There was a time when, for me, Doctor Who could do no wrong. These were my romantic early days in the Tardis. A time when everything about it was new and exciting. It didn’t matter what the story was as long as it was the show that I loved.
This sensation started to evaporate during season four of the new series. Watching the Doctor and Donna zoom around the universe together was immensely entertaining. What a relief for there to be a companion who didn’t fancy the Doctor. Finally he had a friend equally as quirky as him. The only drawback was that their adventures weren’t very exciting. Something about them was missing.
I know from reading the book The Writer’s Tale that show runner and head writer Russell T. Davies (RTD) was starting to get anxious. He had been working on the show since 2003 and was ready to move on to other things. It was time for a change.
Then RTD made the best decision since taking on the task of reviving the show in the first place – he would hand over the keys to the Tardis to the writer Steven Moffat.
For my money (of which I have none) there is no better television writer than Steven Moffat. If you need proof (and if you watched any of his episodes during the RTD era, you really shouldn’t need any) just watch Sherlock. If anyone could bring back the romance of watching Doctor Who, this was the bloke.
And boy did he. With an all new production team, a new companion, a new Tardis, and a new Doctor, the show had completely regenerated and come out stronger than ever before. Season 5 was just a blast. Waiting for the season finale was like waiting for a new Star Wars film (only I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed). Season 6 was dark and complex. They took huge risks and forced the viewers to pay attention. Characters were pushed to their limits and explored more deeply. The very frame of the show was altered. Mysteries were solved and even more were introduced.
Season 7 promised to take these challenges even further. The Daleks were coming back and were going to be scary again. We would finally see dinosaurs in space (I know I’d been waiting for it). The Doctor would get to wear a stetson again. The angels were in the Big Apple. The Doctor was returning to us in a big bad way.
The hype surrounding this series was like nothing Who had ever experienced. The show had reached a wider audience than ever before. Americans were finally joining the Whoniverse in droves. For the first time it felt as though this wasn’t an English import that I loved and struggled to get others to love as well. The world around me had at long last caught on.
And maybe that’s why I was left a little disappointed by these first five episode. Perhaps I had bought into the hype too much. It could also be that the nearly year long wait had allowed my expectations too much time to ferment. I just hope that my honeymoon with Steven Moffat and Matt Smith isn’t over.
I will say that there was not a single episode here that I completely hated. Unlike season 6’s The Curse of the Black Spot (which is now a black spot on my memory). But I must also say that there was not a single episode that I absolutely loved either.
Asylum of the Daleks was plenty haunting and atmospheric (ZOMBIE DALEKS!) but left me scratching my head a bit too much (and severely annoyed by Oswin). Dinosaurs On A Spaceship was a great throwback to the RTD era. A Town Called Mercy held some riveting character moments for the Doctor but everything else fell flat. The Power of Three would have been a great character study on living two entirely different lives but wasted its potential by shoving in a boring villain. And then there was The Angels Take Manhattan…
Obviously the main focus of the series was the departure of the Ponds. I have to admit that Amy has never been my favorite companion. Right from the start I found her a little too obnoxious. She was cocky and snotty and totally dismissive of Rory. It was hard for me to invest in their relationship because of the way she treated him. Not until the last scene of The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe (a disappointing Christmas special, despite it’s Narnia connection) did I really start to appreciate Amy. I saw how much she meant to the Doctor and that meant a lot to me.
Rory, on the other hand, is one of my all time favorite companions. He’s brave. He sticks to his convictions. He’s funny. He’s in love. And he has a full story arc. The Rory we see at the end of Season 6 is not the same Rory we saw in The Eleventh Hour. He’s both more confident and capable. When he says he will do anything to save Amy, I believe him. And the guy just won’t stay dead. You have to admire that kind of resilience.
So I can’t say I was dreading to see them go. Above all else, Doctor Who is about change, and it was time to bring someone new into the Tardis.
Steven Moffat said that this was the hardest episode for him to write. Apparently he drafted close to 20 scripts before he felt he got it right. I don’t find that very hard to believe. The episode has a lot going on in it. And I think that is its downfall.
It had all these great elements going for it: some great footage shot in NYC, the return of River Song (always happy to have her back), the Weeping Angels, and Steven Moffat writing it. Then he had to throw in an overly complicated and gobbledygook heavy plot, a dark and moody opening sequence that inevitably serves no purpose, a villain who adds little to the story other than being a weak plot device, strange rules about time which never get explained, and awkward tantrums from the Doctor. All of this takes away from the overall impact of the episode’s (and mid-season) climax.
Probably the greatest aspect of this episode is the performances. Each actor is on top form. Matt Smith shined above the rest (as usual), absolutely selling the utter devestation of losing Amy. Arthur Darvill brought the true core of Rory to the surface when he stood on that ledge to save the world. Alex Kington’s quiet kiss on her mother’s hand communicated more than any words she could have spoken. And Karen Gillan’s tearful order that River be a good girl and look after the Doctor still makes me a bit misty.
Yet I still can’t help but think that with a more linear and less convoluted plot, this could have been a perfect story.
If there’s one thing I appreciate most of all about the current era of Who it’s the cohesion. By giving each season a clear through line as well as an over-arcing story, Steven Moffat has created a beautiful story and character progression that I don’t think it’s ever had. Unfortunately that cohesion is nowhere to be found so far in this season. The decision to make each episode a stand alone story was admirable. As I said, Doctor Who is all about change. I just feel that by hopping along five drastically different stories with barely a thread to connect them made for an uneven and disorienting experience.
Luckily, the season ain’t over yet. We still have a lot to look forward to. A new companion (played by Jenna Louise Coleman; who previously played Oswin and now plays someone different…I hope). And if the rumors are true, a new script by Neil Gaiman (if you didn’t love The Doctor’s Wife, you are not human).
I’ll try, and most likely fail, not to buy into the hype this time around. I want to come to the upcoming second half with fresh eyes. Let us hope that more romantic days in the Tardis are still ahead.