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2011 In Review: Doctor Who

With the new year rapidly approaching, Clint Hassell takes look back at how 2011 changed the Whoniverse by examining in-depth each of the three Who-related series, continuing with Series 6 of Doctor Who.

Series 6 had a greater impact on the show than Series 5.

Monsters

Steven Moffat seems especially gifted at scripting lasting additions to Doctor Who’s mythology. Captain Jack Harkness, the Weeping Angels, and River Song have all have continued to reappear, and have become recognizable parts of the show’s lore.

Looking back at Series 5, I can’t pinpoint any new addition to the show that achieved this status. Series 5 brought us Amy and Rory, but companions have been a staple of Doctor Who since it’s inception, and soon, both will be replaced. Inevitably, we’ll see the redesigned Silurians again, but, as far as newly-created monsters go, can you honestly imagine the Doctor encountering the Atraxi, Prisoner Zero, Smilers, Saturnynians, Eknodines, the Dream Lord, or a Krafayis again?

Series 6 had better monsters. While I’m not expecting to watch “Resurrection of the Siren,” “Revelation of the Peg Dolls,” or “Remembrance of the Handbots” in Series 7, I expect to see the Silents again. By featuring in the premiere, the finale, and in the majority of the promotional materials of Series 6, the Silents have achieved Weeping Angel-level familiarity, and are universally accessible enough to return to the show at some point. Also, the concept of evil duplicates is too delicious (for both the writers and actors) to not revisit the Gangers, whose theme of attaining sentience and then civil rights is one previously examined by the series (see: the Ood, the Space Whale).

Doctor who?

Series 6 reset the premise of the show. Returned to relative obscurity, the Doctor has truly become “Doctor who?” This epic change allows the next several series to feature stories about a universe (re)discovering the Doctor, giving the viewing audience a chance to fall in love again with the Time Lord.

River Song

River is really the character for whom Moffat wants to be known. Your enjoyment of Series 6 depends on how much you love her.

Series 6 suffered from an over-reliance on River Song – seven of the thirteen episodes dealt with elements of her storyline. It’s hard to fault Moffat; River is charismatic and seductive, and the question of her identity was a tantalizing mystery through Series 4 and 5. However, feeling the pressure to complete River’s character arc while actress Alex Kingston was available for filming, Moffat crammed all of Song’s remaining story into one series. While it ensured a completed story arc, rushing through River’s narrative forced Series 6 to include excessive exposition, as Moffat checked off his list of “epic story beats.” Lost was the opportunity to play with Mels, replaced by inevitable plot holes created by the narrative’s inability to slow for necessary explanations. The storyline’s rapid pace had a negative effect on River as a character, as many of her actions seemed rushed or forced. For example, River switches far too fast from psychotic killer to professing a universe-ending love for the Doctor.

Series 6’s focus on River Song also meant that many amazing episodes got swept under the rug in favor of further hyping the mythology arc. The episodes that carried the most impact – and were the purest in their “Who-ness” – were the three middle episodes from the second half of Series 6: “Night Terrors,” “The Girl Who Waited,” and “The God Complex,” episodes that were under-publicized in order to further promote RIVER! HITLER! ANSWERS! RIVER! FINALE! RIVER!

The Ponds

A great companion contributes to adventures by helping and emotionally challenging the Doctor. They share innate qualities – a sense of justice, a desire to grow personally by exploring the expanses of space and time, empathy for the underdog, a thirst for adventure – with the Doctor. Because of this, great companions are incredibly loyal to the Doctor (see: Rose), and often follow his example to become better people (Jack, Donna), though several would have achieved greatness regardless (Martha, Sarah Jane).

In Series 6, Amy and Rory are not great companions. In fact, they’re really horrible.

In fairness, both Amy and Rory have done several notable things in service of the Doctor:

  • Amy single-handedly freed the Space Whale.
  • Amy convinced Bracewell that he was more human than machine, thus deactivating the bomb inside his chest.
  • Amy tried to negotiate a peace treaty with the Silurians.
  • Rory jumped in front of the Doctor, taking a blaster shot to the chest, resulting in his death.
  • Amy remembered the Doctor back into existence.

However, these actions happened in Series 5, before Amy and Rory were married. In Series 6, the blind faith Amy had in the Doctor became replaced by Amy and Rory’s loyalty to each other. As a result, both suffered as companions. In Series 6, what did Amy do in service of the Doctor? She used the sonic screwdriver to turn the antibody robots against the crew of the Teselecta, and she rescued the Doctor from a nest of Silents. However, she also shot a little girl in the face. Rory was even worse as his most “heroic” moment was siding with Ganger Jennifer, resulting in the Doctor and Amy almost being killed by steaming hot acid.

Mostly, in Series 6, Amy and Rory took turns rescuing each another. A swashbuckling Amy fought off pirates to save Rory, and later used CPR to revive him. Rory’s famously (“WHERE. IS. MY. WIFE?”) confronted the Cybermen to rescue Amy. All of “The Girl Who Waited” revolved around Rory saving his spouse. In “The Wedding of River Song,” Amy and Rory even got to save each other in the same scene as Rory fought off the effects of his malfunctioning Eye Drive in order to buy Amy time to escape; she, in turn, rescued him from being electrocuted by the Silents. (She then killed Madame Kovarian, demonstrating how far she had turned from sharing ethics with the Doctor.)

Again, in fairness, Amy and Rory rescuing each other is nothing new. Series 5’s “The Vampires of Venice” and “Amy Choice” showed Amy and/or Rory doing heroic things, not in service of the Doctor, but to rescue one another. Heck, Rory’s character-defining 2,000 year wait as “The Lone Centurion” was to protect Amy, trapped inside the Pandorica. However, Series 6 exacerbated the practice by shifting Amy and Rory’s motivations away from the Doctor, thus reducing their effectiveness as companions.

I dearly love Amy and Rory as characters. I am inspired by Rory’s amazing capacity to love Amy through impossible, dire circumstances. I love the concept (if not the execution) of a married couple as companions, but felt that the storyline was waylaid in order to further the Amy’s-baby-is-really-River storyline. Especially after the events of “The Girl Who Waited” (not to mention “The God Complex”), I do not wish to see them return to the series as anything more than River’s parents.

Series 7

Am I excited for Series 7? I’m cautiously optimistic. With Amy, Rory, River, Kovarian, the Silents, and the legend of the Doctor-as-Oncoming-Storm ostensibly out of the picture for Series 7, Moffat’s got a lot of rebuilding to do. Hopefully this will allow him to develop new characters and build an effective lead-in to an epic 50th anniversary.

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