“BAD WOLF” – Series 1, Episode 12, Story 167a – Written by Russell T Davies; Directed by Joe Ahearne – The Ninth Doctor, Rose, and Jack get transmatted off the TARDIS and into reality television programming. The Doctor becomes a houseguest on Big Brother, Rose ends up a contestant on The Weakest Link, and Jack finds himself on a show without a name, but it’s some kind of cross between What Not to Wear and Extreme Makeover that wind up with him getting naked. At first it’s all fun and games and then it’s all dangerous. There’s lots of running around and shouting and then Rose gets zapped to dust, which makes the Doctor get all righteously medieval with language on the mastermind of everything going wrong on Earth – which turns out to be the Daleks. Right. The Daleks are running reality programming. Can you say, “Dumb Idea?” Because You’re Going To Have To If You Watch This Mess.
There are two games that I used to like to play with my pals when we’d get stuck in a video rental store with time to kill. You’re welcome to play them, but you might want to do it quick because video rental stores will probably be gone before the replacement for Blu-Ray is introduced, and it’s less fun to play these games in a library, where people expect you to be quiet because somewhere in the building someone is lining up an important putt for birdie.
The first game you can play is the C. Thomas Howell Game. I just wasted 500 words typing it all out, which means it’s too big to be here, so I’ll save that for it’s own post later on. You’ll just have to wait.
The second game you can play is the Gene Shalit Game. The Shalit has the advantage over the C. Thomas in that it works perfectly well with any type of movie: big budget, straight-to-video, cable, foreign, porn. Heck, it works with almost anything – if it’s got a title, you can play the Shalit.
How does it work? Well, you just pick any title and then channel Gene Shalit, who is the kind of movie reviewer that always seems to find some cornball way to work the title of the movie into his review. It’s silly but harmless and I’m both paying homage and poking a little fun at those kind of headlines with the titling of my reactions to these DOCTOR WHO serials. I don’t like to act like this is life and death, ya know? It’s just television and even the dumbest DOCTOR WHO story ever told isn’t an affront to humanity – it’s just an affront to the time spent watching it. And honestly, I was probably eating dinner or popcorn while I was watching it, so even if I end up ranting and raving for a few minutes … well, popcorn makes me happy. (Flavor of the month: Cinnamon. I’ll send you the recipe.)
When you put an adjective in your title, or include any word that can be spun either positive or negative word: love, hate, fantastic, terrible, perfect, blue, etc., you’re just teeing it up for people playing the Shalit. Or, in Gene’s cast, living the Shalit.
So when an episode comes along entitled “Bad Wolf,” I mean, you know you’re going to get a review title that says something like, “BAD WOLF Is So Bad It’s Good!” or “BAD WOLF? Bad Episode.” It’s too easy. Heck, since BAD WOLF has the whole Weakest Link usage, I had to stop stop myself about six times from titling this reaction: “BAD WOLF, You Are the Weakest Link. Good-bye!”
By now, maybe you’re wondering if I’m going to get to the review of BAD WOLF.
I guess. I mean, I don’t have to, but I feel like I should. It’s just such a lame episode that I really don’t want to talk about it. Wait, that’s wrong. I’ll talk about it. I just don’t want to write about it. I’ve got better things to do – I’ve got Forbidden Planet sitting in a Netflix envelope in the next room and I’ve never seen it. There’s college football on the internet involving two teams I don’t care about (Texas Tech vs. SMU), but it’s college football so it doesn’t matter. I’ve got a dissertation to write. I’m dog-sitting a pooch with some of the worst runny craps I’ve ever seen and I should probably take him outside again. Seriously, his crap looks like warm soft serve ice cream coming out. Do you have any idea how hard it is to try to pick that up?
Why am I picking it up? It’s a $25 fine if I don’t.
That’s a fitting image to segue into talking about the second real stinkbomb of an episode of the relaunch. (WORLD WAR THREE was the first.) From start to finish, BAD WOLF struggles to work, starting silly and then turning serious and then turning borderline insulting.
It’s not a terrible idea to start an episode in the absurd and then end it in the deadly serious, but if you’re going to do that you need to either slowly ratchet up the tension or have a jarring shift, and BAD WOLF does neither. First, it’s absurd, then the Doctor and Jack laugh at danger while Rose is in a fight for her life, and then the two guys realize just how much trouble she’s in, and they arrive just to see her blasted into dust. Then the Doctor and Jack get arrested.
And then Russell Davies tells us, “I was just keeeeeeeeeding!”
Parts of it work, but only in separate parts.
The episode begins with each member of the TARDIS dumped into an absurd situation – reality TV. The Doctor gets dumped into Big Brother, Rose ends up on The Weakest Link, and Jack ends up on some kind of makeover show where two female robots dress and redress him like two girls playing with a Ken doll.
For the Doctor, being caught in the Big Brother House, where Lynda, “with a y,” another woman named Crosbie, and some idiot guy are all upset about the appearance of a new housemate/competitor when they’ve got an eviction coming up. I don’t care about the intricacies of house politics. I don’t care about Big Brother. There’s some humor wrung out of someone like the Doctor being placed on such a staged, manipulated game show, but then he finds out Crosbie’s “eviction” means “death by laser beam” and all the fun time is over. “Rose is out there,” he bleats like a sheep. He realizes he’s not going to be killed or else whomever transmatted him in could have killed him already, so he forces the show’s hand and escapes, taking Lynda With a Y with him.
What’s the point? If Davies just wants to be cute and have a bit of fun by putting the Doctor very much into the fabric of 2005 television, that’s cool, but do it in episode 4, not in the penultimate episode of the season. We’ve got some world saving and people dying to get to in a few minutes.
Is this supposed to be actual social commentary? I’m sorry, do people in England not realize these reality shows for what they are – trumped up game shows? (I’m not bagging on reality shows, but I’m not going to deny what they are, either.) I don’t think the English were sitting around waiting for DOCTOR WHO to inform them that reality shows aren’t real. I’m pretty sure they got that and still managed to enjoy them just fine.
Of course, in BAD WOLF, they’re very real, since you die when you lose.
Of course, in BAD WOLF, they’re really just kidding about that.
Unless you’re the Doctor, which begs the question why he’s even put here at all. Just so he can be jerked around? Nope, because the Controller (some woman who runs the Game Satellite by being plugged into the machines since she was a wee little lass) knows that her Masters fear the Doctor and so she brought him here to hide him in the games so he could find her.
In doing so, the Controller has rigged the game so that the Doctor isn’t in trouble, but because she’s a plot device, she doesn’t offer Rose and Jack the same protection. Instead, she allows Rose to be transmatted away, but instead of being transmatted to wherever the game show contestants are transmatted to, she’s transmatted to a Dalek command ship.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
Jack’s segment is the shortest but the most fun. Jack is all, “Lady robots, you want to take my clothes off and try out new outfits on me? Rock on.” Jack is totally into it, barely caring why or how he got here, and perfectly happy to cup the fake boobs of one of the lady robots. It’s pretty funny, and it’s made even funnier in that it’s a gag done in the background and not right up front because it’s a gag that, in actuality, would be pulled off in the background. Jack’s cupping one set of lady robot boobs while the other lady robot isn’t looking.
I’ve pulled that move off more times than I can count when it’s just me and two lady robots into makeovers.
The scene ends when they want to cut his face off, so a naked Jack pulls a gun out of his ass (literally) and shoots them, and that gag is a bit too cheeky. (Zing!)
Rose’s segment on The Weakest Link is the worst of the three. There is a literal groan-inducing joke – the diminutive, mean host has been replaced by an android, an “Anne-droid,” as Rose says. Rose treats it all like a lark until she realizes people get killed when they get voted the weakest link. It’s all just stupid, but then, so is Rose, so that means she gets to survive to the end because people aren’t going to vote out the dummy when there’s a chance they could play the dummy in the championship round.
Then Rose dies, which is also stupid, because she doesn’t really die, but will come back in a few minutes.
Just like the Daleks, who were all dead, and then one showed up, and then he was dead, and now there’s a whole bunch of them left.
Just like – well, we’ll get to that one next episode.
So the Doctor and the Daleks come face-to-face over an open video com-link and they’re all like, “Leave us alone or we’ll kill the girl,” and he’s all, “No,” and they’re like, “What?” and he’s like, “I’m going to save you, Rose, and save Earth, and wipe every Dalek from the sky, and I’m going to do it all before dinner,” and the Daleks are like, “you are so lying, Doctor, because you don’t have any weapons or defenses or plans,” and the Doctor gets all up in their plungers by telling them, “I know I don’t have any weapons or defenses or plans, and I know that scares you,” and the Daleks are like, “We hate you, poopy pants,” and the Doctor is like, “Come on, Jack, I’ve got a weapon, some defenses, and a plan,” and Jack is confused because, “you said you didn’t have any of those things,” and the Doctor tells him, “I was lying,” and Jack is like, “But you said they were scared if you didn’t have those things and it turns out you do, which means they’re really not scared of you, and, oh by the way, remember that I’m a time traveller, too, and I just want you to know Matt Smith says that speech better four years from now when he’s facing a whole fleet of alien monsters and not just the iron lungs over there,” and the Doctor is like, “Who’s Matt Smith?” and Jack tells him, “Don’t worry, he doesn’t make it with Rose,” and the Doctor breaths a sigh of relief and then Jack tells him, “because you locked her away in another universe with David Tennant and, really, it’s about the worst ending a companion ever got,” and the Doctor is all, “You never heard of what happened to Adric,” and Jack is like, “I did, actually. This is worse because you broke her heart by offering her up a copy of yourself, and dang, why couldn’t you give me a copy of yourself,” and the Doctor was going to say more but the show ran out of time.
What do you want? It’s a silly episode. There’s no tension, very little humor, and Davies tries to force an emotional impact by telling us that various people died and then undoing it. Telling stories involves the manipulation of emotions but what Davies does here is really amateurish – he’s not manipulating emotions as much as he is jerking them around. And, yeah, sure, we all knew Rose wasn’t dead and we all knew the Daleks really weren’t gone forever, but the way it’s done here isn’t done with much craft, at all.
I don’t mean to be too harsh on Davies as a writer beyond this story – I generally like his writing just fine, and this season has, by and large, been full of really good episodes, but the Ninth Doctor’s run is ending with dead engines and no brakes, careening down a big hill toward a very large rock.
BAD WOLF is just a bad episode.
Or, as Gene Shalit might tell us, “BAD WOLF was so bad it had me howling at the moon!”