Friday, January 21, 2011

Postclassical Who - "The Parting of the Ways"

Known not unjustifiably in some circles as "The Farting of the Ways", this balls-to-the-wall finale is like an archipelago of good moments in a sea of nonsense. Clearly RTD has never seen Revelation of the Daleks because he acts as if the idea of Daleks made from dead humans is original... Davros did it on Necros in 1985. But wait! These Daleks are religious, too. So to continue the theme of this era's incredibly poor attempts at satire from the last review, apparently religious people are mass murdering xenophobic killing machines. Clap, clap, thunk.
The Dalek Emperor sees his first return in who knows how long, and as much as he is an insane Dalek with delusions of divinity Nick Briggs does him pretty well and the dialogue crafted for him is generally pretty good. Of course he gets the Doctor questioning himself and so on, which is apparently a necessary plot element in just about every episode, and the Daleks spend a lot of time faffing around killing people while the Doctor starts to construct a doomsday weapon that will kill everybody. Oh, and he flies the TARDIS through normal space so that they need a force field to protect it from missiles (even though I'm fairly sure the TARDIS can't be harmed by conventional weapons anyway) yet he still travels through the Time Vortex to materialise on the Dalek Mothership. I think they just wanted an excuse to have a shot of the TARDIS spinning through space. Again, Captain Jack exists mostly to run around with some big guns cracking one liners and is pretty much pointless, Lynda with a Y gets killed so that there's no chance of them ever having to pay for another actor to be a second companion along with Jack, and the Doctor sends Rose home.
As an insert, I think the redesign of the Daleks for this series is kind of crap. Making them gold is too gaudy and not militaristic or efficient-looking enough, which I could justify for religious Daleks but when it keeps getting used it just seems odd. Oh, and they look too machined. I mean, they're meant to be one of the most advanced species in the Universe but they still use rivets? Come on. The simplicity and flat non-metallic colours of the old Daleks made them seem alien, soldierly and cold.
I like the scene where hologram Eccly is saying his goodbyes to Rose, especially when he turns and looks straight at her. This is the Doctor doing what he has to do. He's obviously a more ruthless Doctor than  he is on most occasions but he's still protecting his companion and asking her to have a great life. Frankly in spite of the relatively bog-standard story (Daleks are rebuilding, Doctor finds out, Emperor sends Daleks to kill Doctor before Doctor can kill Daleks), it is Eccly himself who deservedly gets the best scenes. There are some random bit player TV show workers who apparently fancy each other and get killed but no one cares, and Paterson Joseph is sadly confined to being a whiny gameshow contestant like he's finally lost a game of Numberwang so all we're left with is Eccly's time to shine. We've had one with the hologram, now it's time for the other.
But first, RTD's written himself into a corner. How's he going to solve it? Let's just duplicate the cop-out Deus Ex Machina ending of "Boom Town" by getting the TARDIS to perform magic, shall we? Rose is sent into the past purely so she can lament how crap a normal life is (really rubbing the escapism in) and then Jackie hires a huge yellow truck so they can tug part of the TARDIS open with a chain.
Yeah, I'm not kidding about that bit.
So Rose gets all imbued with the golden magic of the Time Vortex and spontaneously takes the TARDIS to the future, utters a lot of nonsensical RTD-style pseudo-poetical purple prose about being the bringer of life and crap, disintegrates all the Daleks somehow, brings Captain Jack back to life so he can go and star in the godawful Torchwood, and gets a kiss from Eccly. I found this kiss to be a bit dodge but I was having so much trouble not looking at Billie Piper's crooked lower teeth in all the closeups of her full of Time Vortex that I was thankful of a break. What's with the kiss though? The light transitions between their eyes; I guess the Doctor was just really glad to see her? Frankly I think they feel these days that the main character has to kiss the leading lady or the audience will riot or something. Anyway the defeat of the Daleks is utter crap and if this story had a shred of wanting to contain real consequences it would have had the Doctor kill all the Daleks and all the humans while he and Rose, I dunno, hide in the TARDIS or something. If you want character development, how about that? At least we would have seen it onscreen, so it'd be more poignant than these totally unseen Time War genocides committed by the Doctor that he's supposed to be affected by. But 'tell don't show' has been the watchword for this series and spoon feeding the morons is clearly a lot easier than actually showing something horrible happen onscreen. Besides, the Daleks had killed everyone on the station and bombed the living hell out of the planet, how much more damage could the Doctor have done? Even that could have been a cheat for them to use to kill the Daleks without having too many consequences yet still permitting some anxiety, but instead they go for quite literally god from a machine. It's cheap, simplistic and amateurish. Clearly they'd rather shock people with cliffhanger scenarios and then use any old bollocks to solve them than compose a narrative with integrity or meaning. Yes, we got to see how the Doctor had made not only Rose but also Mickey and Jackie better people, and that's all well and good, but the meaning is essentially lost in the cheap cop-out that constitutes the ending. Don't they understand that you need both good plot and good characters, with themes and meaning woven through each, to compose a truly memorable story, to create a work of art? As it is the whole situation is weak and disappointing, and sacrifices so many opportunities to explore big ideas for the sake of revelling in tedious interpersonal melodrama between the Doctor and his companion that it essentially doesn't achieve the genre of science fiction.
Anyway it's time for Eccly to move on to other things so he breathes the Time Vortex into the TARDIS like Superman putting out Lex Luthor's flamethrowers and starts to get stomach trouble. I do enjoy his final scene; the way he underplays the entire situation allows the ending to be eerily cheerful, and his jokes suit the tone well: this isn't an ending, just a change. When he says "And you know what? So was I!" you can't help but agree with him to an extent, because while he wasn't always best served by the writing and the stories, and even though it seemed like just a job for him at times, in the end he puts on such a strong performance that it is a little bit happy-sad seeing him go. But times must go on, there's a gush of golden light and the Doctor promptly regenerates into David Tennant.
A lot of rumours have flown around about why Eccly only did one series of Doctor Who, but the impression one seems to get is that he wasn't exactly happy with the quality of the show or didn't entirely get along with the people making it. I can only comment as far as quality is concerned, but in hindsight looking at this series as a whole I can't help but empathise if that was indeed the reason. It's a pretty unspectacular series. It does what it needs to do to reintroduce the show, but it doesn't do anything beyond that and it includes a lot of things which are drab, lowbrow and foolish. It's far from artistically credible and as a serious actor I imagine that might become a bit of a drag eventually, especially if you don't see the situation improving. Regardless, "The Parting of the Ways" was probably the best anyone could expect of a finale from this era especially considering how bad its prior episode was, and it's just a shame that a possibly great Doctor had to spend his entire tenure under these circumstances. Nonetheless, Doctor Who was back and eventually it would get close to finding its feet again.
Still a shame we couldn't have had a season or two starring Paul 'The Man' McGann.

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