“Let’s Kill Hitler”
August 27th, 2011
When Steven Moffat threw that title at the end of “A Good Man Goes to War,” I was imagining something…different.
In my mind, it sounded like a right rollicking caper, a piece of historical science fiction and a transition piece from the tight serialization of the first half of the series into something a bit less serialized in the second half.
Technically, “Let’s Kill Hitler” does serve that latter function, but only after an hour that locks Hitler in a cupboard and moves on with the rest of its business without much concern over the historical setting. While the episode has some interesting ideas, it’s one of those episodes that is so preoccupied with ongoing storylines that it never manages to feel satisfying as a piece of fiction. Its broad strokes are meaningful, and ultimately successful, but the episode itself felt like a delivery system more than a story in and of itself.
“A Good Man Goes to War”
June 11th, 2011
My choice not to review “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People” is partly due to the awkwardness created by BBC America making the idiotic decision to take a one-week hiatus over Memorial Day Weekend, but I’ve also got to be honest: I didn’t think they were very good.
I saw a Twitter conversation go by, I think involving Jeremy Mongeau, and it really captured what I think the problem was. He made the argument, if memory serves me correctly, that serialization has actually damaged the show through the first half of the sixth series: everything has been so caught up in laying groundwork for future events or setting up the seasonal arc that it doesn’t really have time to breathe (or, if you’re “The Curse of the Black Spot,” was kind of just too dull to stand out).
Even if we argue that the serial elements have remained intriguing (which I would), and even if “The Doctor’s Wife” was a really compelling standalone that spoke to overarching themes in a strong fashion (which it was), “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People” were like a narrative fetchquest. The Doctor needed to learn more about the flesh, and therefore traveled to where it first originated in order to better understand it, and a story had to be created around that particular event. It just seemed like Matthew Graham’s script never quite managed to make the characters compelling enough, implying a sense of depth instead of actually showing it to us.
Did the two-parter lay some important groundwork for explaining the Doctor’s “death” back in the premiere? Absolutely. And did it quite effectively transition into the reveal that Amy has been flesh since the beginning of the season? Yes. But it becomes a two-hour exhibit in exposition when “A Good Man Goes to War” begins, a too-long detour in a season that seemed to lose its momentum. Mind you, Steven Moffat regains that momentum in about three minutes and forty seconds, give or take a minute or two, and “A Good Man Goes to War” is a stellar effort that benefits from having some truly substantial exposition to relay.
It also tells a compelling story to go along with it, one that we can be certain will resonate both in the fall and beyond.
“The Doctor’s Wife”
May 14th, 2011
It isn’t exactly news that Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who is expressly interested in the poetic: between The Girl Who Waited, The Boy Who Waited, and the tragic love story of the Doctor and River Song, Moffat’s world is filled with characters whose relationships are defined by strong emotional hooks. Even when the show built towards the fifth series’ grand finale, watching as the Doctor is slowly erased from time as he rewinded through the events of the series, it all turned into one big poetic moment where the “Old, New, Borrowed and Blue” story began to make so much more sense.
“The Doctor’s Wife,” scripted by acclaimed author Neil Gaiman (my relationship to whom I will discuss after the jump, is a truly wonderful outing on a large number of levels, but it’s the poetry of it all that makes it work. There’s a point early on where the Doctor can’t come up with a proper analogy to explain their location “outside of the universe” to Amy and Rory, and that’s very much part of Moffat’s approach: we don’t need to know what it means or how it works, all we need to know is what it means.
Or, rather, all we need to know is that we enjoyed the bloody hell out of it even though we’ve still got a whole lot of questions.
“Day of the Moon”
April 30th, 2011
[Note: while this does not air until a bit later this evening in the U.S., I’m embracing my independence from any one particular country to post my review when it’s finished so that those who watched in the U.K. can discuss it in a more timely fashion. Accordingly, if you want to avoid spoilers, don’t keep reading.]
It’s the time of year when writing about television on the side must take a back seat to writing about television in an academic (and, over at the A.V. Club, “professional”) fashion, and so it’s unfortunate that a weekend filled with paper writing had to collide with “Day of the Moon.”
In truth, I could probably handle writing about an episode like next week’s, where the show returns to its isolated adventures with only subtle nods towards a larger serialized storyline. I could evaluate the appeal of the situation (which next week features Downton Abbey’s own Hugh Bonneville, I believe), consider the ongoing character dynamics between the Doctor and his companions, and then be merrily on my way.
With “Day on the Moon,” I could actually be here for a day. It’s a compelling episode, filled with enough good ideas to carry three episodes of a lesser show, but it also ends up with enough loose ends that actually going through and analyzing them in a satisfactory fashion would be impossible given my current time crunch.
But, I do want to make a few points about the episode, given that I am sure there will be oodles of speculation to be done over the course of the season regarding what we saw here and given the fact that I very much enjoyed it.
“The Impossible Astronaut”
April 23rd, 2011
“Human beings – I thought I’d never get done saving you.”
As Doctor Who enters its sixth “series” (which I refer to as season above to avoid confusion with similarly titled posts on the blog), I find myself an an interesting crossroads.
As a viewer, “The Eleventh Hour” was my first experience with the start of a series (if not my first experience, as I watched the relevant Moffat-oeuvre episodes beforehand), and that episode served a very clear introductory function for Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor. It was also a contained episode, extending beyond the traditional running time to complete a single story alongside the introductions of both a new Doctor and a new companion.
By comparison, “The Impossible Astronaut” finds Matt Smith’s Doctor well-established, and despite the “official” addition of a second companion there is not much groundwork to be laid with either Amy or Rory given their importance to the previous series. It is also the first part of a two-part premiere, meaning that its full meaning has not yet been fully understood, and its role in shaping the remainder of the series remains fairly abstract.
When I suggest I find myself at a crossroads, it is because “The Impossible Astronaut” is a test of sorts for those of us who are new to the Who, so to speak. With the introductions out of the way, Steven Moffat has wholly embraced the series’ atemporality and put together a premiere which finds poetry in tragedy and tragedy in just about everything, breaking rules that we didn’t know existed and inventing rules that we can’t be sure exist. It renders viewers like me, those of us who only recently jumped on the bandwagon, not unlike the Doctor’s companions, forced to place our trust in Moffat’s vision while the questions pile up and the speculation overflows.
It says a great deal about the success of the fifth series that I barely blinked at “The Impossible Astronaut,” slipping easily into the giddy theorizing that this show can inspire and fully embracing my deep appreciation for something that I only started watching a year ago.
“A Christmas Carol”
December 25th, 2010
My “first” experience with Doctor Who, at least more than off-handed glimpses of the Eccleston era, was “Waters of Mars.” I received the screener, watched the episode, and sort of decided that I should see more of what the series had to offer. My next step was, not shockingly, “The Next Doctor,” the first of the four Tennant Specials of which “Waters of Mars” was part.
It was my first, and to date “only,” experience with the Doctor Who Christmas Special, an interesting example of television form. They’re a sort of palate cleanser, a way to transfer smoothly from one series to the next: there’s no major plot developments, no huge shifts in character relationships, serving instead as a reminder of how much you like the series and how much you are anticipating its return later in 2011.
And yet, while “The Next Doctor” was definitely a Christmas episode, it was very much affected by the Tenth Doctor’s soul searching, a sort of existential crisis which made that Christmas special a transition into a very particular journey of identity and meaning in the specials which followed. By comparison, “A Christmas Carol” is unconcerned with all of it: writing his first such special, Steven Moffat uses Christmas as a source of whimsy and magic, heartbreak and memory, and a wonderful bit of storytelling from which it seems the season to follow will draw momentum if not necessarily inspiration.
Although I wouldn’t mind if it took some of that too, considering how much I enjoyed this return to Who-Ville.
“The Big Bang”
June 26th, 2010
While I never publicly agonized over it, the decision to watch Doctor Who’s fifth series (or first series of the Moffat era, if we want to get really complicated) on the British schedule was not an easy one: while a large part of my readership appear to have been watching at the same pace, making for lively conversations, I have not been making light of the ethical dilemmas therein in continuing to post in this fashion.
However, ultimately, I think Steven Moffat has created a season of television which demands to be watched as part of a collective audience, and as a newcomer to the series I feel as if I would have been lost had I been following the North American viewings. Commenters have been most kind at helping contextualize my experience with the series within the series’ larger framework, and the season has been so aggressively timey-wimey that there is a great value to be watching at the same pace as those who can help provide important context for what I’m experiencing. If I were three weeks behind, many of those fans may no longer be interested in these episodes, and I think this season would have been a much less enjoyable one as a critic.
“The Big Bang” is a story at once about the beginning and the end of the world, and yet it is a sparse story told using only a few primary characters as opposed to some sort of epic struggle. There is struggle, but it is struggle which unfolds between various different versions of the same characters over time as opposed to between a larger number of characters. And while there’s enough time travel to make your head spin, and it introduces various elements which border on dei ex machina, those elements are so intricately linked to these characters that they play out more like poetry than plot.
And through a small story with big consequences, “The Big Bang” stands as a conclusive finale which connects back which all which came before, an episode which solidifies the quality of the Eleventh Doctor, the importance of one Amy Pond, and the sheer potential which lies in the future with Moffat at the helm.
“The Pandorica Opens”
June 19th, 2010
As a newcomer to Doctor Who, one of the challenges I’ve had to face in terms of writing about the series is what to do with its two-part episodes. In particular, there’s a distinct challenge with writing about the first part of those episodes, as Doctor Who tends to quite literally split narratives in half as opposed to telling two connected stories. As a result, the first half tends to be fairly heavy on exposition and setup before the second half brings it all to a resolution: while this means that there is plenty to speculate on about the first episode, it’s tough to offer a critical opinion when so much of the two-parter’s effectiveness depends on how it concludes.
[Note: this seems as good a time as any to link to Scott Tobias and Noel Murray’s fantastic conversation about the challenges of writing about television at The A.V. Club – I’d add “two-parters” to their list of confounding situations for television critics who write about television on a weekly schedule, although they are not particularly common in this day and age.]
I’ve gotten away with it so far this season by either writing about episodes from previous series (catching up with the Weeping Angels and River Song in my review of “The Time of Angels”) or catching up on previous episodes in this series (lumping reviews of “Vampires of Venice” and “Amy’s Choice” in with “The Hungry Earth”), but with “The Pandorica Opens” (the first part of the series finale) I knew that there was no such cheat available, which meant that the episode was either going to lend itself to instant analysis or it wasn’t.
There are times when I write about episodes of television because I feel I have something to say, or because I want to start or continue a conversation, but there are other times when I simply feel as if I need to write about something so as to be able to even come close to being able to wrap my head around it. “The Pandorica Opens” is one such episode, a first-part which wastes no time drawing a clear (and quite ingenious) connection between this story and the ongoing series narrative and in the process leaves me enormously confused in the best possible way.
“Vincent and the Doctor”
June 5th, 2010
Last week’s “Cold Blood” was one of those episodes which required some time to decompress, for us to see the consequences (or the consequences of the lack of consequences, to speak more accurately) of the events at its conclusion. Of course, the complicated nature of those events (which I’m avoiding spoiling above the fold so that those following the American schedule don’t see something they shouldn’t) means that the show isn’t necessarily going to act as if something terrible has happened, and the characters (for various reasons) will be moving on with their lives as if it hasn’t happened at all.
It puts “Vincent and the Doctor” in a legitimately fascinating position, and lends Richard Curtis’ compelling standalone story a weight it may not have otherwise achieved. While you could consider the episode’s visit with Vincent Van Gogh and his encounter with an invisible creature to be a solid little piece of storytelling separate from its place within the season’s narrative, its subtle moments of serialization and its broader thematic position within the series make it more accomplished than it may have been otherwise. It doesn’t necessarily surprise us, nor dazzle us with anything particularly amazing, but the notes it hits feel like the right ones for this stage in the series as we march towards its conclusion.
May 29th, 2010
I didn’t have a whole lot to say about last week’s “The Hungry Earth,” both because I wanted to talk more about the two episodes which preceded it and because it isn’t actually really important. While “The Time of Angels” was also the first part of a two-part story, it seemed like it had a narrative of its own: actions were undertaken, and the tension built during the first hour felt carried over into the second. This time around, meanwhile, there was no transfer of tension, as “Cold Blood” more or less takes the basic facts and situations created in the previous episodes and gives them consequence the first part was lacking.
This isn’t to say that “The Hungry Earth”/”Cold Blood” is entirely dissatisfying – rather, I simply want to note that this is a much less intriguing way to do a two-part episode, a scenario where the first part can be pretty easily summed up in a brief one-minute synopsis and the rest filled in through a few bits of dialogue here and there. However, luckily for the series, this episode packs both an emotional and intellectual wallop, delivering some key clues to the “endgame” of the series while also creating a substantial bit of narrative gymnastic which adds a new layer of complexity to our understanding of Amy Pond. Throw in a compelling glimpse at the Doctor’s love for humanity mirrored by a race with absolute disdain for them, and you’ve got an hour that does a better job at giving some hints at the big picture than it pays off the hour we spent last week.
And considering its position at this late stage in the series, that’s probably okay – the standalone story might have needed some work, but the ramifications of the story on the Doctor, his companion, and the series as a whole are a nice bit of momentum heading into the final act of the series.