Top of the Docs: Series 6 (2011)

Smith’s first season as the Doctor had some strong episodes, but only one or two genuinely memorable ones.  That didn’t stop me from heading out to NYC to the Ziegfield theater with a young friend who was allowed to miss school to witness the 2-part premiere of Smith’s second season.  And what a premiere it was.  This is one of those seasons that made me wish we used an 11 point scale!  

series 6

The Impossible Astronaut/The Day of the Moon

RP: 10 – This is basically a two-part season finale at the start of the series, paying off plot threads we won’t see until later. It’s an unusual approach that is inevitably to the detriment of the rest of the season, but makes for probably the best opening two episodes we’ve ever seen. The Silence give the Weeping Angels a run for their money as the best Doctor Who monster of the 21st Century.

ML: 10 – It seems impossible but this one shot for the moon and went way beyond.  What an insanely fantastic opener and the Silence are hands down my favorite alien species in all Who-dom.  Great timey-wimey opening and what a fantastic cliffhanger.  

The Curse of the Black Spot

RP: 6 – I’m not a big fan of pirate stories, and all the clichés that come with them, but the rerun of The Empty Child works well (malfunctioning medical tech, everybody lives). The Siren is great, but ultimately this is a fairly disposable breather episode.

ML: 3 – While a relatively weak story, earning it a below average rating, it’s still got some redeeming qualities; namely a great pirate captain, Amy’s buccaneering prowess, and a beautiful voice from a sometimes-creepy siren.  They can’t raise this to an average score, but they keep it from being the black spot on the season!

The Doctor’s Wife

RP: 9 – This is how you completely rewrite Doctor Who history without leaving the fans foaming at the mouth. The TARDIS is a sentient being who takes the Doctor where he needs to go (which is not always where he is trying to go) – genius! Added to that, a gloriously bizarre Neil Gaiman fantasy story, and you’ve got to love a creepy Junkyard.

ML: 10 – Two words: Neil Gaiman.  For his first outing, he gives us a delightfully odd story that is just top notch.  Awesome dialogue, great music, beautiful message and gives us new appreciation for the TARDIS.  I can’t speak for others, but do I love this episode?  I do!  

The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People

RP: 8 – A great monster, which doesn’t just scare us but also raises weighty ethical issues, a Troughton-esque base under siege, and a much better examination of the rights of a slave race than was ever achieved with the Ood. But then Matthew Graham goes and spoils it all by having the Doctor execute a Ganger right at the end, after spending the whole story trying to show us how Ganger life is worth just as much as human life. Defeat snatched from the jaws of writing victory.

ML: 9 – I feel this episode could have lead to one of the best cliffhanger resolutions in the entire history of the series.  The question of personal identity was explored beautifully even if some of the actual story lacks logic (shoes…). The villains are proper scary too.  This is almost a classic and is brought down only by the lack of foresight in follow-through later in the series!

A Good Man Goes to War

RP: 9 – The Doctor tries to be something other than the Doctor in this story, and in the end it’s not he who becomes the “good man” who “goes to war”. The episode introduces a group of the Doctor’s friends as if they’ve always been around, and does that with incredible skill – this is the genesis of the Paternoster Gang, and it’s magnificent. A pivotal episode, with a great revelation at the end.

ML: 5 – I feel like this episode just loses so much with the headless monks, the Doctor murdering Cybermen, the introduction of a group we’ve never known as if they are old friends, and River’s absence for seemingly no reason.  There are enough positives to rise it from a below average score, but I am probably in the minority with wanting some kind of sense to the story.  The Paternoster gang is magnificent, but the introduction felt forced.  So I’m waging war by saying this one is barely worth of a “good” rating.

Let’s Kill Hitler

RP: 2 – Let’s not. Treating Hitler as a comedy figure is probably not something Doctor Who should do. It has too much of a proud history of showing us the true horror of many pivotal moments in history to be so flippant with perhaps the most horrific of all. This is also the episode that demonstrates that Steven Moffat had no answer to the problem of a mother losing a baby and then going off on jolly adventures instead of ripping the universe apart to find the baby. The sticking plaster of the baby turning out OK doesn’t fix the problem. This one’s a mess.

ML: 1 – One of the lamest episodes of the season.  This one doesn’t even deserve a 2 even with some decent humor and a fun regeneration because so much brings this down.  “The Doctor Lies” trope becomes a thing and drops the character down a notch, River uses all her future regenerations on a kiss for very little reason, (which didn’t even need to happen because River’s death in the Library could still have been the end of a Gallifreyan as we learn at the very start of this season: a Time Lord can die permanently if killed during regeneration!) and the whole Hitler title is there just to punch Hitler in the face.  And that says nothing of the silliness of the Teselecta! Let’s kill the series’ reputation, why don’t we?

Night Terrors

RP: 5 – What do you do when Doctor Who becomes children’s fantasy fiction? You show horrors lying in wait on the other side of the magic door, and this is the ultimate example of that approach to a Doctor Who story. What doesn’t work is to try to shoehorn all that into a setting of deprivation, and have the Doctor breeze in and quickly solve problems that are actually extremely complex and unsolvable by a magic man in a magic box in a few minutes. Another mess, but at least it’s a creepy mess.

ML: 4 – Low end of average.  Coming off Let’s Kill Hitler, it jumps into the average category easily enough just by being something new, but never really amounts to much more.  A great message at the end about a dad loving his boy no matter what, which just warms me right though, but a disposable episode in all other respects.  Just enough to give us night terrors on where the series was heading!

The Girl Who Waited

RP: 8 – A breathtaking performance from Karen Gillan, and the perfect way to examine the nature of Amy’s relationship with Rory, which was in need of fixing. Before this episode it seemed like an oddly one-sided devotion, so that needed to be addressed, and here we learn that Rory does mean the world to Amy, but she has a different way of showing her love. But a story that’s great for Amy and Rory is dreadful for the Doctor, who fails to find the third way to solve a problem that desperately needed one. A powerful episode.

ML: 8 – Another magnificent character piece and Gillan nails it.  The story feels out of place though, preventing me giving it a higher score, and I’m bummed that the Doctor couldn’t find that third alternative to save both Amy’s.  Still, I’m glad we waited; this episode is definitely above average!

The God Complex

RP: 8 – This needed to be in the previous season where it originally belonged, when a story about breaking Amy’s unshakable faith in the Doctor would have actually made sense. The Doctor’s misogynistic suggestion that Amy not taking Rory’s surname represents a lack of commitment really bugs me. Other than that it’s a great story, borrowing effectively from The Shining, and examining faith in an open-minded way.

ML: 8 – Not as complex as it might have been, but a damned good story that runs high on terror and makes a hotel scary in ways I haven’t seen since The Shining!  Rita should have been a companion.  The creature was amazing looking and the ending has a bit of an old school feel to it.  An episode very worthy of praise!  

Closing Time

RP: 8 – An important step on the road to making the Cybermen frightening again. In contrast, the cosy, fun best buddy relationship between the Doctor and Craig makes this feel like it could have been a Christmas special. Some real emotional depth here stops this from being a disposable filler episode, along with some genuine scares.

ML: 7 – I loved Craig in his first outing with the Doctor, but this story is just silly.  Still loads of fun but the idea that Craig is the one man who loves his kid so much that he overrides Cyber processing is just weak.  That implies that no one else ever converted by the Cybermen loved nearly as much as he did.  Still, the double act of Craig and the Doctor warrant an above average score, even if on the lower end of the spectrum.  I’m still glad they closed down the Craig story after this one; it had nowhere to go but down!

The Wedding of River Song

RP: 7 – Very much a box-checking episode, paying off at least two seasons worth of plot threads, and inevitably a bit of a muddle. It’s an enjoyable muddle, though, and you’ve got to admire a writer who is brave enough to turn a companion into a murderer, which provides a much-needed acknowledgement of the psychological damage done by taking a baby away from a mother, at long last. But that’s still too little, too late.

ML: 4 – An attempt to go big which falls very flat.  Too little logic, too much thrown in just to have it there, and a resolution to the season opener that misses the best possible option: the Gangers would have been a far better choice than the Teselecta.  The idea of time standing still isn’t the same as a clock stopping.  If people are still in motion and things are moving from one event to another, time hasn’t stopped even if a clock did.  Some great action does bring this to an average place, but the violence that Amy displays isn’t what the Doctor taught her.  River may have had a nice wedding, but I was starting to wish Moffat would divorce himself from the series.

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

RP: 7 – Doctor Who as children’s fantasy fiction reaches one of only two places it could logically end up (Narnia or Wonderland). It’s slightly unsatisfying, although it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. An uplifting episode, with the Doctor turning up as a mysterious, magical figure, turning children’s lives upside down. Christmas is the perfect time to do that.

ML: 9 – A truly wonderful, heartwarming Christmas special.  The race of wood is a bit weak but the message about motherhood, love and family is outstanding.  Definitely fits more emotion into the story than should be able to fit.  And a dad coming back against all odds still brings tears to my eyes.  This episode put a spell on me and gets the lion’s share of my votes for best Doctor Who Christmas specials.  I love this one!  (Sorry, I had to go to the original title for my pun…)

This season hit some really great notes and even the second tier ones were still good.  Unfortunately it also has a mixed bag of weak ones and I really feel the best solution to the Doctor’s death on the beach was the Gangers.  The Teselecta just felt like a throwaway and since they’ve never turned up again, I guess I’m not alone in that feeling.  Still, this series started strong and finished strong and that speaks volumes for where we were heading….  ML

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1 Response to Top of the Docs: Series 6 (2011)

  1. scifimike70 says:

    The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe may have worked better as a Dr. Who Christmas Special that could mirror a most familiar classic than A Christmas Carol. I enjoyed it as a good reminder of why the modern Dr. Who works better as science-fantasy than science-fiction. It can still be grittier with some stories that realistically mirror the contemporary world. Particularly when they mix the realisms and fantasy elements in S6’s most profoundly written story arc which remains unrivalled in the modern series.

    S6 was a great series for reaffirming Dr. Who’s unique success in the SF universe and boosted our confidence of how fulfilling the 50th Anniversary would be, even if a most pivotal and enduring SF franchise like Dr. Who, Star Trek and Star Wars can’t help but become all the more controversial in the long run. For anyone who wants to re-watch the better days of Dr. Who, S6 is one area that I’ll always happily recommend.

    Thank you both for your Top of the Docs reviews.

    Liked by 2 people

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