Before I begin to talk about last week’s Season Six finale of “Doctor Who,” I should probably lay out a few disclaimers. For one, I loathe the character of River Song. Yes, this probably has a great deal to do with the fact that when she was first introduced as a love interest for the Doctor in the Season Four episode “Silence in the Library,” the show’s eponymous character was played by David Tennant, my one true love. But even after Matt Smith—a nowhere near as fanciable leading man, although he is quite adorable— replaced Tennant as the Doctor, my hatred for this character continued to grow. I won’t outline all the reasons why. That would be a whole other article. Let it suffice to say that I consider her to be a stupid bitch.
Directly related to my hatred for River is my beef with Steven Moffat, the character’s creator and head producer of Seasons Five and Six of DW (he took over from series creator Russel T. Davies after Season 4 ended). Although he is responsible for some of my favorite episodes of the first three seasons, like “The Doctor Dances,” “The Girl in the Fireplace,” and, of course, “Blink,” I have been consistently disappointed in the direction he has taken the show since he took over.
His plot lines are often convoluted, making no sense if you stop to think about them, and his pseudo-epic story arcs are misplaced melodramas that lose sight of the essence of “Doctor Who”: a really clever man traveling through space in a phone box and saving people from robots and aliens. Of all the complaints I have about Moffat’s brand of “Who,” my biggest problem with him is how he seems to have completely disregarded the Doctor’s sense of noble conduct and deep seated sense of compassion when writing his scripts. These traits, so marked when Russel T. Davies helmed “Doctor Who,” have been almost completely absent in these past two seasons. Moffat often tosses them aside in favor of spectacle or deus ex machina.
This past season was no different. After Amy, Rory, and River see the Doctor die (killed by a past version of River…don’t worry too much about it) in the first episode, they meet up with him earlier in his own time line and work to prevent his death. The Doctor finds out what they’re up to and spends the entire season preparing to confront his death, which the viewer is led to believe is inevitable, since it occurs at a fixed point in time. A lot of weird stuff happens along the way. Sometimes it looks cool, but it usually doesn’t make logical sense if you put it to the test. By the time the season finale rolled around, Moffat had set himself quite a mess to untangle in 45 minutes.
The episode opens to a distorted view of reality: hot air balloons carrying cars soar above futuristic skyscrapers as old-fashioned locomotives zip in between buildings, pterodactyls fly above children playing in a park, and Charles Dickens is giving an interview broadcasted on a flat screened television. The time is always 5:02 p.m. on April 22, 2011—no time ever passes. The doctor, apparently some kind of prisoner, is dragged out of his cell, handcuffed, and ordered to explain why.
We flash back to where the penultimate episode left off, with the Doctor coming to terms with his impending death and making his final arrangements with the help of a Teselecta (a shape-changing humanoid robot with a miniature crew of peace keepers inside). He then goes to face his death when—SURPRISE—past-River doesn’t kill him after all. This, apparently, totally screws up the universe, since the Doctor dying is supposed to be a fixed point in time.
The narrative jumps back to the distorted alternate universe, where just as the Doctor finishes his explanation, an alternate version of Amy barges in and rescues him. From this point we meet up with alternate versions of Rory and River and after a few run-ins with “The Silence,” the strange cultish organization who has been plotting to kill the doctor in the first place, the Doctor altruistically states that the only way for the world to be returned to normal would be for him to die.
This can be achieved by physical contact between River and the Doctor, as they are the two people who were present at the disruption in time. In a culmination that might have been moving for people who hate River Song less than I do, or downright thrilling for people who somehow actually like her character, she and the Doctor get married before touching hands and launching back to the point in time where she was supposed to kill him. With regret in her eyes, she pulls the trigger and kills the doctor. Time is set aright!
In the next scene we see Amy mourning the Doctor’s death. River comes over to her, offering comfort, and whispers something in her ear; suddenly everyone is jumping up and down and cheering. It turns out that when River “killed the Doctor,” she was actually shooting a Doctor-shaped Teselecta with a miniature doctor inside. The universe’s requirement that the Doctor die is fulfilled: River did actually destroy the physical form of the Teselecta and almost the entire universe believes that the Doctor is gone for good. But, luckily for all us fans, the Doctor is not actually harmed and will be back in future seasons for more gallivanting through space and time. The end.
Now, if you’re still with me after all that recap, we’ll return to my thoughts on the episode. I will admit that I liked this installment better than many of the episodes that aired this season. I will also admit that part of the reason is probably because it undeniably ends the River Song-centric story arcs that have been bouncing around for so long because she has fulfilled her destiny by “killing” the Doctor—she may show up in later seasons, but in nowhere near so important a role. Hoorah!
I also appreciated a return to the Doctor’s sense of selflessness. True, it didn’t feel exactly like his compassionate gestures of old, since it was being used more as a plot device than as an indication of character, but it was a welcome change from the more cavalier Doctor we’ve seen of late. Similarly, the ending of the episode offers a clean slate; for the moment it seems as if the show can rid itself of all the complex narrative goo that bogged it down this year. I also kind of like the idea that now most people are going to believe the Doctor is dead—it seems to be setting up an interesting dynamic for the future.
Still, I wouldn’t call it exactly a “satisfying” ending. It just didn’t have that spark of ingenuity that used to make the eventual unraveling of a “Doctor Who” plot so gratifying. For one thing, it was completely predictable. The foreshadowing was heavy-handed, and having the Teselecta come to the Doctor’s rescue was essentially the only way for Moffat to worm his way out of the corner he backed himself into.
Also, I can’t get past the fact that the Doctor pretty much had it all worked out from the beginning—he must have been inside the Teselecta the first time River was supposed to kill him too. If she hadn’t fucked it up, the whole alternate time thing never would have happened. What a stupid bitch. All in all, it was a flawed episode, but one that I think carried a lot of potential. All that remains is to see where Moffat will take it from here.