Rather than marching quietly to his date with death, the Doctor goes on a series of missions to find out why the Silence wants him dead. Every piece of information simply leads to another question, until finally he arrives in Utah with Rory, Amy and River – and then his death fails to happen, thwarted by river. But history records the Doctor’s death at that moment, and when it fails to happen, history unravels, overlapping alternate histories with history as the Doctor and his friends know it. Amy, River and Rory now command a fighting force with orders to defend the Doctor from the Silence, and the mysterious Madame Kovarian has been captured – or has she really been pulling the strings all along? The Doctor’s fate is inescapable – but this time, that’s just how he wants it.
written by Steven Moffat
directed by Jeremy Webb
music by Murray Gold
Cast: Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), Alex Kingston (River Song), Frances Barber (Madame Kovarian), Simon Fisher-Becker (Dorium Maldovar), Ian McNeice (Emperor Winston Churchill), Richard Hope (Dr. Malokeh), Marnix van den Broeke (The Silent), Nicholas Briggs (voice of the Dalek), Simon Callow (Charles Dickens), Sian Williams (herself), Bill Turnbull (himself), Meredith Viera (Newsreader), Niall Grieg Fulton (Gideon Vandaleur), Sean Buckley (Barman), Rondo Haxton (Gantok), Emma Campbell-Jones (Dr. Kent), Katharine Burford (Nurse), Richard Dillane (Carter), William Morgan Sheppard (Canton Delaware)
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: With the plotline from The Impossible Astronaut playing out at last, Matt Smith’s second season wraps up with a dull, wet plop that rivals Let’s Kill Hitler for sheer disjointedness (I’m not even entirely sure that’s a real word, but hey, maybe it’s a real word in the alternate universe). Again, we’re treated to a jumble of vignettes that might be nifty as funny DVD bonus scenes, but don’t add up to a coherent story or, indeed, a story that I care to watch. It’s like a fan-edited episode created entirely from deleted scenes.
Amusing: Simon Callow reprising his role of Charles Dickens in a media-drenched alternate universe, the Doctor “looking rubbish” (Amy does have a point – with the longer, more-frazzled-than-usual hair, he looks like he should be the lead singer of an early ’80s new romantic synth band), and the Doctor’s swaggering search for the identity of his future executioners.
Less amusing: “Emperor” Churchill (I wasn’t really crazy about the portrayal of Churchill in Victory Of The Daleks, and positioning that portrayal even further from reality wasn’t a recipe for fun), yet another alternate timeline for Amy and Rory, and showrunner Steven Moffat’s insistence that the name of the series should now become an element of the plot (WOTAN was ahead of its time!). Oh, and I’m growing incredibly annoyed with Moffat’s habit of setting up an incredible situation from which his characters can’t escape, and then throwing a three-ton info-dump at the viewer to explain not only why they escaped, but why they were never actually in any danger to begin with. I know we were all rooting for Moffat on the basis of Blink and Silence In The Library and The Girl In The Fireplace, but let’s go ahead and call a spade a spade: that’s just bad writing. Way to treat your audience like idiots! “Look, I’m such a clever writer, I completely fooled you. It’s not like I gave you any non-red-herring clues along the way so you could take part in the fun – this isn’t Lost, you know.”
In case you hadn’t guessed by now, I didn’t enjoy this season as much as I have past seasons of the show. The opening volley of “the Doctor’s gonna die” is indeed an irresistible hook, but given that the show’s about the Doctor, and the public knows the show’s going to have at least two more seasons, the resolution of that plotline seemed awfully dragged out and ill-advised in the first place. My favorite episodes of the season (The Doctor’s Wife, Closing Time, Night Terrors) were those stand-alone shows that gave us a merciful break from the sight of the Doctor morosely staring at his own obituary on the TARDIS monitor. The season’s secondary theme – that we’d get all the answers about River – also wore thin very quickly. The character used to be a lot of fun to speculate about, but it seems that Steven Moffat fell in love with his own creation to the point that the show could’ve been retitled River Who? (well, if she stopped using her maiden name after the wedding, at any rate). This season jumped through so many hoops to tie off story strands that were set up back in Silence In The Library and A Good Man Goes To War, but showed precious little forward movement. Episodes like Closing Time would’ve been all the more effective without having part of their running time co-opted to service that ongoing story arc.
And as I stated before, there’s still the bizarrely, clinically cold approach to characterization that would be so strange on its own, but after the occasionally over-emotional Russell T. Davies era, is an even colder dash of water in the face. Amy and Rory’s calm acceptance of what has happened to their daughter is not only unreal, it’s unrealistic. Exposure and experience with time travel or no, it cheapens them as characters and turns them into chess pieces that Moffat’s scripts push around the board into clever corners, with no regard for the emotional stakes that would be in play if Amy and Rory were living, breathing people.
Matt Smith is well on his way to earning his place in the pantheon of Doctors with his performance, but somewhere the creative thrust of each season is getting a bit too overbearing (last season it was the crack, this season it was the death). Smith’s tenure is reminding me of the downside of the Davison era: somewhat aimless over-arching themes (i.e. the Black Guardian’s return) and constant, non-plot-dictated reminders of the show’s past (the flashbacks from both Mawdryn Undead and Resurrection Of The Daleks) overriding the show’s central need to just tell a good story. The further thought occurs that following that example is, perhaps, not the best thing that could be done for the long-term health of a show that’s already on the expensive side.
I’m starting to realize I liked it better when Moffat was a gift we got once a year, like Christmas; this season his writing (and his rewriting of the other scripts to accomodate his ongoing story arc) has seemed more like a monthly electric bill: it keeps showing up, whether I want it to or not.
Let’s start erring on the side of Just Telling A Good Story – and that way the 50th anniversary season of Doctor Who might not be its last.