BBC Video // 2011 // 310 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // July 28th, 2011
"I am being extremely clever up here and there's no one to stand around looking impressed. What's the point in having you all?"
What a difference a hiatus makes! Whereas everything about Doctor Who: Series Five was fresh, new, and optimistically enchanting; Series Six is drenched in darkness, secrets, and raw unbridled emotion. Nothing is what it appears and your head is bound to hurt trying to make sense of certain aspects, but the ride is no less entertaining.
From this point forward, we tread lightly. I will do my utmost not to spoil anything of great significance. However, if you wish to watch this season in all its wacky sci-fi splendor, stop reading now and return when you are through. For everyone else, we have much to discuss.
The opening two-part story -- "The Impossible Astronaut" / "Day of the Moon" -- is a trip. Literally. The gang packs up and relocates to the United States for a tale that introduces us to a new (albeit quiet ancient) spieces the likes of which only the twisted mind of Steven Moffat could provide. Think the Weeping Angels were creepy? Wait until you get to know The Silence. Their involvement in earth's history (specifically moments which lead to some of our most significant advances) is staggering. Case in point: the 1969 Moon Landing. Yes, Michael Bay has given us his conspiracy theory involving The Transformers, but I guarantee you'll find this version far more compelling. Plus, it sets the tone for the season with a one-two-punch to the gut that leaves us reeling. Even watching it again now, the storyline continues to confound. Steven is a master at manipulating time and spatial events, so there is definitely a payoff coming our way, but we don't get that here.
"I'm your new undercover agent on loan from Scotland Yard and these are my top operatives: The Legs, The Nose, and Mrs. Robinson."
Nothing with The Doctor (Matt Smith) is ever easy. In the past, having more than one traveling companion has often been problematic; too many characters to juggle and not enough time to nourish them all. And yet Moffat's writing team somehow leverges that liability to their advantage, using the fringes to make Rory (Arthur Darvill) all the more compelling a character. And while his flirtatious relationship with death has become an annoyance to some (myself included), it's rumored this propensity is a cornerstone in our heroic trio's grand plan. Go figure.
Given there are only seven episodes in the first half of this series, there's not much time to waste on extraneous adventures. Yet sandwiched between two crucial two-parters are what may well be considered throwaway episodes...or not.
Doctor Who doesn't often pander to popular culture, but one can't help think this may be the impetus behind "The Black Spot." Capitalizing on the worldwide love for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (box office, not critical), The Doctor, Amy (Karen Gillan), and Rory find themselves stranded aboard a pirate ship with a skeleton crew being tormented by a bloodthirsty siren (Lily Cole, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus). Of course, this is a sci-fi show, which means there's more going on than one might suspect. The resolve is fairly satisfying, but you have to wade through some murky waters to get there.
"You never took me where I wanted to go."
"No, but I always took you where you needed to go."
On the other hand, if Doctor Who didn't allow for these thematic pit stops, we never would have encountered "The Doctor's Wife," author Neil Gaiman's first (and hopefully not last) foray in this world. In all sincerity, I have not seen an episode with so much reverence for a franchise that can also propel its 40+ year mythology into brash and bold new directions. Without question, it's the highlight of this set and a breakout performance for Suranne Jones (Coronation Street).
Sadly, that's where my adulation for Doctor Who: Series Six, Part One seems to end.
You see, my biggest concern for this Doctor is the show's ever-expanding scope. Russell T Davies was crucified by Whovians for letting his take on these characters fly too far afield. Towards the end, his stories became too big for their britches and ultimately collapsed in on themselves with "The End of Time," undermining David Tennant's otherwise brilliant run. In contrast, Moffat's finest work has been small, intimate stories like "The Girl in the Fireplace," "Blink," "The Eleventh Hour," "A Christmas Carol," plus two contracted scripts from Richard Curtis ("Vincent and the Doctor") and Neil Gaiman. So the danger lies in "The Lost Syndrome" whereby every episode has to hold some significance to a larger story. The bigger the mythology, the more restless fans become having to wait for answers. Series Five had a perfect blend of one-offs and seed planting. Series Six is walking a fine line between harvesting those crops and building a pitch so fevered it can't possibly live up to expectations.
"Demons run, when a good man goes to war. Night will fall and drown the sun, when a good man goes to war. Friendship dies and true love lies, night will fall and the dark will rise, when a good man goes to war. Demons run but count the cost, the battle's won but the child is lost, when a good man goes to war."
The second two-parter illustrates this problem. "The Rebel Flesh" and "The Almost People" uncover a huge piece of the larger puzzle, but do so in a long drawn out way. Since "A Good Man Goes to War" is arguably part three of this tale, the triad could have easily been boiled down into a meatier experience. Did we really need that much character development for people we'll never see again? No, and by indulging that story the mid-series finale seemed rushed. It was also a bit anti-climactic. Yes, we do get the long promised reveal of Dr. River Song's (Alex Kingston) true identity (something that's still not sitting well with me), but the pacing didn't quite synch. The intentions are there on the surface for all to see, but the underlying emotion is much more shallow than it needed to be. When we are constantly reminded of a legendary poem written to document this supposed epic battle, you better make sure it blows the socks off your audience. It didn't.
So where does that leave us? Well, the trailer for the second half of Series Six does tease out some compelling imagery, not the least of which is The Doctor having a face-to-face conversation with Adolph Hitler...after saving his life. But there are a lot of loose ends to tie off, not the least of which is the radically altered relationship of our four traveling heroes, who's actually behind the conspiracy that set them up and why, the truth behind the power of this mysterious child, River's ultimate downfall, and the very life of The Doctor himself. But since Matt Smith and Karen Gillan have already signed contracts for Series Seven, it's safe to assume they make it through to the other side. Everyone else is fair game.
Presented in 1.78:1 1080i widescreen, the image is just as sharp and mesmerizing as was broadcast on BBC America HD. Eagle eyes will likely point out a handful of flaws here and there, but that's nitpicking at best. The colors exude emotion, be it the warmth of the TARDIS, the blackness of space, the green evil of House, or the magnificence of Monument Valley. And the visual effects continue to improve by leaps and bounds. I don't know if Moffat has scored a bigger budget from the BBC or the artistry of his production team grows by the day, but you'll be hard pressed to find a more convincing sci-fi series. As for the DTS-HD 5.1 surround mix, it may be step down from true Master Audio, but none but the techiest of viewers will notice. Between the ambient effects and Murray Gold's score, your system will thrill you and annoy the neighbors, if given the chance.
Bonus materials are sparse, as seems to be the trend with this partial season releases. All you'll find here are two Monster File featurettes, one on The Silence, the other on The Gangers (Flesh), both of which run about 11 min. Seems like we'll have to wait for the complete Series Six box set to get the full treatment, which includes all of the Doctor Who Confidential episodes, plus interviews, commentaries, and other behind-the-scenes treats. Until then, you can rewatch these episodes in anticipation of "Let's Kill Hitler" on August 27.
I didn't set out to deconstruct Series Six as much as I have. To be honest, I loved the original broadcast run. But after three times through these episodes, the more I ruminated on them, the more I began to see the flaws. The cast and crew have done amazing work in bringing this show to life and I fault none of their extraordinary efforts. I suppose it's an inherent quandary in that the higher you set the bar, the greater the challenge it becomes to meet and exceed the expectations of your audience. Here's looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.
"Ugh! Kissing, and crying. I'll come back later!" Not Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* DTS HD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 310 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site