by Allan Fish
It’s been finished 180 minutes as I put keys to keyboard. Three little hours. What is time, though? We’ve been counting down to it from the start, from the start of this series this is. So has the universe if what we’re told is correct, the base code of the universe is 26062010. Who’d have thought it, if you excuse the pun. (Personally, I think it’s 171,072, but that’s another story.)
It was only a few months ago I wrote a piece on the rebirth of Doctor Who. It was welcomed with the enthusiasm of a nonce entering a primary school dressed in trademark string vest, Y-fronts and spectacles. But I expected no different, the vast majority of people on this site are Americans and they, for no fault of their own, wouldn’t know Doctor Who from Doctor Shipman. Who? I hear you say. Case proved. This is for the handful of Brits who may be passing through.
As the series began we had just said goodbye to David Tennant’s 10th incarnation. I say goodbye, but you can add sayonora, hasta la vista, do svidanja, arrive derci, au revoir, auf wiedersehen and ta-ra in klingon to that for his departure was more drawn out than the finale of The Return of the King. Tennant was marvellous, but he left as he was beginning to go stale, through no fault of his own and, more importantly, supremo Russell T.Davies was repeating himself. New blood was needed, out with the old, in with the new, something borrowed, something bl…hang on, getting ahead of myself.
It was 2010, or at least 1996, when the Doctor crash-landed into the garden shed of little Amelia Pond in the sleepy west country village of Leadworth (anagram DR WHO LATE, that should have told me something). He found a little Scottish girl, left alone, so it seemed, at night, to pray to Santa to fix the crack in her bedroom wall. But the Doctor still hasn’t fully regenerated, he was still wearing the remnants of Tennant’s shirt, tie and trousers, a literally raggedy doctor. It was a lovely opening episode, full of wonder and that fairy tale quality new honcho Steven Moffat promised, and one of the very best episodes of nu-Who. It’s now twelve weeks later, so how has the show stood up?
The Eleventh Hour was followed by the somewhat twee, at least in its conclusion, The Beast Below, and then the downright mediocre Victory of the Daleks, preservable solely for the Dalek as Ood declaring “would you care for some tea?“ Order was restored by the returning of those horrific statues from Blink in the double parter The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone, but was then followed again by the cheesy Vampires in Venice and the disappointing Amy’s Choice, which rather botched a wonderful premise of dreams versus reality. Another two parter followed featuring the return of the Silurians, before the episode that divided audiences more than any other, Vincent and the Doctor. The Vincent was Vincent Van Gogh, with Tony Curran using his natural Scottish accent as part of the plot (which seemingly sounds like Dutch just as all Welsh people sound like they come from Calcutta) and making a worthy stab of following in the tradition of Kirk Douglas, Jacques Dutronc, Tim Roth and Andy Serkis. Written by Blackadder‘s Richard Curtis, the plot – a demon in the Provencal church near to where Vincent lived – was secondary to the subtext ot memory, of being valued, and reached its finale with a truly lovely epilogue in which Vincent is taken forward in time to 2010 to see his own paintings in an exhibition and see the curator (a wonderful uncredited Bill Nighy) praise him as the greatest of all artists is enough to make anyone go teary eyed. Amy thought it would stop him committing suicide, the Doctor knew otherwise. Her disappointment was shattering, and yet they had made a difference, however small.Following an unlikely comedy episode, The Lodger, we came to the real deal, the finale. Russell T.Davies had loved his finales, the bigger, louder and more preposterous the better. We forgave him, for this is essentially for kids, after all, but nearly all of his episode 12s were better than his episode 13s, the danger more vital than the escape. Moffatt’s ending was simple in comparison, yet also massively more complex. There had always been talk of a Pandorica since episode 1, of a box designed to keep the most feared thing in the universe inside. The Doctor was overcome by his own arrogance and placed inside by an alliance of his enemies from the Daleks to the Cybermen to the Silurians and the Autons. Yet for a tale deliberately evoking Pandora’s Box, hope was literally locked inside. One can almost hear Moffat saying “get out of that, if you can?”
Yes, it was a trifle ludicrous in some ways, but there are plot holes in everything if you look hard enough (take Citizen Kane, how do we know Kane’s last word was Rosebud if there was no-one in the room with him when he died?). Darkness fell as it never did even under Davies, and the universe was slowly eroded into non-existence, a literal event collapse. Did he get out of it? Not the question, it never is. He ALWAYS gets out of it, but it’s the subtlety and intracacy of the writing and the acting that struck home, giving us a really emotional pay off to the 13 weeks while leaving just enough plot strands loose to carry on into Season 6 in 2011. What the finale was was the bravado of someone out to take the ral notiuon of time travel and run with it to the nth degree, where ridiculous little lines and scenes meld into one ever in flux sequence of wibbly wobbly timey wimey ingenuity, bringing the pieces together with the precision of a magician who always left his best trick for the following night.
Amazingly there were some who didn’t warm to Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond, especially the Daily Mail brigade who were typically trigger happy with fascist indignation at the prospect of Amy wanting a quick shag the night before her wedding, and with the Doctor no less (no romance here, though, thankfully, Davies did theat card to death). Never would have happened in Bill Hartnell’s day. And as for those combinations of short skirts and shorts with calf length boots, don’t let them get started, you’d have thought she was the whore of Babylon. She was just a modern girl who reluctantly grew up wanting a release after a traumatic experience, nothing more, and for comedy value, it was hard to beat. She was sassy, sexy as sin and pouty, and altogether delightful, helped immeasurably her very potent on-screen chemistry with her co-star, who described her as “madder than a box of frogs“. Credit, too, to her real-life cousin and on-screen younger self Caitlin Blackwood, one of the most adorable kids to have come in front of any screen in recent times, none more so than when simultaneously amused and aghast as the doctor munches away on fish fingers and custard.Finally, though, there was Matt Smith, whose doctor channelled Patrick Troughton and tried his utmost to make bow ties cool. Nothing could do that with anything else but a tuxedo, and in every sense he was a worthy successor to his forerunners, continuing the excellent work of Eccleston and Tennant in recent years. He was gorky, gangly, danced like a drunk giraffe (to quote Gillan), and immediately captured the essence of the character. One cannot help recall Tennant’s comments jokingly on the commentary to his final episode, where discussing it with co-commentator John Simm, he says that Smith “seems to have a handle on it already…which is kind of annoying.” The blogosphere was rife with how Tennant and Davies would be viewing Moffat’s work. Simple, they’d have been loving it, and as long as Moffat, Smith and Gillan continue to embrace the madness of the whole enterprise and be as approachable to the fans as Tennant unprecedentedly was, they will have, as Tennant further stated, “the time of their lives.”
As for the series, it wasn’t perfect, at least for adults, as the read through of episodes will testify, but at its best (generally the ones Moffat himself wrote, plus Curtis’ Van Gosh sleeper) it was ingenious and altogether in keeping with the spirit of a fairy tale. Where a man can, in George Orwell-speak, unexist and then be brought back by the memory – that word again – and, of course, love and affection of a companion. And while Billie Piper’s Rose and Catherine Tate’s Donna were excellent at their best (though their returns were unnecessary anticlimaxes), Gillan’s Pond was more than a companion, she was equally the star of the show and long may their partnership continue, until of course they themselves reach the point of requiring new blood. As for what’s next, well silence hasn’t fallen yet, and River Song (the ever-enjoyable Alex Kingston) is still a mass of question marks more than on the Riddler’s green suit – doctor’s future wife, enemy, Rani, Ramona, Moll Flanders in ruby stilettos and fluourescent lipstick. I just wish they’d have the next series starting in January immediately after the Xmas special, so schedules didn’t get screwed over by World Cups, Wimbledon, Elections and god knows what else. The 11th Time Lord isn’t going anywhere for a while, “the madman with a box” is here to stay. Roll on Christmas!
The Doctor: Amy, I need you to trust me.
Amy Pond: How can I trust you when you always lie to me?
The Doctor: If I always told the truth I wouldn’t have to ask you to trust me.