Monday, 6 June 2011
TV: DR WHO EPISODE 7, THE MID-SEASON FINALE (JUNE 2011)
(Okay, publicity photo from the beginning of this season because I couldn't find one of Saturday's episode.)
Let's start with this:
The mid-season finale was the best episode ever of Dr.Who.
No, I'm not exaggerating, I really believe it is. I've watched it twice in two days and really want to make it three in three. Absolutely brilliant and I'm going to tell you why.
In a nutshell, it was a human story about people relating to the Doctor. It was a terrific ensemble piece from a range of actors who gave it their all in their well-written supporting roles. The Doctor is hunting down the kidnapped Amy Pond and the TARDIS is spinning through space and time picking up allies who have reason to help him. It opens with Amy talking to her newborn baby, telling her how her father is coming to rescue her. This intercuts with Cybermen on a warship panicking as an intruder gets through their defences. The language Amy uses suggests someone powerful and unstoppable and it is. "I have a question and I have a message from the Doctor. The question is: where is my wife?" Yes, it's macho centurion sword-wielding Rory and he's standing in front of a bank of screens showing the Cybermen's fleet. They prevaricate and ask what the message is. Rory glares at them as, behind him, their fleet is blown apart. "Now, shall I ask the question again?"
Whoah, what an opening. Incredibly, it gets better. Amy is being held by some sort of religion-based army assisted by a group called (with good reason it turns out) the Headless Monks. One soldier is a young woman who was saved by the Doctor as a child on a forest world and has joined the army, not to fight him, but in hopes she'll meet him again. In her spare time she crafts a piece of cloth, a prayer leaf, with the baby's name on in her language and she attempts to make friends with an angry Amy.
Meanwhile the TARDIS is picking up allies and what an amazing bunch they are. Found on a future battlefield is the warlike Sontaran who is doing penance as a nurse (he can even lactate) and whose dying words are: "I've had a good life. I'm twelve, you know." No, that isn't a tear in my eye, honest. Then there's the bluff burly blue wheeler and dealer, employed by the bad guys, who thinks he can wheel and deal his way out of anything. In Victorian London a female Silurian has just killed Jack the Ripper with a katana. When asked by her maid/assistant/(by a look and oblique dialogue) lover, how he was, the reply is, "Stringy but quite palatable." (I demand a series about these two!) Rory turns up to enlist River Song who says she won't come until the end as this is the day he learns who she is. (Have you guessed who she is yet? I did.)
The Doctor arrives with allies and an army (including Spitfires) and sweeps all before him to rescue Amy and her baby Melody. It is the hour of his greatest triumph and, it's been prophesied, his greatest failure. He gives Amy and Rory a cradle which was his own and we finally learn not only the identity of River Song but the Doctor's true name.
But now we find out he's been tricked again and the same way. Even as he learns of it,the Headless Monks return and hack their way through his allies. The Monks lose but at a cost and only a handful are still standing to pick up the pieces. While the Doctor jumps in the TARDIS to hunt down the missing child, River Song shows Amy Lorna's prayer leaf and the translated name of her baby. They had no word for 'pond' so it was translated as 'river' and 'melody' as... Yes, even though I'd guessed it I was still tearing up.
This is an enormously rich episode containing several of the most powerful themes of literature: power and downfall; the abduction of a child; sacrifice; role reversals (a nurse becoming a warrior and a warrior becoming a nurse) and more. It's also an episode full of minutiae, of brief but affecting character beats. It really is just amazing.
And then there is the unanswered question: the bad guys stole the baby (who is also the young girl from the season's beginning) to use as a weapon against the doctor -why? Something implied is that maybe they aren't the bad guys. Perhaps the Doctor's greatest fall is yet to come. And what's happened to baby Melody/River Song (and we may know her identity now but we don't know who she is).
This is the best episode of Dr Who yet. And this series of Dr Who has been the best ever. A major cult TV landmark without question.
This is the ending:
River Song stands, holding out her arms (hopefully, expectantly?) to her younger mother, and says, "It's me, Melody."