– Oh, no one’s ever told me that before. Am I sweet? Really?
– Yeah. Dead sweet.
Before we start, please take a short break and look at the “Supporting the author” page. Gondor calls for aid! Will you answer? If you like this weblog and want it to continue, please consider one of the ways to help. I am very close to finishing Series 1 and deciding what to do next, and I won’t lie to you – I counted on more support than what I got so far, which is (almost) zero.
And now let’s get back to the regular program.
I think that Bad Wolf is not one of these episodes which “start with an earthquake and work up to a climax”. It starts really slowly (at least for me) and only gets to speed at the very end. It’s the first half of a two-parter, so it is somewhat justified, but it still leaves me wanting just a bit more.
That does not mean I don’t like it. It’s still pretty good, and there’s definitely quite a few things it does well. Still, no really many life lessons here. Jack is (sort of) back to being a jerk (even if a funny one), Rose does almost nothing except being zapped, Lynda with a Y is sweet, but not much more, and the Doctor – well, the Doctor is the Doctor, as spoiler for series 5River Song once put it. But you know what? Not everything has to be a life lesson. Some things can be just fun and not much more. So, let’s see what funny (or just interesting) things we have in Bad Wolf, and what kind of reflections can be triggered by it.
I don’t have much to say about the Controller besides the fact that the poor woman had a horrible life. As usual, the way to show how disrespected someone is, the writers decided to explicitly tell us that she doesn’t even have a name. Well, it’s even worse than that. When asked about her name, Davitch Pavale (who, by the way, is introduced using his full name) says that “she was installed when she was five years old”. I don’t know about you, but in my culture a child gets a name way before reaching five years. And imagine what a five-year-old kid might think and feel being “installed” in a big computer and only allowed to work for the Bad Wolf Corporation? Or rather, don’t imagine this, I don’t really want you to have nightmares like this…
Apparently, the only joy she had in all these years was when she finally defied her “masters”. The moment when she exclaims “you can kill me, for I have brought your destruction” with visible satisfaction gives me shivers. I already mentioned that killing in self-defence is something that is widely considered acceptable (and rightly so), but this is a wholly another level. Shouldn’t self-defence be but a sad reality and not a pleasure? I would say yes in general, but there’s an important distinction to be made here. Satisfaction from killing is one thing, but satisfaction from the fact that someone is no longer suffering is another one. And I am fully willing to give the Controller the benefit of the doubt and accept that she was not ecstatic because of the killing itself, but because she managed to bring an end to humanity’s suffering.
Neither the first nor the last person to sacrifice her life in Doctor Who. Interestingly, the Controller was not inspired by the Doctor – quite the opposite, she knew about him and consciously brought him to help.
Of course, the antagonists deserve at least a short mention here, mainly because of some clever foreshadowing. For most people, the revelation of “the masters’” identity was a genuine shock. That does not mean that there were no hints! Some of them were pretty obvious, but also pretty close in time to the actual reveal. Some were a bit more subtle – for example, if you look closely at Trine-E and Zu-Zana, they move in a very Dalek-like fashion. But the best one was there right in the beginning of the episode. When the Doctor lands in Big Brother, the decor on the walls consists very clearly of rows of Daleks bumps! (Here’s a fun fact. While writing this post, I showed those to my daughter who watched Bad Wolf with me some two years ago, and she told me that she noticed them then but just dismissed the thought of the Daleks being the villains!)
Previously, one Dalek terrified a small army. This doesn’t look good…
Lynda with a Y
Well, what can I say? As I mentioned in the intro, Lynda (with a Y!) is sweet, and the Doctor (and the audience, I guess) would love her to become a companion. What I liked best about her character was probably one moment. At some point she asks, “Who are you though, Doctor, really?” – and it perfectly mirrors Rose’s “Really, though, Doctor. Tell me, who are you?” from Rose. A subtle but very nice call-back. Also, the exchange after that moment:
– It doesn't matter.
– Well, it does to me. I've just put my life in your hands.
is a very nice reminder (for the Doctor, not for the audience) that he really shouldn’t think that “the entire world revolves around him”.
Finally, her flirting with the Doctor (“– So, I could come with you? – Maybe you could. – I wouldn't get in the way. – I wouldn't mind if you did.”) and then with Jack (– I was just saying hello! – For you, that's flirting. – I'm not complaining.) was sweet.
She’s sweet. spoiler for series 1How do you think it impacts her chances for survival?
As for Jack, let’s recall to the old rule that if you can’t say something nice about someone, just be quiet instead, and make the paragraph about him really short. I really didn’t like Jack in this episode. For starters, the whole “defabricator” scene was more embarassing than funny. Then, he acted completely out of his character when he said “Well, ladies, the pleasure was all mine. Which is the only thing that matters in the end” – I mean, it would be in character three episodes ago, but he was supposed to undergo some growth in the meantime and not be back to his selfish jerk persona. And finally, I found his flirting with everyone he meets much less funny than (apparently) intended.
Does that mean that I hated everything about Jack in Bad Wolf? No, it’s not that bad. One scene I really liked was when the Doctor just says “let’s do it”, and he and Jack quickly overwhelm the guards. I loved how they knew each other well enough not to need any more coordination.
The Doctor gets numb, but Jack gets furious when Rose is shot – one of the few moments in this episode when he is not a jerk
Rose was also clearly not at her best here. Her constant nervous laughter during the “Weakest Link” was understandable but annoying. And I hated the fact that she didn’t stop playing nor protested when she found out what happens with people who lose – she only started protesting when her life was on the line. I don’t blame her – she was under enormous stress etc. – but I felt it was very inconsistent with how she usually acted.
Look ma, I’m on tv, it’s so much fun!
And finally, the shows themselves. I think they were one of the reasons Bad Wolf didn’t work very well for me. When I watched it, I knew about Big Brother, though I’ve never watched a single episode, and I had no idea that shows like The weakest link and What not to wear even existed. I can only assume they were instantly recognizable for British viewers at the time, and the fact that the real hosts voiced the robots running them in the episode must have been a very cool thing and an important part of the appeal of Bad Wolf.
One thing that probably deserves a mention here is the prize people got for winning the shows. When the Doctor asks about it, Lynda tells him what the prize is – the winners “get to live”. Not only is this unusually kind on the part of the Daleks, but it’s also a nice reminder that life is a gift everyone of us should be thankful for!
“She’s been evicted from life”, the most cheesy line of the most cheesy episode of Series 1
As usual, there were lots of nice details in the episode that may not be important or deep, but I liked them anyway. For example, during The weakest link, the Face of Boe (as well as the spoiler for series 2Torchwood Institute) gets a mention. Arnold “I’ll be back” Schwarzenegger apparently became the president of the U.S.A. (which, frankly, is hilarious). When Lynda asks the Doctor how he can be 100 years old and look that good, he answers that he moisturizes. The confusion of the contestants on The weakest link when they have no idea how to answer the questions – did you know that it was genuine, because the questions were intentionally mixed up so that they didn’t get the ones they had in the script? The bit when the Doctor first brandishes a huge gun and then casually tosses it to Pavale (who is not even strong enough to be able to keep it for more than a few seconds) is both a reminder of the Doctor’s “no gun” policy and how he feels completely in control and is not afraid of being shot at all. The fact that when Jack finds the T.A.R.D.I.S., we can see him opening it with a key – which means that the Doctor must have trusted him enough to give it to him. The reaction of the Doctor to the “Nuremberg defense” (“we’re just doing our jobs”) invoked by the woman in charge of the shows. I loved it when the Controller said that her “masters” “monitor transmissions but they don't watch the programmes” – apparently, even Daleks have some stanards and do not watch Big Brother! ;-) The Doctor’s laughter when Jack finds out that Rose was not killed. The first time in Doctor Who when the “deadlock seal” was mentioned. And of course the whole scene with the Daleks. Even though I’ve seen it countless times, the Doctor’s grin and tone when he reacts to the Dalek telling him “I will talk to the Doctor” were priceless.
– I will talk to the Doctor.
– Oh, will you? That’s nice. Hello!
Last but not least
One more thing that stood out for me in this episode is when the Doctor realizes that the dire situation of the humanity is the consequence of his actions a hundred years ago. I can hear a distant echo of Blon Fel-Fotch’s words that he’s “always moving on because [he] dare[s] not look back”. This time the Doctor was forced to look back, and he didn’t like what he saw… This raises a tough question: how often him saving the day results in some unfortunate outcomes? He doesn’t really know, and in fact neither do we…
Oh, my, I made this world…
This scene, however, has also a positive side, which is probably the most important (for me) piece of wisdom I take away from the whole episode. We never know all the results of our actions, but that is not something we need to take into account when solving moral dilemmas. Of course, certain implications are more or less obvious. If you drink and drive, you can – and should – expect very bad things to happen, and therefore it is morally wrong to drink and drive. But what if you save a drowning kid and then, ten years later, that kid grows up to be a serial killer? Are you partially responsible for his murders? My common sense says no, and I think common sense is right. The reason is obvious – you couldn’t have known that.
Still, there are cases which are not clear-cut, where you actually can know that something wrong may – or even will – result from your action. Here’s one of my favorite examples. Imagine you live in a country whose government does immoral things. (Admittedly, not a very far-fetched hypothesis – but let’s assume they are really bad things, like killing innocent people.) This means that when you pay your taxes, you are in fact financing evil deeds. Imagine that you can avoid paying some tax. Should you? May you? It is definitely not an easy question. I don’t have an answer I’d be fully satisfied with, but here’s my tentative one I hope is correct. First of all, you don’t commit wrong if you pay. It’s like when you buy bread. What if the baker is spending the money he earns from you on evil things? Are you morally required not to buy from him? It may be a good thing to buy somewhere else, but I’m not sure it’s something anyone is required to do, at least not usually. (On the other hand, when the baker advertises his business using the fact that he donates some percentage of his earnings to an organization promoting some evil agenda, I would strongly advise to find another one. But what to do if most bakers in your town do the same? Sadly, situations not unlike this can be pretty real nowadays…)
On the other hand, if it is not our duty to avoid paying the tax, is it our right? (Of course, I’m only interested in “duties” and “rights” in the moral, not legal sense.) Again, I would hesitate before saying “yes”. One problem I have with saying that is that it is a slippery slope. What if the government is mostly ok but sometimes does wrong things, or does slightly wrong things, or sometimes does slightly wrong things? Where to draw the limit? The temptation to move the goalposts so that you not paying becomes acceptable may be too strong, and if not paying taxes becomes a common stance, we can end up in anarchy. I would definitely suggest that any moral justification for not paying taxes should be something really, really strong and extraordinary, best consulted with someone who does not have any interest in answering the issue this or that way. (And of course, the taxes being too high is generally not a satisfying justification, unless they are high enough that survival becomes a problem – much like the situation we discussed a few weeks ago.)
What are your thoughts about it? Am I right? Am I wrong? Why? Let me know, and see you in two weeks!