Doctor Who: The RTD Years Vol. 1 - Revisiting THE PARTING OF THE WAYS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: The RTD Years Vol. 1 - Revisiting THE PARTING OF THE WAYS

Tony parts ways with the Ninth Doctor.
The Parting of the Ways was an episode that, on its original broadcast, most fans approached with a mixture of trepidation and excitement.

Excitement because we’d just seen Bad Wolf a week earlier, and there were more Dalek ships on our screens than had ever been there before, so we were excited to see the Ninth Doctor do battle with his oldest enemies. Trepidation because by the time it aired, we knew that Eccleston was leaving the role he had made entirely his own, winning over a whole generation of new fans in the process.

Some Classic Who fans hadn’t felt like this since the days of the handover from Peter Davison (long-established actor, known from prime time mass entertainment shows) to Colin Baker (known by some, but comparatively not many, from leading roles in some select TV). The switchover from Eccleston to Tennant was – as may seem demented with hindsight – a moment of extreme uncertainty for many fans. Eccleston’s Doctor had so entirely nailed a new energy for our favourite Time Lord, it seemed impossible to replace him.

But The Parting of the Ways was about to do just that, whether we liked it or not.

In rewatching the episode, 18 years on, there’s triumph and tragedy for everyone in the episode.

The initial rescue of Rose from the heart of the Dalek fleet is a masterstroke of comic-book style plotting, and – just for the trivia fans – allows Captain Jack Harkness to becomes the first companion to blow up a Dalek since Ace in Remembrance of the Daleks.

There’s quite a lot of exposition as the Doctor and the Emperor Dalek chat about the Daleks’ plans, their survival, filleting the human race for cells that were “fit” to become Daleks. But oh, the accompanying visuals – the new Dalek Emperor owes a lot to the original in Evil of the Daleks, but with the added, room-shuddering joy of a voice by Nicholas Briggs.

In addition to which, these are Daleks that, to use the Doctor’s incredulous phrase, have gone “insane!” The Emperor has a god complex, and it’s a complex fed by the blind RELIGIOUS devotion of its followers.

In a sense, this isn’t as insane as it initially sounds. Albeit the Daleks are racial supremacy made flesh and tank, they’ve always had a strict understanding of in-Dalek hierarchy, and their disagreements on what to worship are a longstanding seed of the Dalek wars – whether to obey the original Emperor or not, whether to obey (and venerate) Davros, their creator, or not, it’s all come perilously close to a dispute of religious dogma in the past, but hearing them rail against blasphemy in the language of the evangelist certainly has enough novelty to FEEL like it’s a new and dangerous dimension for them. Faith of the Daleks?

Perhaps they need it to cope with the sense of self-loathing battling with their knowledge of their own supremacy, as they’re grown not from Kaled flesh, or even existing Dalek flesh, but from the filleted genetic remains of human beings – a fate so ghastly it caused the last Dalek known to exist in the universe to self-destruct in pure disgust back in Dalek.

Once the Rose rescue is done though, The Parting of the Ways dissolves into what is more or less an elegant, elevated New Who base under siege story. Jack goes to Floor 0 of the games station to recruit a resistance army to slow the Daleks down on their way to the top of the structure (where the Doctor and Rose will be working on a plan).

And here’s where there’s a major difference between watching The Parting of the Ways in 2005 and rewatching it in 2023.

The Doctor comes up with a plan that could wipe the Daleks out of the sky, but would also destroy humanity. Where other, earlier Doctors would try something sneaky, or devious, or some grandstanding plan to talk the Emperor to death, that’s this Doctor’s go-to – something that kills everybody, including the innocents for whom he claims to be acting. Watched in 2005, that felt shocking, the action of a war-scarred Doctor, acting out of desperation and fear.

Since then, we’ve learned of the existence of the War Doctor – a whole unclaimed life of the Doctor, the one who fought the Time War, and who was much more prone to making unconscionable choices, not so much for the good of the innocent, as to take the Time Lords closer to winning the war.

Watched with that knowledge, The Parting of the Ways feels like something much grander and more important. The War Doctor was an incarnation dedicated to the destruction of the Daleks above all – so much so that (as far as he knew), he destroyed his own people to get the job done. And then, once the job WAS done, he regenerated almost immediately, presumably into the Ninth Doctor we’ve seen struggle with his past and his part in the war across this whole series.

The plan to create the Delta Wave that will kill everybody, just to get rid of the Daleks, is a War Doctor plan, surfacing on instinct. The question becomes whether this Doctor, affected and partly healed as he has been by Rose Tyler and the others along his path, will turn out to be “Coward or killer?”

When, after letting people sacrifice themselves to give him the time to build his weapon, the Ninth Doctor says he’d be “Coward. Any day” – in 2023, we know that he knows, and the Emperor knows, that that’s not true. That there were many days in their shared history on which the Doctor would have proved to be a killer, and to hell with lives and consequences.

Ironically, when proving himself healed enough to stand alongside his pre-Time War incarnations and own the name of the Doctor, this is also a moment when the Ninth Doctor is at his least Doctorish.

Defeated, he knows the consequences of his cowardice. The Earth, his second “people,” will be pulped, turned into Daleks, because he didn’t act. Jack has died trying to buy him time to act, and he has refused to act. Even Lynda-with-a-Y, who he promised to keep alive, has been exterminated (in a darkly joyous scene of Dalek sneakiness) – and he’s going to do nothing but stand and accept his own extermination. He’s going to let the Daleks win, after all.

Except for the fact that he’s the Ninth Doctor. And the Ninth Doctor, right from the beginning of our acquaintance with him, has a history of getting things massively wrong, and having to be rescued by Rose Tyler.

Rose Tyler? Oh, yes – in his final act of either good conscience, or just possibly of shame, of not wanting her to see him do what he knows he has to do to defeat the Daleks, he sends her home in the Tardis.

And while Jackie Tyler may love him for that, Rose is furious, finally coming to the hard realization that while she loves the people back home, and always will, there’s nothing for her there anymore. Nothing she’s prepared to settle for, while the Doctor is out there fighting, and very probably dying, to save the universe.

It’s a gorgeously judged emotional sequence where the Doctor realizes that Rose is exactly what she says she is – “too good” to take the easy option willingly. So he fools her and sends her home. Where, naturally, she spends all her time trying to get back to him.

It’s a little deus ex machina, the way she finally manages to get back to him, but then, firstly, it’s the SAME deus ex machina as was used in Boom Town, and secondly, if you repeat a trick enough times, it becomes just a fact of the fictional universe.

Although it’s convenient that, for instance, when Blon Fel-Fotch looked into the heart of the Tardis, it regressed her to an egg, and when Rose Tyler does it, it makes her the superbeing that is The Bad Wolf, able to disperse a Dalek fleet into atoms and make Captain Jack Harkness not only alive again, but alive permanently.

That…would have been awkward to have gotten the wrong way round. And there’s also a little failed future-proofing in the episode when the Doctor tells Rose she’s looked into the time vortex and no-one’s meant to do that, only for future series to have David Tennant explain the ritual of the Time Lords where Time Tots are taken to peer into the Untempered Schism. But let’s not get bogged down in the future.

The Bad Wolf is born, performs her devastating, glowy-eyed acts of disintegration and immortality, and then – in a scene for which many of the newer fans in 2005 had been clamouring – gets kissed by her Doctor. Fortunately for those with a more active ick response, it’s purely medicinal, the Doctor absorbing all the energy of the time vortex out of her, and venting it back into the Tardis.

Again, there are questions if you submit that to a single second of analytical thought – the vortex energy having briefly been in the Doctor’s system causes him to regenerate, but Rose, who had it for longer and managed to direct it, is A-OK, with just a bit of a muzzy head?

Ignore analytical thought, this is an RTD series finale, and you need to focus on the loveliness of this dying Doctor. This Doctor who did what many people had thought was impossible – make Doctor Who a reality again in the 21st century. A reality that was credible, and relevant, and satirical, and brave, and which, above all, had consequences.

Fantastic. Truly fantastic. And his exit was, in hindsight, one of the kinder ones in the new show’s history. Perhaps the kindest since Pertwee’s, as he tells Rose what’s about to happen – albeit in too few words.

And before he goes, he validates her, and the impact she’s had on him. They were both fantastic, he tells her – and we the viewer, can’t do anything but agree wholeheartedly, and maybe weep a little that this adventure is ending, even though we know there are whole new dramas to come.

The first series of New Who is a testament to the life that was still in the central idea of Tom Baker’s “benevolent alien.” Russell T Davies made him kind, but kind with consequences, and with a survivor-guilt gravitas that was perfectly suited to Christopher Eccleston’s superb performance. Davies gave us a Doctor that was in some ways unlike any we’d ever seen before, in others, a kind of throwback to the Hartnell original, and in still others a Doctor we could love, and want to protect, just as Rose Tyler does, wanting to make the universe better for an alien who makes that universe better just by being in it.

Series 1 did an amazing thing for lots of Classic Who fans – it reminded us exactly, and with all the right notes, exactly what we’d been missing. The expanded universe that had kept us going all that time was great, but Series 1 reminded us what Doctor Who on mainstream TV could do – it could bring people together in front of their screens to share an adventure, an emotional connection, and a sense of relief that there were people out there between us and the bullies.

That’s the power of the first series of RTD1 Doctor Who – it not only ignited the series again, it gave us hope and belief in the power of people to make the world so much better than it was, just by standing up and making a difference. It mixed fun and gravitas, truth and consequences, laughter and the inevitability of death. It was a show with everything – and Series 1 set the show on the road to its next two decades of success.

Tony Fyler lives in a concrete cave, somewhere on the edge of the sea, with his wife, who exists, and the Fictional People In His Head, who don't as yet. A journalist and editor by day, he has written Some Books, and is more or less always writing another. One day, he may even get around to showing them to people. In the meantime, he's Script Editor and occasional Executive Producer at Third Time Lucky Productions, and a proud watcher of things no-one remembers they remember until they remember.

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