So. The split series, the summer break: how was it for you? Personally, I think it’s flown by, and now I’m delighted to find myself in the position of looking forward to an autumn series of Doctor Who, for the first time in 22 years (and the amount of Doctor Who we’re getting this autumn, the 2011 Christmas Special included, is equivalent to a Sylvester McCoy season as well, which can’t be bad – in fact, at seven stories, it’s almost the equivalent of a much longer classic series season, too).
I must also confess, having found Steven Moffat’s first series in charge to be something of a disappointment (for reasons detailed elsewhere), that I wasn’t expecting to be as excited as this at the prospect of the series’ second half. But as unlikely as it seems, Moffat pulled a rabbit from a hat and this year’s first batch of episodes was surprisingly good. Much better than I had any expectation of, and with A Good Man Goes to War, Moffat’s Who finally clicked into place (for me, anyway), and I at last managed to enjoy one of his episodes without quibbling with it. (For the first time since Blink, anyway.) Long may it continue. It’s not something to get into now, but if Moffat drops the over-complicated story arcs and eases back on the wibbly-wobbly, the next couple of years (leading up to the anniversary in November 2013) might be something to behold.
So, what does the autumn have in store for us, then?
Don’t expect too much in the way of spoilers (they’re easily enough found elsewhere if that’s what you’re after; and besides, I’ve been trying to avoid becoming too spoiled myself) – and if it’s quotes you’re after, I’ll post a link to the press release, once it arrives, in the Comments section later – but here’s a taste of what Series 6 Part 2 will involve...
Let’s Kill Hitler
by Steven Moffat
director Richard Senior
tx: 27th August*
With several questions still left hanging over the second half of the series (not the least of which is the explanation for how we saw the Doctor apparently actually die in the very first episode), it wouldn’t be remotely a surprise if Steven Moffat pulled something of a fast one and ignored them all completely in the Series 6 Part 2 opener. From what we’ve seen, Let’s Kill Hitler looks set to be more of an historical romp (with added aliens thrown in, for good measure – of course) than the rejoinder to A Good Man Goes to War that we were once promised. We shall probably have to wait until Episode 13 before we find out what’s happened to Melody Pond and cross arms with Frances Barber’s Madame Kovarian once again, too.
Episode 8 is apparently set in 1938, on the eve of World War II, and so it seems that although we’ll be getting a portrait of Hitler (Albert Welling) at his most tyrannical, we’re less likely to be looking at an expensive war-set episode (following The Empty Child and Victory of the Daleks; this is becoming a popular setting for Steven Moffat Doctor Who) than a picturesque but dangerous jaunt through antique Berlin. The episode has already ruffled feathers among the Daily Mail’s writership (let’s hope its readers weren’t hoodwinked into going along with the controversy) when it published an article in the wake of the Comic-Con trailer centred upon Hitler’s line, “Thank you, I think you have just saved my life.”
Of course, it’ll all be wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey anyway. And it will also likely be setting in sequence the chain of events that will lead to the finale, too.
by Mark Gatiss
director Richard Clark
guest starring Daniel Mays
tx: 3rd September
If we hadn’t suspected that once Steven Moffat’s opening instalment was out of the way, the ongoing arc would be forgotten and Doctor Who’s anthology nature would reassert itself, then Mark Gatiss’ episode is all the proof we need; with the minimum of rewriting, it has been switched (with The Curse of the Black Spot) from its original position in the first half of the series, and so forms the ultimate evidence that the TARDIS crew of the guest writers’ stories here as earlier in the year, must be in mentally pretty much the same place.
And Night Terrors (if only they’d gone with one of the working titles, What Are Little Boys Made Of? instead) is our first look at Mark Gatiss' Unbound. His previous three stories for Doctor Who have all been written to a set of instructions (The Unquiet Dead was the best of them; Victory of the Daleks the most problematic), but here, Steven Moffat apparently let him off his leash, and it’s possible, just possible, that we’ll be getting a glimpse of what the programme might be like when Moffat eventually hangs up his showrunner’s hat.
Of course, this is the ‘creepy doll’ story that the series seems to have been trailering for what feels like an eternity, so when it arrives it will almost feel like something we already know. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing; The Unquiet Dead proved that Gatiss is at his best when on familiar territory (that first guest writer episode from Series One was heavily influenced by both The Talons of Weng-Chiang and the writer’s own Big Finish audio adventure Phantasmagoria), and recent episodes evoking memories of the classic series have proven rather popular, which ought to ensure a decent reception for this.
The Girl Who Waited
by Tom MacRae
director Nick Hurran
tx: 10th September
Rise of the Cybermen might have split fan opinion down the middle, but there’s no doubting how much fun it was – probably the most overtly entertaining story that new Doctor Who had presented us with at the time, in fact, and probably also the one with its head most in the old school classics of the series, too. Amazing to think that that was five years ago now, but its author, Tom MacRae, is back.
Amazingly little is known about The Girl Who Waited (so little, in fact, that one fan speculated they hadn’t actually filmed anything at all – other than a few ‘asides’ from Karen Gillan – and that the episode would be nothing more than a clips show bringing viewers up to speed before the finale), and I rather like that. These days, there’s so much information available to fans all over the internet, it’s very rare a story can still surprise anyone when it gets to screen. I’m looking forward to finding out what this story is even about, let alone its setting or timeframe (there’s been talk of ‘wibbly-wobbly’ from MacRae elsewhere).
I managed to nab (an understandably reluctant to spoil his episode – and very busy) MacRae for a brief chat recently, and I began by asking him about which period of Doctor Who he grew up with, and which stories had had a particular influence.
“Sylvester McCoy and I loved those later stories, especially Paradise Towers, although I didn’t become a ‘fan’ until I started working on the show and discovered what fandom really was.”
Is there a monster you’d like to bring back yourself, or a story you wish you’d written? “The Weeping Angels – I’d like to ask the question: why are they all women? Where do new Angels come from? ... Blink. Really wish I’d written Blink.”
MacRae once gave an interview in which he discussed how problematic writing the big two-parter Rise of the Cybermen had been, and how next time he’d like to write the ‘quiet’, low-budget ‘Episode Eleven’ of a series... “All coincidence!” I wondered, then, if any of his unproduced Series Four story, Century House, had made it into the current script? “This story is all brand new!”
Having recently joined Twitter, how would he handle its broadcast? “I hope my followers like it, and if they don’t I’m sure they’ll let me know!”
I wondered how different it was, working under each of the two showrunners. “Russell and Steven are, in some ways, very different people, so they are different in certain ways to work with. Their love of the show is exactly the same though, and that’s what keeps it so successful. The biggest difference for me is me. When I started out I was completely new to doing a big show, and now I get to fall back on all the things I’ve learned over the last few years that I didn’t have back then. Experience is, as they say, something you can’t teach.”
And how was writing for the new TARDIS team? “I was very conscious of the actors I was writing for, and would clearly hear their voices when I was working on the script.” On the success of the ‘split series’: “It’s good to try new things, and I hope the ‘relaunched’ second half of the series gets the audience spike Steven is aiming for, because this is my favourite season yet.” Is it a surprise how successful the revived show has been? “No. It deserves to be this popular.”
We also talked about The Crash of the Elysium, MacRae’s recent Doctor Who-themed play for children, in cooperation with Punchdrunk (http://www.punchdrunk.org.uk/), and staged in Manchester. How did it come about? “Piers (Wenger) approached me and asked me if I’d like to do it. I naturally said yes. The reception’s been unbelievable – it’s an extraordinary show. I’m beyond happy. I’ve never been more proud of anything I’ve been involved with. And it’s coming back next year – watch this space!”
The God Complex
by Toby Whithouse
director Nick Hurran
guest starring David Walliams
tx: 17th September
After two episodes with fairly similar themes (vampire-like creatures running an educational establishment), in each of which he was tasked with changing the TARDIS dynamic in some way (School Reunion saw the return of popular ’seventies companion Sarah Jane Smith, and The Vampires of Venice made a regular of Rory Williams – and in both stories, the female companion’s boyfriend gets his first trip in the time machine), it’s nice to see Being Human’s Toby Whithouse being given something different to do. Quite what, remains to be seen!
What we do know is that The God Complex is set in a crumbly old hotel, and from the trailers, there’s a Minotaur-like creature (as well as other assorted nastiness) on the loose inside. Whether or not this proves to be a story in the vein of The Celestial Toymaker and The Mind Robber isn’t yet apparent, but after The Doctor’s Wife and Night Terrors, there does seem to be a running theme this year of the locations themselves being the danger.
If School Reunion and especially The Vampires of Venice perhaps didn’t quite hit the mark in some respects, then – similarly to Mark Gatiss’ episode – the idea of a Toby Whithouse script freed from external requirements is rather exciting. Although on the face of it The God Complex (and what an intriguing play on words that is; the potential reveal of a villain at the end of this episode is some prospect) looks to be the series’ ‘cheapie’, it might also turn out to be this autumn’s most spooky and atmospheric story.
by Gareth Roberts
director Steve Hughes
guest starring James Corden
tx: 24th September
The Lodger was a bit of a marmite episode, if truth be told. Like Love & Monsters back in Series Two, this was a story that managed to polarise fan opinion quite comprehensively. For everyone who absolutely adored the tale of the Doctor becoming someone’s lodger for a week, what with his skills on a Sunday league football field and his ineptness around ordinary living, there was somebody else who detested it for the way it apparently trivialised the lead character. Nevertheless, The Lodger was deemed a great success among the wider public (even now, there’s a little “Lego” Doctor wearing the colours of the King’s Arms), and so writer Gareth Roberts has been charged with bringing us a follow-up.
Roberts is a dab-hand at taking previously used ideas and making them his own (even The Lodger was based upon one of Roberts’ tenth Doctor comic strips for the Doctor Who Magazine), and the idea of an alien invasion in a shop is one that has almost made it to the screen before. But the pull here is in James Corden and Daisy Haggard reprising their roles from last year’s story. There’s a lot of mileage in those characters, and it will be interesting to see how Roberts deals with them now that they are aware of who and what the Doctor is.
If you’ve been watching the spoilers (and if so, you’ll know to what I am now referring, so I shan’t mention it by name...) you’ll be aware that this is another episode in which something we haven’t seen for decades, and which is most heavily associated with 1960s Doctor Who, returns to the series, much as the Time Lord ‘psychic containers’ did in The Doctor’s Wife. Steven Moffat’s version of the show is proving itself a delightful patchwork of the modern and the classic, and this episode should see those two disciplines face off in the most interesting fashion yet.
by Steven Moffat
director Jeremy Webb
tx: 1st October
It’s hard to know sometimes which shots from the trailers connect with which episodes, but it looks to me like the Pterodactyls might well be a part of this episode. Because the tiny amount of information that’s floating about in public seems to indicate that this year’s finale will be set on a parallel Earth, an Earth where the Roman Empire never fell and where the dinosaurs didn’t die out. And just how exciting is that...?
There are an awful lot of loose ends to tie up, though, and Steven Moffat’s episode will be hard pushed to keep everyone happy. Madame Kovarian, the regenerating girl, the dying Doctor ... not to mention last year’s exploding TARDIS, the spaceship from The Lodger, a return of the Silents ... what price a bet on an appearance for the Daleks, too...? And how will Rory and Amy deal with the return (or not) of their little girl, one Melody Pond (could this be their final story)? Will we learn how Melody became River Song, even?
So many questions, and so many surprises still in store. The only thing you can safely bet on, is that Steven Moffat will entertain and divert us, and that by the end of the story (and the series) there will be as many smiling faces as heads being scratched. If it’s as much fun as The Big Bang, who cares if it makes any sense? Series Six has been an epic rollercoaster of a Doctor Who series, and the brilliant thing is, once this episode finishes, it’s only a few weeks until Christmas and the next one!
(* Dates unconfirmed at the time of writing.)