The Parting of the Ways

You know what they call me in the ancient legends on the Dalek home world? “The Oncoming Storm”. You might have removed all your emotions, but I reckon right down deep in your DNA there’s one little spark left. And that’s fear. Doesn’t it just burn when you face me?

The Ninth Doctor

Synopsis

As the Daleks attack the Game Station led by their Emperor, the Ninth Doctor finds himself helpless. He knows he must make big sacrifices if he is going to survive. But does this mean losing his beloved Rose Tyler forever?

With Jack Harkness assembling an army together and the Doctor powerless against the Dalek Emperor, a deadly net closes around the entire universe. One thing is certain, not everyone will make it out of this deadly battle alive. But who or what is Bad Wolf? It’s time for the Doctor and Rose to find out.

Preamble

I am writing this review after the allegations about the behaviours of both Noel Clarke and John Barrowman are under intense scrutiny. I make it clear here, as I do with some other problematic people – see Gareth Roberts’ penned stories, for instance – that if I praise Clarke or Barrowman’s performances, I am in no way endorsing their behind the scenes behaviour and feel nothing but sympathy for their victims.

I appreciate that some people may not be able to separate performance from artist, and that’s completely understandable, and equally understand that some people are able to do just that, and that’s also fine.

Review

I don’t think it’s controversial to suggest that The Parting of the Ways may just be one of the best regeneration episodes in the show’s history, and certainly one of the strongest finales in the revived series. The story depicts the change between the Ninth and Tenth Doctors after the revival had been a sufficient success to ensure the show’s survival to date.

Russell T Davies delivers a belting finale to the first series of the revival, throwing in a massive army of Daleks and the Emperor in the path of the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack, and the pace does not let up from the opening moments, seeing the TARDIS narrowly escape getting blown up to the Doctor and Jack rescuing Rose and the first confrontation between this new army and the Doctor. Davies depicts a bleak future in Bad Wolf and his strength really lies in understanding humans – perhaps best demonstrated by the few volunteers Jack and the staff of Satellite Five are able to draw to their cause, or Patterson Joseph’s Roderick furiously demanding his money for winning The Weakest Link amidst the chaos, insisting that the Daleks aren’t real. He also gives us the relative normality of Rose’s home life once the Doctor returns her to modern day Earth and shows how, having seen everything she has in the course of travelling with the Ninth Doctor, being stuck on Earth is not something that interests her. This story gives us a fair share of great moments, lines and conversations, most notably the Doctor’s speech to the Daleks, the hologram message to Rose and the regeneration scene. However, this story does contain the cringey “I think you need a Doctor” line and there does not seem to be an attempt to explain why having the heart of the TARDIS inside your head is enough to kill the Doctor, but allow Rose to get off with no consequences whatsoever. Despite the fact that it does help the Daleks feel dangerous, I’m not a fan of the entire guest cast getting killed off once they have served their narrative purpose here and it feels like quite lazy writing.

I’m going to give Joe Ahearne more praise here for bringing this episode to life so well. His direction is commendably solid and it is a shame that (at the time of writing) he has not directed more Doctor Who, as he does bring a feeling of grittiness and fear to proceedings at time. The best worked scene is certainly Lynda’s death scene, conducted in almost silence because it trusts the audience to fill in the gaps. This story and the preceding one cannot have been an easy task, but Ahearne makes it look effortless and his direction is a major part in securing this story a high score in my opinion.

After seeing what one Dalek can do during the cause of Dalek, we now find the Doctor and his companions face to face with a whole army of them, led by the Dalek Emperor. The Daleks here set a precedent that, in the years that followed, sadly fell by the wayside. These Daleks are a ruthless juggernaut, prepared to exterminate anybody who gets in their way. This is best demonstrated by the way that they unnecessarily kill all the civilians on Floor Zero, going against how Jack believes they will act, simply because they can. Then there are the bombings of Earth as the Doctor watches on powerless, again, just to really ramp up the stakes for the Doctor. These particular Daleks have done everything in their power to survive, even going against their own central beliefs of racial purity by perverting humanity to restore supremacy. Arguably this is the most insane bunch of Daleks we have ever seen as something as fundamental as their own existence drives them mad. I don’t think the Daleks would ever recapture the fear factor that they had in Series One whilst Russell T Davies was at the helm, and they certainly suffer from diminishing returns after this story. It’s wonderful to see so many Daleks on screen – it really puts some of the Dalek armies in the original run in perspective – and even though the CGI has not aged well in some places, they look fantastic floating in space around the Dalek Emperor as do their spaceships and missiles.

Christopher Eccleston is on fantastic form here in his final televised episode. I’ll talk in future Ninth Doctor reviews how pleased I am to see him back in audio form for Big Finish – yes, I’ll be reviewing those stories soon – but he really goes out with a bang here. He rages against the Daleks superbly, assured by the knowledge that the Daleks won’t possibly be able to penetrate the forcefield, and holds his own against the Emperor, all whilst conveying a sense of such loss and sorrow. Eccleston’s star shines in two quieter moments, the first coming after his initial confrontation with the Dalek Emperor, and the second later on in the story. In the first moment, having re-entered his TARDIS, the Doctor pauses for a few moments with his head pressed up against the door, listening to the Daleks firing their weapons in vain against the TARDIS forcefield. It’s a quiet moment coming after the Doctor holding his ground against the Emperor and his Daleks, showing the emotional impact of the Daleks’ return on him – as the Tenth Doctor would say later “They always survive while I lose everything.” It’s almost as though the futility of the Daleks’ aggression reminds him of his actions in the Time War, something that we as viewers know more about now that we would have done in 2005, and how futile the final act of that war was. The second is briefer, but no less moving, coming when the Doctor exits his TARDIS before sending Rose back to Earth. As he turns back to the camera, it almost looks as though he is questioning his decision making, almost knowing that, if he was to be selfish, he would do better with Rose at his side before making the right call. It’s a shame that we have only got this one series of Eccleston as the Doctor. Of course, if he had been around for a second series and left after that then we may never have had David Tennant – it’s all a massive game of What If, the implications are for somebody else to debate. But good grief, Eccleston was, for want of a better word, fantastic.

This is Emergency Program One. Rose, now listen. This is important. If this message is activated then it must mean only one thing: we must be in danger. And I mean fatal. I’m dead, or about to die with no chance of escape —

No!

— and that’s okay. Hope it’s a good death. But I promised to look after you and that’s what I’m doing. The TARDIS is taking you home —

I won’t let you.

— And I bet you’re fussing and moaning now. Typical! But hold on and listen a bit more. The TARDIS can never return for me. Emergency Program One means I’m facing an enemy that should never get their hands on this machine. So this is what you should do: let the TARDIS die. Just let this old wooden box gather dust. No one can open it. No one will even notice it. Let it become a strange little thing standing on a street corner. And over the years, the world will move on and the box will buried. And if you want to remember me, then you can do one thing. That’s all. One thing. Have a good life. Do that for me, Rose. Have a fantastic life.

The Ninth Doctor (hologram) and Rose Tyler

As well as being a strong episode for the Doctor, this is a great episode for both of his companions. It is a chance to show how much Rose and Jack have grown through their travels with the Doctor to become better people. For Rose, this means that she isn’t satisfied with going back to her old life, even though she doesn’t quite understand how best to express this to her mother and Mickey. Piper is great throughout, but particularly in the scene where she tells her mother that she met Pete in Father’s Day and that he would not have wanted her to give up on the chance that she could get back to the Doctor. Jack has become more selfless and more of a hero, but also more of a warrior, something which would be revisited later in Russell T Davies’ era as showrunner. Barrowman’s portrayal depicts this well over the relatively limited time we have seen him travelling with the Doctor, turning him from coward to someone willing to stand up to the Daleks despite insurmountable odds. Coduri and Noel Clarke have little to do here, but do it credibly and to the best of their ability – as mentioned above, the scenes in the café help to remind the audience of the mundanity of everyday life compared to travelling in the TARDIS, and both actors perform this well, even if I am still unsure as to what Rose and Mickey’s relationship is at this point. Answers on a postcard please.*

*Comments will do fine.

Verdict: The Parting of the Ways is an emotional and fast-paced series finale and swansong for Christopher Eccleston. It is a great story, with one of the most effective uses of a large army of Daleks and probably the best regeneration story NuWho has done. 10/10

Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Jo Stone-Fewings (Male Programmer), Jo Joyner (Lynda), Paterson Joseph (Rodrick), Nisha Nayar (Female Programmer), Noel Clarke (Mickey), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Anne Robinson (Voice of Anne Droid), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Daleks), Barnaby Edwards, Nicholas Pegg and David Hankinson (Dalek Operators), Alan Ruscoe (Anne Droid) and introducing David Tennant (The Doctor).

Writer: Russell T Davies

Director: Joe Ahearne

Behind the Scenes

  • The only characters who do not die in this story are Rose, Jackie and Mickey, making this the first story since The Horror of Fang Rock in which every member of the guest cast dies. This would not happen again until The Doctor’s Wife.
  • Jack’s death in this story makes him the first companion to die since Kamelion in Planet of Fire.
  • Jack kissing the Doctor is the first same sex kiss in the Doctor Who franchise.
  • This marks the only time (except for on the DVD copy of The Next Doctor) where David Tennant is credited as Doctor Who. For the rest of his time in the title role, he is credited as The Doctor. The precedent of the incoming Doctor being credited last has continued to date in regeneration episodes.
  • Christopher Eccleston’s regeneration was meant to be kept as a surprise, however, the news of Eccleston’s departure was prematurely announced shortly after the broadcast of The Unquiet Dead, and subsequently the announcement that David Tennant had been cast as his successor was made a few weeks later. An alternate ending to the episode was written and shot, intended to go out as part of the press preview to hide the regeneration, which would have had similar dialogue but concluded with the TARDIS scanning Rose, revealing to the audience that she was dying.
  • The story features the biggest Dalek army that had been seen on screen since Planet of the Daleks.
  • The story saw the departure of regular actors Christopher Eccleston and John Barrowman, director Joe Ahearne and executive producer Mal Young.

Cast Notes

  • Prior to his casting as the Doctor, David Tennant had appeared in numerous productions, including Big Finish’s Dalek Empire and U.N.I.T. series and Scream of the Shalka.
  • Nisha Naya was one of the uncredited Red Kang extras in Paradise Towers, making her the second actor to appear in both the classic and revived series. She also voiced Zanzibar Hashtag in Harvest of the Sycorax, the Seventh Doctor story on Classic Doctors, New Monsters Volume 1.
  • Paterson Joseph was heavily linked with the role of the Eleventh Doctor after the departure of David Tennant. Joseph also appeared in the Big Finish story Earth Aid.
  • Jenna Russell voiced Porcelain Polly and Missus in the Big Finish Jago and Litefoot story Encore for the Scorchies and as one of several Scorchies in The Wax Princess.
  • Jo Stone-Fewings went onto appear in the Big Finish story Hounded in The Churchill Years: Volume One.

Best Moment

There are a lot of great moments in this story, and I am going to go for that moment where the Doctor rests his head against the TARDIS doors as the Daleks scream outside.

Lynda’s death scene is a close second though.

Best Quote

I absorbed all of the energy of the time vortex, and no-one’s supposed to do that! Every cell in my body’s dying.

Can’t you do something?

Yeah, I’m doing it now! Time Lords have this little trick. It’s sort of a way of cheating death. Except…it means I’m going to change. And I’m not going to see you again. Not like this. Not with this daft old face. And before I go —

Don’t say that!

Rose, before I go, I just want to tell you that you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And do you know what? So was I!

The Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler

Previous Ninth Doctor story: Bad Wolf

Other stories mentioned:

Dalek

2 thoughts on “The Parting of the Ways

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