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Doctor Who Series 6 Part 1
July 17, 2011

The minimal Doctor Who Series 6 Part 1 set, out on Tuesday, July 19, consists of two discs containing the seven 45-minute episodes aired so far.

“The Impossible Astronaut” brought the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) to the U.S. in an episode filmed partially in Utah. He, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), and the impressive River Song (Alex Kingston) team up with a fired FBI agent (Mark Sheppard) in 1969 to fight the Silence, a race of alien invaders who are forgotten as soon as they aren’t seen. The season opening combined weird horror with the kind of historical playfulness I enjoy most about Doctor Who. In this case, he’s hanging out with Richard Nixon (Stuart Milligan) and making jokes about the moon landing.

Mark Sheppard, Matt Smith, Arthur Darvill, Karen Gillan, and Alex Kingston

Mark Sheppard, Matt Smith, Arthur Darvill, Karen Gillan, and Alex Kingston

“The Day of the Moon” concludes this two-parter with a dynamite opening sequence set up just to trick the viewer, as the supporting characters are pursued through the 60s, culminating in River’s dive into the pool. Lots of mental double-backs make a way to rewatch, such as with this DVD set, a must.

“The Curse of the Black Spot” lightens the mood with pirates (very trendy) facing a mystical siren taking away crew members. Hugh Bonneville, who plays the captain, will be known to American audiences from Downton Abbey, while Amy gets to play dress-up for a sword-fighting action scene. Even though the ultimate villain turns out be similar to “The Empty Child”, written for the first relaunch series by Steven Moffat, current show-runner, and there are a number of logic flaws, it’s a suspenseful adventure kids will likely enjoy. This episode was written by Stephen Thompson, who also worked with Moffat on Sherlock.

Matt Smith and Hugh Bonneville in Episode 3

Matt Smith and Hugh Bonneville in Episode 3

Disc one ends on a high note with “The Doctor’s Wife”, a goofy but psychologically revealing episode written by Neil Gaiman. Idris (Suranne Jones) is a physical manifestation of the TARDIS who helps the Doctor recapture his ship when an asteroid (voiced by Michael Sheen sounding remarkably like Marvin the Paranoid Android) tries to take it over. When Amy and Rory are trapped in the ship’s corridors, the viewer learns more about both their relationship and the time machine. Jones’ performance is wonderfully mad, naive, seductive, and intriguing all at once.

“The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People” make up a two-parter about acid workers and their disposable Flesh doppelgangers. When these “Gangers” develop their own personalities, we get a classic British science fictional meditation on workers, class structure, and what it means to be human. Plus, there’s a duplicate Doctor, setting up plots to be resolved in the second half of this series.

“A Good Man Goes to War” returns to the underlying story of Amy’s Schrodinger pregnancy, bringing out all kinds of aliens, known and new, and big battles as the Doctor and his allies attack the Demon’s Run base. It ends on a cliffhanger, to keep us eager for part two of the series, but it’s a glorious ride getting there, with a thrilling revelation to tide us over. Plus, the concept of the Headless Monks, with their attack prayer, is both funny and creepy, as the best Doctor Who bits are.

It’s quite enlightening to re-watch the episodes knowing the tricks, already anticipating when something’s going to jump at you or knowing what the mysterious pronouncements mean when characters utter them. The show creators have done a terrific job so far of playing with surprises and cliffhangers, but the second (or further) time through, that simple source of appeal is gone, replaced by subtly skilled performances and impressive visuals. It all looks glorious on Blu-ray, a definite advancement from the earlier days’ dodgy production values. The American desert, where this series opens with a bang, is full of sun-splashed eye-searing vistas and in later episodes, corridors have never looked so good.

I’ve become particularly impressed by Darvill’s portrayal of Rory, who as Amy’s husband could easily become a fifth wheel. We know what the Doctor and the Girl do, in terms of story structure, but Rory’s role has become increasingly odd and important and all the more worth watching for that. We’ve also been reminded several times that he’s got his own set of skills as a nurse, especially in episodes three and four, when he interacts with Idris.

River Song is my favorite Doctor Who character of all, a woman who has her own adventures and can outsmart the Doctor and has just as much heart and dedication and a wicked sense of humor. Finding out more about her origins has served as the underpinning of this series arc, and it’s a mystery that has kept fans intrigued as it ties together several key threads.

Alex Kingston as River Song in Episode 1

Alex Kingston as River Song in Episode 1

The set is also available on DVD. This will make an excellent rental, or an affordable way to build the Doctor Who video collection gradually, but I hope that the eventual full series package has better extras. (Part 2 will be out in November, and the complete set is due for the holidays.) For instance, why don’t we get the behind-the-scenes Doctor Who Confidential episodes aired in the U.K. relating to these stories? Instead, each disc has one Monster File (which appears to be recut from the Confidential material).

The first disc extra is 11 minutes of actors, Moffat, and director Toby Haynes talking about the Silence, interspersed with clips from earlier episodes and design information. I didn’t realize how big they were until I saw the behind-the-scenes footage showing the characters in costume. Disc two has 13 minutes on the Gangers, from episodes 5 and 6, with producer Marcus Wilson, director Julian Simpson, prosthetics designer Neill Gorton, Sarah Smart (who played Jennifer, a key character in the episode), and other actors and special effects creators. The information on how they created the look of the “monsters” will be familiar to anyone who knows anything about current movie makeup technology. (The studio provided a review copy.)

8 Responses  
William George writes:  

As the geeky buzz of “The Doctor’s Wife” wore off, I made the mistake of thinking about it. I came to the realization that Gaiman managed to get a fanfic produced as a TV show.

That’s some influence.

 
Lynnet writes:  

The 11/Amy/Rory dynamic reminds me very much of the 4/Sarah/Harry dynamic from the original series. I would like it if they managed to keep the Doctor/Girl relationship a little less couple-y.

And as far as fanfic produced as a TV show goes, that is more or less the express purpose of most of the show’s writers, and what they were doing before the series reboot as well.

 
Grant writes:  

Great review Johanna.

As an old timey Who fan, I can safely say that I love Matt Smiths run on Dr. Who more than any other doctor. We’ve gotten some of the best character development the show has ever seen. We’ve gotten some of the most complex and entertaining stories and continuity the show has ever seen(as well as the return of “primary color” daleks and the Silurians!).

And I couldn’t agree more regarding your comments on Rory. He’s grown in such a fun way and it’s been so cool to see Amy go from having her typical “companion crush” on the Doctor to being seriously in love with Rory. I find Amy to be the most interesting companion so far. But I’d still like to see a companion from a different era, or perhaps an alien. I’d like to see a character with a perspective on morality other than a contemporary human.

In that respect, I thought Captain Jack had unrealized potential. I’m much more interested in the lesbian relationship between the 19th century Silurian “Samurai” and and her “maid”. That combo is just FULL of interesting possibilities! I’d buy a comic book about those characters like yesterday.

I also liked how they show the doctor as being so scary in the eyes of others that the very word “doctor” has taken on a new, terrifying meaning that he never intended.

Who fans keep pining for Romana, but with the sexy, exciting, funny River in the picture, it’s like Romana who?

This and Game of Thrones are the best things on TV.

 
Johanna writes:  

Oh, yeah, I would love to learn more about the Silurian and her friend. Great set of characters. And a more different companion would be intriguing, but I suspect the show makers see the companions as identification for the viewers, so I think we’re a ways off from that.

 
William George writes:  

And as far as fanfic produced as a TV show goes, that is more or less the express purpose of most of the show’s writers, and what they were doing before the series reboot as well

Yeah. But the problem is that a good chunk of the new series’ stories haven’t been able to rise above that fanfic level. And the only thing that made them watchable was the Herculean effort of some very talented actors.

Okay, it’s Doctor Who. A show for nine year olds.Talented actors trying to lift up bad scripts has been it’s calling cards sine the first episode in the 1960s. But Gaiman’s script was the most blatantly fanficcy of them all. All it was lacking was a new companion named Neil that Amy considers dumping Rory for.

And yes, this has been Rory’s season. That he’s been allowed to get out of the Mickey Box has been refreshing. Since all signs point towards this being his and Amy’s final series in the TARDIS, I hope he gets a good send off.

 
William George writes:  

Oh, and Sontaran nurse: Should have been the new companion due to pure awesome.

 
Ralf Haring writes:  

I just caught up with all of the new Dr Who via netflix streaming as well as these two discs. I was a little put off by Matt Smith at first, the change in pacing of the show was so great. The mood was much less manic than before, which gave the impression that everything was happening more slowly and padded a bit. It reminded me of the West Wing after Aaron Sorkin left. However, after a few episodes I got into the rhythm of the show and now enjoy it just as much as before. I think the turning point for me was actually when they brought Rory on board and disrupted the seen-it-before Doctor/companion romance they were teasing. That they’ve firmly established Rory and Amy as a couple has been a very welcome change from all the previous seasons.

From this set, I was quite pleased with the Silence, a wonderfully inventive and creepy concept. Involving Nixon directly in the plot seemed odd at first but led to some fun interactions. I had high expectations for Gaiman’s episode, but I think I might have caught a little too much about it on the periphery. It didn’t really wow me. The doppelgänger story was fairly decent, with high marks to the two fathers and the two doctors. The mid-season finale with River worked quite well as a high-octane episode, even if the climactic revelation was given away in about the first five minutes.

 
Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[...] followed by the pirate one.) Since I’ve already talked about these on my review of the Series 6, Part 1 DVDs, I’ll refer you there for more details. Unlike that previous set, this disc also [...]

 
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