Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Bad Wolf

When did the return of Doctor Who become an unqualified success? If the ratings are any guide, then the answer is pretty much straightaway given that Rose was watched by over 10 million people, and a second series was commissioned just days later. If, instead, we looked at the reviews? Well, they were pretty good to begin with, but it wasn't until Dalek that the critics reached in unison for the superlatives. Personally, it was only when I saw The Empty Child that the tiny anxious voice in my head went quiet: I no longer suffered the insane pessimism of the fan who fears relegation even as his team fly up the table, and allowed myself to dream of silverware.

But it was about to get better. What I'd never anticipated was the buzz: completely normal people talking about Doctor Who. In the street, at bus stops, in the office, at the school gate, the Not-We, grown men and women were talking about my show, discussing what had happened, what was going to happen. It would happen again, later (the world went bananas after The Stolen Earth), but that first time, that week, between Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways was surreal and wonderful.

Most of it was down to that cliffhanger, which goes straight to the top of our list of, er, three. It's unusual in that it is triumphant, rather than terrifying, but it is all the better for it. All this series, as we have seen, the Doctor has been a little off his game, content to let others play the hero. If it has all been building up to this then it has been completely worth it because, finally, the Doctor gets his moment: seizing the initiative from the Daleks, scaring them witless, making Rose repeatedly flare her nostrils in excitement and getting our blood racing too. It's a rousing, shivers-down-the-neck denouement that leaves us desperate for next time.

To be honest, it almost doesn't matter what happened in the rest of the episode because that ending is so good. But then, because it is so good, on reflection I can't help but think that the rest of it isn't good enough.

There's some real fun to be had with the Doctor and companions trapped in the Land of Reality Television (Bad Wolf is a 21st century The Mind Robber, discuss), but after the first viewing it becomes obvious that not much is happening - with the star villains not due to show up until the last five minutes the episode feels like it is just killing time, waiting for the fireworks. Still, Lynda-with-a-Y is.. sweet and yes, the thought of her being a replacement for Rose was convincing enough to make me wonder at the time. Most of all, though, it's tiny little things that I love. The Male and Female Programmers (until I checked on Wikipedia, it never occurred to me that they didn't have names) are a delightful pair, lightly sketched but acted beautifully (especially Jo Stone-Fewings) in such a way that we feel we know so much about them. Bear With Me, completely fictitious but it doesn't matter because the Doctor and Lynda's enthusiasm is infectious and convincing. Jack finding the TARDIS in the white room is beautiful, old and blue and enormous against the blank space - it's a three second shot but it is a perfect mixture of the familiar and the incongruous. And the introduction of the Daleks is excellent - the signature thromthrom-thromthrom sound effect fading in, the distorted reflection in the walls. It's a perfectly weighted reveal, only slightly ruined by Boom Town's Next Time trailer which spoiled the whole thing (fine for TV transmission, but very unfortunate on DVD/Netflix).

William probably remembered anyway, but Chris was in the dark completely, prepared to believe that Rose was dead and ignorant of next week's regeneration. I can't help but think that's the right way to do it, but more on that next time perhaps. They both gave this a 10, almost too excited to elaborate. Luckily for them they don't have to wait a week for the next episode - but they missed out on all that wonderful buzz.


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