Doctor Who Season Six Mid-Season Review

The final episode of the first half of the season aired on Saturday (I owe no allegiance to BBC America that I pay any attention to their stupid delay.) Has Steven Moffat won me over yet?

Short answer: no.

Long answer, after the cut.

Goodness. Where do I even begin?

When we left off, I was worried that we had left Buffy territory and crossed the border into X-Filesistan, eschewing mere season-long story arcs for a giant pan-season, endless, labyrinthine saga that weaves throughout multiple seasons and multiple episodes, crushing any unfortunate “done-in-one” shows that get in its way. And hey, I was sort of right.

Oh, there have been some one-parters. “The Curse of the Black Spot” was a dumb story about dumb people encountering a dumb alien and acting kind of stupid. Even the Moffans didn’t much care for that one. And then there was “The Doctor’s Wife”, which, in case you haven’t heard, was written by

and was, despite my reservations, actually a pleasant, fun story for half of it and pointless and goofy for the other half. However, neither stood completely alone, since The Doctor had to constantly scan Amy for Schroedinger’s Pregnancy (and not say anything about the results) and Madame Eyepatch had to pop in from time to time. We didn’t get more hints about the Big Doings at work, just the same hints over and over. Also, the anthropomorphized TARDIS died muttering, “The only water in the forest is the river” which baffled our heroes, even though they just spent quite some time with a woman of that name. But hey, if they’d said right away, “You think she means River Song?” then those watching wouldn’t have felt nearly as clever for figuring it out.

Ah yes, River Song. Shown here with Rory, Amy, and the Doctor.

It’s actually somewhat unusual for them not to have immediately figured out River was being mentioned since, whenever she isn’t on the screen, the characters are saying, “Where’s River?”

The show finally has its own Spike, huzzah! The character who is the coolest, most bad-ass, most clever, most mysterious, most humorous, most mostest of everything and by god you’re going to love her one way or another I assure you, you are going to love her, dammit, LOVE! HER! And our big revelation is, not only is she the Doctor’s sweetie, she’s also Amy and Rory’s daughter! Because what this show needed was for all four of the main characters to be related so that we could make the universe even smaller! All of Time and Space at our disposal, but let’s make sure we keep the degrees of separation as small as possible. And her being conceived in the TARDIS makes her timey-wimiefied, so she’s kin to the TARDIS as well! Thank goodness the entire season will be revolving around the two least interesting characters of the new series, Amy and River.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

The two-parter, “The Rebel Flesh”/”The Almost People” seemed like it was at least going to be run-of-the-mill. Base under siege, “we are the monsters” blah blah blah. Not really enough plot for a two-parter, but ah well. And yet, at the end, we get the bit out of nowhere that Amy isn’t Real Amy and hasn’t been Real Amy for some time, and so The Doctor melts her even though he just delivered a Flesh dude to go make a case that Flesh are Real People Too and oh also, being in the TARDIS stabilized them through ambient timey-wiminess and…you know, let’s not think about this too hard. The important thing here is that now we have a brand new way to make alternate versions of people. So the Doctor melts Fake Amy and then, as we see in Episode Seven, “A Good Man Goes to War”, then pursues her with all the doggedness and clarity of purpose he didn’t go after that kid in the first story with, who he’s all but forgotten about.

At the end of “The Almost People” I twittered that if this show were not called “Doctor Who” I wouldn’t be watching it, and “A Good Man…” hammered that point home. This is not the show I signed on to watch.

Doctor Who is not Star Trek. It’s not Battlestar Galactica. It’s not Babylon 5, or Stargate, or Buffy, or Firefly, or the X-Files. It thrived for so long on having its own identity, on staking out its territory with a weird man who traveled in an absurd spacecraft and fought evil by being good and clever. He tried to avoid violence, not always successfully. The show was a counterpoint to big, dumb, loud typical science fiction.

With “A Good Man…” it now IS big, dumb, loud typical science fiction. The Doctor blows up a bunch of Cybermen who have done nothing, just to make a point. He tricks the Headless Monks into attacking the Holy Warriors or whoever the hell they are. And then, after the dust settles, he happily accepts someone beaming at him for accomplishing his mission “without spilling a single drop of blood”. Tell that to the Cybermen, lady.

And why? So we can have yet another “Dark Doctor” bullshit moment, like we’ve already done several times before? Is this like what happened in DC comics, where we allegedly protest against extreme storylines by luxuriating in the gore and carnage? When all is said and done, will there indeed be a brighter day, or will we discover that hey, turns out the fans like the dark stuff, so let’s keep ripping off arms? Do we make a kid’s show “dark” and “mature” and so full of continuity references it’s opaque to the casual viewer just so thirty-something nerds can focus on how Meaningful and Important it is? (But let’s slap a fez on it so they can also claim it’s still all light and whimsical.) We already HAVE these types of ponderous, bloated, self-important, dark shows on TV. Doctor Who didn’t need to join their ranks.

At the halfway point I feel the way I felt at the end of season three of Battlestar Galactica, where there was this huge reveal and what it revealed to me was that I just didn’t care what happened to any of these people. I don’t care about River or Amy. I care about Rory, but only enough to tell him to run, run away from these horrible people. I’d like to care about the Doctor, but they keep making him do stupid things he should never be doing.

The good news is, as Dave Thiel has reminded me, that Doctor Who is all about change. There will be a new Doctor. There will be a new Companion. There will be a new Producer. The show will go on.

The other thing he pointed out is: it’s still better than Timelash.

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8 Responses to Doctor Who Season Six Mid-Season Review

  1. Jon Morris says:

    I like the way you think, Mister Lartigue.

    I’ve been using River Song as an example of the difference between a “strong female character” and “a female character whom fans think is strong because she quips and kills people and is bossy but actually she’s two-dimensional and borrrrring.”

  2. Greg G says:

    I liked a lot of last season, but agree with almost everything you say here. I liked the Gaiman episode more than you, and on reflection it’s really the only “Doctor Who” story they’ve had so far. For me, the chemistry between Smith and the Tardis-lady undercut whatever was left of the River/Doctor stuff we were so obviously meant to be hanging out for.

  3. Rob Chambers says:

    A fellow Phoebe Hearst alumnus here – I’d take issue with the “fought evil by being good” thing – the whole idea is that because he’s an alien, his morals do not necessarily align with ours – hence the “dark” turns just to remind us of the fact. He sometimes “does evil” (from our POV) and has his own agenda.

  4. Dan Coyle says:

    I don’t totally disagree, though I think you’re somewhat projecting when you bring up DC there- Moffat isn’t nearly the kind of broken mind Johns or Meltzer are. I do hope Moffat has realized at this point, how LITTLE chemistry Matt Smith has with Alex Kingston. He seems ANNOYED by her more than anything else.

  5. Dave says:

    Dan, by “projecting” do you mean that I am accusing DC of doing something that I myself am actually doing? Because I don’t publish any comic books, dark, light, or otherwise.

  6. T. Derscheid says:

    I think the other part of the lack of chemistry is that Matt Smith’s oh-I’m-mentally-5-kissing-is-gross act isn’t cool. Not even faux-fez-cool. Try putting “the new doctor who is” into Google Suggest for some unsurprising results!

    The Doctor and River Song’s hypothetical romance makes for terrible television, because even presuming we’ve seen every episode in order recently (ho ho ho, see what I did there?), we’d need to reorganize mentally every single encounter and see where they fall in the individual and shared timeline for both parties; The Time Traveller’s Wife was a great novel, but it also didn’t spend 95% of the time alloted doing something else.

  7. Dave says:

    I think the Doctor/River thing fails for me because River Song just isn’t an interesting character. She has no personality except for “badass” and I got tired of that long ago. I don’t see anything in her, and I don’t understand what someone like The Doctor would see in her.

  8. Mathew walls says:

    I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said here, but even more than than the fact that River Song is just terrible, I hate the fact that there are even sexual themes in the show to begin with. And any time they imply that the Doctor is attracted to anyone it is just really fucking creepy; He’s a 900-year-old alien whose level of intelligence is basically supposed to make humans look like monkeys. He just should not be interested in humans like that at all, in any way.

    But the thing that most impacts my ability to enjoy the show is the pacing. It is all wrong. They cram so much stuff into the episodes that there’s not enough time to deal with any of it in a satisfactory way, the plot pretty much just comes down to running, shouting and then deus ex machina, because with all the running and shouting there was no time to set up a believable way to resolve the plot.