And here we are at the final story of Series Six. The end is the beginning is the end, and what’s more, for a good part of it, we’re in a cave of skulls!
PA: How thrilled I am to see that not only is Dorian back, but he’s back in the right order, having been comprehensively decimated and yet living to tell his tale, tune into his excellent Wi-Fi, and drop doom-laden portent about the Doctor’s future to round things off. Oh well, you can’t have them all.
PLEASE let’s have a future with ‘Live Chess!’ in it, and please can the potential for the game be extended to Playstation/X-Box enthusiasts and boy racers? I mustn’t carp this early on, but I found the Doctor’s detective work to be the best part of the story – the skully cave, Mark Gattis’ eyepatched Cohen the Barbarian-like, and Amy’s office on a train carriage (I bet you’d like one of those, Al) As for the mention of the Brig, we seem to have the unhappy parallel this year of the series bookended by notable passings, with Lis Sladen’s death captioned in The Impossible Astronaut, and now Nick Courtney’s embedded into the storyline, Sort of.
Here’s the thing: I’d have been happy with an out-of-story tribute to Nick Courtney, the actor whose contribution to Doctor Who surpassed his most popular role by one pretty significant other character (and I don’t mean Tourist in Silver Nemesis) and his many many promotional appearances. I’m actually with Tom Spillsbury on this one, when he, announcing the death of Lis Sladen in the DWM editorial, implored the series heads to not acknowledge her character’s death, but simply let her fade away, presumably to still be having cracking adventures on her own, possibly forever.
AH: You’ve made a good argument regarding the ‘Courtney tribute’, that it might have been better to leave us to imagine further unseen adventures with the Brig – maybe fighting Inca demons in Peru – but always out there somewhere. I’m compelled to defend the scene however.
The Doctor has suddenly learned he’s lost a friend he thought would always be there – pure and simple. He owed the Brig his life countless times, but perhaps the Doctor never remembered him as often as he should, and certainly failed to pop back to see him and enjoy that brandy. And now it’s too late – he’s gone. No canonical retro-tidying, no glib caption – the Brigadier’s death (in his bed, as we were always told it would be) is blunt, unromantic and real, and it hurts the Doctor enough to accept his own mortality and move forward.
The fact that we never had the Brigadier grace Nu-Who is a tragedy which will always be lamented – an appearance along-side Tennant’s Doctor would just have felt so right. So perhaps the regret demonstrated over this missed opportunity is not only the Doctor’s, but the Production Team’s as well. Actually, maybe the episode’s dependence upon eyepatches is a tribute all on its own?
In the real world, Nicholas Courtney is hugely missed, and would hopefully have approved of this brief, but respectful reference.
PA: Yeah, I’d just have rather he’d at least have gone out fighting, off-screen, rather than being retired to a convalescing home. That’s no way out for an old warhorse, even if it is a nod to Battlefield, his now last ever on-screen performance in the main series.
AH: Some positives now: wasn’t Amy great? She’s only been gone for one story (bar a brief cameo) but it was so good to see her back – dressed like a grown up and looking fabulous in her eye patch. When she finally lets her pleasure at seeing the Doctor show, and we realise that the eyepatches don’t signify some awful alliance with the Silence, her joy is infectious. She even looked sexy firing a machine gun, saving ‘stupid-face’ – again.
PA: Again the disrespect to Matt Smith. Al, he was great this year! And so was Gillan. I noted a real step up from last year’s performance and yes, I agree that in WoRS, she was very good indeed. Her slow realisation that the only man for her was under her nose all the time – nicely written, and beautifully underplayed.
AH: No disrespect intended, I assure you – I’ve been fairly lavish of my praise of him in earlier reviews. Perhaps I sound guilty of taking Smith for granted because he’s always so consistently brilliant. Elsewhere, I thought the ‘Silents’ were well-presented – proper, creepy, implacable Who Monsters. The cracking glass as they placed their big ugly chicken claws against it was genuinely scary.
AH: The script itself probably earns the same criticism that Star Wars prequels earned, not so much a story as a fussy exercise in housekeeping – dusting off misplaced knick-knacks putting everything back where it should be. As you’ve said, this results in very little plot tension.
PA: To be honest I wasn’t sure there was much of a plot to look out for here. We knew there was an end point to be reached (though you just don’t know in these days of Moff’s plotting on a larger scale), we just needed the means to get there. I thought the ‘alternative universe’ thing was fine – nice to look at (and I still feel a little guilty at feeling nonplussed about spectacle these days after years of wanting more convincing, flashier visuals in the old series!) , but not a hundred miles away from a title card reading “six months later’.
AH: The end-of-year visual effects which had been so carefully saved up for were beautiful: the steam train roaring towards the great pyramid on a monorail being a particular stand-out for me. But it’s very much window dressing rather than integral to the story, unlike last year’s gorgeous Stonehenge spaceship rally.
PA: Agreed, totally. Why Egypt? I don’t remember anything in the episode that explained it. Imagination in the series is a wonderful thing, but I think it has to be an essential element of the story, if not the starting point. Cars on balloons? Cool – but Why? Etc.
AH: The tradition of featuring the ‘big guns monsters’ as cameo appearances to facilitate the plot, continues. I felt sorry for the Dalek – (surely the Doctor wasn’t torturing it?) – reduced like the Cybermen to a mere information source. I have to confess that I’m looking forward to a proper Dalek story soon – can we have some Ogrons too?
PA: I’m sure the Daleks are being kept for a big 2013 story, surely. And see my comments for Closing Time about Ogrons. I thought the dalek in this was a fun enough scenes, though I’m not big on the Doctor describing himself as ‘the Devil”. Did he go all Rory on them, as you have asked, or was it a happy coincidence he was in the area?
AH: Ultimately, I think the episode did everything it needed to do: resolution, humour, fun cameos, a bit of action, building some more tension for next year (including what sounds like Matt Smith’s final episode?)
PA: Could be! Look, I think it rattled along well enough, and I’m grateful for some of those plotlines finally being resolved, even as self-consciously as this. The backyard reunion with River and her parents was a pleasing tableau, but I’m not convinced Moffat still sees more storytelling opportunity in there, and I hope that in there is a genuine story. I much preferred last year’s finale.
But looking back and ahead. What do you think?
AH: I have to conclude that the first half of this series finished better: A Good Man goes to War being my second favourite story this year. Watching that felt as if the programme had suddenly woken up again after getting bogged down in ganger gunk for a very long two episodes. As for my first – The Doctor’s Wife is really the only story in the room, I think.
PA: Gaiman’s story takes some beating. I think it might be helped along by being one of the only stories without Moffat’s dabs over it. NO Kovarian peekaboo, no coda returning us to the arc, no splashy ganger revelations, not even a creepy nursery rhyme. It’s a favourite of mine, too. And The Girl Who Waited from the second half. I can’t choose between the two acts this year.
AH: Unfinished business: Is it just me, or does the oft repeated phrase “Silence will fall” only sound like a prediction of their defeat? Relax, Doctor – I don’t think it’s just about you.
PA: I hope so. The Silence aren’t a wholly satisfying race for me at the moment. There’s no obvious figurehead, no great dialogue – Kovarian became their Master/Davros figure for a while, so I might be happier to see more of the Church as a broader entity. Or, hey! Something completely different!
AH: The Doctor’s change of costume in Let’s Kill Hitler wasn’t resolved after all – would they run the answer to this across more than one series? And if so, could it be somehow tied-in with the eleventh Doctor’s final end, if he really is popping off next year?
PA: Has to be. I’m sure there’s an explanation waiting in the wings somewhere.
AH: As for the strange markings in the ground outside Amelia Pond’s house at the end of the last series – are we just to assume it was made by a Silence spacecraft?
PA: I’m not sure this is going to be revealed! It all points to a less than tidy closure this year, doesn’t it? On the subject of young Amelia, it was great to see Caitlin Blackwood reappear as she did this year, but visually she’s getting older. She’ll age faster than Alex Kingston, so if Moffat has plans for a storyline that feature her, he might have to get creative!
AH: And most importantly – the pre-series trailer promised us a winking, naked (or at least shoulder strapless) River Song. We’ve been robbed!
PA: Sorry, that’s secret Stormcage business. We might not ever get to see it now!