Doctor Who: Series 6 SoundtrackBookmark and Share

Monday, 19 December 2011 - Written by Stephen Willis
Written by Stephen Willis

Doctor Who: Series 6 Soundtrack
Written by Murray Gold
Silva Screen
UK release: 19 December 2011
One of the results of 2011’s split-season of Doctor Who was that there were double the number of “event” episodes – that is, season-openers and season finales. Murray Gold draws attention to this in his liner notes: “There were four musically challenging stories (first and last episodes always need a certain amount of extra impact).” I for one am very glad that Murray rose to this challenge wholeheartedly, because it has led to an outstanding album packed with a broad range of moods and genres (yet still following a single story arc), and one that will be a favourite of mine for a long time.

Disc One kicks off in funky nonchalance with some familiar chords performed by Murray himself on electric guitar. A casual but charged percussive riff joins in, before the whole orchestra explodes into a thrillingly revamped version of the Eleventh Doctor’s theme – “I Am The Doctor In Utah”. With track two, “1969”, we find ourselves in tense, mysterious “high noon” territory. The solo trumpet and the cloudy guitar dissolve into a magical, pained vocal as the Doctor begins to regenerate.

Another standout track is “Help Is On Its Way”. The musical tone of these first two episodes is very consistent, and here the guitar returns with a swinging riff, while violas and violins drive forward with that familiar semiquaver figure that dates back to Series Three and “All The Strange Strange Creatures”. Somehow swanky, somehow sleazy, the brass instruments slide and swing their way in, as we are introduced to Canton (the younger). The rest of the track is a subdued but forceful string and synth underscore, building to several peaks.

One of my very favourites, “I See You Silence” is the music from when River is cornered at the top of the skyscraper. The repetitive, taunting guitar motif at the start of the track perfectly echoes Canton’s sing-song call of “Doctor Song!” The track is a fuller mix than the version used in the episode, and features a funky, guitar-augmented version of the forthcoming “Majestic Tale”.

The Curse of the Black Spot’s offering is excellent; an ominous start, some swashbuckling action and an enchantingly sweet but deadly vocal performance as the Siren by Halia Meguid. Add to that some vigorous fiddling by Eos Chater, and you’ve got yourself the perfect score to a pirate romp.

The Doctor’s Wife also has a good selection of tracks, which work perfectly in the episode, which is perhaps surprising given the recording circumstances explained in Murray’s notes. I love the magical, lilting waltz of “My TARDIS”, but I was slightly disappointed that it was cut short, without venturing into the guttural cello and drum-machine vamp from Amy and Rory’s chase through the TARDIS corridors. I can’t complain though – there is enough terrific material packed into this album to more than make up for it!

That said, there is a lot of material from The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People – perhaps too much. The tracks from these episodes are all quite similar-sounding, and not especially memorable. That’s on first listen though – given time, I have a suspicion I will grow to love these tracks just as much as the others. The last track from this story, “Loving Isn’t Knowing”, is a suite containing some really great music: the vulnerable love theme with tearful violin; the gorgeously simplistic yet soaringly lyrical return to “Amy’s Theme”; the shocking and heart-wrenching music from the realisation that Amy is a Ganger; and the terrifying Madam Kovarian music as the real Amy wakes up on Demons’ Run.

The music from the mid-series finale, A Good Man Goes To War, is wonderful. It’s hard to believe that this is not the full orchestra and just a “good sized band”. “River’s Waltz” is gentle and sentimental, played on a detuned piano, here with more instruments accompanying it. At the end of this episode, when River reveals her identity to the Doctor, we aren’t told or shown immediately what the revelation is. However, from Murray’s music, we know it’s not a bad thing. As realisation dawns on the Doctor, gentle piano and cello melodies blossom into a beautiful, flowing tune, deepening in grandeur with horns until, as the Doctor inexplicably disappears in the TARDIS, out comes a majestic and moving reprise of the “I Am The Doctor” motif. The final track on this disc, “Melody Pond”, begins with a vocal version of River’s theme as heard in The Impossible Astronaut. The second half of the track is the theme that has accompanied River throughout the series; an emotional vocal with a repeating string pattern, ending with a soaring development and orchestral flourish.

Disc Two begins with tracks from Let’s Kill Hitler. “Growing Up Fast” is brilliantly nostalgic and frivolous, painting the perfect picture of the childhood of Amy, Rory and Mels. With its bouncing acoustic guitars, jumpy percussion and nursery-rhyme melody, it almost sounds as if it could be a theme tune from children’s TV.

The Blush Of Love” is rich and gorgeous. It sounds like a film score – the attention to detail is remarkable (I suspect credit is due here largely to Ben Foster’s orchestration). I particularly like the way the melody passes between the oboe, flute and violin.

Terror of the Reich” begins with a bombastic Nazi march. The second half of the track is excellent – a little bit Bond. The bopping drum machine and quirky woodwind perfectly capture the twee-ness of a robot operated by lots of miniature people!

Mark Gatiss’ Night Terrors was the first time we heard the “Tick Tock” theme, presented mainly instrumentally in this episode. There’s something very scary about simple child-like music, particularly as it gradually, barely-perceptibly, gets faster throughout the track, as if it’s liable to go out of control.

The sound-world of The Girl Who Waited was one of slightly out-of-tune electronic sounds, as exemplified in the first track, “Apalapucia”. This was perfect for the strange, clinical setting and the slipping of time-streams. “Amy’s Theme” returns in “36 Years”, in a reflective acoustic guitar version. I can’t hear this track without remembering the glum-looking Rory skipping along to it!

If you thought the sounds of The Girl Who Waited were weird, they’re nothing compared to The God Complex. Murray says in his notes that they decided to go for an electronic score to “emphasise the crooked angles and giddy mixture of merriment and terror portrayed in the episode”. This definitely worked. The result is disorienting, very scary, slightly ironic and just fantastic. That said, I don’t think the Doctor Who Fan Orchestra will be attempting it any time soon!

Gareth Roberts’ Closing Time was a superb follow-up to 2010’s The Lodger. Motifs from the earlier episode returned, such as “You Must Like It Here”, which shows up in “Stormageddon, Dark Lord Of All”, and “Thank You Craig”, which is echoed in “Fragrance”. The sound of Closing Time is much more filmic, and somehow weightier; it really feels as if we are revisiting the world of The Lodger but with a fresh approach, and, of course, the shadow of the Doctor’s oncoming death looming over.

The final episode of the season, The Wedding of River Song, opened with a bang. A montage showing “all of time” happening at once was accompanied by an epic rock track, “5:02 PM”, featuring a loud choir, electric guitars and saxes. In “Forgiven”, the theme from “Melody Pond” (also foreshadowed in Series Five’s “A River Of Tears”) comes to a breathtaking resolution, breaking into a reprise with similar orchestration to “The Sad Man With A Box”. “Time Is Moving” is a funky, jazzy riff on the Eleventh Doctor’s theme, with locomotive-style percussion (appropriate to its usage in the “train-office” scene near the beginning of the episode). The episode’s namesake track is a final reflection on River’s theme, building to darkly emotional horns and gentle flutes and glockenspiel. After a rock interlude, we hear a brief nod to Amy’s child theme, on a beautiful solo flute (in fact lifted from “Amy’s Starless Life”).

And yes – the very last track was put in at the special request of the many Twitter users who asked for it. Murray is quite right – it’s a fitting end to the album, and encapsulates all we love about the Eleventh Doctor and his adventures.

The overall tone of this album is much subtler than any of the previous Doctor Who soundtrack releases. It covers a wide spectrum, but it definitely feels consistent. The music of Doctor Who has been becoming more and more filmic since 2005, and this album is the absolute pinnacle on that front. I look forward hugely to hearing what Murray Gold comes up with for the next series!

Stephen Willis is the creator of The Doctor Who Fan Orchestra. You can read his review of the Series 5 soundtrack here.





Doctor Who: The Brilliant Book 2012Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 13 October 2011 - Reviewed by Matt Hills

Doctor Who - The Brilliant Book 2012
Edited by Clayton Hickman
BBC Books
It might be brilliant, but is it canon? This year's Brilliant Book (or next year's, depending on how you look at it) follows on from its predecessor by including a number of features expanding series six's stories as seen on screen. Tom MacRae writes about different colours of Handbot (topaz, avocado, or classic white); Mark Gatiss pens diary entries from young George (revealing the doll's house in his cupboard belonged to his mum); and Neil Gaiman unveils eleven things about the Corsair (including how her seventh incarnation allegedly dealt with Daleks on Clarkor Nine). Stephen Thompson elaborates on Henry Avery's adventures, while Matthew Graham's take on Gangers' rights involves a rather unusual birthday party. These features are a lot of fun, although casting an eye over the list of contributors does reveal a few notable absences. Busy writing the 2011 Christmas Special as this book neared its deadline, Steven Moffat doesn't proffer any additional material based around his five episodes, with those writing duties instead falling to the likes of Rupert Laight, David Llewellyn, Jason Arnopp, and James Goss. It's Arnopp who fills in what happened to the Doctor, Amy, Rory and River in the missing three months between The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon, and Goss who fleshes out Madame Vastra's story. Although these are all interesting, witty pieces, it's still a shame that Moffat's distinctive writer's voice is lost from the “extras” elaborating on his stories. Toby Whithouse is likewise absent from story extensions of his ep, though he does reveal that the Doctor's "god complex", discussed in Rita's dialogue, wasn't originally planned as a thematic development of the episode title (p.129).

The biggest absence, though, is that there are no teasers/spoilers included, unlike last year's infamous Dream Lord featurette. Presumably the fact that series seven's filming is later than usual has meant that scripts are not sufficiently locked-down to allow for such things. Or perhaps the production team doesn't want to license fans' spoiler speculation this year? Whatever the reason, this gap is a real pity: last year's mixture of real and fake spoilers generated much online debate. Indeed, this Brilliant Book is extremely proud of 2011's spoilers, repeatedly telling readers that it featured the first appearance of “the only water in the forest is the river”. This is mentioned in the section for The Doctor's Wife (p.59), and referred to again in relation to A Good Man Goes To War (p.86). Wouldn't one mention have been enough? (Or does this count as editorial lobbying for the return of a teaser/spoiler feature next time?). We also learn that one of the Dream Lord's teasers actually inspired The Wedding of River Song, with “502 but never 503” being a fake spoiler from Gareth Roberts... until Steven Moffat read it, liked it, and worked it into his ep 13 script (see p.148). That's genuine dedication for you: a showrunner who deliberately deconstructs the line between true and false spoilers in an official tie-in publication.

Each story from The Christmas Carol to The Wedding of River Song is covered here via a number of regular features. Lee Johnson's full-page illustrations are simply stunning, with the contrast between his Rebel Flesh and Almost People pages being especially striking, whilst his compositions for The Doctor's Wife and The Wedding of River Song are also stand-out artworks. Through no fault of his own, though, David Bailey's story synopses feel like fourteen pages of filler. They are always elegantly written, but are nevertheless slightly coy about revealing episode endings – will anyone reading this book not have seen the relevant TV episodes? – and they don't really “add value” in the way that most other contents do. The “Where Have I Seen?” sidebars about guest stars also won't be of much worth to dedicated fans. And the feature has to be valiantly stretched to cover The Girl Who Waited, where we 'learn' about guest star Karen Gillan. Perhaps dropping this for one story would have been reasonable, but editor Clayton Hickman opts for consistency and (comedic) completism over common sense. That's genuine fandom for you: an editor who deliberately deconstructs the line between regulars and guest stars in an official tie-in publication.

A few features are written from the Doctor's perspective, including a hilarious job application to Sanderson & Grainger penned by Roberts and Hickman. This plays with next year's story possibilities by stressing that the Doctor is now officially and historically “dead”, meaning that his presence (in this very title) shouldn't be publicised. And another highlight is Mark Gatiss's return to writing for Simon Callow's Charles Dickens, as we discover how Dickens makes use of Twitter when time freezes at 5:02pm. These, along with Gaiman's "Planet of the Rain Gods" comic strip, are fixed points of greatness in this fine tome.

There's also a smattering of behind-the-scenes material, much of which focuses on monster-making or on interviewing the series regulars. The non-fiction side of things sometimes feels like a mash-up of Doctor Who Magazine and Doctor Who Confidential. Perhaps if the latter isn't restored to BBC Three then its brand could be continued in hardback annual form? But a wider mix of non-fiction material would also be welcome; Jason Arnopp's interview with director Toby Haynes strikes an unusual note by diverging from writer/actor/Neill Gorton quotes. There's very little Executive Producer presence here, for instance: couldn't the Brilliant Book have tracked down Beth Willis or Piers Wenger for a 'Brilliant Look Back at their Brilliant Memories of the Show'? Instead, silence falls somewhat when the question of exec-production is asked.

And given that I've already seen this title mercilessly strip-mined for news “exclusives” on the Interweb, here's one of my favourite Moffat soundbites (p.149):
Brilliant Book 2012: And finally: Doctor who? Care to give us any clues?
Steven Moffat: No. [The interview sidebar ends].
You can almost imagine the Digital Spy headline now: “Showrunner Says No Clue on Who”. In fact, Digital Spy is itself gently lampooned across the pages following Moffat's terse negative, where James Goss entertains by creating some Ceefax-style “Analogue Spy” stories. This feature, in particular, blends great design with sparkling content, but it should be said that one of the consistent strengths of the Brilliant Book 2012 – as last year – lies in its beautiful design, layout, and illustrations.

Although the range of non-fiction doesn't quite satisfy, and in an ideal world it'd be good to have all the TV writers contributing new fiction (as well as a proper section of series seven spoilers), this volume remains a highlight of the Doctor Who publishing calendar, despite only being in its second year. Whether or not its fiction is strictly canonical, The Brilliant Book 2012 is often informative, sometimes educational, and always entertaining.

Purchase from our Amazon store.




Doctor Who: The Wedding of River Song (Review 2)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 2 October 2011 - Reviewed by Matt Hills

Doctor Who: Series Six - The Wedding of River Song
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Jeremy Webb
Broadcast on BBC One - 1 October 2011
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the UK broadcast of the episode.

Including series six's punctuation this is the third finale from Steven Moffat, and strong patterns can be seen to emerge. Firstly, the showrunner revels in misdirection – setting up loyal, fan audiences to interpret details in a particular way, e.g. expecting that the Doctor will tell River his name as part of a Time Lord wedding ceremony, only to find we've been well and truly hoodwinked. Advance rumours and spoilers also indicated that the Daleks would turn up, and they do. Sort of. But rather than the ultimate evil (or even the ultimate wedding party gatecrasher), this Dalek is just a stepping stone to information about the Silence, again misdirecting audiences. Dorium Maldovar's involvement offers yet more sleight of hand; how on earth can a previously beheaded character return? Easily enough, of course, if it's accepted that talking heads can make for fun rather than dull TV.

An undoubted master in misdirection, Moffat also delights in opposing audience expectations. Having set up crucial puzzles and questions he immediately undercuts them. Last year we were all wondering how the Doctor could escape from the perfect prison, only to find he'd managed it before the episode 13 title sequence rolled. This year, we're primed to expect mysteries over how the Doctor can avoid a fixed point in time... and what we get instead looks like the opposite; a tale in which that very fixed point has to be safely restored.

Some fan knowledge is rewarded rather than opposed, though; it's hard not to view all the eyepatches as part of a Nicholas Courtney tribute, with one of Doctor Who's most infamous behind-the-scenes anecdotes finally getting in front of the camera. Such a feeling is reinforced by the Doctor's forlorn phone call to the Brig; even time travellers are sometimes too late. Moffat allows his fandom to shine through, creating a moment of media-pro fan fiction. This is a brand of fan fiction aimed at professionally commemorating the programme's long history, its own fixed points of reference, and its own markers of painful loss. In an episode where time is frozen, its real world passing is most certainly not forgotten.

The ultimate enemy here isn't the Doctor's death, though, or even the Brigadier's heartbreaking absence; it's the end of storytelling itself. Cheating a fixed point means all of time happening at once, stuck in the same day and time, over and over. It's a world which sustains surreal special effects and wonderful juxtapositions, making for some eyecatching, unusual TV drama. But it's also a world in which no more stories can be lived out: cause and effect, sequences of events – what we usually call plots and narratives – no longer seem possible. In part, this is a story-arc finale threatening a finale to all storytelling.

Only the Soothsayer can bring back the pleasures of a tale properly told. Fittingly enough, given that this is the culmination of an arc, The Wedding of River Song is fixated on acts of storytelling and stories. While the Doctor battles against history's cancellation, Steven Moffat plays games with the audience by exploiting our desire to find out all the answers: the Doctor begins to tell Emperor Winston Churchill his tale, while Dorium also promises an account of great import. These yarn-spinners, and their insistent delays and deferrals, deliberately tease the audience. And the false ending before River visits Amy does more of the same, playing a further game with our desire to find out what really happened.

Despite its focus on acts of storytelling, I'd argue that The Wedding of River Song isn't really that interested in answers. It gives some, sure, but almost resentfully, and because it has to. The Teselecta's use is somewhat anticlimactic, if not eminently guessable as soon as it appears. It's not really the point – the point is how we get there, and what new questions can be posed, because as a showrunner Steven Moffat seems far more interested in the transformation of Doctor Who's possibilities. Series five's finale combined the Doctor's opponents in a monster mash; series six part one concluded by combining characters and races in the Doctor's army, and now six part two combines all of Earth's history. Or rather, Earth history largely as depicted in the Moffat era. It's Victory of the Daleks meets Cold Blood meets The Impossible Astronaut; a demented mash-up of episodes previously overseen by this production team, with just a (Dickensian) dash of the old regime. Each of Moffat's finales has sought to mix up and transform usual ways of thinking about Doctor Who – what if all the monsters decided to team up? What if the Doctor brought together a team of fighters? And this time, what if different episodes teamed up? Like a fan remixing Who, Moffat performs transformative work on the show, but by doing so, he transforms his own prior labours as showrunner. This is Doctor Who as a full-on game of self-referencing and self-sampling.

Truth be told, though, The Wedding of River Song is pretty useless as a whodunnit. It's really an anti-whodunnit, a skilled exercise in suspense when we know all along who dies and who the killer is. It's pure storytelling: constant interruptions and colourful incidents that happen to get in the way of an ending for 45 minutes or so. And as with The Big Bang and A Good Man Goes To War, this finale again offers a breakneck blend of misdirection, opposition, fan fiction, and transformation. To coin a playful acronym, these things are a finale's m.o.f.f.a.t. quotient.




Doctor Who: Closing TimeBookmark and Share

Saturday, 24 September 2011 - Reviewed by Matt Hills

Doctor Who: Series Six - Closing Time
Written by Gareth Roberts
Directed by Steve Hughes
Broadcast on BBC One - 24 September 2011
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the UK preview of the episode.

Doctor Who is often celebrated for its infinitely flexible format. And given that fact, it seems churlish to complain when it produces an episode of sci-fi sitcom infused with the language of our age. Emotional journeys, and giving it 110%: Gareth Roberts has got an app for that. Because this is very, very funny Doctor Who, fizzing with wit and containing some great sight gags. The lift that’s obviously a teleport; the changing room Cyberman adding a whole new meaning to ‘cyber-conversion’ - what's not to love?

And yet it should all have been so dark and desperate, witnessing the Doctor’s last days before Lake Silencio. We know his fate is closing in because we’re given the necessary visual cues: those blue envelopes (lucky that Craig and Sophie opted for TARDIS-blue stationery), receipt of a Stetson, and underwater River, ready and waiting. The iconography is brought into place, with everything wrapped up in a neat gift box ready for next week’s finale. I have one nagging question, mind you: how does the Doctor know for sure his time is up? Why can't he disappear off through time and space, deferring his visit to America and its fatal fixed point?

Setting aside this logic puzzle, Craig Owens makes a superb companion. Again. Personally, I suspect we’ll see him for a third time in 2013 if not before, James Corden’s schedule permitting. Sadly, however, Amy and Rory’s involvement is restricted to an in-joke, in-store promotion: Petrichor, 'For the Girl Who’s Tired of Waiting'. The scent of Moffat-Gaiman-MacRae referencing seems present just to ensure that Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill make the end credits, thus preserving last week’s surprise ending. Moffat knows all the tricks: he knows fans will be scouring cast lists, so the inclusion of Amy’s autograph scene feels calculated to defeat spoilerphiles. And although the moment is a massive coincidence, it's played for laughs as a coincidence. At the same time it has emotional clout built out of our affection for the TARDIS family – a story-beat whose bittersweet sentiment very definitely feels genuine rather than shop-bought. Even if coincidence is "what the universe does for fun”, this 'Doctor Who Coincidental' tugs at the heartstrings.

In an episode which switches companions, Roberts craftily plays with the meaning of ‘companion’. Not only does he riff on it as an old-fashioned term for partner in Val's subplot, he further integrates it into the “Time Lord and a man and a baby” storyline thanks to the Doctor’s comparison between his human companions and “sweet”, disarming babies. It’s cleverly done, with a suitably light touch, making the Doctor’s assistants a subject of humorous banter ("you're my baby!") rather than melodrama. Simultaneously, the Doctor becomes an assistant – “here to help” – and although showing him as a servant of capitalism seems more than a little incongruous, the episode promptly undercuts this meaning. Because the Doctor isn’t a shop assistant; he’s a universal assistant. “I was here to help” he tells three child bystanders, and suddenly we hear their adult voices speaking from the future. It’s a dizzying, glorious moment of time travel across human lives and memories. And occasionally Closing Time likewise jolted me back through time: Shona exploring the eerie emptiness of a Henrik’s-a-like store reminded me of Rose, while the silver rat Cybermat transported me back to watching Tomb of the Cybermen on video. Gareth Roberts can’t resist adding another layer of subversion, though, so we get an implicit acknowledgement that certain Doctor Who monsters might be introduced for their merchandising potential. As such, the Cybermat is a monster mistaken for a toy from the word go. The stock room of Sanderson & Grainger may say “there’s no such item”, but I’d put money on it becoming a real-world plaything before too long.

This isn’t simply well-written comedy, it’s a well-written episode, full-stop. We get an ‘A’ story – the Doctor helping Craig to cope with baby Alfie, or Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All as he prefers to be known. Plus we get a ‘B’ story – a subplot (and it is pretty much a subplot) featuring Cybermen who are busy shoplifting department store assistants to build up their forces. Then there’s a neat dovetailing of plots A and B at the crucial moment of resolution, as Craig blows up the Cybermen “with love” for his son. Looked at from a screenwriting perspective, it all works with machine-tooled precision.

Still, I can’t help the feeling – and it’s a feeling strong enough to reboot emotional subsystems – that the Cybermen are defeated far too easily here, even if they are a low-grade outfit cobbled together out of “old spare parts” rather than being the real deal. Cyber-conversion can be reversed by a parent’s love now? Let's face it, these bargain basement Cybermen were never likely to succeed in taking over Colchester, let alone the world. For me, the conclusion slightly cheapens one of Doctor Who’s iconic monsters, as well as being “grossly sentimental and over simplistic”, as the Doctor himself points out. OK, the dialogue is part of yet another gag, but it’s a fairly high-risk one, going for an off-the-shelf emotional ending while illuminating its ersatz sentimentalism. And despite poking fun at the “emotional journey” associated with Britain’s Got Talent – or Torment – it’s the Doctor’s emotional journey, as much as Craig's, that we follow through this episode. The Cybermen may threaten to remove emotion, but Closing Time generates sentiment at the same time as mocking its formulaic manufacture. In a slightly queer, unstable way, it's never quite sure how it feels about feelings. But never mind that, because I've got an appointment I can't miss. A fixed point in time. Yes, next week is The Wedding of River Song.

What did you think of Closing Time? Vote in our poll here.




The Girl Who WaitedBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 21 September 2011 - Reviewed by Matt Hills

>Red or Black? In the hands of the right production team, 'Red or green?' proves to be an infinitely more dramatic question...

As a kindness, the use of two words has been minimised in what follows. I promise that there will be precious few mentions of 'timey' and 'wimey'. Because, of course, this episode covers richly Moffat-esque ground, as time paradoxes and “wubbly” foldings of the then and the now eventually create a dreadful dilemma for Rory Williams. However, writer Tom MacRae finds his own way to grasp the showrunner's favoured themes, and as a result this rendering of Amy Pond feels more emotionally real than perhaps ever before in her time on the show. Karen Gillan is a fine actress, but Amy-as-written has sometimes seemed like a collection of tics, betrayed by tendencies to go for the funny line or the plot arc rather than character consistency and depth psychology. As a result, it's not always been easy to relate to Amy as if she's a flesh-and-blood, real person (notwithstanding the fact that she hasn't always been a flesh-and-blood, real person in series six). Poor Amelia spent her childhood waiting for the Doctor, challenging everybody around her and holding on to the reality of her raggedy man, but we've rarely seen the psychological results of that struggle in the show. Not really.

But, oh, The Girl Who Waited makes good on the promise of Moffat's set-up for Amy Pond. This time we finally get a sense of how waiting for the Doctor might corrode a person's spirit, with Older Amy having become embittered, hard and unfeeling, donning an emotional carapace as well as a cobbled-together, protective costume. MacRae doesn't pull any punches, and his script is all the more intense and dramatically satisfying as a result, whether it's Future Amy confessing her hatred for the Doctor, seeming not to care if Rory gets himself killed, or mocking the Time Lord's “voice of God”.

Ostensibly a Doctor-lite episode thanks to virulent Chen7, MacRae gets around this in a series of ways. Not just via Rory-cam, but also by transforming Future Amy into a version of the Doctor – she's not quite emotionally wired up, she's in possession of her own lashed-up sonic screwdriver, and she's well up to speed on her environment, having cleverly figured out ways of fooling the Handbots. But Rory is also forced to become Doctor-ish: “You're turning me into you”, he realises too late as the Doctor compels him to choose between his wives. Narrative actions we'd expect the Doctor to perform are thus neatly handed over, in differing ways, to Old Amy and Rory – the Companions Who Can.

This episode is also notably guest-star-lite, which presumably pleased those in charge of the show's purse strings. Amy-heavy instead, it gives Gillan a chance to explore her character's darker side, as well as further fleshing out Amy and Rory's love. There's more 'emotional realism' on show here than has been evident for quite some time in the worlds of Doctor Who; compare this episode's character psychology to River Song's in Let's Kill Hitler, for example. Where River's change of heart – from psychopathic assassin to repentant love in 32 or so minutes – never quite felt convincing, this story rarely puts a foot (or a hand) wrong in its explorations of self-sacrifice, love and hate. Plot mechanics have sometimes all-too-visibly driven character emotions elsewhere, but here characters' feelings are seamlessly integrated into events. Good work, Tom MacRae. Despite promoting a piece of Moffat's previous dialogue into the episode title, this has the feeling of a script that Russell T. Davies would have been more than happy commissioning. It even has monsters with a catchphrase, hooray!

But if MacRae plays a blinder, then so too do the likes of Michael Pickwoad and Nick Hurran, handily reunited as a designer-director pairing after their work on the AMC/ITV remake of The Prisoner. Pickwoad transforms what could have been prosaic sci-fi – all labels and buttons for 'Arrivals' or 'Departures' – into a stark, blank minimalism intensifying the horror of Amy's life spent among such nothingness. (Again, this probably pleased those in charge of budgeting). It's a pity, however, that tension between production design and story logic makes Amy seem rather daft in the pre-credits sequence. From a design point of view, Green Anchor and Red Waterfall needed to be clearly distinct so that the audience would quickly pick up what's going on. But from a story perspective, for Amy to pick one of the two buttons haphazardly really calls for them to be fairly indistinguishable so as to sell this moment, and her mistake. Design triumphs over plot, however, making Amy's choice to press red to get into a room – without so much as querying which of the buttons she ought to select – look more than a touch implausible. This is a rare mishandling, though, as Hurran otherwise makes a series of great choices. Old Amy's final attack on the Handbots, all sparking slo-mo, is itself pretty stunning, but even that's immediately topped by the directorial and editing decision to mix together shots of Future Amy (far left of frame) and Rory (far right). In an episode where two timestreams interact, and where two Amys have been paradoxically brought together, this climactic sequence almost heartbreakingly brings together two different spaces on-screen. Inside and outside the TARDIS are almost made to touch; two impossible spaces folded together at the end of a tale of two temporalities. It's a thematically spot-on choice, and it allows both Gillan and Darvill to shine.

Hurrah for Hurran; bring him back soon, please. Oh, right, he's directing next week's ep. I'm strongly tempted to view this as a budget-saver episode, promoted from over-commission on grounds of fiscal prudence. But whether or not it's Discount Who, it is nonetheless a TV drama treat, as affecting as it is well-designed, sensitively directed, and sharply acted. Beyond 'timey' and 'wimey' gimmicks, hand-on-heart, this is totally and wonderfully Doctor Who.





Doctor Who: The God ComplexBookmark and Share

Saturday, 17 September 2011 - Reviewed by Matt Hills


Doctor Who: Series Six - The God Complex
Written by Toby Whithouse
Directed by Nick Hurran
Broadcast on BBC1 - 17th September 2011
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the UK preview of the episode.

In an era of the show when so much leaks out ahead of broadcast, whether in spoiler tags or the Radio Times, it’s genuinely rare for a major, series-changing event to wallop you between the eyes. But that’s what The God Complex achieves, craftily tucked away in the episode eleven slot. Good old number eleven, it had to be this Doctor’s Room of Fear, of course. But for the eleventh episode in a run of thirteen to write out two lead characters? Own up, who saw that one coming? And in a story written by Toby Whithouse too, rather than one of the showrunner's episodes where you might expect such momentous events to fall. Steven Moffat, you sly devil.

As for those final few minutes, well, the moment has been prepared for. Both last week, with the Doctor’s final regretful glance – filled with remorse at what he’d put Amy through – and this week where it’s Amy’s faith in him which generates life-threatening events. “You’re fired”, the Doctor jokes to Pond upon meeting Rita (it’s a big day for fans of The Apprentice). But this is what he eventually does – Amy gets her marching orders, albeit for her own good. “He’s saving us”, she informs Rory. You wouldn’t think being presented with a house and a car could seem so bittersweet; in almost any other show they’d be the trappings of success, the big prize, the markers you’ve made it. Not here. Here they’re the melancholic second choice, the non-Doctor-ish ordinariness that even Rory’s dream car glee and clutched bottle of champagne can’t quite make good on.

But it’s cleverclogs Rita who says the most important thing in the whole story. It’s she who observes of the Doctor: “that’s quite a god complex you have”. Because the eleventh Doctor doesn’t seem to credit Amy with any agency at all – as far as he’s concerned, she never really had a choice to join him on his travels. And likewise she doesn’t get to decide when she leaves – both events are arranged by the Doctor, busy playing God. If her faith in him is reduced, or weakened for a moment, even that’s his doing too. Amy's choice? She seemingly doesn't have one. It’s all about the Doctor-God. After this it’s difficult to see him welcoming another full-time companion aboard the TARDIS in a hurry, although given his alleged middle name Amy and Rory may be back before too long. Perhaps the Moffat masterplan has been partly inspired by Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity (not a sentence I thought I'd be writing this morning).

The meat-and-potatoes of this story are again well handled by director Nick Hurran: the hotel complex is textbook creepy, and near-subliminal images of “Praise him”, whether presented in clean typeface or ransom-note print, boost what is already a highly kinetic piece of direction. Making the story's spooky catchphrase televisual in this way is an unusual approach, especially when it flickers on-screen immediately prior to the title sequence. It's a little ostentatious, but in a story as surreal as this, it fits right in.

The Minotaur creature is also effectively realised on the whole. Despite the episode name-checking a certain Nimon, David Walliams refrains from doing a Soldeed, instead turning in an almost restrained performance as Gibbis even if Joe the gambler compensates by dialling his menacing mania up to eleven. And on the subject of hotel/prison complex victims, Royston Luke Gold looks uncannily like producer Marcus Wilson. Hopefully no members of the production team were made to confront their greatest fears during the making of this episode.

Whithouse’s script is neatly structured, with its fear-to-faith switcheroo subverting that telefantasy staple where a monster feeds on fear and can be defeated by faith. This time, faith is part of the problem rather than the solution. But religion isn't simply the enemy; The God Complex thoughtfully distinguishes itself by offering up a resourceful, engaging Muslim character in the shape of Rita, briefly acknowledging and challenging prejudice via her line “don't be frightened”. And although Rory's lack of religion and superstition mean that he's repeatedly shown the exit, Whithouse adroitly avoids preaching 'secularism-good, religion-bad' by indicating that the “prison in space” has itself been built by an advanced, secular society. What the Doctor's up against isn't just a God Complex; there's also a Glitch Agenda. Technology's gone wrong again, leaving different fears and phobias in situ. This is an overly familiar trope, and if the devil's in the detail then greater variety in story details sometimes wouldn't hurt.

Certain other elements of The God Complex are also excessively familiar. For example, Howie the conspiracy theory blogger-nerd comes across as a lazy, retrograde stereotype that no amount of stylish retrograde zooms can quite make up for. “What’s loser in k-k-k-Klingon?”, one of the girls in Howie’s room taunts him, and you can’t help but feel that it’s a misjudged moment. Even though we're meant to be seeing Howie's fears, the fact that Rory sarcastically dismisses his theories (and that they're written so as to sound loopy) suggests the character should be viewed as a 'sad' fan-blogger-conspiracy nut. After challenging anti-Muslim feeling, it's a pity that prejudice against sections of fandom/Internet culture seems rather unreconstructed. Why not go the whole hog and just provoke your own online fan audience: “what’s loser in m-m-m-ming mong?” (The answer’s ming mong, obviously).

But it’s the ending that’s really provocative – rarely has the Doctor's god complex been so thoroughly exposed. This isn’t one-off Waters of Mars-style hubris; this is saying that all of Amy’s time with the Doctor – from being offered time and space to being offered a terraced house – was decided by him, and controlled by him every step of the way. “I’m not a hero”, he gently tells her while seeking to undermine her faith, but as the TARDIS interior fades to desolate darkness and ‘NEXT TIME’ slams in, you can’t help but wonder. Perhaps he was right. Is he straightforwardly saving Amy, or has she always been an object of His will? Because the more you ponder some of this episode's implications, the more it begins to test your faith in the Doctor himself. In short, The God Complex is satisfyingly complex storytelling.

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