If there was one consistent criticism of Doctor Who under previous showrunner Russell T. Davies, it was that he focused too much on “soap opera” elements, with the constant returning to the Powell Estate and the Tyler family. This year you could be forgiven for suggesting that latest showrunner Steven Moffat has turned the show into Soap, the US comedy sitcom of the late 1970s. Soap centred around two sisters, Mary Tate and Jessica Campbell, and poked fun at the sort of ludicrous, complicated and far-fetched plotlines that had started to become a staple part of daytime soap operas at the time, with the opening tagline of “Confused? You won’t be, after this week’s episode of…Soap“. Is this version of Doctor Who too confusing to follow, or are some people simply not paying attention?Story Arcs
To try to answer this question, we really need to get to the root of the problem, and for a lot of people it seems to be the ‘story arc’ of this series, and the multitude of questions that series opener The Impossible Astronaut/Day Of The Moon raised. Story arcs are fundamentally continuing storylines that unfold over many episodes, a piece at a time, usually. They are far more common these days in the world of modern television (in shows such a The X-Files or Lost), but weren’t something that the original run of Doctor Who used very much, apart from to a lesser extent, The Key To Time and Trial Of A Timelord seasons.
I’ve seen people say that they don’t care for story arcs in Doctor Who, and that they’d much rather just have a season of self-contained adventures, that start then finish, and move on to the next standalone story. I’m not one of them. I love the added layers of mystery, as long as they don’t come at the expense of a good yarn. In the old days of being a Doctor Who fan (in the 60s, 70s or 80s), when it’s format was multi-part serials/stories, part of the fun of being a fan (for me) was the speculation and discussion with friends between episodes. The format of the show since it returned in 2005 has somewhat precluded that in my view, even with the sprinkling of a few two-parters.
Last saturday’s A Good Man Goes To War I felt gave quite a few answers to earlier questions, or pointers, at least. It also added a few more questions of it’s own, to frustrate the confused. I’ll admit that I couldn’t quite figure out where this season was going before this episode, but I now feel I have a pretty good inkling where it’s heading. I can’t put all the clues and hints together at this point, but that’s what I find so much fun about it all. And rather than get irritated by it, I’m going to enjoy it. One thing that I’ve found with Steven Moffat’s writing is that he’s always put the clues there for you to find when a revelation comes, and if you haven’t guessed already, your response is likely to be “why didn’t I see that?”
So, what are the main questions, or mysteries, that Series 6 has so far posed…
The Death Of Doctor Who: Time Runs Out
I suppose the biggest mystery was posed only five minutes into the start of the season, when we see Matt Smith’s Doctor killed by a mysterious spacesuited figure, stopped from regenerating and seemingly dead forever. We quickly discover that this Doctor was in fact a future version of himself, two hundred years older than our current incarnation. Can they stop it from happening, or is the Doctor’s fate now sealed beyond repair. Well most of us know and realise that this is fiction, and science fiction more importantly, so there are no end of means to get out of this conundrum. Enter a rather convenient flesh copy (or ‘ganger’) of the Doctor in The Rebel Flesh…
Now, we see the flesh Doctor destroyed at the end of that two-parter, but it’s made fairly clear that his flesh ‘matrix’ might survive, and could be brought back at some point in the future. It’s easy to say how obvious this is going to make the resolution, but not so, you still have to figure out the whys and hows. Why is he 200 years older than our current Doctor, what’s he been doing all that time? Why did he go there to the lake with Amy, Rory and River if he must have known the fate that awaited him? There are a couple of things that the Doctor says that could be clues as to why.
“Human beings….I thought I’d never get done saving you.” (The Impossible Astronaut)
Lady Vastra “You’re giving up? You never do that.” Doctor “Yeah, and don’t you sometimes wish I did.” (A Good Man Goes To War)
Of course there’s been a few more than that, but I think most of the others have been gentle reminders of previous events for the viewers benefit, to keep them in your mind. That one from the last episode could be more crucial though. Now the Doctor has seen this great army rise up because of their fear of his ‘legend’, has he perhaps realised that the universe will be a better, safer place if it doesn’t see him in it. Or at the least, believe him to be in it. What he needs is for no-one in the universe to speak his name, or spread his legend any more. For ‘silence to fall’ over the universe, you might say…
The Silent Elephant In The Room
The Silence (or is it The Silents?) were one of the best things about The Impossible Astronaut/Day Of The Moon, I thought, and almost definitely one of the scariest new monsters introduced to Doctor Who for some time. There’s still seems to be a lot of unanswered questions about them, and their appearance and role in the story. What precisely were they doing on Earth, what did they want with Amy, and most importantly, where did they go?
I fell pretty certain we’ll be seeing them again in the second half of the series, they seem intrinsically linked to all these events unfolding, and may hold the key to some of the unresolved points. And the one that intrigues me the most seems to be the one point that no-one I can see is talking about very much, but that could be because people forget about him as soon as they look away from the screen…why was there a ‘Silent’ present at the lake in 2011 when the Doctor meets his fate from the spaceman? It’s the first time Amy sees one, and the (future) Doctor appears to give a knowing look when she first forgets him. Everyone else there that day was there because they received the invite in the (Tardis) blue envelope. Could the Doctor have sent out a fifth, unseen invite?
The other things we need to know about them are also dangled in front of the viewer in a tantalising way. What did they mean, or intend, when they tell Amy in the White House toilets…
“You must tell the Doctor what he must know, and what he must never know.” (The Impossible Astronaut)
Were they talking about Amy‘s pregnancy, as she seems to have taken it, or were they referring to the Doctor’s death at the lake? Or both?
“You are Amelia Pond. We honour you. You will bring the silence.” (Day Of The Moon)
Very intriguing, I think you’ll agree, and let’s hope this doesn’t get overlooked or forgotten about. It will be very disapointing if we don’t learn what their plan was.
The Only Water In The Forest Is The River
So, now we finally know River Song‘s identity, but frustratingly we still don’t really know who she is, and what part she is yet to play in the Doctor’s future. We’ve already learnt that she once killed a “good man”, and presumably that is why she is being held ‘prisoner’ in Stormcage, but who exactly put her there, and just how is she able to come and go from it with such apparent ease. How long might she have been in there? There’s a clue at the end of Day Of The Moon…
Doctor: “You could come with us?”
River: “I escape often enough, thank you, and I have a promise to live up to. You’ll understand soon enough.”
A promise to who? The obvious answer screams out at you, or is Moffat playing games with us?
Knowing now that River and Melody Pond are one and the same, and that Melody was taken with the intention of being turned into a weapon to be used to fight and defeat the Doctor, you have to wonder if the mysterious inhabitant of the spacesuited figure that kills the Doctor might in fact be her (as many have thought from the start). There’s another piece of dialogue that really stood out at the lake, seemingly a throwaway comment, from River Song as she fails to do any damage when she shoots after the ‘spaceman’…
“Of course not.” (The Impossible Astronaut)
Hmmm, an odd thing to say. Might be nothing in it, but I’m not so sure. Don’t forget, we see later what a good shot River is when she massacres The Silence in their ship. And for that matter, in The Big Bang at the end of last series, a Dalek appears almost frightened of her when it checks her name in it’s database. There are definitely more ‘answers’ to come from Melody Pond…
I’ve Been Running, Faster Than I’ve Ever Run…Now It’s Time For Me To Stop
That’s what the (future) Doctor tells his friends in the diner at the start of The Impossible Astronaut. Now at the start of this series, that comment seem very innocuous, considering a running theme of modern Doctor Who has been just that, running. Christopher Eccleston’s ninth Doctor’s first word to Rose Tyler is “run”, and we’ve seen lots of it ever since with frequent “running” with David Tennant, and most recently last week in A Good Man To War, when the Doctor recounts running through the Gamma Forest with that dying girl. But is that what he was really talking about this time? What does he do in those missing 200 years, and where is he off to on his own at the end of A Good Man Goes To War?
Some things jump straight to mind. To buy a few blue envelopes. It seems quite likely that whatever he’s doing, he is probably in some way setting up a chain of events that will end up back at that lake in 2011, where we began the series.
What if though, when he says he’s been running, he in some ways means he’s been ‘on the run’, or that is to say, in hiding? He now realises after A Good Man Goes To War that his legend that the universe sees is a dangerous thing. It has caused this huge, holy war to build up, where his enemies fear him so much they set out to create a timelord child to use as a weapon against him. Wouldn’t the universe be better off if it didn’t know the name ‘The Doctor’, or the legend that goes with it?
I’m starting to speculate that he set out to ‘fake’ his own death, probably using the ‘flesh’ Doctor we see in The Almost People. And who better to hire to kill him than River Song herself. He meets her in another timeline and tells her of his plan, and then puts her out of harm’s way afterwards in Stormcage to either keep her safe (from those that could seek to avenge him), or simply out of the way from anyone investigating it. He asks her to promise to stay in there until his plan comes to it’s ultimate fruition.
And what of The Silent we see at the lake? He could be there as some form of ‘witness’ to the Doctor’s death to tell his enemies, or he might have even been travelling with the ‘flesh’ Doctor for 200 years, helping him make people ‘forget’ the name of ‘The Doctor’. Could 200 years be considered a long enough period for the people of the universe to forget about him? If the Doctor is nowhere to be seen in the universe in that time, could successive generations stop passing down stories of him?
There’s still a few pieces of the jigsaw to fit together, and I’ll be amazed if I’ve guessed everything going on completely, but I do think that the answers lay somewhere in those things that I’ve highlighted above…
I honestly don’t think Moffat’s version of Doctor Who is too confusing in Series 6, at all. It just doesn’t give all the answers straight away, which is an entirely different thing. The things you don’t know, don’t hold back the continuing narrative, they just act to make you question it and analyse it more. And that’s got to be a good thing. It gives us fans something to talk about between episodes, and now this year, between halves of the series. Of course some fans will not be happy with this approach, or the answers when they come. Quite often those fans spend more time than they probably should trying to find out spoilers, and future casting announcements, or simply getting worked up about whether the BBC will be showing the recently announced series 7 in early or late 2012. I can’t help think it’s ironic that when they are eventually given the real thing, in script and on the screen, they don’t seem to like it.
And to those fans and commentators who decry this story arc approach, saying it will alienate the casual viewer, I say this…stop worrying! The casual viewer for one, doesn’t care about these things as much, and more importantly, doesn’t worry about it. If there’s a litle detail somewhere in an episode that they don’t quite get, they simply move on, and put it to the back of their mind. And there’s also a wonderful thing that modern television has given us in the form of those ‘Previously on…’ summaries that preceed an episode. Right now, the viewing figures and audience AI (Appreciation Index) for Doctor Who suggests that the majority of viewers are quite happy with the show, and are not confused at all.
Please feel free to leave your comments and thoughts below, but please have consideration for others by keeping them spoiler free.
The first half of Doctor Who Series 6 will be released on DVD and Bluray on July 11th, available from Amazon (below) and all good retailers.
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