Doctor Who Showrunners reviewed #7 Russell T. Davies #7 Season twenty-seven Episode twelve Bad Wolf
Doctor Who Showrunners Reviewed (formerly Doctor Who Head Writers Reviewed) is a series I am running on a weekly basis here, in-which I review each episode written by the three Showrunners (executive producers who write episodes): Russell T. Davies, Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall. After viewing each episode, I give the episode a verdict of either success or failure, and explain how I came to that decision. A running score will be included at the end of each entry, showing how each Showrunner is doing in terms of episodes written to episode I have considered a success. And I do not use information from anywhere other than the episode itself (unless it is fact-checking).
I have also recently decided not to review episodes written by Showrunners when those Showrunners were staff writers; staff writing is a different principle to Show-running. Moffat and Chibnall wrote episodes before becoming Showrunner – those episodes will not be included in Doctor Who Showrunners Reviewed, because Moffat and Chibnall wrote those episodes before they actually became Showrunner; in that sense, they are only “Showrunner episodes” retrospectively, and therefore originally were not during the writing process. Which is why I will not be including them here. We continue with season twenty-seven’s twelfth episode: Russell T. Davies’ Bad Wolf.
Steven Moffat cited Bad Wolf – and the following, second part, The Parting of the Ways – as ground-breaking, on account of it having been Doctor Who‘s first season finale. There is an argument to be made that it is not, and that Classic Doctor Who featured season finales long before Showrunners: the epic six-part The Dalek Invasion of Earth was intended as the season one finale before it was pushed back to season two’s second storyline; season four’s finale was another rematch with the Daleks in The Evil of the Daleks; just as season five concluded with a Cyberman story with The Wheel in Space; by season seven, producer Barry Letts was also co-directing the finale, with Inferno; and season eight’s finale was co-written by producer Letts; even season eleven’s finale was both directed and produced by Letts; season thirteen reserved The Seeds of Doom for last on account of it having the most episodes; as was the case with The Talons of Weng-Chiang in season fourteen; this trend continued in season fifteen with The Invasion of Time; even in The key to Time season, The Armageddon Factor was extended by fifty percent; season seventeen would have finished with Shada, a six-parter, had Shada not been cancelled. Looking at all these instances, the Classic series should not be considered to have not had season finales, because of how many Classic Doctor Who seasons finished “big”. And Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways is not even the first instance of a Doctor Who season finale concluding a story arc, because both The key to Time and The Trial of a Time Lord had used a single story over one season.
So what makes Bad Wolf unique? Why should Bad Wolf be praised for the same reasons that The key to Time and The Trial of a Time Lord are arguably not praised? And not just The key to Time or The Trial of a Time Lord – due to their use of seasonal story arcs – but also Vengeance on Varos, which satires the BBC, as Bad Wolf does with the revelation that the Bad Wolf Corporation executes license fee evaders. Dissecting Bad Wolf reveals a wealth of formula that had already been tried and tested with previous episodes and serials.
In fact, the revelation that the Bad Wolf Corporation is just a front for the Dalek Empire wasn’t even much of a revelation, given that reveal had been included in Bad Wolf‘s Next Time trailer, as featured in Boom Town, the preceding episode. No. What makes Bad Wolf unique is the cliffhanger. Today, a reveal of the Daleks being the season’s Big Bad would be hardly surprising – they would feature in the finales for seasons twenty-eight (Army of Ghosts/Doomsday), thirty (The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End), thirty-one (The Pandorica Opens/The big Bang), thirty-two (The Wedding of River Song) and thirty-three (The day of the Doctor/The Time of the Doctor).
Plus, we’d already seen the Daleks in New Doctor Who from Dalek six episodes prior. The Daleks had been re-established as a legitimate threat, so simply having more Daleks was not enough to create believable tension. So it is all in the reveal. The subtle designs of the Gamestation androids, which move and look almost Dalek-like.
Then there is the Dalek Point-Of-View shot, with Rose recognising it. The sound of the Dalek ship, like a heartbeat, a nice throwback to the Classic Series. And then there is the distorted image of the Dalek reflected on the wall of the saucer, before the Controller is killed with the familiar negative-effect. All of these things were recognisable – the Daleks’ presence was obvious, just as the presence of the Cybermen in The Tomb of the Cybermen was obvious from the title.
But knowledge is power, and the longer their appearance is held-off, the more interested the audience become. It was through the use of small reveals over time, leading to the ultimate confrontation between the Doctor and the Daleks that made Bad Wolf the best Dalek reveal since a lone Dalek rose from the River Thames in World’s End. Normally, once the monster is revealed, audiences have to wait a week before they get to see them do anything, but in the case of Bad Wolf, the Doctor tells the Daleks exactly what he is going to do. The Doctor is declaring what the next episode’s plot is going to be.
That had never been done before, and has arguably never been done since. The cliffhanger is so powerful that the whole episode is raised-up as a result. And you don’t get that with cinema.
Russell T. Davies: 4 – 6
Next episode: The Parting of the Ways, by Russell T. Davies