I finished series 6 today.
What a mess.
At the end of the last series, Steven Moffat backed himself into the corner of having to explain who River Song is. There’s any number of possible explanations he could have given to this. Somehow, he managed to come up with the most convoluted and underwhelming one possible. An explanation that has to retcon huge swathes of previous episodes to work, an explanation that has to tie itself into knots to make sense and even then doesn’t manage to be particularly interesting. Conceived in the TARDIS means she’s a bit Time Lord, because regeneration is rooted in being near the time vortex a lot? Right, sure.
Take the season opener, the Impossible Astronaut. It finds the Doctor waving through history at Rory and Amy (which is pretty silly, both in action and concept – surely they could stumble upon any of his previous actions in a history book) before inviting them and River to join him in Utah. There, they see the Doctor die, killed by a mysterious astronaut rising from the lake and are powerless to stop it. Except, it’s not quite the Doctor they know, but him from slightly further in the future. Except it’s not really Amy, it’s a Flesh construct of her being remote-controlled by Amy who is actually unknowingly being held captive in the future. Except River’s not really powerless to stop anything, because she knows what’s going on. Except it’s not really a mysterious astronaut, it’s River being sort of mind-controlled by the spacesuit. Except it’s not even really the Doctor, but a time-travelling, shape-shifting robot in which he’s hiding out.
Throw in the second episode of the story being completely disconnected from the cliffhanger of the first, filling in the viewer through a criss-crossing of flashbacks and time skips, all to achieve not a huge amount of story progression, it’s a needlessly baroque and over-complicated bit of television. The Doctor’s death and the mystery around Amy’s pregnancy/baby cast a long shadow over the series and it’s not a good one. For the first half of the series, every episode has to work in a shot of the Doctor looking at a TARDIS medical scan of Amy’s Schroedinger’s pregnancy, and also Rory reminding Amy they can’t tell the Doctor he’s going to die, for some reason. It’s really repetitive and tired. The series arc story of explaining River keeps coming back, with ever diminishing returns. A Good Man Goes To War has one of the worst conclusions to any episode, when River appears out of nowhere, tells the Doctor who Melody is and he babbles like a giddy loon before running off. It’s still a bizarre moment, as the Doctor gets over-excited at the prospect of getting it on with his best friend’s daughter that he’s just seen as a baby.
Let’s Kill Hitler is another episode that fails to provide anything beyond adding more knots to River’s backstory, with the idea that she grew up alongside her own parents (which is an interesting concept). The notion that she would become obsessed with her friend’s imaginary friend is bizarre though (even if you hand-wave it away as programming from the Silence). There’s yet more need for retconning as her complete absence in Amy and Rory’s previously seen life is explained away, as is how she’s able to regenerate here when she couldn’t in the story where she dies. Let’s Kill Hitler ends with the Doctor telling Amy and Rory that, they know how River turns out, mostly, so they’ll just have to write off their kid. It’s a weird moment, necessitated as so many others by the high complexity of the story. Someone really needed to sit Moffat down and say to him “this doesn’t work, it’s too incestuous. Come up with something simpler.”
By the end of the series, the whole River/Doctor’s Death story has become such a tangled mess that it gets shunted aside for about half an hour of alternate reality filler (complete with gratuitous cameos from characters from past episodes, the third time Moffat’s done that in two series) because he doesn’t really have any story to tell other than “the Doctor didn’t really die, he was in a robot of himself”. And even that doesn’t really work. Time breaks, apparently, when River tries to change a fixed point in time by not killing the Doctor. But given he’s in the Tessawhatsit, he never really died anyway. So she can’t be changing actual events, just people’s perceptions of them, which, frankly, isn’t the same thing (yes there’s probably a philosophical argument to be had about that). The Doctor’s plan comes down to faking his own death, so he can carry on living quietly. At the time I had a problem with this – it’s a stupid idea. He’s a time-traveller. Any enemy he encounters isn’t going to think “oh, well, no point trying to kill the Doctor, he’s already dead at some other point”, and they haven’t done previously. It maybe gets the Silence off his back (except it doesn’t, as future episode show and he’s told with the prophecy). The (implied) promise to the viewer is that there’ll be fewer stories about the Doctor going forward, that he’ll go back to being a mysterious stranger that ends up a footnote in history, except, with hindsight, that doesn’t happen either. So it’s just a huge waste of time.
The series ends with Dorian warning the Doctor about his future, through yet more prophesying. This is about the third time this has happened in Moffat’s tenure and it’s getting tedious. We’ve gone from “the Pandorica will open” and “silence will fall” to the tick tock thing about the Doctor dying, “the only water in the forest is the river” and now “the fall of the eleventh” on Trenzalore. It’s such a bore, being stuck in this continuous cycle of “but wait, something even more monumental is still to come”, as ever more weight and hype is thrown onto the character’s future. It reminds me of the DC film universe, as we’re constantly promised the next film will be the one where it starts to get good. This next prophesy is the one that’ll really count and be epic. Oh and the repeated use of the show’s title as “the question” is instantly annoying.
The saving grace for series six is that a few of the episodes not concerned with the series arc nonsense are pretty good. Ok, not Curse of the Black Spot, which is crap. The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People is a pretty dopey take on the doppleganger concept (Amy is required to be unduly prejudiced against the Flesh Doctor, it takes the humans way too long to get their head around the idea of being, essentially, cloned, and there’s a terrible TARDIS-ex-machina thrown in at the end). But The Doctor’s Wife is a lot of fun, Night Terrors is decent enough, Closing Time isn’t terrible (as a James Corden story, that is. As a Cyberman story it’s naff, but that’s hardly a first) and the Girl Who Waited has a lot going for it. The best episode of the series, for me, is The God Complex, which is bold and clever, with some great characters, an unusual setting and smart premise.
The copper kettle console room still feels a bit weird, which is underlined by the use of the RTD-era coral one in The Doctor’s Wife. As soon as Rory and Amy reach it, it feels right and natural, with a clear through line for the eye, from the door to the console.
Series 6 is easily the worst series of the modern era so far. The show has become overly self-involved and oddly pretentious. It’s definitely the point at which Moffat loses his credibility for intricate plotting, earned from Blink, and, generally, the benefit of the doubt at knowing what he’s doing long term. It feels increasingly like he’s echoing his earlier work – the Silence are, conceptually a variant on the Weeping Angels; the alternate timeline in the finale is conceptually similar to the broken timeline of the series 5 finale and roughly fills the same space in the plot. His contributions to the series are some of the weakest, balanced out by the freelancers.