Before I even write a single word of review, here is a warning straight out of River Song’s little blue book: Spoilers, sweetie. (Although if you haven’t been following the show, you’ll be hella confused anyway.)
Okay, so maybe I’m a little biased, and I just can’t remember the temporal issues and continuity problems that the Ninth and Tenth Doctors faced, but this season of Doctor Who is a mess. Yes, last week’s episode “The Girl Who Waited” was excellent, and “The Doctor’s Wife” is on the short list of my favorite episodes ever, but the plotty parts of this season have been all over the damn place.
First of all: River Song. I adore her, truly, but all her reveals are getting to be a bit much. I’ll allow baby Melody’s having a Time Head. Although it seems odd that you can cook yourself up a Time Lord just by conceiving in the TARDIS and exposing your unborn kid to the time vortex (but seriously, this is a genetics issue, Time Lords are a species, even superheroes exposed to radiation or space dust or whatever don’t change species), there has never been an occasion to investigate the results of mid-vortex sexytimes. And although it is essential to River’s backstory as the show has it written, and ties together the girl in the spacesuit and Amy-and-Rory’s friend Mels and several other plot strings, I think it’s sort of unnecessary. River could theoretically have been a regular human and still done all the timey wimey stuff of meeting and loving the Doctor out of order and then died in the Library and it would have worked out just fine. The Time Lord (Time Lady?) stuff makes it almost too complicated, and the writers seem to be having as much difficulty holding onto what exactly is going on as I am.
The conveniently disposed-of regenerations added several options for River’s backstory, but they are all wonky and bizarre. She’s basically supposed to be a Doctor-targeting Terminator. But when and how did she escape from the Silence’s brainwashing? When did she live in the Gamma Forests with the army girl from “A Good Man Goes to War” and get the name River Song, since she didn’t know who that was in “Let’s Kill Hitler”? (If she got it from the Doctor and Amy that is just too hokey, I mean really? “We know her as River Song because she called herself that when we met her, but when we encountered her earlier in her life when she was still Melody we called her River and she picked it up?” Weirdly self-perpetuating. Let’s not even get into the “I named my daughter Melody after my best friend Melody who was actually my daughter the whole time” thing.) On top of that, when did she learn to fly the TARDIS? (Earlier it’s said that she learned from “the best”, implying that it was the Doctor who taught her later in his time stream, but now it seems she learned as part of her brainwashing?) In fact, when did the brainwashing even occur? And where did that picture of Amy with baby Melody from the orphanage come from? And how/when is the Doctor supposed to be forever!killed by little girl!River in “The Impossible Astronaut” when the show is obviously going to continue after Matt Smith leaves?! Sense: this plot makes none!
Nextly, the Doctor. Let’s get this straight. I love Eleven like Eleven loves bow ties and the occasional fez, but I think the writers are unsure where they’re trying to take the Doctor. Eleven is two or three Doctors away from the horrors of the Time War and the timelocked atrocities that he committed to rescue the universe from both the Daleks and his own race. And I think that guilt will always be a part of the Doctor’s character: the person the Doctor hates the most always turns out to be himself. But this season doesn’t seem to know whether it wants him to hold onto that darkness and act on it, or lock it away behind the cheerful, witty, and vaguely pretentious hipster façade. Matt Smith is an excellent Doctor when he’s doing the-Doctor-excited-about-new-things or the-Doctor-finally-figuring-out-something-complicated, but the Doctor he plays isn’t really built for darkness. Case in point: the episode “A Good Man Goes to War”. Yes, Amy has been kidnapped and the Doctor is double-pissed because he’s been tricked. And he does act a bit of a badass in this (see: his “message” to the Cyberarmies?) but River promised that this was “the Doctor’s darkest hour”, that he’d “rise higher” and “fall further” than ever before. I thought this fell a bit short. The badass inner darkness was Ten’s thing. And Nine’s too, but his inner darkness was a bit more about depression and a bit less about channeling his negative emotions into creative and terrible things, especially post-Rose. It seems to me like Matt Smith is trying to take his Doctor back to a lighter, pre-Time War Doctor and reveling in the shenanigans and monster-of-the-week hijinks that accompany that, but the writers want to continue the Grinning Pacifist/Hidden Emo Badass dichotomy. In fact, all of the references to the Doctor as the universe’s most dangerous creature (when the Baddie Alliance put him in the Pandorica) and the word “Doctor” meaning “fierce warrior” rather than healer in the Gamma Forests… they seem sort of late to me. They don’t really fit this Doctor. He’s still the same Doctor, I know, deep down, but these issues are part and parcel to Ten, and like I keep saying, Eleven seems too bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to really sync with them. If they’d been thrown at David Tennant’s Doctor, who knows what would have happened. With Smith, it’s more like “Oh yeah, I suppose I did have that coming… Very unfortunate, that; I’m going to thwart you anyway and then angst later about how right you were.” I don’t know. I think Eleven is at his best when he’s doing wide-eyed wonder and almost-too-quick-to-follow banter (seriously, though, it’s almost starting to turn into a British sci-fi Gilmore Girls, Moffat, tone it down) and the this series isn’t really offering him enough of that.
However, there are things I love about this season. The entirety of the episodes “The Doctor’s Wife” and “The Girl Who Waited”. The Victorian-era Silurian and her maid. At least two gay couples (not counting the lizard-lady), one of whom includes the awesome Canton Delaware III (Crowley for you Supernatural people out there).
And for seriously in all seriousness: Amy and Rory. Their relationship. Amy’s flaws and concerns and all the little things that make her different from the other companions. Her comfort in her own skin and sexuality, her headstrong-ness, her Scottish-ness and the individuality and different-ness/apart-ness it represents. (Many poorly used -nesses, but whatever.) Rory. Rory, Rory, Rory. Rory the Roman. Rory the insecure husband. Rory the forgotten, Rory the erased, Rory the snarky and brave and wonderful. (I love Rory Williams a great deal. Also, even though this sort of clashes with the point of this blog, it’s interesting to have a steady guy companion because it amusingly brings out the Doctor’s pissing-contest masculinity in a way that never appears around his female companions.) I think it’s arguable that Rory has the best-developed character out of everyone.
While the Doctor’s character is sort of taken for granted (except for the “what-might-I-do-I’m-a-new-man-now-oho” thing he pulls at the beginning of each regeneration) and River is waaay over-complicated, Rory and Amy seem like real people walking amongst lofty fairytales. And if that was Head Writer Steven Moffat’s intent from the get-go, then kudos, (the audience has always been supposed to identify with the Companions, after all) but I sort of get the feeling that all the sparkly crazy River-and-the-Doctor plot/conflict is supposed to come first.
And that doesn’t synch with me because Doctor Who is about the lessons the Doctor learns from the humans he travels with, not the other way around. The Doctor is constantly growing and being made better as a result of his companions’ presence, being forced to consider and give importance to the individual and the historically irrelevant as well as the whole race or the famous figure. Rory is absolutely a huge player in this, reminding the Doctor over and over again that, while the universe is nice and all, he would also like his wife alive and sane and happy, thank you very much.
There are three episodes left in Series Six. Next week’s “The God Complex” appears to be another monster-of-the-week installment featuring (among other things) more creepy puppets, a minotaur, and some Weeping Angels; “Closing Time” is a mystery to me, as there have been no closing- or opening-related plot catchphrases (a la “Silence will fall”), but it seems odd to have a casefile episode right before the series finale. “The Wedding of River Song” is the only standalone series finale since the show returned to television in 2005, and despite the so-obvious-its-too-obvious possibility that she is marrying the Doctor as she’s hinted all along that she had, I don’t know what exactly will happen in this one either. (I’d be shocked if she did marry the Doctor, as I feel there is much more ridiculously cute flirting that needs to occur before things like marriage enter the picture.)
The next series is also a mystery to me, as I had originally heard that Matt Smith and Alex Kingston were returning but Karen Gillian and Arthur Darvill were not. Now Wikipedia (God of Sources) tells me that Smith, Gillian, and Darvill are returning but says nothing about Kingston. So here’s my hopes for next series/future Eleven. If the writers are so sold on the idea of a dark Doctor, they should take the cues that Smith’s performance has already given them and run not backward, toward a serious dark Doctor (a la The Time Lord Victorious a la “The Waters of Mars”), but forward, toward a puckishly dark Doctor, more capricious and fae-like than bitter. If they’re keeping Amy and Rory around, this fits in perfectly with their role as checks on the Doctor’s really quite limitless power. (Like Eleven himself said: “Good men don’t need any rules. One day you should ask yourself why I have so many.”) If they don’t run with that idea, I can only hope that the next series brings more thoughtful plots and less wibbly-wobbly shenaniganry. And brings back Jack Harkness.