So here we are. Thirteen weeks have just flown by, haven’t they? Three and a bit months ago I sat down to watch the new season of Doctor Who with no idea of what to expect. We’d just come off the back of going on for five years worth of one production teams vision. It felt like it was time for a change. Did we get it? Hell, yes.
Prisoner Zero, Star Whales. Tonka Daleks. Weeping Angels. Fish pretending to be vampires. In Venice. The Valeyard (it is, you know). Silurians. Vincent Van Gogh. A Footballing Doctor. The Great Monster Team-Up of 2010. It’s been a hell of ride. The Big Bang (BBC1, Sat) was where we would see if there was any big pay-off waiting for those of us who’d stuck with it for the entire season, hoping it would all tie up neatly at the last.
And did it?
As I said thirteen weeks ago, What do you think?
Of course it did.
Taking The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang as a two-part finale we were presented with a season conclusion that managed to reference back to ten out of the previous eleven episodes, told a rollicking story, and also turned a simple, ordinary man – one much battered by fate in his previous appearances – into something rather extraordinary. After all of the talk of Amy Pond being the focal point of the season, Rory was the one who walked away with it all in his pocket.
He had to take the long way round, mind. Dying twice, then reincarnated as an unwitting footsoldier in the service of an alliance of the Doctor’s oldest enemies. There are echoes of Bracewell several weeks earlier in Victory of The Daleks. Bracewell loses an arm to enemy fire and discovers his true nature. Rory discovers his when his arm becomes an enemy weapon in itself.
In hanging onto his humanity, Rory becomes the beating heart that drives Moffat’s vision of Doctor Who. In choosing to watch over the woman he loves for nearly two thousand years, Rory becomes the true stuff of legend. A hero. A myth. A fairytale. And as with all the best fairytales, the little man with the heart of gold gets the beautiful princess at the end.
It was all laid out before us in the pre-publicity of course. Every single interview Steven gave, he emphasised that this was going to be the season where Doctor Who trod the path of fairy tales and dreamstuff. It did that, to be sure. I can’t remember a season of Who that ever wrong-footed me to the extent that this one has. I also can’t ever remember a season of Who that ended on a note that seemed so perfect, so logical, so bloody right as this.
It’s only a tv show, they say. Absolutely true. But Doctor Who is so much more than just a tv show to me. It gets under the skin, into your brain. Into your heart. And it stays there, which is why when it gets it so spectacularly on the button as this finale did, I pretty much got up and did a little dance of happiness around the room at the end.
Box falls out of sky. Man falls out of box. Man eats fish custard. From that moment, I was sold. I continued to be sold as week by week Eleven proved to be compassionate, barmy, irrationally angry. Insensitive, tactless. Huggable. Wise. Gentle. And just for a moment this week when it looked as if The Doctor was going to be completely written out of his own world, I knew I didn’t want to lose him. He’s a character in a tv show. But he’s the best character in the greatest tv show in the world, and I’ve loved pretty much every minute I’ve spent in his company this year. It’s been a bloody long time since I was able to say that.
If you’re a Doctor Who fan, you get used to looking for the little moments that save the most inept and badly written stories. There weren’t any inept stories this year, but there were a couple that fell pretty far short of impressive.
It’s the nature of series television. You can’t have thirteen perfect shows out of thirteen. But I’ll bet you that the ones that I thought weren’t that striking weren’t the same as the ones you thought weren’t any cop. That’s Who in a nutshell, right there. It’s yours, and it’s mine. And what you get out of it is equally as valid as what I get out of it. What I got out of it was a brand new face in the role who saved those less-than-spectacular stories in any number of surprising ways. Even when the shows weren’t great, Matt was. If he’s this good now, he’ll be terrifyingly magnificent next year. I can’t wait to see where he goes now.
As with so many occasions in the past The Doctor steps up and sacrifices everything to heal the hurt. Because that’s what he does. The clue is in the name. In rebooting the universe, he deletes himself. He’s forgotten. And in a season which is all about memory, it’s an act of remembering that brings him back.
The crack in time eats people’s history, makes them forget. Amy has her past erased completely, which draws Eleven to her. As he says, “The girl who didn’t make sense. How could I resist?”
The clerics are erased. They get forgotten. Several episodes later, exactly the same thing happens to Rory. The Doctor points out if even one person remembers, then miracles can happen. When Amy begins to remember, Rory takes the first step back to humanity. Meanwhile, River keeps the faith. In gifting her diary as a wedding present (albeit one that’s now full of blank pages), Amy saves the Doctor. One person remembers. And that’s enough. It was all there, right from the first moments of the season, hiding in plain sight. What a great pay-off.
Meanwhile, Matt Smith showed yet another side to his Eleventh Doctor. Shot by a not-yet-back-to-full-strength Dalek, he’s on the verge of death. But he carries on.
In the scene between Eleven and Amy as he sits slumped in the Pandorica, you see a man with the weight of ages on his shoulders. The eyes, so full of pain, but so gentle and compassionate. Simple farewells, quietly said. But those few sentences spoke more to me than any number of grandstanding speeches with swelling emotional music.
To switch within seconds from fez-wearing, time-hopping, mop-wielding maniac to your best friend, dying in front of your eyes but maintaining all the dignity he can muster – how can you not love this man?
Sterling support – as ever – came from Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill. We would appear to be heading into a Christmas Special with something we’ve never, ever had before. A husband and wife team on board the Tardis. Forty seven years in, and they’re still finding new plot avenues to explore. How good is that?
Amy… well, she seems to divide people somewhat. I’ve heard some appalling accusations flung against the character. She’s a cypher. She’s there to provide an image of woman-in-her-place, wanting nothing more than cosy domesticity, home and hearth. Sorry folks, but I don’t see that at all. Amy’s been wonderful from one end of the series to the other.
She started the season walloping our hero with a cricket bat. She ended it by not only bringing him back into the world, but saving us all from the terror of a fez-wearing Doctor for the entirety of the next season. In between, Karen Gillan took the tried-and-tested companion template, and she reshaped it. She screamed, yes. Amy was a damaged, broken little girl at the start of the year. She ended it a confident, wise young woman, heading off on the best honeymoon anyone could ever hope so. Got her time machine, got her boys. Her work here is so not done, and I couldn’t be happier.
As in all the best weddings, you need something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. If you watched on Saturday you’ll know how well that line paid off. If you didn’t give a little cheer when Eleven popped his head out of the Tardis door in a magnificently foppish dress, then led an army of children in some of the silliest dancing ever seen on television… well, then you didn’t. But I did. Give me a series that takes the time out between the heavy stuff for moments like that, any day of the week.
In conclusion then, did this season live up to the impossible hopes people had placed on it? Those of us who wanted a massive change from what had gone before were watching with a critical eye. Those who loved the previous era were watching with an equally critical eye. Eleven following Ten was almost as much of a crucial nexus point in Who’s continued existence as when Patrick Troughton said “yep, I’ll give it a go” back in ’66, and ensured that the series didn’t finish when William Hartnell did.
It could have failed. It could have fallen flat on its little face. It didn’t. This season was magical. It was indeed a fairytale, with a happy ending. For many money, Season Fnarg (or 31, or Series 5, or whatever you want to call it) was the single finest series of Who we’ve ever had. It could have been written directly for me, so accurately did it hit my own personal idea of What I Like About Doctor Who. That little boy who I let out for a trot to enjoy Who the way I used to be able to do was well satisfied this year. So was the grown up me. Oh, yes.
Best of all? There are still unanswered questions out there. What is the silence? When will it fall? Who is that mysterious voice in The Tardis? Will we ever see the beginning of River’s story?
Even better than that, though – we’ve got a Tardis team heading off out into the universe to have fantastic adventures together. I’ll be there. You couldn’t keep me away. I hope you’ll be there too.