Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series (BBC America, NR)

Steven Moffat seems to have also gotten over any initial little hiccups and has put together a pretty good season.

 

These days it’s common knowledge that England is a magical place where science and romance and madcap adventure all come together and it’s family entertainment. Sure, maybe it wasn’t always such an accepted fact, having more of a quiet-but-fervent fandom until about six years ago but, since then, there’s been a steady forward momentum in pop culture for their finest example of such programming. These days everyone knows about Doctor Who, on some level, and geek culture has gone mad for it. You can’t swing a sonic screwdriver at a convention these days without running into someone dressed as one of the Doctor’s pretty companions and even other shows are cleverly referencing it.
 
I had some familiarity with old Doctor Who before the new series came out in 2005, since my family has always been advocates of public television (which is where the reruns were) and I’ve always been something of an insomniac. A friend recommended I watch the new series and I gave it a shot and it was love at first watch. I faithfully watched through the rest of the Russell T Davies era and mourned when it came to an end in 2009. I went into Steven Moffat’s run with an open mind and, to be frank, I don’t know that I was that interested after season five. So this was my first experience with season six and, as a reviewer, I have to admit that sometimes it’s a daunting task to go into these things with an open mind. It’s hard, setting aside our preconceived notions of what we think we’re going into.
 
So it’s saying something for me to admit that I really enjoyed season six of Doctor Who. Sure, I had a few problems with the characterization—Rory (Arthur Darvill) stepping away from a pleading Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) immediately comes to mind, Rory ditching his wife to go help a pod person also springs to the forefront—but, overall, it was an enjoyable romp through space and time. The monsters were scary, the characters we know and love were all present and awesome and there were definitely some surprises. Of course, Moffat doesn’t have the same flair for the final episode that RTD had, but he’s no slouch when it comes to the magical a-ha moment either. I felt like the big reveal involving River Song (Alex Kingston), the centerpiece of the season, was handled well and could’ve gone far, far worse. Most of the development of her romantic relationship with the Doctor (Matt Smith) seemed to happen in a series of special features on the discs (show, don’t tell, Steven, and don’t toss it into special features after the fact) and I disliked the fact that she apparently lost her fool mind in the season finale. And, truth be told, I really went into this expecting to dislike River a lot. Kingston’s characterization has had an unfortunate tendency towards smugness that grates on me at the best of times, but Kingston and Moffat have managed to tone that down into something that’s a pleasure to watch. All of the confidence, none of the irritation. And her interactions with the Ponds are absolutely delightful to watch in all her incarnations.
 
Of course, as previously mentioned, I did have a few problems with the Ponds. Arthur Darvill’s Rory alternates between going to the ends of the Earth to save Amy and, again, ditching her to chase down a pod person who wants to destroy the human race. To be honest, though, I feel like they’ve been settled a little more in this season, as well. Amy screaming directions while Rory carves the Doctor’s name into a cornfield was excellent, as were a million other little moments like that scattered through the season. Once again, everyone seems to have hit their stride. When Moffat writes a couple in love, the couple in question is like a million other married couples. Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond especially hits new heights this season and really was one of the most surprising revelations for me. Gillan seems to have gotten over any novice issues she may have faced this year and her character is, in turns, amusing and poignant.
 
Matt Smith, recognizable to every nerd and small child in the world as the Eleventh Doctor, also seems to have settled into his role. The Doctor has always had a splash of darkness that filters through everything he does and Matt Smith looking pensively at a medical scan of his best friend while she flips between states captures it perfectly. Of course, the Doctor is completely ruthless but has an inordinate fondness for children and the universe’s innocents and it’s that division that Smith has captured very well. His Eleven doesn’t have the nearly manic-modes that previous Doctors have had, though he does do manic very well, and it almost seems like the Doctor’s darkness is always very much present, as opposed to something that pops out to say hi every now and again. The series rounds out the cast with a number of new and returning characters and the occasional model playing a siren (Lily Cole was actually pretty terrifying) and totally-famous-in-Britain comedians playing cowardly aliens. I was delighted to see Craig and Sophie return and meet Alfie, in both his Alfie and Stormageddon phases. I loved the fact that the Doctor can speak baby. Of course he can but who knew?
 
There was something I enjoyed about every episode, even the Companion-lite ones, and it’s hard for me to pick a favorite episode. Amy casually mentioning to an alternate-Universe Rory that they should get married, Lily Cole’s horrifying Siren and Amy’s swashbuckling, the Doctor’s and Amy’s interactions with a doppelganger of Eleven they happen to run into and, of course, Rory putting Hitler into the cupboard and River kicking ass—these are all parts of a unified whole. You can’t judge even a season of Doctor Who based on any one episode, though there are always standouts, and I can never pick which one sums it up well (though no review would be complete without mentioning that the Neil Gaiman-penned “The Doctor’s Wife” was FANTASTIC and absolutely the nexus of nerd.) Steven Moffat seems to have also gotten over any initial little hiccups and has put together a pretty good season.
 
The BBC has also outdone themselves, putting together a fabulous collection of odds and ends for the passionate collector. On a technical note, the music that plays over the menus is startlingly loud so don’t be surprised if you hear the TARDIS booming through your living room, should you wander off for some popcorn or something. And the preview for the BBC’s Bedlam is pretty scary so you might want to make sure any impressionable kids are distracted while it plays. For the record, I made sure I was distracted while it played. Special features on the disc include the “Doctor and the Night” series, which is worth the purchase alone and explains what exactly the Doctor gets up to when Rory and Amy are asleep, “Monster Files” that give the production staff a deserved chance to show off and, of course, Doctor Who Confidential. Doctor Who Confidential is a series of behind-the-scenes shows that, in original broadcasts, are as long as the show itself. The boxed set features a cut down version of this that’s nicely bite-sized and still gets all the salient points across. The salient points, of course, are that the technical stuff is neat and the cast is funny and loves each other. (And, speaking of Neil Gaiman, I’d be lying if I said that the Confidential footage of him reading from his script at the TARDIS console didn’t make my nerdling heart go pitty-pat.)
 
Doctor Who Confidential is, as of right now, not on the BBC’s production schedule for next year and fan outrage over that has been vocal and frequent and this reviewer can’t help but hope that they find a way to squeeze it in. (Mr. J’s suggestion for how to make that happen came as Depeche Mode’s "Enjoy the Silence" played over footage of this season’s big baddie: Maybe they would have the budget to continue this if they cut down on the music they’re using.) Also included are the tiny prequels that sometimes appeared between episodes and the Christmas special. Last year’s Christmas special, A Christmas Carol, featured Michael Gambon (also known as ALBUS FREAKING DUMBLEDORE) and ethereal Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins, and was good even by Doctor Who Christmas special standards, which is saying something. And, last but not least, Amy Pond flirting with herself for the Children in Need fundraiser made me laugh a great deal. Sure, it may be a little too saucy for the kids but they go to bed sometime, right?
 
So will I be settling in to watch season seven? You bet. I have to see how the Doctor’s maybe-sorta-kind of marriage to River and, umm, the small matter of everyone thinking he’s dead work themselves out. Amy and River’s fledging relationship is also another thing to watch next year. Of course, there are strange rumors of formatting changes but we’ll roll with it. We’re Who fans, after all. I’m not shouting Moffat’s praises from the ceiling just yet, we’ll need another year like this, but I’d be a jerk if I didn’t give credit where it’s due. And we here at PLAYBACK:stl are not jerks. So take my advice, Whovians, and march right out on Tuesday and pick The Complete Season Sixth Series up. | Erin Jameson

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