Doctor Who 6.14 – The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe

I’ve warmed up to this story, happily. I didn’t like it when we first saw it nine years ago and I’ve never revisited it at all, but I am glad that it worked out for us to wrap up 2020 at the blog with a Christmas Who, especially since our son thought this one was really great fun. He enjoyed watching the Narnia-esque mystery of this unfold and really loved the big emotional finale. And for those of you out there who get a thrill from old aircraft, he thought the Lancaster bomber was incredibly cool. Hmmmm, wonder whether there’s anywhere around here where a kid can see any antique airplanes.

I wonder how much time passed for the Doctor between “The Wedding of River Song” and this one. Amy, reintroduced at the end – like any viewer had time to miss her and Rory – says that it has been two years for them since they last saw the Doctor in “The God Complex”. I know none of these details matter and make some people’s heads hurt, but I think it’s delightful.

That’s all for Doctor Who for now, but we’ll be back for some mini-episodes and series seven in February. Stay tuned!

Doctor Who 6.x – Night and the Doctor

Doctor Who‘s sixth series came with some mini-episodes on the home video release. These are just for giggles, and our son definitely appreciated the low-stakes, timey-wimey simplicity of them. He really found a lot that he did not enjoy in series six, but these were more his speed, and he liked these very much.

Interestingly, the third and fourth stories play with the idea of being River’s first and final dates with the Doctor, which you’d have thought that they would have saved for a television story instead of a DVD bonus. In the end, it doesn’t really matter, because a few years later, Steven Moffat thought better of the second idea and, offscreen, the older eleventh Doctor does not take River to the place where they’ll have their final date. He saves that for his next self.

Doctor Who 6.13 – The Wedding of River Song

I think our kid summed up the majority of viewers when he called this one “completely and totally ridiculous.” It’s a mess, sometimes a very entertaining mess, but I really believe this was a draft or two away from being really satisfying. I did warn him that Steven Moffat’s story throws viewers right in at the deep end, which is part of the problem for me. There’s so much lunatic spectacle, with Romans and pterodactyls and Wars of the Roses eating up so much time that could have been spent detailing the story and giving the characters more room and time to breathe.

The biggest disappointment that comes from this business of throwing everything at the wall is that the Doctor and River’s handfasting is far, far too rushed. There’s about a minute of screen time regurgitating that business of “the universe thinks you’re wonderful and won’t let you die” bit from Moffat’s “Curse of Fatal Death” that could have been given to the Doctor and River to just talk quietly about how she felt, instead of desperately shouting because there’s no time.

I don’t know why I wanted this in particular to be better, but I really did. The whole production is achingly close to pleasing me, but there’s just too much going on to distract from the heart and soul of it.

On the other hand, Moffat pulls a really great sequence out of his hat when the Soothsayer starts telling Ian McNeice’s character of Emperor Churchill what all has gone wrong with time. Over the space of about three minutes, the Doctor decapitates a damaged Dalek, looks for dead men in shady taverns, is a contestant in a game of coliseum death chess, and deals with some carnivorous skulls in a catacomb. I’ve often referred back to the wonderful line of comics from Doctor Who Magazine, and this sequence feels effortlessly like kicking back and reading about six of those Steve Moore – Dave Gibbons one-shots from 1981 back to back. Montages like this happen a few times in Moffat’s tenure, but this is my favorite of them.

Oh, and the actor playing death chess against the Doctor is actor/writer Mark Gatiss, under a ton of prosthetics and makeup, to look like Rondo Hatton. He’s credited under the pseudonym “Rondo Haxton.” I thought about asking the kid whether that character didn’t look an awful lot like the big mean henchman in The Rocketeer, but I don’t think he enjoyed the story enough to appreciate it. Maybe he’ll like the DVD bonus mini-episodes better.

Doctor Who 6.12 – Closing Time

Longtime readers know that I’m an old school Who geek, and I’ve enjoyed a whole heck of a lot of time spent debating and discussing such pressing issues as UNIT dating and how old the Doctor might really be. So Gareth Roberts’ “Closing Time” tickles me in one wonderful regard. The season began with “The Impossible Astronaut” revealing that the Doctor we saw die was two hundred years older than when Amy and Rory last saw him. So there you have it: assuming he wasn’t lying again, two hundred years pass for the Doctor since the previous episode.

I love this, and I love all the fun speculation about what the Doctor did for two centuries, other than go on dates with River and appear in Laurel and Hardy films. He calls this his farewell tour, and I choose to believe that for a chunk of it, he did one better than his little check-ins on old companions (as seen in “The End of Time” and expanded upon in “Death of the Doctor”) and he went to see everybody. He went everywhere and visited everybody he possibly could, from making sure that the Tribe of Gum had enough fire to ensuring that the Tivolian fellow we met in the last story got back home to see his planet invaded properly, and somewhere in between, he paid for the finest accommodations at a nursing home for his old friend Alistair.

But he chose to end the farewell tour visiting Craig and Sophie and their new baby Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All, in Colchester, 2011, where some Cybermen have woken up underneath a department store, and are being much more creepy than stompy. James Corden is back, although sadly Daisy Haggard was mostly unavailable due to another job so she only has a couple of short scenes. Lynda Baron, who had been an Eternal pirate queen back in 1983’s “Enlightenment”, has a small role in this story.

The kid almost completely loved it, and I think this must have been the highlight of the season for him. There’s an epilogue with River Song and the Silence that had him scowling, but he laughed and smiled all the way to that point. I don’t recall the last time he enjoyed an adventure with the Cybermen this much. I think he’s softening on them. He actually asked for more Cybermen action figures for Christmas, figuring he needs to beef up his army of those since he has enough Daleks. Don’t tell him, but he’s getting at least two.

Doctor Who 6.11 – The God Complex

Another frustrating example of a perfectly good story that just doesn’t click with me, “The God Complex” was written by Toby Whithouse and I wish that I liked it more. I’ll tell you the only thing that I really don’t like, and it’s not Whithouse’s fault in the slightest: I really, really wish that this had genuinely been the Doctor’s farewell to Amy and Rory, and that the characters were never seen again after this. They get a perfectly fine finale once the Doctor gets them out of this hotel, and absolutely nothing that happens with these two after this is better than Amy and the Doctor’s goodbye here.

Doctor Who 6.10 – The Girl Who Waited

“The ending of that was like half the episode,” our son grumbled. And no, the ending is about two minutes long, but it’s sentimental and emotional enough to drive a young viewer nuts. I think that until the end, he was enjoying this time-travel adventure much, much more than anything since the pirate story, and he’s just letting himself get extra-aggravated by people crying and saying they love each other. Karen Gillan is really, really good in this. It’s possibly her best performance in the series.

Doctor Who 6.9 – Night Terrors

Our son remained silent and attentive through this story until about forty minutes in, when he grumbled “There are some episodes of some programs that I just don’t like, and this is one of them.” He didn’t connect to this story about a terrified kid with psychic powers at all. We talked a little afterward and figure it’s possibly because even though our son has his own nighttime rituals, he’s never really experienced the monster-under-the-bed sort of phobias that this kid has, and couldn’t understand why George was afraid of absolutely everything.

As for me, Matt Smith sells a really excellent moment where the Doctor talks about how far into space George’s psychic message traveled, and structurally it’s a far better script than Mark Gatiss’s previous contribution, “Victory of the Daleks”, but it dissolves into another power of love resolution and never really gelled for me. Our son noticed the similarities between this apartment block and the Powell Estate from series one and two, but that location seemed much more real and full of people. The only people we see in this building have speaking parts. There’s no life or energy in the script or in the place they filmed it.

Doctor Who 6.8 – Let’s Kill Hitler

“Let’s Kill Hitler” is hugely disappointing to me, but the biggest surprise is that the hour doesn’t use the medium of television to its advantage. Here is a production that can definitely show, not tell, through the use of flashbacks and old footage, but it’s really just people talking and talking. They talk about brainwashing, but we never see the little girl in the astronaut suit, they talk about regenerating into a toddler and they don’t show it. They talk about Melody being programmed to kill, but they don’t explain when she became a combat expert and got hold of lipstick with alien poison in it. Did they teach all this to the little girl and entrust her to hold onto this unlikely weapon for decades, or did they train an adult and then regenerate her into the astronaut suit girl? Is the Alex Kingston body Melody/River’s third or her fourth?

They also talk about how the baby Melody became their good friend Mels and they don’t show any emotion at all over it. Amy and Rory have been agonizing over their missing baby for an entire summer and there isn’t a tear to be seen; they just accept that the puzzle’s been solved. Last time, it was the big rousing finale that the Doctor was going to rescue the infant, and there’s no emotional payoff to the revelation that he can’t. It feels so hollow that Amy and Rory don’t feel human anymore.

I wonder whether Steven Moffat had figured out how the Silence business was going to play out. This is the second hour in a row where somebody could have said something simple and direct like Madame Kovarian could have last week: “We can’t stop you after you get to Trenzalore, so we’re going to war with you now.” That creates a mystery and gives motivation to the villains. Instead we get gobbledygook about the oldest question in the universe being asked. That’s also a mystery, although it’s going to feel like an incredibly dumb one when it shows up five episodes down the line, but it’s not a comprehensible motivation.

Doctor Who 6.7 – A Good Man Goes to War

First things first: I genuinely don’t like Madame Vastra and Jenny one bit, but they’re really not at all obnoxious and obvious in their first appearance. I really do like the idea that the Doctor’s had lots of offscreen adventures and lots of old friends and allies we have never met. So how could we have made this business of pulling in several new-to-TV characters to save the day work better? Simple. You know who the Doctor should’ve picked up to save the day? He should have picked up Fey Truscott-Sade, Frobisher, Majenta Pryce, and Kroton the Cyberman.

So yes, this is a great big mess that’s entertaining in places and disappointing in others. There’s a lot less of Dan Starkey being silly and entertaining as Strax than I remembered, but the main problem, and it’s a huge one, is the villains. We never really get a real understanding of what these villains want, how they’ve gone about it, how they figured out that conceiving a kid in the Time Vortex somehow gives the kid bonus DNA, how they figured when and where anybody was conceiving kids in the Time Vortex anyway, why they hate the Doctor so much, and so on. Steven Moffat fills in a couple of these gaps later on, but this hour by itself is just head-scratchingly weird. The villain’s name is Madame Kovarian, and I’m not going to tell our son that he’s going to have to wait several more months to learn what her beef actually is. It’s not actually really resolved until Smith’s final episode, where it succeeds in feeling like a rushed afterthought.

The kid enjoyed the spectacle and the reappearance of old monsters, but the change in tone succeeded in depressing his enthusiasm, and the great big reveal at the end – River Song is Amy and Rory’s child! – had him even more disillusioned and annoyed than he was last time. He grumbled that “Day of the Daleks” made a lot more sense than this, and hoped that the show would get back to “single episode stories” soon. I’m not sure why he landed on “Day” out of the blue, but I told him that the next one would be more of the same, but the next four would be mostly stand-alone. He said “Whew,” with animation.

Doctor Who 6.6 – The Almost People

Now this was interesting. All I was planning to say tonight was that I still don’t understand why this story needed to be a two-parter, and that it’s mostly just fine, if not really engaging, apart from a long, long patch when it gets really mawkish and I wished they’d just get on with it. Then the kid turned on it, with a vengeance. This was very surprising.

Throughout the first half of this series, we keep getting traces of a bigger story behind the scenes. Amy keeps seeing glimpses of a lady wearing an eye patch looking at her wherever they go. She confided in the Doctor at the end of “The Impossible Astronaut” that she was pregnant, but when they got back together, weeks later, she said that she was mistaken. This builds up to a grim little cliffhanger tonight: the real Amy, very pregnant, is being held captive and sedated in some room somewhere, being looked in on by the eye patch lady. The Amy who’s been in the series since they all split up between episodes one and two is a copy who thought she was the real thing. And that’s beside the bigger point that we saw at the outset: somehow, 200 years in his future, this Doctor dies, and Amy and Rory can’t tell “their” Doctor about it.

All of this was too much for the kid, who found it both distasteful and very, very confusing. Later, I clarified with him that he certainly enjoyed the previous series up to this one, even though they had running background storylines like Torchwood or Bad Wolf or the crack in the universe. But he made his point by stomping over to the shelf where I keep the DVDs and Blu-rays of the first twenty-six seasons, and growled “Why can’t the shows be separate like they used to? This is too confusing and it doesn’t make any sense!”

I thought I could point out that even in the “classic” days, Doctor Who did rely on at least some continuity. Unfortunately for me, he chose to illustrate his point by pulling out “The Seeds of Death”, which, other than the Ice Warriors, doesn’t have much of any connection to any previous story, which he rammed right back at me. He wouldn’t budge, and more power to him. He’s absolutely right to say that this series is far, far more intricately built and connected than any previous one, and certainly we’ve never had big upheavals like this one right in the middle of the run, and if it doesn’t work for him, he’s certainly not alone in that opinion.

Doctor Who is kind of unique in that many of its reviewers and commentators, perhaps because they have latent swirlie issues from their own childhoods or are still sore about the show’s cancellation in 1989, will chastise the show for not making sense to the general audience, only the regular fans. “Heaven knows what a casual viewer would think of this,” they often moan, a complaint not lodged against any other program that’s ever been made. (Think about it. Walking Dead reviewers never have to say that.) But with series six, it looks like that sort of complaint has real merit. Doctor Who is, at its core, a program for families. There will always be some stories that don’t work for some viewers, or leave some viewers disappointed or bored. But when the nine year-olds don’t understand what the heck is even happening, then that seems like pretty strong evidence to me that the creators went too far and needed to dial things back.

At least next time, he’ll meet Strax. We think he’ll like Strax, at least.

Doctor Who 6.5 – The Rebel Flesh

We’re hitting the long period where Doctor Who is technically well-made, but isn’t crying out to be revisited. That said, “The Rebel Flesh” does have a little bit to offer on a second viewing, because there are several hints – ones that I certainly missed the first time around – that the Doctor has a very good reason to be here that he’s not sharing. So it’s certainly interesting from a writing standpoint, and it’s hundreds of times better than the writer’s previous Who, “Fear Her”, but it all just feels inconsequential and dull to me. The cliffhanger was obvious from space, too. Our son was not at all surprised.