Sunday, 12 June 2011
Doctor Who - Series 6 Part 1 - Review
With us Brits now suffering a wait for the rest of Series 6 of Doctor Who, the show having gone all American on us and taken a mid-series break, I thought this would be a good time to look back on the past seven episodes, what they have given us and where they have left us. Spoilers naturally will be forthcoming!
It is hard to compare this series to the last, when you consider we are only half way through and splitting the series like this has required a restructuring of the usual formula. It has certainly felt like the show has been moving at a much faster pace this year, with the story arc taking more prominence early on to build to a mid-series cliffhanger. This has meant less stand-alone stories with only ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’ and ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ thus far. And how different could two episodes be? The Doctor’s Wife was a wonderful story, taking the simple conceit of ’What if The Doctor could meet the Tardis?’ and weaving what turned out to be a quite magical love story, with just the right amount of sentiment and a fantastic performance from Suranne Jones that ensured we will never view the Tardis in quite the same way again. Black Spot was the only, well, er…black spot (sorry!) on the opening episodes and even then it wasn’t actively bad, just not as good as we’ve come to expect from the show. Despite it’s faults (and you can’t deny those) Black Spot was at least a good old fashioned adventure story, and I’m sure some children and adults alike enjoyed the break from the series arc and appreciated an episode that excited purely to act as a fun diversion.
Personally however, the series arc is where the real drama lies and thus I have enjoyed the fact the episodes have felt more interconnected and the stories more intricate. The opening two parter, The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon got the series off to a better start than I could have imagined, with a brilliant supporting performance from the always fantastic Mark Sheppard and of course the unthinkable, the death of the Doctor.
Of course we know that the Doctor will not really die there, we know there is a twist to come but there is plenty of fun to be had in thinking up ways out of it. Amy’s story arc was creepy and genuinely shocking, I certainly did not see the end of The Almost People coming at all and it proved that this show can consistently surprise and show a degree of originality and risk-taking that few other shows demonstrate.
Everything about Series 6 has felt very confident and assured, the monsters have been scarier, the stories clever and compelling. Of course this has led to some branches of the media arguing that the show has become ‘too scary’ or ‘too complex’. This is nonsense. It is beyond ridiculous that those self same parents who reminisce with great fondness about ‘hiding behind the sofas’ from the Daleks (a notion I heard about so much growing up in Who’s wilderness years) then try to attack the show for scaring their own children. Besides, the children I know that watch Who have not been dissuaded from watching it. Yes, they have been scared at times (of The Silence in particular), but they want to watch every week, they still go online and watch the behind the scenes videos and prequels, they still want to chat about the show or play games based around it. If we had to witness a difficult and traumatic birth scene then perhaps there would be reason to complain, but the show knows its limits and instead we were shown the situation and then the aftermath.
The criticism that the show is ’too complicated’ is also unfounded and is a criticism I have only heard from adults or newspaper reviewers that get so many facts wrong in their write-ups that they clearly have not been paying proper attention anyway. Yes, Moffat’s Who in particular and his love of ’timey-wimey’ plots, does require you to listen carefully, to think about the information you’re given, to pay attention. However, this is a show about a time-traveller, how can anyone complain that there is ‘too much’ of it? I for one am pleased to see someone embracing the possibilities that time travel creates, but people far too often confuse ’complicated’ with ’unexplained’ and thus I have no doubt this argument will resurface every year.
What I have loved most of all about Series 6 so far however, even beyond the strength of the stories and the atmosphere created, is the cast and the characters they portray. Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams has really started to come into his own, he is no longer just Amy’s ‘Other Half’ but a fully rounded, interesting character in his own right. The poor soul has been through a lot on the show and I would like to see his 2000 year-old memories explored more in the latter half of the series, however Darvill has embodied Rory with such a likeability that surely every girl would like a Rory of their own and the husband/wife team have provided a different dynamic in the Tardis.
I have also grown to love Amy Pond this year, not that I disliked her last year, but this year she has really matured as a character. She is brave with a touch of recklessness, with a great sense of humour and although Moffat likes to toy with us, Rory is definitely the man for her. Amy has become everything I would want in a companion and Karen Gillan has been excellent this year as Amy has faced some of the darkest moments in the show.
My love of these characters and this Tardis Team does make me worry about how Series 6 will end. One of the things I have always enjoyed about these companions is that I feel we know so much more about them than we usually do. Amy can never just be a girl that travels with the Doctor for a while and then goes. Due to the superb introduction in The Eleventh Hour, we know that Amy has waited for the Doctor her entire life, you get the sense he has always been her best friend, even in those absent twelve years. I’ve always thought it would take something special for Amy to leave the Doctor and now we may just have that in Melody. It feels a little like Amy and Rory’s tenure in the Tardis is coming to an end and surely everything will depend upon what happens in the latter half of the series and if they get baby Melody back. Of course, River presumably knows how she spends her childhood, but she will never tell…! Unless The Silence got to her of course….
I think the main reason the Amy/River reveal worked for me, is that I have always enjoyed watching the relationship between the two. Amy could occasionally be stroppy or petulant in Series 5, but there was never any hint of jealousy of River, this mysterious woman who waltzed into her life with The Doctor and seemed to know everything about him. Instead, Amy was intrigued and there always seemed a genuine affection there, they appeared to warm to each other instantly, they shared conspiratorial glances about The Doctor and have the same sense of humour. The ‘fez’ scene always stood out as showing the connection between them, Amy throws it as River automatically shoots it. It is brilliantly seamless and so it makes sense to me that there should be a natural connection between them. It leads me to wonder just how long Moffat has been planning this reveal, I suspect from The Eleventh Hour. I think it was always going to go this way and that is why we have seen such a warm relationship develop between them. Hopefully when it is all over, Moffat will tell all about how much of a plan he has had all along!
Anyone that thought River’s story would end when her identity was revealed was wrong, she continues to grow as a character and there is so much we are yet to learn about her. Alex Kingston is fantastic and she ensures we look forward to every appearance from River. Of course, the more we learn about her, the more tragic her story seems and re-watching her death scene now is heartbreaking, although an utterly perfect way for the character to go (so please writers, don‘t change it!). River’s flirtations with the Doctor have been extremely entertaining to watch and of course there is nothing to say they do not go on to have a relationship in the future, with Amy as the Doctors future mother-in-law! Finally I think there is a character that I can genuinely see being a match for the Doctor and Kingston works so well with Matt Smith they are a real joy together on screen.
And so to the man himself, who has surely silenced any lingering doubters whether he was up to the job of replacing David Tennant. In my opinion, Matt Smith has surpassed everything Tennant and in fact all others have done before, cementing his place as my favourite Doctor with never less than brilliant performances that capture every essence of the Time Lord. Smith captures the weariness in the Doctor; he truly seems like he has lived hundreds of years and yet at the same time he has a boyish charm, an eccentricity and excitement about the world that is so endearing to watch. With perfect delivery, Smith wrings every drop of humour out of each script, creating by far the funniest Doctor. Yet The Doctor’s sadness or anger is equally believable and you just have to sit up and take note when Smith delivers one of the Doctor’s great speeches.
I’d love this Tardis crew to remain for at least another full series, it really feels like we have got to know each person and it is nice to see how the relationships develop and strengthen over time. It is hard to imagine Eleven with another companion and hard to imagine such a creative way of introducing a replacement. It feels like this crew has become more involved in the Doctor’s life than almost all of those that have gone before, leaving them behind and just starting again with a new companion seems odd and unlikely.
Ultimately, though some sections of the media may like to create a sense of impending doom around Doctor Who, with Matt Smith on board and the quality of Steven Moffat’s writing, I believe the show is in fantastic shape. I can’t wait to hopefully have that claim proven in the final six episodes of Series 6!