return as something to inspire hopelessness in our characters and in us as well. Of course, we believe that there’s always a way that the Doctor will get out of dire situations becauseâ€¦well, he’s the Doctor. But this show is unique in that the main character can essentially “die” at the end of a season and be replaced by someone else. Because of this, Davies can be extraordinarily depressing in his season finale, and he doesn’t hesitate to make things my absolute favorite word: awful.
The reality of the Dalek invasion is overwhelming. The Doctor did destroy the Dalek race during the Time War, except for one tiny ship; that ship spent hundreds, if not thousands of years rebuilding. It’s a horrifying thought to think that the Daleks on this last ship spent so long harvesting humans, resulting in the last 100 years of shipping them off to game shows and reality TV that resulted in even more humans sacrificed to re-create the very thing that would spell their race’s doom.
I would say the only thing that this episode didn’t need was the scenes of the remaining passengers fighting the Daleks. The set-up of that was great, especially as some humans refused to believe that Daleks were real and were on their way to Satellite 5. But it was distracting to watch them try to destroy the Daleks with guns, when it’s been proven that the ability to do so is massively futile for the most part.
It’s a good thing this was such a small part of the episode, because everything else absolutely shines. The idea of the Delta Wave didn’t seem hokey or too campy, and adding the extra subtext of it killing all living things made the Doctor’s parallel to the Daleks all the more fascinating. The main difference between the two, besides his final declaration of cowardice, is that the Doctor inherently cares, while the Daleks are motivated by hatred for all things, including themselves.
As the Doctor vocalized his excited epiphany to Rose about crossing time streams, I was ecstatic at the thought of seeing a possible bit of meta-time travel. Instead, as the door of the TARDIS closed, with Rose still inside, I cried out in horror at what I was watching. He was tricking Rose, sending her back home in time, so that she wouldn’t have to face what the Doctor was about to face.
In the episode’s most emotional moment, once Rose realizes what’s going on, a hologram appears, speaking to her. If the message is playing, the Doctor says, that means the Emergency Programme One is in effect. The Doctor is about to die.
THE DOCTOR: And I bet you’re fussing and moaning now, typical. But hold on, and just listen a bit more. The TARDIS can never return for me. Emergency Programme Onemeans I’m facing an enemy that should never get their hands on this machine. So this is what you should do: let the TARDIS die. Just let this old box gather dust. No one can open it, no one will notice it. Let it become a strange little thing standing on a street corner. And over the years, the world will move on, and the box will be buried. And if you wanna remember me, than you can do one thing. That’s all. one thing. Have a good life. Do that for me, Rose. Have a fantastic life.
It’s a statement that represents the fullest extent of the Doctor’s personal philosophy. Have a fantastic life. Live this life the best you can. It’s no wonder that this sends Rose into an existential crisis; tears in my eyes at the realization that Eccleston will soon be gone, even I wondered what Rose would do without the Doctor.
It was difficult to watch the scenes with Rose in the present time, as she tried to wrestle with the inherent pointlessness of her life with the TARDIS and the life she left behind in Cardiff. Even though Mickey and Jackie eventually come around to support her efforts, I think I felt for them the most. Their girlfriend and daughter respectively, Mickey and Jackie did lose Rose to someone else and their lives were undoubtedly affected by her choice to join the Doctor. They know that she has experienced things they’ll only dream of, for the most part, so I think that deep down, they know why she’s so restless. But it’s still hard to hear her insult their lives the way that she does and I have a feeling this will be addressed in series two.
The real kicker for this episode is the mind-melting revelation of the ontological paradox created by Rose: Bad Wolf is Rose. She sent the words throughout time and space to warn herself that it was possible to save the Doctor. I know that the idea of infusing one’s self with a time vortex is over-the-top, but I still loved it. It switches the balance between the Doctor and Rose, since she can now see all of time and space. It’s also great to see her save the day instead of the Doctor.
I also thought the companions changed every series, but the end of this episode seems to confirm otherwise. After the Doctor inhales the time vortex and sets it back into the TARDIS, they escape the destruction of the Dalek fleet. Well, sort of escape. The effects of the vortex have permanently damaged his cells and I finally get to see what this whole regeneration business is all about. As the Doctor says, Time Lords have a “trick” to cheat death: they physically change the make-up of their “human” body.
THE DOCTOR: Rose, before I go, I just wanna tell you–you were fantasticâ€¦absolutely fantastic. And d’you know what? So was I.
Yes, you were, Christopher Eccleston. And I’m going to miss you.
In a flash of gold light, the Doctor changes before our eyes. In his place? The wonderful David Tennant.
It’s starting all over again. I cannot wait.
- I did not expect Captain Jack Harkness to make out with the Doctor. God bless this show.
- Alsoâ€¦.no resolution for Harkness? They just left him on board the ship.
- “You are tiny. I can see the whole of time and space, every single atom of your existence, and I divide them. Everything must come to dust. All things, everything dies.” BAMF FOREVER, RIGHT?
- When the Dalek emperor says, “Purify the Earth with fire,” all I could think of was the episode turning into an Earth Crisis music video. Only some of you will get that.
- Man, A LOT OF PEOPLE DIED IN THIS EPISODE. Brutal, Davies, brutal.
- “You know what they call me in the ancient legends of the Dalek homeward? The Oncoming Storm. You might have removed your emotions, but I reckon right down deep in your DNA, there’s one little spark left. And that’s fear. Doesn’t it just burn when you face me?”
- “I think you’re forgetting something. I’m the Doctor, and if there’s one thing I can do, it’s talk.”
- Seriously, this is one of my favorite series/season finales of all time. So ridiculously satisfying!
As promised, the next thing I’ll be tackling is a Classic who serial! According to Round 1’s voting as of today, the overwhelming winner is THE CITY OF DEATH, which starts Tom Baker and is written by Douglas Adams. If you have Netflix, it’s on Instant Watch and is also available on iTunes! I will post the review for it tomorrow afternoon and then begin with “The Christmas Invasion” on Wednesday. DAVID TENNANT, HERE I COME!
EDIT: Yes, I will be watching the “Christmas In Need” short before I start the Christmas special!