Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series
by Jef Burnham
Now available on Blu-ray and DVD from BBC Worldwide.
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Warning: This review contains spoilers, sweetie!
How does one triumph over an enemy with an army at their disposal, an opponent that can’t be remembered once you’ve turned your back on them, a foe that possesses all your memories, and how do you reverse the collapse of time itself? You don’t. The Doctor does. In this, the second series of the classic science fiction program lead by head writer Steven Moffat, The Doctor and his newlywed companions Amy and Rory, along with the mysterious River Song, face their most impossible challenges to date, not the least of which are those listed above. And Moffat proves yet again that his ability to smartly harness the time-travelling element of Doctor Who goes far beyond that of any other writer to work on the program since it premiered some 48 years ago.
The sixth series has, however, generated some serious contention among the Whovians I know. Some see this series as one of the weakest since the 2005 reboot due to the convenient solution the Doctor finds to the dilemma in the finale. I am not among those of this camp. In fact, I think the series is among the most effective of the current run. To begin with, the sixth series has received much praise for its remarkable standalone episodes, even from its detractors. Among these standout episodes are “The Girl Who Waited,” “The God Complex,” and Neil Gaiman’s long-awaited turn at penning an episode, “The Doctor’s Wife.” I’m of the mind that if you watch “The Doctor’s Wife” and don’t weep with joy at the beautifully-crafted and knowledgeable exchanges between the Doctor and Idris, you likely aren’t a long-time fan. Moreover, those episodes that serve to significantly develop the series’ overarching storyline contain some absolutely brilliant Moffat moments. (What do I mean by “Moffat moments”? I mean those moments in Moffat episodes that exemplify his total understanding of the ways in which The Doctor’s age, ability to regenerate, and time-travelling can be combined to fashion narratives unlike those you’ll encounter anywhere else.) Among the most notable of these are The Doctor’s death in “The Impossible Astronaut,” the collapse of time in “The Wedding of River Song,” and the revelation on Demon’s Run in “A Good Man Goes to War” that so perfectly capped off the first half of this series, which aired in two parts in the spring and fall of this year.
That being said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t respond to what is the most common complaint I’ve heard about this series, which is that the conclusion “felt like cheating.” To that I say it indeed was, but that was the point. Here, Moffat gives us a glimpse into how The Doctor sees events in his life unfold, which is to say out of order due to his perpetual bandying about in time. Thus, the climax of the series is actually situated in the first episode and thereafter we follow him through the process of finding a solution to the event. This solution, by its very nature, absolutely constitutes cheating on the part of The Doctor because he’s operating with the knowledge of future events in his own life. As such, I view this not as a problem, but as a fascinating narrative structure that you wouldn’t get from other shows. And you wouldn’t find it in other series simply because they don’t involve time travel or something, but because other show-runners wouldn’t have the gall to relegate the emotional turmoil of their finale to the first episode of the season, thereby making the success of the finale totally dependent on the audience’s investment in the premiere. It presumes a totally dedicated audience. And frankly, that’s what a program must do these days in order to sustain its following.
This six-disc set includes all 13 episodes of the series proper, the 2010 Christmas Special, “A Christmas Carol,” and the usual condensed versions of the Doctor Who Confidentials for each episode (including “A Christmas Carol” and “Night and the Doctor”). Additionally, the set includes the following special features:
-the five episode prequels previously released online;
-the two-part sketch recorded for Comic Relief, written by Moffat himself, which differs significantly from Moffat’s first DW/Comic Relief effort “Curse of the Fatal Death” in that these scenes could very well have appeared in an actual canonical episode, relying primarily on a time loop and a very feasible Doctor problem for its humor;
-four “Monster Files,” providing in-depth looks at the development and implementation of the Silence, the Gangers, the Anti-Bodies, and, most excitingly for an old-school DW fan such as myself, the Cybermats;
-five audio commentaries;
-and five original scenes recorded specifically for the Blu-ray and DVD releases. These scenes, again penned by Moffat under the title “Night and the Doctor,” represent an incredibly clever trans-media experience that serves as an added incentive for people to buy the home video release, when there are clearly so many other ways out there to view series content. What’s more, these are by no means entirely throw-away bits. What starts out in the first two installments as Amy’s revelation that The Doctor is very much active while she and Rory sleep, culminates in the fourth part with an incredibly significant canonical moment in the relationship between The Doctor and River Song that allows these scenes to transcend beyond mere “Special Feature.” The fifth part, on the other hand, relegated to a different disc, isn’t quite so essential as the first four, more akin to the prequels than to the “Night and the Doctor” series. For this series of shorts alone, I would say you shouldn’t hesitate to make this purchase. But as you may have surmised from this glowing review, there so, so many reasons you should invest in this release, not the least of which is the phenomenal (and phenomenally underrated) sixth series itself.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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