Doctor Who Season 5–the Facebook Marathon: Part 5

The adventure continues.

March 11, 2011, 10.44 pm. After the intense excitement of the Angels’ two parter, it’s time for a little light relief. Well, light insofar as alien fish people pretending to be vampires in 16th century Venice can be. This one’s so much fun that I barely posted anything on Facebook, so this’ll be a short entry.

NB – as before, if your name or image is on these screenshots and you’d rather it wasn’t, PM me on Facebook and I’ll edit the image. Thanks!

After a Moffat-heavy first half of the season, it’s over to writer of Being Human Toby Whithouse for a gripping little standalone effort that reintroduces the magnificent Rory Williams:

Season 5, Episode 6: The Vampires of Venice

I love Toby Whithouse, so this one I can go into with confidence, despite the title’s resemblance to Klaus Kinski Nosferatu faux-sequel Vampire in Venice:

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Straight away we’re at the stag party of one Rory Williams, Amy’s intended, and the Doctor’s bursting out of a cake in place of the expected stripper. Eleanor, Arnold and I all love him, though I suspect for different reasons:

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The Doctor attempts to bluff his way around using that old faithful standby, the psychic paper. Yes, it’s a narrative shortcut, but heck, it’s even worse than the sonic screwdriver for “in one bound they were free” plot contrivance. And it’s been a little overused in the last six years:

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Having sneaked into the Calvieri Academy for the betterment of young ladies, the Doctor appears to have wandered into a scene from a 1960s Hammer film by mistake:

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Rory’s attempts at blending in are (comically) less successful than seasoned time travellers like the Doctor and Amy, making him automatically more realistic and less of a smug git:

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And that’s all that came up in the Facebook discussion. Alcohol-influenced I may have been by this point, but I recall I was enjoying watching the story too much to spend much time gabbing about it online. Time for the verdict:

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Yes, in a trend that seems to be the norm since Matt Smith took the helm of the TARDIS, I was finding that the standalone episodes were more satisfying to watch than the big ‘arc’ ones, even though those still kept me interested. Still, kudos to Mr Moffat with his showrunner’s hat on for giving a good mix of the two, at least in this season. Next up would be another one, and the first in a series of episodes written by top notch writers who’d never written Who before…

Doctor Who Season 5–the Facebook Marathon: Part 4

The adventure continues.

March 11, 2011, 9.06 pm. With friends from various corners of the globe now chiming in on the Facebook discussion, it’s time to embark on the first two parter of Doctor Who season 5 in my marathon viewing. For the purposes of these posts, a two parter counts as one story, so both episodes are covered here.

NB – as before, if your name or image is on these screenshots and you’d rather it wasn’t, PM me on Facebook and I’ll edit the image. Thanks!

After only one episode away, that man Moffat is back, and he’s brought his most popular baddies with him…

Season 5, Episode 4: The Time of Angels

Somehow, my Facebook typing remains mostly accurate despite my increasing consumption of that most British of beverages, gin and tonic:

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River Song is back, and she’s trying to escape from a futuristic prison that looks suspiciously like a maintenance tunnel in Cardiff. But I’m more preoccupied with the oddly familiar young man she’s entrancing with her hypno-lipstick:

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At this point, I hadn’t become as jaded with River’s constant reappearances as I was later to become. This leads me to question the bleeding obvious:

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At this point, some ire is directed toward the then-new showrunner:

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The dialogue is channelling Frankie Howerd:

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As an Angel looms out of a TV monitor to reach for Amy, Steve sees it differently:

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As ever, I’ve discovered that one of the cast is quite an attractive young man; thankfully this trope hasn’t ended with the departure of Russell T Davies:

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As this is the second time I’ve seen it (the broadcast being the first), hindsight enables me to pick out some inconsistencies that I missed the first time:

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Ever the Robert Holmes wannabe, Moffat is ratcheting up the terror:

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The first episode reaches an exciting climax, but I’ve noticed something different from the original transmission:

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After a fag (no, a cigarette, not the other kind), it’s straight back for part 2:

Season 5, Episode 5: Flesh and Stone

Even more than the first part, Mr Moffat is letting his influences show:

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Like Tom Baker, Matt Smith has an excellent habit of counterpointing the scary bits with humour that doesn’t undermine them:

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The Doctor tricks the Angels into revealing their difference from the Spanish Inquisition:

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Being a little tipsy now, I decide to ruminate on the ongoing plot arc by quoting Leonard Cohen. Amy (not that one) chimes in:

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Contradicting what we’d previously been told, the Angels can be fooled into freezing by making them think you can see them. I may be tipsy, but my fanboy nitpicking head is still functioning perfectly. Steve comes up with the only possible explanation:

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As the terrifying set piece of Amy picking her way, blinded, through the artificial forest unfolds, I’m more preoccupied with her shoes:

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The Angels are defeated by hurling them into Amy’s crack, erasing them from ever having existed. Not for the last time, my nitpicking power enables me to spot that Mr Moffat’s timey-wimey narratives don’t always add up:

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With the excitement over, it’s time to (re)assess the story as a whole:

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So, opinion was more divided on this one, and even I had to concede it wasn’t as good as I said in my initial review. If you’re a regular reader of the blog, it’s worth noting that I write my reviews as soon as possible after watching, to capture the impressions I have at that precise moment. It’s actually not that unusual for me to become more critical of a story after I’ve given it glowing praise, it’s a habit I’m trying to combat!

Doctor Who Season 5–the Facebook Marathon: Part 3

The adventure continues.

March 11, 2011, 8.18 pm. Some gin has been consumed. With some trepidation based on my memory of it, I cue up the next episode of Doctor Who season 5, and the Facebook discussions commence…

NB – as before, if your name or image is on these screenshots and you’d rather it wasn’t, PM me on Facebook and I’ll edit the image. Thanks!

It’s a trip back to World War 2 and a meeting with some old foes behaving rather oddly in:

Season 5, Episode 3: Victory of the Daleks

As I start, I try to reassure myself. My friends are not convinced:

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Remember, I’m watching this before season 6 has been on, and as yet there are only rumours of the episode that will be known as Let’s Kill Hitler… Steve, though, has harsh words for Mr Eccleston:

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Transported up to the rather spartan-looking Dalek spaceship, the Doctor attempts to trick the metal meanies with a biscuit-based ploy. I’m impressed, but my friends are sceptical:

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The Daleks reveal that they’re trying to activate something called the ‘Progenitor’, but it won’t obey their commands as it doesn’t recognise their DNA as ‘pure’ enough:

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Unfortunately for fans everywhere, the Dalek plan succeeds and a bloated, multi-coloured version of the Daleks arrives in the warehouse spaceship. Somewhat unexpectedly, this results in a discussion of British politics:

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The new Dalek paradigm…

With the new Daleks having cost the BBC so much money and all, the old ones rather uncharacteristically (but conveniently) recognise their ‘inferiority’ and allow themselves to be exterminated:

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Using an adaptation of Dalek technology better described as ‘magic’, Winston Churchill sends the pride of the RAF out into space:

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The Daleks are (sort of) defeated. In the sense that they don’t destroy Earth, but get away to cause more mischief in future, thus justifying the expense of those shiny new props. With the story over, it’s time for the verdict. This one provoked a LOT of discussion:

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It’s typical (and actually more interesting) that the worse a Who story is, the more discussion it provokes. There was to be more of this to come, as the marathon continued…

Doctor Who Season 5–the Facebook Marathon: Part 2

The adventure continues.

It’s the evening of March 11, 2011, and I’m at home alone, staving off boredom by watching all of Doctor Who season 5 with the aid of gin and tonic. As I continue to post about it on Facebook, more and more friends are becoming aware of what’s happening…

NB – as before, if your name or image is on these screenshots and you’d rather it wasn’t, PM me on Facebook and I’ll edit the image. Thanks!

And now, onwards with:

Season 5, Episode 2: The Beast Below

As the story begins, the Doctor and Amy find themselves on a vast, mysterious spaceship. When are they?

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Steven Moffat’s script introduces a less than subtle note of political satire:

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The Queen pops up. With a bloody big gun.

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(No idea why I singled out Charles II. He did have good parties though.)

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Unlike the first time, I’m rather enjoying the episode, so no more comments until the final verdict:

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A shorter post than the last, but as you can imagine, the next episode prompted a LOT more debate…

Doctor Who Season 5–the Facebook Marathon: Part 1

On March 11 and 12 of 2011, alone at home and bored for the weekend, I chose to entertain myself with a marathon watch of Doctor Who season 5, the first with Matt Smith. As I went along, I was posting on Facebook about it every few minutes, and friends of mine from literally all over the planet chimed in with comments. It made a solitary experience into a fun, virtual social one, and was hugely entertaining.

Afterwards, I had the idea of using the posts and comments in a blog series. I mentioned it on Facebook, people seemed to think it was a good idea, then I completely forgot about it. Time passed, the computer the screenshots were saved on died, and the idea seemed to fade into the ether. Until now. I found a backup of all my old files, including the screenshots, and the idea was resurrected.

There’s so many that it’s easier to do episode by episode than one huge enormous post covering the whole season, so this is a trial run using just The Eleventh Hour. I’ve also found that images on this blog behave rather oddly, not always retaining their proper aspect ratio when published. If that happens, I’ll try to edit it in a way that stops it.

NB – At the time, I canvassed as to whether the friends who commented would prefer their names to be blurred out or redacted – those who expressed an opinion didn’t seem to mind either way. BUT, if your name is shown here and you’d rather it wasn’t, message me on Facebook and I’ll edit it out.

For now though, let’s begin with…

Season 5, Episode 1: The Eleventh Hour

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NB – I still haven’t tried it…

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A quietish start; later the debates became more lively as more friends realised what I was doing and chimed in with comments. If this works OK, I’ll  post more – one for each story – two parters counting as one story. Next one may be up sooner than you think…

Doctor Who Christmas Special: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

“Well, this is all really rather clever, isn’t it?”

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Ring out the bells, it’s Christmas time – and the time for that most divisive of Doctor Who traditions, the saccharine, family-oriented Christmas special episode. Every year since the show returned, these episodes have divided the show’s dedicated fans like no other stories, with a very vocal group always, without fail, proclaiming each one as “the worst episode ever”.

But the thing about the Christmas episodes is that they’re very different beasts to the stories shown as part of the series proper. As a centrepiece of the BBC Christmas schedule since 2006, they have to appeal to a wider audience even than the extremely successful show normally manages. They can’t be steeped in continuity which would alienate casual viewers less familiar with the show’s Byzantine mythology. And as an intended piece of wholesome Christmas fare, they have to be even more family-oriented than the show usually is, and encapsulate the ‘sentimental’ feelings so closely associated with the festive season.

Whether you like or very vocally hate the Christmas episodes is very much dependent on your tolerance for these strictures. If you’re curmudgeonly enough to find all these things objectionable, then you’re going to hate the end product no matter how finely crafted. And for the last two years, there’s been the added factor of the distinctive style that Steven Moffat has brought to the show – a very children-friendly blend of fairy tale and magic (in the guise of technology) that, for some fans, represents a dumbing down of a show that used to eschew such things and praise the virtue of science over superstition.

This year’s story, The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, had all these tropes in spades, and as usual, seems to have brought many a fanboy more outrage than joy this Christmas. But fanboys aren’t the Christmas episode’s intended audience; if some of them like it, well, great. But I doubt Steven Moffat’s going to lose much sleep over the ones who don’t. For this fanboy, the episode managed to – just – keep the balance of all these factors pretty much right. As a result, I found myself enjoying it, in fact more than last year’s.

One particular plus was that, unlike last year’s Dickens tribute, The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe told a simple, linear story with none of the reliance on temporal paradoxes that’s been so divisive among the show’s fans. Speaking for myself, I rather enjoy this element of the show, but I do think it’s been rather overused recently, so a straightforward story was more than welcome for me.

But if that Moffat trope was conspicuously absent, there were plenty of others in evidence. Like its obvious inspiration, CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, this was very much a children’s fairy tale, something Moffat seems to have steered the show towards in the last couple of years. All the fairy tale archetypes were there, and I have to admit, they appealed to my inner ten-year-old. There was a big old country house, a mysterious, magical ‘Caretaker’, and best of all, a portal to another world. Stories of mysterious gateways to other worlds were always a favourite of mine as a child, so it was no surprise that I enjoyed this.

Like Lewis’ novel, this took place in the early years of World War 2. Historical settings seem to work well for Christmas stories, perhaps because adults find the emotions surrounding Christmas to be steeped in nostalgia; even last year’s alien world was basically a pseudo-Victorian fantasy. World War 2 was not the nicest of historical periods, but in keeping with the general style, this focussed less on its unpleasant aspects, and more on the cosy, rose-tinted remembrance of a simpler time, with the bombing and the evacuation a perfect adventure for children.

It didn’t sidestep the nastier bits of war entirely, though, as we saw loving father Reg seemingly plummeting to his doom as  the pilot of a failing bomber over the Channel. This was nicely realised, but while Alexander Armstrong was great as Reg, it was hard to escape the memory of his street-talking comedy RAF pilot in The Armstrong and Miller show!

The ‘advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ trope was much in evidence from the outset, with a typically frenetic prologue of the Doctor casually blowing up one of the standard alien ships intent on taking over the Earth. It’s a mark of how established the show now is that we take the preceding events for granted now; it’s an alien invasion, of course the Doctor’s going to beat it. The details of how are almost irrelevant – and a good thing too, as that kind of simplistic story was pretty old-hat even in the show’s ‘classic’ run.

It was an exciting sequence, full of pyrotechnics and well put together by director Farren Blackburn, who impressed me directing half of The Fades earlier this year. But it required quite a suspension of disbelief to swallow the part where the Doctor plummets into the vacuum of space, then grabs a handy spacesuit and puts it on to somehow survive re-entry and the crater-engendering impact in 1930s England. Fanboys may have been recalling a similar spacewalk in less than fondly remembered Peter Davison story Four to Doomsday; others probably just wondered how come he didn’t die. All right, there was a line that referred to the suit as an ‘impact suit’ that somehow repaired its wearer. But still, I suspect your tolerance of Moffat’s use of technology as magic will have influenced your opinion of the story even at this early stage.

If you could cope with that, though, you were likely to enjoy the magic of the story proper. After his rescue by doughty young mum Madge Arwell (the excellent Claire Skinner), the Doctor promises to return the favour; all she has to do is wish. In the event, it’s her children who do the wishing, which magically does bring him back on Christmas Eve, in time for him to act as a sort of mad uncle/Willy Wonka in ‘redecorating’ the old country house they’ve come to stay in for Christmas.

Matt Smith leaned very heavily on his comic talents as he showed them around the ‘improved’ house, which was like every child’s dream. Taps that dispense lemonade, dancing chairs, a rotating Christmas tree complete with train set – and a mysterious, very large present that turned out to be a gateway to a distant planet in the far future, where a magical (there’s that word again) forest grows natural Christmas decorations. Perfect for a Christmas outing; but as we’ve seen recently, this Doctor is all too fallible, and he hadn’t realised that spacefaring humans were about to melt down the forest for fuel with acid rain.

It was a nice touch to bring hard technology and future energy prospectors into such an overtly magical world, and an even nicer touch for fanboys that they came from Davison-era planet Androzani Major, The three technicians/soldiers were a nice comedy touch in the style of classic series writer Robert Holmes, with their amusing repartee, but it did seem odd to have cast comedian Bill Bailey and have him essentially function as the straight man of the group! Still, some amusing dialogue, with the scanners confused by woolly garments and Bailey’s look of comprehending horror when he realised Madge might just shoot them – because she was a mother looking for her children.

In fact, the whole story was very much an ode to the strength of motherhood and the bond a mother shares with her children – I wonder how much Steve Moffat’s wife (and mother to his children) Sue Vertue served as an inspiration. While the Doctor was there to explain everything, it was Madge who was the true hero, fearlessly chasing her children to an alien world, hoodwinking people from the future, and ultimately serving as the only one ‘strong’ enough to be a vessel for the souls of the sentient forest as they evacuated (like the wartime children) from the threat of imminent destruction.

Again, this was all very much steeped in fairy tale style magic, as the forest was represented by an anthropomorphised King and Queen styled as walking wooden statues. These were very nicely realised – in fact the CG was generally really good this episode – but looked to have stepped straight out of the pages of a classic storybook. As was their tower, ostensibly grown from wood, with its geodesic space/time ship at the top. Again, you had to swallow magic to swallow this, really. If the tower was grown from trees, presumably the ship was too – so how did it fly? What was its power supply? How did it access the time vortex? The trouble is, if these questions nagged at you, you probably have a problem with the Moffat style in general. Like the thwarted alien invasion, he asks his audience to take magic (ie advanced technology) on trust, with very little – or no – exposition to explain it. But to a modern child, technology and magic must seem very nearly indistinguishable from each other.

And it was no surprise – not really – that Madge’s trip through the vortex also had the side effect of rescuing her husband. As her thoughts locked onto him, and the ship became visible in a blaze of light, he flew his bomber straight into the vortex; a scene rather more poetic than the sillier spaceborne Spitfires in Victory of the Daleks, but undeniably similar. Reg’s sudden reappearance on the English lawn was a cheering moment, undercutting as it did the tearjerking scene with Madge trying to tell her children that their father was dead.

I actually found this rather predictable, unfortunately. From the moment I saw Reg’s bomber start to fail in the earlier scene, I just knew that he would be saved at the last minute. The manner of his salvation was well- worked out, but I never thought for one minute that the Christmas special would end with two heartbroken children learning of their father’s death. Not mention that in Moffat-Who, death is rarely permanent for nice characters. But while I sometimes feel that, in the series proper, this cheapens the idea of death and undercuts jeopardy, I have to say that it felt right here. And after all that emphasis on the virtues of motherhood, it was nice to see that the children needed their dad too. If anything, it was as much a celebration of family as any one member of it.

If all this doesn’t mention the Doctor too much, that’s because he was almost a McGuffin in this plot; but Matt Smith was as excellent as ever, switching in a heartbeat from slapstick comedy to emotional connection and even loneliness of his own. The final scene, with him realising that he too could cry with happiness, was rather beautiful – though I can imagine that, for some, this very much tipped the scales of saccharine too far. But it was a lovely surprise to see Amy and Rory again, and for the Doctor to finally embrace the friendship he’d been pushing away from last year. And here again, he had Madge to thank – such a good mother, she even reduced a 900 year old Time Lord to a surly teenager: “OK Mum. I’ll think about it.”

Generally then, an enjoyable Christmas special, light on the convoluted plotlines Moffat’s been so keen on, but steeped in all his other archetypes. I very much enjoyed it, even though the story felt a bit slight for all the spectacle. But as almost concentrated Moffatiness (a word I invented), I’m sure it’s going to be as love-it-or-hate-it as everything else he’s done with the show!

Doctor Who: Series 6, Episode 13–The Wedding of River Song

“You’ve decided the universe would be better off without you… the universe didn’t agree.”

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“…they were all wearing eyepatches!” Right, got that out of the way. So, this was the big one, the one that had to wrap up the oh-so-confusing story arc that’s divided fandom and caused newspapers to write articles with titles like “Has Doctor Who got too complicated?” And did it manage to tie up all those loose ends successfully? Well, actually yes, with yet more hints of a bigger storyline to come that surely must lead up to the 2013 50th anniversary of the show.

As usual with Steven Moffat, The Wedding of River Song was bursting with imaginative ideas almost thrown randomly into the mix, and hinged on some pretty sophisticated sci-fi and philosophical concepts. This was, actually, more satisfying as a plot resolution than I expected Mr Moffat to manage. And yet, for all that, I found it curiously lacking in… something. I can’t really pin down what, though my first thought was ‘feeling’. Yes, it resolved this season’s aspect of what it now clearly a longer overall plot. But while I’ve enjoyed the puzzle box plotting so beloved of Mr Moffat, his Rubik’s Cube plot has been so cerebral this year that it satisfies without actually stirring the emotions. I used to complain that Russell T Davies’ plot conclusions were all feeling at the expense of logic; this time, despite a fine balance in last year’s The Big Bang, the season finale seems to be quite the opposite. It’s logical, it makes sense, it answers the questions (well, the ones for this year anyway) – and yet it left me curiously unmoved. It’s as though Moffat’s having such a fine time showing how he solved the puzzle, he’s forgotten we’re supposed to like and be emotionally affected by the characters who form its component parts.

That’s not to say I hated this, mind. It perhaps had too much to pack in for a one episode story, and it certainly would have been totally inaccessible to anyone who hadn’t watched the series overall. But what we saw rattled along quite excitingly, pulling together not just plot points but themes that have dominated the year.

The main theme, of course, was the Doctor’s increasing guilt and self-loathing, and the story showed us how, over the course of this season, he’s managed to convince himself that he does more harm than good. And that, ultimately, the universe would be a better place without him. His weary acceptance of his own oncoming death, which Matt Smith brought across so well last week, was very much to the fore here. One of the key factors about the Eleventh Doctor, as I mentioned a while ago, is his fallibility; and it fits that, in thinking this, he’s actually wrong. If the episode can be said to have had an emotional climax, it was when River opened his eyes to that, with the universe eager to come to his aid – “all you had to do was ask”.

And of course, how the Doctor gets out of that death has been the biggest question of the year. Steven Moffat stated as the year began that “one of the main characters will definitely die in the season opener”. It was audacious that it should be the Doctor himself; still more audacious to state bluntly that it was a real death that couldn’t be got out of, a point hammered home by this episode’s insistence that the Doctor’s death was one of those fixed points in time that simply cannot be changed. But this is Steven Moffat, and he’s getting good at misdirecting his audience in advance. The Doctor’s Rule One – the Doctor lies – is almost certainly the mantra of its showrunner these days.

He may perhaps have overloaded the series with red herrings this year, conscious of the fact that fans would be analysing every little detail. What was the business about Rory talking about his time in the TARDIS in the past tense in The God Complex? Why so many episodes that centred on father/son relationships? These things may pay off later, as the longer arc is gradually revealed; but it’s probably not a bad idea to have each season function as one complete story within that arc. Year one was all about the Crack and the Pandorica (and we still haven’t had a satisfactory explanation of why the TARDIS exploded); this year has been all about the Silence, River Song, and her erratically unfolding life story. These aspects meshed together logically enough as a resolution to how the Doctor’s death could be simultaneously guaranteed and averted.

First though, we had to see how we got there. The episode had a clever, tricksy, non-linear narrative. Plunging us first of all into a visually imaginative world where steam trains roam the London skylines, cars float around under balloons, and Roman legionaries wait impatiently at traffic lights was deliberately disorienting. The further revelation that it was always 5.02pm on 22 April was another Sapphire and Steel like touch in a series that has been full of them this year.

It was also nice (if fan-pleasingly self-indulgent) to see the return of so many characters from the show’s past. Simon Callow popped up in a cameo as Charles Dickens, with a presumably post-modern reference to how good “this year’s Christmas Special” was going to be. Dr Mahlokeh the Silurian was back, as Roman Emperor Winston Churchill’s personal physician. And Churchill himself had rather more than the cameo part that those were; although ultimately, his appearance had nothing to do with the advancement of the plot. As he called for his soothsayer to explain “what’s gone wrong with time”, it was a surprise to absolutely no-one that the ragged figure his legionaries dragged in turned out to be none other than the Doctor – albeit with some of the most unconvincing stick-on facial hair I’ve ever seen. And I may have been imagining it, but was Matt Smith wearing a wig this week? His usual hairstyle was there, but somehow unconvincing, as though it was glued on…

That may or may not be a Moffat Big Clue (it probably isn’t), but we then got the preceding events filled in as one of those Star Wars style quests across multiple alien worlds Moffat seems so fond of. Here again, we got some really imaginative ideas tossed into the mix without any real exploration or development. As with A Good Man Goes to War, a lot of these might have been interesting enough to sustain an episode in themselves; the ‘live chess’ game with 4000 volts running through the pieces, the seedy bar the Doctor meets the Teselecta in (Mos Eisley spaceport?), the cavern of still-living, carnivorous heads lopped off by the headless monks. When I reviewed A Good Man Goes to War, I said that this was evidence of the abundance of interesting ideas Moffat has, and I still think that’s true; but churlish though it may be, I’m beginning to wonder whether it’s more the case that he has the ideas and doesn’t really know what to do with them beyond making glancing references.

Whether or not that’s the case, it made for a colourful snapshot of a complicated galaxy (though whether the vignettes all took place in the same time zone was unclear). And the pit of skulls devouring an almost unrecognisable Mark Gatiss as Gantok was one of a number of memorable scary images this week. Not to mention another Moffat trope, the cameo inclusion of a big bad just to move the plot along – in this case a rather muted coloured New Dalek. I wonder whether its grey look was a result of damage or whether the production team have had second thoughts about their new Day Glo look? It’s also worth noting that the Dalek Amy drew as part of her remembrance of the Doctor was definitely an old style one…

Of course, this was all to lead us to the point where we came in – the death of the Doctor at Lake Silencio, in what, as Richard says over at the Millennium Dome blog, must be the most ridiculously convoluted assassination plot ever. And that was where it all changed, as River declared (contrary to what we’d previously been led to believe) that fixed points can be changed. Whoosh, bang, whiteout, and there we were back at the episode’s start, with all of history happening simultaneously.

That’s a neat concept I’ve seen played out in various comic strips over the years (notably 2000AD and, erm, Doctor Who Monthly). I’m not sure it actually makes any sense if you stop and think about it, but it mined a rich seam of weirdness as we saw Buckingham Palace adorned with ‘SPQR’ banners and heard Winston Churchill talking about downloads.

At that point it started to flow in a bit more of a linear way, and became slightly easier to follow. The return of the Silence was well-handled,with the creepy revelation that Winston and the Doctor have been seeing and forgetting them all through their conversation; though given that the Edvard Munch-alikes still seem to be in charge, it seems that, contrary to what we’ve been told, they are a species rather more than they’re a religion. Certainly their human lackeys – in this case Frances Barber as the memorably hubristic Madam Kovarian – seem quite disposable to them.

It all led to the big emotional scene at the top of the pyramid, in which River finally, actually, married the Doctor. This was an emotional scene, but it somehow lacked the punch of previous Big Teary bits in the Finale – notably the Doctor’s sacrificing of himself at the end of last year’s The Big Bang. And in fact, the plot here was quite similar to that episode too; the Doctor has to die, but how can he get out of it?

As it happened, I thought the way he got out of it this time was considerably less imaginative than having Amy dream him back into being. With at least one duplicate Doctor (from The Rebel Flesh) and one shape shifting time travelling robot having been seen this year, it seemed so obvious that it would be one of those substituting for the real Doctor that I assumed it would be another red herring. But no; with the Teselecta robot and its crew featuring so heavily in the ‘Previously on…’ sequence, it seemed a clincher from that point that they’d be taking it on. When the Doctor actually bumped into the Teselecta at the seedy space bar, that felt like it pretty much confirmed it. So when the script revealed the big switch, in that actually rather nice scene with a River out of time visiting Amy, it actually felt like a bit of an anticlimax. It also seems rather lucky that the Teselecta is capable of doing such a convincing job of imitating the regeneration process…

Of course, the other main plot point driving this year has been Amy’s pregnancy, and the not entirely unexpected reveal that River was her daughter. I – and a number of others – have found it slightly unbelievable that, since she discovered the truth about where baby Melody had gone, she and Rory seemed so unaffected by the loss of her opportunity to actually bring her up. Yes, it’s sort of a resolution that she actually grew up alongside her, and that, as River, Amy knows she’s going to turn out all right. And yet, at the same time, it never seemed believable that any parent would so easily accept that she would never get to bring her child up in a normal family environment.

I’d been hoping this uncharacteristic behaviour would pay off later (as some sort of mind control, perhaps), and here it did, but in a rather half hearted way. OK, you could say that Amy cold-bloodedly murdering Madam Kovarian for revenge over her lost baby is actually quite extreme; but as River comments later, it happened in an aborted alternate timeline – even if Amy is still torturing herself with guilt over it. It seemed to come rather out of nowhere too; this is the first time since she lost Melody to Madam Kovarian that Amy has even seemed that upset about it. For that matter, she’s had Madam Kovarian locked up for a while in the alternate reality and hasn’t hurt her till this point. Still, while I generally didn’t find it that satisfying, this was at least an acknowledgement that a real, breathing mum would actually be pretty upset over this turn of events.

Alternate Rory was pretty cool though, with his black ops uniform, gun and eyepatch. He got to be a hero again this week, as he held off the Silence despite being in agony. The fact that the Silent who spoke to him knew that he dies and comes back all the time was amusing, but did unfortunately underline another Moffat trope that many have come to dislike – the fact that, in Doctor Who these days, death is no real threat as anyone who dies will be back in some contrived way. This point was even further underlined by the return of the now bodiless Dorium Maldovar, who was mainly there to explain the plot.

And the plot’s not over, it seems (not that I really expected it to be, after last year’s finale). We now know that the Silence want the Doctor dead because, at some point in the future at a place called the Field of Trenzillor, he will answer a question they don’t want answered. We were teased by this all the way through the episode, as Maldovar told the Doctor fairly early on offscreen, but it didn’t take a genius to work out that the question (in a show that’s ever more concerned with dissecting the identity of its title character) was “Doctor who?” To underline the point, Maldovar’s head shouted it ever louder as the screen faded to black on an enigmatic close-up of Matt Smith. Doctor who indeed? A query the show’s never fully answered, with hints dropped every time we learn something about him that there’s some other, bigger revelation to come. If his identity is enough for a species/religious order to want him dead because it threatens them, it’s obviously a pretty big deal – and again, I’m wondering whether all this tantalising is leading up to a big revelation for the 50th anniversary.

All those returning characters felt, like Journey’s End, a bit self-indulgent, so if they do another big reunion for an anniversary special, it will already seem like a tiresome gimmick. But it was nice to see Amy and Rory again; the fact that they were in an alternate reality is a neat way of not invalidating the impact of their departure a couple of weeks ago. Plus, very much in keeping with the style of new Who, that penultimate scene in their garden was pretty much confirmation that they’re not gone for good. Whether they’re back as regulars next year I’m not sure (though there are enough unanswered questions about them that I feel they should be). But I’m sure we’ll be seeing them again at some point.

Unlike, sadly, Nicholas Courtney. It was a lovely decision of Steven Moffat to have Nick’s memorial within the show itself, rather than as a line in the credits. Admittedly, the scene felt tacked on, but if anyone deserves to have a scene tacked on to an episode, Nicholas Courtney is the one. Matt Smith did a nicely subtle job of portraying grief, something he seems very good at this year. It felt right that this often repressed Doctor should react in such an admirably stiff upper lip to hearing of the death of his longest standing friend. Of course, as a time traveller, he could pop back and visit the Brigadier whenever he liked, but that wasn’t really the point. This was really a memorial to the man who played him, but it was fitting that the character too got a send off. Whether it was intentional or a mere coincidence for it to have happened in a story so full of eyepatches we may never know..

All in all then, a conclusion to a controversially complex series that tied up the loose ends well enough while leaving us with hints of more to come, yet was for me a bit unsatisfying. It satisfied my head, but not my heart. Last year’s finale got this balance just right, for me anyway, but this year’s felt like it had tipped just too far towards the cerebral, despite the glorious visual invention on display. In a final analysis, I didn’t hate the Big Arc as so many others did, but this year neither was I that thrilled by it. I’ve actually found the standalone episodes more rewarding generally, with the arc stories (particularly A Good Man Goes to War and Let’s Kill Hitler) seeming like witty pyrotechnic displays that were full of complexity but somehow lacked substance. While I’d hoped for more, The Wedding of River Song was enjoyable enough, but I hope Mr Moffat pulls out a few more stops next time.

The most wonderful time of the year

“Everything has to end some time. Otherwise, nothing would ever get started.”

Ah, Christmas. The time of year which, for the British at least, is sacrosanct. It has to be absolutely perfect – the tree, the presents, the family gathered together in some mythically perfect pseudo Charles Dickens fantasy of non existent Victoriana. To make Christmas perfect, the British will go through anything – witness the savage consumer competitiveness of Christmas shopping, the weeping and rending of garments as the snow disrupted everyone’s plans for this to be ‘the best Christmas ever’. I sometimes wonder if, put in the position of having to, the British would actually kill to make it the best Christmas ever, as if the holiday was capable of improving its Christmassiness indefinitely, its zenith ultimately unattainable yet tantalisingly in sight. All of which may make me seem a little, perhaps, like that ultimate Christmas monster, Ebenezer Scrooge.

Which brings me neatly to this year’s festive Doctor Who offering, the derivatively titled and plotted A Christmas Carol. Not that the qualifying adverb ‘derivatively’ means it wasn’t a lot of fun. It was as intricately plotted as you’d expect from a Steven Moffat script, making full use of the show’s intrinsic timey-wimeyness to put a fairly novel spin on the Charles Dickens classic.

This meant there were moments when the use of the time travel concept led to some trademark Moffat jaw dropping moments. I absolutely loved the moment when the Doctor popped out of Sardick’s office to suddenly appear in the home movie he shot decades ago. The story also brilliantly subverted your expectations, based on the Dickens original, of how the Ghost of Christmas Future would work. “Are you going to show me that I die alone and unloved?” the elderly Sardick sneers, which is exactly what Dickens’ ghost does to Scrooge. “Everybody does.” And then we see that, for the boy Sardick, the present we’re seeing is a future he’s seeing. Mind warping stuff, for a family Christmas show on at six in the evening.

It was a show full of brilliant concepts, realised with some stunning visuals from the Mill. A planet covered in ice clouds, through which swarm beautiful fish, its climate tamed by the weather machine that was controlled by Scrooge-lite Kazran Sardick. Which also led to the fan-baiting dialogue about the machine’s ‘isomorphic’ controls – a claim the Doctor made for the TARDIS console in 1976’s Pyramids of Mars. “There’s no such thing!” exclaimed the Doctor, fiddling with the machine to comical effect. This probably made the hackles rise for many an earnest, humourless fanboy – and I dread to think how much they frowned when Sardick hugging his younger self failed to yield the expected explosion from ‘shorting out the time differential’ (1983’s Mawdryn Undead, and 2005’s Father’s Day, for that matter).

All of which, besides being a laugh for fans who don’t take the show as seriously as all that, underlined the point that a Doctor Who Christmas special doesn’t really have the same agenda as a normal episode. It’s a bit of fun, a romp, with a yuletide flavour. Po-faced fanboys shouldn’t expect a serious exploration of the show’s labyrinthine, already inconsistent continuity. Particularly not from the man who coined the scientific phrase, “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff.”

And a fun romp it indubitably was. We had some well-realised set pieces – who’d ever have thought you could have a terrifying shark attack in the safety of your own bedroom? Or a sleigh ride through the clouds with the aforementioned shark in place of the traditional reindeer? It’s a mark of the continuously improving CGI from the Mill that these looked as good as they did, though I think we’re still some way off from when CG on this budget looks indistinguishable from the real.

A fairly small cast also shone, giving Moffat’s sparkling dialogue the delivery it deserved. Matt Smith, in particular, is fast becoming one of my favourite Doctors ever, with his weird physicality and studied eccentricities. He got some terrific dialogue with which to emphasise this, unsurprising from the man who used to write Press Gang and Coupling. “That’s got me written all over it! Well, it will have me written all over it, with a crayon and enough time…” Or “You know what boys say to fear, don’t you? ‘Mummy’.” All of which delivered at breakneck speed, as though Smith’s Doctor is continually thinking of something new before he’s finished vocalising what he’s already thought.

He also got some memorable philosophical sound bites, in keeping with a character who, in 1969, told us “Logic, my dear Zoe, merely allows one to be wrong with authority,” and countless others. Besides the line quoted at the beginning of this review, he memorably described Christmas, and Sardick, as “Halfway out of the dark…” and best of all, said “in 900 years of travelling through time and space, I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important!” Which immediately recalled, for me, Dr Stephen Daker’s plaintive enquiry to a ruthless corporate shark in 1988’s A Very Peculiar Practice – “Isn’t everybody important?” Dr Stephen Daker was, of course, portrayed by Peter Davison.

Michael Gambon was, unsurprisingly, brilliant as Sardick. In keeping with some fairly emotionally complex writing, he made someone who initially appeared to be a one-dimensional monster increasingly layered and full of the contradictions feelings give to people. The character was also well-served by a great performance from his twelve-year-old counterpart, whose name I didn’t catch but who gave a more charming performance than Laurence Belcher as the teenage Sardick. Not that Belcher was bad – and very nice to look at – but the boy got all the best lines and scenes.

Katharine Jenkins was also surprisingly good, considering that, as an opera singer, she’s not exactly experienced at acting. Her character, Abigail, didn’t get that much to do, but great use was made of her voice in a beautiful musical moment as she sang to the storm to calm the clouds. What a great concept! It’ll be another memorable track on Murray Gold’s next soundtrack CD – although the music may generally be better remembered than the dialogue, considering that the dialogue could often barely be heard over the score. Sweeping and cinematic is fine, but that sound mix still isn’t right, and I think it’s probably worse if you’re not watching on a 5.1 surround system.

With Amy and Rory largely sidelined, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill managed to still give us some memorable – though mostly comic – moments. The judicious reuse of two of their more incongruous costumes from the previous series was a hoot, and I couldn’t help but what wonder what kind of kinky role play would result from a scantily clad policewoman meeting a Roman centurion!

With carol singing, a planet that seemed to be modelled from idealised Victoriana, and the conceit of the Doctor not only coming down the chimney but appearing at every Christmas Eve from then on, it certainly matched Steve Moffat’s promise to be ‘”the most Christmassy episode ever”. And, as I alluded to in my introduction, this could well prove to be an insurmountable challenge. If each year’s festive offering has to be “more Christmassy” than the last, where can next year’s go? Where will it end? The logical extrapolation is an hour of television in which the TARDIS constantly circles a giant Christmas tree, chasing a reindeer driven sleigh and dodging friendly giant snowmen. Christmassy, to be sure, but less than thrilling.

I’m carping – a little – because, while the episode was a lot of fun, and had some dramatic and scientific concepts that boggled the mind, it left me, in the end, curiously unmoved. And that, I think, was because it was obviously trying so hard to be moving. There’s a lot of criticism one can level at Russell T Davies’ Christmas episodes – and God knows I have – but he did genuinely know how to make a moment tug at the heart. The emotional moments here seemed so dramatically contrived that I could actually see the strings trying to do that, and when I can see the emotional manipulation at work, it just doesn’t have any effect on me.  I realise that, for a lot of others, it worked very well, but maybe I’m too much of a cynic. Maybe I need my own Ghost of Christmas Past to visit…

Still, another good effort from Mr Moffat, with Matt Smith as excellent as ever, and the glimpses of the series to come were tantalising. The ‘Next Year’ trailer did seem to focus very heavily on the Doctor’s much publicised trip to the USA, but it still looks plenty exciting. Sitting at the President’s desk in the Oval Office, meeting X Files style aliens, wearing a stetson – “stetsons are cool” – and growing a beard a la Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day. Though that last did make me wonder when the Doctor actually finds time to shave, given that he’s always immaculately clean shaven. I think I’d always assumed he just didn’t grow facial hair! There’s the po faced fanboy inside me coming out…

Before I end this – as usual – lengthy piece,  mention should be made of this year’s other great science fantasy festive special. Hastily commissioned but steeped in the show’s usual impudent quality, the Christmas episode of Misfits was a thing of wonder. It’s at the other end of the family friendly scale from Doctor Who, but how can you not love a Christmas special which includes the lines “Fuck me, Santa!” and “I’m going to kill Jesus.”? The second series of Misfits has built beautifully on the first, enlarging a concept that seems initially VERY silly – young offenders gain superpowers after a mysterious storm – into a show that incorporates imagination, drama and humour. If you haven’t seen the Christmas episode, I’d urge you to seek it out on 4OD. Just beware – you shouldn’t watch it with granny and the kids like you can with Doctor Who!

Lucas, Sarah and Jo

“Do you have a hobby?” the spiky haired, unconvincingly American hacker girl asked Lucas in Spooks this week. Of course he does – Lucas’ hobby is brooding. Although he also enjoys scowling, and thumping the steering wheel of his car.

Reliably barmy as usual, this week’s episode saw a group of cyber terrorists from the Russian and Chinese secret services compromise the Grid. This caused Ruth’s usual pinched frown to virtually collapse in on itself as she tried to communicate this information to Harry without the Cybermen seeing. The voyeurs themselves were based in the usual empty high rise office with full length windows that nobody looks out of. Except Lucas when he’s brooding. Quite why Section D doesn’t maintain a special database of empty offices with big windows I have no idea. Perhaps because it would make the episodes shorter?

This season, Lucas has more than usual to brood about. After three years on the show, he’s been confronted by a shifty looking Iain Glen, who knows his secret identity. Apparently, before he was Lucas North, he was Guy of Gisburne. Or something. Anyway, in order to prevent this becoming public knowledge, Lucas has framed an office junior at MI5 and allowed the aforementioned hacker girl to bleed to death so she didn’t spill the beans about the Albany file that Glen is so keen to get his hands on. But he’s getting his hands on it from Malcolm! Yes, the least cool and yet most lovable techie the series ever had has come back to hint that he knows more than we thought he did. Or something. Which leaves me torn between wanting him back on the grid full time, or sticking with the less lovable but much prettier Tariq.

Also in the pretty camp is new boy Dimitri, played by Max Brown. You can tell Max is quite a talent from his background in Hollyoaks. But he is nice to look at, and sensibly, the writers don’t give him much to say. His usual function is to defuse bombs, which he seems to have done in every episode he’s been in. So, logically, this week he was practicing defusing bombs. With an actual bomb. As you do. Still, this came in handy when the cyber freaks locked the Grid down and Dimitri was able to blow his way out. Or something.

Without even a brief pause for the audience to figure out how he did it, Harry was onto the cyber agents in a flash, displaying the customary cool that’s left him the only original cast member standing. But as yet, he knows nothing about Lucas’ treachery, all for the love of Laila Rouass, with whom he shares no chemistry whatsoever. The flaringly nonsensical and yet compellingly watchable saga continues next week…

Meanwhile Laila Rouass was also busy as an equally treacherous UNIT Colonel in this week’s guiltily enjoyable Sarah Jane Adventures. This series has gone from strength to strength, with some intelligent, perceptive writing acted by a talented cast who deserve to go on to bigger things.

Joe Lidster’s season opener The Nightmare Man was one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever seen in children’s television, bolting its dream haunting bogeyman (played with astounding creepiness by Julian Bleach) onto a character heavy story that directly and indirectly summed up the tumultuous changes when children grow up and leave the nest. Luke, played by the sweet Tommy Knight, was written out as he went off to uni, and the script cleverly drew on his, his friends’ and Sarah Jane’s fears to enhance an ethereal, Neil Gaiman like tale of a creature who wants to destroy the world’s dreams. One of the most talented writers working on the show, Lidster too deserves to go on to bigger things.

After this haunting, Sapphire and Steel like opener, Phil Ford’s follow up Vault of Secrets was a broadbrush comedy romp that felt far less sophisticated, with aliens, android Men in Black and a comedy UFO group ‘amusingly’ called BURPSS. Still, it was just a brief interlude before the story all fans were talking about – Russell T Davies’ Death of the Doctor. (Not The Death of Doctor Who – that was episode 5 of 1965 serial The Chase).

So, how would new boy Matt Smith bond with Sarah Jane, who’d already forged a real chemistry with David Tennant? In order to make it even more challenging, Russell upped the ante by bringing in yet another old companion – none other than the much loved Jo Grant, played by the incomparable Katy Manning.

As makes sense for a show revolving around one of the Doctor’s companions, it was the companions themselves who had the lion’s share of the action – the Doctor didn’t even show up until the end of part one! That gave Katy Manning the chance to… well, be Katy Manning. Scattily running around spouting enthusiastic nonsense while knocking things over, it didn’t seem like there was much actual ‘acting’ involved. It was a joy to see Katy again, and she managed to perfectly upstage Lis Sladen at the funeral, leaving her gaping speechlessly. Although, a more cruel mind than mine might have assumed Sarah Jane was simply jealous at the far larger amount of work Jo had had done to her face.

The Doctor noticed too. “You look like you’ve been baked,” he cried, with his usual marvellous lack of tact. Matt was as excellent as ever, and if anything forged a better chemistry with Jo than he did with Sarah Jane. Fittingly, the script allowed Jo the most screen time with him, and while it was basically a retread of the similar scenes involving Sarah Jane in 2006’s School Reunion, the interplay between Matt and Katy did bring a lump to the throat.

The Doctor was also more satisfactorily involved in resolving the plot than he was in his previous Sarah Jane appearance, where he just ran about and frowned a lot while caught in a parallel timeline. This time, it was a joint effort – the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Jo were all instrumental in defeating the less than convincing giant vultures’ plan to break into the TARDIS.

And what a joy to see so many and such well-chosen flashbacks. Hopefully the kids of today are already asking their mummies and daddies about Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. It was of course, a typical Russell tear-jerking stunt, and you could say that there were, well, rather too many flashbacks, actually. But it’s hard to carp about that when the resolution of the plot depends on an overload of memories. And I can forgive Russell – just – for having Jo officially remember her visit to Karfel as referred to in that 1985 trash heap of a story, Timelash.

But, as I say, a romp and a good tearjerker. As a piece of writing, it wasn’t up there with Joe Lidster’s opener, but as a fanboy wet dream it was second to none. The cherry on top was Sarah Jane’s final eulogy to every Earth based companion still – in the show’s continuity at least – alive and kicking. Especially affecting were the references to Harry Sullivan and Ben Jackson, both sadly no longer with us in real life.

So, typically of Russell, the tale was “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. But good fun, nonetheless. I can’t help feeling that the next three stories will have very hard work not seeming like an anticlimax. Perhaps Sarah should meet Lucas North and Harry Pearce? Or something…

Series 5, Episode 12: The Pandorica Opens

Everything that’s ever hated you is coming here tonight.”

Wow. That was simultaneously riveting, exciting, and really intricately plotted. In fact, we can now finally see all the intricate plotting throughout the whole season beginning to pay off.  It also fulfilled the now obligatory requirement for a season ending to be massively spectacular, but unlike some of the season finales of the past, it didn’t provide spectacle at the expense of plot or intelligence. And that has to be the best cliffhanger the show has ever done!

A massive pre-credits sequence – possibly the longest ever – tied the season together in a way that’s never been done before, by bringing back most of the really memorable characters we’ve met as the year has progressed. Van Gogh’s still mad, Churchill’s still huge, and River Song’s still… well, still River Song. I wasn’t entirely surprised that so much of the season finale revolved around her (even without the spoilery revelation from Doctor Who Magazine that she was in it). Steve Moffat (her creator, after all) obviously sees her as his version of Captain Jack Harkness; she’s the larger than life occasional companion who pops up at crucial points, with a flamboyant personality and dress sense to match. Alex Kingston was great as ever, though I suspect some fans will find the character’s over-the-top personality and ‘Hello sweetie’ catchphrase a bit much to take.

And Rory was back too! There are plenty of Rory-haters out there, but I was over the moon to see Arthur Darvill, if not entirely surprised. OK, so he turned out to be an Auton replica like all the Romans, but any Rory is better than no Rory. And he got that cracking scene with Matt Smith as the Doctor failed to notice that his return was anything unusual; a funny scene comically timed to perfection by both actors. Not to mention the heartbreaking moment when Amy remembered him just as he unwillingly shot her, the first shock in an exponentially increasing series of them that led to THAT cliff-hanger…

But it was still a classic Who story, and like every classic Who story, it had monsters. Lots of them, in fact. When the Daleks faced off against the Cybermen at the end of season two, it was great fun but seemed like, in the words of the lamented Craig Hinton, fanwank. But here, Steve Moffat managed to pull off bringing back virtually every opponent the Doctor has faced since the series returned, and not only did it seem credible and entertaining, but it was also only a part of a massively complex plot. I’d had forebodings since the Daleks’ makeover that the finale would yet again revolve around them; but while they were back, so was everyone else, and the Daleks were just one element of a massive alien alliance that was itself not the main villain of the piece.

Having the monsters involved more peripherally meant they could have some fun doing unusual things with them, too. That whole sequence with the dismembered Cyberman managed to be both memorably gruesome and blackly funny. The writhing metal tentacles of the dismembered Cyber-head as it crawled towards Amy managed to be reminiscent of Tetsuo the Iron Man and John Carpenter’s The Thing, and as it then popped the head back onto its damaged body, I was reminded of nothing so much as the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact. That struck me as a pretty fair steal, given that the Borg have always seemed like ripoffs of the Cybermen in the first place!

In keeping with a new style of production team, the finale also has, initially, a very unusual setting. Since the show returned, each increasingly epic finale has taken place either on contemporary Earth or the far future. Here we had our heroes roaming around Roman Britain, itself a key piece of the puzzle that’s been building all season. And the Pandorica itself was under Stonehenge – a nice use of a British location rather more interesting than, say, Canary Wharf. As the Doctor stalked around what seemed to be a very large version of the puzzle box from Hellraiser, muttering about the massively destructive individual contained therein, I began to guess that the only messianic/destructive creature to live up to that description was the Doctor himself. Mind you, I’d thought that, in keeping with the theme of disjointed time throughout the season, it would be a future version of the Doctor already imprisoned. It was a good bit of misdirection in the script to give you the hint that the Doctor was inside and then reveal at the end that he would be – just not yet.

A similar bit of misdirection was the rousing scene in which the Doctor, armed only  with a transmitter, seemingly sees off a massive fleet of spaceships belonging to all his greatest enemies. Matt Smith played it well, going in an instant from his ‘young fogey’ persona to a believably godlike, ancient alien. It was a scene that almost felt like it was written for David Tennant, so reminiscent was it of Russell T Davies’ style, and yet it turned out to be more sleight of hand from Mr Moffat. The aliens weren’t leaving because of their terror of the Doctor, as they would have done in previous seasons – the Doctor, it turned out, was exactly where they wanted him.

Meanwhile, River was taken by an increasingly shaky TARDIS to the fateful date of 26 June 2010, and all the pieces of the puzzle started to slot into place. As the script juxtaposed the increasing peril of River in the about-to-explode TARDIS with the Doctor being clamped into the Pandorica and Rory cradling Amy’s (apparently) lifeless body, some excellent direction skilfully ramped up the tension. The pacing of this episode was superb, with revelation after revelation building to a massive climax. The alien alliance think the Doctor is responsible for the cracks, and the impending erasure of the universe from history. But it looks like they’re wrong, and they’ve just caged up the only being who can stop it. As the familiar crack appears yet again, this time in the screen of the TARDIS, is the malevolent voice croaking “silence must fall” the real villain? Then just who is it?

Steven Moffat has always been excellent at writing very complex, deceptive scripts that misdirect the viewer with the skill of an excellent magician. Even when he was writing Press Gang, his very first TV show, that was evident. But given the whole of space and time to play with, he’s taken intricate, puzzle-piece plotting to a new level. This episode showed the stakes he’d been hinting at throughout the season – not just the destruction of the entire universe, but its, and all other universes’, erasure from time entirely. The stakes have never been so high in Doctor Who, and we still don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle. But with this episode climaxing with the apparent death of two of the main characters, the perpetual imprisonment of the other and the apparent destruction of all universes and time itself, you have to admit that’s one hell of a “how’s he going to write his way out of that?” ending. With Steven Moffat writing, I can’t wait for next week to find out.