It’s looking increasingly like it’s back on the 27th of this month. Are you excited? Particularly after the word of mouth about ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ (s6 ep 08) I certainly am!
We’re hours away now from the mid-season finale of Doctor Who series 6, and unlike the disappointingly paced series 5, we have a great deal to talk about ahead of the alleged massive cliffhanger later on. Seeing as I’m boosting this blog post into my Facebook and Twitter though, it’ll need
It’s River Song. We know that River Song is Amy’s daughter. The truth is incontrovertibly here, but what does that actually tell us about what we’ve already seen? Here goes:
The universe has successfully rebooted after all but nothing is as it seems. The apparently 1103 year old Doctor leads his friends (and himself) to his execution and wake, but why? Amy sees a Silent, who promptly kidnaps her, leaving all players with no memory of her abduction. Well, almost none – River knows what’s happening to her mother, stops Amy (presumably Ganger Amy) from rescuing the Doctor, makes her think he’s dead (she never admits it) and conveniently fails to kill Eleven’s apparent assassin. I suspect because she remembers not getting shot by her future self (and River is all about not upsetting the timeline).
Kidnapped Amy’s personality continues to feed through to her Ganger body, which the Doctor is fully aware of; the snippits of Madame Kovarian are flashes to what her real body is experiencing. This explains Kovarian’s cryptic comment when Amy ‘sees’ her in the orphanage – the real Amy isn’t even there, nor is she rescued by the Doctor and companions. But what of the Silence’s timeship, and who is the Time Lord child wandering around New York?
River Song (initial name to be revealed as Melody Pond) is the tool in a conspiracy to kill the Doctor – Kovarian herself admits she’s been taken to use a weapon, presumably against the Doctor. Except Amy kills her, as she rescues her daughter, which somehow this kills off the timeline, which the Doctor has also been murdered in, but also results in a new, utterly mad timeline. How does this affect the existence of Pond twins? Is River’s Time Lord sibling (how exactly?) wiped out, with Melody/River going on on her own? We know River and the Doctor are married in her past/his future, and it’s not unreasonable to think that the regenerating child is their offspring. But how does the word about twins feed into that?
The questions I have remaining are this:
- Who is it masterminding the kidnapping of Amy and manipulation of Melody/River? Madame Kovarian seems to be working for the Silence – who has something to gain from this grand plan? Another incarnation of the Doctor (a la Dream Lord)? Or is another coalition of his enemies gathered against him because of something he’s done – it’s referred to in one of these videos, and could well be what makes him accept he’s deserving of execution.
- Who is the Time Lord child? If she’s River (which I doubt), why can’t River regenerate (or has she even lied about that, to her grave)? My suspicion is she’s River’s and the Doctor’s child – we have been assuming the child and the pregnancy are connected – what if the reason Eleven is so protective over her at the end of Episode 1 is because he knows who she is? What if the alliance against him is because of something he’s done to her?
- The Doctor tells River something at the end of the series which will undo his death (which Ganger Amy unwittingly revealed to him this week) – what is it?
- Who is Amy Pond? How can she (and just she) reimagine the Doctor into existence after Big Bang II? What’s so special about her that it should be she who’s kidnapped for her child?
I’ve seen recent complaints that this series isn’t as accessible as Russell T Davies’, and whilst I’d agree, I’m also delighted with what we’ve got. RTD played to the gallery well, and was careful not to make his extended storylines too long or too complicated – I can understand the criticism of Moffat in this, but I love it. It may not play anywhere near as well to children as some believe it should but a) that’s pretty dismissive of children’s ability to track complex storylines (I’ve only heard adults complain they don’t know what’s going on) and b) the post RTD era had to be different. Having said that I hope these storylines are completely wrapped up this series (with maybe some intrigue left about River Song), and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the last we saw of Amy and Rory as companions.
I’m sorry it’s taken me such a long time to report back on Neil (‘Sandman’) Gaiman’s debut writing effort on Who, but what can you say about this episode other than that it was just beautiful. A love letter to the past, present and future, hitting old, familiar beats and creating new ones, this epitomised the potential of Steven Moffat’s run – sophisticated narratives, strong character development and filling in gaps (albeit off-screen) in canon, making you long for more.
The Doctor receives a message in a box, which could only have come from a Time Lord. Racing into the pocket universe from which it was sent, he, Rory and Amy find themselves on a sentient junkyard world, but all is not as it seems. The Tardis matrix is ripped from the console room, as House unveils its trap, leaving the time travellers in genuine danger and the Doctor with no idea of how to escape, while his companions run for their lives through a suddenly possessed Tardis. But they are far from helpless – the matrix has been deposited in the body of patchwork human Idris (Suranne Jones), who gets to talk one-on-one with her Doctor for the very first time.
The relationship between Time Lord and his ‘old girl’ is investigated with warmth, sensitivity and huge intelligence. It has to – he lives his life out of order and she exists throughout all time and space simultaneously – how on earth can they possibly understand one another? The acting picks up on this and is just sublime – Suranne Jones in particular as Idris is spellbinding – channelling Helena Bonham-Carter style madness yet refining it into incredible sophistication, acting as the perfect foil for a 900 year old man who’s still a boy at heart. ‘What makes you think I would ever give you back’ made me laugh out loud. It would be churlish not to remark on just how good Matt Smith is in this episode too – it’s hard to imagine David Tennant delivering the Doctor’s joy and bewilderment in such an honest yet alien way. His Eleventh Doctor is a brilliant creation, and his ability to vary his performance (under the right director) from boyish glee to ancient stature really is exactly what Steven Moffat’s run needed.
The production values this time around are also superb – Victorian costumes, possessed Ood and half eaten Tardises sit alongside butchered Time Lords, patchwork people and even a (welcome) return to the coral console room used by the Doctor’s last two incarnations. The revelation that the companions are standing in a graveyard of hundreds of Tardises and Time Lords is particularly fascinating and horrific (and impressively delivered), and Gaiman doesn’t scrimp on the horror. The architect of many of the last of the Time Lords’ people’s demises (voiced brilliantly by Michael Sheen) puts captives Amy and Rory through extraordinary levels of hell, and it’s unsettling viewing. Yet it’s delightfully filled with humour too: from Idris’ remarks about the Doctor’s misuse of her front doors to the freshly revealed irony of their very first encounter and the true nature of their relationship (‘I always got you where you needed to go’), the master author is always sure to vary the sensitivity of his touch.
It’s an episode with enormous heart, as the Tardis of course can’t remain in a human host, leaving the Doctor to continue with the way things used to be between them, and I must confess I was pretty moved by their parting comments. Yet now they understand each other for the first time, and Amy rightly voiced the truth that these two travellers will stay together long after his human friends leave him. ’The Doctor’s Wife’ didn’t expand on the series’ mysteries, other than a cryptic comment about (presumably) River Song, but it didn’t matter. Directed by Richard Clark, this standalone did what others in Steven Moffat’s run haven’t always managed – it delivered humour and horror alongside dramatic character development (which I hope Moffat draws on), whilst evolving the mythos in a way to appeal to viewers old, new, classic and rebooted. I really hope this isn’t the last we see of Gaiman. It may be the best episode of the series ever written.
Stephen Thompson’s first shot at the Doctor is much lighter in tone than Moffat’s opening two-parter – a great big pirate romp on a pirate ship, without very much mention of the Silence, rewriting time, mystery pregnancies, unexpected future deaths or River Song. For me personally it made it a lesser outing – showrunner Steven Moffat has raised the stakes so high now that any delay in dealing with his increasingly intricate plot strands is just annoying and it’s a little bit of a shame. Having said that the episode had its merits – the Tardis trio opt for an adventure on a pirate ship being terrorised by a Siren, who apparently kills crew members at the slightest drop of blood. But is she all she seems? And why is Amy still seeing visions (memories?) of the Eye Patch Lady from episode 2?
The humour is clumsy, Smith seems completely out of his element, but the script does have some warm moments, particularly when the Doctor bonds with pirate captain Hugh Bonneville, playing off one another as fellow ship’s captains. And director Jeremy Webb does a fair enough job, particularly in the more intense moments late on in the episode between Amy and Rory, but will the kids care? It’s a difficult one – I have a suspicion that the core audience for series 6 is a fair bit older than under Russell T Davies, and although the mystery around Amy’s pregnancy is touched upon, I don’t think enough was presented for the more sophisticated audience Moffat seems to be aiming his run at.
The story had a happy enough ending and it’s cute (if unremarkable) how they get there, but this felt distinctly like filler material. Writer Thompson has very little to say even about the Doctor himself, unlike Simon Nye in ‘Amy’s Choice’, and it leaves the episode feeling bland, despite some highly emotive exchanges.
The questions about the ongoing subplots remain though: who is Eye Patch Lady? Casting Frances Barber is serious stuff so she’s clearly someone significant. Why is Amy pregnant one second and not the next? Is it because rebooting the universe created a parallel timeline? How would this benefit the Silence? And what the hell was that regeneration at the end of the last episode? And who the hell is River Song really? Memories are being played with still, very little is as it seems (and since Amy’s introduction never has been) and I’m getting impatient for the payoffs to start. Episodes under Moffat’s management come off best with high stakes and a certain amount of darkness. I hope we get some of it next week with Neil Gaiman.
We’re so lucky to have The Moff.
The first Steven Moffat written Doctor Who Christmas Special is showrunner Steven Moffat’s take on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and what a breathtaking morality play it is, wrapped up in sly humour, unbelievably strong performances and a script which made all of the RTD specials instantly redundant. Rory and Amy begin on a honeymoon cruiser that’s about to crash on a planet covered in a mysterious fog. Local baron Michael Gambon has the power to control the fog, and save the Doctor’s assistants’ lives, as well as the other 4000 passengers, but he doesn’t want to; there’s nothing in it for him. To save the ship the Doctor has to teach an alien Scrooge morality and discover why he has Katherine Jenkins flash frozen in his basement. Can he do it in just one hour?
Of course he can, and Moffat indulges his propensity to play crazy backward and forward games with time, managing to take a wholly new perspective on a very old story. Ghost of Christmas Past Eleven fits a lifetime into one hour, trying to get into the heart of a bitter old man through making friends with his younger self. It’s a wonderful, rich drama with towering performances – ‘Dumbledore’ Gambon always careful though not to overshadow the leads, as the comfortably quirky yet demonstrably noble Doctor played by Matt Smith holds the show together. It’s not like anything we were given during the Tennant era – this isn’t superheroics by any means. It’s a nuanced look at love and loss under the cover of sci fi, whilst giving us a wonderful, leisurely look at what makes Eleven tick too. Marilyn Monroe? OMG!
Gone is the regular Christmas campery of Russell T Davies, in is seasonal fantasy and steampunk chic – the production crew pulls off a Dickensian yet futuristic cityscape brilliantly. The shark too was a suitably weird touch, and wonderfully deployed – lost your sense of wonder at Christmas stories? Get it back right now (I should add Moffat adeptly bleeds any hint of religious undertones out in the very first act). And rather than taking a Kylie-esque role, Katherine Jenkins doesn’t just act brilliantly (who knew?), but is an essential element the Doctor needs to understand – singing and all – in order to make Gambon’s character care about other people. There was more than one occasion where the acting and writing came together to make me more than a little bit tearful, which couldn’t have made me happier. But as I said earlier, Moffat’s story is nuanced – for every dramatic turning point there are chillier scenes, like the holograms of the condemned 4000 passengers, and Gambon’s determination to ignore them.
It’s all blissfully continuity-free, which may have helped Karen Gillan seem to feel comfortable as Amy Pond for a change and act with authority. I should add it was pretty cute to have hers & Rory’s sexual roleplay clearly signposted, despite the seasonal tone of the story. Continuity though, as the trailer for series 6 shows, is about to take centre stage; this special is the calm before the storm. The Doctor was manipulated into rebooting the universe, we don’t know who was responsible for the cracks in space, and are no nearer to finding out whose voice it was who said ‘silence will fall’. With River Song’s imminent reappearance in what looks to be a deeply dark first half of the series, we may be about to get answers. I for one can’t wait.
It can’t be this good. It can’t be. They couldn’t have got the tone that right, they couldn’t have reimagined the Tardis, the costume, the feel of the show that perfectly, could they? Our expectations of Steven Moffat couldn’t possibly be met or even exceeded, could they? The answer is yes to everything.
A newly regenerated Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) crash lands his burning Tardis in rural England and gets the attention of young Amelia Pond. Neither he nor the Tardis have finished rebuilding themselves and after a garbled first meeting, he rushes back to his ship to send it five minutes into the future to stop the engines from exploding. But misses by 12 years. When he returns he collides with a now adult Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) as the new menace he’d seen emanating from her room when she was a child begins its assault. Will the Earth survive when Prisoner Zero’s alien jailers threaten to destroy the earth to kill it?
Steven Moffat begins his run as head writer and showrunner with a tale of a child’s imaginary friend and what happens when he returns to her as an adult. With threats happening out of the corner of your eye, with menace lurking where you least expect it and a wry, often dark humour replacing RTD’s slapstick, Moffat explodes series 5 into our consciousness with a script just as sharp as expected. The real revelations are Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and Karen Gillan, whose chemistry easily rivals Tennant’s and Piper’s, the former in only one episode bringing a truly fresh approach to The Doctor. It’s easy to see how he defeated his rivals for the role, owning every scene he’s in – bonkers and young one minute, an old man out of his time the next; very human one minute, quite alien the next. It feels entirely fresh, entirely true to what’s gone before, and Moffat even has him walking through holograms of his preceding personalities, establishing himself quite authoritatively as someone quite new by the end of the episode. The tone is spot on, the production values give it valuable extra weight, and Moffat was telling the truth when he said every episode wouldn’t turn out as dark as Blink; the crackpot whimsy he uses to launch his run is a delight. We do however have the Weeping Angels to look forward to in three weeks…
The new Tardis is insane, far bigger than ever before, with no right angles, and cobbled together with retro chic. It’s a wonderful evolution, whilst again remaining true to what’s gone before. What stories Moffat wants to tell in that space is anyone’s guess, and don’t miss the oscilloscope on the new console. Amy thinks Eleven has latched onto her by accident, but he and the Tardis already knew about the crack in space in her wall. What’s his real motive, and for that matter is Amy all she appears to be? A conspiracy is set up to run through the next three months:
“The cracks in the skin of the universe – don’t you know where they came from? You don’t, do you? The Doctor and the TARDIS doesn’t know. The universe is cracked. The Pandorica will open. Silence will fall.”
With the impending return of River (‘Alex Kingston’) Song, we can only guess. I’ll admit I hate the new title sequence, but everything apart from that has been a true delight. Welcome to the new Who era!
David Tennant and the Tenth Doctor are no more, and Russell T Davies is no longer in charge of Doctor Who. Was Davies the saviour of the franchise? Without a doubt, and all of us who love the show owe him a debt of gratitude which can’t be repaid, but in more recent years his writing quality has shown a marked decline in quality. The show’s never lost its entertainment value, particularly because Tennant is such a good actor (and is unquestionably the Doctor of this generation), but Davies’ writing has often been quite painful. No doubt there have been good reasons (Torchwood: Children of Earth showed just how good he can still be), but part 1 of The End of Time was a recent example of just how bad things had got.
I’m going to see the Tennant run out by warmly welcoming new show boss Steven Moffat and Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith to control of the franchise, and offer you the trailer for series 5 which went online this evening. I don’t believe for a moment that we have anything to worry about with these two at the helm; far from it. I am convinced the show’s glory days are ahead of it. We’re going to be lucky enough for Moffat to pen a sequel to his much lauded Blink? April can’t come quickly enough…