Tuesday, 4 October 2011

With a marvel of scheduling so perfect that either proves that I am on the BBC's radar or is a total coincidence, series six of Doctor Who finished this week, the last weekend before I jet off to York for my university adventures. Steven Moffat's second series finale, The Wedding of River Song, closed off the second half of the split series by answering some questions and posing others for episodes to come. As I haven't written about Who on here since June's A Good Man Goes to War, let me take you on a trip through time (the last six weeks, to be precise) as I discuss what I will insist on calling series 6B.

After 6A's dramatic cliffhanger, 6B kicked off with the Doctor returning to Amy and Rory to report that "actually, I can't find your daughter" in a post-cliffhanger about-face reminiscent of Amy's "actually, I'm not pregnant" in Day of the Moon. But, like when it turned out that Amy was indeed sort of pregnant, the Doctor did indeed sort of find Melody. Then she shot the TARDIS and then they went to Germany and then Hitler shot her and then she regenerated into River Song and then the Numbskulls dicked around with time a bit. Typically madcap and complex Moffat fare. While there was some nice development of the series arc and the relationships between the main characters, Let's Kill Hitler was, like Moffat's previous episode, severely flawed - it made the classic mistake of "not enough Hitler". The Indiana Jones-esque mocking of the Führer was one of the highlights of the episode - "Rory, take Hitler and put him in that cupboard" – but, by focusing entirely on the unique family unit the Doc’s got going on, the episode didn’t make good enough use of its setting, which seemed to become arbitrary after the first fifteen minutes. Other than that, Let’s Kill Hitler was an enjoyable and imaginative re-entry point for the series, with an effective emotional element.

In between the Moff's major episodes came a series of four standalone stories. Mark Gatiss' Night Terrors, a spooky, atmospheric and emotional tale, was his best episode yet. The story of the Doctor and co. making a house call to help a cowardly little child who banishes all of his fears into his bedroom cupboard was reminiscent of 2006’s Fear Her, except at the opposite end of the quality spectrum to that abominable pile of cack. It was also a visually very nice episode - who knew that a grotty, impoverished council flat block could look so stylish? One of the highlights was when the TARDIS materialised and was reflected in a puddle - beautiful shot composition from director Richard Clark (incidentally, the highlight of Fear Her (i.e. the only good bit) was also the TARDIS materialisation, a comedic moment where the Doctor nearly walks into a wall). There were only two downsides to Night Terrors. Firstly, I would have liked a bit more explanation as to how the kid was making people disappear. His powers were a bit too extraordinary and mysterious for my disbelief suspension circuits to function. Secondly, I didn't much care for the awkward "don't forget the story arc - the Doctor's going to die!" shot of the computer monitor at the end. It was like The Curse of the Black Spot - plastering on the same cliffhanger as the previous week as if that makes it part of an ongoing story.

Next came Tom MacRae’s The Girl Who Waited, which was among the best, if not the absolute best, of series 6. With Amy trapped in an alternate time stream on an alien quarantine facility, this episode, effectively minimalist in terms of cast and set design, explored one of the potential dangers of life as the Doctor’s companion. It had inspired sci-fi elements bolstering an emotional and intelligent story, and particularly excellent performances from Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill. Plus, Rory did look nice in those glasses.

Describable as “The Shining, in space, with a minotaur”, Toby Whithouse’s The God Complex was good, though not as good as the previous two weeks. The guest characters trapped in a mysterious hotel with the TARDIS crew were nicely developed and the minotaur was cool (nice to see a “man in a suit” villain instead of CGI; same applies for that scarily realistic gorilla). However, the resolution to the plot, revolving around the Doctor making Amy lose her faith in him by getting her surname wrong, thus killing the minotaur, was a bit of a mess. This episode also saw Amy and Rory being abruptly kicked out of the TARDIS, never to return again (except for the next two episodes, and probably the Christmas special and next series). This final scene was poignant and well acted. Bye bye Ponds! Despite all of its weaknesses, the one defining moment of The God Complex was the one line of dialogue that is undoubtedly the funniest line of the series - "look at the detail on that cheese plant!" I’m not sure why, but that one gets me every time.

Gareth Roberts’ Closing Time, reuniting the Doctor with Craig from last year’s The Lodger, was another great, albeit flawed, episode. The wonderful chemistry between Matt Smith and James Corden, as the Time Lord and the stressed father from Colchester encountered the Cybermen in a department store, led to a plethora of funny moments. The fight with the Cybermat in particular was one of the best comedy sci-fi fights I've seen in a long time, with a perfect mix of slapstick and danger. It’s a shame that the later showdown with the Cybermen was nowhere near as good. Craig blowing up the Cybermen “with love” was the third plot out of the previous four to be resolved by the concentrated application of emotion, which to me was the point at which this annoying trend became unacceptable. The episode ended with the Doctor, Stetson donned and blue envelopes gathered, heading off to face his death, while his assassin River Song was being forced into a certain spacesuit…

And that brings us to the finale. While The Wedding of River Song has divided opinions, I personally loved it. With the Doctor finally having to face his execution by the shores of Lake Silencio, so many cool moments were packed into just 45 minutes - Long hair Doctor (better than short hair Doctor)! Churchill! Eye patches! Future Viking alien! Rory dressed as Naked Snake! A robot with an Irish accent controlled by a man with a Scottish accent! Silurian! Stetson! Dickens (I bet acclaimed star of stage and screen Simon Callow was thrilled when he got the script for his big Who return)! Egypt! Dorium’s head! A train! Yes, all of this, lots more, and many emotional moments for the Doctor, yet the episode never seemed badly paced or rushed. I did predict the resolution to the mystery of the Doctor’s death (including the description of the Teselecta in the "PREVIOUSLY" montage gave it away), but I don't care, because it made sense and didn't rely on using emotion to blow stuff up. A very cleverly written and ambitious finale, with a variety of memorably striking imagery, The Wedding of River Song was an exciting thrill ride and a perfect development of the relationship between River and the Doctor.

I think that’s all the episodes reviewed. Oh, hang on, there was that mini one written by some lucky kids in the last ever Doctor Who Confidential. It was shit, obviously, but the kids must have been happy to see their script come to life. Bring back Doctor Who Confidential!

All things considered, I like Steven Moffat’s style of Doctor Who more than his predecessor Russell T Davies’. The continually developing mysteries keep the viewer guessing even after the series has ended and the imaginative storylines are effectively developing the character of the Doctor, played with a fantastically alien quality by Matt Smith. I also like how both of Moffat's finales have managed to have an impressive sense of scale, both in terms of the threat to the universe and of personal effect on the heroes, while not relying on RTD's trope of "another Dalek invasion, with more Daleks than last year". As I said about the Cybermen in A Good Man Goes to War, I like how Moffat is giving all the major factions of the Whoniverse occasional appearances, like the Dalek in The Wedding of River Song, which make them feel more like connected parts of a complete mythos. One problem with series six’s arc was that the placement of the standalones, as brilliant as many of them were, sometimes felt a bit awkward; in 6A, the TARDIS crew gave up on looking for the child in America, the mystery they had originally been investigating, to go off and “have some adventures”, while in 6B, the Ponds seemed for a while to forget that they have a child somewhere. In this respect, series five had more of a consistently balanced story arc than this year. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to see where Doctor Who goes next. As much as I like the Ponds, I think their story has been drawn to a close and would like to see a new companion or two next year. Not that they can’t appear every once in a while, like their time travelling daughter, whom we’ll also undoubtedly see again. I just hope the Stetson returns. Stetsons, like Doctor Who, are cool.