Tuesday, October 4, 2011

TV Review: Doctor Who; Series 6

Doctor Who seems to have been a staple of my "must watch" mental TV listing since it's 2005 return to the nations' Saturday nights. Its one of the few shows we sit down to watch as a family and it's great to see it having a grip on the kids as much as the adults. And now the sixth post-relaunch series has ended, possibly the most plot-dense of them all so far, amongst the usual media hubbub about it being "too dark", "too complicated" and so on. So here is my thoughts.

I can't recall where I read it, but a wise voice on the Internet said recently that your overall opinion of the 11th Doctor, and this series in particular, is going to hinge on your opinion of River Song. Her relationship with the Doctor is so close, so essential to the stories being told, that even in the stories she doesn't appear in, she sort of hovers over like a ghost at the feast. So I should probably start with her, and confess straight away that I like River. I like the idea, I like Alex Kingstons performance, and mostly I like the overall arc of the plot she brings to the show. Unsurprisingly this makes me a fan of the 11th Doctor and his adventures this year.

For all this is probably the most arc-heavy Doctor Who season yet, its a long way to go before the show embraces US model properly, and if I had to level one criticism it's that the show manages to stay thematically coherent but doesn't acknowledge enough the things that have gone before it, especially once the whole River/Melody thing is out there and we are expected to believe Amy and Rory continue to bounce around the universe without mentioning it. I can buy that they're mostly OK with it - there seems to be a strong implication the River's trip to visit them at the end of The Wedding of River Song isn't the first, from the Pond's perspective (the syncing diaries being the clue) and I guess having your grown up daughter pop in for bottles of wine gives you a lot of reassurance that she's not really "lost" - but there seemed to be half an eye on leaving the body of "stand alone" episodes stay stand alone. Understandable, in many ways, but at the same time slightly undermining what they're trying to achieve with the big arc in the first place.

And in the end it wasn't that complex was it? Just as Whovian fandom seems to shout "The Rani" at every new female villain or is currently champing for a return of Omega or The Black Guardian or whoever as the secret arc villain for next series, a lot of the comments about complexity were viewers tying themselves up in knots when really it wasn't that simple. What you saw on the beach at Lake Silencio, and the immediate assumptions based on what had already been said, were mostly right. Its a straightforward story, just told in the wrong order, and by and large I'm fine with that. I followed it, Ewan (who is 9) followed it. There was enough to talk about, but not enough that it needed a timeline to understand and bearing in mind it's Saturday evening entertainment, I'm fine with that too.

And outside of the big arc we had some properly stellar episodes this season. Neil Gaiman's hugely anticipated The Doctors Wife must rank up with the near-perfect episodes of the show, as should the showcase for what has become the shows' great Love Story; The Girl Who Waited. Both wrap simple tales around deep emotional cores and both pull it off magnificently. The God Complex fits cleanly into the series arc and works as a great "running down corridors" episodes. The rest? Well I think they're all solid Doctor Who; there's no bad episode, the weakest probably being Curse of the Black Spot which is fun, but heavy on the recycled ideas and pretty inconsequential overall.

It's not a perfect series, and it's not without its flaws, even with the usual "Saturday evening telly" caveat. Moffat is a great writer of high-speed, quip-laden dialogue and plots that spin around at lightning speed but at times it's there to obfuscate the sleight of hand that reveals it's not quite as clever as it looks. "Mels" in Lets Kill Hitler feels suspiciously like a retcon to Amy and Rory's backstory that doesn't quite fit, for all it's a stonkingly fun idea. Though not as fun as sticking Hitler in a cupboard. But this series does get a lot right - it shook up the shows slightly tired structure by placing it's two parters in different places and playing the arc out differently, which I think it badly needed; it set up and carried through it's shock opener with a minimum of cheating; and for me, at least, it emotionally connected in a way Who has often struggled to.

And with all the stories about shooting delays for series 7, it's going to be a long wait till the next time.