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So anyway,
Because what the Net really needs is another person sharing his uninformed views
The Outgoing Storm 
2nd-Oct-2011 02:11 pm
So we come to the end of Series 6 of Doctor Who, and in terms of me writing reviews not before time, since I've got myself into the habit of also reviewing The Sarah Jane Adventures and Merlin, both of which return this week (at least the latter was the first of a two-parter so I can wait a week before I write about it) and The X Factor about to announce its final lineup, which is when I also put my oar in there. And how has Series 6 worked out in the end? All in all I think Steven Moffat has suffered from Difficult Second Album Syndrome this year with it not quite living up to Series 5; episode-by-episode it was also one of the most hit-and-miss ever. The stories that worked (the opening two-parter, "The Doctor's Wife" etc) really worked, the ones that didn't work ("The Curse of the Black Spot," the Ganger two-parter,) really didn't. As for the series arc, "The Wedding of River Song" really showed up the series' biggest problem: In the opening scenes, the Doctor died, and the series finale would always need some fudge to get out of it, and had set up two possible decoys to get out of it (as well as the one that was used there were also the aforementioned Gangers.)

The episode in its own right is problematic in part, paradoxically, through the things it does right. The parallel universe it creates is gorgeously realised with all the time periods crashing into each other and lots of lovely little touches (I liked not only the fact that Dickens was being interviewed on BBC Breakfast, but that they asked him about his upcoming "Christmas Special.") It's a completely insane bit of setup that, for me at least, made complete internal sense, which is a bit of a feat in itself. (It's hard to describe, but the storytelling was so mental I felt like I should be confused but wasn't.) Throw in the nonlinear storytelling that comes with fighting the Silence and Moffat was really setting himself a technical challenge that he lived up to. The problem is that so much of this is completely irrelevant. The messed-up universe is a result of River Song interfering with a fixed point in time and screwing everything up, so the whole story is building up to the Doctor reasserting the reality where he dies, and then in the final five minutes we find out how he got out of it himself. It's all a bit "dirty birdie" for me: I was expecting a finale that spent 45 minutes dealing with the series-long dilemma; I got 40 minutes of smoke and mirrors followed by a quick substitution. At least the smoke and mirrors is hugely entertaining (that train going into the pyramid!) the first time, but on a second viewing, knowing how little it will all mean, it's hard to care about.

So a bit of a mess, but an entertaining one, and well-acted as ever. I know she's not universally popular (pretinama!) but I still love River Song, and the character makes sense to me. Someone raised for the sole purpose of developing a pathological, murderous hatred of the Doctor, who when finally confronted with him finds him not to be the villain she was told he was, I can buy that turning into a destructively obsessive love. And the character's basic premise, of the companion who also travels in time and meets the Doctor out of sequence is at the same time the very essence of Doctor Who, and something only Moffat could have come up with. Although in the actual wedding sequence we got the nice continuity nod of him telling her his real name, a callback to "Silence in the Library" when that's how she proved to him who she was, only for it to turn out that's not what he said after all. (And assuming that's part of a Gallifreian marriage ceremony, surely means they're not married after all, never mind that it happened in a universe that never was?) Some nice Amy/Rory monents anyway, especially "We should get a drink sometime." "OK." "And married." "Fine." And although it doesn't entirely make up for the audience concerns about their lack of reaction to their daughter being abducted, at least the dark moment of Amy murdering Madame Kovarian addressed the fact that yes, she knows her baby grows up to be OK¹ but it doesn't change the fact that she was stolen from her. (I know she's probably had twice as much screen time as most guest stars but as it was split into such tiny fragments over the series it still felt as if Frances Barber was wasted in the role.)

Once again the finale deals with the main thread of the series while leaving another dangling, which is fine but I hope doesn't happen every year; one thing RTD never learned from Buffy was that a show can benefit from having a different sort of finale every year, and while The Moff has moved away from RTD's particular brand of "bigger is better" at the moment he's in danger of just replacing it with his own repeated meme. Of course with the 2012/13 series' upcoming anniversary celebrations, this kind of semi-cliffhanger is appropriate, and "the fall of the Eleventh" certainly hints at a regeneration. Which would mean Matt Smith bowing out after the "traditional" three years in the role, and would be an appropriate story for the show's 50th. The only alternative that seems suitable would be a multi-Doctor story like they did for earlier anniversaries - I can't imagine David Tennant would take much persuading, and with the change in production team maybe even Eccleston isn't completely out of the question. Of the "classic" Doctors, age would be an issue but we never saw McGann regenerate so he can be as old as he likes if he returns, and Sylvester McCoy always looked about 70 so nobody would probably notice. As for the "Doctor Who?" question that'll prove important in the next series, my only real gripe is the "hiding in plain sight" reference to it: As it's the title of the series it feels as if that's what they're referring to, as if the Doctor knows the title of the show he stars in, which is a bit meta for my liking - this is Doctor Who, not Supernatural.

Shorter-term, I'm interested in what turned out to be the purpose of the series' leadup to the Doctor's "death," namely the idea that the Doctor will now try to operate more under the radar. I have mentioned before that since the relaunch he's become less "madman in a box" and more "greatest legend in the universe" but I'm interested to see how they actually put this into action. After all, the change may have happened circa Tennant's era but it wasn't really anything to do with his performance, the Doctor's always strutted around as if he owned the place. It's everyone else's reactions that have started to change since Ten's day, with all species, not just the Daleks, treating him like The Oncoming Storm. No title given away for the Christmas Special, which is a shame (I assume they haven't settled on one yet, I can't see any reason to deliberately hold the title back from the caption where they traditionally first announce it.) But despite a disappointing Series 6 I'm still looking forward to ithe Special and to Series 7, whenever and it whatever form it may actually turn up.

¹well, that's debatable, but you know what I mean
2nd-Oct-2011 09:46 pm (UTC) - If I have one disappointment in this series...
...it's that I would like to have seen more of homicidal River. Really. After a couple series of venerating her as the unpredictable but eternally loyal wildcard in the Doctor's life, it might have been fun to spend a series or two showing us the dark side of River. When River pulled a gun on the Doctor in "Let's Kill Hitler," my mind exploded with possibilities. Their cat and mouse game across time and space would suddenly take on a new dimension. Her random appearances would be linked to attempts on the Doctor's life and, over time, she'd begin to break her Silence programming. But no. It all got chucked out the window by the end of the episode. Then when Rory said, "That stuff they put in her head. That's gone, right?" and the Doctor didn't reply, I thought, "OK, cool, so River will still be a bit of a loose cannon, still fighting her Silence programming for a while."

But,again, no. We got a tiny bit of that when she was put in the suit (and if the suit was doing it all, why did they even need HER? Why not put someone else in the damned thing?) but it was mostly dismissed. While I'm a huge Moffat (and River) fan, I feel he missed out on a great storytelling opportunity that could have formed the spine of series 7. No doubt he's got a spine in place for series 7 and I'm sure I'll enjoy it... But I felt there were too many easy outs this series. I really worry about him turning into RTD. (I mean, come on, does anyone else feel that the scene on the top of the pyramid where River talks about her intergalactic distress beacon and how everyone in the universe said, "yeah, we'll help" came directly from the fetid mind of RTD? Aside from being that saccharine "everybody loves the Doctor" nonsense that RTD was always shoving down our throats, it had ABSOLUTELY no bearing on the rest of the story.)

I enjoyed Series 6, despite those misgivings. I still think Moffat's got stronger storytelling chops than RTD ever will (Miracle Day proved that conclusively).
3rd-Oct-2011 12:12 pm (UTC) - Re: If I have one disappointment in this series...
Aside from being that saccharine "everybody loves the Doctor" nonsense that RTD was always shoving down our throats, it had ABSOLUTELY no bearing on the rest of the story.

Saccharine, yes, I'd disagree about it having no bearing on the story though. Given the point we're about to get to is that the Doctor's profile has got too high and he wants to scale it down, in retrospect this definitely feels relevant, "Half the universe loves the Doctor" is just the flipside of "the other half wants to kill him" and a reminder that if he wants to go back to operating under the radar he needs to do something drastic. Like I say, I actually really like that this turned out to be the point of the "death" arc, it's just the fact that it renders the rest of the episode meaningless that I don't like much.

I still think Moffat's got stronger storytelling chops than RTD ever will

As I'm someone who in general enjoys clever plotting more than sentimentality, Moffat was always going to be more my style than RTD was, he just has to resist the temptation to get too pleased with himself; I think that's an inevitable risk of being put in charge of as unlimited a toybox as Doctor Who. On the surface, in that respect the fact that Moffat's budget has been slashed since the RTD days (not that you'd know it to look at the show) can only be a good thing. But a smaller budget makes it more necessary to be clever and where RTD had a weakness for showing off his new toys, Moffat's weakness is for showing off how clever he can be, so although I'm still more than happy with how he's running the show, I hope that in avoiding the trap his predecessor got into he doesn't make a new one for himself.
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