Sunday, October 2, 2011

DAMN Good Television -- DOCTOR WHO Series Six

Doctor Who Series Six has just ended, leaving us with over two a half months until the next Christmas episode.  With showrunner Steven Moffat writing Series Five and Six as season-long arcs, I thought I'd save up my thoughts, rankings and assorted nonsense on each of the Series Six episodes until the end.  It's been a pretty bumpy ride in the TARDIS this year, but some definite gems to be treasured for years to come.  So here are my thoughts on this season, and shhhh, spoilers...
  1. The Impossible Astronaut (4.5 out of 5 Sonic Screwdrivers) -- This opener was key to setting up the Big Series Six Mystery and certainly doesn't disappoint.  Making the most of the first-ever series filming in America with some beautiful shots in the Monument Valley (a.k.a. "Lake Silencio") desert, this episode features Steven Moffat at his craftiest.  There's so much to enjoy here, with the shocking death scene of the 1,103-year-old future Eleventh Doctor, the introduction of Canton Everett Delaware III (young and old), the Doctor meeting President Richard Nixon, and the introduction of The Silence.  A solid start to the series.
  2. Day of the Moon (4 out of 5) -- Picking up three months after the end of "The Impossible Astronaut," I found it somewhat amusing that the Doctor was hanging out in America during the period of my birth in June of 1969.  (There's a story for me to write in there somewhere, I just know it...)  This episode takes full advantage of the setting around the Apollo 11 Moon landing and cleverly works it into the Silence's defeat.  More Series Six mysteries are introduced, including Amy Pond's apparent quantum pregnancy, the strange "Eyepatch Lady" and the game-changing regeneration scene of a little girl at the end.  Doctor Who internet forums go all asplodey.
  3. The Curse of the Black Spot (2.5 out of 5) -- Just about killing the momentum from the opening two-parter, this episode by writer Stephen Thompson wasn't entirely horrible but certainly a waste of the fun idea of the Doctor and his companions meeting pirates.  It does create a fun connection to the classic First Doctor story "The Smugglers" with the use of Captain Henry Avery and continues teasing us with another quick appearance by the "Eyepatch Lady" but that's about it.
  4. The Doctor's Wife (5 out of 5) -- With everyone's expectations lowered after the previous week's episode, writer Neil Gaiman comes along and reminds everyone why Doctor Who is still the greatest show in the galaxy after all these decades.  Moffat loves to treat Doctor Who as a fairytale, but it's Gaiman who weaves the most magical story out of the simplest of story ideas, the TARDIS given human form at long last.  Actress Surrane Jones positively shines as Idris/The TARDIS, playing off the equally brilliant Matt Smith to perfection.  There's so much love here, from the reintroduction of Hypercubes from "The War Games" to finally seeing corridors inside the TARDIS for the first time since the series' return in 2005.  My favorite episode of the series, hands down.
  5. The Rebel Flesh (3 out of 5) -- The first part of this two-parter by Life on Mars creator Matthew Graham is thankfully better than his previous Doctor Who script, "Fear Her," but still plods along more than it should.  It does introduce the concept of the Gangers, which pays off a little later on in Series Six, and teases more of the "Eyepatch Lady."
  6. The Almost People (3.5 out of 5) -- Following up on the rather predictable cliffhanger, Matt Smith gets the chance to act against himself and makes the most of it.  Two Eleventh Doctors working in tandem make every scene they're in so much more interesting and after we're back in the TARDIS, things really get interesting.  We're hit with the solid cliffhanger of Amy collapsing into a puddle of white Flesh goo and then cut to the Eyepatch Lady telling the real Amy (now about to give birth) to puuusssssh.  Internet forums resume exploding.
  7. A Good Man Goes to War (4 out of 5) -- Steven Moffat returns for the Series Six summer break point and wraps up the previous cliffhanger while indulging himself in more of his River Song fanfic.  We finally learn that Eyepatch Lady is named Madame Kovarian and that she has a serious peeve about the Doctor.  More importantly, we learn that Amy has named her new daughter Melody Pond and that Rory keeps his Roman armor handy whenever he wants to look all badass against a bunch of Cybermen.  Dorium Maldovar returns along with a motley crew of people the Doctor has apparently met before, including the scene-stealing Victorian lesbian Silurian Madame Vastra and her human lover/assistant Jenny.  Ultimately though, it's all about River Song, so everyone who's been paying attention gets to take pride that they figured out that River is actually Amy and Rory's daughter Melody all grown up.
  8. Let's Kill Hitler (3.5 out of 5) -- Back from summer hiatus at last, Steven Moffat bizarrely shrugs off the events of the previous episode and instead goes into full-on River Song fanfic mode once again.  We learn that Amy and Rory's troublemaking childhood friend Mels, who has never been seen until now, is actually the previous incarnation of River Song with a regeneration scene that only seems to surprise Amy and Rory.  Moffat crams a ton of his River Song character plot points into this rushed episode, never giving it the chance it needs to breathe and only frustrates us in the process.  Even worse, the idea that Amy and Rory never get to raise Melody properly, that they already "raised" her as Mels, feels extremely wrong and unjust.  Meanwhile, there's this strange Teselecta robot manned by a miniature crew of humanoids that can change its appearance.  I'm sure it's important for some reason...
  9. Night Terrors (2.5 out of 5) -- Just before you start to wonder if Moffat is changing the series title from Doctor Who to Doctor Song, we scale things down with the traditional budget-saving episode, this time by writer Mark Gatiss.  For an episode that is shot very dark and atmospheric, we don't really feel any sense of terror that we should.  Everyone seems to be going through the motions in this episode and fandom starts to wonder when things will get back on track.
  10. The Girl Who Waited (5 out of 5) -- And just like earlier in Series Six, a dud episode is followed up immediately by one of the best.  Tom MacRae, who hasn't written for Doctor Who since the first Cybermen two-parter of the new series in 2006, turned in a powerful episode with the tale of Amy Pond being left to fend for herself in a time-accelerated alien world.  Karen Gillan gives her best performance of the series as the Older Amy, once again jaded by abandonment and hardened by her circumstances into a katana-wielding force.  Once again, we're reminded of the deep love Amy and Rory now share, making Amy's flirtations with the Doctor just last year seem like a lifetime ago.  Whovians worldwide suddenly find themselves low on tissues in this solid tearjerker.
  11. The God Complex (3 out of 5) -- I'm convinced that there's a solid Doctor Who story in this script by Toby Whithouse, creator of Being Human, but it's hard to tell from the way this episode was executed.  Wandering around a strange hotel with people's fears hidden away in different rooms seems like a strong concept to me, but this episode is way too brightly-lit and has no sense of dread or mood going for it.  The Doctor gets some nice dialogue, though, and there's a fun nod that the minotaur creature is a relative of the Nimon from the Fourth Doctor story "The Horns of Nimon."  And then suddenly, without warning, the Doctor drops Amy and Rory off on Earth, gives them a nice house and a car, and sets off for somewhere else in the TARDIS.  Just because.  Whatchutalkinbout, Moffat?
  12. Closing Time (4 out of 5) -- Now companionless and suddenly two hundred years older, the Doctor returns to Earth to look up his old mate Craig Owens in this fun, lighthearted sequel to last year's "The Lodger" by the same writer, Gareth Roberts.  We learn that Craig and Sophie now have an infant son named Alfie, who apparently prefers to be called Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All.  (Well, who doesn't?)  The Cybermen return as the episode's villains, still not as impressive as they used to be, but this bunch reintroduces the Cybermats to a new generation of Whovians that are now especially bitey.  But just to remind everyone what's really important this season, the Doctor receives his Stetson hat from Craig and picks up some TARDIS blue envelopes.  Oh, and there's a not-so-subtle cliffhanger with Madame Kovarian and The Silence turning up to kidnap River Song and stick her in that astronaut suit so that she can kill the Doctor...or will she?
  13. The Wedding of River Song (4 out of 5) -- Okay, big finale time, which means it's also time for Steven Moffat to remind everyone that he's far cleverer than they are.  We start off with the Doctor tracking down the head of the presumably deceased Dorium Maldovar and soon discover there's a timey-wimey fusion of Earth's history in a moment of frozen time just to make things interesting.  With some returning cameos by Simon Callow's Charles Dickens, Ian McNiece's Winston Churchill, the Teselecta robot crew and Richard Hope's Silurian Malohkeh, we soon get the necessary explanation that River Song is responsible because she didn't carry out killing the Doctor, which is a moment of fixed time.  Well, of course.  This turns out to be a trap by Madame Kovarian and her new best buds The Silence, but the Doctor restores temporal reality by persuading River Song to allow time to continue by marrying her.  The Doctor is seemingly killed as shown in "The Impossible Astronaut" but he's got a plan, right?  Right?  The post "Flesh and Stone" River Song turns up at Amy and Rory's house to tell them that the Doctor was hiding inside a Doctor-shaped Teselecta robot when she shot him in Lake Silencio and is still alive.  And yes, as most diehard Whovians suspected, the oldest question in the universe is indeed "Doctor...who?"  Exhausting stuff, but Steven Moffat pulls everything together as well as can be expected and sticks the landing.  I'm not sure why everything had to be this convoluted, but this is how Moffat's brain works, apparently.  God forbid he works on a movie with Christopher Nolan someday.
So now we have the 2011 Christmas Special to look forward to, and then a lonnnnnng wait until after the 2012 Summer Olympics in London for Series Seven.  But at least Matt Smith is returning as the Eleventh Doctor and hopefully Moffat's new ominous tease of "The Fall of the Eleventh" in the Series Six finale won't be happening for until Series Eight or longer.  Oh, and we still don't know who that sinister voice was that took over the TARDIS in "The Pandorica Opens" and said "Silence will fall," do we?  Hmmm, I wonder who that could be...

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