Doctor Who Series 1 Retrospective: The Parting of the Ways Review

“The Parting of the Ways” is a near-perfect conclusion to Davies’ reinvigoration of Doctor Who

Starring Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper and John Barrowman

Time was, a Doctor Who series finale was no more significant than any other episodes. However, in updating the classic for modern TV audiences, Russell T Davies had to reimagine the structure of the story: namely, diverging away from the serialised storytelling towards a more episodic structure, featuring episodes of 45 minutes compared to the traditional 25. In structuring this first series, his primary focus can be seen to be the emotional connection that the audience share with the characters, and how they develop during the run. At the same time, subtle references towards “Bad Wolf” have followed the characters throughout the episodes, hinting at something larger yet to come.

After the barmy surrealism of the TARDIS crew finding themselves in sadistic, murderous versions of popular reality TV shows in previous episode “Bad Wolf”, “The Parting of the Ways” gives way to a far more traditional science-fiction invasion story. Following up on his epic speech in the previous episode, the Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) comes to Rose’s (Billie Piper) aid aboard the Dalek fleet with Captain Jack (John Barrowman) in tow, where they discover that the Emperor of the Daleks has been harvesting the human race to help revive the Dalek species.

Compared to the series finales that have followed, this first finale is actually quite simple: just an invading Dalek fleet and the Doctor without adequate resources to stop them. Over the years, Doctor Who has almost become weighed down by its own ambition and has become caught on the notion that it must become increasingly complicated in order for it to be tense or interesting. “The Parting of the Ways” is proof that a complicated narrative is not a pre-requisite for an epic tale. Instead, it relies upon the audience’s affection and connection with the characters to sell the tension.

Unusually for Davies’ finales, “The Parting of the Ways” does not take place on modern-day Earth, which is normally used to increase the stakes for the audience as the threat feels much more immediate. This episode takes place on a remote space station approximately 199,000 years in the future, and no life on Earth is even seen, even though it is decimated. It is kept grounded, however, at the obstacles faced by our core TARDIS group and, critically, new introduction Lynda (Jo Joyner).

Lynda could easily be a companion, and this is definitely an intentional choice. The Doctor immediately responds to her and develops a rapport with her, which Rose critically notices. She is capable and she is brave and her death packs a real punch. From the moment that the Daleks start to use a flamethrower on her door, one can feel the walls are closing in on poor, sweet Lynda. The silent flashing of the Dalek floating on the other side of the glass is breathtaking.

The pacing of the story just does not let up. While waiting for the Dalek attack, it feels like a timeless sort of limbo, leaving enough space for the characters to enjoy emotional, character driven moments. This entire finale feels like a wonderful payoff for all of the development the core cast have gone through.

For one, there’s the Doctor returning Rose home, which – to her – is the ultimate betrayal. It calls back to earlier two-parter “Aliens of London / World War Three”, with the Doctor making sure that he protects Rose from harm, and it nicely feeds into her journey in the next series. It’s Rose signalling her commitment to her life with the Doctor and to her purpose in the universe, even though she understands it’s a very real possibility that she may not survive.

Then, there is Captain Jack. Introduced to the audience as a conman purely out for his own gain, he truly steps up here, coordinating the effort to protect the station from the Daleks and to buy the Doctor time to perfect his weapon, despite knowing that this will ultimately end in his death.

And finally, the Doctor himself. The Doctor as a character this series has proved a far cry from the bumbling, light figure in the Classic iteration. Even though each Doctor had a distinct personality, Eccleston’s Doctor seems far more callous and angry compared to before. This entire series has been about his guilt surrounding the Time War and the weight that it has on his existence. Many stories this series have questioned to what extent the Doctor is a good person and just how the Doctor differs from the monsters and it’s seemed at some points as if the Doctor himself truly does not know.

Earlier in the series, the Doctor was blinded by his hatred of the Daleks, even when the Dalek in question had been mutated by Rose’s DNA. It was here that Rose questioned just who the Doctor is. There’s a clear change here in how the Doctor surrenders himself to the Daleks, instead of making a choice that will obliterate the Daleks but also the human race. It’s a clear parallel to the decisions that the Doctor took to end the Time War, and it’s almost a sign of him healing from that moment and refusing to let himself be defined by that choice.

“The Parting of the Ways” is an interesting title because, at its heart, there is no parting that occurs here. In a physical sense, there is an alteration to the status quo on the TARDIS. Jack is no longer a part of the team, and the Doctor regenerates, completely redefining his relationship and dynamic with Rose. In another sense, each of the TARDIS crew is altered in some way. Jack literally sacrifices himself for the Doctor, the Doctor sacrifices himself to save Rose, and Rose sacrifices her life back on Earth and throws herself back into almost assured destruction just to be with and to protect the Doctor. This episode truly sings with the immense lengths that this team will go to in order to protect one another.

Strangely, for a regeneration story, the actual change from Eccleston to Tennant is more of a coda to the tale than it is the primary focus. In fact, for any viewers who did not know that this would be Eccleston’s last tale, the regeneration could easily come as a complete surprise. Unlike “The End of Time”, “Time of the Doctor” and “Twice Upon a Time”, the narrative does not revolve around the concept of it being a Doctor’s final adventure or story. What is more pertinent are the relationships between the characters and how it all comes to a head.

Even though Rose’s transformation into Bad Wolf is overly convenient (though at least it was nicely foreshadowed by the appearance of the Heart of the TARDIS in “Boom Town”), this isn’t a massive happy ending. It does not feel as if this finale has transpired without consequence. Even though Jack is revived and no longer dead (something that would later prove to be as much of a curse as it is a blessing in spin-off series Torchwood), and Rose is with the Doctor once more, it does result in her losing “her” Doctor and his regeneration is a tremendous loss in a way.

“The Parting of the Ways” feels like a nice conclusion for the first series. It certainly feels like the most complete tale that Doctor Who has told. The Bad Wolf story arc throughout the series does not distract from any other events and instead all the decisions which led our characters to this spot feel intentional and organically driven. It certainly does feel like the most cohesive of the New Who series, with Davies having a clear understanding of where he wants to push his characters and where he wants them all to end up. A complete reinvention of the Whoniverse, 2005’s series is a shining mission statement for all that Doctor Who can provide in the 21st century.

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