Timestamp #249: Clara and the TARDIS & Rain Gods & The Inforarium

Doctor Who: Clara and the TARDIS
Doctor Who: Rain Gods
Doctor Who: The Inforarium

(3 episodes, Blu-Ray Specials, 2013)

Timestamp 249 Clara TARDIS Rain Gods Inforarium

Tying off loose threads before the anniversary party.

Clara and the TARDIS

Clara Oswald gets into an argument with the TARDIS. It seems that the TARDIS is playing practical jokes on her in the shower and making her bedroom disappear. The time capsule compares Clara to his various female companions, and despite them coming to somewhat of a truce, the TARDIS can’t help but pull one more trick.

Clara can’t find her bedroom, and neither can Clara from the next day. Or the next. Or the next.

The console room fills with copies of sleep-deprived Claras.

Rain Gods

The Doctor and River Song are being marched by spearpoint to be sacrificed by natives to their Rain Gods. The couple banter back and forth until the Doctor demands that the Rain Gods strike him dead if they aren’t rubbish.

A lightning strike forces their guards to cower, and the couple runs off in the ensuring rainstorm to the safety of the TARDIS.

The Inforarium

The Inforarium is the greatest source of illicit information in recorded history… and it has been compromised. The Doctor has broken in, upset that the operatives have been selling that information to his enemies. He tells the guard that he will be erasing all traces of himself from their database, making everyone forget what they’ve heard through means he’d adapted from the Silence.

The Doctor, truly a holographic recording, continues to dismiss the guard’s complacency and suggests that he check the data drives. The guard turns away, completely forgetting the whole interaction, unaware that he’s trapped in a memory loop.

So, the message begins again.


These three home media shorts present some fun slices of life for this season. One of them actually has some meat on the bone as far as the series mythology is concerned.

The first two are frivolous throwaway stories: Clara and the TARDIS plays with the belief that the TARDIS doesn’t like Clara, a story element that was resolved with her mystery. Rain Gods adapts an unused opening sequence from The Doctor’s Wife, replacing the Ponds with River Song.

Of note, the opening for Rain Gods credits Steven Moffat as the writer, but it was actually Neil Gaiman, making this the first on-screen story featuring River to not be penned by Moffat. It’s also one of the shortest Doctor Who stories ever.

The short with the most bearing on this season’s events is The Inforarium, an adventure that shows how the Doctor was able to erase his existence leading to the events at Trenzalore. It is equal parts hilarious and chilling, and I feel a little bit sorry for the guard who is trapped in an endless loop.

These stories fill a few gaps that didn’t need sealing. They are presented here as the last bit of story material leading into the fiftieth-anniversary celebration and the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration.

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #248: The Name of the Doctor

Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor
(1 episode, s07e13, 2013)

Timestamp 248 The Name of the Doctor

The prophecy of Trenzalore comes to call.

Clarence and the Whispermen

Locked away in a jail, serial killer Clarence DeMarco shouts at whispering inhuman creatures. He insists that they are nothing more than voices in his head and asks them to stop. The Whisper Men vanish, then reappear inside the cell, demanding to find the Doctor.

The Whisper Men project Gallifreyan symbols in the air, forcibly impressing them into his mind with an instruction to bring the message to the reptile detective. They are part of the Intelligence and promise that if Clarence cooperates, he will be pardoned and will live a good long life only troubled by dreams.

He cries to be left alone. The creatures pass by him.

She Said, He Said

The story is divided into two parts: “Clara” and “The Doctor”.

Clara’s monologue walks down memory lane about her adventures with the Doctor and what it has done to her. She’s forgotten to ask who he is and why he runs. Then she found out at Trenzalore.

The Doctor’s monologue focuses on Clara’s impossibility and his meetings with her, from the Dalek Asylum and Victorian London to his current run with her.

Each part acts as a tribute to the other… as well as a warning about the darkness in the relationship and its secrets.

The Name of the Doctor

In a workshop, two engineers respond to an alarm. A supposed idiot, the First Doctor, is trying to steal a faulty TARDIS from the capital city of Gallifrey, and Clara Oswald tells him that he is making a big mistake.

Clara falls through a golden vortex. She does not know where she is but remembers one thing: The Doctor. She has appeared at various points in his life but few of those incarnations ever notice her. The Eleventh Doctor is an exception when she calls to him in Victorian London.

She blew into this world on a leaf and doesn’t believe she’ll ever land. She’s the Impossible Girl and she was born to save the Doctor.

In Victorian London, Madame Vastra visits Clarence DeMarco at his jail cell. He murdered fourteen women and is sentenced to death, but he bargains for his life with information about the Doctor. The Doctor has a secret that he will take to the grave, and it is discovered.

Later on, Vastra consults with Jenny, explaining that Clarence will live until she understands what he told her. They make preparations for a conference call to investigate further. Jenny hears a strange whisper from outside as Vastra wonders where Strax has gone. The Sontaran has the weekend off, much to Vastra’s displeasure at his chosen locale.

In Glasgow, a familiar Sontar-Ha is heard as Strax fights a large Scottish man. They are interrupted by a boy carrying a telegram, summoning Strax to the conference call. Strax apologizes to Archie, his opponent, for not being able to finish the match, then asks to be rendered unconscious. He drops into the trance-like conference call, an astral projection of sorts, of which Jenny complements the new desktop.

While working on a soufflé on April 10, 2013, Clara gets an invitation to the conference call. The letter has come from Vastra and drugs her so she enters the dream state. The final participant, River Song, pops in soon afterward, and the meeting commences with introductions of the Doctor’s wife to his current companion.

Vastra presents Clarence’s message, a grouping of Gallifreyan symbols, which River identifies as space-time coordinates. They are the location of the Doctor’s greatest secret, his name, which River knows. Vastra shares the single word from Clarence: Trenzalore.

Outside of the conference call, someone skulks around Jenny. Unfortunately, her form fades away as she is murdered by the Whisper Men. River forces everyone to wake up as the face of Dr. Simeon appears, stating that the Doctor’s friends are lost forever more unless he goes to Trenzalore.

When Clara awakens, she finds the Doctor blindfolded, playing Blind Man’s Bluff so they could sneak away to the cinema. The Doctor is annoyed but then realizes that Clara is troubled. They discuss the call over tea and the Doctor is brought to tears over Trenzalore. He runs to the TARDIS where Clara finds him under the console. The Doctor connects Clara to the TARDIS so she can telepathically transmit the coordinates she saw to the time capsule.

“When you are a time traveler, there is one place you must never go. One place in all of space and time you must never — ever — find yourself.” Trenzalore is the Doctor’s grave, and it is the one place he must never go, however, he owes his friends and they must be saved.

The Doctor sets the course but the TARDIS rebels, fighting the transit while he forces her onward. The TARDIS refuses to land on the actual site, so it parks in orbit and the travelers take a look upon the torn and battered planet. The Doctor shuts everything else down and forces the TARDIS to plummet to the surface, cracking the exterior glass in the process.

They find a battlefield graveyard. Some headstones are larger than others, based on the importance of the warrior. On the summit ahead rests the TARDIS, abnormally outsized as the “bigger on the inside” qualities start to break down and leak beyond the shell.

The TARDIS is the Doctor’s tomb.

River contacts Clara as the Doctor climbs on, an echo of the conference call which River left open. The Doctor cannot see her but spots her gravestone among the others. As he ponders how it can possibly be here, they are approached by the Whisper Men as River and Clara work out that the gravestone is the entrance to the tomb.

Inside the TARDIS monument, the Paternosters awaken and Strax revives Jenny from death. They are approached by the Great Intelligence and the Whisper Men, who welcome them to the final resting place of the great tyrant known as the Doctor.

Clara and the Doctor navigate the catacombs as River explains her death to Clara. The duo is pursued by Whisper Men. They are driven to the Paternoster Gang where the Intelligence proclaims that the Doctor’s final battle was not as large as the Time War but he has blood on his hands. He also remarks that the Doctor will be known by names such as the Beast and the Valeyard.

Clara has flashbacks to climbing through a wrecked TARDIS, an adventure that she shouldn’t remember. The Great Intelligence demands the key that will open the Doctor’s tomb, hissing that it is the Doctor’s real name. He threatens the Doctor’s friends with death if the Time Lord does not comply. The Great Intelligence keeps asking The First Question until the tomb opens.

The TARDIS can still hear River’s projection, so she supplied his name to keep the secret safe.

Inside the doors lies an overgrown control room. Where the time rotor would normally rest is a flowing beam of blue-white light. That is the Doctor’s mark on the universe. Rather than his body, his travels in time have left a scar representing his personal timeline, past and future, and everything that resulted from it.

The Doctor collapses from his proximity to it. When he points his sonic screwdriver at it, the voices of his previous incarnations flow from it. The Great Intelligence approaches the light, intent on rewriting the Doctor’s history and turning all of his victories into failures. The act will scatter him across the Doctor’s timeline.

As the Intelligence steps into the light, the Doctor writhes in pain as his very existence is rewritten. Vastra declares that a universe without the Doctor will have consequences. She flees outside in terror and sees the stars go dark as entire star systems are erased from history. Jenny, once saved by the Doctor, is erased as Strax turns hostile and must be vaporized.

Despite protests from River and the Doctor, Clara decides to act. With the phrase that has pursued her since the Doctor met her – “Run, you clever boy, and remember me.” – she jumps into the light and is split into millions of copies throughout history, each one setting right what the Great Intelligence has put wrong.

She even tells the First Doctor which TARDIS to steal. After all, a broken navigation system will be much more fun.

With Clara’s influence fixing the timeline, the Doctor decides to rescue her, using himself as Clara’s advantage. River protests, but the Doctor tells her that he can always see her even when no one else can. There is a time to live and a time to sleep, and while he has a hard time saying goodbye, it’s only because he doesn’t know how.

With her help, he tells her goodbye with the promise that they’ll see each other again. She also reminds him that, since she was telepathically linked to Clara, then she cannot truly be dead. To tell him the details, however, would be a spoiler.

As River dissipates, the Doctor enters his own timestream.

Clara falls to the ground inside the timestream and she wonders what’s left for her to accomplish in the Doctor’s timeline. The Eleventh Doctor’s voice guides her through the figures of his previous incarnations, telling her to focus on the sight of a leaf as her guide. Using it, she is reunited with the Doctor.

Beyond their embrace, Clara sees a shadowy figure. The Doctor shows intense fear at the sight, explaining that the figure is him, but Clara doesn’t understand.

The name Doctor is a promise, but this figure broke the promise. He is the Doctor’s secret. The figure defends his actions as Clara collapses, but the Eleventh Doctor turns away.

This new man is the Doctor… but not one we were expecting.


Clara’s mystery finally comes to a head here as her various incarnations are explained. All three of them were her, just in different splintered ways. This is the big part of Clara’s run that I really enjoy. The other is her initiative, which has been highlighted over her run.

This relationship proves to be an ontological paradox – a causal loop – since the Doctor might not have invited the modern-day Clara Oswald to travel as his companion had he not encountered Oswin and Victorian Clara, however, if she had not traveled with him, those echoes would have never existed.

She’s been with the Doctor since the beginning of his travels – key dialogue here was taken from The Web Planet providing some degree of influence at key moments. Of those moments, we get callbacks to The Five Doctors (Second and Third Doctors), The Invasion of Time (Fourth Doctor), The Arc of Infinity (Fifth Doctor), and Dragonfire (Seventh Doctor). Clara also seems to have influenced The Aztecs and The Web of Fear in her removal of the Great Intelligence’s interference.

This also marks the end of the Great Intelligence from the perspective of the show itself. The entity was splintered into infinite pieces across the Doctor’s timeline but then was systematically eradicated by Clara. The difference is that no one came to guide the Great Intelligence out of the Doctor’s timestream, so we have no reason to believe that it survived.

Clara’s adventure reveals the continuation of events from The Night of the Doctor, establishing a previously unknown incarnation between the Eighth and Ninth Doctors. It perpetuates a continuity re-write – far from the first in the franchise – based around the unfortunate behind-the-scenes drama of the Christopher Eccleston era. This change in continuity will come to a head in Day of the Doctor.

There’s certainly a lot of world-building in this single story, both in terms of resolutions and groundwork for the future. I found it all quite enjoyable, and remember it to be quite shocking when I first saw it.

With the rest of the Timestamps Project for context, I certainly appreciate the attention to detail in portraying the Doctors. Not only do we have twelve incarnations sharing the same airtime (a record number to this point), but we also got to see both versions (to this point) of the First Doctor in William Hartnell and Richard Hurndall.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Clara and the TARDIS & Doctor Who: Rain Gods & Doctor Who: The Inforarium

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #232: Space/Time & Night and the Doctor

Doctor Who: Space/Time
Doctor Who: Night and the Doctor
(7 episodes, Comic Relief and Home Video Specials, 2011)

Timestamp 232 Night and the Doctor

Wrapping up some loose ends with the time travelers’ dating game run amok!

Space

Set between The Big Bang and The Impossible Astronaut, we begin with our travelers fixing the TARDIS in something called “conceptual space”. Amy unsuccessfully tries to get the Doctor’s attention, but is distracted by Rory installing thermocouples. Banter flies about Amy’s failed driving test and the fact that she was wearing a skirt. In fact, it’s the same skirt that she’s currently wearing, which distracts Rory and forces the TARDIS to execute an emergency landing.

When the Doctor restores power, the team is shocked to find the TARDIS materialized inside the console room. The Doctor presumes that it was the safest place to land, but when he investigates he finds that it is the same TARDIS as the one they are currently occupying.

More than a time loop, it is a space loop. No one can leave the TARDIS again.

That is, until another Amy walks through the doors. This, apparently, is where it gets complicated.

Time

The new Amy is from the future since the exterior shell is running slightly ahead of the console room. After the Doctor makes sure that the timeline stays exactly as it should – and after present Pond flirts with future Pond, much to Rory’s amusement – Amy enters the TARDIS.

Directly after, both Amy and Rory enter the console room. The Doctor sets up a controlled temporal implosion to reset the TARDIS, but since he doesn’t know which lever to pull, the entire TARDIS could explode. He doesn’t know which lever to pull, but a future version of the Doctor rushes in to tell him to use the “wibbly lever”. The Doctor thanks himself, pulls the lever, and enters the TARDIS before it dematerializes.

Everything’s back to normal and there’s no longer any danger of the localized time field imploding. But, just in case, he asks Amy to put on some trousers before they get back to work.

Bad Night

The console room is dark and the phone is ringing. Amy answers the phone, obviously having just been asleep. The voice on the other end, a Prince of Wales, asks for the Doctor as Amy swats a fly. The Doctor rushes in, clad in top hat and tails, and hands Amy a goldfish and bowl while he deals with the nighttime caller.

He assures the prince that his “mother is fine” while chastising Amy for answering the phone. It turns out that the Queen has been transformed into a goldfish at a party, and the warrior chief who did so is trapped in the TARDIS until he reverses it. Unfortunately, that warrior chief was the fly that Amy killed.

Oh, and River Song was at the party as well.

As the Doctor rushes off to solve the problem, Amy asks for his help. She can’t sleep because something is on her mind. Convinced that she’s “having an emotion,” the Doctor calls for Rory to handle it. It seems that they take turns dealing with her emotional needs.

Finally, the Doctor realizes that he has the wrong fish. He also only has three hours to get the right one before the pet shops open and the Commonwealth is potentially destroyed.

Good Night

The Doctor returns from another night with River Song, this time carrying a euphonium. This time, Amy’s waiting up for him, wondering if he does this kind of thing every night. While the Doctor explains his adventures in saving people – he helped a possessed orchestra on the moonbase, prevented two supernovas, wrote the history of the universe in jokes, and worked as physician in Brixton – Amy wonders if the companions’ lives are just brief flickers in his overall life.

She also explains why she can’t sleep. Her life doesn’t make sense because, as a result of The Big Bang, she can remember two versions of her life, one without her parents and one with them. The Doctor comforts her, in the process reminding her of the saddest moment of her life. It was at a fair when she dropped an ice cream, and she suddenly remembers a woman with red hair, dressed in a nightgown, who came to give her a new ice cream. When she finishes the story, the Doctor is by the doors, ready to go with her to the fair.

Time and space will never make sense, including this causality loop, but at least the Doctor gets ice cream and a trip to the fair.

First Night

River Song is in her cell at Stormcage when the Doctor arrives in a white dinner suit. The Ponds are asleep, so he is taking her to Calderon Beta. It’s a boring planet aside from a four hundred foot tall tree growing out of a cliff-top in the middle of the sea, which is where the Doctor wants to show River the starriest night sky in the entire history of the universe.

Which happens to be on September 21, 2360.

This is apparently right after he gave her the TARDIS diary so they can keep their timelines straight. He’s also chosen a dress for her, but there are more in the wardrobe down the corridor if she wants something different. While she runs off to rifle through the racks, the TARDIS lands. Curious about the sound of gunfire outside, he opens the door and finds a different River Song.

This one collapses into his arms, calling him a nostalgic idiot for coming back to this spot.

Last Night

This new River wasn’t injured, but rather holding her breath for dramatic effect. She flirts with the Doctor while explaining that she’s running from some Sontarans. She spots the dress and gets jealous, storming through the TARDIS to find the presumed mistress.

Of course, future River remembers the encounter – it’s the same night! – but not the details, so chaos ensues between the Doctor and the two Rivers. It gets worse when a third River enters the TARDIS, this one actually wearing the gold dress that the Doctor had picked out. This River was expecting to meet the Doctor here, but she questions why the same dress is hanging by the console. The Doctor asks her to step outside to check if the light on top of the TARDIS is working, which she does.

The second River rushes back into the console room and the Doctor sends her back to Stormcage by tweaking her vortex manipulator with his sonic screwdriver. The third River returns to the TARDIS, followed by an older version of the Doctor who tells her that she’s in the wrong blue box. His, after all, is parked around back.

River muses about two Doctors at once, then rushes out, excited about a trip to the Singing Towers of Darillium. The two Doctors are saddened because River visited that site before she died, but the older Doctor refuses to reveal any spoilers before leaving.

The first River returns, catching a glimpse of the future Doctor and developing a liking for the word “spoilers” before joining her Doctor on their night out together. She jokes that him and his secrets will be the death of her.

Up All Night

In a prequel to Closing Time, we find Craig Owens in his home, eating baby food as he protests to his wife Sophie that he can’t be left alone with their baby. He’s terrified that he’ll break Alfie, but Sophie disagrees, puts Alfie in his arms, and tells him he’s amazing. Craig bounces a little as Sophie notices another disappearance in the newspaper.

Craig questions whether or not she should leave the both of them alone all weekend, but Sophie is sure. She says that it is bath time, which Craig protests because it happened just yesterday, but Sophie suggests that it’s not the end of the world.

The kitchen lights flicker as they walk out.


Overall, this collection of shorts was entertaining enough. Space/Time were part of the 2011 Comic Relief special, the first multi-part charity story since the 30th anniversary special Dimensions in Time (“Which is totally canon, right?” he asked with a grin). It’s also the fifth televised story in the forty-eight year (to this point) history of the franchise to be set entirely on the TARDIS.

Meanwhile, the Night and the Doctor collection was a special feature for the Series Six home video release.

With that context, the source of Space/Time‘s humor is understandable since it caters to a lower denominator to drive pledges. It’s also irritating since it reduces a competent companion and woman to an upskirt gag to propel the story. Space/Time is definitely my least favorite part of this set.

Night and the Doctor plays with downtime on the TARDIS, addressing both Amy’s dual timeline crisis that stems from The Big Bang and going slapstick with the divergent linearity of the River/Doctor relationship. The Amy thread does quite well with the Eleventh Doctor’s aloof and detached nature when it comes to relationships, and it is by far my favorite subset of the collection. The dating game falls in the middle of the set by having fun with a lot of confusion.

Up All Night just… exists. That’s about it.

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”


UP NEXT – Series 6 Summary

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #231: The Wedding of River Song

Doctor Who: The Wedding of River Song
(1 episode, s06e13, 2011)

Timestamp 231 The Wedding of River Song

A wedding, two funerals, and a question.

Prequel

A digital clock flickers on a computer screen, bouncing between 05:02:57 PM and 05:02:58 PM. Two soldiers patrol the corridors in Area 52, looking into supposedly empty tanks on their rounds. The tanks are not empty, however, but instead each contain a Silent. Behind a barricaded wooden door in a room containing an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus, a familiar woman stands in a black suit. She is River Song, wearing an eyepatch over her right eye. She smiles as the ominous nursery rhyme ushers out the scene.

Tick tock, goes the clock,
Tick tock, goes the clock,
Tick tock, goes the clock…
Doctor, brave and good.
He turned away from violence.
When he understood
The falling of the Silence.

The Wedding of River Song

It’s a weird timeline. Cars are flying on hot air balloons, the War of the Roses enters its second year as London picnickers are warned not to feed the pterodactyls, and Charles Dickens is interviewed on television about his new Christmas ghost special. Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill returns to Buckingham Senate on his personal mammoth.

Uh, what?

The Emperor is not pleased about his conference with Cleopatra and he asks his Silurian physician, Malokeh, for the time. It’s 5:02pm on April 22, 2011. Emperor Churchill is troubled by this news, despite the fact that it has always been the same date, so he summons his soothsayer from the Tower. He demands an explanation about what has happened to time. The Doctor raises his head and replies, “A woman.”

Some time before, the Doctor addresses a video receptor in a dark and damaged room.

“Imagine you were dying. Imagine you were afraid and a long way from home and in terrible pain. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, you looked up and saw the face of the devil himself… Hello, Dalek.”

The Dalek Supreme is damaged beyond repair, so the Doctor takes it apart and scans its memory banks for any information regarding the Silence.

At a different time, now on the docks of Calisto B, the Doctor arrives at a bar and asks for Father Gideon Vandaleur. He offers the eyestalk from the Dalek Supreme as a calling card. Once he meets Father Vandaleur, once an envoy of the Silence, he uses his sonic screwdriver to reveal the Teselecta. The Father has been dead for six months, and he wants to speak to the shapeshifting ship’s captain. He wants to know about the Silence’s weakest link.

Using that information, he tracks down Gantok and challenges him to a game of live chess. The next move will kill Gantok, but the Doctor is willing to trade the victory for information. He wants to know why he has to die, and apparently Dorium Maldovar has the answer. Dorium was beheaded at Demon’s Run, but the Headless Monks have stored the leftovers in the Seventh Transept.

Dorium’s head is kept in a box, a luxury for the richest victims of the Monks. Gantok tries to kill the Doctor but instead falls into a trap with ravenous skulls. After the Doctor seals the trap, he addresses Dorium. The beheaded head explains that it was easier to create a fixed point in time to ensure that the Doctor would die without fail. If the Doctor lives, then…

“On the fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked. A question that must be never, ever be answered.”

The Silence must fall when the question is asked. It is the first question, hidden in plain sight, but the Doctor doesn’t know it. Dorium asks if he wants to, and the Doctor nervously agrees. After he hears it, the Doctor takes Dorium’s head to the TARDIS and sets a course.

All of this is the tale that the Doctor tells Emperor Churchill. He talks to the emperor about it as they stroll through the Roman Senate. The emperor produces a revolver, claiming that the Soothsayer is dangerous company. The Doctor, noting a mark on his arm, agrees.

Back to the story, the Doctor continues his farewell tour. However, once he finds out that the Brigadier has died, he finally accepts that his time has come. He produces the invitations in the blue envelopes and asks the Teselecta to deliver them. He’d do it himself, except that it would mean crossing his own timestream.

He goes to Lake Silencio. He meets Amy Pond, Rory Williams, and River Song. They drink a bottle of wine that Napoleon threw at him. The impossible astronaut rises from the lake. He goes to meet it after ordering his companions to stay back. This time we see that River Song is in the suit, unable to fight the plan in motion.

He explains that she won’t remember murdering him, but she will serve time for this crime that she can’t remember and committed against her will. He forgives her unconditionally and closes his eyes as his destiny arrives.

Except that it doesn’t. Instead of three blasts, there are five as River drains the suit’s power. The fixed point in time is subverted, resulting in the time track being derailed. In the future(?), Emperor Churchill and Doctor Soothsayer appear to be defending themselves with the revolver and a spear. While they can’t remember the Silence, they are surrounded by them.

They are saved by Amelia Pond, now wearing an eyepatch and in command of a platoon of soldiers. She shoots the Doctor point-blank. Luckily, it was only a stun bolt, and when the Doctor awakens on a train, he finds that Amy is only playing along. She returns the Doctor’s suit to him and start to plan.

Thanks to the crack in time, Amy has memories of alternate timelines but cannot recall that Captain Williams is really her husband.  Amy wonders if things can stay like they are, but the Doctor tells her that this mess, currently confined to Earth, will spread into the universe until all of reality disintegrates. Through it all, the Doctor continues to age because he is the focal point.

The train arrives at Area 52, housed within the Great Pyramid of Giza. The Doctor is given an eyepatch – an Eye Drive to remember the Silence when spotted – and walk past tanks of Silents that are uncharacteristically fixated on the Doctor. They arrive in the King’s Chamber and meet River Song and a captive Madame Kovarian.

After a bit of taunting, the Doctor grabs River’s arm, forcing time to start moving forward again. They appear back on the shores of Lake Silencio, but it all vanishes again when River pulls away and orders the Doctor to be restrained.

This is the moment when the Silents spring their trap. They’ve been waiting for the Doctor to arrive so they could break free and kill him. Kovarian reveals that the Eye Drives are designed to kill their users, though the Silence turns on her as well. Rory stays to hold off the Silents while River, Amy, and the Doctor ascend the pyramid to see what River has built as a contingency plan. The Silents descend on Rory, taunting him until Amy remembers who he is and destroys the Silents with a machine gun.

Amy then reveals that she remembers what Kovarian did to her and her daughter Melody. She ensures that Kovarian’s Eye Drive is properly affixed, then leaves her to die.

At the top of the pyramid, River reveals a distress beacon that she built with her knowledge as a child of the TARDIS. The message – “The Doctor is dying. Please help.” – is being broadcast to the universe in the past, present, and the future. The universe has been replying, despite the Doctor’s desire to close himself off from all of it, offering to help because he has helped them so many times.

River wants the Doctor to survive more than anything else in the universe. The Doctor, realizing that there is only one way to pacify River, uses his bow tie to marry her in a rushed ceremony. He whispers a secret into his bride’s ear and tells her she must never tell anyone what he has just told her.

As she looks at him in wonder, the Doctor asks for her help. They kiss and time is reset. River shoots the Doctor three times on the shore of Lake Silencio, preventing his regeneration, and the alternate timeline vanishes.

Later, River joins Amy for a bottle of wine. River has just come from the Byzantium mission and Amy is in the relative present. Amy is wracked with guilt and would love to talk to the Doctor about it, but she cannot. River, however, reveals the Doctor’s final secret, which they also tell Rory when he arrives home. They dance with joy until Amy realizes one fundamental truth: She is now the Doctor’s mother-in-law.

In the Seventh Transept, a monk returns Dorium’s head (and box) to its proper pedestal. The monk reveals himself as the Doctor, having hidden himself in the Teselecta. That was the secret he told River. The Doctor realizes that he’s become too big and noisy, so it’s time to step back into the shadows. While River serves her days in Stormcage, the Doctor admits that her nights are between him and her.

Dorium will keep the Doctor’s secrets, but warns that Trenzalore still awaits him. As does the question.

The first question.

The question that must never be answered.

The question that the Doctor has been running from his entire life.

“Doctor who?”


So, it is possible to bypass a fixed point in time because they did it twice here.

I will say, though, that the idea was a clever way to tie all the various pieces together and, like Father’s Day, an avenue to explore the fragility of time. The solution is a literal deus ex machina and a bit of a cheat, exchanging one fixed point subversion for another. The second one is okay though, I guess, because it’s in the screenplay. Or the way things were supposed to roll out?

The very nature of this story demands callbacks, many of which have already been mentioned above. As if those weren’t enough, the alternate Amy’s drawings served as a moment of rapid-fire nods from her temporal travels to date. They included the Krafayis, the Weeping Angels, the Saturnyns, the Daleks, the Minotaur, the Cybermen, the Smilers, and a self-portrait of her time in pirate garb. The major callback, of course, Amy’s partial protection from temporal fluctuations based on her long-term exposure to the crack from last season.

The Question is a running gag in the franchise, recently highlighted in Silver Nemesis and The Girl in the Fireplace, and has been in play since An Unearthly Child. I feel like the big gag here defuses a bit of the victory by sticking its tongue out at the audience. Here we are, basking in the glow of a major win that sidestepped the Doctor’s death and the destruction of the universe, and our closing thought is a corny meta joke.

As we’ve seen before, the question works as the occasional gag, but making it a major fixture of the franchise’s mythology feels like a bit of shark-jumping. It’s easily fixed, too. The point is the Doctor’s real name, so instead of “Doctor who?”, how about “Who is the Last of the Time Lords?” or something similar?

One last note on the first funeral of two: The Doctor’s new hair takes some getting used to.

Finally, I really loved the farewell for Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart and the actor who brought him to life, Nicholas Courtney, who died eight months before this tale originally aired. Part of the episode was set in Cairo, the city of Courtney’s birth. Eyepatches were prevalent all around, referring to a favorite anecdote of his from Inferno. The Doctor was told that the Brigadier died peacefully in his sleep, which was directly from the Seventh Doctor’s prophecy in Battlefield.

That last one was a tearjerker, particularly with the news that the Brig waited patiently for the Doctor’s return with a spare glass of brandy at the ready. They may have sparred quite a bit since the day that they met, but both characters had a deep respect for each other.

Goodbye, Brigadier.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Night and the Doctor

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #226: Let’s Kill Hitler

Doctor Who: Let’s Kill Hitler
(1 episode, s06e08, 2011)

Timestamp 226 Lets Kill Hitler

Hello, sweetie.

Prequel

A phone rings as the TARDIS is in flight. The answering machine picks up and Amy leaves a message.

As the camera pans across the console and the dark control room, Amy asks if the Doctor will fulfill his promise to find Melody Pond. Even though she knows that everything turns out okay, she doesn’t want to miss Melody’s childhood.

The Doctor listens intently, but doesn’t pick up the phone. He’s clearly wracked with regret and sadness.

Let’s Kill Hitler

It was once a nice wheat field. Then the Ponds plowed through it, scrawling the word “Doctor” into the crop. They stop in the middle of the O – a giant crop circle – to find the TARDIS and the Doctor in his new pea green double-breasted coat. The Doctor shows them a newspaper article chronicling the event.

It turns out that this was the only way Amy and Rory could figure out to get the Doctor’s attention. He consoles Amy: He will find Melody because River lives. The moment is shattered by police sirens, a speeding red car, and a woman named Mels. The new arrival holds the Doctor at gunpoint and demands to be taken in the TARDIS. It seems that she wants to kill Adolf Hitler.

Flash back to a long time ago in Leadworth as young Amelia, your Rory, and young heretofore-unknown Mels grow up together. Apparently, Mels knows all about Amelia’s “imaginary” friend, the Doctor, and that knowledge gets her in trouble. A lot. Including stealing a bus. She’s also present when Amy finally figures out that Rory loves her.

In the present, Mels, Amy, and Rory take a trip in the TARDIS. Mels actually shoots the TARDIS console while in transit to Nazi Germany. In Berlin, 1938, those same Nazis are being observed by a team with future technology as a machine (posing as a custodian) shapeshifts into a Nazi officer. That team is inside the machine, a highly advanced ship called the Teselecta, which shrinks the Nazi officer and draws him inside. Since the officer is responsible for a series of hate crimes – after all, what Nazi wasn’t? – he is disposed of by a series of “antibodies”.

The Teselecta then goes to Adolf Hitler’s office and activates Justice Mode, but two things interfere in the plan. First, they are too early in Hitler’s time stream. Second, the TARDIS crashes through the wall into the office.

The Doctor evacuates everyone from the TARDIS as it smokes away, then stashes Mels’s handgun in a bowl of fruit. The travelers are beside themselves for actually saving Hitler. The Teselecta tries to attack Hitler again, but he shoots the ship before being stashed in a nearby cupboard by the Doctor and Rory. The Teselecta feigns a fainting spell while the crew analyzes the TARDIS and determines that the most wanted war criminal in history has arrived.

Also, Mels has been shot by Hitler.

Mels, short for Melody, regenerates into a very familiar form. Mission complete. Well… sort of. This new woman has no idea who any of her traveling companions are, she is incredibly self-centered, and has maintained her programming that demands murdering the Doctor. She tries multiple times with every weapon in the room, but the Doctor is several steps ahead of her, but he misses the poison lipstick.

Melody jumps out of window and takes on a squad of Nazis. The soldiers try to shoot her, but she survives due to her regenerative state and uses the discharged energy as a weapon. She picks up their guns and drives away on a motorcycle. Rory and Amy give chase with the sonic screwdriver, followed by the Teselecta disguised as a Nazi soldier.

The Doctor enters the TARDIS and extracts the smoke. He consults with the TARDIS voice interface – the sequence of trying to find a face that doesn’t remind him of his failures is hilarious – and determines that regeneration is impossible due to the poison extracted from the Judas tree. The interface mentions “fish fingers and custard,” inspiring the Doctor to set a course in the TARDIS.

Melody storms a restaurant and demands that the patrons give her their clothes. Outside, the Teselecta takes Amy’s form and miniaturizes Amy and Rory. Just before being killed by the antibodies, the Ponds are given clearance privileges and taken to the control room.

The Teselecta nearly passes judgment on Melody for killing the Doctor, but the Doctor arrives in a tuxedo and top hat. He uses a sonic cane to scan the ship. He also verifies that the Ponds are okay. The Teselecta places Melody in stasis before the crew explains that the mete out justice to war criminals at the ends of their respective timelines. Amy convinces the crew to offer any help they can to the Doctor.

The Silence, a religious cult who believe “silence will fall” when the oldest question in the universe is asked, are behind the plot to kill the Doctor. When the Teselecta crew reveals that they don’t know what the question is, the crew resumes their torture of Melody.

The Doctor asks Amy to save her daughter, so Amy disables the crew’s privileges so that they will all be attacked by the antibodies. The Teselecta releases Melody and the crew is teleported away to a mother ship. As the antibodies descend on Amy and Rory, the Doctor tells Melody to save her parents.

As the Doctor faces his imminent demise, he begs Melody to help him. She talks to the TARDIS and learns to fly the ship, rescuing Amy and Rory before returning everyone to the Doctor’s side. Melody Pond, a child of the TARDIS, wonders who she is. The Doctor asks her to find River Song and pass on a message.

As the Doctor falls unconscious, Melody asks who River Song is. Amy uses the Teselecta to show Melody her own face. Melody decides to pass on her regeneration energy – all her remaining lives – to the Doctor with a kiss, thus becoming River Song.

River wakes up in a hospital with the travelers looking on. The Doctor’s message was that no one could save him, which made her think that she could. This is how she learns Rule #1: The Doctor lies. The travelers leave her with the Sisters of the Infinite Schism to recover, complete with an empty TARDIS-shaped diary. She’ll find her way back to them in time.

As the Doctor ponders the data he downloaded from the Teselecta, River Song enrolls at the Luna University in 5123. Her motivations are simple: She’s looking for a good man.


There are a couple of items working against this fun ride: First, the introduction of the previously unknown Mels. Second, the crux of the assassination of the Doctor relies on him being the smartest man in the room again.

The first can be explained if we’re looking at the events of this season through Amy and Rory’s perspective, therefore seeing a low-impact change in the timeline after Melody’s birth and abduction. The second, while an annoying feature of the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who, adds a lot of humor and hangs a lampshade on the Doctor’s blind spot for River Song. Especially considering the fact that she is the person who kills the Doctor, an act for which she is imprisoned and is now revealed to be a fixed point. The second also hearkens back to the Ninth Doctor in Boom Town, but it worked there because it wasn’t as much of a storytelling crutch for Russell T. Davies.

That humor, coupled with the character development for River and the Doctor, really makes this story work. The origin story for River Song helps tie off her story and could have provided a convenient story terminus if not for the character’s immense popularity.

The humor also worked because it was self-deprecating. The scene with the TARDIS voice interface poked at the ongoing theme with companion departures and shame, invoking Rose, Martha, and Donna in the process. The scene also point us back to a moment of combined shame and innocence by invoking Amelia Pond, whom the Doctor had not yet screwed up but did leave hanging for her childhood years.

Going back to Rule #1, we find out in this story that temporal grace – the state in which the TARDIS interior exists – houses a “clever lie”. The Fourth Doctor claimed that weapons could not be used inside the TARDIS in order to stop Eldrad in The Hand of Fear. Of course, we already knew that it wasn’t absolute from Arc of Infinity – “Nobody’s perfect,” claimed the Fifth Doctor when challenged by Nyssa about a Cyberman shooting in the console room – as well as The Invasion of Time, Earthshock, Attack of the Cybermen, The Visitation, and The Parting of the Ways.

With all of the discussions about Doctor Who canon/continuity in fandom, it’s a good reminder that Doctor Who canon/continuity has never been consistent.

This story also presents a fascinating parallel to The Caves of Androzani, during which the Doctor was poisoned by could survive by regenerating. The Doctor had several lives to spare at that point, but this encounter comes at the supposed end of the Doctor’s regeneration cycle due to the events of Journey’s End and The Night of the Doctor.

There are also several other franchise callbacks: We’ve seen “justice machines” in the past, though they were in the form of the Megara; We’ve previously seen the TARDIS materialize in a micro environment, courtesy of Carnival of Monsters, and materialize in a micro state, courtesy of Planet of Giants; We’ve seen the TARDIS materialize around people and objects before in Logopolis, Time-Flight, The Parting of the Ways, and The Waters of Mars; We’ve also heard about transferring regeneration energy in previous adventures like Mawdryn Undead, the TV movie, and The Ultimate Foe.

I’m also a sucker for the “Doctor who?” title drop gag, which has been around since the beginning. It makes me snicker every time.

All told, I really enjoy the action, the spirit, and the heart of this story. It takes a tired time-travel trope (“Let’s kill Hitler!”) and turns it on its ear to both develop characters and move a story along. Well done.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”


UP NEXT – Torchwood: The Gathering

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #225: A Good Man Goes to War

Doctor Who: A Good Man Goes to War
(1 episode, s06e07, 2011)

Timestamp 225 A Good Man Goes to War

Demons run when a good man goes to war.

Prequel: Brain Trafficking

Dorium Maldovar meets with three cloaked figures. He tells them that his agents have procured the exact security software they have requested, extracted from memory – the literal brain – of a Judoon trooper. He exchanges it for a bag of sentient money.

Dorium doesn’t understand why they are doing all this to imprison one child, and he’s astonished at the child’s identity and relationship to the Doctor. He warns them: “God help us if you’ve made him angry”.

A Good Man Goes to Wars

On the Demons Run base, Amy consoles her new daughter, Melody Pond. She promises that help is on the way and is distraught that she has been unable to care for Melody since she was born.

Elsewhere in the cosmos, Rory and the Doctor have been hunting for Amy. They lay waste to an entire Cyberman fleet, news of which reaches the troops on Demons Run. Soldiers “The Fat One” and “The Thin One” – together, the Thin-Fat Gay-Married Anglican Marines – converse briefly with Cleric Lorna Bucket, a woman who has once met the Doctor in the Gamma Forests. Lorna sews to pass the time and was the only Cleric to show empathy for Amy’s plight. While The Thin One and Lorna discuss the Doctor, The Fat One is led away by the Headless Monks, the cloaked figures who met with Maldovar, and asked to make a donation into an appropriately head-sized box.

In London, circa 1888 AD, a Silurian named Vastra returns home after dispatching Jack the Ripper by her blade. Her maid Jenny informs her that the TARDIS has appeared in the drawing room, and Vastra knows that it is time to repay an old debt.

At the Battle of Zaruthstra in 4037 AD, Command Harcourt and Madame President Eleanor are ready to leave an infirm child as they retreat, but the child is saved by an unlikely nurse. A Sontaran named Strax tends to the child, then leaves as the TARDIS arrives.

At Stormcage, as River is breaking back into her cell, she meets Rory in his Centurion garb. She’s just returned from a birthday celebration with the Doctor in 1814 and Rory is summoning her to Demons Run. River explains that the Battle of Demons Run is when the Doctor will finally know who she is and that she cannot be there until the very end. During this event, the Doctor will rise higher than ever before, but will fall so much further.

At the Maldovarium, the Eyepatch Lady confronts Maldovar. She is known as Madame Kovarian, and Maldovar explains that the Doctor is raising an army. He also explains the origin of her base’s name: “Demons run when a good man goes to war.” When Kovarian leaves, the TARDIS arrives for Maldovar.

Back on Demons Run, while Colonel Manton rallies his troops, Lorna tries to present Amy with a prayer leaf. It’s a fabric token embroidered with Melody’s name in Lorna’s native language. They discuss the Doctor’s status as a legend and how each of them met the Time Lord. Amy accepts the gift and the apology.

Lorna returns to the colonel’s rally just in time for Manton to reveal the true face of the Headless Monks. Of course, the Doctor is masquerading as one of the monks, and as everyone in the crowd draws arms against him, the lights go out and the Doctor vanishes. The Clerics and the monks start shooting each other until Manton reestablishes control over the assembly by having all of the Clerics disarm themselves. Meanwhile, Vastra and Jenny have taken the control room in order to monitor the situation.

The assembled troops are suddenly surrounded as an army of Silurians and Judoon materialize. Commander Strax holds Manton at gunpoint. Manton claims that his fleet will come to help if Demons Run falls, but the Doctor counters: The fleet won’t know to come if Demons Run can’t call for help. The Doctor uses the Dalek-upgraded Spitfires, courtesy of Winston Churchill, to disable the communications tower.

Madame Kovarian readies her ship with young Melody in tow, but she’s thwarted by Rory with help from Henry and Toby Avery. Kovarian and Manton are brought before a barely restrained Doctor. He wants Manton to order his troops to “run away” so that he’ll be remembered by it for all time. Kovarian eventually yields and orders Manton to give the word.

Rory, with help from a sonic screwdriver, frees Amy from her cell. They both weep over their baby and the reunion. The Doctor soon joins them and their reunion is complete with a bout of humor. The Doctor speaks baby after all, and Melody has a lot to say.

Madame Vastra reports that the Clerics are leaving without any bloodshed. When she gloats that the Doctor has never risen higher, Rory remembers River’s warning.

The group gathers in the hangar. The Doctor doesn’t want to leave until he figures out why the base was used in the first place. The Doctor also produces his baby cot so Melody can settle down for a nap. Vastra calls the Doctor away, but before he goes he explains how Amy was split between the Ganger avatar and Demons Run. As the Doctor leaves, Strax brings in Lorna as a prisoner.

In the control room, the Doctor finds out that Melody has a mixture of human and Time Lord DNA. Presumably, it happened as a result of conception while exposed to the Untempered Schism, just like how the Time Lords began. Vastra is concerned that their victory was too easy.

In the hangar, Lorna claims that she’s a friend who only wanted to meet the Doctor. She also claims that he’s a great warrior, hence his name. Unfortunately, they soon fall under siege from the Headless Monks. While Vastra and Maldovar return to the hangar, Kovarian contacts the Doctor as he thinks back to the child in the astronaut suit from 1969. Kovarian explains that the child represents hope in their endless, bitter war against the Doctor.

A force field snaps into existence around the TARDIS and the hangar is sealed. The Headless Monks advance with their attack prayer and Amy retreats to safety while everyone else prepares for battle. Maldovar tries to reason with the monks, but he is cut down.

As the battle is met, the Doctor connects the dots. Kovarian has replaced Melody with a Ganger. The child is still lost. The Doctor arrives moments too late. The monks have been defeated, but Lorna and Strax have paid the price. The Doctor and Jenny try to comfort Amy. He also speaks briefly with Lorna before she dies, promising that he remembers her just like he remembers everyone he meets.

The Doctor is ready to give up on his quest against the Silence, but channels his anger toward the newly-arrived River Song. He wants to know where she was, but River says that she could not have turned the tide of the battle. She warns him that his name, which means healer across the universe, could become just like the people of the Gamma Forests know him: Mighty Warrior.

Demons run when a good man goes to war
Night will fall and drown the sun
When a good man goes to war

Friendship dies and true love lies
Night will fall and the dark will rise
When a good man goes to war

Demons run, but count the cost
The battle’s won, but the child is lost

The Doctor demands to know who she is and she leads him to the baby cot. The answer is inscribed on the cot in Gallifreyan and the Doctor’s mood shifts dramatically. He rushes to the TARDIS, asking River to get everyone home safely, before flying away to find Melody.

Amy demands to know where he’s gone and who she is. River shows her the prayer leaf and explains that Melody Pond in the language of the Gamma Forests translates to River Song. “The only water in the forest is the river.”

River Song is Amy and Rory’s daughter.

The Battle of Demons Run: Two Days Later

Strax awakens two days after the Battle of Demons Run, having been healed by alien technology. Vastra and Jenny tell him that they are the last to leave and invite him to join them in London. After all, Jenny has been ostracized from her family for her sexual orientation, Vastra is presumably the last of her kind, and Strax is all alone. There could be a future for them all together.

Strax refuses at first, but once he learns that London will involve crime-solving and plenty of adventure, he agrees to accompany them.


This story serves multiple purposes and it serves them well. Primarily, it ties off the thread of Amy’s abduction and opens the story of a war against the Doctor with Melody at its core. Second, it presents a cliffhanger to close out the first half of the season and tease the direction of the second half. Third, it offers a springboard for the team of Vastra, Jenny, and Strax.

That team is an intriguing combination of a Silurian, a human servant, and the unlikely Sontaran nurse. All three are outcasts of some sort, and that characteristic provides the glue to bind them. Strax provides a wonderful parallel to Rory through their mutual professions and Vastra offers a connection to the Doctor, the man who saved her at some point in his on-again-off-again guardianship of her species.

We get a beautiful inadvertent tie back to The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang with the Cybermen. In that Timestamp, I mused about the status of the Cybus and Mondasian Cybermen at this point in the franchise. The Cybermen in that story were Cybus models, survivors of the Battle of Canary Wharf, and had either built or assimilated into a fleet. The Mondasian Cybermen, last seen in Silver Nemesis, still had to exist but I had wondered if the two could co-exist.

Obviously, they can to some degree, as the Cybermen seen in this story were obviously Mondasian – they didn’t have the Cybus C on their chests – but have evolved (or assimilated into) the more bulky Cybus body time. I’m excited to see their return.

The other blink-and-you’ll-miss-it note surrounds River Song. On the surface, it seems like the River that Rory visits in Stormcage is the same River that arrives after the Battle of Demons Run, but the context clues point in a different direction. River at Stormcage had to consult her diary, which means that Demons Run has already happened for her. The River at Stormcage was from a later point in her timeline and she knows what happens to the Doctor. A minor addition is a reminder that River once remarked how the Doctor could make whole armies turn and run.

In a smaller callback, we see the Church again, previously met in The Time of Angels.

All told, this was a great story, a wonderful springboard, and a terrific cliffhanger.

Since the Timestamps Project is proceeding (for the most part) in airdate order, the next stop on this journey is a return to Torchwood. At some point, the streams will cross for a brief period as Doctor Who continues Series Six.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”


UP NEXT – Torchwood: The New World

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #221: The Impossible Astronaut & Day of the Moon

Doctor Who: The Impossible Astronaut
Doctor Who: Day of the Moon
(2 episodes, s06e01-02, 2011)

Timestamp 221 The Impossible Astronaut

Welcome to the Silence.

Prequel

In the White House, President Nixon answers the telephone in the Oval Office. The line only clicks until he asks, “Is it you again?” A child’s voice tells him to look behind him for a threat that is everywhere but no one can see. When asked, the child says that the spaceman told her about them. President Nixon refuses to believe them.

He hangs up the phone and leans back. A mysterious alien stares at him, but neither the President nor his aide seem to notice.

The Impossible Astronaut

In the 17th century, Charles II storms into the painter Matilda’s room and demands to see the Doctor. Standing before a painting of the Time Lord, who is depicted wearing nothing but a strategically placed red cloth, Matilda replies, “Doctor who?”

She nearly gets away with it except for a sneeze from her skirts. The Doctor is naked, hiding under Matilda, with the explanation that the situation is really not as bad as it looks.

In 2011, Amy tells Rory about the incident as detailed in a history book. It, along with other incidents such as a World War II POW camp and a Laurel and Hardy film, seem to be signals to the Ponds. A TARDIS-blue envelope containing unsigned invitation arrives in the mail and they follow it to Utah.

They are greeted by the Doctor, wearing a Stetson that is soon shot off by River Song (who also got an invitation). They convene in a roadside diner and catch up. The Doctor tells them that he’s been running faster than ever before, but that it’s time to stop. They’re going to have a picnic and then he’s headed to space in 1969.

On the shores of Lake Silencio, the team shares wine, cheese, and fruit. Rory spots one of the creatures from the White House but after she looks away, she forgets about it. The discussion is interrupted by an old man arriving in a truck and waving to the Doctor. The Doctor looks to the lake and spots an astronaut in a full Apollo spacesuit. He tells his companions that, whatever happens, they are not to interfere, then walks to meet the astronaut.

He seems to know what is coming, but his companions are shocked when the astronaut shoots him with an energy weapon. The Doctor begins to regenerate, but the astronaut takes aim and fires again. The mysterious visitor retreats into the lake as the companions mourn the Doctor’s death. The old man brings a gas can, confirming the Time Lord’s identity and death, and River knows that they have to cremate the body.

After the service, the man introduces himself as Canton Everett Delaware III. He received an envelope as well, and he tells the assembled that he won’t see them again but that they will see him. Delaware leaves and the companions return to the diner. River notes that the envelopes are numbered so this was all planned in advance. The Doctor arrives shortly afterward, having held the first envelope, and it is determined that he is an earlier version of himself. He was invited the same as the others.

They all take a trip in the TARDIS to 1969. The team is upset with the Doctor and the companions try to reason through the puzzle, but they have no idea why the future Doctor recruited them all. They also cannot ask the Doctor himself, who nearly turns the TARDIS around when they won’t tell him the truth. After all, River is a convicted murderer and the Doctor does not trust mysterious summonses. Amy asks him to trust the team, swearing that she’s not lying about being under duress. The Doctor places his life in her hands.

Delaware is a former FBI agent who is summoned to the White House by President Nixon. The two men are in a meeting about the mysterious phone calls when the TARDIS materializes in stealth mode. The Doctor pops out of the phone box just in time to hear the recording and is spotted by the men. The President calls the Secret Service as the Doctor demands that River make the TARDIS visible.

In short order, the travelers are held at gunpoint but the Doctor persuades Delaware and Nixon to give him five minutes. As the Doctor helps the Americans to track the call to Florida – home of NASA and the spacemen – Amy spots the alien again. When she looks away, she forgets. She visits the restroom and spots the alien again. While she keeps an eye on it, another woman emerges from a toilet cubicle and is eventually killed after spotting it. Amy snaps a picture of the alien and rushes out to her Secret Service companion, promptly forgetting the encounter.

The phone rings again. On the other end, the child says that the spaceman is there and that she needs help. The travelers jet off in the TARDIS – Delaware tags along by accident – and find the call’s origin at the intersections of Jefferson, Adams, and Hamilton Streets, clues provided by the child.

The travelers find stolen NASA technology and alien residue leading into a tunnel network. River investigates and finds a group of the aliens. She rushes out, forgets the encounter, and decides to take another look. The Doctor asks Rory to follow her. As they investigate, they find a maintenance hatch that River picks open while they discuss her relationship with the Doctor. The two are a traveling different directions in time: Her past is his future.

They open the hatch and find a control room similar to the one hidden away in the house with Craig Owens. It sounds an alarm and Rory spots the creatures but forgets them. River learns that there are tunnels like the one they’re in all over Earth and that they’ve been here for thousands of years. Behind Rory, electricity crackles and something approaches.

Amy, Delaware, and Amy hear the child cry for help and they pursue. Amy reveals that she’s pregnant, Delaware is knocked unconscious, and the astronaut approaches them. Amy draws Delaware’s gun and shoots the astronaut, intent on saving the Doctor’s life, only realizing too late that the suit contains the young girl from the telephone.

Day of the Moon

Three months later, Amy is being chased through the Utah desert. Her pursuers, including Delaware, corner her on a cliff. Amy tries to help him remember their escape from the aliens in the warehouse, but he shoots her. She has a series of hashmarks on her arms.

Delaware travels to Area 51 to ask the Doctor, now his prisoner, about the marks. Meanwhile, River is in New York City with a similar set marks. When she spots one of the aliens, she adds a mark to her arm. Delaware arrives shortly thereafter and corners her, but she dives off the building.

Rory is also cornered and shot at the Glen Canyon Dam, and he and Amy are taken to Area 51 in body bags and placed with the Doctor in a cell constructed of dwarf star alloy. The room is impervious to signals and, once sealed, provides the perfect opportunity for Amy, Rory, and the Doctor to stage their escape. To seal the deal, the TARDIS is parked directly behind the Doctor in stealth mode. The travelers and Delaware board the TARDIS, catch River in mid-air, and materialize at Cape Kennedy and the site of Apollo 11’s historic launch.

The Doctor injects everyone with nano-recorders while they discuss the last three months. The marks were from each time one of the creatures were spotted, and it should be easier to find them with the recording devices. They test it with a holographic image extrapolated from Amy’s photograph, and also discover that even the image of the creatures induces the memory loss.

Later, Delaware and Amy arrive at Graystark Hall. They meet Dr. Renfrew and learn that the facility will close in 1967. Oddly, it is now 1969. The walls are also covered in messages to get out, but Renfrew has no idea how they keep appearing. Amy investigates the facility while Delaware meets with Renfrew. She discovers a message she left on her nano-recorder demanding that she get out. She sees her reflection, noting that her arms and face are covered in hashmarks. She looks up to see a bunch of the creatures hanging like bats, but moments later she’s leaving the room without any recollection.

The Doctor installs some type of transmitter in the Apollo spacecraft. He’s taken into custody but soon released under orders from Nixon in a rather humorous exchange. The Doctor asks Nixon to record everything that happens in the Oval Office.

Amy continues on, soon spotting a door with a sliding observation port. A woman with an eyepatch spots her through the slot, but the room beyond is a child’s bedroom. The woman is nowhere to be found. Amy finds photos of herself holding a newborn, then is met by the child in the spacesuit and two of the creatures.

Delaware and Renfrew are interrupted by one of the creatures. Delaware records a brief exchange with it then shoots the creature before running toward the sound of Amy’s screams. Rory, River, and the Doctor join him to find an empty spacesuit and Amy’s recorder. It’s a live transmission from wherever Amy is being held.

Renfrew summons the group to his office to tend to the wounded creature. It identifies itself as the Silence, which the Doctor recalls from the events of last year. They have been on the planet since the Stone Age. The travelers return to the warehouse while Delaware emerges from the dwarf star box after several days with President Nixon. The spacesuit is a perfect life support capsule, which explains how the child survived a gunshot. The Doctor also speculates that Apollo 11 traveled to the Moon because the Silence needed a spacesuit. After all, they don’t make their own technology.

Delaware tends to the wounded Silence in the dwarf star box and uses Amy’s phone to record a threatening message from the being. He transmits it to the Doctor. Meanwhile, the Doctor traces the nano-recorder signal to the console room in the tunnel system. Inside that room, Amy awakens to a room full of Silence, and the TARDIS arrives soon after. The Doctor recognizes the room as he brings a television in and orders River to keep the Silence covered while Rory frees Amy.

Here’s the twist: The Doctor has rigged Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit to transmit a message as soon as he touches the lunar surface. It is the threat from the wounded Silence, telling everyone in the sound of its voice to kill the Silence on site.

The whole planet is watching. The whole planet responds. Today is the day that the human race throws the Silence off the planet.

The Silence respond by attacking the travelers. Everyone runs for the TARDIS as River covers their escape, successfully killing every one of the creatures. The TARDIS takes off as Amy and Rory share an intimate moment, landing in the Oval Office so the Doctor can say farewell to Nixon and Delaware.

The Doctor evades Nixon’s queries about his future with the promise that the president will never be forgotten. After the Doctor leaves, Nixon almost grants Delaware’s request to be married… until he figures out that Delaware is homosexual.

The Doctor leaves River at Stormcage. He offers to take her along, but she declines. They share a passionate kiss, which ends up being the first for the Doctor… which makes it the last for her. As the TARDIS takes flight again, the Doctor asks about Amy’s pregnancy, which is news to Rory.

Amy assures her husband that she’s not pregnant. The Doctor runs a scan on Amy without her knowledge, but is concerned since the Amy is simultaneously pregnant and not pregnant.

Six months later, a homeless man on the streets of New York City finds the child from the spacesuit. The child coughs repeatedly, claiming that she’s dying. She soon solves that problem, however, as she begins to regenerate.


This story’s power comes from its frantic and almost disordered plot. It has the potential to confuse the viewer because it requires nearly complete concentration to keep track of the various narrative threads. That frenetic pace ties in beautifully with the nature of the Silence, from missing large pieces of the plot to having them filled in only when it was necessary.

Another potential pitfall is the Steven Moffat habit of being super clever for the sake of being so. This story could have easily done that, but the rewards were substantial enough to make it feel like a significant return on investment. We have a few threads laid down for the season, including eyepatch lady, the yes/no pregnancy, and the regenerating child.

(Of course, having seen all of this before, I know what’s coming. I’ll take a River Song approach and avoid spoilers for anyone reading this who hasn’t seen it.)

And, you know, the parallels with 1988’s They Live just make me smile. I do love that film.

I still have reservations about Amy and her treatment of Rory. She’s open with the Doctor about her pregnancy, but she’s willing to hide it from Rory while still claiming to love him. Her actions speak more of abuse than love. On the other hand, we see the tragedy of the Doctor/River relationship. They work so well together, but the crossing paths nature is heartbreaking at times.

The stories take time out to pay tribute to Elisabeth Sladen. She died four days before the initial broadcast of the first part of this story, and I’d expect nothing less from Doctor Who for one the most popular companions ever.

I loved the symmetry in casting the Delawares. William Morgan Sheppard, the older Delaware, is the real-life father of Mark Sheppard, the younger Delaware. This isn’t the first time that they’ve played older and younger versions of a character, and they have also portrayed father and son pairs. I love seeing both of them on screen from their copious amount of work in film and television.

I also loved seeing the Valley of the Gods and Lake Powell (“Lake Silencio”) on screen again. I grew up in Utah, so the landscape is easily recognizable. The Southern Utah deserts have been popular filming locations for decades. In terms of internal mythology, we last visited Utah in Dalek, though we didn’t see anything of the world outside at that point.

One thing that really intrigues me is the idea that multiple Doctors are in the same location at the same time. The Eleventh Doctor’s three-month-long incarceration at Area 51 coincides with the Tenth Doctor being stranded in Blink and the Second and Third Doctor’s adventures with UNIT (for reference, The Invasion, Spearhead from Space, Doctor Who and the Silurians, and The Ambassadors of Death). Neil Armstrong’s historic moonwalk also coincides with Blink and The Ambassadors of Death. It adds credence to the idea that we saw in Rose that the Doctor can be in so many places and times at once.

Last but not least, I laughed about River chastising the Doctor about using his sonic screwdriver in battle. The callback to The Doctor Dances was great, as was hanging a lampshade on the tendency to use the sonic as a magic wand instead of a scientific instrument.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Curse of the Black Spot

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #219: The Pandorica Opens & The Big Bang

Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens
Doctor Who: The Big Bang
(2 episodes, s05e12-e13, 2010)

Timestamp 219 The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang

A roller coaster ride that closes the narrative circle. Mostly.

The Pandorica Opens

France, 1890: Vincent van Gogh finishes a painting and lapses into a screaming fit. Doctor Gachet and Madame Vernet attempt to calm him, but Vernet takes a moment to criticize the painting as one of the artist’s worst.

London, 1941: In the Cabinet War Rooms, Professor Bracewell delivers a rolled up canvas to Winston Churchill. It is the painting, found behind the wall in a French attic. Bracewell tells Churchill to deliver the message.

Stormcage Containment Facility, 5145: A guard answers the phone and hands it to River Song. After speaking to Churchill, River whammies the guard with her hallucinogenic lipstick and escapes from the prison. She breaks into the Royal Collection and swipes the painting. Liz 10 catches her, but after she looks at the artwork, River is free to go.

The Maldovarium, 5145: River meets with black marketeer Dorium Maldovar and exchanges a Callisto Pulse in exchange for a vortex manipulator, fresh from the wrist of a Time Agent.

The TARDIS, in the temporal vortex: Amy looks at the wedding ring as the Doctor lands on Planet One. There they find the first words in recorded history carved into the diamond cliffs: “Hello, Sweetie.” The accompanying coordinates take them to Roman Britain in the 2nd century where they are met by a soldier whose face is smeared with lipstick. They are escorted to Cleopatra, who is really River in disguise. She presents the travelers with the painting.

It is a mixture of Starry Night and the destruction of the TARDIS. It is titled The Pandorica Opens.

River, Amy, and the Doctor discuss the painting, which the Doctor considers a fairy tale, but they all ride to Stonehenge where it is presumed to reside. Amy notes that River warned them about this on the Byzantium, but River responds that she will. That hasn’t happened for her yet. River finds evidence of energy weapons at the site. They open a tomb beneath Stonehenge, missing the active Cyberman head nearby, in search of the mightiest warrior of all time contained within the Pandorica.

Behind a giant door they find a giant box. It is the Pandorica. Amy notes that the story of the Pandorica is similar to her favorite story, that of Pandora’s Box, and the Doctor draws attention to the coincidence. As River and the Doctor examine the box, Amy keeps an eye on the crypt.

Amy wonders how Vincent could know of this and the Doctor notes that the pillars of the crypt are transmitters. They’ve been broadcasting into all of time and space, and River traces the signals to Earth’s orbit. There are at least ten thousand starships in orbit, and every one of them belongs to the Doctor’s enemies.

It’s a veritable Who’s Who of Doctor Who universe villains, including the Daleks, the Drahvins, the Cybermen, the Autons and the Nestene Consciousness, the Silurians, the Draconians, the Sontarans, the Zygons, the Terileptils, the Chelonians (an enemy from the Virgin novels), the Slitheen, the Roboforms, the Sycorax, the Hoix, the Weevils and the Blowfish (crossing over from Torchwood), the Judoon, the Uvodni, the Atraxi, and the Haemogoths (from the novel The Forgotten Army).

Everything that ever hated the Doctor is coming to Earth on this night. River begs him to run but the Doctor has other plans. He enlists the help of the Roman army with River and her futuristic technology. She is greeted by a single mysterious volunteer.

The Doctor continues his work at the Pandorica. After extending the force fields of the box to buy them thirty minutes, he and Amy discuss the engagement ring. The Doctor explains that it belongs to a friend, and hopes that the traces it left behind can spark memories within that friend. He asks if Amy is bothered that her life doesn’t make a lot of sense, but before she can respond they are interrupted by laser blasts from a dismembered Cyberman arm. They nearly escape from the arm, but it shocks the Doctor as Amy grapples with the Cyberman head. She nearly gets the upper hand but it shoots her with a dart and threatens her with assimilation. On cue, the headless body (a Cybus Industries model) marches into view, reattaches the head, and chases the drugged companion.

Amy ends up in a side chamber. The door opens as a sword impales the Cyberman. The sword belongs to none other than Rory. He’s dressed as a Roman soldier and she still doesn’t remember him. The Doctor considers the Cyberman and the Pandorica, eventually coming around to the fact that Rory is alive again and unerased from time.

Rory is fuzzy on how he got to this point, but he still cares for Amy. They’re distracted by the ships descending from orbit and the sudden awakening of the Pandorica. The site and the Roman army are surrounded. The Doctor ascends to the surface, stands on a rock, and addresses his enemies over a communicator. His enemies face him as he threatens them with his rage. He has possession of the Pandorica and it’s opening, and though they have plenty of weapons, he has nothing to lose. He reminds them of all the times he has defeated them in the past and encourages them to do the smart thing and let someone else try first.

The fleet withdraws, granting the Doctor an additional hour. Meanwhile, River tries to pilot the TARDIS to the crypt but it won’t play nice. It takes her to Earth, specifically Amy’s house, on June 26, 2010. A crack appears on the scanner as River heads outside and a voice echoes in the console room: “Silence will fall.”

Amy wakes up but still doesn’t remember Rory. The Doctor cannot explain his presence, but listens while Rory talks about his memories while the Doctor ponders the explosion of the TARDIS. He returns Rory’s ring and dismisses Rory’s return (for now, anyway) as a miracle.

Landing patterns from alien ships have scarred the yard at Amy’s house. Inside the house, River finds a book on Roman Britain and a copy of The Legend of Pandora’s Box. She also finds a picture of Rory and Amy, but Rory is dressed like a centurion in the photograph. River contacts the Doctor and tells him that the Roman army is made of duplicates. The duplicates believe that they are alive, and River says it must be a trap.

On the surface, Amy starts to remember Rory. At Amy’s house, the TARDIS begins to shake and will not respond to River’s commands. The console room echoes with the warning again: “Silence will fall.”

The Pandorica starts transmitting a signal as it cracks open. The soldiers all stop moving and converge on the crypt, their hands raised like Auton hand-blasters. Rory fights his transformation and warns Amy to run, but she remembers him. The Autons seize the Doctor and declare that the Pandorica is ready. The Doctor’s enemies materialize in the room and force the Time Lord into the box.

All of reality is threatened by the cracks in time. The enemies of the Doctor have banded together to save the universe from destruction by his hand. They used Amy’s memories to trap him.

Unable to control himself, Rory fatally shoots Amy. As she dies, he grieves as he fights for control.

River opens the doors of the TARDIS to find a stone wall. She’s trapped as the TARDIS explodes.

The universe dies as every star goes supernova at once. The Earth is left alone in a black void.

Silence falls.

The Big Bang

Leadworth, 1996: It’s the night that Amelia Pond prays to Santa Claus on Easter to fix the crack in her wall. She hears a noise, but her garden is empty. She notes the moon in the sky and later paints the sky for her psychiatrist. She remembers stars in the sky, but no one else can. In fact, the sky is empty except for the moon.

That night, Amy sees a man in a fez slip a pamphlet through the mail slot. It advertises that Pandorica exhibit at the National Museum with a note: “Come along, Pond.” She visits the museum with her aunt, passing exhibits of antique Daleks and penguins in the Arctic. A note on the Pandorica tells her to stick around, so she hides from her aunt until the museum closes. She returns to the Pandorica and it opens to reveal Amy Pond.

Things just got complicated.

Stonehenge, 102 AD: The Auton duplicate of Rory Williams cradles Amy’s corpse. He cracks a joke and wishes that she’d laugh, but his mourning is interrupted by the vortex manipulated arrival of the Doctor. He’s wearing a fez and brandishing a mop, and he leaves instructions for Rory to open the Pandorica with his sonic screwdriver. He vanishes again.

The present-version Doctor emerges from the Pandorica. Deducing that he will set up the chain of events that have led to his release, he and Rory note the stone remains of the allied aliens. They are echoes in time of entire species that have been erased from existence. The Doctor and Rory find Amy and load her into the Pandorica. A punch to the jaw tells the Doctor that Rory has moved beyond his programming, and the Time Lord leaves a telepathic message in Amy’s head. The Pandorica will restore her to life in order to keep her imprisoned.

The Doctor picks up River’s vortex manipulator and offers Rory the opportunity to travel back to the future. Instead, Rory decides to stand watch over the Pandorica for the next 2,000 years. When Amy awakens in 1996, she sees the video presentation about the Pandorica and the lone centurion who stood guard no matter where the box went. The centurion was presumed dead in 1941.

As the Doctor appears in the museum, one of the Daleks awakens and threatens the Amys. As the Doctor finds a fez and looks for a way to stop the Dalek, a security guard appears and stops the threat with an Auton cannon. That security guard is none other than Rory the Centurion.

While Amy and Rory catch up with a whole lot of smooching, the Doctor analyzes the Dalek and realizes that it came to life when the Pandorica’s light touched it. As it revives again, the Doctor ushers everyone out and starts his chain reaction of events. His bouncing around in time comes to a halt as an older version of himself appears, leaves him a message, and dies without regeneration.

The younger version of Amy also vanishes. Time is still collapsing.

As the travelers rush to the roof, the Dalek opens the Pandorica and casts its light on the statues in the museum. On the roof, our heroes note that the sun has risen. Unfortunately, the sun is really the explosion of the TARDIS. Fortunately, the signal it is generating includes River’s last words, which tells the Doctor that the TARDIS placed her in a time loop to keep her alive. The Doctor jumps to the TARDIS and pulls her to safety in 1996.

River questions the Doctor’s fashion sense. Amy pulls the fez off his head and throws it. River shoots it, blasting it into atoms. Then the Dalek arrives and drives the team back into the museum. The Doctor questions how the Dalek could exist, then develops a plan to cast the Pandorica’s light across all of time and existence by using the TARDIS explosion as an infinite power source.

His plotting is cut short as the Dalek shoots the Doctor. The Doctor falls and teleports away. In her anger, River makes the Dalek beg for mercy (three times over) before killing it in a single shot. When the team heads back to the Pandorica, the Doctor has crawled inside and wired the vortex manipulator to transport the box to the heart of the exploding TARDIS. Rory and Amy thought he was dead, but River tells them about Rule Number One: The Doctor lies.

The downside to the Doctor’s plan is that he’ll be trapped on the wrong side of Big Bang #2. While the rest of existence will be reset, he will never have existed. He asks to talk to Amy one last time before he leaves. He explains that her parents didn’t die but rather were consumed by the crack in time. It has been eating away at her life for a long time, making her the girl whose life didn’t make sense. If she can remember them when the Big Bang happens, they stand a chance of being restored.

With that, the Doctor seals the Pandorica and launches it into the heart of the TARDIS with a transmitted “Geronimo”.

As the universe heals, the Doctor wakes up on the floor of the TARDIS console room. He watches as his timestream unravels and stumbles on the fact that Amy can still hear him. He returns to the Byzantium and has that mysterious conversation with Amy that seemed out of place. He asks her to remember what he told her when she was seven.

He rewinds back to Amy’s house on the night that she waited for him as a girl. He finds her asleep in the garden and takes her up to her bed. He tells her the story of a daft old man who “borrowed” a magic box that was ancient and new and the bluest blue ever. He realizes that the crack in her wall cannot close properly until he’s on the other side. He steps through, avoiding the rest of the rewind of his lives, and the crack seals. Amelia wakes up briefly, then goes back to sleep. The stars are back in the sky.

In 2010, Amy wakes up on her wedding day. Her gaze drifts across the dolls she made of the Doctor to her wedding dress. She’s startled by her mother and breakfast, rushes downstairs to hug her father, then calls Rory to ask him if he remembers something big.

At the wedding reception, Amy spots River outside just before her father’s speech. Rory notes that Amy is crying, then hands her a gift that someone left for them. It’s River’s TARDIS journal, but it is blank. She looks around the room, spotting things that remind her of the Doctor, and has a revelation as a single tear splashes onto the journal.

She interrupts her father’s speech to tell the assembled crowd about her raggedy man imaginary friend. Her belief in him rises as the wind swirls through the ballroom and the TARDIS materializes. She vaults over the table and knocks on the door. The Doctor emerges, congratulates Mr. and Mrs. Pond, promises to leave the kissing to Rory, and moves the TARDIS off the dance floor.

After a night of dancing and celebration, the Doctor heads outside and meets River Song. He returns her journal and the vortex manipulator, then questions her identity as they muse about marriage. River vanishes into time and the Doctor enters the TARDIS. Before he can leave, Amy and Rory barge in and demand to know why he’s taking off so soon. He tells them that the mystery of the exploding TARDIS still remains before taking a phone call about an Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express in space.

As he signs off with the member of royalty on the line, Amy and Rory bid farewell to their wedding guests. The Doctor fires up the TARDIS and the trio vanishes into the temporal vortex.


This finale brings a whole lot of guns to the fight. From wrapping up the season-long story arc to laying the foundations for the next big adventure while handing the audience nods to the entire history of Doctor Who, including the prose side of the house. The Doctor is in fine form as he unravels this mystery with Amy as she reclaims her life. River (doing her best Han Solo and Indiana Jones) and Rory carry the action while adding heart through their relationships with our other heroes.

The climax of the story plays the typical franchise trope of a universe reset where the protagonists remember everything, but the twist here is that Amy and Rory have to work for it. What’s even more interesting is that the Doctor is ready to make the ultimate sacrifice (without the prospect of regeneration) to save the universe. It’s times like these when we see just how much of a hero the Doctor truly is.

I loved seeing the references to the enemies of the Who-niverse, but one that really stood out was the Cyberman. Given the big C on its chest, the one in this story was obviously a Cybus Industries model from Pete’s World. We last saw them in The Next Doctor, survivors of the Battle of Canary Wharf, and it can be inferred that at least one of them was transported to 102 A.D. to face the Doctor. But the Mondasian Cybermen still exist, right? We haven’t seen them since Silver Nemesis but it stands to reason that they still exist in this universe. That means that they should be the majority of the Cyberman fleet in orbit, right? Would this universe’s Cybermen accept the Pete’s World Cybermen into their ranks without issue?

I think I miss the normal universe Cybermen. Just a little.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”


UP NEXT – Series Five Summarycc-break

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #213: The Time of Angels & Flesh and Stone

Doctor Who: The Time of Angels
Doctor Who: Flesh and Stone
(2 episodes, s05e04-05, 2010)

Timestamp 213 Time of Angels Flesh and Stone

Not blinking just got a lot more complicated.

The Time of Angels

A uniformed man spins blindly in a field, his face graced by a lipstick kiss. When a man in an evening suit wipes the lipstick smear, he realizes that the man is hallucinating and River Song is on the starship. Sure enough, she’s fired up a torch and is burning a black box with it.

Twelve thousand years in the future, the Doctor and Amy are exploring the Delirium Archive, final resting place of the Headless Monks. He finds the message engraved on the box in Old High Gallifreyan – “Hello, Sweetie.” – and steals the box. Using the box, he tunes into where River is running from the guards just in time to head a set of coordinates. River blasts herself into space and the Doctor materializes the TARDIS in time to catch her.

She tells him to follow the Byzantium, the ship she just departed.

As the TARDIS gives chase, River suggests using the “blue stablizers”. The capsule stops shaking, the wheezing sound disappears (apparently, the Doctor leave the brakes on all the time), and the landing is soft. After a haphazard environment check, River steps outside to find that the target ship has crashed.

Amy wants to know what’s going on and pressures the Doctor to show her the planet. Reluctantly, he agrees, and Amy Pond meets Professor River Song. There’s also a thing in the crashed ship. A thing that can never die.

River glances through her diary to figure out where she and the Doctor are in their respective timelines as her associates, a group of four soldiers, materialize on the surface. As they enter the ship and nearby temple, she reveals that they’re facing the Weeping Angels.

The Doctor and River explain the Angels to Amy and Father Octavian, the leader of the soldiers. It turns out that he’s the bishop, his troops are clerics, and by the 51st century, the church has moved on. They spot one of the Angels on a security feed. The catacombs are flooded with radiation, a banquet to the Angels, and plans are made without Amy.

River offers the Doctor a book about the Angels, which he reads and declares to be wrong. Meanwhile, Amy keeps watching the clip of the Angel and notices that it keeps shifting positions. She tries to turn off the monitor, but it keeps turning back on again. As this happens, the Doctor reads the part about how an image of an Angel becomes itself an Angel, and he races to save Amy. Unfortunately, the room and monitor have deadlocked. She tries to disable the monitor again as the Doctor reads another part of the book: The eyes are the doorways to the soul. Amy spots a glitch in the clip and turns off the monitor in that moment, thus avoiding the image. The room is opened again, and while everything seems fine, Amy has a problem with her eye.

The deacons blow an entrance into the temple, revealing a vast area full of crumbling statues. It’s the perfect place to hide for an Angel. As the Doctor moves on, Octavian warns River to not let him figure out where they are in his timeline and why she’s imprisoned. Meanwhile, Clerics Christian and Angelo investigate a nearby exit from the chamber.

Amy keeps rubbing her eye, releasing a stream of gray dust. River catches up to her and they muse about the Doctor and his relationship with her. Amy is convinced that they are married.

Oh, and Clerics Christian and Angelo? They are soon killed by the Angel.

The Doctor, River, and Amy run to the sound of gunfire. They find a young cleric named Bob (a sacred name) and, even with Father Octavian berating the youth, the Doctor insists that his fear will keep him alert. They team moves into the maze, and the Doctor remembers the Aplans who built the crypt. He remembers dinner with the chief architect, then asks River about the last line in the book: It’s an ominous prophecy: “What happens when ideas have thoughts of their own? What happens when dreams no longer need dreamers? When these things have come to pass, the time will be upon us. The Time of Angels.”

River notes that something is wrong and the Doctor realizes that he’s made a terrible mistake. The Aplans have two heads, yet all of these statues have only one. The Doctor runs a quick experiment and reveals that every statue in the maze is a Weeping Angel. They’re slow due to a lack of energy to feed on, but they’re all coming for the team, and the radiation from the Byzantium is powering them up.

Cleric Bob, on the other hand, is already dead, having been called to his doom by the voices of his former squadmates. He tells the tale to Father Octavian over the radio, a puppet of the Angels who have reanimated a copy of his consciousness to communicate.

The team continues on to the Byzantium, but Amy is turning to stone. The Doctor tells her that it’s the Angels playing with her mind, which has been infiltrated by the Angel in the monitor, and when she won’t move he bites her hand. When the team reaches the crash site, their lights start failing and the Angels approach.

River reminds the Doctor that this kind of crunch time is when the Doctor works his best, and as Bob tries to anger the Doctor, he remarks that there’s one thing that they’ve failed to realize. There’s one thing that you never put in a trap.

The Doctor.

He borrows a gun from Octavian, warning them all to jump at his signal. He shoots the gravity globe above them, plunging everything into darkness.

Flesh and Stone

The Doctor tells everyone to look up as the lights come back up. When they jumped, they fell into the Byzantium‘s artificial gravity and landed on the ship’s hull. The Doctor opens an airlock and the team enters the ship. As the Doctor works on a solution further into the ship, the Angels pursue.

The Doctor tells them that he needs to turn off the lights for a moment, and Octavian asks River if she trusts the Time Lord. She does.

The lights go out and Octavian’s men light up the corridor with gunfire, keeping the Angels at bay as the doors slide open and give the team access to the rest of the ship. The Angels continue their pursuit, much to Octavian’s dismay, and the Doctor continues to work. He realizes that the ship’s mission required a sustainable oxygen supply, and he reveals a cybernetic forest onboard.

He’s also intrigued at the reason why Amy continues to count down from ten.

As the Clerics probe the forest, the Doctor has another conversation with Angel Bob. Bob reveals that the Angels are feasting and that they’ve inhabited Amy through her eyes. They’re making her count to scare the survivors. The Angels are laughing because the “Doctor in the TARDIS hasn’t noticed” the overarching threat. He turns to see the crack from Amy’s wall, now in the hull of the Byzantium. The Doctor scans the crack as the Angels infiltrate the room and everyone else leaves. Unfortunately, the Angels snag the Doctor by his jacket.

The Angels are distracted by the crack, which is pure time energy, allowing the Doctor time to escape. As he runs to catch up with the group, Amy counts to four and collapses. The Doctor runs through everything as Amy counts to three, realizing that there’s an Angel in her mind. The Quantum Lock that they use – freezing when spotted – is not only a defense mechanism but a means of reproduction. At zero, it will pop out of Amy’s head and kill her.

The Doctor has Amy close her eyes, which stops the countdown and stabilizes her. Amy can’t open her eyes, so the Doctor sets a course to help cure her. The Doctor, River, and Octavian leave Amy with the Clerics, and the Doctor asks her to trust him and remember what he told her when she was a little girl.

His appearance is slightly different here. There’s a significant jump in time for that one moment.

En route to the flight deck, the Doctor learns that River is in Octavian’s custody and that she’s a prison in the Stormcage Containment Facility. If this mission succeeds, she’ll earn credit toward a pardon. While River tries to open the door to the primary flight deck, the Doctor considers the anomalies he has recently noticed, from the duckless duck pond in Leadworth and Amy’s inability to remember the Dalek invasion of Earth to the lack of any mention of the CyberKing in Victorian London in the history books. River’s scanner reveals that a temporal explosion will occur on June 26, 2010 and cause the cracks. It will happen in Amy’s time.

Back at Amy’s location, the Angels start disrupting the lights by breaking the cybernetic trees, but a bright burst of light apparently scares the Angels away. Amy glances at the light and notes that it is the same shape as the crack in her wall. As the Clerics investigate the light, all memory of them is erased, and Amy notes this with Marco, the last remaining Cleric.

River opens the door, but Octavian waits for the Doctor to go through. Unfortunately, he’s immediately trapped by an Angel. Realizing that there’s no way out for him, Octavian reveals that River is in prison for murder and that the Doctor cannot trust her. The Doctor reluctantly leaves Father Octavian, hearing his neck snap as he ducks into the flight deck where River is working on a teleport.

Marco leaves Amy to scout the light and disappears from time. The Doctor makes contact with her and turns her communicator into a homing beacon tied to his sonic screwdriver. She has to move before the time energy in the crack catches up with her and erases her from existence. Step by step, she makes her way toward the Doctor, but she trips over a root and falls. The Angels, running from the crack, find Amy but do not attack because they think that she can see them. They realize that she’s effectively blind and converge on her, but River saves her in the nick of time with the teleport.

As the ships runs low on power, the door to the forest opens to reveal all of the Angels snarling at the survivors. The Angel Bob demands that that the Doctor throw himself into the crack in order to save them, but the Doctor has other plans. As the artificial gravity fails, the Angels fall backward into the crack, erasing the lot of them. The crack seals behind them.

Pretty much just like Doomsday.

Later on, the Doctor and Amy sit on a beach and muse about the crack and her newfound status as a time traveler. The Doctor discusses River’s prison sentence with her, but she won’t reveal who she killed. She promises, however, that he’ll see her again when the Pandorica opens. The Doctor dismisses it as a fairy tale, and as Amy bids her farewell, River is transported to the prison ship that has just arrived.

Once they’re back on the TARDIS, Amy requests that the Doctor take her home. Not to stop traveling, of course, but to show him what she’s running from. In her bedroom, five minutes after they first left, she tells the Doctor about her engagement to Rory. She also makes advances on the Doctor, but he vehemently refuses. He also realizes that everything wrong with the universe is tied to her.

The date of the temporal explosion is Amy’s wedding day.

The Doctor pushes Amy back into the TARDIS and takes off.


The last time that we saw River Song was at her death. All we knew was that the Doctor would come to trust her enough to tell her his true name. So, the Doctor’s adversarial attitude toward River is understandable, especially considering how she flaunts her knowledge of him, placing him at a severe disadvantage.

The development of the River/Doctor relationship and mythology is fun to watch, as is the interplay between Amy and River. Those two are peas in a pod. We also get some hints of the future with River being incarcerated for killing the best man that she knew and his future/her past meeting at the Pandorica.

Steven Moffat loves his foreshadowing.

One of the biggest mistakes in this story comes with the Weeping Angels. I love the creeping horror they bring to this story, and I do like the expansion of their powers from an image being an extension of their selves to being able to possess someone through the quantum lock defense.

The mistake comes from allowing them to move on camera. One of Blink‘s biggest selling points was using the camera’s point-of-view as an observer, and it held true here until that single moment in the forest with Amy. In that moment, the Angels lost their power with me. They became just another Doctor Who monster.

The second big mistake in this story is the treatment of Amy. From The Beast Below until now, she’s been a competent and intelligent companion. In the last few minutes of this story, however, her integrity plummeted as she pushed for sex with the Doctor. With her wedding dress hanging mere feet from her bed, she actually contemplated cheating on her fiancé.

It’s an unfortunate and anger-inducing development for her. Steven Moffat later walked it back, but the scene was a terrible idea from the start.

Now, there is some nice consistency across the franchise with this story, from the Doctor being miffed that someone else can drive the TARDIS better than him (The Ribos Operation) to the Doctor showing affection to his companions before leaving them for a few moments (The War Games/Colony in Space).

Overall, this is a really good suspense thriller that covers a lot of ground in the ongoing universe building. The thing that really knocks this from being fantastic is the downturn for Amy’s character.

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Vampires of Venice

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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #201: Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead

Doctor Who: Silence in the Library
Doctor Who: Forest of the Dead
(2 episodes, s04e08-e09, 2008)

 

Seriously, though, who turned out the lights?

 

Silence in the Library

We open on a therapy session with a little girl and Doctor Moon. She describes an immense library in her dreams, a place devoid of all human life. Her vision is interrupted by a pounding at the library door. The door bursts open to reveal the Doctor and Donna. They barricade the door with a book and ask if they can stop for a bit.

Okay, let’s rewind.

The TARDIS materializes in a 51st-century library, which is actually an entire world of books. It’s not a Sunday, the Doctor claims, as Sundays are boring. Donna picks up a volume, but Doctor tells her not to spoil her future. He’s also perplexed as the Library is silent.

Dead silent.

The worldwide computer system only detects the Doctor and Donna as humanoid lifeforms, but registers a million million lives in other forms. That’s one trillion souls, or roughly 125 times Earth’s population in early 2020. Donna presumes that the books may be alive before seeking out a courtesy node to unravel the mystery. There they find a message from the head librarian to run. A second message tells them to count the shadows if they want to live.

The Doctor is intrigued and warns Donna to stay out of the shadows.

They move into the stacks where the Doctor reveals that he was summoned to the Library by a message on the psychic paper. They are chased out by the approaching darkness as the lights switch off. The Doctor sonics the door – not the wood part, obviously – before Donna takes matters into her own soles and kicks the door down.

We’re back where we started, except the little girl is a floating camera. The Doctor analyzes it, which causes the girl pain as the sonic buzzes, but she’s able to warn the travelers that “others are coming.” Donna asks the courtesy node in the room for help – distracted by the human-like face which was donated to the Library like a memorial park bench – before the Doctor notes the moving shadows without origins in the room with them.

The door blows open and people in spacesuits arrive. One of them turns on her face-lamp and smiles at the Doctor with two words: “Hello, sweetie!”

The expedition is staffed with archaeologists who remove their helmets but pretty much ignore the Doctor’s warnings until he points out that the way they came is now shrouded in darkness. The expedition is funded by the Lux Corporation, and one of the team members – Strackman Lux – is a descendant of the family that built the Library.

The Doctor identifies the problem as the Vashta Nerada, carnivorous creatures who hunt in the shadows. The team sets to work as River pulls “pretty boy” Doctor aside. She’s the one who called him, but he doesn’t know who she is. She consults a TARDIS-styled diary and asks him about milestones in his life, but the Doctor hasn’t yet encountered them. In fact, this is the first time that they’ve met. Well, the first time that he’s met her.

The team is interrupted by the ringing of a phone, which is happening in the point-of-view of the little girl. Her father ignores it because he can’t hear it, so she eventually reaches for it. The ringing stops as soon as she touches it. Moments later, the Doctor hacks into her television and makes contact, but the link is soon lost.

The Doctor tries to re-establish contact, momentarily reaching for River’s diary before she tells him that his own rules forbid it. Books fly about the room as the little girl presses buttons on her remote, and Donna consoles Miss Evangelista, Lux’s assistant and the expedition members who is alienated because she’s the stereotypical pretty and dumb one.

The Doctor spots the word CAL on the monitor and asks Lux about it, but he won’t speak about it since the Doctor didn’t sign the expedition contract. River didn’t sign it either, and she shares the confidential bit with him: “4022 saved. No survivors.”

There were exactly 4022 people in the Library when it went silent.

While they discuss the message, Miss Evangelista is ignored and wanders off. Her scream draws the rest of the team, but she’s already been reduced to mere bones. Moments later, she “ghosts,” which is her last moment trapped in the neural relays of the suit communicators. It lasts for an indeterminate amount of time after death until the footprint on the beach fades in the tide.

Donna takes it especially hard since Evangelista asks for her specifically. The Doctor implores Donna to help her pass, and soon the pattern degrades into a loop and she’s gone. River pulls the plug as the Doctor consoles his companion.

River wants a word with the predator that killed one of her crew, and the Doctor offers to introduce them. Using a lunch from River’s pack, he hunts for the Vashta Nerada while River talks to Donna about her relationship with the Time Lord. River recognizes her as Donna Noble, but specifically by her absence.

Meanwhile, Dr. Moon tells the little girl that, given the difference between the real world and her nightmares, her nightmares are the reality and only she can save the team from the shadows.

The Doctor finds the Vashta Nerada and throws a chicken leg into the darkness. Only a bone remains. They are everywhere, like the dust in a sunbeam, but the only way to survive them is to run. Donna spots a potential way out, but the Doctor stops them. It seems that one of the team members, Proper Dave, has two shadows, one of which is being used to keep him fresh. The Doctor has the team don their helmets and alters their suits. River helps with her own advanced sonic screwdriver.

The Doctor uses a teleporter to send Donna back to the TARDIS, but her signal is intercepted. Meanwhile, the second shadow has moved into the victim’s suit. His visor goes pitch black – “Hey, who turned out the lights!?” – before he’s consumed from within. His helmet light is restored to reveal a skull as he attacks the Doctor. The team is cornered as the swarm in a suit expands its shadows, and River blows open a wall with a “squareness gun” to escape.

The little girl has a message: “Donna Noble has been saved.”

The team takes a rest and the Doctor amplifies the lights in the stacks. He notes that River’s sonic is similar to his, and she tells him that she got it from him. The Doctor realizes that Donna never reached the TARDIS, and he finds a courtesy node with her face on it.

In horror, the node repeats “Donna Noble has left the Library. Donna Noble has been saved.” The tension ratchets as the lights go out and the swarm in the suit approaches.

 

Forest of the Dead

River blows a hole through the stacks and the team escapes as the little girl watches their progress on her television. She also watches a medical show where Donna is taken by ambulance and rehabilitated over two years by Dr. Moon. In this reality, the facility is named CAL and the adventures were only a dream. Donna meets man named Lee, gets married, and has two kids over the next seven years. The image is interrupted as the Doctor tries to break through the signal.

The survivors find a new room. They’re surrounded by the Vashta Nerada, and as the Doctor scans for a way out, Donna professes her faith in the Doctor to get her team out of this scrape. When the Doctor’s screwdriver isn’t enough, River offers hers. It precipitates an “old married couple” squabble before River whispers something in his ear to prove herself.

Energized, the Doctor tries to figure out what new signal is interfering with his screwdriver. They determine that the moon – the “doctor moon”, a planetary anti-virus – is the source. While the Doctor tries to figure it out, team member Anita gains a second shadow. They’re suddenly visited by Proper Dave’s animated corpse and are back on the run.

In Dr. Moon’s reality, Donna tries to figure out what’s going on. She’s visited by a cloaked figure who leaves a letter stating that the world is wrong and asking her to meet at a local playground. Donna goes the next day and learns that time progresses differently in this dream state. Her visitor is what remains of Miss Evangelista. They are the Dead of the Library.

On the run, the Doctor tries to reason with the Vashta Nerada, asking them for a dialogue. They typically hunt in forests, but hatched in the Library. The Doctor argues that there are no trees in the Library, but then realizes that they’re standing in a forest of dead trees. The Other Dave is consumed, but the Doctor escapes from a trap of Daves by using a trap door as sunset approaches.

River laments that the Tenth Doctor is not her Doctor. This version isn’t yet done cooking, but hers could make armies run with a glance and open the TARDIS with a snap of his fingers. The Tenth Doctor arrives with a word – “Spoilers!” – and figures out what saved means in the context of the Library.

At the moment of the Vashta Nerada hatching, the Library evacuated the 4022 survivors in the only way that it could. It saved them to the hard drive, ready to be transmitted when the time was right. Donna is in that same condition, but Evangelista gained considerable knowledge when her signal was warped on transmission. Evangelista brings up the word CAL, but the little girl fights to keep that secret, including removing her father from the world and setting the planetary autodestruct. That act could “crack the planet like an egg.”

Dr. Moon tries to talk her down, but the girl deletes him as well. Luckily, Lux offers to take them to the secret of CAL at the planet’s core. The team of four descends on a gravity platform.

Meanwhile, Donna’s world is fragmenting.

When the team reaches the core, they hear the computer – the little girl – asking for help. The Doctor tries to wake it up because it is dreaming of a normal life. Lux reveals that it is driven by a courtesy node with the girl’s face, and her name is CAL. Charlotte Abigail Lux, Mr. Lux’s grandfather’s youngest daughter, was dying of an incurable disease. She was preserved in the Library with an imaginary world of every tale ever told to live in.

Now she’s suffering from four thousand people in her mind.

The Doctor proposes building another processor to transfer the consciousness into, deciding to use his mind as the vessel despite River’s protests that it will burn him alive without hope of regeneration. He also notices that Anita has been eaten. The Doctor threatens the Vashta Nerada, telling them to look him up in their forest. They withdraw for one day.

Then River sucker punches him.

He wakes up handcuffed, out of reach of the sonic screwdrivers with River on the transfer platform. He trusted her because she knew his real name – it was what she whispered in his ear – and she tells him about their last night together in a future incarnation. About all of the time that they spent together. That they will spend together.

But she refuses to tell him anything else. The countdown ends and she completes the circuit. Four thousand twenty-two people are saved, rematerialized in the Library, but River Song is dead.

Later, the Doctor and Donna are reunited, both mourning lost loves that they barely knew. They take hands and walk to the balcony where they discuss Donna’s future over River’s diary. Together, they decide that peeking at the end would be spoiling the adventure, and they walk away.

“He just can’t do it, can he? That man. That impossible man. He just can’t give up.”

River’s diary and screwdriver are left behind, but only for a moment until he realizes that her echo remains in the sonic. He grabs it and dives into the planet’s core, sprinting to the computer and plugging in the sonic. River’s essence is uploaded into Dr. Moon’s virtual reality and she is reunited with her expeditionary team.

Triumphant, the Time Lord returns to the TARDIS. He opens the doors with a snap and a smile, and River reads her children a bedtime story with a happy ending: It was a special day, one where the Doctor came to call. It was a day when everybody lived.

 

So much energy, so much talent, so much fun. This is the episode that makes me just a little bit scared of the dark.

The acting and the story are an elegant concert with this story. We have Donna’s joy as her dreams become reality in Dr. Moon’s virtual space, contrasted by her anguish as they disintegrate before her eyes. River tries to balance the conflict between her confidence and faith that the Doctor will triumph, even considering the looming foreshadowing of her own death, and her sorrow that he’s not quite the man that she knew. The Doctor has to keep his own scales in check between saving the innocent and solving a mystery of his own future.

Every one of those plates keeps spinning as the tension continues to ratchet. The two twists in this well-crafted tale – the supposedly useless character becomes a critical piece of the puzzle while the young girl’s story is really at the core of the entire thing – were well concealed underneath the character drama.

We get a lot of nods to the history of the franchise hidden in the stacks: There was an operating manual for the TARDIS, Origins of the Universe, The French Revolution, A Journal of Impossible Things, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (written by former writer and script editor Douglas Adams), Everest in Easy Stages, and Black Orchid.

We also get another crack at the Doctor’s true name, a question that hearkens back to the early days of Doctor Who and has threaded throughout the years in An Unearthly ChildSilver NemesisThe Girl in the FireplaceThe Shakespeare Code, and The Fires of Pompeii thus far.

This continues Steven Moffat’s theme of childhood fears – Blink had statues that came to life, The Girl in the Fireplace highlighted monsters under the bed, and The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances tackled the fear of war – but we also get a taste of what’s to come from his upcoming run as producer with reference to River as a clever girl. That word is one of his favorites in this universe.

It also highlights his pattern of not letting characters die. That will come back to haunt his run.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Midnight

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.