It feels like only yesterday that everyone, me included, was marveling over the Complete Series 5 Blu-ray set of Doctor Who. In fact, it was over a year ago that the 11th Doctor and friends left our TV screens for the first time, wrapping up an incredible season and leaving fans excited for the future. It marked an amazing debut for new show runner Stephen Moffat, new Doctor Matt Smith and new companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams, played by Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill respectively. When Series 5 ended, we were treated to an exceptionally happy ending with the universe saved, the Doctor restored and Amy and Rory married. We were also left with a lot of lingering questions and mysteries to be solved, prominently about the identity and history of River Song (Alex Kingston). But without a doubt, we were in a great new era of Doctor Who. Flash forward to the present, where Series 6 is now done and compiled here on another beautiful Blu-ray box set. Did Moffat and company’s second year on the show live up to everyone’s high expectations? Did it match or even surpass the quality and brilliance of the Series 5?
Sadly, not quite.
Buzzfocus has already covered the 2010 Christmas special and first half of Series 6 on Blu-ray (the BBC loves releasing these Who series in parts as the show is ongoing), which you can find here and here. This review will try to build upon that while offering a bit of a different perspective. One thing is for sure: this is definitely not the season new viewers should use to jump into the show. It’s still recommended that folks begin either last season or back to Christopher Eccelston’s debut in 2005.
To quickly summarize: this series begins some time after the last, with the Doctor off on adventures and Amy and Rory enjoying the married life. A series of invitations bring Amy, Rory and River Song to America (fun fact: this is first time the show has filmed in the US) where they meet the Doctor. Things quickly go bad for our hero and friends, and a mystery is put into place that carries through until the very end of the season, a constant dark cloud hanging over our hero’s heads. New enemies are introduced, old friends are re-imagined and brought front and center, and outstanding mysteries are finally answered while new questions are raised for the future of the show to address.
Doctor Who is an incredibly plot-heavy show, and when it hits all of its notes properly, it’s the best science fiction program on television today. When it misses, and this season has plenty of misses, it’s noticeable and it brings down enjoyment of the series overall. I feel I need to explain my rationale for my review here to Who fans, and I will need to mention some specifics. There will be a few minor spoilers below, but no major plot reveals. Feel free to skip this next section and read on to the features and synopsis below it.
The first half of the season is, for the most part, brilliant. The opening two part episodes “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon” are incredible, wonderfully written and full of an amazing mix of fun, adventure, dread and mystery. My jaw dropped during the first five minutes of the show and I was on the edge of my seat for hours afterward. We are introduced to The Silence, a terrifying new enemy that the Doctor has to deal with. These aliens have been meddling with human history for centuries, and have the power to make people forget about them the moment they look away from them. It becomes clear early on these baddies are, if not responsible, definitely related to the problems raised in Series 5. It’s also obvious that, despite having seemingly defeated them on Earth, these Silent will return to play a big role later in the season. We also have a mind-shattering death at the hand of a mysterious astronaut, a mysterious child on the loose, and hints that something is amiss with Amy when the TARDIS cannot determine whether or not she’s pregnant. The show comes out of the gate strong in a way it really hasn’t done before and lays the groundwork for an incredible season.
There is one misstep in the first half of the season. After establishing a compelling season-spanning narrative, the show switches to stand-alone adventures, beginning with one aboard a pirate ship. This episode, on its own, would be fine as a Doctor Who story but unfortunately, it is placed early on in a season built up to explain some pretty key plot points, and this episode seems designed solely to give the audience a breather between the huge intro to the season, and the following episode, “The Doctor’s Wife”. This episode is easily one of the best of the new era of Doctor Who and a top episode for Matt Smith’s Doctor. It’s brilliantly written and beautifully executed love letter to the entire history of the show that old and new fans alike can enjoy. It’s an instant classic.
By episode 6 the mystery surrounding Amy is mostly solved and a huge plot twist is thrown the audience’s way. By episode 7, the Doctor has gone to war for his friends, and the identity and history of River Song finally starts to be revealed. The show fires on all cylinders leading up to its midway point. Unfortunately, the second half of the season is not as strong as the first; for all of the amazing build up and solid storytelling, the show does not deliver on its promises, not fully. Yes, we get answers, but they’re not as satisfying as they should be, and answers come at the expense of the believability of characters like Amy and River. As we’re exposed to more and more of River’s timeline and backstory, it becomes harder and harder to digest without turning off the brain completely. As we near the climax of the season, all eyes anxiously await the final reveal, in spite of some great standalone episodes (“God Complex”, “Girl Who Waited”) and some not so great episodes (“Night Terrors”). And as fun as it is to see James Corden return to Doctor Who after his episode last year, and as satisfying as it is to watch Amy and Rory’s time in the TARDIS begin to come to a logical end, ultimately, it all comes down to the major overarching themes of the season and how they are resolved.
And that’s where Moffat missteps, in my opinion. It’s fascinating and fun to watch the Doctor work his way toward his impending doom, but it’s never fulfilling for this viewer. We know the Doctor will be fine beyond this season, so it comes down to the “how” of it, the resolution. And the season lacks that resolution to really bring it all full circle. The Silence have so much potential as the new bad guys on Who, but they are completely underutilized and thus seriously weakened as villains. The twist at the end is not satisfying in any way but is, in fact, a bit of a confusing cop out, though admittedly not as bad as wishing the universe back into existence or towing the Earth itself through the universe (yes, these things happened). And what of River Song, that glorious, brilliant character introduced so many years ago? Well, let’s just say that now that we know most of her story, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and she doesn’t really live up to the potential she had when she was shrouded in mystery.
There are those who will argue that the show is primarily geared toward children and, as such, we should accept and enjoy it at face value and on that level. I think that’s bollocks; great science fiction, great television in general, can be written in ways that appeal to children while remaining smart enough for adults to enjoy as well, by telling compelling stories and following through on their elaborate story arcs to meet their logical conclusions. Doctor Who excels at this more often than not, which is why it’s so disappointing to revisit this season and see what could have been and what was ultimately delivered.
That being said, the show is still very good and comes recommended. There are some fantastic adventures here for the Doctor and his faithful companions, and Smith, Gillan and Darvill continue to put on great performances in every episode and work incredibly well off of each other. I could watch these actors go on a hundred more adventures together and never get bored. Smith is confirmed for at least one more season as the Doctor, which is welcome news indeed. He has become the traveling Time Lord and it’s hard to imagine someone else in the role. Amy is a solid companion for the Doctor, her best friend, but she suffers this season due to some strange writing and bizarre plot choices. Rory is still great though, and I don’t think I’d ever get bored watching him and the Doctor going back and forth.
The show is beautifully shot and directed, particularly the episodes filmed in Utah. There are reports that the show’s budget continues to suffer, but you’d be hard pressed to notice. Once again, the Blu-ray episodes look absolutely incredible and continue to bring the show to life in gorgeous high-definition quality. As expected, this series comes packed with fun bonus content including five lovely short scenes entitled “Night and the Doctor.” These stories show the Doctor on his own at night while his fellow travelers sleep, and of course, hijinks ensue. The content mostly focuses on Amy and then River, with a forgettable short at the end that serves as a prequel of sorts for episode 12. The Amy and River stories are both very good in their own ways; we get character development for Amy and fun adventures with River, including a hint at her future that fans witnessed back in Series 4. The discs also come with new Monster Files, four features that give details on The Silence, Gangers, etc., and episodes of Doctor Who Confidential, which give a close, inside look behind the scenes of each installment in this series. There are also five episode prequels, two sketches recorded for the UK’s Comic Relief charity event and audio commentaries on select episodes. Some audio commentaries are especially great, most notably Neil Gaiman’s, where he gives all sorts of great background on his episode “The Doctor’s Wife.”
All in all, this is a great set and a good addition to anyone’s Doctor Who collection. There are some brilliant episodes here that will go on to be remembered as classics, and there’s plenty of extra content on the discs to satisfy fans for hours. Doctor Who is bigger than ever and continues to grow, and that’s partly thanks to the ambition and scope of the show under Moffat’s reign. As you sit and watch Series 6 you realize that we’re all in the middle of a multi-season story still being told, one I’d wager isn’t going to end before the show’s 50th Anniversary in 2013 at the earliest. That’s exciting and fun, and in spite of its narrative shortcomings, that’s what’s most important when it comes to running with the Doctor: fun. I would prefer some things done differently and some things done better, but even at its worst, it’s still one of the absolute best shows on television.
– 5 Night and the Doctor specially recorded scenes exclusive to DVD and Blu-ray
– 5 specially recorded episode prequels
– 2 sketches recorded for the UK’s Comic Relief charity event
– 4 Monster Files – Get under the skin and inside the minds of the Doctor’s most challenging opponents
– Doctor Who Confidential – An inside look at each episode
– Bonus Doctor Who Confidential – “A Night’s Tale” about the exclusive DVD scenes
– Audio Commentary on select episodes
– BBC1 Trails
Buy Doctor Who Season Six on Digital Download through iTunes
Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series [Blu-ray]
Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
November 22, 2011
7 / 10