10 Missed Magic Moments in Doctor Who: 5-1
Guest contributor Frank Cheeryble looks at tragically missed moments. Part 2.
Here it is, part 2 of my rundown of the ten most tragically squandered moments of brilliance in Who history. Read, shed a tear at what might have been, and feel free to point out the moments that I’ve missed myself in the comments below!
5. The Long Game given away early
I really love that Series 1’s last two stories are direct sequels of those from earlier in the run. It adds a sense of completeness to the Ninth Doctor’s short time in the TARDIS and, like a cherry on top of the Bad Wolf arc, shows how well thought through the first revived run was. The little Aliens of London/World War Three recap at the start of Boom Town is a great device to make sure the potentially casual audience know what the hell is going on when the Doctor holds up Margaret’s picture, but in Bad Wolf, the connection to The Long Game is not part of the premise. It is a secret, found out roughly half way through the episode, that the Games Station is what has become of Satellite 5’s news-casting base since the Doctor put things “right”.
So who on Earth thought it would be a great idea to recap the events of The Long Game at the start of the episode? By all means remind the audience what Satellite 5 is; the moment the Doctor realises where he is would be the perfect time for a quick flashback, much like the various Bad Wolf mentions are played back when Rose is told the name in the same episode. “This is Satellite 5” would have been a great twist in the episode, if it hadn’t already been carelessly indicated twenty minutes earlier. It’s like if the re-cap of the fob watch was placed at the start of Utopia, rather than at the point of revelation; you’re better than that, Doctor Who.
4. Looking for Agatha Christie in the Library
Now we know that the framing narrative of an old Agatha Christie was dropped from The Unicorn and the Wasp after filming, leading to a pre-titles sequence that should really have been post-titles and a rather rambling closing scene in the TARDIS that peters away with a bizarre shot of the Doctor and Donna looking at the time rotor. But in the rush to pen something to bring the episode to a close, and with Silence in the Library being moved forward in the running order to directly after Unicorn during production, it seems no one noticed just how much these two episodes were crying out for a direct link. The Unicorn and the Wasp ends with the Doctor explaining how Agatha’s books are loved throughout time and then, the next time we see them, they’re in a futuristic library. Perfect continuity.
But hold on, apparently in the intervening time “it was all ‘let’s hit the beach’”, and there’s no reference to them having very recently discussed humanity’s future book habits. Though it’s not quite as simple as the Doctor choosing to visit the Library after meeting Ms Christie, as he was of course summoned there by River, it still feels like a huge missed opportunity to not have drawn on those parallel themes. Even if the changes came too late in the day to add in any explicit reference to Agatha in Silence in the Library, Unicorn and the Wasp’s hurried ending would have been helped hugely by having the Doctor uncover River’s summons from looking up the Library in order to prove his point to Donna (much like River left her messages to the Doctor in series 5, knowing that a version of him would find them at some point). And another between-story cliffhanger after the excellent The Poison Sky ending would have been very welcome.
3. Genesis of the Daleks’ all-too-literal cliffhangers
Genesis of the Daleks is a classic, but its brilliance elsewhere comes with a big fault: its overly-sensational episode endings. Genesis is a dark, brooding story with a Machiavellian villain at its heart, and it suits the more conceptual cliffhangers rather than imminent peril. Parts one and four get it right, with their Davros-centric endings that ramp up the tension and leave the viewer dying for the next episode. Elsewhere Sarah’s melodramatic fall at the end of part two is silly enough, but it’s the ends of parts three and five that are the real missed magic moments. Both eschew terrific moments of tension in favour of over the top “Doctor nearly dies” nonsense. Part three ends with the Doctor being electrocuted, but the perfect cliffhanger moment comes seconds into part four when he witnesses the game-changing destruction of the Kaled dome (and believes Harry and Sarah to have been killed in the strike). Likewise, the Doctor’s hesitation over whether to destroy the Daleks could have been one of Doctor Who’s greatest ever cliffhangers, but instead it happens right at the start of part six after a completely unnecessary (and tone-destroying) moment of being strangled by Dalek mutants. Oh Genesis, you were so close to being the perfect story.
2. Amy’s Choice should have come sooner
Back in early 2010, Steven Moffat had taken over and it felt like anything could happen over the next 13 episodes. So when reading the synopsis for Amy’s Choice, I was all kinds of excited that it appeared that Amy was to leave the Doctor at the end of The Vampires of Venice, with a five year gap for her until the next episode opened. Of course that wasn’t the case, as the episode actually revolves around whether Amy and Rory stayed with the Doctor or not. But we kind of knew all along, didn’t we? Because if Amy really had chosen to go back to her life with Rory straight away, we’d have seen that the previous week instead of her inviting hubby-to-be along for the TARDIS ride.
The trick Mr Moffat missed here was to capitalise on the “anything can happen” feeling, rather than disappoint it; have The Vampires of Venice close with Amy’s choice having to be made. A cliffhanger of a last scene where she is faced with the dilemma of TARDIS life vs. Leadworth life, and the next episode shows those two lives fighting it out between themselves – the titular Amy’s Choice being the aftermath of the choice, not the making of it. And Amy’s Choice’s slight weakness in having nothing with which to suspend the revelation of which world is real once Amy crashes the camper van would be solved too; that would be the perfect time to reprise the cliffhanger, finally showing Amy choosing to stay on the TARDIS for the time being. As an audience, we benefit from a whole episode of “are we really going to get a young baby on the TARDIS” etc. etc., and the new regime running the show gets to make the most of their incoming status. Win win win, and with only a couple of minor changes and the loss of the most inexplicable Silence reference of the series.
1. The Hungry Earth in The Power of Three
Chris Chibnall gets too much flack when it comes to Doctor Who. Yes he screwed up series 2 of Torchwood, yes 42 is average at best, yes The Power of Three struggles to find its feet. But the latter episode is hugely ambitious, in many ways unique, and I applaud it for that. Also, and I may be in the minority here, I really enjoy The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. But there’s a problem. Amy and Rory see themselves in The Hungry Earth, trekking to Wales in the year 2020 to catch a glimpse of days gone by. The Power of Three, meanwhile, where Amy and Rory leave the twenty-first century forever, makes it quite clear that they do not make it to 2020: “We think it’s been ten years. Not for you, or Earth, but for us.” So, regrettably, we have to see those waving figures in The Hungry Earth as having been timey-wimey rewritten.
Why Chris, why? It would have done no damage to nudge the Ponds a few years further into the future in The Power of Three, and allow the continuity between both of Chibnall’s stories to remain intact. And, with the opening sequence of The Power of Three showing the Ponds’ life without the Doctor, the later episode provided an absolute gift of a chance to show them going back to the scene of The Hungry Earth and waving at themselves from the other side. Just imagine rewatching The Hungry Earth, now knowing that that isn’t Amy and Rory having resumed their lives post-Doctor, but Amy and Rory just before they lose the Doctor forever. Alas, it didn’t happen, and it’s how easily it could have and how much it would elevate both stories in retrospect that makes this my biggest missed magic moment in Who history.