Doctor Who – The Wedding of River Song

“The Wedding of River Song”

Series 6
Episode 13
Transmitted 1 October, 2011

“All this flirting… do I have to watch?”

Facing his inevitable death at Lake Silencio, the Doctor attempts to discover the secret of the Silence and why they are determined to kill him. In learning the truth, he finds that his end is unavoidable and appears to willingly accept his destruction. River Song, however, disagrees and saves his life, causing a fissure in time and breaking all of reality. History is happening all at once and in order to set things right, the Doctor must die.

The second half of the sixth series of Doctor Who under BBC Wales has received some damning reviews and for good reason. Self-indulgent and empty, the adventures have hardly been the best of the program’s run. The centerpiece of the year has revolved around the resolution to the Doctor’s death seen in its first episode. Along the way, hints were dangled before the viewer but mainly it was a game of biding time before the magic trick that Moffat would undoubtedly unveil in the finale. By definition, the resolution had to be a magic trick as there was absolutely no other way that the program could get the Doctor out of this trap and frankly, the program is not interested in clever escapes or in intelligent resolutions at all. It’s invested all of its faith in ‘magic.’ By magic, I am referring to a cheap stunt that stands a situation on its head and makes up into down, left into right, etc and everything is back to normal.

The Wedding of River Song was a run around.

Full of outlandish visuals and turnabouts of character (sort of), it was a Möbius strip of storytelling that began and ended at the same point. Moffat no doubt thinks this kind of thing is clever, but it’s just a narrative trick that serves no real purpose if the meat of the story is absent. The Doctor and Emperor Churchill have a nice series of expositions in an absurd reality where ‘history happens all at once’ yet talk shows are still all the rage and no one seems all that bothered. Additionally, ‘history happens all at once’ apparently implies that all of the past is placed in the most vapid representation of present day life ever, obsessed with current trends and fashions. Will this moment in time really be remembered with a hash tag or an ironic photoshopped kitten image?

The Doctor, dressed as an ancient Roman soothsayer, explains that time has become broken and that it is all because of ‘a woman.’ Of course, River Song is the unofficial star of the show, why not? The Doctor attempts to tell Churchill about his clever detective work in finding out just why the Silence want to kill him, a journey that demands he visit some bizarre places. Once again, as in last year’s finale, Moffat has mistaken Doctor Who for some other program and provides seedy bars full of weird aliens, live chess tournaments with space vikings and other concepts that have no place in Doctor Who and seem like they are from some MMORPG or something. Maybe Moffat’s script was mixed up with a pitch to some game developer or something. I will say that the bit where the Doctor ripped out a Dalek’s datacore was neat… but it really didn’t mean anything.

The path leads to a man who is apparently dead but has actually been replaced by a robot replica timeship driven by the Teselecta… you remember the footnote addition to ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’? No? Don’t worry, the program replays that moment for you. The Teselecta confirm that the Doctor has to die, etc. The Doctor then finds the head of the goofy blue alien guy from last year’s finale and more empty dialog is spouted re-establishing what we already know. It’s painful.

As the backstory is slowly unveiled, it is revealed that the Doctor and Winston have been fighting the Silence and forgetting them over and over. Before the two are overcome by the monsters they are saved by a crack team of paramilitaries led by Amy Pond. Of course. Why wouldn’t Amy be the leader of a paramilitary force? It makes as much sense as last week’s revelation that she was a model.

Amy takes the Doctor back to her HQ, an office on a train filled with scrawled drawings of her time with the Doctor and a Papier-mâché TARDIS (cute). Why she would keep these drawings stuck to the wall where her staff could see them I have no idea. I know that if my boss covered his office with drawings taped to the wall of himself dressed as a pirate, vampires and silly robots I’d look for another job immediately. But she’s cute as a button and can pull this off.

Area 52, as the pyramid states on the side, is full of Silence preserved in water. Amy reveals, hastily, that the eyepatches that she and her staff wear are mini-drives that maintain the memory of the silence.

This could be the only pertinent piece of information that Moffat gives in the entire story.

Madam Kovarian is captured and being held by River Song who for some reason is revealed in a fashion that implies it is a surprise she has returned. Now I know what it was like in 1973 to continually see the ‘reveal’ that the Master was back. OF COURSE RIVER SONG IS BEHIND IT ALL!! In any case, more exposition and padding takes place and the Doctor attempts to unwrite history by touching River but it doesn’t take for some reason (why? no idea). The Silence break free and Kovarian reveals that they were never prisoners, they allowed themselves to be brought to Area 52 to kill the Doctor because they knew he would come. Of course. Additionally, the eye patches that have become so handy are actually death traps as well. Of course. This is nothing new. Doctor Who has been pulling this trick since it returned in 2005.

This is the same crap kids in my neighborhood tried when we played in my backyard. I’d shoot them and they’d claim to be wearing an invisible bullet-proof vest. Then I’d snicker-snag on them. If I could do the same to this episode, I would.

Everyone retreats to the roof of the pyramid and Amy kills Kovarian. On the roof, River reveals that she has sent a beacon up asking for help to save the Doctor. Outraged, the Doctor says that she has embarrassed him (never a truer word was spoken) and reluctantly agrees to marry her and reveal the ‘biggest secret ever’ to her. It has been established in her first appearance that River was the Doctor’s wife and that she knew the Doctor’s real name, so this was Moffat scratching another item from his list… or was it?

Oh-ho-ho! The big big big revelation is that the Doctor is alive after all even though we have seen him get disintegrated several times in this one episode. His master-stroke was to replace himself with a robot full of tiny people off-screen and let it appear that he was dead. Additionally, River reveals that she doesn’t know the Doctor’s name after all, he lied and so did she! Oh-ho!

Urgh….

Despite this episode being the crystallization of everything wrong with the new Doctor Who (poor writing, over the top silly special effects, an over-reliance on love conquering all), the coda involving the blue head guy being brought back to his cell (why??) is the icing on the cake. Of course the Doctor is the shrouded figure who happily drops his cloak. Interestingly, he reveals that he must ‘drop back into the shadows,’ suggesting a possible change in tone next year that I am curious about. However, the ‘question that must never be asked’ is revealed as ‘Doctor Who?’

Really?

No… really? That’s what is so important that an alien race would unite to hunt the Doctor through time and space, create a Timelord assassin to infiltrate his TARDIS and risk all of reality? Doctor Who? Didn’t Moffat watch Silver Nemesis back in 1988? I mean, fair does if he didn’t, it’s awful. In that story, the Doctor’s identity is offered up as some powerful information that could rock all of creation to dust. It was immediately disregarded, however. No one cares. Really. No one.

I have had a love/hate relationship with the BBC Wales Doctor Who and watched its quality wane to disastrous lows in the fourth series and specials. The fifth year got me re-invested with some clever scripts and a well-suited leading man. This series, however, was mostly awful and when it all dances on a finale as terrible as this was, it loses more of its appeal. Smith still shines as the Doctor and manages to make the program watchable, but only just. Upon closer examination, this season was a collection of self-indulgent trite stories about nothing at all aside from moving characters across the screen.

The drama of saving the baby disappeared when it was revealed that the baby was growing with Amy and Rory all along as their best friend. The drama of River Song became less interesting as it was made plain she was a walking plot contrivance, able to stop bullets, rewrite history or do any other impossible thing that the story needed of her. The Doctor’s death never happened at all, really, and so therefore all of the hand-wringing over his demise was for nothing. The secret of the silence was so thin that it involved putting a question mark next to the title of the program. Any problem at all became pointless as the phrase ‘the Doctor lies’ became an unofficial mantra of the series. It under-writes any drama and offers the writer an escape hatch when the script contradicts itself or writes itself into a corner.

I can’t say that I was shocked by my disappointment with the finale. The new Doctor Who has traditionally shown itself as a program with no interest in storytelling or adventure. It is more interested in quirky weird visuals that challenge your HD TV, undying romance, and explosions. In that sense, it delivered fine. In the sense of the most imaginative and far-reach science fiction TV series ever developed, it fell so flat it’s two dimensional.

I have been reading up on the origins of Doctor Who back in 1962 and was stunned to see the numerous proposals that Sydney Newman passed on as they were too contrived or pat. He was determined to craft a program that would challenge the viewer as well as entertain with an intelligent adventure. He also insisted that only one ‘out there’ concept be allowed in a script as having too many crammed in reduces the credibility of the product and turns it into a cartoon. I’m not saying Newman said anything new or that he was entirely correct with all of his views, but his vision of Doctor Who could not be further from what is on the screen today.

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Doctor Who – ‘Closing Time’

“Closing Time”

Series 6
Episode 12
Transmitted 24 September, 2011

In the last days of his life, the 11th Doctor decides to revisit old friends. A weary and troubled Timelord calls upon his old friend Craig Owen to discover that the lifelong bachelor is a father overwhelmed at the responsibilities of parenting. The Doctor also catches the scent of a sinister alien presence. Rather reluctantly, he decides to take action by working in the toy department of a department store infested by weird silver rats.

I have stated this several times over, but in case you are finding my site for the first time, let me explain that I have begrudgingly accepted several conceits as being incontrovertible with new Doctor Who. Just as viewers had to sit through actual history, creeky sets and bizarre monsters with the classic program, the new Doctor Who from BBC Wales has its own peccadilloes. It is more concerned with comedy and standard TV drama than actual science fiction adventure stories. It also seems to view the monsters as a necessary evil needed to tell any number of stories that the viewer must find more interesting, such as parenting, turning 40 or the undying love a dancer has for a pig-faced mutant. Fine. I accept that.

Overall, I enjoy Gareth Roberts’ scripts for Doctor Who (though Unicorn and the Wasp was so bad that I didn’t even bother reviewing it). He catches the concept that the modern series is a sitcom with monsters and runs with it. He’s also a big fan of the classic series and enjoys playing up elements that he enjoys from the old program. It is a good thing that Roberts penned this episode as it is mainly a sitcom with James Corden and Matt Smith set in the Doctor Who-verse. For the moments that fit that description, it is quite enjoyable. When it strays into the realm of emotional drama or adventure it falls flat on its back stinking of old nappies.

The Doctor, Craig and baby Alfie are hunting for aliens

Craig Owens is at a loss. He has been left on his own for a weekend to fend for himself. So unable to cope by himself is he that his girlfriend has not only labeled but numbered his food and left diagrams throughout the kitchen. That’s apparently the script trying to make sure you get the point that may be missed by the actual dialog in which Craig’s girlfriend Daisy states that she knows he is capable while insinuating that she is genuinely worried. A few more moments are spent playing up this concept that is already becoming tired when the Doctor shows up on Craig’s doorstep. Sensing strange emissions with his magic wand (well, it is), he discovers to his shock (and ours) that Craig is a Daddy.

The preceding over-blown exposition is almost excused… but we’re just getting started.

When the Doctor arrives on Earth a short time after he had previously seen Craig Owen in last year’s ‘The Lodger,’ there is a strong feeling of dread. That kind of feeling that Mark Gattis would equate with the opening episodes of Earthshock and Logopolis. The Doctor casually mentions that he is on a farewell tour and thanks to Murray Gold’s deafening score and the crying of baby Alfie, it gets missed. This is interesting because the character of the Doctor has actually been allowed to age and somewhat progress on screen for the first time in the program’s history.

One could point out that the Fourth Doctor has three distinct periods of his incarnation as he gets steadily loopier and the the Tenth Doctor becomes egocentric and power-mad, but I’m going to avoid both for different reasons. In both cases the program itself failed to support the idea (Tom himself was obviously the cause for the change in behavior and Davies had no idea of where to take the Tenth Doctor’s fall dramatically). It’s interesting also because we get to see the Doctor try and become his older self by taking up the challenge to defeat an alien menace and be the hero. Again, Smith’s performance makes this transition compelling on screen.

Obviously something has happened between his experience in ‘The God Complex’ and his death at Lake Silencio to make the Doctor so somber and self-defeatist. If there’s any time in next week’s story between moments featuring River Song, maybe we’ll find out what that’s all about.

In any case, the plot has nothing to do with the Doctor, really. It’s all about ‘regular people’ at a nearby department store who are plagued by cybermats and therefore Cybermen. While the Doctor once more exhibits his skill at ‘talking baby,’ the staff of the department store are being kidnapped and pulled away to some mysterious fate. Of course no one cares because the public at large are busy watching crap TV and eating chips. Fortunately, the Doctor is around to save the ‘sheeple’ (I cannot believe I just used that word) and all will be well. Unfortunately, the Doctor has lost faith in himself, but he has Craig around to help him there. Also fortunate for Craig, the Doctor can help him find confidence as a parent.

What luck!

The Doctor introduces Craig to a Cybermat

Essentially what we have in Closing Time is a monster story without monsters or a Cybermen story that has nothing to do with Cybermen. In case anyone’s interested in my opinion as a parent, it also has nothing to do with parenting either. I mean honestly, you don’t just hand your baby to a complete stranger and you cannot get over your fears of inadequacy as a parent in a weekend. It has everything to do with the chemistry between Smith and Corden. Honestly, this episode begins and ends with them. When they spark, the episode is great fun, but when they fail to connect it’s a shambles.

I have a theory that there are no truly bad Doctor Who stories there are just bad Doctors. This story supports that theory as Smith is just wonderful. The script feels like it was written by a schitzophrenic as it is equal parts brilliance and shite. For every moment as touching as the Doctor talking to baby Alfie there’s the ‘clever nods to the fans’

I know he’s not to everyone’s taste, but Smith really is the ideal actor for this program right now. He sells some of the worst dialogue ever and also makes a contrived plot watchable. It is very nice that he got a relatively clutter-free episode in as the series to date has all but forgotten he is the star of the show. I’m happy to learn that he has signed on until the 50th anniversary (man, I feel old).

Despite the strengths of the two lead actors, ‘Closing Time’ has a lot of flaws. The direction is inconsistent, the supporting cast as a whole couldn’t be bothered and wade their way through lines adopting the ‘BBC commoner accent.’ As the Doctor and Craig ‘investigate’ the strange disappearances, it becomes clear that there is some very real danger at the department store. The Doctor wisely advises that Craig get out of town but despite the fact he is so thick that the woman who loves him has labeled his food and he has a child to take care of he insists on helping out. Craig is so dim that he straps his baby to his chest to take the brunt of the danger and then hands his child to a stranger to jump down a dark pit to fight robots with a pricing gun.

I fear for baby Alfie.

It’s no surprise that the Cybermen catch Craig but I’m still trying to work out why they decide that he is ideal stock for their Cyber Controller. Haven’t the Cybermen been watching? The man is a mess! Even so they erase his emotions (even though the Doctor insists that if you just emote hard enough you can beat that… just like flexing a muscle can apparently repel bullets) and encase him in a Cyberman suit. The big problem there is that the new Cybermen are rubbish. Almost anything causes them to explode.

In addition to these problems, the plot resolution is painful. The concept that love can defeat the Cybermen. Why didn’t Jamie just admit that he loved the Doctor back in Tomb of the Cybermen and he could have saved all of us the grief?? It’s not a corny concept it’s a poorly written plot that reveals two ideas have been crammed together that don’t work. There are two stories here; the reunion of Craig and the Doctor and the Cyber-invasion. Roberts couldn’t be bothered with Cybermen apparently so he not only offers no real tangible reason for their presence but he also cannot figure out a resolution without also making it the resolution to his story about Craig and the Doctor. It’s dreadful.

On the plus side, I was rather shocked to read online that Lynda Baron (who played the strangely recurring character of the shop worker Val) had also appeared in Enlightenment as the wonderfully over-the-top (and humorously named) Captain Rack and even sang the ‘Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon’ from the Bill Hartnell adventure ‘The Gunfighters.’ I’d actually rather re-watch either, but it’s nice to see that she’s still working.

The Doctor is helpless while the Cybermen threaten Craig

Along with being a magical monster killer and friend to all children, the Doctor is also apparently a Mary Poppins-type as shown by the fact that he not only saved the Earth but also cleaned up Craig’s flat. Because, lest we forget, Craig is hopeless. The closing moments of Closing Time are so awful that I thought I had traveled back three years and was watching an RTD episode. Inexplicably, the Doctor addresses three random kids and tells them who he is and we then hear older versions of the three kids retelling this no-doubt iconic moment.

I despise the program telling the viewers through narration and then every single character on screen (aside from the poor doomed folks working in a shop over an exploding alien space ship full of organ-stealing cyborgs from the future) that the Doctor is the single most important person ever. Does this imply that if he weren’t so important and powerful, we wouldn’t watch? If so, why were the viewing figures for the Davison era so high while his companions and supporting cast members joined the steadily building pile of corpses outside the TARDIS? Why can’t the Doctor just be a time traveling adventurer and detective rather than the hero of all time and space?

The action cuts to River Song (oh, thank goodness) who is then assaulted by the Silence and evil eye-patch lady who shouts some exposition at her then puts her in an astronaut uniform to kill the Doctor. Once again a sing-song prophecy is used in Doctor Who in place of any real dread or menace. The program has already shown that the Doctor can get out of any situation and if pressed, the script can then completely un-write reality. Cliffhanger? What cliffhanger?

The entire closing sequence felt like bad fan fiction, putting events and characters in place with the methodical care of someone with no reason to put them there. Ugh. This single sequence is enough justification to anyone who despises the Moffat regime and its two year-long story that has lasted to this point. I have held off completely judging the body of work until it is finished, but given the ‘revelation’ of River Song’s identity and then this week’s revelation of the ‘impossible astronaut,’ I fear for the finale.

Next week: ‘The Wedding of River Song’

Doctor Who – ‘The God Complex’

“The God Complex”

Series 6
Episode 11
Transmitted 17 September, 2011

“I’d forgotten that not all victories are about saving the universe.”

The Doctor, Amy and Rory land the TARDIS in what appears to be a 1980’s luxury hotel. The unlucky few inside are frightened for their lives, desperately attempting to escape a monstrous beast preying on their very fears. Each room in the hotel is unique and tailored to a specific guest. In time, each occupant loses his/her sanity and praises the creature sworn to destroy them. Thankfully, the Doctor, monster-slayer extraordinaire, has arrived with his gadgets, gimmicks and mad ideas to save the day. Unfortunately, the threat posed by the monster is more complex than originally thought and that misunderstanding could cost them all their lives.

The God Complex is very unusual for ‘Nu-Who’ in that it is so very traditional. It features a pedestrian setting doubling as an alien one, several quirky supporting characters in danger and the Doctor as their only hope against a silly monster. Seriously, I thought for sure that Matt Smith was going to help the poor sod out of the massive headdress when the Minotaur fell in a heap in the hallway. In the past, whenever a cast of supporting characters have been introduced the focus has moved to them rather than the monster since a more character-centric approach is more modern and appealing for RTD and Moffat. In this case, the supporting cast were utilized wisely and sparingly, allowing the rather splendid plot to expand on its own and for the Doctor to play a more familiar role of detective and hero.

I’ve brought this up before, but Smith’s Doctor has had very little to actually do in the past few episodes. He has lost the spotlight to River Song or the Ponds each week when the program is still named after him. Many have criticized this as a sign that Moffat is uninterested in writing for the Doctor and more attracted to River Song or Amy Pond. That theory falls flat with this week’s installment, however. In the God Complex, the Doctor has a sudden awakening of sorts as he meets a brave and intelligent young woman named Rita whom he would usually whisk off for a life of quarries and near-death experiences. He sees himself in a new light as someone who entices innocents to come with him, placing their lives in jeopardy and often causing their death. The Doctor places his companions in situations where only he can save them. Rita calls it what it is, a God complex, a failing that the Doctor recognizes as possibly fatal. At first I put off this plot thread as a novel idea but one that would ultimately end up getting cast aside.

The quartet of survivors seem an unlikely lot, an online blogger named Howie, a devout Muslim nurse named Rita and a cowardly alien named Gibbis (played incredibly well by David Walliams). After the loss of both Rita and conspiracy theorist Howie, it becomes clear that the Doctor’s advise on finding inner strength through faith was a fatal error. Each occupant isn’t just afraid but full of a specific faith that kept them going. It is that faith that the monster prowling the halls uses as a doorway into their psyche, turning their personal beliefs into an undying devotion to death at the Minotaur’s hands/paws.

The Doctor’s companion Amy is drawn to her own ‘room’ in which she sees herself a young girl endlessly waiting for her childhood mythical hero, the Doctor, to arrive. The Doctor kneels by Amy’s side and disarms her faith in him, telling her that he is not perfect and not worthy of her faith. Echoes of Curse of Fenric occurred to me when the Doctor unraveled Ace’s faith in him in order to defeat his enemy. In that case, it was more of a trick than anything else. In this story, the Doctor is being sincere (another angle I did not expect). Since the program returned in 2005, the Doctor has become a folk hero more than anything else, able to defeat any creature and quell any invasion. The 10th Doctor took that concept to another level and transformed it into hubris. The 11th Doctor seems to be facing this aspect of his persona in a different manner.


After finally defeating the Minotaur by depriving it of Amy’s faith, he decides that the time is right to end their friendship while the pair of them are alive and in one piece. It was a touching moment, reminiscent of the Hand of Fear in which the Doctor leaves Sarah Jane Smith behind to face a threat too dangerous for her. The new Doctor Who program has consistently insisted that it is more character-driven than its predecessor and more interested in telling compelling stories than schlocky adventures but honestly I have not really seen much evidence to support this claim until now.

I know that Amy and Rory are hardly out of the series (there have been hints from Karen Gillan that we will see her next year), so this farewell can hardly be final, but the moment justified all of the stories in which Amy and Rory took attention away from the Doctor and all of the compassion and touching concern that the Doctor had for his companions.

I have forcibly restricted myself from reading spoilers (for the first time in about 6 years) about the upcoming last episodes (my heart sank however, when I read that the finale is entitled ‘The Wedding of River Song’), so I have no idea where this series is headed, but I am very impressed with this week’s installment that honored so many ideas that previous stories have explored. The Doctor knows that he is about to come face to face with a fate so deadly that it could destroy those he loves so dear and he has to finally admit that he isn’t a god-like being at all. He’s just a mad man in a box. It’s the flipside to the 2nd Doctor who operated under the facade of a buffoon but was actually a cunning mastermind or the 7th Doctor who seemed to be a silly little man with a goofy accent but was secretly a being of immense power.

The 11th Doctor is about to come to terms with who he is and the path that his life has taken… and is likely not going to be pretty. The viewer does not get a glimpse of the Doctor’s nightmare room, but from the first moment that I saw the image of the sad clown in the God Complex, I thought of this incarnation of the Doctor. Despite his numerous near-death scrapes and successes against power-mad conspirators, he may just be a clown himself.

The 11th Doctor remains an inspired incarnation of the Time Lord as he seems to be operating under the remote control of his subconscious. Madly pressing buttons and rewiring devices with some scheme known only in his most secret thoughts, he is as in the dark as anyone else. Several moments of the 11th Doctor’s character have revolved around his apparent confusion and befuddlement at his own actions, hoping that he got it right rather than knowing that he is the supreme authority (as the 10th incarnation had).

It would certainly play into his interaction with Amy. If he were a super powerful being that should be feared and fought as Madam Kovarian and her crew no doubt feel, there would be no reason to fear facing her army again. But if he won first time out of luck… maybe it would be best to face the music alone this time.

Next week: ‘Closing Time’

Doctor Who – The Girl Who Waited

“The Girl Who Waited”

Series 6
Episode 10
Transmitted 10 September, 2011

Thinking that he is bringing his companions to the second most amazing holiday planet in the galaxy, Apalapucia, the Doctor finds that he has instead made a grave error of judgement that places his newlywed partners in dire peril. The planet Apalapucia is under strict quarantine to combat a plague so deadly that the treatment involves placing the infected into separate time streams to make the loss of the victims easier on the family members on the other end of the temporal visiting mirror. While Timelords are not immune to the plague, humans are, but the cure offered by the clinic is just as deadly. Unfortunately, Amy and Rory find themselves on different time streams thanks to a clumsy mistake.

The Doctor attempts to merge the two time streams and rescue Amy from the clinic, but unfortunately he is too late, a few decades too late. By the time Rory finds his wife she is a survivor of 36 years of solitude dressed in the discarded armor of the facility robots and self trained in sword play enough to stay alive. The Doctor and Rory face two problems, how to solve the fissure in the time stream (easy-peasy) and what to do about there being two Amys in the world.

The author of the series 2 Cybermen story Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel, Tom Macrae, vindicates himself with this episode. Fast-moving and utilizing the ideas of time travel in order to tell a different type of story is exactly the kind of thing Doctor Who needs to do more of. Never mind that we get more of the ‘time wimey’ nonsense that was stolen from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure of all places, it’s a step in the right direction. Trapped in a different time stream, Amy hardens as a person and becomes full of resentment and hatred not just for the Doctor and Rory for not saving her but for herself. It’s a rather adult concept to show the potential of something going horribly wrong for the companion and I’m glad that this episode explored that idea.

The facility itself was brilliantly executed with that mixture of simplicity and complexity that Doctor Who excels at. White walls with magic doors that link to other sets or exterior locations. Nice. The ‘temporal engines’ being located in what appears to be the boiler room was a bit laughable, I have to admit. Why does modern Doctor Who keep going back to the same industrial complexes when a super scientific setting is called for?

Industrial complexes are the new quarries, apparently. In twenty year’s time fans will make pilgrimages to rubber factories and visit where the ‘Love Triangle of the Sea Devils’ was filmed.


While the direction is almost as dire as Murray Gold’s musical score (why so much slow mo? Why so many close ups? Am I meant to be brain dead?), the plot is actually quite clever. However, in order to tell its story,The Girl Who Waited utilizes an accepted conceit that the program is based entirely on love. Since the program returned in 2005, the theme of romance has been a part of Doctor Who. The Doctor and Rose were presented as the greatest love that there ever was, only to be torn apart in the finale of series 2. Series 3 saw Martha pine after the Doctor but he could never be hers because he loved another… a woman whom he could never see. More recently the Doctor revealed his deep longing love for the TARDIS itself.  The idea continues here but in this case Moffat has had a stroke of intelligence by removing the Doctor from the equation and instead inserting a pair of lovebirds in his place. It’s still unnecessary and crass, but it works given that Rory and Amy have already been through so much together and the actors can pull it off. The sappy scenes of Rory and the future Amy crying on opposite sides of the TARDIS door, however, followed by future Amy telling the facility interface about her great love while looking at a hologram of the Earth (I know that’s what I do) is unneeded.

I called it when he first appeared as a regular, but Arthur Darvill is just magnificent. I am a sucker for the well-meaning klutz character and he embodies that so well with Rory. While the Doctor knows exactly what the script needs him to, Rory must not only make do but often stumble about making mistakes until he gets it right. His character also genuinely cares about people, exemplified by his relationship to Amy, a girl who brushes him off at each opportunity but is still the most amazing woman in his life. He has time and again risked his life for others but dared anything to save Amy. As I say, this serves the marketing demographic that the program is looking to reach who apparently needs to have a couple in deep undying love on screen in order to pay attention, but if you’re going to go in this direction… this is how to do it.

Karen Gillan won me over almost immediately as new companion Amy Pond last year. Steven Moffat obviously has a thing for forthright heroines (nearly every script he has written for Doctor Who not only features one but is centered on such a character type), but for some reason in interviews refers to her as a ‘bad girl in the TARDIS’ which I think misses the forest from the trees. Amy is not a ‘bad girl’ at all, she’s ‘brassy.’ Think Tegan ramped up to 11 and add another. Not only does Amy take no nonsense from anyone, even the Doctor, she hardly waits around to be rescued. Case in point, in this episode she not only fights back against the situation she has become stuck in but she improves herself, hardening her survival skills to the point that she is not just deadly but brilliant (just how did she invent a sonic probe??).

I do think that this episode missed a great opportunity, however, in making the older Amy not dissimilar to the younger version. Sure, she was bitter and quick on the draw, but essentially she’s the same person. It would have been much more interesting if the older Amy was unappealing, making Rory’s decision over which one to save all the more complicated. No wonder he figured that he could save both of them, why not? By the end of the episode they’re both sexy assertive women. If the alternate future Amy was instead a more sinister persona, Rory would be faced with more shame and guilt around his decision. Sure, that Amy would not be the woman that he fell in love with, but could he just let her die? It would also color the inevitable conclusion, filling him with guilt over letting the other Amy go because maybe deep down he wanted to. Maybe I’m on the wrong track or maybe that’s just asking too much of this program.

'I'll go down fighting'- Amy clobbers an army of alien robots

Matt Smith is again in tip top condition as the scatter-brained alien stuck with a pair of humans to protect, but The Girl Who Waited is the third story in a row where the Doctor does almost nothing at all. In ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ he failed to save Melody, failed to procure an antidote, did nothing against the time traveling policemem and had no interaction with Hitler. In ‘Night Terrors’ his big moment was to convince a man telling his son he loves him was important (that’s two scripts that Gattis has put this into and I’m officially worried about the man). This week he chats on a video phone through Jarvis Cocker’s eyeglasses. I’m all for an ensemble program, but this is just bizarre.

Rory's two wives

The Girl Who Waited is a tightly written melodrama with science fiction elements and some keen action sequences. Over the top and saccharine-sweet at times, it is nonetheless an episode that tells a compelling story offering more depth to the characters and the concepts of the program. Given the choice, I’d gladly watch the Silurains or Dominators and even pay for pizza and beer too, but for new Doctor Who, this was quite good.

Next time: The God Complex

Doctor Who – Night Terrors

“Night Terrors”

Series 6
Episode 9
Transmitted  3 September, 2011

“I’ve come a long way to get here, Alex. George sent a message. A distress call, if you like. Whatever’s inside that cupboard is so terrible, so powerful that it amplified the fears of an ordinary little boy across all the barriers of time and space. Through crimson stars and silent stars and tumbling nebulas like oceans set on fire. Empires of glass and civilisations of pure thought and a whole, terrible, wonderful universe of impossibilities. You see these eyes? They’re old eyes. And one thing I can tell you Alex, monsters are real.”

A little boy shivers in his bed, freakishly horrified by the sound of the lift outside his room, the witch that lives across the hall and the monsters in his cupboard. His mum flicks the light on and off five times and he recites his special saying three times but it seems that no one can make the monsters go away. A desperate plea for help reaches the TARDIS in deep space, outside of time itself. Recognizing that to reach him through such unlikely means would require phenomenal power, the Doctor takes his crew to the scariest place in the universe, a little boy’s bedroom.

Steven Moffat’s take on Doctor Who contains several concepts that have to be accepted by the viewer straight away. Just to select a few; the Doctor is a folk hero, Doctor Who is a fairy tale, and each episode MUST feature monsters or some wacky visual idea. Taking all of that into consideration, this episode is quite good. It has some flaws, such as the moment when Alex stares at his son and demands’ What are you?’ (never a good parenting choice, mate), the fact that the concept of adoption is regarded as entirely alien and that Mark Gattis seems unfamiliar with how children’s literature works… but given the fact that last week’s installment was a dire flurry of plot threads and explosions, this is a vast improvement.

The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Alex (Daniel Mays) work out the mystery of George's fears

The Doctor, Rory and Amy arrive at a creepy looking council estate (no Rose Tyler, thankfully) to answer a summons from a scared little boy named George. The boy’s parents are out of their depth in dealing with the eight year-old’s numerous anxious behaviors, so much so that when a mysterious stranger arrives to help he is accepted in face value. In fact, the psychic paper gag was hardly needed here.

While the Doctor attempts to get to the bottom of George’s fears, Rory and Amy get sucked into another realm via the lift that terrifies George every day and night. Waking up in a seemingly deserted house, they are confused by little idiosyncrasies that make the house seem unreal. When they are hunted through the house by creepy giggling doll creatures, the mystery is forgotten and the situation becomes less about investigation and more about survival.

Back in the flat, the Doctor tries to bond with George and gain Alex’s trust only to discover that the cupboard that little George has placed all of his fears in is in fact full of actual monsters. Terrified by an ‘off the scale reading’ (of what?? monsters??) on his sonic screwdriver, the Doctor is torn over whether to open the cupboard or not. After a quick cup of tea, he decides to through caution to the wind and ends up getting himself and Alex sucked inside. Well, 900 plus years does not make one a pragmatist, does it?

Surrounded by creepy dolls, George's fears seem well founded

Inside the dollhouse, the Doctor explains that George is not a child born from Alex and his wife Claire (something that horrifies Alex but must make any adopted kids watching- this is still considered family entertainment in the UK- even more scared) but is in fact a cuckoo from the stars. An alien creature from space heard Alex and Claire’s need for a child and delivered one to their doorstep. Using a perception filter to mask the charade (how? it’s magic, I guess), George was seemingly accepted into the family… if not for his odd fears.

This is kind of where the story encounters a massive stumbling block as George’s fears stem from Alex and Claire fearing their own abilities as parents and considering having their son taken away to someone better suited to handle his needs. However, if his fear was caused by this possibility, how could it also be the cause of Alex and Claire’s wanting to have him taken away? It makes no sense. The cause of a situation cannot also be the effect, surely.

In any case, George has been taking every little fear and scary concept he has encountered and shut it away inside his cupboard using some weird alien psychic ability that also causes people to be turned into creepy dolls that haunt the confines of the dollhouse. Again, it doesn’t really make sense, but it does allow for some interesting visuals and that is where this episode excels.

The latest episode of the sixth series pays homage to Sapphire and Steel, and many vintage horror films. Mark Gatiss is a traditionalist and his scripts to date work on that approach. A fan of the Troughton and Pertwee eras, he is most concerned with making an indelible mark with each of his stories and this one accomplishes that as being ‘the one with the creepy dolls.’ The plot is a bit flimsy and the logic strained, but there is a story here and it does manage to hold together and function as a fantastic fairy tale with the Doctor acting as a folk hero who fights monsters.

The conclusion involving Alex accepting his son as his own (even though he isn’t, but never mind) is very sappy. I have a young rambunctious and adorable child of my own, but I know when I’m being manipulated by a TV program and I don’t like it. Additionally, the mother’s acceptance of the Doctor’s solution is laughably absurd. Why would she not worry about her son’s problems and question why they suddenly went away? Like a few other aspects of this episode, it makes no sense.

The direction was, on the whole, top notch and working with most of the story set in nearly complete darkness, it still fired on all cylinders. The combination of the every day and the fantastic (another obsession of the BBC Wales Doctor Who) also worked this time around and didn’t feel hokey or forced. The regulars were in fine form with Arthur Darvill as Rory being both sympathetic and amusing all at once. Matt Smith once again proves that he is an ideal choice for Moffat’s Doctor, a being that is weird yet human, dashing yet scatter-brained and silly yet serious.

All in all, a step in the right direction with the only definite stumble being the inclusion of the ‘Doctor’s death’ plot thread at the end. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.

Next Time: The Girl Who Waited

Doctor Who – Let’s Kill Hitler

“Let’s Kill Hitler”


Series 6
Episode 8
Transmitted 27 August 2011

When Reason Slept, When Mothers Wept, When soldiers Crept, The Monsters came

I recall reading about a time when producer John Nathan-Turner asked Eric Saward and possibly Ian Levine over to show them an early cut of The Twin Dilemma, a story that would close out the 22nd series of Doctor Who, introduce the Sixth incarnation of the Doctor and force many devoted fans away from their favorite program. While JNT was jubilant, claiming that it was everything he had always wanted Doctor Who to be, his guests were at a loss for words. In all honesty, I don’t think that Twin Dilemma is all that bad. It has some of the most laughably bad ideas in Doctor Who, but it is still essentially the same program albeit featuring a mentally unhinged maniac as the central hero.

I can imagine Moffat similarly showing Let’s Kill Hitler with great pride to his production crew as a perfect example of how he seems Doctor Who. But Let’s Kill Hitler, on the other hand, isn’t just a bad story. It has no story at all, it’s just bad TV.

For anyone who disagrees with my take on this week’s episode, fair enough. I can actually save you some time by saying that all of the problems I had with the mid series finale are still here only amped up.
(edit-in bold for clarity)

Last year, Steven Moffat orchestrated an interconnected tale that peppered clues and hints throughout each weekly installment. Amy was pregnant and not-pregnant, the Doctor died but then an earlier version met up with Amy, Rory and River. A new monster called the Silence was messing about with time and had some grand mysterious scheme. Etc. When the answers fell into place it was more than a bit out of left field and left more questions such as why an army was assembled to kill the Doctor.

Let’s Kill Hitler opens in much the same way that the series 6 opener did, with an over-blown spectacle, the punchline of which can be seen from Mars. Amy and Rory are driving an old beat-up car through a corn field, creating a crop circle to call the Doctor to them. When the Doctor arrives (in his new smart jacket), the trio are then joined by a hot rod driven out of control. I rolled my eyes waiting for River Song to emerge and say, ‘Hello, sweetie.’ but was surprised by a new character, bad girl Mels. I mean, sure, Mels hit all of the same cords as River, but this was the first new companion in a while so it was at least somewhat exciting.

There is an extensive and lazily directed flashback sequence establishing that Mels is indeed a bad girl and has known Amy and Rory for ages. Having heard the stories of the Doctor by Amy, Mels somehow knows that the Doctor is behind several historical events and gets into trouble at school for making up wild answers for why World War Two lasted so long, why the Titanic sunk, etc. This somehow leads to a life of crime and car theft followed by the theft of the TARDIS in order to take off into the past and kill Hitler… because Mels has a wild desire to do so. So study hard at school, kids… or you’ll become a car thief.

Don't mind him, that's just Hitler

Meanwhile in the past a crew of time traveling police called The Justice Department are making their way past Hitler’s security to kill him inside of a giant robot called a Teselecta. They have abducted a Nazi officer and imulated their craft into his image, sucked him in through the eye and eaten him with electric robot jellyfish. If any of that sounds remotely interesting it’s a crying shame because none of it is ever expounded upon.  Like Mels, they apparently had a random desire to kill Hitler.

Despite having resources from a future technology the time traveling cops somehow got the date wrong and somehow stumble straight into the TARDIS’ path. Their simulacrum damaged, the time traveling cops find that they have found a far better culprit after realizing that the TARDIS has arrived. Hitler and the robot exchange gunshots and Mels gets caught in the fray and it appears that a character we had only just been introduced to is going to die.

Not only does the story have nothing to do with Hitler but the time traveling cops aren’t even after the Doctor at all.

To add to the stupidity of the script, Mels isn’t even Mels at all but actually Melody Pond, the half-Time Lord baby of Rory, Amy and the TARDIS. Mels regenerates into River Song and proceeds to preen and prod her new body for a while before flirting with the Doctor.  Not only did Moffat fake-introduce a new companion that was incredibly similar to an old one, he TRANSFORMED HER INTO THE CHARACTER SHE RESEMBLED! Some call it clever, I call it lazy writing and the worst example of Mary Sue syndrome since Rose. Moffat has apparently lost interest in writing about the Doctor (shame, that) and is instead writing about his character, River Song. That wouldn’t be such a problem if he had some new material but there’s nothing to River Song at all. She has done the same things and said the same lines since her introduction three years ago only now she is also the solution to Moffat’s dangling plot threads.

River Song tries to shoot him with Hitler’s discarded gun, but the Doctor unloaded it off-screen… she tries again with Mels’ discarded handgun, but the Doctor tricked her into picking a banana (something Moffat is obsessed with). Eventually she kisses him and leaps out the window to start trouble in WWII era Germany. The kiss was of course accompanied by a killer lipstick causing the Doctor to die… only of course he’s not going to die in WWI Germany just like he’s not going to die in 2011 Utah. Why is Moffat trying the same trick again by making us think that the Doctor is going to die?

What is this program’s weird obsession with characters dying but not dying?

A crew of temporal justice police officers attempt to hedge their way into the plot

Rory and Amy steal a motorcycle and attempt to stop River from causing trouble. You may ask why a nation of Nazis can’t kill her. Because the script won’t allow them to. Once again, the BBC Wales program insists that regeneration is a magical process involving mystical flames that has long-lasting effects. One can deflect bullets, regrow limbs, send energy into severed limbs, raise the dead, presumably start a car, make toast and sell a house in a depressed economy. It’s magic.

Meanwhile the Doctor attempts to find a cure using the TARDIS data banks which somehow prove useless. The TARDIS presents young Amelia Pond as a holographic interface and for a moment I was worried that the cure to the Janus poison was going to actually be fish fingers in custard. Luckily, the script didn’t find the time to get quite that poor.

The Doctor finds time to dress for the occasion

It’s unclear exactly what the deal is with the robot full of time traveling police as they never really get a chance to explain themselves or really do anything. There is a brief attempt at saying there are crimes that go unpunished throughout history… but if there is such an organization wouldn’t that not be true? Wouldn’t history be different? Wouldn’t they be after the Doctor? And what about Hitler? Is he still locked in the cupboard?

Never mind, the script could care less about any of those things because this story is all about River Song. Unfortunately, it has nothing new to say about her. River smack talks, finds herself sexy even though she looks like a man and shoots people. We have seen this several times now. I’d even be okay about all this if this meant it was the end of the River Song story line, but I wager she’ll be back.

Amy and Rory get sucked inside the robot ship (the only cool thing about this story aside from the Doctor’s new coat) and are immediately attacked by weird robot jelly fish things that fill the ship and would kill anyone unless they had a green wristband. It’s like concert security from a William Gibson novel. They are escorted to the bridge where several characters sit with nothing to do but stare up at the viewer.

The Doctor changes into a smart tux and sonic cane (I assume the action figure was already made) and appears to have used all of his time off screen in a time machine dressing. He has no master plan, no scheme and most importantly no antidote to the poison coursing through him. The robot begins to kill River for killing the Doctor and he starts to die inches from the TARDIS. Despite the death ray coming from a robot from the future, it seems to need more time than about three minutes so even though River is caught in a sea of hell fire, she doesn’t die.

Weird 'antibody' jellyfish things

Amy somehow uses the sonic screwdriver to turn all of the green wristbands red and the evil jellyfish that populate every corner of the time traveling robot ship turn on the crew. Looking past the fact that Amy essentially just killed everyone on the ship, why would they carry a Nazi officer-load of deadly killer robots around with them? If they are that idiotic it’s no wonder history is full of chaos, murder and wars. However, the crew of the robot Nazi man-thing are beamed up in a manner that would make Star Trek Deep Space Nine blush and escape. So the only character who really dies in this whole story is the Nazi officer in the beginning… lucky sod.

The Doctor nears death but is saved at the last minute when River ‘uses up all of her rengenerations’ on one go. As if making the process of regeneration involving magical flames wasn’t dumb enough it is now something that one can will to happen and can expend like chi or bad gas.

Placed into a cat-nurse staffed hospital, Mels/Melody/River Song goes on to enroll in a galactic future university to study archaeology because she has the hots for the Doctor. So once again, sexual attraction is the sole motivator behind characters in Doctor Who. The Doctor loves the TARDIS, the sonic screwdriver is his penis and every one of his companions has fancied him.

I imagine there’s going to be a big reveal mid-series where Rory professes a deep burning desire for the Doctor. There are worse Doctor Who stories than Let’s Kill Hitler, but I’m not exactly sure that Twin Dilemma would be one of them. Twin Dilemma was full of bad acting, poorly thought-out characters and a police headquarters that looked like a Chinese restaurant. But it was at least not set on a planet ruled by a giant slug but actually all about how much in love Peri was with the Doctor or how Adric was secretly the Doctor’s son from the future.

I really don’t want to be so negative about this episode as it sets the tone for the remainder of the series. I’m a die-hard fan and have been following Doctor Who in its various forms for ages (check out my classic and new series pages) and have been especially happy with the new regime of Moffat and Smith. But last year started a downward spiral that has only gotten worse with this week’s episode. The program is getting very self-indulgent and contrived. Rather than telling a captivating science fiction or science-fantasy adventure,  it seems more interested in towing along the overly convoluted back-stories of its supporting cast while continuing to lay hints at plot threads that are getting strained far too much. In a recent interview Moffat accepted that with this year’s run of stories the arc had taken over the series and has already decided to step away from that direction in the following series.

I hope that the coming weeks pick up in quality and the resolution to the TARDIS explosion/death of the Doctor/the Silence/Demon’s Run is worth the ride, but a story that ignores so many plots in order to firmly cement yet another stepping stone in the history of River Song is not where Doctor Who or Moffat as a writer and producer should be taking the series.

At best, this week’s episode felt like fan fiction. It contained so many of the flaws that I have found in Moffat’s writing, but taken to a new level of badness. Characters were empty, the plot was convoluted, old gags were hauled out, and resolutions were flimsy. Keeping in mind that there has apparently never been more attention directed at Doctor Who than there is now, you’d think it would actually be worth watching.

Next time: Night Terrors

Doctor Who battles creepy dolls in ‘Night Terrors’

The second part of Doctor Who’s sixth series will soon be upon us and the news surrounding its stories is starting to turn from a trickle into a flood. Mark Gatiss’ fourth script for the BBC Wales series will introduce a new menace that promises to scare the socks off of viewers.

As any regular visitor to my blog would know, I have mixed feelings about the new series but I do like how Moffat is varying the stories so far, diverting from horror to sci-fi epic and domestic comedy with comparative ease. I’m also a big supporter of new ideas and new monsters, something that Moffat again is determined to continue. That said, a recent glimpse of a Cyberman in what appears to be a tomb has me very excited.

Here’s the official BBC release for series 6 episode 9: ‘Night Terrors.’

Via TardisNewsroom:
A little boy called George is terrified of something lurking in his bedroom cupboard…

The Doctor receives a strange letter, begging “Help me”…

And so begins Night Terrors, episode nine of the current Doctor Who series.

Written by Mark Gatiss, it sounds like being an eerie, scary tale and (as you might expect from the man who presented BBC4 documentary series A History of Horror) it employs a reliable staple of supernatural movies – toys coming to life.

The creepy Peg Dolls – until now, heralded only by a brief appearance in the series six trailer – are dead-eyed, implacable and relentless.

But what do they want with young George?

Daniel Mays (last seen in Outcasts and Ashes to Ashes) plays worried dad Alex, who teams up with the Doctor to help battle his son George’s demons. But not before Rory and Amy find themselves miniaturised and sucked into the strange doll’s house in George’s cupboard.

What else can the Doctor and Alex do but follow them inside…?

Doctor Who – Night Terrors airs on Saturday 3 September.

Series Six part two trailer

Doctor Who- (Demons Run) A Good Man Goes to War

Demons Run When A Good Man Goes to War

Series 6
Story 07
3 June 2011

Demons run when a good man goes to war
Night will fall and drown the sun
When a good man goes to war

Friendship dies and true love lies
Night will fall and the dark will rise
When a good man goes to war

Demons run, but count the cost
The battle’s won, but the child is lost

NOTE: If you live in the US and are reading this, you have not yet seen the mid-series cliffhanger with two names – Demons Run and A Good Man Goes to War. As such, please be aware that this review holds nothing but lots of spoilers for you.

Please bookmark this review and read it next Saturday night, leaving comments if you would.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Series 6 has been a roller coaster ride unlike anything we have seen before in Doctor Who. It opened with the Doctor’s death, Amy’s pregnancy, President Nixon’s paranoia and new monsters called the Silence. Apart from Curse of the Black Spot and the Doctor’s Wife, all seven parts of this series have essentially functioned as one large story separated by running, yelling and the incessant pounding of Murray Gold’s string section. Mysteries have dangled from last year’s ‘Crack in Time’ story into this year where even more events have been unexplained such as Amy’s pregnancy, the girl in the astronaut costume who can regenerate and the annoying River Song whose camp insistence that she is important have only made her all the more tiring. With the series cut in two from the usual 13 parts to two sets of episodes, Moffat had to chose a point to not only break up the action but also provide at least some closure on these mysteries and dangling plot threads.

Demon’s Run feels very much like a Davies-era ‘kitchen sink’ finale which I take as weakness on the part of Moffat or the BBC. Either or both may think that viewers need a major blockbuster event in place of a story in order to qualify as a finale or cliffhanger. Of course this is not true as fans have been complaining of too many monsters and explosions being crammed on screen in place of story for at least three years. Nevertheless, from the opening moments of this adventure in which Rory (inexplicably dressed as a Roman Centurion) boards a Cybermen craft just as the Doctor (depicted as a fleeting shadow brandishing his magical sonic screwdriver) explodes their fleet. Perhaps that’s how the BBC Wales production team sees the Doctor, as a romantic pixie-like creature holding a magic wand. Yep, that actually fits.

Meanwhile, the Clerical order last seen in The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone have captured Amy Pond and her newborn and are massing a large army to stop the Doctor, the most feared man in all creation. Alongside these sequences on board the asteroid base are jumps back and forth in time and space as numerous characters are recruited by the Doctor in order to pay back a debt. A comical Sontaran nurse (excellently played by Dan Starkey last seen in the Sontaran Stratagem), a Jack the Ripper hunting samurai Silurian living in Victorian London along with her companion Jenny, the blue-skinned Star Wars-reject from last year’s finale, Dorium Maldovar and of course River Song whose convoluted back story is so complex at this point that it’s unclear when in time we are visiting her. After consulting her diary of secret history, she declines Rory’s request to assist in the liberation of Amy Pond and her baby, much to the chagrin of both Rory and the Doctor.

The build-up lasts far too long and includes far too much exposition of established as well as new concepts, such as the Headless Monks with flaming laser swords. There were so many new characters bearing weapons and overly complicated back stories that I felt I was watching the Star Wars prequels. It certainly bore more a resemblance to Revenge of the Sith than Doctor Who. The only saving grace comes from some absolutely sterling performances from the aforementioned Starkey, Neve McIntosh as the Silurian Madame Vastra and of course Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill. All of the main cast made the story almost bearable, but the guest cast of warrior clerics was laughable as was the ‘eye patch lady’ played by Frances Barber who apparently thought she was starring in as remake of Peter Pan as Captain Hook.

More great images at Series60s

Demon’s Run is a mess of connect-the-dots story telling, bombastic exposition, fireworks and lots of actors posing for their action figures. It feels like a performance from Disney World rather than a television drama. Throughout the painful ordeal of the story, I wondered where this could all be leading as the music swelled and poetic verse was recited over slow motion combat. The Doctor, a goofy British guy in a jacket, was built up to be the most dangerous man to have ever lived. A massive army complete with deep-space support was assembled to hold him off while an evil woman with an eye patch attempted to steal a defenseless baby from a loving couple.

It’s absurd.

In previous stories of the classic Doctor Who program, the Doctor has allied himself with an existing resistance or stealthily acted against some invading alien forces to undo their plans. He didn’t proudly stand in their way proclaiming his intentions while they patiently waiting for his dialog to end. I find this approach of building the Doctor into a mythical champion to be laughable and reduces an otherwise sophisticated concept into a cartoon.

The Doctor of the classic Doctor Who program was defined as a hero by his actions rather than by his reputation. His liberation of the inhabitants of Paradise Towers was, in spite of the opposition, not because the monsters backed away in fear. When he encountered the Zygons living in the bottom of Loch Ness, he was not immediately known to them and feared as ‘the oncoming storm.’

The Doctor of the BBC Wales program is brash, proud and dangerous, his mere name instilling fear into the hearts of his enemies. His actions aren’t even necessary as the whisper of his name causes characters to either rally to his side or run in fear.

All that said… Moffat once again uses this approach to his benefit. Demon’s Run is largely a spectacle of aliens and soldiers duking it out in space, something that Moffat no doubt gleefully presented to his son as ideal entertainment (I can see a young boy loving all of this and good on him for making it). Even as an action adventure full of poorly thought-out ideas and padding there are things to like about Demon’s Run such as the nurse Sontaran and the Victorian man-hunter Silurian. Both are silly concepts but executed so well that I found myself liking them.

However, the story gets more complex when the conclusion turns the situation on its head (much like last year’s Pandorica Opens that saw the Doctor apparently defeating his enemies by declaring his presence). After taking control of the asteroid from the gun toting Clerics (Moffat has one weird view of religion… and of the military- why do none of the clerics just follow orders as most soldiers do?), it is revealed that the entire situation was a trap to entice the Doctor into a false sense of security and then pull the rug out from under him.

Well done, Mister Moffat. I almost forgive you for the preceding 30 odd minutes of Star Wars.

Centurion Rory confronts the Cybermen

The unnamed clerical order of soldiers acting on the orders of the evil eye patch lady Madame Kovarian are at war with the Doctor and have tricked him into this situation in order to nab the baby who has become a Time Lord by her being conceived inside the TARDIS. For all of the exposition in this episode, I could have used some explanations as to why these soldiers hated the Doctor and who Madame Kovarian was, but it’s all left very vague.

Throughout the episode, Amy states that she relies on the Doctor to come to her aid, just as Kovarian’s forces prepare to hold him at bay. After defeating the clerics, the Doctor allows himself a moment of rage that greatly disturbs his Silurian ally (and even himself). He doesn’t just want to win, he wants to shame his enemies, showing shades of the Tenth Doctor’s hubris. In the end, Amy’s faith in the Doctor proves ill placed as he realizes too late they have not won at all an. the life-like material known as the ‘flesh’ was used to pull the wool over his eyes. Once more the Doctor’s belief in himself has been used against him. He is not the most dangerous man alive by a long chalk, he really is just a mad man with a box.

This is a devastating revelation that I think will have far-reaching consequences for the Doctor. Keep in mind that in the Impossible Astronaut, 200 years have passed for the Doctor and he feels that he must pay for his actions. I think that the beginnings of this downward cycle are to be found in the moment when the Doctor is tricked by Madame Kovarian.

While the script is a mess, Matt Smith once again turns in a startlingly impressive performance as the Doctor, reaching levels of anger, warmth and quirkiness that has become synonymous with the Eleventh Doctor. As I was watching the episode I was aware of how poorly constructed this house of cards was, but Smith retained his stature and poise (the sign of any great Doctor in my opinion is how he handles a bad script).

Some character from last series and some other characters from this one

Demon’s Run attempts to be far too many things at once and in the end fails at many of them. With so many characters prancing about, the plot jumps throughout different points in time and space to visit characters that are either new with made-up back stories or references to actual adventures. It’s an over-ambitious mess. As a story about the undoing of the Doctor, I found it impressive… but more than a little annoying.

I could have done without all of the pathos and rousing music over Amy’s plight and Rory’s undying love for her (at least it wasn’t the Doctor’s love for Rose). Additionally, the revelation regarding River and the baby is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. In fact, many fans guessed this ages ago online. I couldn’t see the point in it then and see less point in it now. The character of River Song is so very tired at this point.

To be honest, I’m more interested in Madame Vastra and Jenny, yet we are unlikely to see them again.

Silurian Madame Vastra and… Jenny

From the trailer it was apparent that Demon’s Run was not going to be an episode heavy in plot or character, but even so I was annoyed at the over-reliance on special effects and aliens. Doctor Who is better than this and so is Steven Moffat.

Once Doctor Who was the most imaginative and far-reaching science fiction drama, capable of depicting gripping suspense, high adventure or brilliant comedy. Now it seems that Doctor Who has become little more than a tool to wrap up several plot threads from series to series. The program is an extension of the plot rather than the plot an extension of the program. It’s no longer about where/when the Doctor is headed next, it’s about how it will tie into the over-arching plot involving the time baby or River Song’s identity, or any number of other concept that Moffat finds necessary.

In the end I had a nasty taste in my mouth, and just like the conclusion of many a fairground ride, the sensation that I was going to be sick.

Next time: ‘Let’s Kill Hitler!’

Doctor Who – The Almost People

The Almost People

Series 6
Story 06
28 May 2011

In the near future, the Doctor and his companions are trapped in an ancient castle as a series of acid leaks transforms it from a mining facility to a death trap. As a small group of clones grown from a mysterious substance called ‘the flesh’ gain sentience, they demand the lives of their source material, the mining crew. The humans not only refuse to coexist with their clones, they seek to have them destroyed. The Doctor must not only steer a hostile situation to a peaceful resolution, he also has to resolve a large problem involving his companion Amy Pond. This could get tricky.

NOTE: Firstly, allow me to warn my US-based readers that this article contains spoilers. Doctor Who was not shown in America this week due to it being situated at the beginning of Memorial Day weekend. What that has to do with Doctor Who, I have no idea, but it made sense to BBC America to remove the latest episode from their programming. Of course I found a way to view the episode late last night and have been mulling it over this morning.

The short review is that it is an excellent continuation of an already fine adventure that introduces some clever notions, plenty of action and feels like a two-parter rather than the usual one parter split in half that I am used to from the BBC Wales program. We are in for plenty of shocks for the mid-series cliff-hanger and thankfully many of the plot threads seem to be getting tied up neatly without any of the disappointment that I feared.

The long review is below and contains, as already stated, SPOILERS.

The Two Doctors (well, one is a 'ganger')

The Almost People opens with one of those moments that will have fans of the new series no doubt scratching their heads and looking online for guidance and fans of the classic series bugging out their eyes. Last year’s series held several nods to the classic program revolving around the First Doctor played by William Hartnell. From the Doctor’s out of date library card to the TARDIS presenting an image of the white-haired incarnation as a depiction of the youthful Eleventh Doctor’s identity. It was a nice gesture to fans who had feared that the program had grown so far from its roots that it was never going to acknowledge them aside from the obligatory appearance of past monsters. It was also used well when a depressed Doctor sat slumped by young Amy Pond’s bedside telling her a story about an old man who ran away from home with a magic box (Moffat’s condensed view of the program as a fairy tale).

This episode features a clone based on the Doctor struggle to adapt to the various incarnations from the Doctor’s past, featuring a line of dialog from ‘An Unearthly Child:‘One day we will get back. Yes, one day’ a shout out to the fans doting on David Tennant ‘No let it go, we’ve moved on!’ and a full-on dubbed line of dialog from Tom Baker. It happened so fast that it was equally charming and terrifying, ending with the clone screaming in pain from the no doubt maddening assault of memories. The Doctor-ganger isn’t just a gimmick, he’s a key element to the story and Matthew Graham brilliantly utilizes the character in telling the story he began in the Rebel Flesh.

The Doctor's solution to exploding acid? Put a cover on it... not his best idea.

The ganger revolution led by the furious ganger based on wallflower Jennifer is made all the more complicated by a series of acid leaks spread throughout the castle (why are they mining acid, anyhow? What a lousy job) mixing with the aged mortar and stone to create a choking mist. The Doctor is more than happy to work with his clone in solving the problem and the pair seem to get along famously, despite the obvious unease the ganger causes in the mining crew and Amy. As the clone develops its own name, John Smith, he is assaulted with angry sentiments, especially from Amy who backs up her hostility by saying that ‘there can be only one.’ The Doctor ganger becomes morose, posing an angry and bitter attitude toward the others, even his fellow gangers.

Convinced that it’s up to him to expel the xenophobic sentiments, the Doctor places his ganger in a very important position of seeking a solution to their problems and watches from the sidelines… again, much to the shock and horror of the others. He doesn’t appear to be operating on all cylinders, as it were. The ‘real’ Doctor’s best idea to deal with an impending acid explosion is to simply place a lid over it and hold it down hard.

Crikey.

Jenny and her 'ganger' or.. is it?

Rory, meanwhile, is attempting to help Jennifer whom he has grown fond of and developed a sympathetic relationship with. As visitors to this blog far more intelligent than I have pointed out, this hints not only to his background as a nurse but especially to his past as an Auton. It is clear that Rory not only feels some kind of connection with Jennifer, he needsto feel it as well. This plot point really sheds some light on the loneliness that Rory must feel from his experience. Of course I don’t understand how he retained the knowledge and experience of the Auton, but never mind.

I have noted this previously, but I am quite fond of Rory. I love comedic ‘sad sack’ characters when they are done right and this is a good example. Rory is neither brilliant nor brave, nor is he resourceful… but he has lots of heart and determination. In this case, that gets him into lots of trouble. Arthur Darvill injects Rory with some lovely moments of drama and levity (the scene where he assures Jennifer that he is a strong bloke). Sadly, Rory is manipulated into assisting the ganger Jennifer in her war against the humans, causing the acid cannisters to overheat and explode… I decided not to dwell too much on that point.

One of the creepiest images in Doctor Who in over 40 years

When Rory is shown a mass of discarded flesh that is still sentient, he decides that he has to put things right. He is led along to the eventual betrayal of his friends with the best of intentions, fueled by witnessing the horrific treatment of the gangers. By the time he realizes that he’s been had, it’s too late. The ganger Jennifer has roped him into her private war against the humans. Surprisingly the war is cut short by the ‘ganger’ Doctor appealing to the humanity of the gangers. A cleverly placed phone call to Jimmy’s son on his fifth birthday convinces the ganger that he can’t just take over the ‘real’ Jimmy’s life.

It’s an emotional appeal to the viewer including a cute kid in his pajamas… but it worked for me. It may just be because I too am a father.

The gangers come to the realization that their ‘war’ is unwinnable. Unfortunately, by the time the realize this, the death toll has become quite high (but conveniently even as it leaves only one of each version of almost every characters sans Jennifer and Buzzer). Without an army, Jennifer finally goes berserk and morphs into a crazy CGi mess looking more at home in a Japanese horror flick.

In the ensuing carnage, the TARDIS crew vacates the exploding acid bath, leaving the ganger Doctor and ganger Cleaves behind to face the music (a bit odd, that. I mean, why not try to save them?). The Doctor reveals to Amy that he is actually what she thought was the John Smith ganger. It became clear early on that the Doctor and his ganger were wearing different shoes. What Amy didn’t know was that the Doctor threw her off the scent by switching footwear with his clone early on and watching how he was treated. This partly explains what we as the viewer thought was the clone’s angry behavior… but there’s more.

After dropping off Cleaves and the ganger of Dicken (who really had nothing to do at all) to plead their case for better treatment of the gangers, the TARDIS crew finds that they are in for a shock. In last week’s episode, the Doctor indicated that he had some errand or other to take care of and wanted to get Amy and Rory out of his hair. That point was dropped away as the adventure progressed, but when he is finally alone with his companions, he reveals that he had good reason to ‘see the flesh in its earlier stages’ so that he could understand it.

Throughout the previous stories, the Doctor has been scanning Amy and watching a pregnancy scan (hey, that’s what the TARDIS says it is) flicker between positive and negative. When Amy starts experiencing what the Doctor calls contractions, Rory is confused but the Doctor is just plain angry. He reveals that for some time what they thought was Amy was actually a ganger masquerading as the plucky Scots gal. He then destroys it with a blast from his sonic screwdriver and viewers finally understand why they were seeing images of what has been called ‘the eyepatch lady’ all series long.

The ganger version of Amy has been receiving scattered transmissions of the real Amy’s experiences in a holding cell. Finally conscious, Amy finds that she is about to give birth. A small peephole door opens up above her and the ‘eyepatch lady’ urges her to push (this was hinted at earlier by the ganger Doctor). Very chilling and exciting all at once.

'Push only when she says to.' Brrrrr....

The sixth series of Doctor Who has been consistent but to be honest, somewhat underwhelming overall in my opinion. I find that the quality has been solid but perhaps it is the change in tone that I find jarring. The previous stories were far too gimmick-driven for my taste but The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People actually felt like a solid adventure with purpose and identity all its own. I’m excited to see where all of this goes, but I cannot hide my fear that it will blow up in Moffat’s face. He has a lot riding on a story that promises to close out the River Song story and tie into the 200 year gap in the Doctor’s life as well as his death and explain why Rory keeps dying (he has indicated that the repeated Rory deaths is intentional).

That’s a lot and it from the trailer it has all the earmarks of a kitchen sink finale involving Cybermen, Silurians, Sontarans and plenty of shouting. I’m not a fan of this approach but Moffat has not disappointed me yet. I still contend that the BBC Wales version of Doctor Who is operating on a false premise that the program is an explosive emotionally charged run-around with wacky science fiction that makes no sense and a young leading cast (I had a similar reaction to the JJ Abrams Star Trek film). But within the confines of that basis, Moffat is doing a bang-up job. I just hope that he can maintain his pacing and not over-reach himself.

For you readers who found this story too horrifying and disturbing, just think that maybe the Jennifer ganger made it back to the mainland after all, just in time for Jimmy’s son’s party!

And for those looking for something lighter this week, a party clown ganger!

Next time: A Good Man Goes to War