The Series 6 Story Arc: What Didn’t Work

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Guest contributor Adam James Cuthbert gives his thoughts on the Series 6 story arc.

Series 6 is a topic that has been discussed at length by the commenters on this site, and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the general consensus is something along these lines: “Series 6 was a mixed bag.” It’s been brought to my attention that my own thoughts on the series could be collected into a single, comprehensive article that conclusively addresses the perceived criticism, but also the highlights of the series’ story arc. Naturally, the emotional impact carried throughout the series depends on your affinity for the characters, their personalities and relationships, so bear with me when I say I disagree wholeheartedly with the treatment of River Song.

The crux of my issues with the series is the cliffhanger of A Good Man Goes to War. The entire plot hinges on the reveal of River’s identity and her relationship with the Doctor. It turns out she’s Amy and Rory’s daughter. This is a move I simply disagree with. Previously, the mystery of River had genuinely invested me and there was an underplayed pathos for her plight, as she nobly sacrificed herself to save the Doctor in the Library, devastated when he didn’t know of her significance in his life.

River was introduced as a mature, independent and courageous character: someone with a fascinating history to unfold of her presumed companionship with the Doctor. I appreciate the element of mythologising the Doctor’s character as well. “I’ve seen whole armies turn around at the mention of his name” creating this idealised and romantic vision of the Doctor that asserts River’s faith and loyalty in him: this is her ideal of the Doctor, which contrasts with the self-deprecating and lonely soul in reality. This element could have set up a potentially enriching, multi-layered storyline simply focused on the question: how does she become the Doctor’s wife?

Now, what makes Moffat’s decision particularly baffling is the introduction of the minor character of Lorna Bucket. Lorna grew up on the Gamma Forests, leading a humdrum life until the Doctor swept in and changed her life. She joined the Church expecting to meet this “great warrior”. I actually commend Moffat for presenting such a profound and unique twist concerning the Doctor’s identity. It makes perfect sense in context. The Doctor’s history of association with bloodshed and violence would naturally lead to his actions being misconstrued, seeing as he rarely contemplates on the long-term ramifications of his interference in history.

However, as soon as this character is introduced, Moffat promptly has her killed – why? River’s expository dialogue to Rory in The Impossible Astronaut left me with the impression she’d met the Doctor as a young girl. I fail to understand why Moffat didn’t equate the two elements together. It would have been a masterstroke if he simply stated they met asynchronously. Thus, when the Doctor meets River for the first time, she knows everything about him, and dies to save his life; and vice versa, with their first meeting from her perspective being the date of his death/regeneration. This would have been a poignant and poetic finish to their story. The young and impressionable River would subsequently have been inspired to seek out this “great warrior”, joining the Church.

Instead, we get a juvenile, reckless gun-toting sociopath who inexplicably falls desperately in ‘love’ with the Doctor, and is prepared to do anything in her power to prevent his death. She is perfectly content to let the entire universe die just so his life can be spared. Excuse me while I let out an exasperated groan of disbelief…

This leads me to The Wedding of River Song. The Doctor’s speech to the Dalek is a great piece of writing, showing how the Doctor has become so feared (and hated) by the Daleks, he’s their equivalent of the Devil, yet he takes this is in his stride. The Doctor has risen “higher than ever before” within this scene.

The twist of the Doctor being the Teselecta is admittedly clever, but a cop-out nonetheless. It’s particularly irritating as Moffat withholds the end of the scene to justify the existence of a superfluous alternative timeline. I can’t emphasise this point enough: why doesn’t the Doctor just tell River at Lake Silencio he’s the Teselecta in disguise? He does it anyway, so why not immediately? Remember this is a woman who will not see him die, so imaginably she will try to do something about his fixed death, and yet it doesn’t register in his mind? Not only does he scold her for embarrassing him, and quite rightly so, but seconds later he changes his mind, marries her, and then, once the event’s over, he indulges her by taking her on trips in the TARDIS at night. I have to seriously question the Doctor’s motives here, and Moffat’s writing.

River has done nothing to prove herself, either as a person or as the next companion. She has learnt nothing from her experiences. The fact that she is given the incredible knowledge to pilot the TARDIS better than the Doctor himself is unforgivable. If she’d learnt from the Doctor, that would be fine, perhaps as part of their relationship – a student learning from the Last of the Time Lords – but that’s not the case here. She has dissolved into a shallow, pitiful, selfish character. There is no trace of the subtlety or dignity previously associated with the character. I strongly hope Moffat will provide an explanation for the change in character between Series 6 and 4.

Here’s an idea: what if Kovarian had died due to River’s recklessness? Taking the notion that River had been raised in isolation since her birth by the Silence, conditioned as a psychopath to kill the Doctor, what if River had in fact developed a perverse surrogate mother-daughter relationship with Kovarian, whose own hatred for the Doctor remains unexplained? Say Kovarian took Amy and Rory’s child (using what we have in place) because she couldn’t conceive children of her own and wanted her revenge against the Doctor. The young River forms an attachment to this woman, the only source of nurturing during her childhood, the person she can’t help but look up to, perhaps to abate her loneliness. Kovarian later dies, during an incident involving the Doctor, as the consequences of River’s mission to kill him. River laments her death. The Doctor, naturally, would forgive her as she wasn’t responsible for her actions, seeking to help River cope with the death of the only person she’d ever loved. This is the catalyst for her gradual transition into the character seen in Series 4.

The second major issue I have with the series is the development of the Silence. I don’t see the need to change the Silence from being the alleged name of the species to being a religious organisation. The cliffhanger at the end of Day of the Moon left me speechless. I was struck by the possibility that these mysterious aliens were raising an artificial Time Lord for their own nefarious scheme. The idea that they had conceived her as a living key to unlock forbidden Time Lord technology – a remnant of the Dark Times, etc. – as part of their ambitions to become the new Lords of Time was a fascinating possibility, especially since Moffat could have extrapolated their presence on Earth to hundreds of other worlds. The little girl was merely the final stage in their quest for universal domination. Silence would fall across the universe as these creatures rose, triumphant, and quashed all resistance. Their desire to kill the Doctor resulted from their observation of the timelines with crude time-technology, foreseeing the Doctor’s descent into darkness. After a perverse fashion, they saw themselves as the good guys, saving the universe from the threat the Doctor posed.

Obviously, I can’t judge the outcome of their actual onscreen plan, but I don’t believe the Doctor’s name will be revealed to us. Perhaps Trenzalore will see the Doctor succumb to darkness.

Finally, Series 6 posed more questions that it provided answers. Usually, this is a good thing: it gets fans speculating and comparing theories. But here, it’s an unmitigated disaster, largely due to the needlessly convoluted scheme of the Silence. I’ll end this article by listing some of my questions:

Why an astronaut suit? Why raise the young Melody in the suit if it’s the adult River who kills the Doctor? Why a human-Time Lord hybrid? If the suit’s in control of itself all this time, why even use River; surely they could use anyone? I could appreciate the fact if the suit needed a ‘host’ to execute its pre-programmed function to assassinate the Doctor, but that doesn’t explain the lengths they go to get River. Surely a random bystander would be sufficient for the task? Or better yet: hire a bounty hunter. There must be a price on the Doctor’s head somewhere?