Bad Wolf was the twelfth episode of the first series of the revived series of Doctor Who and the first of the two-part finale. It featured a much larger Dalek presence than earlier in the series. It also re-introduced some Dalek concepts from the original run of Doctor Who, including Daleks made from human genetic material and a Dalek Emperor.
Narratively, this story marked the impending culmination of the Bad Wolf story arc. Until now, the Doctor had dismissed the cropping up of the phrase Bad Wolf across his travels, but was finally forced to acknowledge it as the precursor to a serious threat upon the universe when it unavoidably stared him directly in the face.
Worth noting here were the references made to human pop culture television entertainment at the time of this episode’s airing, such as Big Brother, The Weakest Link, and What Not to Wear, all given future adaptations far into human history with robotic stand-ins for the original hosts. Several guest voices were provided by their real world celebrity counterparts, Davina McCall, Anne Robinson, Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine.
Through careful subtext, this was the very first episode to mention the Torchwood Institute as a seemingly forgettable piece of trivia. Inconsequential for the moment, the word “Torchwood” took on greater meaning in the following series when the origins of the Institute were explored.
This story also explored how the Ninth Doctor’s apparently good deeds in The Long Game had actually resulted in a decline in the development of the human race. Like The Ark some forty years before, Bad Wolf was a rare instance of televised Doctor Who showing the consequence of the Doctor’s interference.
The Ninth Doctor wakes up, curled into a fetal position on the floor of a cupboard. He stumbles out in a daze, and is informed by a young woman, Lynda Moss, that his disorientation is due to the effects of the trans-mat. Lynda states that he has been chosen as the newest housemate. The Doctor looks around, noticing the cameras, and then a computerized voice requests that he report to the Diary Room. To his disbelief, he is in the Big Brother House, live on Channel 44000. The voice reminds him not to swear. Astounded and annoyed, the Doctor replies, “You have got to be kidding.”
Rose awakens on the floor of a darkened studio, also disorientated by the trans-mat that brought her there. A man, Rodrick, tells her to remember to do exactly what the android says. Rose asks what android, but a floor manager calls for people to take their positions behind very familiar looking podiums, one of which has her name on it. As the round-headed android is activated, Rose realizes that it is the “Anne Droid”; she is playing The Weakest Link.
Jack wakes up and finds himself faced with two gynoids, Trine-E and Zu-Zana, who offer to give him a brand new image, à la What Not to Wear. The two gynoids criticize Jack’s clothing and comment that his style is very 20th century. A “defabricator” strips him naked in preparation for a fashion makeover; Jack seems to rather enjoy the idea of being nude in front of millions of viewers and comments that the viewing figures just went up a result.
Meanwhile, the Doctor tries, unsuccessfully, to find a way out of the House using the sonic screwdriver. Lynda asks, nervously, if people on the outside watching like her and the Doctor lies, reassuring her that people think she is sweet, which seems to please her. The amnesia caused by the trans-mat starts to clear, and the Doctor remembers. The TARDIS had left Raxacoricofallapatorius and then visited Kyoto, Japan in 1336. They had just escaped from that, and were laughing in the TARDIS control room when a bright light, the trans-mat beam, came through the walls and enveloped them. The Doctor tells Lynda that no ordinary trans-mat beam could have penetrated the TARDIS, which means this is not just a game; there is something else going on. He tells the camera that he is going to get out, find his friends, then find whoever is responsible.
Two programmers, a man and a woman, who are watching the games from a control room elsewhere, are puzzled at the appearance of the three new contestants, as if the games are running themselves.
When eviction time comes around in Big Brother, housemate Crosbie is voted out, and she exits the House into a white corridor. At first, the Doctor is puzzled at everyone’s emotional reaction, but is horrified when he sees Crosbie disintegrated. The Doctor asks the others if getting on television is worth the risk of dying, but Lynda and Strood tell him they have no choice. The contestants in this era are chosen at random from the Earth’s population and trans-matted up to any of 60 Big Brother Houses playing simultaneously: winning simply means they get to live. The Doctor realizes that Rose was also caught in the trans-mat and is probably a contestant. To get out, he uses his sonic screwdriver to deliberately destroy the House camera in order to be selected for eviction.
In the makeover room, a naked Jack is quite enjoying his experience of having a makeover, but is now faced with the two androids who decide that, quite apart from the fashion makeover, that he should have a face-off — literally. With various cutting instruments, including a chainsaw, the two androids are about to perform some gruesome surgery. They suggest that Jack would look good with a dog’s head. But to the astonishment of Trine-E and Zu-Zana, Jack pulls out a compact laser deluxe pistol from an intimate hiding place behind him and promptly blows their heads off.
Soon the first round of The Weakest Link has been and gone and Rose, not being a native of the 2001st century, knows almost none of the answers to the questions pertaining to this time. She is more amused than upset at the situation, until she discovers that being declared the weakest link at the end of each round does not just result in expulsion, but disintegration by the Anne Droid. The contestants continue to be whittled down (one contestant quits and attempts to flee but is disintegrated), with Rodrick voting out everyone except Rose so that when it comes to the final round, he will win by answering questions that Rose cannot answer. He will then collect his prize, in the form of credits, courtesy of the Bad Wolf Corporation who run the Game Station. At the mention of the name, Rose recalls how the phrase “Bad Wolf” has been following them — from Gwyneth seeing it in her mind in 1869 Cardiff; the call sign of Henry van Statten’s helicopter; the Blaidd Drwg nuclear power plant; as graffiti on the side of the TARDIS in 2006; and a news channel on Satellite 5 in the 2001st century. She realizes that if the Bad Wolf is in charge, then her presence has been planned.
In the House, the Doctor cheerfully walks into the white corridor and waits as the countdown towards eviction ticks towards zero. However, nothing happens — the Doctor has guessed, correctly, that whoever brought him wants him alive. He uses the sonic screwdriver to open the exit to the House, and offers to take the surviving housemates with him. Strood refuses, but Lynda, after some hesitation, follows. The House is just one room of several opening onto a larger chamber, which the Doctor recognizes as that of Satellite 5, but a century later than when he was last there. The Doctor begins scanning the other doors, looking for an exit and asking where his friends could be. Lynda says they could have been transported into any of a hundred different games, all deadly. When the Doctor tells Lynda that he is a traveller, she asks if she could go with him. He smiles and agrees it would not be a bad idea, but right now, they have to concentrate on getting out and finding out who controls the satellite. When Lynda turns the lights on to reveal the logo of the Bad Wolf Corporation, the sight of it gives the Doctor pause.
In the control room, the two programmers decide to look at the trans-mat logs to see how the travelers got on board. However, the female programmer is refused entry to Archive Six, where the logs are kept. The Controller, a pale woman hooked up by dozens of cables to the station, tells her it is out of bounds. The Controller is constantly monitoring the transmissions that flow through her and muttering almost agitatedly to herself. The male programmer tells her about the new contestants wandering around outside the games and asks for security measures, but she denies them, insisting that the travelers are “no one” and telling them to return to work and alerting them to an impending solar flare.
Jack has converted the de-fabricator beam into a ray gun, and he goes in search of the Doctor, finding him by scanning for the Time Lord’s bicardial circulatory system. On an observation deck, Lynda fills the Doctor in on what has happened to Earth since his last visit. To the Doctor’s horror, instead of human development having got back on track, things have in fact become worse. When the Doctor shut down Satellite 5, all information broadcasts ceased, the whole planet froze, and society collapsed. Humans are still a race of mindless sheep, endlessly watching the programming that the Game Station transmits. Jack finds them as the Doctor frantically tries to access the computer system to find Rose. The Doctor explains that the station is transmitting more than just games, and that whatever the Bad Wolf is, it is manipulating him, creating a trap that Rose is still inside.
On Floor 407, the final round in The Weakest Link does not go well for Rose. She loses the round to Rodrick just as the Doctor, Jack and Lynda burst into the studio. When Rose runs towards the Doctor to warn him about the Anne Droid, it shoots Rose, turning her into a pile of dust. Numb with shock, the Doctor does not put up resistance when the guards arrive and take all of them away, despite Jack threatening Roderick and the floor manager. The Doctor remains silent when the guards process and interrogate the three of them, but when they are about to be transported to a lunar penal colony, the Doctor gives the word. He and Jack spring into action, knocking out the guards, grabbing weapons and heading up to Floor 500.
In the control room, Jack and the Doctor wave the weapons at the programmers, ushering them to one side. The Doctor demands to know from the Controller who is in charge and was responsible for killing Rose, but the Controller does not answer. The male programmer is nervous because of the large gun the Doctor is carrying, but the Doctor casually tosses him the weapon, saying he was never really going to use it. The male programmer explains that as the Doctor is not one of the staff, the Controller’s systems do not recognize him. The Controller was installed when she was five years old; she has been plugged in so long that her eyes have atrophied from disuse — all she sees is the programming. The male programmer also says that there is more going on at the station; unauthorized trans-mats and encrypted signals have been going on for years. Jack opens Archive Six, and finds the TARDIS inside. He goes into it and activates the console, discovering something that shocks him.
The predicted solar flare happens, and static floods the screens, blocking transmissions. The Controller unexpectedly calls for the Doctor, explaining that while the solar flare is happening, her “masters” cannot read her thoughts. They have been controlling her mind all her life, but she saw the Doctor in the transmissions and brought him here, hiding him inside the games so he could find her. However, she cannot tell the Doctor who her masters are, because she has been genetically altered to be unable to say their name. Her masters have been hiding and shaping the Earth for centuries, growing stronger in numbers, but they fear the Doctor. As the flare passes, Jack returns and tells the Doctor that the TARDIS worked out that the disintegrators were actually part of a secondary trans-mat system — people have not died, they have just been transported elsewhere, which means Rose is still alive.
Rose regains consciousness aboard an alien spacecraft, where a strange humming sound fills the background. She sees one of the inhabitants of the spacecraft approaching her, and she backs up against a wall in shock as she recognizes it, and cannot believe her eyes — she claims to have seen the creature, who presses its plunger-like hand to the wall, die. Back on the station, the Controller gives the Doctor the co-ordinates to where Rose had been transported, despite knowing that she will be revealing her subterfuge to her masters. As she shouts out the co-ordinates, the Controller is teleported away. Materializing on the same ship that Rose has been transported to, the Controller gloatingly tells her masters that they can kill her now, as she has brought about their destruction. She is promptly killed by an energy weapon.
On the station, the trans-mat beam is traced to a point at the edge of the solar system. Although the screen appears to show empty space, there is another signal, transmitted by the satellite, that is shielding what is actually there from detection. These are the same people who installed the Jagrafess nearly two centuries before and have been manipulating mankind for generations, playing a long game. The Doctor cancels the shielding signal and is greeted with an impossible sight — a fleet of two hundred Dalek flying saucers each containing more than two thousand Daleks, a force almost half a million strong. Both the Doctor and Jack thought the Daleks had all been destroyed, but obviously they somehow survived.
The Daleks open communications, with a lead Dalek ordering the Doctor not to intervene with the Dalek stratagem or they will exterminate Rose. To the Daleks’ surprise, the Doctor simply says no. When the lead Dalek demands an explanation, the Doctor defiantly tells them that he is going to rescue Rose from the middle of the Dalek fleet, save the Earth and then wipe every last Dalek out of the sky. The lead Dalek retorts that the Doctor has no weapons, defenses or plan. The Doctor agrees and knows that is exactly what is scaring the Daleks to death.
The Doctor tells Rose he is on his way, and cuts the transmission. The lead Dalek states the Doctor has initiated hostile actions, and the Dalek on the left orders the invasion of Earth to begin. Many more Daleks gather for the invasion, all chanting their battle cry: “Exterminate, exterminate, exterminate…”