Warning: this is a discussion and review of this season of Doctor Who to date. There will not be spoilers for future episodes. There will, however, be mention of details from episodes that have already aired – so read at your own risk if you haven’t seen them yet.
So, the Angels took Manhattan, at least temporarily, and the Ponds’ story is complete. We’re through with episodes until Christmas, and then we’ll be introduced to a brand-new companion, a brand-new era. So let’s take this moment to reflect: how do we feel about this? What about our opinions on the season thus far? What follows are my thoughts, and I hope you’ll add yours, too.
The End of an Era
First, on the fact that the Ponds’ chapter is closed and we’re starting fresh… I suppose I’m kind of relieved. Amy is probably my second-favorite New Who companion (she and Donna go back and forth), so I’m certainly no Amy-hater. On the other hand, that may say more about how I feel about Rose and Martha… At any rate, though I’ve enjoyed Amy, the story was feeling a bit tired. It’s clear we’re not going to get any mind-blowing reveals, so if there’s no more to tell, it’s time to retire the character. I’m okay with that.
I do like that the departure was sudden, but still under her own power. Amy made the decision to live out her life Doctor-free (whether or not it’s a decision that really had to be made), and she at least had the chance to say goodbye. In a lifetime of waiting, at least she didn’t have to wait for closure.
Also, with all the adversity that the Ponds have faced in their relationship (seriously, how much trauma does one couple deserve?), I’m rather glad that they apparently got to live out a long, peaceful life together.
Stairway to Nowhere
Remember that mysterious stairway on the second floor of Amy’s two-story house? Many people wondered if anything would ever come of that, and, well, it didn’t. And it’s kind of become a metaphor for many of the potential clues and loose ends that have been scattered through the last few seasons. To be honest, I’ve heard some grumbling about the most recent episode, and I think it’s at least partially due to the fact that a lot of people hoped those loose ends would finally be tied up in a grand and surprising way. (There are other reasons why people might grumble; I’ll get to those in a minute.)
For example, the one that bugs me the most: We saw child-River-Song regenerate, in 1969, in New York. Adult Melody mentions that she regenerated into a toddler, also in New York, and at some point she managed to get to England so she could grow up alongside Amy and Rory. Only thing is, Amy would have been born in the late 80s, not in 1969… so what happened in the middle? Did the Silence time-travel with baby River? Did she have another regeneration for 20 years, living in New York the entire time?
When people heard that Amy and Rory’s last story would be in New York, and feature Weeping Angels, who like to zap people into the past, they thought all these pieces might finally tie together – and there are some brilliant ideas from fans floating around on the internet. But alas, the opportunity was ignored.
Other things seem to have been introduced for a reason, but apparently ultimately weren’t. Why specifically mention that Rory really wants children and Amy can’t have any? Why have that divorce conflict that was resolved in the space of one episode? Why introduce Rory’s dad so late in the game, other than to add extra weight and depression when the Ponds leave their life behind? Will Ganger technology, and a potential surviving second Doctor, ever come back into play?
Less is More
Most of these loose ends wouldn’t have seemed so important if it weren’t for the fact that wild speculation was all but encouraged by Moffat himself. As late as just before the current season, he was supposedly quoted as saying things like, “Amy has a bigger secret.” At one point he said there was something in Eleven’s first episode that still no one had caught. And Moffat’s done things like this before; most notably, the coat-switch in “Flesh and Stone,” that turned out to be very intentional. When you’ve built your reputation on clever payoffs, people come to expect them.
I’m beginning to think that it might be better if fewer details are given in advance in general. I’m not even talking about people who actively search for spoilers, shreds of information; I’m talking about facts given in press releases and interviews. For example, months ago the departure of Amy and Rory was announced. This is sensible; they’re two major actors on a TV series and they deserve a little bit of fanfare. However, we were also told precisely when they’d be leaving, and that it would be in an episode set in New York City and featuring the Weeping Angels.
So then the actual episode comes along and it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect in an episode with those elements – and not much more. It still had good, emotional moments, and good performances from all involved. It just wasn’t surprising and mind-blowing. And honestly, the Weeping Angels are most effective when you’re surprised.
Once the phrases “Weeping Angel” and “New York City” were put together, it was pretty much an immediate jump to the Statue of Liberty. And honestly, I did still gasp when I saw that giant mouth in the background and realized what it must be. But it was also with a little bit of a giggle, as in, “They actually did it.” Now imagine how much more impact that might have had if no one had time to expect the possibility.
Other episodes are guilty of inflated expectations. ”Asylum of the Daleks,” for example. It was bragged that every version of Dalek would appear in the episode. I, for one, geeked out and pulled out my pictures of Daleks from the Doctor Who Experience so I’d be brushed up and ready to spot them. The actual episode was quite good, but most people spotted maybe one or two Classic Daleks, way in the background. Something that would have been an exciting Easter egg to discover on our own was instead a bit of a let-down.
In contrast, the episode I heard the least about was “The Power of Three,” and it is probably my favorite of the season thus far. Granted, part of that is due to stellar writing and good performances, but I wonder how much of it is due to the fact that there wasn’t a bunch of fanfare and inflated expectation.
Now, don’t think I’m trashing this season, because I’m not. In my opinion, I find the average episode of Eleven to be better than the average episode of Ten (I know, somebody’s blood pressure is probably rising, but I stand by it). Furthermore, I think the average episode of Eleven has gone up by the season. There might not be lots of peaks, but there aren’t as many valleys, either.
Also, I’ve been a Moffat fangirl for years. In fact, check out the intro I wrote in early 2009 for proof (it’s okay to laugh, I did just now). And honestly, I figured out after the first of his seasons or so that while he may be a great, clever writer, my mind is not going to be blown 100% of the time. And that’s okay. I had built up a lot of hype for myself, and I had to adjust my expectations. Even if all Moffat was ultimately remembered for was Matt Smith’s Doctor, Blink, and the Impossible Astronaut two-parter/creation of The Silence, that’s still impressive enough for most to be happy (and as it is, he’ll probably be remembered for much more).
However, as I’ve mentioned over the last few months, Doctor Who has finally really blown up in America over the last year or so. More and more people have really gotten on-board with the show, and more than that, really become a part of the fandom. This is the first season, I’d say, when so many fresh and excited fans have been watching the shows as they air (in the US, mind you). I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard “Moffat is a genius” in the last few months (no, I’m not joking).
It’s the first season that they’ve been watching with those raised expectations. And their mind was not blown, and then they get cranky. It’s a tale as old as time and space.
Back to the Future
I am quite looking forward to the new companion. Based on the acting sample we’ve seen, I think she’ll handle the job nicely. I think that maybe the story of the Ponds and River Song got just a little too timey-wimey and messy, and I think a new companion might be a good way to get a fresh start. Not that this one won’t necessarily be timey-wimey and complicated… but I’m not going to think too much about it. As we’ve covered, I think I’d rather be surprised.
I’m really hoping that we continue to see more range from the Doctor. We know Matt Smith can handle it, so let him take on those adult emotions! I always refer to that moment in “The Impossible Astronaut” on the TARDIS, just after the diner; there was another moment in “Power of Three” where he tells Brian about the fate of his former companions that was also impressive. More of that, please!
And, of course, I’m looking forward in general to 2013, the 50th Anniversary year of Doctor Who. Still no credible confirmation on who, if anyone, will be coming back for any special(s) (and again, maybe that’s for the best) but more than anything, I’ve got my fingers crossed for Christopher Eccleston, as unlikely as it may be.
Now: what about you? What are your thoughts on Doctor Who thus far? Are you looking forward to the new companion, sad to see the Ponds go, or both? Are you underwhelmed, overwhelmed, or just right? Share your thoughts below!