Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Russell T. Davies managed to, at least temporarily, shine the spotlight away from his weaknesses as a writer long enough to pull off a genuinely gripping two-part season finale for Doctor Who. The storyline for Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways is every bit as anaemic as anything else he has written for the series, but the action, characterization, and many of the individual ideas are so well handled that the lack of a truly compelling plot seems trifling. In particular, Davies' clever reinvention of the xenophobic Daleks as self-hating, religious fundamentalist xenophobes was easily his most inspired stab at satire/social commentary this season. And while there's much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair from some die-hard Whovians over the Doctor's steadfast and "uncharacteristically cowardly" refusal to play the role of killer when his hand is forced, I felt that this was probably one of the most solidly Doctor-ish moments of the new series, and a fine underlining of the show's pacifist roots. Unfortunately, Davies rather spoils the mood by once again having a companion or secondary character, in this instance Rose, pull the Doctor's fat from the fire, effectively reducing the Doctor's role in the story and freeing him (and Russell T. Davies) from the somewhat sticky cause and effect of the decisions he makes. One of RTD's strengths as a Dr. Who writer has been a firm understanding of some of the more ritualistic elements of this particular universe and he has therefore been able to deftly toy with, and subvert, audience expectations. Here, for instance, just to keep audiences off-kilter, he introduced Lynda, an obvious tailor-made replacement for current companion Rose Tyler, only to make her one more of the finale's slew of Dalek casualties. But Davies' tendency to get too cute with his brand of expectation shuffling has also led to a general weakening of the Doctor's central role. By repeatedly overemphasizing the Doctor's fallibility in order to keep audiences guessing, RTD has made the Doctor's ability to survive deadly situations seem more a matter of blind luck rather than guile. This may have much to do with Davies' apparent intention to transform the historically monolithic show into a Buffy-like ensemble piece, but, design or not, it's a mistake and one that I hope doesn't continue to develop.

Nonetheless, the finale was yet another of the first season's triumphs, due primarily to the strength of conviction on the part of the cast and crew. Nowhere was this more evident than in the climactic regeneration scene, a wonderful set piece for stars Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston that gave each a chance to shine (literally, in Eccleston's case). Eccleston naturally ran with it, giving us a final glimpse of the kind of hopeful sadness that defined his Doctor. And it's something of a tribute to David Tennant's performance skills that in his mere twenty some odd seconds of screentime as Doctor number ten, he's already firmly outlined his character, a feat that had only once before been achieved by Colin Baker.

And, hell, even BBC chairman Michael Grade, the man who axed the series back in the 80s for being "rubbish" is now a fan, calling it "a classy, popular triumph for people of all ages and all backgrounds." I can agree with that. Here's to another twenty-seven seasons..


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