Sunday, July 12, 2015

10 Years of Doctor Who Reborn: Series Six

Hi there, Whovians! It's another trip down the road of time I call 10 Years of Doctor Who Reborn. Last week I looked at Series 5 and the debut of Steven Moffat as the Big Honcho, Matt Smith as the Doctor and Karen Gillen as companion Amy Pond. A bit wobbly here and there but over a rollicking and exciting season. So...

Can they do it again?

The pressure was definitely on. Series 5 had hit big in the United States thanks to a really strong marketing push by Doctor Who's new home in the US, BBC America. Stoking that heat was the filming of actual Doctor Who scenes with actual Doctor Who actors in actual America! How cool is that?

And mysteries from the previous series carried over into the next. At the core was...who the heck is River Song? What is her connection to the Doctor? What is her crime that she must do penance in Stormgate Penitentiary? This would be the year all would be revealed.

The time came for Doctor Who to live again for another year as Series 6 premiered.

With a most unexpected death.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I?

So how did Series 6 stack up? After the picture, I'll dive in and tell you, in my (not so) humble opinion.

#14 - Night Terrors * 
The first real outright stinker of the Moffat era. Hey, Russell T Davies had "Fear Her". Or "Love and Monsters", if you will.

That this one was written by Mark Gatiss was particularly disappointing. Stories written by Gatiss in previous seasons may not have been high works of art but there was always something redeeming about them. This story, not so much.

#13 - The Curse of the Black Spot **
This one gets dumped on a lot and there are Who watchers who would put this one at the bottom of their lists. Well, they are entitled to their opinion. But this is my blog and I say that opinion is wrong. So there.

No, this is not a great episode and yes, if it wasn't for Night Terrors, this would be at the bottom of this list. But not for being really bad but for just not being as good as the rest of the series. And c'mon, Amy Pond in a mini-skirt sword fighting with pirates? That alone should earn this episode a little love. But major props to Hugh Bonneville who plays Capt. Avery; he projects both humanity and gravitas in his role, elevating the proceedings considerably.

#12 - The Rebel Flesh ** 
#11 - The Almost People **
When I started this 10 Years of Doctor Who Reborn series, I noted I would review 2 parters as separate episodes because all 2 parters are not created equal. Some start strong, end poorly. Others flounder a bit in part one but bring it on home in the next episode. But there have a been a few 2 parters that I've placed right next to each other on these lists because for good or ill, there's not a significant difference between the two in terms of quality. This is one such two parter.

I give the 2nd part the edge because of Matt Smith's bravura performance as both the Doctor and his Ganger and Karen Gillen's Amy Pond who thinks she knows which Doctor is real. And speaking of Amy, that shocking out of nowhere surprise twist that sets the stage for the next episode? Whoa. 

 #10 - The God Complex ***
This episode has some really weird visuals via distorted camera angles that heightens just how surreal this story is. But really good character work anchors this story. Amara Karan as Rita endears herself to the Doctor and to the viewer as a sharp and witty person, very companion worthy. Which makes her fate all the more depressing. I also liked David Walliams as Gibbis from the planet that surrenders to everybody. Of our main trio, Rory shows a distinct point of view different from Amy and the Doctor. And once more, the Doctor has to disavow a companion of her faith in him. (Go back to the classic series and the 7th Doctor adventure, The Curse of Fenric, where the Doctor saves Ace by doing the same thing.) 

And the end where the Doctor surprises Amy and Rory with a place to call home since he's sending them away. A very touching end. 

#9 - Let's Kill Hitler ***
This is not an easy episode to love. However, there's a lot I like about this story.

Rory gets some really good bits. He tells Hitler to shut up and shoves him in a cupboard; later he slugs a Nazi soldier with a clever "Hiel, Hitler" feint and then steals a motorcycle which he reckons he can ride because "it's been that sort of day".

The Doctor resists death with a holographic TARDIS interface which looks like Rose ("guilt"), Martha ("more guilt") and Donna ("even more guilt") before the interface settles on little Amelia Pond. Who is annoyingly literal and factual. 

The Doctor is dying so he dresses for the occasion. Top hat and tails? Why not? 

And so much more. The Teselecta . The back and forth between the Doctor and River while she's trying  to kill him. Amy and Rory's realization that they did get to raise Melody after all.

So why I am ranking this one as low as #9 on my list? Mostly it's because this is about who River Song really is and how she came to be. Nothing wrong with that except there are a lot of points we have to quickly check off and get through. It's like The Beast Below from the previous season. It's a story built to serve a specific function of getting a character from Point A to Point B.

Also: Why title this episode "Let's Kill Hitler" and then not really take advantage of the WWII Nazi Germany setting? The presence of Hitler is superfluous to the story other than to add a level of shock value. Hitler gets locked in a cupboard at around the 15 minute mark and that's it for him. 

#8 - Closing Time ***
A follow up to The Lodger finds The Doctor and Craig teaming up again. By this time, Craig and Sophie have made a baby, Stormaggedon, Dark Lord of, excuse me, "Alfie". Cybermen are skulking about and causing havoc and menace and menacing havoc. Once more the sweet and charming elements must share space with people screaming and dying. I mean, this happens all the time in Doctor Who but it really bothers me with the Craig episodes. Weird. 

Meanwhile the Doctor is facing up to his final fate, the fixed point in time at Lake Silencio where he will die. And at the end, we see Madame Kovorian and the Silence loading River Song into the weapon that will kill him.

#7 - The Girl Who Waited ****
Karen Gillen kicks butt in this story as she plays both the Amy Pond we know and the Amy Pond who is 40+ years old, made bitter by years of loneliness and a constant battle to survive. This is a Doctor-lite episode but with some clever editing of Matt Smith as the Doctor on the TARDIS set, he is hardly missed. But the central drama to this story is the tale of two Amys and Rory's impossible mission to save them both. That bit at the end when Rory gets young Amy back to the TARDIS while her older self pounds on the locked door to be let in is a very emotionally tense scene. And if Karen has stepped her game to play two versions of herself, Arthur Darvill matches her, particularly in the last scene where Rory knows he has to turn the lock and keep the older Amy out of the TARDIS even as it tears him up inside. A very powerful ending to a great episode. 

#6 - The Wedding of River Song ****
I feel like I'm rating this a bit higher than it deserves but dang it, this season finale has a job to do and it does it well. The opening sequences as the Doctor gathers information, particularly looking down the eyestalk of a damaged Dalek ("the Devil himself" indeed), the killer (literally) chess game and the return of Doriam (no, not dead. You could say he's gotten a head in life. Ha!). The Doctor's defiance in the face of his unavoidable death gets shattered when he hears that Brigadier Letheridge-Stewart has died. So the Doctor keeps his date with destiny at Lake Silencio but River Song, it seems, has other plans. Unfortunately, it messes up all of time into one funky goulash. We get cameos of Charles Darwin from Series 1 and Winston Churchill from Series 5, not to mention dinosaurs, chariots, mammoths and Meredith Viera. Fortunately, the Doctor has his own plans which involve keeping his appointment with fate where he gets killed while actually not getting killed. Both Amy and Rory get bad ass moments (Madame Kovarian did NOT see that coming!). It's all a bit rushed (a complaint we will revisit in the next week or so) but for the most part, a satisfactory end to Series 6 story arc even as the seeds of the future are sown.

After all, Trenzalore is coming. 

#5 - A Christmas Carol  ****
During the Davies era, Doctor Who Christmas specials felt like an early gift towards the season to come. During Moffat's time, these specials seem more like a capstone to the series gone by. So it seems a bit odd to review A Christmas Carol as a part of Series 6 and not Series 5. But there it is.

Visually, A Christmas Carol has a lot in common with the Harry Potter films. In fact, I would love to see this episode brought to the big screen as a special event like we saw with the Cyberman two-parter from Series 2 last year.  This special is the first Doctor Who Christmas special to actually feel truly like a Christmas special, not just a special that happens to air on Christmas Day. This story is jam packed with whimsy, gloom, daring action, dark suspense, love and hate, amazing set pieces (driving a carriage pulled by a flying shark? Wow!). And we get the beautiful singing voice of Katherine Jenkins and the amazing talent of Harry Potter alumnus Michael Gambon.

A lot of time travel rules get heaved out the window but for this spectacular story, it's worth it.

#4 - A Good Man Goes to War ****
The Doctor doesn't show his face for the first part of this episode but his presence is felt everywhere as debts are called in and an army is gathered as we meet Vastra, Jenny and Strax for the first time. As the siege on Demons Run is underway, we see other draftees such as Danny Boy from last year's Victory of the Daleks and the pirates (in SPACE!) seen at the end of Curse of the Black Spot. The Headless Monks named checked in an earlier episode appear and...yikes! It's not a metaphor!

Caution: this is not an episode built for a newby. A lot of continuity threads gets examined in this adventure and there are a lot of "wait, who's that guy?" moments if you haven't been following this series intently. But for the faithful viewers, there are major pay offs. Rory as the Centurion should've been silly but instead he comes off as very bad ass; but when he's reunited with his wife and child, he breaks. "I was going to be cool." Trust me, Rory; you are.

But the Doctor pushes his own tough guy mode. "Pull a gun on me if it helps you relax" is a straight up great line. And the Doctor's shift from calm to barely contained rage as he tells Colonel Manton not to tell his men to withdraw but to "runaway" and one day Manton will be known as "Colonel Runaway"? Solid!

But there is something that kind of bothers me and we saw it too the previous year in The Pandorica Opens. The Doctor delivers great speeches and does amazing things but the fix was in all along and the Doctor never stood a chance. It kind of deflates all the drama of what went on before, doesn't it?

#3 - The Day of the Moon *****
#2 - The Impossible Astronaut *****
Any story that makes me want American President Richard Nixon to be a companion has got something working for it.
In Day of the Moon, we also get the Doctor in a beard, an awesome Batman gambit, a high dive into the TARDIS pool (River catches a ride in the most unusual ways), a homage to X-Files (with Amy Pond and Canton Everett Delaware III as Scully & Mulder) and a good ol' swift kick up the backsides for the Silence!

But part one, The Impossible Astronaut, sets a stage that is just fantastically awesome. Before the episode aired, there were promos with The Doctor, Amy, Rory and River with the tag, "One of these people will die!"

Well, of course, it would have to be Rory, right?

No, I don't think so.

Seeing the Doctor most definitely and sincerely dead after being struck down by the ominous astronaut rising out of the waters of Lake Silencio still packs a lot of power, even when watching it again, knowing all that is going to happen.

This pair of episodes provides a one-two punch that still shakes viewers to their core.

#1 - The Doctor's Wife *****
In previous posts of 10 Years of Doctor Who Reborn, I have been reluctant to give the top spot to a writer outside of Davies or Moffat. A writer takes a crack at their one episode of Doctor and gets all the kudos for their brilliant work while the head writer has to oversee this process 13 times with half of the scripts coming out of their own heads. It hardly seems like a fair fight. Besides, Davis and Moffat at their best are very, very good.

But The Doctor's Wife is something else.

Like a lot of comic book fans, I discovered writer Neil Gaiman on his series for DC Comics, The Sandman, and I've been impressed with the breadth and depth of his skill and imagination. A lot of this on view in this episode.

Caveat: Neil's story was actually kicked around for a possible Series 5 entry but got moved up a year so Neil had even longer to write his one Doctor Who script. And the backstage scoop is that Steven Moffat did a considerable amount of re-writing which I have no doubt as I "hear" Steven's voice several times during this episode. So I guess Steven still made it to the top of my list for Series 6 after all.

Lots of cookies for long time fans to chew on what with the message cubes introduced way back in 1969 for the 2nd Doctor's final story, The War Games; the appearance of an Ood; the coral themed control room from the Davies years.

But at the core of this adventure is the Doctor and Idris, his beloved TARDIS in human form. It is a most unexpected twist on the Doctor's only real long term relationship over the course of the show. The interaction between the Doctor and Idris is funny and insightful with a healthy dose of pathos as Idris cannot remain the embodiment of the TARDIS. So the heart of the TARDIS goes back into the box as Amy and Rory leave the Doctor to tinker with his time machine in the control room. Rory asks Amy does the Doctor even have a room.

Well, yes, he does. It's the control room.


Before I wrap up this week's post, let's moving from reflecting on the past to anticipating the future. This week at San Diego Comic Con, the Doctor Who panel (with Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Michelle Gomez & Steven Moffat in attendance) premiered the trailer for Series 9.

Here is a link to that trailer.

A lot of awesome stuff in that. The part that intrigues me the most is the Doctor as rock star. How cool is that?

One misgiving: "I'm the Doctor and I save people"? OK, that makes for a very nice mission statement but it's not a great catch phrase.

So mark your calendars for September 19th. The countdown is on!


And that's that for this edition of 10 Years of Doctor Who Reborn. Next up is Series 7 which presents a unique challenge.  Series 7 was divvied up over two years with distinctive titles and theme music for each year. The Doctor changed his outfit and got a new companion. It really felt like the first 5 episodes was a separate entity from the last 8 episodes. But the powers that be labeled the whole thing as Series 7. So....

Next week I will review from the 2011 Christmas special to the 5th episode of Series 7.

The week after that I will review from the 2012 Christmas special and the remaining 8 episodes. That post will also include the 50th anniversary special and the 2013 Christmas special. 

Then at the end of that 2nd post if I have not totally fried my brains, I will integrate my two lists into one big whopping list for everything.


So that's happening next week on the blog. Tomorrow, it's blog post #800! Hope you can pop in for that. Meanwhile, everyone be good to one another. 


I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You

MUSICALS AWAY! Mamma Mia! AND Moulin Rouge!

It was a MUSICALS weekend at the Fortress of Ineptitude as the family gathered to watch two movie musicals this weekend. Both movies were ...