The Impossible Astronaut
Day of the Moon
Curse of the Black Spot
The Doctor's Wife
The Rebel Flesh
The Almost People
A Good Man Goes to War
Let's Kill Hitler
The Girl Who Waited
The God Complex
The Wedding of River Song
New Series Series Six
A Review by Harry O'Driscoll 17/8/12
The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon: Features Moffat's best monster since the Weeping Angels and does a twist on the whole invasion of Earth premise. It also kicks off a very intriguing, if confusing, story arc.
The Curse of Black Spot: A bit of poor story squeezed between two greats. Cheaply produced with little sense of setting and boring redshirts, by the end it gets ridiculous with a group of pirates flying off in a spaceship.
The Doctor's Wife: The best story in a long while and one that manages to raise genuine emotion. The idea of the Doctor actually being able to meet and talk to the TARDIS would excite any fan. We get plenty of reference to old episodes like The War Games and Logopolis that feels almost like Neil Gaiman giving a tribute to the show's history.
The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People: A story with a good premise but doesn't execute it well. It eventually becomes confusing trying to remember who is a Ganger and who isn't. The last two minutes of the story managed to be the best thing about it.
A Good Man Goes to War: A lot of buildup to this especially after the previous cliffhanger, but it fails to be as epic as promised even with the Doctor building an army from across the universe. As to the reveal of River's identity, I had already guessed correctly who she was, so not exactly a great note to go out on for me.
Let's Kill Hitler: There's little use of the setting and the story could have taken place anywhere. The subplot with the Tesselecta was great and justified making a whole story around it. It all serves just to tie up some loose ends regarding River and it does that.
Night Terrors: A decently tense and atmospheric story even though not much happens for the first half. The scenes with Amy and Rory and the peg dolls are actually more interesting than the stuff with the Doctor. But by the end the plot falls apart and everything just gets solved with the power of love.
The Girl Who Waited: One of the best stories of the season. The main cast are probably at their best here, as the crew don't bother with a boring supporting cast. There are some great sci-fi ideas here and some great emotive moments which make this a definite highlight.
The God Complex: The idea of a hotel as a trap and a labyrinth is great and used to good effect. The idea of the Doctor as a demi-god is revisited here and is done much better than under Russell T Davies.
Closing Time: Apart from the comedy between Matt Smith and James Corden, this has nothing to recommend it. The Cybermen are so pointless in the story, they may as well not be in it and again the enemy is defeated using love!
The Wedding of River Song: Bizarre, but in the best possible way. The whole thing ties together well, including resolving the Doctor's death, even if the plot by Madam Kovarian is needlessly elaborate.
Some thoughts on Series Six by Richard Solensky 15/10/12
I first met the Doctor back in the 1980s, when New York's WNET nabbed the American broadcast rights to the series. I watched it as often as I could, but when the show went into the wilderness, I moved on. I greeted the New Series with modest applause, since not having cable access I knew I could never see it. Then I found out that I could follow the show online...
The 2011 season was the first one where I could, er, "follow" all the episodes in the order in which they were aired, even though I could not see them on a regular basis. Nor could I keep up on all the fan/media discussion. Frankly, I didn't want to get deep into the world of fandom; I've got more significant things to deal with in my life these days. You could say that I've grown up.
And I submit to you that "growing up" is the theme of the 2011 season.
There's a scene in Let's Kill Hitler where the Doctor, fighting off posion, sees the TARDIS showing pictures of his companions and friends. Not being consoled by this, he cries out (in effect), "Show me someone whose life I haven't screwed up!" I noted that all the people shown were from the New Series, and I immediately thought of Barbara Wright, the history teacher way back at the very beginning.
She and Ian Chesterton traveled with the Doctor for a few years, and departed on happy terms. The story goes that they explained their absence by a sudden desire to go and do missionary activities, but there was never any hit at sadness or disappointment. I actually like to think that they eventually got married; it was so easy to see how much they liked each other.
I started to wonder about all the other companions over the decades, and what made a "successful" companion. Not so much "successful" in terms of the show, but which companions left the Doctor better off for the time they spent with him.
Jo Grant went from a ditz to an aspiring scientist and adventurer. Romana was assigned to the Doctor essentially for the "field work" as part of her graduate studies at the Academy on Gallifrey; she later decided on her own to stay in E-Space to help the Tharils. Nyssa saw her entire world destroyed, but found her calling in working to find a treatment for Lazar's Disease... you get the idea. What is it that connects all of them? I believe that a "successful" companion is one who "grows up" during their time in the TARDIS.
Striking out on your own, taking control of your own life, accepting adult responsibilities like parenting... all part of growing up.
In The Almost People, a ganger has to fully step into its role when its "parent" dies. And that role includes being a father to its "son".
In A Good Man Goes to War, Amy is forced to deal with the fact that she has a daughter.
In Night Terrors, a young boy has to overcome his fears to save his father.
The God Complex sees more facing of fears, and dealing with challenges to one's faith.
Closing Time has Craig learning that he can't just be another "bloke" now that he's got a son to take care of.
Even the Doctor grows up in The Wedding of River Song. He spent much of the season like a big kid: playing with other children and running around with a manic glee like the proverbial kid in a candy store. Other times he was the "angst-ridden teen": "Oh, woe is me, I have no friends, everyone hates me, I can't do anything right, I'm a total loser..." It took a slap in the face (a kind and gentle one, to be sure) from River Song to snap him out of it and realize that he does indeed have friends all over time and space.
One other part of growing up and becoming an adult is knowing when to let your friends go and lead their own lives. That's why I was a little disappointed to find that Amy and Rory will be back for Season Seven. They had as fine a goodbye as any companion(s) at the end of The God Complex and, as shown in Closing Time and The Wedding of River Song, they had moved on with their lives. There's no bigger step in a life than getting married; at some point the honeymoon has to end (literally if not figuratively) and you have to get on with your new life together. Matt Smith's Doctor really needs to grow up a little more, and a good way to do that is to let your friends grow up on their own.
"What went wrong?" by Thomas Cookson 14/3/15
Doctor Who's success is down to its ability to become 'more than the sum of its parts'. Catching lightning in a bottle.
Somehow Series 6 was less than the sum of its parts.
Compare The Impossible Astronaut to The Wedding of River Song. We have our finale at the season's beginning and a weaker repetition of it at the end. The Silents are introduced superbly, making a frightening, unforgettable impression. In fact, the Doctor's ruthless vanquishing of them feels no less than necessary. (The Silents had every advantage over the humans they preyed on, exploited and killed whenever it suited them. The Doctor wouldn't let that stand.) Yet in the finale they're diminished into secondary villains, marginalised, yet also overexposed. Worse, the story robs anything they do of consequence. Perhaps they'd have been better left as one-off villains.
The Doctor's death worked far better when a chilling anonymity surrounded the space suit. What malevolent force was manipulating it? What unsightly being was inside? Someone from the Doctor's future? Someone he'd once wronged? That's what I mean by lightning in a bottle. A single, strange iconic scene conveying many undercurrents and inferences. Unfortunately it's revealed as River all along, chirping "hello sweetie!" At that moment, I suddenly never wanted to see her again.
River's story completely overpowered Series 6. Back in Silence in the Library, River was an intriguing, likeable character, and I wanted to see her return, whilst resigned to the likelihood she wouldn't. So her return in Series 5 pleasantly surprised me. But those hints that she'd one day assassinate the Doctor felt like needless, desperate attempts to force more mystery about her.
Many fans guessed already that River was Amy's daughter. I'd dismissed those guesses as fanfic ideas that surely Moffat would never qualify onscreen. Surely everything pre-established about those characters' interpersonal dynamics should resist this with every fibre of their beings. And strangely enough they do. Afterwards they're all back to the emotional status quo like nothing happened.
Series 6 seemed to aspire towards a discordant, nightmarish atmosphere. Think Revelation of the Daleks' dazzlingly bizarre fictional landscape where the macabre and tragic coexist with high farce, and characters slip in and out of various roles, revealing incongruous sides to themselves.
But Revelation might've easily fallen apart if done as a 13 parter, drawn out long enough to cease making logical or emotional sense, when its strangeness no longer sustains it alone.
Also Revelation was made on a tight budget under difficult conditions. So each scene needed to have a purpose and justification. They had to do more with less.
Compare that with Let's Kill Hitler's self-indulgence, which feels like an obscene exercise in burning money onscreen. Likewise, The Wedding of River Song's spectacle literally necessitates the whole plot being put on hold. Without limitations, nothing has to be justified anymore. You could cut out the entire time paradox segment without affecting the plot one iota.
As a result, Series 6's finale isn't so much the story of the Doctor cheating death, as one where 'oh by the way, he cheated death'. I'd believed we really did see the Doctor die at Lake Silencio. So I expected this paradox would be integral to the solution, with the Doctor using this extra time to cheat the paradox, putting time back on track without having to die. Instead he'd already solved it. Rendering the whole paradox pointless.
Given how Moffat loves connecting things, it was probably irresistible to him to put two and two together and make Amy and Rory into River's future parents. It feels like an afterthought. There's no mother-daughter relationship vibe when Amy and River first met in The Time of Angels, nor when River rummaged through Amy's house in Pandorica Opens. Even after it's revealed, that vibe still doesn't materialise.
Connecting things works in standalone stories where everything was created for that function. But River's function was merely the role she began with. Someone more savvy about the Doctor than most. This didn't demand any big origin story. Presumably she just came from the future society of Silence in the Library. Frankly she was more interesting back then.
River's character was inspired by The Time Traveller's Wife. Which is fine. But when the book became a movie, perhaps Moffat decided to change the character to avoid comparisons. Turning her into The Manchurian Candidate.
Making her a Time Lord seemed about Moffat wanting the character to survive the actress if necessary. But then she wastes all her regenerations in one story anyway.
Moffat's other obsession is timey-wimey. Doctor Who has rarely taken advantage of its time-travel premise. But gradually the show's been evolving toward four-dimensional storytelling. Like how Terminator and Back to the Future can revisit, pre-empt and subvert earlier points in their narratives.
Like the granddaddy of 'four dimensional cinema', Planet of the Apes. Films about how a fixed point in time could be bloody terrifying, and its inevitability giving a sense of vitality and dread to each passing moment onscreen. They also hinted the best way of raising the stakes. Keep the heroes oblivious of what's to come. Kill the messenger, if necessary.
Unfortunately in Series 6, our protagonists don't really grow from this pre-destined predicament, or struggle against it. Let's Kill Hitler has Amy and Rory criminally underreact to finding their daughter, before leaving her in an institute and forgetting her. Nevermind her formative years, where they weren't there for her. Neither demand going back to change those years lost, or to stay with River to make up for lost time. This destroyed my emotional investment.
They seemingly go happily with the Doctor's assessment that River's life is set out, so they must leave her to carry on her pre-determined life. Therefore one can only watch the show with a sense of unfeeling passiveness, because the characters are unable to do or feel anything about it.
Most explanations for Amy and Rory's apathy fall flat. That Amy and Rory did have a life with their daughter all along, as their childhood friend Mels, therefore no time was lost. But that friendship's based on a lie. They didn't know Mels was brainwashed. So that hardly let them take care of and raise her when she was pre-conditioned.
Perhaps Amy's bond with Melody was broken because she'd invested her bond in a baby ganger and after it exploded, Amy couldn't develop a bond with the real River because she was afraid of reliving that devastation. This'd be a dark turn but it isn't really raised. There's no transition.
Let's Kill Hitler and The Wedding of River Song have nowhere narratively or emotionally to go until pre-determinism plays out. So we get heavy padding as overcompensation, out of control excesses and obnoxious obfuscation. Seeming as simultaneously frenetic and soulless as a headless chicken. "Shut up Hitler" probably got such a big laugh from relief after such bombarding relentless overkill.
Our heroes' anxiety, fight and strength of will against the inevitable is only in frustrating fits and starts. Elsewhere they seemed on autopilot. Their conduct is as routine as each final shot on the TARDIS monitor's ominous portent. Eventually Amy belatedly reacts like a mother would, but we were meant to hate Ambrose in Cold Blood for electrocuting her chained prisoner over her child's abduction, yet we're supposed to forgive Amy doing the exact same thing for the exact same reason?
The predestination paradox largely renders the Doctor impotent at preventing what's happened to River, or his own fate. In Flesh & Stone he never gave up the fight to save Amy against impossible odds, pulling victory from the jaws of defeat. It was awe-inspiring. So seeing Matt's Doctor reduced to ineffectualness, because nothing he does matters so he needn't even try, is discouraging indeed.
An example of timey-wimey 'done right' is The Girl Who Waited. A beautiful piece of four dimensional storytelling, where our characters have dramatic agency, and which depends on the decisions they make. Where we see characters changed by their experiences, and time travel is secondary to emotional impact. And dramatically dead 'fixed points' are avoided.
But that was written with the kind of heart that Moffat seems 'too cool' for. Moffat can do beautiful emotional writing. Blink and Silence in the Library were beautiful exegeses about life's precious, joyous moments. The problem is his rather ruthlessly compartmentalising attitude to emotions and his reluctance to emotionally compromise his characters.
The Big Bang's resolution depended on Amy remembering the Doctor back into existence. The triumph of the lonely little girl, dismissed over her childhood imaginary friend, now bringing him right to her wedding reception.
Except this feels like a backstory that Moffat's shied away from. We don't see those years of Amy growing up idolising the Doctor and making toys and fanfiction or other sweet gestures of naive childhood enthusiasm and imagination. Perhaps Moffat would rather downplay the side of himself that indulged such fannish activities. So when Amy's story reaches its emotional climax, it feels half missing.
Plus the Doctor emerges from the TARDIS seeming unfazed by nearly being erased. Had he emerged a disorientated, amnesiac wreck, needing Amy to remind him who he is, that would be more dramatic. Some hint that the Doctor had doubts his plan would work.
Moffat's visual storytelling can be lacking. That scene really needed intense close ups on Amy's face as she concentrates, superimposed with the crack itself opening at the wedding to emphasise her mental relationship with the crack, as it rejects the TARDIS. Have the visuals match the explanation so everyone either 'gets' it, or accepts its symbolism. Instead we leap abruptly to the party, and anyone left with grumbling questions is coldly left out.
Let's Kill Hitler contains similar lapses. The previous story ended on the Doctor leaving Amy and Rory at Demon's Run. An image viewers would more likely remember months later than the Doctor's aside to River to get everyone home. We skip Amy and Rory returning to Leadworth, it's taken for granted they've been back for months. I imagine many viewers scratching their heads throughout the story over that.
Then there's the Doctor being poisoned. He's given a deathly prognosis, but the scene ends with him elated by the words "Fish Fingers and Custard". Presumably that's the 'cure'. We don't see the Doctor again until later in the hallroom River raided. The Doctor announces his entrance standing sturdy in a change of clothes and top hat.
The implication seems that the Doctor flew the TARDIS elsewhere, took his Fish Fingers antidote and is no longer dying. Except he starts dying after all, even though with 30 minutes left to live, he still had time to change his clothes. You can't keep turning the suspense off and on like that.
The problem is Moffat's 'new cool' philosophy. Moffat's thinking seemingly didn't extend beyond how cool it'd be if Amy was River's mother. The emotional ramifications stop there. Maybe A Good Man Goes to War's emotional despair was a size too much, so Moffat instantly pulled back. He couldn't bear to have his characters be so emotionally broken, or perhaps as a parent himself it was too uncomfortable to imagine how it would feel.
As for Moffat's favourite sassy, wise-cracking femme fatale, we really should have seen the younger, brainwashed River as a scared, confused, vulnerable figure. Yet all Let's Kill Hitler shows us is River being a more sassy, wild, psychotic version of her usual self. Maybe Moffat couldn't bear to depict her in anything but a 'cool' light. There's even ugly implications that her brainwashing and conditioning needn't be reviled because it keeps her 'cool'.
Overall, I suspect Moffat found himself too far into the season's production to turn back or rethink his arc, so it became half-heartedly done. Amy's finite grief over her daughter ended up saying it's better not to care, except when we're told to care, for however long.
That's why Series 6 couldn't become more than the sum of its parts.