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A Mammoth (and Long Overdue) Doctor Who Update

July 10, 2011

Hi everybody! First up let me apologise for being so remiss with my blogging lately, particularly on the Doctor Who front. If you read my blog, know me in real life or follow me on Twitter you’ll probably remember that I spent pretty much the whole of May in America traveling about the place and generally having a rather fantastic time. Sadly this happened to be at the same time that the latest (half-)series of Doctor Who was being broadcast so, the first episode aside, my usual Who-reviews were to be postponed until getting back. However, because I’m hugely lazy as a blogger – and because I’ve had some IRL stuff going on since getting back – I’m only just getting round to writing up the notes that I made when I watched the rest of the series on iPlayer, and I’m now attempting to turn these into reviews. As there’s a lot of them I thought I’d review them a little more briefly than usual and publish them all in the same post as and when I finish them, in a series of delicious episodic tit-bits. So without further ado here are my thoughts on the Doctor’s latest adventures.

Day of the Moon 

I managed to see (and review) the first part of this story before I went away, and thankfully for me I did catch this episode the day before I left but I couldn’t review it at the time. I was very happy to see that the mystery and intrigue inherent in The Impossible Astronaut was all still there, and being able to maintain this while significantly upping the pace for parts of Day of the Moon, particularly the beautifully performed and shot opening sequence, was hugely impressive. The production values on display here show a real investment by the BBC into its flagship show, and the fact that the plot contained such complicated and ambitious aspects but managed to stay accessible shows, at least to me, that head writer Steven Moffat takes his viewers seriously and isn’t talking down to us. As comedian, musician and sci-fi buff Mitch Benn (@mitchbenn on Twitter) put it at the time, what other primetime show credits its audience with this much intelligence? But I digress. Back to the episode itself now, and one of the things I loved about it was that it kept up the sense of fun that you often get in Doctor Who, for example when he keeps fetching President Nixon to get him to explain to people that the Doctor is some sort of special government agent rather than just a madman who keeps breaking into places. The back-and-forth between the Doctor and River was excellent again too, especially the flirty bits. I may have mentioned this before, but considering how irritating the Doctor-and-companion love-plots were getting towards the end of Martha’s time in the TARDIS I’m impressed at how the exchanges between Doctor and River manage to be comical and even intriguing without getting on my nerves. Maybe it’s got something to do with her only being there sometimes, and with the fact that we know so little about her so the flirting reveals to us something we didn’t already know. Speaking of exchanges, there are some good ones between the Doctor and Rory too. Obviously the tone’s rather different (there’s less flirting for a start) but I loved how Rory tried to assert himself a bit more, for example when the Doctor’s talking about Rome and says “I was there”, and Rory simply replies “So was I”, neatly reminding us about what Rory went through when he was a plastic centurion. Given this, the look on his face when he hear’s Amy’s voice and it sounds like she’s talking to the Doctor rather than him is crushing, as well as brilliantly acted. After everything last series with the potential love triangle between Amy, Rory and the Doctor this development made me feel nearly as disappointed as Rory must’ve been, but the way the episode works out for him and Amy was a nice way of establishing that although this has been a plot point before instead of labouring it they’re going to put it to bed at the start of this series and focus instead on other themes, the Doctor’s impending death being a prime example. A couple of things confused me about this episode though. For example, it seems strange that the Silence have been around and influencing mankind “since the wheel and the fire“, and yet none of the previous Doctors had noticed them. I think this is one of those things we’re supposed to just take as a given, like in Turn Left when everything the Doctor and Donna have done so far in the series now doesn’t happen, yet the events in The Fires of Pompeiiclearly have happened because the human race are still here. Just put it down to Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey I reckon, that and the fact that you can’t cover every plot point all the time no matter how good you are. The other bit that has just struck me is why was young Canton locking the Doctor in that cell in the first place? I think it was so the Silence couldn’t keep track of what they were doing, but I’m not 100% on that. Again I reckon just go with it, especially as it made for such a cracking opening and a great line by Rory about the body bags needing more air holes in them. My best bits from this episode included:

  • Then why did the human race suddenly decide to go to the moon?
  • The way the Doctor uses the “you should kill us on sight” recording.
  • River Song kicking some serious Silence kaboodle when they rescue Amy.
  • The kiss between River and the Doctor, his surprise, him telling her “there’s a first time for everything!” before he leaves, and the look on her face when she replies “…and a last time.” Poor River.
  • The constant suggestion that the child is somehow Amy’s daughter and the myriad of extra questions that flow both from this and from the child’s regeneration right at the end. I was shaking my fist at the screen at this point cursing Moffat and the fact that I would have to wait for so long to find out what the Dickens was going on.

The Curse of the Black Spot

This was the first episode I saw after I got back. Sadly through jet lag and lack of foresight I didn’t take any notes at the time, but I remember the episode so will have a stab at it nonetheless (hooray for pirate-related puns). Although The Curse of the Black Spot was undoubtedly a bit of a filler episode in the grand scheme of things I still enjoyed it a lot. I thought it was good fun and well paced, particularly with the introduction of the danger early on and the way things progress throughout, in terms of understanding the siren and in terms of the captain’s relationship with his son. I also quite liked the way the juxtaposition of space ship and pirate ship was worked into the plot. This could’ve seemed rather forced but instead it ended up making enough sense for the viewers to be able to enjoy the pirate-y antics. Despite having already classed this as a filler episode I feel it necessary to highlight what I thought was a well handled and acted moral sub-plot between the captain and his son. Though it seems strange that the son could’ve stowed away on the ship for this long without detection, once you’re past that the relationship with his father is quite touching to watch, moreso when you realise just how much he looks up to him and how much of a surprise it is for him to discover that his dad’s really a pirate. I thought the child actor in this was pretty good too. Some of the other pirates were a bit, well, exactly what you’d expect a pirate to be like, but the kid’s character was gutsy had a few surprises to him, and the actor played him well. One rather large gripe I have is that Rory died. Again. Why is it always Rory who dies? This is technically the 3rd time we’ve seen him die in 2 series (First in Amy’s Choice, then again in Cold Blood), and this is before he waits for nearly 2000 years for Amy to emerge from the Pandorica. I can’t help but feel bad for the poor chap. Though to be fair Amy’s been kidnapped a couple of times too (by the Silurians in The Hungry Earth, and The Silence in Day of the Moon) so it’s not all peaches and cream for her either. Sadly I didn’t note down any best bits for this episode but I remember quite enjoying Amy’s pirate outfit, Rory’s ridiculous pining after the Siren and the cameo by Lily Cole as the holographic nurse. You can’t say Doctor Whodoesn’t get the stars involved.

The Doctor’s Wife

This episode was one of my favourites of the series, and to be honest it’s probably up there in my top five New Who stories as well. What I loved about it was that there was so much variety; this episode had comedy, wit, genuine terror, despair, love and oodles of madness. Lots of episodes have many of these elements in them but what I thought made The Doctor’s Wife special was the way his relationship with the Idris, the TARDIS made human, underpinned the story throughout and provided an emotional backdrop and enough hints about their past together to make the plot feel really three-dimensional. Hardly surprising really considering this episode was written by Neil Gaiman, a man with more successful novels and things to his name than you can shake a stick at.

However, despite the opinion above I did think the episode’s opening was a little strange. First off there’s the Corsair, another Time Lord from whom the Doctor receives a distress call that he traces to the bubble universe where the asteroid is. The Doctor’s line about the perpetual snake tattoo making the Corsair feel like “himself… Herself a couple of times” hints that Time Lords can, upon regeneration, become Time Ladies. I know that’s probably just a funny throw-away line, but I don’t think I like this concept. The idea that this ‘great man’ who’s so famous across the universe could suddenly turn into a woman doesn’t really fit in my mind. I’m not against female Time Lords in general, I just think swapping a character from one gender to another would be too complicated. I remember thinking this before Matt Smith was announced as the new Doctor and at the time some people were asking why the Doctor couldn’t be female. I think it’d be a massively inconsistent with Doctor Who canon if this did happen – aside from anything, if it were possible why hasn’t it happened already? – so I personally hope this line is simply throw-away and nothing more. My other issue with the opening was when they arrived on the asteroid and the Doctor said they were outside the universe, somewhere “we’ve never ever been”. All I was thinking at this point was “yes you have! Remember, with Rose and Mickey in Rise of the Cybermen?!” Granted that was a parallel universe rather than a bubble universe so yes the circumstances here are different, but in the opening of The Doctor’s Wife I could see SO many similarities with Rise of the Cybermen that I was really surprised when there was no reference to it at all. It made the opening feel a little disjointed to me, but luckily this was all forgotten as soon as Idris appeared and the good dialogue started flowing.

This I very much enjoyed. There were a lot of good exchanges between the Doctor and Idris (more on this later) and as usual some great one-liners all round, particularly from Idris herself – “Goodbye! No not goodbye what’s the other one?“; “Tenses are difficult aren’t they?“; “Aaah! You were about to say all that, I don’t suppose you have to now” – but also from Uncle and Auntie. These two, along with Idris and Nephew (who’s actually an Ood) are the inhabitants of the asteroid (otherwise known as House) when the TARDIS first lands there. Even though Auntie and Uncle were very minor characters I found them such a joy to watch; I thought the way they were acted – for me, somewhere between Father Ted and Vicar of Dibley – fleshed out their personalities wonderfully and made their one-liners absolutely brilliant. I particularly loved Auntie’s “Well we’re dying my luv“. Wonderful use of a West-Country accent there. One thing that struck me, though I don’t suspect it had any relevance to the episode – did anyone else see parallels with the Family of Blood in that they called each other Auntie, Uncle and Nephew rather than using names, just like Mother of Mine, Father of Mine etc?

Going back to Idris now, I have to say that I thought Suranne Jones who played her was excellent. She slides effortlessly from deranged bite-y lunatic to bickering wife to resolute-in-the-face-of-death, all the while maintaining the slightly confused air you’d expect of someone in the wrong body. I really liked the concept of the TARDIS being the Doctor’s wife. As Amy says at the end of the episode, “it’s always you and her isn’t it, long after the rest of us have gone.” The Doctor has often hinted at how he stole this magical box but also that the box is alive and has a its own personality, so it was really interesting to see the TARDIS’ perspective of the Doctor. I particularly loved the notion that she’d stolen him rather than vice-versa. “I wanted to see the universe so I stole a Time Lord and ran away, and you were the only one mad enough […] what makes you think I would ever give you back?” The exchanges between Idris and the Doctor another example of the brilliant writing we’re treated to so often in Doctor who. Now that I come to think about it the dynamic here was a little bit similar to that with the Doctor and River Song, another character who could easily be the Doctor’s wife. Idris is less overtly flirty than River though; instead their relationship seems established but also slightly awkward, rather like the Doctor himself: “Do you have a name?” “700 years, finally he asks” “But what do I call you?” “I think you call me… Sexy” “Only when we’re alone!” “We are alone.” “huh… Come on then Sexy.” This bit, and Amy’s line when she finds out that Idris is the soul of the TARDIS – “did you wish really hard?!” – reminded me of the School Reunion episode when Rose and Sarah Jane are laughing about how the Doctor sometimes strokes bits of the TARDIS. However, as often happens in Doctor Who comedy is juxtaposed with tragedy. When House has been defeated and the Idris is back in the TARDIS where she should be it means she can’t be human anymore – “Alive isn’t sad.” “It is when it’s over.” I thought Idris saying “Hello” to the Doctor, now that she finally could, was a very touching way for her to basically say goodbye to him as Idris ‘died’, even though the TARDIS itself is still there so the character’s soul, and her relationship with the Doctor, will live on. And speaking of souls living on I’ve just spotted another parallel with River, and how even though she’s dead her consciousness gets preserved in the Library computer. I wonder if that particular parallel was deliberate.

The other thing I really liked about this episode was how it was split up into juxtaposing plot-lines. While the Doctor and Idris are having their witty exchanges and building a new TARDIS console on the safety of the asteroid (well, I say safety: “This asteroid will hit absolute zero in 3 hours – safety is relative”) Amy and Rory, effectively taken prisoner by House when he possesses and steals the TARDIS, are only still alive because they’ve persuaded House that prolonging their deaths will be more ‘fun’ (“Tell me why I shouldn’t just kill you now.“). This contrast paced the episode really well I thought, the balance between meaningful dialogue and running-away-from-a-bad-thing was struck well and led to some scenes that would have been deliciously terrifying for younger viewers, particularly when Rory turns on Amy and she has to run from him. Initially I was rather miffed that they seemed to be killing Rory again here, but they seem to have preempted this and cunningly turned the situation around so that it’s actually Amy who’s being tormented rather than Rory. I properly fell for this as well. That Neil Gaiman’s as cunning as a fox when he wants to be.

Best bits

  • The psychic password was a nice touch, especially the way the smelling part of it was flagged up at the start of the episode. Nice bit of timey-wimey there.
  • Seeing the old set! I audibly exclaimed when I saw it!
  • There aren’t any old control rooms, they were all deleted or remodelled.” “I put them in archive. I’ve got about 30 now.” “I’ve only changed the desktop about 12 times. You can’t archive something that hasn’t happened!” “YOU can’t!
  • Spotting a Crack near the beginning. It wasn’t the Crack though as it was a different shape, but spotting it got me a little excited.
  • When Matt Smith says “My TARDIS?!” when he’s realising who Idris is he uses the EXACT same inflection as David Tennant does in the wedding episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures when Clive and the others ask if they can go in the TARDIS. I don’t know if this was deliberate but my inner geek was loving it nonetheless.
  • The Doctor clicking his fingers to try and open the TARDIS doors. Except instead of doing it confidently like David Tennant’s Doctor did at the end of the Library episode Matt Smith’s Doctor is desperate and frustrated because now “I’m a madman with a box WITHOUT a box!
  • Seems like a friendly planet… literally.
  • The only water in the forest is the River.” An interesting foreshadowing if you know what’s coming up.
  • You didn’t always take me where I wanted to go!” “No but I always took you to where you needed to go!“.

The Rebel Flesh

Coming soon…

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