When Doctor Who was brought back to the screens by Russell T Davies there was much excitement about the introduction of a running thread throughout the series. People began to spot that the phrase ‘Bad Wolf’ was appearing in each episode whether it be a graffiti scrawled on the side of the TARDIS or the code name for Henry van Statten’s helicopter.
The big question was, what did it mean?
This proved to be such a success that the same tactic was repeated in the following seasons. Clues would be dropped that would ultimately be paid off in the final adventure, showing how everything was connected.
Even in the current regime the reoccurring cracks helped to create a sense of escalating tension. At the time of writing the current season of Dr Who is teasing us with numerous elements, including the Silence and the Patch wearing lady who keeps appearing to Amy.
Just how successful are these arcs? Do they improve the stories and are they even a necessary part of Dr Who?
The best bit of any cryptic plot arc is the anticipation. The weeks of speculating and sharing theories can never match the eventual revelation. The Bad Wolf plot arc suffers the most because of this.
Russell T Davies has admitted that when he first introduced Bad Wolf he had no idea what it was all going to mean. If you listen to the commentary on the dvd for ‘Parting of the Ways’ you can hear him struggle to explain it.
In short the words Bad Wolf kept appearing to the main characters because Time Rose used her TARDIS infused powers to send the name of the company who made the space station throughout time and space.
She did this because her past self would see those same words on her council estate and realise that they were linked to events on the space station, giving her the incentive to return to the Doctor and in doing become infused with time powers.
The problem is that Bad Wolf is essentially meaningless. If the company had been called ‘Paradise Reach’ those words would have appeared everywhere. Their only importance was in making Rose try to get back to the Doctor.
Since the words were sent by Time Rose she should know where her past self would see the words yet in many episodes Rose and Doctor are unaware of their presence. Examples include the words written on the side of the bomb in ‘The Doctor Dances’ or written on a poster in 1986 in ‘Father’s Day’.
Bad Wolf even appeared in an episode of Torchwood ‘Captain Jack Harkness’ where neither the Doctor or Rose were present and for them the threat had already passed. This occurrence makes it even clearer that the stated purpose of sending the words through time is dubious.
As a phrase ‘Bad Wolf’ is full of menace. During the build up there was much speculation of what the Bad Wolf was and were the frequent mentions of it a warning to the Doctor? Even the situations in which the words appeared seemed to have great meaning.
During ‘The End of the World’ the Moxx of Balhoon suggests that the situation on Platform One is a classic Bad Wolf scenario. Were the words ‘Bad Wolf’ just inserted over what he had originally said by Time Rose?
The Moxx could have been making a reference to what occurred on Satellite 5, since that would be in his past, but it is difficult to see the parallels. Could it instead refer to another significant event and if so what?
In ‘The Unquiet Dead’ Gwyneth looks into Roses’s mind and says ‘The things you’ve seen..the darkness….the Big Bad Wolf.”
In retrospect this could be Gwyneth catching a glimpse of Roses’s future. At the time it seemed to suggest that the Bad Wolf was linked to darkness, something which Rose had witnessed.
Even after the apparent meaning of the phrase has been resolved the next season again makes a link between the Bad Wolf and Rose. In ‘Tooth and Claw’ a real werewolf is on the loose (or he alien equivalent) and comments that there is something of the wolf about Rose.
What are we to make of this implication that Rose and Bad Wolf share a link, other than she was the one to send the words. Both suggest that Bad Wolf is a thing, an entity, rather than just a randomly chosen combination of words.
The wolf appears in many tales of folklore that are still with us today. In ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ and ‘Three Little Pigs’ the wolf is a beast driven by hunger. It consumes all in its path.
In ‘Three Little Pigs’ houses straw and stick fall before the the wolf and in ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ it displays cunning, disguising itself as Riding Hood’s grandmother after he has swallowed her whole.
In the latter story even cutting open the wolf to free those he has consumed isn’t enough to kill it. Instead his body is filled with stone and when he goes to a well to drink he falls into the water and drowns.
Bad Wolf devours its enemy, is cunning and full of deceit. It can’t be killed, only trapped. Does such a being exist? One so terrible that it has permanently imprinted itself upon our consciousness?
Could the Bad Wolf be Fenric from ‘The Curse of Fenric’? It is entirely possible that he was not truly destroyed and the Time War allowed him once again to pit his wits against the Doctor. Is so then Rose might be one of his wolves, explaining the link that others sensed within her. A pawn that could be manoeuvred close to the Doctor and even gain the power of the TARDIS.
Bad Wolf became a watch word for danger. Although it didn’t warn the Doctor and Rose what they were going to find on Satellite 5 it gained a new significance. When the words appeared everywhere in ‘Turn Left’ the Doctor knew that things were about to get apocalyptic.
It also left a legacy upon the series. People liked following the clues. It was a small background detail that could be introduced into a story without disrupting the plot. Those who liked to get involved could seek out the hidden phrase while casual viewers didn’t even notice that something was happening.
Unsurprisingly the plot arc returned time and time again, each season becoming something slightly different. Next time we’ll be looking at the introduction of Torchwood into the 2006 season.