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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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 Lodger

* Oh shit, it’s James Corden. Not a fan. He was absolutely ubiquitous in the UK when this first aired, so I wasn’t thrilled to see him hog the centre-stage in Doctor Who as well. Nowadays, he’s inexplicably a huge success in the States, with his unique and very special talents of being able to drive pop stars around and also remember the words to their songs. But at least that’s keeping him busy, and it’s easy to ignore, which means I’m now more able to tolerate his presence. Turns out that, for once, he’s not just playing Smithy, and Craig is a much more likeable and toned-down version of his usual persona.

* It’s never really occurred to me before how strange it is that this season has a companion-lite episode, but not a corresponding Doctor-lite episode. Turns out that it was an artistic decision rather than a logistical one, with it being based on a comic strip about The Doctor being separated from the TARDIS and forced to share a flat with someone. In order to do that story, you have to leave the companion behind too.

* Similarly, I’d always assumed that the reason The Doctor plays football in this episode is that Matt Smith was once a promising youth player IRL, but it turns out that this sequence was in the comic strip too, and was included in the script even before Smith was cast. It’s a nice little scene, although Smith seems slightly too ungainly to pass for a footballer. Mind you, so does Peter Crouch. The bit after the game, when The Doctor misinterprets the captain saying he wants to “annihilate” their opponents, is my highlight of the episode.

* There’s a scene later on where Craig and Sophie are chatting in the hallway and WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT PICTURE BEHIND THEM? It’s smack bang in the centre of the frame and it’s staring straight at us. There is no logical reason for it to be there. JUST LOOK AT IT. It will haunt my dreams.

* Headbutting someone in order to share information is a new one. Just think how much better The Three Doctors would have been if Troughton had stuck the nut on Pertwee. Maybe The Doctor really only needs to gently touch someone’s head with his, but he’d just had enough of James Corden.

* The plot is less important than average in this story, as the fish-out-of-water comedy is the main appeal. For the most part, it’s confined to a few isolated incidents that merely serve to punctuate the real story, of The Doctor accidentally ruining Craig’s life by being better at it than he is. Eventually it comes to a head, and Craig saves the world with love. It could easily have been nauseating, but to my surprise I found myself quite liking Craig this time round, and as I already really liked Daisy Haggard, they just about get away with it. I remember being mildly pissed off when a sequel to this story was announced, but now I’m looking forward to re-assessing that too.

* Mind you, the ominous crack in the wall appears just as The Doctor leaves Craig and Sophie alone in the flat… have they been erased from existence now? That would have been brilliant – a big happy ending where Craig gets his life together and finally gets the girl, and then they’re both immediately killed.

RATING: 7