Since Doctor Who was revived in 2005, there have been 13 season finales. A number of them have been strong, cohesive conclusions, which have put a neat cap on the season. Some of them, less so.


Yet, to my mind, no finale from the Doctor Who revival, as of yet, has managed to top what Russell T Davies, Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper achieved in the very first NuWho finale - The Parting of the Ways.

To clarify - this does not include specials which feel like finales, such as The End of Time Part 2 or The Time of the Doctor. Nor does it mean The Parting of the Ways is the best episode of NuWho - it's not even the best episode in season 1 (*ahem, The Doctor Dances*).

But as a culmination to everything achieved in that excellent first season, as a satisfying resolution to established plot threads and a specular character piece, there is none better.

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David Tennant in new Doctor Who character poster 2023, using his sonic screwdriver
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Sure, there are competitors that run it close. Doomsday is a very strong contender, hitting all the right emotional beats, but the Genesis Ark proves narratively pointless and the Daleks v Cybermen premise is largely wasted.

Similarly, The Doctor Falls is an exceptional finale, an elegiac swansong for the Twelfth Doctor's tenure (one episode too early), but the two Masters concept is again wasted, and it doesn't quite match up to the promise of the penultimate episode, World Enough and Time.

There are other contenders for sure, but none manages to beat out The Parting of the Ways, first and foremost, because it is a story with exceptionally managed stakes.

One of the reasons it is able to do this is because of a perfectly pitched cliffhanger from the ending of Bad Wolf, which mounts of the tension but doesn't go overboard.

Doctor Who: The Parting of the Ways
Doctor Who: The Parting of the Ways. BBC

So many finales fall down because the cliffhanger set the stakes too high - think about Journey's End and its explosive regeneration which could only ever disappoint, fake out of not.

Or think of The Big Bang, which ended with the direst straights imaginable and the universe literally coming to an end, only for the next episode to swerve this entirely in a convoluted, slower-paced get-out.

Instead, The Parting of the Ways plays it simple, revealing the Daleks (let's ignore that spoilery trailer at the end of Bad Wolf) and Rose captured. The Doctor makes a classic, grandstanding speech, and tells her he's coming to get her. Cut to black.

A lesser finale would have ended moments later, when the Tardis is approaching the Dalek ship and is seemingly blown up with missiles, leaving the fate of The Doctor and Jack unknown. Instead, Davies knows this would only be a cheap fake-out, and ends in a way which teases the battle ahead, but doesn't hinge on a big reveal to come.

The stakes are also expertly managed because they feel real. As soon as The Doctor, Rose and Jack leave the Dalek ship, knowing the gory truth of what they're up against, the race is on, and once the Daleks attack it's pure carnage from there on out.

Doctor Who: The Parting of the Ways
Doctor Who: The Parting of the Ways. BBC

The Doctor's best-known foes are given a proper sense of menace and threat here, beyond any other episode in the revival, other than perhaps Dalek earlier in the same season. Even that episode helps to bolster them in this one - you've seen one Dalek's destructive power, how about thousands?

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When they kill people, they die permanently, and we care about it. The two programmers bite the dust within moments of one another, having sparked up a sweet romance. We see all of the humans hiding on Floor Zero wiped out in an instant and hear that whole continents back on Earth are being devastated.

Oh, and who can forget Lynda with a Y, who was positioned as companion material in Bad Wolf, told The Doctor would save her, and is mercilessly blown out into space, with The Doctor too busy to register this with anything more than a knowing, sorrowful look. Chilling.

There are real stakes here and a sense that this version of the world at this point in time, even if we aren't going to return to it, is going to be fundamentally, cataclysmically changed. Compare this to The Last of the Timelords, in which all of its world shaking events are undone.

Of course, if we're talking stakes, we have to address the elephant in the room - Jack's death, a pivotal, shocking moment in the episode, is undone, and the ending is brought about by a deus ex machina of sorts.

However, the reason this deus ex machina ending still works is two-fold. One, there are still lasting stakes for all involved - The Doctor is mortally harmed and forced to regenerated, Jack is irrevocably changed and forced to live forever, and Rose becomes the Bad Wolf, a legend which continues to persist throughout future episodes.

Two, it ties up the Bad Wolf story arc in a phenomenally satisfying fashion. Sure, it's a paradoxical twist that fans couldn't have seen coming, like the Impossible Girl story arc in season 7. But it's steeped in character, in Rose's love for the Doctor and her determination to get back to him.

The Parting of the Ways is the ultimate tying together of loose ends, with story elements from Dalek, The Long Game, Father's Day and Boom Town all becoming key to either the character beats or the narrative beats at play here.

While the cracks in time storyline from season 5 got muddled by its association with the Silence story arc (whose voice was that in The Pandorica Opens?!), season 4 featured too many minor loose threads to keep track of. Meanwhile, season 6's death of the Doctor story promised far too much, and delivered very little in that year's finale, The Wedding of River Song.

Bad Wolf, on the other hand, was tidily wrapped up and felt conclusive once season 1 was done, even if it was effectively utilised down the line.

However, despite all of this, perhaps the real reason The Parting of the Ways works so well is because the emotion works. From the Doctor's conversation with Rose as they prepare the Delta Wave and his standout hologram message, right through to his poignant, understated regeneration.

And sure, the "I think you need a Doctor" moment is ridiculous. It's soapy and a bit naff and needlessly romantic for a relationship which had always only skirted around that possibility. But it's also just so NuWho, combining high character drama with the masterful scoring of Murray Gold. You might say its ridiculous, but the goosebumps on your arm say otherwise.

Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper in Doctor Who: The Parting of the Ways
Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper in Doctor Who: The Parting of the Ways. BBC

Of course, there will be those who disagree with all of this - those whose favourite finale is Journey's End, The Name of the Doctor or The Last of the Timelords, old baby Doctor and all.

But to my mind, none of these outings had the balance of fast-paced action, emotional resonance and genuine threat and scope that The Parting of the Ways delivered.

18 years on the episode still holds up, and stands (along with Bad Wolf) as a shining beacon of what can be achieved within an hour and a half's worth of story.

As we approach a new run of episodes under Davies as returning showrunner, here's hoping he may have something up his sleeve for the end of next year's season 14 that can best it. We can only wait in hope - but it's certainly going to be a tall order.

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