Revisiting Doctor Who Series 6: Episodes 1-7

So on to Series 6, which continues Moffat’s trend of making Doctor Who more complex and more adult in content. This poses a number of problems when trying to watch it with a six-year-old boy, but his Nanna buys him the Doctor Who kids’ magazines and he seems more excited by the newer episodes while at the same time struggling to follow what is going on. An interesting paradox.

Episodes 1 & 2: The Impossible Astronaut, Day of the Moon

Series 6 opens with a two-parter, a bold move.  After a two-month break from their travels with the Doctor, Amy and Rory receive a “TARDIS blue”-coloured envelope providing a time, date and set of coordinates, leading them to Utah. They arrive to meet River Song (who also received an envelope at her Stormcage prison in the far future) and the Doctor, now 1,103 years old (194 years older than he was when he last saw them). Later, a figure in a 1960’s NASA astronaut suit emerges from the waters of Lake Silencio; the Doctor approaches it but warns his companions not to interfere. The astronaut shoots the Doctor, causing him to begin to regenerate, but his companions are horrified to witness the astronaut shoot him again, killing him before the process can complete. The three are met by Canton Everett Delaware III (William Morgan Sheppard) who also received an envelope and was instructed to bring a can of gasoline, which the group then uses to build a funeral pyre.

Regrouping at a diner, Amy, Rory, and River are speculating about who might have sent the envelopes when they are shocked to see the Doctor, a 194-years younger version from earlier in his timestream. He reveals that he too was given an envelope, but does not know who sent it to him. Reluctantly his companions decide not to tell the Doctor either about his death or that the sender was his future self. The four travel back to 8 April 1969, where they meet President Richard Nixon (Stuart Milligan) and a younger Delaware (Mark Sheppard) and begin to unravel the mysteries of the spacesuited figure and a little girl who has been calling the President himself late at night in the Oval Office.

Enter: The Silence, sinister aliens who appear to be a cross between “Men In Black” and Edvard Munch’s The Scream. They must be the most frightening, disturbing aliens to have featured in the show in a long old while, with their electrical energy powers, creepy voices and their chilling ability to make onlookers forget them as soon as they look away. This last ability enables them to act as a secret government, manipulating human history to their own ends. How can the team fight a force they can’t even remember?

Rip-roaring, intelligent, frightening fun, though more questions are left unanswered at the end of the second episode. Who are the Silence really, and what motivates them? Are they behind the attempt to destroy the TARDIS at the end of the last season? Who is the mysterious eye-patch-wearing woman who peeks at Amy through incongruous hatches? Who is the little girl and what is her connection to the spacesuit and the Doctor’s assassin? And how is it she appears to begin to regenerate, just like a Time Lord, in the final scene of Day of the Moon? And is Amy pregnant or isn’t she?

Episode 3: The Curse of the Black Spot

The TARDIS materialises in the 17th century on board a pirate ship whose crew is being terrorised by a Siren-like creature. After receiving an injury, however minor, a black spot appears on their palms and then the creature apparently disintegrates them. But is all as it seems?

Fun, but inconsequential. Hugh Bonneville is sterling as the pirate Captain Avery. Rory has yet another near-death experience. We witness the birth of “Pirates in Space”. Eye-patch woman peeks at Amy again. OK, but nothing to write home about, and certainly suffering by comparison to the season opener.

Episode 4: The Doctor’s Wife

Now this is more like it. the Doctor receives a communication cube containing a distress call from a Time Lord (a device last seen in the Second Doctor series, The War Games). Tracing the source of the call to a rift leading outside the universe, the TARDIS materialises in a junkyard on a solitary asteroid within a dying bubble universe, whereupon the TARDIS shuts down and its “matrix” (its controlling sentience) disappears.

Exploring the asteroid, the Doctor, Amy and Rory encounter an odd little family composed of Uncle, Auntie, a green eyed Ood called Nephew, and an eccentric woman named Idris. And this is where things get really weird, as it transpires that Idris is now the host body for the TARDIS’ matrix. The asteroid itself has its own sentience – a malevolent entity named “House” which has been luring Time Lords to its pocket realm for eons so it might feed off the Artron energy of their TARDISes – and murdering the stranded Time Lords so their body parts can be used to patch-up Uncle and Auntie. However, upon learning that the Doctor is the last Time Lord and that no more TARDISes will ever arrive, House transfers itself into the TARDIS to escape from the rift. Amy and Rory, trapped inside as the House-controlled TARDIS dematerialises, become victims of the entity’s sadistic mind games as the Doctor and Idris struggle to follow them before the bubble universe finally collapses.

Horror and fantasy novelist and graphic novel writer Neil Gaiman penned this superb episode. It melds comedy, genuine horror, suspense, romance, poignancy and fan-boy glee nearly flawlessly. House is voiced with sinister effect by Michael Sheen and Suranne Jones is marvelous as the TARDIS-possessed Idris. The episode won the 2011 Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation and the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form).

Episodes 5 & 6: The Rebel Flesh, The Almost People

A two-parter with an interesting plot and a pretty shocking final revelation. The TARDIS is caught in the first waves of a “solar tsunami” and materialises on Earth in the 22nd century. The Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves on a remote island, where a factory housed in a former castle monastery pumps a valuable, highly corrosive acid to the mainland. The skeleton crew of the factory uses a self-replicating organic fluid called the Flesh from which they create doppelgängers of themselves, colloquially called “Gangers”. The crew control the Gangers from special harnesses, operating in the hazardous environment of the factory via the disposable bodies. The Doctor soon recognises that the Flesh is somewhat more than the human crew believes it is – the substance is evolving a kind of consciousness, a process that is dangerously accelerated when the next wave of the solar storm hits and the crew’s Gangers accidentally achieve independent life. No longer are they mere puppets, now they are living, self-aware duplicates of their originals, down to their last memories and emotions. And they want to live.

A tense, thrilling two-parter with great acting from an ensemble cast and some challenging philosophical quandaries for the characters about identity, self and what it means to be alive. But that final horror? Well, SPOILER ALERT: Amy isn’t Amy, but is a Flesh avatar, a Ganger, herself. Having been substituted at some point in the recent past, her real body is in a medical facility, supervised by the eye-patch lady, going into labour with her and Rory’s baby. Well, I didn’t see that coming!

Episode 7: A Good Man Goes To War

“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…”

The mid-season finale is a stonking good fun. The Doctor learns that the real Amy is being held on a secret asteroid base called “Demon’s Run”, and collects several old debtors from across time and space to lay assault on the base, including Sontaran “nurse” Commander Strax (Dan Starkey), 19th Century Silurian crime-fighter Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and her human companion Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart), and the black market trader Dorium Maldovar (Simon Fisher-Becker) – interestingly, none of these characters have been seen or referenced before, they are entirely new creations. Rory, in butch macho hero mode dressed as the Last Centurion, bombastically threatens a Cyber-Fleet to extract the location of Demons’ Run (Mondasian Cyberman, I’m sure of it… I have to stop sweating over this. From now on I will assume all further appearances by Cybermen to be of the Mondasian variety unless evidence is presented to the contrary). Rory then attempts to recruit River Song from her Stormcage prison cell, but she refuses, saying she cannot be with the Doctor at this time as this battle is when he will discover her identity.

Aboard the base, eye-patch lady, or Madame Kovarian (Frances Barber), who has been watching over Amy during her pregnancy and has taken her baby, Melody, from her, prepares her human troops to fight the Doctor alongside the Order of the Headless Monks who reside at Demon’s Run. Human soldier Lorna Bucket (Christina Chong), who met the Doctor as a young girl in the Gamma Forests, prepares to switch sides and align herself with her childhood hero. (Question: In last season’s The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone, the warrior clerics have great respect for the Doctor and ally themselves with him. Are the warrior clerics in this episode a different sect?)

Assisted by additional Silurian and Judoon forces, Bracewell’s WWII space Spitfires and Captain Avery’s space pirates, the Doctor and his allies launch a surprise attack and secure the base. The Doctor and Rory free Amy and retake Melody before Madame Kovarian can escape with her. Vastra and Dorium discover that baby Melody has both human and Time Lord DNA. The Doctor surmises that Melody was likely conceived on Amy and Rory’s wedding night aboard the TARDIS (The Big Bang), the baby’s DNA mutated by the time vortex as his own ancient ancestors’ was.

But just as it seems all is won, crashing disappointment ensues. The Silence, it transpires, is not a species but a religious order of which the aliens from the season’s opening two-parter are members. They believe that “Silence will fall” when the “oldest question” is asked – cryptic indeed. Kovarian renders her own motives no more clearly – she wants the Doctor dead and is forging a weapon with which to do the deed – Melody Pond herself, who will be raised to be the Doctor’s assassin. Allusion is made to the Time Lord’s fearful reputation since the events of the Time War, a reputation so frightening that the Atraxi scurried off when they discovered who he was (The Eleventh Hour).  Unfortunately, the baby Melody in Amy’s arms is a Flesh Ganger, and Kovarian steals the real infant away even as the Headless Monks regroup and slay Strax, Dorian and Bucket. The Doctor swears he will find baby Melody – but not before the second shock revelation of the season…

River Song is Melody Pond, all grown up. OMG! Hi Mum and Dad!

The motives of the Silence and of Kovarian herself remain, as I’ve said, obscure, and we can only hope that mystery is resolved in time. But River’s revelation is great fun and the supporting characters are creative and entertaining. The episode was nominated for the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form), though it lost to Neil Gaiman’s episode “The Doctor’s Wife”.

About Mark Winter

Dark Fantasy novelist (INFERNAL PREY). Blogging on politics and current affairs (GibberLog), science and history (BlatherLog), sci-fi, fantasy & horror (WittlerLog), business, product development & start-ups (MutterLog). View all posts by Mark Winter

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