Revisiting Doctor Who: Series 6 – Episodes 11-13 & The 2011 Christmas Special

The momentum builds as the Doctor travels towards his death on the shore of Lake Silencio. How does the scheme of The Silence unfold? What role will River Song play in the events to come? And is there any way the Doctor can evade his doom, the “fixed point in time” recorded indelibly in the historical records of uncounted civilisations? Guiding The Lad through the convoluted machinations of Madame Kovarian hasn’t been easy but he understands enough to know that the Doctor is going to have to pull some swifties to get out of this one…

Episode 11: The God Complex

The TARDIS materialises in what seems to be a tired, 1980’s English hotel. Of course it is anything but. A trio of ordinary English people recently abducted from contemporary Earth – plus one cowardly humanoid alien (David Walliams) – explain that they are being hunted through the labyrinthine, endlessly shifting corridors by a minotaur-like monster which compels them to worship it before they become its victims. And the rooms in the “hotel” aren’t empty – behind each door is something terrifying, a nightmare drawn from the deepest fears of the alien minotaur’s prey.

The episode has some nice elements. The monster is revealed to be imprisoned in a simulation by the civilisation that had once worshipped it as a god, kept alive by AI systems which teleport an endless supply of unwitting victims onboard. Revealed to be a distant relative of the Nimon race (The Horns of Nimon), the tragic creature yearns for the release of death but is unable to overcome its instincts when confronted by sacrifices. The nature of the creature’s feeding (like it’s Nimon cousins it is sustained by the psychic energy of its victims, but requires it to be converted into the psychic power of faith before it can feed) leads to some interesting interplay between the Doctor and Amy. Walliams is amusing as the lilly-livered alien Gibbis and the rest of the cast also discharge their duties well. But overall it is a bit meh, a bit flabby.

The most significant development is the Doctor’s decision to leave Amy and Rory behind on Earth at the episode’s conclusion, fearing for their safety if they stay with him and knowing full well that his death is drawing nearer.

Episode 12: Closing Time

For nearly two centuries since he left Amy and Rory behind, the Doctor has been wandering space and time, seeking to postpone his fate. Echoing the Tenth Doctor’s farewell tour as he fought off his impending regeneration, the Doctor pays a visit to Craig and Sophie (The Lodger) in Colchester. Sophie has headed off on a girls’ weekend leaving Craig with their new baby, Alfie (or rather Stormageddon, as he prefers to be known). Meanwhile, at a local department store, there has been a rash of unexplained disappearances. Who should be behind them but… the Cybermen (no spoilers; they make their appearance before the opening credits).

Played largely for laughs to make the most of James Corden’s strengths in the role of Craig, this episode is a silly but endearing pleasure from its opening scenes to the ludicrous ending (death by overload of sentimentality, anyone?). The Cybermats, last seen in 1975’s Revenge of the Cybermen, make a welcome return, but it is a shame to see the once-mighty Cybermen robbed of their menace, virtually reduced to comedy props (as an aside, these are indisputably the original Mondasian version rather than the parallel Cybermen from “Pete’s World”). Nevertheless, this lightweight but fun episode played very well indeed with The Lad and served as a reminder that series 5 and 6 have often strayed well beyond the comprehension of the average 6-year old.

However we get a flash of darkness before the final credits in the form of a sinister coda. In the distant future, River Song has just completed her doctorate in Archaeology and is researching the circumstances of the Doctor’s death at Lake Silencio. Her studies are interrupted by the arrival of Madame Kovarian and several of the Silence. Kovarian reveals that River had never escaped their schemes as they trigger the conditioning planted deep in her psyche and imprison her, helpless, in the familiar spacesuit at the bottom of Lake Silencio… waiting for the Doctor to arrive…

Episode 13: The Wedding of River Song

The Doctor, aware of his imminent death at the fixed point of time on 22 April 2011 at Lake Silencio in Utah, attempts to track down the Silence to learn why he must die. He encounters the Teselecta shapeshifting robot and its miniaturised crew (Let’s Kill Hitler) who offer him any help within their power. The Doctor is led to the still-living head of his friend Dorium Maldovar, decapitated by the Order of the Headless Monks (A Good Man Goes to War), who reveals that the Silence are dedicated to averting the Doctor’s future:

“On the fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked—one that must never be answered. And Silence must fall when the question is asked.”

The Doctor continues to refuse to go to Lake Silencio until he discovers that his old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has died, at which point he accepts his fate (a poignant tribute to actor Nicholas Courtney who had recently passed away). To avoid crossing his own time stream, he gives the Teselecta crew the invitations to deliver to Amy, Rory, River, Canton (The Impossible Astronaut, Day of the Moon) and a younger version of himself. The Doctor joins his friends at Lake Silencio and then approaches the astronaut, now known to be a younger version of River herself, programmed to kill the Doctor by the Silence and Madame Kovarian.

But all does not proceed according to plan. River defies her conditioning and the Doctor’s warning against interfering with a “fixed point in time” by draining the spacesuit’s weapons systems and averting his death. Time becomes “stuck” as a result and begins to collapse; all of Earth’s history begins to run simultaneously at a fixed moment of 5:02 p.m. on 22 April 2011. What follows is a riotous tour de force as old friend Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice) reigns as Holy Roman Emperor and we are treated to additional cameos from Charles Dickens (Simon Callow) and Silurian scientist Malohkeh (Richard Hope, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood).

Ultimately, the integrity of time is restored when the Doctor ropes in the Teselecta which, disguised as himself, is “killed” by River – the fixed point in time was never what it appeared to be in the first place. But the citizenry of the universe thinks the Doctor has been murdered, and River goes to prison for the crime, willingly colluding in the Doctor’s plan to adopt a far lower profile and escape his own terrifying reputation, a reputation which has visited tragedy on himself and his companions. River’s reward? Well, she and the Doctor got married after all. How else would she learn the Doctor’s true name?

Another bravura season finale, but I am a bit concerned at how all of time and space keeps getting screwed up. First the Daleks’ Reality Bomb destroys the Multiverse, then the exploding TARDIS somehow disintegrates time itself before it is “rebooted”, then meddling with a fixed point causes near-total historical collapse.  I’m wondering if the fabric of reality might be stretched to breaking point by all this hokum…

What we still don’t know: Why did the TARDIS explode at the end of the last series? Was it an assassination attempt by the Silence which had unintended consequences? Where is Trenzalore and why is the Silence so committed to preventing what will happen there?

2011 Christmas Special: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

During the Christmas season of 1938, the Doctor finds himself on a damaged alien spacecraft in Earth’s orbit. He escapes the exploding ship and then falls to Earth in an impact space suit (wearing the helmet backwards). On crashing to Earth, he is found by Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner), wife of Reg (Alexander Amstrong) and mother of two children, Lily and Cyril. Madge helps the Doctor to his TARDIS, and the Doctor promises to repay her for her kindness. Three years later, during World War II, Reg is reported missing in action when the Lancaster bomber he was piloting disappeared over the English Channel. Madge is told this via telegram just before Christmas, but decides not to tell her children yet, hoping to keep their spirits up through the holiday. Madge and the children evacuate London to a relative’s house in Dorset, where they are greeted by the Doctor, calling himself “the Caretaker” (Madge does not recognise him from their previous encounter, as his face had been hidden by the backwards helmet).

The Doctor has prepared the house specially for the children and the holiday. During the first night, Cyril is lured into opening a large glowing present under the Christmas tree, revealing a spacetime portal to a snow-covered forest. The Doctor shortly discovers that Cyril has discovered what had been intended to be a Christmas morning surprise and follows him with Lily… as, shortly afterwards, does Madge.

There is not really any need to summarise what follows. Suffice to say it is a fairly insubstantial bit of Christmas fantasy, and none the worse for that – devoid of mind-bending time travel shenanigans and adult-oriented darkness, it was easily followed and enjoyed by The Lad, who also appreciated the central role of the two children. Bill Bailey, Paul Bazely, and Arabella Weir are sinfully underused, but Skinner’s performance as a widowed mother is touching, and the tale’s ending brought a tear to my unashamedly sentimental eye. So sue me.

Postscript: An Apology

Some of my episode reviews have become quite lengthy lately, involving a great many spoilers and lots of speculation about continuity matters etc. Sorry about that. I’m assuming that few, if any, readers have not actually seen the episodes I’m revisiting, and I enjoy wittering on about continuity stuff. But I do apologise if I have spoiled anything for anyone by giving away important plot elements. Mea maxima culpa.

Another Postscript

I have almost brought The Lad completely up-to-date with the revived series of Doctor Who. I am hoping that the complete Series 7 will be available on iTunes before the 50th Anniversary Special in November 2013 – if it is, I can romp through it with him and watch the Anniversary with my boy when it is actually broadcast. He’ll be 7 years old by then, and he is a genuine fan. Actually, I have only seen the first half of Series 7 myself, so the second half will be entirely fresh to me. Quite exciting. I am hoping to see some plot housekeeping undertaken by Mr. Moffat – he is already toning down the Doctor’s fearsome legend by introducing his faked death so he can be a bit more low-key in future. A bit of continuity tidying wouldn’t go amiss either (take notes from JJ Abram’s clever and respectful ploy in his Star Trek reboot). And can we please rediscover the Doctor’s “daughter”, Jenny? A biologically Gallifreyan woman roaming around the universe is too tantalising to be forgotten about.

We can also assume that Alex Kingston will want to bow out at some point, and as we have seen both her birth and her death, she can do so whenever she pleases. But in the DVD release of Series 6 there is a mini-episode, “Last Night”, in which River tells the Doctor that she is off to see the Singing Towers of Darillium with him (in a different time). The Doctor realises that this encounter is the last she will see of the Doctor’s Eleventh incarnation before she dies in the Library in the Tenth Doctor’s presence (“Forest of the Dead“). It would be nice to see that brief, romantic interlude on Darillium before Ms Kingston decides to leave, to give River proper closure. Then again, an encounter with River’s digitally-uploaded consciousness in the Library itself wouldn’t be out of the question, would it?

In the mean time, there will be a bit of a break in the Revisiting Doctor Who series of blog entries. But I have other stuff to write about!

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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