Adventures in Middle Earth

Back in 2012, ptolemaeus and I were studying in Europe over the winter holidays, and were therefore unable to participate in our family tradition of recent years of the four of us and our mother going to the movies on Christmas day. This year, however, we were all back, and there was only ever one possible choice for what movie we would go to: The Desolation of Smaug was in theaters and we were right there.

For this reflection piece, I’m going to follow the format I established with the previous Hobbit film, and the same warnings and disclaimers apply, including that I will thoroughly spoil both the movie and the book (the latter material containing inevitable spoilers for the final film).

Right, that out of the way, let’s see what we thought of the movie.

– We managed to catch this one in 2d, much to my relief, though I’ve heard that Lawrence has said that this is the movie where Jackson learned how to use a 3d camera.

– Movie opens with a flashback to a few months before the quest: a conversation in an inn between Gandalf and Thorin. During this sequence, we learn that in this version, the real goal of the quest is to unite the seven dwarf kingdoms behind the rightful King Under the Mountain. Only to establish said King’s authority, they need the Arkenstone … and to retrieve the Arkenstone from Smaug’s horde, they need a burglar. Clearly, the reason for the quest and Bilbo’s presence on it in the book did not jive with what Peter Jackson was going for with the films, and this alternate reasoning to suit the movie’s storyline is pretty solid.

– Also, bonus points for fitting the Arkenstone into the bigger picture. In film logic, it wouldn’t make sense for Thorin to bring it up spontaneously as he does in the book.

– Also, also, seven dwarf kingdoms, “seven [rings] for the dwarf lords in their halls of stone.” Not sure if that tidbit was Jackson’s invention or Tolkien’s, but its inclusion in the film like this is well judged.

Desolation gives us our first proper introduction to Azog’s son Bolg, the Final Boss of the Battle of Five Armies in the book. Azog himself fades mostly into the background in this film, appearing only as the commander of Sauron’s forces during the necromancer subplot. At this point, I can’t see why Jackson needed a second orc captain in this trilogy—presumably, Azog is destined to fall when the White Council ousts Sauron from Dol Guldur, but I can’t see why we need an orc leader for that sequence.

– One serious deviation (as opposed to expansion) from the book which becomes obvious early on is that Bilbo’s use of the ring is severely toned down. I can only assume this is to play up the ring’s nature as an Artifact of Doom, but it still comes off as incongruous.

– The changes made in this movie are a mixed bag, but one clear success is the way Jackson handles the spiders’ conversation. Having them just be able to use human(oid) speech as they do in the book would again, clash with the tone of the films. So he incorporates Bilbo’s ability to understand the spiders into one of the effects of wearing the ring, which makes sense given what the films have established regarding the ring up to that point.

– Another addition which works really well (despite or perhaps because of the fact that it doesn’t appear to be necessary) and adds a disproportionately large amount of depth is the terrible burns from dragon fire on Thranduil’s face, hidden for all but a brief moment with some sort of illusion.

– The movie blows through the episode with Beorn, the party’s desperate wandering through Mirkwood, the battle with the spiders, and the party’s capture and incarceration by the wood elves pretty quickly. It’s a legitimate move, but it means we miss out on a lot of great scenes involving Beorn and the atmosphere in Mirkwood. The way Tolkien described it in the book, that forest was downright creepy, and even without the spiders and the wood elves, just navigating the damn place was an adventure all to itself, and I would’ve liked to see how that whole sequence could play out on the big screen.

– We get a lot of foreshadowing in this installment, and it’s to Jackson and company’s credit that they are able to find creative ways to set up important plot points for the future, including the Arkenstone, the tendency of the treasure to corrupt its’ owner with greed and Thorin’s susceptibility to corruption, and the vulnerable spot in Smaug’s armor. (While I appreciate giving the origin of the hole in the armor, why did they have to throw in that stuff about “windlance crossbows” and special black arrows which are the only things that can pierce a dragon’s hide? What was wrong with just a really good shot from a normal bow with a lucky arrow?)

– To my everlasting joy, the Seventh Doctor is back as Radagast, Gandalf’s fellow wizard and basically sidekick in this movie. Sure, he contributes nothing to the film other than as foil for Gandalf so that the latter isn’t forced into the undignified position of expositing at the scenery—but he’s still crazy awesome.

– And I love this exchange from when Gandalf is preparing to infiltrate Dol Guldur (paraphrased, obviously):

Gandalf: I sense Saruman.
Radagast: I sense a trap.
Gandalf: Well, duh.
Radagast: Next move?
Gandalf: Spring the trap.

– Gandalf tells Radagast to go back for help, and not under any circumstances to follow after him, in a scene strongly reminiscent of similar conversations the latter had with Ace back in the 80s. We get no signs in this movie that Ace’s behavior has rubbed off on her dear Professor, but I’m hoping the third one will have him busting into the fortress and blasting Gandalf out of the cage he’s stuck in at the end of Desolation—preferably with C4. All right, so that’s probably not going to happen, especially the part about the C4, but hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?

– On the subject of Gandalf and Radagast Investigates, ptolemaeus and KorraWP were wisely sitting away from me in the theater—they don’t like how much I talk during movies—so I know less about what they were up to during the viewing, but I can tell you they were rocking out during the exploration of the tomb of the Nazghul. Another scene which probably could have been summarized in a line of dialogue, but was just too cool to ditch.

– I only heard about this afterward, but apparently, when Sauron first manifests himself to Gandalf, Korra exclaimed: “Surprise, bitch! Bet you thought you’d seen the last of me.” Which is the most appropriate comment on that scene I can think of.

– Also afterward, ptolemaeus revealed that when Sauron is attacking Gandalf with his shadow-tentacles and the latter is defending himself with an expanding and contracting sphere of white light—all she could think of while watching that scene was Dragonball Z.

– Switching back to the main party, in the scene where Tauriel talks to Kili while he’s in the wood elves’ lockup, he says that any non-dwarf who touches his lucky stone will be forever cursed (though implies he might be kidding)—foreshadowing or just relationship development?

– When I first saw the trailer for Desolation, I had Tauriel marked down as a dead elf walking. In the theater, I dubbed that initial scene between her and Kili the beginning of a romance between “the two deadest characters in this film.” But looking back, my biggest reason for writing off Tauriel’s chances for survival in the first place was that the trailer really played up the romantic angle between her and Legolas, and since there’s no mention of Legolas having a redheaded girlfriend in the LotR trilogy, the most obvious explanation is that she died in the meantime.

– Thing is, Tauriel’s story in this movie is not a romance with Legolas; it isn’t even—as some people on the internet have inexplicably suggested—a Love Triangle with Legolas and Kili. There’s a bit of unrequited romantic affection on Legolas’ part which motivates him to help her out even when it means risking his dad’s ire, and massive quantities of fully requited romantic attraction between Tauriel and Kili.

– Yes, the major romantic interest in this trilogy is between a dwarf and an elf. I’m sure Tolkien diehards are up in arms, but seriously guys, grow up already. Tolkien’s material is great, but it’s not sacrosanct, and the Tauriel/Kili romance is incredibly cute. (Indeed, it’s now the thing ptolemaeus cares about most in the trilogy, and about the only thing Korra cares about.) I think the important thing to look at is not how well this subplot jives with Tolkien’s somewhat crotchety sensibilities, but at how it works in this particular retelling—and from that angle, I think it’s clear Jackson and company have done a terrific job.

– Although I do have to wonder: what does he see in her anyway? It’s easy to see what she finds physically appealing in Kili—a.k.a. “the hot dwarf”—but while Tauriel is plenty good looking by elf or human standards, I have to question how desirable she looks from a dwarf perspective. Especially considering we’ve already had a joke about bearded dwarf women a bare ten minutes earlier.

– As for the character of Tauriel herself, she is, in a word, awesome. The amounts of orc and spider ass she kicks in this film have to be seen to be believed, and among the elf characters, she’s the one to express the most sympathy with the dwarfs and the Hobbit, to the point of running off to heal Kili when she realizes he’s been poisoned.

– Okay, so first she saves Kili from one of the spiders. Then she shoots down an orc that was attacking him on the bridge during the Barrel Escape sequence (“That’s two you owe me, kid.”) And finally, she visits him in Lake-town and heals him from the poison on an orc arrow. She saves his life three times over in this movie. Not. Bad.

– She also saves Legolas’ life in easily the greatest shot of the entire film, by shooting an orc arrow out of the air with her own arrow.

– As for Legolas, ptolemaeus pointed out afterward that his role in Desolation is the traditionally female sidekick part to Tauriel’s stereotypically male action hero. All he does in this movie is trail around after her being helpful and basically doing what he’s told. (Okay, so he also pines away for her a little bit, and has a few arguments with his dad, neither of which really undermine my point.) Oh and he’s a prince while she’s a commoner, so there’s that, too.

– Legolas also has the biggest single Idiot Ball moment of the entire movie towards the end. He’s fighting the orc raiding party in Lake-town, spots Bolg twenty yards in front of him, and forgetting he has his bow right there on his back strides forward to engage the boss orc in melee combat.

– I’m not even sure what the point of the fight between Legolas and Bolg was, anyway. If it had any sort of plot or character significance, it was lost on me.

– In terms of Legolas and Tauriel—it would have been so great if, during the Barrel Escape action sequence, they’d played the “comparing our kills” game from The Two Towers. Though, as I believe ptolemaeus pointed, out, that could’ve been tragic if Tauriel does die after all in the final film.

– Speaking of the Barrel Escape, that turned out to be the best action scene of the film, what with the ridiculous levels of stunts the dwarfs pull while traveling down the river, juxtaposed with the elves fighting the orcs along the river bank. Kili’s big scene of pulling the lever to open the gates and allow the dwarfs and Bilbo to escape despite his leg injury was an inspired addition.

– Next we get Lake-town, a very well-realized location. It’s a new kind of setting for Jackson and co., and they do a great job.

– In the book, the Master of Lake-town was a short-sighted and small-minded man, looking out only for his own interest, and needless to say, he and Bard did not see eye-to-eye (to the extent they interacted at all, which was hardly). In the movie, however, the Master has been upgraded to a full-blown plutocrat, plundering the public coffers and practically cackling as he counts his ill-gotten wealth, and fearful that Bard—heir to the ruler of Dale—could become the leader of a popular uprising against his rule.

– Now, in principle, I’m all for exploring class struggle in fictional settings, including Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. But one of the last things I ever would have expected to see in a Hobbit movie is an honest-to-Iluvatar Occupy Wall Street analogy, and it fits into the setting about as well as a hippo in a gymnastics competition.

– Though Jackson, at least—unlike Christopher Nolan—had the grace to make his OWS stand-ins the good guys.

– The Master, incidentally, is played by Stephen Fry in scraggly light brown hair and a cartoonish pair of mustaches—just right for twirling—and a goatee. In that get-up, I must confess that Noria figured out who he was before I did.

– Fry, you may recall, played Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. And the trilogy already has Freeman and Cumberbatch on board—now Jackson just needs to bring in whoever played Moriarty on Elementary for the third film to get the modern Holmes trifecta. Bonus points for working in Hugh Laurie somewhere, too.

– A major piece of dramatic irony during the Lake-town sequence is Thorin’s vow to the people to restore the riches of Dale to them. Insert joke about campaign promises here.

– Amazingly, Bard the Bowman not only bears an uncanny resemblance to Will Turner, but manages to look even more like him than Legolas. (And now I’m imagining Legolas receiving second prize in a Will Turner lookalike competition and going, “Wait, that can’t be right, I never lose.”)

– In my opinion, the inclusion of Tauriel doesn’t quite make up for the gender stereotyped helplessness of Bard’s daughters when the orcs attack, especially when son Bain gets a more proactive (if minor) role in the drama.

– ptolemaues is of the opinion that they should have made Bard and his family black. Given Bard’s characterization, I worried this might end up stereotyping him as an Angry Black Man—to which she sensibly replied that the solution is to cast more characters as black people. Can’t argue with that logic.

– Korra also remarked that she’d really like to see more stories set in a world exactly like Tolkien’s, just more racially diverse.

– I know that in Jackson’s version of Middle-earth, Bard talking to a thrush would feel disconcertingly out of place, so I can see why he changed it to have the family already know about the hole in Smaug’s armor, rather than having a little bird tell him. But still, this revision cuts out Bilbo’s role in identifying the hole to then be communicated to Bard via the thrush, and I think that’s a shame.

– After getting teased for it in the first movie, we finally see Smaug in all his glory for this one. And on the whole, the dragon’s special effects are great, though ptolemaeus thought his face was weird—a bit too humanoid.

– Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice work is also terrific, like a mix between Megatron and the Smaug from the animated Hobbit film.

– As a matter of fact, they managed to make Smaug so compelling that Noria admitted she’s going to be sad when the heroes kill him in the next movie.

– The big climactic chase sequence, with Bilbo and the dwarfs playing tag with Smaug all through the mountain, before driving him off with a buttload of molten lava, is exciting and all, but it takes too bloody long. It doesn’t further the plot or characters or themes at all, it’s just there to be flashy—it succeeds at that, but it’s massively self-indulgent. I was fine with the pacing of the rest of the film—and I’m sure many people weren’t—but that sequence really bogged down.

– As with the rest of the film, the discovery of the secret entrance into the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo’s conversation with Smaug, the dwarves’ role in the Lonely Mountain heist, and the whole chase sequence at the end, have been changed significantly from how they went down in the book. And again, while the changes aren’t actively bad on the whole, I don’t see that most of them were necessary, or made the movie particularly better.

– Speaking of the conversation with Smaug and making significant changes from the text:

Smaug: Well, thief! Where are you?
Bilbo: Hang on; Holmes, is that you? But that’s impossible! You’re dead. I saw you die.
Smaug: Watson? What are you doing stealing my treasure?
Bilbo: Your treasure? Holmes, what’s happened to you? Last I saw you, you were getting blood all over the nice London pavement, and now here you are all 70-feet-long, wearing a load of bright-red scales, sleeping on a great big heap of gold, and breathing fire, I think if anyone has explaining to do around here, it’s you. What happened?
Smaug: It’s a long story.
Bilbo: Oh, try again.
Smaug: And what about you, Watson? What are you doing in my mountain, stealing my treasure, reeking of dwarf and unwashed clothes, and why can’t I see you?
Bilbo: *sigh* It’s a long story …

(Okay, okay, I know I really should let it go, but seriously, I want someone to make a video of the scene between Smaug and Bilbo, with lines dubbed in from Sherlock. Because that would be hilarious. Make it so, internet!)

– In one case, at least, the changes do the film a disservice, by making part of Smaug’s characterization incomprehensible. In the book, he failed to catch Bilbo, and couldn’t find the dwarves, so he blasted at them with fire and then flew off to burn down Lake-town. In the film, right in the middle of chasing Bilbo and the dwarves, he up and decides to attack Lake-town on a whim, because that’ll show them. Then he stops when Thorin arrives and waits politely for the latter to dump a shit-ton of molten gold on him. When that completely fails to stop or slow Smaug, he reverts immediately back to the previous plan, forgoing his chance to take out Bilbo, Thorin, and at least some of the other dwarves while they’re standing right there, practically begging to be incinerated. Tip to filmmakers: your villain is less threatening if he has the approximate attention span of a kitten with a laser pointer.

– Speaking of incomprehensible logic, though, what on Middle-Earth made Thorin think that molten gold would be an effective weapon to use against a frickin’ dragon?

– Closing out the movie with Smaug just on the verge of beginning his attack on Lake-town—most gratuitous cliffhanger ending in the series, and remember how some of the previous movies ended.

– Ed Sheehan’s “I See Fire” played over the credits was a bit of a jolt. In the previous four movies, the songs have all sounded appropriate to the world of Middle-Earth, but “I See Fire” struck me as way too modern, especially towards the end.

– Speaking of music, ptolemaeus pointed out the absence of any songs within the movie itself. After a bit of thought, I concluded this is in keeping with the more serious tone of the film overall. Still, it’s kind of baffling, especially since a rewatch of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy soon afterward reminded me how much singing there actually is, even in the more serious second and third installments.

– When you tot them up, there are an awful lot of calls forward to “Lord of the Rings” in this movie. They include: Gandalf’s “You shall not pass” scene with the Necromancer; Tauriel’s rhetorical question to Legolas, “Are we not part of this world?” as justification for venturing out of Mirkwood to fight the evil that’s abroad; Bard’s injunction (in reference to the black arrow) to “keep it secret, keep it safe”; Bain’s response to Bofur’s urgent request for medicine, “King’s foil? Ah, ’tis a weed”; Kili’s fevered assertion (to Tauriel) that his meeting with her “was just a dream”; and of course, Tauriel shooting the arrow with Legolas’ name on it out of the air, hearkening back to Aragorn batting a thrown dagger out of the air in the climax of Fellowship.

– Even more so than the previous film, in Desolation you can see Jackson and co. hard at work shifting plot elements around to bring it more in line with that of “Lord of the Rings.” The efforts to tie the dragon, the orcs, and the necromancer together into a single overarching threat rather than three disparate foes being one of the most obvious examples.

– To be fair, Tolkien prefigured this behavior by re-writing “Riddles in the Dark” to get the characters of Gollum and the ring more in line with what he envisioned for the sequel trilogy. However, I’m not sure how well these drastic exchanges work overall.

– To give you some idea (though in my mind, a slightly exaggerated one) of how drastic those changes were, virtually the first words out of my mother’s mouth once the credits rolled were to remark that she was hard pressed to find the source material in there at all.

And that was The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. As a film, it’s probably better than its predecessor, in no small part because it has so much more of the book’s plot to get through, and additions such as the Tauriel-Kili romance and bizarre OWS subplot deepen the story rather than primarily being filler. The running battle with Smaug in the Lonely Mountain is blatantly filler, but that still puts this one ahead of Unexpected Journey.

 

Again, though, I am far and away from being in a position to judge either movie fairly on their own merits. I loved both of them to pieces, and I have no doubt I’ll feel anything but the same for the third movie, There and Back Again.*

*Though I do have to question Jackson’s judgment in giving the most exciting title in the trilogy to the middle installment.

To be concluded …

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TV review: Doctor Who the complete series five

I’m back with the long awaited (or, at least, long-delayed) write-up of Doctor Who series five. Note that, coming off of the series four review, I am including the Christmas special “A Christmas Carol” at the end of this series instead of the beginning of the next one. After Russell T. Davies left the show, Wikipedia stopped recording production codes for the Christmas specials, making any identification of them with one or another season somewhat more arbitrary. Also, starting with “A Christmas Carol,” the specials stop feeling less like prologues to the upcoming series than epilogues to the previous one. This became even more pronounced in series six and seven, where the time frame between the end of the previous season finale and the special was substantially decreased, while the time between the special and the following season’s premier was increased.

Anyway, series starred Matt Smith as the Doctor, and Karen Gillan as companion Amy Pond, with Steven Moffat as the show’s new producer and head writer. In short, this series is great, though not universally so.

Episode 1: The Eleventh Hour: In his first adventure, the Eleventh Doctor meets Amelia “Amy” Pond and confronts an invisible piranha-headed snake … From Space!

This episode picks up where “The End of Time” left off, with the Eleventh Doctor—who no longer reminds me of Peter Davison—crash-landing to Earth with the TARDIS cockpit on fire for no adequately explained reason (thus giving Moffat an excuse to redesign the TARDIS’ control room).

He finds himself in the back yard of Amelia Pond, a seven-year-old white Scottish gel with red hair who has just been praying to Santa Claus to send somebody to fix the crack in her bedroom wall. The Doctor invites himself into Amelia’s home and insists she provide him food. There follows an overly drawn-out and excessively unfunny sequence following the formula of the Doctor saying “I’m hungry. I want X. I love X.” [eats X. “Humorous” reaction shot of the Doctor expressing dislike for X.] Fortunately, Amelia has no parents and her aunt is out for the evening, so no danger of waking up any adults with these antics.

The Doctor eventually realizes he needs to stabilize the TARDIS and slips back in, telling Amelia he’ll be back in five minutes. Annoyingly enough, Moffat tries to generate an atmosphere of confusion and suspense when the Doctor returns in broad daylight to find no sign of Amelia, only a nineteen-year-old white redhead in a police uniform. At least Amelia (now “Amy”) clues the Doctor in ten minutes later, instead of putting it off until the climax.

The plot revolves around “Prisoner Zero,” a piranha-headed space snake which deserves some sort of lifetime achievement award for hilariously bad CGI. Prisoner Zero escaped from its prison through the crack in Amy’s wall—really a crack in reality itself—and is fleeing its Atraxi captors, who threaten to destroy the “Earthling residence” (i.e. the planet) if it doesn’t surrender.

With the help of Amy, her friend Rory Williams, and a couple clever tricks, the Doctor delivers Prisoner Zero up to the Atraxi, then tells them to back off and not mess with his planet. As part of this process, he provokes the Atraxi to project pictures of all ten previous Doctors in sequence before breaking through the Tennant hologram (subtle). This inaugurates a theme under Moffat’s tenure of directly referencing actors from the original run, often pictorially.

The Doctor dips back into the TARDIS for another “just one moment” before asking Amy if she’d like to knock about time and space as his companion for a while. Amy agrees, informing him acerbically that this “just one moment” had taken two years. She specifically does not inform him she’s scheduled to get married the following day.

Thus concludes the first episode of Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who. The plot is good—not great, nowhere close to Moffat’s best, but good—and the episode in general is shot through with excellent characterization and comedy (food humor aside).

Amy Pond in particular comes across as a more well-developed and complex character than most of Davies’ creations (*coughRoseTylercough*), and even the minor characters have sparks of originality which make them feel more true-to-life than most of those populating the Davies era. Being from the US, I first thought Moffat had invented kissograms as a kid-friendly version of party strippers for Amy’s profession, but it appears to be legit. Still not sure where Moffat’s going with that, or if there’s anything just a little sketchy about it, but oh well.

The other thing about Moffat’s plots is that they tend to be more sophisticated and complex than Davies’. Many many plots from the Davies era were insultingly straightforward and predictable, and (worse) the writers often tried to string observers along. Aside from one or two instances such as the “reveal” about Amy’s identity, Moffat avoids this trap, and often manages to generate plot twists the observer genuinely does not see coming, or feels clever (rather than patronized) when they spot beforehand.

Episode 2: The Beast Below: The Doctor takes Amy far into the future, where Britain has deteriorated into a brutal police state orbiting Earth.

The setting for this episode references “The Ark in Space,” a story from the old run in which the Earth has been rendered temporarily uninhabitable, forcing humanity to wait this spot of unpleasantness out in orbital space stations, which for some reason they segregated by nationality.

The Doctor starts getting creepy vibes the moment the TARDIS arrives aboard Starship UK, and heads out to investigate, warning Amy not to wander off, which she promptly does. She finds her way to a voting booth, where the computer recognizes her as Britain’s oldest resident by several thousand years. It plays her a short video, after which she’s given the option either to “protest” (if one percent of the population does so, British society will abandon its current program and “face the consequences”) or “forget” (accept the status quo). Amy votes to forget, first giving herself a message to get the Doctor the hell off this ship.

As an aside, may I point out that this set-up neatly encapsulates just about everything wrong with US-style “democracy”? As much as ordinary citizens are involved, it is locked away all by themselves in a little room, cut off from the rest of humanity; their votes only one small voice howling in the wilderness; and their options limited to an unpleasant binary handed down to them from on high (Obama or Romney?). There’s no room for participation, for creativity, for well-informed people to come together as equals and collaborate on alternative solutions which no individual or ministerial cabinet could come up with on its own.</rant>

The Doctor meanwhile has discovered another investigator, Liz 10, who it eventually transpires is none other than Her Majesty Elizabeth X, hereditary monarch of Britain. As Liz 10 is obviously of mixed race (Afro-Caucasian I think) it would seem that in Moffat’s imagined future, the British royal family has no problems interbreeding with peoples of color. Nice touch.

By this time, the monarchy has once again become the primary source of governing authority in Britain (talk about a dystopia). Liz 10 reveals, however, that there are strange things going on aboard Starship UK which even she doesn’t understand. She’s familiar with the Doctor from her family history, and she wants his help to solve the mystery.

But first, the Doctor has to rush off after Amy. He finds her still in the voting booth, takes in the situation at a glance, and immediately hits the “protest” button, dropping them both into a slimy, trash-filled cave far below. The Doctor deduces that the cave is, in fact, a mouth, and gives the owner a spot of indigestion to set himself and Amy free.

They find their way to the ship’s navigation center, soon joined by Liz 10, following her own leads. There, the controller explains the situation: the creature which nearly ate Amy and the Doctor was not attacking—it was captured by the Brits when they ran out of time for building an engine to escape the solar flares. Instead, they forced a passing space whale to tow Starship UK on its back: a process which causes the creature unimaginable pain.

The controller offers Liz 10 two choices: “abdicate” (let the creature go free, and the people of Britain “face the consequences”) or “forget” (accept the status quo). The Doctor instead proposes to give the space whale an electro-lobotomy, which will leave its body alive to fly the ship, but its brain dead, unable to experience the pain. He also tells Amy he’s going to give her the push for trying to protect him from making this decision.

Amy however, has an epiphany involving a thirty-second series of looped flashbacks (though the solution was obvious from the first run-through) and slaps Liz 10’s hand down on the “abdicate” button. The stunned controller reports the navigation system is still working perfectly—in fact, it’s working better than it did before. Amy replies “Of course it is, now you’ve stopped torturing the pilot.”

The space whale had heard the British children screaming in terror at the solar flares and rushed in to save them. Even after being forcibly turned into the UK’s main transportation, it still wouldn’t eat the children sent down its feeding chutes. Amy worked out the truth by thinking about what a very old and very sad creature would do if it was the last of its kind with no other pressing business (gee, that sounds kinda familiar …).

The space whale forgives a few centuries of torture in order to save the children of a species much unlike its own. This is uncomfortably reminiscent of the still-popular idea in Western fiction that the descendants of enslaved and colonized peoples are supposed to sacrifice themselves for the more “normal” (white, Anglo-Saxon, human/humanoid) protagonists. But what the heck, it’s still touching.

With everything now set right, Amy and the Doctor leave Starship UK … just as a strange crack opens on the starship’s side …

Another exceedingly good episode, about on par with the previous one, with a slightly more complex and sophisticated plot. Amy continues to grow as a character, establishing herself as a companion who (like Donna Noble) complements the Doctor’s unique characteristics with her own, demonstrating how they both bring their own distinct skill sets—and neuroses—to the partnership.

Episode 3: Victory of the Daleks: The Doctor and Amy visit Winston Churchill during the Blitz of 1940/41, only to discover an inventor working for Churchill has created a range of super-advanced weaponry to fight the Nazis … including a contingent of Daleks.

Of course, it’s all a hoax. It turns out Dr. Bracewell is an android invented by the Daleks as part of a ruse to lure the Doctor onto their space ship, which survived the previous Dalek holocaust … somehow. The Daleks have with them a “Progenator Device” containing “pure Dalek DNA” with which to rebuild their race. Only one of them dropped the keys down the drain, and now they can’t get the thing open. They trick the Doctor into identifying himself and them, which convinces the Progenator Device of their bona fides and it gets cooking on a fresh batch of new and improved Daleks.

The process completes, and with suitably ominous music playing in the background, out roll five of the most terrible, most horrifying, most menacing … color-coded giant pepperpots you have ever seen.

Seriously, look at the picture and (keeping in mind these are supposed to be the most fearsome creatures in the multiverse), tell me it isn’t the funniest thing you’ve seen in months.

Image

They look like a giant salt set, for pity’s sake.

(Also, since the Daleks are actually little sea star/jellyfish-creatures living inside the pepperpot armor, why would using “pure Dalek DNA” change the appearance of the armor at all?)

The original Daleks acknowledge their inferiority to these (*mmph*) “improved” new Daleks and submit themselves to extermination.

The new Daleks activate a satellite dish which lights up all of London like a beacon for the Nazis to bomb into the carbon age. Dr. Bracewell deploys a tractor beam to shoot three British Spitfires (equipped with Dalek rayguns) into space to take out the satellite. Basically, this whole episode is one big excuse for Doctor Who to reenact any given dogfight scene from Star Wars with World War II fighter planes, right down to the red and green laser fire. Since those scenes from Star Wars were based on World War II dogfights, I guess this sorta brings things full circle.

The Daleks take out two Spitfires, but the third destroys the satellite dish. The Doctor tells the pilot to destroy the Dalek ship (which he can do, apparently), but the Daleks threaten to activate a bomb in Dr. Bracewell which will destroy the whole Earth.

The Doctor now must choose to annihilate the Daleks and risk destroying the planet, or ensure Earth’s safety at the cost of letting the Daleks go. This dilemma would be more meaningful if there was even an iota of a chance of the writing team not bringing the Daleks back in any case somewhere down the line.

The Doctor calls off the surviving Spitfire, but the Daleks activate the bomb anyway and fly off cackling, while the Doctor uses their transmat device to return to the planet. He finds Dr. Bracewell at two minutes to Belgium, and reasons that the only way to defuse him is to convince him that he’s actually human. I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in.

Dr. Bracewell has, as part of his body’s hardware, an explosive which takes up the majority of his torso. And the way to defuse it is to convince him that Androids Are People Too. This is stupidity on the order of “If you don’t remember your brain is terminally deformed, it can’t hurt you.”

Inexplicably, the trick works and the day is saved. The Doctor once again refuses to help Churchill with the war effort (which, come to think of it, he wouldn’t have done so if it were any other species, or if the conflict were post-2010). Instead, he gives a rousing speech to the tune of “buck up, old chap, there’s bad days ahead, but you’ll see them through and do well.” He then leaves Churchill to his pressing business of oppressing colonized Indians, massacring German soldiers and civilians, and pointedly ignoring the plight of Jewish and other victims of the Holocaust. What a great guy.

The Doctor and Amy find Dr. Bracewell, avert him from killing himself, and then go through an unfunny sequence of not-so-subtly hinting that yes, they’re absolutely going to take him into custody … right after a five minute coffee break. Or fifteen minutes. Better make it half an hour. *sigh* Why can’t they just tell the guy to beat it and get off with his girlfriend?

After Dr. Bracewell finally takes the hint and makes himself scarce, the Doctor and Amy leave in the TARDIS. And a crack opens in the wall behind them.

So in the end, the Daleks’ “victory” consists entirely of managing to avoid getting blasted into extinction for the fifth time running. Considering their track record on the new show so far, I suppose that’s fair enough.

This episode is worse than the first two, but what else can you expect from a Dalek episode? The villains are a joke, as is the plot, the plot holes are enormous, the “dilemma” is pointless and old hat (“Parting of the Ways,” anyone?), and the reverential treatment of an historical figure who, y’know, also had some serious downsides is a little sickening.

That said, as mindless fun, “Victory of the Daleks” delivers. The action, though intellectually insulting, is exciting and fun, the Doctor and Amy are awesome, and Dr. Bracewell’s story is stupid but sweet. I would rate it a good episode, just not an intelligent episode.

Episodes 4 & 5: The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone: The Doctor, Amy, and a small militia are trapped on a deserted planet with a Weeping Angel. Worse yet, their companion for this venture is that Queen of insufferable Mary Sues, (*shudder*) River Song.

Yes, the annoyingly smug and omni-competent archaeologist is back. Through some complicated machinations, she sends the Doctor a message to pick her up, comes aboard the TARDIS, and proceeds to show up the Doctor completely because she’s River Song, bitches. She lands the TARDIS with ease, avoiding the customary “rrr”-ing sound when it re-materializes, which she explains was only ever due to the Doctor leaving the parking brake on. Kark that, and kark you River Song, and kark you Moffat. The Doctor’s been at this for centuries, and no way the TARDIS’ signature materialization sound is due to a damn parking brake.

On the planet, River Song introduces the Doctor and Amy to Father Octavian and his force of a dozen or so clerics. In the future, the church organizes and equips itself just like a modern army. A nice bit of world-building there, though one wonders what terrible threat prompted the church to take this direction.

River Song and the soldiers of God lead Amy and the Doctor to a crashed ship, the Byzantium, in which there is imprisoned a single Weeping Angel. Amy enters a viewing room running a feed to a security cam of the prisoner, while River Song and the Doctor pull out a book of Weeping Angel cryptozoology.

At this point Moffat starts pulling new Weeping Angel traits and powers out of his ass. Suddenly, now, even just the image of an Angel can become a pseudo-Angel, and while it’s important to look at them, you must not look them in the eyes (it’s always the eyes, isn’t it?)

And then there’s Amy locked in the viewing room with a video of a Weeping Angel, which quickly spawns an Angel hologram. Amy looks at it, but can’t keep her eyes open forever, and with every blink, it draws closer. Eventually Amy, being made of awesome and all, realizes the feed is on repeat, and pauses it at the moment it loops back, so the screen shows only static, and the image of the Angel winks out of existence. The bad news is Amy (of course) looked the image in the eye.

Nothing immediately happens to her, and the rest of the party is busy worrying about the actual physical Angel, which has escaped into some nearby ruins.

The church militia throw out a gravity globe so they can float down into the ruins. While they poke about, three of the clerics get lured off into the shadows where something nasty happens to them off-screen. The last of these is Bob, a nervous kid to whom the Doctor had recently promised he’d get everyone out all right.

Eventually, the Doctor and River Song realize the scattered statues around them are, in fact, dormant Angels, and the radiation from the Byzantium is reviving them.

Everyone flees, except Amy, whose arm is turning to stone. The Doctor unfreezes her by telling her essentially “You’re not turning to stone, snap out of it.” On the surface, this is similar to the two of them talking Dr. Bracewell out of blowing up by convincing him he’s human. I’ll let this instance slide though, as the effects of Weeping Angel-possession are less well-defined than the effects of an explosive installed in a robot’s chest cavity.

The Doctor, Amy, River Song and the surviving militia exit the ruins, but with nowhere left to run, and the defrosting Angels hot on their heels. The Doctor gets a call from Bob, who says he found the first two clerics dead; the Angel snapped their necks. The Doctor asks-

Wait a minute! Snapped their necks? You’ve gotta be kidding me.

Unfortunately, no. Along with throwing in a bunch of poorly-conceived additional powers, Moffat in these episodes throws out one of the Angels’ two signature traits (and essentially throws the other one out a little later). Instead of feeding off people’s “potential energy” by sending them back in time, the Angels now just kill them. Moffat does have the Doctor spew some bullshit about the Angels never killing people except for narrative convenience (apparently, they can turn the corpses into Angels … somehow), but he’s really reaching here, and it shows. Not once in either episode does he include a single time-travel kill (which could make for no end of interesting twists) even just as a nod to one of the Angel’s biggest defining characteristics.

*deep breath* Anyway, the Doctor asks Bob how he escaped, and Bob replies “I didn’t. The Angel killed me, too.” This is clearly a device of Moffat’s to allow communication between the Doctor and a non-speaking enemy. It’s a neat idea, and well executed, with the entertaining juxtaposition of Bob’s subservient, self-effacing manner being used for the voice of the villain. On the other hand, I wish Moffat had found or created another non-speaking enemy rather than using this trick for the Angels, whom I’ve always felt never needed and possibly never understood the concept of human speech.

Bob informs the Doctor that he’s in a trap. The Doctor responds that there is one thing you never ever ever put in a trap, “And that’s me.” As defining moments go, it’s pretty damn awesome. Unfortunately, I feel it could’ve defined Christopher Eccleston and certainly David Tennant just as easily—perhaps more easily, in the latter case. We never really get a proper definition for the Eleventh Doctor in particular anywhere in this series, which is a shame.

Wow, that was a lot of long tangents, wasn’t it? I’ll try to cut down on those in future. Operative word: “try.”

After making his speech, the Doctor shoots out the gravity globe and the resulting updraft carries everyone back to the Byzantium.

However, the Angels are still after them and the lights inside are (of course) failing. They make it to the control room where the Doctor discovers a crack in the ceiling. He also notices Amy is counting down from ten, ‘cos of looking into the holo-Angel’s eyes. At the end of the countdown she’ll turn into an Angel … or something. The solution is for Amy to shut her eyes until they can find some way to cure her.

The party then splits up. Team A, consisting of Amy and the four surviving clerics wait in a nearby hydroponics forest with eyes open for Angels (all except Amy). Team B—the Doctor, River Song, and Octavian—travel through the forest to the flight deck to do … something which presently escapes my mind.

More and more light starts pouring out of the crack, and two of Amy’s protectors go back to investigate. They don’t return, and a few minutes later, Cleric Marco sends Cleric Pedro out to have a look at that strange light. When Amy reminds him what happened to the other two, he asks “what other two?”

Pedro doesn’t return either, and Amy starts getting worried about him. Cleric Marco gets confused, telling Amy there was never any Cleric Pedro on this mission. He also tells her to sit tight, as he’s got to go see what’s up with this mysterious light coming from the next room. Amy tries to stop him, but gives up far too quickly for someone who’s just seen three men vanish with no explanation and her companion suddenly not remembering them.

Marco leaves her with a communicator to stay in contact, but (of course) his signal cuts out when he gets too close to the crack.

Team B reaches the flight deck, but not before an Angel sneaks up and gets Father Octavian in a neck lock, with no room to wriggle free. Octavian and the Doctor go through the obligatory “leave me!” “I can’t!” “Think of the mission!” scene, with the Doctor finally relenting. In the process, Octavian reveals that before this mission, River Song had been locked in a Stormcage for killing a man, a good man. Foreshadowing!

The Doctor leaves, Octavian dies, and so much for the supporting cast.

On the flight deck, the Doctor and River Song realize they need Amy, stat. Two problems: 1) Amy can’t open her eyes, and 2) she’s surrounded by Weeping Angels.

Normally, this would translate into Amy being history—literally—but the Doctor explains that the Angels are still scared, and will stay in statue mode if Amy can just make them think she’s got her eyes opened.

In other words, turning into stone is a voluntary process. This directly contradicts David Tennant’s explanation in “Blink”:

They don’t exist when they’re being observed. The moment they are seen by any other living creature, they freeze into rock. No choice, it’s a fact of their biology. In the sight of any living thing they literally turn to stone.

Apparently, that was then and this is now. The Doctor tells Amy she’ll be all right if the Angels think she’s looking at them, and she should walk as if she had her eyes open—he’ll give her directions over the communicator.

If you can get past Moffat crapping all over the continuity of a superior story—no small feat—this is actually a brilliant little scene; subdued, but shot through with tension. Amy having to walk normally with Weeping Angels all around her, knowing that if she missteps or if she opens her eyes even a flicker, she’s done for.

The director milks the setup for all its worth, with Amy slowly, slowly navigating around the Angels, and several close calls. The camera lingers on one Angel in particular as its’ stone head starts to turn towards her.

… That’s right, we see one of the statues move its head. This despite the fact that, according to “Blink,” the Angels are only stone when people are looking at them, when they’re, you know, immobile; when they’re moving, they “don’t exist,” so it would be literally impossible to see an Angel moving as a stone. By this point, Moffat has blown everything he originally wrote about the Angels and how they work out the airlock and is just doing whatever-the-hell he wants with them.

So yeah, the Weeping Angel (In Name Only) starts to move, but River Song saves Amy with the flight deck’s newly-repaired teleporter.

The Angels (In Name Only) lay siege to the flight deck, and Dead Bob informs the Doctor they’re scared of the crack. Incidentally, there’s a plot hole here concerning the Angels’ (In Name Only) motivation. Before the Doctor and company reached the control room, the Angels (In Name Only) seemed hell-bent on getting to the crack to feed on all the yummy time energy pouring out of it. After they entered the forest, the Angels (In Name Only) seemed intent on getting away from the crack for fear of being sucked in, with no explanation of what exactly changed their minds.

For whatever reason, the Angels (In Name Only) want to seal the crack now, which would require throwing a large space-time distortion into it. Something about the size of the Doctor. Or the Angels collectively. And since they’ve pretty much destroyed the Byzantium‘s artificial gravity by this point, all the survivors have to do is hang on while the Angels (In Name Only) fall into the crack and close it up. Ha-ha, toasted. Even the Angel (In Name Only) in Amy’s eyes is gone, making them safe to open again.

They return to the TARDIS and the militia’s ship, where some random clerics happen to be waiting to take River Song back to her Stormcage. The Doctor asks if it’s true she killed a man and she replies yes, “the best man I’ve ever known.” Really, Moffat couldn’t be any more obvious if he flashed the words “By the way, it’s the Doctor!” in bright neon over the screen. When I first saw this episode, I held out some slight hope this was misdirection on his part, and he was setting us up for a twist—no such luck.

The Doctor asks River Song something else pertaining to her past and his future, and she chides him, saying “spoilers.” While we were watching this, ptolemaeus pointed out that with River Song, Steven Moffat has accomplished the incredible feat of making time-travel irritating. Congratulations, Moffat.

The militia take River Song away, while the Doctor explains to Amy that when Clerics Marco, Pedro, and the others got too close to the crack, they were erased from existence, had never existed. The only reason Amy remembers them is because she’s a time-traveler.

The two return to Amy’s house back on Earth, where the Doctor discovers Amy is set to marry Rory the following day, 26 June, 2010 (the original airdate of the “The Big Bang”). Amy, however, is feeling frisky and attempts to seduce the Doctor, brushing aside an objection about relationships by saying “I wasn’t thinking of anything that long-term” (prompting ptolemaues to remark that even when she’s following the tired new series companion cliché of having the hots for the Doctor, Amy is awesome).

The Doctor deflects Amy’s attentions, having just realized something important. Aboard the Byzantium, he managed to pinpoint the date of the explosion which created the cracks in time: 26 June, 2010. Now he knows there’s something special about Amy, and it’s back to the TARDIS for the next adventure.

Apart from stripping away a lot of what made the Weeping Angels unique and interesting adversaries, these episodes suffer from their inclusion of River Song. Every time she takes center stage, she manages to infuriate with either her I’m-too-perfect Mary Sue manner, her melodramatic foreshadowing, or both.

The Weeping Angel stuff is a quibble (though a major quibble in my book), but River Song’s presence really brings the quality down. Which is a shame, because the rest of the two-parter is pretty good. Clever and tense and exciting and funny and all those good things one associates with Doctor Who, especially under Moffat. The scenes with Amy mentioned above achieve a level of awesomeness which actually manage to rival “Blink.”

The best way to look at “The Time of Angels”/“Flesh and Stone” is as two good-to-great episodes frequently interspersed with massive amounts of suck. Make of that what you will.

Episode 6: The Vampires of Venice: The Doctor takes Amy and Rory on a romantic getaway to sixteenth century Venice … which, unfortunately, is infested by vampires.

The Doctor brings the fiancés together by gatecrashing Rory’s bachelor party and practically kidnapping him into the TARDIS. He brings them to Venice, where the mysterious Calvierri family have set up a “school” for young women of the city. Of course, they’re actually vampires, and are replacing the “students’” blood with some other liquid.

Amy infiltrates the school and almost undergoes the process, but escapes with the help of another young woman, Isabella, whom the Calvierri then execute.

The Doctor works out that the Calvierri and the girls they’ve managed to transform aren’t actually vampires—they’re an aquatic species from the planet Saturnyne (which sounds suspiciously like a pun) wearing perception filters. There’s some suitably nonsensical Treknobabble to explain why they exhibit vampire-like tendencies—although their aversion to sunlight is unevenly treated throughout the episode.

The Calvierri fled their homeworld through a crack in time and while they brought a couple thousand males, they only had one matriarch with them, so they’ve been converting young women to breed. The other Calvierri students have been fully turned, and Isabella’s father Guido blows them and himself up when Signora Calvierri sends them after the Doctor and his companions. (Maybe she should’ve sent some of the males, seeing as how they’re more expendable from a utilitarian perspective.)

The Calvierri’s breeding stock has been wiped out, but they still intend to sink all of Venice, which will help them continue their race … somehow. The Doctor sends Amy and Rory back to the TARDIS while he confronts Signora Calvierri, but they get accosted along the way by the Signora’s son, Francesco.

Rory, poor dear that he is, tries to protect Amy from Francesco, an expert swordsman, armed with only a broom. He’s well on the way to getting himself diced when Amy pulls out a mirror and redirects the sunlight to vaporize Francesco.

Meanwhile, the Doctor short-circuits the Calvierri’s storm machine in a move reminiscent of the one he pulled in “Evolution of the Daleks.” The defeated Signora Calvierri throws herself into the pool of aqua-monsters. The little beasties don’t recognize her with her perception filter on, and quickly turn her into fish chow.

Venice is saved, and Rory agrees to continue traveling with Amy and the Doctor for a while. Awww.

This story is fairly good, with none of the high points of the previous two, but none of the lows, either.

Rory is adorable, your classic lovable loser, emphasis on “lovable”; he’s complete pants when it comes to … just about everything, but he’s sweet and well-meaning and self-aware enough to realize he’s a bit rubbish, and own up to it. His and Amy’s interactions are cute, and their awkward “where-is-our-relationship-now?” thing is more interesting and original than most romantic tension subplots.

However, after watching this episode, I began to suspect Steven Moffat is a little less racially sensitive than Russell T Davies. Davies is hardly a paragon of racial equality, but he did seem to put some thought into having one token recurring character of color starting with the very first episode of the new show.

Whereas, in “Vampires of Venice,” Guido and Isabella, two rare supporting characters of color, both die, a fate which was uncommon for characters in their position even during the Davies era. In the two previous episodes (written by Moffat himself), the two black clerics die first and are passed up as “voice of the monster” in favor of the very white Cleric Bob, and dark-skinned Cleric Pedro plays second fiddle to light-skinned Cleric Marco. To date, Moffat has created zero recurring characters of color, unless you consider a thirty-second cameo by Liz 10 in “The Pandorica Opens” sufficient grounds to award her recurring character status, which I personally don’t.

Episode 7: Amy’s Choice: Amy, Rory, and the Doctor are presented with two alternate situations, one a dream, one reality, and both containing a deadly danger. Die in the dream world and you wake up—die in reality and you, well, die. That’s why it’s called “reality.”

The first possible world is Earth, five years in the future. Amy and Rory are married and living in the country, Amy in the final stages of pregnancy, and Rory sporting a ragged squirrel-tail haircut which in an ideal world would carry a three-month minimum sentence. The Doctor has stopped in for a visit, just in time to discover that all the old people in the village are really blood-sucking aliens.

In the second scenario, they’re all still in the TARDIS, falling towards a star which radiates cold instead of heat.

Crap physics notwithstanding, it’s obvious from the structure of the show that the latter world is the real one, which undermines the whole “questioning reality” premise, unfortunately.

They pass between these worlds by involuntarily falling asleep, signaled by the sound of birds chattering. Each time they wake up, Amy insists the world they’re in must be the real one. Rory, by contrast, believes the first world is the real one, while the Doctor thinks it’s the second. Hmm, I wonder why that might be?

This, of course, is why it’s Amy’s choice. Towards the end of the episode, Rory cuts off his awful hair accessory, but then gets killed by the blood-suckers. Amy decides this isn’t the reality she wants, and crashes a truck along with the Doctor to return to the TARDIS.

Making your decision based on wanting to live in the reality where Rory is still alive is sweet, but it’s also incredibly stupid. Ptolemaues has defended this action by arguing that they were never going to work it out by reason. While this is true, I would point out 1), that Amy doesn’t know she’s in a story, her options constrained by narrative causality and 2), it would’ve been more original and made for a better story if they had been able to sort dream from reality using cleverness rather than blind luck.

In fact, what would’ve been really smart would be for the Doctor and Amy to wait for the next time they fell asleep. If they were in the dream world, they’d find Rory already woken up. If not, well then he wouldn’t be there, would he, on account of being dead? Or maybe he would, and the Doctor and Amy would have to sort out whether it was because he was actually alive, or because he’d been incorporated into their dream.

Instead, they all wake up back in the TARDIS, and escape the star. However, the Doctor initiates an explosion in the TARDIS’ main reactor, because “a star that radiates cold? Don’t make me laugh.”

And so yes, the episode ends with the utterly predictable twist that “surprise, they were both the dream world.” Though since the reality they wake up to is functionally identical to Dream World 2 (minus the star), I can hardly see the point.

This story is massively disappointing. Writer Simon Nye wastes an effing awesome premise on a tiresomely dull and cliché ending. Beyond which, the episode is so packed that he never has the chance to develop either dream world properly. The blood-sucking aliens in World 1 are rushed through without getting a chance to engage the audience properly, while the danger in World 2 is just “we’re slowly freezing to death,” which you can’t develop much.

The dynamics between our three main characters are as fun and interesting as ever, but the rest of the episode fails to hold up. I wouldn’t exactly recommend against “Amy’s Choice,” (the character dynamics are wonderful), but it is a bad episode.

Episodes 8 & 9: The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood: The Doctor, Amy, and Rory visit the Earth ten years in the future, where a drilling operation has disturbed something deep below the Earth’s surface.

As the trio step out of the TARDIS, they see Amy and Rory in a future timeline standing on a far-off hill, and give them a wave. Doubtless this will be important later on.

They then meet the operators of the aforementioned drill, Dr. Nasreen Chaudry and a man named Tony Mack. The latter’s son-in-law, Mo, has recently disappeared into a chasm which unexpectedly opened under his feet. Soon enough, Amy suffers the same fate, and the others are forced to evacuate.

The Doctor, Rory, Nasreen, and Tony take refuge in the house of Tony’s daughter, Ambrose. Tony’s grandson Elliot runs back for his headphones, which the Doctor, standing not three feet away from him inexplicably fails to dissuade him from, or even register concern over.

Naturally, Elliot is captured in the ensuing monster attack. In the same attack, Tony is poisoned, but on the plus side, the Doctor captures one of the monsters in question. She turns out to be a Silurian, whom the Doctor refers to as homo-reptilias, which, I’m told, is about as linguistically inaccurate as the Silurian period is archaeologically unlikely. Although the name doesn’t ultimately stick, for the remainder of this review I shall refer to them as reptilians.

The Doctor leaves the reptilian warrior—Alaya—with Rory, Tony, and Ambrose, while he and Nasreen take the TARDIS to the underground cavern she came from.

The back story to the reptilians is that during the last global climate crisis, they went into stasis until the planet became habitable again. Now it has done so, various groups of reptilians keep popping out of stasis and demanding their planet back from the dirty apes which have since taken it over. Interestingly enough, none of the apes in question—not even the ones in government and business, or religious reactionaries—seem to have much problem at the thought of sharing the Earth with the reptilians until the latter start causing trouble. Just one more sign that the Earth of Doctor Who is far different from our own.

Alaya’s city was disturbed by Nasreen and Tony’s drilling, and she was one of the first reptilians to awaken from stasis. Alaya’s sister Restac, military leader of the reptilian complex, is presently in charge; she plans to wipe out the apes and resettle the surface.

Before Restac can execute the Doctor, Nasreen, Amy, Mo and Elliot, a civilian political leader by the name of Eldane shows up and puts a stop to it. Eldane, being male, is more rational and reasonable than his subordinate, and agrees to enter into negotiations with Nasreen and Amy for peaceful coexistence.

Up on the surface, Alaya has provoked Ambrose into killing her, which she believes will cause her people to declare war on humanity. The arrival of Rory, Ambrose, Tony, and Alaya’s corpse in the reptilian town hall causes negotiations to hit an unpleasant snag. The situation deteriorates further when Restac returns to the scene with a bunch of newly awakened warriors, all set to stage a coup against Eldane.

The Doctor tries to reason with Restac, but fails. For all this story’s flaws, writer Chris Chibnall does a reasonably good job of portraying the self-serving selective morality which always accompanies armed conflict. While Ambrose displays none of the racism which drives Restac (and which many real humans would feel in a similar situation) both see their own crimes as justified to protect their own people, while condemning the crimes of the other as indicative of a fundamentally debased and morally corrupt being.

The Doctor, Eldane, and the humans beat a hasty retreat to the reptilian bio-lab. Eldane reluctantly concludes the Earth just isn’t ready for human/reptilian coexistence, and he and the Doctor set the complex to go back into hibernation for another thousand years—thus effectively punching the reset button. Eldane also floods the complex with poisonous gas, forcing Restac’s warriors either to return to hibernation or die.

Tony stays behind to be treated for Alaya’s poison, and Nasreen stays to be with Tony and to perform some anthropological field study on the reptilians.

The Doctor and the other human characters return to the chamber containing the TARDIS, where the Doctor discovers a crack in the cavern wall. He also discovers a piece of shrapnel from the explosion which caused the cracks and tucks it into his overcoat.

Before everyone can enter the TARDIS, Restac shows up. She, of course, refused to go into stasis and quickly expires from the poison gas, but not before shooting Rory, who also dies. The Doctor notices light emanating from the crack, and quickly enlists Amy’s help to heave Restac’s body into it, thus erasing her from existence.

Of course, eliminating Restac from ever having existed means that half the plot collapses, but I’ll give Chibnall a pass on the gaping plot hole in exchange for saving Rory. Or rather I would, if he had in fact written the Doctor having such a sensible idea in the first place, and I hadn’t dreamed up the whole thing.

Instead, the Doctor leaves Rory’s body to be absorbed by the crack. Inside the TARDIS, he tells Amy she has to hold onto her memories of Rory. She remembers Marco and Pedro and the others just fine, but because Rory’s part of her own life or something she can forget him even though she’s a time-traveler. Is it just me, or are the rules of this memories-of-erased-people thing getting more and more convoluted?

Of course, Amy loses her memories (angst!) and the Doctor regretfully hides her engagement ring. He then lands the TARDIS to let Ambrose, Mo, and Elliot out. Unmindful of the paradoxes, the Doctor lands them one day earlier, for absolutely no reason other than for Amy to reprise the waving-to-herself scene from the beginning, alone this time (angst!). Turns out that scene wasn’t going anywhere, after all.

Before leaving with Amy, the Doctor checks the piece of shrapnel he picked up earlier. Apart from being badly charred, it looks exactly like a piece from the door of the TARDIS. Foreshadowing! (It occurred to me that it would be cool if it was an actual real police box at the epicenter of the explosion—although a real police box in June 2010 would be anachronistic.)

The best you can say about this story is that it’s better than Chibnall’s standard, but it’s not as good as, say, “Countrycide”. The plot is bad, the Ambrose/Alaya dynamic irritatingly predictable, and as for the ending, well, you know. Again, the humor and the recurring characters are good, but the rest just isn’t worth it.

Episode 10: Vincent and the Doctor: The Doctor and Amy enlist the aid of Vincent Van Gogh to help them fight an invisible monster.

After seeing a strange creature in one of Van Gogh’s last paintings, the Doctor and Amy go back to Arles, 1890, to investigate. Turns out there’s an alien cockatrice running around killing people, which can apparently be seen only by people with synesthesia—as Van Gogh is implied to have. (I say this because it’s the closest thing I can figure to an explanation for why only Van Gogh can see it.)

Everybody runs around a bit, Van Gogh flirts with Amy, the Doctor bullies Van Gogh into painting the picture, Van Gogh kills the monster. With the A plot having dried up thirty-five minutes in, the Doctor, Amy and Van Gogh are left at loose ends. After a minute or two of hanging around and Van Gogh being bummed but resigned about the two of them leaving, the time-travelers pack him into the TARDIS and show him the museum they visited at the beginning of the episode. Screw “not tampering with the future, blah blah.”

The following sequence caps off an episode-long policy of fawning over Van Gogh (“the greatest artist who ever lived,” according to the Doctor) with a one-minute speech to Van Gogh by the exhibit curator about how totally awesome an artist Vincent Van Gogh was. Fortunately, no one at the exhibit happens to mention his suicide.

The Doctor and Amy take Van Gogh home, but Amy is disappointed to discover he still committed suicide in the end. The Doctor comforts her that even though they weren’t able to help Van Gogh overcome the bad things in his life, they did contribute to the good things.

Fawning aside and weak plot aside, this is a pretty good episode. In this case, the primary focus is obviously supposed to be the Doctor and Amy’s interactions with Van Gogh and the exploration of the latter’s character. There’s a really neat bit where Van Gogh locks himself in his room in a fit of despair when he learns the Doctor and Amy are going to leave him, just as everybody else does. And then the next morning he’s up and amiable—though hardly what you’d call cheerful—and ready to paint that cathedral.

There’s also a really poignant moment where the Doctor, Amy, and Van Gogh are hiding from the monster, and the Doctor says, “Right then, Amy, Rory,” only for Amy to ask who the heck he’s talking about.

Episode 11: The Lodger: Amy is trapped in a TARDIS unable to materialize. In order to rescue her, the Doctor must undertake his most difficult mission yet: rent a flat and pretend to be a normal bloke.

The flat in question belongs to one Craig Owens, first introduced bantering with his friend and coworker Sophie. It quickly becomes obvious that Craig is hopelessly in love with Sophie, but too shy to say anything. It doesn’t take much longer to establish that Sophie feels the same way about Craig, but hasn’t said anything either (the story of course takes place primarily from Craig’s viewpoint).

There’s also a creepy upstairs lodger who occasionally lures passersby into the upstairs room with piteous cries for help. Said passersby, of course, are never seen again.

After a half hour or so of delightful eccentricity on the Doctor’s part and quiet resentment on Craig’s (because the Doctor is so much more awesome than he is), and the upstairs lodger continuing to lure people to their deaths, Sophie gets called into the room, and after some prompting from the Doctor, Craig remembers that his flat doesn’t even have a second story. Rather than taking the time to explain the situation to Craig, the Doctor merely gives him a headbutt, which apparently is the Time Lord equivalent of a Mind Meld, as it imparts all the relevant information to Craig in an instant. Not that we’ve ever seen this particular Time Lord talent at work before or since, and I’ll be very much surprised if we ever do again.

The Doctor and Craig charge upstairs to find the entire second floor is actually a time-traveling spaceship. It has no crew, and has been trying to find a pilot to fly it home. However, the attempt has the effect of overloading the victim’s brains, killing them.

The Doctor and Craig arrive in time to save Sophie from this fate, but only because the ship now thinks it’s found the perfect pilot in the Doctor, and activates a magnetic beam to pull his hand to one of the control panels. Being a Time Lord, the Doctor isn’t in danger of his brain overloading; instead, his brain would overload the ship, producing an explosion which would wipe out the entire solar system. From this I can only conclude the ship is powered by a compressed supernova.

Before the Doctor’s hand touches the panel, Craig slaps his own hand down on another, and uses his sheer ordinariness, complacency, and indifference to travel to resist the ship’s attempts to make him its’ pilot. The Doctor encourages Craig by telling him to think of everything keeping him right where he is—the most important being, of course, Sophie.

Sophie tells Craig that she reciprocates his feelings, and the Doctor and Amy (on the phone in the TARDIS) encourage him to “kiss the girl.” “Kiss the girl”? Right, because anything female is only ever going to be the person to which these sorts of things are done, never the doer. Oh, for crying out loud.

They kiss, and the ship gives Craig up as a bad job. In fact, his incredible will to stay causes it to overload after all, but in a way which only destroys itself, not the solar system, and not until after the Doctor, Craig, and Sophie have made it to safety.

With the ship no longer causing interference, the TARDIS rematerializes, and the Doctor leaves Craig and Sophie to “destroy [their] friendship properly.” Um, if your romance is going to destroy your friendship, you’re doing something wrong.

The Doctor returns to the TARDIS, and Amy chides him that with all his matchmaking, you’d think he could hook her up with a man (sad now). But after the Doctor wanders off, Amy finds her engagement ring—now what the heck could that be?

Opinions on the quality of this episode seem directly correlated to whether you like James Corden, the actor who plays Craig, or not. Personally, I’ve never seen his previous stuff, and “The Lodger” left me monumentally ambivalent.

I’ve seen Craig accused of “douchey Nice Guy behavior,” but this is not how he came across to me. He may have romanticized Sophie, but not to the point of putting her on a pedestal. He’s clearly psyching himself up to admit his feelings to her, and would have halfway through the episode, if not for the Doctor barging in at exactly the wrong moment. For myself, I don’t see “The Lodger” as enabling Nice Guy Syndrome.

On the whole, it’s a decent episode. It’s not spectacular, and it has its share of flaws, but it’s pretty good nonetheless, with the Doctor being entertainingly weird throughout. I disliked the whole thing with Craig growing jealous over the Doctor continually upstaging him and interfering in his relationship with Sophie, but was pleasantly surprised when Craig failed to follow standard formula and do something incredibly stupid and/or mean on account of that jealousy.

Episodes 12 & 13: The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang: The Doctor, Amy, and (*gag*) River Song unearth the legendary prison known as the Pandorica.

The story begins with a cameo relay race in which Winston Churchill and Dr. Bracewell (“Victory of the Daleks”), find a little-known painting by Vincent Van Gogh (“Vincent and the Doctor”) called The Pandorica Opens, which depicts the TARDIS exploding. Churchill tries to phone up the Doctor about it, but can’t reach him, and gets bloody River Song instead. While this episode takes place before “The Time of Angels”/“Flesh and Stone” from her perspective, she’s already in the Stormcage, so good luck finding out how she ended up there this season.

River Song finds the painting in the collection of Liz X (“The Beast Below”), and uses it to decipher the time-space coordinates of the Pandorica. With another set of complicated maneuvers River Song directs the Doctor and Amy to England, 102 CE, where they find her hanging out with a group of Roman soldiers and masquerading as Cleopatra, over a hundred and thirty years after the latter’s death (which, to be fair, the Roman Commander eventually points out).

The Doctor and the Mary Sue determine the Pandorica is hidden below Stonehenge. They excavate and sure enough, there it is, a big black cube. Legend says that imprisoned within the Pandorica is a goblin, or a trickster, or a warrior, “a nameless, terrible thing, soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies. The most feared being in all the cosmos.” Well, with a description like that, it can only be the Doctor. (At the time, I did think how cool it’d be if the prisoner turned out to be the Black Guardian, or some other ultra-powerful enemy from the old series. No such luck.)

While they’re down there, Amy questions the Doctor about the engagement ring, and he questions her about all the inconsistencies in her life: why she can’t remember the many recent Dalek attacks, what happened to her parents, why they’re at Stonehenge surrounded by Romans with the Pandorica when the story of Pandora’s box and early invasions of England by hot Italian men were two of Amy’s favorite stories when she was younger. When you’re the Doctor, you learn never to ignore coincidences … unless you’re distracted by something else, in which case you blow them off completely.

The Doctor and company are distracted from the Pandorica by a shell of Cyberman armor which seeks to turn one of them into its new organic interface, has a head which moves independently on tentacle-wires, and menaces our heroes with risible Borg impressions. I’m sorry, but was any of this established in previous Cybermen stories?

The Cyberman shell attacks the Doctor and Amy, but gets run through before it can “assimilate” them by a random Centurion … who turns out to be Rory. After the dust has settled, the Doctor pulls Rory aside and asks him what the hell he’s doing 1) alive, and 2) in second century England. Rory confesses himself as mystified as the Doctor, saying “one minute I was dead, the next minute I woke up as a Roman soldier.”

Rory’s bummed that Amy doesn’t recognize him, but the Doctor tosses him their engagement ring and tells him to get her back.

There’s also a sequence in here where River Song enlists the aid of the Roman Commander by demonstrating her superior technology. Someone else might mistake her for a god, but she tells the Commander he’s been a soldier long enough to know there’s no such thing as gods. Excuse me, Moffat? I’m an atheist and a pacifist and I still object to that one.

Afterwards, River Song takes off in the TARDIS to follow up a lead, while the Doctor stays behind with her Vortex Manipulator. The TARDIS lands at Amy’s house on 26 June, 2010. River Song pokes around in Amy’s room and discovers, to her horror, an old picture book depicting Stonehenge and Roman soldiers exactly like the ones with the Doctor, and also a photo of Rory dressed as a Centurion for Halloween. (Wait, if Rory was erased from existence, wouldn’t pictures of him be erased as well?)

River relays her information to the Doctor and returns to the TARDIS. Meanwhile, the Centurions start walking mechanically and shooting energy blasts from their hands, revealing them to be Autons.

The Auton Centurions take the Doctor prisoner just as contingents of Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, reptilians, Judoon and other gathered forces transmat into the chamber. The Pandorica opens and whoops, it’s empty (so I was half right). The Doctor Who rogues gallery reveal they’ve banded together to prevent the end of the universe. What, including the Daleks? First of all, the Daleks don’t make alliances with “inferior” races, not under any circumstances. Second, why the frak would the Daleks care about saving the universe, considering they were the ones trying to destroy it last time we saw them?

The League of Supervillains set the whole thing up to imprison the Doctor in the Pandorica. Since the Doctor is the only one who can fly the TARDIS, and the TARDIS exploding will destroy the universe, shutting him up inside the Pandorica will prevent the explosion. With logic like that, no wonder the Doctor’s kicked their asses so many times over the years.

The Centurions place the Doctor in the Pandorica, over his protestations. Before he’s sealed inside, he manages to send a message to River Song, telling her to get the hell out of the TARDIS well the getting’s good.

The Queen of the Mary Sues needs little prompting, as the TARDIS control room is going haywire, and an ominous voice has just cut in on the PA, announcing “silence will fall.” She gets the TARDIS landed, but when she opens the door, she finds herself facing a blank wall. Ha-ha, toasted. Ka-boom!

(Is there reason to believe there are circumstances under which the explosion of one measly TARDIS would not destroy the entire universe? You’d think we’d have heard something previously if this were a standard feature.)

Rory has by now caught up with Amy, and is in the midst of trying to restore her memories when he suddenly seizes up like the other Centurions. Don’t go there, Moffat. But yes, his hand opens up to reveal the distinctive Auton gun. (Incidentally, why make Rory and the other Centurions Autons in the first place? Since we’ve already got the Daleks involved, why not just make them constructs like Dr. Bracewell?)

Speaking of Bracewell, Rory attempts to fight the situation by telling himself he’s human, “I’m Rory.” Something in this triggers Amy’s memories: “Rory Williams. My fiancé.”

Rory loses the struggle and shoots Amy in the stomach. She collapses into his arms, and the camera pulls back to show the Earth hanging in space, as one by one the stars wink out, and silence falls.

No points for guessing this marks the end of part one.

Part two, “The Big Bang” opens 1894 years later, still on Earth (which has apparently escaped the holocaust), with Amelia Pond reprising her introductory scene in “The Eleventh Hour,” only no appearance by the Doctor this time. A little later, Amelia’s aunt confronts her with a picture she drew of a night sky, moon and stars. Everybody knows there’s no such thing as stars. (Amelia’s aunt doesn’t trust that dodgy Richard Dawkins and his star cults.)

The next day, Amelia’s aunt takes the little scamp to an exhibition on the Pandorica at the London museum. The museum is filled with anachronisms, geographical oddities, and also a fossilized Dalek (ha-ha, toasted).

When they reach the Pandorica exhibit, Amelia finds a note telling her to wait until after hours. She hides, somehow managing to elude her aunt and the presumable search party. Once night has fallen and the exhibit is deserted, she touches the Pandorica which opens to reveal—ha-ha, no, it’s not the Doctor, but grown-up Amy, very much alive, and telling her “Okay kid, this is where it gets complicated.”

Rewind to 102 CE. Just as Rory is getting to the “what have I done?” phase, the Doctor appears from the future, equipped with a fez and a mop, telling him to cheer up, it’s not the end of the world. Actually, it is the end of the world, but they can fix it. The first thing to do is to get his past self out of the Pandorica, for which the Doctor lends Rory his sonic screwdriver.

Once freed, the Doctor proceeds to be an insensitive jerk to Rory, telling him he’s just a simulacrum, and he doesn’t have time to help Rory’s girlfriend right now, she’s not more important than saving the universe. Rory proclaims that she is to him, and in proprietary masculine fashion, knocks the Doctor to the ground (though the Doctor did kind of deserve it, if for no other reason than that dismissive “your girlfriend”). Turns out he was just testing Rory to make sure the latter’s personality superseded his Auton programming.

He tells Rory to place Amy’s body inside the Pandorica. It’s the perfect prison after all: you can’t escape it, even by dying. (The Pandorica would seem to share with the nanogenes from “The Empty Child”/“The Doctor Dances” a capability to revive people who’re Only Mostly Dead.)

With Amy safely stowed away, the Doctor sets River Song’s Vortex Manipulator to take himself and Rory forward in time to pick her up. Rory, however, elects to stay behind, over the Doctor’s protests. The Doctor zaps into the future, while Rory settles in to guard Amy and the Pandorica for the next one-thousand-nine-hundred years. Awwww.

The Doctor finds Amy and Amelia in the museum with the Pandorica. They note with regret the story of the Pandorica’s guardian, the Lone Centurion, presumed to have perished during the London Blitz. Yeah right, Moffat, pull the other one.

Their mourning is interrupted by a not-so-fossilized Dalek, regenerated by energy from the still-open Pandorica. Before it can get to the whole “Exterminate” part though, it takes one in the eye stalk and deactivates. Our heroes’ savior is, of course, Rory, now dressed as a museum security guard. One-thousand-eight-hundred-and-forty years in his Centurion getup, and only now does he decide on a change of wardrobe? On the bright side, he won’t be spending the rest of the episode in that silly Roman outfit.

The Doctor plays around with the Vortex Manipulator, going back to clue in Rory, and to nudge young Amelia in the direction of the Pandorica. However, he warns, the danger isn’t over for them. So far, they’re safe at the eye of the storm, but that eye is closing, fast. As if to demonstrate the point, Amelia disappears. Under normal circumstances, this should mean Amy disappears, too, but the time line is so out of whack at this point, even it doesn’t know what it’s doing, so she’s safe for the moment.

The Doctor is less so, as a version of him from twelve minutes in the future abruptly crashes into the staircase above them and apparently dies. The Doctor, however, has more pressing concerns just at the moment.

He directs his companions’ attention to the sky, asking them if the stars have all gone out, what’s keeping the planet illuminated (and, you know, warm)? Not the sun, but the TARDIS, which is still in the process of exploding.

The Doctor deduces River Song is trapped within the explosion in an infinite loop surrounding the moment of her death. He uses the Vortex Manipulator to get her out, and you can practically measure the episode’s plunge in quality by slapping a barometer to your TV screen.

While the Doctor and company attempt to formulate a plan of action, the bloody Dalek shows up again, having repaired itself from the previous round, and shoots the Doctor with its deathray. The Doctor promptly vanishes twelve minutes into the past.

Amy and Rory flee, while River Song stays behind to confront the Dalek with her energy pistol. And River Song is such an awesome Mary Sue opponent, she manages to make a Dalek—a freaking Dalek—beg for mercy before exterminating it. God dammit, Moffat!

The companions quickly realize the Dalek’s weakened energy blast failed to kill the Doctor, and he merely told his past self to cause a distraction. The Doctor is busy wiring the Vortex Manipulator into the Pandorica. Since the latter contains within it a prototype for everything which ever existed, and a shitload of restorative energy to boot, the Doctor figures piloting it into the heart of the exploding TARDIS will restore the universe.

Only one problem: the Pandorica and its occupant being at the center of the explosion, will not be brought back with the rest of reality.

Cue the obligatory angst and mourning as the Doctor pilots the Pandorica into the explosion and his life begins to unwind. Moffat jettisons all the tension of saving the universe in favor of a drawn-out sequence of moping over how the Doctor is going to die, even though we all know perfectly well that he isn’t.

The Doctor goes back through various events of the season, eventually ending up on the night when he first met Amy. She’s still waiting outside for him, and he puts her to bed, telling her a story about a daft old man who *ahem* “borrowed” a box that was at the same time very big and very small, ancient and brand new, and the bluest blue ever. He forgoes visiting his past ten lives, and vanishes from existence.

Amy wakes up the morning of her wedding feeling unhappy, but when her Mum and Dad ask her what’s wrong, she can’t figure out why she’s crying. She marries the restored (and fully human) Rory, but keeps getting little hints and reminders of the Doctor. When somebody mentions that old saying about weddings, Amy remembers the Doctor’s story. The power of living with a crack in time radiating into your head now manifests itself, as Amy “remembers” the Doctor and the TARDIS back into existence.

The Doctor emerges the life and soul of the party, but he doesn’t kiss Amy, he’ll leave that to Mr. Pond. Rory objects to being referred to as “Mr. Pond” since “that isn’t how it works,” but then acknowledges that yes, that’s totally how it works. He’s so adorable.

In the midst of these events, Professor Mary Sue shows up, and goes out into the garden to have another frustratingly uninformative conversation with the Doctor. Then she takes back the Vortex Manipulator and buggers off (good riddance.)

By-the-by, from the Doctor’s perspective, his interactions with River Song have been in this order: “Silence in the Library”/“Forest of the Dead” → “The Time of Angels”/“Flesh and Stone” → “The Pandorica Opens”/“The Big Bang,” whereas from her perspective, it’s the exact opposite. I’m torn between wishing Moffat would restrain himself to only inflicting River Song’s presence on us for one more story (there’ll have to be at least one), and wishing he wouldn’t make the Doctor’s and the Mary Sue’s interactions so bloody symmetrical. Come on, Moffat, you’re the grand master of playing around with time travel, mix it up a little.

The Doctor returns to the TARDIS, where Amy and Rory show up to have a word with him. The Doctor congratulates them heartily, and says it’s time to say goodbye. Amy concurs, opens up the TARDIS door and calls out “Goodbye!” before closing it again with her and Rory inside. The Doctor grins and the TARDIS dematerializes, carrying the trio off to their next adventure. (And for the Ponds, apparently, the titular big bang. Ha. Ha.)

Exactly who engineered the explosion in the first place remains a mystery for now, but at least the Doctor does reference it at the end, indicating Moffat hasn’t forgotten that angle. Someone on TV Tropes said the malevolent voice from part one sounded rather like Davros—personally, I’m holding out for a more interesting Big Bad. Apparently, we’ll learn the answer in series six.

You can clearly see Moffat taking his cues from Davies in these episodes, what with the overblown, apocalyptic storyline and all. However, in terms of story quality, he’s got Davies blown clear out of the water. The plot, as always, is intelligent and engaging, shot through with a depth and drama Davies wishes he could attain.

Moffat’s finale doesn’t require massive spaceship battles to be epic (indeed, the humongous space fleets are practically an afterthought), it manages that on the strength of the story alone. And while the universe comes back at the end, it doesn’t feel at all like a reset button ending; Rory is restored along with Amy’s parents and the rest of the universe, and Amy marries him in the end. Neither do our heroes save the day by waving a magic wand—Moffat makes them work very hard indeed to earn their happy ending.

You could make the case that where “The Pandorica Opens”/“The Big Bang” falls down, it’s because Moffat didn’t distance himself enough from Davies. Moffat’s predecessor had pretty much recycled the apocalyptic finale to death by the time he left the show, and even with Moffat’s improvements, it still feels cliché and overdone. And reducing the epic conflict inherent in saving the universe to an overly drawn-out bit of angsty melodrama around a character we all know is going to survive anyway just reeks of Davies. Tell you what, though, I’ll throw Davies a bone and give him a pass on giving the Doctor a despicable Mary Sue for a sidekick. While Davies inaugurated the practice (and even made said Mary Sue a full-time companion), in this area too, Moffat has far outstripped his predecessor.

Even with the addition of River Song and the somewhat anti-climactic ending, “The Pandorica Opens”/“The Big Bang” is an excellent story, one of the finest Doctor Who has ever seen.

Christmas Special: A Christmas Carol: Amy, Rory, and four thousand space liner passengers are trapped in the atmosphere of an unnamed planet. The Doctor must convince miserable old Kazran Sardick to release the planet’s weather controls and land the ship safely. And what better way to do so than to give nasty old Sardick a bit of Christmas spirit?

I’ve complained before about Doctor Who playing fast-and-loose with continuity, and now I suppose I should eat my words. In “A Christmas Carol,” Steven Moffat has the Doctor jumping back and forth within his own timeline (previously a major no-no) and it’s glorious. It starts when the Doctor goes back in time to Kazran’s childhood, and when they need to open a combination lock, he ducks back into the “present” to get the code from grown-up Kazran.

The plot is good, as is the friendship built between the Doctor and Kazran (played by Albus Dumbeldore from Harry Potter movies 3-7A). The high point of the episode is when grown-up Kazran says of course he’s unloved and he expects to die alone and miserable, and challenges the Doctor (as the ghost of Christmas future) to show him his future … to which the latter replies “I already am,” and steps aside to reveal young Kazran. It’s an awesome twist, and its effects in-story are appropriately earthshaking.

There’s also a really neat bit early on when Kazran dismisses a couple of petitioners as not important, and the Doctor replies that in nine hundred years of traveling space and time, he’s never met someone who wasn’t important.

The storyline with Abigail is all okay, but reeks of cheap sentimentality—she was “ill” when she entered the stasis vault. Come on, Moffat.

The ending, with Kazran and Abigail riding off for their last day together in a one-shark sleigh is pretty cute. Now some people may be skeeved by the age disparity between Kazran and Abigail. My own views on couples with substantial age disparities are … complicated. However, it’s worth noting that Abigail has less than twenty-four hours to live at this point, so it’s reasonable to assume their relationship for that final day remains strictly platonic.

“A Christmas Carol” is one of those episodes where Moffat is clearly writing at moderate form—which coming from Moffat is still pretty blinking good.

 

And so concludes Steven Moffat’s first series as executive producer/head writer for Doctor Who. In some ways, it’s too bad I abandoned a numbered scoring system, as series five would unquestionably leave all four previous series in the dust.

I do have some reservations about Moffat. Along with the aforementioned raceblindness, there’s his (non-)depiction of queerness/homosexuality (apart from a couple throwaway lines), as enumerated here. It’s a shame, especially considering who originally introduced Doctor Who fans to Captain Jack Harkness.

It appears Moffat’s administration over Doctor Who marks a (slight) step backward in terms of social justice. However, it marks several quantum leaps forward in terms of story quality, and for that I am sincerely grateful. Unfortunately, the improvements did not last long, as we’ll see in the review of series six, coming soon(ish).