Doctor Who Series Six DVD REVIEW

A River runs through it

Release Date: 21 November 2011
2011 • 12 • 655 minutes • £51.05 (DVD)/£61.27 (Blu-ray)

Showrunner: Steven Moffat
Cast: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Alex Kingston

Remember when watching Doctor Who was fun? Space rhinos on the moon? Baby aliens made of human fat? Well, let’s not create a false dichotomy – the series is still, frequently, huge amounts of fun (as well as beautifully made and wittily written), but nowadays the viewing experience is also increasingly like trying to unknot a tangled headphone lead.

Okay, a fairer analogy might be “solving a cryptic crossword”, because there are millions who revel in that challenge, just like there are those who enjoy prog rock’s unnecessarily baroque ornamentation. It’s a matter of taste, not IQ, and while, for some of us, the knottiness of Who’s arc has become an irritant, the show remains a huge popular success. Clearly, for every viewer turned off by the more brain-taxing new modus operandi, a new one is drawn in. Hurrah! So it’s just those of us who care about River Song and The Silence as little as we did The X-Files’ bees and black oil left feeling alienated.

We could quibble with a million details, and you’d write in to quote the answers: Steven Moffat is meticulous at crossing the “t”s, cramming in one-line explanations where his predecessor would have left enigmatic lacunae. Trouble is, the answers don’t always feel like they make sense. Why bother training River Song as an assassin if her moonsuit’s in control? Why would the universe think the Doctor’s dead when the only witnesses were his friends, and future Doctors are out there in time and space having adventures? After all that, the solution is “robot double”? Really?

None of this would matter one jot if the arc story had greater emotional impact. In former times, we could overlook all manner of credulity-defying plot twists because we were too busy dabbing our eyes with a hanky, but not any more. Amy and Rory are robbed of their daughter’s childhood. A storyline like that should, by rights, have the audience in bits, but until Amy takes her cold-blooded revenge on Madame Kovarian, it seems to have slipped her mind.

Arc plot migraines aside, it’s a hit-and-miss run, whose weakest link is the piratical caper. The Ganger two-parter feels predictably trad for those steeped in SF lore. “The Girl Who Waited” is clever, but reboots the newly likeable Amy to scowly crosspatch mode. “Night Terrors” and “The God Complex” are supremely creepy, destined to haunt a generation of children’s nightmares, but both founded on a highly indigestible premise. “Closing Time” isn’t as sublime as last year’s “The Lodger”.

The highlights? Neil Gaiman’s love letter to the TARDIS, “The Doctor’s Wife”, and “Let’s Kill Hitler”. Yes, it may be an arc-plot episode, but it’s also a joyous romp which can be enjoyed without the aid of a series of flowcharts. Who’s Mekon-brained genius of a showrunner can do “fun” alright; if only he’d lower himself to the level of ordinary mortals more often.

Extras:

The chief bonus (if you don’t count “A Christmas Carol”, also included) is “Night And The Doctor”, a series of “mini-episodes” (all written by Steven Moffat, and totalling 15 minutes) which reveal that the Doctor sneaks off on nocturnal adventures with River while Amy and Rory are kipping. Though by their nature slight, these are both amusing and touching.

Five episodes come with commentaries: Moffat’s only on one; a Neil Gaiman solo outing is the choice track. Four “Monster Files” featurettes (43 minutes), five short episode prequels, cut-down edits of Doctor Who Confidential and trailers complete a package that’s slightly underwhelming when you remember previous box sets, with their video diaries and commentaries for every episode. And why are there still no deleted scenes on Who box sets?

Ian Berriman

Read a more detailed review of the five new mini-episodes.