‘Someone’s been playing a long game.’ The first of RTD’s season finales sets the tone for years to come, with an opening half packed with pop culture references leading to a cliffhanger that puts the whole Earth in danger. A crucial difference, though, it’s the Earth of 200,100 AD: it’s not Jackie or Wilf cowering down there as the skies fill with Dalek spaceships. It’s made relatable through Lynda (who might as well have been one of Rose’s colleagues, there’s no suggestion she’s a cyborg transhuman from Jupiter for example), but it’s still an unfamiliar, unvisited place, choked by the Great Atlantic Smog Storm and with a murderous approach to gameshows.
As the opening recap makes clear, it’s the second story in a row that explores the consequences of the Doctor’s actions earlier in the series. He might have overthrown the Jagrafess, but he didn’t stick around to check that time had been healed. This leads to the horrible realisation that, ‘I made this world’. The classic show tried this a couple of times (The Ark, The Monster of Peladon), but RTD seems to be obsessed by the idea: what does the Doctor leave behind? It’s a good hook for a show that’s building on the iconic legacy of a 1960s TV series, and I like that the Dalek spaceship sounds like it might have flown here straight from Kembel.
But this isn’t just nostalgia. The Weakest Link and Big Brother were iconic 21st Century series that remain recognisable properties (What Not To Wear has aged less well, and is the weakest bit of the episode). All the gameshows parodied already have a cruel, voyeuristic streak to them (it’s hard to see this working with The Masked Singer and Strictly Come Dancing), RTD plays with that, so you aren’t just the weakest link, you’re the deadest one too. Even the reveal that the contestants are teleported rather than disintegrated isn’t much comfort: the Daleks have been playing with human beings like toys before harvesting them for their own purposes.
None of this is particularly insightful: most people watching The Weakest Link for Anne Robinson’s mean put-downs knew the format encouraged people to vote off rivals and aim to come out on top. And the gameshow format means there’s time to kill going through the theatre of evictions and listening to RTD’s amusingly silly nuggests of future history (‘Which Icelandic city hosted Murder Spree 20?’). Luckily, it is very entertaining: ‘Oh my god: the Anne droid’; ‘She’s been evicted… from life’.
As the audience were already primed for the Daleks to return (from Boom Town’s Next Time if nothing else), much of this feels like enjoyable vamping as we wait for them to arrive. But it’s packed with brilliant moments: the Doctor stuck in the Big Brother house; the first mention of Torchwood; Barrowman’s reaction to seeing Rose’s jacket in the TARDIS; the Doctor’s face-off with the Daleks and ‘Rose, I’m coming to get you.’ If this isn’t enough to get you excited for the finale, you’re watching the wrong programme.
Next Time: The Parting of the Ways