- the Doctor: "I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool."
All hail DOCTOR WHO, back for this Series 6 and more awesome and mind-warping than ever. And this time there's a neat swerve as show boss and head writer Steven Moffat plonks the Doctor (complete with Stetson on noggin) in the American West. The Doctor's close associates - Amy Pond (the amazing Karen Gillan) and her long-suffering hubby Rory (Arthur Darvill) - each receive an invitation (in Tardis-blue envelopes) from the Doctor and off they go to rendezvous with him in a desert in Utah. The enigmatic time-traveler (and prison inmate), Professor River Song, also shows up, her own invite in hand, and to quote her now: "SPOILERS." They all go have a nice picnic, in the middle of which the Doctor gets murdered by an astronaut emerging from a lake. And Series 6 is off to a twisty start. That bloke, Steven Moffat, seems to think he's some sort of clever clogs, and maybe he is. Amy Pond is absolutely inconsolable; the Doctor had perished before regeneration could initiate. It looks like it's eleven and done.
The fantastic two-parter - "The Impossible Astronaut" and "Day of the Moon" - goes a ways into resolving certain questions left dangling from Series 5. We learn the nature of the Silence, and there are inroads made in fleshing out River Song's back story and her connection to the Doctor. As usual, this series plays fast and loose with time and space, and that's in a good way. Temporally, the venue shifts from the present to the year 1969, and, as the Doctor cautions his friends: "A lot more happens in '69 than anyone remembers." In 1969 the Doctor and his companions stroll into the Oval Office and meet a President Nixon early into his term and receiving constant phone calls from a terribly frightened little girl. In two episodes chock full of swerves, one of the really surprising ones is that Nixon comes across as a fairly likable guy. On two occasions he actually intervenes on our protagonists' behalf.
We learn the true reason behind man's quest to reach the moon, and also that America had long been occupied by a race of malevolent aliens, aliens that lurk in the corner of your eyes and had been surviving off man's accomplishments from the very beginning. And I'll tell the world that these boogeymen are easily as terrifying as the weeping angels. Like the weeping angels, these aliens in 1969 possess a disturbing and creepy knack for distorting perception. How the companions get around that, and how the Doctor ultimately gets the best of the aliens are simply some of the biggest grin getting experiences in my time watching this show. Matt Smith brings his usual eccentric and lively take on the Doctor, and, in his interpretation, there's a sense of an old soul inhabiting a giddy young body. And Smith really is terrific in those rousing "Gotcha!" moments. "Silence will fall." Indeed.
There are so many things to love about this two-parter. British aplomb rubs elbows with American bravado, and results in dynamic synergy. And maybe it's this more impartial perspective from overseas that lends a refreshing feel to this 1960s era. As mentioned, Nixon comes off in a good light. The episodes also benefit from the presence of FBI Agent Delaware, and the final exchange between him and Nixon in "Day of the Moon" is priceless. I love the notion of the two time travelers - the Doctor and River Song - having to sync up their diaries each time they meet. I love the sheer scope of the story, the ballsiness of it, and the constant shifts from chilling horror to political drama to slam bang sci-fi thriller. I also love that, unlike the ninth and tenth Doctor, this one looks to last a bit longer. At least until he meets a sinister Apollo astronaut. I'm loving Series 6 so far; these first two episodes come very strong. As usual the show thrives on the element of surprise. And if we know Steven Moffat, clever clogs that he is, there are even more epic surprises in store.
Just don't expect it from the third episode, "The Curse of the Black Spot." With the Tardis behaving all wonky, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory are stranded onboard a 17th century pirate ship of which crew members are being steadily decimated by a beguiling (but homicidal) sea siren. On this ship, one tiny bloody scratch spells doom. But, as usual, things aren't what they seem. Maybe the best bit in this episode is Amy Pond, sword in hand, taunting the ship's understandably cautious crew: "What kind of rubbish pirates are ye?" A decent episode, but not all that.
Episode 4 makes up for episode 3's lack. "The Doctor's Wife" raises the possibility of other living Time Lords as the Doctor and his companions track a distress signal emanating from a bubble universe. The story begins with a knock at the door even as the Tardis hurtles thru deep, deep space. "The Doctor's Wife" hits those wonderful emotional beats I've come to expect; and, in unexpected ways, it explores the Doctor's connection to the Tardis. I really liked this one.
Then comes the thought-provoking two-parter - "The Rebel Flesh" and "The Almost People" - which features doppelganger drones (made out of programmable living flesh) that rebel against humanity in the near-flung future. Moral implications and an exploration of identity abound, as do disconcerting doubles of our core cast. A moody, claustrophobic, and rather compelling tale of which body horror and gothic sensibilities take hard core fans back to the 1970s era of Doctor Who.
The rousing, action-packed mid-series finale, "A Good Man Goes to War," reveals the long-awaited true identity of River Song and finds the Doctor contending with Cybermen and headless monks and calling in favors across the galaxy to amass his own army. All in all, a satisfactory episode to go on hiatus with. Six strong episodes out of seven so far in this supremely self-assured Series 6. Matt Smith is THE man, consistently in fine and sometimes spectacular form, even if he tends to drop phrases like "wibbly-wobbly" and timey-wimey."
Not much in the way of bonus features, just these two featurettes: "Monster Files: The Silence" (00:10:57 minutes long) and "Monster Files: the Gangers" (00:13:00 minutes long).