Doctor Who, in which an alien time traveler and his companions protect humanity from threats. Most of this post is going to deal with the highlights in the first half of the 7th season, so it’ll be mostly interesting to those who watch the show, though I try to make it accessible . For those who don’t watch it, the next two paragraphs are meant for you, with a brief explanations of the show and what stood out about this half-season.
The great thing about this show is that it is always trying to find the humanity in every situation, to be fair to every side. It portrays the best of us and the worst of us, and it wants all of that to feel real. Doctor Who isn’t an action show, by any means–in fact, it’s pretty bad at action and needs to stop trying to include action scenes. The Doctor solves most of his problems through intelligence.
He isn’t a pacifist, although he wishes he was–he still manages to kill people and annihilate his enemies (he’s probably got a higher body count than most action heroes). He just doesn’t do it by engaging in any kind of physical violence himself. The show still makes it clear that his enemies view him as a monster, and this is a point of contention for him–the gap between who he is and who he wants to be. The first half of the 7th season is fantastic, with a high emphasis on emotion and on putting difficult situations on display. When the choices are hard, and the answers aren’t easy, it makes for more powerful storytelling.
This was a very strong half-season. Three episodes stand out–the other two weren’t by any means bad episodes, but they didn’t pack the punch of the three I’m going to talk about, either.
The premiere, “Asylum of the Daleks”: The Doctor has to take down a planet of insane Daleks, his old nemesises (nemesi?). It sounds fairly standard for the show, and it comes off as fairly standard for a little while as well–then they throw in a moving ending, that the episode had been leading up to all along. The Steven Moffat/Matt Smith era has in the past, a few times, overplayed the emotion (like in “The Girl Who Waited”, which had a great concept and some truly touching moments, but also some very awkward/unnatural moments). But here the story was intense and not overly melodramatic. The way that the story unfolded and how the characters reacted to this awful realization felt organic.
The episode dealt with the sense of identity and holding on to that identity however possible. This was “the twist” done right, because it was founded entirely on emotion.
The third episode, “A Town Called Mercy”, involves the Doctor saving an old-West style town from an android. I was expecting it to be a throwaway, from the premise, but I was wrong. This is another very human story, and it takes a nuanced stance on what the right thing to do is. It deals with a man who is both a monster and a hero, and it’s not easy to pin down where the story should go, when the people he’s hurt are weighed against the people he’s helped. It ended pretty much the only way it could have ended while still being satisfying, with each party making the choice to take a measure of responsibility.
The only thing to really complain about is the use of the scientist/doctor dichotomy, with science being bad and medicine being good. It’s a theme that tends to crop up now and again in the media.
As for the closer of the first half of the season, “The Angels Take Manhattan”–wow. The Weeping Angels (which are amongst the scariest, if not the scariest, of the monster of Doctor Who lore) return. And the Doctor stumbles onto one of their strategies for harvesting energy from the human race.
First off, I’m writing this part of the post immediately after seeing the episode, and I’m crying a little. It was a beautiful ending. The moments leading up to it, the tragedy, the way it all fell together–this was a fantastic episode, and a fantastic way to present this turning point. I don’t want to spoil it, but our characters are backed into a corner and need to decide what they can live with. And what they can live without.
The ending really made the story. But I’ll talk about the rest of the episode too, because it was also great.
I went in knowing that the Weeping Angels were our villains, and like an idiot, I decided to watch this at night. Alone. Still, it wasn’t as downright terrifying as the first episode they featured in (“Blink”). So maybe I’ll be able to sleep tonight.
The presentation of the story was engaging, with things slowly leading up to what the Angels want. The idea of knowing the future and how much that dictates what has to happen is played with, and makes for some increasingly poignant moments.
River Song (who gets no explanation because everything about her is a spoiler) is back, and does manage to get in some banter with the Doctor before the situation deteriorates. Even better, she gets a few dramatic moments, and we get more insight into her vulnerabilities. And more insight into just how convoluted and painful their entire story together is. I mean, talk about your doomed romances.
There are a few contradictions about how the Angels’ power works, but I don’t even care.
It was just a fantastic episode. Go watch it before I accidentally spoil something.
In conclusion, how come 3 out of 5 of these episodes managed to really get to me? What’s up with that?