Blightyvision — Doctor Who Series 6: Part 1 (Spoiler-free)

Starring Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, and Arthur Darvill
Written by Steven Moffat et al

It’s been a roller-coaster year for Doctor Who so far.  The move to divide the series into two parts left a lot of people wondering if it was for plot reasons, actor convenience, or if it was an opening for the new series of “Sherlock” to air (apparently not, as they’re still filming).  With the next episode several months away, though, viewers now have a little time to let things settle.  And God knows we need it, because we’ve been pummeled with a lot of information in the first seven episodes.

Those first seven episodes have been one of the wilder sets in NuWho, both by way of writers on board and content addressed.  As not everyone has BBC America and/or other means, I offer for your consideration a spoiler-free overview of the Eleventh Doctor’s second year so far.

The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon
by Steven Moffat
The Moff kicks off the new series himself with an historical two-parter set in various areas of the United States during the Nixon administration … the particular date should be evident from the episode titles.  The episode kicks off the major story arcs of the season, introducing an as-yet-unfamiliar alien threat and bringing back Alex Kingston in another excellent turn as River Song — to be honest, one of her better appearances, and one that may make many ambivalent viewers actually like her.  The two stand-outs of the story, though, are Stuart Milligan (Adam Klaus of “Jonathan Creek”) as Nixon, and Mark Sheppard (“Leverage,” “Firefly,” and a million other things) as the very cool agent Canton Delaware.

The Curse of the Black Spot
by Steve Thompson
Try and tell me this wasn’t at least somewhat affected by the impending release of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The TARDIS gang find themselves on board a pirate ship, where a creepy green siren (model Lily Cole) is picking off the crew one by one.  Hugh Bonneville appears as Captain Avery, and turns in a fantastic performance vying for seniority opposite the Doctor.  Thompson wrote the second episode of the first series of “Sherlock,” and while this episode is fun, it isn’t one of the stronger ones.  However, it’s very cool to look at, there’s a bit of swashbuckling, and Amy plays pirate dress-up.  Despite the fact that the episode isn’t particularly strong plot-wise, it has an excellent concept behind it, and the final two scenes are handled very well indeed.

The Doctor’s Wife
by Neil Gaiman
This is the one everyone was waiting for.  And before anyone cries “spoiler” with the title, check this out: classic Who writer John Nathan-Turner replaced the working title of “Caves of Androzani” with this on his planning board to trace a leak out of his office to fans.  That’s just one old-series reference — there are plenty more, including a throwback to the Second Doctor story “War Games” within the first minute.  This is a beautiful, almost fairy-tale episode, with every actor getting a chance to show what they’re made of.  The stand-out here, though, was Suranne Jones’s manic and yet oddly beautiful performance as Idris, who is … well, you’ll see.  While this episode doesn’t link to the meta-plot of this year very much, there are definitely shades of something to come — perhaps in 2013?  (Keep your ears peeled at the 7-minute mark.)

The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People
by Matthew Graham
No one should have to follow Gaiman, but Graham’s stood up to the challenge.  This  story is what might happen if Avatar were directed by Hideo Nakata, with the Doctor investigating a chemical plant where the workers use artificial copies of themselves to work in dangerous areas.  When these “gangers” come to life with their creators’ memories, you get a sort of wild psychological survival-horror story with enough Uncanny Valley moments to creep anyone out.  The dialogue is very “Life on Mars” (not surprising given the writer) and even features Marshall Lancaster in the one-shot cast.  “The Almost People” is definitely a showcase for Smith himself, and he tears it up in the best way possible.  And then, the last minute leads right into …

A Good Man Goes to War
by Steven Moffat
I can’t really say a lot about this episode safely, because it’s the culmination of a good portion of what we’ve had set up for us not just in this series, but going all the way back to late in Tennant’s run.  Moff is both cruel and kind in that he answers a question we’ve been dying for the answer to, but raises even more questions in the process.  There are some clever bits, a few moments of incredibly “Coupling”-esque humor, and a good share of both explosions and fan-pleasers.  And while the end is a game-changer and a cliffhanger as promised, the end of the episode isn’t so much cutting off mid-stream as it is your dad finishing reading a chapter of a book to you before bedtime.

So far it’s been a great series.  There are plenty of things in there to rile the sort of fans who let themselves be riled, but at the same time there are wonderful moments of introspection that, while not changing the canon, make you rethink your opinions of it.  This year shows that the inmates are running the asylum now, but in the best of ways.  I’m not sure how the second half can hope to stand up to this half’s showstoppers, but there’s an impending Mark Gatiss episode that may well prove to be as much of a gem as his previous work.

The second half of this series of Doctor Who starts this fall on both BBC1 and BBC America.  And provided they don’t do it around a national holiday, maybe America will keep up this time.

  • I am so far behind with NuWho again, but I rather agreed with your thoughts on Black Spot.  And I’ve spoilered myself for the last three eps, but I’m sure it’s much better on screen than in text.