TV Right then, hello, just a couple of weeks until the 50th anniversary, big Doctor Who writing moment, so I thought I’d best do something to get back into practice after the long summer gap since the last time the show was broadcast. Some housekeeping. As you can see WHO 50’s reached 2011, which leaves only a couple of years left and nearly a month before November 23rd. Rest assured that in the eleven months since I wrote the introduction, I’ve solved this surmountable problem, if not quite to the point of deciding what to include in the title after the colon instead of the year. I don’t imagine you’ll be too surprised by the solution.
Night and the Doctor is a series of linked (well four of them are) short adventures produced for inclusion on the season six home release (although there’s a strong suspicion that one of them is a deleted scene). Whereas the two pieces from the previous year’s release, Meanwhile, in the TARDIS... (reviewed here) fit solidly within the ongoing narrative of the series filling in the gap between adventures, Night and the Doctor (well four of them) are more thematically connected, though they do continue to Meanwhile’s methodology of filling in character beats which the main episodes have little time for.
The final, slightly rogue part of Night and the Doctor is Up All Night, two minutes in the company of Craig, Sophie and Alfie from Closing Time, for which it’s a direct prologue. Apart from Craig stressing about breaking his new son in much the same way as does for much of the subsequent episode and a chance to see more of the delightful Daisy Haggard, there’s not much else to it, especially in comparison to the other instalments. It works in much the same way as the official prequels to other episodes of the series as a taster to come, which is odd because it wasn’t released in the same way as them (hence the assumption that it's a deleted scene with an upgrade). But at least it’s in the right place in the box set.
Most of them are thrown together on the same disc as The Doctor’s Wife and the Ganger two-parter, even though they’re actually more naturally set later in the series when it has already been revealed who River Song is to the Ponds which means they’d be something of a literal spoiler for someone, and there has to be someone, greeting this series for the first time and who hasn’t seen A Good Man Goes To War or Let’s Kill Hitler yet. It also disrupts the narrative on, say, an epic rewatch and something I should have realised when putting together my own list (though I’ll have corrected that before you read this, I expect).
The first is Bad Night, in which Amy discovers that while she and Rory are asleep, the Doctor’s having adventures without them. The adventure he's currently having without them is ridiculous and funny and the stuff of Doctor Who Adventures from what we see of it, and Matt has great fun playing up the wilder eyed, gesticulating element of this incarnation all fish bowl farce and desperate shouting, with Karen playing the straight woman. That’s the first of its pleasures, a chance to see these two existing in a way that doesn’t really happen in the main series with Rory assuming some of her and our attention, something somewhat underscored by the ending.
The notion of (a) companions sleeping on the TARDIS and (b) the Doctor meanwhile having adventures without them hasn’t really been addressed before. There were periods in the classic series which did play up the notion of the TARDIS as a home, with rooms and kitchens and the like, notably early in the Hartnell, Davison and McGann years (whole chunks of novels about the Doctor, Fitz, Sam and whoever just hanging around place), but much of the time we were expected to believe that one adventure pretty much led to another and to another, the essential human bodily requirements sneaked in, unseen between stories.
But if we do assume that (a) companions have always slept on the TARDIS and (b) the Doctor has always had adventures without them, a whole skein of spin-off adventures in which a given incarnation is travelling alone become less problematical. No need to assume, unless explicitly stated, that all the Fourth Doctor’s solo adventures, like the early Doctor Who Weekly stories, take place between The Deadly Assassin and The Face of Evil or The Invasion of Time and The Ribos Operation. He might just as well be travelling with Sarah, Leela or one of the Romanas, nipping out while they’re getting some shut-eye.
The next short, Good Night offers a more clearer bit of narrative house cleaning, addressing the fact that somehow Amy and Rory and though he goes unmentioned Kazran Sardick from A Christmas Carol, have two different versions of their personal history in their head from before and after history was changed. Logically they shouldn’t. If history is being changed, they should change too and they shouldn’t be aware of the difference, see Donna Noble in Turn Left, though if that was case, there’d be no logical reason for Amy to remember the Time Lord’s existence and bring him into Whoniverse 2.0 in The Big Bang.
As with all of these TARDIS based episodes, it shows Moffat at his poetic best, the Moffat of “The Panorica, that’s just a fairy tale…” and “We have until the rain stops.” You might wonder if the reason he ends up writing the same story over and over again is because he’s more interested in the stuff in between and that that same story is his way of including that kind of poetry without it seeming over-egged. The Rings of Arkanoid is an example of a story where such things can go catastrophically wrong, largely because the Doctor’s shouting them at a planet, the Who equivalent of that bizarre moment in post-Sorkin The West Wing episode Disaster Relief, which had poor Josh losing his temper with a building.
But like Bad Night, this also offers some tangential explanation for a few of the franchises oddments. When the Doctor says that time’s being rewritten all the time, and so their memories change, he’s suggesting that in the physics of the Whoniverse, causality and consciousness are somewhat disconnected, that it’s possible for someone’s timeline to change without their memories doing the same and although they themselves can’t quite put their finger on what’s missing it’s always there. The Doctor probably hasn’t delivered Rose’s red bicycle when he says it but it becomes a fond memory because he suggests it will happen.
The next two, First Night and Last Night are really one "long" story with a cliffhanger and go some way to explaining how the Doctor and River can have had so many adventures even taking into account the two hundred odd year gap towards the end of the six series. Young River, middle-aged River and old River (for want of better descriptions) at various stages of their experiences with the Doctor in just the kind of farce of which Moffat is a master, and where the cornerstone of his sitcom days, in Joking Apart and Coupling. Replace Matt Smith with Robert Bathurst, add in some stand-up comedy sequences, and replace River with a drunk woman and it’s practically the last episode of the first series.
We're watching the Doctor fulfilling his promise of keeping her entertained while she's in prison. The young River is the version experiencing the oddness of this older man dropping and knowing everything about her, the middle-aged River is right in the middle of the excitement and the older River is just days away from her mortal death in the Forest of the Dead, though as we discover later, that’s not the last time she’ll see her beloved. These are massive, huge character moments, which another series might have worked into the main drama, thrown in as a bonus feature on the blu-ray (and as such they’re missing from most reference works).
The most significant is visit to the Singing Towers of Darillium given extra portent after the implication that The Name of the Doctor is River’s final appearance. I bet most of you, like me, assumed that we see the moment when the Doctor turned up on her doorstep with the sonic and took her on this journey, knowing the implications and the tragedy of that, and it would be in the main show, presumably right next to his regeneration, yet here it is, or at least some of it. It’s the last time she’ll see him before he has Tennant’s face, but is this the last time he sees her? Is there a sense that he’s getting the moment over with for himself?
Never mind River flirting with the Doctor, Moffat’s flirting with the viewer, all of these unseen and unseeable adventures, that by implication keep the Doctor mysterious. Perhaps in a few decades, future fans with a license and the original actors will take it upon themselves to write and produce these stories for download, a Companion Chronicle about Jim the Fish, but actually it’s the not knowing which makes them interesting and extraordinary. As the web has demonstrated time and again when discussing story arcs with a few scant implications and ideas, consumers can often be wildly imaginative.
There are some fans who suggest that River should have remained in the library, an artefact of some incarnation in the far future, her origin a mystery and that she’s been diminished through each subsequent appearance. I both agree and disagree. It’s true that the characters in Doctor Who with the greatest narrative power are those who remain enigmatic, The Guardians, the Billis Mangers and The Shopkeepers, with their ambiguous motivations. When River was just some figure from the Doctor’s future, it’s true that she had a special power within the context of her first story, which remained right up until the broadcast of A Good Man Goes To War.
Yet for all that she’s still a mighty character and now when rewatching The Silence in the Library, there’s an agency shift which thanks to Euros Lyn’s direction and Alex Kingston’s performance seems entirely planned, in which we see a River who is heartbreakingly realising that it’s the moment she’s always feared (as she mentions to Rory in The Impossible Astronaut) when she’ll look into the Doctor’s eyes and he won’t remember her. An old episode gains a sub-plot with a whole new emotional resonance. Her line “Doctor, please tell me you know who I am.” has a whole new destructive force. There can’t be many series capable of that.