Doctor Who: A Town Called Mercy (2012) Review

Doctor Who A Town Called Mercy Boiling Point

“A Town Called Mercy” is the third Doctor Who western that the British franchise has created since “The Gunfighters” in 1966, giving us an anachronistic genre clash of cowboys and aliens (and it also gives the Eleventh Doctor another opportunity to wear a pretty cool Stetson hat to blend in with the local culture, like he did in “The Impossible Astronaut” and “The Wedding Of River Song“). The plot of this episode is pretty simple and straightforward, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. The simple premise means the actual unfolding of “A Town Called Mercy” has a lot of space breathe, and I would definitely say it’s one of the better-paced episodes of Series 7. “A Town Called Mercy” takes pretty much the same approach to crafting an episode about cowboys that “The Curse Of The Black Spot” took to pulling off an episode about pirates: embracing all the tropes and clichés that you would come to expect from an old Hollywood western, like a suspicious man with a dark past that’s come home to roost, a terrified town that’s being held hostage, an implacable, black-hatted gunslinger on the warpath, a mysterious stranger wandering into town to save everyone, the local marshal being killed and passing along his badge to the protagonist, a showdown at high noon, and perhaps even a dying moment of redemption for one of the antagonists.

I’ve always had a soft spot for westerns and western parodies that are handled well: there’s something very earnest, rustic and adventurous about the genre that’s very appealing to me, and a western setting makes for the perfect backdrop for Doctor Who to craft a morality tale. During the golden age of westerns, these sorts of movies were usually all about the rise and fall of men, whether the main characters were done in by greed, pride, envy or a desire for revenge. But they were also filled with themes about redemption and atonement – lawless men regaining some of their honor and humanity that they had previously lost as their lives came to a close – especially as westerns started to grow more complex and morally grey in the 1960’s and the 1970’s. In the western genre, characters were defined by the choices they made more than anything else – and likewise, ever since it returned to television in 2005, Doctor Who has always been a series that stresses the importance of personal accountability. “A Town Called Mercy” is penned by Toby Whithouse, and it’s the fourth story that he’s written for Doctor Who overall since 2006 (after “School Reunion“, “The Vampires Of Venice” and “The God Complex“). Over the last seven seasons, it’s become very apparent that Toby Whithouse loves to scrutinize the Doctor’s character and call him out on his personality flaws, which makes him an ideal choice for handling episodes where the Doctor receives character development. “A Town Called Mercy” continues the main theme that all of his episodes seem to have, by examining the Doctor’s approach to handling law and justice.

Doctor Who A Town Called Mercy Showdown 3

In “A Town Called Mercy”, the Eleventh Doctor and his friends discover a little town in the old west that’s under siege. The townspeople there are being held hostage by a robotic gunslinger from space who’s been trying to starve them all out for weeks, looking for a fugitive living among them – and naturally they’ve all grown desperate. Initially, the Doctor is in pretty high spirits, enjoying this rare opportunity to have fun with cowboys, but once he discovers the truth about Kahler-Jex, the fugitive in question, his whole demeanor grows ice cold: and that’s when “A Town Called Mercy” really gets interesting. This episode is the first time we’ve seen the Eleventh Doctor’s temper well and truly explode since the early episodes of Series 5 (like “The Beast Below” and “Victory Of The Daleks“), and I’m not gonna lie, Matt Smith’s performance gave me a few chills. Once the Doctor is fully aware of what Kahler-Jex is, and why the Gunslinger wants him so badly, he’s faced with the dilemma of whether or not he should turn him over to the predator he created. The Doctor firmly believes he should face justice and answer for what he’s done, but exactly what sort of justice should be dealt upon him is still in question. Initially, the Doctor is all in favor of throwing him to the wolves, because he gets way too personally involved in this matter, and because Jex reminds him a bit too much of himself. The time war arc that Russell T. Davies started has been put on the backburner for the last couple of seasons, so Steven Moffat could have a fresh start with his own era as showrunner without it being tied down by a lot of continuity – but the writing team is officially bringing it back in Series 7 to set up “The Day Of The Doctor”, the show’s 50th anniversary special.

As much as the Doctor might judge Jex for his atrocities, his own hands are not exactly clean either – he’s spent the last few centuries of his life trying to atone for his own war crimes, and many of the things he says about Jex wanting to run and hide from his past could also be said about him. As you might have guessed from the way he previously handled Solomon or the Silence, the Eleventh Doctor has developed a taste for vigilante justice over the course of his tenure, and that sort of thing can easily lead a man down a dangerous path. In the Doctor’s own words, he’s started to grow frustrated with his pacifistic approach to sorting out injustice. He’s always tried to hold back for as long as he can and show mercy on his enemies, and usually, the end result is that they go on to cause more damage and kill even more people. When he tries to hand Jex over to the Gunslinger, he feels righteous and justified, but Amy cuts him down to size. Donna Noble is once again proven right about how the Doctor needs someone to call him out sometimes and hold him to his principles when he threatens to cross a line, and Amy, his best friend, certainly steps up to do just that by reminding him who he is and who he strives to be. In the wake of his moment of his weakness, the Doctor becomes the town’s new marshal after the previous marshal, poor Isaac, dies saving Jex’s life from the Gunslinger – something Jex, the Doctor and the Gunslinger are all accountable for. And once the Doctor carries that sort of weight on his shoulders, he takes Amy’s words of wisdom forward and does his best to honor Isaac’s memory: by saving the town without any additional bloodshed, and saving the souls of some of the people living in it.

Doctor Who A Town Called Mercy Newcomers 5

Much like the traditional companion roles they had in “Night Terrors“, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) don’t really have a lot to do this week, since “A Town Called Mercy” is a Doctor-centric episode. The Ponds primarily help the Doctor pull off his plans to keep the Gunslinger distracted, and they get to make their own arguments about what he should do with Kahler-Jex. Rory sides with the Doctor that turning Jex over to the Gunslinger is their best course of action, while Amy vehemently disagrees, and it makes sense that she would take that stance. Amy knows the Doctor well enough to know he would regret making that kind of rash decision once he had time to cool down. And beyond that, she learned from her own experience in “The Wedding Of River Song” that cold, swift retribution feels great in the heat of the moment, but it’s never worth the long-term price that comes with it when she left Madam Kovarian to die. Isaac, the marshal of Mercy, is a significant supporting character for the first half of this episode. He’s a man who likes to see the best in people and would like to be an idealist, but he’s seen enough messed-up stuff throughout his life that he’s a realist instead. He knows how nasty human nature can get when people are scared and vulnerable and they lash out, but he’s also a firm believer in people’s ability to rise up beyond their past and make something of themselves with a fresh start. Kahler-Jex has been a life-saver to the people of Mercy, and Isaac feels indebted to him. He refuses to think badly of him, to an almost foolhardy level. After Isaac is killed, his legacy still has a lasting impact on the latter half of the episode. His ideals, what he wanted for his community, is the standard that everyone else tries to live up to in his absence, the Doctor included.

In “A Town Called Mercy”, we basically have two antagonists for the price of one. The main conflict of the episode is kicked off by an alien cyborg hunting down a team of scientists from his home-world, killing them all as revenge for the way they wronged him. His manhunt eventually leads him to the town of Mercy where Dr. Kahler-Jex lives: a mild-mannered genius and well-respected member of his community, who has done all of his neighbors a great service ever since he arrived at their borders. In truth, the alien physician has been hiding quite a nasty past as a war criminal and a fugitive from justice that’s catching up to him now. Back on his home-world that been ravaged by a great war for years upon years, Jex and his colleagues recruited soldiers as test subjects for their experiments and turned them all into remote-controlled killing machines – stealing their humanity against their will. The people of Kahler won the war, but at a steep cost that Jex and his lot didn’t have to pay – until now. So the Gunslinger, Kahler-Tek, holds the old west town hostage and threatens to raze it to the ground unless he gets the man he’s hunting for. But despite delivering that terrifying ultimatum, it’s made pretty apparent that the Gunslinger doesn’t want to harm innocents on Earth. By this point, he’s accepted that he’s a monster and a walking weapon, and that there’s nothing left for him in life except for his revenge, but there’s still a shred of honor left in him. As for Jex, the Doctor cuts right through every excuse or defense he tries to make for himself. Jex claims he wants to start a new life where he can do good for humanity, but the Doctor insists that he’s simply trying to run and hide from his past – and the parallels Toby Whithouse draws between the two men are pretty blatant.

Doctor Who A Town Called Mercy The Gunslinger 2

Whenever Jex is pressed about his past actions, he quickly turns cold, haughty and belligerent as he goes on the defense, but despite that, he does indeed feel true remorse for his actions during private moments. “A Town Called Mercy” refuses to give the audience a clean, open and shut answer about which one of our two antagonists we should really be siding with, since neither of these two men are innocent, and neither of them are portrayed as totally evil, irredeemable monsters. This is a messy dilemma, and in many ways, “A Town Called Mercy” feels like the spiritual successor to “Boom Town” from Series 1. At the end of the day, Kahler-Jex decides to defuse the danger the Gunslinger presents, by taking responsibility for his actions for the first time in a long time. He decides to take his own life by blowing up his ship: this way, the Gunslinger can be given all the closure that he needs, Jex can save the town of Mercy, and he can prevent anyone else in the cosmos from being harmed by his legacy. Kahler-Jex is given a similar yet fundamentally different end to Solomon’s final, fiery fate in the last episode, with a redemptive moment of self-sacrifice. And depending on how you interpret it, Jex’s decision can also be seen as one last example of him taking the coward’s way out: he gets to die on his own terms, and he still doesn’t have to face the Gunslinger in the end. This episode’s main theme of atonement extends to the Gunslinger as well: once Jex is gone and peace has been restored to the town of Mercy, Kahler-Tek decides to become their new marshal, to make up for killing Isaac and causing the townspeople so much trouble. He can repay his debt to the people of Mercy, and find a brand new purpose, protecting life – it’s an ending that fulfils Isaac’s dream for the town, and works out quite nicely for everyone.

Like the previous episode, “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship“, “A Town Called Mercy” is directed by Saul Metzstein as part of the same production block. For Series 7, Steven Moffat wanted to take the show in a bold direction and really push the boundaries of what kind of stories it could tell, leading up to the 50th anniversary special. He requested that every episode look as professional and cinematic as possible, and Saul Metzstein certainly delivers on that front with his work on “A Town Called Mercy”, basking in the sunny, dusty desert scenery. Like “The Impossible Astronaut” last season, “A Town Called Mercy” features a lot of location shooting outside of Doctor Who’s usual haunts in the UK, giving us some absolutely gorgeous golden yellow vistas for the town of Mercy and its surrounding areas, as the sun rises and falls over the horizon. This episode was primarily filmed in the deserts of Almeria, Spain (particularly in two old west theme parks, Oasys and Fort Bravo): a region of the world where film studios have built dozens and dozens of sets for western towns over the years. And the production crew’s decision to set up shop in Spain certainly helps to make “A Town Called Mercy” feel authentic in its attempts to replicate the style of an old school, Hollywood western. Murray Gold’s score once again undergoes a large, radical transformation in this episode, to match the genre of the week: the distinctive southern twang of the American Midwest is even thicker here in Murray’s music than it was in the Series 6 premiere. Tracks like “Make Peace“, “Welcome To Mercy“, “Out West“, “Gunslingers“, “The Salvation Of Kahler-Jex” and “Our Town’s Little Protector” are filled to the brim with acoustic guitars, steel guitars, harmonicas, and the soulful crooning of several vocalists, giving Murray’s score a hearty, rustic bluegrass flavor.

Following in the footsteps of “The God Complex” from last season, “A Town Called Mercy” is a pretty fantastic spotlight episode for Matt Smith’s Doctor that develops the core morality of his character well, and is one of the overall gems of Series 7, courtesy of Toby Whithouse.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who A Town Called Mercy Susan 6

* “When I was a child, my favorite story was about a man who lived forever, but whose eyes were heavy with the weight of all he’d seen. A man who fell from the stars“.

* “Am I the last one?” “There’s one more: the Doctor”.

* “He says he wants us to give him the alien doctor” “But that’s you. Why would he want to kill you? Unless he’s met you”.

* “People whose lives you’ve saved are suddenly saying we should hand you over” “They’re scared, that’s all. You can hardly blame them” “Them being scared scares me”.

* “He’s called Joshua. It’s from the Bible. It means the Deliverer” “No, he isn’t. I speak horse. He’s called Susan, and he wants you to respect his life choices” Heh, never change, Doctor Who. Also, I wonder if that particular name is meant to be a nod to Susan Foreman, the Doctor’s granddaughter.

* “So, we wait here till the Doctor comes to pick us up in your ship” “Yes, I know. I was there when we agreed on it” “Yeah, I said that more for my benefit than yours”.

* “But that wasn’t the plan. He’s not following the plan!” “Welcome to my world”.

* “You want justice, you deserve justice, but this isn’t the way. We can put him on trial-” “When he starts killing your people, you can use your justice!”

* “He’s lying. Every word, everything he says, it’s all lies. This man is a murderer” “I am a scientist!” “Sit down. SIT DOWN!!!

* “Look, Jex may be a criminal and yeah, kind of creepy-” “And still in the room”.

* “Let him come back, Doctor!” “Or what? You won’t shoot me, Amy” “How do you know? Maybe I’ve changed. I mean, you’ve clearly been taking stupid lessons since I saw you last!”

* “Okay, everyone who isn’t an American, drop your gun!” Today I learned Amy Pond has terrible trigger discipline.

* “But they coming back, don’t you see? Every time I negotiate, I try to understand. Well, not today. No. Today, I honor the victims first. His, the Master’s, the Dalek’s, all the people who died because of my mercy!

* “I promised Isaac I’d protect him” “Protecting him got Isaac dead. Tomorrow, it’s going to get us all dead” Oof, that grammar.

* “Is he really worth the risk?” “I don’t know. But you are”.

* “Frightened people. Give me a Dalek any day” After what happened to the Doctor in “Midnight” a few seasons back, I can’t blame him in the slightest for making that remark.

* “Oh, I know exactly what you are, and I see this reformation for what it really is. You committed an atrocity and chose this as your punishment. Don’t get me wrong, good choice. Civilized hours, lots of adulation, nice weather, but justice doesn’t work like that. You don’t get to decide when and how your debt is paid!

* “When this is over, will you go back to Gabriah?” “How can I?! I’m a monster now!” “So am I”.

* “What’s going on?! Jex! What’s happening?!” “Thank you, Doctor. I have to face the souls of those I’ve wronged. Perhaps they will be kind”.

* “The next time you’re in Mercy, ask someone why they don’t have a marshal or sheriff or policeman there. We’ve got our own arrangement, they’ll say, then they’ll smile like they got a secret. Like they’ve got their own special angel watching out for them. Their very own angel who fell from the stars“.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who A Town Called Mercy Showdown 20

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Doctor Who: Dinosaurs On A Spaceship (2012) Review

Doctor Who Dinosaurs On A Spaceship The Gang 2

After Series 7 of Doctor Who got off to a pretty dark start with “Asylum Of The Daleks“, this season immediately off-sets that hour of bleakness with a good old fashioned romp episode, in the vein of “The Runaway Bride“, “The Shakespeare Code“, “The Curse Of The Black Spot” or “Robots Of Sherwood”. “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” is the type of light-hearted episode that already has a silly premise right from the start, and then it spends the next forty-five minutes embracing just how insane and absurd this show can get (“Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” probably reaches peak silliness during the scene where the Doctor, Rory and Brian make a quick getaway, riding on top of a triceratops). But with that much having been said, this episode isn’t just pure fluff. “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” contains some new character dynamics to explore for the Eleventh Doctor and the Ponds, since they’re all getting older now. This episode makes the direction Series 7A is heading in a lot of clearer, by setting up some ideas that will play out for the rest of this mini-series. And the ending of this story for the villain is quite surprising, having a real bite to it. “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” is penned by future showrunner, Chris Chibnall, who had already written two other stories for Doctor Who in the past (“42” and “The Hungry Earth“), before he returned to the show to write two additional episodes in Series 7. “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” contains one of his signature writing staples: the dude simply loves tossing lots and lots of characters into his scripts – sometimes more than he can handle – but he thankfully manages to give them all something substantial to do in this one (except maybe Nefertiti), and it is pretty cool to see a bunch of characters from the Earth’s past and present team up to save its future.

Doctor Who Dinosaurs On A Spaceship Triceratops Chase 2

In “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) is faced with the lofty challenge of saving a spaceship full of dinosaurs from crashing into the Earth in the distant future – and he is absolutely thrilled by how insane that sounds. He decides to recruit some friends to help him pull off the mission, which gives him the perfect opportunity to go and meet up with the Ponds again. Amy and Rory are happy to see him of course, especially since he doesn’t go to visit them as much as he used to anymore, something Amy is growing suspicious of – she correctly assumes her Raggedy Man is trying to wean them both off him. “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” sets up the main premise of “The Power Of Three” with the growing rift between Eleven and the Ponds. Amy and Rory are torn between two different worlds at the moment: they can’t travel with the Doctor all the time anymore, but they can’t fully commit to a regular, domestic life either, because they’re always willing to drop everything they’re doing and go save the world with the Doctor. They have two different sets of priorities now, and this weird middle ground they’re staying in can’t last forever: sooner or later, they’re going to have to fully commit to one or the other. The Doctor can feel them both pulling away from him: they’re growing up, as they should do. The Doctor was the one who pushed them to do so in the first place in “The God Complex“, but he still can’t help but feel a bit sad about it, since they’re also starting to outgrow him. This episode also progresses one of the background arcs of Series 7A, by showing that the Doc is really committing to traveling quietly: he’s currently erasing himself from historical records and gaining a new protective layer of anonymity wherever he goes.

In “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship”, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) are once again dropped in the middle of one of the Doctor’s cases with little to no warning – so they’re half annoyed with him, and half thrilled to see him again – especially since Rory gets saddled with the awkward job of explaining everything to his father when Brian also gets dragged along on this trip. The Eleventh Doctor’s gang is inadvertently split up into two groups very early on, giving Amy and Rory an equal amount of meaty material to chew on. Amy spends much of this episode trying to keep John Riddell and Queen Nefertiti in line, and keep them focused on what their actual goal is when they can’t seem to stop bickering. With the Doctor gone, Amy has to be the responsible one of the group for once. Fortunately, by this point, both of the Ponds have become experienced companions, so they can definitely show some newcomers the ropes if they need to and hold their own whenever they’re separated from the Doctor by using their heads. Meanwhile, a lot of screen-time is devoted to exploring Rory’s relationship with his father, Brian, which makes “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” a Rory-centric episode: something’s that pretty rare in the show. Rory and Brian get along just fine, but they don’t seem to be especially close, and they don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things (Brian for instance is quick to question the Doctor and the Ponds’ sanity over their lifestyle choices). Over the course of this episode, the Williams men team up to survive and they start to find some common ground, as it steadily becomes apparently that Rory inherited some of his sensible, pragmatic personality from Brian, and by the end, they even manage to save the world together by commandeering a spaceship.

Doctor Who Dinosaurs On A Spaceship The Gang 3

“Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” is the first of two episodes this season to feature Brian Williams (Mark Williams), Rory’s father. Since we’re nearing the end of Amy and Rory’s time on Doctor Who, the show is fleshing out their personal lives a bit more and giving the viewers a better idea of what they’ll soon be leaving behind in “The Angels Take Manhattan”. Brian accidentally gets dragged along on the Doctor’s high-stakes mission when the time lord recruits the Ponds for help, which means he gets a chance to see just what Amy and Rory have really been up to for the last two seasons. Brian is a simple man who enjoys the little things in life. He likes a good amount of structure and routine in his day, which is a totally understandable and relatable desire, and here’s he thrown right into the deep end – so naturally he has a good freakout about what he’s just been drafted into. Still, Brian is a handyman who always tries to come prepared for an emergency, so he does find a way to contribute something to the task at hand – and it’s very clear that Rory inherited his foresight and pragmatism (as the team medic) from him. Eventually, our heroes turn out to be immensely lucky that Brian came, because they need a spare set of hands to help Rory pilot a Silurian ship who shares some of the same genes with him – and Brian loves every minute of it. By the end of this episode, Brian has fully gotten into the spirit of adventure and discovered there’s a whole other world out there that’s worth seeing – which basically mirrors the character arc Rory had himself back in Series 5, on a micro scale – so he decides to embark on his own solo trips with the Doc, helping the dinosaurs find a new, happy home on an alien planet.

The Doctor’s plucky gang of mystery-solving misfits consists of a few one-off characters Chris Chibnall created like John Riddell: a cocky big game hunter and an early 20th century daredevil who would feel right at home in the “Jurassic Park” franchise – though his character is probably portrayed more sympathetically here than he would be in that series. John enjoys the thrill of a good hunt – the challenge of bringing down big game – but he has a heart of gold nonetheless. He has a certain level of respect for the creatures he tracks – compared to Solomon, who thinks nothing of them – so he agrees to help the Doctor subdue them non-lethally. It’s always nice to see that the Eleventh Doctor managed to maintain friendships with people who used guns, so long as their hearts was in the right place, something that several other NuWho Doctors (like Ten and Twelve) struggled with a lot more because of their personal hangs-up. Another notable member of the party is Queen Nefertiti, an Egyptian royal in the prime of her life who is feeling very restless and tied down by the social norms of her home era. She’s thirsty for excitement and she wants more out of life than her homeland where very little of anything ever happens. Nefertiti spends much of this episode butting heads with Riddell over the man’s chauvinistic views of women. Ironically, the two of them have a lot in common – they both have the same stubborn pride and wanderlust – and it’s very clear that there’s some sexual tension between them. Nefertiti eventually gets the life of adventure and excitement that she craves when she settles down in Riddell’s time, exploring the wild regions of the Earth’s seven continents with him for the rest of her days.

Doctor Who Dinosaurs On A Spaceship Banter 4

After “The Hungry Earth” two-parter in Series 5, Chris Chibnall once again writes an Eleventh Doctor story that involves the Silurians. During the era of the dinosaurs, the Silurians built a perfect eco-system for the reptiles, a jungle biodome in space, to preserve native life on Earth. It drifted in space for thousands of years until it was discovered by Solomon, a space pirate and black market dealer. Solomon killed them all for their precious cargo, and rather fittingly, the space ark became a prison of his own making, since he had no idea how to pilot it: he was trapped onboard with only two annoying comedy relief robots to keep him company. Solomon proves to be quite the vile villain and unrepentant murderer: life has no inherent value to him, and the only thing he really cares about is money. Just to make the viewers really hate him, Chris Chibnall even gives him the sci-fi equivalent scene of shooting an innocent dog, when he kills one of the dinosaurs on the ship to spite the Doctor. Solomon tries to force the Doctor to help him escape the ship with his bounty, while the Doctor has to contend with humans on Earth sending up missiles to destroy the ship before it can collide with the planet: which means our heroes have to face danger from two different fronts at once. In the end, the Doctor decides to kill two birds with one stone by locking the missiles onto Solomon’s ship to save the dinosaurs, and then leaving him there to die. It is an immensely satisfying karmic death scene, but it’s also pretty dark, even for the Doctor – and the sudden brutality of this ending does serve a purpose, setting up the next episode (“A Town Called Mercy“) where the Doctor’s judgment calls as of late are called into question.

“Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” was directed by Saul Metzstein as part of the first production block for Series 7. Like Farren Blackburn, Saul Metzstein was a new director in the show’s roster, bringing a different style to the series, and he really goes to town behind the camera, making the scale of this story feel sumptuous and large as he moves it along with a brisk and fast pace. Mind you, it helps that the set design for this episode is pretty phenomenal. Doctor Who’s production values have steadily been on the rise for the last seven seasons, and by this point, the show can definitely afford to show off what it can do by seamlessly crafting large, lived-in sets to depict past and future periods in history on a pretty regular basis – like an old, run-down spaceship populated by reptiles. The dinosaurs in question were created with a mixture of old school animatronics (ala “Jurassic Park”), and some gorgeous CGI from the Mill, oftentimes blending the two techniques at once between shots to maintain the optical illusion. The beachside scenes were filmed in Southerndown beach in Wales, the same location that previously stood in for Bad Wolf Bay in “Doomsday“, and the shores of Alfalfa Metraxis in “The Time Of Angels“. Murray Gold’s score is pretty light-hearted and comical this week, with the occasional moments of awe-filled bombast, in tracks like “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship / Pterodactyls“, “Brian” and “Take A Ride On Tricey“. The climax brings back “The Majestic Tale (Of A Madman In A Box)“, a proud and triumphant variation of the Eleventh Doctor’s theme that we haven’t heard in a while. To me, it always stands out as a pretty sweet representation of what the Eleventh Doctor and his friends are capable of when they’re at their best, working as a united force.

“Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” is a nice step-up from “Asylum Of The Daleks” as a crowd-pleasing episode of Doctor Who, and it’s good to see that the show can still find new and rewarding things to do with the core trio of the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory, as we near the end of their time together.

Rating: 9/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Dinosaurs On A Spaceship On The Beach 4

* “Where’ve you been, man? Seven months. You said you were popping out for some licorice. I had two very disappointed dancers on my hands. Not that I couldn’t manage” Well, that was more information than the Doctor particularly wanted.

* I like the subtle detail that Rory inherited his father’s fashion sense. Brian is wearing the same sort of vests that Rory seemed to like so much back in Series 5.

* “Doctor!” “I know. Dinosaurs! On a spaceship!”

* “I could take one of them. Short blow up into the throat” “Or not! We’ve just found dinosaurs in space. We need to preserve them!” “Who’s going to preserve us?!

* “Sorry, sorry. Are you saying dinosaurs are flying a spaceship?” “Brian, please, that would be ridiculous. They’re probably just passengers”.

* “Is he all right?” “No, he hates travelling. It makes him really anxious. He only goes to the paper shop and golf” “Well, what did you bring him for?” “I didn’t!” Doctor, oh my lord.

* “Dad, I’m thirty-one. I don’t have a Christmas list any more” “I do!” Well, that was more information than Rory particularly wanted.

* “And you, Amy. Are you also a queen?” “Yes. Yes, I am”.

* “You don’t have any vegetable matter in your trousers, do you, Brian?” “Only my balls” Stay classy, Doctor Who.

* “Oh, no, no, please don’t start flirting. I will not have flirting companions”.

* “Rory, where are you?” “Still on board. I met some pterodactyls and some rusty robots that I’m going to melt down“.

* “Piracy and then genocide” “Very emotive words, Doctor” “Oh, I’m a very emotive man”.

* “I’m riding a dinosaur on a spaceship!” “I know!” “I only came round to fix your light!”

* “You and the Doctor, are you his queen?” “No, I’m Rory’s queen. Wife. Wife. I am his wife. Please don’t tell him I said I was his queen. I’ll never hear the end of it”.

* “You clearly need a man of action and excitement. One with a very large weapon!” Again, stay classy, Doctor Who.

* “Doesn’t the ship have any defense systems installed?” “Good thinking, Rory! Mwahh!” Rory did not consent to that kiss, Doctor.

* “I like my possessions to have spirit. It means I can have fun breaking them. And I will break you in with immense pleasure” Holy shit, the implications of that line are dark. On top of being a mass-murderer, Solomon is also apparently a rapist. Such a lovely man.

* “So, what’s the plan?” “Come on. The missiles are locked onto us. We can’t outrun them. We have to save the dinosaurs and get Nefertiti back from Solomon. Isn’t it obvious?” “It’s sort of the opposite of obvious”.

* “Come on, Pond. You’ll be there till the end of me” “Or vice versa” Oof, girl.

* “Doctor? This is a two man job! Amy, what are you doing?” “I’m easily worth two men. You can help too, if you like”.

* “Tell me, did the Silurians beg you to stop? Look, Solomon. The missiles. See them shine? See how valuable they are? And they’re all yours. Enjoy your bounty”.

* It’s easy to miss, since Rory is also wearing a jacket, but Mr. and Mrs. Pond are both wearing matching shirts in this episode, and that’s cute.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Dinosaurs On A Spaceship Blue Planet 5

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Doctor Who: Asylum Of The Daleks (2012) Review

Doctor Who Asylum Of The Daleks Parliament 4

Another new season of Doctor Who officially arrives with “Asylum Of The Daleks”, the Series 7 premiere, and I have to say, there is a major tonal shift between this episode and the previous one. “The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe” was a fun, whimsical and silly Christmas special, while this episode is gloomy, depressing and filled to the brim with death. It’s certainly a much grimmer way to kick off a season than we usually see, but I admire Steven Moffat’s decision to do something different with this premiere. In hindsight, Series 7 was a significant transitional period for Doctor Who. Series 7 was the beginning of the end for the Eleventh Doctor’s era, with Matt Smith’s final year building up to the circumstances of his regeneration story, “The Time Of The Doctor”. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill finally left the series mid-way through this season in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, and Jenna Louise Coleman subsequently stepped in as the Doctor’s new sidekick, Clara Oswald, in “The Bells Of St. John” (who would be sticking around for quite a long time herself). And of course, Series 7 was the season that led into the franchise’s 50th anniversary, so it also needed to celebrate the large history of the show and deliver the sort of status-quo breaking revelations you would expect from a series that’s approaching such an important milestone.

Like Series 6 before it, Series 7 was divided up into two halves as it aired: Series 7A with Amy and Rory, and Series 7B with Clara. Series 6 really wasn’t hurt by the mid-season split that year had, because it was still telling the same over-arching story from start to finish. Series 7 on the other hand feels a lot less cohesive. Between Series 7A and Series 7B, there are different companions, different story arcs, different supporting casts, different title sequences, and even a different wardrobe for the Doctor. Series 7 feels less like one full season, and more like two different mini-series that are loosely bolted together with the aid of a Christmas special (“The Snowmen”). In another change from the norm for Doctor Who, Series 7 is completely devoid of two-parters. Much like Series 11 a few years down the line, Series 7 is comprised entirely of fifteen standalone stories, which means a few of the episodes in this season don’t get all the time and space that they need to breathe and reach their full potential (ironically enough, Doctor Who would swing to the opposite extreme two seasons later with Series 9, a season comprised entirely of two-parters). And on top of that, when this season was airing back in the day, the folks over at the BBC decided to stretch it out over a period of two years. Series 7 started with “The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe” in December 2011, and ended with “The Time Of The Doctor” in December 2013, so it’s definitely a season that’s easier to appreciate in retrospect than when it was airing. With so many different things working against it, Series 7 is pretty comfortably the weakest one of Matt Smith’s three seasons as the Doctor, but it’s still pretty good.

Doctor Who Asylum Of The Daleks The Terrible Truth 6

In “Asylum Of The Daleks”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and his friends are kidnapped by the Daleks and dragged into the future, because the Daleks need the Doc to investigate an abnormality in their asylum. The Daleks were almost entirely absent in Series 6, so their return in this episode is very much welcome, and it gives us another opportunity to dive into the Eleventh Doctor’s relationship with the evil, geocidal cyborgs for the first time since “Victory Of The Daleks“, early in Series 5. The Doctor hates them for being racist dictators that are everything he personally opposes, and the Daleks certainly fear him and hate him in return, but in a twisted sort of way, they also respect him. He’s not only managed to escape every attempt they’ve made on his life, but he’s been their enemy for hundreds of years and become something of a dark legend to them. And he’s certainly considered a threat to them for a reason. The show once again makes it apparent how the Eleventh Doctor can be pretty ruthless and manipulative when he wants to: in one scene, he tricks a Dalek into blowing itself up so he can use it as a weapon against all of its Dalek comrades in the area. With the pressure very much on, Eleven does a lot of multi-tasking in this episode, trying to keep everyone alive. When he realizes Amy and Rory’s marriage is on the rocks, he takes it upon himself to help them fix their relationship. Mainly because they’re his friends, but also because the Doctor has personally shipped them ever since “The Vampire Of Venice“. Instead of prying too much into their problems, the Doctor sneakily arranges a chance for them to be alone together, under pressing circumstances, so they’ll work it out for themselves.

“Asylum Of The Daleks” builds upon one of the main ideas of the last season: that the Doctor has gotten a bit too big over time as a legendary foe to world-conquering tyrants, and now that reputation is starting to catch up to him – because for better or for worse, people who have fought the Doctor and survived tend to remember him. The Doctor has spent a good portion of his life (since he first left Gallifrey) fighting the Daleks – and after everything he’s done and everything he’s lost along the way, they always manage to come crawling back, they always manage to rebuild their empire again, stronger than ever – which is quite a depressing thought. There must surely be times when the Doctor feels tempted to just throw in the towel and give up fighting the good fight. Throughout this episode, the Doctor receives plenty of help from an unlikely ally – a woman called Oswin – and he becomes quite smitten with her. He’s impressed by her intelligence, resourcefulness and fighting spirit, even if he thinks there’s something odd about her. The scene where the Doctor discovers the truth about Oswin’s condition and reveals it to her is certainly a fascinating one to watch, because there are several different parts of his core nature clashing at once. His hatred for the Daleks is at war with the sympathy he feels for the person she used to be, along with his regret that he arrived too late to save her: there’s nothing anyone can do for her now. The Doctor does recognize her humanity before the end though, and considering that’s all she really has left at this point, that means to world to her. Before she dies, Oswin gives the Doctor a gift: she erased the Daleks’ memory of him, which will certainly help him with his new fresh start to traveling the universe.

Doctor Who Asylum Of The Daleks Amy And Rory

The most jarring aspect of this episode is easily the divorce subplot Steven Moffat allocates to Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill): mainly because it comes out of nowhere with no previous foreshadowing (their marriage seemed to be doing perfectly fine the last time we saw them onscreen), it’s resolved in the same story it’s introduced in, and then it’s never mentioned again after this episode, which leaves it feeling like this strange thing that came and went in the blink of an eye in the grand scheme of their relationship. In any case, things are very frosty between the Ponds at the moment. They’re not speaking to each other after a huge fight they had offscreen, but naturally, they’re still concerned about each other’s welfare whenever one of them is put at risk. Amy and Rory get drafted and dragged along on this mission to one of the most dangerous planets in the universe, simply because they know the Doctor, and Rory in particular makes it no secret that he’s not having fun: there’s a scene where he almost gets bumped off by a whole room of Daleks, due to Mr. Pond being thicker than usual. During the latter half of the episode, Amy is put at risk of being converted into a Dalek by the malicious and inhuman technology within the Dalek asylum, which leads her and Rory to finally hash things out and reveal what their problem is.

As it turns out, the consequences of “A Good Man Goes To War” are still taking their toll on the Ponds. When the Silence were experimenting on Amy and her daughter, they rendered her infertile – which is just one more reason why that arc had to have been incredibly traumatizing and violating to her. Amy can never have kids again, unless she and Rory decide to adopt one, and she’s known for years how much having kids means to Rory, so she decided to break up with him, because she figured he deserved someone better, someone who could give him a future. This conflict builds on Amy and Rory’s established characterization for the last two seasons, and their biggest respective weaknesses (particularly what we learned about them in “The Eleventh Hour“, “Amy’s Choice” and “Day Of The Moon“). Amy has always had a bad habit of trying to run away from her problems when things get a bit too personal, Rory can let his insecurities get the better of him, and both of them can be really bad at communicating in a healthy fashion. Amy and Rory are both so strong and courageous, and they’ve beaten so many fantastical foes, but real life problems and their fears of disappointing each other have always been their Achille’s heel. Once they realize how foolish they’ve been, the Ponds reconcile and decide to give their relationship another try by the episode’s end. And for all the folks in the audience who feel bad about how the Silence have screwed up Amy and Rory’s life goals, they do indeed move on from this heartbreak with time and adopt another child after they settle down in “The Angels Take Manhattan”.

Doctor Who Asylum Of The Daleks Oswin 5

“Asylum Of The Daleks” officially kicks off the Impossible Girl arc of Series 7, and it’s pretty much the closest thing we’ll ever have to an episode where Amy and Rory meet Clara. Oswin Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is a cheeky, flirtatious and eccentric young traveler who crash-landed on the Dalek asylum a year ago. She has mad hacking skills, and she’s very confident about what she can pull off with a keyboard. Still, she seems rather odd at times. Every once in a while, her mind will seem to drift off somewhere else, like she’s haunted by something she would rather not speak of. Throughout this episode, we’re given increasingly blatant hints that there’s something not quite right about her and her story: her transmissions to the Doctor are only ever one-way, preventing him from seeing her face; she claims she likes to make soufflés as a hobby, but she doesn’t have any food on hand; and she’s able to easily hack Dalek technology – something that should be way beyond human comprehension. Eventually, it’s revealed that Oswin herself was converted into a Dalek, and she went deep into denial to cope, plunging herself into a fugue state. She’s clung onto her humanity for a year, lying to herself all the while, to block out the Dalek programming, and by now, her sanity is hanging by a thread. This is easily the most tragic and horrifying part of this episode, especially if you’ve already seen the later seasons and formed an attachment to Clara. Oswin dies the way she would have wanted, ensuring the Daleks’ destruction as one last win over them, and she gives the Doctor a parting gift before she goes. It’s certainly a poignant end for her, but her story isn’t over yet by a long shot: there’s a lot more going on with Ms. Oswald than meets the eye.

With “Asylum Of The Daleks”, Steven Moffat aims to write a spookier focus episode for the Daleks than their last major appearance in Series 5, and he certainly succeeds in doing that. In “Victory Of The Daleks”, they managed to escape into time with all the resources that they needed to re-establish their empire – and here we get to see just how much progress they’ve made in two seasons, as their species advances at a frighteningly rapid rate. The Daleks have death camps for species that they deem inferior (i.e. everyone), because of course they would. They’ve managed to create technology that will let them use the deceased corpses of their victims as puppets to set traps for their enemies, turning them into sleeper agents, and on the rarest of occasions, they even convert humans into Daleks (which is the fate that befell poor Oswin). The idea that the Daleks have learned to weaponize the dead is certainly disturbing, though there’s been a precedent set for them doing that since “The Parting Of The Ways” in Series 1. They’ve already stolen your life away from you, and they won’t even let you rest in peace when you’re dead, which is a testament to how callous and evil they are. The Daleks have their own asylum, where they store away members of their kind that have gone insane but are still valuable – and it’s these Daleks that are the main, formidable threat of the episode. They’re a pretty relentless force as they repeatedly attack our heroes in numbers. No matter how many times the Doctor and his friends manage to push them back, or even kill off a few of them, they never stop coming, because they lack the sense of self-preservation that even the most fanatical Daleks usually have. They’re essentially mad dogs running wild, much like the ones from the Series 1 finale.

Doctor Who Asylum Of The Daleks Rory Underground 3

“Asylum Of The Daleks” is directed by Nick Hurran, who previously worked on “The Girl Who Waited” and “The God Complex” in Series 6, and like in those stories, his vision for the Series 7 premiere is pretty superb, gliding from scene to scene with plenty of confidence and visual creativity. Nick would also step in to direct “The Angels Take Manhattan” a few episodes down the line, so apparently he became the go-to guy for handling creepy episodes in the Matt Smith era. The show’s lighting department once again deserves a lot of credit for how this episode’s final presentation turned out: a lot of the scenes within the Dalek asylum are very dimly lit with shadows casting everywhere, which makes the flashing, blinking lights of the enraged Daleks really stand out whenever the killer cyborgs are on the attack. Compared to many of his recent scores, Murray Gold’s music is very moody and menacing in this episode, to match the darker shift in tone. “They Are Everywhere“, “Dalek Parliament” and “The Terrible Truth” are filled with sharp strings and harsh brass, to instill the viewers with uneasiness and dread, while “Towards The Asylum” has a very different style than most of Murray’s other contributions to the show’s soundtrack, being a rare hybrid of brass instruments and woodwind instruments in his orchestra. We’re given our first taste of Clara’s perky piano theme in the short piece, “Oswin Oswald“, which is then given a tragic, somber reprise in “Remember Me“, creating a musical link between Clara Oswald and her various doppelgangers throughout Series 7. As we officially enter Series 7A, the beginning of the end for Amy and Rory’s time on Doctor Who, Murray introduces “Together Or Not At All: The Song Of Amy And Rory“, a melancholy, slow-burning variation of “Amy’s Theme” that foreshadows the Ponds’ upcoming farewell in “The Angels Take Manhattan”.

As far as season premieres go, “Asylum Of The Daleks” does not make as much of a lasting impact as “The Eleventh Hour” or “The Impossible Astronaut”, but it is a pretty solid start to another new season of Doctor Who, and it plants the seeds for several great things to come in Series 7.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Asylum Of The Daleks Planetfall

* “It’s my mum’s birthday. Happy birthday, mum. I did make you a soufflé, but it was too beautiful to live”.

* “You’re going to fire me at a planet?! That’s your plan?! I get fired at a planet and expected to fix it!” “In fairness, that is slightly your MO” “Don’t be fair to the Daleks when they’re firing me at a planet!

* “What do you want with them?” “It is known that the Doctor requires companions” “Oh, brilliant. Good-o!” Salty Rory.

* “Rory? Rory?! ROORRRYYYY!!!!” The Doctor was standing right next to Amy when she started yelling at the top of her lungs. Rest in peace, the Doctor’s ears.

* “Of course. Stupid me. I died outside, and the cold preserved my body. I forgot about dying”.

* “Is it bad that I’ve really missed this?” “Yes”.

* “Is there a word for total screaming genius that sounds modest and a tiny bit sexy?” “Doctor. You call me the Doctor”.

* “Egg-egg-egg!” “I don’t know what you want” Rory, use your head and take a good guess at what a Dalek would most likely want, and then start running.

* “Lovely name, Rory. First boy I ever fancied was called Rory. Actually, she was called Nina. I was going through a phase”.

* “Just flirting to keep you cheerful” “Er, okay, any time you want to start flirting again is fine by me”.

* “Okay, I’m scared now” “Hang on to scared. Scared isn’t Dalek” It isn’t? The whole reason why you two are even on this planet in the first place is because the Daleks were too scared to sort out their own mess. They’re hardly fearless.

* “Pop your shirt off, quick as you like” “Why?” “Does there have to be a reason?”

* At one point, Amy starts hallucinating that she’s made a lot new Dalek friends, and it 100% looks like she’s going on one sweet, sweet drug trip.

* “Who’s your daddy?” “You are… the predator!” I saw what you did there, Moffat.

* “Self-destruct cannot be countermanded!” “I’m not looking for a countermand, dear. I’m looking for the reverse switch”.

* “Who killed all the Daleks?” “Who do you think?”

* “Where do you get the milk for the soufflés? Seriously. Is no one else wondering about that?” “No. Frankly, no. Twice”.

* “We’ll beam onto the Dalek ship” “Where they’ll exterminate us on the spot!” “Ah, so this is the kind of escape plan where you survive about four seconds longer”.

* “If it gets too explody-wody in here, you go without me, okay?” “And leave you to die?” “Oh, don’t worry about me. You’re the one beaming up to a Dalek ship to get exterminated” “Fair point. Love this plan!

* “Why do they hate you so much? They hate you so much. Why?” “I fought them many, many times” “We have grown stronger in fear of you“.

* “I am Oswin Oswald. I fought the Daleks and I am human! Remember me” “Thank you…” “RUN! Run you clever boy, and remember” Oswin breaking the fourth wall.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Asylum Of The Daleks Eleven And Amy Underground 8

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Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe (2011) Review

Doctor Who The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe Flying Home For Christmas 2

Now that another season of Doctor Who has come to an end with “The Wedding Of River Song“, wrapping up the emotionally intense Silence arc that dominated most of Series 6, it’s about time for the show to wheel out another breather episode: something light, fluffy and festive for the holiday season. Steven Moffat has gone on record that he always enjoyed writing the annual Doctor Who Christmas special, because it gave him a chance to write a different sort of episode than he usually would: a sentimental, feel-good yarn that would almost always ruminate on the nature of Christmas and what the holiday brings out of people. Bridging the gap between Series 6 and Series 7, “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe” is Matt Smith’s second Christmas special since he landed his lead role as the Doctor in Series 5. Like “A Christmas Carol“, “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe” is inspired by a famous piece of British literature, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis -where a bunch of British kids are sent to live in the countryside to escape the horrors of World War II, and wind up discovering a fantastical new world in the most unlikely of places – except this Christmas special has even less in common with the novel that inspired it than “A Christmas Carol” did. Since the Doctor dropped his two best friends, Amy Pond and Rory Williams, off at home near the end of Series 6, so they could move on with their lives without him, Matt Smith’s Doctor is officially flying solo in this episode. He’s mainly accompanied by a few one-off characters: Madge Arwell and her two precocious young children, Lily and Cyril – which gives Steven Moffat an opportunity to write another sweet, standalone story for the holidays about how the Doctor manages to make the lives of the people he encounters just a little bit brighter.

Doctor Who The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe The Forest 19

After the events of Series 6, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) is still traveling the cosmos on his own, trying to keep a low profile so the rest of the universe will think he’s dead, though he still keeps a watchful eye on the Earth, his favorite planet, in the meantime of course. On one Christmas Eve night in 1938, he saves the Earth from another alien invasion and winds up getting injured in the process, but he quickly gets back on his feet thanks to the kindness of strangers. Madge Arwell gives him a helping hand in his time of need, so he decides to repay her – and without even knowing it, he returns to her and her family during one of the hardest times of her life. The Doctor pretends to be the caretaker of their country estate, so he can give them a wonderful Christmas, and he shows off all the upgrades he’s made to their humble abode in a montage that is so hyper and so over-the-top that you honestly start to wonder if he’s been doing crack cocaine in his spare time. Still, the Eleventh Doctor has always been a child at heart, so he knows how to wow a few kids, and shortly afterwards, we’re treated to a lovely little scene where the Doctor decides to give Madge some advice, parent to parent, about how she should break the news to her kids that they’ve lost their father. The Doctor, being the Doctor, never does anything in a small manner, so he gets a bit too carried away with his plans for the Arwells. He intends to take the family on a trip to another world in the distant future, so he can give them all a fun Christmas present, but one of Madge’s kids discovers the portal early, putting himself and everyone else in a considerable amount of danger – because there’s a massive exodus currently going on with the native species of the planet.

The Doctor spends most of this episode running damage control, trying to get Madge and her kids back home safe and sound in time for Christmas to make up for his reckless mistake, and thankfully, it all works out well in the end. At the end of the day, the Doctor helped to heal a broken family, he made their Christmas special, and he practically became their guardian angel. Now, Madge Arwell is a family oriented woman – after nearly losing her husband, she understands the value of keeping your loved ones close to you and treasuring every moment you get to share with them – so once the crisis of the week has been sorted, she insists that the Doctor should go and be with his own family on Christmas, and it really doesn’t take much prodding to convince him to do so. So he goes to visit his two best friends, Amy and Rory, and if it wasn’t already clear from “The Wedding Of River Song”, things between the three of them are cool again. As much as he might get frustrated and fed up with humans at times, there are a few traits that the Doctor admires about humanity, like their sentimentality (something he admits to Lily, mid-episode). In the coda, the Doctor finds he might have a few more things in common with his favorite species than he thought, when he finds himself shedding a few tears of joy, because he’s finally found a place where he belongs, a place where he’s loved. The Doctor sharing Christmas diner with the Ponds is a beautiful, heartwarming note to end this special on: it provides an extra bit of closure for the Series 6 arc, and it sets up the main arc for Series 7A by establishing a new status quo where the Doctor will wander in and out of Amy and Rory’s domestic lives periodically.

Doctor Who The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe Spaceman 4

Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner) is the main supporting character of this episode, and the sadness of her subplot helps to ground a whimsical Christmas special that would otherwise be overly sweet and comical. Madge’s husband, Reg, is drafted into World War II and lost overseas, leaving her a widow who now has to find a way to break the news of her loss to her children. She decides to spare them their innocence for a little while longer, so they can enjoy one last cheerful Christmas. She’s still grieving, but she can’t let her sadness show as she tries to stay strong for them in difficult times. The highs and lows of being a parent was a major recurring theme in the previous season, and Series 6 was filled with stories about paternal love triumphing over adversity. “The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe” is a story about a mother’s love for her children, and how you should never underestimate the lengths a mother will go to for her family. In one scene, Madge manages to get the drop on some futuristic tree harvesters so she can pump them for info, then she commandeers their mecha tank so she can find her kids, and then she winds up flying a spaceship with her mind so she can get everyone back to Earth. During their voyage home, the ugly truth about Reg comes to light, and after burying her own grief for weeks, Madge has to confront the brutal reality that her husband is gone for good when Lily and Cyril have questions. Except, a Christmas miracle happens. Because of the circumstances of her time-traveling adventure with the Doctor, Reg vanished a few weeks into the future, just when he was on death’s door. Madge not only saved her kids, and the Doctor, and a whole forest of sentient tree-people, but her husband too. The Arwell matriarch truly becomes the heroine of the hour, and it’s a happy ending that’s well-deserved.

Madge’s kids, Lily and Cyril Arwell, are your typical sibling characters that you would expect to see in a sitcom, who are constantly bickering about something, though the two of them do grow increasingly likable as the weird events of this story steadily unfold. Cyril is a proud, eccentric, nerdy kid and a budding astronomer, who has a sense of wonder to him. He’s very interested in life beyond Earth, and he takes a lot of the weirdness of this episode in stride – a trait he clearly inherited from his mother. His sister Lily is a curious, outspoken and impetuous young girl, who can be a bit sassy and is quick to call a spade a spade when the adults around her screw things up – like when the Doctor accidentally gives her brother the opportunity to get lost on an alien planet. Most of the action in this Christmas special is set on a wintery planet in the distant future, populated by sentient tree people. Their world is being threatened by human colonizers who want to destroy the forest with acid rain for resources, leaving the land barren. The trees have created their own spaceship so their souls can evacuate the planet: they just need a human host to pilot it, and Madge Arwell is just the woman for the job. There’s a nice environmental message in this episode about the consequences of human greed and the sort of wanton, thoughtless destruction it can often bring. The latter half of this adventure also champions the raw strength and durability of Mother Nature: throughout history, no matter how much damage human beings do to her for their own self-gain, she always find a way to endure and she always get a little of her own back. The way Steven Moffat handles the sentient tree people subplot in this episode actually reminds me a lot of the living sun in “42“: it’s just the sort of weird, bonkers and insane idea that I like to see in Doctor Who from time to time.

Doctor Who The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe Coda

“The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe” is directed by Farren Blackburn, and upon first glance, you would honestly never know that this is his first time directing an episode of Doctor Who, because his vision for this episode is consistently spell-binding and grandiose (with the aid of some gorgeous CGI shots from the Mill), and at times, quite intimate and warm. There are a few scenes in particular where Farren’s direction especially shines: like the opening sequence where the Doctor destroys a ship in space and then hastily tries to get his spacesuit on as he falls down to Earth, or the prolonged scene where Cyril steps back and forth between two worlds, journeying through the magic present sitting in his living room, or the climax where Madge manages to fly a spaceship through the time vortex. The bulk of the episode is set inside a dark, snow-covered forest that stands in for an alien planet, and these scenes were filmed in the Forest Of Dean (the same location where the show previously shot “Flesh And Stone“), giving us some of the most beautiful natural scenery that you’ll find in the Matt Smith era. Murray Gold’s score for this episode is quite honestly fantastic and very underrated: it’s festive, wintery, adventurous, mysterious, heroic, foreboding, and filled to the brim with wonder – putting a lot of new twists on old material such as “I Am The Doctor”, “The Mad Man With A Box”, “The Doctor’s Theme Series Four”, “All the Strange, Strange Creatures” and “Little Amy”. It’s no wonder Murray’s music from this Christmas special is reused so much throughout the latter half of Series 7, because it is a goldmine. Standout tracks include “Geronimo“, “Madge’s Theme“, “Into The Present“, “Baubles“, “The Queen“, “Interrogation“, “You’re Fired“, “Flying Home For Christmas“, “Safe Landing“, “Never Alone At Christmas” and “Friendship“.

“The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe” is a pretty sweet and wholesome holiday tale that kicks Series 7 off to a rousing, heartwarming start by showing the Eleventh Doctor doing what he does best: helping families and giving them a little bit of hope.

Rating: 9/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe The Forest 2

* “Ow! Did we just bump into something?” “No, no” “We seemed to bump into quite a lot of things” “Well, a lot of things get in the way. It’s hardly my fault”.

* “Do you want me to do it with a pin? I’m good with a pin” “Multi-dimensional, triple encoded temporal interface. Not really susceptible to pointy things” “Got it!” “Okay. Suddenly the last nine hundred years of time travel seem that bit less secure”.

* “Why do we have to come here?” “Because of the bombing, stupid” “I like the bombing. It’s exciting” Cyril, honey, no.

* “I don’t know why I keep shouting at them” “Because very time you see them happy, you remember how sad they’re going to be, and it breaks your heart. Because what’s the point in them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later. The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later”.

* “You were lying about the panthers” “Famous last words”.

* “Where are we?” “In a forest, in a box, in a sitting room. Pay attention!”

* “I don’t understand. Is this place real, or is it fairyland?” “Fairyland? Oh, grow up, Lily. Fairyland looks completely different”.

* “Crying’s ever so useful, isn’t it?” “If you say so. But there’s nothing you could say that would convince me you’d ever use that gun” “Oh really? Well, I’m looking for my children!”

* “How can trees grow into a building?” “Never underestimate a tree, Lily. I met the Forest of Cheem once. One of them fancied me”.

* “Yes, I know, it’s wood! Get over it!

* “What is that?” “Life force. Pure life force, just singing” “It’s beautiful. Doesn’t it make you want to cry?” “Crying when you’re happy. Good for you. That’s so human”.

* “Aliens made of wood! This was always going to happen, you know!!!

* “Come on, Madge, you can do it! You go, girl!” “Oh, shut up, you ridiculous oaf!

* “Caretaker?” “Yes?” “You’re fired!”

* “How dare you leave the house? Cyril, what have I told you about opening your presents early?” “Sorry, mummy” “Something like this was bound to happen” Girl, what?

* “How else does life travel? The mother ship!” Bad puns are bad.

* “Can’t you fly us home?” “I don’t have a home to think of. And between you and me, I’m older than I look and I can’t feel the way you do. Not any more. And you really need to feel it, Madge. Everything about home that you miss until you can’t bear it. Until you almost burst”.

* “No stars to light the way, Madge? There was one. There was you. Madge Arwell, who flew a whole forest though the time vortex, plus one husband. He did it again, Madge. He followed you home. Look what you can do: Mother Christmas”.

* “Thank you” “Oh, you did it all yourself, Madge Arwell. But thanks for thanking me”.

* “Oh, caretaker? What if I require you again?” “Make a wish”.

* “What the hell was that?” “Oh, that was just the caretaker returning to the time vortex. It’s a lovely place. I’ve been there myself. Shall we go downstairs?”.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe The Forest 21

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Doctor Who: The Wedding Of River Song (2011) Review

Doctor Who The Wedding Of River Song Tanks

With “The Wedding Of River Song”, we’ve once again reached the end of the road with another season of Doctor Who. Series 6, like Series 5 before it, has been an incredibly strong season filled with a lot of high quality, thought-provoking episodes like “A Christmas Carol“, “The Impossible Astronaut“, “The Doctor’s Wife“, “The Rebel Flesh“, “A Good Man Goes To War“, “The Girl Who Waited” and “The God Complex“. In “The Wedding Of River Song”, Steven Moffat officially takes up the task of wrapping up all of this season’s ongoing plot threads involving River Song and the Silence, and funnily enough, despite the fate of the universe being at stake as usual, “The Wedding Of River Song” is probably the most downbeat finale we’ve seen from the show so far – mainly because it’s comprised of a single episode instead of the show’s usual two-parter or three-parter. “The Wedding Of River Song” is the first finale of its kind in that regard, and it won’t be the last one, since “The Name Of The Doctor” and “The Battle Of Ranskoor Av Kolos” will both follow suit in later seasons. And in fairness, the relatively short length of this story is a pretty justified decision, since there’s really not that much that needs to be resolved in this episode. There have been three main storylines running throughout Series 6: the origins of Melody Pond / River Song, the Doctor growing apart from his two best friends, and the Doctor’s apparent ‘death’ at Lake Silencio. The first storyline came to a head in “A Good Man Goes To War / Let’s Kill Hitler”, and the second storyline reached its emotional climax in “The Girl Who Waited” and “The God Complex”, so all that’s really left to be done at this point is explain how the Doctor escapes his grim fate in Utah, and have him reconcile with his friends.

Doctor Who The Wedding Of River Song Investigation

In “The Wedding Of River Song”, the Eleventh Doctor pours all his resources into investigating the Silence, the cult that’s been haunting him and his friends for the last two seasons, trying to figure out why they want him dead so badly (since they clearly have foreknowledge of his future). He’s rebelling against fate one last time, now that he’s reached his day of reckoning. Since he’s working alone, without any companions around that he wants to impress or accommodate, we see a harsher and more haughty side of Eleven’s personality in this episode. As much as he hates the idea of his destiny being decided for him, the Doctor knows full well that he can’t fight a fixed point in time – that’s a lesson he learned the hard way during his time as the Tenth Doctor – but he’s still tempted for a moment to buck the laws of time, until he learns an old friend of his has passed away. Classic Who fans will recognize the name ‘Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’: one of the Doctor’s old chums from his days working at UNIT. “The Wedding Of River Song” acknowledges his actor’s passing, and pays respect to Nicholas Courtney, who died in 2011. It’s a pretty sad moment, and a sobering reminder to the Doctor that death is a part of life and it comes for everyone eventually, so he finally accepts his fate. However, River Song throws everything off course when she decides to fight destiny herself. As far as everyone else can tell, the Doctor has a real defeatist attitude about this predicament, especially with the fate of the world at stake. He’s certain that he knows what’s best about how to handle this fixed point, but his friends don’t agree. River is certainly being stubborn in this episode, but the same can easily be said about the Doctor.

The climax is a real moment of emotional catharsis for not only this episode but Series 6 as a whole. For the first half of the season, the Doctor was increasingly blinded by his own hubris, and eventually his arrogance cost him dearly. After what happened at Demons’ Run, he swung hard to the opposite extreme and started to sink into a depression from his own self-loathing, thinking he was more trouble than he was worth. River’s speech to the Doctor in the climax is the complete antithesis of the one she made in “A Good Man Goes To War”, and like that one, it’s exactly what the Doctor needs to hear at the time. The way the universe perceives the Doctor is certainly a mixed bag: there are plenty out there who fear him and hate him – the Silence are a living testament to that. However, for every person who curses his name, there are twice as many people who love him and respect him, and the universe is undoubtedly indebted to him a thousand times over. In “Turn Left“, we saw what a world without the Doctor would be like, and it was a dark, cruel and empty place, where humanity was eventually on the verge of extinction. The Doctor has touched so many lives ever since he left Gallifey to see the universe, and he’s tried his best to be a force for good and try to make a positive difference everywhere he goes. In this season alone, we’ve seen him manage to improve things for a few side-characters. He gave the people of Sardicktown hope and joy again, particularly Kazran Sardick himself. He helped humanity rise up and take back control of their lives from the Silence in the 1960’s. He helped give Captain Avery a second chance to atone for his failures as a father, and have a proper relationship with his son, Toby.

Gangers have probably been recognized as their own species, and have made a lot of progress with gaining human rights, now that the Doctor has helped to convince people that they have their own souls. George no longer has to hide his alien nature from his family or worry about it getting out of control, and his relationship with his adoptive father is stronger than ever. Innocent people will no longer become human sacrifices for a minotaur imprisoned in space, and the people of Earth are safe again from the Cybermen for the time being. Craig made a similar argument in the last episode, “Closing Time“, that the Doctor easily helps people more than he hurts them, but it fell on deaf ears. Here, he’s unable to ignore it, as River shares messages from all across the cosmos. And contrary to what the Doctor might think, his friends still love him. Even if they could change their experiences with him – the good and the bad – they wouldn’t do so. Because to quote another story Steven Moffat wrote, “The Girl In The Fireplace“, the Doctor is worth the monsters he fights. Over the last two seasons, Amy, Rory and River have become the Doctor’s family, and it’s really very heartwarming. As for how the Lake Silencio dilemma is resolved, the Doctor crosses paths with the crew of the Teselectca again in this episode, who help him exploit a loophole in the fixed point so he can escape the Silence’s attempt on his life. Afterwards, the people of the world are none the wiser about his survival, save for his closest friends. After growing way too big for his britches since “The Eleventh Hour” and learning a lot about his biggest personality flaws, the Doctor has learned a hard lesson about humility in Series 6. Now that he’s resolved to do better and be a better friend, he’s gained a second chance to go underground and travel quietly once more, the way it ought to be.

Doctor Who The Wedding Of River Song Ceremony

In “The Wedding Of River Song”, all of history starts to happen at once, and time itself starts to disintegrate, because River Song defied a fixed point in time to save the Doctor’s life: creating this bizarre, utterly wacky world with broken logic where basically anything goes. With that sort of premise at its disposal, the show takes full advantage of this opportunity to bring back some familiar faces from previous episodes like Winston Churchill from “Victory Of The Daleks“, Malokeh from “The Hungry Earth“, and even Charles Dickens, from way back in “The Unquiet Dead“. In this fractured timeline, the Doctor’s friends put together a team of scientists and soldiers to help him fix the damage. Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) is in charge of it all, because of course she would be the one to call the shots. Her husband, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), is a loyal soldier who spends half of this episode looking out for everyone else’s safety: a role that suits him quite well, since he’s basically become the muscle of the Eleventh Doctor’s TARDIS team over the last two seasons. Thanks to the gift the cracks in time gave her last season, Amy can still remember bits and pieces of the previous reality – the proper timeline – but she ironically has trouble remembering Rory. At least until Rory nearly gets himself killed defending the others from the Silence, at which point Amy doubles back for him and starts filling some bitches with lead, because Amy’s affection for Rory transcends timelines. In “The Wedding Of River Song”, we get to see how Amy and Rory’s relationship with River has changed overtime and become more familial, especially from Amy’s point of view. When she’s confronted with the Silence once more, Amy gets a chance to do something she wasn’t able to in “A Good Man Goes To War”: avenge the Pond family.

During the climax, the Silence decide that they don’t need Madam Kovarian anymore, and they want to make her a convenient scrapegoat for all of their failures, so they start to execute her. She has the absolute nerve to call out to Amy for help, and as you would imagine, Amy is not feeling particularly charitable towards the person who ruined her life and abused the hell out of her daughter in an attempt to kill her best friend. Amy basically tells her to go fuck herself, and then leaves her right there to die. I’m not sure if I would say that was Amy’s most savage scene, but it’s definitely in the top five. Leaving Kovarian to her gruesome fate felt good in the moment, but the harsh reality of what Amy just did sinks in later, once she’s had time to cool down, and she’s pretty mortified to discover what she’s capable of. Most importantly, she takes full responsibility for her decision, instead of letting a handy dandy reset button absolve her of it. So long as she remembers it, then it happened, and it’s a stain on her attempts to be a good person. It’s a small but significant little detail that Steven Moffat includes at the end of the episode, to show how the lesson Amy learned in “The Beast Below” about personal accountability has had a lasting impact on her. Amy, Rory and River have become the Eleventh Doctor’s found family for quite some time now – since the end of Series 5, at the very least – and in “The Wedding Of River Song”, that close bond of theirs becomes very literal since River and the Doctor officially tie the knot. And Amy is understandably disturbed by the revelation that she and Rory are now technically the Doctor’s in-laws, despite being many centuries younger than him – because that’s just weird.

Doctor Who The Wedding Of River Song Ceremony 10

In “The Wedding Of River Song”, River Song manages to throw a wrench into both the Doctor and the Silence’s plans, because they didn’t factor her into the equation – and that was a big mistake. River is a stubborn and strong-willed woman, who’s only just recently gained independence from some sick, twisted people who thought they had a right to own her. She’s only just started to fight for control of her life and what she believes in – so if she doesn’t want to kill someone, no force on Earth is going to make her do it. She winds up breaking up time by rewriting history, and the main conflict of this episode revolves around the question of whether or not the Doctor and his friends are all slaves to time – a question that has gone unanswered ever since “The Impossible Astronaut” kicked off this season. A lover’s spat lies at the heart of this episode, as the Doctor and River butt heads about the proper way to handle this broken fixed point. On River’s side of things, the events of this story truly mark the start of her relationship with the Doctor, and on the Doctor’s side of things, the Series 6 finale is the culmination of all the adventures and all the ship-tease moments they’ve had for the last two seasons. During the climax, River confesses her love for the Doctor and declares how much the universe would miss him if he were gone, as well as how much she would miss him. Alex Kingston and Matt Smith both sell the hell out of this scene as the two actors go back and forth, baring the souls of their characters. In the wake of it all, the Doctor and River share their third kiss, and it is a real belter. As the Doctor fully accepts his feelings for River, he lets her into his confidence as one of his most trusted allies, and from there, we all know how their relationship blossoms between two mad geniuses.

The Series 6 finale is filled with a lot of grim and macabre concepts in regards to the Silence, like a tomb full of decomposed skulls that aren’t quite dead yet, where the Headless Monks deposit all their victims. Since “The Wedding Of River Song” is wrapping up the Silence arc that has dominated this season for the time being (until we revisit it again in “The Time Of The Doctor” to conclude it for good), Steven Moffat dives into the inner workings of their organization and elaborates more on what their motivations are. They’re shown to be an incredibly powerful time-traveling cult with a lot of influence, but they’re also incredibly thick and short-sighted, and that, more than anything, is what makes them dangerous. Their meddling with history has already caused a lot of damage in the past, to the point where they nearly brought about the end of the world last season. The Silence want to prevent the Doctor from reaching a planet called Trenzalore where he’ll be called upon to speak his true name someday, and on that day, his answer has the potential to change the world. The Silence are a clever and sneaky bunch: they lay a trap to try to kill the Doctor and his friends one last time, and in the chaos, a lot of them are killed off, including Madam Kovarian – which has to be one of the most satisfying death scenes in this entire show. By the journey’s end, the Silence are tricked into thinking their plans worked without a hitch, so they’re dealt with for now. They slink back into the shadows; ironically, a lot like the Doctor himself. But the future the Silence wanted to avert is still out there, and it’s still waiting for our leading man as we head into Series 7, the third and final installment of the Eleventh Doctor’s three-act story.

Doctor Who The Wedding Of River Song The Question

“The Wedding Of River Song” is directed by Jeremy Webb, who previously worked on “The Curse Of The Black Spot“, and he does a fine job of making this finale a surreal and immersive experience, particularly during the Silence’s siege on Area 52 in the last act. Doctor Who has clearly been saving up its budget for the last few episodes in preparation for this finale, and that decision really pays off, because the CGI shots in “The Wedding Of River Song” (crafted by the Mill) are pretty fantastic: some notable highlights include dozens of blimps ferrying cars over the city of London, Amelia’s own personal train embarking on a long journey through a desert to reach Area 52, and all the shots of the Silence electrocuting people with their taser hands. The only shot that wanders into Uncanny Valley territory is one where some dude falls into a pit of skulls and gets alive: something about that visual just did not look right. Since this finale is a major turning point for the Eleventh Doctor and his friends, Murray Gold brings a lot of his themes for Series 5 and 6 to a head in this episode, kicking off the proceedings with a bombastic choral variation of “The Pandorica” in “5:02 PM“. “My Silence” and “Forgiven” push “The Mad Man With A Box” theme to it’s zenith (intertwining it with one of River’s motifs, “A River Of Tears“, from last season), while “Brigadier-Lethbridge Stewart” produces a new, bittersweet rendition of “I Am The Doctor” to represent a Doctor who’s in mourning. The titular climatic piece of the hour, “The Wedding Of River Song“, is a truly gorgeous piece of music that combines your traditional wedding march with River’s theme, “Melody Pond“, and “The Mad Man With A Box”, the Eleventh Doctor’s love song, with a pinch of “Little Amy” tossed in for good measure.

“The Wedding Of River Song” certainly isn’t the best season finale that we’ve seen so far from Doctor Who, but it does wrap up the events of this season in a pretty fun and satisfying way, while also clearing the tables for the show to continue onwards in Series 7. Series 6 has been one hell of a ride from start to finish, and the Eleventh Doctor and his friends have all become richer and more fleshed out characters because of the journey they went on this year.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The Wedding Of River Song The Silence 2

* “Something has happened to time. That’s what you say, what you never stop saying. All of history is happening at once. But what does that mean? What happened? Explain to me in terms that I can understand… what happened to time?” “A woman“.

* “Imagine you were dying. Imagine you were afraid and a long way from home and in terrible pain. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, you looked up and saw the face of the devil himself. Hello, Dalek”.

* “Why are some of them in boxes?” “Because some people are rich, and some people are left to rot. And Dorium Maldovar was always very rich”.

* “Silence will fall. All the times I’ve heard those words, I never realized it was my silence, my death. The Doctor will fall”.

* “I had to die. I didn’t have to die alone. Amy and Rory. The last Centurion and the girl who waited. However dark it got, I’d turn around, and there they’d be. If it’s time to go, remember what you’re leaving. Remember the best. My friends have always been the best of me“.

* “Everything was in place. I only had to do one more thing. I only had to die“.

* “Why would you do that? Make me watch?” “So that you know this is inevitable. And you are forgiven. Always and completely forgiven”.

* “It’s going to be 5:02 in the afternoon for all eternity. Like a needle stuck on a record” “A record? Good Lord, man, have you never heard of downloads?” “Said Winston Churchill”.

* That shot where the Doctor shoves down Winston is flat out hilarious. The Doctor didn’t just push him down, he straight-up bowled him over.

* “How do I look?” “Cool” “Really?” “No” Ouch, Amy.

* “What did she say?” “She said that you were a Mr. Hottie-ness, and that she would like to go out with you for texting and scones” “…You really haven’t done this before, have you?” “…No, I haven’t” r/Cringe.

* “Rory Williams, the man who dies and dies again. Die one last time and know she will never come back for you” Damn, even the Silence are roasting Rory for becoming this show’s equivalent of Kenny from “South Park”.

* “The Doctor is very precious to me, you’re right about that. But do you know what else he is, Madame Kovarian? Not here. River Song didn’t get it all from you, sweetie” Hell, yes.

* “I can’t let you die-” “But I have to die-” “Shut up! I can’t let you die without knowing that you are loved by so many, and so much, and by no one more than me!”

* “River, you and I, we know what this means. We are ground zero of an explosion that will engulf all reality. Billions on billions will suffer and die!” “I’ll suffer if I have to kill you…” “More than every living thing in the universe?!” “…Yes”.

* “You may now kiss the bride” “I’ll make it a good one” “You’d better”.

* “Of course I’m sure. I’m his wife!” “Yes! And I’m his… mother in law” “Oof, father dear, I think Mummy might need another drink” Amy’s soul just died a little inside from cringing.

* “It’s all still waiting for you. The fields of Trenzalore, the fall of the Eleventh, and the question. The first question. The question that must never be answered, hidden in plain sight. The question you’ve been running from all your life. Doctor who?! Doctor who?! Doctor Who?!

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The Wedding Of River Song Ceremony 12

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Doctor Who: Closing Time (2011) Review

Doctor Who Closing Time Blew Them Up With Love 5

“Closing Time”, penned by Gareth Roberts, is a direct sequel to “The Lodger” from last season, and the penultimate episode of Doctor Who’s sixth season. As you may recall, I singled out “The Lodger” as the weakest link of Series 5, since it was easily the episode that had the least amount of substance, and I would also say the same thing about “Closing Time”, though I do enjoy it more than its predecessor. While the last couple of episodes have all been really sad or really spooky in different ways, as the Doctor and his friends have been subjected to a wide variety of different horrors, “Closing Time” takes a more light-hearted and comedic approach to the usual mystery of the week. The breezier shift in tone is exactly what you would expect from a Gareth Roberts episode, since almost all of the scripts he’s written since “The Shakespeare Code” have been fluffy, absurd romps. With that much having been said, despite “Closing Time” mostly serving as a palette cleanser for the audience – one last breather episode before Steven Moffat starts wrapping everything up in the finale – this episode does have some significance of its own, mainly in regards to the Doctor and the direction his character has been heading in for the latter half of Series 6. As Matt Smith’s introductory season, Series 5 established all of the Eleventh Doctor’s essential personality traits and his character flaws, while Series 6 has built upon them and developed his character. Throughout Series 6, his personality has been pushed to extremes by all the messed-up things that have been happening to him and his friends, he’s been consistently confronted with some of the worst parts of himself, and he’s had to make some pretty tough choices in the heat of the moment. So “Closing Time” really makes it apparent how the Eleventh Doctor has been changed by the events of this season, for better or for worse.

Doctor Who Closing Time Alfie's Stars

By “Closing Time”, the Eleventh Doctor has been traveling on his own for two hundred years since the end of “The God Complex“, and he knows in his gut that he’s nearing the end of his journey, so he’s doing his best to go out with a bang and say goodbye to all his old friends with a ‘farewell tour’. By now, the Doctor has reached the same age that he was at the start of “The Impossible Astronaut“. In fact, “Closing Time” serves as a direct prequel to that two-parter. The whole story arc of Series 6 is one great big stable time loop, and the loop is about to close on the Doctor’s end of things, showing us his perspective on everything leading up to Lake Silencio. When he drops back into Craig Owens’ life once more, the Doctor only intends to say a few words of gratitude before heading out again, but he quickly gets wind of something strange going on in the area – something dangerous and alien. And despite trying his best not to get involved, he can’t help himself – it’s not in his nature to turn away from people in need – so he decides to take up one last case before facing his destiny in Utah. Taking their genial dynamic from “The Lodger” to a whole other level, Matt Smith is once again paired up with James Corden for a bumbling double act that feels like it was lifted straight out of your classic buddy comedy movie. The Doctor’s usual sass levels seem to be dialed up a notch whenever he starts bickering with Craig, and Craig’s bewildered everyman character makes for a fine foil to the Eleventh Doctor’s overall wackiness and zaniness. The Doctor gets along exceptionally well with Craig’s newborn son, Alfie, and there’s a very cute scene mid-episode where the Doctor spends some alone time with Alfie, giving him some personal advice – a one-sided chat between a kid who still has his whole life ahead of him, and a man who seems to be nearing the end of his.

The Doctor still has plenty of regrets about his life, and he’s not ready to go yet, but truth be told, no one would ever would be in his position – least of all the Doctor (“The End Of Time” made that very apparent). However, the choice seems to be out of his hands – his fate at Lake Silencio is a fixed point in time, and after what happened in “The Waters Of Mars“, he’s learned his lesson about thinking he can break those without consequences. The Eleventh Doctor is in a more melancholy mood than usual throughout “Closing Time”, since he’s still haunted by the events of “The God Complex”: all those ugly things he learned about himself that are still weighing on his mind. By now, he blames for himself for everything bad that happens to his friends, and he’s afraid that he destroys everything he touches. He doesn’t want Craig to get involved in this case of his, especially since Craig has a kid to look after now, but Craig still puts his trust in him anyway, and the Doctor still decides to let him help, because he’s feeling nostalgic for the good old days of when he kept his friends close to him. The Doctor’s self-imposed solitude in this episode is very reminiscent of that period near the end of the Tenth Doctor’s life where he swore off companions entirely out of fear, and he’s feeling very unsure of himself at the moment. “Closing Time” asks the question of whether or not the Doctor does more harm than good, as he wanders through time in his big blue box. “A Good Man Goes To War” made it clear that, for better or for worse, the Doctor touches a lot of lives and has a lasting impact on people, so would many of those people have been better off if they never met him at all? “Closing Time” doesn’t give a definitive answer to that question, because the show is saving it up for the emotional climax of the next episode. For the time being though, the Doctor’s friends still believe in him, even if he doesn’t believe in himself anymore.

Doctor Who Closing Time Blew Them Up With Love

In “Closing Time”, Craig Owens (James Corden) is once again brought back into the fold as a temporary sidekick for the Doctor, and unlike his role in “The Lodger”, he’s much more involved with the main plot right from the start. I have to say, I like Craig a lot more as a character now that he’s not saddled with a subplot where he steadily grows jealous of the Doctor, because that conflict is starting to feel worn out by this point in the show. Craig is a brand new father to a bouncing baby boy named Alfie, and since his beloved girlfriend Sophie is leaving town for a few days, he’s taking his new dad duties very seriously as he tries to hold down the fort in her absence. The greatest hinderance to Craig in this episode is by far his own self-consciousness, his own self-doubt about whether or not he can really measure up as a parent and be the dad Alfie needs him to be. Craig’s insecurities are only made worse by the fact that the Doctor can translate the language babies speak and pass on all of Alfie’s gripes about his father – so even his own newborn son is critiquing him, and Alfie is a kid with some pretty high standards. Craig’s feelings of inadequacy compared to the Doctor are touched upon again, in a different way, in this episode: the Doctor still seems to be better than him at everything as a jack-of-all-trades, including wrangling kids, and no matter how hard Craig tries, he can barely keep up with the time lord. When the Doctor assigns himself the job of tracking down Cybermen, Craig volunteers to help him out with his case – because if the Cybermen are a serious threat to everyone in the area, then they’re also a threat to Alfie. Plus, it steadily becomes apparent that the Doctor could use some advice from a friend and a helping hand at the moment.

The Doctor has only wandered in and out of Craig’s life twice for a short period of time, but he’s already had a pretty large impact on him. As a result of his encounters with extraterrestrial life, Craig has become a lot more courageous over time, and a lot more willing to throw himself into harm’s way for the sake of his kid, or for a friend. The Doctor is currently putting himself down and blaming himself for every bad turn of events that might befall his friends, as a result of the last couple of episodes confronting him with the fact that he puts people in danger. “Closing Time” shows a different side of this conflict, by reminding the viewers that at the end of the day, the Doctor’s friends still chose to take that risk because they felt it was worth it. This episode implies that he’s currently denying them their agency and personal autonomy, on account of his own self-loathing. Craig has a hunch that the Doctor can’t deal with the Cybermen entirely on his own, and his instincts are proven correct when the Doctor gets captured inside the enemy’s lair. For much of this episode, Craig was betting his money on the Doctor being able to save everyone, but ironically, it’s Craig who winds up saving the Doctor, and Alfie who winds up saving Craig. After the danger has passed, the Doctor and Craig have a bittersweet farewell: by now Craig can tell there’s something very wrong with the Doctor, and he’s very close to figuring out what it might be, but the Doctor still insists that he needs to face this final leg of his journey alone. It’s poignant to think that this conversation is probably the last time they ever saw each other, and Craig might never have known what became of the Doctor, but he wishes him well. And as it turns out, the Doctor’s new stetson from “The Impossible Astronaut” was a parting gift from Craig, which is a retroactively sweet little detail.

Doctor Who Closing Time Cybermen 9

While they’ve made a few cameo appearances here and there for the last two seasons, the Cybermen haven’t really been the main antagonists of an episode since “The Next Doctor” in Series 4. In “Closing Time”, they lurk underneath a shopping mall, quietly abducting people and converting them into their ranks like the robotic parasites that they are. Unfortunately, “Closing Time” is not one of their best appearances, since they are not creepy in the slightest in this episode: they have very little screen presence, their jump scares lack a certain punch to them, and they’re defeated a bit too quickly and easily for my liking during the climax. While the Cybermen are the main villains of “Closing Time”, this episode is not really about them – they’re primarily a vehicle to advance the plot with – and as a result, their actual motivations are handwaved pretty quickly during the last act. They’re primarily here to give Craig a chance to prove himself as a hero and a father. The Cybermen don’t understand human emotions, and they certainly don’t value them (which is ironic, since they once used to be human themselves) – so naturally, they underestimate the bond between a father and son. When the Cybermen try to forcibly convert Craig into becoming one of them, his paternal instincts allow him to overcome their programming and fight back at the most pivotal time. Once the Cybermen have been beaten, “Closing Time” makes it no secret that it was really Craig’s love for Alfie that won our heroes the day. Elsewhere, we’re given an update on how Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) are faring, after they were dropped off at their home at the end of the last episode: they’ve both made an effort to move on with their lives and Amy has landed herself a fulfilling new job, which makes for a heartwarming cameo.

As for the third member of the Pond family, the story arc involving the Silence has been put on the backburner for the last couple of episodes, to focus on character development for our three leads, but it strikes back with a vengeance in “Closing Time’s” rather chilling epilogue, setting the stage for the finale to come. In the 51st century, River Song (Alex Kingston) is still studying the impact the Doctor has had on history, so she can get a full measurement of his character, when the Silence kidnap her, so she they can force her to go through with their plan to kill the Doctor – the very last thing she would want at this point. It’s worth noting the Silence have a fully automated space suit at their disposal that can work independently from an occupant. They really don’t need River to be a part of their plan, and the fact that they don’t need her is what makes this ending all the more disturbing and cruel. The Silence have devoted a lot of time and energy into preparing her to be their weapon, and they won’t abide by desertion and betrayal, so they’re going to see their original plan through to fruition. As far as they’re concerned, River is their property, their slave, that they can do anything to. Plus, Madam Kovarian is a very spiteful woman. Dragging River into this is the best way she can think of to hurt the Doctor, Amy, Rory and River all at once, and make them all suffer before the Doctor dies. This woman has only had around thirty minutes of screentime in this entire season, and she’s still managed to be one of the most despicable villains we’ve seen in Doctor Who in a while, from all the abuse she’s put Amy and River through. The monsters who made the early years of River’s life a living hell have returned to haunt her yet again, and they still want to keep a death grip on her freedom of choice, so it seems she will have to find a way to vanquish them, once and for all, in the season finale around the corner.

Doctor Who Closing Time Final Journey 4

“Closing Time” is directed by Steve Huges, who does a decent and serviceable job of helming this story, making it feel like a sitcom episode in the same vein as Catherine Morsehead’s work on “The Lodger”. “Closing Time” was, rather appropriately, filmed inside a department store in Cardiff after dark for five days straight: which put a lot of pressure on the cast and crew to not only get as much filming done as possible in the short amount of time that they had access to the location, but to also get it done as quickly as possible, oftentimes working long hours into the night. Like the last couple of episodes (“Night Terrors“, “The Girl Who Waited” and “The God Complex”), “Closing Time” is a pretty low budget story that doesn’t require a lot of CGI shots from the Mill – save for a few shots of the Cybermen’s ship exploding, and the Silence submerging River into Lake Silencio against her will at the end. For the last couple of stories, Doctor Who has clearly been saving up its special effects budget for the CGI-heavy finale, “The Wedding Of River Song“, and thankfully that decision hasn’t affected the quality of the show’s storytelling much, because I’ve really enjoyed the different ways Doctor Who has been relying on prosthetics and practical efforts to conjure up scares in the latter half of Series 6. Murray Gold’s score is more breezy, comical and light-hearted this week, with a childlike sense of wonder to it, reprising a lot of the main motifs Murray has written for Series 5 and 6. “Fragrance” features a beautiful new variant of “Little Amy”, while “My Time Is Running Out” is a pretty stirring combination of “I Am The Doctor” and “The Mad Man With A Box” that manages to be both sad and happy at the same time. The final scene however brings back “Melody Pond” and “Tick Tock Goes The Clock“, to mark a return to darker territory as we head into the finale.

“Closing Time” is a pretty average episode of Doctor Who and the weakest link of Series 6, but I do appreciate the bit of insight it provides into the Doctor’s character before “The Wedding Of River Song”. If “Closing Time” possesses more substance than “The Lodger” in just one area, it’s the way this episode handles the Doctor.

Rating: 6/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who Closing Time Searching 5

* “Oh, you’ve redecorated. I don’t like it”.

* “No, he’s your dad. You can’t just call him ‘Not Mum'” “Not Mum?!” “That’s you. Also ‘Not Mum’, that’s me. And everybody else is ‘peasants’. That’s a bit unfortunate” Something tells me Alfie would get along well with this kid.

* “Never mind that…” “Never mind what?” “Nothing” “No, you’ve noticed something. You’ve got your noticing face on! I have nightmares about that face!”

* “I’m the Doctor, I work in a shop now. Here to help. Look, they gave me a badge with my name on in case I forget who I am. Very thoughtful, as that does happen”.

* “You look awful” “I haven’t slept, have I? I still can’t stop him crying. I even tried singing to him last night” “Yeah, he did mention that. He thought you were crying, too. He didn’t get a wink”.

* “Why is none of this on the front page?” “Oh, page one has an exclusive on Nina, a local girl who got kicked off Britain’s Got Talent. These people are on pages seven, nineteen, twenty two. Because no one’s noticed yet. They’re far too excited about Nina’s emotional journey, which in fairness, is quite inspiring”.

* “Do I look like I’m stupid?” “Heheh” “Quiet, Stormy”.

* “Doctor, no. I can’t. I’m taken- OH, MY GOD!!!”

* “Where am I investigating?” “Well, look around, ask questions. People like it when you’re with a baby. Babies are sweet. People talk to you. That’s why I usually take a human with me” Damn, Doc.

* That scene of Craig pestering that shop worker, getting all up in her personal space, is incredibly cringe-worthy.

* “Really. Stop crying. You’ve got a lot to look forward to, you know. A normal human life on Earth. Mortgage repayments, the nine to five, a persistent nagging sense of spiritual emptiness. Save the tears for later, boy-o”.

* “Yeah. You know, when I was little like you, I dreamt of the stars. I think it’s fair to say in the language of your age, that I lived my dream, I owned the stage, gave it a hundred and ten percent. I hope you have as much fun as I did, Alfie”.

* “Alfie, why is there a sinister beeping coming from behind me?”

* “Craig, very soon I won’t be here. My time is running out. I don’t mean Exedor. Silence will fall when the question is asked. Don’t even know what the question is. I always knew I’d die still asking. Thing is, Craig, it’s tomorrow. Can’t put it off any more. Tomorrow is the day I-”

* “When we are ready, we will emerge. We will convert this planet to Cyberform” “What, the six of you?” “You know that is enough. You know us. You are the Doctor“.

* “Craig, what are you doing? Get out!” Matt Smith’s squeaky-voiced delivery is what that line funny.

* “The Cybermen. They blew up. I blew them up with love”.

* “It’s a story, a fairy tale” “And this is where it begins”.

* “Tick tock, goes the clock, and all the years they fly. Tick tock, and all too soon, your love will surely die“.

* “Tick tock goes the clock, he cradled and he rocked her. Tick tock, goes the clock till River kills the Doctor“.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Closing Time Cybermen 3

Posted in BBC Studios, Doctor Who, Doctor Who: Series 6, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Doctor Who: The God Complex (2011) Review

Doctor Who The God Complex Eleven's Plan

“The God Complex” is written by Toby Whithouse, who returns to pen his third story for Doctor Who. In the same vein as Neil Gaiman’s “The Doctor’s Wife“, “The God Complex” was originally intended to be an adventure in Series 5, but it wound up being pushed back until Series 6, when Steven Moffat and Toby Whithouse both agreed that the concept was too similar to several other episodes the show was handling that year. Toby wound up writing “The Vampires Of Venice” instead, and in retrospect, saving “The God Complex” for Matt Smith’s second season was definitely the right choice, since the basic premise of this episode works a lot better now that the Eleventh Doctor’s character has been firmly established. If there’s anything that really makes Toby’s episodes stand out, any special signature of his, it’s the fact that almost all of them scrutinize the Doctor’s character and critique his way of doing things. “School Reunion” pointed out how he rarely ever keeps contact with his friends once they leave the TARDIS. “The Vampires Of Venice” asked the question of whether or not he’s too careless with the safety of the people he brings along with him in the TARDIS. In “A Town Called Mercy“, the Doctor himself starts to wonder if he’s too merciful with the way he treats his enemies, and nearly swings too far to the opposite extreme in an attempt to do things differently. In “Before The Flood”, the Doctor is quite rightly called out for seeming to prioritize Clara’s safety over the group of one-off characters he’s supposed to be helping (and the same can be said about Clara, in regards to the Doctor). Like “A Good Man Goes To War” earlier this season, “The God Complex” is a pretty important episode when it comes to the Eleventh Doctor’s character development, and a wake up call that he’s needed for quite a while. The events of this episode also have lasting ramifications for the show, that stretch beyond the Eleventh Doctor’s era.

Doctor Who The God Complex The Trio 5

In “The God Complex”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and his friends are unexpectedly trapped inside an endlessly shifting labyrinth made to look like a 1980’s hotel, with a bunch of other strangers, so he quickly puts his detective hat on. Something evil is lurking inside the building, hunting them all down as its prey, so he takes it upon himself to save everyone from it; but despite his best efforts, their numbers rapidly dwindle as more and more people get killed off. Throughout the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure, it’s frequently left ambiguous how much of his happy-go-lucky manchild personality is genuine, and how much of it is an affectation that he keeps up to amuse himself and his friends. According to Steven Moffat and Matt Smith, it’s a bit of both, and that really shows from just how quickly Eleven’s mood can change from being perky and optimistic, to being an ice cold bitch. For instance, there’s one scene where the Doctor feels absolutely disgusted by Gibbis’s suggestion that everyone leave Howie behind to be killed by the minotaur, so he proceeds to not only verbally eviscerate him but his entire species as being cowardly and pathetic. Hot damn. I never get tired of those moments where Eleven lets his mask of unflappable positivity drop. The Eleventh Doctor’s sleuthing method is explored in detail once again in this episode: how he works through a bunch of different theories with each new, vital piece of information he gets. He makes several costly mistakes along the way, and unlike his slip-ups in “The Curse Of The Black Spot“, the consequences are permanent this time. Because he made an error in judgment, mistaking faith for fear, he not only failed to help the guest characters in this episode, he actually made things worse by speeding up their demises, which is a pretty devastating revelation.

Toby Whithouse’s main critique of the Doctor in this episode is about why he takes on companions: he invites them along with him to see the world when he knows from his past track record that something bad will happen to them eventually, that their luck will eventually run out. At one point, he acknowledges to Rita that it’s probably selfish for him to keep putting his friends in that kind of danger, but he keeps on doing it, to stave off his loneliness. It’s a very harsh look at the Doctor’s character, but it’s also true: he’s cycled through so many companions since the franchise started in the 1960’s, and in NuWho, they rarely ever leave the TARDIS under good conditions. During the climax, the Doctor has to save Amy’s life by breaking her faith in him, by removing every last illusion she might have about him. He says so many hurtful things about himself to do so, and as far as he’s concerned, all of them are true. After the Ponds have had several close shaves with death this season and suffered terrible losses, he decides to break the cycle of tragic companion departures and take them home. He understands the importance now of his friends having a life outside of him, so they won’t lose touch with their roots. In his eyes, he’s doing the responsible thing and keeping them safe, but it’s also easy to read this decision as him punishing himself. With Amy and Rory gone, he’s alone with his own depression and self-loathing now, and for the Doctor, that’s one of the worst things in the world. As sad as the coda of this episode is, it’s even sadder in hindsight, because the Doctor’s greatest fears about what could happen to Amy and Rory do eventually come true, because he couldn’t fully commit to the decision he made to leave them behind – because he kept coming back to them in the name of friendship, and as such, the cycle of tragic companion departures continued anyway.

Doctor Who The God Complex Lucy's Letter 2

In “The God Complex”, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) spend much of this episode trying to help out the Doctor with his plans, and they’re increasingly horrified as all of their fellow ‘guests’ in the hotel get murdered. As we established in “The Doctor’s Wife”, every death Rory can’t prevent hits him pretty hard as a nurse, so he’s very saddened by Howie’s demise, and a bit regretful too, since he didn’t respect him much while the man was still around. Throughout this episode, Amy does her part to keep up everyone’s spirits up when things get bleak. She encourages her fellow survivors to have faith in the Doctor to work his magic and come through for them, because he’ll surely do something incredibly clever that will save all their lives at the last minute. And as it turns out, Amy’s faith is exactly the reason why our heroes were drawn to this cursed building in the first place. Rory doesn’t have that kind of faith in the Doctor, and even if he did, it would have evaporated by now, after the way the Doctor stabbed them both in the backs in the last episode. During the climax, the Doctor has to break Amy’s faith in him to save her life from the minotaur, and it’s worth noting that it really doesn’t take much for him to tear down her rosy image of him. In truth, despite what Amy says, her hero worship of the Doctor has been waning for quite some time. The Doctor let her and Rory down in Demons’ Run, with massive consequences for their daughter, Melody. Then he apparently left an older version of her to die in Two-Streams in the last episode, stabbing her and Rory in the back. Over the course of Series 6, Amy has started to get a much clearer picture of the Doctor’s flaws and the uglier sides of his personality, beyond just being a madcap hero who can pull off miracles.

Throughout “The God Complex”, Amy and Rory both seem very tired, jaded and burnt out, especially Rory. Traveling in the TARDIS isn’t really fun or healthy for them anymore. They’ve missed out on a chance to have a normal relationship with their daughter, Rory has nearly died several times, Amy has experienced all sorts of trauma, and they’re both carrying around the burden of knowing something terrible is going to happen to their best friend in his future. At this point, they’re both just going through the motions, and a break from time-traveling is just what they need. When the Doctor drops them off at their home at the end of this episode, Amy knows him well enough to guess what’s happening, and she’s pretty heartbroken that things have come to this. She’s worried she might never see him again, especially with his ‘death’ still waiting for him in Utah, but in light of everything else that’s happened this season, she reluctantly agrees that going their separate ways is for the best. The future is pretty uncertain right now, for the Doctor and the Ponds. While their departure from the series draws near, “The God Complex” isn’t quite the end for Amy and Rory. The Doctor’s big takeaway from this episode is that his friends should have a life outside of him: so they can stay safe, but also so they won’t miss out on big, important milestones that every human should have. As such, Amy and Rory travel on-and-off in the TARDIS at their own leisure for the remaining episodes of their tenure. Clara and Bill are given the same deal when they become the Doctor’s companions. In fact, it’s not until we’re introduced to the Thirteenth Doctor and her friends at the start of the Chibnall era that the companions start traveling full-time in the TARDIS again, so the events of this episode clearly had a lasting impact on the Doctor for the rest of the Moffat era.

Doctor Who The God Complex Eleven And Rita 2

The main hook of “The God Complex” is the spooky idea that small groups of people from all around the world are randomly transported to a floating prison in space, where they become food for a hungry minotaur. When it comes to their backgrounds, these people all have nothing in common with each other (one of them is even from a different planet than the others), but when it comes to their personalities, they do share one common link: they all lean very heavily on their personal faiths, whether they’re religious, or superstitious, or simply skeptical of the world around them. The hotel prison is designed to show people their deepest fears so they’ll fall back on their most fundamental faiths, making their minds malleable and more vulnerable than ever, to the point where the minotaur can easily brainwash them. Once they’re stripped of their faiths and their fears, they basically lose their personalities and become mindless drones. They start to worship the minotaur as a divine being, and they not only accept their deaths as something that’s inevitable, they start to see it as a blessing – a rapture and a reward for the faithful. It’s an extremely messed-up process. Every death of a supporting character is more painful than the last, as we start to lose people we’ve grown attached to, and Rita’s death scene is by far the hardest one to watch. It’s rather chilling to think that this cycle of death that’s been forced upon innocent people has been going on for years before this episode even started, and it would have persisted for many more years if our heroes hadn’t been drawn into it one day (to say nothing of how the makers of this prison have gotten off scot free for callously abducting people and turning them into human sacrifices on a daily basis for centuries).

Among the supporting cast of this episode, you have Rita, a humble but outspoken Muslim woman who quickly proves herself to be clever, sensible and brave. The Doctor quickly takes a shine to her: in fact, he even invites her onboard the TARDIS as a potential companion – and if you recall what happened to Astrid, Jenny and Lynda With A Y, then you know that kind of proposal is practically a death sentence for a guest character on this show. There’s also Howie, a socially awkward, nerdy guy who’s a big believer in conspiracy theories; Joe, a bigtime gambler who hedges all on his bets on luck; and Gibbis, the only alien ‘guest’ in the hotel besides the Doctor. Gibbis comes from a planet that’s regularly invaded by hostile forces, and passiveness is regularly praised in his culture. As such, he’s handed over complete control and autonomy over his life to tyrants, in the hopes that the next group of oppressors will at least be kind. His character is pretty much the antithesis of everything the Doctor believes in: he’s portrayed as a complete, shameless coward who’s determined to survive at all costs – so when the minotaur is hunting Howie down as his next victim, Gibbis is all onboard with tossing Howie to the wolves to save his own skin. In the end, Gibbis is actually one of the only ones who’s spared the fate of being killed by the minotaur, because he lost his most deeply held faith early on, which unknowingly took him off the minotaur’s menu. Similar to the way things turned out in “Voyage Of The Damned“, it’s ironic and more than a bit unjust that a lot of good people lost their lives in this episode, while a two-faced snake like Gibbis manages to slip by unscathed. But sometimes, Doctor Who likes to acknowledge that the outcome who lives and who dies in a crisis probably won’t be decided by karma.

Doctor Who The God Complex Farewell 5

The main antagonist of this episode, the minotaur, is a great, big, lumbering brute of a monster, and certainly one of the more impressive creations that the costume department has meticulously crafted in recent seasons, but there is a bit more to him beyond being a mindless, ravenous beast. The minotaur possesses a fair amount of intelligence, and rather remarkably, Toby Whithouse manages to get the audience to feel a bit of sympathy for him because of his circumstances. The Doctor gets a chance to interrogate him in one scene and he discovers he’s a prisoner – a former world-conquering tyrant who who was overthrown and imprisoned by his old subjects. The minotaur is ancient, a creature who’s well past his prime, but he’s been kept alive for centuries as a cruel sort of mercy – and he longs for the sweet release of death, a chance for him to finally rest. Toby Whithouse draws a very deliberate and unsettling parallel between the Doctor and the villain of this episode: by this point in his life, the minotaur is a hollowed out shell of a man who’s basically running on instinct. He destroys everyone he comes in contact with to fulfil his own needs: even if he doesn’t want to, he can’t stop himself, and nothing else can stop him either. At the journey’s end, the Doctor and his friends finally manage to defeat him, which is basically a mercy kill, and he’s granted his wish to die in peace. But before he goes, he recognizes the Doctor as a kindred spirit and gives him some advice, alien to alien, that shakes him to his core. The Doctor sees a bit of himself in the minotaur, his own pattern of behavior that’s been hurting himself and his friends for years, which certainly succeeds in making him feel like a monster and is undoubtedly what gives him his final push towards parting ways with the Ponds for the time being.

“The God Complex” is helmed by Nick Hurran, who also worked on the previous episode, “The Girl Who Waited“, and his direction is a lot more gripping and dynamic in this time around. Throughout this episode, we’re treated to plenty of Dutch angle shots, dolly zoom shots, overhead shots, point-of-view shots, low angle shots, sped-up montages. Almost every decision Nick makes in the director’s chair to designed to make this story as visually bizarre and disorienting as possible, and he definitely manages to pull it off – the haunted hotel certainly comes off as the sort of place you would never want to find yourself in, let alone get lost in. “The God Complex” is not an episode that demands a lot of hard work and effort from the Mill: most of the visual effects in this episode are achieved through prosthetics, practical effects, or simple camera trickery – though there are some lovely shots of the phony hotel disintegrating in the climax, once the virtual reality illusion is broken. Compared to his usual style of music that he writes for the series, Murray Gold’s electronic score is a lot more downbeat and reserved in this episode, letting the mood and tension of this episode quietly simmer in pieces like “The Hotel Prison“, “Fear Enough“, “What’s Left To Be Scared Of?” and “Rita Praises” (“The Hotel Prison” is particular is designed to resemble your typical elevator muzak, that purposely clashes with the tense mood of this story). Just like his selection of reused tracks in “The Girl Who Waited”, Murray brings back a few noteworthy piece from previous episodes like “Can I Come With You?“, “The Life And Death Of Amy Pond” and “The Impossible Astronaut” that are associated with Amy and her friendship with the Doctor, to really underscore the fact that things between the Doctor and the Ponds will never quite be the same again.

“The God Complex” is pretty comfortably the strongest episode Toby Whithouse has written for Doctor Who so far, taking the series into some pretty grim and contemplative territory; and Series 6 once again knocks it out of the park when it comes to developing the Eleventh Doctor’s relationship with the Ponds, as we enter the home stretch of this season.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who The God Complex Don't Blink 2

* “My name is Lucy Hayward, and I’m the last one left. It’s funny. You don’t know what’s going to be in your room until you see it, then you realize it could have never been anything else. The gaps between my worship are getting shorter. This is what happened to the others. It’s all so clear now. I’m so happy. Praise him. Praise him“.

* “Oh, you’re good. Oh, she’s good. Amy, with regret, you’re fired” “What?!” Typical time lords, always trading in their sidekicks for newer models.

* “The rooms have things in them” “Things? Hello! What kind of things? Interesting things? I love things, ask anyone” “Bad dreams” “…Well, that killed the mood”.

* “There’s a room here for everyone, Doctor. Even you”.

* “Here comes a candle to light you to bed. Here comes a chopper to chop off your head. Chop, chop, chop, chop“.

* “Personally, I think you’ve got the right idea. Times like this, I think of my old school motto: resistance is exhausting”.

* “That’s amazing” “It’s all there on the internet” “No, it’s amazing you’ve come up with a theory even more insane than what’s actually happening”.

* “Every time the Doctor gets pally with someone, I have this overwhelming urge to notify their next of kin” Oof. So do we, Rory. So do we.

* “What exactly happened to him?” “He died” “…You are a medical doctor, aren’t you? You haven’t just got a degree in cheese-making or something?” “No! Well, yes, both, actually”.

* “This is a cup of tea” “Of course, I’m British, it’s how we cope with trauma. That and tutting” Amy and Rory are gonna need a lot of tea then.

* “Ha! You think this is hell?” “The whole 80’s hotel thing took me by surprise, though” Don’t you know, Rita? The devil was very fond of that decade.

* “Your civilization is one of the oldest in the galaxy. Now I see why. Your cowardice isn’t quaint, it’s sly, aggressive. It’s how that gene of gutlessness has survived while so many others have perished. Well, not today. No one else dies today”.

* “Okay, but what are we actually going to do?” “We’re going to catch ourselves a monster”.

* There’s a quick and easy to miss hint that Rita’s possession is already starting to kick in. When our heroes discover Howie’s lifeless body, Amy and Rory are suitably horrified, while Rita is smiling. Most people wouldn’t be grinning at a corpse unless there was something wrong with them.

* “You know, Howie had been in speech therapy. He’d just got over this massive stammer. What an achievement. I mean, can you imagine? I’d forgotten not all victories are about saving the universe”.

* “I brought them here. They’d say it was their choice, but offer a child a suitcase full of sweets and they’ll take it. Offer someone all of time and space and they’ll take that, too. Which is why you shouldn’t. Which is why grown-ups were invented”.

* “Amy, forget your faith in me. I took you with me because I was vain. Because I wanted to be adored. Look at you, the glorious Pond, the girl who waited for me. I’m not a hero. I really am just a madman in a box. And it’s time we saw each other as we really are. Amy Williams, it’s time to stop waiting”.

* “An ancient creature, drenched in the blood of the innocent, drifting in space through an endless, shifting maze. For such a creature, death would be a gift. Then accept it, and sleep well…. I wasn’t talking about myself“.

* “Amy, what happened? What’s he doing?” “He’s saving us”.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who The God Complex Farewell 2

Posted in BBC Studios, Doctor Who, Doctor Who: Series 6, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Doctor Who: The Girl Who Waited (2011) Review

Doctor Who The Girl Who Waited Loving Isn't Knowing 5

“The Girl Who Waited” is Tom McRae’s second contribution to Doctor Who, following his debut two-parter, “Rise Of The Cybermen” in Series 2; and compared to his last action-packed story, where he had to handle the daunting task of reintroducing iconic monsters from the classic series of Doctor Who, here he’s tackling a much simpler subject matter and working with a much smaller cast of characters. With a title like the one this story has, this episode could only really be about one person. “The Girl Who Waited” is a character study of Amy Pond, who’s been the Doctor’s main companion for the last two seasons: exploring all her strengths and her weaknesses, all her vices and her virtues. It’s also a love letter to her relationship with Rory Williams, which has helped to form the emotional backbone of Series 5 and 6, and gradually become one of the more charming aspects of the show. I think I would single out “The Girl Who Waited” as the definitive Amy episode – in the same way I would describe “Father’s Day” as the definitive Rose episode, or “Turn Left” as the definitive Donna episode, or “Flatline” as the definitive Clara episode – because this story really does sum up everything Amy has to offer as a character, and all the rich character development she’s received so far, since she started her journey in the TARDIS. When it comes to the overarching story of Series 6, regarding Melody Pond, the Silence, and the Doctor’s apparent ‘death’ in Utah, “The Girl Who Waited” is a standalone episode that doesn’t reference those events in the slightest, which means it can easily be watched in isolation. But when it comes to the emotional core of Series 6 and the character arcs the Doctor, Amy and Rory are given this year, “The Girl Who Waited” is a pivotal stepping stone in their journey, as the Doctor’s relationship with his beloved Ponds is fractured even further.

Doctor Who The Girl Who Waited Amy In Hiding 3

To fully put the events of this episode and what they would mean for Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) into perspective, we need to take a look back at where she got her start in “The Eleventh Hour“. When Amy was a little girl, her parents were consumed by a crack in time, and because of the way the cracks work, even if she didn’t consciously remember them, their deaths would have still had a massive impact on her. It’s implied her aunt Sharon wasn’t the best caretaker, and their relationship was distant at best (the night Amy first met the Doctor, her aunt left a seven year old girl home alone by herself, which is incredibly irresponsible, and apparently not an uncommon thing for her to do). The Doctor changed her outlook on life and promised to show Amy a brand new world, and then he accidentally ditched her for twelve years. Afterwards, all her stories about her Raggedy Doctor were dismissed and ridiculed by her neighbors and her family. Amy basically learned from a young age that you shouldn’t bother getting attached to people, because they will either leave you or disappoint you or both, and she developed some serious trust issues and abandonment issues. It took Amy quite a while to start trusting the Doctor again when he returned to her, and it took her about half of Series 5 to fully commit to her relationship with Rory and let him into her heart as the person she knew she wanted to marry. But Amy’s grown a lot over the course of two seasons: she’s become wiser and more compassionate, she’s grown a lot more comfortable in her own skin and more willing to put her faith in the people she loves, her relationship with Rory is stronger than ever, and she’s been having loads of fun traveling through time.

In “The Girl Who Waited” though, Amy accidentally gets stranded in a space hospital in the future, and when the Doctor and Rory promise to help her bust out, she takes their word for it that everything will be okay so long as she hangs tight in the meantime. Amy has always been a survivor: she’s a very resourceful and adaptable lass, so she combines her own street smarts and intuitiveness with the skills she’s picked up from traveling with the Doctor to survive the hostile environment she’s trapped in. So after a few decades pass, of course she would become a full blown warrior woman. Poor Amy has to endure some absolutely hellish circumstances, spending all her time trapped in Two-Streams having to fight off Handbots: robotic doctors who could quite literally kill her with kindness, by trying to forcibly inject her with medicine that would be lethal to humans. The Handbots keep showing up wherever she is, they can follow her anywhere in the building, and they never stop coming – so she always has to stay alert. She’s completely isolated and alone as the only person around, so she’s denied human contact that would help her stay sane. With every year that passes, she grows older and older, and as a result, slower and slower as well – so she’s really only fighting off the inevitable until the Handbots eventually take her. She doesn’t know when her promised help will arrive, and as the years go by, she steadily loses hope, until eventually, she accepts that the Doctor and Rory must have abandoned her. Because they got the timing wrong, they don’t return until she’s a woman in her fifties. Amy has made a lot of progress with overcoming her old pessimistic outlook on relationships, but in this episode, she regresses massively and closes herself off once again – and honestly, no one would blame her for doing so in her position. It’s a miracle that Amy has even managed to stay sane for thirty-six years.

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As you would imagine, Amy has grown bitter and resentful. She doesn’t have a lot of kind things to say about her husband and her Raggedy Doctor when they finally return, thirty-six years late. In fact, she has plenty of contempt for both of them, and she finally has an opportunity to vent all those feelings of betrayal that she’s had on her mind for years. Keep in mind, the Doctor is more than just her best friend, he’s her childhood hero as well – so by rejecting him, Amy is also rejecting a part of herself, denouncing her old, youthful self as being a naïve fool for believing in him and everything he symbolizes. When the Doctor and Rory devise a way to rescue her past self from Two-Streams, so they can still make good on their promise to save her, Amy refuses to help them. In her opinion, what’s done is done now, and she understands the mechanics of time travel well enough to know that trying to change her past would result in her current self being erased from history – her whole life will have meant nothing. Amy missed her husband Rory more than anyone else in her life during her thirty-six years in isolation – she even named her pet robot after him, as a way to remember him. Her old affection for him still lingers in the present, even as she tries to keep it buried out of stubbornness. One of the most beautiful scenes in “The Girl Who Waited” happens at the end of the second act, when Amy has a talk with her past self, who helps her remember how she grew up alongside Rory, how she was at her happiest when she married him, and why she fell in love with him in the first place. Amy’s love for Rory can’t be extinguished easily, and it’s basically the only reason why she decides to risk her own existence in the last act – at which point, she fully unthaws again.

“The Girl Who Waited” is one of those episodes like “Father’s Day” or “The Fires Of Pompeii” where there isn’t a clean and easy fix to this week’s moral dilemma that will ensure everyone walks away happy. There isn’t a third option to be found if our heroes are just clever enough or courageous enough to look for it – just an ugly, brutal choice that somebody has to be make eventually – and this story doesn’t shy away from that. Over the course of this episode, Amy had to once again learn to trust the Doctor again, and after falsely accusing him of betraying her several times, she gets massively backstabbed for real during the climax. The Doctor got her hopes up that he could bring her along with her past self in the TARDIS, but really he just told her what she wanted to hear so he could save our regular, contemporary Amy – and only her. When she’s literally locked out of the TARDIS and left to die, Amy finally accepts that two Amy Ponds can’t exist at the same time, it’s just too big of a paradox. So if there can really be only one, she allows herself to be erased from history, so her younger self can have another chance to live out the rest of her life with Rory – exactly the way she would want it to be, and in her eyes, exactly the way it should be. Now that Amy and Rory are officially a married couple, their relationship has been front and center throughout Series 6: we’ve seen it grow in strength, we’ve explored various different faucets of it, we’ve seen it be put to the test by several different challenges, and “The Girl Who Waited” is the culmination of all the focus its been given: this episode really cements that Amy and Rory are two halves of the same whole. I also have a lot of respect for Karen Gillan, who carried the bulk of this episode on her back by playing a double role: two distinct versions of her usual character who are very different from each other and yet still recognizably the same person.

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In “The Girl Who Waited”, the compassionate side of Rory Williams’s (Arthur Darvill) personality and his core principles are once again emphasized when he’s confronted with the Two-Streams facility, which makes a lot of sense, since he is a modern day nurse learning about the utterly alien standards of a futuristic hospital. Rory thinks the way the facility is run is pretty awful, and unlike the Doctor, he’s the only one to stop and question if anyone there is really okay with this set-up (the families of terminally ill patients getting to watch them live out the rest of their lives within a day), or if they’re just making do with the bad hand they’ve been given. When Amy gets trapped in there, Rory and the Doctor both hope it will be a simple enough task getting her out, especially compared to how they stormed Demons’ Run a few episodes ago, but their rescue attempt goes horribly wrong. “The Doctor’s Wife” conjured up a pretty chilling notion earlier this season: being separated from the person you loved, only to find them again, decades later from their perspective, when they’ve grown to resent you. In “The Doctor’s Wife”, that scenario was thankfully just a nightmare – a cruel figment of Amy’s imagination that the House designed to torture the Ponds. In “The Girl Who Waited”, that predicament is very real, when the Doctor and Rory arrive thirty-six years later than they intended to to save Amy. Rory is absolutely horrified that he missed out on the chance for him and Amy to get spend the best years of their life together, and he hates the fact that Amy had to go through all that pain, peril and mental anguish alone. Once the shock of Amy’s plight wears off, Rory’s grief and devastation gives way to a burning hot anger when he lashes out at the Doctor, something that’s probably been coming for a while.

For much of this episode, Rory is completely out of his depth, dealing with advanced science, so he mostly follows the Doctor and Amy’s orders and hopes for the best, but he’s perfectly willing to put his foot down and stand up for what he believes in, whether it means calling out his wife or his best friend when they’re both being bullheaded. Once he gets over his shock about how much Amy has changed, Rory finds she is still the same person he’s always known, and he still loves her, whether she’s young or old. He winds up helping her rediscover a part of herself that she had long since forgotten: for thirty-six years, Amy had just been surviving from day to day, but for a few glorious moments during the last act, when she has hope, she finally started living again. In Doctor Who, time travel can be a beautiful thing – a wonderful, fantastic thing – but it can also be painful and cruel, as Rory discovers during the climax. The Doctor royally betrays Amy, but locking her out of the TARDIS is also a massive betrayal to Rory too, especially since Rory has been putting more and more of his trust into the Doctor’s methods this season, under the assumption that they’re on the same page. Rory spent most of this episode growing to accept that this middle-aged version of his wife is still Amy, his Amy, so leaving her behind to what he knows will be her death absolutely emotionally destroys him, even as she decides herself that it’s right thing to do. Rory certainly lets the Doctor know exactly how he feels about the man backstabbing him, and by the coda of this episode, it’s pretty clear that Rory will never quite look at the Doctor the same way again, now that he knows what Eleven is capable of. The battle of Demons’ Run dealt a blow to the Doctor’s friendship with Amy and Rory, but this episode truly marks the beginning of the end for the Ponds traveling full time with the Doctor.

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“The Girl Who Waited” is the annual Doctor-lite episode of the season, where the lead actor is given a break in his filming schedule due to the Doctor have a smaller role than usual. In “The Girl Who Waited”, the Eleventh Doctor decides to take his two best friends to a vacation hot-spot in the far future, only to discover the whole planet is under quarantine for a deadly plague when they get there. While human beings are safe from it, the disease is especially lethal to time lords, so the Doctor is officially confined to the TARDIS for most of this episode, acting as Amy and Rory’s technical support and their mission control. Matt Smith doesn’t have a lot of scenes in this episode, and almost all of them take place inside the TARDIS’s console room set, allowing him to film them quickly and easily. However, the Doctor still manages to influence the plot of this episode in a really big way: he’s really the one who sets the events of this story in motion, and he’s certainly the one who decides how they turn out. For the first act of this episode, Eleven is in a pretty jovial and light-hearted mood. Even when our main heroes find themselves in a tight spot, when Amy gets trapped inside of Two-Streams, Eleven still has hope that they’ll be able to pull off the rescue quickly and smoothly, treating it like business as usual – until things get unexpectedly real. Previous episodes like “The Eleventh Hour”, “The Vampires Of Venice“, “Amy’s Choice” and “Let’s Kill Hitler” have all made it pretty clear that the Doctor unwittingly screwing up Amy’s life because of his influence is one of his greatest fears, and in this story, that fear comes true. Amy is subjected to thirty-six years of absolute hell because of him. Because he brought her along with him to see the universe. Because he was reckless and irresponsible with his devil may care approach to traveling through time, rarely ever planning anything through in advance.

Sometimes the Doctor forgets that his friends aren’t as durable as he is, and they have much shorter lifespans than he does. All it takes is one slip-up, one bad decision, to bring their lives to a screeching halt forever – as we saw last season in “Cold Blood“, where the Doctor’s poor choices led to Rory getting shot. The Doctor views Amy’s unthinkably long exile in Two-Streams as a massive personal failure that he needs to correct, and when he devises a way to rescue her past self and rewrite her timeline, he sees it as his chance to make things right – so he does something terrible. He lies to Amy and Rory and tells them what they want to hear, so they’ll cooperate with him until he gets his intended results. The TARDIS can’t sustain the paradox of two Amy Ponds existing at the same time, so the Doctor decides to leave Amy’s older self behind in Two-Streams to die: justifying it with the fact that she won’t even exist for much longer once they leave the building with present day Amy. Back in “The Rebel Flesh“, I noted that the Eleventh Doctor is always at his most interesting as a character when he’s portrayed as someone you shouldn’t entirely trust, and the ice cold climax of this episode is an excellent example of that. The Doctor claims old Amy isn’t real and dehumanizes her to distance himself from the awfulness of what he’s doing, but she sure as hell was real, and her whole life was a tragedy, right up until the day she died. By the episode’s end, the Doctor has restored the usual status quo and put everything back to normal, but at what cost? The Doctor has just crossed a major moral line and he knows it, and he’s damaged his relationship with Amy and Rory as result. The Doctor’s friendship with the Ponds has been growing more and more strained as of late, for very good reasons, and that particular conflict is about to come to a head in the next episode, “The God Complex“.

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“The Girl Who Waited” is directed by Nick Hurran, and it’s pretty apparent that this episode is one of the lower-budget stories of the season. The main setting of this episode, the Two-Streams facility, is pretty minimalistic: with plenty of plain, white, sterile environments to be found, and a few grungy, industrial areas thrown in as well. The overall feeling of emptiness that this episode radiates can be pretty unsettling, but it does make it easier to focus on the small, core cast. Murray Gold’s score is full of musical callbacks this week. Since this is an Amy-centric episode, he revisits a lot of the leitmotifs that were associated with her in Series 5, like “Little Amy“, “Can I Come With You“, “Amy In The TARDIS“, “Amy’s Theme” and “The Sad Man With A Box“. The last act also features “Day Of The Moon“, an exciting and unused piece of music from the Series 6 premiere that underscores Amy, Rory and Amy fighting off a horde of robots to try to get back to the TARDIS in the climax. Old Amy’s death scene is backed by “Loving Isn’t Knowing (The Almost People Suite)“, which eventually builds to a tender, longing reprise of “Amy’s Theme” – and that musical choice creates a subtle bit of irony. Amy used to spend years dreaming about leaving her village home and finding out what life was like out there in the universe. The first time we heard “Amy’s Theme” flourish fully with wonder was when the Doctor took her to see humanity flying out there among the stars at the start of “The Beast Below“. She finally got to live out her dreams and they were wonderful – even better than she could ever have imagined. At the end of this story, a much older Amy looks back on her life – including all those wasted years in Two-Streams – and right before the end, all she can think about is her home world, her old life there, and how much she misses it. She’s come full circle, in a way that is both beautiful and painful.

“The Girl Who Waited” is a very strong character study for Amy Pond and Rory Williams. While it’s definitely not the best episode Amy appears in during her tenure as a companion, it is perhaps the one where her character shines the most.

Rating: 9/10.

Side-Notes:

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* “I bring you to a paradise planet, two billion light years from Earth, and you want to update Twitter?” There’s a running gag in the Matt Smith era that the Doctor apparently looks down on Twitter, and honestly, I can’t say that I blame him.

* “Will you be visiting long?” “Good question. Bit sinister. What’s the answer to not get us killed?”

* “Bit of Earth, bit of alien, bit of whatever the hell that is”.

* “Are they happy?” “Oh, Rory. Trust you to think of that. I think they’re happy to be alive. Better than the alternative”.

* “This is so wrong” “I got old, Rory. What did you think was going to happen?” “Hey, I don’t care that you got old. I care that we didn’t grow old together”.

* “It’s like you’re not even her” “Thirty six years, three months, four days of solitary confinement. This facility was built to give people the chance to live. I walked in here and I died. Do you have anything to say to that?”

* “What is it?” “I think that’s the first time I’ve laughed in thirty six years”.

* “You told her to leave us a sign, and she did. She waited. Oh, Amy…”

* “You being here is wrong. For a single day, an hour, let alone a lifetime. I swore to protect you. I promised”.

* “This is your fault! You should look in a history book once in a while, see if there’s an outbreak of plague or something!” “That is not how I travel!” “Then I do not want to travel with you!” Hell yes.

* “You know when sometimes you meet someone so beautiful and then you actually talk to them, and five minutes later they’re as dull as a brick? Then there’s other people, and you meet them and think, not bad, they’re okay. And then you get to know them, and their face just sort of becomes them, like their personality’s written all over it. And they just turn into something so beautiful. Rory’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever met”.

* “I’m going to pull time apart for you” I ship it like Fed-Ex.

* “Sometimes knowing your own future is what enables you to change it. Especially if you’re bloody minded, contradictory and completely unpredictable” “So basically, if you’re Amy, then?”

* “She’s doing the macarena. Our first kiss…”

* “Rory, you’ve got eight minutes left. I’m sorry, but you’re on your own now” “I’m not on my own. I’ve got my wives!”

* “Look, we take this Amy, we leave ours! There can only be one Amy in the TARDIS! Which one do you want?! It’s your choice” “….This isn’t fair. You’re turning me into you!” Somewhere in the universe, Davros smirks in satisfaction, feeling completely vindicated.

* “The look on your face when you carried her… me…. her… when you carried her away. You used to look at me like that. I’d forgotten how much you loved me. I’d forgotten how much I loved being her. Amy Pond, in the TARDIS, with Rory Williams”.

* “Amy, I love you” “I love you, too. Don’t let me in. Tell Amy, your Amy, I’m giving her the days. The days with you. The days to come. The days I can’t have. Take them, please. I’m giving you my days”.

* “Interface?” “I am here, Amy Pond” “Show me Earth. Show me home. Did I ever tell you about this boy I met there, who pretended to be in a band?”

Further Reading:

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Doctor Who: Night Terrors (2011) Review

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“Night Terrors” is penned by Mark Gatiss, who returns to write another episode for Doctor Who after last season’s “Victory Of The Daleks“, and this particular tale is inspired by his old childhood fear of creepy-looking dolls. “Night Terrors” is a well-timed breather episode in Series 6, with a much simpler premise compared to the last couple of hard-hitting adventures that have all had massive ramifications for the Eleventh Doctor’s TARDIS team. The central mystery of this episode takes its time unfolding, traveling along at a fairly slow and relaxed pace, but it also manages to avoid dragging. Throughout Series 6, every episode so far has either primarily been set in the past or the future, so “Night Terrors” is notable for being the first episode of the season that takes place entirely during the present day, in an assuming council estate in the UK. “Night Terrors” was originally intended to be the third episode before it was swapped out with Stephen Thompson’s “The Curse Of The Black Spot“, and you definitely can tell this was one of the first episodes to be written and filmed, because the Ponds seem a lot more laidback and a lot less stressed out than you’d expect, considering what just happened to them in the last story. Much like “The Unquiet Dead” in Series 1, Mark Gatiss sets out to write a horror themed episode with “Night Terrors”, allowing him to sink his teeth in a lot of classic horror tropes in this episode, and he handles them all pretty well. Ever since this episode first aired in 2011, fans and critics have both noted that it bares a lot of similarities to “Fear Her” from Series 2: except, while “Fear Her” dealt with an alien child nesting inside the body of a human child, “Night Terrors” is centered around an alien child pretending to be a human child until the day his cover is blown.

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In “Night Terrors”, a cry for help from a terrified child is broadcast across all of time and space, until it’s eventually picked up by the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith). From there, he naturally decides to investigate it and see if he can lend the boy and his father a helping hand with their troubles, since he has a pretty good understanding of child psychology. As the Doctor tries to get George to warm up to him and give him his trust, he lets his old paternal instincts come to the forefront once again (there’s one cute scene in particular where the Doctor decides to distract George from Alex being harassed by their sleazy local landlord with a bit of sonic fun and whimsy). The Doctor starts to take George’s fears a lot more seriously when he realizes there’s a large amount of psychic energy in the area, and that George is not an ordinary child. There are a handful of fun sequences in this episode where Matt Smith is given free rein to jabber away freely as the Doctor loses his train of thought time and time again, brainstorming away; and on a few occasions, the Doctor gets repeatedly annoyed with Alex’s ability to keep up with him, when as far as Alex is concerned, he might as well be babbling total nonsense. During his mission to help George, the Doctor also decides to help Alex become a better father as well, when it becomes apparent that the problem they have is one that needs to be mended on both ends. And rather fittingly, the Doctor is not the one who decides the ultimate outcome of this story: he gives Alex and George the push that they both need to face their fears, before he stands to the side and lets them make their own decisions. And afterwards, he saunters off back to the TARDIS, taking pride in a job well done. This is what the Doctor does, after all: travel from place to place, making people better.

Compared to the prominent starring roles they’ve had in the last couple of stories, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) are not given a lot to do in “Night Terrors”, and are mainly relegated to the classic companion roles of wandering up and down corridors, reacting to the various creepy things they come across. But I’m quite alright with the two of them being sidelined this week, considering the next episode, “The Girl Who Waited“, is a character showcase all about the Ponds. Amy and Rory are separated from the Doctor and taken out of the action very early on, when they’re dropped down an elevator shaft and teleported inside George’s dollhouse. From there, they spend most of the episode poking around the darkened setting, trying to figure out where they are – until some creepy, living peg dolls jump out at them and try to convert them into their ranks in the last act. Since they have very little to play off of while they’re isolated from everyone else in the eerily empty dollhouse setting, Amy and Rory’s subplot is primarily carried by the chemistry Karen and Arthur have with each other, and the light-hearted fun of their camaraderie until things start to get heavy during the climax. When in doubt, Rory tends to follow Amy’s lead on things, so when the Ponds are cornered by the dolls, he agrees to Amy’s crazy plan to storm past them and try to make a run for it – which turns out to be the wrong call, when Amy gets transformed into a peg doll for her troubles. You can add that to the growing list of messed up things that have happened to the Ponds this season. Thankfully, it’s quickly reversed, allowing them to resume their tour of the universe unencumbered: having a bit of fun, taking their mind off their troubles for the time being while the Doctor’s daunting future at Lake Silencio looms over them.

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In “Night Terrors”, the main conflict of the episode centers around George, a timid, emotionally fragile little boy who’s very prone to having panic attacks. His parents created a little ritual with him, to help him cope with his phobias – anything that scares him, he banishes away to his cupboard in his bedroom. But unbeknownst to them, George’s coping mechanism starts to become very, very literal, because he has reality-warping powers and he starts to subconsciously abduct people on his block. We get a nice good look at George’s neighborhood early on, and it doesn’t seem like a very friendly place to live: with grumpy, hostile neighbors, and a slimy landlord who enjoys intimidating his tenants with his pet bulldog. Since George is pretty much afraid of everything, it’s only a matter of time before he winds up nabbing everyone on the block: trapping them inside a dollhouse of horrors populated by giant, predatory peg dolls – the living embodiment of his nightmares. As it turns out, the reason why George can create all this without even intending to is because he’s a member of a race of alien children who appear to humans who can’t have children and pretend to be one of them, so they can integrate into human society and grow up on Earth. George sensed his adoptive parents’ doubts and fears about whether or not they could handle all of his needs, if they could provide for him, and he was afraid they would reject him. So once that doubt and fear started to creep in, his psychic powers quickly got out of control, with consequences for everyone in the area. The whole climax hinges on George facing his fears and accepting that he is loved, even if he’s not the child Alex and Claire thought he was.

You might have noticed by now that there are a lot of stories about parents and their children in Series 6, particularly stories about fathers and sons: Captain Avery and Toby in “The Curse Of The Black Spot”, Jimmy and Adam in “The Almost People“, Alex and George in “Night Terrors”, and Craig and Alfie in “Closing Time“. A recurring theme throughout Series 6 is the difficulties and responsibilities that come with parenthood, and it’s a very appropriate one, since this is the season where Amy and Rory become parents themselves, even if their relationship with their daughter, Melody, will always be far from normal. In “Night Terrors”, our dad of the week is Alex (Daniel Mays), who’s dealing with the fact that his son, George, seems to be constantly petrified with fright, afraid of nearly everything around him, to the point where he can barely even function in society. Alex and his wife Claire don’t understand what’s wrong with him, and they don’t know how to help him either, so it’s a real conundrum to deal with. A parent’s job is to guide their children through life, set a good example for them and try to assuage their fears so they can grow up to be well adjusted. I think every good parent dreads the day when their child has a huge, debilitating problem on their plates that they can’t do anything about. So by the start of this episode, Alex is pretty depressed: he’s frustrated with their circumstances, but he also feels very guilty that he can’t do more for George, so he eagerly welcomes the Doctor into their home when he shows up at their door, claiming to be an expert on child psychology. Pretty soon however, Alex loses his faith in the Doctor, once he realizes he’s a total space case.

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Once the Doctor starts to jabber on about monsters and aliens, entertaining George’s wild notions, he quickly starts to worry about the Doctor making George’s condition worse. Alex is not a very confrontational man, but he’s also not a doormat. Once he starts to suspect the Doctor might be a terrible influence on his boy, and he realizes he’s not even a real social worker but some random dude from off the street, he quickly tells him to get lost and he’s only reluctantly won over again by the Doctor’s claim that he knows all about alien cultures. When the truth comes to light about George and where he really came from, Alex is understandably freaked out by the revelation that his son isn’t human. George’s alien nature is frightening, what he can do without even really meaning to is frightening. But despite all the chaos that ensued in this episode, George’s species is still a benevolent one, he only wants what every child needs to grow up healthily – a loving, accepting home – and he’s still the same kid Alex raised for eight years. Despite his doubts, Alex still accepts him as part of his family, which is heartwarming in its own right, and a nice parallel to the character growth Amy and Rory just received in “Let’s Kill Hitler“. Alex chooses to overcome his fears about George, about the future, and about his own inadequacies, so he can be the very best dad that he can be. Claire missed out on this whole adventure, due to her having a late shift at work, and she would never believe any of it if they told her, so George’s alien nature will presumably be he and his dad’s little secret from now on. “Night Terrors” is a cute little father / son story that fits with many of the main themes of Series 6: reflection, personal growth, and the bonds of family transcending impossible odds and unconventional circumstances.

“Night Terrors” is directed by Richard Clark, the same guy who handled “The Doctor’s Wife” earlier this season, and he’s once again given the chance to wander into some spooky and surreal territory when it comes to how he handles the tone of this story. I really enjoy the mysterious, darkly lit scenes set inside George’s dollhouse, where we see the dolls skulking around in the background of several shots, keeping their eyes on their prey until they’re ready to strike. “Night Terrors” was the first episode of the season to be filmed, and it was primarily shot on a council estate in Redcliffe, Bristol – giving us a lot of cozy, domestic visuals that feel very reminiscent of the early seasons of the RTD era – as well as Dryham Park in Gloucestershire, for the scenes set inside George’s dollhouse. The special effects from the Mill are top notch as usual this week, except for one scene where the landlord character is swallowed up by his rug in his living room like it’s made out of quicksand – the greenscreen in that sequence is not very convincing, and it looks pretty awkward. Murray Gold writes a very playful, childlike and slightly psychotic score for this episode with tracks like “Bedtime For George“, “Tick Tock, Round The Clock“, “A Malevolent Estate” and “Night Terrors“. The main recurring theme of the episode is “Tick Tock, Goes The Clock“, a humble little hymn where a bunch of cute little children repeatedly sing about how death comes for everyone eventually. There’s a pretty jarring and intentional bit of mood whiplash, when the blank-faced peg dolls keep merrily singing the hymn to themselves, as they hunt people down in the dark. The lyrics also allude to the Doctor’s own grim fate that’s waiting for him at Lake Silencio, reminding the audience of what’s at stake in the series finale, “The Wedding Of River Song“.

“Night Terrors” is a cute little slice of life story from Mark Gatiss that nicely sums up the experience of being a parent – how it can be worrying and emotionally taxing at times, but ultimately very rewarding and emotionally fulfilling – and this episode also touches upon the fact that sometimes kids and parents might have a bit more in common than they believe.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

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* “Now what do we do with the things we don’t like?” “Put them in the cupboard” That line in and of itself isn’t funny, but then you remember where Rory shoved Hitler in the last episode…

* “I haven’t done this in a while” “Haven’t done what? What are you doing?” “Making a house call”.

* “No offense, Doctor-” “Meaning the opposite?” “But we could get a bus somewhere like this” “The exact opposite, then”.

* “Pantaphobia. That’s what it’s called. Pantaphobia. Not a fear of pants though, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s a fear of everything. Including pants, I suppose” I’ll just leave this here, then.

* “He hates clowns” “Understandable”.

* “Ugh, we’re dead, aren’t we? The lift fell and we’re dead. We’re dead. Again“.

* “A doctor? Have you come to take me away?” “No, George. I just want to talk to you” “What about?” “About the monsters”.

* Man, the face George makes when the Doctor suggests opening the cupboard. He looks like the Doctor just spoke some absolute blasphemy.

* “No! You don’t want to do that!” “Why?” “Because George’s monsters are real”.

* “You see these eyes? They’re old eyes. And one thing I can tell you, Alex. Monsters are real” “….You’re not from social services, are you?

* “This is weird” “Yeah, says the time travelling nurse”.

* “Or maybe we shouldn’t open the cupboard. We have no idea what might be in there! How powerful, how evil that thing might be! Come on, Alex! Alex, come on! Are you crazy?! We can’t open the cupboard!” “God, no! No, we mustn’t!” “Right, that settles it then. We’re gonna open the cupboard!”

* “I thought you were the expert, fighting monsters all day long. You tell me!” “Oi! Listen, mush. Old eyes, remember? I’ve been around the block a few times. More than a few. They’ve knocked down the blocks I’ve been round and re-built them as bigger blocks. Super blocks. And I’ve been round them as well”.

* “Tick tock goes the clock, and all the years they fly. Tick tock and all too soon, you and I must die“.

* I’m not gonna lie though, the landlord hugging his dog when he’s put back in his apartment is pretty cute.

* “He’s one of the Tenza, remember. He’ll adapt perfectly now, and be whatever you want him to be. I might pop back around puberty, mind you. Always a funny time”.

* “Come on, you two. Things to do, people to see, whole civilizations to save. You feeling okay?” “Yeah, I think so” “Well, it’s good to be all back together again, in the flesh” Heh, if “Night Terrors” had remained in its original slot, that line would have made for some nice foreshadowing for the big ganger reveal in “The Rebel Flesh”.

* “Tick tock, goes the clock, he cradled and he rocked her. Tick tock, goes the clock, even for the Doctor“.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who Night Terrors Door To Door

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Doctor Who: A Good Man Goes To War / Let’s Kill Hitler (2011) Review

Doctor Who A Good Man Goes To War River Returns 7

For “A Good Man Goes To War / Let’s Kill Hitler”, the mid-season climax of Doctor Who’s sixth season, Steven Moffat pulls out all the stops, delivering a real whopper of a story. Arguably the entire Matt Smith era so far has been building up to a reckoning like this one for the Eleventh Doctor, where he’s confronted with his biggest personality flaws and held to task for them, so “A Good Man Goes To War” is a very pivotal turning point for his character development, as well as his relationship with the Ponds. In this story, we’re given a lot of insight into how Steven Moffat writes the Doctor: what sort of values he feels the character embodies and what he thinks he should and shouldn’t be. This story is also the one where River Song’s true identity is revealed, a mystery Steven Moffat has been teasing to the viewers since Series 4, so nothing about the Eleventh Doctor’s era will ever be the same again after this adventure.

“A Good Man Goes To War” is a crucial lynchpin story in the Series 6 arc, since we’re finally given some more answers about what’s going on with the Silence and what their ultimate endgame is. So how you feel about this season as a whole is often determined by how you feel about these two, game-changing episodes. Whether you love them or hate them, the River reveal got a lot of people talking back in the day and stirred up a lot of fandom discourse about whether or not it was handled well. Compared to “The Impossible Astronaut” or “The Rebel Flesh“, this is a very loosely structured two-parter, with each episode having a different director, different setting, and different supporting cast. There are three things linking these two episodes together as two halves of the same whole: the search for Melody Pond, River Song’s origin story, and an exploration of how people all around the world view the Doctor. Notably, “A Good Man Goes To War / Let’s Kill Hitler” is not only the last two-part story of Series 6, but the Eleventh Doctor’s era as a whole, since Series 7 is completely devoid of two-parters. And I have to say, I’m really gonna miss them until they make their return in the Peter Capaldi era. Part of the reason why Series 7 feels weaker than Series 5 and 6 to me is because several episodes in that season were not given all the time and space they needed to breathe.

Doctor Who A Good Man Goes To War Colonel Runaway 4

In “A Good Man Goes To War”, the Eleventh Doctor is enraged, and a lot more vengeful than usual. Hurting the Doctor’s friends to get to him is one of the best ways to piss him off, so he’s letting his claws come out. The Doctor doesn’t actually make an appearance for the first twenty minutes of “A Good Man Goes To War”. He’s mentioned often, but he always stays just offscreen as he gathers up allies, allowing this episode to build up anticipation for when he’ll finally strike. It also allows us to see how the myth of him, as a living legend, has spread across the cosmos over the years. Throughout the Matt Smith era, one idea Steven Moffat seems interested in exploring is perception: how different people around the world view the Doctor. In “The Pandorica Opens“, we got a glimpse of how his enemies see him when they all rose up against him, believing they were saving the multiverse from him. These two episodes go one step further with that theme, because they’re all about how people view the Doctor and the massive amount of influence he has on history. To his friends (Amy in particular), he’s a hero and someone to look up to. To his enemies, he’s a formidable foe, or a devil, or an outright tyrant. The crew of the Teselecta have a twisted sort of hero worship of him, though he certainly doesn’t think much of them. And notably, the Doctor has very little love for himself, making it clear that he does not consider himself to be a good man: by this point in his exceptionally long life, he’s done way too many things he can’t forgive himself for for that. So, rather fittingly, the climax of “Let’s Kill Hitler” hinges on Melody Pond’s growing and changing perception of the Doctor, and how that influences her to make a life-changing choice.

Ever since ‘The Eleventh Hour“, the Doctor has been using his formidable and hard-earned reputation as the man who can outwit armies and tear down empires to his advantage, striking fear into the hearts of evil-doers everywhere, and it’s steadily gone to his head. His overconfidence set him up for a fall in “The Pandorica Opens”, but he still didn’t learn his lesson from that experience so he has to learn it again here – and this time it sticks, because there are irreversible consequences. He fails Amy and Rory when they need him the most, which kicks off a long string of episodes that will send him into a downward spiral of depression and self-loathing in the latter half of Series 6 (“The Girl Who Waited“, “The God Complex“, “Closing Time“, “The Wedding Of River Song“). When River shows up to give him a much-needed scolding and a good reprimand, Steven Moffat makes it clear that the Doctor becoming the Dark Knight or some badass action hero is not a good thing. He’s strayed too far from his noble purpose in life, the goal he aspired to when he chose his title as a healer on Gallifrey a long, long time ago, and now he’s paying the price. And not just him, the Ponds as well. Throughout this story, the Doctor is pained by how his friends seem to be affected by their relationship with him. He still has plenty of regrets about how things panned out with Rose, Martha and Donna in the RTD era: Amy and Rory were supposed to be a fresh start, and he’s already souring his relationships with them too. But despite being a really depressing episode, “A Good Man Goes To War” doesn’t end on a downer note. The Doctor, tired of River’s constant stalling, demands to know who she is, and since she can finally tell him, he’s delighted to learn the truth. With a renewed resolve, he’s certain he’ll find Melody Pond and things will turn out okay somehow, because River herself is living proof of that.

Doctor Who A Good Man Goes To War Berlin 9

In “Let’s Kill Hitler”, the Doctor encounters Melody Pond / River Song, right at the start of her adult life, when she has no idea of who he really is or what their relationship with each other will be like. So they’ve essentially switched places from where they were at when the Tenth Doctor met River for the first time in “Silence In The Library“, and their usual dynamic of River being the one holding all the foreknowledge is flipped on its head, so the Doctor has to tread carefully here, for fear of spoilers. Steven Moffat, Matt Smith and Alex Kingston all seem to have a lot of fun depicting two equally matched super-geniuses playing deadly chess games with each other, as Melody lays traps within traps for the Doctor that he mostly manages to nimbly side-step. Throughout “Let’s Kill Hitler”, the Doctor tries his best to keep a handle on things, even as he works increasingly at a disadvantage. He’s determined to make things up to Amy and Rory, and come through for all three of the Ponds when they’re put in a considerable amount of peril. He tries to set a good example for Melody and show her there’s a better way to live her life than the pre-determined path the Silence set out for her as their tool, and as the stakes start to rise, the Doctor fights through the agonizing pain of slowly being poisoned so he can save Amy and Rory. There’s a scene where the TARDIS breaks away from her usual programming so she can talk to the Doctor directly and give him a much-needed pep talk to keep him going, and that whole gesture on her part is a lot more heartwarming to see after what we just learned about the old girl and her relationship with Eleven in “The Doctor’s Wife“.

Basically, If “A Good Man Goes To War” showed the Eleventh Doctor at his worst, “Let’s Kill Hitler” shows him at his best: putting everyone else’s needs before his own and living up to the standards he set for himself when he chose his name. During the second episode, the Doctor feels very protective of River Song, refusing to let any harm come to her, despite a brainwashed Melody trying to do a considerable amount of harm to him. He’s very affectionate towards her, he clearly thinks the world of her, and he has total faith in her to do the right thing, because he knows who she becomes. He’s kept a healthy amount of distance between himself and River for two seasons as he’s tried to make sense of her, but now that he knows who she really is at her core, he’s ready to admit to himself (and her) that he’s starting to fall in love with her. She’s the first woman since Rose Tyler to occupy that kind of special place in the Doctor’s heart. Normally, that would be a good thing, but he also knows how River’s story ends and he certainly can’t tell Amy and Rory about it, so that’s just one more thing that will weigh heavily on the Doctor’s heart going forward. The Doctor learned about his apparent death in Utah from Amy in “The Almost People”, and here he receives official confirmation of it from the Teselecta, so he also has that to consider. If there’s one thing Doctor Who has made clear over the last six seasons, it’s that time is a cruel, strict mistress. In all likelihood, the Doctor won’t be able to avoid this grim fate anymore than he could avoid Wilfred’s four knocks, or his TARDIS exploding last season, and he most certainly knows that, but the Doctor has never been one to accept terrible odds lying down.

Doctor Who A Good Man Goes To War The Silence 2

In “A Good Man Goes To War”, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) is more than a bit shell-shocked. She’s just become a mother under horrific circumstances, and unlike Rory, she’s never been shown to be super eager about the idea of having kids. But despite any concerns she might have, she still embraces Melody as a member of her family and wants to protect her from the harshness of the world, the monsters who would prey upon her, as her maternal instincts start to set in. Amy is resilient and she’s always been a survivor, so she’s hanging in there and coping with the predicament she’s in while she’s waiting for back-up to arrive. She knows her lover intimately well, and she never has any doubt that Rory is coming for her. During the last act, Amy and Rory have the rug pulled out from under them when they discover that the Silence have switched out their baby with a ganger and have already escaped into time with her – and Amy discovers this when her baby melts in her arms. Out of all the horrible, traumatic things that have happened to Amy this season, this one is by far the cruelest and a real knife in her gut. In a rather painful scene afterwards, she flinches away from the Doctor’s attempt to hug her. This episode is the start of Amy slowly growing disillusioned with the Doctor, as she learns the hard way that her Raggedy Man is not infallible. From there, Amy pulls a gun on River, and for the second time this season, she nearly shoots her daughter. Amy has officially been pushed past her breaking point: many, many terrible things have been happening to her and her loved ones this year and she’s felt powerless to stop them, and she is absolutely fed up with it, so she’s taking back control any sort of way that she can. And then River drops a real bombshell in her lap, when she reveals who she really is.

Steven Moffat jumps ahead a few months in “Let’s Kill Hitler”: Amy and Rory have spent all summer worrying about Melody, staying on the sidelines like the Doctor asked them to, so they decide to flag him down. After all, they learned from River last season that the best way to call the Doctor and get his attention is to do something big, and when they least expect it, Melody winds up coming to them. Following up on her character development from “A Good Man Goes To War”, Amy is 100% done with lacking any agency over the way the Silence have been tampering with her life. She’s willing to do whatever it takes to make sure every member of her family is safe and protected, which she demonstrates during the climax, when she saves River from the crew of the Teselecta by turning their own security drones against them (I like to think she picked up that trick from watching the Doctor turn the Silence’s slaves against them in “Day Of The Moon”). The revelation that Melody has been close by them this whole time, as an old friend they’ve known since they were kids, changes things quite a bit for Amy and Rory and gives them a whole new quandary to process. Not only is Melody their daughter and their friend River, she’s also someone they’ve known for much of their lives. Which means they’ve completely missed out on the chance of getting to raise her normally, and they’ll never have a regular relationship with her – which is a hard, bitter pill for anyone to swallow – but they still want to help her. By the episode’s end, Amy and Rory still accept River as a member of their family, their little girl all grown up. They couldn’t change her past, but they could give her a better future, giving her the freedom to forge her own path. The Ponds can finally breathe again, though there are still a few loose ends left hanging by this story’s end, that will give them reason to worry about River and the Doctor in the future.

Doctor Who A Good Man Goes To War Cyber Legion 2

“A Good Man Goes To War” has a pretty nice title as a bit of misdirection. You would automatically assume it’s referring to the Doctor, but it’s actually talking about Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), who is also on the warpath in the first episode. As the Doctor amasses his makeshift army to infiltrate Demons’ Run, Rory taps into his memories as the Last Centurion – the ones he prefers not to dwell on for too long, for the sake of his sanity – so he can unlock his old battle experience, take up a sword again and fight. Amy’s in danger, so for this pacifistic medic, the gloves are officially coming off. Throughout the first episode, Rory possesses a steely resolve and is more serious than we’ve ever seen him before, as he basically becomes the Doctor’s right-hand man. It’s almost hard to believe this is the same Rory who used to shy away from danger at the start of Series 5. But once he’s reunited with Amy, we’re given reassurance that this is indeed the same old dorky Rory, when he’s moved to tears by the sight of Melody. He’s delighted to become a father, and sees his daughter as the one good to come out of this whole experience. As brand new parents, Amy and Rory shower Melody with love for the short time that they have her, and it’s clear that they would do anything for her. Despite his best efforts to protect his family from harm, the Silence manage to escape with Melody, and both of the Ponds are crushed. River steps in to offer them some comfort in the aftermath and finally comes clean about the fact that she is Melody Pond as an adult woman. This revelation absolutely floors them and changes everything about the way they see River: especially for Rory, who’s only just started to get to know River better from spending some bonding time with her this season.

In “Let’s Kill Hitler”, we dive back into Amy and Rory’s upbringing and get a glimpse of how they grew up together in their sleepy little village. Rory held a torch for Amy ever since they were young and he used to follow her around eagerly, but he never worked up the nerve to actually come clean about his feelings for her until Mels gave them a push. Amy spent a good amount of time keeping her eyes open for the right guy, fantasizing about an escape from her dull, dull life, and it never occurred to her that Rory, her best friend, might be the guy for her, until Mels opened her eyes to that possibility that they both tentatively pursued – and from there, it was the start of a beautiful romance. In the present day, Rory has roughly the same mindset Amy has: he’s tired of waiting around, he’s tired of being passive, and he’s ready to do whatever it takes to make his daughter safe again. By this point, Rory has accepted that his life is completely and totally insane, and to his credit, he takes it all in stride. With each wild new development, he tends to deal with it with dry wit and sarcasm, and as a result, he’s grown a lot more snarky with the Doctor and Amy. While he’s ditched his Roman soldier uniform in “Let’s Kill Hitler”, Rory still shows off how adaptable, reliable and assertive he is in the second episode, since he’s basically become the muscle of the TARDIS team. At one point, he gets to punch out Hitler like Captain America, and then he punches another Nazi soldier (really the Teselecta in disguise), and both times are equally hilarious. Like Amy, Rory has to deal with the bewildering discovery that Melody is both someone who’s just entered their lives and someone they’ve known for years at the same time. And while he’s filled with regret that they can’t do more for her, he still shows her plenty of love and accepts her as family all the same.

Doctor Who A Good Man Goes To War River Returns

“A Good Man Goes To War / Let’s Kill Hitler” is centered around the birth of Melody Pond / River Song: her physical birth occurs in the first episode, while the second episode features the symbolic birth of the identity she chose for herself. In “A Good Man Goes To War”, the Silence have kidnapped Amy and her newborn child, Melody – because Melody was conceived in the time vortex, granting her the unique abilities of a time lord – so the Doctor and Rory are amassing a small army of allies to storm Demons’ Run and get them back. Now, the Doctor and his friends have already encountered an older version of Melody in the Silence’s clutches in 1969, so it’s a foregone conclusion that their efforts to rescue her in this two-parter are doomed to fail and her fate cannot be changed – something the adult River is well aware of. She can’t interfere with her own past, so she has to let history play out, despite how much it will hurt every member of her family, and she’s certainly not happy about it. When Rory comes to her for aid, she regretfully gives him a bit of forewarning when she has to turn away her father’s pleas for help. During the episode’s coda, River shows up again later to give the Doctor some tough love and a much-needed reality check about the consequences of all his careless showboating catching up to him (ironically, it was River herself who gave the Doctor the idea to start falling back on his reputation as a crutch in “Forest Of The Dead”, indirectly setting him on his path), before turning her attention to Amy and Rory. She’s finally reached the point where she can share the truth with them about who she really is, without risking damaging the timeline, and it’s clearly a huge relief for her to do so.

It was pretty obvious from “Day Of The Moon” that the regenerating girl was Amy’s daughter, but I never guessed at the time that she was also River, mainly because River has been a part of this show for longer than Amy and Rory. But Moffat has been planning this twist ever since he became the series’ showrunner: that’s why he gave both Amy and River water-based names, to create a connection between them. He let Alex Kingston know about his game plan for her character long before any of the other actors, so that knowledge could affect her performances around Karen and Arthur in Series 5. So the River reveal is the pay-off for a long game that Moffat has been playing for a season and a half, and it’s a pretty satisfying one. While he had a pretty good idea of where he wanted this storyline to go, Moffat didn’t plan it all out in advance, and it shows. “Let’s Kill Hitler” starts with a pretty huge retcon: with a character named Mels suddenly appearing, claiming to be an old schoolmate of Amy and Rory’s – and if she had been mentioned even once last season, this rather huge and rapid retconning of Amy and Rory’s backstory would probably be easier to swallow. When we last saw Melody, she was regenerating in New York City. After that, she tracked down her parents in the 1990’s and grew up alongside them, because she figured that would be the best way to find the Doctor. Naturally, she forms an attachment to them and gives them a bit of a push to hook up when they’re all in their teens (so even she ships them), to ensure her own existence. In her establishing character moment, Mels shows up in some hot, stolen wheels to have a good time, crashes Amy and Rory’s meeting with the Doctor, and eventually hijacks the TARDIS. From there, this episode gets so much more fun once Nina Toussaint-White regenerates into Alex Kingston.

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At this point in her life, Melody is a reckless and rebellious delinquent who enjoys raising a good amount of hell. Throughout Series 5 and 6, River has always been portrayed as one of the more mature members of the Doctor’s gang and a stabilizing force in the TARDIS from all the experience she has. It’s only at this point that you realize you’ve started to take River’s wisdom for granted, when you’re introduced to a much younger version of her with no morals or inhibitions running wild, causing chaos for the sake of chaos. And Alex Kingston seems to be having a blast, playing a more wicked and amoral version of her character than usual. Melody grew up hearing stories about the Doctor from Amy and Rory, and she was brainwashed to loathe him by the Silence, so she’s heard some conflicting accounts about the man. She’s a bit fascinated by him, but also not really impressed with him. Unlike Madam Kovarian, she harbors very little personal resentment towards him, and she mainly views him as a challenge: her mark. She’s been trained all her life to do one job by some very abusive handlers, so she would like to get that job over with so she can move on with her life and do other things. During the middle act of “Let’s Kill Hitler”, we get to see just how insanely clever the Doctor and River both are, and how quick with their hands they are, when they’re pit against each other on equal footing. Now that River’s origin story has come to light, another parallel between River and the Doctor that Steven Moffat decided to include becomes apparent. The Doctor’s sense of morality left a lot to be desired at the start of his life as well. The First Doctor kidnapped his first sidekicks, Barbara and Ian, and threatened to kick them out of the TARDIS into the vacuum of space at one point. He grew into the anti-hero that we all know him as today as he matured.

As “Let’s Kill Hitler” progresses, Melody finds the Doctor is not at all like what the Silence made out him to be as he fights through a slow and painful death to save Amy and Rory, and tries his best to help her, his designated executioner. He’s a deeply compassionate and principled man, and she steadily starts to gain respect for him. It’s a pretty common thing in Doctor Who for someone to have an encounter with the Doctor that inspires them, and makes them want to be a better person than they currently are – we’ve already seen it happen several times this season. And as Melody starts to piece together hints about her future, she realizes that someday she’ll be someone the Doctor holds in close confidence and cares for very much –  she sees a completely different path her life could take in front of her. Melody has been lied to all her life and used as a tool by the Silence, and in the climax of the second episode, she decides to start thinking for herself and make her own decisions. She takes a chance and uses her time lady powers to revive the Doctor, and from that point on, River Song as we know her is born: a free spirit and a force of nature who can’t be tamed by anyone. She starts to gain independence by taking back control over her life, and she starts to become her own woman. In the aftermath, River decides to start digging through the past and dust off some historical records. After she’s been fed plenty of lies and propaganda by the Silence, she wants to know what the world is really like and what the Doctor is really like, so she can make her own informed opinions. “A Good Man Goes To War / Let’s Kill Hitler” was a two-parter centered entirely around people’s perception of the Doctor, and River’s perception of him is certainly growing and evolving by the end of it. This eventful encounter is the very humble start of the Doctor and River’s relationship on her end of things.

Doctor Who A Good Man Goes To War Reunion

In “A Good Man Goes To War”, we’re given a lot more insight into the Silence’s motivation, and why they’ve been working against the Doctor from behind the scenes since the start of Series 5. They’re a religious cult of fanatics, comprised of people from many, many different walks of life (including the creatures we encountered in “The Impossible Astronaut”), and they’re all united under one cause: bringing down the Doctor. In their own futuristic time period (the same one from “The Time Of Angels“), they’ve been waging war against him for centuries and they haven’t made any progress with beating him, so they’ve resorted to going back in time to try to change history. They tried to kill him by blowing up his TARDIS last season, which backfired horribly, and now they’re trying again this season by kidnapping Melody Pond, brainwashing her and raising her to be their assassin, since they figure their best shot at killing a time lord is with another time lord. They want to stop the Doctor from doing something big in his future, and we’ll eventually discover what that is in “The Time Of The Doctor”, at the end of Series 7. The Silence are ran by Madam Kovarian, a spiteful, vicious, heartless woman. She isn’t worried about the Doctor coming after her, because she’s counting on that to happen, and she’s already laid her trap. As far as Doctor Who villains go, Madam Kovarian makes thing very, very personal. After years at war from her perspective, she absolutely hates the Doctor, and she doesn’t just want him dead, she wants to hurt him and his friends in the most painful way that she can first, which is why she’s glad she can use Melody to do so and break Amy’s heart. This awful woman manages to escape scot free by the end of this story, but she won’t be so lucky the next time she encounters Amy, not so lucky at all.

During the first episode, we’re introduced to Madam Vastra, a Silurian warrior, Jenny Flint, her lover and second-in-command, and Commander Strax, a Sontaran nurse – three old acquaintances of the Doctor that he recruits for help. They were initially intended to be one-off characters, but they were later bumped up into being recurring characters in Series 7. Traditionally, Silurians and Sontarans have always been given antagonistic roles in this series, so it’s a nice change of pace that we get to see a few of them be allies of the Doctor for a change, while still keeping the respective quirks and eccentricities of their species. The idea of a Sontaran nurse is a bit of a paradox: Sontarans are typically portrayed as violent-minded brutes who spend all their time trying to think of new ways to wage war, conquer planets and harm lots of people. With Strax, the Doctor has assigned him this thoughtful and nurturing role to rehabilitate him, and naturally he resents it, but he still throws himself into it wholeheartedly, because for the sake of his pride, Strax does not do anything halfway. Dan Starkey’s matter-of-fact delivery of all the messed-up things that come out of Strax’s mouth is so brazen and straightforward that you can’t help but laugh at it. Madam Vastra (Neve McIntosh) has her own brand of wisdom as a fighter who’s been around the block a few times, and like a lot of Silurians, she doesn’t seem to think much of humans. But she makes an effort to reign in her speciesism, since she’s also in love with one – and their relationship is pretty wholesome in-between scenes of them kicking ass together. It’s actually a bit surreal to see Vastra, Jenny and Strax interacting with the Ponds: they made most of their appearances on the show during Clara’s tenure as a companion, and as such, I’ve mostly come to associate them with her.

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Lorna Bucket is another notable figure in the first episode: a woman who met the Doctor when she was just a little girl and was inspired by him, like Amy was, so she decided to join the Silence’s ranks so she could meet him again. Unlike most of her comrades on the base, Lorna has a conscience and she doesn’t approve of what they’ve done to Amy and Melody, so she eventually defects and joins the Doctor’s side – which gets her killed, like so many of the people the Doctor seems to come in contact with. Her tragic death scene – where the Doctor pretends to remember her, despite having no idea who she is, so she can die happy – is rather touching, and adds a lot of weight to the depressing way the first episode wraps up. Adolf Hitler makes a cameo in the second episode, before he’s summarily dismissed once he’s served his purpose, because of course, “Let’s Kill Hitler” is not really about him. He’s targeted by the Teselecta, a crew of miniaturized time travelers from the future, manning a life-sized, shape-shifting robot. These people take it upon themselves to go back in time and torture war criminals who escaped justice in their own time periods, and during their latest hunt, their attention is drawn to Melody. Their whole M.O. is pretty twisted, and naturally the Doctor doesn’t approve of it, though ironically, they admire him. They’re very thematically appropriate antagonists for this story, since their whole operation mirrors the Silence’s ongoing scheme of going back in time and targeting individuals before they can do damage to the world, because they feel like they’re justified in doing so. And of course, they’re more than just one-off antagonists. With the Teselecta, Steven Moffat plants a Chekov’s Gun in “Let’s Kill Hitler” that he will later use to explain how the Doctor will get out of his fake death in Utah.

“A Good Man Goes To War / Let’s Kill Hitler” is directed by Peter Hoar and Richard Senior, both of whom bring their A-game when it comes to injecting life and vigor into their respective episodes. One cool detail that I want to point out is that “A Good Man Goes To War” contains several visual callbacks to shots from previous episodes that long-time viewers might spot – and all of them have thematic significance. When the Doctor goes to collect Dorium Maldovar from his club, drafting the terrified man into his army, that heroic shot from “The Fires Of Pompeii” is flipped – the one where the Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS, bathed in light, telling Calcelius to take his hand if he wanted his family to live. In that episode, the Doctor was rescuing people from a fiery death, but in this one, he’s taking someone to a place that will most likely be their doom for his own ends, which really underscores how far the Doctor has strayed from his usual path. In a similar vein, when the Doctor flies off in the TARDIS before Amy and Rory can stop him at the end of the episode, the shot of them watching his TARDIS depart is extremely similar to the shot from “The Eleventh Hour”. Amy Pond has once again been left behind against her wishes, with her life in shambles, but this time, she’s tired of waiting – at which point, she decides to pull a gun on River. Murray Gold’s score is top-notch as usual, as he expands on all four of the main characters’ themes for such an important, milestone adventure: writing new, darker variations of “I Am The Doctor” and “The Mad Man With A Box” in “Pop“, “Tell Me Who You Are“, “A Very Unusual Melody” and “Pay Attention, Grown-Ups“. River’s theme, “Melody Pond” features some stunning vocal work from Mae McKenna, while “The Enigma Of River Song” builds to a gorgeous emotional climax with equally beautiful violins.

As an origin story for River Song and a time of reckoning for the Eleventh Doctor, “A Good Man Goes To War / Let’s Kill Hitler” certainly delivers on all the spectacle and game-changing revelations that it promises. More importantly, the Eleventh Doctor and River Song are both given a hefty amount of character development in this two-parter, making them both richer characters by the time that it’s over, and making this one of the standout stories of Series 6.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

Doctor Who A Good Man Goes To War Cyber Legion 6

* Here’s a friendly bit of advice for you: never, ever mess with a Pond. If there’s one personality trait Amy, Rory and River all share, it’s that they will do anything to protect the people they love – and if that means some of their enemies have to die to ensure that outcome, then so be it. The Doctor blowing up an entire Cyber legion to find Amy was pretty ruthless, but I didn’t see Rory having any objections to that plan either. Amy turns the Teselecta’s murderous security drones against the crew to save River: there’s no indication that any of them died, but there’s no indication that they all made it out there alive either. And as for River, just ask that Dalek she bumped off in “The Big Bang”.

* “We’re being paid to fight him, not praise him. Praising costs way more”.

* “Don’t you have names?” “We’re the thin, fat, gay, married Anglican marines. Why would we need names as well?”

* “Of course you’ll be fine, my boy. You’ll be up and around in no time. And perhaps one day, you and I shall meet on the field of battle, and I will destroy you for the glory of the Sontaran Empire” “…Thanks, nurse”.

* “You think he’s raising an army?” “You think he isn’t? If that man is finally collecting on his debts, then God help you, and God help his debtors”.

* “Can I borrow your gun?” “Why?” “Because I’ve got a feeling you’re going to keep talking”.

* So, what’s up with the Star Wars influence in this episode? The Headless Monks are straight-up brandishing lightsabers.

* Captain Avery and Toby have a quick cameo, where they’ve apparently been helping Rory tie people up offscreen. That’s actually a pretty funny mental image, and it confirms what you might have already suspected from the way “The Curse Of The Black Spot” wrapped up: in the company of pirates, Toby is already going native.

* “No. Colonel Manton, I want you to tell your men to run away. Those words. I want you to be famous for those exact words. I want people to call you Colonel Runaway. I want children laughing outside your door, because they’ve found the house of Colonel Runaway. And, when people come to you, and ask if trying to get to me through the people I love is in any way a good idea, I want you to tell them your name”.

* “The anger of a good man is not a problem. Good men have too many rules” “Good men don’t need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many” Edgy, Doctor.

* “She’s our baby. She’s beautiful. Oh God, I was going to be cool. I wanted to be cool” “You’re okay. A crying Roman with a baby: definitely cool”.

* Vastra claims that the Doctor and his friends conquered Demons’ Run without a drop of blood being spilled, ignoring the part where the Doctor tricked their enemies into shooting each other. Does that really count as them keeping their own hands clean, because of a technicality?

* “Why would a Time Lord be a weapon?” “Well, they’ve seen you” “Me? …Me“.

* “Oh, dear God. That’s the attack prayer!” I’m not gonna lie, the very idea that the Monks have an attack prayer is pretty hilarious.

* “Rory, no offense to the others, but you let them all die first, okay?”

* “Mister Maldovar, get back here!” “Arm yourself, fool!”

* “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“.

* “The Doctor will find your daughter, and he will care for her whatever it takes. And I know that because… it’s me. I’m Melody. I’m your daughter” Iconic.

* “You said he was funny, you never said he was hot”.

* “Sorry, Doctor not following this. Doctor very lost. You never said I was hot?” That is disgraceful.

* “I need out of here, now” “Anywhere in particular?” “Well, let’s see. You’ve got a time machine, I’ve got a gun. What the hell. Let’s kill Hitler!”

* “Why are you always in trouble? You’re the most in trouble in the whole school, except for boys” “And you” “I count as a boyr/NotLikeOtherGirls.

* “You said guns didn’t work in this place! You said we’re in a state of temporal grace!” “That was a clever lie, you idiot! Anyone could tell that was a clever lie!”

* “Harriet, have you updated your privileges?” “Yes, of course I have” Girl, you’ve got to check those privileges.

* “Mels, don’t go in there! Bad smoke! Don’t breathe the bad, bad, smoke! Bad, deadly smoke because somebody shot my TARDIS!!!

* Over the course of Series 6, the Doctor has encountered several infamous men in human history: Richard Nixon, Henry Avery, and worst of all, Adolf Hitler. Once you’ve had the Doctor meet Hitler, it’s pretty hard to top that, unless you also have him cross paths with Stalin.

* “But he was going to kill me!” “Shut up, Hitler!”

* “Right, the cupboard, get in!” “But I am the Fuher!” “In you go!” “Who are you?!

* Mels apparently shot the TARDIS, and only a few minutes after the TARDIS takes her to Berlin, she gets shot by Hitler. Instant karma.

* “That’s her all right: Melody Pond, the woman who kills the Doctor”.

* “Oh, look at that. Berlin on the eve of war. A whole world about to tear itself apart. Now that’s my kind of town”.

* “I don’t understand, okay? One minute she’s going to marry you and then she’s going to kill you!” “Ah, well, she’s been brainwashed. It all makes sense to her. Plus, she’s a woman… Oh, shut up. I’m dying“.

* “What are you doing here?” “Well, I was on my way to this gay gypsy bar-mitzvah for the disabled, when I thought gosh, the Third Reich’s a bit rubbish. I think I’ll kill the Fuhrer. Who’s with me?”

* “Tip for you all: never shoot a girl while she’s regenerating”.

* “No, no give me someone I like! Oh, great, give me guilt! Also guilt! More guilt!” Oof.

* “Okay, all of Berlin. How do we find her?” “I don’t know. Look for clues” “Clues? What kind of clues?” Rory grows snarkier and snarkier with each passing episode.

* “Okay. Okay, I am trapped inside a giant robot replica of my wife. I’m really trying not to see this as a metaphor”.

* “I might take the age down a little, just gradually, to freak people out” Man, I love River.

* “You killed the Doctor” “Oh yes, I know, dear. I hope you’re not going to keep on about it”.

* “Amelia Pond, judgment death machine: why I am not surprised?”

* “Find her. Find River Song and tell her something from me” “Tell her what? Oh… Well, I’m sure she knows” Aww.

* “River, no… no… what are you doing?” “Hello sweetie”.

* “She just needs to rest. She’ll be absolutely fine” “No, she won’t. She will be amazing” Aww.

Further Reading:

Doctor Who A Good Man Goes To War Berlin 6

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