The Best and Worst of Doctor Who: Series 6

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For previous installments:

Series 6, like Series 7, was also split into two parts surrounding the story of River Song and a comic book death of the Doctor.

The Best:

The Girl Who Waited

The Girl Who Waited, is by far the episode that gives Amy the most agency, except that we never see it. The title comes from a statement the Doctor made to young Amelia in The Big Bang while rewinding through time. The Den of Geek review states the following on this episode:

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It’s interesting that, in a time when Doctor Who is having immense fun and success weaving longer narratives, that two of the best episodes this series have been the standalone ones. The highlight remains Neil Gaiman’s The Doctor’s Wife, and Tom MacRae’s The Girl Who Waited can’t dislodge that.

But it has a damn good go, and comes a fair bit closer than you might have expected. For this, again, was an excellent story in a show that continues to be inventive, surprising, and quite brilliant.

In an episode that by turns felt like it was evoking The Mind Robber, a bit of Paradise Towers, The Beast Below, and a small dab of Turn Left (with a nod to 70s telly, too), the Tardis lands in a seemingly empty world (I’m not going to try and spell its name), opposite a door with two buttons alongside it. It’s a proper sci-fi door, too, with requisite swishing, in that way that all sci-fi doors should.

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In fact, the whole episode evokes a look and feel of proper, old-fashioned science fiction, with a bleak world, underpinned by a seeming kindness that’s actually anything but. Credit must go, too, to director Nick Hurran, for making quite as much out of the wonderful production design as he does.

Back to the story, though. The Doctor and Rory press one button, and go through the door. Amy follows, pressing a different button, and ending up elsewhere. The reason? Well, this is a place where multiple timestreams are running, and Amy is on one that’s going faster.

Doctor Who’s recent confidence in playing with time within the confines of a single episode was already high before The Girl Who Waited, and here, it’s used in an interesting way to put the spotlight firmly onto Amy Pond. Karen Gillan does not disappoint.

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I found Amy, thoughout the last series, a really quite unsympathetic character, and a hard one to root for at times. This year, though, the depth of her feelings for Rory have been explored in some depth, and it’s here when they feel at their most real. For the first time, I absolutely believe that Amy loves Rory as much as Rory loves her, and now that that’s been established, I expect the pair of them to be facing a fair amount of added peril come the next three episodes of the show.

A bit of me still thought that she a bit unreasonable for grumbling about 36 years, when Rory had been waiting for her for the best part of 2000. But Rory’s too nice to bring that up.

That said, it’d be remiss to say that it was just Amy under the marvellous prop magnifying glass. I’ve already praised Arthur Darvill’s portrayal of Rory a fair amount this series (his protestations that he was trying to save Amy were excellent: “still can’t win, then”, and his devotion to her is clear), though, so instead, I’m going to focus on Matt Smith’s Doctor.

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We’re reminded at the end of the episode that his death is firmly established at a fixed point in time and space, but perhaps even more interesting, it’s being brought home to him more and more the damage he can do to his companions (as if he wasn’t already aware).

In Let’s Kill Hitler, when he was minutes from death and on the floor of the Tardis, the Doctor basically requested to see the face of a person he hadn’t screwed up yet. Cue the young Amelia Pond, in all her innocence.

When presented with the older Amy here, the one caught in the episode’s time labyrinth for over three decades, he pretty much got the polar opposite. An older Amy, burning with hate and resentment for the Doctor, practically snarling her disgust at him for leaving her in a form of hell. Gillan’s dual performance sells this extremely well, too (as does Smith’s reaction to it). I felt I was watching two slightly different Amys, and that’s not an easy thing to get across by any measure (decent make-up work, too).

And while it’s clear that one Amy is ultimately going to have to perish here (not for the first time this series, the Doctor lies, after all), it’s not that, for me, that gave the episode its emotional core. Instead, it was the deeper peek into the soul and feelings of Amy, once the layers had been peeled away. That’s why Amy was basically able to sacrifice Amy for Amy. If, er, that makes sense. That the emotional moments paid off because the build-up was so diligently, and convincingly, done.

While we’re here, can we also point out that, over the past 24 episodes, we’ve now seen Amy, Rory and The Doctor die? On more than one occasion in some cases. Likewise, last year, we had Amy’s Choice. Wasn’t this just a little bit Rory’s Choice? Just thought we’d state that, on the off-chance we’d stumbled on something relevant.

Elsewhere in the episode, we had the handbots, whose reason for being was to be kind to people. This kindness extended to, basically, conking them out and doing them nasty harm, in a not dissimilar way to the tentacled lumps of metal we saw in Let’s Kill Hitler. They gave Amy Pond ample opportunity to be a badass, too, as, when she appeared in her older guise dressed in some stuff she found in the Doctor Who prop cupboard, she turned into warrior Amy. Expect the very welcome action figure in due course.

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What I really liked about The Girl Who Waited, though. is that a strong, interesting idea is used to explore characters who have been parading around our tellies for the best part of two years now. It’s an episode that worked very well on both a science fiction and narrative level, and left the three lead characters in slightly different places to where they started (Rory’s haunting comment to the Doctor – “this isn’t fair, you’re turning me into you” – is an example of this that deserves highlighting, for one).

The final image above does need to be addressed. She made a sonic screwdriver (actually, a probe)? What does this mean? It means, like in Flatline for Clara Oswald, Amy is inhabiting some of the Ms. Male Character trope (see Feminist Frequency‘s Ms. Male Character). This is a recurring theme for Moffat: Everybody loves the Doctor.

The Worst:

A Good Man Goes to War, and Let’s Kill Hitler

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A Good Man Goes to War begins immediately following the end of The Almost People in which not Amy Pond wasn’t really travelling with Rory and the Doctor, bur actually a ganger, she also now has a mystical pregnancy to boot (see Feminist Frequency ‘s #5, all future references to this link will appear as Ω).

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Like many television depicted mystical pregnancies, after this episode, the audience isn’t given much in the effects of Amy losing her daughter with Rory, save in The Wedding of River Song, with an exchange between Amy and Madame Kovarian. In The Time of the Doctor, much of the plot of Series 6 is briefly addressed in an exchange between Tasha Lem and the Doctor:
tumblr_myebtrjX741qdm7rno3_500tumblr_myebtrjX741qdm7rno2_500tumblr_myebtrjX741qdm7rno1_500So, as the episode opens up, Amy is narrating:

“I wish I could tell you that you’ll be loved, that you’ll be safe and cared for and protected. But this isn’t a time for lies. What you are going to be, Melody is very, very brave.  But not as brave as they’ll have to be. Because there’s someone coming. I don’t know where he is, or what he’s doing, but trust me, he’s on his way. There’s a man who’s never going to let us down, and not even an army can get in the way. He’s the last of his kind. He looks young, but he’s lived for hundreds and hundreds of years. And wherever they take you, Melody, however scared you are, I promise you, you will never be alone. Because this man is your father. He has a name, but the people of our world know him better. As the Last Centurion.”

Accompanying this narration, we get the only scene throughout this entire episode that is actually worth watching (directly above). After this, everything spirals downhill quite abruptly and immediately without any recovery.

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The preceding scene opens up on Demon’s Run with the Angelican Marines of the Church. This introduces Lorna Bucket, a former resident of the Gamma Forest (“Gamma Girl”), and the Thin, Fat Gay Married Angelican Marines. The Fat One subsequently “donates” his head to become a Headless Monk, making them within two minutes of their introduction no longer a couple. Furthermore, they do not have names; they have titles. Titles are not particularly humanizing. This scene closes with Lorna Bucket saying, “He’s the Doctor. He could be anywhere in time and space.

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The next scene opens up in London, 1888 A.D. with the introduction of Madame Vastra and her faithful companion, Jenny. It will turn out that both these characters are in fact a lesbian couple (more on that later, though). But looking at this first scene, one should recognize that Madame Vastra is actually introduced as a man-eating monster, quite literally. This is a pervasive and awful stereotype directed both towards ambitious women, as well as lesbians. According to Sexy Bodies: The Strange Carnalities of Feminism, in Chapter 4: ‘Lesbian Bodies’, which states:

With the advent of the cinema, stereotypes of the lesbian, which draw so heavily on the visual, were represented in increasing variety. Here we find the lesbian in a range of guises: mannish imposter (Walk On The Wild Side), fanged vampire (The Hunger), virginal victim (Vampire Lovers), predatory schoolteacher (Vampire Lovers), man-eating monster (Basic Instinct), child-woman (The Killing of Sister George), chic femme beauty (Les Biches), narcissistic double (Single White Female), prim professor (Desert Hearts), sophisticated seducer (Morocco), tomboy (The Fox), frustrated nun (Extramuros), depressed loner (Rachel, Rachel), suicidal depressive (The Children’s Hour).

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The next scene opens up at The Battle of Zaruthstra, 4037 with Sontaran Nurse Commander Strax. He, too, like Madame Vastra and Jenny, leave in the TARDIS.

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The next scene opens up at the Stormcage Facility where River Song is kept, having just returned with an unseen adventure with the Doctor. Rory is shown to speak with her. The exchange continues as follows:

Rory: Stevie Wonder sang in 1814?
River: Yes, he did. But you must never tell him.
Rory: I’ve come from the Doctor too.
River: Yes, but at a different point in time.
Rory: Unless there’s two of them.
River: Now, that’s a whole different birthday.
Rory: He needs you.
(River checks her diary.)
River: Demon’s Run.
Rory: How, how did you know?
River: I’m from his future. I always know. Why on Earth are you wearing that?
Rory: The Doctor’s idea.
River: Of course. His rules of engagement. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
Rory: Look ridiculous.
River: Have you considered heels?
Rory: They’ve taken Amy. And our baby. The Doctor’s getting some people together. We’re going after her, but he needs you, too.
River: I can’t. Not yet, anyway.
Rory: I’m sorry?
River: This is the Battle of Demon’s Run. The Doctor’s darkest hour. He’ll rise higher than ever before and then fall so much further, and I can’t be with him till the very end.
Rory: Why not?
River: Because this is it. This is the day he finds out who I am.

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At a bar, Dorium and Madame Kovarian are about why he is leaving, it goes as follows:

Dorium: Goodbye.
Kovarian: You appear to be closing down, Dorium. What have you heard?
Dorium: That you pricked the side of a mighty beast, Madame Kovarian, and entirely failed to run. I admire your courage. I should like to admire it from afar.
Kovarian: We’ve been waiting a month. He’s done nothing.
Dorium: Do you really think so? There are people all over this galaxy that owe that man a debt. By now, a few of them will have found a blue box waiting for them on their doorstep, poor devils.
Manton: You think he’s raising an army?
Dorium: You think he isn’t? If that man is finally collecting on his debts, God help you, and God help his debtors.
Manton: Why?
Dorium: Colonel Manton, all those stories you’ve heard about him, they’re not stories, they’re true. Really. You’re not telling me you don’t know what’s coming?
Manton: We’re wasting our time here.
Kovarian: Agreed.
Dorium: The asteroid, where you’ve made your base. Do you know why they call it Demon’s Run?
Manton: How do you know the location of our base?
Dorium: You’re with the Headless Monks. They’re old customers of mine.
Kovarian: It’s just some old saying.
Dorium: A very old saying. The oldest. Demons run when a good man goes to war.

2qsb8n6 After this exchange, Dorium, himself, gets picked up by the Doctor to be taken to Demon’s Run.

-A-Good-Man-Goes-To-War-doctor-who-for-whovians-33634925-500-282Following this, we are taken back to Demon’s Run where Colonel Manton proclaims: “He is not the devil. He is not a god. He is not a goblin, or a phantom or a trickster. The Doctor is a living, breathing man, and as I look around this room I know one thing. We’re sure as hell going to fix that.”

Meanwhile, Lorna visits Amy during which Amy is given a prayer leaf with the name of Amy’s baby on it. Amy warns Lorna that, “The thing is, he’s coming. No question about it. Just you make sure you’re on the right side when he gets here. Not for my sake, for yours.”

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As Colonel Manton talks an awful lot, the Doctor reveals himself.

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At the same time, Madame Vastra and Jenny have invaded the Control Room and turn off the lights. Madame Vastra continues to wear the man-eating monster trope.

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Some chaos ensues throughout Demon’s Run, as expected. Meanwhile in the Control Room.

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The problematic exchange goes as follows:

Jenny: Clever, isn’t he?
Vastra: And rather attractive.
Jenny: You do realise he’s a man, don’t you, ma’am?
Vastra: Mammals. They all look alike.
Jenny: Oh, thank you.

Vastra: Was I being insensitive again, dear? I don’t know why you put up with me.

This is part of a stereotype that is perpetuated and driven by men, suggesting that lesbians haven’t been with the right guy yet (in this case, Madame Vastra). According to the Huffington Post article, “Lesbian Stereotypes: The Worst (And Most Hilarious) Ideas Many Have About The Community“:

Truthfully, the idea that the right guy and his penis will make us want to be with a guy is part of the “men in lesbian fantasyland” phenomenon, and it just isn’t happening. Sure, once in a while we lose one of our sisters to a guy, but that’s rare.

This interaction between Madame Vastra and Jenny plays heavily into this phenomena. It’s a poor depiction of lesbians in television.

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Long story shortened, it is later revealed that the baby is Human Plus Time Lord because Amy and Rory had consensual interactions in the TARDIS after their wedding night in The Big Bang.

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After this reveal, Madame Kovarian contacts the Doctor using a visual device (a “long way away”). She reveals that the child is “hope” in an “endless bitter war” against the Doctor. She, too, is ambitious, but also quite cruel.

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Later on this is further addressed:

Doctor: A child is not a weapon!
Kovarian: Oh, give us time. She can be. She will be.
Doctor: Except you’ve already lost her, and I swear I will never let you anywhere near her again.
Kovarian: Oh, Doctor. Fooling you once was a joy, but fooling you twice the same way? It’s a privilege.
Doctor: Amy. Amy.

After more chaos ensues, Lorna Bucket dies, which is such a waste of a character.

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River Song is then heard off-screen reciting this poem:

Demons run when a good man goes to war.
Night will fall and drown the sun,
When a good man goes to war.
Friendship dies and true love lies,
Night will fall and the dark will rise,
When a good man goes to war.
Demons run, but count the cost.
The battle’s won but the child is lost.

And then River reveals herself and who she is to the Doctor, and then Amy and Rory.

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This is when River Song finally reveals who she is, essentially, what this entire episode is centered around.

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The Doctor decides to leave, leaving River Song to reveal who she is to Amy and Rory.

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And so closes a terrible episode, which is immediately followed up by Let’s Kill Hitler, another terrible episode, also dealing with the story of River Song.

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Let’s Kill Hitler opens up with Amy and Rory driving a car in an open field the word, “Doctor,” in order to get his attention. It, apparently, works. Immediately after he arrives, a mysterious new character named Mels, appears. She is right away depicted as a trouble-maker, as seen in the video directly below:

After the credits run, we are given a very brief run-through of Mels impact on Amy and Rory’s life, including how she actually set-them up. She is shown to be, well, a “disruptive influence” by getting arrested, being disruptive in class, and always talking about the Doctor.

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This is similar to how Courtney Woods is introduced in the episode, The Caretaker.

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Within these first images, there is an immediate connection between acts of violence, disruptive behavior, and people of color, particularly as people of color as the perpetrators of violence. As the Teselecta is doing work in Berlin 1938, the Doctor, with Amy, Rory and Mels crash into it.

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In the ensuing altercation, Mels get shot by Hitler, and regenerates into River Song.

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Immediately following, River Song does as the Doctor has done before: Checks out the new incarnation.

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As she does this, she briefly inhabits Mrs. Robinson, from The Graduate (first image). This is itself, a reference to The Impossible Astronaut in which the Doctor called her Mrs. Robinson (second image).

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By doing this, River Song is trying to seduce the Doctor, in this instance, to kill him. For this reason, River Song through much of this story inhabits the Evil Demon Seductress (see Feminist Frequency‘s #4). Due to, as indicated before, she is “Human Plus Time Lord,” she has extra advantages of Time Lord capabilities (regeneration, for example).

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It’s important to recognize when Mels used a gun earlier, she actually fired it inside the TARDIS, causing damage, but in this instance, the gun in River’s hand isn’t loaded. This is another way in which acts of violence and people of color are connected in the story, that isn’t the done the same way with white characters.

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He manages to thwart her attempts because he knew she was “coming.” But she succeeds with a kiss,

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She then decides to explore Berlin.

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There are some funny moments to be sure, but most of the story follows along the same path until Melody Pond discovers she is River Song, whom he had spoke fondly of to Melody at the beginning of the story.

So, since the Doctor is  a Charmer, River Song sacrifices all of her regenerations for him.

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Next is the best and worst of Series 5.

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