After easily knocking it out of the park with Series 5, the pressure was really on for Moffat & Smith to make Series 6 just as good, maybe even better and well…let’s call it an incorrect dismount. I don’t hate this series and I honestly wouldn’t say there are even that many bad episodes featuring, however, there is a lot of mediocre stuff crammed into this one. Furthermore, I’d also say that this is the first series of the revival so far that hasn’t featured at least one “All-Time-Great” episode.
That said, there was still a lot of enjoyment to be had and Matt Smith’s performance as The Doctor hadn’t missed a beat since Series 5 and there are several episodes in this series where I’d argue that his acting alone is what saved it from being awful. Still, let’s take a look at each episode and see how things panned out.
12 – Let’s Kill Hitler
Ok, so now we’ve got to talk about River Song…oh boy.
So first of all, as a character, I like her. She has surprisingly great chemistry with just about anyone she shares the screen with and is one of the only characters whose personality remained consistent throughout the entirety of Moffat’s time in the role. She hits that sweet spot of being exactly the kind of hero The Doctor is while having some minor differences in her outlook on the world to make her feel like she’s actually a different person.
I’ll get more into the mystery surrounding her a bit later down the list because this episode takes place at a point where the mystery has been revealed. We know who she is, we know why she is and this episode decides that it’s going to rip that apart for the sake of a couple “gotcha” moments.
This whole episode suffers from the prequel problem because we know all of the future events that happen past this episode. Doctor Who is usually ok at weaving around these problems by using the “time can be rewritten” line, but the show went to great lengths to establish that the events at Lake Silencio (events in both River’s and The Doctor’s future) are fixed points and thus, can’t be changed.
I’ll admit, the moment where “Mel” regenerated into River was cool and I didn’t see it coming, but that’s pretty much the only positive thing I have to say about this whole thing. The scene immediately after where The Doctor & River are trying to one-up each other was very weird and felt more like a scene that got cut from Sherlock but Moffat didn’t want to let go of and then we have to watch The Doctor crawl around in pain for twenty minutes while rambling on about nothing in particular.
The only thing this episode actually accomplished was introducing the concept of the Teselecta (an concept I like a lot) but it’s not like that couldn’t have been done some other way that didn’t involve a load of Hitler gags along the way.
I think that’s what really bothers me about this episode, is that it lands on the wrong side of silly, while still trying to put forth serious plot developments and emotional moments. Don’t get me wrong, when done right, mixing in the silly and the serious can create some truly special stuff (just watch The Empty Child) but there’s no cohesion between the two sides of the writing here and it ends up just giving me emotional whiplash and causing both the jokes and the drama to become meaningless to me.
11 – The Girl Who Waited
I honestly thought I would like this one more when I rewatched it.
The main problem I have with this episode is the level of totally forced melodrama. For one thing, as an audience, we know that there is absolutely no chance that “old Amy” is going to actually be a part of anything past this episode, so there’s no tension there. There’s also this sort of forced conflict between The Doctor and Rory since The Doctor can’t get directly involved in the action and that’s fine to a certain extent, but it doesn’t really come across as all that interesting and once the business with the two Amys gets going it gets pushed to the side completely.
As for “the business with the two Amys” it doesn’t land for me at all. There was the potential to do something really hard-hitting emotionally here with the older Amy having to look upon the younger version of herself that will never have to suffer what she did but that conflict is quickly cast aside in exchange for them getting along and making jokes about Rory’s arse. Which, in a bubble is fine, but sticks out like a sore thumb when everything around it is being played off so seriously.
This brings me to the ending where The Doctor turns into a total arsehole who refuses to take responsibility for anything. First of all, we all knew he was lying when he said old Amy could come with them, so that twist held no weight for me at all and The Doctor just decides to make Rory make the horrific choice of which Amy to keep just because he doesn’t want to deal with it. I mentioned in the Series 5 review that Amy’s Choice is the only episode that actually nails the drama & tension in Amy & Rory’s relationship and watching this one back really affirmed my point on that one. The drama is forced, meaningless and ultimately forgotten about by the next episode.
10 – Closing Time
I had my problems with The Lodger, but at least it felt like these were characters who were evolving and growing with each other and had personalities outside of “James Corden” but this episode felt to me like it was written with the mindset of “James Corden said he’d do another episode, so we’re going to write one…also Cybermen, cos why not?”
I normally enjoy the more light-hearted episodes like this one, but a lot of the humour doesn’t quite land for me in this one. The Eleventh Doctor seemed to have a very large personality shift towards the end of his run from a serious, war-weary traveller who can still bring fun and joy to those around him into a cartoon caricature who doesn’t act even remotely like any kind of actual person ever would and this is the first time that I notice these features of The Doctor’s character coming through a bit too strong.
There are so many sequences in this that are entirely dedicated to The Doctor being absolutely silly to the point of not even seeming aware of any form of social conventions to ever exist. The Doctor is an alien, I know, he’s eccentric and weird and he doesn’t necessarily understand human culture, but this takes those ideas to such ridiculous lengths that it stops being funny and starts feeling stupid. If you want to take a look at how to do this right, just look at the dinner scene in Boom Town, or the cyanide scene in The Unicorn and The Wasp or even The Lodger from the previous series.
Outside of that, this episode continued the descent of the Cybermen into a total side-show of a villain that poses basically no threat whatsoever and exist only for marketing purposes because casual fans of the show recognise them. The Cybermat was something that was just played off for laughs and the process of being converted into a Cyberman – a process that used to involve removing your brain while you’re still alive and turning your body into metal – is now just a vague energy thing that can apparently be overcome if you just REALLY don’t want it to happen.
It’s no coincidence that when, in Series 12, when it was first revealed that the Cybermen were going to be heavily involved that everyone felt disappointed. Thankfully, Chibnall surprised everyone by doing what I think is an amazing job with them (more on that another time), but it’s episodes like this that contributed to the Cybermen becoming one of the most disappointing villains in the modern era of the show.
It has some saving graces, there are a handful of funny jokes in there and James Corden does do a good job of keeping his character consistent, but there’s just too much dragging this one down for me to say I liked it.
9 – The God Complex
Once again, good concept, nice twist, not the best execution.
One of the biggest problems I have with this episode is how heavily it leans on its secondary cast. This isn’t bad on its own of course, episodes like Midnight and The Impossible Planet are great largely because of their secondary cast, but this is a situation where the characters that are introduced are entirely uninteresting and the episode relies really heavily on them to carry some pretty major scenes.
We’ve got the competent would-be companion, which is something we’ve seen so many times by this point that I knew she was going to die the moment The Doctor said he liked her. The guy who’s already gone a bit mad (I don’t remember their names and I don’t care about to look it up) by the time they get there was a good way of adding the mystery of what’s going on, but he’s not much of a character and the other two secondary characters are just there for the sake of it, one so they can die and the other to make unfunny jokes at their expense.
As for the monster and the mystery of the episode I thought it was fine. The monster doesn’t look very impressive but that’s not all that important, the concept of it being a creature that feeds off of people’s faith is nice and I actually think the idea of using people’s greatest fear to make them fall back on their greatest faith was a very clever twist. What I’m not so keen on, is the solution. The idea that after almost two whole series of travelling with The Doctor and forming such an incredibly strong bond with him, that one speech where he denounces his own actions will totally break this rock-solid faith Amy has in him? Not to mention that Amy has been listening as The Doctor goes through all this, so surely he knows him well enough to know exactly what he’s trying to do.
Then The Doctor just drops them off with a new house and car and is like “I can’t watch you die” out of absolutely nowhere and it makes no sense. It’s such an incredibly quick character turn for The Doctor, especially when you consider that when the start of Series 7 comes around, he’s flopped right back to wanting to keep them around at all times. It has no impact on any episode following this one and was just an excuse to get the two of them out of the way for an episode so we could give James pissing Corden the spotlight again.
Like I said, there’s a lot of really good ideas floating around here, but it has so much dragging it down throughout that I always come away from the experience feeling deflated.
8 – The Curse of the Black Spot
It’s pirate time!
I’m not entirely sure how to feel on this episode. It’s fun and stupid in places but the plot is surprisingly downbeat and muted for the most part. Where The God Complex has a good concept that was squandered, this was a pretty ok concept that was executed just about fine. The whole idea of the medical lady acting EXACTLY like a Siren is extremely weird and doesn’t make any sense if you think about it for any time at all, but I’m willing to forgive that for the purposes of adding to the fun, pirate theme.
I’d say the biggest problems here are a combination of setting and dialogue. A pirate ship is a very cramped setting and there’s not exactly much room for action to take place, this led to large chunks of the episode being very dialogue-heavy and unfortunately, I just wasn’t feeling it with this one. Most of the secondary casts and are just generic pirates, even the captain, who gets a much more significant amount of development doesn’t stretch very far away from those stereotypes, even his “redemption” at the end didn’t feel like he’d changed very much as a person, he just has a spaceship now.
When there was action though, I found myself getting into it like I’ve said, it was quite clearly written with a bit of fun in mind instead of being serious or tense and I can appreciate that for what it is. The twist for this one though, I can’t say I’m too thrilled with it – the “they’re not disintegrated, just teleported” twist has been done to death by this point – but I also can’t think of another way they could’ve resolved the episode while on a pirate ship.
It’s one of those rare cases where we have an episode that wasn’t all that great, but I can’t even say it could’ve been great if it was executed better. The concept was fine, but there was only so far it could go, which ironically means I’m not all that disappointed with it like I am with other episodes.
7 – The Wedding of River Song
OooK, time to talk about this series’ arc.
When it comes to set up, intrigue and the pace at which certain things were revealed, I think the series arc of Series 6 was a good one. When it comes to this episode concluding it, I’m somewhat in the middle on it. My main problem with the whole thing is how these series of events even triggered to begin with. How can River sudden overpower the suit? Why does changing a fixed point in time change things to this degree? Come to think of it, what even ARE fixed points in time? I mean, obviously, I know what they are mechanically, but their implications of the universe at large seem to be extraordinarily vague. On the surface, they seem like a clever device to prevent some of the problems that time-travel fiction normally suffers from, but when you think about it for any length of time, you realise they actually just create a whole new set of problems. A set of problems this episode brings right to the forefront of debate.
Aside from that, the whole plot feels quite loose and weird. We’ve got characters with extremely selective memories as to what they’ve retained during the fuck-up with time and it means we can’t really get any kind of emotional character progression or revelations. Why does Amy have to forget Rory again? What does that achieve from any kind of character perspective? All it does is allow the episode to kill about 5-10 minutes trying to push them together again, even though this timeline is going to be aborted by the end of the episode.
The action also has no flow at all. We go from The Doctor explaining past events, to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it action scene, followed by MORE of The Doctor explaining the plot, followed by Amy explaining everything the audience already knows about The Silence. At this point, we’re almost two/thirds of the way into the episode and we haven’t learnt anything new or done anything exciting. When the action finally does kick-off it has very little bearing on anything and simply serves as a stop-gap before our final talking scene to resolve the plot. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy talking scenes, I think they’re what makes this show shine above all others, but these are scenes filled with information that is either irrelevant because it’s an alternate timeline or stuff we already knew from earlier in the series.
Then there’s the resolution and here’s where I really don’t know how to feel. On the one hand, it was very clever, setting up the Teselecta like they did and having it be the perfect get-out-of-jail-free cards for this plotline, however it does cause a bit of confusion. Was The Doctor in the Teselecta all along or was it only the time where he survives? If The Doctor didn’t die, then how did it create a fixed point in time? And if we were to assume for a moment that The Silence’s plan was a success, wouldn’t that erase the OTHER fixed point in time where The Doctor supposedly dies on Trenzalore?
See what I mean? Fixed points in time create so many problems.
You might think from all of my complainings, that it should be lower down on the list but, for some reason, whenever I go back and watch this one, I actually have a decent amount of fun with it. The “all of history happening at once” thing might not make any sense but the shots of steam trains & hot air balloons running through London as Pterodactyls fly about the place is inherently fun. It’s the right kind of silly that I love this show for.
Like I said, I’m very “in the middle” on this one. It’s flawed, for sure, but it has its moments the keep me mildly enjoying it throughout.
6 – The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People
This episode could’ve been something really minor and only ever used to set-up the twist at the end, but thankfully, it turned into something quite good on its own.
The whole concept of the flesh is something that I find really interesting. The idea of creating an exact physical copy of you will always be creepy, even if you’re the one in control of it and if anyone ever pitched the idea in real life, I would almost certainly immediately picture them going rogue like this. That said, given the circumstances of the operation their running, it actually seems like a reasonable solution. It’s too dangerous to send in real people but too expensive to send in machines that will likely get damaged and replaced, so the flesh is a cheap and efficient alternative. But at the same time, of course, they were going to become sentient and try to replace you, you idiots.
The secondary cast are a large part of what makes this episode as good as it is. They really benefited here from having two-parts to work with as we got a really good idea of all of these people’s backgrounds along with their personalities. It makes things all the tenser when people inevitably start dying and we understand the personal stakes of everyone involved.
Speaking of tense, just about every confrontation between a person and a ganger has that in spades. I love the several sequences all the way through part-two where the two factions keep almost coming together as various people keep switching sides. Amy and Rory both get really nice rolls in this too, with Rory being extremely sympathetic towards the gangers, while Amy just can’t quite seem to comprehend them as real forms of life, especially when the ganger of The Doctor comes into play. This creates an interesting dynamic that thankfully doesn’t rely on any pointless relationship drama between the couple and gives The Doctor(s) a great role as the person trying to mediate the two sides.
What I’m not the biggest fan of is how it ends up just being a big “run away from the monster” sequence right at the end. I don’t mind that being a factor of the finish – you’ve got to get some action in there somehow – but I would’ve liked a slightly more peaceful ending than all the gangers killing each other (with a “noble sacrifice” to boot) and The Doctor & co being able to leave without having to worry about any of the consequences of the serious debates they took part in.
Also, the twist with The Doctors and their shoes was a good one, even if I saw it coming a mile off.
5 – The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon
From the end of the arc, we now look at the beginning.
This episode is pretty much entirely set-up for the various elements of the series’ arc and, for my money, it did a great job of it. Starting off the episode with watching The Doctor being murdered was quite the shocker and a really good way to kick things into gear in a big way immediately. Subverting that reveal by giving us an earlier version of The Doctor to run with for the whole season made that even better, immediately throwing so many questions into the air.
The plot that follows is great fun. The secondary cast really shines here, with Canton Everette Delaware III being an absolute stand-out in terms of one-off characters. He takes all of the best traits from your stereotypical 1960’s American and portrays this sassy, no-nonsense man that bounces really well off of the entire main cast. Nixon is also a joy to watch whenever he’s on-screen, even though most of the jokes are at his expense, the way he plays this down-to-Earth character that would rather just not have to deal with all this shit is weirdly endearing. I’d make a joke about Nixon as a president, but I’m not American and thus know very little about him other than that thing with Watergate.
As an introduction to The Silence, this does a great job of clearly establishing what they can do and making them seem like a rather formidable foe…aside from the bit where The Doctor and River just shoot a bunch of them, that was really weird. Speaking of River, I would’ve liked her to be a bit more involved in the development of the mystery since she knew exactly who the girl in the space-suit was the whole time. Looking back on it already knowing everything about River, she really does just seem clueless about the whole thing, I think it would’ve been great if she was subtly manipulating the mystery a bit more and pushing The Doctor towards the answers which she already knew.
One of the best things about the episode is the resolution. Them tricking The Silence into wiping themselves out was a very clever way to resolve things and follows the ethos that The Doctor needs to do more often, which is using his enemy’s greatest strengths against them. It was something we saw a lot of in the Davies’ era but it’s been a bit lost since then, with this being the glaring exception to that rule.
I’d honestly expected to have a bit more negative to say on this one, but looking back on it, I think it’s a really fun series opener that hits all the right notes and sets up a good mystery for the rest of the series. Ticks all of my boxes for sure.
4 – The Doctor’s Wife
This is an episode that my first instinct is always to cringe at it purely because of the title, but then I watch it and remember it’s nowhere near as bad as it first sounds, in fact, it’s a hell of a lot better than I could’ve hoped for.
The whole concept in this episode of the TARDIS becoming a human is…well, it’s not a great one. I like the idea of the TARDIS as this entity with its own consciousness and stuff, but to quite literally personify that consciousness seems like it was a bit much to me and I’d rather they hadn’t done it. That said, the writing and performance for the human TARDIS in this episode is surprisingly well done and although I’m not sure it’s how I would’ve liked it to be done, I still had a lot of fun with it.
It’s extremely well performed, for one thing, Suranne Jones who played Idris did a wonderful job of capturing a lot of the modern Doctor’s personalities in her performance, I really got the feeling that this was a being that had been with The Doctor for the entirety of their travels. I quite like how in awe The Doctor is at the whole situation too, the way he can’t seem to wipe the smile off his face when talking about her, even in the face of an undefined entity that’s trying to kill them. Speaking of which, the voicework by Michael Sheen who plays House is so wonderfully menacing, he feels like a being of pure malevolence and it almost gives me chills at certain points.
I wish The Doctor was a bit more active throughout the first two acts of the episode, but he really comes into his own at the finale. He’s able to bring this great confrontational energy to the whole thing and knows that the only way he’s going to beat House is by outsmarting him. My only nitpick about this is The Doctor’s line “fear me, I’ve killed them all” in reference to him wiping out the Time Lords, it’s very out of place compared to every other time The Doctor has ever brought up the Time War. It was a very effective line for the trailers though, so I can’t criticise it too much.
This is an episode that always pleasantly surprises me with how good it is when I watch it back. I never go in expecting very much and always come out the other side having enjoyed the experience immensely.
3 – A Good Man Goes To War
It’s just so much fun. There’s honestly very little else to it.
The longer the modern series goes on, the less often The Doctor gets to look like an out-and-out hero. It’s always weighed down with this darkness to it and often I think it dampens what should be some very triumphant moments. This episode stands as one of the exceptions to that point because, although it does take a bit of a turn at the end, for the most part, The Doctor looks like the hero we know he is all the way through this episode.
I think the pacing in this one is very well written. The way the first ten minutes or so before The Doctor shows up is built up very slowly, giving us an idea of exactly who this organisation are and even a look into some of the people behind it. While I’m generally not a fan of the narrative that The Doctor is this transcendent entity known throughout the entire universe (because let’s face it, in the grand scheme of the universe, 2000 years old is barely a blip) I buy that there’d be certain groups of people dedicated to doing everything in their power to track him down.
Then, once The Doctor does show up, things start moving a mile-a-minute and all I can do is sit back and enjoy the ride as The Doctor calls up just about every favour he’s ever been owed, giving us a fun look at all of the returning monsters & allies that the BBC still have the prosthetics for. The only thing that could’ve made it better is John Barrowman (who was originally planned to be in this episode until scheduling conflicts made it impossible and I’ve never been more upset to hear what could’ve been). It’s pure fanservice but it makes me happy every time I watch it back.
I’m not entirely sure I buy the idea of a child being conceived while the TARDIS is in-flight causes it to become part Time Lord (especially since The Timeless Child went and put a clear bookmark on the origin of the Time Lords) but I certainly think it’s the best explanation anyone could’ve come up with for the story Moffat wanted to tell and my nitpick is admittedly a minor one, so I’ll let it slide.
Then we get to the River Song reveal.
The thing is, while River being revealed as Amy & Rory’s daughter is a cool twist and a good use of time-travel mechanics in fiction, it doesn’t actually make much of a difference to any of the character’s stories as a whole. It doesn’t change the relationship between River and The Doctor at all, nor does it even seem to matter very much to Amy & Rory in the long-run. In terms of affecting the plot on any major scale, all it really means is that we don’t have to waste any time for the rest of the season trying to hunt down a baby. Overall, I felt that it’s a satisfying conclusion to that mystery, I just wish it had a bit more of a knock-on effect past this episode.
Outside of that, this episode is an absolute blast and I’ll never get bored of it.
2 – Night Terrors
I know, I was surprised too.
For every ranking so far, I’ve gone into it having a pretty solid idea of what the top 3 is going to look like and the so far the rewatches have brought no surprises on that front. So when I got around to Night Terrors I was expecting it to land somewhere in the middle purely because I don’t remember very much about it. Then I watched it and discovered that it’s a well-paced, tense and exciting ride through a plot that is way more compelling than it originally sounds.
At its heart, this is a story about a child learning to cope with their fears and trauma, alongside a father learning to understand his son and find the right ways to care for him. Only the child in question is an alien with undefined abilities to trap people in a wardrobe and turn them into creepy dolls. Storytelling 101, if you ask me.
This whole episode has total control over levels of tension at any given moment. The scenes where The Doctor is sitting there and calmly talking to George should be relatively easygoing, it’s just The Doctor trying to comfort a scared child and yet there’s this raw atmosphere to every scene on the estate that makes the whole thing feel absolutely terrifying, even when there’s nothing, in particular, going on. I love the slow pace of every scene The Doctor has in this episode while on the estate, as he tries to navigate George’s fears along with Alex’s insecurities about his ability to be a father and to understand his child. It’s got that same feel as Midnight, where everyone involved is trying to reach the same goal, but the methods through which The Doctor wants to go about this causes tension between the other people around the room; and while I wouldn’t say it’s anywhere near the stratospheric quality of Midnight, it certainly does a good job of capturing those same feelings.
It doesn’t just rely on those slow-paced talking bits though as scattered throughout the whole thing are the scenes in the dollhouse, where Amy and Rory slowly discover what’s happened to them and learn more and more about the amount of danger they’re in. Where the pace in the state scenes stays pretty constant throughout, the dollhouse scenes are a gradual acceleration as more and more of the mystery is uncovered and Amy & Rory slowly fall into a more and more desperate situation, climaxing in Amy being caught and converted by the dolls. Obviously, there was no long-term tension in that as there we all knew Amy would be fine by the end of the episode, but in the moment it was very surprising and led to this air of uncertainly surrounding how this is all going to resolve itself.
I can understand how some would view the resolution and ending as a bit cheesy, but I think it was well-earned through the episode. Things were slowly built up between Alex and George through their scenes with The Doctor and I felt I properly understood the perspectives and emotions of both characters. The over-the-top factor was all somewhat the point, as George’s whole fear was that his mum and dad were going to get rid of him, so having him see his father burst through a terrifying danger in order to save him is exactly the kind of thing that would establish that child’s trust in their parents and fix everything.
Maybe I’m ranking it highly because I went into it not expecting much, but I stand by this placement as I found myself loving every second of this one.
1 – A Christmas Carol
During his time as head-writer of Doctor Who, Steven Moffat did three Christmas specials, two of which were loose parodies of existing stories. One was very good, one was terrible. This is the good one. In fact, it’s so good that I’m not even going to spend time bitching about the fact that it completely breaks the rules of how time travel in Doctor Who works.
I like how up-front with it’s premise this episode is. Outside of the title being the exact same as the story they’re parodying, it gets right in and lays out all the information we need to understand every character’s motivation in the story. Amy & Rory are in a ship that’s going to crash because of an electro-storm, The Doctor is trying to stop the storm, but the only person who can is a selfish arsehole; and with all that out of the way, all the episode has to do is tell Kazran’s story in the most compelling way possible.
The way the tale plays out is surprisingly similar to how we saw young Amelia Pond’s story play out in The Eleventh Hour, except this time, The Doctor keeps coming back and we get see Kazran develop throughout his whole young life. While this is a compelling enough story on its own, it gets a whole new layer of genius when we see this story being told through the eyes of old Kazran as he develops brand new memories based on the adventures he has with The Doctor.
Through the use of young Kazran, we get to see exactly how he became the person he does in the present and despite being a total arsehole, he becomes a sympathetic character that we just want to see change for the better. I know Moffat can’t be given all the credit for this as this is an almost identical character progression to Scrouge in Dickens’ original version, but it feels like it’s told from a completely new perspective here.
My favourite moment is the kicker right near the end, the thing that finally makes Kazran change. It wasn’t his adventures with The Doctor, it wasn’t the people he was sentencing to death pleading him, it wasn’t even the love he felt for Abigail; it was his younger self watching the man he had become and realising who he really was. A pretty consistent theme throughout all of modern Doctor Who is how children see the world through different eyes than the rest of us and it took Kazran seeing himself through a child’s eyes to finally make him realize who he was.
Although the ending feels a little bit rushed and the fact that the isomorphic controls suddenly didn’t work for Kazran makes no sense whatsoever, it served the purpose of bringing Abigail into the finale and giving us an ending that is a little bittersweet, but ultimately still leaves me feeling nice and cosy inside. Which is exactly what a Christmas episode should be doing.
And that’s it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this and please let me know what you thought of this season, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here next Friday, where my coverage of Wrestlemania 36 begins!