Monday, June 13, 2011

TV Series Review: Doctor Who (season six)

As promised, a Doctor Who review that's a day late since I expected that I would need the extra time to get my thoughts in order and boy was I right, I'm still having fridge brilliance/horror moments after the reveal at the mid-season finale. So, just to make this extra clear, this is covering the first half of season six of Doctor Who (nicknamed 6a), aka the part that has aired (not counting the Christmas Special in here since I consider that part of season five). Ordinarily I wouldn't review only half a season but, since the second half isn't starting up until the fall, I'm going to make an exception here. Also, this will be a spoiler free review like all my other reviews are. Onwards to the review!

Doctor Who

Summary: Our hero is called The Doctor, he's a 900+ year old alien who flies a big blue box that's bigger on the inside (and really a time/spaceship) who keeps inviting people to come along with him on adventures since he gets bored. These companions would be Amy and Rory, a newly married couple from the present day who traveled with him during the previous season and are ready for even more adventures with the Doctor, no matter where or when they may end up going.

The Good: To start with, The Doctor's Wife (the hotly anticipated Neil Gaiman penned episode) may be my favorite Doctor Who episode of all time now. To say exactly why would be spoiler-ish but the episode was done in such a way that everything that happened made complete sense, not just within the episode itself but within the Doctor Who mythos as a whole. Another reason why the episode was so good was because the acting was very good in this episode but to be honest, the acting in this season is stronger than the previous season and that's always a good thing. Matt Smith seems more sure of himself (even as the Doctor seems a bit more unhinged), Amy is no longer just the little girl who waited years for her "raggedy doctor" and Rory is no longer just Amy's fiancee. River, who shows up in a few of the episodes, also feels so much more fleshed out and the character has come a long way from the confusing person she was back in season four.   

The Bad: As odd as it sounds coming from me, Doctor Who is one of the few shows I watch because I like it's episodic nature so having more plot heavy episodes felt a bit odd and out of place at time (they probably wouldn't have felt so out of place if the season had been a full 13 episodes but it wasn't so they did). It also seems strange that The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People was a two part episode but the episode afterwords, the mid-season finale, was only one episode and it really felt like that last episode needed a bit more time. The first half was a bit rushed, the pacing seemed much smoother in the second part, and there are some people saying that this was a two-part story and that the first episode of 6b is the second part (which is a really baffling idea). TRF/TAP also didn't feel like it needed a full two episodes to tell it's story*, plus some of the characters acted differently in the first episode versus the second episode, but the weakest episode of this half-season was The Curse of the Black Spot easily. The idea wasn't bad at all, and the episode played with a few tropes, but had a few too many plot holes even for Doctor Who

The Audio: The opening theme remains the same from the previous season (which is hardly surprising, it still sounds very similar to the original show's theme almost 50 years ago) and, as I've said before, I don't notice background music as much as some people do. But, while I did think "oh that's rather nice music" at various points during the series, I never though "ack, that doesn't match up at all!" and the music never pulled me out of the viewing experience so clearly the background music is doing it's job, registering on one level with the viewer but mostly serving as a way to draw them even deeper into the story.

The Visuals: I got to see this on the BBCAmerica HD channel on a nice tv so I must say, the video quality on this show is pretty spiffy these days (I believe they started shooting HD in the interim year between season four and five). Only the mid-season finale episode called for a ton of special effects and thankfully that involved more costumes than CGI which tends to look better these days if you don't have a full movie budget. Out of the whole season the only thing that bugged me (visually) was that during the last episode at one point it looked as if the film suddenly switched to a higher frame rate (the characters movements seemed different and usually that means a higher frame rate) but that doesn't make any sense. I did hear someone mention that BBCAmerica speeded up a scene with the Doctor running (which was around the same point) so I wonder if this is actually a problem here, not from the original production^.

So yes, I liked this half-season and really want more (and more Sherlock, ie, the reason the shooting/producing schedule for Doctor Who is so strange this year), too bad I won't have access to the nice tv/BBCAmerica at all when the second part starts. And that reveal, even though I had seen a lot of people speculating and getting it right online, I really liked. I saw someone post that it seems to be the people who pay more attention to speculation who saw it coming and the people who only watch the show from week to week who were surprised by it and that they were sad at first that they had managed to guess the twist. And then they said no wait, it was foreshadowed and wouldn't it have been even more annoying if the twist had been something that had come out of nowhere, something no one could have been able to predict? That sums up how I feel about it now, yes it would've been awesome if it was something that no one had been able to predict but the reveal was set up so that it does make sense and that's even better honestly. Oh okay, a friend and I spent two and half hours right after the show talking about all of this so of course I'm okay with this, now to get the rest of my friends to see the finale so we can keep talking about it!

*which actually felt more Russel T. Davies-ish than Steven Moffat-ish, Moffat likes to go for scary stories, RTD really liked questioning "what is a human?" which was the main issue in that story (and this isn't a bad thing, just an observation, also aware that Moffat didn't write that particular two-parter).
^and if anyone has seen the American the British broadcast, please post in the comments and I'll say what scene it was, don't want to say anything even vaguely spoilery in this review.

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