Doctor Who

Doctor Who Recap: 6×07 – A Good Man Goes To War

Warning: SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, please – go watch it before you read this.

Steven Moffat likes to subvert. . . everything. Last season’s DVD commentary features a discussion with Karen Gillan about the theory that Amy Pond and River Song are the same person. Which leaves me wondering if the mid-series finale’s payoff is both a tip of the hat and a nose-thumbing at fandom’s more outrageous ideas. (It’s probably not, but it’s still funny.)
After watching “A Good Man Goes To War”, my brain immediately popped an image of this:

Pointillism is a pretty good metaphor for the long game Steven Moffat has been playing. Each brush stroke on its own is simply a splotch of color on the canvas. It may be an interesting splotch, but it’s not the entire painting. It’s once you put all those splotches together and take a step back that you’ve got a cohesive picture. The events of AGMGTW are only important because they teach us about the characters and the way forward.

The first thing I’ll tell you, is this: The Doctor doesn’t appear until almost halfway through the episode. His presence is implied, by a silhouette and the TARDIS, but Matt Smith is not on camera. What we get instead, is the brilliant Arthur Darvill being a complete and total BAMF in Roman gear.

The opening is a cracker.

I love that Moffat subverts scenes from the first four series, as Amy tells her baby about the man who will come for her. We’ve seen companions wax rhapsodic over the Legend of the Doctor and his many names, time and again. Here, we’ve got a heroic portrait painted and it’s Rory, “I’m a nurse,” Williams-Pond. The Last Centurion. Intentional or not, it has the striking effect of building on not only the fifth series finale, but the path Rory’s taken through this series. Sensible Rory. Kind Rory. Silly Rory. Devoted Rory. Rory, who will make anyone with the temerity to harm his wife and child, rue the day they were born. You’ve got to be pretty hard, to go up against a legion of Cybermen and demand to know, “Where is my wife?”  Then again, if a furious Time Lord’s got your back, and you survived the fall of Rome. . . I think we can take it as read, that Roranicus Pondicus is as hard as they come.

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Demon’s Run is a patchwork of rich, tiny moments: Lorna Bucket sewing a prayer leaf, the, “Thin, fat, gay, married, Anglican marines,” two Clerics practicing how to recognize psychic paper, and of course – the Headless Monks. However, it’s watching the collection of the Doctor’s allies, that’s slightly encouraging, slightly frightening, and not only reinforces the episode on repeat viewing, but seems to lay groundwork for the second half of the series. (Maybe even a spin-off? Madame Vastra and Jenny are more than delightful to watch. Neve McIntosh and Catrin Stewart can wield double-entendres and katanas with the best of them.)

We see River Song breaking back into prison. Rory asks her to come help them, and River says no. She already knows the outcome of the battle, and that it’s, “The Doctor’s darkest hour. . . ” River sends Rory off with the tantalizing promise, “This is the day he finds out who I am.” Moffat, having decided to finally give his audience some relief from the relentless mysteries and questions, hasn’t hesitated to telegraph a fair few points. In my opinion, this doesn’t lessen the impact of those points. There are still more than enough mysteries at play.

In the Doctor’s adversaries, we’ve got the unnerving Madame Kovarian, played with a sense of bitter and brittle efficiency by Frances Barber. Colonel Manton (Danny Sapani,) who commands his forces with a fine sense of corps d’esprit, yet never lets on why the amassed forces of the Church are going up against the Doctor. “He’s not a goblin, a phantom, or a trickster,” does hearken back to the Alliance in “The Big Bang”. Then there are the Headless Monks, who really are, well – headless. There have to be reasons, for this uneasy coalition of foes. We just don’t really know what they are. Yet.

The Doctor is. . . the Doctor. He swoops in to save the day. However, this is a Time Lord who has been pushed much, much too far.

The Doctor: (to Manton)”I want people to call you, ‘Colonel Run-Away. . . ‘ And when people come to you and ask if trying to get to me through the people I love is in any way a good idea – I want you to tell them your name. . . Oh, look, I’m angry, that’s new. I’m really not sure what’s going to happen now.”
(to Madame Kovarian) “Good men don’t need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.”

Still, all is not what it seems. We see the base vanquished, the baby rescued and Rory and Amy reunited. Yet we also know that Madame Kovarian has set up a trap.

Madame Vastra asks, “Is she human?” Melody Pond has Time-Lord DNA, possibly from exposure to the Time Vortex during conception, and presumably with further manipulation in-utero and after being born. Part of the why is explained: they’re creating a weapon. Madame Kovarian tells the Doctor that the child is, “Hope. Hope in this endless, bitter war.” A war against the Doctor. As she remarks that fooling the Doctor twice is, “A privilege,” the truth comes out: Melody is a flesh avatar. The monks with their flaming swords have ambushed the Doctor’s remaining troops in the hangar. (They’re dead. They don’t show up if you’re looking for life-forms.) Amy is devastated, Rory is disillusioned but resigned and Lorna, Strax, and Dorium have paid the price of standing with the Doctor. A price that far too many have paid, over the years.

“Well then, soldier – how goes the day?”
River arrives in a flash of light, and faces the Doctor’s failure with a rational scolding. “To the people of the Gamma Forests, the word ‘Doctor,’ means ‘Mighty Warrior. . . ‘ and all this, my love, in fear of you.”

We learn who River is, following the trail of breadcrumbs Moffat has given us. It’s no less effective, for it. Idris’s words to Rory, “The only water in the forest is the river,” were half the clue. The language of the Gamma Forests doesn’t have a word for Pond, (nor Melody.) River Song is Rory and Amy’s daughter. It’s less a shock, and less a trail of breadcrumbs, than a series of puzzle pieces slotting into place.

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As the Doctor dashes off in the TARDIS, leaving River to explain what hasn’t actually been said yet to Amy and Rory, we can only assume it’s to find the infant Melody. Where does that leave everybody else? It seems as though we’ve almost come full circle in this half of the series. We began with the Doctor’s companions attempting to track his movements through time, before being invited to his wake. Even the title of the mid-series finale seems to be a bit of misdirection. The Doctor clearly tells us he is not a good man, so who is?

I wish I could say that I’ve got a clear picture of where the rest of this series is headed. I can’t. I’ve been going back to every episode featuring River and I’m still not certain I’m grasping the shape of it all. The teaser from BBC America for 6.2, is maddening.

Does that picture remind you of anything? Ditto.

We’re led to believe that the astronaut/little girl in the space suit, is Melody. I don’t think it is. I’m fully prepared to be proven wrong, but if it is some version of River, I think it will be her consciousness, somehow retrieved from The Library. Remember, River did ask the Doctor if the suit could move on its own. The question has been asked by more than one person, “If she can regenerate, how could she have died in The Library?”

The answer to that one is stupendously easy, River tells the Doctor: The electrical surge would burn out both a Time Lord’s hearts before they could regenerate. Similar to the astronaut killing the Doctor before he could regenerate, actually.

What I’m puzzling over is the repeated instances of forests, silence, and how easy it is to conflate Melody Pond with the little girl in the space suit. That little girl can regenerate, so who might she be? The gangers/flesh avatars and the nature of reality all seem to have a role as well. One thing I’ve learned is that everything or nothing might be important when Steven Moffat’s got his pen out. To be more precise, it might not be important when you think it is. I’m wondering again, about the significance of duck ponds that don’t have any ducks. Clearly, we’ve got plot-lines that run back to before Moffat’s tenure as show-runner. I’ve begun to believe that while we think the series five arc is completed, it isn’t. It’s entirely possible that the fifth through seventh series will make up a triptych of arcs that converge for Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary.

What about the rumors that Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill will be out at the end of 6.2? I’m not buying into this one yet. If knowing the actors will be back would affect the way the audience invests in the remaining episodes, I can see keeping that information locked down. The next couple of months may be hellish, but I’m more than willing to wait and see what actually happens.

“A Good Man Goes to War” is a little bombastic, and a little too easy on the audience in how it plays out the answers it gives us. Steven Moffat does realize that you can only keep putting the carrot on the stick for so long, before the audience gets weary of chasing it. The effects are mostly spectacularly cheesy, and the performances are both subtle and surprising.

Matt Smith gives us the full palette of who the Doctor really is, underneath the quirks and bow-ties. A little sliver of the, “Time Lord, victorious,” from “The Waters of Mars”, who could so very easily become the darkness he fights. The giddy, nearly wordless exchange between Smith and Alex Kingston’s River, is a joy to watch. I was very glad to see Kingston get to be more than the sly, knowing adventurer we’ve always known River to be. The first scene at Stormcage, when she finds Rory the Roman, is delicately heartbreaking. Here is a little girl telling her daddy what she did on her birthday, when she can’t actually tell him that at all. That scene makes every previous scene between Kingston and Gillan, or Kingston and Darvill, that much more poignant. (It is very difficult to remember which interactions River has actually had with them. The timelines are complicated, to say the least. While I suspect there are exceptions, I generally think of it as: Whatever we’ve already seen River do, she hasn’t done it yet, from her perspective.)

That Karen Gillan doesn’t get much to do makes sense within the story, but I was very much hoping to see Amy Pond being just as badass as her husband and best friend. That Amy is traumatized from waking up imprisoned and giving birth, is reasonable and obvious. It’s in the final sequence, after the flesh-Melody has dissolved in her arms and the Doctor has vanished, that Gillan shows us just how tough and fragile Amy is. Looking at River, who has obviously told the Doctor something very important, she makes a choice and picks up a gun, demanding the truth. If River does turn out to be the little girl from TIA/DoTM, then I think we should pay attention to the fact that Amy’s got a habit of pointing a gun at her daughter. It might be important down the line.

One thing that I found interesting about this episode: This is where Amy and Rory grow up. Up until now, it’s just been themselves at risk. They trusted the Doctor to rescue them, even when he couldn’t. Now they know that the Doctor makes mistakes, and the Doctor has enemies willing to do whatever it takes to bring him down. His companions and even infants are fair game now. Really, they’ve always been fair game, it’s simply that Amy and Rory didn’t know that. Now they do, and maybe they’re a little bit angry with the Doctor, too. How that and the fact that they’re effectively the Doctor’s in-laws plays out, should be. . . interesting to watch. I am foreseeing a number of really awkward conversations.

:A Good Man Goes To War” is Doctor Who writ large and filled with moments both exquisite and trite, because that’s what Doctor Who is. Did it work one hundred percent? No. There were too many bits that filled space but didn’t advance the narrative. They were gorgeous moments, but I didn’t really need to know that you can tell psychic paper by the fractals. I would have liked to know a bit more about the papal mainframe and how the clerics came to be an army, really. Still, it worked at giving us just enough to forge ahead with a complicated series arc, and keeps us wanting more.

Now we just have to wait and see what’s next. According to BBC America, it will be late summer. That could be any time between August and the third week of September. Let’s all hope that we’re not out of sync with the UK broadcast again, because the spoilers are unavoidable.

If you need a fix before then, the DVD for 6.1 is available for . It will be released July 19th, 2011.

Doctor Who Recap: S6x06 – The Almost People

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The Almost People. It’s a loaded phrase, as it’s meant to be. First heard in “The Rebel Flesh”, Amy: “Almost coming?” The Doctor: “Almost people,” it’s rife with possibility. While the Flesh may be continuing their rebellion, the gangers are getting closer and closer to being as human as any of us.

Scripted by Matthew Graham and directed by Julian Simpson, (despite the cries heard across the Atlantic, of MOOOOOFFFFFAAAAATTTTT,) the conclusion of the second two-parter in S6 is full of twists, turns, and more than a bit of horror both blatant and subtle.

Harkening back to “The Impossible Astronaut”, we’re left questioning what we’ve been told. Was that the Doctor? If the Doctor’s ganger is the Doctor too, could that have been a duplicate who died?

Duplicates are important in this season. We’ve got a monastery full of duplicates, a duplicate Doctor, and Rory. Rory spent two thousand years as plastic, and we know that he remembers it. In TRF, the memory of what being less than human and yet, so very human, gave Rory empathy for the gangers. Or did it? Was there something more to it than that?

We pick up where we left off, with the ganger Doctor. Is this what it’s like for the, “Real,” Doctor? Sorting and contextualizing all those selves with each regeneration? “Reverse the jelly baby of the neutron flow,” sums it up quite nicely. If you’ve got sharp ears, you’ll hear a few past Doctors, including Tom Baker and David Tennant. The idea of two Doctor’s makes the humans uncomfortable. Fear and revulsion, tempered by her love of the Doctor, color Amy’s interactions with his doppelganger. Meanwhile, the Doctor seems thrilled to be part of a matched set. Except for the shoes.

The, “Us and them,” mentality espoused by both native groups of gangers and humans, begins to be echoed by Team TARDIS. Rory has, despite doubts when he runs into two Jennifers, thrown his lot in with the Doctor’s aim of saving both humans and gangers. Amy is far more suspicious of the ganger Doctor, and the gangers in general.

We’re shown the ways the humans and gangers really are the same people: Cleaves’ headaches, Jimmy’s attachment to his son, yet Jennifer is bent on revenge. As a human, Jennifer’s a mouse and as a ganger, she’s the id unleashed.

Amy’s confrontation with the ganger Doctor is chilling, as she reveals that she’s seen the Doctor’s death. His response is even more frightening, because this is perhaps the first time since “The Beast Below”, that we’ve seen this sort of rage displayed as he slams Amy up against a wall and exclaims, “. . . It’s all the eyes say, ‘Why?'”

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Duplicity and accusation, secrets and lies, and a game of survival of the fittest. Jennifer manipulates Rory into accessing systems that won’t recognize a non-human. The dialogue is such a subversion of the, “helpless female,” human Jennifer imagined herself to be, that it raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

A phone call tips the balance, as ganger Jimmy speaks to, “His,” son.

Ganger Jennifer: “You tricked him into an act of weakness.”
Ganger Doctor: “No, I helped him into an act of humanity.”

There is reconciliation and redemption among the gangers and humans, but Jennifer is still a threat and the factory’s going into meltdown. The ganger Cleaves and Doctor stay behind to destroy Jennifer, and the Doctor reveals that they swapped shoes. A happy ending seems to be in store.

Except. . .

Everything we know is a lie. The story’s been telling us this, all along.

The final words of the ganger Doctor to Amy, “Push, but only when she tells you.”

The many, many instances, perhaps going back to the fifth season, where the Doctor has commanded Amy to, “Breathe.”

Amy is flesh, a duplicate.

Doctor: “Hold on, we’re coming for you. . .”
Amy: “I’m right here.”
Doctor: “No you’re not, and you haven’t been for a long, long time.”

We see Amy wake up in a a sterile white room, obviously pregnant, and the mysterious woman with an eyepatch is there, telling her to push.

Matthew Graham has managed to take a Frankensteinian premise, and make it much more horrifying, while Simpson’s direction has brought Arthur Darvill forward as the voice of benevolent altruism and courage in the face of both a mob mentality and shocking betrayals. Matt Smith plays both Doctors in very different ways, and Karen Gillan embodies the loyalty we expect from Amy, while at the same time showing us the fear and betrayal as Rory steps away from his wife to allow the Doctor to destroy her. Ganger Amy may be a duplicate, but she doesn’t know it. This isn’t a self-aware, willing participant in the real Amy’s abduction, this is a shell, holding Amy’s living consciousness.
Sarah Smart’s Jennifer, is absolutely bone-chilling, but I really found myself connecting to Raquel Cassidy’s Cleaves. Cassidy manages to make both human and ganger versions equally human and equally flawed, and she’s definitely a match for the Doctors in attitude.

We’re left with questions: How long has Amy been a duplicate? Who took her, and why? Is she really pregnant? Is the child in the space suit Amy’s child? If so, how can the child regenerate? Moffat has said we’ll learn who River Song is before the mid-series break, so we’ve got to wonder: Is Amy River’s mother?

We’re also given answers: The indeterminate pregnancy is obviously a reflection of the fact that Amy’s ganger is connected to Amy, and the TARDIS can sense both. The Silent’s command that Amy, “Tell the Doctor what he must know, and what he must never know,” has a probable explanation: Amy told him she was pregnant, and that she’s seen him die. Although I doubt that it’s that simple. Things are rarely simple with Steven Moffat.

A running theme this season, has been that someone other than the Doctor is the emotional center of each episode. In “The Doctor’s Wife” and “The Almost People”, we see the Doctor shoulder some of the emotional burden, but I think the sense of him as an observer is intentional. It’s implied that he’s known Amy isn’t Amy for a while, which gives the detachment some context. It will be especially frightening if we learn that Amy hasn’t been Amy going back to some point in the fifth series. Since we know Rory remembers being The Lone Centurion and the whole two thousand years of waiting for Amy, will Amy have memories of being in captivity and being in the TARDIS?

The takeaway from “The Almost People”, breaks down as follows: 1) We’ve got a lot of questions heading into the mid-series break, and it’s likely that only a few of them will be answered. 2) Some of the arc threads have their origins as far back as the fourth series. 3) This is where it gets complicated.

With the title of the mid-series finale, “A Good Man Goes To War”, we’re led in a particular direction. River is in prison for killing a man, “A very good man.”

Does the title refer to the Doctor, or someone else entirely?

NB: Check your calendars, America. We’re now a week behind the UK, due to BBC America deciding Whovians wouldn’t be bothered watching television on Memorial Day weekend. The scheduled air date for the second half premiere is September third. Labor Day weekend. If you want to make sure we’re not put a week behind again, tweet @BBCAmerica.

Doctor Who Recap S6x05: The Rebel Flesh

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Warning: Of course there are spoilers.

What does it mean to be human? What defines us as real? When does our capacity for science and technology outstrip our ability to use it responsibly? These are questions humanity has been asking since the industrial revolution, most pointedly in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Matthew Graham has taken these questions and asked them through the lens of Doctor Who. What if we had the ability to not only create life, but we chose to create life imbued with our memories, personalities, lives? What if those lives became disconnected from our will? What then?

“The Rebel Flesh” opens in a factory, well, a 13th century monastery that’s now a 22nd century factory. Workers going about their routine in what is clearly a dangerous environment. It’s when one of them is tipped into a vat of acid, that things become very strange. No rescue attempt, no fear, and nothing but a matter-of-fact attitude from any of them. When Jennifer and Jimmy are later confronted by an unharmed Buzzer, it’s clear that what we see is not what we get.

Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor continues scanning Amy and is troubled by the ambiguous result on her mysterious yes/no pregnancy. Then a solar tsunami lands Team TARDIS where they need to be, as always.

The psychic paper, (which hasn’t seen a lot of use in Eleven’s tenure,) establishes their bona fides and gets them where The Flesh is kept. This is the raw material the workers’ doppelgangers, the gangers, are made from. There’s an air of dirty secrets, slave labor, and when the Doctor gets a hint that the Flesh might not simply be a vat of goo, but sentient. . . it’s frightening for more than one reason.

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The threat of destruction by the solar tsunami leads to something that just might be worse: a power surge that, like Frankenstein, brings the Flesh to life.
What makes us real? What defines that unique state of having a self? What if that were stolen?

There are shades of The Thing and Invasion of The Body Snatchers, as well as Frankenstein, in the story. The othering of the duplicates by the humans, and vice versa, becomes the driving force of the episode’s third act, and is very much a set-up for the second half of this two-parter. This is an obvious trope. Graham subverts it by showing us the confusion and struggle of the titular Rebel Flesh. Graham’s script also brings Rory Williams front and center by drawing on everything we already know about the character, and making it matter.

In the fifth series, Rory was cast adrift as de facto leader above-ground in “The Hungry Earth/In Cold Blood”. In “The Rebel Flesh”, he’s the voice of, as the Doctor exhorted in those episodes, “. . .The best of humanity.” The empathy and sheer will behind Rory’s efforts to help the gangers, are impressive without being cliched heroism. Time and again in this series, we’ve seen demonstrations of the fact that Rory is a nurse. Taking charge of a bemused Canton, caring for a dying Idris, and now, refusing to let Cleaves harm the gangers and dashing off in search of Jennifer’s frightened ganger – Rory’s tougher than he looks. It’s also a reminder that Rory once had to struggle with being a Nestene duplicate, and perhaps has a better perspective on what being human/not human feels like. “I know that she’s afraid, and she needs help,” is all the explanation Rory gives Amy, for his defense of the Jennifer-ganger. Arthur Darvill has consistently brought a gut-wrenchingly simple humanity to his portrayal of Rory, and in the sixth series, that humanity shines.

When the humans, Amy and the Doctor are confronted by a ganger of the Doctor as they’re barricaded in the chapel, the frights are ratcheted up even further. “Trust me, I’m the Doctor,” coming from the rubbery, white-and-veiny aspect of unstabilized Flesh, is frankly terrifying. It also raises some interesting questions about the death of the Doctor in “The Impossible Astronaut”, and perhaps Schroedinger’s Baby and the perceived many-deaths-of-Rory-Williams have a point, after all.

I was disappointed that Karen Gillan wasn’t given much to work with in this episode, other than playing Amy’s twinge of jealousy over Rory and Jennifer’s interactions.  Matt Smith seems to be playing the Doctor here as a man with too many secrets, describing the Flesh as, “Early technology,” and finding humanity’s treatment of life that they don’t value a tragic disappointment. It can be difficult to parse the individual episodes of a multi-parter – initial impressions are often flipped as the denouement unfolds.

I’m hoping that the final two episodes before the mid-series break, “The Almost People” and “A Good Man Goes To War”, will give the audience a bit more solid ground for speculation on the unfolding of the rest of the arc. Right now, I’m split down the middle on two theories that I can’t reconcile. Yet.

Note: due to BBC America’s underestimation of the Whovian fanbase, US audiences will not get to see The Almost People, until June 4th. There will be a marathon on Memorial Day Weekend, check your local listings.

Doctor Who Recap: S6x04 The Doctor’s Wife

Warning: “I’m looking for a word; a big, complicated word,” – SPOILERS.

Seriously – if you don’t want to be spoiled, please stop reading now.

Look, I’m putting loads of space between you and the spoilers.




On your own head be it, then.

I’ll say up front: “The Doctor’s Wife” is funny and scary and strange and all the things that make Doctor Who a show that is still entertaining and relevant after nearly fifty years.

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I think it’s fair to say that the anticipation of a Neil Gaiman – penned episode of Doctor Who was at a fever pitch from the moment it was announced, well over a year ago. There are a few reasons for the level of fandom squee that accompanied the announcement: Gaiman is, himself, a very well-respected, (and beloved) writer. He’s known for his love of, (and contributions to,) the comics, science-fiction, and fantasy genres. He’s also a total Whovian.

As “The Doctor’s Wife” was bumped from Series 5 to Series 6, due to budget and storyline constraints, legions of Doctor Who and Neil Gaiman fans sighed in disappointment. When tantalizing tidbits began trickling out during the filming of Series 6, well, let’s just say Whovians have been on tenterhooks for quite a long time.

This is an episode that lives up to the hype. Gaiman has written an intense adventure, that goes right to the core of what Doctor Who is about.

He’s a man, a Time Lord, and he’s got a box, it’s a TARDIS, and they have adventures together. Sometimes with other people, but always together.

The episode opens with “Uncle” handing, “Idris” over to “Nephew” (who is an Ood,) to have “Nephew” as “Auntie” puts it, “. . . drain your mind and your soul from your body.”

In the TARDIS, there’s a knock at the door. An illuminated box.
I’m not sure if it’s the most adorable shot and line-reading ever, as the Doctor says, “I’ve got mail,” but it’s definitely Matt Smith showing us the lonely little boy that’s still part of who the Doctor is.

Mail from a Time Lord? From another universe? Maybe. Once they’ve landed, (after a lovely sequence with gorgeous drop-in lines about deleting rooms and that Time Lords can change gender  – take that, fandom, it’s canon now,) all the power drains from the TARDIS, and we see it enter Idris.

There is both charm and danger in Idris’ (Suranne Jones) first encounter with the Doctor and the Ponds, “Tenses are difficult, aren’t they,” dovetails nicely with both the nature of Doctor Who, as well as the show and Gaiman’s history with Douglas Adams. They’ve landed in “A junkyard at the end of the universe,” that’s not a junkyard so much as a sentient asteroid. “House,” says of, Uncle, Auntie, and Nephew, “I repair them when they break,” leading to much creepily subtle body-horror in a later scene, and adds that they, “Do my will.”

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In the cage Nephew has placed her in, Idris mutters in a very time-out-of-joint way to herself, and plaintively cries, “Where’s my thief?”

The Doctor, of course, can’t just let the babble of Time Lord voices that he’s heard from Nephew’s translator ball, and all around them, go. Not if he can save them.

“You wanna be forgiven,” says Amy, to which the Doctor replies, “Don’t we all?”

(That might just be the larger common thread for Team TARDIS this series. Everyone needs to be forgiven for something, even if we don’t know what it is, or will be, yet.)

I’m very glad that “The Curse of The Black Spot” last week, provided a breather between the emotional and mental defenestration of the series openers and “The Doctor’s Wife.”
Where eps 1 & 2 focused on the future: The future Doctor’s death and the future of his liasion with River Song, the future of the human race, Rory and Amy’s future, the yes/no future of Amy’s yes/no pregnancy, the futuristic-looking lady in the eyepatch, and the future regeneration of the mysterious child, “The Doctor’s Wife” is really about the past.

The Doctor’s past as a thief and a killer, his history with the TARDIS. Amy and Rory’s past: his 2,000 year wait and whether he’s really come to terms with Amy’s tendency to leave him behind and whether she’s come to terms with what she’s done in abandoning him.

As the nature of the deception, and the trap they’ve been drawn into is revealed, Smith’s reaction is enough to make the blood run cold.

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“House eats TARDISES,” as it turns out. Guess where the Doctor sent Amy and Rory? We see the TARDIS dematerialize and the sound of the cloister bell, which is really very bad news, indeed.

I can’t give enough credit to Suranne Jones, for playing the somewhat scattered, incredibly vivacious and desperately sad personification of the TARDIS, with a manic glee and a core of steel that matches Matt Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor to a T.

I think it’s going to be a safe bet that none of us will ever think of that blue box in the same way again.

“It’s not impossible, as long as we’re alive.” The Doctor, knowing House has inserted itself into the TARDIS and has stolen his companions, sets about building a TARDIS from the remnants of House’s previous meals.

“You didn’t always take me where I wanted to go,” he says, and her reply is, “No, but I always took you where you needed to go.”

Though her human body is dying, she’s still his TARDIS, and he’s still her Doctor.
“Safe is relative,” she admonishes as he doubts whether they can succeed in building a control room without a shell. (The design for the makeshift control room, was created for a Blue Peter contest run by the BBC.)

As we jump back to Amy and Rory in the TARDIS, where House is tormenting them via the remnants of their telepathic link to the ship, we get more of the, “Oh my god, they killed RORY,” meme.

(Note: Rory Williams-Pond has only actually died once. In S5x09, when he was shot by a Silurian. End of debate. Dream-world death doesn’t count. Fake-death in DoTM doesn’t count. Almost-drowning death, doesn’t count. Hallucinated-death in this ep doesn’t count. I do, however, have a theory about why we keep perceiving that he’s died in S6. No, I’m not telling you now.)

We get to see the console we grew so familiar with during Nine and Ten’s tenures. There are loads of little touches and call-backs to the history from Classic Who through the present, that will delight fans on repeat viewings.

Once they’ve gotten back in the TARDIS, the Doctor confronts House, who says, “Fear me, I’ve killed hundreds of Time Lords.”
The Doctor’s answer is as chilling as it gets, “Fear me, I’ve killed them all.”

As Idris’ body lays dying, and the TARDIS is restored to her home, the cold wrath of a Time Lord is evident, “Finish him off, girl.” Never underestimate a TARDIS and her Time Lord. Never.

The final scene between the TARDIS and her Doctor, manages to be both heart-wrenching and gently joyous.
“There’s something I didn’t get to say to you. . . I just wanted to say, Hello. Hello, Doctor. It’s so very, very nice to meet you.”

The profound loneliness and longing Matt Smith conveys in that scene. . .
Yes, I shed a tear.

Afterwards, as the Doctor fiddles with his ship’s circuits, Rory reveals what Idris told him, “The only water in the forest is the river. She said we’d need to know that someday.”

Cue the fandom speculation, but I won’t be surprised at all if it’s not precisely what comes to mind.

And there are bunkbeds in the newlyweds’ room? Bunkbeds are cool now, too.

The first thing that struck me about Idris, is the parallel to The Little Mermaid. This is a creature of the cosmos trapped on dry land, in a body that’s dying, always dying, as frail humans do. Yet she’s ready to give everything she’s got for her Doctor, as she always does, while he’d do anything for her.

What Gaiman has done, is lovingly craft a story that’s a bit of a dark fairytale, while never letting us forget that the clock will strike midnight, the Mermaid will return to the sea or die, and sometimes the fool and the prince are the same person at the same time.

A word to those who are trying to figure out where this series is going: There aren’t many threads that are relevant to the series-arc, at least not obvious ones.  Instead we see the shifting dance in the dynamics of what is, even minus River Song, truly Team TARDIS, and it’s this that Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill and Suranne Jones play out with verve, depth and grace.

The momentum of the sixth series is almost relentless, as we approach the mid-series break. What is magnificent about “The Doctor’s Wife,” is that it isn’t really tied to the timeline, yet it feels like a story that’s always needed to be told. That we should recognize the TARDIS for who she is – the only constant companion the Doctor has ever had – is necessary.

We just didn’t know that, until Neil Gaiman wrote it.

Two more episodes to go, before the fandom howl heard ’round the world.


Doctor Who recap: S6x03 The Curse of The Black Spot

ARRRR: Here be spoilers, mateys.

After the series opening episodes, “The Impossible Astronaut,” and, “Day of The Moon,” gave us circumstances and mysteries that I suspect we’ll be goggling over long after this series ends, the third episode gives us a more traditional adventure, written by Steve Thompson and directed by Jeremy Webb. With Pirates.

The episode opens with sailors in a dinghy, rowing through mist-shrouded waters, towards a becalmed ship. We’re shown a table full of treasure and the grave and fearful attitudes of the sailors, one of whom, McGraw, is described as, “Wounded.” The Captain, (Hugh Bonneville,) looks at the wound, revealed to be but a scratch, and tells him, “You’re a dead man, McGraw,” looking not at the wound, but at a black spot on his other palm.

Ethereal singing is heard, throwing the sailors into a panic, “She’s here,” exclaims Captain Avery, and they force McGraw out onto the deck, locking themselves in the captain’s quarters and binding the doors with a pendant bearing the image of a mermaid. The crew emerges, to find McGraw vanished.

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“Yo ho ho,” exclaims the Doctor, emerging from a hatch, with Amy and Rory in tow.

My reaction to “The Curse of The Black Spot”, tracks very closely to the way I reacted to the fifth series episode, “The Lodger”. This episode comes on the heels of two very intense episodes, and because the audience is already on tenterhooks, it feels a bit lacking, not on its own merits, but because it stops the momentum of the rollercoaster.

However, that said – it’s a rollicking adventure. I do think that either killing Rory, or putting him in mortal danger, is a trope that’s in danger of becoming a running joke. Where it’s warranted, it’s understandable, but in this episode, it feels too much like a ploy to raise the stakes when Amy, in particular, is already reeling from having seen the Doctor die, and carrying that secret.

Among the high points are: guest star Hugh Bonneville,who inhabits a very thinly-drawn character and makes him live and breathe, as well as Amy Pond being a BAMF with a sword. I’m hoping everyone was also taking note of not only the Siren’s song, but also the score as a whole. The first two episodes featured a much more percussive, less orchestral, darker score, but TCoTBS’s score is appropriately grand, without verging into grandiose.

Every series of Doctor Who has episodes that don’t work quite as well as the others, particularly within a series arc, and these episodes usually fare better on re-watch. “The Lodger,” as we now know, contains vital information about the arc of the sixth series, and in itself, is a charming view of how odd the Doctor is, and that he’s just as concerned about one human being, as he is about a million of them.

With the reveal that the Siren is a, “Nurse,” program, on an abandoned ship occupying the same temporal space as the pirates’ vessel, and traveling via reflections, the plot unfolds as you’d expects. The captain and crew become space pirates.

Some interesting and puzzling bits: The TARDIS acting a bit tetchy, and the idea of a nurse, rather than a distress call, again, echo back to “The Lodger”. I think as the series arc plays out, it’s tiny details that will continue to matter. The TARDIS still can’t decide if Amy’s pregnant, so this is something we’re going to be watching for, throughout the series. The woman with an eyepatch is back, with her cryptic pronouncements, too. I suspect we’ll continue to see her, throughout the series.

Is this the best episode of the series? No. Is it the worst episode ever? Of course not. I think it will hold up within the context of the series, and on its own strengths, over time. It’s a bit of breathing room as we tick down to the mid-series break and hey – PIRATES!

Next up: The Neil Gaiman-penned, “The Doctor’s Wife.” S6x04

Doctor Who: S6x01 and 02 recap – The Impossible Astronaut/Day of The Moon

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Warning: to quote River Song, “Spoilers.”

Steven Moffat has a reputation for scaring the bejeezus out of his audience. Moffat, much like Stephen King, terrifies us with ordinary things: a child seeking its mummy, a loud ticking in a room with a broken clock, stone statues, shadows, a crack in the wall, and now – The Silence.

“Silence will fall.” “There were cracks in the skin of the universe…Through some, we saw the Silence and the end of all things.” The fifth series of Doctor Who was laced with references to the Silence, or is it, “Silents?” (NB: The credits of both The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon list, “The Silent.”)

We thought we knew what, “The Silence,” was. The cracks in time erasing the whole of space and time, radiating outward from the explosion of the TARDIS, causing the universe to fall silent.

When the Doctor was shut in the Pandorica, and the universe began collapsing with the explosion of the TARDIS, the silence falling in the universe fit with what we knew then. What we didn’t know was what caused the TARDIS to explode, and what the origin of the Time-Ship in, “The Lodger,” was.

Never let it be said that Moffat doesn’t know how to do storyline continuity, or at least, how to integrate new stories into his continuity. He’s also got a lead-foot with the Nightmare Fuel.

Creatures that you forget the minute you’re not looking at them, that seem to be a cross between dementors and the classic Greys from alien abduction stories and sci-fi, and which hearken a little too close to home for anyone who has dealt with the effects of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia?

Steven Moffat knows how to get under the skin of his audience and set up house there.

I’m going to predict now that not only is Moffat setting up the overall arc for this series, there may be story threads that carry us through Series 7, particularly since Matt Smith has already signed on for the next series.

There are so many tiny moments that could easily be taken as unimportant, but every second of both episodes is either driving the plot forward or teaching us more about these characters.

The cold open of The Impossible Astronaut tells us that Rory and Amy have been waiting for the Doctor to turn up for two months. The Doctor has been popping up in absurd situations through history, and Amy thinks he’s trying to get their attention. Then, a card bearing coordinates, a date and time, is delivered. In the 51st century, at Stormcage containment facility, River Song gets one, too. They arrive as instructed by the TARDIS-blue invitations, and find the Doctor.

As they sync diaries, we see River’s delight that this is her Doctor.  They have a shared history this time. The Doctor says, “I’ve been running, faster than I’ve ever run. . . now it’s time for me to stop.”

A picnic, and, “Space, 1969,” are the only clues they’re given as to why they’ve been called to, “Nowhere: Middle of,” as Rory called it. During their excursion by a lake, the Doctor divulges he’s, “Eleven hundred and three,” which is significantly older than the last time Rory and Amy had seen him. Amy sees a figure standing in the distance, and then appears to immediately forget it. We see a man get out of a truck, and then a figure emerges from the lake.

“Whatever happens now, you do not interfere,” the Doctor instructs them, before approaching the space-suited figure. “It’s okay, I know it’s you, ” he says. The astronaut shoots him. We see the familiar glow of regeneration energy, and then another shot.

There is no coming back from this. The Doctor is dead.

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The man approaches, with a canister of gasoline, and they burn the body to prevent it from falling into the hands of who-knows-whom.

Canton Everett Delaware III, has an invitation, too. River notices they’re numbered. Who has number one? The three of them return to town, trying to work out the puzzle. River and Rory talk it through, but Amy says, “Will you two shut up? It doesn’t matter, he’s dead. . . You’re still talking but it doesn’t matter. He’s dead,” and Karen Gillan makes us feel the horror and devastation Amy is wracked by.

Imagine the shock when the Doctor walks through the door, “Even by your standards, this is cold,” says River, right before she slaps him. She covers, to avoid telling him and creating the potential for paradox. The three of them are burdened by the knowledge, and the Doctor knows that something’s up. They’ve told him, “Space, 1969,” and about Canton, but he’s not interested in going anywhere without knowing why.

There’s a sense of the purely-ancient aspect of the Doctor, in Smith’s performance, the bitterness and cynicism that hearken back to the Dream Lord of S5x7. The coldness as he refuses to trust River, and the wariness as he tells Amy to, “Swear to me on something that matters,” speak to how isolated the last of the Time Lords really is. An oath taken on fish fingers and custard convinces him to put, “my life in your hands, Amelia Pond.”

We’re introduced to Canton of 1969, and Mark Sheppard brings a laconic capability, and a sense of someone who is the equal to the Doctor in his disdain for the status quo, to this disgraced ex-FBI agent, summoned to the office of President Richard Nixon to investigate the mysterious call for help from an unknown child.
Amy sees another figure, and again, immediately forgets it when it’s out of her sight. She feels ill, and is taken to a restroom. Her next encounter with the Silent, is even more horrifying, because it knows her name, orders her to tell the Doctor, “What he must know and what he must never know,” which she also forgets, except for the compulsion to tell the Doctor something.

Accompanied by Canton, the TARDIS’ occupants head to Florida, the origin of the phone call. They discover evidence of aliens, but even as they encounter the Silents, they don’t remember.

When River and Rory go to explore tunnels beneath the building the TARDIS landed in, River also feels sick, the way Amy did. We get a glimpse into River’s biggest fears, and what her life with the Doctor is like, approaching each other’s timelines from the opposite direction.

Amy confesses to the Doctor that she’s pregnant, and we see the astronaut once more. Amy picks up Canton’s gun and fires.

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Day of the Moon picks up 3 months later, right in time for the launch of Apollo 11.

Canton Everett Delaware III is hunting them down. Amy, then River, then Rory, all covered in hash-marks, all running from the Silents, all appear to die. The Doctor is imprisoned at Area 51, and the perfect prison is being built around him.

There’s more to the situation than meets the eye. An elaborate plan, nano-recorders embedded in their hands, and an orphanage run by Dr. Renfrew, whose exposure to the Silents seems to have pushed him past the borders of sanity, all unfold at a gallop in Day of The Moon.

What is important to know about S6x02, isn’t that the Doctor foils the Silents by using their own powers against them, but to know that every single detail of this episode, as in The Impossible Astronaut, could be important.

The questions are being raised for a reason. The space suit, and Amy’s disembodied voice, as the nano-recorder implanted by the Doctor is ripped out and left with a live feed when the Silents take her from the orphanage, correlate to the events of Silence in The Library/Forest of The Dead.

Echoes, post-hypnotic suggestion, dreams – what’s real and what’s not? Amy in searching the orphanage and finding a nest of the Silents, hanging from the ceiling like bats, also sees a woman who says, “No, I think she’s just dreaming,” and finds pictures of a child, including one of herself holding it. Is it the little girl in the spacesuit?

The Silent itself says, “Silence will fall,” or is it, “Silents will fall?” They’ve been influencing human history for millennia, but why?

Did they really hold Amy captive for days? “You are Amelia Pond. . . We do you honor, you will bring the Silents, but your part will soon be over,” as the Silent tells her. Why? And who or what is the little girl?

By the end, when we’ve learned that Rory does remember waiting for Amy for two thousand years, we’ve watched the TARDIS scan Amy and show that she both is and isn’t pregnant, we’ve seen the Doctor’s first kiss with River, (which may be her last,) and the little girl in the spacesuit has begun to regenerate, we’re fully aware that we don’t know nearly enough to draw conclusions.

This is Steven Moffat at the top of his game, using every thread he’s ever laid throughout the last five series of Doctor Who, to weave a tapestry of terror.
The child who may not be a child. The spacesuit that may or may not be empty. The shadows and things seen out of the corner of the eye. . .

More importantly, this is Steven Moffat setting up a resonance chamber in his assembled leads. River and Amy, mourning for the same man, and both in love with men who are impossibly ancient. Rory and the Doctor, both insecure in what they know about the women they love (will love,) and yet, Rory knows more about River, just as the Doctor knows more about Amy.

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In part one, we see Alex Kingston and Karen Gillan carrying the emotional weight of the story, in part two, Arthur Darvill joins them in shouldering that burden of conveying what it means to have the fate of the world in their hands, while they each struggle with their own fears. Still, at the center of it all is Matt Smith’s Doctor. Confident and vulnerable, cold and giddy, curious and running in denial, awkward and flirty, and beneath that, this is always the Time Lord who values humanity, (or the alien equivalent,) above all things.

Toby Haynes, in directing these opening episodes, has proven, as he did in directing the fifth series finale episodes, (The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang,) that he has an eye for the cinematic scale of Doctor Who, without forgetting that it is the story and the characters that make us care about what we see on the screen. He invests each shot with meaning, and draws performances from his cast, that are among the best on television. The only quibble I have, particularly with the scope of these two episodes and the density of narrative threads, is that they really must be seen together. The week between episodes diminishes their impact somewhat, unless a viewer watches The Impossible Astronaut again directly before watching Day of the Moon. It’s a small criticism of what may be the best series opener of any program currently being broadcast.

I suspect that in five weeks, there will be howls echoing across at least two continents. Moffat will be praised and cursed at the mid-series cliffhanger. In utilizing both longer sub-arcs, (this series will have three two-part episodes,) which Doctor Who had always used prior to the 2005 reboot, and an overarching arc for each series, (so far, as showrunner, he has also extended that arc into the next series,) Moffat is making a statement about what his tenure as head writer and executive producer of Doctor Who will bring. We thought we knew what that meant at the end of last season, but I’m confident that we’re going to learn quickly, not to take anything we know for granted.

I can’t wait.

(Doctor Who S6x03, The Curse of The Black Spot, airs Saturday, May 7th, on BBC One and BBC America.)

It’s been leaked!

(as also posted over at bonzuko)

Thanks to Craig Ferguson for tweeting this and also to my student and information ninja C.D. Thomas for this video. I’m so glad we finally get to witness it!   ~Jenn

It’s Dr. Who Day!

Re-posted here from Daily Cross-Swords for your nerdy amusement.   ~Prof. Jenn

Thanks to fellow blogger Brady for alerting me to the fact that it is in fact Dr. Who Day! Enjoy it the Bonzuko way by appreciating this montage of the indomitable Jon Pertwee as the 3rd Doctor, kicking ass with what was known as Venusian Aikido. Oh, and it’d be the perfect day to leak that Dr. Who dance that was yanked from the Craig Ferguson show the other day. Just sayin’…   ~Jenn

Christmas just got a heck of a lot cooler!

I’d like to share with you all one of the greatest Etsy discoveries I’ve made in some time: Merrypranxster. She offers super neat wrapping papers printed with fan art from all your favorite nerdy shows including Dr. Who, Star Trek and Futurama. Hmm. I suddenly find myself all full of Christmas spirit! 😀

NYCC – Day 2 in Photos

I meant to post this yesterday, but I was too busy being a student. Sorry. Here is Day 2 of NYCC in photos.

The line getting in before doors opened on Saturday was insane. It gave me a chance to check out some of the costumes for the day though, like…

…this guy, who was my first Doctor Who sighting. He was standing behind me, and I couldn’t not take a picture. The fez was too cool.

OM Nom Nom, I wants cookies now.

This was the MTV Geek panel. Third from the left is Stan Lee, who announced his new project with them.

The DC Universe panel was in the same room as MTV Geek, so I stuck around to get the latest news on that front.

I saw this person when I was leaving the cafeteria. I didn’t expect to see such an epically awesome Codex costume, so of course I had to compliment her on it.

The LGBT panel was in the same room as the zombie panel I was going to, and we were able to sneak in about midway through. I was pleasantly surprised to see the room was packed with people actually interested in the topic, and not just people who were waiting to talk about zombies.

Next was the “Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep” panel. It was quite entertaining.

Pizza time! The guys from the Roddenberry panel decided we deserved some pizza for sticking with them at the late hour.

Roddenberry panel. By the time we were finished, I was convinced I needed to add “Days Missing” to my graphic novel collection. I got to talk to the creator of the series the next day at his signing. He was super nice and a great start to my morning.

Day 2 was full of lots of fun things that won’t soon be forgotten. Although that can be said of the whole weekend. Up next, the third and final day. Stay tuned.

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