The Series 6 Story Arc: What Did Work
Guest contributor Sam Morris defends the Series 6 story arc.
Series 6 of Doctor Who seems, at times, to be the marmite series on fan forums. I think it would be fair to say some love it, some hate it and some (like me) just think the lovers should stop getting so defensive about their marmite, and the haters should just have peanut butter instead.
Clumsy metaphors aside, I am here to defend Matt Smith’s second series. However, I will take this moment to state – before I get branded a marmite lover – I do not think it is perfect. If I am being honest, I prefer individual episodes as opposed to ‘favourite seasons’, but as series 6 was so arc-intense it makes sense to look at the 13 episodes as a whole package: and as a whole I believe it works. I would agree however that River’s switch from wanting to see the Doctor dead to an overwhelming love for him (no matter how in line that is with psychopathic behaviour) is hard to believe. Amy and Rory in Lets Kill Hitler appear to not be that emotionally invested in the wellbeing of their daughter (the Doctor has to remind them River is their daughter when she is being ‘given hell’ by the Teselecta).
I’m still left wondering from Series 5 how exactly the Silence blew up the Tardis (though if I have been stupid and missed the explanation I would love someone to inform me) and try as I might I can’t help but feel the ’Doctor Teselecta’ was a bit too convenient an ending, though this could be because the way the Silence were eradicated off the earth in The Day of the Moon was so clever, I got my hopes up.
With the bad stuff now swept aside and under a rug it’s time to start defending this lovely blob of marmite, and the best place to start would most certainly be River Song. Series 6 was essentially ‘River’s Season’ and if you disliked her from her previous adventures, then even having Alex Kingston lean out of the TV with chocolates and a sincerely apologetic letter from Steven Moffat would never make you love this series. The main tipping point for the rest of us was whether the reveal of her being Melody Pond, Amy and Rory’s daughter, was the right way for River to go. For me, it was.
At Comic Con 2011 in Paris, Moffat stated he thought early on of River being “The daughter of a companion he’s [the Doctor] pledged to protect” as means of explaining where the Doctor and River’s seemingly close relationship came about. This makes perfect sense; if River Song wasn’t Melody Pond, who else could she be and still have such a personal relationship to the Doctor? It explains all the visits to River Song during her time in the Storm Cage, the Doctor’s on-going feeling of obligation to look after the child of the Ponds. After all, she was stolen from his best friends and turned into a psychopath to kill him by the Silence. Everything River became was because of the Doctor.
This brings about The Wedding of River Song. The Doctor, intending to go to his death, survives it in the Teselecta and slips back into the shadows, with the universe believing he is no more. Except he didn’t count on the now hopelessly infatuated River breaking the rules of time to save him because losing him would cause her more suffering than the pain of billions on billions dying with the end of the universe (by Jove that Doctor knows how to get the ladies). It seems, to me, at that point the Doctor tells her about the Teselecta because he sees no other way to convince her to kill him.
I think maybe this is a turning point for the Doctor: he has been running all his life, but he cannot leave River knowing that she (thinking she’d killed him) would be suffering without knowing he was still alive. Maybe this is what triggers him looking after her, taking her on adventures and making her a better person. To me, that explains why the River in Series 4 is so much kinder, level-headed and arguably more likeable than the gun toting, innuendo-in-every-line River of Series 6 because River’s story runs in reverse – by series 4 she has had her life with the Doctor; he has made her the best of humanity.
The other major factor in the Series 6 arc is the Silence. To be clear I mean the religious movement, not its leaders. As a concept, the Silence was brilliant: an order formed to the stop the question being asked. Lead by a mysterious race of aliens that, in my opinion, are awesome. Moffat has always taken innovative approaches to new monsters. It would have been simple to just have a big bad monster intent on exterminating the Doctor (wait a second … has that already been done?), but instead an intriguing, sly, almost puppet master alien threat was born. They certainly look the part, and can shoot lightning out of their fingers! Being unable to remember them once looking away makes them a much more overwhelming threat, after all how can you fight something if you can’t remember it?
As for the rest of the Silence order, in particular Madame Kovarian, I do believe their hatred for the Doctor can be justified. Perhaps the roots of this is not apparent on screen but certainly in A Good Man Goes to War it is made very clear that to some of the universe the Doctor is seen as a great warrior, soaked in the blood of millions. To them, he leaves destruction everywhere he goes and they see that this should be put an end to. This justifies their reasons for wanting Melody: a human Time lord, rather than just any old person. They would see the Doctor as some unstoppable force – almost a God – and so feel the only way to win would be to fight fire with fire: Time lord vs. Time lord. Also I got the feeling Madame Kovarian had a particular bitterness towards him, so I would not put it past her to take Melody simply to make the Doctor suffer emotionally, letting him know he has lost the thing most precious to his closest friends.
Of course, come the finale we know their overwhelming objective is to stop the Doctor from reaching Trenzalore and the question being asked: Doctor Who? What this could all mean is anyone’s guess, but leaving us with questions can only be a good thing. After all, questions were only left to keep viewers intrigued, keep them wanting to come back to watch next season and get discussions going – and certainly on that level it worked!
Finally, there are a couple of questions posed about Series 6 that I think can be answered, so I will try to answer them here. Why the astronaut suit? Well why not? The Silence needed a weapon to kill the Doctor and the opening took place in 1969. Visually an astronaut suit works! Why raise young Melody if it is adult River that kills him? Well she needed to be conditioned, turned into a psychopath in order to murder him, I imagine that takes time (I have never tried to nurture a killer though). I think they made Melody try to kill the Doctor several times, but each time was thwarted: the cliff hanger of The Impossible Astronaut (stopped by Amy shooting the suit. Back here though I think Melody still was not conditioned to be a murderer; so the suit, perhaps using Human Time lord Melody as an ‘energy battery’, was operating on its own accord). Let’s kill Hitler (thwarted by River falling in love with the Doctor) and Finally The Wedding of River Song (stopped by the ‘Doctor Teselecta’).
All things in consideration, this series was always going to split opinion. I have stated why I think (on the whole) it worked. Never has a story arc in Doctor Who been more rewarding to follow, and I still find new things and insights on every re-watch. Yes it is complicated, but with some reading between the lines and concentration I found it a deeply rich and engaging story arc. Yes it was not quite as casual viewing as it could have been, but I like marmite from time to time, as well as peanut butter. Those who hate the marmite that was Series 6 will always dislike it, and that is fine, but the peanut butter of Series 7 is almost upon us; and it has been guaranteed to be story arc light! So let’s leave clumsy toast topping metaphors behind, get out our sonic screwdrivers and get ready for Asylum of the Daleks!