The Parting of the Ways


The Dalek Invasion of Earth is beginning.

‘The Parting of the Ways’ is full of beautiful moments, but perhaps its most perfect moment comes quite early on, when the Doctor decides that there’s no easy way out of this mess, and tricks Rose into staying in the TARDIS while he sends it back to her time. The cut from Rose’s innocent trust in him, to his melancholy resignation was amazing.

All through this season, the Doctor has been haunted by his unrevealed actions in the Time War. Something he did in the final battle between the Daleks and the Time Lords seems to have wiped both races out. Since then, he seems to have lost his faith in himself and the universe. His incredulous joy at the end of ‘The Doctor Dances’ is telling; he just didn’t think that sort of victory was possible any more. Margaret Slitheen in ‘Boom Town’ hit the nail on the head: the Doctor thinks of himself as a killer. He’s trapped in the kill-or-be-killed nature of the universe, so stuck in the system that he can’t see a better way of doing things.

Rose has a new best friend, and a new life, but she’s coming to realise that she can’t be this new Rose as well as what she used to be. It hits home when she finds herself shunted back to her home, her new life of adventure suddenly over. Can she go back to what she was? Can she stay what she is now, back in this world of chips and TV?

Or is she fooling herself? That “Bad Wolf” turned out to be simply a reminder to Rose that just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not happening is both slightly underwhelming and perfectly simple.

Is the Doctor fooling himself? Is the doomsday solution the only way? His favourite species is about to be wiped out by his greatest enemy and all he can do is find a way to kill them both. As people die around him to give him the power to make a stand against the Daleks, he scuttles about, trying to create a weapon powerful enough to destroy everything. But once he’s holding it, the last creature standing before the insane Emperor, he begins to realise that there is more to life than a series of strategic retreats and painful compromises.

Coward or killer?

‘The Parting of the Ways’ is resolved by a huge deus ex machina, though since it’s one that’s been previously established, perhaps it’s not quite as bad. I certainly don’t care: a perfect story would fit both the emotional truth and the practical truth equally; this week is just slightly less than perfect. But when the Doctor’s saviour appears,1 the presentation more than makes up for the fact.

The whole story is a mix of joy and sadness. The Doctor and Jack’s triumphant rescue of Rose at the beginning is a joy, and to see the last of the Time Lords strut his stuff in front of the Daleks2 and their surviving Emperor is wonderful. But when they retreat into the TARDIS, and the Doctor presses his head against the doors, listening to the screaming of those bubbling lumps of hate, you know that things aren’t going to go as well as he crowed at the end of ‘Bad Wolf’.

Well, maybe they will, but he won’t plan it that way.

Jack has come a long way in his episodes, and it’s rather a shame that we seem to have missed a chunk of his development between ‘The Doctor Dances’ and ‘Boom Town’. It’s almost enough to get me to buy the three upcoming books set in that gap. Here, he’s a better man than he could have been without the Doctor, and he knows it. His death is honourable and perfect, but not quite the best of the story: the Daleks may never have been as chilling as when they rise up in space behind Lynda and scream at her soundlessly.

At the end, even when victory has been snatched from the jaws of defeat, there has to be a price. This time it’s the Ninth Doctor’s life. Over the season we’ve seen that beneath the gruff exterior and the leather jacket, there’s a happy, loving, goofy alien scarred terribly by his history. In ‘Parting of the Ways’, he finally steps out from the shadow of his past and chooses a different path. And then, dies, as all good heroes have to do, sooner or later.

But death can’t stop the Doctor.3

  1. And it’s Rose with TARDIS glowiness! But how many parts Rose is talking, and how many parts TARDIS? I’d like to think it’s about a fifty fifty split, just because if anyone should get to say “My Doctor”, it should be the TARDIS. Even though there’s a close up of the words “POLICE BOX” when he sends Rose away, it’s easy to forget that he’s sending away two of his best friends at this point.
  2. But what’s up with the Daleks? I was left unsure of the point of their sudden turn to religion, given that for the rest of the story they pretty much do exactly what your garden variety Daleks would do. Still, it’s a good scene: “Nul Points!”
  3. I’ve always been amused by the similarities between the Bond films and Doctor Who, so it was especially endearing to see the caption in the credits “DOCTOR WHO WILL RETURN IN THE CHRISTMAS INVASION”.
I want you safe -- my Doctor. — Rose

7 Responses to “The Parting of the Ways”

  1. I’d just like to point out that this review marks a Grapefruit record: Doctor Who is the first TV show to have ever had an entire season reviewed here. Although Buffy came close in season seven. And it has an advantage, only having 13 episodes and not 22.

    But the point stands.

  2. What? I want the entire season reviewed on Grapefuits merit badge too. I’ll review them right here:

    701: Crap702: More Crap.

    There done. The entirety of season seven.

  3. That’s not nearly long enough. You didn’t get away with a one paragraph review, don’t you remember?

  4. I feel self-conscious every time I use the word “Incidentally” to start a grapefruit comment these days. I blame Jackson. He ruined the word for the rest of us.

    Anyhow: a fellow called Philip Purser-Hallard did a talk on Doctor Who at a Christian convention recently. Obviously it’s from a Christian perspective but it’s still quite interesting. Anti-subtext people may take issue with some points…

  5. Good article. Subtext is great if you are pointing it out for the sake of interest or mitigate it with words like “arguably”.

    Philip Purse isn’t being judgemental, he’s just putting things out there for discussion. I like him. He makes some interesting points.

    Lawrence Miles just pissed me off because he got so angry and used a possible interpretation to attack.

  6. Anger can turn one into a tool of the dark side of the force. Or sometimes, just a tool. I’m surprised how much analysis season one can stand. I’m not saying it’s super-duper literature or anything but it definitely stands some scrutiny, and ties together very well. Can’t wait for the DVDs/christmas special/next season/that teeny children in need special.

    Purser-Hallard is a clever fellow. He’s written various acclaimed Who spin-off books which I haven’t read. Perhaps they’ll have a Torchwood range of novels that he can write for. They seem to be happy with their small group of writers for the slightly kid-friendly official Who novels.

  7. Incidentally, I haven’t ruined any word for anybody.