Monday, May 15, 2006

REVIEW: Doctor Who - Bad Wolf

[Review written for Gallifrey One: 2005]

It's funny how a small minority can actually affect your perception of an episode before it airs. There has been a very vocal fan group who have had strong concerns over Russell T Davies output and regardless of the objective validity (and I for one am not condemning such opinion), one cannot help being infected by that concern, no matter how small the voice. Negativity is infectious; its voice is loud no matter how minor the group. I must confess that, despite enjoying most of RTD's work, I approached the teaser with a degree of non-objective concern. Parodies are dangerous things, and this episode from the very opening scene has no qualms about being so. Get too close to real life, and it can break that illusion of disbelief mainstream science fiction so desperately needs.

However, like Doctor Who of yore, "Bad Wolf" manages to superbly do parody and it couldn't be closer than this. Beyond the darker and more explosive second half, the first part of this story is very well handled. We have some great parody moments based on other British TV institutions. “The Weakest Line” and “Big Brother” are to name some of the more famous ones of recent times. By making such very close parodies (music, sets and voice work), it actually adds to the suspense of disbelief; vague parodies create vague parallels where the viewer doesn't really see the mimic being one thing or the other. "Bad Wolf" pulls no such punches!

Beyond the Reality/Quiz TV parallel here, we have a deeper and more evocative story. Maybe if this episode had just revolved around the parody, it would have really lost a lot of drive by any resolution. The gradual and slightly disorientating start slowly sets the stage for a grand finale ending. And what a grand finale it is.

Not only is it big (and I mean B.I.G), it's very well paced. No quick shock ending to leave the viewer feeling cheated, the ending is given time to grow and even gives away a few more revelations than one would have expected of Doctor Who in the past. Once upon a time we would have had simply the appearance of a squawking Dalek to create the cliffhanger, but not here. In "Bad Wolf" we have the appearance of the foe a good few minutes before the end that results in a story with a very satisfying mix of drama, parody, surprise and some fantastic dialogue.

Yes, the script for "Bad Wolf" is very strong; in fact, all aspects of the story remain tight. Any concern over the slightly unfinished feel to RTD's "Boom Town" can be quashed by one of the most solid pieces of story telling to date. Let's also remember, making a story that doesn't rely overtly on atmosphere, action and suspense for its entirety is very hard. This is a real mix of drama. Some clear tongue in cheek humour, some shocking revelations and some really powerful dramatic scenes all in one. This really is a story that builds, layer on layer and that really does underline the talents of this show's creator.

Whether you like his occasional bursts of humour, or his more character orientated plots, RTD knows his field, both as a producer and as a writer. He writes as he feels the show requires and the approval of the masses reflects this. "Bad Wolf is a perfect example of how RTD can write as he needs to. This is the shows penultimate story and he pulls back from overt humour to shows us a mind that cares and knows Doctor Who. This is tense Doctor Who without being over scary. It's the perfect equation of light entertainment and firm drama. Some older fans may prefer the likes of "The Empty Child", but if Doctor Who intends to survive, it's stories that offer a more family orientated balance such as this that will keep the show going.

As for the more specific elements - all top notch. The music is great with some more of the more gothic undertones announcing the Daleks. The acting is above par across the board and for the second week running, Eccleston gets a wonderful mix of light and very dark. This Doctor is really having to deal with his "meddling". In this light, "Bad Wolf" is a great follow up to "Boom Town" and elevates the importance of "Boom Town" in hindsight.

Final bow goes to Captain Jack Harkness, who provides a refreshing character type and a little additional humour throughout. RTD, if you are wise and bored enough to read this, whatever happens to Jack in the finale, consider his return. He's an asset to the crew bringing that extra something that neither the Doctor nor Rose can, something beyond his more violent capacities. His self-assured attitude, technical know how and utter juxtaposition to the Doctor makes him a fascinating and worthy addition to the crew dynamic. His role was comparatively small compared to the Doctor's, but nevertheless very noticeable.

Oh yeah, did I mention the Daleks much? No? Well I will leave it to the other reviewers to rave on their reinvention and application. They retain all about what Daleks should be and still manage to add something new.

Fantastic. Russell T Davies should be squirming with pleasure in his bed tonight knowing that it's a job well done. Only downside is it creates a very tough act to follow... and with the next episode being the finale.. Can it compare to the strength of “Bad Wolf”? "Time will tell", said one great man. With the Doctor having to deal with the ramifications of that statement in "Bad Wolf", I can't think of a more pertinent quotation to end on.

No comments: