Monday, 14 May 2012

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

Oh dear God the Parent Agenda is set up to 11 on this one.  Ripping off a Christmas Carol is one thing.  It is arguably obligatory in a series revolving around time travel which has routinely ripped off other shows and literature since at least the Pertwee era.  I am however a sucker for the Chronicles of Narnia, so if you are going to rip that off you at least need to make a good job of it.  This was a largely underwhelming effort from the Moff. 

These Christmas shows are usually weak from a plot point of view but you are not expecting much at Christmas and there is usually something to lift the mundane and pedestrian plots of these episodes.  In the first we had our first glimpse of Tennant and the spectacle of an Alien Invasion in the real modern world (rather than a secluded spot in the home counties).  The next time was built around the involvement of Catherine Tate and the Doctor recovering from Rose.  The Voyage of the Damned repeated the trick on a bigger scale with Kylie.  Then we had the Cybermen.  Then the last story for Ten.

This episode is an exercise in atmosphere at the expense of anything else.  However, the atmosphere is ultimately undermined by the happy ending.  The poignancy of two children’s last magical experience before real life affects them is lost to the Hollywood miracle ending.

None of this is to say I didn’t enjoy the episode, I did.  I just can’t imagine reviewing it on anything other than a marathon re-watch all of eleven in order stint.  

The one particular highlight was Claire Skinner’s delightful line in matter-of-fact eccentricity.  Her interactions with the Doctor, particularly her first ones are a complete joy and the way she said the line about having a forest in her head was downright hilarious.

The Wedding of River Song

I will start out with the bottom line on this one.  This was the best season final since (and possibly including) the magnificent trilogy which closed out season 3.  That may not seem like much, but when you think it really encompasses season 4, The End of Time and season 5 it shows how well the Moff has really done here.  I was not too sure that a one episode final would work, but the story benefits from coming in a concentrated burst, particularly as some of the key arc points were resolved already in A Good Man Goes to War and Let’s Kill Hitler.  

There were the usual naysayers who thought the whole thing was either too predicatable or a “cop-out”.  Nuts to that I say.  Unless this was going to be the final ever episode; the Doctor was always going to survive somehow.  If you want to look at it in the most cynical fashion there was always a built in cheat factor.  The question was what would the cheat be?  There’s nothing here that wasn’t set up earlier in the season, so it is not as if the Moff pulled a hitherto unknown rabbit out of the hat in the finale.  The only real question was whether the Doctor would actually be his Ganger counterpart or the Tesalector.  The people that “predicted” this were the same people as those who “predicted” who River Song would be.  That is to say those fans who spent ages thinking about it and who “worked it out” at precisely the point the Moff intended them to.  

To me there is nothing wrong with the explanation of the Doctor’s death being predicable in episode 8 given that the mystery was set up in episode 1.   There is a section of the fanbase that just won’t be happy; RTD used to be criticised for Deux et Machina despite the fact that the set ups were always there in ahead of time.  The Moff now gets criticised for making the endings to obvious, but that only because he emphasises the set ups far more that RTD did.

In a similar vein the confirmation of River being the Doctor’s wife is “predictable”.  But the key is surely the execution which is fascinating.  River may be the Doctor’s wife, but she is also his companion’s daughter.  There is the obvious point of whether they are really married, River obviously knows that she exchanged vows with a tesalector, but then the tesalector was clearly speaking the Doctor’s words for him.  Perhaps a more interesting consideration is what are the Doctor’s motives in all this? He goes into the marriage willingly, but there is a sense that his motive is to take responsibility for River rather than any desperate wish to be married to her per se.

The Doctor’s relationship with River is one of the most fraught of his life (if not the most fraught), her entire existence and being is owed in large part to him and her death will also be on his watch.  Does he view the marriage and the relationship itself as being an apology to Amy, Rory and River or even as being akin to granting a dying woman her only wish?

Even ignoring the long running questions arising from the Doctor and River’s relationship, this was still very much a season finale rather than an arc finale.  The Silence are has hardly progressed since the season premier.  The events that happen in the alternate/aborted timeline are perhaps a clue for the Doctor in what is to come.  But it is surely to be expected (and hoped) that Madam Kovorian survives to be a complete bitch another day.  One would assume that the next season will have the Doctor consolidating his position and plotting for the culmination of this arc during the 50th anniversary season.  The Silence themselves were wonderfully creepy in this one, laying dormant and waiting to spring their trap.  The body count emphasises their threat whereas The Impossible Astronaut and The Day of the Moon hinted at it.  By this point I think they are better monster than Moffat’s own Weeping Angels and it seems to me that there is more scope for them to be reused in the future too.  The suggestion is that they are working for someone else, so that perhaps leaves the door open for them to be general guns for hire in future years.

I found this to be the most visually striking episode of the Moffat era.  The mash-up history is constantly interesting and it has a sense of barmy fun that harkens back to the best of the RTD era.  And although we did not get a proper return of the Headless Monks, we did get their cannibalistic skulls by way of a gleefully ghoulish compensation.  

Overall this has been a very strong season indeed.  The Curse of the Black Spot was easily the weakest story for being a lightweight run-around, but it was at least a well-placed palate cleanser between the season openers and The Doctors Wife.  Everything else fell into the very good to downright excellent.  This season had a proper genuine arc for the first time ever rather than a slight running thread dressed up as an arc.  It is a bit too early for me to have a true perspective on whether it has usurped Season 3 as my favourite season of New Who, the highs of season 3 were spectacularly high but the lows were lower.  It is most definitely in the running and far superior overall to last season.

Closing Time

The Lodger was something of a sleeper hit for last series as Gareth Roberts hit of a fun vibe and ultra-quirky Doctor in what was probably the closest we will get for the foreseeable future to a RTD episode in the new era.  I am not sure that the world really needed a sequel but equally I am not complaining that we got one either. 

It’s another episode that I really enjoyed, but one which is a highly derivative curates egg.  There is precious little of anything original in this story.  As with the Lodger the general tone is that of the Doctor being in a sit-com as we get a continuation of the Men Behaving Badly set up, James Corden doing his usual “Smithy” type performance, Lynda Baron, AKA her from Open All Hours (and Enlightenment).  On the Who side of things we have the throwbacks to the Doctor speaking Baby (and most of the same jokes), Matt Smith at his most Troughton-ish and of course the fact that this is a sequel story which also features the Cybermen.

As with The Lodger there is a lot of charm in seeing the Doctor in a blokey friendship with Craig and acting as a surrogate Uncle to Stormageddon.   I would have liked to have seen some Doctor and Sophie moments too.  The Doctor has after all had just as much of an impact on her life as he has had on Craig’s life.  In a way they are the Anti-Ponds with the Doctor’s influence being entirely beneficial to both of them.

As I have previously said on this blog, I am not a particular fan of the Cybermen and the use of them in this story yields predictably mixed results.  I liked the fact that Roberts went with presenting them as 4 would have it, a broken down rabble.  If we can’t have the powerful and calculating Cybermen of the Flood; then I far prefer to have the metal vampires we have here to the bombastic Cybertroopers of Earthshock and recent years.  In the best moments they had a feel of Noir and Hammer Horror about them which was reminiscent of their portrayal in Illegal Alien.

On the downside I think the episode does not build up quiet enough suspense or dread and the Cybermen themselves are rather overshadowed by the Cybermats in the fear stakes and by the Doctor/Craig/Arc stuff in the plot and character stakes.  Worse still is Craig defeating the conversion process because he loves his son.  Once again the Parent agenda raises its head, this time in a most puke inducing way.  I know that this can be explained away on the basis that the Cybermen’s conversion equipment was probably not working properly, but it would have been nice if the episode had stated that outright.  I find it difficult to believe that not one person in the history of Cyberconversion had previously thought about their children!

The highlights of the episode were the two quiet moments.  I loved the little scene of the Doctor seeing Amy and Rory living their lives, that was really beautifully done and surprisingly poignant given that they had only both left about half an hour before hand in screen time!  The second was Craig telling the Doctor that he should give himself a break.  In terms of what we see in the TV episodes 11 is easily the most guilt-ridden Doctor and The Moff seems more than happy to explore this aspect of the Doctor.  This Doctor is also the most manipulative seen since the show returned to our screens.  What we are seeing is a lot of the traits of New Adventures being used to good effect on screen. 

The New Adventures Doctor never really got that moment of forgiveness and understanding from a friend, although he came close with Benny.  It was nice for 11 to get that moment of a friend pointing out how much worse things would be without the Doctor’s interference and meddling.  

Last but not least was the final coda and the second abduction of River Song which was totally tacked on but still stupidly exciting.  They missed a trick here though as it would have been an even better as an Epilogue to Let’s Kill Hitler.

This episode does not have enough focus to be a great episode but it was certainly a good one.