Timestamp #227: Night Terrors

Doctor Who: Night Terrors
(1 episode, s06e09, 2011)

Timestamp 227 Night Terrors

The Doctor makes a house call.

It’s nighttime and time for little George to go to bed. Unfortunately, he’s afraid to do so. His mom flips the lights five times to ward off evil and tells the boy to put his fears in his cupboard. He also whispers a plea to the heavens, “Please save me from the monsters,” before he heads to bed. While George’s parents worry that he needs a doctor, the plea reaches the psychic paper and the Doctor sets a course.

The TARDIS materializes on the street below and the Doctor and the Ponds head up to find George’s apartment. As the group splits up, they encounter several interesting characters including the elderly Mrs. Rossiter, landlord Jim Purcell, and a mother and her creepy twin daughters. Every one of them are suspicious and slam the door on their traveling visitors.

George overhears Rory joking about the monsters eating the kid, but the Doctor notices when George peeks through the window. The Doctor sends the Ponds on a wild goose chase while he goes to meet George alone. The Ponds end up in an elevator that plummets to the ground and spirits them away. Similarly, Mrs. Rossiter is taken away as she’s consumed by a garbage pile.

George’s father Alex mistakes the Doctor for a social worker. Alex insists that George is “scared to death of everything” and explains that they established the tradition of putting everything scary into the cupboard. When George startles at the sound of the elevator, he meets the Doctor. The Time Lord takes the opportunity to ask about the monsters.

The Ponds wake up in the dark. Rory thinks that they’re dead (or that they’ve time traveled) but they’re really in a dark and rather peculiar house. They find an electric lantern and a wooden pan designed to look like a copper one. They also find a giant glass eye in a drawer. As things get curiouser and curiouser, they get even more unnerved, especially by the strange giggling.

The Doctor tries to communicate with George, even to the point of opening the cupboard before a knock at the door interrupts them. Landlord Jim and his dog arrive to badger Alex about the money he owes, offering the Doctor the chance to use his sonic screwdriver. This both comforts George and allows the Doctor to scan the cupboard. What the Doctor finds in the scan rattles him. Jim leaves and Alex offers to open the cupboard, but the Doctor tells him to stop. George’s monsters are indeed real.

Alex is furious at the Doctor’s actions, but the Doctor is not swayed.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Rossiter is revealed to be alive in the mysterious house. The Ponds look for a way out but only seem to be getting closer to the eerie giggles. They open a door and find a child-like wooden doll with a large Funko Pop-like head. As they walk away, the doll creaks to life.

The Doctor finally decides to open the cupboard. When he does, he finds a host of items but nothing nefarious. At the same time, Landlord Jim is swallowed by his apartment floor. The Doctor has a bout of inspiration and quizzes Alex about George’s birth, but Alex can’t remember it. In fact, he blurts out that Claire can’t have children.

The answer lies with George.

The cupboard springs to life with bright lights, pulling the Doctor and Alex into the mysterious house. There, the Ponds watch as a creepy doll transforms Landlord Jim into a similar doll. The Doctor recognizes the house as a dollhouse, a psychic repository for all of George’s fears, and starts looking for a way out with Alex in tow. Luckily, Alex finds a pattern in the lights: They cycle on and off in fives.

Amy is captured and transformed by the dolls. The dolls also find the Doctor and Alex, but the sonic screwdriver is useless against wood. As he and Alex run, the Doctor realizes that George is a Tenza, an alien species that are like cuckoo birds. They find foster parents and adapt perfectly into what their parents want as their child, and George instinctively sought out Claire and Alex because they were unable to have kids. When something startled him, he started this subconscious cycle of fear.

The Doctor pleads with George to end the cycle, but he realizes that the fear is based on Alex’s rejection of George. When George calls for help and the dolls swarm him, Alex instinctively springs into action and promises to protect him. This breaks the cycle and releases the captives.

The Ponds arrive in the elevator, Mrs. Rossiter emerges from the trash pile, and Landlord Jim wakes up on the floor with his dog. As Claire arrives home from work, she finds Alex and George laughing and giggling with the Doctor. Claire is amazed at the change, but the Doctor asks her to trust him. The Time Lord reassures Alex that everything will be okay before reuniting with the Ponds and returning to the TARDIS.

As they set a course for their next destination, the time and place of the Doctor’s death appears on the monitors, accompanied by a nursery rhyme:

“Tick, tock, goes the clock, even for the Doctor…”


On the one hand, this was a fun little story with a neat twist. Unfortunately, that twist comes with one of the weakest but most often employed tools in the Steven Moffatt era’s arsenal: The Doctor being the smartest character in the room.

As I’ve said before, the story loses its power and magic when the answers are just handed to the audience, and this is no exception. There were no indications in the narrative that George was the source of the problem aside from the five-light pattern. There was also no introduction of the Tenza or any other “cuckoo bird” analogues, making the revelation about George simply something that the Doctor yanked from thin air (or any applicable orifice). The same can be said about the dollhouse setting.

In fact, I checked. The Tenza have never been mentioned before this story, and they have never been mentioned again to this point. (And, no, the mention of Sherpa Tenzing wasn’t relevant at all.)

It’s not smart storytelling. In fact, it’s lazy, sloppy, and irritating. Part of the fun in any mystery is the ability for the audience to solve it. Without the very basis to reach the revelation, the audience is merely along for the ride.

There were some minor bright spots. As a fan of Poltergeist, I liked the parallel when the Doctor and Alex are sucked into the cupboard. I also liked how George’s message on the psychic paper was so strong that it persisted and both Rory and the Doctor could read it.

I also liked the fanciful listing of the Doctor’s favorite childhood tales: The Emperor Dalek’s New Clothes (a play on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes), The Three Little Sontarans (a play on The Three Little Pigs), and Snow White and the Seven Keys to Doomsday (a play on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the 1970s stageplay Doctor Who and the Daleks in Seven Keys to Doomsday, and the 2008 audio adaptation Seven Keys to Doomsday).

Note that The Emperor Dalek’s New Clothes contradicts the claims that the First Doctor didn’t know of the Daleks before The Daleks. Also note Rule #1: The Doctor lies.

But, in the end, these little nuggets of fun can’t override a terribly constructed story. Especially one that insults the audience by pulling the rug out from under them.

Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”


UP NEXT – Torchwood: The Blood Line

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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 #224: The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People

Doctor Who: The Rebel Flesh
Doctor Who: The Almost People
(2 episodes, s06e05-06, 2011)

Timestamp 224 The Rebel Flesh The Almost People

Send in the clones.

The Rebel Flesh

In a dark and creepy island fortress, workers Jennifer, Buzzer, and Jimmy enter a room with a large vat. While wearing protective suits, they analyze the acid within. Buzzer teases Jennifer who knocks him into the vat. They seem nonplussed as Buzzer melts away, but moments later they encounter him in the corridor.

Buzzer claims that he could file for worker’s compensation for the accident. After all, these bodies cost money.

On the TARDIS, Amy and Rory play darts while the Doctor obsesses over Amy’s ambiguous scan. The Doctor offers to drop the duo for fish and chips, but they refuse to go without him. The TARDIS takes a hit from a solar tsunami, and while they think they’re about to crash, the time capsule lands with a soft thud. They’ve arrived at the mysterious island, which turns out to be a 13th-century monastery. However, it’s in a more modern era since the tones of Dusty Springfield are echoing through the complex.

They spot some mysterious piping and some old acid on the handrails. The Doctor sets off an intruder alarm and the trio runs into a chamber where they meet the security team. Duplicates of the same team are resting in harnesses on the wall. The Doctor convinces the foreman, Miranda Cleaves, that he’s a meteorological supervisor and requests to see their most critical system.

Enter the Flesh. It’s a fully programmable matter that can replicate any living organism. The workers’ duplicates are called Gangers, and they are controlled by the minds in the harnesses. The Doctor analyzes the vat of Flesh, noting that it’s scanning him. Meanwhile, Miranda orders Jennifer into the empty harness as a new Ganger is to be made of her. Within moments, a fully functioning clone is made. All the while, another powerful solar storm is bearing down on the island.

Since the facility runs on solar power, the storm will potentially overload and destroy the island. The Doctor attempts to protect everyone but is knocked unconscious along with everyone on the island. The TARDIS is trapped in the wash from a broken acid pipe and sinks into the ground.

As everyone recovers, Rory finds Jennifer in a state of shock and comforts her. Miranda claims that the Gangers should have disincorporated when the power went out, but the group soon discovers that the storm has given them independence and self-sustaining power. The team is shocked, but the Doctor suggests that they’ve given birth to a new form of life.

During the discussion, Jennifer falls ill and rushes to the restroom. Rory joins her, but they both soon discover that Jennifer is a Ganger. The Doctor also discovers that Miranda is a Ganger when she handles a hot bowl but isn’t burned. These Gangers are in flux, not quite Flesh and not quite formed.

As Miranda runs from the room, the Doctor, Amy, and Dicken run out to find Rory. The Doctor looks at Amy before insisting that the Gangers aren’t violent, but rather scared and angry, and he needs to talk to them. Many of the paths through the monastery are blocked by leaking acid puddles. The Doctor goes to retrieve the TARDIS, Amy goes off alone to find Rory, and Jimmy returns to the dining hall before sending Buzzer and Dicken off to retrieve the acid suits. Unfortunately, the Gangers have gotten to them first.

Rory and Jennifer share a moment as she claims to be just as real as the human who created her, phasing into human form as she emphatically states it. Rory comforts her and gains her trust.

The Doctor finds the TARDIS mostly submerged in the acid-soaked ground, losing his boots in the process. He also scans the vat of Flesh, and when he leaves a mouth forms that says, “Trust me…”

Amy finds herself in a dead-end corridor filled with gas. She sees the Eye-Patch Lady again, then runs into Rory and Jennifer. Rory declares that no one will touch Jennifer. Elsewhere, the Doctor finds the Gangers and the acid suits, and he tries to convince them that they should work with the humans. The discussion is watched from afar by the real Miranda.

Everyone comes together in an attempt to heal the rift, but Miranda has other plans. She crashes the discussion and the Buzzer Ganger ends up dead. The Gangers return to the acid room and both sides declare war. The Doctor suggests that the humans take refuge in the chapel with the Flesh vat since it is highly defensible. Meanwhile, the real Jennifer is trying to find everyone but is attacked. Rory follows her screams as the chapel is sealed.

As the Gangers advance on the chapel, Amy and the Doctor meets someone they did not expect: The Doctor’s Ganger.

The Almost People

The Doctor’s Ganger starts trying to adapt to the Time Lord’s previous regenerations. It shifts through various voices of previous incarnations before settling down as the humans try to barricade the door against the Gangers. The twin Doctors spring into action as Amy notes that the real Doctor has replacement boots from the human workers. The Doctors remind Amy (once again) to breathe before finding an escape route just as the Gangers melt the door.

The Doctors’ team moves through the tunnels but are soon assaulted by a “chokey gas” produced by the interaction of the acid and the monastery’s stone construction. Miranda leads everyone to an evacuation tunnel to escape the gas, eventually reaching the top of the evac tower.

The Gangers muse about their existence and revolution while the Ganger Miranda nurses a growing headache. Reluctantly, Ganger Miranda signs on to Ganger Jennifer’s idea that will finish off the humans.

In the evac tower, Amy questions which Doctor is real, but they both claim to be. Amy definitely sides with the non-Ganger Doctor and the Ganger Doctor wonders if he should be called “John Smith” instead. The Doctors restore power to the evac transmitter and Miranda tries to make contact with the mainland. The Gangers overhear the message, including the request that the Gangers are destroyed when the rescue craft arrive. The Doctors are not pleased by this request.

The Doctor books a phone call for the morning but doesn’t explain why. Meanwhile, Amy spots the Eyepatch Lady again but doesn’t understand why. She finally tells the Doctor about her visions, but the Doctor dismisses it. The Ganger Doctor leaves the room and Amy follows with an apology for questioning his existence. She admits to seeing the Doctor’s death, and the Ganger Doctor snaps, assaulting Amy in the process, because he can hear the single question that Gangers ask when they die: “Why?”

The now-calmed Ganger tries to apologize to Amy but she wants no part of it. The Ganger Doctor explains that the Flesh is growing and wants revenge for all the Gangers that have been decommissioned. The Doctor also heard this, but less faintly than his doppelgänger. Miranda asks the Ganger Doctor to sit down away from Amy.

Rory encounters two Jennifers and tries to distinguish between them. The two women fight and one falls into acid, melting away. Rory presumes that the human Jennifer won the battle because she’s limping and has an acid burn. The pair are spotted on the security cameras and the Doctor sends the Ganger Doctor (with Buzzer) to retrieve them, asking Amy to trust them. Meanwhile, Jennifer uses Rory to turn off the acid cooling systems – something she couldn’t do because it wouldn’t recognize her as human – which will destroy the tower when the acid erupts.

As Jennifer shows Rory a pile of discarded, melted, but still living Gangers, the Ganger Doctor is ambushed by his escort when they find Jennifer’s corpse. Buzzer then finds the Jennifer who was accompanying Rory, herself a Ganger who kills Buzzer.

The human Miranda suffers the same headache as her Ganger, which is likely a blood clot that will slowly kill her. As the humans try to find a way out, the Gangers intercept a message from the rescue team and redirect them, correctly guessing the code word. The humans find Rory and follow him to what he believes is an evacuation route. When Jennifer traps the humans in the acid vat room, the Gangers (including the Ganger Doctor) take a furious Rory away with them.

And then the phone rings.

The Doctor has booked a holo-call with Jimmy’s son. It’s the boy’s birthday, and the Doctor wants Jimmy to experience humanity. When Jimmy runs from the room, overwhelmed by emotion, the other Gangers begin to have a change of heart as well. Jimmy races to save the humans, but he’s too late to save the real Jimmy from being killed by the acid. As Jimmy dies, he asks his Ganger to become him and go home.

Everyone returns to the dining hall where Ganger Jimmy talks to his new son. The Doctor promises that Jimmy is coming home today, then puts a plan in motion to get everyone out. They are pursued by the Ganger Jennifer as she takes a monstrous form, and Dicken sacrifices himself to lock the Ganger out.

The Doctor accurately guessed where the TARDIS will fall through the soil. The survivors pile into the ship, and the Doctor reveals that he and his Ganger swapped shoes to prove that the two were not so different. Amy is shocked and ashamed, and she tells the Doctor that she didn’t think he could be twice the man she thought he was. He replies with a whispered message to Amy, telling her to push, but “only when she tells you to”.

The Doctor gives his Ganger the sonic screwdriver, a device that will destabilize the Flesh. The Gangers Miranda and Doctor open the door and defeat Jennifer at the cost of their own lives.

The survivors board the TARDIS. Exposure to the engines stabilizes the remaining Gangers so they’ll remain true human beings. The Doctor also gives Miranda a cure for her blood clot. Jimmy returns home to his son, and the other survivors are taken to the company’s headquarters to lobby for rights for the Flesh.

The Doctor tells Amy to breathe.

Amy goes into labor. Rory is obviously confused since Amy’s not pregnant.

Back inside the TARDIS, the Doctor orders Rory to stand away from Amy. He does so, and the Doctor explains that the trip to the monastery was not unintentional. He needed to see how the Flesh worked so he could stop the signal…

…to Amy.

He promises her that they will find her. Then he uses the sonic screwdriver to disincorporate her. Amy was Flesh all along.

The real Amy wakes up in a medical capsule, obviously pregnant and dressed in a white hospital gown. A panel slides away above her to reveal the Eyepatch Lady, who tells her to push. Amy screams as her contractions begin.


The return to the creature feature style of Doctor Who is welcome, particularly when it takes on elements of The Thing. I mean, how do you fight a bad guy when the bad guy can look like any of the good guys? More importantly, what distinguishes the bad guys from the good guys when they’re fighting what is essentially a war over race? I absolutely love the allegories, some of which are painfully relevant today, especially when Amy is set back on her heels for problematic viewpoints by the Doctor’s trickery. It’s also important to note the details: Someone you care about can have problematic views, and it is a conscious decision to help them overcome them and forgive them for not seeing the bigger picture beyond their privileges.

The key here is that they have to want to change. The humans wanted to grow and evolve when confronted with their wrongheadedness.

The whole thing is both subtle and beautiful.

The other beautifully played element here is how the Doctor orchestrated the entire trip. He offers to leave the companions behind, gently lands the TARDIS during a brutal storm, analyzes the Flesh as the Gangers are conceived, and repeatedly tells Amy to breathe. Amy’s status as a Ganger was a surprise, but everything leading up to that revelation was telegraphed in minute details. In contrast to other stories where the Doctor has the solution but the story has offered none of it to the viewer, this is a well-crafted tale that provides threads and weaves them along the way without pointing at them with a giant neon sign.

The Doctor has displayed an uncanny knowledge of when his companions aren’t quite right in the past, particularly Rose in New Earth and Martha in The Poison Sky.

The callbacks to franchise mythology were nice touches, from the use of John Smith and a discussion on Cybermats to the Ganger Doctor channeling previous regenerations to stabilize himself. We got bits from An Unearthly ChildThe Sea DevilsThe Robots of Death, and The Girl in the Fireplace before the Ganger short-circuited a bit and spat out “Reverse the jelly baby of the neutron flow” and “Would you like a Doctor?”.

All told, this was a wonderful monster/base defense story with some notable twists. It was also a lot of fun.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: A Good Man Goes to War

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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 #223: The Doctor’s Wife

Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Wife
(1 episode, s06e04, 2011)

Timestamp 223 The Doctors Wife

“Where’s my thief!?”

A woman named Idris is led to a platform by “Auntie”, “Uncle”, and “Nephew”, the last of which is an Ood who drains her mind in preparation for a Time Lord’s arrival.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory are surprised by a knock on the door. Even though they are in deep space, the shave-and-a-haircut routine reveals an emergency hypercube message for the Doctor, presumably sent by another Time Lord named the Corsair. They follow the signal contained within, dumping excess TARDIS rooms for fuel, and break through to another universe.

Almost immediately, the TARDIS goes dark. The matrix – the heart and soul of the TARDIS – has vanished. While the Doctor puzzles over where it would go, Idris awakens with an exhale of golden regeneration energy.

The travelers exit the TARDIS into a junkyard. Luckily, there’s plenty of rift energy so refueling should be easy. On the other hand, the Doctor is accosted by Idris, who presents as an insane woman calling the Time Lord her “thief”. After taking care of Idris, the Doctor turns his attention to the green-eyed Ood. After fixing the Ood’s sphere, it broadcasts a series of interwoven distress messages from various Time Lords. As Auntie and Uncle take Idris back to the House, the Doctor expresses his intrigue at the possible presence of his own people.

In the House, the asteroid is revealed to be sentient. The asteroid tells the Doctor that many TARDISes and Time Lords have come and gone, but there are no others now. The travelers explore a bit. Amy points out that the Doctor is seeking forgiveness from his people. The Doctor sends the companions back to the TARDIS in search of his sonic screwdriver. Once they arrive, the doors lock as a green mist swirls about the phone box. Meanwhile, the Doctor had his sonic the entire time. Cheeky devil.

The Doctor discovers a collection of Time Lord distress signal cubes. He realizes that Auntie and Uncle have been mended over time by the asteroid with parts of the various Time Lords, including the ouroboros-tattooed arm of the Corsair.

Knowing that Idris foretold the Doctor’s discovery, he confronts her. There he finds out that she holds the matrix. She is the personification of the TARDIS. The Doctor releases her and together they determine that House feeds on TARDISes, which it can only do if it removes the matrices first. The Doctor tries to retrieve Amy and Rory from the TARDIS, but the phone box dematerializes with the chiming of the Cloister Bell and heads back to N-Space. Unfortunately for the companions, the House has hijacked the TARDIS.

In the junkyard, Uncle and Auntie collapse as they lose their source of life. Idris herself only has a short time to live but encourages the Doctor to explore the TARDIS junkyard for a way home. When the Doctor asks what he should call her, Idris tells him (much to his chagrin) that he named her “Sexy”.

House asks why he shouldn’t just kill the humans. Rory stalls for time by suggesting that they could provide entertainment. House agrees, prompting them to run for their lives through the corridors in a series of nightmare scenarios.

As the Doctor assembles a TARDIS from spare parts, he and Idris argue. The discussion ranges from how police box doors open outward (“Pull to Open”, which actually refers to the phone compartment), how the TARDIS always takes the Doctor where he needs to go, the Time Lord’s fascination with “strays”, and how the TARDIS wanted to travel so she stole the Doctor to take her on an adventure.

With a kiss to the time rotor, the patchwork TARDIS console room dematerializes and gives chase. Idris sends “the pretty one” a set of telepathic directions to one of her old console rooms. Rory leads Amy to the archived desktop of the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s console room. There they lower the TARDIS’s shields but are pursued by Nephew. Just in time, the patchwork console materializes in the archived console room and vaporizes the Ood, marking another one that the Doctor failed to save.

After introductions are made, Idris collapses and House muses about ways to kill the Doctor and his companions. The Doctor gives House instructions on how to get the TARDIS back to N-Space, but when House starts deleting rooms for the journey, it inadvertently invokes a failsafe that protects living things from being deleted with the rooms. As the travelers materialize in the real console room, House suggests that they should fear him since he’s killed Time Lords before and won’t hesitate to do it again.

The Doctor replies that House should fear him. He’s killed all of them.

The Doctor stalls for time as he points out the concept of trapping the matrix in a human body. The goal was to get the matrix as far as possible from the console room, but House has brought the matrix home. With her last breath, Idris releases the matrix. It swirls about and reintegrates with the TARDIS, overriding and consuming House.

As a last gift, the TARDIS speaks through Idris. She remembers the word that she’s been searching for – “alive” – and tells him the one thing she’s never been able to say: “Hello, Doctor. It’s so very very nice to meet you.” In a bright flash of light, Idris disappears, offering her final words of “I love you” to her companion.

Some time later, the Doctor installs a firewall around the matrix. Rory tells him that Idris’s final words to him were, “The only water in the forest is the river,” which she believed that they needed to know for the future. Amy and Rory ask for a new bedroom – preferably one with a double bed instead of bunk beds – since theirs was deleted. He tells them how to get there, then spends some time with the TARDIS console. He asks the ship where she wants to go, even if it’s the Eye of Orion for a little rest and relaxation.

The levers flip on their own accord. The TARDIS sets a course. Adventure awaits.


What a beautiful ride.

When I first saw this episode back in 2011, I was confused by it. The fast pace coupled with rapid-fire references lost me. This time around, however, I relished the experience. The story is well-written and plays off of each of the main characters so nicely, from the Doctor’s desire to be forgiven for his actions in the Last Great Time War to Amy and Rory’s love. The latter of which was actually sold quite well here despite my skepticism of it last season.

The core of this story is the Doctor’s relationship to the TARDIS, which is played beautifully by giving a voice to a consciousness that exists simultaneously across all time and space. The relationship is pretty much that of a married couple, and the TARDIS’s finally expressed love for her companion is one born of their mutual adventures. I love that the TARDIS has archived past console rooms – which presumably means that a blank room is simply formatted with the “desktop” file from previous iterations – and that the TARDIS already knows what rooms are coming up next.

Amusingly, Neil Gaiman has requested that the archive scene feature a classic-era console room, but the budget wasn’t available for that. So, the production team left the coral console room standing for this story. This episode was supposed to air during Series Five but was pushed to this point in time so there was quite a long production lead for it.

The Doctor’s TARDIS also is pretty explicit about the nature of other time capsules. The Time Lords have previously treated them as nothing more than machines or vehicles, but Idris refers to her dead siblings as sisters. That matches well with nautical traditions of referring to all ships as female, but also gives us insight into the culture of the TARDISes overall.

This story featured the Doctor piloting a TARDIS other than his own for the first time on screen – at this point in time, Shada had not yet been completed – and that patchwork ship was the creation of 12-year-old Susannah Leah for a Blue Peter contest, complete with safety straps on the console (hello, Timelash!). The Doctor previously traveled with only the TARDIS console in Inferno. This story was also the first one since Horror of Fang Rock to kill every character except the Doctor and the companions.

Neil Gaiman reached way back for some of the elements here. We first (and last) saw the hypercube in The War Games, last saw the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits used to mess with the companions in The Edge of Destruction, and found the Doctor rebuilding the TARDIS in both The Claws of Axos and The Horns of Nimon. Lest we forget the concept of jettisoning rooms on the TARDIS, which we’ve seen on at least three occasions (Logopolis, Castrovalva, and Paradise Towers), or the idea of tricking the villain into fixing the TARDIS (ala Frontios).

It’s obvious that he’s a fan of the show and has done his homework.

He also deliberately provided the first confirmation in the franchise mythology that Time Lords can change gender during regeneration. I covered many of the reasons why this was a brilliant and easily defensible concept when Jodie Whittaker was announced as the Thirteenth Doctor, and I still stand by it. Gaiman’s choice of the ouroboros – the snake eating its own tail, a symbol for eternity – for the Corsair’s personal emblem was a great representation of both Time Lord culture and the nature of Doctor Who.

This story is just amazing as a franchise game-changer and ode to the show’s history. To call it fantastic is an understatement, but it’s the highest choice I have.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Rebel Flesh and Doctor Who: The Almost People

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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 #222: The Curse of the Black Spot

Doctor Who: The Curse of the Black Spot
(1 episode, s06e03, 2011)

Timestamp 222 The Curse of the Black Spot

Yo ho ho… or does nobody actually say that?

Prequel

Captain Henry Avery writes in his journal onboard the seagoing vessel Fancy. The ship has been stranded for eight days due to a lack of wind, so all they can do is wait for the wind to return. Unfortunately, they are tasked by an enemy who comes from the still ocean and takes members of the fearful crew. Captain Avery feels an evil presence watching him and longs for the wind to return, but he fears that they are all doomed to die.

The Curse of the Black Spot

On a bleak ocean, sailors quietly return to their ship. A man with a minor cut is taken to Captain Henry Avery, who declares that the man is doomed based on the black spot on his palm. As a song rises outside the captain’s cabin, the doomed man is sent out. He screams and vanishes.

When the crew investigate, noting that the disappearance is the same as all the others, they discover some stowaways: The Doctor, Amy, and Rory. They picked up a distress call from the Fancy, but decide to dispose of the new arrivals. After all, this ship has been stranded in the doldrums for eight days.

Amy is sent below while Rory and the Doctor are prepared to walk the plank. Amy finds a sword and basic pirate garb which she uses to come to the rescue. A battle ensues and Amy nicks one of the crewmen. The captain explains that one drop of blood marks a man for death as Rory tries to catch a wayward sword and gets injured.

The song rises again and Rory begins to act strangely. The ocean glows as a spectral woman rises from the water and glides across the deck. He song beckons the wounded crewman, but when he touches the woman he disintegrates. Amy tries to stop her from taking Rory and is blasted across the deck, and everyone takes refuge below decks.

The captain calls the being a siren, declaring the Fancy to be cursed. Another crewman is injured, this time by a leech, and the siren manifests and takes the crewman. The Doctor analyzes the remains with his sonic screwdriver and concludes that the siren travels by using water as a portal.

The survivors takes refuge in the gunroom, away from the water, where they discover another stowaway. This one is the captain’s son, who wanted to join the crew and be a sailor like his father. Toby also has the black spot despite not being injured, but he is ill. The captain drapes his protective medallion around Toby’s neck and sets off with the Doctor to visit the TARDIS.

The remaining crewman decide to mutiny. In the process, they reveal their true nature as pirates to Toby. Toby demands that they stay loyal to Captain Avery, wounding the boatswain in the process. Mulligan, the other rebellious sailor, takes off on his own.

In the TARDIS, things go awry and the time capsule ends up taking off on its own, shrouded in a similar light as the siren’s portals. The Doctor and the captain encounter Mulligan during their escape. Mulligan burns his hand and is taken by the siren, but there is no water in the room. The Doctor determines that water is not the key, but treasure is. Specifically, the reflection on polished metal.

The Doctor and the captain rush back to the gunroom to retrieve the medallion. The Doctor then sets to breaking every reflective surface on the ship, including throwing the treasure overboard. Everyone hides out in the gunroom to wait out the doldrums.

Captain Avery and Toby have a heart to heart discussion while Amy has another vision of the mysterious woman with the eyepatch. The captain joins the Doctor on deck for a muse. The Doctor then returns to the cabin where Amy almost breaks the news of her visions but is interrupted by a sudden storm.

While the group prepares to get underway, Toby inadvertently sends the remaining treasure to the deck. The reflection summons the siren which then takes Toby. In the confusion, Rory falls overboard and the Doctor deliberately releases the siren to take him. The Doctor then persuades the captain, Amy, and Rory to prick their fingers and summon the siren. In short order, they all vanish.

They awaken on the deck of an alien spacecraft. It is trapped in a temporal rift intersecting with the Fancy. The reflections are the portals bridging the two vessels, and the alien spacecraft was the source of the distress call. The trio explores the ship and determine that the crew was killed by human bacteria. They discover the taken crewmen, Rory, and the TARDIS in the sickbay. The humans are all attached to life support systems and are being monitored by the siren. The Doctor figures out that the siren is a virtual doctor that has been looking after the injured.

Amy pleads with the program to release Rory and the intelligence signs him over to her care. Unfortunately, this leaves Rory in a precarious position. If he doesn’t leave, he will spend eternity on the ship, but if he goes with Amy he will die from drowning. The Doctor tells Avery that the same holds true for Toby. The boy has typhoid fever and will die within months of leaving the ship.

Rory tells Amy how to perform CPR, which she uses to resuscitate him after disconnecting him from the machines. Meanwhile, Captain Avery decides to take command of the spacecraft and look after his son and crew among the stars.

The TARDIS flies through the vortex. Amy and Rory go to bed after their harrowing adventure. The Doctor still puzzles over Amy’s medical scan.

Is she pregnant or is she not?


On the one hand, this story reaches back to the origins of the franchise. Back in The Smugglers, Captain Samuel Pike and a band of former Fancy crewmen were searching for Captain Avery’s treasure when they encountered the First Doctor. The humorous part is the coincidence of it all. Episode writer Steve Thompson had no idea of the character’s history. He merely looked through his son’s book about pirates, found the story of the real-world Henry Avery, and went to work.

The episode is also notable for its low body count. In fact, none of the guest roles were killed off and there was no real villain of the story. I also enjoyed the War of the Worlds twist with the ship being stranded because the crew was killed by exposure to human microbes. Science fiction doesn’t use that plot device very often even though it should be a real concern between alien biomes.

There’s another nod to the classic era in this story, specifically Inferno and the green mark that preceded mutation.

It was quite fun to see Hugh Bonneville in a different role than what I’m used to from him (Downton Abbey, Paddington, and Tomorrow Never Dies, specifically) and while I thought that I recognized Lily Cole, the only thing on her IMDb profile that I’ve seen is Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

On the other hand, the story itself was not particularly engaging. While the frantic storytelling nature worked well in the previous story, it felt like it was merely connecting the dots because the pacing just wasn’t right for a monster thriller. Worse, the ending in the TARDIS felt tacked on, giving the story the impression of a filler episode. A good part of that may be due to moving this episode and The Doctor’s Wife (next up) from the season’s back half, a decision that was made before this episode’s production was completed in order to serve the mid-season finale.

Which is really a shame because the atmosphere was otherwise perfect for a monster thriller with the claustrophobic nature of being trapped in a sailing ship’s tight quarters and on dead calm waters in the dead of night. Add that to the true magic of the narrative, which evolved from suspense to wonder upon the revelation of the alien ship.

I just wish that the pacing hadn’t killed it.

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


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Wife

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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 #220: A Christmas Carol

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol
(Christmas Special, 2010)

Timestamp 220 A Christmas Carol

Three spirits, a Christmas miracle, and a sonic shark.

A passenger liner is plummeting toward the surface of an unknown turbulent planet. The captain cancels Christmas as she attempts to save the ship, and as she detects a distress signal from the honeymoon suite, Amy and Rory race in wearing their fun costumes of a kiss-o-gram cop and a centurion.

The distress signal they sent summons the Doctor who signals the ship with a simple text: “Come along, Pond.”

On the surface is a village in the throes of a Christmas Eve celebration. The planet and the artificial storm when the cruiseliner is trapped are owned by Karzan Sardick, a wealthy and heartless man who acts as a loanshark through a business he inherited. To secure the the loans, he cryogenically freezes family members of the borrowers as collateral.

As one family begs for their family to be thawed for a day, the Doctor arrives via chimney. Sardick has denied the cruiseliner permission to be rescued, and the Doctor’s attention bounces from the poor family to the storm machine and the frozen girl. Sardick says that the girl is not important, but the Doctor replies that he has never met anyone who wasn’t important.

The machine’s controls are isomorphic and coded to Sardick alone. The Doctor tries to appeal to his better nature, but Sardick ejects the family and the Doctor with a bout of violence. When Sardick refrains from striking the young boy as the family leaves, the Doctor sees a crack in Sardick’s façade.

The Doctor touches base with the Ponds before being warned to seek cover for the night. After all, the fish that swim through the clouds are particularly fervent tonight. The Doctor is inspired by a Christmas carol playing on the loudspeakers and launches a plan to save the cruiseliner.

Sardick awakens to find his dream projected on the wall of his study. When he was twelve, he wanted to film one of the sky fish, but his father punished him by striking the boy and sealing his window. The Doctor plumbs the depths of this memory, then boards the TARDIS and travels back in time to Sardick’s boyhood, right into the film being projected.

Acting as young Sardick’s babysitter, the Doctor decides to make the boy’s dream come true. Using the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor lures a sky fish in through the window while he and Sardick hide in the wardrobe. The boy is interested in seeing the fish because he missed his chance by being sick at school on the day his class got to see them. When the sky fish nibbles on the line, the Doctor leaves the wardrobe to investigate. He surmises that the fish travels on electrical currents generated in the atmosphere’s high water content. His investigation is cut short by a large shark that eats the little fish and chases the Doctor back into the wardrobe.

On the one hand, the Doctor is pleased because he has a better understanding of the clouds and can analyze the readings (once he retrieves his sonic screwdriver from the shark). On the other hand, the shark rams the wardrobe and pins its occupants against the wall. The Doctor bravely dives into the shark and retrieves half the sonic, but he and young Sardick lament the fact that the shark is dying after being out of the clouds for so long.

As a life support measure, the boy takes the Doctor to the vault where all of the collateral is kept. He travels forward briefly to get the code to the door from the older Sardick, then enters the vault with the boy in the past. The shark has followed them, lured by the fog emanating from the open vault. After a brief chase, the shark is lulled to sleep by the song of Abigail Pettigrew, one of the frozen who has been freed.

The Doctor realizes that singing induces a sympathetic harmonic that the fish like, which is the same principle that drives the cloud machine in the future. The Doctor puts the shark in Abigail’s box and takes his new companions on a ride in the TARDIS. Meanwhile, in the future, Abigail’s portrait has appeared on the elder Sardick’s wall. The shark is set free and Abigail is returned to her box with a promise that they will return every Christmas.

Sure enough, the Doctor and Sardick awaken Abigail one year later, unaware of the countdown on her box. They call the shark with the sonic and take a sleigh ride. The tradition continues as Sardick ages and his future self marvels over the new memories, ranging from New York to the Pyramids.

One year, Abigail asks to see her family again. She weeps as she watches her family have the life she can never have, and Sardick consoles her. The Doctor arranges a small celebration with Abigail’s family. Abigail explains her situation and vouches for Sardick’s character, and the group shares a holiday dinner before Abigail returns to her box with a kiss for Sardick.

The next year brings a Hollywood party for the trio. Abigail nearly reveals the truth about her life to Sardick, but they are forced to leave early since the Doctor has inadvertently become engaged to Marilyn Monroe. Abigail knows that there is nothing to be done, and as Sardick returns Abigail to her box, he tells the Doctor that he’d like to break the tradition in favor of working on the cloud machine.

The Doctor is sad that Sardick hasn’t evolved from his future attitudes, but gives the man his broken sonic screwdriver as he leaves. In the future, the portrait reverts from Abigail’s to Sardick’s father. One year later, the Sardicks complete work on the machine, and while the younger man considers calling the Doctor and resuming the tradition, he turns away.

The future Sardick digs the abandoned sonic out of his drawer, rejects another plea from the cruiseliner, and then meets the Ghost of Christmas Present… or rather, Amy’s hologram. She projects the crew and passengers into the vault, singing Silent Night as a further plea for their lives. The Doctor has told Amy about Abigail and Sardick tells her about Abigail’s terminal illness. The countdown has been tracking the number of days Abigail has to leave.

Amy and Rory reverse the transmission to bring Sardick’s hologram to the ship’s bridge. When Sardick is not swayed, he’s returned to the vault to face the Doctor. The Time Lord apologizes, but then brings the cruel man face to face with his twelve-year-old self. The elder’s heart is broken and he apologizes to his younger self.

The elder Sardick attempts to save the ship but the machine no longer recognizes him since he’s changed so much. Sardick flashes the sonic screwdriver and the Doctor realizes that the other half is still in the shark. Unfortunately, to lure the shark, they need Abigail’s song. The Sardicks release her, knowing that her death is imminent, but Abigail is overjoyed to spend one last Christmas with the man she loves.

Abigail’s song is broadcast into the clouds through the sonic screwdriver, drawing the two halves together. The resonance induces a Christmas snow to fall. High above, the cruiseliner stabilizes and everyone aboard celebrates. As the Christmas mood spreads through the village, the Doctor takes the younger Sardick home.

Some time later, the Ponds reunite with the Doctor. The Time Lord rejects a phone call from Marilyn Monroe, absolutely convinced that it wasn’t a real chapel after all. As the travelers depart for their next adventure, Sardick and Abigail sail the skies in a shark-drawn sleigh.


Steven Moffat promised that this holiday story would be the most “Christmassy Christmas special ever” and “all your favourite Christmas movies at once, in an hour, with monsters and the Doctor and a honeymoon.”

Mission accomplished.

There have been countless adaptations of Charles Dickens’s famous novel, and this one adds a Doctor Who flair to the timeless tale. Karzan Sardick takes the Scrooge journey courtesy of the Christmas Ghosts:  The Doctor takes the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past, Amy is the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Sardick himself becomes the Ghost of Christmas Future (or Christmas Yet to Come). In a sense, Abigail fills the roles of Jacob Marley and “Tiny Tim” Cratchit.

The redemption story is touching and drew me in because of the unique take. We get to watch Scrooge evolve and grow as the Doctor brings the trademark love and compassion to bear. The tragedy of the love affair is heartbreaking, played so well by both Michael Gambon and Danny Horn as both versions of Sardick live through the memories. Katherine Jenkins absolutely sells the empathetic Abigail.

I love the nods throughout this celebration. We’ve heard about the Doctor’s friendship with Albert Einstein before (Time and the Rani), the sonic screwdriver gets destroyed (The VisitationSmith and JonesThe Eleventh Hour), the psychic paper once again proves not to be infallible (Army of GhostsThe Shakespeare CodeThe Vampires of Venice), and the Fourth Doctor gets a beautiful yet subtle tribute with long scarves as Abigail’s clock ticks to 004.

I could have sworn that Silent Night had been in Doctor Who before now, but research says that I was wrong.

Finally, I’d be remiss not to note Dumbledore. Okay, okay, not quite the wizard, but definitely Michael Gambon, who was far more sinister here than in his five appearances in the Harry Potter films. I love seeing actors I know in productions and roles that are so different than what I’ve seen from them before, and this was no exception.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Impossible Astronaut & Doctor Who: Day of the Moon

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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 #216: The Hungry Earth & Cold Blood

Doctor Who: The Hungry Earth
Doctor Who: Cold Blood
(2 episodes, s05e08-09, 2010)

Timestamp 216 Hungry Earth Cold Blood

Time travel can be cruel.

The Hungry Earth

In the year 2020, a team led by Dr. Nasreen Chaudhry is engaged in the deepest drilling project in history. This is taking place in Cwmtaff, Wales, and they’re seeking minerals that have appeared recently but haven’t been seen on Earth of over twenty million years.

Mo Northover, the night watchman at the site, heads to work only to be greeted by an earthquake. When his security monitors cut out, he investigates and finds a hole in the floor of the storage area. When it seals up, he reaches through the seal and is dragged inside.

The Doctor, Amy, and Rory land in Cwmtaff shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, they were aiming for Rio de Janeiro. The Doctor is fascinated by the local flora, and Amy spots a version of Amy and Rory from ten years in the future. The Doctor is intrigued by the ground feeling wrong, so he sets out for the nearby mining operation. Rory returns Amy’s ring to the TARDIS and encounters Ambrose and Elliot, Mo Northover’s family. They mistake him for a police officer and ask him to investigate the supposed vandalism of their family plot. One of her deceased relatives has been taken, coffin, body, and all.

The Doctor and Amy arrive at the mining facility where they meet Dr. Chaudhry and Ambrose’s father, Tony Mack. Suddenly, the floor starts to give way and Amy partially falls into one of the holes. The Doctor orders the drilling to stop while he holds on to Amy’s hand. Unfortunately, she slips beneath the surface. The Doctor determines that the earth was bio-programmed to attack when it perceives a threat. He also hears evidence that another drill is at work underground. The minerals and grass were warnings to stay away, and while the team was drilling down, something else was drilling up.

Something is coming now and has erected a forcefield dome over the village.

Rory and Elliot investigate the gravesite. Elliot presumes that the coffin was taken from underneath. They find the Doctor when the dome goes up, and Rory is distraught to learn about Amy’s fate. Ambrose also learns about her husband’s fate as the team move to a nearby church and set up a security network around the village to monitor whatever is coming.

The Doctor also makes inroads with Elliot by trusting the dyslexic boy to make a map of the village.

The attack begins with the dome cutting off all light from the outside world. The electricity is knocked out, disabling the security network. Elliot, who had left to find his headphones, is chased and captured by a reptilian being. The group rushes outside to find him and Ambrose finds his headphones. She is attacked by the being, and when Tony tries to save her, the creature stings him with a venomous tongue. The Doctor sends Ambrose, Tony, and Rory back to the church while he hunts the being with special infrared sunglasses.

He knows who they are.

He and Rory set a trap and capture it, prompting the rest of the intruders to retreat.

Amy awakens in a transparent coffin-like box. She is soon knocked unconscious by gas. Meanwhile, the Doctor talks to his prisoner, identifying her as a Silurian. Her name is Alaya, and he admits that he’s tried to broker peace between humanity and her species numerous times, but has failed mostly due to humanity being uncompromising. Alaya is set on war with humanity, so the Doctor returns to the church to declare his intent to go to the Silurian tribe’s home and negotiate directly with them.

When Tony suggests dissecting Alaya, the Doctor refuses. If they want their loved ones back safely, Alaya must be unharmed. Nasreen asks to go with him, and he refuses at first but finally relents. Her “bigger on the inside” moment in the TARDIS is short-lived, however, when the Silurians drag the ship beneath the surface.

Amy wakes up on a surgical table. Mo is on the table beside hers and warns her that she will be dissected while still alive. Elsewhere, Nasreen and the Doctor find an underground Silurian civilization stretching for miles.

Cold Blood

A Silurian tells the story of how he remembers when he met the Doctor 1000 years ago and the losses that the Time Lord suffered because of the failed attempt to negotiate peace.

The Doctor and Nasreen investigate the Silurian city and trip a security alarm. They are greeted by Silurian warriors who knock them unconscious. Luckily, the security alarm stops the physician from dissecting Amy and she’s able to pickpocket a device to set her and Mo free. They find Elliot in some kind of pod with monitors attached. Amy convinces Mo to keep moving, promising that they’ll get him out.

The Doctor and Nasreen are strapped to surgical tables and decontaminated, causing the Doctor to yell in pain. The process is overseen by Commander Restac, a Silurian who is related to the missing Alaya. The Doctor convinces them to stop the decontamination process since it will kill him. He then discusses terms with Restac as he learns that the drill was destroying the oxygen pockets above the city. Restac decides that instead of negotiating, she’ll execute the intruders instead.

Amy and Mo find two warriors in suspended animation. They take their weapons and stumble across an army. In the church above, Ambrose learns about the poison running through Tony’s veins and starts to treat him. She demands an antidote from Alaya and attacks her with a stun gun. Rory tries to prevent Alaya from dying, but he is unsuccessful. Ambrose is remorseful.

The Doctor tells Nasreen about the history of the Silurians. Restac is surprised, but furious after she learns how humans have killed her kind in the past. When they reach the courtroom, Amy and Mo arrive but are soon disarmed. Restac dismisses Malohkeh and prepares to execute the prisoners. She contacts the humans above to negotiate for Alaya. When she’s unsuccessful, she threatens to execute Amy, but is stopped by Eldane.

Eldane is the Silurian leader, awakened by Malohkeh to stop Restac’s brash actions. The prisoners are freed and the Doctor negotiates a peace, asking the humans above to come down with Alaya. While the Doctor negotiates this temporal tipping point and appoints Nasreen and Amy as ambassadors, Ambrose encourages Tony to reactivate the drill on a timer in case things go wrong.

Mo is reunited with Elliot and the Doctor learns that Malohkeh has been researching humans for a long time. The Doctor apologizes to Elliot, and as they return to the negotiating table, Malohkeh investigates the opening of the cryo-storage facilities. Restac has been awakening the warriors. When Malohkeh discovers this, Restac kills him.

The humans arrive and share their bad news. The Doctor tries to patch things but Ambrose is defiant. At that moment, Restac arrives and finds out what happened. Ambrose reveals that the drill is set and Restac orders her troops to open fire. The humans run with Eldane and end up cornered in a laboratory. The venom in Tony’s blood is reprogramming his DNA, the Doctor and Nasreen develop a plan to destroy the drill, and Eldane decides to use a toxic fumigation to stop Restac’s coup.

The Doctor asks Eldane to set his hibernation chambers to awaken everyone in 1000 years, and then asks the humans to spread the word as religion or rumor. Tony decides to stay behind when he learns the Silurians can cure his wound. Nasreen also opts to remain with Tony, thanking the Doctor for helping her fulfill her dream of seeing the Earth. They will awaken with the Silurians in 1000 years. Everyone else runs for the TARDIS.

When they reach the TARDIS, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory spot another crack in time. The Doctor reaches into the crack and pulls back a piece of shrapnel from the temporal explosion. Restac crawls onto the scene and takes aim on the Doctor, but Rory jumps in front of the blast and dies.

Amy is frantic but the Doctor has no choice but to leave. The crack absorbs Rory and as the Doctor starts the TARDIS into motion, he pleads with Amy to remember Rory before he’s erased from time. She tries, but the TARDIS is jostled as it lands and her concentration is broken. Everyone on the TARDIS rushes outside just in time to see the drill destroyed.

The Doctor tells Ambrose to make up for her actions by raising Elliot to be the best of humanity. The Doctor and Amy return to the TARDIS, and Amy waves at future Amy across the way. She thought she spotted someone else but cannot be sure. As Amy enters the TARDIS, the Doctor takes a look at the shrapnel he pulled from the crack.

It’s a piece of the TARDIS.


This story took the whole ride, from humor and lightheartedness as the Doctor screws up yet another beach trip, to the excitement of revisiting a classic enemy, to the absolute tragedy of killing a companion.

Not just killing a companion, but erasing them from all existence. It was brutal and Amy’s reaction was gut-wrenching. Rory joins Katarina, Sara Kingdom, Adric, Kamelion, K-9, Astrid Peth, Adelaide Brooke, and River Song in an elite and morbid club. Of course, we had to know it was coming as soon as the Doctor emphasizes that the negotiations were a temporal tipping point instead of a fixed point. It also gives a bit of hope that Rory will return somehow.

(Yes, I know he will.)

The return of the Silurians was a welcome touch, especially since we haven’t seen them since 1984, as was the direct nod to the Doctor’s previous attempts to negotiate peace between them and humans. With Doctor Who and the SiluriansThe Sea Devils, and Warriors of the Deep, the Doctor has tried (and failed) to broker peace.

The costuming was superb, echoing back to the armor and net-like garb of previous Silurian appearances. Even more impressive was actress Neve McIntosh and her double-duty performance as both Alaya and Restac. Both characters were unique in appearance and (most importantly) personality. She was magnificent.

The Matt Smith era also continues its tradition of recycling plot points and calling back to franchise touchpoints: the earth was also hungry in Frontios; mining and drilling were critical in both Inferno and The Green Death; the Master used an energy barrier to cutoff a village in The Dæmons; Rory unknowingly duplicated Jenny’s sacrifice in The Doctor’s Daughter; the gravity bubble returned from Victory of the Daleks; the Silurians used the heat ray weapons from Warriors of the Deep; and the Fifth Doctor also called celery an “excellent restorative” in The Caves of Androzani.

The message of this story is also important. We should all aspire to be the best humanity has to offer.

Also, spread the word. As of last year, the Silurians will return in the next millennium.

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Vincent 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.