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
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
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
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
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
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
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.