In the nine series of modern Who, seven finales have had more than one part. To me there appears to be a trend that the first part normally trumps the finale itself. This is probably because of all the hype surrounding the finale and nothing could possibly meet the expectations set by the previous episode. However series one’s “The Parting of the Ways” was different. Along with “The Big Bang” it’s my favourite finale of the modern era and those two episodes are the two finales that I think top the first part of the story.
Christopher Eccleston was leaving and David Tennant was coming in to be the tenth Doctor. Everyone who followed the show knew this before the episode aired. Watch the episode without previous knowledge though and you’d have no idea it was a regeneration story, and that’s partly what makes it so good. The story is not swamped by talk of the Doctor’s impending death and it’s a good old fashioned Doctor versus Daleks battle. In his short tenure Eccleston delivered several great performances. This was in his top three along with “Dalek” and “The Doctor Dances”.
The opening part when the Doctor faced the Emporer Dalek on the Dalek’s ship was stunning. The ninth Doctor’s hurt from the Time War really showed when he got back into the TARDIS as Eccleston transmitted the hate the Doctor had for the Daleks perfectly. It was one of the darker episodes for the ninth Doctor but the balance between his happy-go-lucky, bouncy self and his protruding inner darkness was written expertly by Russell T. Davies. We got just enough moments to make us smile and remind us the ninth Doctor was there, but we were still treated to some intense moments of hate and passion from the last of the Time Lords.
The concept of the episode was brilliant too. Some Daleks had survived the Time War and the Emporer was breeding more, taking humans who seemingly wouldn’t be missed and turning them into Daleks. This was a strong idea as Planet Earth was in ruin after the Doctor’s last visit to Satellite Five. The delta wave that the Doctor was going to transmit to kill all life forms was another good idea. It landed the Doctor with an intriguing dilemma, killer or coward. Similar to “Genesis of the Daleks” in Tom Baker’s era, the Doctor was faced with the potential opportunity to commit genocide. However the big difference here was that humans would be wiped out too. When the Doctor declared he’d rather be a coward any day, his character had come full circle. Rose had helped heal him from the Time War. If he had the chance to kill the Daleks in episode one of the series, he would have taken it without even thinking. However the time he spent with his companion had helped him develop a more compassionate side, and although still keen to rid the universe of the Daleks, he wasn’t prepared to kill all of mankind to do so. It would have been better to see this development take place over a longer time frame than one series, but as Eccleston was leaving, it was the perfect way for his Doctor to bow out. We had viewed the Doctor go from a fighter and somebody not afraid to make bold decisions to somebody who had learned that innocent lives aren’t worth sacrificing to destroy evil. This is why Rose Tyler was a better companion for the ninth Doctor than the tenth. She had helped the Doctor get over what he did in the Time War and that was proven here.
The final scene where the ninth Doctor regenerates is another reason to love this episode. It’s understated, dignified and in good spirit, everything that summed up this incarnation. It wasn’t drawn out or overly emotional, but it fitted why the ninth Doctor was the right Doctor for that time in the show’s history.
Overall “The Parting of the Ways” is a finale that hasn’t been topped since. Everything made sense and it’s an episode that’s very hard to nitpick or fault. The Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack were all on top form and epitomised everything good about each of their characters. The supporting cast were also likeable and even the Daleks carried a threat, something they’ve been lacking in the modern series. It was an action packed, thought provoking and fitting ending for the “fantastic” ninth Doctor.