I give RTD grief. I didn’t like him placing Dr. Who as a love story – with the Doctor at the heart of it. I didn’t like how that covers all of three series so by the time a companion is on board who isn’t in love with the Doctor it’s at the time when the Doctor is ready to go. For what it’s worth that season with the Tennant Doctor is the best RTD season.
There are a lot of other things I didn’t like about RTD’s reign as lead writer/exec producer of the show. For all that though, they will not outweigh the gratitude I have for his creativity, quality story-picking and strength of character to bring Dr. Who back to the screen and make it top telly watching. I would be among the first to say that were it not for him there is no way the show would still be on our screens in such a brilliant way. I thus doff my imaginary hat and give thanks for RTD’s work – his labour of love with the programme. By the way it goes to show that if you love something that might make you the best person to work on the something because of your passionate approach to it. Rather than letting a ‘professional’ take it on, purely as his next ‘job’ with little to no attachment to it. Don’t get me wrong, those ‘pros’ are needed throughout the machinery of the programme. Just not at it’s heart or mind.
Now Steven Moffat has completed two series as the lead writer/exec producer and with a strong Doctor and two well written companions in tow, he has made it possible for people to have almost forgotten Tennant and struggle to remember RTD. It is my contention that this season is the best season we’ve had since the show returned to the screen in 2005. That has been down to a number of factors. First the mid-season break worked a treat – for this viewer anyway. The first half of the season left a lot to live up to in terms of storytelling and quality acting. It also did the important trick of leaving questions that lead to great anticipation of what would happen next. To begin to resolve those in the first episode of the second half was a masterstroke, then to have such strong stories to follow and yet not be so focussed on the overall story arc was intriguing and fascinating.
The ironic thing that people might notice is that the Doctor is locked again at the heart of a love story. The difference being that this love story has literally universal implications and the heart strings of the Doctor are not so much inclined towards River Song as they are to the resolution of the mystery that’s been bugging him ever since he first came across Amelia Pond.
Moffat wrote five episodes (three stories) in the 13 episode season and the whole structure of the season was creatively built around those stories. I look at the set up and in essence Moffat controlled the beginning middle and end of the season and was brilliantly able to weave the series arc around that. To reiterate the mid-season break worked a treat!
Episode Brief Reviews
The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon: The season starts with a bang as the development of the River Song/Silence story takes centre stage and we are given a riddle that will take up most of the rest of the series, namely how does the Doctor die and why. This set of stories is action packed, thrilling and a good start to the season. Indeed it is very much like a two-parter that someone might expect at the end of a season, not the beginning. In the context of the season and the Matt Smith incarnation to date, that is not a bad thing at all. Very good performances from all the main characters including Mark Sheppard as the young Canton Delaware. These also gave a chance for all the main characters to shine including Rory, which would a theme developed over the season.
The Curse of the Black Spot: From the manic nature of the first story the pace slows and although there are some other little tips and hints of the overall story arc, this is a bid to tell a Dr. Who story – Doctor and companions turn up to scenario. There’s a problem, they look to solve the problem. Without being overly harsh or critical, I’d suggest this is probably the weakest story in the season. There is an argument that it could be the weakest one of Matt Smith’s time in the post. That’s no great shakes in the larger scale of things.
The Dotor’s Wife: There is something about this season that seeks to draw you to the central arc that dominates. There are episodes however that have something to do with the wider story of the Doctor. This is a brilliant example of that as the audience discovers something of the heart and soul of the TARDIS. Much was made of this episode as it was written by Neil Gaiman and also featured a stunning performance by Suranne Jones.
The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People: brilliant two-parter on the Flesh which gave us two Doctors and the test as to whether Amy knew which one was which. This was a good story as well to stretch the character of Rory. The end of the tale has a huge reveal that Amy has not been on the TARDIS for a long time and indeed she’s been Flesh
A Good Man Goes To War/Let’s Kill Hitler: leading to the mid-season larger reveal of the identity of River Song – namely being the one to kill the Doctor and the child of Amy and Rory. This story is as action packed as the first two although it has the seeds within of how it must continue. The first story after the break continues the story with the story of the early River Song and her first efforts at killing the Doctor in the smokescreen title Lets Kill Hitler.
Night Terrors: Departing completely from main-character centred approach to a traditional story of scary things happening all because of a child who needs support and love.
The Girl Who Waited: The peak of this part of the season as Amy takes centre stage where two versions of herself are in danger and only the Doctor can come to the rescue. Emotionally gripping, and great storytelling by all involved.
The God Complex: was a great tale that brought out the anxieties and fears as well as key beliefs of people and highlighting the Doctor’s tendency to let his companions in life threatening situations. The ending of this is interesting in what appears to be the last journey of Amy and Rory with the Doctor. For what it’s worth I don’t have a problem if they choose to go through with that as it would be good, even if Matt just does one more season, to see him with a completely new companion.
Closing Time: sees the welcome return of Craig from last season’s The Lodger. The story sees the Cybermen posing a threat to humanity starting in a department store and it’s ‘the power of love’ that saves the day as a father’s love prevents Craig from being turned into a Cyberman. Good romp with points of humour in it from Craig and the Doctor and also sets up the season finale in the least momentous way of any in the new series. It does connect the dots to the seasons
The Wedding of River Song: Closes up a number of challenges whilst in a very real way not closing up anything and leaving things wide open. Context is crucial in assessing this episode and this series. It answered the question and to me set up the final season for Matt Smith. Not a bad season ender, because it keeps the story going. Not the best season ender by any stretch. But not a bad story. Intriguing, very intriguing more than anything else. I’m not disappointed, but would see why others would be.
Typically there’s a small impact episode at the start with perhaps a hint of what is to come and then throughout the series things build to the big crescendo ending of huge significance. This is seen in the Doctor’s regeneration (S1), Rose’s tearful departure (S2), another companion’s departure (S3) and a teased Doctor’s regeneration, mega-combo and eventual companion’s departure with seeds in the stage of blossom for the Doctor’s actual regeneration (S4).
If I didn’t know any better I would guess that Moffat had an idea for the whole arc of the 11th Doctor’s incarnation or at least his tenure. For from Series 5 we have a Doctor-centred narrative that also shapes Series 6. What we have is the beguiling and mysterious tale of how the Doctor, his companion Amy, her constant beau Rory and daughter Melody/River are intertwined in a tale against the Doctor himself and its ramifications for time and space itself.
Wrapped within it is the idea of almost the Trilogy of the 11th Doctor where in the first act the character of Amy appears to be central and the involvement of River intrigues again, only for it to converge in the plot against the Doctor hinted at first with The Silence. The Second Act brings the cult of The Silence to the front of things and their plot to get the Doctor is only put on hold by some ingenuity from a character the Doctor has met previously.
As it is essentially the second part of the trilogy it’s only too understandable that there will not be the same impact as you get in the initial season. The pay-off would appear to be in the Fall of the Eleventh which I speculate as the arc for the next season. So even if all that is codswallop because it has been such a fascinating story then I await the next season eagerly to see the pay off.
In a way it’s as though they’re working the traditional new series format in reverse, i.e. The Big Finish at the start of the series and The Intriguing Start at the end … which of course we’ll know for sure after this evening’s episode.
I THINK Smith only has one season left. He has officially contracted himself to that season. I don’t think he’ll be the regular beyond that. I do think he’ll pop up in the 50th Anniversary Special. With Smith completing his second and contracted to complete his third, in his position I’d recommend he does just do this season and then hand the mantle onto another actor. Same with Moffatt as lead writer. It’s all about seasons and you don’t want to overstay you’re welcome. In my opinion they already both leave a body of work already that is the best in the history of the series, it’ll be interesting to see what they can come up with in their third season.
What will make it tricky isn’t so much him, but Moffat. It would be tricky to get a new lead man to start with the anniversary celebrations – that would be pressure!
In a real way in as much as Smith’s Doctor has been in some dark situations calling for dark acts he’s actually been more optimistic this season than any series in the new run. Also important to see this series as the second act of what I believe will be the Matt Smith trilogy. Second Acts provide some good bits, but it’s mainly a set up for the final act and that’s the way it’s swinging as I perceive it.