Doctor Who: Bad Wolf (2005)

The penultimate episode draws together a lot of threads and finds Russell T. Davies by turns doing his worst - weak celebrity cameos the like of which even John Nathan-Turner never sank to - and his best - one of the great Doctor speeches, as he tells the Daleks what he is going to do next week ('you don't even have a plan!' 'and doesn't that just terrify you!'). After a recap of the events of The Long Game, we're back on that satellite TV broadcasting station a hundred years later, and it turns out that getting rid of the evil news-controlling Murdoch monster didn't usher in the glorious Earth empire after all but caused a societal collapse that has been replaced by a bombardment of game shows.

This is a pretty feeble target in s-f terms, having been battered at least since Robert Sheckley's The Seventh Victim and belaboured in many, many films, and there's a sort of instantly-dating feebleness in dropping the three TARDIS travellers into cruel parodies of current formats. The Weakest Link, with the Anne Robinson-voiced Anne Droid disintegrating losers, is an obvious gag, but sold by Billie Piper's performance as Rose goes from half-hearted to enthusiastic to puzzled to terrified as she plays out the game she thinks she knows and keeps getting asked easy questions about this future she has no way of dealing with. And the Doctor's experiences in a Big Brother house, complete with the throwaway but apt joke that 'it's not what it was, of course', are just well-enough written and played, as he forms a bond with a sweet contestant (Jo Joyner) he hauls out of the house, to pass muster, with some inspired little bits of braided exposition and satire. But Jack (John Barrowman, who still seems to have 'sell by end of series' stamped to his supposed regular character) getting make-overs from robot versions of Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine (of whom I am barely aware, m'lud) is extremely poor material that just eats up time until the terrific third act, which is all set up for next week's finale.

Even if last week's trail hadn't tipped off the fact that the Daleks are involved, it would be guessable from the hints dropped over the series about the backstory - which might or might not tie in with the ever-present Bad Wolf references - but the five minutes when a huge Dalek fleet shows up and masses of the things croak into action is the sort of stuff we've been awaiting for decades. The Daleks capture Rose (whose fake death fools no one), and hold her hostage, thinking from experience that this will sideline the Doctor as they conquer an Earth they have already culturally ravaged and reduced to couch potatodom, only for him to say a repeated 'no' and vow to stop them. It's an effective variation on the cliffhanger, with the menace already countered by confidence, and it's possible that the finale will reverse the way things have gone this season by being a Part Two that's better than the set-up. Most bets are on Davros being behind it - which might actually be a disappointment in that Davies and co have successfully reinvigorated the Daleks to be the threat they were before they became stooges to their Mekon-like creator.
KIM NEWMAN

First published in this form here.


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