Night and the Doctor

And so I reach a point where there are no more spin-offs to be spun, at least not until one very brief attempt much further down the line. From here on in there are far fewer deviations from Doctor Who, but there are still a fair amount of specials and extras squeezed in between each series, and here’s the latest. These five mini-scenes are set in the middle of Series 6, so it’s a little odd to be visiting them at this stage, even though it’s chronologically correct.

Let’s take the five scenes in turn…

Bad Night: Prince Charles is on the phone because The Queen has turned into a goldfish and Amy has accidentally murdered an alien ambassador because he was disguised as a fly. Sufficed to say, this seems like it’s right up my street. It’s revealed that the Doctor secretly goes and meets River Song at night, and is therefore joining in fun in a way that excludes his companions.

Good Night: As the title would suggest, the first pair are thematically linked, as Amy vocalises my concerns that her and Rory aren’t big enough parts of the Doctor’s life. It’s mainly concerned, however, with explaining away any inconsistent memories people may have as being the effects of causality being altered. He illustrates this by making Amy cross her own timeline. I’m sure that’s supposed to be dangerous.

First Night: It’s River’s first night in prison, and they both know about the Ponds being her parents by this point, which certainly helps to place it in the continuity. We see the introduction of the famous diary, which is part of the Doctor establishing a set of rules for their new (to him, at least) relationship. Rules which River then instantly breaks when her future self bursts through the door.

Last Night: This continues straight on from the last one, and it’s pure Moffatian¬† as yet another River bursts through the door, followed by another Doctor. There’s a sad twist though, as it turns out the other Doctor is taking the other other River to the Singing Towers of Darillium. We all know what that’s supposed to mean, but I guess they must have got waylaid, given that it’s Smith and not Capaldi that bursts in. That would have been some amazing foreshadowing.

Up All Night: Annoyingly, this one’s on a different disc to the others, as it turns out it’s a prequel to Closing Time, in which basically nothing happens. No Doctor, Amy, Rory or River, it’s just Craig and Sophie talking about how shit a father he is, for less than two minutes. It took longer to wait for the menus to play than it did to watch the thing itself.

So the last one was a disappointing climax, but the other four are great little sketches. As well as it just being nice to have some extra Matt Smith stuff that I’d not previously seen, it feels like quite an important missing link in the story of the Doctor and River’s relationship. It’s sometimes felt like the Doctor has been coerced into this romance by the forces of pre-destiny, so it’s important to see him making the decision to seek her out, and for them to meet up for something other than saving the world. It suddenly feels more like a genuine relationship.

RATING: 7

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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.

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

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 Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon

Prequel: For the first time since Series 2’s Tardisodes, several episodes of Series 6 came with a little online prequel. Not all of them, just the important ones, so naturally the premiere gets the treatment. It’s a short glimpse of an impressive Oval Office set, in which Richard Nixon takes a phone call from a little girl, denies the existence of monsters, and then completely fails to notice the Silent standing behind him. It gives you the sense of an Empty Child vibe, but with Richard Nixon instead of Richard Wilson.

The episode/series proper then kicks off with the Doctor getting the gang back together. I’m not a fan of companions living separate lives from the Doctor – life in the TARDIS should be their whole life, uninterrupted – but there will be much more egregious examples of this to come, so I’ll leave it for now. Besides, it’s all worth it for the glimpse of the Doctor trying to get their attention by invading a Laurel & Hardy film.

And then bam – ten minutes into the series, the Doctor is killed and his body cremated. It’s certainly a bold start. It was notable enough that the series started with a two-parter, deviating from RTD’s template for the first time. By the end of the first episode, Amy has revealed she’s pregnant and shot a little girl. This is definitely not a kids’ show, this is Moffat let loose and growing in confidence, taking the show into a different, darker and more complex direction, putting his stamp on it. Personally, I’m not concerned about trying to figure out whose version of Who is better – for me, both the RTD and Moffat eras were almost entirely brilliant, and both had their peaks and troughs.

Back to the story in hand, and you have to say it looks absolutely stunning. It’s another step forward from Series 5, as the new era gains its unique visual style too. The location stuff in the States is obviously a highlight, as is the design of The Silence. The way they have the outline of a face without any actual features, and the way they casually twist their mouths round while they’re zapping you, is the stuff of nightmares.

(Incidentally, is the race called The Silence, or are they each individually called a Silent, and so collectively known as The Silents? The former seems to be officially accepted, but I much prefer the latter, which is the way I originally heard it.)

There are several notable inclusions in the guest cast, the most shocking of which is Trojan from Gladiators as the Secret Service agent who takes Amy to the toilet. Then you’ve got Kerry Shale, of godawful Red Dwarf X voices fame, and two generations of the Shepherd family as Canton, a particularly kick-ass one-off companion figure, who even gets his own “it’s bigger on the inside” moment.

You’d have thought that the headline would be the presence of Richard Nixon, but he’s effectively just an incidental character in this celebrity historical – the point is that you’ve got the Doctor pissing about in the Oval Office around the time of the moon landing, and it just so happens that the President is Nixon. It seems apt that such a terrible scumbag isn’t afforded to opportunity to be a hero, something which the Doctor himself acknowledges. And he later advises Nixon to record everything that happens in his office, thus bringing about his eventual downfall. Good man.

The main thing you take from this series opener is a huge sense of scale – even the second episode has a big showy-offy pre-titles sequence, something usually only reserved for the start of a finale. It promises much for the coming year, seeding Madame Kovarian (or “Eye Patch Lady”, as she’s listed in the credits) already – another Red Dwarf alumni making an appearance in the creepiest of creepy children’s homes. There’s lots of foreshadowing involving Amy’s possible pregnancy and the little girl in the spacesuit – I know how it all ends up, but I can’t remember all of the details, so once again it’s fun to fill in all the blanks.

Speaking of which, River Song Timeline Watch: She’s quite unequivocal that all their adventures take place in the opposite order, which is obviously complicated by the fact that this adventure also contains a 200-year-older version of the Doctor. He’s a lot more comfortable around her than we’ve ever seen him before, but when “our” Doctor shows up, he’s deeply distrustful of her, perhaps more so than he was last time, to emphasise the difference between the two Doctors.

It’s interesting that River’s nightmare scenario – seeing the Doctor and him not knowing who she is – is something that we’ve already seen. But it’s worth re-examining now that we know River better, because we’re starting to care about her more than the Doctor does, and so we get the emotional beats from considering it from her point of view. Their first/last kiss is bittersweet to us, because it’s sweet for him and bitter for her.

So yes, there is much to talk about with this story, and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that it harks back to The Lodger of all things – even the seemingly throwaway format-breaking episodes are important to remember in Moffat’s era. The only other thing to discuss is the resolution, which is perfect because, in a similar way to Vincent and the Doctor, it establishes that what we see in the episode is also what we see in real life, thanks to the Doctor’s influence – the actual footage of the moon landing really does contain a message from a Silent, it’s just that we can’t remember seeing it.

Oh, and the regenerating child is brilliant and shocking, even when you know it’s coming. This series is not without its flaws – not least the fact it was chopped in half, which we’ll come to – but none of them are evident in its opener, which stands up as a real high point of Matt Smith’s tenure.

RATING: 10

The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang

* That’s a hell of an opening sequence, bringing together pretty much every major guest character from the series so far. Well, almost – if you were James Cordon or Meera Syal, you’d have to take it personally. It’s a new twist on the way the finale sits with the rest of the series – as well as there being seeds of the finale dotted throughout the preceeding episodes, bits of preceeding episodes are dotted throughout the finale. It makes the whole thing feel like it’s all been one big story – Series 5 is one long and varied chapter in The Doctor’s life, rather than several smaller ones.

* River Song Timeline Watch: The Weeping Angels story hasn’t happened to River yet. Is the implication that we’re following River’s story in exact reverse chronological order? That would be the easiest interpretation to follow, but hold on – she doesn’t seem to know who Rory is, so this can’t take place after any of her Series 6 or 7 stories. Unless she’s just pretending to not know Rory, in order to avoid any spoiler-related faux pas. Oh, I’m only three River stories in and I’ve gone cross-eyed.

* I really like the way the Cybermen are used here, like creatures in a horror flick. There’s the disembodied head scuttling about on spidery tentacles, then the skull falling out of the helmet, then the headless ghost coming to attack. Despite how unusual a Cyberman appearance this is, it’s the most effective they’ve been in the revival so far, and the skull is the closest they’ll come to nailing the body horror until they give up and bring back the Mondasians.

* Rory’s back. Hooray! I couldn’t quite remember all the details of how it happens, and considered the possibility that he’d remain an Auton for the rest of his life. That would have been great – The Doctor having a companion that’s ostensibly human in pretty much all respects, except that his hand can turn into a gun. And he might accidentally kill his wife when stressed.

* Quick status check at the end of the first part: The Doctor has been imprisoned by every monster he’s ever met, Amy has been reunited with Rory only for him to shoot her dead, River is trapped in an exploding TARDIS, and every star in every universe in every reality is going out, one-by-one. Yeah, that’s a pretty high-stakes cliffhanger.

* When things are this extreme, it makes me nervous, as it’s a big challenge to get out of situations like this in a satisfying way. Moffat handles this by once again tinkering with the format of a finale. It’s often the case that the first ep is largely one long set-up for the second ep, but here it feels more like two distinct stories. By not starting The Big Bang in the same time and place as The Pandorica Opens ended, it’s an indication that the answer to “how do they get out of that one?” is going to take the whole episode.

* It’s an answer that involves the return of young Amelia Pond, and she’s up against stone Daleks, which look a hell of a lot better than the New Paradigm bastards elsewhere in this series. We’re also introduced to The Doctor’s penchant for a fez, as part of a timey-wimey jigsaw puzzle of a plot, which sees the show once more channeling Bill & Ted-style time travel humour. This use of time travel as a story-telling device is something that would become a trademark of Moffat’s era, so it’s easy to forget how fresh, unusual and exciting it felt at the time.

* Inevitably, the ultimate conclusion to the story requires a little bit of what people like to refer to as a “reset button”, but there’s so much more it than that, and it avoids all the pitfalls that often make this term a pejorative one. Firstly, the show acknowledges exactly what it is – The Doctor is rebooting the universe, simple as that. Secondly, it’s not without its cost – The Doctor has to sacrifice his existence in order to make it happen, cleverly linking up with the rest of the series once more as he goes.

But mostly, the crucial part is that by the time everything’s worked itself out, the characters still remember everything that happened. Amy piecing everything together was a thing of joy, and it meant that all the things that the reboot erased were still “real” to her, Rory, River and The Doctor, even if that’s not what the history books will say. As far as they’re concerned, Rory spent the best part of 2,000 years guarding Amy, while she managed to bring both the men in her life back from the dead, and all the character development that goes along with these things will still apply.

So yeah, call it a “reset button” if you like, but it’s not a cheat – it’s our heroes fixing a problem and winning the day like they always do, even if nobody but them will know they did it.

RATING: 9

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 8.2

  • Seasons/Series watched: 31 of 36
  • Stories watched: 212 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 769 of 839

What a fine series that was. One thing I’ve noticed is that when I was rewatching Series 1-4, seeing Eccleston and Tennant was like revisiting old friends, as I had been for Doctors 1-8. But with Smith, despite the fact that I adore Capaldi, I’ve been kind of forgetting that he’s not the current Doctor – he’s still so exciting to watch, and I’ve always thought he could have easily stuck around for longer.

Coming up next, I’m about to go on holiday for a week and a bit, which might rather dent my hopes of finishing this thing before Christmas. However, I’m taking my laptop and my Sarah Jane DVDs with me, just in case it rains…

The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone

* Bloody hell, it’s Mike Skinner. That has to rank as one of the most incongruous pieces of guest casting of all time. I seem to remember his star was already waning somewhat in 2010, but he was still a very recognisable face to choose for a part that lasts all of ten seconds. Later in the episode, Father Octavian is your man from Game of Thrones – I don’t even watch Game of Thrones properly, but his voice is always so distinctive in the few bits I’ve seen.

* So, does River know Amy’s her mum at this point? I’m genuinely not sure – I always assumed even though the whole River Song story was confusing while it was playing out, it would make sense to me by the time it was finished. But even now, I feel like I need a diagram, so I’m going to do my best to piece it all together properly on this rewatch. Thus far, her time-twisting, Bill & Ted-esque escape from the Byzantium is the first major example we’ve seen of why The Doctor will eventually come to love her.

* Doing a sequel to Blink is a tough job, so Moffat went down the route of taking the original monster and adding shitloads of them, a la Aliens.¬†They also have a whole raft of new abilities – the image of an Angel becomes an Angel, they can use the voices of the dead to communicate, and they can even turn you into an Angel if you look them in the eye. Sally Sparrow’s lucky none of this shit happened to her.

* The speech about what not to put in a trap is a big moment for Smith, and he does it well. We’re starting to get a real grip of his persona now; he’s child-like and over-excitable to some extent – which is a trait that I recall was toned down over time – but he still commands enormous respect, and when he wants you to take him seriously, you totally do. Also, that scene is so much more dramatic on DVD, without an animated Graham Norton dancing all over it.

* After a more action-heavy first half, it becomes more like a horror movie again in the second, which must be partially due to the fact that the soldiers/priests are getting killed off so fast that it’s no longer a fair fight. The moment you realise that Amy is involuntarily counting down to zero is when the tension starts to ramp up, and by the time she’s walking through a crowd of angels with her eyes closed, because if she opens them for more than a second she’ll die… well, you daren’t blink.

* The fabled crack in time turns up in all its glory after only five episodes. Things seem to be moving a lot quicker these days, but it’s more that the series arc is becoming a bigger part of each episode – this isn’t an early culmination, it’s just that they’re taking the time to flesh the idea out more along the way to the actual culmination. If anything, it’s a bit of a shame that the Angels took a backseat when the crack starting eating people, scary and fun though that was. People forgetting other people existed mid-conversation will always make me think of Red Dwarf‘s Out of Time.

* This time round, I totally noticed that The Doctor suddenly had his jacket on when he came back to talk to Amy… but then I was looking out for it. Totally passed me by originally.

* Oh I say, I’d forgotten how racy that final scene is. I have very conflicting feelings about seeing Amy Pond acting in that way. Moffat said recently that he regrets the way that scene ended up, and on balance he’s right to do so, although it’s nearly all worth it for The Doctor offering to sort Amy right out.

RATING: 9

Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead

* Hello, sweetie. River Song comes crashing into Doctor Who, dressed as an ambassador of death. Looking back, what a wonderful thing it was to have such a complex and unconventional love story unfold so slowly, in occasional installments over a period of seven years. Revisiting the first chapter now that the tale is complete gives it a completely different complexion. I remember it initially took me a few appearances to warm to River, but now that I have it means I’m on her side from the start, and I found myself getting frustrated with The Doctor’s attitude towards her.

I’m not sure how much of this would have been intentional in 2008, but the consequence of this is an episode that can be interpreted and enjoyed in two completely different ways, depending on which of the protagonists’ perspectives you take. It’s either the start of a new relationship or the end of an old one; neither is the definitive experience on its own, rather they complement each other and your second viewing is truly rewarded. Now that all the gaps have been filled and all the questions answered, it feels like an already brilliant episode now has extra layers of brilliance on top.

* Was people saying “spoilers!” already a thing when this episode was aired, or did it originate here and has since disseminated into the public consciousness? The release of said spoilers about The Doctor’s future started off small with little hints like her having her own Sonic, and the fact that she’d never met Donna implying that she won’t be around for much longer, thankfully.

Then by the end, River’s numerous speeches about “her” Doctor were effectively a big advert for how brilliant the forthcoming Moffat era was going to be. By this point in Tennant’s tenure, some of the attention-grabbing magic of his early appearances was wearing off, and I do remember thinking it was about time to mix things up. But by the end of this episode, this one encounter with River had given The Doctor his swagger back, to the extent that he’s confident enough to try opening the TARDIS doors by clicking his fingers, and it works. You can almost see him starting to become the next Doctor, and we’ve just been told how amazing he’s going to be. Thankfully, he was.

(The order of events in this blog post is becoming terribly jumbled, but that seems apt. Go with it.)

* Moffat just loves to make kids scared of everyday things, doesn’t he? This time: the dark. The Doctor literally says at one point that fear of the dark is “not irrational”. The notion of shadows and the dust in sunbeams actually being tiny flesh-eating monsters is quite a memorable one, and the Vashta Nerada are an absolutely perfect foe for this episode – they do exactly what’s required to play their small part in a much bigger story.

* Mind you, they’re not safe from the mandatory repetitive catchphrase trend. The concept of ghosting is amazing and truly creepy – one of the best moments in the whole thing is the realisation that Other Dave is repeating the same phrases over and over again in the background. But the cliffhanger kind of exploited the concept to provide a more playground-oriented kind of monster. Between “who turned out the lights?” and “Donna Noble has been saved”, it become more of a cacophony than a climax, but meanwhile you had all the stuff with Dr Moon and the little girl, and that was just brilliant.

* Speaking of those segments: Mark Dexter! Now there’s an actor who I definitely wouldn’t have known at the time, but in the intervening years, thanks to his role as Rimmer’s brother in an episode of Red Dwarf, he’s someone who I’ve become a fan of, been to the pub with, and directed to pull stupid faces as part of the opening ceremony for a convention. Elsewhere in the guest cast, Steve Pemberton easily wins the competition for which member of The League of Gentlemen got to appear in the best episode of Doctor Who.

* It’s in the second half, when the focus switches more to the alternative world, that this story leaps from great to one of the greats. There are so many ideas here, each more twisted than the last – Donna is basically trapped in a little girl’s TV, experiencing her life as a series of hard cuts between scenes, gaining a husband and two kids in around four blinks of an eye, and then Miss Evangelista turns up dressed as the Grim Reaper, then Donna finds out that her kids aren’t real, then there’s that face, then the apocalypse happens around her, then her kids disappear from right under her nose – layers upon layers of really weird shit. It’s incredible.

* And then the kicker – the genuine heartbreak of Donna’s VR husband seeing her as she walks away, unable to call her name. It’s gut-wrenching, and along with River dying and then being saved, it’s a really emotional last few minutes. I don’t remember being particularly affected the first time round, but then wibbley wobbley timey wimey, River means more to me now. I’m mourning her death, even though she gets sort of resurrected, and even though I’ve got loads more of her stuff still to watch. That’s how good River Song is.

* At one point, The Doctor persuades the Vashta Nerada to back off him by telling them to look him up. Capaldi’s Doctor did exactly this on the telly last week, in Extremis. Moffat steals from the best – himself. Which reminds me, I’d forgotten what happened to River’s diary in The Library, so I now understand why people were so annoyed about Nardole having it, and yet I still don’t give a shit myself.

RATING: 10