Sunday, October 2, 2011

Doctor Who Season 6 Finale

First.  I love Doctor Who and an average season (or even a bad season)of Doctor Who is better than most of what else is on television.

Second, I’ve never really liked any of the season finales for New Who except last season’s “Big Bang”.  In the Russell T. Davies era the stories were so over the top that my eyes got tired of rolling.  I particularly disliked the season finale where they had to tow the Earth back to the solar system. 

Third, I constantly remind myself that this is a show that is essentially meant to be a silly show for the family to watch.  I think of Doctor Who the way I think of those old fashioned Disney movies starring Fred MacMurray.  I don’t usually expect deep character development; I understand that there are going to be many stereotypes and some of the characters will verge on cartoonish.

So, keeping all of that in mind, I thought the finale was fine but not great. It was a visual treat and it tied up lots of loose ends.  It’s one of those episodes that, on the one hand, you can’t think about too much or it just doesn’t make sense.  On the other hand it is the kind of episode that you will think about a lot and eventually figure out twists that you missed the first time.  Just like the rest of the season it had a lot of potential and just like the rest of the season it did not, for me, hit the high mark that the fifth season hit.

But I give them credit for trying. 

I think Steven Moffat is one of the most creative writers in television today.  I applaud what he experimented with this season.  Doctor Who has done story arcs in other seasons of New Who but not to the extent that was tried this season.  There is a big difference between putting the words “Bad Wolf” in every episode or putting a glimpse of the crack in the universe in every episode and what was tried this season – a character driven story arc. 

In my opinion it didn’t quite work, but that’s ok as long as they learn from it.  Maybe a thirteen episode season in which the audience expects (and likes) many stand alone episodes was just too short for the kind of story that Moffat was trying to tell.  It felt rushed.  The emotions felt undeveloped.  It didn’t hang together at times.  If this was an American series with 23 episodes it might have worked.  Maybe.

But although the execution was a bit flawed I do think he achieved what he set out to achieve.  He has deconstructed the Doctor and moved the Doctor back into a position where he can act more like a traditional Doctor who isn’t seen as a superhero and isn’t known in every corner of the Galaxy.  As far as character development of the Doctor went, I think this season was very successful.   I look forward to what Moffat tries to do with the Doctor next season.

I also think Moffat was fairly successful with the character of Rory.  Not perfect, but very good.  At one point I said I had a theory that this season was “all about Rory” as opposed to last season that was all about Amy.  Well, that didn’t end up being completely true, it was really all about the Doctor.  But Rory definitely shone in the spotlight. 

The Companion is always a lens through which we, the viewer, see the Doctor and this year we saw the Doctor very much through Rory’s eyes.  Rory was not enamored of the Doctor and saw the Doctor as dangerous.  That worked very well for Moffat’s plan.   And I sort of liked that we did, for once, see the Doctor more often through the male companion’s eyes rather than the female companion’s eyes.  To think that only the female companion can be the eyes of the viewer is really somewhat sexist.

But the weakest part of this season was, undoubtedly, the female characters – both River and Amy. At this point I feel like a broken record in my complaints about Amy so I’m not even going to go into it again other than to say that, while Amy’s speech to Madame Kovarian was a nice moment, it didn’t make up for the lack of emotion she showed over the entire season about what happened to Melody/River or, for that matter, what happened to her in being kidnapped and her body used to carry a child that was immediately taken from her.

On the other hand, I will complain about what was done with the character of River Song in the second part of this season.  River Song went from being a strong female character who we assumed had a career as an archaeologist separate and apart from her interest in the Doctor to being a woman who is completely and totally obsessed with a man.  We find that she became an archaeologist solely for the purpose of tracking the Doctor.  She is willing to destroy the whole Universe because she cannot bear the thought that she is the one to kill the Doctor.   She goes to prison for killing the Doctor when he and she know darn well that he is not dead.  In the Library River gave up her life for the Doctor and it seemed noble.  But in this episode she gives up her freedom for the Doctor and it just seems like she’s being the dumb woman who will do anything for her man.  I almost expected Tammy Wynette to start playing after the scene in Utah.

But while all of that was disappointing, it was the way the Doctor treated her in this last episode that really struck me. The moment when the Doctor tells her that he’s going to marry her (after telling her that he doesn’t want to marry her and that she embarrasses him) and she needs to just do as she’s told has got to be the low point in the character development of River Song. That was the moment that I realized that Moffat had destroyed River as the unique female character that she was when the Doctor met her in the Library.  She has now become just like all the other Doctor Who women – there to serve the Doctor.

What a disappointment.

As I said, I think Steven Moffat is one of the best writers in television.  But even the best writers sometimes get it wrong.  And when it came to the women of Doctor Who this season, he really got it wrong.