The Good: Excellent continuity, Clever plot development, Performances
The Bad: Very light on character development
The Basics: The Doctor’s affections for Rose are diluted in “Bad Wolf” as the TARDIS crew is separated from one another and put into various television shows in the distant future.
For all the Whovians (Doctor Who fans) who like to play up the love between the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler, rewatching the series has a number of wake-up calls. I like The Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler, but objectively watching the series, there are frequent discrepancies between the ideal fans have for the show and what is actually in the program. Nowhere is fan denial of the on-screen truths greater than in “Bad Wolf,” the penultimate episode of the first season of the new Doctor Who series. For all those who love to claim that The Doctor has an intense and deep love for Rose Tyler, they seem to forget that in “Bad Wolf,” The Doctor picks up a new Companion in a virtually identical way to how he picks up Rose Tyler in “Rose” (reviewed here!). When The Doctor rescues Lynda, there is all the potential (and intent) that she would accompany The Doctor much like Rose did.
“Bad Wolf” is a follow-up to “The Long Game” (reviewed here!) and it pits The Doctor, Rose Tyler, and Jack Harkness against the Bad Wolf Corporation in Earth’s distant future. The episode also reaffirms that time is malleable in a way that allows Doctor Who to progress without any sense of continuity. The Doctor recalls several things that are unrealized in the first season of Doctor Who. While Harriet Jones’s brief arc is redefined in the next season, in “The Long Game” and “Bad Wolf,” The Doctor is plagued by memories of The Fourth Great And Bountiful Human Empire. The Fourth Great And Bountiful Human Empire was supposed to exist in Earth’s distant future, but its rise was disrupted by the Jagrofess and the building of Satellite Five. Satellite Five essentially enslaved Earth without its knowledge and in “Bad Wolf” the manipulations of those controlling Satellite Five are finally revealed. The episode also sets up the first season finale exceptionally well.
One hundred years after The Doctor killed the Jagrofess and liberated humans from the influence of Satellite Five, The Doctor awakens in a staging room for the Big Brother house that has three other occupants. Members of the reality television series are surprised by The Doctor’s appearance, as are the show’s controllers outside the room. Also suffering from mild amnesia is Rose Tyler who awakens on another set to find she is a part of The Weakest Link which is hosted by the Anne-Droid, a maniacal robot who asks trivia questions and (much to Rose’s horror) disintegrates those voted off the program. Similarly, Captain Jack Harkness awakens in the company of two robots who try to give him fashion makeovers, starting by dissolving his clothes.
The Doctor quickly realizes that whomever managed to abduct him and his crew from the TARDIS in the past, is exceptionally powerful and wants him alive. So, he vandalizes the Big Brother house, rescues Lynda from it and goes in search of the show’s controllers. The Doctor realizes that they are all on Satellite Five (though it is no longer called that) as Rose struggles to survive in The Weakest Link. At the same time, Jack breaks out of his televised “prison” and Lynda tells The Doctor that when the news channels went black a hundred years prior, Earth became a hellhole that was easily controlled by the reality programming that soon started streaming from the Game Station thanks to the Bad Wolf Corporation. As the trio rushes to rescue Rose from the finals of The Weakest Link, The Doctor is traumatized when he sees her disintegrated by the Anne-Droid. But Harkness realizes that the disintegration beam was actually a teleporter and in finding Rose, The Doctor, Lynda and Jack discover who has been manipulating the human race for hundreds of years!
Outside the climax of the episode, when The Doctor vows to rescue Rose Tyler at all costs, “Bad Wolf” is generally light on character and it actually has The Doctor separated from Rose. Without Rose, The Doctor latches onto the nearest woman in whom he sees potential and Lynda seems to represent that to him. The Doctor flirts with Lynda and reaches for her hand the way he reached for Rose’s at the beginning of the season. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, the character of The Doctor has a wonderful moment, compliments of Lynda, where he realizes that he is responsible for the downfall of Earth. The Doctor’s entire way of living is called into question and, for a moment (at least), it actually shakes him. The Doctor is unsettled until he sees who is behind manipulating the human race and when he resolves to rescue Rose, his strength is impressive. That moment illustrates the love that the fans so tout.
The acting in “Bad Wolf” is good, though both leads go through the exact same emotional journey. Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper laugh off their character’s predicaments until they discover the lethal consequences of the games in which they are participating. How The Doctor and Rose go from jocular to serious and afraid plays off only because Eccleston and Piper have exceptional range.
“Bad Wolf” is a great example of what Doctor Who can do best: the episode starts as goofy and transitions into something serious, smart, and somewhat menacing. The idea that humanity has been manipulated through television by an alien force is an interesting one and it is well-executed in “Bad Wolf.” The idea that episodes like “The Long Game” have serious consequences to the psyche of The Doctor is an engaging one as well. That The Doctor’s somewhat flighty way could lead his protected species to harm is one that grounds the character in a way that the sometimes goofy incarnation of The Doctor fails to connect.
Ultimately, “Bad Wolf” is a set-up episode for the first season finale and it is a fractured lead-in to the climactic finale. It’s worth the investment, but it is not a truly remarkable episode on its own.
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sole season with the Ninth Doctor here!
For other penultimate episodes of shows that are truly just set-ups for the finales, please visit my reviews of:
“In The Cards” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“Ragtag” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
“Life Matters” - True Blood
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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