Although I wiped most of the old stuff, there's still a couple of reviews on here, and I keep meaning to come back and do some more reviews every now and again. And I don't. And I've really been meaning to do one for Doctor Who, and pretty much every episode since The Time of Angels I've been working one out in my head and then never writing. But, Writerly Friends, this week's episode was just too good to pass up. So I have finally done it, Writerlies. I have gone and reviewed something for the first time in a while. And for anyone who cares, there are some spoilers here. This may or may not become a regular feature; the reviewing of Doctor Who. Reviews in general will pretty much come up whenever I feel like it.
First off, I have to admit. I had mixed feelings coming into this episode. So far this season, the first of the non-Moffat penned episodes was under baked (and really could have done with a two-parter, or the good old fashioned serial format), and while the second non-Moffat episode was entertaining, we’ve seen it so many times before (and, I think but don’t quote me on it, most of them coming 2005+) it just could never be totally enthralling. Also, it was slightly undercooked in places as well. Guido had the potential to be a great supporting character, and instead we got grumbly black man with an itchy-looking beard who eventually goes boom (in fact Guido was such a non-character I didn’t even know his name until I read reviews of TVOV). So there was that to worry about. In addition, from the moment the first trailers and info starting hitting the web, I saw the ending coming. Not the specifics, but I figured from the get-go that either both worlds were reality and the Dream Lord had some kind of crazy powers that let him do that, or both worlds were dreams and the Dream Lord was having fun tormenting the crew.
But even in spite of that last point, this episode proved to be brilliant. This is another episode I would almost certainly use in a case of “Doctor Who really needs to go back to the serial format”. Because it does, ladies and gentlemen, and it doesn’t need to go back to 25 minute episodes; they did 45 minute serials back in the 80s for a short while. Serials allow more time to tell a more complete story, so in the case of the weak episodes, it provides them a chance to be less weak, and in the case of episodes like these, it allows them to be even more brilliant.
But all things-need-to-be-serial-again aside, this episode was brilliant. Coming from Simon Nye you would expect something more in line with what The Lodger is very likely to be. But no, friends, what we get is a good-old fashioned adventure. And I mean old-fashioned. This episode harks back to some of the best stories of the 1960s (the decade in which Doctor Who saw most of its best stories) – The Edge of Destruction, The Mind Robber, and The Celestial Toymaker (as well as something of a nod to the piece of mid-80s gold, The Trial of a Time Lord) – while remaining firmly its own tale.
The cold open is done beautifully. The initial meeting of the Doctor and friends five years after their travels is great. Were this the RTD era, we’d get a lot of pouty lips about being left behind. Instead, we get three old friends. And the whole Upper Leadworth scenario is utterly believable given what little we know of Amy’s home life (another bonus over the RTD era; by now we would have paid many a visit to Aunt Sharon) and Rory. Same goes for Eleven’s reaction to Amy’s pregnancy. The whole scene – hell, the whole episode – is massively helped along by genuine chemistry between the actors, which is almost certainly in part due to the fact that this was the last episode to be filmed.
The best case for a serial format comes during all that “tweet tweet, time to sleep” business. It is played brilliantly here, and especially as things carry on, the quick flashes work wonders. But the beginning is almost crying for an episode in itself of the Doctor and company snooping around Upper Leadworth because something’s amiss, and then right before cutting to credits show a brief shot of the TARDIS crew waking up around the console. But what we get works geniusly, too, and the serial thing is a brief niggle. And while we’re on the subject of brief niggles, I realize the title probably came after the fact, but in both instances of a character saying “Amy’s Choice” it sounds really hamfisted, especially Rory’s. It’s like that “star trek” line in First Contact. You just want to groan and hit your head.
The direction on this episode is no less genius than the writing. This episode could have been shot a million ways. Further the nod back to The Edge of Destruction with fairly stationary camera work but some clever lighting inside the TARDIS so it feels more like a death trap than our heroes’ home. Turn into Adam Smith (who is a genius and I hope Steven Moffat brings him back at least once every season) and bring out bizarre camera angles and clever turns mid-shot and all of those sorts of genius tics. But instead, instead my friends, director Catherine Morsehead does something quite even more genius. Aside from the odd shot that seems like it belongs in a zombie movie, such as the four pensioners half-staggering across a field towards our heroes, the direction is about as conventional as it gets. I realize to some people that sounds like it should be a criticism, and coming from some people it is – I’ve seen one review where they thought the direction never achieved the right balance between absurdism and nightmare.
Me, though, I think the way direction in this episode is done works brilliantly. You could go for the absurd zombie movie style when we get the rabid pensioners. You could go freaky and nightmare-y inside the TARDIS. But that’s just too easy. Instead, play it plain. Contrast the absurdity of the situation with the simpleness of the camera. It may not have been the director’s intent (though I hope it was), but it works fantastically.
Oh, and one more brief niggle, the music. For the most part, the music is fine. There’s nothing particularly standout about it, but it’s not exactly terrible either. Except in one place. There is one sappy cheesetastic cue which feels more like it belongs in a Nicholas Sparks film than in Doctor Who. I can’t, at the moment, remember where it was. I want to say Rory turning into dust but I’m not entirely sure that’s right. But like I said, brief niggle. In fact, really all I’ve had so far this season are brief niggles. Yes, Victory of the Daleks could have stood by more time, and I would have preferred if Vampires of Venice hadn’t been a rehash, or at least had been a little better fleshed out, but I am more than willing to take what we’ve received, and what we’ve received works fine.
Everything about this episode just gels wonderfully. The marriage of a classic-style story with new series insanity. The simple direction. Everything. It’s not something you would expect from a man whose previous writing credits consist pretty solely of comedy, but it works so wonderfully. Simon Nye did an interview about a week ago with Digital Spy where he said he thought he wouldn’t be asked back. I really, sincerely hope this proves to be false, because Nye’s episode was great. Would I want him back next season? Probably not. In fact, I’d like it if Moffat only wrote two stories (two-part finale and one other episode) next season, and every other episode was written by writers we have yet to see under Moffat’s care, or writers who we have yet to see on Doctor Who (like Neil Gaiman, who has confirmed he’ll be writing something for the first half of the season). But I do still hope Simon Nye returns some day. Comedy may be his career, but that man knows drama.
Coming up in a week: Silurians! Excuse me while I go break out the Jon Pertwee.