Yeah, that was actually quite good. Not so much the title, though since the first episode back’s called ‘Let’s Kill Hitler” I think we can forgive that.
Before my inevitable decline into bellyaching about minutiae, it’s important, I feel, for me to stress that I rather enjoyed this episode. It felt a little more straightforward than the last Moffat-penned episodes – perhaps because it wasn’t trying to squeeze so much in. This is a nice change of pace, plenty of action in contrast to the last two, which were about as well-acquainted with ‘action’ as my maths teacher is with the oeuvre of the NWA. Seriously, however, it did manage a straightforward narrative, with a few little bits and pieces, but ultimately, it remained focussed, which is one of the few areas Moffat’s episodes have found problematic in the past.
I don’t know about you, but the idea of a mid-series finale for Doctor Who sounded a little odd to me when I first heard about it. Having just watched it, it still seems odd. It’s sort of like a mini-boss before the final, end-of-level boss – a sub-finale, if you will. That doesn’t diminish it to that great an extent, but it doesn’t seem to muster the same epic feel as the end-of-series usually does. The RTD finales (the earlier ones, before he went mad with power) had the feeling that something big and momentous was going to happen*. This didn’t really (despite having more actual people than the Pandorica, and the Mill clearly having gone for broke with all the special effects) manage that. It might have been because they spent ages talking it up, how it was going to be a ‘war’ and stuff. Well, no. A skirmish, perhaps, but that might be overselling it given that with the exception of the bit where the monks and the clerics were killing each other, only three actual people died who weren’t already headless. By the way, do you think they forgot to take out that shot of the Judoon? You know, given that they were never mentioned or seen again (same for the pirate captain, and where the hell did the Spitfires go after they’d run that little sortie?) after that.
In fact, considering everywhere the Doctor’s been and all the people he’s met, couldn’t he have come up with a better attack force (army is rather over-egging the pudding, I feel) than this, which seems like ‘some people we’ve encountered recently’ – to wit, an (one) Sontaran, a lesbian Silurian** (there were some implications in that scene which I’m going to guess will be appearing in the next Daily Mail – that or the gay Anglicans) with a sword and her chums, a pirate captain, some space-spitfires I’m fairly sure the Doctor dismantled immediately after use back in Victory of the Daleks and some Judoon (maybe). Not that they were really all that necessary given that there weren’t actually that many soldiers in the place. There were some headless monks, but given that they got defeated by four people, they don’t actually seem to have posed all that much of a threat. More to the point, why bother with an attack force at all? Surely it’d be much easier to materialise the TARDIS in Amy’s room and go from there? However, the formation of the attack force is more interesting than that, I think because it’s to do with what River was talking about when she said the Doctor was becoming more warlike, which I’m hoping is an excuse for his recent behavior elsewhere – specifically Day of the Moon.
A few more – why do the TARDIS translation circuits have trouble translating written Gallifreyan, given that it’s Time Lord technology? Why does ‘Melody’ translate to River (though I may just have mis-seen that, though another good question is ‘why change the name around’ other that the obvious ‘it’s an idea he though of after the fact’)? Why, after going to great lengths to establish the thin one and the fat one (good joke, by the way) did he kill one of them off and forget the other? Totally? What was the point of
Charlie Lorna Bucket, other than to die and be a cheap funeral (though if she is somehow brought back, that ‘only water in the forest’ line would be more relevant, since I’m honestly not convinced it needed the foreshadowing it got)? Who exactly are the villains here? Kovarian seemed to be more in league with the monks that the soldiers, and their plan seemed oddly circular – if they’d switched the baby for Flesh, why bother with anything after that – why not let them believe they have the baby? [EDIT - Moffat explained this on Twitter]
I think my core problem with this episode was that despite its strengths as an episode, it hyped itself – even within the episode – to such a great extent that I honestly wasn’t sure whether this was it. Really? “Rise higher than before then fall so much lower”? Call a few mates to help confuse some incompetent soldiers, prat around on stage for a bit, and then… stand in a room talking to a lady with an eyepatch while some other people have a swordfight? The Doctor has done things far greater, and far worse than these, so why Moffat felt the insistence to so loudly remind us that THIS IS AN EPIC CONFRONTATION when it was anything but is beyond me. A subset of this is that, with the exception of the Amy-as-Flesh reveal at the end of the last episode, nothing was really surprising. Well, perhaps a bit, but more ‘oh, right’ surprising, as opposed to ‘Crikey, didn’t see that coming at all’ surprising. Like River being Amy and Rory’s child*** – not ‘River is the Rani’ or something equally shocking. Mind you, I imagine if he’d done that I would have complained that it was a cheap surprise that didn’t make sense within the constraints of the story or somesuch. I’m not easily pleased.
So, what have we found out (or rather, had confirmed)? Well, for one, we now know the baby is Amy and Rory’s and that the regenerative abilities derive from its conception on the TARDIS while in flight. Oh, and it’s River. This contextualises TARIDRIS’ comments in The Doctor’s Wife about the only River in the forest, but more importantly… River said she was in (and out) of the Stormcage for the murder of “A very good man. Best man I’ve ever known” – in a spacesuit, as a child, on a beach? Being raised as a weapon by the Fighting Anglicans (this is the second time this device has been used, but I can’t be the only one to find the idea of the Anglican church becoming a military outfit awesome – and this time around, it specified that they were Anglicans as well) to fight the Doctor … it seems as though all the strings are being wound together. We still have yet to find out what the hell is going on with the Silence (properly. If it really was them behind the universe-destruction at the end of the last series. And what’s going on with the pseudo-TARDIS.
Worth mentioning again, but as an episode, it was good – its expectation-cheques bounced, but I can live with a little less RTD style ‘NOW WE’RE DESTROYING THE UNIVERSE!’ scale especially since this wasn’t actually about DESTROYING THE UNIVERSE! but rather about two men trying to save a woman and a child. Lots of nice CGI, lots of good acting****, and hopefully lots of things that’ll be fully addressed later on. Oh and a Stevie Wonder blind joke. They never get old. Anyway, I’ll be back (probably sooner rather than later) for more writing (though I would like to inform readers that I’ve now started posting more casual stuff on my Tumblr blog , so if you’d like to go and read that, it’d be marvellous. Otherwise, see you in a few months time for Let’s Kill Hitler!
*This episode reminded me quite a lot of early RTD, actually. Odd, that.
**Fresh from killing Jack the Ripper no less. Something I remembered the other day – Alan Moore (written a lot of things, but From Hell was what reminded me this) did a bunch of Doctor Who comics back in the ’80s
***though Moffat’s evidently not above implying that it isn’t. However, if that’s River’s baby cot, why does the Doctor have it now?
**** I should single out Karen Gillen for particular praise here – unlike previous episodes, where she’s been outshone by Smith and Darvill. An aside – please don’t let Rory backslide again into pathetic milksop. Or if you do, at least justify it in the story.