Saturday, 1 October 2011

Series Six


The Doctor is going to die and nothing can prevent it...series six is the most arc heavy season yet and has produced a split reaction from its audience. This year the Doctor, Amy, Rory and River face the Impossible Astronaut and the Silence, a siren at sea, a sentient asteroid, the rebel flesh, the Headless Monks and Madame Kovarian, a younger, tougher River Song, scary dolls, an older Amy who waited, an offshoot of the Nimon, Cybermen and time itself which is after his death!

The regulars -

The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon written by Steven Moffatt and directed by Toby Haynes

Result: An expensive attention grabbing two parter with a wealth of beautifully realised and memorable scenes. However it is far from perfect and The Impossible Astronaut is unhappily one of the most awkwardly paced and frustratingly plotted Doctor Who episodes of all time that holds its audience at a distance by trying to be too clever for its own good despite the astonishing sequence of the Doctor’s death. Regardless of strong performances and witty lines by the end of the first episode I was distinctly unengaged simply because the plot progression was so haphazard and frustrating. It almost feels like Steven Moffat is trying a little too hard to live up to his own reputation of being a clever sod. Day of the Moon is far more attractively written with less emphasis on continuing plot threads and more interested in having an identity of its own. Amy’s visit to the orphanage is the first truly scary set piece of the era and I love pretty much everything about the insanely creepy Silence creatures. Everything builds to an exciting and (here’s that word again) clever conclusion but one that leaves more questions lingering than delivers answers. This is a deeply flawed two parter but has too many fantastic scenes to deny it some praise and for all it's narrative problems it does manage to grab your interest and hurl you into the new season with some confidence. River is still welcome, Amy seems so much more likeable, Arthur Darvill is finally given material that shows what Rory is made of and holding it all together is Matt Smith’s phenomenal performance as the Doctor. The Impossible Astronaut earns a 6 and Day of the Moon a 8 so overall this schizoid stunner gets: 7/10

Full Review Here:

The Curse of the Black Spot written by Stephen Thompson and directed by Jeremy Webb

Result: A throwaway adventure with far too many faults to be a memorable episode, The Curse of the Black Spot fails to match up to the quality of the previous pirate stories in seasons four and sixteen. There is too much reliance on storybook clichés, the direction is quite flat and lacks the gumption of a real swashbuckling adventure and there is a real sense that the budget cannot quite pull this cinematic concept off.  Clearly all the money has been spent on Moffat's lavish opener. Matt Smith feels perfectly at home in this setting and Hugh Bonneville gives a grand turn as Captain Avery but I was very disappointed with both Amy and Rory who feel perfunctory and awkwardly characterised. The episode lurches into a very different story after half an hour which takes all the potential threat of the Siren and gives it the most clinically unsatisfying payoff imaginable. Big Finish pulled off a Pirate adventure which managed to juggle comedy and tragedy with great aplomb and in comparison The Curse of the Black Spot is simply average fare, not much substance and not much style. Mildly entertaining in spots but instantly disposable: 4/10

Full Review Here:

The Doctor’s Wife written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Richard Clark

What’s it about: The Doctor gets to talk to the TARDIS for the first and last time…

Nutty Professor: Matt Smith’s signature episode. This is the eleventh Doctor at his absolute finest. The myriad of emotions and different tones Smith has to pitch his performance at is asking a lot of any actor and he steps up to the plate and pulls it off with absolute conviction. He’s going to get rid of the warning lights because they never stop bothering him! Another renegade Time Lord that the Doctor admired greatly as he was growing up was the Corsair who had the same tattoo in every regeneration, be it male or female. The Doctor burns up TARDIS rooms Christopher H Bidmead style (bye bye swimming pool) in order to leave the universe with just a little touch of Castrovalva. His chin is hilarious! When he realises that there could be lots and lots of Time Lords nearby his reaction is excited but cautious. Amy confronts him about why he has a need to see his people again and he admits that he wants forgiveness but imagine the amount of explaining he would have to do if he ever met one (or go and read the EDA The Gallifrey Chronicles to see how its done). Its so refreshing to see the Doctor’s throwaway admission that he is the last Time Lord finally have some terrifying consequences – maybe he will be a little more careful who he spills that out to in the future. He was given hope and had it snatched away in the worst possible way, by reminding him of the atrocity he committed to his people…God knows what that will do to him. The TARDIS was already a museum piece when the Doctor was young and when he first touched her he said she was the most beautiful thing he had ever known. When the TARDIS dematerialises in front of him he genuinely has no idea what to do and he smiles at that new feeling. Smith goes from confidence to wide eyed embarrassment when the TARDIS reveals his nickname for her. Not reliable, runs around and brings home strays – the TARDIS has him pegged correctly and no mistake! Nephew is another Ood he failed to save. The Doctor goes from being devastatingly aggressive (‘Finish him off girl!’) to the weakest we have ever seen him, tears crawling down his face because he cannot bear to say goodbye to his ship. For an old fanboy like me its too much to take and I fall to pieces every time I watch it. Has the word hello ever been so devastating?

Scots Tart: At this stage Amy knows the Doctor better than anyone and she orders him not to get emotional because that is when he makes mistakes. Interesting that Amy’s worst fear is leaving Rory waiting for 2000 years again and hating her for it. Amy’s reaction to Rory’s corpse and the walls covered in graffiti damning her is horrific, she screams and clutches her stomach as though she is in pain (oooh…).

Rory the Roman: I love Rory’s little Ood impression to Amy. Oh bless Amy knows exactly why the Doctor has locked them in the TARDIS while naïve, trusting Rory is still looking for the jacket.

Lady TARDIS: What’s impossible is that I would never have thought that any single actress would be able to personify the TARDIS and it would be enough for the fans. Suranne Jones received huge plaudits for her performance in this episode and as far as I am concerned she is the TARDIS. She nailed it. The finest character to step from the New Series by a country mile - the female embodiment of the TARDIS and she is delightful, whimsical and slightly mad. She runs up to the Doctor declaring him her ‘thief’ and snogs the face off him before laughing her head off about it! The time travelling nature of the TARDIS has imbued Idris with visions of the future and she can see a moment when the word alive will be so sad because it will be over. Its hilarious how Idris gets all the technical explanations out of the way so the Doctor doesn’t have to…because she has heard him say it in the future…which he doesn’t actually say now! The TARDIS wanted to see the universe so she stole a Time Lord and ran away and the Doctor was the only one mad enough to give it a go. I don’t know if I have seen a more beautiful sight than Idris kissing the console with fire in her eyes. The TARDIS has archived all the old control rooms – she has about 30 now (and wouldn’t it be wonderful to skip through them all?). She always liked it when the Doctor called her old girl.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘And then we discovered it wasn’t the Robot King after all but the real one. Fortunately I was able to reattach the head.’ Ugh! I’m glad we weren’t present in that adventure!
‘Biting’s excellent! Its like kissing only there’s a winner!’
‘Where’s my thief?’
‘I’m a madman in a box without a box and I’m stuck down a plughole at the end of the universe on a stupid old junkyard!’
‘You didn’t always take me where I wanted to go!’ ‘No but I always took you where I needed to go!’ – that is probably my favourite moment in Doctor Who ever. It struck a chord with my far more than the tears at the end because it was perfect pay off to all of those wayward adventures in the TARDIS that ended up exactly where he was needed.
‘Oh my beautiful idiot. You have what you have always had. You’ve got me.’
‘She’s a woman and she’s the TARDIS!’ ‘Did you wish really hard?’
‘Fear me, I’ve killed hundreds of Time Lords’ ‘Fear me, I’ve killed all of them.’

The Good Stuff: Immediately this feels like it is going to be something a bit different with the very creepy set up of Auntie and Uncle and their pet Ood helping Idris into a machine that is ‘really gonna hurt.’ The teaser scene in the TARDIS is wonderfully affirming for a series that has gone a little plot mad, the Doctor chasing the Time Lord communication box around the console room before declaring ‘I’ve got mail!’ The lighting when the TARDIS has its soul ripped out is very atmospheric – I wish they would turn the lights down more often in that wine lounge console room because it looks so much more moody. The storytelling in the teaser is crystal clear so we see a clear progression of the TARDIS being torn out and shoved into Idris. Its nice to be one step ahead of the Doctor. The junkyard set with the phenomenally menacing rocket engines looming from above is a startling visual – you wont see anything like this on television apart from on Doctor Who. There’s a washing machine, deck chairs and a fish slice! Vintage stuff! Adrian Schiller (‘Sorry about the mad person’) and Elisabeth Berrington (‘Well we’re dying, my love’) deliver wonderfully skewed performances as Auntie and Uncle – they are as dolally as everybody else but with just a hint of sanity. How creepy is the voice of House? Brrr… I love the super spooky visual of the green cloud enveloping the shell of the TARDIS (and the beams of light streaming through the interior windows), it’s the dark fantasy elements of the Moffatt era hitting the spot again. The moment the Doctor discovers the cupboard full of distress boxes I sank into the sofa with horror…the episode suddenly takes a much darker tone as we realises all of the Time Lords lured here have been killed. People made up of bits of long dead Time Lords is deliciously macabre. Simon’s biggest complaint about this series is that with all the money it has these days that they haven’t explored the interior of the TARDIS…he was so excited to get out of the console room into the corridors! The valley of half eaten TARDISes is the sort of genius concept that only comes around every now and again and it should be applauded for its mind bending awesomeness. The scenes of Amy and Rory being menaced through the TARDIS corridors could have felt remarkably cheap but thanks to some claustrophobic direction and lighting they are screaming with tension. Insane Rory is terrifying and the wall of abusive scrawl might just be the mot disturbing thing Doctor Who has ever presented us with. Amy grabbing the Ood tendrils - ugh ugh uggghhhh! Its wonderful to see the old control room and how spacious does it look? Possibly my favourite visual effect ever comes as the TARDIS pours out of Idris and dances around the Doctor dancing around the console room. It works so beautifully because it is both emotionally and visually stunning.

The Bad Stuff: My one tiny complaint is that I would have told the scene where the lights go out in the corridor entirely from Amy’s point of view rather than switching back and forth from light and dark which blunts the mood a tiny bit.

The Shallow Bit: Suranne Jones is beautiful. Enough said.

Result: You find me another show that can feature a living malevolent asteroid that tears the souls out of time ships and personifies them in female form so it can eat the shell of the ship. The Doctor’s Wife is unlike anything we have ever seen in Doctor Who before and it ticked every single box of what I think kicks ass in the series. Its dark, twisted, imaginative, funny, clever, emotional and satisfying. Another thing I love is that the episode looks lavishly expensive and yet it doesn’t pour its money into soulless set pieces but in where it counts; the glorious junkyard on an asteroid, the extra rooms in the TARDIS, the graveyard of TARDISes. Every line is gorgeous, the ideas are brilliant (that Neil Gaiman is a genius) and the music kicks some serious ass. This is the episode where the Doctor manages to build a working TARDIS out of hundreds of different models and he doesn’t care that it is impossible. This is the episode where Amy and Rory are menaced through the ships corridors by a disembodied voice that eats TARDISes. This is the episode where the Doctor gets to talk to his most faithful friend and tell her how much she means to him. Its something to be treasured forever: 10/10

The Rebel Flesh & The Almost People written by Matthew Graham and directed by Julian Simpson

Result: Terry Nation writes a script for the 2010s full of acid leaks, doppelgangers, radiation and fake Doctors. Actually Matthew Graham wrote it but you would be forgiven for thinking that somebody associated with the shows early years had been involved because this is really old fashioned storytelling, told at an old fashioned pace. The story is crippled immediately by a lack of identifiable characters – none of the human guest cast appealed to me in the slightest so that left no hope for their Gangers. Jennifer in particular is a hopeless character, atrociously performed and characterised and dragging Rory into a dead end sub plot that makes him look more like an idiot than a hero. Had all this been condensed down into one frantic episode it might have been made to work but dragged out to an hour and a half it plays the same tricks over and over until even (naff) monster effects and (abortive) paranoia seem uninteresting. Another damaging factor is the direction and editing; some scenes that should have flowed beautifully are discordantly chopped together and there are an amazing amount of scenes with agonisingly long pauses as if they are asking us to pass judgement on how boring it all is. The last scene is a genuine shocker and is so frighteningly depicted it puts the rest of the story to shame and I really liked the way that they kept the focus on the Ganger Doctor to disguise the fact that this story was actually all about a fake Amy. The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People doesn’t pass any of the criteria that I expect from good Doctor Who; it's not funny, imaginative, scary or entertaining. It's an ugly, outdated, unpleasant story which for me proved astonishingly unlikable: 3/10

Full Review Here:

A Good Man Goes To War written by Steven Moffatt and directed by Peter Boar

Result: A noisy, empty, expensive spectacular, A Good Man Goes To War is the TV equivalent of a Doctor Who movie and proves to be as fast paced and shallow as I would expect a big screen bonanza to be. Or at least it did until Moffat pulled off The Day of the Doctor which managed to outclass this effort by managing to put equal weight on plot and characterisation and balancing the complexities of both. In comparison A Good Man Goes to War is all sound and fury, signifying not a great deal. A few moments of choking emotion aside the content of this episode is mostly spectacle and bluster, an average piece of storytelling pretending to be something more epic but constantly telling us that it is. Like The Almost People, this is the second episode in a row that has been lacking but ends on a cliffhanging high that leaves you with the illusion that this is much better than it really is. In that respect Moffat is the ultimate magician. It is reasonably good telly; sensational and glossy but it's not the sort of Doctor Who that I want to be watching for all the reasons stated above. My score is mostly for the terrific production values, some quirky new characters and that phenomenal final scene which ranks up there as one of the best revelatory moments the show has ever given us. But then what do I know, my mum loved it: 5/10

Full Review Here:

Let’s Kill Hitler written by Steven Moffatt and directed by Richard Senior

Result: And breathe. I find this episode more frustrating than most others because whilst it served as an inventive and confident return to series six when it was first broadcast it has since gone down in my estimation because I have given the material a degree of thought and it all comes tumbling down like a house of cards revealing no foundation underneath. Let's Kill Hitler is packed with great ideas but misses pretty much every emotional beat and ignores so many important questions. How has Amy given up on the idea of experiencing her baby's childhood? Why would River give up all of her remaining lives for a man she barely knows? What are the emotional consequences of that? How do Amy and Rory feel about spending their childhood in the dark about Mels? It is caught in the middle of a spiders web of a narrative arc like a little fly struggling desperately to entertain and look hip to disguise the fact that a lot of what Moffat is presenting doesn't actually come off if you give it some consideration. We lurch from one crazy set piece to another by the master magician, the King of distracting the audience with eye catching imagery, quick one liners and insane twists. What this story needs is double the length to explore its exhilarating ideas. Perhaps this should have been a two parter in its own right but I'm not sure even with more time that the writer could have made the middle sections of this defective arc work. It is fundamentally flawed. Smith, Gillan and Darvill deliver wonderfully baffled performances and make this piece a bubbly delight at points although Alex Kingston lets the side down with her unpersuasive portrayal of the rebel River and I fear that has more to do with the writer squeezing her into an unsuitable role rather than a lack of talent. Moffat can marry great ideas and great drama (Forest of the Dead, The Doctor Dances) and it would be wonderful if he could remember the latter but at least he doesn’t seem short of the former which this season is bursting with like crazy fireworks. Let’s Kill Hitler is fast paced, witty and overflowing with creative but it also has a weight of smugness that makes you want to slap it round the face and tell it to calm down. A story which doesn't hold up in its own right and yet is burdened by the arc that it contributes to: 5/10

Full Review Here:

Night Terrors written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Richard Clark

Result: This kicks off a run of three relatively standalone high concept episodes and is the weakest of the three because it doesn’t have the emotional kick of The Girl Who Waited or the constant innovation and development of The God Complex. There is a great idea at the heart of Night Terrors (being trapped inside a dolls house) but once that has been revealed it is pretty much all atmosphere and running about and very little substance for the second half of the episode. Low key isn’t always a bad thing but here it feels positively insignificant and matters aren’t helped by the choice of child actor who fails to convince in every scene. The director works overtime to create some suspense and to his credit the imagery is very strong, both in and around the flats and especially once we enter the skewed world of the dolls house. Matt Smith’s Doctor is a joy to watch but Amy and Rory are about as vacuous as they have ever been and are showing signs of having outlived their usefulness. There are some creepy moments in Night Terrors (the dolls are a real fright) but if you skip this one you are hardly missing out on anything special and by the end (especially that vomit inducing injection of syrup at the end) I had lost interest: 5/10

Full Review Here:

The Girl Who Waited written by Tom MacRae and directed by Nick Hurran

Result: Such a weird episode and I don’t know how to judge it. The first third is the most boring 15 minutes of season six because it is all overly complicated set up for the last ten minutes of drama. You can literally hear the plotting gears grinding into place to get the Doctor, Amy and Rory where they need to be to provide that humdinger of an emotional climax. Whether by design (it is supposed to be a sterile medical facility) or because they were saving money for Moffat’s expensive finale) it is also one of the few new series episodes that feels cheap (the bloody Millennium Centre again). Interesting ideas are tossed in the air but jettisoned in favour of the characters (normally I complain it is the other way around - the best episodes of this era are the ones that balance both equally) and there is an awful lot of running around to be had too. However when The Girl Who Waited gets it right it really gets it right and the horrific choice that falls on Rory at the conclusion grabs hold of your heart and crushes it until your eyes bleed with tears. The older Amy is a great character, bitter and angry and unwilling to give the Doctor any more chances. The Doctor has to make the awful decision to slam the door in her face when she tosses all that resentment aside and decides to leave with them in one of the most shocking moments of the season. Darvill, Smith and Gillen have never been better than at that moment and it's great to see them hitting such an emotional high when they are about to be split up permanently. How to rate an episode that tests my patience this much and yet manages to score such a coup with its characters in its closing third? It feels unfair to score an episode that hits the series’ emotional high point (The Doctor’s Wife excepted) this low but there are too many surrounding details that let it down: 6/10

Full Review Here:

The God Complex written by Toby Whithouse and directed by Nick Hurran

Result: Oddball is a label that has been directed at any kind of Doctor Who story that deviates from the normality of ‘aliens trying to invade Earth’ and the ‘Doctor interferes with history’ and tries to explore something a bit more creative and offbeat. The God Complex certainly falls into that category an takes its place amongst the successes of the genre (The Mind Robber, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy) rather than its failures (The Celestial Toymaker, Paradise Towers). It just goes to show what a creative director can bring to the show because with its single location and fairly naff monster this is clearly the cheapie episode of the year but cut together this fast and cleverly it is extremely easy on the eye and the time flies by. It’s a clever premise that allows for moments of psychology, some really bouncy dialogue and a wrenching twist that knocks the Doctor for six. Oddly considering it is the one episode that isn’t dealing with the ominous foreshadowing of his death this is to my mind the best portrayal of Smith’s Doctor since the last complete standalone (The Doctor’s Wife) and a lot of the criticisms of his character make a lot of good sense. I much prefer this to the previous high concept episode because it doesn’t have to needlessly complicate its set up in order to cash in the emotional payoff and it winds up being a whole lot more vibrant and pleasurable to watch. It starts off as a standalone but turns out to be the most satisfying arc story of the whole season. A superbly performed ensemble piece that stands up very well to repeated viewing and I would be very happy to see more intelligent, emotive tales of this standard next year: 9/10

Full Review Here:

Closing Time written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Steve Hughes

Result: Cybermen in the fitting room, the Doctor in a gay relationship and a baby that wants to take over the world – we are definitely in Doctor Who sitcom territory. Closing Time turned out to be the biggest revelation of my re-watch of season six because I didn’t think much of it upon transmission but with the benefit of hindsight there is actually plenty to enjoy in this episode. Unlike much of the season it is a light affair and is packed full of jokes and great lines that are far funnier the second time around. Stripped of Amy and Rory, the Doctor is a joy to be around; witty and wonderful as he translates baby speak and flirts with Craig. Smith’s chemistry with Corden is a delight to watch once again. The only thing that really annoyed me was how totally rubbish the Cybermen were but let's be honest they have long since been the butt of Doctor Who’s joke. One of these days somebody will write a scary, psychological masterpiece for the Cybermen but when a writer is squeezing them into an episode full of cutie wutie babies and jokes about Britain’s Got Talent, Gareth Robert’s mind is clearly on other things. It’s a shame that their dreadful treatment should put such a dent in the episode because otherwise this is exactly what we needed, an amusing breather before the dramatic finale. Closing Time is flawed but I was surprised at how much this sitcom style Who kept me smiling and although he is probably too busy I certainly wouldn’t object to Corden becoming a full time companion. Craig strikes me as more of an identification character than either Amy or Clara: 7/10

Full Review Here:

The Wedding of River Song written by Steven Moffat and directed by Jeremy Webb

This story in a nutshell: Time has gone batty because the Doctor hasn’t died…

Geeky Hero: The Doctor is even worshipping himself these days by calling himself the ‘face of the devil’ to a Dalek. Get over yourself man and get on with your adventures. I was unsure about the Doctor’s willingness to just roll over and let himself die in Closing Time and was really happy to see that his fighting spirit had returned here. The Monks don’t want to kill the Doctor; they just don’t want him alive because he is a man with a long and dangerous past. It transpires that the Silence wanted to kill the Doctor because at some point the question of his name will be asked. Big deal. Ace asked that question in Silver Nemesis and the universe didn’t end. The series did but the universe didn’t. Are we heading for a big revelation at the 50th Anniversary that answers the question of Doctor Who? If so, it could be another anchor point in the shows mythology like revealing The Time Lords at the climax of The War Games. Alternatively it could completely demystify the character and prove that the mystery surrounding his past on Gallifrey really was never worth hearing. Dangerous business but the show hasn’t remained at the top of its game for this long by playing safe. If he had to die he didn’t have to die alone which explains why he invited his friends to watch him croak it. It makes perfect sense that the Doctor as the Tesselecta would forgive River for murdering him because she isn’t in control of the spacesuit but do you know what? I think even if it had been him he would have forgiven her anyway – I know the Doctor and he isn’t the sort of person who would go to his death baring a grudge (that's why Tennant railing at his death in The End of Time was such a unique aberration). Maybe the Doctor does have a degree of modesty left because he finds the idea that River would send out a distress beacon to the people of the universe to aid him stupid and that it wouldn’t mean anything to anybody. He’s decided that the universe is better off without him but the universe doesn’t agree – this is veering dangerously close to the sort of hero worship that Davies employed (‘I can’t let you die without knowing that you are loved!’ - oh vomit) but at least it isn’t as bad as the uncomfortable mythologising of the character in A Good Man Goes to War. However the big coup for this episode and of series six in general (because this is clearly where the series has been heading) is the Doctor’s realisation that he has been far too noisy of late, too omnipresent and approaching something that people consider to be a benevolent God. Now the universe thinks that he is dead he can go back to his simple life of adventuring and keep his head down. I was literally leaping around my front room as he made this decision and Simon was quietly phoning the nearest asylum from the sofa. About bloody time. Although I do have to say Moffat wouldn't have to state that he is dialling back so much if he hadn't tried to make his legend too colossal.

Scots Tart: I genuinely feel that where Amy and Rory have been left now is the perfect stopping off point for their characters. I didn’t warm to her at all in her first series but given the torture she has been through this year I couldn’t help but change my opinion sightly. I’m still not sure about her being satisfied with her baby growing up with mercenaries but then I guess she did grow up with her daughter in a perverse way (Mels, try not to think about it too hard or you’ll give yourself a hernia). Dropping Amy and Rory off and giving them a house and a car so they are safe and settled is just about the perfect ending and with the two parents and their daughter reunited at the climax of this tale and laughing together at the Doctor’s ingenious escape, this could happily be the last time we see any of them. What else can be done with Amy? She’s met the Doctor, waited for him, met him again, waited for him again, met him again, had the culture shock of the TARDIS, tried to get in the Doctor’s knickers, travelled with her husband, lost her husband from all time and space, got him back again, got married, regained her parents, had a baby, lost her baby, grew up with her baby, discovered who her baby is, grown old waiting for the Doctor and Rory to save her, prevented that and finally been forced to leave the TARDIS to keep her safe. Taking the character beyond all this madness would feel like treading water which parts of The Wedding of River Song already does since it features a parallel Amy who has once again lost her husband (this is getting sloppy now Amy - look down the back of the sofa, that’s where things usually are). Amy has felt much more interesting this year (whereas last year she felt like a backstabbing wench) but she’s pretty much been done to death and I feel it is now time to try out a new dynamic with the 11th Doctor. Her murder of Madame Kovarian does surprise but it leaves me feeling kind of ambivalent towards the character again – perhaps River would have turned out to be a psychopath anyway? Amy realising that the Doctor is her son in law is just about the perfect closing line she could have asked for.

Loyal Roman: The man who dies and dies again, as the Silence call him. Poor sod. Is that how is going to be remembered?

The Missus: Hell in High Heels is how the Doctor describes River. So it turns out that the climactic face off that we saw in The Impossible Astronaut was in fact a piece of theatre masterfully played by both the Doctor and River – him as the Tesselecta and her knowing full well that she will drain the suit of power. River breaks down at the thought of having to murder the Doctor and cannot let him go without letting him know that nobody in the universe loves him more than she does. It's shocking to think that the scene in the garden is the first time that we get to witness a proper conversation between Amy and River as mother and daughter and the chemistry between them is completely different. It's worth noting that so much time and energy in series five and six has gone into trying to convince the audience that River has a dark side and tried to murder the Doctor (she did, temporarily, but not at the point that you are told she does) when in fact she is forced into a suit which doesn't give her any choice. Couldn't the Silence have used anybody?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He always made us pour an extra brandy in case you came round one of these days.’
‘My friends have always been the best of me.’
‘She would like to go out with you for texting and scones.’
‘You embarrass me!’

The Good:
· I have a very good friend who has thoroughly enjoyed the show since it has been back on the air (the lure of Chris Eccleston as the Doctor was too much for her to resist) and we have had many wonderful chats about the show, especially in the last year with the tangled web of River Song’s timeline to unthread and comprehend. One opinion of hers is that the show cannot match the production values of American sci-fi (I think she said it has a ‘Doctor Who look’) but I cannot disagree with that more if I tried. What strikes me about American sci-fi in general is that there are standard sets that the show takes place in but Doctor Who conjures up a dazzling new environment every single week. As for the effects I think that this show is at the cutting edge of CGI with some stunning landscapes and monsters being brought to life. What I am leading to is the beginning of this episode which opens with a stunning madcap landscape that sees steam trains screaming out of the gherkin in London, cars flying in the sky and pterodactyls screaming overhead and swooping down to steal food from children looks spectacular. I wouldn’t expect better from a movie.
· Lovely details in the universe crunched into one time period – a Roman waiting at traffic lights, The War of the Roses enters its second year, Charles Dickens rewriting A Christmas Carol to fit the current temporal insanity (a superb cameo by Simon Callow), the Buckingham Senate and Silurian Doctors.
· It's always a pleasure to see Ian McNiece back as Winston Churchill and I have heard people complain about his constant reappearances but each time there has been a perfectly rational explanation for it and it gives the series a pleasing sense of continuity. He’s such a charming actor you know you are in for some delightful scenes.
· The scuttling, carnivorous piranha skulls stripping a man of his flesh is such a gloriously old school bit of camp menace that I fell instantly in love with it. For such an absurd concept they sends a chill down the spine. It’s a lovely detail to add to the legacy of the Headless Monks, beheading their victims alive and turning their skulls into vicious little vermin.
· The tribute to Nicholas Courtney’s death within the show really took my by surprise and I must have audibly sighed because Simon took my hand and squeezed it! Its beautifully done with the Doctor declaring that time has never laid a glove on him and receiving the devastating news that the Brigadier has slipped away in bed. Smith looks physically pained by the news and then a sense of euphoria sweeps over him. It’s like a universe without the Brigadier is not one that he wants to live in and he suddenly declares that he is ready to face his death. Never before has their relationship been felt so keenly and I have never wanted to hug the Doctor more than at that moment.
· We have been learning about fixed points in time and space since The Fires of Pompeii (The Waters of Mars is another great example) - actually even though they weren’t described as such the concept has been in place ever since The Aztecs when the Doctor growled ‘You can’t rewrite history! Not one line!’ It is nice to finally see the consequences if you do alter a fixed point in time – it stops and every time period exists at the same time. Absolute madness. No wonder the first Doctor sounded so furious.
· The Silence are one of the most ghoulish looking Doctor Who monsters and having visited the Doctor Who Experience in London I can report they are just as creepy in the flesh. That horrible sucking noise chills my blood and their screaming, puckered faces are enough to give me nightmares. They are easily the best monster to come out series six.
· Love the cheeky and playful version of the already cheeky and playful Eleventh Doctor’s theme when he spots the tributes to the ‘Raggedy Doctor’ in Amelia’s train cart.
· The episode very cleverly fools you into thinking the Doctor is willing to be killed and force the issue by touching River and hopping back to Lake Silencia. Bring forth the hero worship as we all admire him for sacrificing his life to put things back on track. Given the truth of who he is it is probably the most manipulative Moffatt has ever been and the most devious and I really admire him for that.
· ‘Tick-Tock goes the clock now prison waits for River…’ – everything as far back as The Time of Angels has now been explained satisfactorily in her timeline. The Doctor was the ‘greatest man she has ever known’ that River killed and the reason she is imprisoned in a Storm Cage. Very nicely done, if protracted.
· Hands up time – I didn’t guess that the Doctor was the Tesselecta the whole time even though it was staring me in the face. Neither did Simon. And whilst it was a cheat (and as a consequence so was the whole arc) it was still a surprise.

The Bad:
· One thing that really bugs me these days is that the show is a complete sell out when it comes to the episode titles. Moffat has gone on record himself saying that there are better titles for the episodes but going for ratings drawers like The Doctor’s Wife, Lets Kill Hitler and The Wedding of River Song attracts more people to the show. Is that the sort of legacy you want? Not one of integrity but one of popularity? I understand this approach even if I don’t like it and I think it’s a shame because there would be some fantastic alternative titles to these episodes. Looking at the episode listing for series six is like looking at the chapters in a soap opera.
· The LIVE CHESS sequence is brilliantly realised and looks grungy and dangerous…wasted on one scene. I bet there could be an awesome adventure set in that location.
· Is Dorium Maldovar as a head in a box a step too far? I love the actor and the character (what little we have seen of him) but I don’t know if we are straying into parody now. Mind you the ‘how bad are my injuries?’ gag is brilliant. The head in the box feels gratuitously out of place during the tribute to the Brigadier.
· ‘What’s so dangerous about my future?’ ‘At the fields of Trensalor, at the fall of the Eleventh…’ – this arc isn’t even over yet and Moffat is already preparing for the next. I hope this isn’t more false promises because we were guaranteed to witness the Doctor’s greatest fall at Demons Run (which we didn’t by a long shot) and then we were also promised his death (again false). ‘The fall of the Eleventh’ – sounds like another dreary death threat. Which it was. He's not even the eleventh Doctor, so the whole myth is nonsensical. It must have been written by a Doctor Who fan before he watched Day of the Doctor.
· Were the new scenes at Lake Silencia filmed during the American sojourn because they look like fixed close ups with unconvincing lake backdrops?
· ‘And I turned around and they were all wearing eye patches!’ – the tribute scene was lovely but once again we are plunging off a cliff into the parody universe.
· A powerful monster tries to put the Doctor out of the way as the universe comes to an end, Amy forgets all about Rory and River turns up to save the day. Comparisons with The Big Bang are fair but in context it feels completely different.
· Madame Kovarian has been one of the highlights of this year even though she has had precious little screen time. What a pity then that she should once again be reduced to a cameo and dispatched without much thought. We were promised great things with this character but they all came to nothing. I do hope we get to see her again somehow because Frances Barber is so good in the role.
· I still don’t understand why the Doctor marries River. Or whatever that pathetic excuse for a ceremony was. Was it just to give this episode its naff title?
· If you are really pernickety you could pull the logic, the continuity and the surprises of this story to pieces. But lets leave that to the people who care about such things… Mind you I have just written 3500 words on this episode but considering the fact that I reasonably enjoyed it I hope I shall be forgiven.

Should Doctor Who have such a heavily structured arc playing out over a season? Does the show lose some of its identity when telling one long story rather than individual ones? Or does the show feel out of date when telling standalone adventures without some over arcing momentum to keep viewers watching? All very good questions and I’m not sure where I fit in to it all. Series six has been such an oddity for me. At times it has touched on absolute genius (The Doctor’s Wife) and at others it has felt as if it is losing its magic because it wants to be flashy/geewhizz/smart all the time and doesn’t give itself time to breath and tell stories that allow its performers to act (because anybody can act like a smart ass). There have been some knock out shocks along the way (the end of A Good Man Goes to War and the River twist in Let's Kill Hitler certainly qualify) and the sense that the show was building to something momentous, even if the former trick you into thinking that the episodes you have been watching something more impressive than in reality and the latter is paid off disappointingly. I’m not sure that with this episode they pulled off what Moffat were promising, lots of ambition and no satisfying place to take it. Simon, on the other hand, has found himself drifting away from the series in the standalone episodes (he couldn’t bear Night Terrors or Closing Time) but was on the edge of his seat during the arc pieces (he loved the opening two parter, the middle two parter and this episode). I had the opposite effect finding the Steven Moffat scripts my least favourite of the year and wishing the show would wrap the arc so it can get on with telling good stories as it has done week in week out for over 40 years. I find that the arcs were just about perfect during Davies time with emphasis on the running storylines woven into the standalone adventures but not so much that they dominate them (the bees, the planets disappearing and Doctor/Donna were all great examples in series four). Moffat’s stories written during the Davies era are my favourites of his (the Angel two parter is the only exception) and rather than focussing on telling a good story he is far more interested in hopping about all over the place, telling non linear narratives, throwing away inspired concepts on one scene wonders and being a bit too smart (and by that I mean stylish rather than intelligent) for his own good. He’s a fantastic storyteller but seems to have gotten it into his head that a story cannot be told unless it encompasses hundreds of locations, time periods and lots cocky dialogue. Every one of his stories has stand out moments but I don’t think a single one holds together as a piece of storytelling. Whoops, I have gone well off tangent. My point is that there is so much detail that you have to keep up with in season six that if you miss one of the pivotal episodes you are pretty much screwed. There are rapid clips at the beginning of this episode trying to keep you up to speed but they go past so quickly you’ll give yourself a headache trying to take in a years worth of plot in a minute). It;s unfair on those who want to dip in and out of the series. I know plenty of people who gave up this year (hardcore fans and casual viewers) simply because the show became too unwieldy to handle and that’s a shame because there is good stuff in here. I don’t want to rant because I don’t think Doctor Who has ever looked as good as it has this year and with Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill giving stand out performances (in some places despite the material) but I just feel that the focus now needs to be on good old fashioned storytelling (some decent historicals would be nice) and less of the an obsession with the Doctor (whether that's his death or turning him into some dark avenger). Judging by the Doctor’s comments at the end of this episode (which I really appreciated) I thought that might be the case. Oh what a fool I was.

The Shallow Bit: The Doctor does look hot in that hat Simon, you’re right. The beard on the other hand is a definite no-no. And the hippy hair has to go too.

Result: What a curious beast The Wedding of River Song is (hate that title!) because it fails to be the climactic finale that was promised whilst still telling a reasonably enjoyable story. Mind you I remember a time when all a season finale had to be was an entertaining story so it doesn’t do anything wrong on that score but considering what we have been promised over an entire season I can understand if people found this…anti climactic. Although you have to remain alert this is a very nicely structured piece with the Doctor relaying his story to Churchill through its first half until we reach the point where all of time stopped which paradoxically kick starts our story from the point of the Doctor’s death and its aftermath. As usual Moffat is juggling 400 ideas and has seemed to have taken a gentle dose of mind altering drugs before sitting down at the keyboard but this time we are talking about the Doctor’s death (or what was supposed to be the Doctor’s death) and if weird shit didn’t coalesce around his demise it would feel as though the universe had shrugged away our hero. Besides, it is entertaining weird shit with some startling imagery (a steam train heading into a pyramid adorned with AREA 51 on a sun kissed desert) and imaginative world building. This is pretty much the epitome of Moffat madness with him getting so many things spot on (goodbye Brigadier) and just as many things wrong but on the whole providing an colourful and creative finale. Let the madness end now though and lets get back to some good drama: 6/10


Christopher "Peaky" Brown said...

It was while I was rewatching "The Impossible Astronaut" recently that it really hit home for me: "The Wedding of River Song" wasn't the point where the Moffatt era went off its rockers, the signs of rot were already there at the beginning of Series 6 arc in the first place. "The Impossible Astronaut" and "Day of the Moon" raise so many questions that Moffatt simply forgets to answer most of them at the season's conclusion. Why an Astronaut suit? What happens to the Flesh, what kind of "invasion" was it planning, where'd it come from? What happened to the Ganger Doctor/Cleaves, and why did the Doctor leave them to die instead of dissolving the Flesh himself (the answer: it was a stupid episode)? And most did the Silence explode the TARDIS?! This element was never addressed, yet originally the plan was that Series 6 would address this. Unless the answers are still forthcoming, which I doubt.

I also have a problem with the way the characters react to the arc. We may receive the answers but Amy and Rory never do. They never ask the Doctor why the TARDIS exploded, they never tell the Doctor about his death even though they all know about it (something the series seemed to be building up to), they never even deal with River or discuss it very much, which is just wrong!

Not only that, but Moffatt fails to properly set up River's love for the Doctor. The transition from being ready to kill him to "loving him enough to destroy the universe" (a line so bad RTD could have put it in one of the Tennant finales) just doesn't come across, and so that aforementioned line just comes off like the trite, RTD-level silliness it is.

As a result of both of the above paragraphs, the season's climax just feels emotionally empty and stilted, much like Episode III of the Star Wars Prequels. Between the lack of emotional resolution and the lack of full answers I just found "The Wedding of River Song" a disappointment, and as the capstone of the season it reflects badly on the rest of the arc.

This isn't to say the year doesn't have its strengths, and arguably this season saw some of the consistently strongest New Who episodes yet. "The Doctor's Wife", "The God Complex", and to a lesser extent "Let's Kill Hitler" are all triumphs, and "Day of the Moon" is one of the most entertaining single television episodes I've ever seen.
"Night Terrors" is possibly the most underrated Matt Smith episode outside "The Beast Below", and "Closing Time" is great despite the sucky Cybermen (whom have always been rather pathetic anyways).

"The Rebel Flesh" is a great build-up to a disappointing concluding episode, a disjointed mess featuring some really cool ideas and moral debates, let down by just plain lazy writing.

Christopher "Peaky" Brown said...

Oh, and for once I agree with you entirely on part of the Matt Smith era ( ;) ), in this case on the fact that "The Girl Who Waitied" really isn't all that despite its awesome, awesome moments. Oh, and "The Curse of The Black Spot" sucks of course.

Seeley said...

Peakius, Moffatt's era didn't go off its rockers in The Impossible Astronaut. It actually did that during the Pandorica Opens/Big Bang or possibly earlier. The Tardis explosion has not yet been explained after three Smith seasons And that's just one of the plot holes

Doc Oho said...

I'm really looking forward to reviewing The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang because I want to see just how many elements have been stretched across the Moffat era. Whilst completely disagree with leaving huge plot threads dangling for such a length of time...hasn't the show runner claimed that the TARDIS explosion will be explained before the end of Smith's era? Isn't that a case of 'tick list of things to tie up that I haven't bothered to get around to yet' though?

ali said...

You've given words to my trepidations about Smith's run. Moffat is full of ideas and wants to do everything he can with it, but you left out a crucial points - he is much too canny a writer. It's all been done, and he knows it. The best bits in any Doctor Who story is not the pantomime villains or silly injection of aliens into everything but the TARDIS crew and how they react to those circumstances. But Moffat goes one further and acknowledges that even the quirky characters and Doctor Who-type coincidences (mix n' matching historical and sci-fi tropes) are interchangeable tricks that we've seen a hundred times before. He can't help himself.

In reaction to postmodernism, the series gets bigger and more outrageous in its setups until they become almost a joke. Dinosaurs on a spaceship? Sure, why not.

Thankfully this latest series appears to have purged the hip awareness for something substantial. Now all we have to do is dump Clara and we're in business!