It’s been a long old series of Doctor Who. There have been a couple of middling episodes and the job of juggling the show’s three (arguably four) main characters without anyone feeling underused or mishandled has not always been smooth. The question of Amy’s forced pregnancy and the fact that she and Rory had a child who they grew up with instead of raising has been entirely ignored.
As for River Song herself – it was her knowledge of the Doctor’s future, the experiences she had earned as a Time Lord that gave her an edge, that made her seem very naturally in control (see the Weeping Angels episodes last year). Seeing her as ‘Mels’ after largely ignoring the gap between regenerating in an alley in America in the 1960s and turning up in the south of England the same age as her parents for the sole purpose of killing the Doctor twenty years later (inhale), a long and formative part of her life is glossed over. “Let’s Kill Hitler” is a great title, but it detracted from the character.
The positives are huge though. The daunting task of making Amy and Rory work as a companion duo has worked pretty darned well, “The Girl Who Waited” being among the better episodes conceptually. Nice work with the old space-time paradox-marriage set piece. The season opener with Nixon, Badger from Firefly, the Silence et al got the season immediately into a high gear, and the Neil Gaiman-written “The Doctor’s Wife” was among the funnest one-offs in the recent past. It made surprisingly deep insights into the Doctor’s personality that laid the groundwork for the pleasingly thoughtful second half of the season.
SO that’s a lot of preamble to a pretty straightforward episode. Spoilers here by the way. It’s at a very similar spot to last year’s trip around James Corden’s life. Craig is a father now, and the Doctor turns up “for a house call” the day before he is due to die at Lake Silencio in Utah, which because of the Doctor’s vexed relationship with chronology is six months ago. Also worth noting that from the Doctor’s perspective it has been about two hundred years since he said goodbye to Amy and Rory in the last episode, and in between episodes he has already married River Song and spent a whole lifetime with her. Confusing!
But he’s arguably even goofier than before, so that’s all grand. Craig’s wife has left him to take care of the baby for the weekend, which is just enough time for him and the Doctor to discover a rudimentary Cybermen invasion happening underneath a Debenhams-style department store in Colchester. There’s much comedy business with Craig’s son Alfie, who – through the Doctor’s translation – calls himself ‘Stormaggedon’ and refers to everyone else as ‘not-mum’ or ‘peasants’. Marvellous. This week was full of similar wee gems and throwaway lines, probably the best comedy episode since this time last year. See also: Craig and the Doctor making a very cute couple.
The episode’s key spots then – the Doctor spots Amy and Rory, Amy signing an autograph, turns out she is a model now! Rose Tyler is a defender of the Earth, Martha Jones is a freelance alien-hunter and Amy joined an agency. There is a perfume ad hanging up that features her pouting and looking slightly confused which was not intentionally played for laughs. Anyway, the Doctor hides from them and his look of being torn between running up to them like a lost child (this is the first time he’s seen either of them in centuries, you’ll recall) and doing what he knows is best for everyone is note-perfect. Bravo, Matt Smith.
After running into the Cybermen base armed with a barcode gun, Craig is captured and converted into robo-Craig. He hears Alfie crying over cctv and the power of his love overloads the Cybermen’s circuits and detonates the entire base. Um. Fine. The Doctor gives a ‘now-this-is-happening’ running commentary through the scene that reminded me of the spoof-Who episode in Extras. There’s a little bit of dialogue directly afterwards that suggests even the Doctor finds it all a bit much.
It all ends with the Doctor talking about how old he is and how his time is running out and a weird little moment where he talks to a few kids in the street who turn out to have given testimonies that appear in River Song’s doctoral thesis “How I Stalked the Doctor through Time, Also Space”. Anyway, the episode ends with River Pond in a Lake in a Space Suit.
It’s a clumsy end to a lovely freewheely episode, still some very solid work that sets the Doctor up with a very believable dilemma – he certainly does put everyone he knows at risk just by being there, but he’s also, as Craig points out, the safest place to be, and sometimes brings out the best in those around him. But which way will he go in the series finale? Can he fight what he knows to be his fate? Can he (or even should he?) change the future? The creepy children’s choir at the end of the episode suggest that whatever the conclusion, creepy children’s choirs are edging ever further to the wrong side of the unsettling-irritating paradigm.
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