Doctor Who Series 1 Retrospective: Bad Wolf Review

Davies’ first part to the conclusion of his first series is at turns funny and tense, but consistently engrossing

Starring Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper and John Barrowman

17 years down the line, Doctor Who fans have become used to a finale which throws everything but the kitchen sink at the audience. Tense, impactful, generally devastating, with seemingly unsurmountable odds, it is the first series’ finale that truly provides the blueprint that each successive series will either try to emulate or actively to subvert.

“Bad Wolf” starts in complete confusion, with each of the TARDIS team awaking in different game shows. The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) finds himself in the Big Brother house, Jack (John Barrowman) with the company of robotic Trine-e and Zu-Zana on What Not to Wear and Rose (Billie Piper) facing the fearsome Anne Droid on The Weakest Link. As they progress through these games, however, they soon discover there is a murderous, deadly twist. Soon the Doctor discovers that they have been transported to Satellite Five, the news station he previously liberated in “The Long Game”, now renamed “The Game Station” and owned by the Bad Wolf Corporation. The Doctor becomes convinced that there is a greater, evil force at play, actively manipulating the human race from afar…

The game show parodies are wonderfully done. It’s zany and bizarre, but also strangely believable. Big Brother, What Not to Wear and The Weakest Link all have a strange, sadistic voyeuristic quality to them, so introducing the twist where eliminated contestants are vaporised doesn’t seem dreadfully unbelievable: nor, indeed, that the human race would simply accept it and continue to consume these TV shows regardless. It is on this idea that The Hunger Games series (yet to be published by this point in history) also riffs on and proved a worldwide phenomenon.

Not for the first time, Davies explores the consequences of the Doctor’s actions. All through the series, the effect of the Doctor has been just as important as the Doctor himself. Routinely, the Doctor has stood on the sidelines, less the instigator of events and more manipulating those around him – turning ordinary people into his own weapons instead of getting blood on his own hands. In “The End of the World”, he passively allows Cassandra to perish; in “The Unquiet Dead” he allows Gwyneth to sacrifice herself to seal the rift; in “Aliens of London / World War Three” it is Harriet Jones who takes charge and orders the missile strike that obliterates the Slitheen; “The Long Game” is concluded by Cathica; and it’s Nancy and Jack who prevent disaster in “The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances”. In fact, this is also a phrase which comes back around to haunt the Doctor in “Journey’s End” when uttered by Davros, and which crops up in Sophie Aldred’s “At Childhood’s End”.

Davies continues to question just what it means to have life touched by the Doctor and, overwhelmingly, the Doctor is painted as danger. Despite the good that he does, he leaves chaos and uncertainty in his wake. Bounding around from planet to planet, never stopping long enough to look at the trail he leaves behind – just as Margaret Blaine accused him of in the last episode – the Doctor has left the human race vulnerable and exposed and what he thought would ultimately save them led to even worse problems. By removing the Jagrafess from Satellite Five, the resultant power vacuum allowed another alien force to manipulate the human race for their own means.

Future Davies’ finales have made the stakes higher by basing the action in the present day and by placing immediate family members in danger – take, for instance, Jackie in Army of Ghosts / Doomsday or Martha’s family in The Sound of Drums. This finale is unique in the sense that it takes place in the far future. The immediacy of the danger feels less great, but Davies works around this by giving us relatable, identifiable people: in this case, Lynda with a y (Jo Joyner), who is the first in the New Who tradition of Companions That Could Have Been. Beautifully likeable, the audience can easily see Lynda being a character who would fit in well travelling with the Doctor. Optimistic, capable, caring – she embodies many of the traits that make for a good companion, and one of Davies’ key strengths in his writing is crafting characters who the audience care for which helps to raise the stakes and tension even when the abstract notion of the future Earth feels less immediate to the audience.

Davies is still able to shock here, too, despite the reveal of the true enemy in the “Next Episode” trailer last week. Rose’s disintegration is enough to give the audience pause for thought, even though very few may have imagined that Rose would actually be killed off, the brutality of the event is a genuine surprise. What’s even more alarming, however, is the complete change in the Doctor’s demeanour. With Rose’s loss, he lets loose all of his anger, cruelty and rage. No longer is he the bumbling, affable, protective force that he has often shown himself to be throughout the first series, but instead fuelled by revenge.

All of this builds towards an incredible cliffhanger, with a brilliant performance by Eccleston. With the combined forces of the Daleks against him, he delivers a truly epic speech that propels the action forwards into the week-long wait, ramping up the anticipation for the ultimate confrontation between the Doctor and the largest force of Daleks yet to grace the lore of Doctor Who.

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