Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Where no Doctor has gone before

So, Dr. Who is doing The Venture Bros. thing and splitting the season into two parts. In the meantime, we've got quite a cliffhanger to keep us hooked.  There's a lot of spoilers coming, so don't read this if you haven't watched the first half of season six.

Things started off in classic Moffat style. He obviously comes from the same school as J. J. Abrams (figuratively speaking, of course). Both of them write scripts designed to exploit the audience's fears. They both take everyday objects and situations and do their best to imbue them with a sense of horror. For example, Moffat has taken water, shadows, even statues and tried to make them terrifying. (That's why I say these shows draw more on the tropes of the horror genre than sf). This time around it was an Apollo spacesuit which he turned into something menacing. Right off the bat it kills the Doctor. (Obviously they can't kill the lead character, and we got some hints later on that it might be the Doctor's doppelgänger that actually got killed.) Then there were some entertaining episodes involving a pirate adventure and one by Neil Gaiman in which the TARDIS gets turned into a "mad bitey woman" that the Doctor finds sexy. All good fun.

Then followed a pair of episodes written by Matthew Graham revolving around the genuinely sfnal concept of remotely controlled artificial people (called "gangers"). Unfortunately that concept is lifted almost entirely from David Brin's novel, Kiln People (2002). No points for originality there. In any case, these episodes established that gangers are just as real as their originals, and that there is a ganger Doctor. He gets dissolved at the end, but it's hinted that he might be able to survive that. Is that who we saw get killed at the start of the season?

Then there was a major plot twist when it was revealed that Amy has been a ganger since the season began! I didn't see that coming. The reason she was seeing that eye-patch woman all the time was because she was actually being held captive somewhere else and her personality was being projected into the ganger. Now, there are a couple of problems with this. Amy mentions one herself when she questions how the signal could have been beamed into the TARDIS. Good question, Amy. What's more is that in "The Doctor's Wife" they all traveled outside the universe. How could the signal possibly have reached them there? To top it all off, when the Doctor reveals Amy's situation he then promptly liquefies the ganger Amy. This is after they spent two whole episodes driving home the point that gangers are people too! WTF?

Anyway, the big revelation of the mid-season finale is that, yes, River is in fact Amy's daughter. I kind of suspected that. And I while I wasn't disappointed, I do think it was a little bit of a cheat. Let me explain. The question of River's identity has been a mystery dangled before the viewers ever since season four. Now, let's draw an analogy to a mystery novel. In the classic Fair Play mystery the reader has all the clues presented to them and has the opportunity to solve the mystery before the solution is revealed in the last chapter. But that's not what happened here. For nearly two seasons we've been trying to solve the mystery of River's identity without having all of the clues. Suddenly at the beginning of this season we find out that, surprise!, Amy has a daughter, and the kid grew up to be our mystery woman. There's no way you could have worked that out form the clues in the previous two seasons. That's why I say it's kind of a cheat. It's not going to put me off the show or anything, but I would have preferred a proper mystery.

But I have been enjoying the show. Matt Smith is pitch-perfect as the Doctor, and Karen Gillan is great as his sassy Scots sidekick. That last episode was a rousing yarn. It all ended on a suspenseful note as the evil baby-snatchers made off with Amy's baby. (Just like the evil baby-snatchers in Lost were after Claire's baby. It's that whole exploit-the-fears thing again.) In the final scene the Doctor takes off on his own in the TARDIS and we'll just have to wait until September to see where he ends up.


Robert Saint John said...

Great summary. I also enjoyed the Series-so-far a great deal, though I'm concerned that the individual stories almost play second fiddle to The Arc. As a result, sometimes dumb things happen such as the end of The Almost People, or the shoehorning of the Arc into The Doctor's Wife. Looking back, the foreshadowing bits look a bit hamfisted compared to, say, Babylon 5. In some ways, I want Moff to be less ambitious next series.

But I don't want to nitpick too much. The highs were indeed very high and the cast has been second to none.

Löst Jimmy said...

Great post Jerry. I've been playing catch up of the last few episodes, having missed them due to work.

Jerry Cornelius said...

@RSJ: I'm with you there. And you're right, the end of "TAP" was weak. Where's our Doctor from "The Sun Makers" and "The Happiness Patrol"? But I'm really enjoying it, too. And nitpicking is half the fun!

@Jimmy: I hope I didn't spoil anything for you!