Series 6 (May 20 - May 27, Jun 4, 6, 8, 10 - 12, Jun 16)

May 20: "A Christmas Carol"
May 21: "Space" / "Time" / "The Impossible Astronaut" Prequel / "The Impossible Astronaut"
May 22: "Day of the Moon"
May 23: "The Curse of the Black Spot" Prequel / "The Curse of the Black Spot"
May 24: "The Doctor's Wife"
May 25: "The Rebel Flesh"
May 26: "The Almost People"
May 27: "A Good Man Goes to War" Prequel / "A Good Man Goes to War"
June 4: "Let's Kill Hitler" Prequel / "Let's Kill Hitler"
June 6: "Night Terrors"
June 8: "The Girl Who Waited"
June 10: "The God Complex"
June 11: "Closing Time"
June 12: "The Wedding of River Song" Prequel / "The Wedding of River Song" / "Death is the Only Answer"
June 16: "Bad Night" / "Good Night" / "First Night" / "Last Night" / "Up All Night" [Night and the Doctor]

May 20: "A Christmas Carol"

Doctor Who has done Christmas specials before, obviously, but while many of them have been Christmas-y in nature, none have been quite so overt about it as the 2010 one, "A Christmas Carol".  This is emphatically about Christmas, and it makes no secret of its borrowing from Dickens to tell its tale (with Steven Moffat thus subscribing to the Terrance Dicks school of "draw attention to the issue to make it go away" writing).

But because this is paralleling Dickens' most famous Christmas story, there's a danger of this episode feeling derivative or dull -- "A Christmas Carol" may be one of the first time travel stories, but that doesn't mean it's therefore necessarily a natural fit with Doctor Who.  But this episode succeeds because it's so openly admiring of its source material; there aren't any sneers at the set-up or awkward jokes about the underlying idea (or even cracks about giving Dickens the idea in the first place), but rather a sincerity underlying everything here.  Moffat doesn't want to simply adapt Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"; he wants to use it as a starting point and a framework to tell his own version of the tale, and so the result works quite well.  (So here's another example of Moffat following in fine Who tradition.)

I like how it starts out as a sort of disaster movie, as a ship clearly designed to be a parody/homage (delete according to preference) of a Star Trek bridge -- and specifically the one from the 2009 sort-of-reboot version -- is crashing into a planet.  But then the whole story shifts its emphasis; this isn't about the crashing ship, it's about trying to make a man on the planet below a different person, one willing to save that ship.  It's about the Doctor dipping back into Kazran Sardick's past and trying to make him a better man, and having adventures along the way.  This gives Moffat the excuse to play with some time travel ideas (such as the really quite wonderful one of the Doctor leaving the "present" and then walking into the "past" of the video recording while continuing his conversation with the old Kazran) while still maintaining the core of the story.  This is a good move, not taking the mickey out of anything that might now seem too familiar, and the jokes that are present tend to be at the main characters' expense.  And so we get Amy and Rory in their policewoman and Roman costumes, respectively, having apparently just left the honeymoon suite aboard the crashing ship, while there are some great lines regarding the Doctor:
YOUNG KAZRAN: Are you really a babysitter?
DOCTOR: I think you'll find I'm universally recognised as a mature and responsible adult.
(He shows Kazran the psychic paper.)
KAZRAN: It's just a lot of wavy lines.
DOCTOR: (looks at the paper) Yeah, it's shorted out.  Finally, a lie too big.

But what really makes this story work is the central character of Kazran Sardick.  The idea of the Doctor changing his history, causing him to start remembering new memories (which is a really weird idea if you think about it -- why wouldn't the changes be instantaneous, and why wouldn't he remember Abigail's fate right away?  On the other hand, City of Death also had some stuff involving changes to the timeline not being instantaneous, so at least there's precedent in the series), is a good one, and Sir Michael Gambon is very very good indeed as the old Kazran.  But it's the case that all three Kazran actors -- Gambon, Laurence Belcher as the young version, and Danny Horn as the teenaged one -- are very well cast, leading us easily to focus on the growing romance between Kazran and Abigail that ends up being the heart of the story.  Katherine Jenkins has such good chemistry with all three versions of Kazran that the audience doesn't have any trouble believing this is the same person at various points in his life interacting with his love.  Plus we get a fun moment from the Doctor:
KAZRAN: I think she's going to kiss me.
DOCTOR: Yeah, I think you're right.
KAZRAN: I've never kissed anyone before.  What do I do?
DOCTOR: Well, try and be all nervous and rubbish and a bit shaky.
DOCTOR: Because you're going to be like that anyway.  Might as well make it part of the plan, then it'll feel on purpose.  Off you go, then.
Abigail and Kazran watch the snow fall. ("A Christmas Carol") ©BBC
Of course, it's not love that ultimately saves Kazran so much as a desire not to be like his father -- the moments with Abigail have simply turned him bitter for a different reason ("All my life, I've been called heartless," the old Kazran tells the Doctor.  "My other life, my real life, the one you rewrote.  Now look at me."  "Better a broken heart than no heart at all," the Doctor replies.  "Oh, try it, you try it," Kazran sputters), but it's when the young Kazran sees what he'll become that a real, lasting change is made.224  Because he genuinely doesn't want to be like his father, he finally changes.  It's a nice moment, even if it's soon tinged with the bittersweet knowledge that this will be Abigail's final day alive.  But Kazran's now a better person, and while he'll have to say goodbye to Abigail he'll still get to spend one more day with her.

It really is incredibly Christmas-y at times, but "A Christmas Carol" works because it takes its characters seriously (even if it doesn't necessarily take every moment seriously) and believes in them.  At its heart it's a simple tale of redemption told less-than-straightforwardly, but its sincerity keeps it afloat.  This is an episode that will bring a smile to your face and warm your heart, as it reminds us that Christmas means we're halfway out of the dark. 

May 21: "Space" / "Time" / "The Impossible Astronaut" Prequel / "The Impossible Astronaut"

The TARDIS materialises inside itself. ("Space") ©BBC
Nope, we're still not quite to the official start of series 6 yet, as before we get there we've got two mini episodes (and a prequel scene) to go.  "Space" and "Time" were broadcast on 18 March 2011 as part of Comic Relief, the charity telethon that the series has occasionally contributed to.  (See Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death and "From Raxacoricofallapatorius with Love" in case you've forgotten.)

It's a brief little scene, designed more to be cute than anything more substantial, and at this it succeeds reasonably well.  It helps that we're given a clever idea to play with, with the TARDIS inside itself and no way of getting out, which leads to lots of opportunities for characters to react to themselves -- most memorably, Amy seems oddly taken with herself ("Oh, this is how it all ends," the Doctor remarks.  "Pond flirting with herself.  True love at last"), but the bit where Rory asks himself if he'll have to remember all of what his future self just said is also charming.

It's a quick story that doesn't outstay its welcome, and as such is the perfect sort of thing for Comic Relief.  I suppose you could fault it for not being more ambitious, but the time aspects of this are complicated enough that it was probably a wise move not to push it too far.  A charming interlude.

And then we got a quick little prequel teaser of Richard Nixon informing a girl on a telephone that "there are no monsters in the Oval Office", followed by a shot of a strange alien standing there (although the framing of the shot erroneously suggests that Nixon is aware of the alien standing near him -- as this is Nixon we're talking about, you could be forgiven for thinking he was in league with them), and then finally a month later, series 6 properly begins with "The Impossible Astronaut".

DVD and Blu-ray releases
The episode opens with a caption dedicating it to the memory of Elisabeth Sladen (albeit with the wrong birth year -- Sladen was born in 1946, not 1948), who sadly died four days before its premiere225 -- it's a sweet tribute to one of Doctor Who's most enduringly popular actresses.  We then get a fun little sequence of the Doctor off doing various things on his own that masks an important sea change: before this point, once you started travelling with the Doctor you stayed with him until you left.  Sure, you might occasionally see him again or be able to call him to help you with your Sontaran problem, but travel in the TARDIS was, with the small exception of Pertwee's companions (who were a special case, what with the exile and all), a one-time deal.  But now we see Amy and Rory, dropped off in their own time and place and living their lives but ready to be picked up again by the Doctor at a moment's notice.  It makes running away with the Doctor less risky, if you know you can go home and then back out again without having to worry.  Of course, now we also have to wonder why anyone ever leaves the Doctor, if this is his attitude now.  (And it's not really a question that we have a good answer for -- we've only had three companions (Amy, Rory, and Clara) since this became the norm, and the show had to bend over backwards to provide an explanation for the first two, and Clara is still at time of writing traveling with the Doctor.)

The Doctor is reunited with Amy and Rory. ("The Impossible
Astronaut") ©BBC
So that's the new subtle difference.  The new obvious difference is the location filming.  Doctor Who has performed principal photography in other countries before, but never in the United States -- and as a resident of that country, it's really thrilling to see recognizable landmarks like Monument Valley and knowing that they're really there.  Doctor Who really is going global.

Now as far as plotting goes, "The Impossible Astronaut" is structured oddly.  The first third appears to be setup not for this actual story but for this series' overarching plotline: the Doctor's impending death, which (because this is a show about time travel) we see early on, as an astronaut shoots him dead in 2011, in front of Amy, Rory, and River.  Only it seems that was an older Doctor, and now a younger Doctor arrives, not knowing about what his friends saw, and they have to try and figure out how to save his life.

All well and good, but then the episode, despite the production team's best efforts to tie these two things together, seems to start again as this two-parter's specific story gets underway, as we head back to 1969 America (so it's not just a quick scene and then we're gone -- the whole story is set in the US) and the time of the moon landing, to meet up with a man named Canton Everett Delaware III.  And so Mark Sheppard makes his move to yet another SF show, after having appeared in things like The X-Files, Star Trek: Voyager, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Supernatural, and a host of others.  Here he's an ex-FBI agent summoned by Nixon to help track down the child who keeps calling him.  Stuart Milligan is a passable Nixon, and after a brief commentary ("Richard Milhous Nixon," River says.  "Vietnam, Watergate.  There's some good stuff, too," she adds.  "Not enough," the Doctor replies.  "Hippie!" River exclaims.  "Archaeologist," the Doctor retorts) the script wisely stays away from any controversial positions, as this story isn't about Nixon.  No, it's about some creepy aliens who look like Edvard Munch's The Scream (an acknowledged influence) and rather wonderfully dress in suits and which no one can remember the moment you stop looking at them, which is a novel and creepy idea.  The death of Joy in the restroom is both funny and frightening, and the total failure of anyone to remember them means that they seem incredibly dangerous.  (They don't appear to be working with Nixon though, as the prequel seemed to imply.)

But answers as to who they are and what they're doing will have to wait, as we've almost reached the cliffhanger.  We've seen a spaceship (presumably belonging to the aliens) that's almost identical to the one from "The Lodger" and River has told Rory about the heartbreak of meeting the Doctor ("The trouble is, it's all back to front. My past is his future. We're travelling in opposite directions. Every time we meet, I know him more, he knows me less. I live for the days when I see him, but I know that every time I do, he'll be one step further away. And the day is coming when I'll look into that man's eyes, my Doctor, and he won't have the faintest idea who I am. And I think it's going to kill me"), which is both sad and strange as we've already seen her die -- so the audience has knowledge that the character lacks, and we know that she's right: it will be the death of her.  But the actual cliffhanger involves an astronaut that we're invited to believe is the same as the one that will kill the Doctor in 2011 -- only there's a young girl inside looking for help.  But that doesn't stop Amy from grabbing Canton's gun and shooting at the astronaut.  "What are you doing?" the Doctor cries.  "Saving your life," Amy replies as she pulls the trigger.  Now that's a cliffhanger.

May 22: "Day of the Moon"

As dark as "The Impossible Astronaut" seemed, with its killing of the Doctor and investigations of aliens who you can't remember, "Day of the Moon" is much darker.  There's a sense of ratcheting up the paranoia in this episode, as our heroes try to fight an enemy that are almost impossible to learn about and who have been here for thousands of years.  "They've been running your lives for a very long time now, so keep this straight in your head: we are not fighting an alien invasion, we're leading a revolution," the Doctor tells the others.  (So that's another alien species interfering with humanity's development to add to the list.)

The opening scenes are pretty tense, with Amy, River, and Rory covered in tally marks and being hunted by Canton for the last three months226, while the Doctor is kept in chains at Area 51 and slowly entombed in a building made of dwarf star alloy (with no explanation beyond the hand-wavy "Area 51" reference as to how 1969 Americans came across such advanced technology -- but at least we get a Warriors' Gate reference).  The cliffhanger is barely addressed, other than a brief flashback (to see something we haven't actually seen yet, but it's treated like a flashback) to show that Amy didn't kill the child in the astronaut suit and that Canton sees a Silent there.  It's not actually clear what we're meant to think regarding Canton -- even when it becomes clear that he was just trying to get everyone in a space that the Silents227 couldn't listen in on, it's still not obvious what his cover story was.  But fine, now it's time to go on the offensive.

The girl in the astronaut suit, flanked by two Silents. ("Day
of the Moon") ©BBC
Honestly, it's a clever plan, even if it feels a bit bloodthirsty by the Doctor's normal standards, and we get lots of moments where people confront the Silents and don't remember it -- the case of Dr. Renfrew in the children's home being particularly well done, as the Silents have been around him so much that he's essentially lost two years of his life.  But it's still rather convenient that they manage to get a recording of a Silent saying that humanity should kill them when they see them.  Nevertheless, it provides for a suitably epic conclusion, as everyone watching the moon landing turns on the Silents in the room with them.

Other parts that are entertaining involve Nixon rescuing the Doctor from various circumstances, while being rather confused by what's going on.  Still, they're fun sequences, and you can tell Steven Moffat is getting a little kick out of the Doctor telling Nixon to record everything, just in case the Silents try to get to him, and inadvertently creating the Nixon White House tapes as a result.  And there's also the exchange between Nixon and the Doctor: "Will I be remembered?" Nixon asks.  "Oh, Dicky.  Tricky Dicky.  They're never going to forget you," the Doctor replies.  Oh, and while we're discussing good moments, the final one between River and the Doctor, where he kisses her for the first time and she realizes it will be the last time she kisses him (because their lives are running in opposite directions), is heartbreaking.

This is an episode that's brimming with the same self-confidence that characterized much of the previous series, but it's also an episode that sees a definite shift in the way the long-running plot threads are treated.  Under Russell T Davies, and even last series to an extent, they were a sort of extra, a little bonus for those willing to stick with an entire run but not necessary for casual viewers to have kept up with.  Here, on the other hand, those plot threads look like they're increasingly the point.  We have an awful lot of unanswered questions here at the end of "Day of the Moon": what's the deal with Amy's pregnancy?  What was up with the lady with the eyepatch?  Who was the little girl, and how could she possibly be regenerating at the end?  Are these Silents related to the TARDIS exploding (it's a good bet they are), and if so, how?  As such it's a bit difficult to adequately evaluate "The Impossible Astronaut" / "Day of the Moon"; the story itself is told with great aplomb, but it trusts that the audience will stick with the series to find out the answers to these lingering questions -- but that puts pressure on subsequent episodes to deliver good explanations...

May 23: "The Curse of the Black Spot" Prequel / "The Curse of the Black Spot"

The prequel for this episode is suitably tense, as Captain Avery writes of the nameless enemy that's been picking off his crew, one by one.  In fact, it might be better than anything in the episode proper...

The crew of the Fancy wait for the Siren to come. ("The
Curse of the Black Spot") ©BBC
To be fair, for much of "The Curse of the Black Spot" we get a competent episode, as we're confronted with pirates (Captain Henry Avery, in fact, last mentioned in The Smugglers228), a strange Siren stealing away crewmen, and a ship lying motionless in doldrums.  It also creates an effective atmosphere of dread, as the remaining crewmen are slowly picked off one by one by the Siren -- meaning that their allies are growing fewer and fewer and that every person left becomes that much more important.229  So there's a sense of murkiness and claustrophobia that pervades the entire episode.  (Which is why it's odd that Steven Moffat moved this episode up from the second half of the series during its filming because he felt the first half was too dark -- apparently he thought this would be a lot more swashbuckling than it actually ended up being.)

But it's an effective atmosphere, and the Doctor's realization that he's gotten wrong the way the Siren appears is rather nice, even if it leads to all sorts of logical problems (so breathing on a medallion is enough to stop the Siren using it, but opening a barrel of water in the middle of a storm isn't).  The only issue is that it's not particularly exciting.  Having them all terrified of the smallest wounds is clever, but it doesn't make for the most thrilling drama, and the sense of terror this creates isn't quite enough to paper over the problem.  You never get the feeling that these pirates will betray each other at the drop of a hat (despite the effort to convey this when Mulligan steals the keys and darts out of the magazine), which is really what this story needs: internal tensions as well as external threats.

None of this is necessarily a dealbreaker, but the story hits a major problem when they transport to the spaceship (and how is it that they weren't hooked up to hospital beds like every other person brought aboard?), and that's the problem of the Siren.  In the best Doctor Who stories, the Doctor should be one step ahead of the audience, or at least coming to significant realizations at the same time, but here we have to wait a painfully long time until the Doctor realizes that this is a hospital ship and that the Siren is trying to help, not harm.  This became pretty clear the moment they stepped into the sickbay and saw that everyone was still alive, but the script insists on having the Doctor believe the Siren is malicious for quite a while, and it makes for tedious viewing that the story never quite recovers from.  It doesn't help that there's a lingering feeling of "so what?" at the end of this -- although that might be more down to the direction than the script itself, as Steve Thompson does try to underline the threat of the Siren reaching the mainland.  But it's a bit too abstract for us the audience to really latch on to.

So there are two problems central to "The Curse of the Black Spot".  The first is that it can't decide if it wants to be a swashbuckling adventure with all the pirate clichés present and correct or a claustrophobic horror movie where trapped survivors are picked off one by one, and so it tries to have it both ways -- but the result is that it doesn't fully succeed at either.  The second problem is that the resolution goes on way too long and doesn't feel particularly satisfying when we learn what's really going on.  Bless them, they did try, but "The Curse of the Black Spot" falls rather short of the standard we've come to expect.

May 24: "The Doctor's Wife"

In 1983, producer John Nathan-Turner was concerned that he had a fan leak somewhere in the Doctor Who production office, so he laid a deliberate trap: on the planning board in his office, in place of The Caves of Androzani, he wrote "The Doctor's Wife by Robert Holmes" as a fake title to see who would bite.  (I've never heard if anyone did.)  But since that title entered fanlore, it's probably been only a matter of time until a real story under that name would show up.  Fortunately, the story we got was so much better than anything we could have imagined with that title.

"The Doctor's Wife" is by Neil Gaiman, who rivals Douglas Adams for the title of "most famous author to write for Doctor Who" (the other primary contenders are Richard Curtis ("Vincent and the Doctor") and Frank Cottrell Boyce ("In the Forest of the Night")), and it's likely because he's so well-known and highly regarded that they've let him play with the mythology of the show so much.  You can tell that Gaiman has fond memories of the old show -- how else to explain the use of the Time Lord distress cube that we last saw way back in The War Games? -- and that he's drawing on that to write this story.  And so we get a strange entity that tricks Time Lords and feeds on TARDISes, only it's found out that there are no more TARDISes coming, so it's time to head into the real universe from the bubble universe it's inside.

But of course, if you're hiring Neil Gaiman to write an episode for your show, it's probably because you're looking for the qualities that Gaiman brings, that sense of magic mixed with the ordinary, of fantastic situations that characters nevertheless react rationally to, and "The Doctor's Wife" doesn't disappoint on that front.  And so we get the marvelously wonderful and audacious conceit of taking the "soul" of the TARDIS (for lack of a better word) and putting it inside a humanoid body (that of Suranne Jones, who was the Mona Lisa in the Sarah Jane Adventures story Mona Lisa's Revenge), which allows the Doctor to have a conversation with his TARDIS.  But it's not just that; Neil Gaiman takes 48 years of the show's history and turns it on its head:
IDRIS: Do you ever wonder why I chose you all those years ago?
DOCTOR: I chose you.  You were unlocked.
IDRIS: Of course I was.  I wanted to see the universe, so I stole a Time Lord and I ran away.  And you were the only one mad enough.
Idris and the Doctor in the junkyard TARDIS. ("The Doctor's
Wife") ©BBC
A simple, quick piece of dialogue, but it changes our whole understanding of things -- and the episode's filled with lovely little touches like that.  (There's the "Pull to Open" discussion230, but my favorite bit is how Idris/the TARDIS reminds the Doctor that the first thing he ever said to her was that she was the most beautiful thing he'd ever known -- there's something oddly wonderful about imagining Hartnell saying that.)  This is a story that is absolutely in love with the show and the mythology that's been created, but it isn't so reverent that it causes everything to sink.  There's just the right balance to make this feel wonderful and special.

And while we could justly laud the other elements of this story (Amy and Rory's chase through the TARDIS corridors (ooh, TARDIS corridors!  It's been ages since we've seen any of those) is tense and scary, and the mind tricks House is playing on Amy are genuinely creepy; the way Idris thinks that Rory is the "pretty one" is wonderful; the appearance of the ninth/tenth Doctor's "coral" TARDIS console room is thrilling; the way the junkyard TARDIS is the result of a Blue Peter contest; "Fear me, I've killed all of them"; and so much more), ultimately this story is about the one thing always with the Doctor: his TARDIS, the closest thing to a wife we've ever seen him have.  "Look at you pair," Amy says at the end.  "It's always you and her, isn't it, long after the rest of us have gone.  A boy and his box, off to see the universe."  And it is.  And for one brief moment, the Doctor got to talk to his TARDIS and hear her reply.  It's mad, bold, magic, and beautiful, and more evidence that even after 48 years, the show still has the ability to surprise us, and to do so with both style and heart.  Little wonder it won the Hugo.

May 25: "The Rebel Flesh"

Matthew Graham's second story for the show is a lot like Chris Chibnall's last one.  In that story, we got a conflict between humans and Earth reptiles in an isolated area, where both sides do good and bad things and neither comes out as morally superior; here we get a conflict between humans and the doppelgängers they've created in an isolated area, where both sides do good and bad things and neither comes out as morally superior.

The Gangers. ("The Rebel Flesh") ©BBC
Of course, while the basics are largely similar, the devil's in the details, and those details are different enough that this doesn't come out as a pure remake, even if there's frequently a sense of déjà vu.  We get quite a bit of backstory about the Gangers and how they've been created by people to be sort of remote controlled clones, mainly so that we understand what's going on.  But that's good; they've taken enough care with this that we can sort of see the original people's point, even if the episode is set up so that we're unlikely to agree with it.

But as I said, there is that lingering sense that we've already had this story before, so it's nice to see the changes.  The underlying setup is doubly bizarre (there's an island monastery that's mining for acid for some unexplained reason, and solar storms can cause earthquakes and things), but there are some lovely moments.  Rory's treatment of the Ganger Jennifer is really lovely, as he's willing to help her even though she (sort of) tried to kill him earlier, in a fit of anguished anger.  The interaction between the two Jimmys is handled well, as neither of them seem to be violent, and the cliffhanger is the logical conclusion to all the running around with doubles that we see here.

It's not great, but it's moderately entertaining so far.  The question that the next episode is going to have answer, however, is the fate of the Gangers.  If they can avoid killing them all, this might turn into a more interesting story than it initially appears to be.

May 26: "The Almost People"

I don't think that Matthew Graham was actively aping Chris Chibnall when he wrote this story; it's more that they both have similar ideas and similar old Who stories in their DNA, particularly the work of Malcolm Hulke.  But it does mean that this episode, like the last, feels familiar -- and there are little in the way of surprise moments to really wow us.

The two Doctors. ("The Almost People") ©BBC
The best part of the episode is easily the presence of two Doctors, one the original and one a Ganger who nevertheless proves that the Gangers are just as much the people they're copies of as the originals, once they've stabilized.  The interaction of the Doctor with himself is handled well -- none of your Troughton/Pertwee bickering here -- and the small tell of the different shoes is used to great effect.  The first time around, when you see the Ganger Doctor isolated from the rest of the group because of his nature and then you see him lose control and rage -- rage! -- against Amy because of the fates of all the Gangers who were slaved to their hosts, being "decommissioned" and wondering "Why?", is powerful, and it's painful to watch Amy's prejudice against what she deems to be an inferior copy.  The second time around, after you learn that the Doctors changed places (probably while behind that communications console) and it's the original Doctor who feels the Gangers' pain, while the Ganger version remains calm and collected, this becomes much more intense.  It's one thing to see a cloned Doctor lose control; it's altogether more powerful when it's "our" Doctor, and the treatment he undergoes at the hands of the humans is more uncomfortable than it already was.  But that's the point; if even Amy can't actually tell the difference between the two, how can anyone judge the Gangers as being somehow less than people?

That's the core of the story, and they do a nice job of teasing it out without being overbearing about it, but sadly we have to go through a fairly generic story on the way there.  There are some nice moments along the way, such as the Ganger Cleaves pointing out that Jennifer was "a sweet kid.  Look at you now.  The stuff of nightmares," the fate of all the Gangers that didn't quite come out right, and the resolution of the story, where the Gangers essentially say, "Stuff this, what's the point?" and stop trying to kill the humans.

But everything else feels, if not exactly comfortable, at least fairly routine.  We've seen this sort of thing before, and "The Rebel Flesh" / "The Almost People" doesn't have much new or interesting to say.  As I said, there are flashes of greatness, and I like how the story ends with a commitment to change things, rather than for all the Gangers to die, but this frequently feels like a typical runaround.  Still, we're leaps and bounds ahead of "Fear Her", so that's something at least.

Oh, and there's the cliffhanger into the next story, with Amy revealed to be a more sophisticated Ganger who the Doctor destroys (which goes against the whole point of the story, but never mind), while the real Amy is about to give birth (hence the "pregnant"/"not pregnant" readings the Ganger Amy was giving off).  TO BE CONTINUED, the ending tells us, evoking the language of a show that's going to resolve things in a few months, rather than the following week.  But I suppose they were excited about their cliffhanger and wanted to show off.

May 27: "A Good Man Goes to War" Prequel / "A Good Man Goes to War"

The prequel is just a quick scene, showing Dorium selling security software to the Headless Monks and cautioning them against angering the Doctor for stealing his best friends' child, but it definitely puts you in the right frame of mind for the main event...

This is a bit of an odd episode to judge, as it's not really a story in its own right; rather, it's part of the overarching plot of series 6.  Except even then it's not quite; we get more information and resolution regarding Amy and Rory's baby Melody, but the big question lurking in the background -- that of the Doctor's death -- is only briefly alluded to.  We'll have to wait for that.

But what "A Good Man Goes to War" does is pull off its troop-gathering with considerable style.  We get some highly incongruous characters -- Rory dressed as a Roman centurion, presumably as a symbol ("the Doctor's idea", Rory tells River), an Earth reptile stopping Jack the Ripper in Victorian England, a Sontaran soldier acting as a nurse by way of atonement for his "clone group" -- all being brought together to fight a war against an enemy whose sole purpose is to stop the Doctor.231  They're terrified of him, and they're preparing for an onslaught.  It's not dwelled upon -- there's the moment where the soldiers are quizzing each other regarding psychic paper, and there's a sign about the sonic screwdriver which reads "REMEMBER: 1. It's not sonic. 2. It's not a screwdriver" -- but it's definitely there.

Because we've had flirtations with the theme before, but this is the first time where they unequivocally state that the Doctor makes enemies and terrifies people, and not just the villains; here we see members of the Church of England, who were the Doctor's allies in "The Time of Angels" / "Flesh and Stone", now working against him out of fear.  Fear of what, we don't exactly know, but fear nonetheless.  Note how Colonel Manton has to reassure the troops that the Doctor "is not the devil.  He is not a god.  He is not a goblin, or a phantom or a trickster.  The Doctor is a living, breathing man", because that needed saying.  The Doctor is a dark legend, and these people are scared of him even as they try to stop him.

Strax, Rory, Lorna, Vastra, and Jenny prepare to fight on
behalf of the Doctor. ("A Good Man Goes to War") ©BBC
However, this is still the Doctor and we're still on his side, and the other side has done worse things to his friends, so it's not like there's a question as to who actually holds the higher moral ground.  And so what we get is a thrilling action sequence, as the Doctor reveals himself in the midst of all the soldiers and then gets them all to leave without killing anyone, all in his pursuit of Amy.  It's a good moment, even if it's later compromised by all the people killed when Madame Kovarian springs her trap.  Plus there's the stuff with Amy and Rory's baby, the suggestion that she's been experimented on (presumably while still in the womb) in order to create a Time Lord to use as a weapon.  "Why would a Time Lord be a weapon?" the Doctor wonders.  "Well, they've seen you," Vastra replies, leading to a slight crisis of conscience for the Doctor, it seems.  But it's still an interesting idea, and the cheat of the Ganger Melody is a good, albeit heartbreaking one.  Madame Kovarian has gotten away for another day.

It's a good, solid episode, with some cool ideas floating around, even if it's not exactly a complete story in its own right.  And it's a hell of a cliffhanger they send off this first half232 of the season on, with finally the reveal of just who River Song is -- she's Melody Pond, all grown up.  Of course, we still don't know why she's in prison (although we can hazard a guess, based on the clues they've been dropping...), but that will come in time.  "A Good Man Goes to War" remains an entertaining, albeit somewhat transitional, episode.

June 4: "Let's Kill Hitler" Prequel / "Let's Kill Hitler"

And so after a brief hiatus we're back with the second half of series 6, which begins with possibly the best prequel they've had yet.  It's a simple, straightforward one -- shots of the TARDIS console room, while Amy talks over the Doctor's answerphone, asking if he's found Melody yet and to please call back -- but the final reveal, that the Doctor's been listening to the message and simply can't bring himself to talk to Amy, is quite touching, addressing the question of the infant Melody Pond far more than the actual episode does.

The episode itself begins with a suitably action-packed opening (as Amy and Rory's childhood friend and frequent troublemaker Mels hijacks the Doctor and TARDIS at gunpoint, leading to the TARDIS crashing into Hitler's office in 1938 Berlin -- thanks to Mels testing the Doctor's "temporal grace" story and revealing it to be simply a lie (thus answering that long-standing question)) that then gives way to something far more character-driven.

Steven Moffat must have taken a perverse pleasure in naming an episode something as provoking as "Let's Kill Hitler" (still to date the least Who-ish episode title ever -- although that may partly be because time and familiarity have robbed us of the impact of names like "Small Prophet, Quick Return") and then limiting Adolf Hitler's screentime to something like five minutes, before Rory locks him in a cupboard, not to be seen for the rest of the episode.  Instead we focus on the character of Mels, who is accidentally shot and starts to regenerate -- revealing that she is in fact Melody Pond.  "I named my daughter after her," Amy says about Mels.  "You named your daughter... after your daughter," the Doctor replies.  And so Mels regenerates into River Song -- but at this point River has been brainwashed into being a weapon designed to kill the Doctor; this is not the River that we know.

The Doctor fights to save Amy and Rory while the Teselecta
and River look on. ("Let's Kill Hitler") ©BBC
And so what follows is driven by two characters, the Doctor and River, as the Doctor tries to fight for survival against River's poison, while River starts to see how much the Doctor cares about others.  Stuck in the middle of all this is a shape-shifting robot piloted by miniaturized people who travel through time bringing criminals to justice.  "I have got to admit, I didn't see [that] coming," the Doctor remarks.  The Doctor has some interesting moments, such as when he tries to find an appropriate visual interface for the TARDIS and dismisses each of the tenth Doctor's companions that are offered with cries of "guilt" and "more guilt" -- which is both funny and telling.  We also see him try desperately to save both the life of River -- who, it should be remembered, has recently poisoned him -- and the lives of Amy and Rory, trapped inside the Teselecta.  It's these acts that seem to cause River to begin to warm to the man she's been instructed to kill, and after the Doctor whispers a message for his friend "River Song" to her (since she doesn't think of herself as River yet), and then she sees who River Song is (thanks to the Teselecta), she's willing to give up her remaining regenerative energy to save the Doctor's life.  "Just tell me.  The Doctor, is he worth it?" River asks her mother.  "Yes!  Yes he is!" Amy replies.  (And lest anyone think that the Doctor is being incredibly manipulative here, he at least has the decency to protest: "River.  No.  What are you doing?"  Unless you want to see that as more manipulation -- but the 11th Doctor is hardly the 7th.)

It's a surprisingly intimate episode, and despite the big title and the showy beginning, this is a story about how River came to be and what happened to Melody Pond after her regeneration in 1969.234  It doesn't really feel like a story in its own right so much as part of the continuing storyline of series 6, and that does harm it a bit -- it's not the sort of episode you're likely to watch out of sequence, like you can do with so many others.  But it is filled with charm and honesty and care, and for that, if nothing else, it's worth your time.

June 6: "Night Terrors"

We start out in an unpleasant block of flats (where all the color on-screen has been corrected to a dull urine yellow for some reason) as we get a little boy, George, who's terrified of everything -- so terrified, in fact, that his message reaches across the stars to the Doctor's psychic paper somehow.

It seems slightly churlish to criticize "Night Terrors" for not having any sort of follow-up of the events of "A Good Man Goes to War" and "Let's Kill Hitler", as it wasn't initially intended to occupy this slot (although it's not like "The Curse of the Black Spot", the episode that swapped places with this one, is any more cognizant of this), but when you're dealing with a frightened child who turns out to be an adopted one of sorts, it's a difficult problem to just ignore.  (And as we'll see, while subsequent episodes deal with some heavy stuff, Amy and Rory losing their infant daughter isn't one of those things.)  The problem with the more connected storylines that Moffat wants to introduce is that when the storyline is as deeply personal as the one here, the absence of it in later episodes is noticeable.  It might be the intention that, since they know what happened to Melody/River, it's too late to change things -- but this is never stated explicitly, and we never see Amy and Rory ever grieve, so the end result is rather callous.

Sorry, we were discussing "Night Terrors".

This is Mark Gatiss's first script for Doctor Who that doesn't seem to have any overt sources to pastiche.  There is a fear of peg dolls that makes its presence felt, but the primary story seems to be about how children can feel afraid and abandoned.  It just happens to be the case that George is a much more powerful boy than most, such that he can make his fears a reality.  It's certainly not a bad idea, and it's not like anyone's miscast, but there's something lacking in the final result.  The fact that so much of the images are tinted a dirty yellow doesn't help, but it's really that the sense of energy that this story needs is missing.  It's tempting to blame director Richard Clark, but his previous work on the series (things like "Gridlock" and "The Doctor's Wife") suggest that energy isn't a failing of his.

Purcell the landlord turns into a peg doll while Amy and Rory
watch. ("Night Terrors") ©BBC
No, it seems to be a scripting issue.  The idea of putting people in a dollhouse is a nice one, but it makes things strange rather than scary, and Amy and Rory spend too much time wandering around without anything really chasing them to really build the suspense (the shadows just aren't quite enough).  And while the peg dolls are suitably creepy -- and the transformation of people into them is really nicely done -- the second person we see transformed into a doll is Amy, which inadvertently neuters them of any threat; we know Amy will be OK, so therefore it's likely everyone else will be fine too.

The other problem regards the resolution.  Jamie Oram as George is really only called upon to be a frightened boy, which is perfectly fine (and shows they've learned their lesson after "Fear Her"), but it does mean that the ending of the story isn't about George finally standing up and facing his fears like you might expect, but rather about his dad Alex fully accepting him and vowing not to ever send him away.  Which isn't a terrible ending, but it's also not the one they seemed to building towards (note in particular the way George finally gets off his bed and slowly approaches the cupboard full of his fears).

I dunno; it's not a bad episode, but there's a bit too much time spent in the dollhouse without a genuine threat, and that threat doesn't end up as potent as it should have been.  Meanwhile, the scenes with the Doctor are wonderful (Matt Smith really is astonishingly good with children), but the lack of a clear threat does mean that these moments overwhelm the other parts of the story. The whole thing feels a bit lackluster as a result.  Maybe "Night Terrors" works better for other people, but it just doesn't do much for me.

June 8: "The Girl Who Waited"

It's a fairly simple idea at the heart of "The Girl Who Waited", that of two different time streams running at the same time, with one person trapped in one stream, away from the others, and yet from this Tom MacRae has created something beautiful and astonishing.

I have to confess, I'm not familiar with Tom MacRae's work beyond the Cybermen two-parter he wrote for David Tennant back in series 2, and that's not exactly a story to sing the praises of.  Based on that I wouldn't have thought he had something like "The Girl Who Waited" in him, but this is unabashedly one of the best episodes of this series.  As I said, it's a simple idea, but the way it plays out on screen is gorgeous -- touching and tragic and the sort of thing that feels both right at home on Doctor Who and boldly going to places the show only occasionally flirts with.

It certainly helps that everyone's contributing to the finished product.  MacRae reportedly specified lots of all-white rooms to save on production costs, but it's still a striking image, nicely antiseptic and perfectly suited for a TV screen -- but the other locations on Apalapucia (the gardens, the "engine room") are also lovely to look at.  Meanwhile, director Nick Hurran makes a superb Doctor Who debut, keeping the camera moving but also providing some marvelous superimposed shots as well.  The two Amys looking at each other through the time glass is impressive enough, but the scenes of the older Amy and Rory, separated by the TARDIS door but blended together in the same shot, are really something else.

But the best thing about this are the actors.  This is essentially a three-hander, as there are no other major guest appearances and the Doctor is restricted to the TARDIS (this being the "Doctor-lite" episode) -- and two of those hands are Karen Gillan.  The makeup department has done a fantastic job aging Amy, but what's also impressive is Gillan.  She's a marvel in the role, brittle yet strong and full of bitterness for being abandoned.  "Why are we still here?" the younger Amy asks the older one through the time glass.  "Because they leave you," the older one replies.  "Because they get in their TARDIS and they fly away."  That's what the older Amy feels: abandoned and angry.  And because she doesn't want these past thirty-six years to be meaningless, she doesn't want to help Rory rescue her younger self -- initially at all, and then not without taking her too.  Not to travel with the Doctor, as she now says she hates him, but just so that she can continue to live her life without being trapped.  "Two Amys together.  Can that work?" Rory wonders.  "Maybe," the Doctor lies, spewing some technobabble to cover himself.

The two Amys appear in the same time stream. ("The Girl Who
Waited") ©BBC
And that's really the biggest tearjerker moment of the episode.  The Doctor deliberately lies to get Amy to help her younger self, knowing that there's no way to sustain the paradox of Amy leaving in the TARDIS and being trapped in Twostreams at the same time.  The older Amy helps bring her younger self into this time stream and then helps fight their way to the TARDIS, only for the Doctor to shut the door in her face.  "She's not real," the Doctor insists.  "Look, we take this Amy, we leave ours.  Only one Amy in the TARDIS.  Which one do you want?  It's your choice."  "This isn't fair," Rory says bitterly.  "You're turning me into you."  "Your choice, Rory," the Doctor repeats.  But it's not his choice.  Amy and Rory are separated by the TARDIS door, having a wretched conversation that is clearly wrecking both of them, but it's Amy who makes the decision.  "If you love me, don't let me in," she tells him.  "Open that door, I will, I'll come in.  I don't want to die. ... Tell Amy, your Amy, I'm giving her the days.  The days with you.  The days to come. ... The days I can't have.  Take them, please.  I'm giving you my days."  And so Amy is saved, and thus never spent those 36 years alone, but that seems to be small comfort to Rory.  And the Doctor is hardly unaffected, either: the last shot, after "our" Amy wakes up and asks, "Where is she?", is a guilty, uncomfortable look from the Doctor.

"The Girl Who Waited" is a gorgeous tale about love and loss and betrayal, and while it unabashedly goes for the gut it does so with considerable style.  I don't know that I'd want many more episodes like this -- I'm not sure I could handle it -- but this is a beautiful tragedy with a melancholy ending that ultimately tells us that the most important thing in the universe can be just two people.

June 10: "The God Complex"

Oh look, another episode with our heroes trapped in a structure while something malevolent stalks them.  After things like "The Curse of the Black Spot", "The Rebel Flesh" / "The Almost People", and everything after "Let's Kill Hitler" this is turning into quite the theme.  Was there something in the air in 2011 Cardiff?

"The God Complex" is more of the same, but this time we're stuck in a generic hotel that has no exits, while a giant nameless minotaur stalks the halls, looking for people to psychically feast upon.  Where this episode stands out is in its guest cast.  Everyone is perfectly chosen to provide a realistic (albeit slightly generic) cast of characters.  There's Daniel Pirrie as Joe in the room of ventriloquist dummies, Dimitri Leonidas as the somewhat nerdy Howie, David Walliams as the cowardly Gibbis, and Amara Karan as the self-assured Rita, who does seem to have a particular chemistry with Matt Smith.  She's clearly being set up as prime companion material, handling everything that's been going on reasonably well -- down to making tea.  "All hotels should have a well stocked kitchen, even alien fake ones," Rita says in response to the Doctor's question.  "I heard you talking when you arrived.  Look, it's no more ridiculous than Howie's CIA theory, or mine."  "Which is?" the Doctor asks.  "This is Jahannam," she replies.  "You're a Muslim," the Doctor notes.  "Don't be frightened," Rita responds, with the air of someone who's had to deflect that fact more than once.  "Ha!  You think this is Hell," the Doctor says.  "The whole '80s hotel thing took me by surprise, though," Rita replies dryly.  And of course, the regulars are in fine form -- Arthur Darvill continues to shine as the slightly sardonic Rory ("Every time the Doctor gets pally with someone, I have this overwhelming urge to notify their next of kin"), while Karen Gillan is as strong as ever as Amy.  And Matt Smith continues to make the Doctor completely his own, offbeat and awkward and confident and generally amazing; watch his reaction to the minotaur and his efforts to talk to it, or to what he sees in his room ("Of course.  Who else?"235), if you don't believe me.

Rory recoils as the minotaur breaks free of the salon. ("The God
Complex") ©BBC
It's a good thing the cast is strong, because while the situation is suitably bizarre (and is aided by lots of lovely direction from Nick Hurran), and the idea of rooms that contain everyone's fears is an intriguing one, it's not quite engaging enough to sustain interest.  That means that "The God Complex" has to rely quite heavily on its players to make things work, rather than their simply adding to a strong script.  It's like Toby Whithouse decided he wanted something off-beat, but he couldn't quite get it to cohere the way he wanted it to.  Why else does the resolution steal so shamelessly from The Curse of Fenric's resolution?  (Albeit by pulling the punch such that the Doctor doesn't call Amy an "emotional cripple".)  The realization that the minotaur feeds off faith, rather than fear, is presumably meant to be clever, but it never quite feels justified in story terms.  (And what's with the idea that Rory is safe because he doesn't believe strongly in anything?  What, nothing?  Not even Amy?)

The fear idea is nice, and the direction really is lovely, but this story just never quite clicks.  There's another dig at the idea of the Doctor as hero, which would be OK if we hadn't just had the previous episode demonstrating that point rather more effectively.  And I'm still not quite sure what the actual message is meant to be.  Fear and faith are closely intertwined?  Not all monsters want to be evil?  Even things as dull as '80s hotels can be terrifying?  It's not clear.  The final scene almost makes up for all this (and if this had been Amy and Rory's final story, it would have been a fitting departure -- but alas, they don't get that neat an ending), but even that feels occasionally at a disconnect.  It's a good effort, and there's certainly a lot here that can entertain you, but "The God Complex" simply doesn't gel as well as it should have.

June 11: "Closing Time"

Maybe I'm wrong, but the general impression I've gotten from fandom is that "Closing Time" isn't a terribly well-loved story.  It didn't rate highly on Doctor Who Magazine's recent 50 Years Poll (165 out of 241, with an average score of 65.59% -- although three other stories from series 6 are even lower on the list), and much of the fan commentary I've seen online has been dismissive.  That's a shame, because I think "Closing Time" is a really sweet and funny piece.

Craig and the Doctor examine a Cybermat. ("Closing Time") ©BBC
I might be biased, since I thoroughly enjoyed last series' "The Lodger" and so I'm very welcoming of a sequel, but even so, "Closing Time" is fun and enjoyable.  Certainly the chemistry is still there between Matt Smith and James Corden -- in fact, it might even be stronger than last time -- and the addition of Alfie/Stormageddon, Craig and Sophie's baby that the Doctor can talk to, makes for some lovely moments as well.  "No, he's your dad," the Doctor tells Stormageddon, referring to Craig.  "You can't just call him 'Not Mum.' ... 'Also Not Mum', that's me.  And everybody else is... 'peasants'.  That's a bit unfortunate."  There are lines like this scattered throughout the piece, as the Doctor goes about trying to thwart a Cyberman invasion in Colchester from inside a department store.  This seriously leads to all sorts of fun, as Craig tries to help him out and finds that he can't really be as charming as the Doctor -- when he tries it almost gets him thrown out of the store.  "How do you do that?" Craig demands afterwards.  "It's a power, isn't it?  Some sort of weird alien hypnotic power.  I bet you excrete some sort of gas that makes people love you."  There's also the stuff with the Cybermat (a Cybermat!  How cool is that?  And looking a lot better since their last appearance in Revenge of the Cybermen), with its genuinely worrying teeth and its later efforts to attack the Doctor and Craig, having apparently been playing dormant and waiting for the right moment to strike.  All this matched with more moments, as in "The Lodger", of the Doctor temporarily taking on menial jobs and being surprisingly good at them -- here as a sales clerk for the toy department, beloved by all the staff (including Val, as played by Lynda Baron -- last seen on the show as Captain Wrack in Enlightenment).

But one of the best things about "Closing Time" is by virtue of its placement in this run of episodes.  First, it's not another "trapped in a structure and on the run" story, so that's welcome.  But more importantly...  Throughout this series we've been getting little digs at the Doctor, suggestions that he's not as good and morally upright as we like to think.  That he'll lie to people, or get them killed, or both, and that he's "drenched in the blood of the innocent" (as the previous episode implied).  Which I'm not saying isn't an interesting conversation to have (and Toby Whithouse in particular seems quite intrigued by this), but it does come as something of a relief to have Craig in this definitively say that the Doctor is amazing and wonderful and generally gets it right, and the Doctor shouldn't worry about it so much:
CRAIG: The Cybermat came after us?
DOCTOR: No, after me.
CRAIG: They sent it after us.
DOCTOR: After me.  Because of me, you and Alfie nearly died.  Do you still feel safe with me, Craig?
CRAIG: You can't help who your mates are.
DOCTOR: No.  I am a stupid, selfish man.  Always have been.  I should have made you go.  I should never have come here.
CRAIG: What would have happened if you hadn't come?  Who else knows about the Cybermen and teleports?
DOCTOR: I put people in danger.
CRAIG: Stop beating yourself up.  If it weren't for you, this whole planet would be an absolute ruin.

"Closing Time" is a story that loves the Doctor, that shows that he is in fact a good and decent man.  And yes, the resolution is a bit rubbish (Craig stops the Cybermen with the power of love -- yeeaahhhhh...  Although, to be fair, it does make thematic sense in the context of the episode), but this isn't really about the Cybermen; it's about relationships and friendships and how sometimes your friends know you better than you know yourself.  Yes, that means it's not a "heavy" story, but it's definitely a charming one, with some genuinely funny moments.  (The last one, that Alfie's first word is "Doctor" (after Craig's been denying to Sophie that anything exciting happened while she was away), is particularly glorious.)

Of course, this does mean that the last few minutes (starting with the Doctor walking back to the TARDIS) feel somewhat divorced from the previous 41.  Now we're actively setting up the series 6 finale next week, as River Song (now a doctor herself) is recaptured by Madame Kovarian and the Silence and stuck inside an astronaut's suit.  So she was indeed the person inside the suit, albeit older than we may have been initially led to believe.  Still, it's a much more serious tone than what came before, so it does jar ever so slightly, even though Gareth Roberts spent time setting up the Doctor's impending death throughout the episode.  But maybe that's because the moment has finally arrived...

June 12: "The Wedding of River Song" Prequel / "The Wedding of River Song" / "Death is the Only Answer"

And so here we are at last: the conclusion of series 6.  The prequel to this episode is, it must be said, terribly unexciting: there seems to be something wrong with time (or their clocks, at least) , there are Silents trapped in water tanks, and everyone is wearing an eye patch like Madame Kovarian -- including River Song.  Gasp, I guess.

That leads us into the main event, which is... interesting.  "The Wedding of River Song" is one of those episodes that feels big and exciting and fun, but when you actually stop to look at it, it becomes increasingly more difficult to make any sense out of it.  Actually, I'm not sure that's true.  I think it does make a sort of sense, but it requires the viewer to bring a lot of their own explanations to the table, to fill in the gaps in the narrative.

The big one is the nature of what's happening.  We're told that all of time is happening simultaneously -- so Winston Churchill is Caesar, Charles Dickens is preparing Christmas specials for television (hooray, it's Simon Callow again, back for a quick cameo!), and pteranodons236 are flying around Hyde Park, harassing children.  But we're also told that time doesn't move, that's it's 5:02pm and that it's always been 5:02pm.  Except people can walk around and have conversations and something an awful lot like time seems to be happening, even if the clocks aren't moving.  The explanation (based on a couple quick lines) is that this is in fact a bubble timeline where all of history is happening at once but remains 5:02pm in relation to the rest of the universe.  But it would have been nice of them to have made that clearer.

But because everything's happening all at once but in a parallel world, it does make it somewhat difficult to work out who should know what at any given moment.  So Amy only has vague feelings of memories and dreams of the Doctor and her travels, rather than anything concrete, and Rory doesn't even have that.  Fair enough that the Doctor and River remember everything (since they were at the epicenter of the time explosion), but why does Madame Kovarian seem to still know exactly what's going on?

The Doctor and River spar while Amy and Madame Kovarian look
on. ("The Wedding of River Song") ©BBC
However, these are the sorts of things that come from looking too closely at this episode.  "The Wedding of River Song" is more an episode that invites you to play along, not to scrutinize -- which is a bit of a problem, given that much of Doctor Who's message over the past 48 years has been to ask questions, but I suppose we can let it go.  Because there's quite a bit about this story that's quite clever.  The use of the Doctor telling Churchill what happened to time as a way to flashback to the events between the end of "Closing Time" and the beginning of this episode is a nice touch, with some fun callbacks (the Teselecta and Dorium Maldovar's head) and an entertaining sequence with a heavily disguised Mark Gatiss as Gantok the chess player.  (Oh, and I love the way he's reading Knitting for Girls for fun as he waits for Gideon Vandaleur to show up -- it's been a long time since we've seen the Doctor read anything for pleasure.)  There's also the touching moment of the Doctor learning that Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has passed away (Nicholas Courtney having died earlier in the year), which is what convinces him that it's time to stop running.  It's also a nice touch, having the Silents all locked up in the pyramid but actually simply waiting for the right moment to strike.  And the eyepatches are explained away as "eyedrives" that allow you to remember the Silents after you've stopped looking at them.  As I said, clever.  And we finally get an acknowledgement from Amy about having Melody taken from her: "You took my baby from me and hurt her.  And now she's all grown up and she's fine, but I'll never see my baby again."  It's a long overdue moment, even if it leads to Amy killing Madame Kovarian.  ("I killed someone," she reflects afterwards to River.  "Madame Kovarian, in cold blood."  "In an aborted time line, in a world that never was," River points out.  But Amy is unpersuaded: "Yeah, but I can remember it, so it happened, so I did it."  It's at least recognizing the issue, even if -- as far as I can remember -- it never comes up again.)

The cleverest bit of all is probably the way the Doctor avoids dying at the fixed point that the Silence have set up, by using the Teselecta.  It's one of those things that feels almost obvious in retrospect, but everything is handled adeptly to not make it obvious until right before the revelation.  It also means that the universe thinks the Doctor is dead, so he can now recede into the background.  "I got too big, Dorium," he says at the end.  "Too noisy.  Time to step back into the shadows."  Of course, this still means that the Doctor is heading for Trenzalore, where silence will fall when the question is asked, but that's still in the future.

So I dunno.  There are some lovely clever moments in this episode, but it's all built upon a premise that rather requires you not to think too hard about it.  I suppose that's the definition of a qualified success.  One does wonder what a casual viewer would make out of it all though.

But then, series 6 has seen a more concerted move away from casual viewers in favor of a (more) dedicated audience.  It's not the same feel as during the mid-1980s, when it sometimes seemed like Doctor Who was only targeting its fanbase, but it's still a shift away from Russell T Davies' approach.  Then, there were ongoing references to an overarching series-long plot, but they were kept strictly in the background until episode 12 or so -- a little extra something for fans, but not something that casual viewers had to keep up on.  Now (presumably emboldened by the success of shows like Lost), Steven Moffat is shifting toward a more detailed narrative, in which whole episodes are given over to advancing that longer storyline.  It's not totally successful, though, because he's trying to have it both ways, with episodes that are accessible for more casual viewers still mixed in -- but that makes the dropping of the bigger arc more obvious.

It is something of a first for Doctor Who to go even this far with a storyline, and the time travel nature of the series makes it a less-than-straightforward thread to follow, which is probably why series 6 developed a reputation for being confusing and overcomplicated.  I don't think that's necessarily true.  It is a storyline that requires you to actively participate and think about what you're seeing (another reason elements of "The Wedding of River Song" are problematic), to mentally slot all the pieces together, which does mean that there are fewer "lightbulb" moments where you suddenly understand what's going on, and more dawning realizations instead.  But it's a worrying kind of criticism that says that your audience isn't clever enough to work out what's going on and that you should dumb it down instead.  No, if there's a problem with the big storyline, it's that the nature of the individual episodes make it hard to sustain things like characterization.  Amy and Rory suffer a big, traumatic event that they seem perfectly OK with in the next episode.  If the production team was going to go for this important storyline, then they should have gone for it.  What we get instead is a halfway house between two competing philosophies of television.

Yet even with that caveat, series 6 was a success.  They had some truly exceptional episodes, and the big storyline (the Doctor's death) was handled well on the whole.  Matt Smith cemented his place as one of the best actors to play the Doctor, while Karen Gillan took the chance to make her character more nuanced; series 5 Amy sometimes felt like she was just shouting at the world for no obvious reason, but series 6 Amy (modulo reactions to the kidnapping of her baby) is more like an actual person, with all the pluses and minuses that encapsulates.  And Arthur Darvill is so wonderful as Rory, sardonic and fun and frequently deferring to Amy -- not out of weakness but out of love -- that it's no wonder he's a fan favorite.  All this means that even after 48 years, Doctor Who is still running strong.

Oh!  But we're not quite done with series 6.  Immediately after "The Wedding of River Song" aired, Doctor Who Confidential (the BBC Three documentary series going behind-the-scenes of the episode that had just aired) presented the winner of BBC Learning's "Script-to-Screen" competition, in which schoolchildren competed to have a short three-minute sketch featuring the Doctor and a returning enemy filmed and broadcast.  "Death is the Only Answer", by the Children of Oakley Junior School (as the credits officially state), is a quick story involving Albert Einstein popping into the TARDIS, temporarily turning into an Ood, and then just as quickly being turned back into himself.  It's a fun, lightweight little scene, with some really lovely lines ("Nice hair.  You should keep it, it looks more sciencey") and a charming turn from Nickolas Grace as Einstein.  What more do you need?

June 16: "Bad Night" / "Good Night" / "First Night" / "Last Night" / "Up All Night"

(5 Night and the Doctor scenes)

Whoops, one more bit of series 6 to get through: much how the series 5 boxset included two extra scenes, so the series 6 one contains five of them -- but as they're in general difficult to insert into series 6's continuity, I've elected to wait until now (relative to when the surrounding episodes were transmitted), when the boxset was released.

The Doctor informs River she's in the wrong TARDIS. ("Last
Night") ©BBC Worldwide Ltd.
We get five quick little scenes, all under the umbrella title Night and the Doctor and most of them set inside the TARDIS, ostensibly showing us what the Doctor gets up to while Amy and Rory are asleep.  The first one, "Bad Night", is a quick bit of whimsy, as the Doctor deals with a queen who's been turned into a fish and a great warrior who's also a fly, and gets Rory out of bed because Amy's "having an emotion", and it's his turn to deal with it.  ("You two have turns?!" Amy replies indignantly.)  The second scene, "Good Night", is probably the best one, as it shows Amy struggling to make sense of her life, despite things like suddenly getting parents after the Doctor rebooted the universe; it's actually about something rather than just flitting around.  The next two, "First Night" and "Last Night", involve River Song, both the first time the Doctor took her away from her prison and the last time, mixed with some hijinks involving multiple Rivers getting confused as to which TARDIS is which.  They try to make it dramatic at the end -- apparently the older Doctor has arrived at a point shortly before "Silence in the Library" / "Forest of the Dead", which means River will soon die -- but they're only partially successful.  Meanwhile, the final scene, "Up All Night", is focused solely on Craig and Sophie from "Closing Time" and acts as a prequel to that episode -- to the point that one wonders if this was initially intended to be released online, much like the other prequels this series, but then wasn't for some reason.  It's purely a throwaway scene, made even more so by the fact that already watching "Closing Time" robs it of any mystery it might have had.  Still, these five scenes are a charming bit of entertainment, and a nice extra for the DVD/Blu-ray buyers.


224 You can explain away the lack of an explosion resulting from the Blinovitch Limitation Effect (as seen in Mawdryn Undead) in "The Big Bang" when Amy touches her younger self by arguing that those are two different Amys -- one that grew up in a world with stars and one that didn't, among many other differences.  It's a lot harder to explain why the two Kazrans don't cause an explosion in this episode -- my best guess is that they're also two different people at that moment because the changes to Kazran's timeline haven't caught up with old Kazran yet.
225 This caption is missing from the Region 1/A release of The Complete Sixth Series boxset, although a similar caption (with the year corrected) does appear before part one of The Nightmare Man on the fourth series DVD of The Sarah Jane Adventures.  It's not clear why they moved it -- maybe they didn't want the wrong year being perpetuated?
226 It's presumably during this time period that Amy is replaced by her double, given the pregnancy comments that (more or less) immediately follow the reunion of the Doctor and Amy.
227 Another minor controversy: Silence or Silents?  The end credits list Marnix van den Broeke as playing "the Silent", but the DVD subtitles opt for "Silence" every time the aliens are referred to.  It gets more complicated when you factor in later stories, which talk about a religious order called the Silence.  The TARDIS wiki appears to have opted for "Silence" for the order and "Silents" for members of the alien race, which is as good a distinction as any.
228 This is actually a coincidence, as writer Steve Thompson simply picked an historical pirate who disappeared without being captured, rather than trying to make an explicit connection.  Nevertheless, as the pirates in The Smugglers are obsessed with finding Avery's treasure, it doesn't seem unreasonable to assume they're talking about the same person as here.
229 Er, except for the Boatswain, who, somewhat infamously, suddenly disappears from the narrative after we see him barricade the magazine, with no explanation whatsoever.  Because this is Moffat's Doctor Who, where we've already seen last series that "goofs" are just clever bits of foreshadowing, people wondered what the significance of the Boatswain's sudden disappearance was.  But alas, it's just a continuity error, the result of his "death" scene being cut in editing.  And besides, you can see him as one of Avery's crew in their final scene.
230 As many people pointed out after this episode was broadcast, the "Pull to Open" message refers to the door on the phone compartment, not the main door.  But that doesn't actually change Gaiman's point, which is that real police box doors did indeed open outward -- the TARDIS doors open inward because of space concerns in the '60s studio.  (Note, for comparison, that the doors of Tardis open outward in both Peter Cushing films, where floor space isn't an issue.)
231 Apparently Ood Sigma was also going to make an appearance but it was cut for time -- but that's why Russell T Davies is credited as the creator of the Ood in the credits.  It seems they also offered a spot for Captain Jack, but he was busy filming Torchwood.
232 That's something of a first, breaking up a series American-style into multiple runs -- as opposed to a small break over Christmas, which had happened before.  This was allegedly for storytelling reasons, but some have wondered if this was a knock-on effect of the 2008 financial crisis followed by Britain's adoption of austerity, requiring the BBC to have to spread the money out a bit to make it last.  Note how series 7 is also split into two halves but spread over two years, while series 8 (made after the UK eased back a bit on austerity policies, which contributed to some growth for the UK's economy) was back to one single run (albeit an episode shorter).
234 Except that Mels is shown to be a little girl at the same time as Amy and Rory (i.e., 1996 and later), which leaves a rather large gap in which Mels either didn't age at all (which seems to be a thing she can do, based on River's comments about taking "the age down a little, just gradually" -- and yes, this is clearly meant to be an explanation for why she looks younger in "Silence of the Library" / "Forest of the Dead", but we can still use it) or she regenerated back into a little girl after having grown up for a while.  Or possibly she did a bit of time travel.  Regardless, it's a gap that's left unexplained.
235 All we hear is the TARDIS's Cloister Bell, and we don't actually get to see what's inside.  At least not until "The Time of the Doctor", when we learn that what he saw was a Crack in Time.  Which seems like a strange thing to refer to as "who", but oh well.  (I still think it should have been the War Doctor.)
236 The sign in the park calls them "pterodactyls", but they're clearly pteranodons.  (The crest on the head gives them away.)  But we can blame that on the Royal Parks Agency (or whoever it was that put up the sign).