It’s 5:02pm, and the DWC Team has settled down to decide the most underrated serial of Series 6. But all of time is happening at once, and a bearded soothsayer says we’re like a needle stuck on a record. He doesn’t appear to have heard of downloads. He does, however, speak baby, and knows a lot about Gangers, Captain Henry Avery, Demon’s Run, Apalapachia, and Cybermen.
Not a lot about the Silence though. Whatever they may be…
You know our favourites of Series 6, but what’s the most underrated serial…?
Jonathan Appleton: The God Complex
I can’t claim to understand entirely what it was all about, but full credit to the BBC for transmitting an episode of a flagship family show on primetime BBC1 that explored faith in such a challenging way.
Matt Smith seemed to relish the chance to explore his character’s darker side and Nick Hurran conveyed a creepy tone in his direction. Perhaps it works best on an emotional level, and elements of the plot have to be questioned (would Amy accept the Doctor leaving her with such good grace when she has a child lost somewhere in space and time?), but I’m all for episodes of Doctor Who that make us think.
James Whittington: A Christmas Carol
Probably the most Christmassy-looking Christmas special up until then, this crazy twist on the classic novella is a prime example of real Doctor Who; notably it’s about him meddling in things that shouldn’t concern him and leaves his companions doing something else.
Promoted to the hilt thanks to the casting of Michael Gambon and Katherine Jenkins, the story gives us time away from Rory and Amy (hurrah) and instead of being a sugary tale of redemption, it’s a sad, reflective slice of lost hope and lost love. Its tinged with a glorious sadness all the way through as we learn of Abigail’s (Jenkins) sad plight and the love Kazran (Gambom) has held inside his blackening heart all his life. It’s not all darkness as the Doctor’s close encounter with Marilyn Monroe raises a smile from older viewers and Abigail’s song to the sky shark things is a real showstopper.
This is a special that’s not just for Christmas and thanks to some neat effects and a pounding score this is a treat of a special containing Matt Smith’s most defined performance to date. Altogether now, “When you’re alone…”
Becky Crockett: Night Terrors
Night Terrors tends to be overlooked in a series that had so many great episodes. Those peg dolls are C-R-E-E-P-Y. But that’s the point, right? It plays to the same fears that everyone has ever had, as a child or as an adult, of something come alive from your nightmares.
But when we know someone is there to love and protect us, no matter what, those nightmares aren’t so scary anymore.
Philip Bates: The Wedding of River Song
The Wedding of River Song tops off a very underrated series, and does so with style. I admit to being sceptical about a one-part finale, but it worked, combining so many ideas without feeling rushed.
“Here,” says Steven Moffat, “have a Dalek. Here’s a chess game. And Mark Gatiss as a Viking. Oh, and you remember that blue bloke you thought was dead? They only chopped off his head! A little thing like that’s not going to get Dorium down!”
I like timey-wimey nonsense and all of time happening at once was just the ticket, especially as we get to see Ian McNiece as Churchill again (and, briefly, a gag about A Christmas Carol – the book – with a return from Charles Dickens). If only we could’ve seen him arriving on his personal mammoth…
It was so great to see Amy Pond kicking butt, Rory’s undying love, River Song’s being brilliant but dedicated to the Doctor, and Kovarian’s snarling insults. But the episode really belongs to Matt Smith and the Silence. Oh yes, those highly-forgettable aliens are just glorious. I love them. Totally. Their look, their sound, their movements, their concept: I. Love. The Silence. I wish they’d return (even though it would mean people moaning about the human race not killing them on sight).
And if you know me at all, you know I’m an Eleventh Doctor fan, and Matt Smith breaks your heart in this episode. You can understand the Doctor’s final hurrahs as he dots around the universe, running from the inevitable: nevertheless, there’s a gravitas and depth to his sadness. This Doctor has always been a very up-beat incarnation, and he remains as such. Yet he also portrays real weight, especially when he’s on his own again, having cast Amy and Rory away. Watch his reaction to Amy questioning what’s wrong with him. “I’m still alive.”
That’s without even mentioning his hearing about the Brigadier, a real lump-in-the-throat moment.
Then the Doctor sheds the cloak and off he goes again with a spring in his step, free of the universe’s eyes. The Doctor is dead. Long live the Doctor.
Drew Boynton: The Doctor’s Wife
Yes, you read that correctly, but stay with me here. In some lost region of deep space, in some strange alternate universe, SOMEWHERE out there, there is a version of The Doctor’s Wife that is two episodes. Instead of the dreadful two-parter that directly followed it upon transmission, The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People (which is the absolute low point of NuWho for me), somewhere there MUST be a version of The Doctor’s Wife that is two episodes and version of those two episodes that is just one (The Almost Flesh People?).
The Doctor’s Wife, famously written by Neil Gaiman, is so jam-packed with ideas that it just cries out for a longer run time. The Time Lords’ essences captured in glowing cubes? That could be one episode in itself! Amy and Rory trapped in a TARDIS that’s been taken over by an age-and-time altering bad guy? Another episode! The Doctor finally getting to meet the embodiment of the TARDIS itself? Another! Not to mention the Doctor building a TARDIS console from spare parts, finding a dark fairy tale-ish land in a lost corner of the universe, and meeting quirky characters that were kept alive by using parts of other aliens! How could this episode have not been given the two-parter treatment? If there is one missed opportunity in all of NuWho to me, it is that The Doctor’s Wife was trapped in a one-episode format that didn’t allow enough room for the story to fully breathe.
Somewhere out there in a strange alternate universe (maybe on Pete and Jackie Tyler’s TV?), there is a two-part version of The Doctor’s Wife that is an absolute television masterpiece.
Thomas Spychalski: The Rebel Flesh/ The Almost People
Although some found the second Doctor Who outing from Life On Mars/Ashes to Ashes creator Matthew Graham boring to a degree, I found it more in tone with a classic Doctor Who base under siege story.
Elements needed for such a story to work effectively are quickly established such as isolation on main characters, the threat that challenges them and the little small nuances that make the personalities involved come alive.
The addition of the Ganger Doctor was also a nice touch, again allowing a bit of a deeper message about the morals of our own species.
There is also the matter of how your feelings and reactions start to differ and divide from your copy the very second after it is made. In a world that has begun 3-D Printing things like houses and body parts and playing with cloning, this is the kind of technology that could lead to dark choices.
Could you trust a creature that was just like you? Could that creature trust you? How would that feel to have a copy of everything you are right next to you?
I imagine some look down their noses at it because it really is old hat, especially for Doctor Who, which used to do such stories while blindfolded and riding a unicycle back in the day, but it still is a pretty good modern take on an old formula.
Alasdair Shaw: The God Complex
It’s easy to overlook The God Complex in a series that brought us The Doctor’s Wife and so much River Song goodness, but to do so would be criminal.
From the second the episode starts we find ourselves disorientated as much as the Doctor and his companions and the surrealism doesn’t let up for the duration of the episode. But it’s not just the creepiness that sets this one apart. As I’ve said before in this series it’s all about character for me and The God Complex has is in spades.
The whole dynamic between the Doctor and Amy is twisted left, right, and sideways, and by the end of the episode you actually feel as though something important has shifted. The Doctor’s calculated tearing down of Amy’s faith brings to mind the Seventh Doctor doing much the same to Ace. Indeed the whole affair brings The Curse of Fenric very much to mind, which is never a bad thing.
But the most chilling part of the episode is revealed more in what is not said; that Rory has no faith in the Doctor. At all. It’s never directly said, but the looks between Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill are utterly heartbreaking. Rory isn’t the Doctor’s companion: he’s Amy’s.
Jeremy Remy: Let’s Kill Hitler
Alright, the title is awful. Moffat thought he was being clever. Sure, the joke that is Hitler’s characterization in the episode sits firmly in the realm of WWII cartoon parody. Historicals aren’t really Moffat’s forte. The entire episode sets River Song up to become a Mary Sue, which fundamentally ruins her character for some (while making even the most ardent supporters of the Doctor’s wife-to-be cringe a little). It doesn’t work, at all, as a “Part 2” to A Good Man Goes to War. And the Leadworth Crop Circle is just silly.
So, what is it about Let’s Kill Hitler that makes it worthy of watching? One thing, really: Mels. Amy and Rory’s best friend while they were growing up. We are given a montage of moments from their childhood, and her as an adult (played by Nina Toussaint-White). At that moment, we are shown that—unlike previous companions—she isn’t willing to wait for the Doctor, gain his permission, or even stow away, before getting a ride on the TARDIS. No, she’s happy to hijack the ship, and convince the Doctor (at gunpoint, if need be) to take her for a ride.
Now, (spoilers, for those who don’t already know) Mels regenerates into River Song in the same episode. So, the only moments we are given of Mels take place in the first half of the episode. Amy and Rory “raising” their child occurs in a montage. The promised assassin-River moments occur in a brief section of episode just before and after Mels’ regeneration. This is a character that should have been introduced and presented through early flashbacks (preferably with Amelia Pond, allowing for more spectacular Caitlin Blackwood appearances). This was an opportunity for a classic TARDIS hiccup, forcing their landing in WWII Germany to wait a few episodes (in my headcanon, there are several unseen adventures between Mels entering and exiting the TARDIS in this episode). And, it’s a crime that the only other examination of this character is in the one-part Doctor Who Magazine comic, Imaginary Enemies.
Let’s Kill Hitler isn’t the best episode, but Mels is a character worthy of more screen time than she was given. Further, the presentation of River’s previous incarnations and Rory and Amy growing up with their child were more important ideas than the time Moffat spent on them. If this episode succeeds in no other areas, at least it gives us a glimpse into stories that were too-soon shrugged off and forgotten.
James Lomond: The Girl Who Waited
The Girl Who Waited doesn’t get a huge amount of attention surrounded by the general River Song/ Silence arc of Series 6 – I thought even I may have overlooked it, but then realised that there was another reason I hadn’t brought it to mind for some time. The Girl Who Waited is one of the saddest, most devastatingly painful things I have ever watched – and that is, without a shadow of a doubt, alongside soul-crushing masterpieces like Grave of Fireflies and Brokeback Mountain. This took something that you kinda cared about (Amy and Rory’s relationship and future), and made it so utterly awful that it was truly difficult to go back and watch again. The breadth of time, the loneliness, the anger and resentment and brilliant performance of Older Amy by Karen Gillan make for very uncomfortable viewing.
In some ways it doesn’t feel very much like Who, but in other ways it exemplifies the kind of high quality drama that the format can aspire to – every now and again! In curious twist of the usual format we get to see what we might see as a pragmatic mercenary side to the Doctor in dealing with the abandoned Pond – he locks her out and hands responsibility over to Rory, becoming something of a monster himself.
And then there are the hand-bots. Creepy, creeping and impossible to read like the best of Who‘s would-be villains. This is a fine piece of well-thought-out drama that doesn’t quite get the recognition it should.
Katie Gribble: The God Complex
The undeniable star of the show is Rita played by the wonderful Amara Karan. It is her attitude and bravery in confronting the situation and her ultimate downfall which makes the episode so powerful and heart breaking. Her fear stems from disappointing her father and as soon as she finds her room, the inevitable process leading the central characters to ‘Praise Him’ begins.
However, Rita believes that the hotel is representative of Jahannam, one of the names for the Islamic concept of Hell. She knows that Jahannam will play tricks on the mind and will try to drive her insane, but Rita says she is without fear. Her solace lies in that she lived a good life and that knowledge will keep her safe from the monsters and the nightmare rooms. Her religious faith is what keeps her strong for the others and for herself. Islam has such a strong loving hold over this powerful character and moves her to do some very brave things. As a religion which emphasises the positives of self-control, Rita indulges in the ethos that she is not ungrateful for the Doctor’s help but she consistently proves to him that she can and will act on her own terms.
The Doctor admires Rita from the beginning of the episode and offers her a place on the TARDIS once they escape. Indeed, this is another reason that makes her tale so tragic. The Doctor implores her to return to the group once she has begun to ‘Praise Him’. By returning, they can keep her safe and fight the creature together. Instead, Rita decides to sacrifice herself to get as far away as possible to keep the monster away from the others. But Rita’s final request is something so beautifully strong willed and so very human:
I can feel the rapture approaching like a wave. I don’t want you to witness this. I want you to remember me the way I was…Please, let me be robbed of my faith in private. I’m not frightened. I’m blessed, Doctor. I’m at peace. Goodbye, Doctor. Thank you for trying.
Her request for the respect she deserves is incredibly powerful and demonstrates her bravery when confronted with this almighty death. What makes it doubly tragic is that within the confines of the episode, without Rita’s death and her strength in confronting it, the Doctor would have otherwise been unable to figure out his mistake or realise how to save everyone. Her death reinstates that the Doctor cannot save everyone, no matter how hard he tries and I think that the final scene convincing Amy that she cannot trust him and his decision to leave her and Rory on Earth is spurred on by Rita’s death.
This episode appears as a fun romp on the outside with Whithouse’s quips and its inclusion of David Walliams, but it deals with some truly unnerving questions and should be appreciated all the more for tackling them.
That’s what we think. But which serial from Series 6 do you think deserves more attention, more acclaim, and more love from fans?
(Adapted from an article originally published on Kasterborous in 2015.)