Complete Sixth Series
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All photos © BBC
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
few months back, I wasn’t terribly happy with Season Six based on its first half, but was content to wait for the second half before making a final decision. So here we are, and while the second half of the season turned out to not necessarily be any better than the first half, it wasn’t any worse, either. It’s both as dazzling and problematic as the first half. Half this, half that. Can we just get a season that runs for 13 straight weeks next time?
There was a near three-month break in between the halves, and it feels that way onscreen as well when “Let’s Kill Hitler” kicks off nowhere near the emotional cliffhanger of “A Good Man Goes to War.” The series, having played its hand – the reveal that River Song (Alex Kingston) is the daughter of Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) – moves onto other issues that curiously have little to do with killing Hitler. The show travels back in time not to eradicate the Führer, but instead to explore how Melody Pond became River Song. Or is it the other way around?
The only thing you can be sure of with this season of “Doctor Who” is that the minute you’re sure of something, something else will happen that changes the way you view the events. Steven Moffat has turned the storytelling style into nonsense, and when I use that word, I mean it in the most literal sense – it all too often doesn’t make any sense, until it sort of does. There are so many oddly shaped holes left in the narrative along the way, it’s as if the goal is for it to not make any sense. Nobody could accidentally write television like this, so it’s either an inspired sort of genius or a botched attempt at something new and different, and it may still be too early to label it one or the other, or something in between.
Three paragraphs in and no mention of the Doctor (Matt Smith), even though the season purports to be about his death – which, really, is an insanely flimsy premise to build a season around unless the series is actually ending. So the death is something of a narrative ruse, I guess, and the season is more about the other three characters, which, let’s face it, was something of a dramatic necessity after doing almost nothing substantial with any of them in Season Five. Further, the mystery of River dates all the way back to the Library in Season Four, so really it was about time that was cleared up, and it appears that Season Six covers just about every aspect of River Song we needed to know. Unfortunately, in explaining River, all the fun was sucked out of her, and maybe some mysteries are left better unsolved. On the plus side, Amy and Rory grew by leaps and bounds, especially in the second half of Season Six. Hell, both characters grew more in “The Girl Who Waited” than they did in the entirety of their narrative prior to it.
Ah yes, “The Girl Who Waited,” a story which is undeniably the jewel in the uneven Season Six crown. It’s a story that’s so perfect in both concept and execution that no matter how much ill will I’d built up toward the series, after seeing it I couldn’t help but forgive “Doctor Who” many of its recent transgressions. Tom MacRae, whom we last heard from way back in Season Two when he guided the reintroduction of the Cybermen, knocks it out of the ballpark with a script that sees Rory having to choose between two very different – and very real – Amy Ponds. Unlike most of the other writers this season, McRae writes as though he has no time for showrunner Moffat’s shenanigans, and creates a lovely, heartfelt 45 minutes that proves this show has got a lot of life left in it after all.
The Big Finale aside, the rest of the second half’s episodes – “Night Terrors,” “The God Complex” and “Closing Time” – each work to varying degrees, but there’s little in any of them worth wetting oneself over. There’s too much shouting and not enough pondering, until the moment that there suddenly “is.” There’s too much joking, and not enough gravitas, until the moment that there suddenly “is.” And there are far too many children on this show. Babies, adolescents, teenagers – it’s a never-ending parade of virgin flesh being bandied about to tug at the heartstrings or provide young viewers with audience identification figures, even though most kids are perfectly happy watching adult heroes do their thing. Maybe this is why young people who dig Indiana Jones have no patience for “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.” Or “Muppet Babies.” (Am I dating myself here? I am!) Please, please, please – enough with the fucking kids already.
Of course, what do I know? The show has never been bigger here in the States than it is now. “Doctor Who” may very well be the most popular sci-fi TV franchise at the moment here in the U.S. (granted, the competition is slight), which would utterly boggle the mind of the 13-year-old me. But is the show’s increasing popularity due to Moffat and Smith and these crazy, insane stories that are being woven, or is it simply down to some very shrewd marketing on the part of BBC America – marketing that was all but non-existent during the Davies years, when the series was treated like damaged goods by SyFy? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Big is big, and “Doctor Who” has finally grabbed America, and just in time for its 50th Anniversary in 2013.
Thankfully, that Big Finale, “The Wedding of River Song,” turns out to be a fine hour of “Who,” and I believe my reaction to it a couple months ago was, “So I guess the whole season wasn’t really all that complicated after all?,” and I more or less stand by that assertion. It’s an “everything but the kitchen sink” type of affair, which more than anything else seems to serve as a setup for Season Seven, which it admirably does. In many ways, Season Six feels like one long bridge to get from one side of Moffat’s ravine to the other. It finishes up begging the viewer to wait on pins and needles for (this year’s Christmas special aside) 8 or 9 months until the Doctor returns. Hopefully when he does, the wibbly-wobbly will take a back seat to morey-story, which will make me happy-wappy.
Special Features: Whatever criticisms I may have of the show’s narrative content cannot be leveled at the quality of this Blu-ray, which, like Season Five before it, is outstanding. In addition to Season Six, you also get last year’s Christmas special, “A Christmas Carol,” on Disc One alongside its Confidential, although without the concert that was on the standalone release. There are five episodes with commentary tracks and five episodic prequel pieces that debuted on the internet. There the two sketches (“Space” and “Time”) from last year’s Comic Relief, and five specially recorded scenes presented under the banner “Night and the Doctor”; actually, the final one feels like leftover footage from “Closing Time.” The first four sort of work together to tell a loose story, although there was really only one of them that blew me way. Your mileage will most certainly vary. There are the four “Monster Files” piece ported over from the vanilla releases, and of course a final disc devoted to Confidential cutdowns, including a new one which covers the “Night and the Doctor” shoot.