Shiny Shelf

Doctor Who: Bad Wolf

By Eddie Robson on 11 June 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

This week, Britain’s finest TV critic Charlie Brooker pondered whether the rather arch concept of this episode had been included to specifically annoy a certain kind of ‘Doctor Who’ fan. Although Russell T Davies quite rightly has his mind focussed on the wider reception of this series, it’s hard to believe that he wasn’t chuckling with glee when he imagined the reaction of some fans to an episode that begins with Doctor Who waking up in the Big Brother house.

Yes, some fans will loathe this episode. They’ll regard it as a gimmicky cheapening of the series. ‘WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE MAGIC OF DOCTOR WHO?’ they will cry. But, in its refusal to put boundaries on what ‘Doctor Who’ can be, ‘Bad Wolf’ is the so-called ‘magic’ of the series. It’s this season’s equivalent of 1966’s comedy western, ‘The Gunfighters’, and I’ve always loved the fact that ‘Doctor Who’ is a sci-fi show where one week they decided to do a comedy western.

It’s not a question of what you do but whether you do it well. I was a little cautious about ‘Bad Wolf’, not because I didn’t think ‘Doctor Who’ could do an episode spoofing some reality/game shows but because I wasn’t sure whether this could be worked into a gripping story. Well, I was duly gripped. In ten years’ time when BBC4 does a retrospective of Davies’ work, this is the ‘Doctor Who’ episode they’ll show.

The use of modern TV formats in a 2,001st-century setting isn’t as incongruous as it might initially seem: even if Channel 4 decided that this year’s ‘Big Brother’ would be the last, do you really think some bright spark won’t revive it in ten or twenty years? If nothing else, the return of ‘Doctor Who’ has shown that simple, popular formats can always be revived. (Kudos, incidentally, to Endemol for permitting use of the genuine logo and theme tune, thereby avoiding a repeat of the situation when ‘Only Fools and Horses’ had to come up with a weak facsimile of ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?’)

The insertion of the Doctor, Rose and Jack into the games is logically done and via a series of pull-back-and-reveal moments an apparently trivial story becomes a massive great life-or-death one. This is high-calibre screenwriting. It’s not flawless – although Jack’s ‘What Not To Wear’ sequence is funny it doesn’t fit as well conceptually with the other games, and Rose is conspicuously left hanging around at the end of the episode when the Daleks should really kill her, or lock her up, or something – but as a fusion of the big-concept Davies of ‘The Second Coming’ and the fast, witty Davies of ‘Casanova’ it’s what I’ve been waiting to see from the new ‘Doctor Who’.

Last episode next week. Jesus. Can you believe it’s almost over already?

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By Eddie Robson

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