There. I know that Who is obliged in a strange manner to resurrect old baddies on a once-a-season basis, but I danced around my living room when the Daleks were retired for the reasonable future. There is a huge amount of love in the Who community for those creatures of old, but as someone who didn’t grow up hiding behind that collective couch they all speak of I don’t have that nostalgia.
Whatever way you cut it, nostalgia isn’t real entertainment. It’s a soothing voice in your ear telling you that the past isn’t that far away, that your childhood is still within reach, and that the life you once had isn’t forgotten – there are millions like you, tugged every which way by life now but really just harking back to mother’s hand and father’s voice. If you don’t believe me, just ask Don Draper.
Art that requires you to have lived through something specific to enjoy it is not art. I shouldn’t have to have lived through the Vietnam war to love Platoon, and I shouldn’t need to have a degree in fine art to enjoy an exhibit at the MOMA. Art is a conduit of understanding, a way of conveying the feeling of something you’ve never experienced. It is how we live a million lives without having to leave the couch.
But even then, that’s not necessarily why I don’t like the Cybermen. I had an admiration for the Silurians of last season, for instance, though the story-telling in “The Hungry Earth”/”Cold Blood” was too predictable and lacking in stakes. So I’m not entirely averse to revisiting old territory, as long as that territory can still pack a punch.
What annoys me about the Cybermen is something that Who has been so very guilty of for as long as I can remember: love as story resolution. You can say that it’s logical for a species whose survival relies on coldness to be felled by emotion – but it still doesn’t really make sense.
And if you look at episodes of Who like “Victory Of The Daleks”, “Night Terrors”, the horrific conclusion of The Master’s rein at the end of season three, and even recent heavy-hitters like “The Girl Who Waited”, there’s a tendency to rely on love as an action in and of itself. But that’s not what love is. We all, by and large, experience the furious kind of love presented in these stories – some of us use it as a delicate tool to nurture those around us and give us the strength to stand up for what we believe in, whereas in others it manifests itself as the jealous boyfriend or the micro-managing parent. Love is not goodness, how you choose to use it is.
So while I understand that it makes love look awesome to have Craig’s feelings for his baby son overcome a race of robotic beings, I’m still unconvinced that the actions which lead us there (namely putting his son in danger in the first place) show that Craig deserves that kind of denouement.
Last time we saw The Doctor he’d dropped Amy and Rory off at a new house and was off on his own again. And now? Well about two hundred years have passed, we can assume, because the Doctor is now one day away from his death – and has come back to visit old friend Craig (from last season’s supreme instalment “The Lodger”) before he shuffles off. The details of these two hundred years are implicit, though.
We know the events of “The Impossible Astronaut” take place when the Doctor is, according to himself, two hundred years older. So the fact that he says he is one day away from death (although how he knows this is confusing, as he sort of exists outside time) is something we can use to extrapolate this fact. I myself find it strange that this detail is necessary, so am curious why Moffatt wrote it in at all unless it becomes very important. Two hundred years is a long time, after all.
And it shows. The Doctor here, ostensibly on a visit but with his interest soon piqued by unexplained electrical disturbances, is an older man. The selfless streak which saw him finally offload Amy and Rory seems to have been replaced by a tendency to think little of himself. He second guesses his actions regularly, and while I’d say it’s a little bit of character back-stepping I’m more inclined to believe that this is the attitude of a man one day away from death.
But what about those electrical disturbances? Well the Doctor decides in a distinctly Doctor-ly manner to take a job in a toy shop at the shopping centre which is at the centre of the mystery. Smith’s performance throughout this episode was perfectly pitched, and while I do have problems with the overall piece I won’t deny that it was a prime opportunity to showcase the various sides of the Doctor.
After some lovely interplay with Craig, Craig’s newborn son Alfie (or “Stormageddon”, as the Doctor deciphers he’d like to be known) and the various staff at the shopping centre we get to the heart of the matter – there are some Cybermen buried underneath the shopping centre, and they’re planning to destroy humanity as per usual.
The central duo of Corden and Smith works wonders here for the episode, but at times it come off as the difficult second episode of a sitcom – where the initial plot and freshness has worn off. I thoroughly enjoyed much of what was happening, but felt like the heavy lifting was left to the Doctor and Craig as they dealt with a fairly straight-forward plot. The diversion of the Cybernat, a mouse-like creature which terrorizes the two at home, was a bit of fun but really added nothing to an episode which was already too light on real twists and turns.
The culmination of the story, where Craig is almost turned into a Cyberman leader but instead uses the love for his son to short-circuit the robots was… well, you know what I thought of that from above. My favourite parts of the truly good Who writing over the past few years has been the logical conclusion to stories – where the Doctor’s smarts are really put to the test.
He used gravity successfully twice to escape and destroy the Weeping Angels in last season’s two-parter, he used the Silence own power to ensure they would be wiped out, and he deciphered the modus operandi of an an unknowable species in “Midnight”. It’s not just about good character writing, it’s about good story. And having a resolution that relies on the deus ex machina of love just isn’t good story-telling.
So while I welcomed back Craig, I wish a more active and more poignant story had been underpinning it – and I wish the Cybermen would amount to something more than a sentient toaster that can be short-circuited by Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”.
But there was a lot more going on here than just Celine Dion. Matt Smith, as always, was terrific – once again bringing to life the concept of an old man in a spritely young body. There was so much sadness there, a man facing his death after all this time (not that I don’t think he has a few tricks up his sleeve). The links to “The Impossible Astronaut” were nicely slipped in – Craig lends him the Stetson hat he wears in Utah, while he also steals the blue envelopes that he will use to invite River, Rory, Amy and Canton to his death.
There was also, of course, the re-appearance of Amy and Rory. A few years have passed since the last episode, and Amy appears to be some sort of model – or at least a female of enough repute to have her own perfume line. The latter in fact seems more likely as the fragrance name (“Petrichor”, the smell of dust after rain) and the slogan (“For The Girl Who’s Tired Of Waiting”) are so clearly her doing.
We don’t know much because it was a very brief cameo, but they seem to be quite happy. Which is nice. But, and here’s the thing, Amy and Rory are going to be back next week – and I believe at least one of them will be returning next season. Under what circumstances would they be willing to return to the TARDIS, since their departure was so cleanly founded on good decision-making? The only thing I can think of is, and I hate to say it, the death of Rory.
And we did get one hell of a tease for next week’s finale in the final minutes. River Song, now Doctor River Song after graduating, has researched witness testimonies (though those child’s voices were a bit corny) to find out when the Doctor will die – presumably to try and save him. But before she can do anything about it, Madame Kovarian shows up again with two Silence in tow.
The River in “Let’s Kill Hitler” may have failed to kill the Doctor, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t destined to kill him. She is knocked out, dragged away, and wakes up in the astronaut’s suit at the bottom of Lake Silencio. It would seem that she is still meant to kill this man (though let’s not forget the fake-out of the Doctor entering the Pandorica and Amy actually being in it from last season’s finale).
The bigger question here is – why must it be River? My only thinking now is that she is the one person whose timeline the Doctor would never risk. If he stops her, she will never be the woman he loves.
However, with the appearance of Amy and Rory on the cards, as well as the Silence falling when the question is asked, and of course the fact that the Doctor simply cannot die, it’s impossible to predict.
But it’s Stephen Moffatt, and as always I have the utmost faith.
– Baddies’ heads need to stop exploding when they’re defeated. Buffy episode “Hush” did it, and did it well – but come on.
– Loved the scene where the Doctor is saying to himself over and over again that he won’t help, even as you can see his brain spinning out plans to do so.
– There’s a story in the Cybermen, I’m sure. But it’s a story befitting the Borg in Start Trek, and not this “they’re evil GRARRGH” which has come up every time.
– The conversation between the astronaut and the Doctor in “The Impossible Astronaut”, which we didn’t hear, is I’m sure crucial.
– The gay panic was somewhat overdone here, though I thoroughly enjoyed the scene where Corden and Smith were about to kiss on the Cybermen ship.
– Madame Kovarian’s eyepatch? Internet speculation has it as a constant projection of a Silent, so you never forget.
– “Page one has an exclusive on Nina, a local girl who got kicked off Britain’s Got Talent. These people are on pages seven, nineteen and twenty-two. Because no one’s noticed yet. They’re far too excited about Nina’s emotional journey, which—in fairness—is quite inspiring.
– On kissing: “I’ve had some wonderful feedback.”
– “I am so very old.”
– I feel like we’re at a point where we can let River go. I would like to see “The Wedding Of River Song” be the conclusion of this arc, as we can reasonably assume that so many happy non-murdery good times were had by the Doctor and River in those missing two hundred years.
– I am really genuinely afraid for Rory.