There’s bound to be a bit of a sophomore slump when you come out of the gate as strong as Steven Moffat did with his very tightly-plotted and inventive first year as head writer/executive producer of Doctor Who. Unlike RTD, who had the “luxury” of a change of lead actor between his first and second year so as to bring a new energy, Moffat had, miraculously, his entire lead cast returning, and indeed Arthur Darvill, who’d been in more than half of Series 5, was now an in-the-opening-titles main character and was half of Doctor Who’s first husband-and-wife companions pair.
Their first official outing in this way was the 2010 Christmas special, fittingly called A Christmas Carol, which was easily the most Christmassy and also the most narratively complex of any of the specials. Here, again, is an example of Moffat getting to do something the first time, and he had his whole life, essentially, to make it perfect. And, my heavens, did he.
Amy and Rory are aboard a luxury starliner on their honeymoon when they fly through an electrical cloud surrounding a human-controlled Dickensian planet of Steampunks. This cloud causes the ship to begin to crash and the Doctor has to try to convince the man in charge of the electrical cloud, a vile old miser named Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon), who flatly doesn’t care that all those people are going to die, even if it is Christmas. The Doctor does possibly his most devious thing ever, which is to go into Kazran’s past and change events so that eventually he’ll be nice, unlike his father.
We find out soon that the Sardick family fortune is made off of frozen people, who are held as collateral until their family members pay up. One such frozen person is a beautiful woman named Abigail, played by opera singer Katharine Jenkins. Over the Christmases the Doctor visits Kazran, they also unthaw Abigail, only she’s got a limited number of days left, owing to a terminal disease. This makes Kazran mean again. There’s flying fish and sharks as well. I’m not doing a good job explaining this. Anyway, it’s a great episode, and would have to hold people’s attention for a few months until the first half of the split Sixth Series began in April.
Series 6 – 23 April 2011 – 4 June 2011 and 27 August 2011 – 1 October 2011
If Series 6 suffers at all, and it does, unfortunately, it’s because Moffat may have been trying to do too much. Too many plot threads and mysteries within mysteries cluttered up what could have been a pretty straight-forward drama about the Pond-Williams baby. The arc drama became so seemingly all-encompassing that the one-off episodes, which are so a part of the show, seemed to be digressions more than usual. Still, it didn’t start out half bad.
Doctor Who finally made its way to America for the two-part premiere, The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon, an epic in every possible sense that started things on a very confusing and scary foot. After not seeing them for a long time, the Doctor contacts Amy and Rory, as well as River Song, and tells them to meet in Utah near Lake Silencio. He tells them he is much older than he was the last time they saw each other. Out of the corner of her eye, Amy sees something on a hill. Suddenly an Apollo astronaut appears out of the Lake and the Doctor, seeming to know what happened, walks toward it and is shot by it, triggering a regeneration, and a second time, killing him. Naturally, the others are shocked and devastated. An old man named Canton Delaware III appears and says he too got an invitation. They all put the Doctor’s body in the lake and set it on fire.
Saddened, the trio go back to the diner where they’re surprised to see the Doctor come out of the bathroom, a much younger Doctor who has no idea what happened, or will happen. Anyway, they end up in Nixon’s Oval Office because a child is calling him on the phone asking for help. Big-headed, suited aliens called Silents, which make you forget about them when you aren’t looking, are controlling things there and can zap people into oblivion. They’re terrifying. Canton as a young man works for Nixon, and begins hunting the companions while they lock up the Doctor, but it’s all part of a ruse. Amy shoots a little girl in an astronaut suit. They hide a subliminal message about the Silents in the Apollo moon-landing broadcast, effectively defeating them, but there’s still the matter of the Doctor’s future, Amy’s apparent pregnancy, and the fact that the shot little girl ends up in New York and starts to regenerate. Uhhh… what?
This two parter may well have done way too much. It’s terrific, don’t get me wrong, but it’s setting up a ton of mysteries and plot threads and monsters and themes, and it becomes a bit excessive. There’s also the weird thing that, in retrospect, once you know how the series ends, a lot of what happens in these first two episodes don’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s a shame to cast aspersions on the setup because the payoff doesn’t quite work, and I don’t mean to. Director Toby Haynes’ fourth and fifth consecutive episodes are as cinematic and lush and gorgeous as anything the show can produce.
The show that was broadcast third was originally slotted to be broadcast ninth, illustrating an inherent problem with them; if it really matters not where it goes, then why does it matter that we watch them? In the case of Stephen Thompson’s The Curse of the Black Spot, most fans have chosen not to on repeat viewings. A pirate adventure on the surface, it quickly becomes the story of a weird computer construct attempting to fix people by looking like a supermodel turned evil. Hugh Bonneville’s in it and is quite good as Captain Avery, a real pirate of the day, but otherwise it’s pretty forgettable or indeed irritating, as a character disappears in the middle of the story and never returns. It features the first instance of Amy seeing a woman with an eyepatch in a random spot.
Next, we have what many fans call the best episode of the show ever. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it’s damned hard not to like Neil Gaiman’s The Doctor’s Wife. Answering what he thinks is a distress signal from a Time Lord friend of his, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory take the TARDIS to a balloon universe and land on a desolate planet that is itself alive. Almost immediately, the TARDIS’ “life force” gets pulled out the machine and put into a woman named Idris (Suranne Jones). The planet is called House (voiced by Michael Sheen) and it eats TARDISes, but now that there are no more TARDISes, he wants to inhabit one and go back to the regular universe. He torments Amy and Rory while the Doctor and Idris are finally able to speak.
This is just a beautiful episode, especially for longtime fans of the show. It sheds light on what many have already suspected: that the TARDIS knows what she’s doing when she takes the Doctor places he wasn’t intending to go. The Doctor and the TARDIS have been traveling together since the beginning and they really are the longest relationship that’s existed over the 50 year span of the program. Jolly nice that they could talk to each other, just once.
Oh, two-parters; you were so cool for awhile. To date, the very last two-parter is Matthew Graham’s The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People which takes the travelers to the future where acid farmers use mind-controlled goopy duplicates made of a substance simply called “Flesh.” The crew don’t treat their “gangers” all that well because, who cares? You can just make a new one. A freak lightning storm, however, brings the gangers to life with minds of their own. Very soon, the gangers and the humans are battling against each other to be the one true version of the person. Things get more confusing when the Doctor gets himself a ganger, and Amy wants nothing to do with the duplicate. But, surprise surprise, Amy is herself a ganger… yep! Turns out she’d been kidnapped at a certain point and taken to an asteroid where she’d been kept in an incubator having her baby. Her mind was controlling the ganger version and no one was the wiser. Except the Doctor, of course.
This isn’t a particularly good or interesting two-parter. Maybe as a single episode it would have been able to carry the concept off, but everything starts to get silly pretty quickly, especially given the overly cartoonish Plastic Man-style shape-shifting some of the gangers do. Really, the only reason these episodes become important is when we discover that Amy was a ganger this whole time, but they never really come into play again.
To close out the first half of the series, we come to A Good Man Goes to War, in which the Doctor and Rory go on the war path to track down Amy. The Doctor brings together a battle crew, consisting of Victorian Lesbian Silurian Samurai Detective Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her faithful sidekick/partner Jenny (Catrin Stewart), Sontaran nurse Strax (Dan Starkey), and blue knower of stuff Dorium Maldovar (Simon Fisher-Becker). They converge on Demon’s Run, an asteroid run by Madame Kovarian, the lady with the eye patch (Frances Barber), and her team of clerics and Headless Monks.
While it seems that the Doctor wins, and Amy gets her daughter, Melody, back, it turns out Madame Kovarian had the whole thing planned from the start and Melody melts, being a ganger. The real Melody Pond is somewhere far away. Kovarian wanted the baby because she was conceived in the TARDIS and therefore has some kind of Time Lord powers (like a time head). When all hope seems lost, and Dorium loses his head and Strax gets killed, River shows up and reveals that everything is okay because she IS Melody. Dun dun DUUUUUUUN!
It’s hard to really judge “A Good Man Goes to War” as an episode because it basically is a puzzle piece. There are great things about it and there are not so great things about it. I think we can all agree that the River is Melody thing was pretty well telegraphed but the introduction of the Doctor’s Time Team is pretty awesome. But as much as we might like or dislike this episode, it’s hard to argue that its follow up is anything less than way out there.
After a summer hiatus, the show returned with the provocatively titled Let’s Kill Hitler, an episode which neatly sewed up the Melody Pond storyline. We find out that the little girl in the astronaut suit regenerated into Mels, the childhood friend of Amy and Rory that none of us knew about. She’s obsessed with the Doctor and brings everybody together at gunpoint because she wants to go kill Hitler. A noble goal. However, Hitler shoots her and she begins to regenerate, becoming the woman we know as River Song, but an evil, brainwashed one who wants to kill the Doctor. However, she changes her tune when she sees the way the Doctor, even though he’s dying, cares for her and everyone. Oh, and there’s a thing called a Tesselecta, which is a shape-shifting robot piloted by a crew of tiny, shrunken people. This comes into play later.
I like good portions of “Let’s Kill Hitler,” and it really is just a wacko concept, which I always appreciate, but the way River’s mystery is suddenly all neatly wrapped up, and her life is just devoted to the Doctor, sort of lessens the impact of the character a bit. I still love the way Alex Kingston plays her for the most part, but it seems a shame that we learned everything about her so quickly. “Mels” is a cute concept, but she never existed before this one episode and while it’s all explained, it does make it seem like it was just an idea Moffat had at the 11th hour (pardon the reference) to make things easier for everyone. But, it gives Amy and Rory an excuse to stop looking for Melody, since they know where she is and they looked after her for her whole life, which gives us an excuse to go do more other stuff.
Mark Gatiss’ contribution to the series was originally intended to be the fourth episode, but got swapped around with “Curse” to now appear ninth. Night Terrors has the Doctor and co. coming to a block of flats to find the source of a distress message. The little boy who sent it is terrified of everything and his dad is at his wit’s end. Amy and Rory end up in the boy’s dollhouse and are being menaced by the creepy-ass peg dolls he has in there. It turns out that the boy, who was adopted, is an alien and his father needs to prove he loves him for the scary stuff to go away.
This is followed by possibly my favorite episode of the year. Not possibly; actually. Tom MacRae’s The Girl Who Waited is a very sad and troubling yet beautifully plotted and acted three-hander for our main characters. While visiting what they think is a resort planet, Amy goes on a severely elongated timeline to the Doctor and Rory, due to a plague infecting the native people and them wanting to get to live longer. By time they figure out what’s happened, Amy is 30 years older and horribly embittered at having been left alone for that long. The Doctor can’t go with Rory because the plague affects only two-hearted beings. Obviously, Rory wishes this hadn’t happened, and it becomes clear that they CAN affect change by saving Amy earlier in her timeline, but they need older Amy’s help, and she doesn’t want to be blinked out of existence. The Doctor tells them that he can figure out a way to save both Amys, but this was a lie to get everybody cooperating. He tells Rory he has to decide if he wants to save young Amy or old Amy; he can only bring one aboard the TARDIS. He chooses young Amy, but resents the Doctor for trying to turn him into him.
I love this for a number of reasons, but one main one is that it actually forces the characters to deal with big, moral issues. The Doctor does a horrible thing in making Rory choose between two versions of his wife, and OBVIOUSLY he’s going to pick the younger one, but he still has to choose, and the older one doesn’t want to go away quietly. It would have led to a paradox if they’d both been allowed to live, since the older one wouldn’t have been left alone for so long if he’d been saved earlier. Paradoxes are bad. In the end it’s a heartbreaking morality play and one that has the Doctor come out looking the worse for wear.
After that episode, it’s a brilliant time for The God Complex by Toby Whithouse to come about. The three travelers end up in a creepy 80s-style hotel in which each room has a different terrifying thing in it, based on their deepest, darkest fears. When they finally succumb to their fear, a massive minotaur-like alien (a relative of the Nimon) appears and gobbles them up. All of these people have huge amounts of faith, though, to fall back on, be it in religion or luck or conspiracy or cowardice, which is actually what the Minotaur wants. The Doctor is forced to break down Amy’s unwavering faith in him to save her from this same fate. The episode ends with Amy and Rory getting a brand new car and flat from the Doctor and them going on their merry way.
Traveling on his own, knowing eventually he’ll have to face his astronaut fate, the Doctor revisits his old pal Craig Owens (James Corden) in Gareth Roberts’ Closing Time. A year has passed since the Doctor last saw him, and he’s now in a committed relationship with Sophie and the pair have an infant son named Alfie. Craig’s really insecure because he doesn’t think he’s a good dad. This trouble is compounded by a department store being the home to a crew of Cybermen operating from a ship buried deep under the Earth. The Doctor takes a job at this store and discovers a Cybermat making a nuisance of itself. This episode also features the Doctor speaking baby and finding out that Alfie prefers to be called “Stormageddon.”
This episode is fun, though not as much so as “The Lodger,” but it’s still fun to see Smith and Corden palling around again and the Doctor getting to do things he wouldn’t normally do. At the end of the episode, the Doctor writes his invitations for himself, Amy, Rory, River, and Canton from way back in his timeline, takes a Stetson and heads off….
…although he doesn’t go directly to the lake, as we find in The Wedding of River Song. Something is making all of time exist at the exact same moment at once, never moving forward or back. The Doctor relates the story of how we came to this to Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill. It seems that the Doctor was content not to accept his fate and create the fixed point in time and is off gallivanting through the cosmos until he calls to speak to his old friend the Brigadier and finds that he has died. This knowledge makes the Doctor sad enough to realize that if the Brig has his time, so should the Doctor. He goes to the lake and gets ready to be destroyed, only to see that River, the woman in the astronaut suit, is actively refusing her role in the thing. Stopping a fixed point from fixing itself causes time to implode.
As if this weren’t bad enough, within the halted timeline, Madame Kovarian and the Silence are making things rubbish. Amy and Rory (who don’t know each other now), as well as River and some others, are attempting to stop the Silence and are using the same eye patch technology to remember the Silents when they aren’t looking at them. The way to break the time implosion is for the Doctor and River to touch each other and the Doctor wants to tell her his greatest secret but only if they’re married or something. They get sort-of hitched and he whispers something in her ear, which we assume is his name but isn’t, and the timeline rights itself. After the events of Series 5’s Angels two-parter, River visits her mom in the garden and tells her what the Doctor said – that he’s actually inside of a Tessellecta and everything’s okay, I guess?
But, the Doctor now goes about removing himself from history, trying to again become the mystery he once was, and prompting the resuscitated head of Dorium to ask the first question: Doctor WHO?
Most people weren’t crazy about the ending to this series. It seemed to go back on a lot of the promise of the beginning of it, and ended up wrapping things up very quickly, much more so than the mysteries themselves would seem to have needed. There are definitely some good episodes among them, though, but as a whole it’s a lot more fractured than its predecessor, which is strange, given the heavy arc storytelling.
In December of 2011, the last Doctor Who episode for nine months aired, owing to the BBC splitting Series 7 up across two calendar years for budgetary purposes. As such, it feels like The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe is an orphaned episode, a bit. Not really part of Series 6, but not really part of Series 7 either. It doesn’t seem to be anybody’s favorite, either, due in large part to it being more saccharine than most.
The Doctor is aided by a woman named Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner), an English woman in the 1930s. He says he’ll return the favor one day, and in three years time, her husband’s WWII plane is shot down close to Christmas. The Doctor takes it upon himself to cheer up Madge and her two children, though they don’t know about their father yet, in a massive manor house in the country. The Doctor gives them a present, which is a portal to a Christmassy-looking planet full of snowy trees. Unfortunately, that forest is due to be acidified by the Androzani mining company, but the trees are alive and don’t want that to happen.
It’s fine enough for Christmas, but it’s definitely a bit thin. It would, however, be the only Doctor Who anyone would get to see until five straight weeks in September of 2012, and that would be the beginning of the end for Amy and Rory. Next time, the end of the Companion’s Companion – Series 7.