Spoilers. Obviously. If you’ve not seen this week’s Doctor Who, don’t say you weren’t warned….
Whoof. And whoof, again. Here we are at the halfway mark of this season’s Doctor Who, and my head feels as if it’s come unglued. A Good Man Goes To War (BBC1, Sat) was an epic and a half. Even the continuity announcer was bigging it up before the damn thing had even started.
It’s funny, but usually at this point we’re looking at the season so far and wondering how the next six weeks are going to develop. Because of the change in broadcast schedule this year this feels more like a finale. Difficult to know where the hell we’re going to go from here.
Following two weeks worth of scurrying around corridors and closed sets, this week Doctor Who opened right up and played it like Star Wars. Huge hangars. Spaceships everywhere. People scurrying hither and yon. And erm, a Roman Centurion, walking into the middle of a Cyberman lair. Not Cybusmen, you’ll note, but Cybermen. I’m quietly pleased about that, for reasons which escape me.
I can’t help but think that Arthur Darvill won himself a whole legion (sorry) of fans with his remarkable first appearance this week. Delivering a message from The Doctor, and a question from himself, it was merely the start of a relentless series of quick-cut scenes, introducing friends old and new.
Steven Moffat did this to us last year with The Pandorica Opens, with that opening sequence of returnees from previous episodes. He was at it again here and I can honestly say he’s the only one who could get away with it. The whole idea of Captain Avery and his crew showing up again, not to mention “Broadsword and Danny Boy” was so gleefully gratuitous – the only thing to do was to just sit back, go with it and cheer. A lot. I can’t help but think the only reason why the Spitfires in Space were back at all was because The Mill hadn’t deleted the animation cycle from their doubtlessly epic-sized hard-drives. I didn’t mind though.Why quibble when you’re having this much fun?
Whether deliberate or not, large chunks of this week’s episode played out like a tribute to the old Eighties Marvel Comics DW strips. As The Doctor started to gather his army together I couldn’t help but be put in mind of certain strips in particular – the Kane/Abel/Frobisher/Peri team-up from the Sixth Doctor’s run for a start.
It was lovely to see Doctor Who doing what it does best – suggesting a whole universe of adventures we’ve yet to see, or may never actually witness. Given that Moffat’s showrunner on “Sherlock”, it’s obvious he’s a fan of the old “tale which the world is not yet ready to hear” routine. With the introduction of a whole slew of characters we’ve never seen before – all with their own histories – we were a mere step away from finally hearing of the Politician, the Lighthouse Keeper and the Trained Cormorant. Things like this enrich Doctor Who so much, the implication that outside of the bounds of the series stories are going on all over the place which we’re occasionally able to dip into.
Just how did Strax end up being an unwilling Sontaran nurse? Just what do you have to do to dishonour an entire Clone Hive to that extent? Just how long have Madame Vastra and Jenny been lurking in Victorian London, solving the unsolvable? What sort of a hold did The Doctor have over Dorium that enabled him to call in that favour so easily? It’s fun to speculate.
Rather fantastically, we even got the rudest joke to sneak onto primetime Doctor Who since the “Master’s Beard” routine in Time Crash. I didn’t pick it up until the second screening today, but just watch the scene where Madame Vastra flicks out her incredibly long tongue to disarm the guard. And then just look at the expression on Jenny’s face. Saucy isn’t the word.
So pleased to see Neve MacIntosh this week. I had problems with her character(s) in the Silurian Two-Parter last year, but that was entirely down to the nonsense she was forced to spout. This time out she was superb – every inch the Victorian Adventuress, and a fine, fine foil for The Doctor. The scene where she forces him to actually work things out from first principles until he realises just when Amy and Rory’s baby might have been conceived was so wonderfully played, helped by Simon Fisher-Becker’s “come on… take your time… you’re getting there” reactions in the background. It’s a nice touch, that our hero can be so worldly wise about so many things, but so… well, squeamish about others.
Little beautiful moments abounded in amongst all the thunder and flash. The Doctor’s cot. The fact that he speaks Baby (and Melody seems to disapprove of the bow-tie as well, much to his mild annoyance). Amy’s diabolical rudeness to Lorna softening into the realisation that here in the middle of the enemy lair is someone who wants nothing more than to do a simple, gentle kindness for her.
Strax being quite prepared to deliver his gallons of lactic fluid if called for, while the Doctor apologises to Melody for everyone getting it wrong. River suddenly realising that if it’s Demon’s Run, she can’t get involved immediately and painfully, sorrowfully refusing Rory’s request. Even the look on little Toby’s face as the lift opens to reveal Captain Avery in what must be the shortest cameo in Doctor Who history.
While all this madness is going on The Eleventh Doctor takes a leaf out of his Ninth self’s book, walking straight into the enemy lair to rescue his best mate. The fact that he does it, and then cocks it up spectacularly is almost by the by. It’s like Steven Moffat took a look at David Tennant’s first season, with all of it’s “you’re having tremendous fun, but you’ll pay the price for it in the end”, and went “yep. That’s all very well. But how about if we take that idea, tweak it slightly, and do *this* instead?”
When Madame Kovarian revealed that she’d hoodwinked the Doctor twice – by the same method – I actually shouted out loud with the realisation of what was about to happen. When it did happen, and little Melody Pond disintegrated into a pile of Flesh, I shouted again. Don’t you love it when tv shows do that? When you think you’re on top of things, and then you realise you’re not? Well, I wasn’t, anyway. Frances Barber’s deliciously old-school performance was just what was needed. JN-T would have killed to cast her as The Rani, if Kate O Mara hadn’t got there first.
Then before we knew it we were into the home strait. The reveal we’ve been waiting for since “Forest of the Dead” (and doesn’t that seem like a lifetime ago)? Did it disappoint? No, I don’t think so. I’d more or less dismissed the idea that River was The Doctor’s Mother (I’m still thinking Claire Bloom might have had something to with that, and besides which that would have thrown up all sorts of horrible Star Wars retcon problems a la Luke and Leia). I’d be lying if I said the thought of River and the Child from the first episodes this year being connected hadn’t crossed my mind, but somehow the dots just failed to connect for me.
And yet, as with last year, the reveal was there. Hiding in plain sight all along thanks to a thrown away line from Idris in “The Doctor’s Wife”. We watched all seven episodes back to back this afternoon and that moment suddenly leapt out at us. I just assumed it was a prediction that River would be back at some point soon. Never did I expect it to actually be the key to the whole secret.
The revelation though – has just added more layers of intrigue. If River and The Doctor are destined to be romantically involved, does that make Rory and Amy the The Doctor’s parents-in-law? Is The Doctor going to go off and rescue little Melody, then deposit her offscreen in the fifty first century so she can grow up to become River in the appropriate timeline? Given that Rory is at least 800 years older than The Doctor, shouldn’t his son-in-law be showing him a bit more respect?
And just where is The Doctor going to end up? Are we in for a full episode without Rory and Amy shortly? Given that The Doctor’s skipped off to save Melody, leaving Amy, River and Rory to deal with a world of emotional fallout, where do we go from here? Can Madame Vastra and Jenny have their own series, please? While we’re at it, just whose skeletal hand is that hanging on to the dying sonic screwdriver?
Some of these questions may or may not be answered in a few month’s time, when we follow up the post-credits invitation, so kindly laid out by the BBC. “Let’s Kill Hitler”, indeed. Like I said at the top, “Whoof”. As soon as we’ve all got our breaths back again, let’s do it all again. Don’t mind if I do.