Not content with being one of the more enjoyable shows on television, this week’s (American) episode of Doctor Who decided to up the stakes by demonstrating why it’s one of the smartest, as well. As the Doctor’s future wife River Song would say, spoilers!
Previously, on Doctor Who: Forty-seven years of episodes, but what you really need to know is that the Doctor, a long-lived alien time-traveler who sees himself as the defender of all things good in the universe, and Amy Pond, his current traveling companion, have ended up in a cave on an alien planet that’s infested with aliens from an entirely different planet who can only move if you’re not looking at them. Oh, and they’re accompanied in this by the Doctor’s future wife (although the marriage has happened in her past; time travel, you see) and a group of paramilitary priests. Thing is, as wonderfully fun as all of that is – And it is fun, suitably spooky and thrilling and filled with imagination (I particularly liked the treeborgs, hybrid plants/machines described as both “an oxygen factory” and, more magically, “a forest on a spaceship… sucking in starlight, breathing out oxygen”) – what made Saturday’s “Flesh and Stone” so special was the way in which writer and showrunner Steven Moffat took the opportunity to tease out the future and purpose of the season as a whole.
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Yes, the threat of the Weeping Angels was dealt with – and even expanded (As scary as the idea that statues are moving when you don’t look at them may be, there’s something even scarier about the idea that if you look into a statue’s eyes, you’ll slowly become one yourself. Thanks for that new fear, Mr. Moffat) – in the second part of the season’s first two-parter, but in such a way that attention was drawn to recurring images from what we’ve seen of the season to date, and clues were given as to what it all means. For example:
- The crack in Amy’s wall from the first episode that has reappeared in every era the duo have visited since was explained… kind of. “One day, there’s going to be a very big bang, one so big it’ll make everything crack,” explained the Doctor, who also revealed that the white light streaming through the crack was “time energy” (Or, more poetically, “the fire at the end of the universe”) that unwrites history (Shades of DC Comics’ Crisis On Infinite Earths, especially when characters were entirely forgotten by everyone around except for Amy).
- The “very big bang” causing said crack occurs on June 26th, 2010, which happens to be the day after Amy Pond left with the Doctor, and also the day of Amy’s wedding (Although, as we found out when they returned there, Amy may be having second thoughts. Or, perhaps, seventieth thoughts).
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- The Doctor has a plan. And it may involve more time travel than usual. First off, we all saw him work it out while thinking about the time energy crack: “Time’s running out? …What if it could? Time, what if it could run out? …Time can shift, time can change, time can be rewritten. Oh!” he said, and then, grinning, “Time can be unwritten.” Maybe that explains why the Doctor reappeared with a jacket we’d just seen him lose (and which, in his next appearance, was lost again) and told Amy that she had to remember what he told her when she was seven. Is that a future Doctor? And if so, what did he say to her when she was seven? And when did he say it?
Weirdly enough, the idea that time can be unwritten – and that, as has been pointed out twice this season, people don’t remember massive life-changing events that they really should, like giant robots wandering around Victorian London – feels like it’s core to the theme of the season: Regeneration. The season started, of course, with Matt Smith’s first adventure as the regenerated Doctor, and since then we’ve seen the Daleks regenerate into new redesigned forms that look like Le Cruiset did a makeover. Maybe the season will see the entire show regenerated, via a continuity reboot that undoes all the high profile craziness of (previous showrunner) Russell T Davies’ run on the series and returns the show to the more lowkey nature of its 1970s/1980s heyday…?
(I’m convinced that Moffat, in only five episodes so far, has returned the show to being a kids’ show in the best way possible, returning a sense of magic and the unknown after a more recent, Hollywood-esque take on the concept. That idea was helped by an exchange between the Doctor and River wherein his comment that something was a fairytale was met with “Aren’t we all?” Alan Moore would be proud.)
There was something bold and just a little show-offy about this week’s episode; it’s one thing to have a season-long plot in the background (Every season since the revival has done so), but it’s another to so blatantly explain and tease it midway through, and in what started out as another story altogether. I’m left with the feeling that there’s definitely a clearly-thought-out plan at play this time around, as well as another feeling that there’s definitely some misdirection going on somewhere, and I just have to find it… But, presuming I’m not the only person who saw it, what did you think?