The Wedding of River Song

Prequel: That bloody nursery rhyme is playing again, as a pair of eyepatch-wearing soldiers inspect some Silence in a water tank. Then we see River, also wearing an eyepatch, lurking menacingly near an Egyptian sarcophagus. It’s all very atmospheric but a little bit dull; it’s more of a mood piece than a preview of the plot.

After a series like no other, with its various long-running storylines and the bloody great gap in the middle, comes a series finale like no other. For a start, it’s only one episode long, but at the same time it feels like the final chapter of a story that’s been going on for ages, finally tying up threads that have been dangling since the premiere. It’s a different way of telling The Doctor’s story, and one that’s not universally popular, but of which I am a big fan.

Besides, it’s not all heavy complicated stuff – this alternate universe where all of history is happening at once looks like great fun. Steam trains coming out of The Gherkin, Charles Dickens on BBC News, and even the pterodactyls from Torchwood having their render files dusted off. Churchill’s back again, he’s got a Silurian doctor and he’s keeping a bearded Doctor locked in the Tower of London. What’s not to love?

There’s also one of those big, varied, expensive-looking montages that Moffat likes to wheel out for the important episodes, which includes a tiny Dalek cameo and a heavily made-up Mark Gatiss as some sort of alien viking. It feels epic and exciting, but then the mood is punctured by news of the Brigadier. It’s a fair indication of Courtney’s standing that he’s the only actor whose off-screen passing has directly impacted the plot of a Doctor Who episode. I’m glad that Sarah Jane is still out there saving the world, even if Elisabeth Sladen isn’t, but with the Brigadier, being that much older and having lived a full life, it feels right to give his story a full stop. It’s so heartbreaking that the Doctor wanted to see him one more time after all these years, but couldn’t.

This moment also provides the impetus for the story to kick up a notch, leading to a glorious return for the Ponds, or at least alternate, eyepatch-wearing versions of the Ponds. The fact that those eyepatches turn out not to be a straightforward evil-person-indicator is a clever twist, as is Amy remembering far more than The Doctor expected her to, causing him to cut short his big timey-wimey speech. It’s a reunion that’s played for laughs rather than high drama, and it works – those two are such good friends that they’re just happier when they’re together, regardless of the circumstances, or the fact that they’ve never actually met in this universe.

The Rory stuff is cute too. I was all poised to update the Rory Williams Death Counter – even The Silence comment on the fact that he’s always dying – until Amy realised who he was in the nick of time. She then kills Madame Kovarian in cold blood, which she’s later somewhat tortured about, but I reckon it was probably fair enough. She did steal her baby and turn her into a psychopathic killing machine. That’s not cricket.

Then the eponymous wedding happens and time is put right and The Doctor dies. He’s careful to point out to us that River won’t remember killing him, which is mightily convenient but does help to sort out any confusion I had as to her timeline. Her later chat with Amy clarifies that she often has to lie in order to avoid giving spoilers to people from her relative past – again, convenient for storytelling purposes, but I buy it.

In retrospect, including the Teselecter in the ‘Previously’ recap rather gives the game away. I can’t remember whether or not I figured it out in advance originally, but either way it’s a good, satisfying conclusion. It leaves the series at an intriguing crossroads, with The Doctor’s vow to stay in the shadows coming across as very McCoy, as does the notion that he planned this whole thing for his own mysterious purposes.

Like I say, not your normal finale – it’s more like a victory lap for the series, the magician revealing how he pulled off the trick. Luckily, I really like the series, and the wrapping-up this story provides is meticulous. It’s a shame it doesn’t end with Amy and Rory back on the TARDIS, but having previously moaned about too many questions being left unanswered, we’re left with just one. A big blue head in a box shouting “DOCTOR WHO” over and over again should be the final image of every series.

RATING: 9

HALF-SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 7.5

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 8.18

  • Seasons/Series watched: 32 of 36
  • Stories watched: 224 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 783 of 839

So yeah, the second half is not quite as good as the first, but not by as big a margin as I remembered. I think it’s improved by watching the two parts in much closer proximity; it’s a shame I had to sit through Torchwood in the middle, but the momentum still carried far better with a two-week gap than a two-and-a-half month one. Even so, this portion of the project seems very stop-start, veering wildly between various spin-offs and specials, without the stability of a big block of proper episodes for comfort. I’d best get used to it.

Advertisements

Closing Time

I wasn’t looking forward to this one, despite not being too put off by James Corden last time round. That’s because in the meantime the Emmys happened, and now I actually hate James Corden, rather than merely intensely disliking him. You won’t kiss the Doctor but you’ll kiss Sean Spicer?

Consequently I found it much harder to like Craig this time, and it didn’t help that he was reinforcing the patriarchy with his useless dad stereotypes. Luckily, the Doctor speaking baby is a very rich seam, and his interactions with Alfie/Stormageddon were the highlight of the episode. That and the fact that Lynda Baron turns up, more than forty years after singing that bloody song.

Much like The Lodger, it’s a light and comedic palate cleanser before the big finale, only this time there’s Cybermen in it. Well, they’re barely in it, but that’s probably for the best at this stage. It’s such a shame that this era of Cybermen are so rubbish, as actually, a small band of survivors rebuilding themselves from scratch, using bits of kidnapped humans, is a brilliant premise for a Cyber story, but it lacks any of the visceral body horror that it would have had in the 60s, or which was so brilliantly reinstated in much more recent times.

I wasn’t sure about the Cybermats having big pointy teeth, nor with Craig once again saving the world via the power of love. The thing of Alfie crying being enough to snap Craig out of a Cyber-conversion, and Alfie subsequently “telling” the Doctor how proud he is of his dad, seems like it’s a lovely thing. But if the message is that it takes actually saving the world for babies to love their dads as much as they love their mums, what chance have the rest of us got?

Meanwhile, Amy and Rory turn up for about a minute, and they don’t even get to speak properly. Amy is a celebrity now, either a famous model or a perfume maker, or some combination of the two, it’s not quite clear. It’s also not quite clear when exactly any of this takes place. For the Doctor, it’s a day before he gets shot in Utah, so two hundred years must have passed for him since he dropped them off, but how long has it been for them, given that she’s had time to become famous? I thought at first that this episode could take place a few years in the future, but the newspaper says 2011, so I can only conclude that the Doctor (accidentally?) dropped them off a few years in their relative past, and that for a while there must have been two Amies and Rories knocking about.

Much neater is the segue into the finale, which involves the Doctor acquiring his stetson and his fancy TARDIS-blue stationery. The subsequent River scene left me slightly confused about her personal timeline – even when you’re watching it in order at a decent pace, it’s still bloody complicated – but I think that ought to be cleared up once I’m reminded of exactly what happens at Lake Silencio. Madame Kovarian and the Silence turning up was suitably scary and exciting, but the only improvement I’d have made would be to have the creepy nursery rhyme sung by Lynda Baron. The Doctor’s in a cowboy hat, it would have been the ultimate call back.

RATING: 6

The God Complex

Yep, it’s another one where I had absolutely no idea which episode this was in advance, and even after I’d ascertained that it was the one with the creepy hotel, I barely remembered a single detail from six years ago. If you’d have asked me prior to today whether David Walliams had been in Doctor Who, I’d have had to really wrack my brains, and then I’d have said that I didn’t think he had.

So I was excited at the prospect of uncovering another hidden gem, but it really wasn’t to be on this occasion. It’s clearly a good idea for an episode – escape from a creepy run-down travel tavern with someone’s personalised hell behind each door – but in practice it’s just a big mess. The idea of the hotel changing its layout is again good in theory, but it ends up being a real hindrance, with the inconsistent geography making it all vaguely incoherent whenever the monster emerged. It jolted from one freaky nightmare sequence to the next, which soon became tiresome and repetitive, leaving the plot aimless.

We never really care about the guest characters either. Walliams does a decent job at playing the amusing concept of an alien who is bred to surrender, but he’s just the comic relief. The Doctor quickly becomes infatuated with a young woman who becomes this story’s surrogate companion, and as Rory points out, that’s obviously going to end badly for her. But because the progression of the story is so confusing, I didn’t feel like I went on a journey with that character – it was more like I was just seeing fleeting glimpses of her journey – and so I didn’t really care when she snuffed it.

I ended up feeling a bit ripped off by the concept too, like they didn’t use it to its full potential. It was great to see the Weeping Angels make a cameo, but they were very quickly revealed to just be a projection. But given that the image of an Angel becomes an Angel, then surely they should have been there for real? And the most obvious question that you want the show to answer (ie. if everyone’s room contains their greatest fear, what’s in the Doctor’s room?) is skimmed over, with just an enigmatic “oh, it’s you” in reaction to someone or something that we’re not privy to seeing. What a swizz.

And if we’re being pedantic, how come only the Doctor could understand what the monster was saying? Where was the translation circuit? Because there’s a reason that the baddies usually speak English, and it’s to make them more interesting to the audience. I already had very little investment in the episode, and then it lost me completely when they started talking about faith being a form of energy. Sure it is, pal. And sure, the monster is a distant cousin of the Nimon. I can see the family resemblance – they’re both incredibly boring and they both star in tedious and barely coherent stories.

So I was already fairly down on this episode before the final scene. Maybe this is the reason I couldn’t remember this one – my brain has rejected it, because it refuses to accept that the Doctor would just dump Amy and Rory like that. Just as I was saying this is one of my favourite TARDIS dynamics of all time, it gets unceremoniously chucked away. I know they’re not actually leaving the show for some time yet, but things are never the same again from this point on.

I’m strongly against the idea – which has been the norm for the remainder of the show to date – of companions living separately from the Doctor. If you’re a companion, it should be all or nothing; lurching from one journey to the next, sharing every waking moment with this amazing madman, being as important to him as he is to you. Not getting picked up when he needs help and then dropped home in time for tea. Companions are our way in to the Doctor’s world, and they can’t do that for us if they’re not a full time part of it.

RATING: 5

The Girl Who Waited

I have an impressive showbiz anecdote regarding this story. The day before it aired, I was in Brian Dowling’s dressing room, recording his video blog ahead of that night’s Big Brother eviction. He had a small entourage of friends and family with him, and as I was setting up, he said “you like sci-fi, don’t you?” (I can’t remember how he knew this, given that it would be another few months before he remembered my name.) “This is my friend Tom, he wrote this week’s Doctor Who“.

“You must be Tom MacRae”, I exclaimed, and he seemed surprised and pleased that I’d know that. I told him I was really looking forward to seeing his return to the series, although secretly I was worried and slightly disappointed that he was back, because I thought his previous episodes were shit. I didn’t mention that to him.

Anyway, turns out I needn’t have worried, because this is a superb episode; one of those that doesn’t necessary spring to mind when you think of the classics, but is still somewhat of a favourite. What I hadn’t remembered in the last six years was that it was the cheapo episode, which says a lot about its quality as a story. It’s perfectly apparent as you’re watching – two sets, a couple of corridors and a garden, plus it’s virtually a three-hander which saves on guest cast – and yet in my head it’s this huge epic tale.

It’s also a Doctor-lite story, but it doesn’t feel like one, as they used their Smith time well to ensure the Doctor is a constant presence, even if he is working from home. And you don’t really notice that he’s taking a back seat, because this one’s all about the Ponds. This is my favourite TARDIS team of the new series, and perhaps even of all time, due to the extra dimension the strength of their relationship gives to the dynamic. They are, as I believe the cool kids say, relationship goals, and most definitely Doctor Who‘s OTP.

You have to say that the Amy from 36 years in the future is looking well on it, and her hair is amazing for someone who’s been living alone in an engine room for all that time. But nevertheless, Karen Gillan does an incredible job at creating a whole new character – a few changes in the voice and posture and suddenly she’s a distinctly different person, while still recognisably Amy. And even when this older Amy is so traumatised that she utterly despises the Doctor, she can’t bring herself to feel the same about Rory, as what they had is still there, deep down.

That’s what makes Rory’s dilemma so heartbreakingly effective. It’s clear what choice he should make, but it’s hard for us as an audience to condone it because of the dire consequences. Obviously you want Amy to be young and happy and with Rory, and to have never gone through this horrible ordeal, but at the same time Older Amy has a right to exist. Who are we to say which life is more valuable, and how dare we make the choice to take one of them away?

I was completely gripped, and so I have but two further notes. Firstly, the Handbots have the same walking sound effects as The Wrong Trousers and the Mondasian Cybermen from Series 10. And secondly, how the hell did Amy and Rory have their first kiss to the Macarena? Apart from anything else, you’re supposed to turn 90 degrees at the end of every chorus. Episode ruined.

RATING: 9

Night Terrors

This is a very rare thing indeed: an episode that I’ve definitely seen, because I’ve seen all of New Who, but that I can’t remember at all. There’s a handful of titles – this, The God Complex, Hide, The Crimson Horror – that I see in lists and absolutely no memories, images or opinions spring to mind. I would have only sat down and watched this six years ago, but until the Next Time trailer jogged my memory a few days ago, I had no idea what was coming. It didn’t bode well for the quality of the episode.

Turns out that it’s the one with the creepy dolls, Daniel Mays from off of Ashes to Ashes (and, more seminally, Patrick Nuffy in Fist of Fun), and the constantly-terrified child who looks like a little ginger David Mitchell. And it also turns out that it’s pretty good, which was a pleasant surprise. Perhaps it’s just that the setting and design, while decent enough in themselves, weren’t all that unique – I seem to remember a spate of similar-looking episodes followed over the remainder of the Smith era, and they all sort of merge in to one.

It’s also pretty standalone, with no major pieces of mythology being set up or developed, and only one very minor tie-in to the big series arc. It’s probably a by-product of this episode being shunted from the first half of the series to the second, but it’s actually quite nice to take a rare break from the heavy stuff to tell a self-contained story. I’m all for the big complicated plots, and I think a lot of the criticism Moffat gets for it is vastly hyperbolic, but it’s also nice to keep it varied, and it makes the big twists more exciting if there isn’t one every week. If there’s always biscuits in the tin, where’s the fun in biscuits?

The Doctor and his companions are separated rather arbitrarily – they only split up in the first place to locate the boy, so why didn’t the Doctor tell them he’d spotted him when they bumped into each other? – but I really enjoyed Amy and Rory’s adventures in the dollhouse. It’s very old-school; it feels like something that would happen in Hartnell’s day, sort of a cross between Planet of Giants and The Celestial Toymaker, but better than either.

The Doctor’s half of the story might have been a bit dull in comparison, were it not for a virtuoso performance from Matt Smith and a high-calibre guest star in Daniel Mays. The script is hardly covering new ground, with its slightly patronising working class clichés and the rather on-the-nose ending where the day is saved by a parent’s love, but the performances sweep you along.

That ending is somewhat sickly, but I commend it for the allegory about how it’s OK to be adopted, and indeed to adopt, which is weaved in relatively subtly. It was nice to be taken by surprise with an unexpectedly decent episode, and Series 6 continues to be much better than I’d remembered.

RATING: 8

Let’s Kill Hitler

Prequel: A little mini TARDIS scene, in which Amy leaves the Doctor an answerphone message to ask if he’s any closer to finding Melody. It’s then revealed that he’s been listening the whole time, and the look on his face tells us that he hasn’t. It’s quite effective both as a reminder of where we were up to before all this Torchwood nonsense, and as a quite touching little character piece. And it turns out that the title “Let’s Kill Hitler” flashing up in big letters is still funny, even if it’s only at the end of a prequel.

Ahh, it’s good to be back to Who, with the last couple of weeks serving as an equivalent to the infuriating gap between the two halves of this series. But in the same way that the split gave the seventh episode a much more epic feel than your average seventh episode, they’re using the format to their advantage again to create a whole new type of Doctor Who story.

It takes the big heavy mythology stuff that Moffat excels at, but presents it in a comedic way. A regeneration is played for laughs, which is (almost) unprecedented, but it never strays into parody. Even the act of River Song murdering the Doctor is dealt with in a light-hearted way – huge, important things are happening in this episode, but the tone is unyieldingly fun and entertaining. It’s a joy to watch because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and lets you know that it’s OK to just enjoy the ride.

Never is this sense of fun more prevalent than in the scenes involving Hitler. What an innocent time 2011 was, back when people punching Nazis was something that only needed to happen in time-travel stories. The sight of everyone’s favourite weedy nurse sticking one on the leader of the Third Reich is simply wonderful, as is the dialogue about putting Hitler in a cupboard.

It was little more than a cameo for the Fuhrer in the end, with the episode title something of a red herring to cover the humongous River-based revelations. It really did a thorough job of filling in as many gaps as possible, and a welcome side-effect was the chance to see Amelia again, along with a tiny little Rory. It was no surprise that Mels would be short for Melody, so it was for the best all round that the switch to Alex Kingston happened early, before Mels strayed too far from rebellious youth to annoying brat.

It was disconcerting to see River in the role of villain, but the weirdness was enjoyable. The only snag is the speed at which she switched from brainwashed Doctor killer to the River we know and love. It’s an unfortunate habit of Moffat’s that he leaves a little too much to the imagination at times. It would be nice to know what the Doctor said to River while he was dying, as whatever it was clearly helped to undo all her conditioning – that’s fairly important, and as it is it feels like we skipped a page and it’s harder to buy the change of heart.

I love the concept of the Teselecta – it’s like The Numbskulls from The Beano, with all the tiny people controlling the big person, each one controlling a different function. My only other beef with this episode is that their motives were left unquestioned – under what authority do they jaunt around history torturing people, and who decides which people deserve to be punished? I mean, they were right about Hitler, but even then they nearly cocked it up by doing it before the War had even started, which would have played havoc with the timeline.

But these are quibbles in an otherwise cracking start to the second half of the series. You can’t help but love an episode that takes the time to dismiss the idea of the TARDIS’s temporal grace as “a clever lie”, and explain why River looks younger the older she gets. Plus, Rory punches Hitler and puts him in a cupboard. I can’t state this enough.

RATING: 8

A Good Man Goes to War

Prequel: That big blue wheeler-dealer chap sells a Judoon’s brain to some hooded figures, before attempting to verify the rumours that they’d kidnapped the child of someone connected to the Doctor. That’s about it, so they pad it out with some very slow captions trailing the TX date.

Really, the only preview that you need is the cliffhanger from the previous episode, and the sense of urgency and epicness that runs throughout this story does not disappoint. I’m vehemently opposed to the notion of chopping a season in half – the eventual workload solution they found of simply dropping an episode a year yields much more satisfying results – but at least they made the format work to their advantage by having such a huge, gobsmacking episode to provide the mini-finale.

I’d forgotten entirely about the pre-titles encounter with the Cybermen, now thankfully rid of their Cybus branding, which is a step in the right direction. I love the fact that Rory got to be the big hero we see confronting them – his story across the last season and a half is that of someone stepping out of the background to fulfil his true potential, and that’s often driven by the desire to protect his wife and/or newly-discovered child. It’s corny, but it really works.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is raising an army by taking us to as many different locations as the budget will allow, and Moffat is careful to make the build-up in this episode as comedic as possible, to balance the heavy stuff to come. River’s punchline to the Stevie Wonder story is one of my favourite gags the show has ever done, and the concept of a Sontaran nurse is just brilliant. It will never not be funny to see Strax politely inform people of his intention to kill them, and he’s by far the most promising of all the new allies this episode introduces.

When the Doctor’s finally ready to sort this shit out, his supposed triumph is a joy to watch unfold. Moffat pulls off a trick that I more readily associate with RTD, of throwing as many returning characters or species on screen as possible – he did it in his first finale, of course, but I don’t think he ever quite did it in the same way as this again. Here we get fuckloads of Silurians and Judoon (thus answering my question from the other day about whether it was rare for Moff to bring back RTD creations), as well as unexpected and possibly unwarranted cameos from “Danny Boy” and Captain Avery, characters from two of the least good episodes of the Moffat era thus far.

Then the episode’s third phase – the Doctor’s fall – kicks in, and bloody hell, things get intense towards the end. I was surprised to see Strax as one of the casualties, given that he’s about to become a recurring character, but then I guess death isn’t much of a barrier when you’re talking about a race of clones in a time travel show. More expected was that the sweet and brave Doctor fangirl didn’t survive the encounter, and the realisation of what his name means to her people hits the Doctor – and us – hard.

I’m not sure I quite agree with River’s wider assessment that the Doctor is on dangerous ground and needs to mend his ways. It rang true when the Tenth Doctor went through a similar identity crisis, but the Eleventh Doctor so far has been firmly committed to non-violence wherever possible, and has largely resisted abusing his powers. But then, dramatically speaking, you need to drag him down before you pick him up again, and the revelation about River/Melody – as well as being very cleverly done – ended this rollercoaster on a high.

It’s hard to relive the impact that it had at the time; the promise that the mystery will be resolved is always in the background of this episode, which means it loses a certain something when you know full well what’s coming. But it still managed to make me a little emotional, due to the Doctor’s joy of learning that Melody would eventually be just fine, and the knowledge that he dedicates so much of his life to keeping her safe and happy. Although it must be a bit weird to be shagging your best friends’ daughter, especially if you’ve held her (and indeed spoken to her) as a baby.

Nevertheless, it’s a stunning and shocking episode, and well worth revisiting regardless of the lessened impact of the big reveal. My lack of memory of the finer details of these episodes is really paying off now, as they’re able to surprise me all over again. For example, I still don’t quite remember who Madame Kovarian is and what her motives are; you don’t find out very much here, and instead it’s nicely set up to be the mystery that runs through the second half of the season.

One thing that I did remember though, and that still remains as funny as ever, is the huge high-stakes drama ending with the next episode’s title being revealed, in huge impactful letters, as “LET’S KILL HITLER”. After all that the episode had put me through the first time I watched it, I ended up unable to process any of the emotional connotations due to five minutes of solid laughter.

RATING: 9

It feels wrong to be doing the milestone stuff at this juncture, but nevertheless:

HALF-SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 9

  • Seasons/Series watched: 31.54 of 36
  • Stories watched: 218 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 777 of 839

I hadn’t realised how good the first half of this series was. I mean, I knew I liked it, but wow, just look at that average rating. My memory is that the second half doesn’t quite live up to it, and will most likely bring the overall score down, but unfortunately I’m going to have to wait to find out. It’s as galling now as it is then – just when you’re ramped up to maximum excitement about Doctor Who, it disappears for a while. Worse still, the filling of this Series 6 sandwich is not particularly appetising.

The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People

The main thing I remember from the original broadcast is the quite extraordinary cliffhanger, so this rewatch was an opportunity to enjoy the finer details of the preceding 88 minutes, and it turns out this is quite the gem. It’s such a very Doctor Who-ish idea – a lot of shows would have an episode about human avatars going rogue, but not many would approach it with the aim of establishing doppleganger rights.

Like with earlier adventures with Silurians and later ones with Zygons, this is all about what it means to be human, along with allegories about equality and acceptance. But while there was certainly an element of “but who are the *real* monsters?” (it was telling that the human version of Cleaves was the one who fucked up the peace talks), a lot of the action relied on the assumption that Ganger = baddie. This might have seemed like having your cake and eating it, were it not for the later revelations, which we’ll get to.

It was a perfect set-up for some traditional cloning high-jinks, such as the group having secret Gangers in their midst, and Rory’s subplot with the multiple Jennifers ending up a bit like Red Dwarf‘s Psirens. It was a bit of a disappointment when the Gangers gained the ability to turn into Stretch Armstrong, and became more of a traditional straightforward monster. It’s a similar feeling I had with The Lazarus Experiment – a CGI creature to run away from isn’t as scary as something more human and creepy, in this case clones not knowing they’re clones, or the fear of your clone stealing your identity.

And of course, it was always leading up to the Doctor gaining a Ganger. Two Matt Smiths can only be a good thing, especially when one of them keeps quoting his former selves. As soon as our Doctor lost his shoes, I was looking out for them as an indicator of which was which, having forgotten the twist that they swapped over at some unspecified point in proceedings. I do wonder whether that was before or after one of them became violent towards Amy, because if that was the actual Doctor, that seems a bit much, regardless of how important a lesson he was teaching her.

But then, of course, that wasn’t the actual Amy. I noticed they were very clear to establish that the real humans retain the memory of what happens to their Gangers, ensuring that everything that “Amy” has experienced so far this season matters, regardless of when the switch took place. The big reveal ripples back to recontextualise much of what goes before – the aforementioned issue about the narrative relying on the audience believing Gangers are always baddies is no longer an issue, because the episode’s all about the Doctor teaching us, via Amy, that our assumption was wrong.

Best of all, it means that the whole adventure was brought about by the Doctor being a bit Machiavellian, hiding his true intentions from his companions and the audience in order to serve his own secretive purposes. It’s basically Smith acting like McCoy, which is a winning combination, and this is a story that’s much better the second time around.

And yeah, the sight of Amy being turned into goop, and then of the real Amy waking up nine months pregnant with Eye Patch Lady as a midwife, is rather an enduring image. Such a stunning cliffhanger at the end of a two-parter that it almost feels like a reverse Utopia situation, but it is in fact something very different. Bring on Doctor Who‘s first ever mid-season finale…

RATING: 9

The Doctor’s Wife

Oh yes. This is quite simply one of the best episodes of all time, and it’s fair to say it changed the way I think about Doctor Who. All throughout my marathon of the classic run, I thought of the TARDIS as one of the characters. Every time it did something unexpected, or disobeyed the Doctor, I considered it to be “her” taking matters into her own hands. I’m pretty sure I never thought of it that way until this episode came along.

A huge part of the appeal is Suranne Jones, who rises to the not inconsiderable challenge of encapsulating the mystery, wonder, danger and madness of the TARDIS, whilst also creating a character that you can empathise with and care about. Hearing about the Doctor’s relationship with the TARDIS from her perspective was a delight – I’m totally on board with the idea that it was her the stole him by leaving herself unlocked. And how have I not noticed that he always pushes a door that clearly states “pull to open”?!

The other star of the show – on equal billing with Smith and Jones (haha) – is Neil Gaiman, who tells a story that only someone who’s been a Who fan all their life, but who also happens to be one of the finest writers of their generation, could pull off. As well as the huge, off-the-wall ideas, his dialogue is absolutely sumptuous. Too many examples to list, but honourable mentions for my three favourites: “It’s like kissing, only there’s a winner.” / “Did you wish really hard?” / “Fear me, I’ve killed all of them.”

Just to compound the embarrassment of riches, this episode also contains Michael Sheen, albeit only in voice-over form. You need gravitas in order to avoid making a psychopathic asteroid seem like a silly idea, and with Sheen, you don’t even question it. I’d forgotten about the sub-plot with him chasing Amy and Rory round his many corridors, but it’s always fun to see more of the TARDIS interior. Well, I say ‘fun’, it was also pretty horrific at times, such as Rory ageing to death in a nutty room with “KILL AMY” scrawled all over the walls. Needless to say, THE RORY WILLIAMS DEATH COUNTER: 4.

There’s an Ood knocking about as well, in a rare instance of a creature that originated in the RTD era being brought back by Moffat – there’s the Weeping Angels, technically, but they don’t seem to count because they were Moffat’s invention, and I can’t think of any others. It’s kind of hard to know what to make of the Ood, as each time they appear we’re reminded that they’re a fundamentally good race that are often used for evil purposes, but aside from a brief cameo in Tennant’s swansong, they’re always used as villains. I guess they belong in the same bracket as the Silurians – theoretically not inherently evil, but they’re most interesting, and therefore most commonly seen, when they’re baddies.

So many big, brilliant ideas floating around here. Auntie and Uncle, the hotch-potch humans cobbled together from bits of old corpses, a concept which only the twin minds of Gaiman and Moffat would use to provide the comic relief. The giant TARDIS junkyard, which naturally piqued my curiosity. The notion that all the old console rooms are archived somewhere, which immediately opens up a million fanwank fantasies.

Plus, right at the start, what I’m pretty sure is the first irrefutable indication that Time Lords can change gender when they regenerate (or regenderate, if you will). This episode’s influence reaches far and wide – informing the future and recontextualising the past. The TARDIS is a clever old girl.

RATING: 10

The Curse of the Black Spot

Prequel: A beardy Hugh Bonneville squeezes out a captain’s log, stating that his ship is stranded at sea and that they’re being menaced by a dark, mysterious force. He signs off by telling us he fears he and his entire crew are doomed to die here. It doesn’t make the episode look like much fun, in stark contrast to the Next Time trailer that promised us yo-ho-ho pirate antics like swashbuckling and walking the plank.

Turns out that all that fun stuff happens within the first five minutes, and then it gets very dark very quickly. Things escalate at an alarming pace, as the Siren picks off her victims one after another, and it doesn’t leave any time for us to care about any of the people that are being killed off. The fact that literally everything is dangerous – the slightest cut, bruise, burn or illness – makes things paradoxically less exciting. Why should I care about any of these characters when they could stub their toe and it’d be all over? When the TARDIS goes missing too, the odds seem impossible, and we’re still only twenty minutes in.

The Siren, of course, has the face of Lily Cole, which is a bit strange; one of those guest stars who’s so famous (for things other than acting) that it’s hard to see past the real person. She doesn’t really have much to do, other than prancing around elusively on a wire, and very occasionally making a scary face. The best thing about her as a monster was the way she has the same effect on her victims as half an eccie.

Therefore the main guest star was the aforementioned Huge Bonneville, and his beard. I’d forgotten that Avery was real pirate, until I read it on Wikipedia just now, and the references to him in The Smugglers must have completely passed me by. Turns out he’s a bit of a twat, causing his own son to be taken by the Siren because he couldn’t bear to let go of his stolen gold. This in turn leads to…

THE RORY WILLIAMS DEATH COUNTER: 3. Well, you think it’s a death at first, but it turns out that actually everything’s fine anyway, everyone’s just been transported to another dimension or some shit. And despite Avery doing his best to fuck things up by needlessly shooting at the Siren, it turns out that she was a goody all along. It’s a clever reveal, but it does make for an anti-climactic resolution.

The only remaining snag is that Rory is on the brink of drowning, and I’m wondering whether that moment where you think Amy has failed to resuscitate him counts as death #4. It was definitely around this time that Rory being seemingly dead every other week started to become a thing, and I think it’s this episode that first drew people’s attention to it.

But that all gets sorted, and we end with Huge Bonneville, his full crew and a tiny child literally becoming Space Pirates. It’s all very daft, this episode, and I’m not sure what to make of it. I mean, it’s all sort of fine, but it’s evidently nothing special or particularly memorable – all that I remembered of it in the last six years was Lily Cole titting about not doing much, and I imagine that will be the case when I’ve forgotten about this rewatch too.

Oh yes, and Madame Eye Patch showed up again, and Amy flashed back to the Doctor getting shot, and then the Doctor did another pregnancy test on her. You know how the scan always oscillates between the two outcomes? Does that mean that she’s simultaneously pregnant and not pregnant, like it’s some sort of Schrödinger’s foetus, or does the test just take *ages* to deliver the result? It’s entirely possible that they answered that six years ago and I’ve forgotten…

RATING: 7