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Saturday, 11 June 2011

Guest Post By James: “You know... This isn’t nearly as bad as it looks...”

...The Doctor’s first line as we go crashing through the time vortex and into an epic opener for the first part of this sixth series.

We’ve seen epic before with recent Doctor Who. There’s been all those finales, two-parters and specials. But nothing cinematically seemed to capture the essence of ‘epic’ properly, really. Not until last year’s ‘The Eleventh Hour’ series opener and introduction of Matt Smith in the title role and Steven Moffat as showrunner. That, for me, is when Doctor Who, production-wise, stepped up a gear. Well, for a short time at least. Not many episodes of the remainder of the fifth series lived up to that introduction, despite some really good efforts.

So, the sixth series opener had a lot to live up to. How can you raise the bar from such a brilliant story as that initial meeting with the young Amelia Pond and the almost perfect, well... everything. How, indeed? Of course, the answer is easy if you know how. Rake in some extra budget, move some production to the ‘make everything bigger!’ US, write a two-parter worthy of The X-Files at it’s height and throw in the establishment of a superb series arc whilst blending in some ongoing arcs from as far as four years ago.

Admit it, after the first ten minutes of ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ your mouth was firmly wedged into the ‘open and stunned’ position whilst you were rendered completely speechless. The Doctor is dead - really dead - and his gathered companions were left with the emotionally arduous task of providing the protagonist with a, somehow very fitting, norse-like funeral - burning his timelord body upon a boat.

Of course, Who being Who - sci-fi being sci-fi - time travel being, er..., wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-bumpy-wumpy stuff - etc, etc, Matt Smith gets his second big entrance of the series as a younger Doctor than the one that was killed and we’re back in the game. Before long this excellent production has us in the White House’s Oval Office, complete with President Nixon, and Smith gets the chance to shine in the comedy part of his portrayal of everyone’s favourite ‘mad-man with a box’.

The only thing that overshadows that Matt Smith performance here is the introduction of yet another superb Moffat-Monster - The Silence. Menacingly tall and scary-looking monsters with the ability to cause amnesia about their very existence as soon as you look away from them. Stick these guys in a stare-out contest with the Weeping Angels and you’ve got one hell of a battle on your hands! Moffat certainly knows that the best monsters are those with the ability to scare even your own imagination with their abilities and he seriously wins with these guys, who are just so fitting for this particular story and setting.

Without going too far into individual stories the second part of the adventure continues in the basic theme of the first, with our heroes trying everything they can to remember - and to defeat - their newfound foes. It’s an enjoyable romp and eventually The Doctor, of course, wins the day and we can all go on happy and safe in the knowledge that our adventurers can continue adventuring through space and time for the rest of th.... WHHHHAAAA!! Hang on... There’s a very, very unexpected ‘game-changing’ epilogue right at the end of the episode involving a seemingly innocent young girl from within the story starting the timelord regeneration process. All at once, fandom literally exploded. Across the world there were reports of the deafening sound of furious tapping as Whovians started their musings and ponderings about the little girl on internet forums and social networks. Who is she? How is she regenerating? What does this mean? Where do we go from here?

Just where did we go from here? Well, obviously, the little girl wasn’t going to be tied up just yet - we have a whole series to get through. Well, half a series for now, thanks to the American style mid-season break this time around. And yes, the rest of the [first part of the] series shaped up much like others before it. Mostly self-contained stories with little glances towards an overriding arc. One good episode followed by one that is a little more, well, forgettable, followed by another good one, and so on... But this is part of the charm of our Doctor Who and for all the attempts of Americanising, this is why Who will remain staunchly British. God knows that if Doctor Who had originally been made in the states it would have been cancelled before you could utter the words “reverse the polarity of the neutron flow”, like all good sci-fi shows seem to be over the pond.

Episode three, ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’ was one of the more forgettable ones of this series, as Doctor Who went all Pirates of the Carribean (which in itself has been terrible since the excellent first film), whilst the first part of ‘The Rebel Flesh’/‘The Almost People’ left me so disappointed it instantly went into my ‘least favourite episodes’ list since the return of the show in 2005. That was made up for in the second part (‘The Almost People’) though as the pace was dramatically upped and we got a well played double-dose of mad Doctorness, complete with a few classic series references thrown in for good measure and a peach of a cliffhanger lead-in to the mid-season finale.

The series highlight, for me, was legendary writer Neil Gaiman’s first (hopefully of many) episode ‘The Doctor’s Wife’. A beautifully told story of the sexy TARDIS personified. It’s rare to get an accomplished writer who completely and totally appreciates the kind of story a fan will absolutely love, whilst not going all-out fanboyish. Gaiman’s comic-book roots come spilling out of the screen in abundance and we were treated to the best tragic love-story of Nu-Who since 2006’s ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’. The best part? When ‘sexy’ reveals that she stole The Doctor rather than that belief all along that he stole the TARDIS all on his own all those years ago. Pure fanwankery.

The mid-season finale again upped the tempo and once again we’re reminded that The Doctor is not to be messed with. This time he shows that a lot of the universe owes him as he raises an army from many people he has himself assisted in the past. We have pirates, Sontarans, Silurians and even Danny Boy and his spitfire from last series, plus more. Remember though, you should never, ever underestimate The Doctor. Unfortunately for our time-travelling hero, this time he actually hasn’t been - and he’s fooled twice as the main enemies (including an over-arcing eyepatch lady who has cropped up around the series so far) could be flying off towards Magrathea on the Heart of Gold spaceship for all he knows... They’ve also kidnapped Amy’s baby, who it is revealed is actually the baby River Song (and therefore also the young girl in that second-episode epilogue, who in turn appears to have gained some timelord-type DNA from being conceived within the TARDIS inside the time vortex - confusing much?), in the process to use as a weapon against The Doctor.

All that in mind, there are a lot of things we still don’t know yet, questions still to be asked and answers still to be given - and things aren’t looking too rosy for The Doctor and our friends right now. But, as the Doctor said right at the start - “You know... This isn’t nearly as bad as it looks...”.


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