Saturday 1 October 2011

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who Season Six - an overview

Another year, another season of Doctor Who over with. And its time for me to once again share my thoughts briefly on this year's offerings. This isn't a proper review as such, but more my opinions and ratings on thoughts on what has been my favourite TV show for as long as I can remember.

The season began with 'The Impossible Astronaut' () way back in April. The episode was a very strong start for the season, setting up the main plot for the year with the Doctor's death and the introduction of the Silents, who'd had a lot of hype surrounding them prior to beginning of the season. Not only that, but the episode included extensive shooting in the US, which was also a pretty big deal. Exchanges between the Doctor and River began to feel a lot less groan-inducing, and resulted in some pretty good banter between the two. At this stage Rory and Amy were also working well as a married couple. Unfortunately its second part, 'Day of the Moon' () wasn't quite as good. Glossing over three whole months at the beginning put the plot in a completely different place to where we left the last episode already put it in a lower position in my mind, but despite some particularly creepy moments (the drawn out tally charts were an excellent touch) the Silents failed to live up to their hype. Still, the episode concluded with a very interesting cliffhanger, and one the would keep the audience guessing for the whole first half of the season.

'The Curse of the Black Spot' () was the first true miss of the season, but certainly not the last. The siren herself was well imagined, but the story itself was pretty uninteresting, especially when following on the the previous episode's massive cliffhanger.

Neil Gaiman has always had mixed results with me, but 'The Doctor's Wife' () turned out to be by far and large the best episode of the season, and one of the best episodes of Doctor Who since the relaunch. With finally the TARDIS finally capable of speech, the interesting relationship the Doctor shared with his blue box could finally be shared. It dealt with a lot of history between the two characters (since the TARDIS is alive I guess it justifies as a character) and it also housed quite a few references to the classic days of Doctor Who. Personifying the TARDIS was a bold move, and one that could have gone wrong so very easily -

The two-part story 'The Rebel Flesh' () and 'The Almost People' () was certainly my lowest point of the series. Besides not needing 2 parts by any stretch of the imagination, the story was a pretty cliché piece of science fiction writing, complete with predictable characters, twists and cliffhangers and a terrible CGI monster at the end to top it off. It DID however provide the rare opportunity to see two of the same Doctor in the same place, and too much Matt Smith is never a bad thing - 'Reverse the jelly baby of the neutron flow' is a line that probably made Doctor Who fans of all ages over the world smile. It also created a red herring that would be a popular fan theory for the Doctor's death and an excellent (and unexpected) set up for the finale of the first half of the season.

'A Good Man Goes to War' () had a lot going on it, meaning at times it felt a little rushed, but it was still a hell of a lot better than what had come before it. The stakes had been set pretty high, and element of conflict in the episode nicely reflected that. The twist was pretty obvious from a mile off, but that didn't make its impact within the story any damper. The episode also introduced to some very interesting side characters, including a Sontaran nurse and a Victorian Silurian (who also happened to be a lesbian). It's a shame these characters will probably never get a proper origin, because for me they were among the most memorable parts of the episodes and surprisingly endearing characters.

A few months later, the second half of the season opened with 'Let's Kill Hitler' (), which actually turned out to not have very much to do with Hitler at all. Instead it was about River's origins and how she was brought up to kill the Doctor, which was done in a horrifically predictable fashion. To make matters worse, the whole big plotline of Amy looking for her child seemed to just stop with this episode, making me wonder if it had all been such a big deal in the first place.

Thankfully next came 'Night Terrors' (), which was easily my favourite episode of this half of the season and my second favourite of the overall season. A great emotional story, some genuinely creepy monsters and Matt Smith showing off his Doctor's quirks and eccentricities made this episode a pleasure to watch. When Moffat eventually steps down from the helm of Doctor Who, I'd like to see what Mark Gatiss could do with the show if he had the chance.

Following on from that was 'The Girl Who Waited' (), which perhaps was my breaking point with the Ponds. While the story played with some interesting time travel concepts (such as paradoxes and alternate futures) and easily had the best display of the 11th Doctor's manipulative sides, the story's overpowering emotional drive was too much. Future Amy waited 40 years for the Doctor and Rory to come and save her and felt betrayed that it took that long? Boo hoo, Rory waited for Amy for 2000 years and you don't see him constantly bringing it up. 'The God Complex' () was a better episode, if mostly forgettable. What I did enjoy about it was some great comedy easter eggs in the background (Silurian in a suit and tie), a surprise nod to a classic villain and finally a goodbye to the Ponds (for now).

Going in to 'Closing Time' () I wasn't expecting too much, mostly because I'm not a fan of James Corden. But what I will say is that the episodes he appear in definitely bring out the best in Matt Smith. 'The Lodger' did it, and this certainly did too. Alone again, the Doctor is shown a very different light, becoming increasing aware and accepting of his incoming demise. The dynamic between Craig and the Doctor is very different to the one between the Doctor and any of his companions from the modern series, which is extremely refreshing. It was also nice to see the return of proper Cybermen (their 30 second cameo in 'A Good Man Goes to War' notwithstanding) and the first modern series appearance of Cybermats, even if they were underused (and somewhat superfluous) to the episode. Still underuse is sometimes better than overuse, and they weren't what was most important to the episode - they'll get their chance to shine yet.

So, with the season being mostly duds for me, was the finale going to be able to pull it all back. And thankfully, the answer was yes - 'The Wedding of River Song' () managed to help a lackluster season go out with a bang. The episode delved in what would happen if you tried to change a fixed point in time, and the result was a pretty interesting alternate take on the world using famous landmarks and people. Much like many of Moffat's episodes the story did play around with time a lot, but it made good use of the seeds sown in earlier episodes and the end result was equal parts thrilling, touching, 'scary', and exciting - everything a Doctor Who episode should be. The 'wedding' of River Song was handled excellently, and could equally have been great closure on the character as well as opening more doors for any potential returns in the future. And most importantly, it just goes to show the Doctor really is one step ahead of everyone else, and always has a plan.

But the best bit of the episode? Nicholas Courtney's death finally getting the in-show recognition it deserved. It didn't impede on the episode, but had the perfect level of emotional impact for both the Doctor and the audience. He may not have worked with Courtney, but the Doctor's look of sorrow and loss at the news of the death of the Brigadier perfectly summed up the sorrow of Courtney's family, friends and fans alike when the world lost one of the best and most loved Doctor Who companions from the classic series.

So my final thoughts on the season? Overall quite weak, but then again also includes some the best episodes since the relaunch. Matt Smith continues to dominate as the Doctor, but I think perhaps it's time that both the Ponds and River Song moved on. A season comprised mostly of stories where the Ponds are in mortal danger has made me become somewhat bored of them, to the point where in this season I began to wonder if Moffat thought they were more important than the Doctor himself (admittedly this did begin to die down after 'The Girl Who Waited'). River still has some element of mystery remaining to her, but perhaps some things are better left unsaid to keep the audience guessing - too many revelations will only serve to destroy the all-important aura of mystery that the Doctor has. But with Gillan definitely signed on for another season, it doesn't look like we'll definitely be saying goodbye to the Ponds quite yet. Hopefully they'll have a slightly less intensive role in the next season, which after today's episode I can quite happily say I'm looking forward to again.

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