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13 January 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 743: The Parting of the Ways

Dear diary,

Oh, where do you start with this one? The Parting of the Ways holds one of my strongest memories from this season - having to pause the episode for a few minutes before it started so that someone could finish up a phonecall. I can just remember being really anxious to get going with the episode, because of everything at stake; we knew that the Doctor was regenerating. The Daleks were back, en masse. Everything was to play for… I just wanted to get in to it already!

That sense of excitement hasn’t lessened in the decade since. The stakes for this one have been so successfully raised by Bad Wolf, and now it feels almost as though the story can really get going.

Last week, while watching Dalek, I complained that the Daleks were never as good or powerful after that episode, and mused that it was a real pity. Actually, though, I was wrong, because the Daleks in this story are from completely the same mould - and I’m a little saddened that the Daleks aren’t quite like this any more. My friend Nick describes it perfectly with just a single word - these Daleks are ‘ruthless’. It’s best summed up when they board the game station and venture down to the lowest levels to kill all the humans huddled there… simply because they can. They don’t need to - they’re no threat to the Daleks or their plans, but what the heck, we’ll kill them anyway. During our discussion, I compared it to a scene from The Day of the Doctor in which the Daleks close in on a group of Gallifreyans, ready to kill… but then they realise the Doctor has arrived elsewhere, and they hurry off to try and kill him instead. The Daleks of this story wouldn’t have been so lenient - they’d have headed off to find the Doctor, and then swivelled their middle section around while they retreated, to kill the group of people anyway.

And they’re all the better for it! I really get the idea that the Daleks are an unstoppable force when I’m watching them here, simply slaughtering their way up to the top of the station to find the Doctor. There’s something so powerful about the way that they don’t come in all-guns-blazing, but simply glide their way slowly upwards, killing anything that gets in their way calmly and efficiently. It’s best evidenced when we reach the ‘last man standing’ moment with Jack - a character we’ve grown to like over the last few episodes, and the Doctor’s companion - and they simply wait until he’s out of bullets, before taking him out with a single beam. I know the Daleks couldn’t always be this effective, but it would be nice to have them like this again just once…

While I’m on the subject of our pepper-pot friends, I need to finish up a bit of narrative that I started during Dalek. I was speaking then about why these Daleks are so much more powerful, but couldn’t tell the whole story until we’d been through this episode so that I could check the facts. There’s one or two little wrinkles, but they’re fairly easily smoothed out…

So. A Dalek in the closing seconds of the Time War manages to perform and Emergency Temporal Shift and escape the carnage. He’s the only one who does it - or the only one who successfully does it, at least - and he ends up burning in a crater for three days, screaming because his mind has been warped by the things he’s seen. Eventually, he ends up in Henry Van Staten’s vault, meets the Doctor, and learns that the war is over. What he witnessed in his final moments was the end of the Dalek race, and he’s the only survivor. Then he meets Rose, and through her touch he’s able to regenerate himself. Eventually, the presence of human touch changes the Dalek. It starts to feel, and eventually accepts orders to destroy itself. The last Dalek in existence, wiped out. 

But… what if that’s not what happens? What if those spheres coming out of the skirt and converging on the Dalek isn’t a self destruct protocol, but a dressed-up Emergency Temporal Shift? There’s an undercurrent through Dalek that the creature is simply looking for orders, and the Doctor confirms that he’s never going to get any orders, because there’s no other Daleks around to give them. Instead, what if it reverts to it’s base programming - that the Dalek race must survive under any circumstances? To this end, the Dalek Temporal Shifts to the future, and sets about manipulating the human race to create a brand new army of Daleks. Its contact with Rose has shown it that there is some benefit to the human condition, and even though he’s still picky (only one cell in a billion is suitable), he’s more willing to harvest the humans than Daleks would usually be.

This goes on for centuries. We’re told as much in these two episodes, that the Daleks have been behind everything that’s gone wrong for humanity - the loss of that Fourth Great and Bountiful empire. Over time, our original Dalek sets itself up as Emperor (it is the only remaining ‘genuine’ Dalek, after all, so the perfect candidate for the job) and goes slowly mad, thinking of himself as a god. By the time we catch up with him here, and find him surrounded by half a million other Daleks, the thought that his army is born from humanity sickens him - all that he learnt from Rose has been wiped away by time. It’s not a completely flawless plan, but it works well enough for me, and I think I prefer it to the idea that two Daleks managed to escape right at the end of the Time War, and that the Doctor encounters them in fairly quick succession. You can also build in the fact that the TARDIS visits this time and place immediately after the first adventure with a Dalek, and thus could be the ship trying to warn the Doctor what’s happened, but he’s too busy showing off and swanning about to take notice. 

It also builds nicely in to the regeneration, I think. Over the last two weeks, I’ve spoken a lot about this season of adventures being perfectly formed to tell the story of the Doctor’s post-war recovery, and I think it’s a nice capstone to have his regeneration brought about by the ‘final’ act of the Time War. 

On the subject of which… that’s it! Goodbye, Ninth Doctor! It’s gone quick, hasn’t it? Remember those days where I spent six months with the Tom Baker Doctor? We’re down to two weeks for an incarnation now! It strange, in a way, because even though Paul McGann was only around for the one night, it feels stranger to have a Doctor round for several stories, but still only a very short time. Yet, I think I’m glad that we only had the Ninth Doctor for this one run of adventures. Even though I think he’s great, these thirteen episodes tell a complete story so well (I think I’m right in saying that Russell T Davies planned them out so that if no further episodes were commissioned, then these would work as their own self-contained story), that it might somehow lessen them to spend another year in the company of this incarnation.

And besides, we’re off into the Tenth Doctor’s era, now! There’s several stories coming up in the next few weeks which I’ve not seen since their initial broadcast - up to nine years ago, in some cases - so I’m really excited to see how I take to them all. I’m in the swing of the way the new series works again now (spending two years in classic territory meant that the first few episodes of the Ninth Doctor threw me a bit!), and I’m ready for the next adventure!

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