Shiny Shelf

Doctor Who: The Parting of the Ways

By Mark Clapham on 21 June 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

It shouldn’t actually be surprising to see Russell T Davies confound expectation again with his finale to this season of ‘Doctor Who’. With Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor making his exit in battle with a huge army of Daleks, any Joe Fanboy could have crayoned the obvious route for the episode to take – the Daleks close in, the Doctor activates doomsday weapon to blow up the Daleks, crispy fried Doctor staggers out of the wreckage and says goodbye to Rose. Cue Casanova.

For a while, that seems the way it’s going to go – big war, big sacrifice, typical season finale. But this is Davies, a writer who goes for the emotional core over the grand set-piece, and this is ‘Doctor Who’ for early evening, family audiences. As such, ‘The Parting of the Ways’ departs from action movie logic in its last ten minutes, and works its way towards an optimistic, less tearful end.

Cleverly, Davies does this by moving the Doctor’s decision to sacrifice himself and send Rose to safety to fairly early in the episode. When Rose views the Doctor’s preset holographic message to her, we get all the tears of this Doctor acknowledging his forthcoming death out of the way.

With Rose back in her own time with the TARDIS, and the Doctor and Jack fighting to destroy the Daleks in the future, the episode begins to shift in an interesting direction. While the Doctor finds that he is not willing to push the button that will destroy the Daleks (but take Earth with them), Rose rejects the Doctor’s sacrifice by putting herself in danger to save him. This gets to the heart of this season – the Doctor may not be able to solve all the problems, but his influence encourages the human characters to become better than they are. Rose risks everything to save the Doctor, and in the process does what he cannot – unravelling the unhappy, self-hating Daleks without destroying humanity with them, and reviving the recently exterminated Jack.

Of course, the power Rose has harnessed is too much for her, so the Doctor has to make one last big gesture. It all comes down to these two characters, the Doctor and Rose, and the kiss that relieves Rose of her burden. It’s a cathartic moment: she has saved the world, relieving him of the burden of responsibility he’s felt since the Time War, and in return he saves her life. The energies he takes into his body in the process may be fatal, but unlike Rose he can’t really die. He’s ready to let go of his shellshock and be reborn.

Which brings us to the end, which is not a time for sadness. The old Doctor may pass on, things may change, but the Doctor, and the series, goes on. Eccleston plays his last scene wonderfully, reassuring Rose and trying to ease her through the process as he almost doubles up in pain. His last words, telling Rose that she’s been ‘fantastic’, end this troubled but optimistic Doctor’s tenure on a suitably life affirming note.

Then he’s gone, and we get a few precious seconds of David Tennant as the new Doctor, followed by a James Bond-style ‘Doctor Who will return…’ caption. Among the huge body count and painful transitions, Davies and co manage to deliver a fun ending that leaves the audience buoyed up and wanting more. Much more.

They’re going to get it. Aiming squarely at a family audience starved of television that’s dramatic and imaginative, Russell T Davies and his team have made ‘Doctor Who’ the blended essence of a million long childhood Saturdays, fun and adventure and excitement and an endless story that has no ending, only pauses and transitions. After all, there’s always the next weekend, another planet, another time. Finality has no place here.

Audiences have bought into this vision in a way unseen since the early 1960s, when the Doctor and the Daleks first captured the public imagination. With the general public on board, a series that couldn’t be killed by sixteen years off the air seems more invincible than ever…

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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