Doctor Who, series 7 — all five episodes reviewed

[Completely new full-length reviews of these episodes (and the rest of Series 7) appear in my book The Eleventh Doctor: a critical ramble through Matt Smith’s tenure in Doctor Who.]

This year’s Doctor Who series was very short: just five episodes (of the usual 45 minutes each, which is about equivalent to one hour of advert-infested American TV). I’ve been too busy to write about each episode separately this year, but as the last episode has just finished, now is a good time to look back over all of them.

Spoilers follow!

1. Asylum of the Daleks

The series started with a bang, using its best writer (showrunner Steven Moffat) and its most iconic bad guys (the Daleks, duh). Plenty to love about this episode, including lots of Doctorish Moments, lots of Daleks-being-Daleks, and the deliciously alien sense at the end of their not knowing any longer who he is. All part of the post-Wedding plan to bring the Doctor down from his mythical stature to something more like the eclectic amateur of the old series.

But the highlight was the brilliant way that Oswin’s part of the story was handled. From the beginning there was something not quite right about her: for someone who’d been holed up alone on a Dalek planet for a year, she looked altogether too clean, neat and glamorous. Of course, TV dramas often portray their heroines in this way in the unlikeliest of circumstances, and this could have been one more instance of that tendency. Despite this clue, and the Doctor’s fixating on the eggs used to make her soufflés, the reveal still caught me completely by surprise — a real shock, and one with a gut-level horror to it that’s rare in TV.

So a very impressive opening — probably my favourite Episode 1 since the series was rebooted in 2005. (For anyone who’s forgotten, the previous contenders were as follows. Doctor Chris: Rose. Doctor David: New Earth, Smith and Jones, Partners in Crime. Doctor Matt: The Eleventh Hour, The Impossible Astronaut, and now Asylum of the Daleks.)

2. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

… and then it all went wrong. On paper, this episode should have been a killer. It had all the ingredients: dinosaurs; spaceships, dinosaurs on spaceships. Problem was, it gave the impression of believing that just throwing dinosaurs and spaceships together was all that was needed, that the episode couldn’t fail. As a result, it sleepwalks a lot of the time, and once you get past the Doctor’s delighted exclamation of the title, there’s not much else to delight.

In particular, Queen Nefertiti was a complete non-event: there was no reason at all for her to be there, and once there she didn’t achieve anything. Same goes for the explorer guy whose name I can’t even remember (which is telling in itself). Hands-down winner in the Guest Cast Stakes was most certainly Arthur Weasley as Rory’s dad, in a role that expressed perfectly appropriate bafflement with just enough bashful heroism to balance it out. I’d be happy to see more of him … but of course that’s not going to happen.

And of course the big homicidal elephant on the spaceship is this: at the end, the Doctor deliberately kills a defenceless person. Wholly out of character, and completely inexplicable. Rotten writing, and I don’t know if I was imagining it but it seemed to me that you could almost read Matt Smith’s lack of conviction as he acted it.

Speaking of Smith, I felt this was his least convincing performance in the role generally. For the first time, his Doctor felt more like a collection of mannerisms than an actual person, a flaw that David Tennant fell into with increasing regularity as his tenure progressed. Again, I am going to attribute this mostly to the writing, which gave the impression of being a collage of superficially Doctorish statements and actions with little coherence.

[In the interests of fairness, I should say that I watched this episode on my laptop, alone in my room late one night at a conference, so it probably didn't get a fair trial. Small screen, tinny audio, and I was mentally and physically exhausted. I'll be interested to see whether it improves when I see it again.]

3. A Town Called Mercy

Much better this time. The setting was a new one for modern Who (and hasn’t featured at all since Old Series 3′s The Gunfighters in 1965 with William Hartnell). A much more convincing and characteristic Doctor, and I could have died laughing at his order in the bar: “Tea. But the strong stuff. Leave the bag in.”

As for the story: it unfortunately made promises that it couldn’t quite keep. The Other Doctor’s secret emerged slowly — that was pretty well handled — and the cyborg assassin came across as pretty sympathetic. But for me, the story was flawed in one crucial respect: the old sheriff, Isaac, sacrificed his own life to save The Other Doctor, but that sacrifice was rendered futile by the Other Doctor’s suicide. Really: if he was prepared to give his own life, he should just have done it right at the beginning: saved everyone a lot of time and trouble, and saved Isaac his life. This kind of plot calculus bothers me profoundly. It makes everything else that happens meaningless.

4. The Power of Three

In some ways, the most frustrating of all the episodes — because the premise was so fascinating but the execution so by-the-numbers. Doctor Who doesn’t offer a mystery as often as we might expect, and this was a good one (if a bit reminiscent of Nicholas Fisk’s Trillions). Why is the world suddenly full of small, featureless, black boxes? Where are they from? What do they contain?

Unfortunately, there’s a big credibility gap here that was never addressed. Seriously — not one of seven billion people saw the boxes arrive? None of the 24-hour security cameras caught their arrival? No-one made any attempt to force the boxes open? Cut them open? The Doctor didn’t have any equipment on the TARDIS to examine them with? Even given that the plot demanded the mystery continue, at least some kind of explanation could have been offered.

And then … when they do open … it feels like the writer never really had a plan in mind at all, and just throws everything he can think of at a wall in the hope that some will stick. Inevitably, there are some appealing parts here — when you throw that many dice, some are going to come up sixes. But no sense that there is an actual narrative taking place with a direction and a destination. Stuff just keeps happening, half-arsed idea piled on top of half-arsed idea in the forlorn hope of making a whole arse. Really not good enough at all. And in the end, as so often, it turns out to be a kill-everyone-on-Earth plan, and not even a particularly interesting one and … Well, it could have been so much more.

On the positive side, high marks for how the Doctor/Amy/Rory relationship is played in this episode. That aspect works well. It’s just a shame that there is so little for them to actually do. And so we come to …

5. The Angels Take Manhatten

And here is where it all comes together. Not flawless, but so much more intriguing, coherent, and moving than the three previous episodes. I can forgive the essential impossibility of the Statue of Liberty moving without anyone in New York seeing it, for the sheer crazy-great Stay Puft Marshmallow Madness of it all.

This time, the world is not in any immediate danger; nor even is New York, barring a throwaway comment about the Angels’ future plans. The story is much smaller, and much better for it. Four people who care deeply about each other; and who we care about three of. (Sorry, River.)

The plot makes sense, more or less. The device of the novel — and this is a fairly typical Moffat manoeuvre now I come to think of it — is played more for laughs than as an important plot point. That’s a winning strategy because it means its value to the plot can emerge more organically. I enjoyed the way that only gradually do the Doctor and Amy figure out what is going on — that the Angels want to capture Rory for good, rather than merely pushing him progressively further back in time. And the emotional payoff is pretty well earned, I think: I didn’t blub, but I did have to wipe something away from the corner of my eye. What makes it work is that we’re led to believe that we’ve already had Amy and Rory’s big emotional scene on top of the building. And then comes the delayed punchline.

And everyone plays it absolutely straight, which is as it should be.

Amy gets a big goodbye scene; Rory doesn’t even get that. He’s just gone. I like the reality, and brutality, of that.

Overall

I am afraid this series was less than the sum of its parts. And since there were only five parts, that makes it by far the least impressive of Matt Smith’s offerings. The opener and closer were both very good (and both, not coincidentally, written by Moffat himself). In the middle of the run, Mercy was a solid filler episode. But I am afraid that both of the other two were weak (and both, not coincidentally, written by Chris Chibnall).

I can’t for the life of me understand why Chibnall was given 40% of the episodes. His track record is pretty terrible: he’s been responsible for some of the very worst episodes of The Dreadful Torchwood, including Countrycide and the horrifyingly bad End of Days. Maybe Paul Cornell (Father’s Day, Human Nature) wasn’t available, but sure Moffat could have found someone better than Chibnall, and author who has never once given us an episode with a coherent through-line.

Where now?

Despite my complaints I am very interested to see where Moffat takes us next year. I loved Amy and Rory — although it was Rose that redefined the companion role, A&R are head-and-shoulders my favourites, with Rory’s deadpan dependability a particular highlight. I will miss them terribly.

But.

When I first saw photos of Jenna-Louise Coleman, who is to play the new companion, I was disappointed by how conventionally good-looking she is and worried that Who might be headed down that rabbit-hole. But the great thing about Coleman’s character, Oswin, is that she is a Dalek. And, if I remember right, dead. Now that is going to be interesting. How will it play out? What can it mean?

It’s ambitious, complicated, confusing — a situation that embodies all the best qualities of Doctor Who. So I am keen to see how it works out.

OK, I am done on Series 7. I’ve avoided reading any reviews, discussion or speculation of these episodes until I was able to write my own thoughts. Tomorrow I will go and see whether the world agrees with me.

About these ads

78 responses to “Doctor Who, series 7 — all five episodes reviewed

  1. I always enjoy your analysis of Doctor Who, and generally agree. However, I did kind of enjoy Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. I find the Silurians most interesting, and sympathetic, especially since they were resurrected recently (last year, the year before? Time is just too … timey-wimey.).

  2. Jenna-Louise Coleman won’t be playing Oswin as the companion, I don’t think. Her appearance as Oswin was a guest spot, after the decisions were all-but made. A massive screen test to see how well she’d perform in a REAL episode, not just a reading. I expect some throwaway remark, like “You sound familiar…”, much like when Doctor David met Gwen Cooper.

    I think the season was pretty flat, compared to Matt Smith’s other work. The Moffat episodes were of as high a standard as we’ve come to expect, but the others, not so much. I do, however, think you were a bit rough on Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. To me, it was quite believable that The Doctor killed Solomon. Solomon had rather proudly committed genocide on the Silurians, whom the Doctor liked quite a bit, he had so much hope for the Silurian and Human future together. I’m actually quite agitated that Chibnal killed them all off in video-logs, and that Moffat let him, but there’s no use crying over spilled species. The Doctor gave Solomon his chances, and he knew if he left Solomon to his devices, he’d just go and do something much the same, again.

    Mercy wasn’t amazing, either, and I think it was a waste of Ben Browder as a guest star (whom you may know as Cam Mitchell in Stargate, or John Crighton in Farscape).

    Overall, there wasn’t a lot to LOVE about this season, and I expected more from it. I’d like to see more Neil Gaiman episodes, honestly, and when Moffat is ready to put his pen down, I’d like to see Neil Gaiman as lead writer, because The Doctor’s Wife was just AWESOME. It’s in my top three Smith episodes (and I can’t think of the other two just now)

  3. There’s a twelve-minute documentary about the leaving of the Ponds which is well worth seeing. Most notably, Karen Gillan can hardly get through her interview segments without crying.

  4. Interesting (and encouraging) to think that I may have been over-harsh on DoaS. It’s the one episode that my family haven’t seen yet, so I will likely watch it with them very soon, maybe even today. Maybe I will like it more, and it will feel less routine. I strongly agree with rubberman that the Silurians are a very sympathetic species, and one that many interesting stories could be told about. Unfortunately, Chibnall has no idea how to tell them, in fact he has no idea about story in general. Give the Silurians to a proper writer and they could really fly.

    Michael suggests:

    Jenna-Louise Coleman won’t be playing Oswin as the companion, I don’t think. Her appearance as Oswin was a guest spot, after the decisions were all-but made. A massive screen test to see how well she’d perform in a REAL episode, not just a reading. I expect some throwaway remark, like “You sound familiar…”, much like when Doctor David met Gwen Cooper.

    I really, really hope you’re wrong. That would be so wasteful of a fascinating situation, and also a contemptible bit of hand-waving. For Gwen Cooper it was acceptable for two reasons: first, both Gwynneth and Gwen (in the context of Who) were minor single-shot characters rather than long-term centre-stage companions; and second, there wasn’t much choice about that given that the Torchwood crossover meant they’d already written themselves into using-the-same-actress corner. To deliberately do the same thing, without cause, only five episodes before the actress’s proper debut as a companion, would be really weak.

  5. This season left me feeling disappointed… A strong opening episode, a decent closing episode, but nothing in the middle :-( I can’t wait to see the story behind Oswin being the new companion. Will the Doctor travel with her, know how it’s all going to end?

    The Doctor seems to have changed… Gone are the times when he’d try to save everyone, including the bad guy. I wonder if he’s been affect by giving the wristband to Amy in Asylum?

  6. On Mercy: If the other doctors default position was that he was willing to sacrifice himself, he wouldn’t have been hiding there in the first place. He needed to see the sacrifice of Isaac, before he could re-evaluate his situation.

  7. I wonder if he’s been affect by giving the wristband to Amy in Asylum?

    Oh, now that is clever!

    I do hope you’re right.

  8. I really liked DoaS AND TPoT. Dinosaurs was just fun. Not much else. The dark turn of the Doctor leaving Solomon to die, which, as John already mentioned, might have been an after-effect from him not wearing a wristband. Although I do actually think it was justified. At the very end of his life, Solomon tries to bribe his way out. The Doctor clearly sees him as a lost cause at this point. I think Dinosaurs is what was needed after the very dark (though filled with plot-holes) opener.

    I didn’t mind the lack of a decent conclusion to the enemy in TPoT, only because I never actually cared about the threat too much. I was far more interested in how our characters were reacting off one another in a situation like this. I know Matt Smith has already shown us what the Doctor is like when he has to become domestic, but it’s still a joy to watch. And of course the scene between him and Amy talking on the river-side was very strong. Kinda reminded me of their scene in Flesh and Stone (you know the one).
    Not sure if I buy the whole Gone-For-10-Years thing though.

    Oh, and Mark Williams (lovely coincidence) is so much fun to watch as Rory’s dad.

    I actually thought Mercy was the weak one in the series. It wasn’t bad, but the morals are really… eh. I didn’t get it’s message at all. Was there one? If so, then that’s my fault for not getting it. [*]

    I think the main problem of the series is the running time. WAY too short. At least for the non-Moffat episodes. Asylum and Angels filled it’s time perfectly, however Dinosaurs didn’t breath at all (relentless pace), Mercy could have took more time to either explain it’s message better or have more fun with the Western setting/moar action pls

    And of course TPoT, I wouldn’t mind it going on longer to have a more satisfying third act.

    Overall, I enjoyed this series so far. Plus with Neil Gaiman writing an episode for the second half, I’m feeling very optimistic on the direction this show is taking. And I’m liking Coleman. I’m sure Moffat will do something interesting with her introduction relating to the events in Asylum.

    Still waiting for Rilstone’s thoughts on Series 6. Although I think his thoughts on Doctor, Widow and Wardrobe weren’t all too positive…

    [*] I have more thoughts on all these episodes, but this comment might be a getting a bit too big right now.

  9. Glad to see you made some reviews. I think feelings pretty much mirrored yours but were more moderate on both sides. I didn’t feel the episodes were as good or as bad as you did, but the relative feeling was the same.

    I felt that Asylum of the Daleks was a giant excuse to make the Daleks forget the Doctor, and something about that didn’t sit right (as a developer (and I think you are as well) stupid computer crap annoys me), if they didn’t have that silly end on the spaceship were all these living creatures forgot him, I would have been fine. I also think that The Impossible Astronaut, was way stronger of an opener, I know you didn’t like how Season 6 wrapped up with no pay off, but I really think it’s better.

    I found the triceratops in DoaS to be a bit ridiculous. The killing of Solomon didn’t bother me actually, and doesn’t seem that different than the next episode where he will sacrifice the other Doctor.

    I guess my big question, is when Amy is debating getting touched by the angel at the end, why does River song tell the doctor to shut up, and say it’s the best chance.

    I can not forgive Moffat so easily for the Statue of Liberty, but I am always very impressed how well his stories hold up, and how when you think back at “Why couldn’t the doctor…”, there is always something said. I also really like how these unbeatable angels, are always undone in a genius and clever way, that doesn’t amount to “reversing the polarity”. If only Moffat could rehabilitate the Daleks.

  10. Thanks to Julian and sjrx for interesting, substantial comments. Julian, no comment here is “too big” so long as it’s actually saying things!

    I, too, am keen to read what Andrew Rilstone has to say about Series 7. And indeed Series 6.

    Delighted to hear that Neil Gaiman will be writing again in the next series (or, as I can hardly help but think of it, the second half of this one). I agree that The Doctor’s Wife was one of the very best episodes.

    While I agree with you, sjrx, that the idea of all the Daleks forgetting who the Doctor is because of a computer hack is not particularly credible, I am prepared to give it a chance because it opens the doors now for a very different kind of Dalek story — a more intimate one.

  11. As it happens, I re-watched Dinosaurs on a Spaceship again tonight, this time with the family, and enjoyed it a lot more. So I think I am going to chalk my previous very negative perception up to the inauspicious circumstances in which I watched it. I’m particularly fond of how Brian’s unflappability mirror’s Rory’s. Not such a bad episode after all; but still one that doesn’t come close to living up to the potential of the premise, and one that could certainly have done without Nefertiti and the hunter guy.

  12. I felt the season as a whole was lesser than the previous couple; I’m not sure if its my situation or not (had babies, tired out right good), but the writing has assuredly been weaker.. and it just felt less joyously ‘Doctory.’

    (Is the nest set, early 2013, another season, or just the second half of this season? I rather think the latter..)

    Matt Smith very quickly became perhaps my favourite of the Docs (alongside of Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee and Chris Eccleston), but he seemed to be working hard to receover the material lately. (I’ve not seen the latest one yet.. I really really like The Ponds, so dreading this moment..)

    Let us hope the writing pulls together for the second half .. I’d like Doc Matt to stick around awhile, so keep the good writing coming :)

  13. Is Rory a Plastic still? I’ve lost track :O

  14. I’d agree with all of that, Jeff. Smith continues to impress even when the writing is weak, and I would be very happy for him to continue for some time yet. My understanding is that Rory hasn’t been plastic since his wedding at the end of series 5 (The Big Bang). See this comment.

  15. A question I’ve asked elsewhere but this seems to be an interesting place to ask it. In preparation for watching series 7 I rewatched series 6. When I saw the finale I was left with one important question. Doesn’t the ending completely retcon (disturbingly) everything established about fixed points in time? In the Fires of Pompeii the Doctor could have saved more than just one family, he simply chose not to*. In The Waters of Mars he could have saved everyone** without all that anguish and arrogance.

    In essence, by changing fixed points in time from a physical absolute to something that can be subverted if people believe a lie doesn’t this make his previous actions incredibly uncaring? Is there anything in series 7 that gives any justification for the sudden change to fixed points in time?

    *With a Tardis he really couldn’t have saved far more people and set them up on a colony far off world while leaving fake evidence of their demise?
    **If it’s alright for River, Amy, Rory, blue head guy and the people in the miniaturizing robot to know he’s alive he couldn’t simply get the astronauts to their families and swear them to secrecy?

  16. Grant,

    My understanding of the Fixed Point in series 7 is that it was never what people thought it was — the true Doctor’s death. The fixed point was what actually happened — which, of course, is how it must be really. And so (it became clear in the final episode) the fixed point was that the Teselecta robot would be shot and cremated in the guise of the Doctor.

    As for the secrecy surrounding the Doctor’s being alive after all: I don’t think that is related to the Fixed Point. I think it’s just convenient for the Doctor that the universe believes he’s gone. (And maybe psychologically necessary for him that it should be so, once he’d realised that the universe now saw him as a warrior rather than a healer.)

    Hope this helps.

  17. I’ve loved Murray Gold’s work this series (someone needs to mention him :-)), especially the AotD ballerina Dalek scene. I don’t have much to say about the three in the middle that hasn’t been said already. I like cliff-hangers, and so the lack of a two parter was a little disappointing.

    While I liked Moffat’s episodes, I felt like the Rory-Amy conflict was blown out of proportion in AotD to give them a dramatically meaningful B plot (I know infertility is a huge issue, but I would have liked to have seen Amy look a bit more sad than angry, and not slap her husband, to make her self-sacrifice feel credible). And in the effort to keep attention on the companions’ departure, I felt like ATM was devoid of some of the clever quips that typically characterise Moffat’s work (like the Thin-Fat Gay Anglican couple without names, and “Don’t feed the pterodactyls”). I liked the “Story” theme of ATM and the idea of Time being Read after Writing, Rewriting and Unwriting, but one can’t help thinking of poor Brian. Hopefully the Doctor visits his grandfather-in-law offscreen to explain.

    The “Don’t let him see the damage” was an interesting idea; to be a good companion one has to keep the Doctor from self-contempt and guilt about “damage” that either isn’t his fault, or that he inadvertantly causes. Not really explored though…

    As for the Doctor becoming anonymous again, I’m a bit disappointed with the execution (I was convinced the Silence would strike a deal with him somehow) because it gives Time a Doctor-centric feel: erasing himself should have been evident before he decided to do it. Oh well, timey-wimey I suppose. And hearing Daleks ask “Doctor Who?” was great.

    Also; why did the TARDIS blow up in Season 5, Moffat? :-)

  18. I worry about the new companion .. I forget how that ended but I do recall.. wasn’t she literally a Dalek? Not just a person with Dalek implants or the like, she was actually a full-metal-canister Dalek no? (or is she stuffed inside of it, not unlike the gelatinous mutants normally in there?) She’s not from Skaro, of course :)

    Having a full on ‘toaster’ following the Doc around would be cute for a few minutes – and only a few minutes – and might just make light on the whole Dalek history with the show (not to mention being difficult and expensive to shoot I bet :), so I doubt they’ll go down that road; that means somehow rescuing Oswin before she crashes into the planet (causing paradox) or somehow getting her back to her non-Dalek self .. some sort of Big Reset on her (and if so, why bother with setting her up at all, instead of someone else, in the first episode?)

    Ah well.. bring up the writing .. I love the really creative and outrageous yet believable plots, the joy in it all.. when Doc Matt is giddy and excited it means something dangerous or funny is going on, and thats the essence of the reborn show. More of that! (A Christmas Carol, with flying sky-whales? Yes please!)

  19. Kezzie asks:

    Also; why did the TARDIS blow up in Season 5, Moffat? :-)

    YES. That really does seem to have been completely dropped on the floor.

    Jeff asks:

    I worry about the new companion .. I forget how that ended but I do recall.. wasn’t she literally a Dalek? Not just a person with Dalek implants or the like, she was actually a full-metal-canister Dalek no?

    That’s how I remember it, yes. I’m keen to watch again, mind you, to wrap my head around it properly. A very interesting setup, except that IIRC she’s not only a Dalek but also dead. So not your average companion, then. I really hope Moff does something super-clever here rather then just having the Doctor run into a clone of the dead woman or something.

  20. re: The Weeping Angels

    I think the Angels have been mishandled ever since “Blink”. The writers just kind of flub the rules, and make them a recurring monster, instead of a logical puzzle-box.

    Remember the first time the Angels were defeated? It’s because they were looking at each other. Yet prettymuch every time we see an Angel in this ep, its eyes are open. There were tons of times that they should have locked each other, and plenty of times when nobody was looking at them, so the Angels should have gotten them.

    How is the Statue of Liberty a good Angel? It couldn’t move two feet without somebody looking at it. It can’t hide its eyes, either, so it would keep Angels from operating in a huge swath of the city. In fact, a city is a terrible place for an Angel, because there are so many people, and so much light.

    Also, if we’re using the rules from “The Time of Angels”/”Flesh and Stone” (god help us), then shouldn’t the picture of the Statue of Liberty in the elevator have gotten the detective and Rory as soon as they entered the elevator and turned around?

    This stuff isn’t trivial. Stories need to make sense. The rules are what made the Weeping Angels fascinating and terrifying in the first place. They were ironclad. I’m particularly surprised that Steven Moffat, the guy who created them, is the guy who’s being horribly sloppy with the rules. I might it expect it of some other writer.

    (Maybe I’m being unfair for comparing this episode to one of the best episodes of any TV show I’ve ever seen, but dammit, Moff is the one who keeps bringing up the Weeping Angels!)

    Ah, well. I don’t want to be all negative. This episode was rather good, overall. The character stuff was great, and it made emotional sense. I’ll miss Amy terribly.

    I’m trying to stay optimistic about the new companion. At this point, though, it would have to be Sally Sparrow to top Amy.

  21. I agree with a lot of that, Aeric. It’s certainly true that every time the Angels appear, the rules seem different. And in making those changes, Moffat has lost a lot of what made them work so well the first time we met them. And yet … I just can’t make myself mind as much as I think I ought to. The truth is that Doctor Who has a long history of bringing back old enemies and changing their abilities: everything from Cybermen vulnerable to gold dust to Daleks that can climb stairs.

    Sometimes it takes a bit of experimenting to figure out how a given enemy functions in the most dramatically effective way. As I noted right back in the pre-broadcast portion of my Time of Angels preview/review:

    Blink works as it does precisely because the Weeping Angels are not monsters in anything like the conventional sense. They can’t talk; they can’t be negotiated with (as even the Vashta Nerada, somehow, could); they can’t make plans. They follow a more or less predefined course. Their behaviour is predictable. The Doctor catches the notion quite nicely when he describes them as “predators” — in Blink, they no more interact with their victims than a lion does with a zebra. That is by no means a weakness of the episode: the simplicity of the Angels themselves is what makes it possible for Moffat to fit such a delightfully complex story in a single 45-minute episode. It’s exhilarating to watch the complexities unfold, to see bit by bit how everything that seemed so mysterious actually makes perfect sense, and to enjoy being in the hands of a master.

    But it does make me fear for the two-parter that begins tonight, for two reasons. First, I feel that the Weeping Angels have been done: we know what they are, we know how they work, we know what they do to their victims. They are well-defined and tightly constrained. If you like, they are a solved problem. We could write unit tests for them and be pretty sure of passing. That doesn’t sound like promising material for a sequel.

    And second, I don’t see how the Angels can be made deeper or richer without fundamentally changing the nature of what they are — something that not only is hard to imagine being done well, but which also would retroactively rewrite Blink.

    In retrospect I was right to fear that Angels as they appeared in that initial episode could not re-appear without feeling like a re-tread. They had to change, to become more intentional: less of a hazard and more of an enemy. And I’m pretty happy with how that’s working out (Statue of Liberty implausibility notwithstanding).

    Finally: like you, I really liked Amy (and maybe even more, Rory). I think the new companion has an awfully hard act to follow. But when I think back to how sceptical I was about Karen Gillan, and indeed Matt Smith, I find myself now prepared to trust Moffat’s judgement and see what happens.

  22. In re. to Mike Taylor

    I will admit that I hadn’t considered that possibility and that while it feels unsatisfying it technically would work. However I’m afraid that it creates several more questions for me. They are, in order:

    1. Why was it that River had to shoot the Doctor? After her time as Melody Pond, friend of Rory and Amy, she seemed a complete failure for the Silence. Why would they go to all the trouble of kidnapping an apparently amnesiac version of River, putting her in the suit and sending her to kill the Doctor? Couldn’t they have used someone far more reliable?

    2. Why, according to the last dialogue from series 6, is River unable to remember her crime?

    3. Why did the Doctor choose to keep this a secret from everyone? Who are they going to tell? Even if he wasn’t expecting River to end the universe to save him (which would have ultimately killed him anyway) wouldn’t he want to spare her the grief of thinking she had killed him?

    In re. to Aerik.

    I am forced to agree. The Weeping Angels are much like the Gentlemen from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and that makes me feel old). They are a perfect one time villain. They are cold. Sinister. They don’t stop to blab about their plans nor do they stupidly stand there and let the hero have a great big speech. The audience is left shaken by them. However the Angels were used more than once and because of that they lost the impact they had.

    It helps to compare the Weeping Angels to the entity from Midnight. What the thing was is never explained. We have no idea what it wanted nor do we know anything about its personality. It wasn’t even exactly defeated. And it is never used again. Because of that it remains constantly frightening.

  23. I think we over-analyse; The Weeping Angels are a Great bad-guy; the Silence were pretty good (damned creepy at onset), but quickly lose their steam imho as the plot line progressed; they just didn’t hold as much water anymore. So the Moff’s pet bad guy is the Angels.. they’re brilliant, but if he over-uses them, he risks diluting them.

    We have classic enemies.. the Daleks, the Cubermen, the Sontarens, the Stones of Blood ;), et cetera .. but lets hope the Angels dont’ become the ‘go to’ guy.. they’ve been in what, 4 or 5 episodes now? Let them cool off for a few seasons.

    In the end, its entertainment; it doesn’t always have to tie up in a nice little package.. I mean, we want it to, and by all rights it _should_ if the authors are planning ahead and so forth, but we must recall hwo many people are involved, with financial pressure and meddling from above :)

  24. Grant, your follow-up questions are good ones. Bottom line, if the Silence wanted the Doctor dead, there were much better ways they could have got it done.

  25. Mike! You’re a family man, what did you make of the Rory/Amy conflict in Asylum? A few critics and others thought that not having kids seemed too small a reason for a couple this strong to get a divorce.

    Thoughts?

  26. Actually I’m sorry but another thought occurred to me about the Doctor’s death. If Time Lords have the ability to sense and understand exactly what a fixed point in time is and the fixed point in time was that the teselecta robot would be shot and burned then why was he showing any worry or concern? He should have known it wasn’t going to be his death.

    Alternatively, if the Doctor didn’t know the circumstances of the fixed point in time then doesn’t that mean that the Doctor gambled the entire universe on this just after he chewed River out for doing exactly the same thing? Since when would the Doctor put the entire universe at risk so he could survive?

    So either he did know and was showing inexplicable despair or he didn’t know and he did something that could have easily destroyed the universe. So people who see something I don’t or feel that I’m missing something, I apologize but it seems to me that Moffat outfoxed himself on this one. In being so clever about how the Doctor would survive he made the Doctor deeply out of character in one of two different ways.

    Also, wut. Amy and Rory. Divorced. This after everything that has happened. This after Amy deliberately chose what could have been death in a dream where Rory was dead because she couldn’t accept a world without Rory. This after Rory cut his way through a Cybermen command ship to force them to tell him where she was. This where apparently Amy’s strongest memories were their first kiss and their marriage. WHAT.

  27. FWIW, to me it has felt like this first mini-season of 5 episodes was more about giving the Ponds a last farewell (and again… and again… and again), than to start a coherent bigger story.

    Perhaps this is also why Chris Chibnall features twice; … Moffatt may be keeping all the better writers up his sleeve for the remaining 8 episodes for a very compact story arc. *fingers crossed*

  28. Huh. On re-reading my own old post More thoughts on The Wedding of River Song, I now see that I gave a perfectly coherent explanation for the Doctor’s playing along with the idea that it really was him dying at the Fixed Point: that he needed the Silence to believe that he was dead so that they would end their vendetta against him. Read the more detailed version and see what you think. (I really should pay more attention to what I write.)

  29. Julian and Grant, I agree that it was very hard to buy Amy and Rory’s divorce in Asylum. The reveal made some sense of it: it wasn’t that childlessness had made their marriage too difficult, it’s that Amy’s barrenness persuaded her that the kindest thing she could do for Rory would be to cut him loose so he could have children with someone else. So all the hostility (which you’ll notice was entirely from Amy’s side, not Rory’s) was acted, as a way to force him out for his own good (as she saw it). Does it work? Well, no, not quite — the episode doesn’t put quite enough time and effort into selling the idea, or into Rory’s bafflement at the notion when he figures it out. But it is at least a coherent idea, more or less in character, even if the execution isn’t quite right.

    Grant, your thoughts on the Fixed Point make sense to me, too. I think you’re right that it doesn’t quite hang together — as indeed I complained at some length in My review of The Wedding of River Song and its followup. I think that “Moffat outfoxed himself” is putting it exactly right. (That said, I would love the opportunity to grill him on the Series 6 arc, and see whether it really does all make sense in his mind.)

    Jerry, I’d love to think you’re right about Moffat saving the Big Guns for next year. I see from the Wikipedia article (which by the way classifies this year’s and next year’s episodes together as Series 7) that we have three Moffat episodes lined up in the remaining nine, two by Mark Gatiss, two by Neil Cross (who’s not previously written for Who) and one each by Neil Gaiman (yay!) and Steve Thompson. That looks pretty good, but I’m sad to still not see Paul Cornell (who wrote Human Nature, my favourite pre-Smith story) or a one-off by Russell T. Davies.

  30. More episodes by writers like Neil Gaiman are always welcome.

    As to your earlier posts:

    My point about how it doesn’t make sense isn’t that the Doctor keeps his survival secret from the general universe. Rather it’s why he kept it secret from the people around him. Why didn’t he give River the plan beforehand or reveal it to Amy and Rory as he married River? At that point the entire universe was about to fall apart, anyone from the Silence was either dead or not present and it would have saved them the trouble of River telling them later on.

    Additionally there are a large number of scenes where the Doctor is on his own and thinking about his impending demise. If he, being a Time Lord, could sense exactly what needed to happen then he has no reason to think that he is going to die and therefore no reason to behave so desperately in private. On the other hand, if being a Time Lord isn’t enough to let him know what’s really going to happen then his use of the teselecta was dangerous because, for all he knew, his death was required and not dying would destroy the universe just as River’s actions nearly did.

    So the following does make sense. The presence of a member of the Silence (was that species ever given an actual name or backstory?) during his ‘death’. It was there to confirm that he was dead*. The fact that the Doctor allowed the universe in general to think he was dead. He needed this settled to some degree and he’d realized he had gotten ‘too big’**.

    What doesn’t make sense is the Doctor’s behavior. It was either inexplicably depressed prior to acquiring the teselecta or it was uncharacteristically reckless when he acquired the teselecta. And we should remember that even those two issues only show up if we work with the assumption that the fixed point in time was ‘the teselecta is shot and burned’ and not ‘the Doctor is killed’. If the fixed point in time actually was ‘the Doctor is killed’ then the rules of fixed points in time seem to be thrown out the window.

    *And that opens up another question because shouldn’t Amy, regardless of which version she is, be mentally compelled to kill it?
    **An amazing admission from Moffat.

    As an aside, I agree with your earlier post (provided in your link) that there never seemed to be much romance between River and the Doctors. However that honestly doesn’t bother me as much as simply that I think River was a very poorly used character. First her nature of meeting the Doctor in reverse chronological order was never really explored and when all of her secrets were revealed* we were only given the opportunity to see one of her previous lives before she turned into River Song. How many stories could have been worked out of the Doctor meeting different versions of her, some calm and some aggressive, some just want him dead so she can move on and others infatuated with the man she was told to kill? I know that U.K. television has nowhere near as long a season as American but to have such a great opportunity and not use it makes me think of all the waste.

    *Which also made me see her as a canon Sue character (if you don’t know what that it I suggest you go to the very useful site TVTropes.com and search for ‘Mary Sue’). The daughter of two popular companions, half Time Lord, a badass in combat, has a tragic backstory and she’s the Doctor’s lover and wife. And please understand that I honestly liked River when she was first introduced.

  31. Something else doesn’t sit too well with me .. the ending of it all –

    If Amy and Rory are time locked in New York.. what are the terms of their imprisonment?

    i) If they’re able to freely move, they coudl walk out of NYC, meet up with the Doc somewhere else; NYC is itself not timelocked for some large period of time. They’d be free to have children and live their lives, just 50 years earlier .. not so bad really. But of course, the Doc and everyone are crying and mortified by all of this, so it is unlikely.

    ii) They’re stuck in that hotel forever, which I think was hinted at a few times (not to mention peopel dieing there.. surely they woudl have left and died somewhere else if they could :) — yet somehow they get food, supplies and so forth, so someone is able to come and go. Anyway, we can’t nitpick too close after all. but still.. this seems like the implied ending.

    Yet Amy writes they’re okay; surely they would have no kids, if locked up in a prison, it’d be a terrible life; are they being ‘tortured’ by the Angels, or just sent back in time on step and left alone? (the time energy release is all they wanted?) Or are they sent back in time over and over, to release more energy as eeded.. this woudl seem to get them out of the time lock, and be pretty nasty in a way.. make them relive the same 5 year period over and over, as they age? they’d see themselves over and over?

    Surely not okay..

    .. and of course, how did they self publish a book? how did they communicate with River? That more implies (i), the better ending..

    …. so what happened to the Ponds?

    Who knows, maybe we’ll run into their kids in a future episode, or the Doc will go burn up a sun for a visit, like he did with Rose?

  32. River apparently travelled with other versions of the Doc as well, no? (when she pulls out her log book and asks, so where are we? she has all those pictures rendered in of his various incarnations.. past and future(?)) — so presumably, althoguh we know she dies and first kicks up during the Doc Matt years, she has linked up with other doctors during her lifespan? Does this fill in the gaps of where she goes off to?

    ie: The whole ‘in jail’ thing was a convenience to explain where she was and ‘had to be’, to explain why she wasn’t a companion per se, I think; but now she’s not in jail, and still turns him down as a companion? That makes no sense .. she’s his wife, why wouldn’t she go along for the ride?

    … is it because she knows she has to hook up with other Docs for adventures there?

    I think for Fixed Point discussion its as simple as saying.. the author makes it as believable and consistent as he can, but esp with DW, theres no way to make it truly believable if you look deeply enough.. its not pure science a show, more sci fi fanmtasy :)

  33. More good points, Grant.

    I am going to make one final, half-hearted attempt at justifying the Doctor’s behaviour, and then concede defeat graciously. The fixed point was the shooting and burning of the Teselecta, not the death of the Doctor. The Doctor himself knew that, but no-one else did. He didn’t tell anyone because, fixed point aside, he needed the Silence in particular, and the universe in general, to believe that he was dead. That’s where we’d got to already, but you raise the issue that “there are a large number of scenes where the Doctor is on his own and thinking about his impending demise”. But the Doctor knows he’s dealing with the Silence — one could be with him at any point, observing him, and he’d never know it. So to keep up the impression that he really is on his way to his death, he has to act as though he believes that’s the case all the time just in case he’s being watched.

    What do you think? No, I don’t really buy it either, but it’s the best I’ve got.

    Anyone prepared to improve on it?

  34. Again, taking the obvious road (less fun, too easy?) … maybe he hadn’t figured it out yet?

    okay okay, I’ll stop posting these.. just take them as ‘givens’?

  35. I quote it – “lived well and were very happy” – so yeah, that does suggest they were not so much prisoners. I had assumed the ‘trap building’ was still there since although the paradox was destroyed.. that it was reinstated when Rory was pulled back in.

    I hadn’t thought of it, but perhaps you are right or are implying .. that when the paradox collapsed, _that_ was all gone (including the Awesome Statue of Liberty :), but this last remaining Angel (the Doc suggested was ‘weakened’ so the paradox and all that was destroyed) zapped Rory .. just put him back a few years then, in their ‘normal attack this episode’ and not some ‘back to the trap’ attack. (I was thinking more like with Tim Dalton, pulling the MAster and Doc into the fixed point of Gallifrey)

    If so, just casually back in time .. why not just go pick him up again? (reason” Because they’re off the show, I know ;) — Because NYC is a fixed point in general.. even then? without the paradox? (and hey, it doesn’t _have_ to make sense, or maybe I’m still coming to grips with it)

    … so yeah, okay, I do feel a bit better about it the rules being.. Rory is back a bit, the Doc can’t go see him, Amy jumped in to be part of it. Still seems like River or someone else could go back and see them, but.. okay, take it on faith. Sort of akin to Rose.. being left in another world.. not an unhappy place, but still separated from, _her_ world.

    Now, Rivers log book/diary .. goodness; don’t make me rewatch all of season5 and season6 to find it ;) I know she pulled it out at the beginning of the Byzantium bit in.. Time of the Angels? But with small babies the last year, I dont’ really have clear memories of anything anymore :O

  36. Jeff, in respect of the ending of Angels Take Manhattan

    My recollection (having only watched it once so far) is that Amy’s afterword in the book said something about having had a good life, which so far as I am concerned nails down that it was your option 1. Maybe they stayed in New York, but they had a normal life there, and were not perpetually prisoners of the Angels. Also: how could they be? The prison was destroyed by the paradox, wasn’t it? Amy and the Doctor are both distraught at the parting, but that makes sense to me: even if they both understood the terms of the deal — that she and Rory would get a normal life — it would still be sad because it’s a permanent parting. I would cry if I knew I would never again see someone I loved.

    I don’t remember River having a book with pictures of pre-Tennant Doctors — which episode was that in? It wouldn’t make much sense to me: it was pretty clear in Silence in the Library that from the Doctor’s perspective that was their first meeting.

    I agree that it makes no sense for River not to travel with the Doctor now that she can.

    I think for Fixed Point discussion its as simple as saying.. the author makes it as believable and consistent as he can, but esp with DW, theres no way to make it truly believable if you look deeply enough.. its not pure science a show, more sci fi fanmtasy :)

    No, I don’t buy that, and I don’t think Moffatt does either. The plots of The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and Blink made perfect sense. So did the entire Series 5 arc, just. It’s because of that record that Series 6 was relatively disappointing.

    Finally: yes, I’d not thought of the obvious reason why the Doctor is sad at the thought of his forthcoming death: as you say, maybe he was as much in the dark about the nature of the Fixed Point as we were.

  37. Hey, remember that time Rory and Amy almost got a divorce? Yeah, me neither.

    Jeff, re: River’s diary: I think you may be thinking of a page from the journal in “Human Nature”. There was a page where he doodled all of his past faces.

    Oh, look, here’s a pic. It was The Journal of Impossible Things.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Nature_(Doctor_Who_episode)

    re: Paul Cornell: My wife and I actually got to meet him! He was at Chicon 7 in Chicago while we were there, the day of the series premiere. We got him to sign our DVDs of “Father’s Day” and “Human Nature”/”Family of Blood”. We chatted about how the hotel didn’t get BBC America, so even Paul freaking Cornell had to wait and watch the episode the next day on iTunes. :P

    Now I’m kicking myself for not asking if he would ever do another Who ep… :)

  38. In re. to Mike Taylor.

    You have managed to make a case that technically works. It feels unsatisfying but you could make that argument without it falling to pieces. I personally suspect that this wasn’t what the writers were thinking, but at the least it’s not without some possible explanation. Well done.

  39. Christopher Brown

    I have to say that I haven’t really liked this Series so far, and may only end up getting TDTWATW and Part 2 on DVD. Here’s the quick run-down:

    The Special Weapons Dalek did nothing!!!!!! Seriously, how could you not bring in the SWD and then not have it blow stuff up? It makes no sense!!!!

    Ok, slightly more detailed run-down :P

    Asylum of the Daleks
    The Good: Oswin’s story arc was awesome and definitely the strong point of the episode, I knew something was up but had no idea she was a Dalek; that’s one of the best reveals in the show’s history. Plus: the direction, the zombies were a wonderfully creepy and unexpected Moffatt touch, the sets and location work are gorgeous. Amy’s hallucination sequence is wonderfully shot.

    The Bad: I’m sorry but why the f*** didn’t we see anything substantial of the classic Daleks after all that hype? It may be petty and I know I should focus on the quality of the story and all but that disappointment, that cheat, will forever mar the episode for me. What was the point of bringing them back if that’s all you’re going to do with them? Amy and Rory’s divorce is completely forced and unrealistic, and I can’t believe that they wouldn’t have had that conversation earlier. My parents are going to get divorced before next year’s end so I really don’t appreciate this *pathetic* attempt at drama, Mr. Moffatt. Seriously…a Dalek *Parliment*? With a *Prime Minister*? The Daleks of old had an *Empire*, implying ruthless efficiency and awesome scope, a force to be reckoned with. A “Parliment” just suggests a bunch of old politician dudes trapped in a never-ending nightmare of bureaucracy, and that’s not something you want to associate the Daleks with.

    How the heck is Skaro still around again, considering it was reduced to subatomic particles in “Remembrance” and wouldn’t have survived the Time War anyways? For that matter, how the heck did the Asylum survive the Time War? Finally, the Daleks forgetting the Doctor…I am seriously ticked by that, I’m sorry. I’m fine with “rebooting” (gah I hate that word) the Doctor’s reputation in the universe and for his enemies to forget him but to undo nearly 50 years of one of the two relationships that has utterly defined Doctor Who, the rivalry between the Doctor and the Daleks, that is taking it one step too far. I would have been fine if they’d done it at the end of the 50th or something, to wipe the slate clean for the next 50 years, but it feels too soon if it has to be done. The Daleks are just finding their feet again. Plus, why the heck would you bring in the Special Weapons…oh, right, already brought that up.

    Overall: A very well-made, well-shot episode with a great character arc and twist in it. Too bad (for me) that I kind of hate it.

    More next post…

  40. Aerik: feel my jealousy! Cornell comes over as a really nice guy, I hope he was like that in real life, too. I can’t believe you didn’t ask him the Number One Question that surely any Who fan would have been expected to ask!

    Grant: that is exactly how I feel about my explanation, too :-)

  41. Christopher: awesomely detailed comments! I have to go to bed now, but I’ll look forward to reading the rest of what you have to say in the morning. I agree with all your criticisms of Asylum, but I just can’t force myself to care too much about them. The good bits are so good that in my perception they burn off all the dross.

  42. I just imagine it, that there are many factions of Dalek; theyv’e sort of trotted out this before, with the Cult of Skarow that works independantly, and so forth. So consider we have multiple pockets of Daleks, working independantly, all out of sync with each other in time.. pretty chaotic, but common goals.

    Like that legend (reality?) that Japanese soldiers were left abandoned on various small islands after WW2, and gone years without hearing about the Japanese surrender; finding them later.. interesting times. Consider that, with separation by distance and time, and many split factions..

  43. Christopher Brown

    Alas, I’ve got a bunch of work tonight, and one of my assignments is actually reviewing Series 7 Part 1 for my school paper, so I’ll post the rest of my thoughts tomorrow…wish me luck!

  44. Good luck! Feel free to post a copy of your review as a comment here.

  45. Speaking of plot-holes… I may have reached a kind of revelation about Series 6. I’m just over a year late, but here I go.

    The Silence are a cult who are determined that the First Question never be answered. So to do that they have to silence the man himself (and Silence will fall). The incident at Utah is not the first attempt at the Doctor’s life, it’s actually their most recent.

    They kidnapped Melody at Demon’s Run to train her to be a killer. They take her to America (in 1960s of all places). They put her in an astronaut suit that has several apparatuses attached to do as a make-shift life support machine. It’s possible that the suit could have also been “feeding” her ideas (brainwashing her into wanting to kill the Doctor). How? How does an Angel move when you’re not looking at it- it just does.

    Melody regenerates, we skip to Let’s Kill Hitler. Melody, now meeting the Doctor, tries to kill him on orders of the Silence. That idea was put into her head from an earlier point (go back to America). With that attempt failed, the Silence tried something else.

    At some point between LKH and the events at Utah, they tried blowing up the TARDIS. We know that River was brainwashed, and that her and the Doctor aren’t ALWAYS going forwards and backwards from each other. It’s possible that she, without her knowing, “accidentally” caused the TARDIS to explode because of previous influence of the Silence (or maybe the lead creatures themselves. We know about their post-suggestion powers).

    With that backfiring (try the whole universe ending) they learned about the events at Utah, and it being a fixed point. This could be why it was only ever brought up by them themselves at the end of Closing Time and not A Good Man Goes To War. They put River in the astronaut suit that might have been used in 1960s America, maybe as a symbol of time catching up or I dunno…

    Why put River in a suit that can do all this automatically? Well it was established in Good Man that the Doctor has a huge legacy throughout the universe. Some love him, others (the Silence) fear him. Forcing the woman he loves/loves him to kill the Doctor might have been payback for making such fools of them at Demon’s Run. Or it could be another reason.

    This could actually all make sense, if we look at it from the cult’s perspective of events. Too bad Moffat couldn’t fill in this gap instead of giving us the last 25 minutes of The Wedding of River Song.

    Except for “Why could River suddenly control the suit?” being a ma-hoo-ssive plot hole, this is what I can gather. I’m sure I missed something in the series but this is all from recollection. How did I do, guys?

    Maybe Moffat might give us something in future episodes. The Silence haven’t been defeated yet (since that alternate universe nonsense didn’t happen) so we probably haven’t seen the last of them. Or maybe we have. Who knows how his brain works.

  46. Interesting stuff, Phil.

    At some point between LKH and the events at Utah, they tried blowing up the TARDIS. We know that River was brainwashed, and that her and the Doctor aren’t ALWAYS going forwards and backwards from each other. It’s possible that she, without her knowing, “accidentally” caused the TARDIS to explode because of previous influence of the Silence.

    Do you mean at the end of series five (not six)? Because it’s always bothered me that we never got an explanation for that.

    I’m still not seeing that it all fits together. I wish someone with access to Moffat would sit him down and interview him mercilessly about how all of this works in his head.

  47. Moffatt must NEVER remember why he wrote that, or else fans may be satisfied with the show. You will stop asking now…stop asking…stop…

  48. I smiled when I saw the name of the user that wrote that last comment :-)

  49. Pingback: Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Doctor Who: Power Of Three and the Time Of Angels

  50. Jeff- One thought we had in terms of the ending of ATM… that the issue isn’t the hotel etc (since the paradox removed all that), but rather that the Doctor had seen both Amy and Rory’s names on the gravestone… that plays into the theme of his own time being fixed when he knows the future- he knew they died together in the past, so could not go back to rescue him.
    And who knows where they may have ended up… best comment I saw on another site was maybe they teamed up with Canton in the late 60s to go alien hunting…

  51. I don’t think the Canton idea can work, otherwise when we first met Old Canton in the present day, in The Impossible Astronaut, he’d have recognised Amy and Rory. In any case, I almost prefer the notion that they settled down and had a normal life — which was clearly the direction they were headed throughout this series anyway. As the 9th Doctor said during Father’s Day, that’s the one thing he can never have.

    More generally — it’s a lot to ask that a time-travel series that been written across half a century by who-knows-how-many different writers should be internally consistent throughout. What they could do is decide to be consistent from now on. Maybe Moffat should write down what the rules are — how predestination works and suchlike — and that should be the framework for all the writers (including himself!) On the other hand, perhaps the whole series can just be more fun if the rules can change as the individual episode needs them. Back on the other hand, part of the fun of time-travel stories is trying to understand for yourself what’s going on before it’s explained — a sort of wendunnit, if you will — and you can’t really do that unless you know the rules.

  52. “On the other hand, perhaps the whole series can just be more fun if the rules can change as the individual episode needs them. Back on the other hand, part of the fun of time-travel stories is trying to understand for yourself what’s going on before it’s explained”

    Either would be fine. It could be like a freeform jam, a whole bunch of crazy stuff bursting into view, overlapping with each other. Or it could be like a symphony, where motifs reappear if you keep listening and everything gets resolved eventually.

    But at the moment it lurches between both. It tells you “keep watching, this will all add up,” then goes off into some freewheeling saxophone solo. So it ends up being neither.

  53. Bingo. I think Gavin (= “lucidfrenzy”) is exactly on target here.

  54. Aw, shucks!

  55. Christopher Brown

    Here is 4/5s of the article so far (sorry for the delay, had a busy week):

    Doctor Who, in its various forms, has existed for nearly 49 years; its original series run of 26 years remains the longest any sci-fi show had gone on for, with plenty of spin-off material in other media to keep fans more-or-less happy until the show’s revival in 2005 (with a brief, TV pilot resurrection in 1996 breaking up the 16 year gap). The show, now in its seventh revived season (or “Series” as they’re referred to in the UK) sees the quirky space-and-time-travelling alien known as the Doctor adventuring across the universe and battling evil along the way. He travels in his TARDIS, a spaceship/time-machine that is bigger on the inside and outwardly resembles a 1960’s police telephone box. This latest run of Series 7’s first five episodes (the remaining eight airing this coming spring, with a Christmas special to look forward to in the meantime) features Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor* in his final adventures with married travelling companions Amy and Rory Williams (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, respectively). Together, they face enemies old and new, and prepare to say goodbye to one another for the last time.

    *One of the reasons the show has survived so long is because the Doctor, being an alien, can “regenerate” into a new body whenever he is injured or killed, enabling the production team to replace the actor playing him. It’s worth noting that members of the Doctor’s species, the Time Lords, can only regenerate twelve times, meaning that unless his regeneration cycle is extended somehow the Doctor has only two lives left after this one….

    1. “Asylum of the Daleks”, by showrunner Steven Moffatt, sees the Doctor face up once more against his greatest enemies: the Daleks, a race of Nazi-inspired saltshaker lookalike cyborgs with aims of dominating the universe. And plungers for arms. Except this time, the Daleks need the Doctor’s help: the Asylum is a planet where insane or scarred Daleks go to live out their lives, but now its force-field has been breached by a crashed spaceship, meaning that the Asylum’s residents may find a way to escape. The Daleks are terrified of this possibility, so they capture and dispatch the Doctor, accompanied by Amy and Rory, down to the planet to prepare it for annihilation. The Doctor must find a way to deactivate the force-field so the Daleks may destroy the planet completely, survive the perils in the Asylum, rescue the ship’s survivors, and repair his best friends’ marriage…

    The Good: This adventure’s greatest strength is a plotline and character arc involving one of the survivors of the ship, a super-intelligent entertainment manager named Oswin (Jenna Louise-Coleman). Her story forms one of the emotional cores of the episode and really packs a wallop; it helps that she is such an entertaining character from the get-go. The direction and design in this episode is fantastic, and the concept of a Dalek (focused on in some truly great episodes throughout the show’s history) is evolved further in some truly creepy ways. From the get-go the episode looks fantastic, as beautiful location filming in snowy mountains in Spain provides a great contrast with the claustrophobic interior of the Asylum planet. All of the performers in the episode are in top shape.

    The Bad: First I must confess that I am not entirely unbiased against this episode. To portray the many Daleks in the Asylum the production team collected Dalek prop designs throughout the show’s history, including the classic run of the show, something unprecedented on the New Series so far. Especially publicized was the return of the fan-favorite Special Weapons Dalek from 1988’s excellent serial Remembrance of the Daleks. As a big fan of the classic series and the Daleks in general, I was very much looking forward to seeing the classic models return along side the modern variants. Imagine my disappointment, then, when the classic Dalek models appeared only fleetingly and did nothing of note; in fact, the Special Weapons Dalek does nothing at all in its few seconds appearance. There is one scene in the story, where the Doctor is confronted by survivors of classic series episodes, that suffers because the props used do not reflect the stories the Daleks are supposed to be from, damaging what should have been a great moment for those interested in the show’s long history. This extreme annoyance aside, there are several other aspects to the episode that let it down. Amy and Rory’s divorce subplot feels unnecessary and forced considering how far we’ve seen the characters come, though it is very well acted by Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill. The Daleks themselves suffer a change in their command structure from a terrifying empire to…a Parlimency? This change feels very silly; an Empire suggests ruthless efficiency and scale that always fitted the Daleks’ ambitions, while a Parliament suggests a bunch of bureaucrats sitting around arguing, which somewhat demeans the Daleks’ image. Finally, a key relationship in the series that has evolved and been around since the second ever story of the series, back in 1963, shifts into a new direction that feels like a massive step backwards for the show and didn’t work for this reviewer at all.

    Overall: A pretty strong episode let down by many elements that didn’t sit well with this viewer.
    Notes: Without giving too much away, one of the characters in this episode is played by the actress who is set to be the Doctor’s next companion, beginning with the Christmas special. It is unclear yet just how the two characters are related, but this episode may become essential viewing concerning said character’s fate.

    2. “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship”, by Chris Chibnall, is in some ways a perfect encapsulation of what the series offers viewers. In the 24th century a giant spaceship approaches Earth, and the Indian Space Agency prepares to stop its approach with missiles. With the help of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, a big game hunter, Amy, Rory, and Rory’s father Brian (Harry Potter veteran Mark Williams), the Doctor races to find a way to turn the spaceship around, and in the process the group makes an amazing discovery: dinosaurs on a spaceship.

    The Good: The plot is one that could only be featured on an everything-is-possible show like Doctor Who. The dinosaurs are very well realized in their sparse appearances, and the episode features some very nice sci-fi ideas. The villain of the episode, Solomon (David Bradely, aka Mr. Filch from Harry Potter), is a very nasty baddie, a completely, almost perversely amoral figure who clashes well with the Doctor’s moralistic and compassionate stance on life. Even better is Brian Williams, a great character who plays off well against Amy, Rory, and the Doctor; the character’s only fault is that he may have appeared too late in the game, when his son and daughter-in-law are soon to make their final exit from the show. The mythology of a recurring species in Doctor Who is expanded, and best of all, this episode features the Doctor and his friends escape from two robots shooting lasers at them by riding on the back of a Triceratops. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s Doctor Who for you.

    The Bad: Unfortunately, it’s the two aforementioned robots which let the episode down. You see, they are supposed to be “funny”, and yet their humor falls flat in every scene, interrupting dramatic moments and undercutting the threat that the villain presents. The episode would have worked much better had they been mere muscle. The dinosaurs themselves appear sparsely, and the lack of appearance of a full-grown T-Rex may disappoint some. Similarly disappointing to some audiences may be Queen Nefertiti and Riddell, the game hunter, whom are rather underdeveloped despite the former’s importance to the plot and the latter’s amusing nature. A massive contrivance props up the whole resolution, as it just so happens that the Doctor brought characters with him whom happen to fulfill the roles needed to save the day. As a big fan of dinosaurs, some of my favorite species failed to disappear, but that’s a purely personal quibble of course.

    Overall: A blast of pure fun, there isn’t much to this episode but it proves thoroughly entertaining.
    Notes:
    a. The climax of the story sees the Doctor do something (specifically, not doing something) that critics and fans alike have found out of character. It certainly goes against the Doctor’s moral principles, but in fact the Doctor has frequently resorted to similar acts throughout the series’ long history when it has proved convenient; it may be wrong, and certainly should be addressed, but it is not inconsistent with his past actions at all; instead, what may be bothering viewers is the way in which the Doctor carries it out, which is certainly questionable.
    b. Dinosaurs have appeared in Doctor Who before, notably in 1974’s masterful Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and have made appearances in Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Mark of the Rani. By extension, Pteranodons (which, this writer is quick to note, are not dinosaurs) also appeared in Invasion of the Dinosaurs and last year’s “The Wedding of River Song”.

    3. “A Town Called Mercy” by Toby Whitehouse, sees the show return to the Wild West for the first time since the mid-sixties’ excellent The Gunfighters. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory arrive at a frontier town besieged by an alien cyborg known as the Gunslinger, who seeks to kill “the Doctor”. The Doctor discovers he isn’t the only doctor who is an alien in town, and he is soon faced by a moral dilemma that is painfully close to home: to let the Gunslinger take his revenge and spare the townspeople, thus taking an easy way out, or to make a stand for the sanctity of life, even that of one who has wronged. This time, will the Doctor make the right choice?

    The Good: The production for this episode is gorgeous; shot in Almeria, Spain, where many classic westerns including A Fistful of Dollars were filmed, “A Town Called Mercy” feature one of the most evocative locations of any Doctor Who story. Beyond mere appearances, the episode features an intriguing moral dilemma of the sort that Doctor Who usually does so well, backed up by some very strong acting. Adrian Scarborough excels as morally ambiguous and spiritually tormented war criminal Kahler-Jex, who reminds the Doctor a little too much of himself for comfort. Even more impressive than the Kahler in terms of exceeding expectations is the Gunslinger (Adrian Brooke), a truly magnificent Frankenstein’s monster-analogy who manages to be a three-dimensional character in his own right. The Doctor’s speech to one of the town’s young men, pleading for him not to turn to violence to solve his troubles, is one of the Doctor’s most convincing arguments for pacifism and rivals a similar moment in 1988’s The Happiness Patrol.

    The Bad: Unfortunately, the intriguing moral set-up is let down by a complete cop-out at the climax which lets the episode off the hook from actually exploring or resolving any of the issues it raises. The performances are great but the compressed nature of the 45-minute episode format that the series follows is that events can often feel rushed, and the Doctor’s anger and subsequent change of heart toward what is to be done about Jex feels like it transpires too quickly. Rory is given almost nothing to do in his antepenultimate appearance in the series, and his hard-line stance on Jex feels out of character considering his profession as a nurse, a job that entails a good deal of compassion. Finally, the downside of this episode’s dependence on the conventions of the Western genre means that certain plot elements and developments are a touch predictable on first, unspoiled viewing.

    Overall: A lukewarm episode with some very strong elements let down by a disappointing ending and some stilted writing.

    4. “The Power of Three”, by Chris Chibnall, examines the Doctor’s impact on Amy and Rory’s lives. Most of the time, the Doctor simply drops in on their lives in order to whisk them off on wild adventures, but this time the Doctor is forced to become a part of their lives in order to confront the biggest invasion of Earth in history…in the form of small black cubes that appear from nowhere and proceed to do nothing. The invaders, if there are any, may win simply by trying the Doctor’s patience rather than trying to kill him….

    The Good: Up until the ending this viewer was ready to declare this episode the best of this half of the season due to it’s intriguing set-up and focus on the characters of Amy and Rory. Frequently the two have felt sidelined by recent episodes, especially poor Rory, a character who is begging for deeper exploration. The Doctor’s friendship with the couple is thrust under the spotlight here, and by removing the gimmicky mini-movie-of-the-week formula of the season thus far in favor of a quieter, domestic approach the quality of the characterization and the emotional resonance with the viewers suddenly spiral upward. The premise for the invasion is wonderful, and the mystery of the nature and purpose of the small black cubes is enough to keep viewers watching intently. Rory’s dad Brian makes a triumphant return here, as does the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce or UNIT, the scientific military organization that has assisted the Doctor on-and-off throughout the series since the 60’s and whom the Doctor was once forced to work for; UNIT’s scientific branch has a new head in the form of Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), the daughter of the Doctor’s longtime greatest recurring ally and friend, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (played by the late Nicholas Courtney, who’s passing was acknowledged in last year’s finale during a phone call confirming the Brigadier’s death and the Doctor’s silently devastated reaction). Courtney and the character he played may no longer be with us, but it is great that his legacy will continue to be a part of the show, and I cannot think of a better character to continue that legacy than the warm and lively Kate Stewart; long may she return to the show. A cameo by the chicken dance song in this episode proves very funny indeed, though an additional cameo by Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” would have been duly appreciated considering the context.

    The Bad: And then the ending comes along, which not only makes little sense and features some truly dodgy science but completely fails to explain a certain important plot-point, involving the abduction of a group of people; even worse is that, due to the complete lack of explanation or resolution, it appears that the abductees perish in the events that follow when the protagonists could have rescued them. Frankly it is a SHOCKING oversight in the scripting and script-editing that could and should have been corrected. The whole ending doesn’t quite ruin the high achievement of the episode up until this point but it comes really, dangerously close.

    Overall: What could easily have been (and may actually be) the best and most entertaining episode of the season is nearly, but not quite, spoiled by a rushed and incoherent ending.

  56. Christopher Brown

    The section for Angels Take Manhattan I’ll post tomorrow…

  57. Excellent stuff, Christopher. Having landed the plum assignment of writing about Doctor Who, you’re certainly getting the job done. I’m confident that you’ll be marked well! Interested to see what you make of The Angels Take Manhattan, though I guess you’ve more or less given away already that it wasn’t your favourite episode.

  58. Christopher Brown

    It is hard to consider an episode that depresses the heck out of you to be your favorite, I guess…so yeah :/

  59. Christopher Brown

    It was definitely the best episode overall, come to think of it…I’ll have to edit my review…

  60. Christopher Brown

    And thanks for the kind feedback! :)

  61. I just figured that Oswin would be met in a timeline prior to her ending up on the Dalek prison planet and being Daleck-ified….

  62. That would make sense, and judged in isolation would be a fine storyline, with the Doctor always knowing what appalling state is in store for her. The problem is, it would feel terribly like a retreat of the River Song storyline, which we have only just (hopefully!) wrapped up.

  63. Christopher Brown

    Here’s the final part of the article…

    5. “The Angels Take Manhattan”, by Steven Moffat, sees the Doctor say a final goodbye to Amy and Rory as they face off against the most frightening Doctor Who enemies of all time: The Weeping Angels. The Angels are the Lonely Assassins of the universe; when a living creature sees them, they appear as statues, but when you’re not looking at them, they are among the fastest predators in creation. They feed off of people’s unfulfilled possibilities, zapping them backwards in time to a certain point and then feeding off of the potential energy from what they might have done in the present. The only way to stop them is to look at them, keeping them frozen as statues. And what’s one city that’s full of statues? New York, New York…

    In many ways, this is the hardest episode to review of the series thus far, not only because it is very difficult to discuss the plot without mentioning spoilers, but also because it is the most subjective viewing experience. It is a very emotionally affecting episode that rather falls to pieces once the emotional rush has faded, yet its surge of powerful moments almost render the episode’s flaws irrelevant; and indeed, many of my criticisms are with Series 7 so far as a whole rather than the episode itself.

    The Good: The Weeping Angels, stars of two of the best televised Doctor Who stories of recent days, make a spectacular return in the first part of the episode. New York City is the perfect environment for them to haunt, and several creepy new variants of the Angels (reflecting the diversity of types of statues in the world) make appearances here, along with a rather unlikely but amusing variation on a certain famous New York momument. (Can you guess which one?) The opening is wonderfully film-noirish in tone, though this is rather lost as the episode goes along, and the acting by Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill blows their previous highs as Amy and Rory out of the water. The appearance and role of Professor River Song (Alex Kingston), the grown-up daughter of Amy and Rory as well as the Doctor’s wife (it’s a long, complicated story), is handled well and is fitting considering this is the final story to feature her parents. A wonderful sense of foreboding builds up throughout the episode, and to those who have been following the series, there are a few emotional moments that are truly heartrending. I take no shame in admitting I nearly teared up at one point.

    The Bad: Unfortunately, in the end Amy and Rory’s departure overwhelms all the other plotlines established in the relatively short running time. The Weeping Angels fare the best, as they are the driving force of most of the episode, even if their hold over the entirety of New York City is a frankly silly element. Less well handled is River Song’s storyline, as the explanations for how River came to be involved in the events of the episode in the first place are rather skipped over. The man she is investigating, mob boss Grayle (Mike McShane, no relation to St. Andrew’s Michael McShane, alas), is barely relevant to proceedings apart from furthering the plot and adding to the film noir atmosphere; once his purpose in the story has finished, he is neatly forgotten about as other events unfold, apart from a quick shot suggesting his fate. Finally, the exact circumstances of Amy and Rory’s departure means that there’s no reason Amy and Rory couldn’t return to the show, yet the episode pretends otherwise simply because Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill don’t wish to return; this takes us out of the story, and into the real life behind-the-scenes of the show, which means that Amy and Rory’s leaving feels slightly hollow.

    Overall: Despite its flaws and the flawed conception of the season to begin with, this episode proves an exhilarating and pulse-pounding experience that sends Amy and Rory off on an emotional high note.

    The Season so far as a whole: On average, this reviewer has been rather disappointed with the season so far. As far as we can tell, this season frustratingly postpones following up on the ongoing story arc from Series 5 and 6, many elements of which have yet to be explained. Instead, the focus has been on Amy and Rory’s final travels with the Doctor…except that their narrative on the show had already wrapped up last season, as they stopped travelling with the Doctor when the dangers of being the Doctor’s companions took their toll on the trio, from Amy being kidnapped and her daughter stolen from the Williams to be used as a weapon against the Doctor to Amy’s faith in the Doctor nearly getting her killed. The Doctor set the Williams up permanently on Earth to keep them safe, before going into hiding from his enemies through faking his own death. In last year’s Christmas special, the Doctor visited the Williams for Christmas, and they sat down together as old friends. After all the Williams had been through, this is the role they should have played; that of old friends whom the Doctor stops by to see sometime. Instead, this season they have resumed their regular companion roles, completely disregarding the events of the last season. Giving them a traditional emotional companion send-off wasn’t necessary for them and doesn’t suit the role they’d played in the series up to this point. Not only that, but there are certain developments to the Doctor’s character that don’t sit well with the show’s morality, which is disturbing to say the least. In the end, this season has been killing time, and can only be considered a disappointment compared to the heights of the previous two seasons. Let’s hope things improve come the Christmas Special and the remaining eight episodes in the Spring.

    Thanks for “hosting” me Mike! :)

  64. This does remind me of one thing that sees to differ in the UK relative to North America .. in NA actors tend to stick around for awhile.. for the life othe show, or for as long as they can, if its a good show and with good parts.

    Bow, DW is special and has a running trend of short lived Doctors and shorter lived Companions..

    .. but I have always wondered why? Is this a UK thing? a BBC thing? or just a DW thing?

    The average Doc lasts only a few years, with Tom Baker being quite long in the tooth; likewise most companions only ahng around a season or two (I think, I’ve not checked .. certainly Rose hung around awhile :)

    But with the ‘actors want to leave’ mentality.. why? If you’re Karen Gillan.. young, and on a very successful show with a beloved part.. whats the rush to get out? typecasting?

    Doc Chris.. only one season, and one of the best Doctors… but 1 season? I think in his case, he wanted 2 seasons or more but foudn the work heavy and just wanted out on a high note before it killed him.. I can appreciate that :)

  65. Thank you, Christopher, for an excellent analysis. Do let us know when you get your marks from the assignment — I assume you’ll do well.

    Overall, I can’t help agreeing with you about Amy and Rory’s story: it had been nicely wound up by the end Series 6, and the closing scenes of the Christmas special had a perfect elegaic quality to them that would have been a good place to leave the Ponds. Because of all Doctor Who companions, they are the ones most suited to return to a normal life — to a situation where their affection for each other gives that life a quality that is as satisfying as, though very different from, travelling with the Doctor. And that gentle happy ending is rather undone by the events of Series 7A.

    On the other hand … I can’t really be unhappy that they returned, because I just love them, and I wanted to see more of them. Even now I sort of half-hope they find a way to bring them back at some point, though I decried it when they did this with Rose. Rory has made himself my very favourite Doctor Who companion, with Amy in second place.

  66. Christopher Brown

    Afraid it won’t be marked as it’s for the school newspaper’s entertainment section, but thank you anyways and your reception of it makes up for it :)

    Agreed, Amy and Rory are definitely among my top favorites, right next to K9. I do wish we’d gotten to see Rory’s perspective of events more, see what made him tick, maybe have an episode where it’s just him and the Doctor…but I am incredibly grateful for what we got.

    Found this review, which perfectly sums up my problems with Asylum of the Daleks and the Doctor’s current relationship with the Daleks far better than I did: http://jblum.livejournal.com/324177.html

    I couldn’t mention this in the article, but I found the “I wish they would stop” line borderline obscene coming from the Doctor’s mouth.

  67. No comment to my question about the UK actors?>>

    running trend of short lived Doctors and shorter lived Companions..

    .. but I have always wondered why? Is this a UK thing? a BBC thing? or just a DW thing?

  68. Afraid it won’t be marked as it’s for the school newspaper’s entertainment section.

    Better still. More people will get to see it that way.

  69. Jeff, my sense is that you’re right, and it’s more common in the US for actors to stick with a series for as long as they can. In the UK, it’s much more common for a series to run for a shorter time (e.g. two series of The Office, with six episodes each), and for the cast of long-running shows to rotate. I couldn’t tell you why this is.

  70. Jeff, I won’t read that because I am an extreme spoilerphobe. But thanks for the link — I will come back to it after the Christmas special.

  71. oh, theres no spoilers there; more importantly, skip to the bottom and there is a farewell letter to Rory’s dad. ie: R+A back in the past send out a letter that arrives in the future, to clear up what happened.

    It does not a happy life, not a slave life victem to the Angels, so confirms folks suspicious above.

    But go watch it, cute finale.

  72. That was excellent. Many thanks for the link.

  73. Pingback: Review: Doctor Who – Series 7 – Episodes 1-5 « So…Nitemice

  74. Pingback: Mike’s bang-up-to-date review of The Snowmen | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  75. Pingback: The Bells of Saint John (Doctor Who series 7, episode 7) | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  76. Pingback: The Rings of Akhaten (Doctor Who series 7, episode 8) | The Reinvigorated Programmer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s