Monday, May 15, 2006

REVIEW: Doctor Who - Parting Of The Ways

[Review written for Gallifrey One: 2005]

So here we have it, the epoch of Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor. The final tie up of this very contained season. After thirteen episodes, after a year of production titbits, after nine long years of wait, after sixteen years since the last full series...

Was it all worth it?

Damn right it was.

Russell T Davies once again proves his mastership of both story and series. His role as lord overseer and as lowly storyteller has to be commended. Not only does he create the most fantastic episode, but also a fantastic end to the series.

Through "Parting Of The Ways", the tale of the Ninth Doctor all falls into place. The journey of all the main characters has a final and fitting resolution, regardless of how they return later this year. The background season arc, the Time War, is neatly finalised without cutting into the character plots or the impact of this stories main villain: The Daleks.

With all these elements considered; the Time War, character resolutions, Daleks and a certain regeneration sequence, it's amazing how evenly paced this episode seems. It never stutters or staggers, but moves in one fluid motion from start to end.

Most importantly, it embodies all the elements pertinent to Doctor Who. Through Rose we see the importance of the individual, that through the Doctor, we learn to become better and more determined people; to care when no one else will. Through Jack we see a mercenary has learned to be a true hero. Then we have the Daleks, doing what all Daleks should do: kill mercilessly. The dark nature of the show is never more prominent than here with Daleks killing established minor characters left right and centre.

On top of these more traditional elements of Who ethos, we see the show moving forward. The repercussions of the Doctors actions still taking centre stage, his stronger relationship with his companions, the evolution of the Daleks into something even more frightening all just adds to the experience. This isn't a show that's just trying to capture its roots; it's taking them and planting them in a new field of ideas and concepts.

However, the writing is the episodes highlight. From the grand plan down to the small scenes, we have some wonderful misdirection on the small scale in one scene with a Dalek door cutter breaking into one human compartment on the space station, only to see the actual kill come from outside the station itself. The writer draws the audience attention to one outcome while introducing another variable to alter it. The old red herring device at it's best.

On a larger scale we see the final revelation on "Bad Wolf" being not the Master, or Davros, or even the Doctor himself. “Bad Wolf” is simply two words created to utterly mislead the audience. Again, a great piece of writing that makes sense within the story and doesn’t leave the audience feeling dissatisfied. Indeed the issue of "Bad Wolf" is tied up perfectly.

On the production side, we have a great visual experience. Not always perfect, the Dalek mother ship design was impressive, but the CG to actor overlay wasn't always consistent. Nevertheless, the Emperor Dalek was a firm piece of design and the visuals never betrayed the requirements of the story.

The music was well utilized with many elements echoing sounds from earlier this season and several reoccurring motifs evolving into new melodies. The music for the shows final scenes was truly moving.

Which brings us to the final scenes. It's nice to see that Davies manages to make the Doctor and Rose's most kiss intimate but not overtly romantic. Whether you feel there was a sexual chemistry or a deeper bond, this final kiss is a gentle and non-specific answer. It also gives some sort of conclusion to the "will they, won't they" angle. I am certain that the relationship with Rose and the Doctor next season will differ. I think it's vital to do so, not just to keep diversity in the character mix, but to give the Ninth Doctor's relationship with Rose a more special element. I get the feeling this is Davies intent and as such the kiss is as much a final goodbye as a plot resolution.

As for the regeneration scene, I wasn't expecting regeneration, so this came as a surprise. On a repeat viewing, this is even more moving. Again, we see the idea of the finite persona being played out here; that every Doctor "dies" at the end of his tenure. This makes the death even more moving, particularly as the Doctor tries to put on a brave face. This is Eccleston and Davies at their best as both move to culminate all those elements of Eccleston's Doctor in one final scene. We see the forced humour, the admiration for his companion and that deeper hurt which he has constantly tried to bury. He comes across with that mix of excitement and fear that I think will trademark Eccleston's era.

Which leaves me to the final main character yet unmentioned: Captain Jack. I strongly urge them to bring him back as his role in this story and his dynamic as part of the team has been a late highlight of this season. So much so, it makes rewatching the earlier episodes feel like they are missing something. I never thought he would work as well as he has and that's another testament to writing and actor. I think they need that third TARDIS crewman in Doctor Who - providing he or she offers something different to the other two. Jack does so in abundance and I think there will be a call for Jack's return, he truly is the surprise of this season and his last minute revival was a very wise move.

And with high hopes of Jack's full time return, a confirmed two further seasons and a brand new Doctor, this episode leaves Doctor Who's brief hiatus in good standing. David Tennant's brief cameo was a welcome one that really filled me with hope. He so far seems perfect. His manner, looks and body language utterly different to Eccleston, He really has that Baker twinkle in his eye too!

Parting Of The Ways is a perfect gel of solid writing, strong production and a cast who feel confident and proud of their work. With Tennant showing so much potential in a meagre thirty seconds, I am confident he will bring in a new era of Doctor Who without diminishing what I'm sure will be seen as one of the Doctor's most consistent seasons.

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