Doctor Who comes back for a run of six episodes starting this weekend, and our hopes are high. If nothing else, we know there will be witty dialogue, insanely cute actors, and mind-bending plots. But we're hoping for more than that.
Because these six episodes aren't just the conclusion of Who season six — they're the culmination of two years of open-ended storytelling. And we're hoping it all pays off. Here's our wishlist for season 6.5. With spoilers for everything that's already aired...
Doctor Who's never seen anything like Steven Moffat's tenure as showrunner. Not just because of the long-running storylines that go back to the Tennant era, with questions piled on questions. Not just because of the complex plotting that requires you to keep track of multiple timelines. Not just because of the profusion of weirdly metaphysical monsters. But also because it's the most relationship-oriented the show's ever been.
This is really the story of two couples, Amy and Rory, and River and the Doctor, and everything else is absolutely subordinate to that. Think about it: There were really only four characters in "The Big Bang," the fifth-season finale, and any guest stars were kept very much to the sidelines. The only monster/enemy in that episode was a half-petrified Dalek that showed up for a few minutes. For all Russell T. Davies' much-vaunted emphasis on relationships, he never would have dared give us a season finale in which there are no other major characters besides the regulars.
So yeah, Moffat is trying something fiendishly ambitious here. And he's the best there is at what he does. Partly because of those things, we're going to ask a lot of him.
Here's what we'd like to see in the next six episodes:
1) Some answers.
This one is sort of a gimme. The list of mysteries in Moffat's huge sweeping storyline is almost as long as Romana's full name. There's the DIY TARDIS in the attic of James Corden's house, which turned up again in the tunnels under Florida. There's the fact that the Silence (apparently) made the TARDIS blow up and cracked the universe. There's the death of the Future Doctor. Plus, why the eyepatch lady is at war with him, and how she's connected to the Silence. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. We've been promised loads of answers, and let's hope it all forms a reasonably coherent picture at the end of the day. Or at the very least, a newer, better puzzle.
2) River Song mentioning an adventure she had on her own.
The Doctor has adventures without River Song all the time, why shouldn't she have some without him? Just an off-hand reference, that's all I want. Like, "There was the planet of the giant hummingbirds. Oh wait, you weren't there for that one." I think that's all I'm waiting for, to seal the deal on River Song being one of my favorite Who characters ever. She's already close to being the female counterpart to Captain Jack. She's brilliant, stylish, funny, flirty and a little bit tragic — now all she has to be is independent, and she's my hero forever.
3) The return of Awesome Amy
Amy Pond was a really fun character when she started — she was cute and demented and kept challenging the Doctor all the time. You can especially see it in "Flesh and Stone," which was the first episode that Karen Gillan actually filmed. Amy is being hyper and getting in the Doctor's face over and over, like a crazed weasel. Lately, she's receded into the shadows as Rory has gotten more awesome — and in fact, her most recent stint was as a damsel in distress. How about seeing more of Amy's take-charge side again? And more of her arc would be nice, too — she had the beginnings of a nice arc in season five, with her trust issues and her realizing that she can't stand to lose Rory. But I feel like that's gotten lost lately, and we're just getting one note from her: that she really does love Rory and not the Doctor. Message received!
4) Some more naked emotion from Matt Smith
And by "naked," I don't mean that we need to have another Matt Smith shower scene — although that would be welcome too. But it's more that we need to feel more from Matt Smith's Doctor. He's already one of my two or three favorite Doctors, for his humor and cleverness, and the way he can make Moffat's off-beat dialogue sparkle. But when I think of my favorite Eleventh Doctor moments, they're the ones where he lets some passion shine through. Like his brief moment of rage in "The Beast Below." His warmth and sadness in his one Sarah Jane Adventures appearance, written by Russell T. Davies. His compassion in "Vincent and the Doctor." And his anger, followed by helplessness, in "The Doctor's Wife." I know that Matt Smith can deliver a strong emotional performance, because I've seen it. But I haven't felt it in a lot of Moffat's recent scripts, where any brief moments of emotion are glossed over, or rushed through, or just distilled into a brief shot of the Doctor looking sadly into the distance before snapping out of it. Given that Moffat's whole story arc is about relationships and feelings (see above), we need to feel this.
5) Dare to go from A to B occasionally.
It's gotten clearer that Moffat often jumps from A to Q and then back to C, in his plotting, because it's fun and clever, and we enjoy it. But sometimes, when you have a tough moment — OMG, Amy has just shot a little child! — you need to show us what happens next, instead of flashing a cue card that says "six months later." Moffat is the master of sleight of hand, moving items around so fast that we can't follow the speedy motion, and he loves to introduce new random elements just as we're reeling from the last big reveal. But sometimes this backfires: the lesbian Victorian cannibal Silurian and the Sontaran nurse were my favorite things in "A Good Man Goes to War," but they were also a huge distraction from dealing with the fact that Amy had been a prisoner for months and she'd been forced to give birth in a sterile white room. Presumably after the Doctor melted Rory's wife into a pile of snot, the two of them had a difficult conversation — which we never got to see. I'm not saying we need all mopeyness all the time, like RTD gave us, but sometimes when you go from A to Q to C, you miss B. And B might help to set up what happens later.
Moffat is the master of writing great character moments, but as Kay Reindl points out, oftentimes those moments don't feel like they add up to an arc — just a collection of nice moments. Sometimes it would be nice to see more of a progression, which requires seeing the consequences, and each moment after the last.
6) A moral to the fairy-tale
Season five was very much fairy-tale-themed, something which seems to be less in evidence so far in season six. And there were a lot of interesting fairy-tale elements thrown into the mix: the girl who waits all night for a wizard to come back, only to have him reappear years later. A crack in the bedroom wall which grows to swallow up everyone the girl cares about. A boy who waits 2,000 years for the girl to come back to him, and thus earns the right to marry her. A little girl who believes in stars when nobody else does, and thus is able to help bring herself back to life. A hero who gives himself up to oblivion, only to be saved by the girl's belief in him after everyone else has forgotten him. And so on. Rewatching these episodes, those elements come out more strongly, and a running theme seems to be the power of faith, and memory. The Crack makes you forget, but you can overcome it by having faith.
But although "The Big Bang" contains some of Moffat's cleverest writing and some of Matt Smith's most brilliant moments, I feel like it stops short of making a real statement — maybe because in the end, Amy bringing the Doctor back is too quick and painless. Or maybe just because there's so much going on in it, and there's no villain in the episode. In any case, I feel like now that Moffat has layered all of season six's complicated family melodrama on top of season five's fairy-tale intricacy, we sort of need to get a Statement. A moral to the fairy tale.
7) Pick a villain.
I think that's the other thing Moffat's needed all along — a strong villain, to anchor all of this. If you're going to have one single ongoing storyline, lasting more than two years, then you need a single villain to go with it. A Voldemort. A Darth Vader. I was really excited when the Silence turned up at the start of season six, because they seemed to be the over-arching nemesis the Crack storyline had needed to reveal. And then they were vanquished relatively easily, and suddenly there was Madame Kovarian with her eyepatch and her one leering eye. (We glimpsed her in the opening few episodes, but only briefly.) Part of what makes a satisfying conclusion is watching a supreme villain that you've grown to loathe over the course of a year or two finally get what's coming to them. Like watching Buffy finally beat the crap out of Glory at the end of Buffy season five. I'm really hoping that the Silence, or Madame Kovarian, or someone really, gets promoted to main villain status, so there's a baddie for all this to revolve around.
Moffat is one of the most talented, funniest, creepiest writers ever to script Doctor Who. Here's hoping the conclusion of season six pays off all of our colossal anticipation, and gives us what we've always wanted from him.