Monday, July 30, 2012
Doctor Who: Series 6 Re-Watch, Better The 2nd Time? Surprisingly, yes!
I found myself with a number of free hours on Saturday, and had recently picked up ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY’S DOCTOR WHO cover issue, which made me yearn for Series 7 to start.
Unrelated Sidenote: The EW article is kind of a double-edged sword for me. While I LOVE that DW is getting large enough press that a mainstream American publication is paying it such service, a part of me likes the fact that my nerdery still has a cult following, if now a somewhat larger one than it used to have. That said, with a wider global fanbase, the show will get more money thrown at it and that will only enhance and embed the show for our future consumption. So I shouldn't complain.
So what this lazy Saturday ended up producing was a small desire to finally sit down and re-watch Series 6 (which I had previously purchased on BluRay) in its entirety. And I paid special attention to the fact that I had only cracked the package open when I bought it to re-watch my fave episode, the Neil Gaiman-penned THE DOCTOR’S WIFE (which is still the best ep of the lot, BTW), and I had left the rest to languish on the shelf unwatched.
I was you see, at the time to set was released, still burned by my lackluster experience with Series 6. A Series that divided fans and casual watcher’s alike. I recall watching it as it aired and other than the two-part opener (THE IMPOSSIBLE ASTRONAUT and DAY OF THE MOON), THE DOCTOR’S WIFE, and THE GIRL WHO WAITED, the rest of it left me mostly flat…with the first part of the middle Series cliffhanger, A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR, actually pissing me off. The comeback ep after that, LET’S KILL HITLER, did actually soothe my jangled nerves and was a solid (if not perfect) return to form but it wasn't quite enough. This all amounted to a grumbly Scott who talked about this being his least favourite Series since the show returned in 2005, and lead to posts like my very popular and yet controversial “RTD VS Moffat Comparison” in which Moffat (a writer I love) comes off in a rather bad light in comparison with his predecessor (whose work I feel is the best the show has ever been). I have, however always maintained that one day (probably prior to Series 7’s debut) I WOULD sit down with the 6th Series again and give it another go.
The result was Saturday’s re-watching (in which it should be noted that I actually skipped THE DOCTOR’S WIFE because I’ve watched it 3 times since I bought the set, twice with Gaiman’s commentary track on).
What do I have to say now? Well, I’ve surprisingly come away with a MUCH less vitriolic outlook after my second viewing. In fact, I’ve found that the series not only benefits from the second viewing, but I will probably tell anyone now that a second viewing is REQUIRED. Now, my dauntless Co-Blogger Chris will probably say the following: “You should not have to re-watch the Series for it to be good.” And while I agree with that sentiment, I must qualify my statement. Watchers of the entire RTD-era of DW since 2005 who have found Moffat’s series to not be remotely as good…should re-watch Series 6. Why? Let me give you a few reasons.
As stated by Chris in a previous comment thread, we had to adjust to not only a Doctor regeneration, but we also had to adjust to a stylistic shift between the original showrunner (RTD) and the new one (Steven Moffat). And I quote Chris: “The show feels like a different show because it IS a different show”. Adjusting to a new Doctor (known as “Regeneration Jitters”) is a difficult (if not wholly unexpected) thing to have to do. It usually takes nearly an entire series for that new Doctor to get his mannerisms down, and for him to imprint upon the viewer. Now, with a showrunner/style change (especially one where Moffat was trying to give the show back to kids, without removing its coolness factor) the length of that adjustment period is apparently significantly longer. In this case, 2 whole Series. If we are honest with ourselves we can be very sure that Matt Smith’s Doctor didn’t have telltale things going on with his version of the character until at the very earliest the Series 5 finale THE BIG BANG. I’m saying that Moffat-WHO has taken that much longer as an adjustment on the whole. Consider it like this. I can recall watching the early Tennant episodes like THE CHRISTMAS INVASION, NEW EARTH and TOOTH & CLAW and thinking “That is NOT the Doctor”, yearning for Christopher Eccelstone…meanwhile Tennant ended up becoming my all-time favourite Doctor ever by the end of that Series. So I can NOW go back and re-watch those early Tennant episodes with my fave Doctor and enjoy the heck out of them!
This is super key here. When we watched Series 6 initially we had some really hefty expectations. I think we can all agree that though it had a few missteps, Series 5 was a fairly solid first year for Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill and Moffat. On the tail end of such a fantastic two-part finale we were left wondering a few things. Who are the Silence? Who is River Song? What did she do? What are Amy and Rory and how do they fit into things? Series 5 basically primed us for the goods, and when Series 6 began, if you were like me, then you had the TV on, snacks ready, and cursed every commercial that aired during THE IMPOSSIBLE ASTRONAUT. We were expecting the best of the best of the best…and quite frankly those first two episodes delivered in spades. They were mysterious, actions packed, and pretty stellar all around. I think that’s where the first crack in the armor begins.
SIDENOTE SERIES 6 RUNDOWN:
Because of how good they were, we expected that level throughout the Series. And I think we all though that the revelations we were awaiting would be bigger than they were. So when we moved on to the Pirate episode (THE CURSE OF THE BLACK SPOT) after the tricky, clever, strange, excellence of THE DAY OF THE MOON it is not only found wanting, but seems distastefully bad in comparison. “Where is the main Arc story?! What is this simplistic nonsense?” we chanted.
Most DW fans would feel, this is an anomaly. It won’t happen again.
And we were briefly proven correct as the 4th episode is Neil Gaiman’s THE DOCTOR’S WIFE which is probably one of Matt Smith’s finest performances in his tenure, and features a wonderfully simple, yet engaging story. “Phew!” We thought. “That was close. Here we go, now the Series can get properly underway”.
So then came along a moody, dark two-part episode THE REBEL FLESH and THE ALMOST PEOPLE. A unique idea (people in harnesses manipulating FleshTM clones of themselves), but for all intents and purposes seems heavily incongruous to the main story Arc (It didn't end up being such, but it's how we saw it at the time). I recall being non-plussed by the heavy-handed “slavery” and “Artificial Intelligence being sentient” angles in the plot as it seemed…easy? Pandering? I guess. So, another road bump but not a totally derailing one. Just one that left me a little cold.
But wait! Here comes the mid-series finale. A huge, twisty, “game-changer” of an episode according to Moffat and Co. So aired A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR…and it fell incredibly short of those hyped expectations, and the only real reveal is that of River Song being a future version of Amy and Rory’s child Melody Pond. Conceived in the TARDIS, giving her TimeLord capabilities-ish, and kidnapped as a baby to be raised to kill the Doctor. It was cobbled around a number of side-characters who are cool enough in their own right to have had whole episodes. They don’t get that time to develop and so the episode feels extra-crammed and a lot of what is meant to come across as depth of plot and excitement comes across as cardboard cutouts and rushed scenes. The River Song revelation (too long in coming IMHO, since her Series 4 intro) ends up being “par for the course” or at least "expected" and certainly not enough to justify this “game-changer” moniker. I recall being VERY annoyed. The biggest kitchen sink episode ever.
We then had a break (which I have always maintained was a BIG mistake on the showrunner’s part) of a few months in which I stewed, and simmered about what had been happening to my WHO…it was so bad that when the show was preparing to come back with LET’S KILL HITLER I was…not exactly excited.
Now thankfully that episode moved past a lot of what made the first part bad and gave us good stuff like: earlier incarnations of River Song, a much more helpful Amy & Rory than normal, a very interesting alien menace with the Tessalecta robots, and lastly an emotional Matt Smith Doctor (last seen in THE DOCTOR’S WIFE). I was excited again and enjoyed the episode thoroughly. Why? It was the opposite of A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR. It was simple, straightforward, and well acted. But it made me question the fact that if the two-parter had been spread out better we might not have needed the kitchen-sink-ness of the 1st part, and could have had a stellar, connected Two-Parter. So while I was back and enjoyed, I had REALLY begun questioning the showrunning.
Then along came NIGHT TERRORS, another dark and moody episode. Was it good. Err, yes. Was it amazing? Not really. It was a quiet little introspective episode, but it was kind of forgettable, with the Companions doing little.
Then the much talked about THE GIRL WHO WAITED, which really is the second best of the Non-Moffat written eps and was pretty damned good all the way through. It was bright, well-acted, decently paced and a very solid episode of DOCTOR WHO. But I was still off-kilter from the previous letdowns of the Series to really allow myself to enjoy it as much as I should have.
Then comes the second dark, moody and seemingly forgettable episode in the “stuck in a haunted hotel” THE GOD COMPLEX, which while good was fairly by-the-numbers. What is going on?
I was able to enjoy the next episode CLOSING TIME mostly because it featured the return of the Craig Owens character from last Series THE LODGER, and watching him interact with The Doctor is always amusing…but they also spent the episode treating the Cybermen as secondary citizen villains and that put me right off.
So that was where I sat going into the finale THE WEDDING OF RIVER SONG. I was grumbly, annoyed, not really that excited and basically put off. It turns out that the finale was going to be another dog’s breakfast of an episode that would tie together the events of the opening two-parter with the River Song revelation. It was…kind of a mess. I was left at the end feeling wholly let down by the 6th Series as a whole.
Audience As Companion (AKA no go-between)
Now, the last reason why you should re-watch is this. Something I wasn’t expecting to realize on a re-watch. During his tenure RTD always concentrated on the Companions stories. He did so because that is who OUR link is from the audience to the Doctor. It begins in ROSE that way on purpose. We can’t relate to this alien being, but we can relate to the girl who works in a shop. And through her (and subsequent Companions) we can relate to him. This is conspicuously absent from Moffat’s WHO most of the time. We rarely see Amy & Rory’s family and friends, and more often than not we aren’t THAT invested in the two companions themselves. On my re-watch I’ve suddenly realized why this is. Moffat has decided that the show should shift the focus from the Companion(s) and put it directly on the Doctor himself. No go-between or Buffer for Audience and Doctor this time. And if you watch the 6th Series with this in mind you realize that spotlight is almost ALWAYS on The Doctor and really Amy and Rory are purposely on the sidelines. This is the key reason why we never get all that involved with Amy and Rory. We are spending our time getting to know the Doctor again…but we are doing it without the help of the Companion this time. If you will allow the analogy WE ARE the companions. The Audience. This is why our fave moments from Series 6 are the moments when this colder, angrier yet more madcap version of the Doctor expresses human emotions. Saying goodbye to “Sexy, the TARDIS” in THE DOCTOR’S WIFE, lying prostrate and dying; asking for help from Mels in LET’S KLL HITLER, emotionally telling Rory that Older Amy can’t get in the TARDIS with modern Amy, and even from the most recent Christmas Special THE DOCTOR, THE WIDOW & THE WARDROBE when Amy and Rory tell him that there is always a place set for him at Christmas and he sheds that lone tear. Seriously, re-watch THE IMPOSSIBLE ASTRONAUT and see how Amy and Rory don’t really ACT like companions. They sit there ribbing on the Doctor aloud for making a spectacle of himself throughout history to get noticed. They leave him out of the revelation about his impending death. They act less like Companions and more like secretive versions of HIM, especially River Song.
So, allowing those things I’ve mentioned above and re-watching the eps of the whole Series you come away with a truly different mindset, especially about the forgettable or annoying episodes.
THE CURSE OF THE BLACK SPOT – This becomes a standalone episode in which the key point is that it’s a Doctor/Nurse program attempting to take care of injured people. With expectation removed you can enjoy this one for what it is. With the added focus on the Doctor, with little help from Non-Companions Amy & Rory he experiences the love of family VIA the ships' Captain, and the need to heal VIA the stroppy mermaid.
THE REBEL FLESH & THE ALMOST PEOPLE – Again with expectations removed and the Non-Companion-centric nature of the show and being able to watch for a bunch of REALLY blatant clues that the Doctor went there on purpose because he KNEW Amy was a Ganger and had been kidnapped in Episode 2. He actually hesitates on a number of cues in those eps. But what we really get from those now is the Ganger Doctor and Amy’s reaction to him when she mixes them up, coupled with Rory’s misguided attempt to save Non-Ganger Jennifer. The purpose of the entire thing is to set us up for the chilling reveal when Amy is shown to be a Ganger. With that in mind as its purpose, it works MUCH better. Again, with expectations removed we can enjoy the two-parter for what it is.
A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR – I still don’t love this episode, but now at least I can understand properly WHY I don’t and it has less to do with writing (as I'd previously assumed) than pacing. With the expectation removed about the River Song revelation, and being able to assemble it together with the dénouement in LET’S KILL HITLER I can fully see what was being attempted. The multiple characters ought to have been introduced in other episodes leading up to this one and not crammed into the prologue, Rory should have been allowed at LEAST a whole episode alone with the Doctor stewing about where Amy is to build up to that prologue moment where Rory the Roman shows up to annihilate a Cybermen ship, The Headless monks needed far more setup, and The action setpiece needed to be more drawn out to maximize effect with characters we knew and loved already. So basically this ep needed another hour or more and it would have been good. Perhaps a 3 or 4 episode arc would have sufficed for what Moffat was attempting to do. But he jams it almost all into an hour, and that’s where it falls flat. All the ingredients are in here for a really good tale, but the cake was taken out of the oven too soon and uncooked batter is gross.
CLOSING TIME – I always was bothered by the fact that this episode seemed tacked on and was part of my upset of the finale not being a two-parter like last Series since it fell in the penultimate spot usually where the first part of the finale would reside. But upon a re-watch it really has been constructed as both a prologue to the finale, and as a strong link to the opening Two-Parter. It shows us where the 1103-year old Doctor who gets iced by the Astronaut in TIA on that desert lake has come from. It shows us the world weary man who must go to a demise he knows is coming. That notion also sets up the finale as well. So it's FAR more clever than I initially gave it any credit for.
THE WEDDING OF RIVER SONG – Still a dogs breakfast suffering from the exact same pacing symptoms of AGMGTW, the kitchen sink syndrome. Attempting to do WAY too much in an hour…BUT, upon my re-watch I noted something that always stuck out to me and caused much of my ire for the Ep... was wrong. I always said that River basically stopping time to be able to have the Doctor to herself and stop him dying was the polar opposite of what he would want. That he would consider such an act, which had killed millions so he could live, would be reprehensible to the Doctor as we know him and that she seemingly gets off light for the act. I also always assumed that River’s “dreaded day when the Doctor would hold her in more contempt” and when he found out what “she did” was the fact that she was kidnapped, raised by the Silence for the purpose of killing The Doctor and that she does ultimately in fact shoot and kill him. Then on my re-watch I discovered something unexpected. The Doctor TELLS her about the Tessalecta version of him “Look into my eye”…so that means that when River (in the space suit) kills him on the Beach, she is aware that he won’t die, the Tessalecta will recreate the Regeneration effects, he’d get shot a second time and meanwhile the TARDIS and real DOCTOR would disappear from the Tessalecta Doctor body alive and well. So if River KNEW she wouldn’t kill the Doctor, and so did he (coupled with knowing that she could not have helped it)…then rationale dictates that couldn’t be the thing she was dreading him finding out. And then it dawned on me, like being hit in the head with Jim The fish….the event she was not looking forward to, the one the Doctor would have a hard time forgiving, the thing that would make him perceive her differently…was the time stopping, the killing of millions to have him live. He DIDN’T let her get off lightly…and in fact my guess is that he treats her with a little contempt beyond that moment for having done that…and that’s why she’s always so sad about it, since he no longer looks at her as he did and instead looks at her as someone who did the one thing he really could not forgive (even though in the end it was all righted which was why he DOES kind of let her off but that doesn't mean he's forgotten she did it). That revelation blew me away and it makes me REALLY enjoy THE WEDDING OF RIVER SONG in a totally new way.
So, the result of my re-watch? I was actually able to enjoy Series 6 FAR more than I had been able to the first time. Removing expectations, realizing that the focus isn’t the companions, but the Doctor himself has made the transition to Moffat’s WHO be different. It’s not a perfect Series and doesn’t have as many good beats as Series 5 did. It’s got some problems (most of which stem from that overstuffed A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR debacle), but upon a re-watch those problems gain perspective and make me admire what Moffat had set out to do…and even though he didn’t REALLY achieve it, I can feel the effort now. What’s more is that I can see where he’s going with the Series, and I’m hopeful that Series 7 may be Moffat’s best yet.
So I recommend to any who felt Series 6 didn’t live up to it’s potential to re-watch it. Give it a fresh chance and attempt to see it VIA the angles I’ve discovered. It makes for much more compelling watching and makes me eat a BIT (not a lot) of crow from my previous stance of “This is pretty awful”. I honestly never thought I’d day that, and I didn’t think that Series 6 would ever have anything to offer me.
Is RTD’s tenure still my fave? You bet your ass it is. Is David Tennant still my fave? Yuppers! But being able to appreciate what Moffat was striving for with my expectations removed, that’s pretty priceless.
The best part of this Re-Watch has been that it makes me THAT much more excited for Series 7 to debut later in August.