?ou Are The Weakest Link?/i>

I?l admit it – I was a little bit worried about ?ad Wolf? I was worried about the resolution of the whole ?ad wolf?thread which has run throughout the entire series. Conspiracy theorists in DOCTOR WHO fandom have spent many a happy hour at their keyboards pondering the significance of these constant references throughout this dazzling new series. Would the resolution of this thread live up to expectations? Would it make any sense? And then there? the episode itself – ?ad Wolf? The omens were grim. As a TV viewer who fervently believes that reality TV is the one of the purest manifestations of evil ever to foist itself upon the world, I wasn? particularly looking forward to an episode of DOCTOR WHO which landed the Doctor in the Big Brother house, dumped Captain Jack into the robotic arms of Trinny and Susannah (about whom I know little save the fact that they appear to have no talent or purpose) and saw Rose facing off against the scariest creature of all – Anne Robinson as a death-dealing robot quizmaster. It all sounded a bit too smug and knowing, an episode over-reliant on here-today, gone-tomorrow sub-cultural icons for its dramatic thrust. Once again I? forced to hang my head in shame. Russell T Davies and his BBC Wales wizards have confounded me yet again and I?l eat my hat – in fact, every item of headgear I own – if ?ad Wolf?wasn? the most visually arresting and downright pulsatingly exciting episode of DOCTOR WHO in this or – wait for it – any other year. ?ad Wolf?was the quintessence of modern DOCTOR WHO and quite a bit more besides.

The Doctor and his little gang find themselves ripped out of the TARDIS by a powerful transmat beam (note how the new series is now happily using this familiar SF short-hand without batting an eyelid) and deposited back at Satellite 5, where the Doctor and Rose battled the Jagafress back in ?he Long Game?one hundred years previously. Separated from one another each of the travellers find themselves cast as contestants in grisly futuristic versions of familiar ghastly reality/makeover shows – with deadly consequences for the losers. Realising Rose? life is at stake if she is declared the ?eakest link?the Doctor breaks free from the Big Brother house, is reunited with Jack (who has, satisfyingly, decapitated the Trinny and Susannah robots – bliss!) and sets off to Level 500 where they find out the blood-curdling truth about not only Satellite 5 but also the big bad wolf.

Stunning. As the series careers towards its conclusion next week, Russell T Davies has set aside his penchant for bodily function humour and cheap innuendo (for the most part) and set about crafting a solid, thrilling adventure with a very definite air of doom amidst the glamour and glitz of tacky modern entertainment. Those who, like me, were concerned by the ?eality TV?trappings will have revelled in the fact that these were largely peripheral to the main action in the last act, their importance relegated and sidelined as if to suggest that, even now, they?e really not important either as art or entertainment. The Doctor? disinterest in the antics in the Big Brother house, prior to discovering the true meaning of ?viction? is priceless. But there? actually much to enjoy in the reality segments; Rose in ?he Weakest Link? initially finding it all a bit of a giggle and then realising with abject horror that the stakes are life and death, Jack? amused banter with the Trinny and Susannah robots (cleverly designed to reflect their real-life?r…anatomical features), the Doctor? wry comments on the five-minutes-of-fame mentality of real life BIG BROTHER contestants. With all this nonsense swept away – and with the shock of the Doctor pointedly failing to rescue Rose from disintegration – the episode moves up a dramatic notch as the Doctor, Jack and Lynda from the ?ig Brother?house fight their way up to Level 500 and meet the power behind the throne of Satellite Five and the Doctor begins to unravel the mystery of ?ad Wolf?

Under the cover of solar flare activity the Controller – wired up to a bank of machines and totally under the thrall of some alien power – explains that she has been dropping ?lues?into the Doctor? life for some time, trying to forewarn him of the terrible apocalypse about to fall. The Doctor deactivates a cloaking signal – and a huge fleet of familiar circular spaceships appears. The Doctor realises with horror that his bitterest enemies, the Daleks, are back on masse, having somehow survived the last great Time War which he thought had wiped them out – and they?e advancing on Earth, having softened the population up by bombarding them with mindless TV trivia for generations. A warning to us all! In an episode ending which almost too exciting to bear, the Doctor discovers that Rose is alive, having been to teleported into the heart of the Dalek fleet for bargaining purposes. The Daleks prepare to launch their invasion of Earth and the Doctor, in a hair-raising display of brio and bravado, pledges to wipe them all out and save the life of Rose. It? edge-of-the-seat stuff in the purest sense and the visual effects which lead into the trailer for next week? episode, are nothing less than a masterstroke. The boys at the Mill FX house have done wonders in this series of DOCTOR WHO but here they have excelled themselves as the camera pulls back from Rose and her little cluster of Dalek captors, to show the full extent of the Dalek force – hundreds upon hundreds of Daleks, many of them in flight as we saw in the ?alek?episode, each of them chanting the Dalek credo of ?xterminate!?it? probably not the place of a review of ?ad Wolf?to comment on the highlights of next week? instalment, ?he Partings of the Ways?but there are visuals here which match – and even surpass – the very best on display in modern US space opera, whether it? on TV or on the movies.

It may look, from the rating I?e given ?ad Wolf?alone, that there? nothing wrong with this episode. This isn? the case; there are always niggles. But really this time it? pointless to criticise the odd misjudged piece of dialogue here or dodgy set-up there (Joe Ahearne directs the episode well but it? only towards the end that he gets the chance to show what he can do). This episode is the very distillation of the essence of the new DOCTOR WHO, craftily crossed with images torn out of the pages of old Dalek comic strips from the 1960s. But these images have been brought to life now, for the first time, and it? a joyless soul who won? have felt a very special thrill on seeing the gleaming 21st century Daleks back, en masse (to the accompaniment of the familiar heartbeat throb of the interior of their spaceship and a crafty recreation of the famous cliffhangar from the end of the first episode of the first Dalek serial way back in 1963, as a Dalek advances on Rose and we just see its sucker moving towards her as she screams) and as mean and twisted as ever we remembered them.

So we?e nearly at the end of the road. One more episode to go, not just for this series but for Christopher Eccleston (Bar a possible Christmas special – ed.) in the role he? so effortlessly made his own in just thirteen weeks. Sad as it is to see him go, we can all relax, safe in the knowledge that the work he? done in re-establishing DOCTOR WHO as, make no mistake about it, just about the most important show on British TV today, is very probably going to pay off for years to come. DOCTOR WHO 2005 has exceeded all my expectations and then some. ?ad Wolf? pure and simple, is a bona fide DOCTOR WHO classic. Is it Saturday yet???]]>

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