Doctor Who #722: Bad Wolf

"I'm going to save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet. And then I'm going to save the Earth, and then, just to finish off, I'm going to wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!" "But you have no weapons, no defences, no plan." "Yeah. And doesn't that scare you to death."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.11 2005.

IN THIS ONE... The Daleks produce some lethal reality TV.

REVIEW: This episode is a massive FAKE-OUT. Everything about it is designed to make you think you're watching one thing, when you're actually watching another. That's the point of the otherwise kinda pointless reality TV thing, turning Part 1 of the finale into a silly one-off episode in which, as per usual, RTD pushes some modern phenomenon to extremes. Though there's a human computer slaved to the station (see Remembrance of the Daleks), the whole set-up is unlike anything the Daleks would usually come up with to keep the surprise (if you haven't watched the previews, that is). Rose's death? Fake-out. The Daleks as Bad Wolf? (Or alternately, the Controller sending that message through time?) Fake-out. This being an episode about a world the Doctor made with his interference? Fake-out. Teasing Lynda with a Y as a new companion? Fake-out. (I wonder what this sweet girl from a world of sociopaths would have been like week to week, but I don't wonder TOO much.) The episode piles on surprise after surprise, and can be respected for it, even after all the surprises have been spoiled by time. There are certainly worse ambitions.

Doctor Who's done reality shows before, most obviously in Vengeance on Varos. It just didn't have license to emulate real shows, nor did those shows exist, exactly. We have three heroes, so get three shows of different types - the immersive eliminator competition, the high stakes game show with cruelty thrown in, and the make-over show. I understand all the androids are voiced by the actor hosts of those shows, but only Anne Robinson was ever exported with her program over here, so while we get a Big Brother etc. over here (or two, since there's now a Canadian version as well), there's no recognition factor for us (nor for the funky music). Each sequence has something going for it - the Doctor in Big Brother provides the episode's amusing teaser; Rose on The Weakest Link features almost-Doctor Paterson Joseph and the first ever mention of Torchwood (plus her "death"); and Jack revels in getting a make-over before things turn awry and he literally pulls a laser gun out of his ass - but are ultimately thin set pieces that tell us the same things three times over. As for all the games we're missing, as described by Lynda, that's some of the worst dialog the new series has ever broadcast. I mean, if Lynda takes these shows for granted, why is she explaining their awful puns to the Doctor?

The episode takes a sharp turn when Rose is disintegrated, even if she isn't, really. For once, Murray Gold is drowning out the action with his music on purpose, sound dropping out as the stunned Doctor appears to give up. His outrage and anger carry the show's energy the rest of the way. If most of Bad Wolf reads like fluff, the last few minutes are anything but. We learn Rose is alive and that the Controller has betrayed her masters, the Daleks, half a million of them hiding in hundreds of ships on the edge of the Solar System, by bringing the Doctor back to Satellite 5*. So that's cool. But then the Doctor has his little talk with them and says "no" (recalling what he said about Britain during WWII) and scares the Daleks into a preemptive strike through the sheer threat of his improvisational skills! One of the the ninth Doctor's very best moments, definitely one for the F*** Yeah! column. It's one man alone with no plan against half a million of those things we were re-introduced to in "Dalek", one example of which was capable of laying waste to the planet Earth. And THEY'RE the ones panicking. That's one hell of a set-up for a season finale.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The last few minutes are a definite High, but most of Bad Wolf is merely amusing, cameo-filled fluff buying time and throwing red herrings around so you can't see the cliffhanger coming.

*Technical aside: The episode begins with "what has gone before" followed by a card reading "100 years later" (from the flashback, clearly) that reveals to all but the densest viewers that this episode will take place on Satellite 5, which spoils its actual reveal. You can have the reveal for those who skip the flashback, but then the 100 years later doesn't make sense. You can't have both! Frustrating.


Anonymous said...

This may be my favorite episode to fast-forward through, to get to the good parts.

"Yeah. And doesn't that scare you to death!" I nearly have to light up a cigarette every time, same way as Patty and Selma do after "MacGyver".

Siskoid said...

That's a unique distinction, but I completely agree. A skip to the end thing.

Craig Oxbrow said...

I am now imagining Lynda as a companion, scared by mundane pop culture things while taking alien invaders in her stride.

(Perhaps she explains the puns because millennia later the originals are still being repeated.)

Siskoid said...

Gotta fill up those 10,000 channels!

And account for Big Brother being on Channel 44,000 if Sat5 is only beaming 10,000 in all!

Anonymous said...

Oh, not even skipping straight to the end. The Doctor having had enough with his reality show and blowing up the camera, daring the powers-that-be to disintegrate him (and that body language!), Captain Jack pulling a gun from (a temporally out-of-phase holster located approximately at) his butt, the wired-up chick telling the Daleks she has brought their doom upon them -- it's chock full of fast-forwardy goodness.

Pedro Cabezuelo said...

I LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE this episode. Sure in retrospect most of it is a smokescreen but that euphoric feeling I got the first time I saw it still comes back everytime I see it. And that cliffhanger! I had to play it back over and over again. And I even showed it to non-Who-fan friends just to say, "Look - hundreds of Daleks! And they're flying!!! And they have a spaceship armada!!!!!" Even they thought it was cool. It still brings tears to my eyes. Literally, tears in my eyes.

Nicholas Yankovec said...

It turned out Lynda was a sociopath herself, after she was cast in Eastenders and buried her husband alive for being unfaithful.

I loved this episode, BB was at its peak at the time, so attracted a lot of attention from the media. Let's give RTD some credit here, tricks like this helped make this show truly iconic in Britain. It drew the viewers in and the ending kept them there. Awesome stuff. Would new Who have survived without this sort of episode?

Bill Doughty said...

I have a hard time deciding my favorite Eccleston moment in this episode. The easy answers are the bit at the end you took the quote from and the ease-of-badassery jailbreak he, Jack, and Lynda enact, of course, but I always laugh at the bit where he complains about the utter uselessness of all this reality TV but then copes to the fact that he does like that one with the bear.

I enjoy when the series plays up the Doctor's alien nature, but it's also kinda fun sometimes to see that he's just like us. Even a Time Lord needs some guilty pleasure TV every now and then (see also: the Master's fascination with weird children's shows).

CiB said...

Nicholas- Doctor Who was already iconic in Britain. It's been iconic in Britain since Dalekmania started in 1964. It was it's status as an iconic show that allowed RTD to bring it back in this way.

As for this episode- I quite like it, but mainly because for myself things go seriously downhill after this story.

Nicholas Yankovec said...

It was always talked about as iconic, but how many people actually watched old Who? And to most it was a joke, known for its over acting, wobbly sets and rubber monsters.

New Who actually made it a main stream program, watched by adults and children of both sexes. The 50th anniversary looks to be the biggest television event of the year and will likely have one of the biggest TV audiences of the year as well, now that's iconic.

CiB said...

Nicholas- new who has once or twice breached 10 million viewers in the UK for specials and finales. Classic Who had entire seasons that broke that- and high water marks of 15 million viewers. In the UK. In terms of audience size, new Who has never approached the highs of Tom Bakers tenure.

You say it wasn't mainstream- I say anything that gets watched by a quarter of a nations population is as main stream as it gets.

Siskoid said...

Sorry Nicholas, but I've got to side with CiB here. Doctor Who only lost mainstream status in the 80s when it started being made for a niche audience in the wake of more channels popping up in the UK and the show moving to different time slots, etc. But it was very much a family show, shown between sports scores and variety shows, and made with grandpa, mom, dad and the kids in mind (just look at the original TARDIS crew).

It wasn't mainstream elsewhere in the world, but in the UK it most definitely was. We can only say New Who has made it mainstream AGAIN, and really not as mainstream as it used to be. It's more of a crossover hit, like Buffy was, but that's not necessarily mainstream.

But I think where you go wrong is in using the word "iconic". Doctor Who has long been iconic, i.e. an ICON, something with a long tradition, recognizable tropes and symbols, that captured the imagination. It didn't BECOME iconic with New Who. The show came back BECAUSE it was iconic. Even the so-called "wobbly sets" were talked about in the popular media BECAUSE they were part of what made Doctor Who iconic. Maybe we're arguing semantics here.

S said...

One thing that I never got as an American (and non-Big Brother-watcher) is that the Doctor's final line to Rose - "I'm coming to get you" is apparently another Big Brother reference. In fact you can hear them say something like it earlier in the episode when they "evict" that one girl.

Siskoid said...

Didn't get that either. I've seen my share of American Big Brother and it's not one of their catchphrases.

CiB said...

"I'm coming to get you" was what hostess Davina McCall would say to eliminated contestants when they left the house in the UK version of Big Brother.


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