Adherents of the Bad Wolf

Story arcs, themes, linking stories, it’s all been done before. Doctor Who, The X Files, Babylon 5, the list goes on. Pretty much everything we have seen in the new Doctor Who has however been drawn on a clean slate. New monsters, new threats – and when the Autons and the Dalek’s have been used, there has been none of the old “oh yes I defeated them while I was in my third body – oh didn’t I tell you I can change my appearance?!” exposition that plagued Doctor Who during the 1980s, the 1990s (via the New Adventures) and of course the Paul McGann TVM.

But one aspect has linked the stories of the new series – other than the two stars, the TARDIS and the sonic screwdriver of course – and that is the simple phrase: Bad Wolf…

It’s all been building up to this one. Graffiti, dialogue, signs, idents, labels – all communicating the phrase “Bad Wolf”. Repeated use of the phrase throughout the last 11 weeks has brought us to this – a mix up of varying theories and beliefs as to what and who Bad Wolf is, how it affects the Doctor and Rose and how/if it will be instrumental in the conclusion to the series.

“Bad Wolf” is a meme – that is, its use has been propagated by repeat usage in different contexts in the series and passed on to us (the audience). The term was first coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, where he defined “meme” as “a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation,”. Another meme that you may be aware of might be a familiar catchphrase such as Tommy Cooper’s “just like that”, or James Cagney’s “You dirty rat”. Basically, a meme must have existed in one mind and travelled to another – as the Doctor himself said of The Adherents of the Repeated Meme in The End of the World: “A repeated meme is just an idea…”

So here we are, 11 weeks of references to what is at least an episode title – one that wasn’t revealed until Bad Wolf was being discussed on all available Who forums. The BBC’s own Bad Wolf website gives a list of occurrences of its use in the last 3 months – here’s ours, along with their possible meanings:

Rose – The Nestene Consciousness allegedly says “Bad Wolf” when the TARDIS is captured (this isn’t an entirely clear instance).

If Bad Wolf is an object, then it can only be the TARDIS (or the Sonic Screwdriver…). If Bad Wolf is a someone, then it could well be the Doctor – although Mickey was also present.

The End of the World – While speaking with the Face of Boe, the Moxx of Balhoon questions if they are in the ‘”Bad wolf” scenario’.

The relevance of the Face of Boe, who appears later in the series has been speculated upon – as has the meaning of “scenario”. The Moxx’s comment suggests a known game (chess?) stratagem or historical event…

The Unquiet Dead – Gwyneth (the maid girl) tells Rose what she can see in Rose’s future – “The big bad wolf!”.

It’s important to decide what context this is taken in – some discussions on the Internet have speculated that what Gwyneth saw could be related to events in Rose’s past – see Father’s Day – whether immediate or long term. Again, Mickey could be instrumental, as could the TARDIS. The Doctor is ruled out, as Gwyneth shows no fear of him. Alternatively, it is something Rose is yet to see…

Aliens of London & World War Three – A small boy spray paints “BAD WOLF” on the side of the TARDIS.

The Doctor chasing a spacesuit-wearing pig is evocative of the story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf. The small boy spray painting the TARDIS again suggests that either the TARDIS is Bad Wolf, it contains Bad Wolf, or is being watched by Bad Wolf…

Dalek – Millionaire collector Henry van Statten’s call sign is “Bad Wolf One.

Following the introduction of Adam, and his prompt departure, it has been speculated that he is Bad Wolf…

The Long Game – A channel called “Bad Wolf TV” displays footage of a sandstorm on NVA:27 (presumably a planet).

This is the first time that the theory of Bad Wolf being related to a reality television channel was considered. There is little else to surmise from this example, other than it is following the travellers around. However in this story Adam is left on early 21st century Earth with a cybernetic hole in his skull…

Father’s Day – A poster for a rave has been scrawled over in black marker with the words “Bad Wolf”.

This is seen at the very beginning when the Doctor and Rose leave the TARDIS. It is an era where Mickey exists as a small boy.

The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances – Captain Jack rides a German bomb labelled “Schlechter Wolf”.

“Schlechter Wolf” is of course a German translation of Bad Wolf. Could the Bad Wolf be a weapon? There are of course the wolf references made by Nancy to the Doctor regarding his ears and nose.

Boom Town – As the Doctor points out, the name of the Nuclear power station planned for building on the Time Rift is “”Bad Wolf”.

“Blaidd Drwg” is the Welsh for Bad Wolf. The most significant thing about this reference is that the Doctor actually notices it, as does Rose. The clues are there for them as well as us….

Varying theories and claims of the actual answer have swept the Internet over the last few weeks. Some have (Dalek-creator) Davros returning – others have Adam as (as Simon Pegg once put it) “a young Davros”. Others put their money on the Doctor being Bad Wolf – Rose often wears a red hooded top, evoking “Little Red Riding Hood”. Many have chosen the TARDIS is the Bad Wolf, believing the Nestene creature identified the TARDIS not only as superior technology, but as a dangerous weapon (probably used in the Time War).

Yet more theories identify Bad Wolf as a reality tv show that the Doctor and Rose have been the unwitting stars of, and one theory even claims that the Doctor is the Master! Could Jack Harkness be deeply involved in it, with his “missing” two years of history? Is the TARDIS sending signals to the Doctor, warning him? And just how does Adam get to be in the year 200,100

Of course, what we do know abou the episode is that there is a reality game show – “Big Brother”-style, a “Weakest Link”-type game and a “What Not to Wear”-alike, all featuring a member of the TARDIS crew. The episode is set 100 years after The Long Game, and is belived to feature Bruno Langley as the returning Adam Mitchell… and the Daleks!

The beauty of this is that no one really knows for sure. Okay, we’re hours away from possibly finding out – but until then, we can’t really say. This is of course the beauty of this meme. Twin Peaks, an American tv series from the late 1980s (conceived by Mark Frost and David Lynch) could be said to have introduced this hook into the narrative of a television show. Within the overall story – based around a murder investigation – were references to death and oft-repeated lines, such as “The owls are not what they seem”.

Much was not as it was seen in Twin Peaks. Could it be that the same is true of this current series of Doctor Who?

addendum: This article could not have been written without the help of many blogs, rec.arts.drwho on Usenet, and the forums here on Kasterborous and at Digital Spy. If you’ve seen any theory above that you recognise as your own, thank you for inspiring me to write this, and I hope the surprise is as good for you…

It may also be worth mentioning that Professor Richard Dawkins was a close friend of the late Douglas Adams (once a Doctor Who scriptwriter) and is the husband of Lalla Ward, ex-wife of Tom Baker and the actress who played Time Lady Romana. Funny old world…

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