Spike: I love Cybermen, always have, but I have to admit that they’ve not served as the main villain in a good Doctor Who story for about thirty years, and even that might be pushing the definition of good. They are an odd villain in that they should be a perfect entity for modern Doctor Who. Their initial germination was as a species that had taken self-improvement to its logical extreme and had become more machine than man by choice. New Who rebooted the Cybermen and turned them from a villain who had embraced the machine to a villain who had their fate enforced on them and in doing so stripped any real subtext they could have had. The Cybermen always had the problem of being viewed as second-stringers to the Daleks but in the new series, with their delete catchphrase and epic numbers, they actually morphed into second-rate Daleks. Season Five and Six have done a lot to make Cybermen seem important and interesting, the five minutes of screen time they get in ‘The Pandorica Opens’ is amazingly effective, so I was kind of giddy about a full on Cybermen story.
My expectations were such that when the episode turned out to more focused on The Doctor and Craig than the Cybermen I was a little disappointed. My thoughts are that the episode as a whole is very lightweight but it is buoyed by some amazing moments. Matt Smith in particular just sold the hell out of this episode and you really felt the time he had lived and how much the end was weighing on him. It is the kind of performance which affirms why Smith is slowly becoming my favourite Doctor. In actuality the episode felt like a moment for the show to catch its breath before next week’s finale which I fully expect to be absolutely jam packed with stuff. If nothing else this felt like a throwback episode at times to me and whilst I appreciated the wealth of great character moments the initial forty minutes felt like something penned under RTD. The setup even seemed to harken back to the first few scenes of ‘Rose’.
So crew, thoughts?
Ben: Yes, this seemed more like light relief before the finale than a proper Cybermen story, and engaging though Corden and Smith are together, I never really got a sense that the script worked out what it was really trying to do. Was there a reason for bringing Craig back, or for having him fight Cybermen? The Lodger last year covered pretty much the exact same ground/journey for his character (works out what he wants, uses that emotional core to make aliens blow up), but the story surrounding it this time was a lot messier.
The Cybermen were a bit aimless, and didn’t seem to do much rather than loom threateningly a few times and then recite their stock dialogue at the end. The thing that really makes them work as villains is the transformative element, the fact they wish to transform people into themselves, and there’s yet to be a New Who story to really go with that- Craig’s resisting his transformation at the end only served to make them seem rather fangless. Plus, haven’t we had enough of parent/child love at the climax this year? I get it’s the theme and all, but still…
The Cybermat was nicely done, though, and considerably more menacing (i.e. at all) than its classic counterparts. Had the budget stretched to more than one, they could have made much better use of the maze-like locale.
Agreed, though, Smith was excellent, doing his old-man-in-a-young-body thing here as well as it’s ever been done, and carrying comedy and pathos with equal conviction.
Spike: I actually said “holy shit, a Cybermat!” when I saw that thing, more out of surprise than actual reverence. Between the Cybermat in this episode and the Nimon last episode season six has got to the bottom of the barrel of Doctor Who references.
Ben: Yes, I’m still amazed Whithouse managed to take possibly the campest Doctor Who story ever made (‘Horns of Nimon’ was right at the height of the Douglas Adams Silly Era) and turn it into last week’s serious, effective dramatics.
Cybermats, at least, were always a good idea executed less-than-brilliantly.
Casey: I have to wonder if the whole episode wasn’t a bit of a spoof of the whole “love will save us all” episodes. That’s what I felt once the Doctor started explaining away love as being the reason that Craig was able to fight back.
I liked the small glimpse of the Ponds we got and I have to wonder if she created her own line of perfume considering what it was called.
So the Doctor has been around for 200 years doing God knows what since the season started. I still say the different coats thing has something to do with where he is in his time stream.
And for me the baby stole the whole show. Lord Stormageddon, “peasants,” and “Doctor” all made me laugh out loud. And “Not Mum” had to be inspired by Dinosaurs’ “Not the Mama.”
Ian: While I also found this episode quite middling, I really enjoyed seeing The Doctor team up with Craig again. The goofy detective through-line with the pair uncovering the mystery of the creepy department store felt very apt to me; a really nice representation of what makes this show work by just treading the right side of silly and whimsical. The background details of the week were typically solid, too. There were plenty of fun touches like the chav employee and the Father Ted style lingerie debacle to keep things ticking over nicely. There’s no doubt the Cybermen, as noted, were little more than a visually pleasing distraction to be swept aside in the end. I tend to enjoy these standalone episodes more than the hyperactive, story arc-centric ones though, so I wasn’t too bothered that this was more of a buddy tale with comparatively modest stakes.
I think you hit the nail on the head by singling Smith out, Spike. It’s amazing what you can get away with when you have him. We all know what he can do, but Smith still manages to keep his mercurial spirit and charm fresh. It never seems stale watching him woo strangers or bare his soul, even when he’s going over familiar ground. I suppose a large part of what makes him so captivating is the way he balances – to put it rather bluntly – his “light” and “dark” sides. He’s so adept at each that it doesn’t become boring watching him the way it might if he were just a Space Picaro, hopping from one tight-scrape to the next. Or a sullen, acerbic Time Crank for that matter.
Mind you, I’d love to see a Charlie Brooker style Doctor, if only for one week.
Spike: I think it is that spirit and humanity which makes me like Smith’s take on the Doctor. Even when playing dark he still feels utterly humane and moments like him playing with the kids in the store or talking to Stormy about growing old really brought across the kindly old grandfather vibe that Eleven has. I talked earlier about how Eleven is like a superhero for kids, someone who instinctively understands and won’t condescend to them and I think that is really refreshing in Children’s television.
Ian: Before it goes out of my head, did anyone else have the sudden desire to see Karen Gillan play Mary-Jane Watson when they saw that billboard in the department store? Don’t get me wrong, Emma Stone is a wonderfully talented, gorgeous girl who seems a tremendous choice for Gwen Stacy. But part of me now wishes it was M.J. again with Mrs. Rory Williams getting rescued by Eduardo Saverin.
On a slightly more technical note, Steve Hughes did a fantastic job. I thought this was comfortably one of the most visually pleasing episodes of the series so far. None of the shots, effects-laden or otherwise, felt ropey or static and I really liked the little wink to the audience with the silver mannequins early on. At least, I hope that was a wink at us.
Spike: I kind of hope Amy is a celebrity who is launching her on fragrance and not just some vaguely famous model.
Kristina: To paraphrase Gandalf, this episode is the deep breath before the plunge of the finale. It wasn’t as funny as ‘The Lodger’, but The Doctor and Craig are a really great team, and Smith and Corden’s real-life friendship shines onscreen. There were a lot of great call backs to ‘The Lodger’ that made me smile, from The Doctor once again being better at everything than Craig, to The Doctor brewing some strange concoction with a teapot. They even used the score cues from that episode when The Doctor first arrives at Craig’s house. Also, whoever came up with the idea to have an entire scene with Matt Smith cuddling a baby needs a raise, because that moment was the best scene of the episode to me, and not just because I spent the entire time saying “aww!” at the screen. He really shines when paired with children, and the dialogue of the scene reminded me a lot of my favorite scene from last year, where The Doctor bid farewell to wee Amelia before stepping through the crack in the wall.
I was really enjoying the banter and the lightness of the episode, which made Amy and Rory’s surprise appearance all the more of a gut punch. Loved the nod to ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ with the name of perfume being one of the passkeys to get into the old TARDIS console, and considering the fact that most famous people have completely screwy childhoods and a pathological need for attention, Amy being a famous cover girl makes complete sense. I am curious about how much time has passed between ‘The God Complex’ and now, because Amy seems to be pretty well known. You can just hear the little girl tell her mother “It’s Amy Pond!” before The Doctor sees the ad behind him, and with my limited knowledge of how the fashion/beauty industry works, it takes a bit of time to create and mass produce a perfume to the point that someone would recognize the creator/spokesperson in a store and ask for an autograph. One more thing that gave me a chuckle: when The Doctor is coming on to Craig in the lift/spaceship to keep him calm, Craig seemed kind of into it before he turned around and saw where they were. Look out, Sophie
Adam: I definitely hope that when Amy and Rory return–which might not even be next week, to my surprise–there’s a sense that some real time has passed for them (obviously it’s passed for the Doctor).
I think the reason why Craig returns in this episode is that it’s the Doctor’s final attempt to make a human connection before his “death”. There’s a story in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman that I’ve always loved, where a medieval peasant achieves immortality and begins meeting with Morpheus every hundred years in a bar, and without him really noticing, becomes his only real friend. It’s a sign of the character’s growing humanity, something that would obviously be really hard for an immortal to hang on to. I think this is the same dynamic–the Doctor’s had plenty of Companions, but he doesn’t have mates. His time with Craig and Sophie was the closest he’s come to trying to live like a human (well, aside from “Being Human”, but that was sort of a different circumstance) so he’s trying to recapture a bit of that experience, which obviously touched him. And of course you have the thematic appropriateness of all this, along with the “domestic” setting, in the episode right after the Doctor leaves Amy and Rory to grow up and leave childhood behind. It’s almost like the Doctor might be attempting a bit of that himself, but of course he’s Peter Pan, he can never grow up.
Here’s the thing about this episode: it’s thematically rich, it works quite well as part of the larger story, and there were some brilliant bits. But as an episode, it was pretty awful. ‘The Lodger’ somehow worked in spite of itself as a Doctor Who sitcom, but returning to that well turned out to be a very bad idea. It was wall to wall “komedy” (as B-movie fans have taken to call antic business that sort of looks like actual comedy but is completely devoid of humour) and sentiment, with a rehash of the annoying “The Power Of Love Will Save You” finale of The Lodger, except dumber. Three weeks ago there was some discussion about how “a father hugging his child” was a pretty unsuspenseful emotional resolution for ‘Night Terrors’, but I thought there was some actual weight to that because the child wasn’t really his. But here it’s just a boring, clichéd story about how love somehow magically trumps everything. After a generally very successful back end to S6, it’s really dispiriting to see this crap being trotted out as the penultimate episode.
Spike: I think the resolution to ‘Night Terrors’ worked largely because the rules made sense. Everything was a creation of the kid’s anxiety and so alleviating that anxiety would naturally make everything stop. The resolution in this just wasn’t properly established.
Casey: A lot of time has had to pass since ‘The God Complex’, let alone since the season started. Those 200 years. What has the Doctor been up to? How long has he jumped from ‘The God Complex’ to this episode?
The ending with Craig and the baby doesn’t have the same weight as Night Terrors, because one is about a father declaring his love for this child; the other is a dad just happy he made it through the weekend without any serious problems. One is true love. The other is whiny, suburban dad. I am really hoping I am right and this episode was really a send up of the previous Power of Love episodes.
And yes Ian, she would have made a great Mary Jane.
I really hope the Silents relationship with humanity is explained though.
Kristina: I have absolutely zero interest in the Silence anymore. It’s life imitating art here, because once the season moved forward and the Silence left my sight, I completely forgot all about them. When they popped up behind River, I wasn’t as freaked out as I know the show wanted me to be. I just shrugged and thought, “Oh yeah, the Edvard Munch monsters are back”. All of their creepiness, all of the anticipation that I had in the season premiere has been lost. Funny how all of the promo for the season premiere had me thinking that these guys were going to be the omnipresent big bad, but they’ve turned out to be a whimper while everything else is the bang. Moffat better pull a massive bunny out of his hat to turn that around. Like Casey, I want an explanation for the Silence. Better yet, give me a reason to fear them again. I know that they were creepy ten episodes ago, but I’m a “when have you scared the crap out of me lately” kind of gal. Why are they even still around if The Doctor basically gave humanity the go-ahead to wipe them out?
Spike: The Silence have also kind of been neutered by how easily the Doctor defeated them earlier this season and how little we’ve since of them since. I think if they’d been a consistent presence this season it might have made them more threatening, but it just feels like they’ve been licking their wounds for ten episodes now.
Adam: Well, as someone pointed out on the forums, there’s no actual reason why the Silence would continue to be killed once the generation that watched the moon landing died out. And there’s the possibility that none of these people are humans, too.
I like how there’s always a bit during the run of each Doctor where he’s gone off-screen for an unspecified length of time, usually with no Companion, thereby allowing for years of spinoff novels and radio dramas that take place within that period. And I appreciated how subtly they suggested that 200 years had passed for the Doctor–it doesn’t really click until he talks about how he’s going to die at Lake Silencio the next day/episode–which gives everything in this episode a lot of weight that it otherwise doesn’t really earn. Certainly the moment where he sees Rory and Amy becomes way more poignant when you realize they’ve been apart for centuries.
Casey: But the whole point of the moon landing video is because humans will see it forever, and will watch it no matter where they go (and I think there is also the unsaid idea of the fact this video will be going out into the universe for all to see at some point).
And yes, when you realize he is going to die the next day he has been traveling around for quite a while since the last episode. Also, there are all the weird things he does to get the attention of the Ponds’ in the first episode.
By the way, anyone else a bit put off by Craig having the Stetson? That was really the one part of the episode which just didn’t work for me.
Kristina: An explanation about where The Doctor got the hat really wasn’t necessary, and I don’t understand why it was even there. The bit with him taking the envelopes was more important to me, and I suspect to the audience. I don’t recall anyone wondering about the origin of his hat, but I do recall The Doctor licking and sniffing the envelopes in the hopes of garnering clues about who sent them. The Doctor getting the envelopes, not the hat, was the big payoff moment. Somebody failed Screenwriting 101 if they can’t understand that. What put me off about the ending was that Sophie didn’t get to see The Doctor one last time. I know the real focus of ‘The Lodger’ and this episode is the bromance between Craig and The Doctor, but I was truly disappointed that she missed out on saying hello. It really makes no sense that he couldn’t stay just to say a quick hello to her, but he’s got the time to have that moment with a bunch of kids on the street who have no clue about who the hell he is. For all we know, Craig wouldn’t have said a word about The Doctor ever being there until Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All narced on him.
Now that I’m on the subject of Sophie being left out, I’ve noticed that this series has featured a father and son in nearly half of its episodes, but the mothers barely register. There is no mom in ‘Curse of the Black Spot’, only the pirate captain and his son (can’t blame her, I wouldn’t want to show my face in that abysmal episode, either). ‘Rebel Flesh/Almost People’ featured a man and his ganger fighting for the right to be father to a son. Not only is the mom in ‘Night Terrors’ barely there, but the episode’s ending also heavily implies that she will never be informed by her husband that her son is not even her biological child, but some sort of alien leech. And now here again, the mother is sent away so the boys can play. The one mother who is prominently featured is Amy, and her attitude toward her child has been well-documented by yours truly as being odd at best and callous at worst. Going further, the one father who has a daughter is Rory, and he doesn’t seem to worry very much about his child or his parental duties, but the fathers with sons are going ballistic trying to save them and to be the best fathers possible. Now, I’m not calling Moffat a mommy issues-having misogynist who has been pushing an agenda down my throat all series long. I’m just saying that this cannot be a coincidence.
Spike: I also think it is interesting that River’s allusions to her parents seem focused way more on Rory than Amy.
Ben: Hmm. That could just be coincidence, could be that fathers are assumed to be the less competent parent and therefore provide more drama, or it could be foreshadowing something to do with Rory or The Doctor himself (who does have children, just ones never seen onscreen). Moffat has written mother/child perfectly well in the past (look at that relationship saving the day in the Empty Child), so I’m leaning towards deliberate agenda.
As for the Stetson, I think it’s meant as a clear visual cue to the younger audience about the impending events of Lake Silencio (like last year’s mop and fez playing a similar role on time-jumping).
Casey: I wonder if it has something to do with the Doctor as our space daddy? Maybe even something they don’t realize they are doing on the show. Great, now Karen has me feeling guilty for being a dad.
By the way, on the expanding Doctor Who fan base, a cashier at a store here in New Orleans over heard my son and I talking about Doctor Who and stopped us and joined in. It was funny and at the same time a sign that the show really is making some serious inroads into American culture.
Kristina: I’ve noticed that too, Casey. I’ve been stopped in the street when wearing my TARDIS t-shirt by people asking me where they can get one. The more the merrier, I say. This show and Smith’s Doctor are very easy to fall in love with, so I understand why the show is gaining in popularity here in the States. As far as the upcoming finale goes, I have to say that I don’t feel the same sense of excitement and anticipation as I did for last season’s finale. I don’t know if that has more to do with last year being my first year as a Who fan or the fact that last year’s penultimate episode ended with Amy dead, The Doctor in the Pandorica, and the entire universe being snuffed out. There was much, much more at stake last year. This year has felt much more intimate in scale, which has worked wonders in some episodes and has been problematic in others. I know that this isn’t really the end for The Doctor, and I’m sure everyone over the age of five knows that as well. The hook is seeing how he gets out of it and saves the day. I’m also curious to see how, if at all, this episode ties up loose ends. I want to hear the full conversation between the astronaut, who we now know is River, and The Doctor by the lake. We heard The Doctor say “It’s okay, I know it’s you” in ‘The Impossible Astronaut’, but it seemed like something else was said that we could not hear before the shots were fired, and I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that it’s pretty important. I want to see Canton Everett Delaware III again. I want to know what the heck happened in those three months between ‘Astronaut’ and ‘Day of the Moon’. I want answers, Moffat! Here’s hoping it’s a fitting conclusion to the season.