This is the season that a lot of you have been waiting for. To those of you who have been, River Song says “naughty, naughty” and Rory puts you in the cupboard. Series 6 is simultaneously the crowning moment of Steven Moffat’s career and his darkest moment. It is here that he rose higher than ever before and then fell so much lower.
It’s that juxtaposition, within each episode, that caused this episode to garner the reputation that it did. I know people who threatened to quit watching Doctor Who after this season, and individuals who did, only to pick it back up once the season was past. While I described the last season as one of the of the best seasons, but lacking in those emotional areas that could draw me in, this season has more believable emotional moments and episodes that could make a great season, yet it’s just... disjointed.
Series 6 is made up of two groups of episodes. The first group, “The Impossible Astronaut”, “A Good Man Goes to War”, “Let’s Kill Hitler” and “The Wedding of River Song” exist as part of the season. You must watch the season to have any connection with these episodes. The second group, “The Curse of the Black Spot”, “The Doctor’s Wife”, “Night Terrors”, “The Girl Who Waited”, “The God Complex” and “Closing Time”, are entirely episodic, with minute connections to the season plot, and seemingly little editing done to link one another. “Day of the Moon” and the two-parter “The Rebel Flesh” are episodic stories that are required for the sake of the season story in the way that “Human Nature” was required for “Utopia”, but cut off from the rest function as interesting episodes in their own right.
This is perhaps a good reason why Steven Moffat should be a writer, and not a showrunner. He crafts excellent stories- “The Empty Child”, “The Girl in the Fireplace”, “Blink” and “Silence in the Library” were all popular stories, and “The Eleventh Hour” is one of the best post-regeneration stories of all time. But it’s hard to write a five-part story in the span of a year, edit scripts, and do everything else a Producer must do. Yes, Russell T. Davies wrote five episodes per season as well, but he never tried anything quite so ambitious and over-written as Moffat does.
Failures of script editing are particularly noticeable in these seasons. Amy Pond is written as “The Girl Who Waited”- who was willing to wait for over a decade without her faith losing any strength. She was proven by the beginning of the season to have undying faith and devotion in Rory, and the one time Rory is shown to turn on Amy, it’s shown to be a trick by a god amusing himself with the TARDIS. Yet when Amy’s shown trapped on an alien planet for years, she manages to completely turn on the Doctor and hate him and everything he stands for. Even in that episode, it’s her love for Rory that gives her the strength to change the past, yet somehow in “God Complex”, it’s her faith in the Doctor and the Doctor alone that draws the group into a trap. This is an independent criticism of the fact that neither Matt Smith nor writer Toby Whithouse seem to have watched the Seventh Doctor adventure “Curse of Fenric”.
Those aren’t the only issues of this season. The concept of “Silence” has been passed around so many times in Moffat’s scripts that by the time “The Wedding of River Song” comes along, it’s lost its meaning. In Series 4, it referred to the silence left behind by death. In Series 5, it referred to the utter nothingness that would be left behind as the universe was destroyed. In Series 6, it refers to a race of creatures- or rather, a religious organization that those creatures lead- or rather, the death and/or silence of the Doctor. There’s a progression among these, one leads to the other, but any attempt to take them as a coherent whole leaves one baffled, wishing that the episode itself would simply be silent rather than continuing to introduce new meanings of the word.
Add this to the continuity gaffs, such as River having grown up with someone that she had trouble recognizing half a season prior, and the very concept that having sex in the TARDIS produces a time lord baby, and it's no wonder this season has the reputation it does. Combined with the fact that the "season based" episodes are largely about a character who annoyed many fans with her unrealistic, unexplained abilities and the nonsensical reactions of the world around her, and you get a season that's certainly not for everyone.
As for the other episodes, the ones without River, taken individually, they're fantastic. Or should I say brilliant? There are certainly better episodes, but these episodes make you think, and they carry emotional weight. "The Rebel Flesh", for instance, is a retelling of the Frankenstein story, if Frankenstein had a whole village of fellows. My biggest complaint about that one, by the way is the follow up where the story goes back to treating these creatures as tools, an assertion the Doctor spent two episodes rejecting and turned out to be right.
My advice is to watch "Curse of the Black Spot", "The Doctor's Wife", "Night Terrors" and “The Girl Who Waited”. “Closing Time” and “God Complex” aren’t as good, but you can watch these as well for average episodes with nothing major for or against them. Then, start to watch “The Impossible Astronaut”, “Day of the Moon”, “Good Man Goes to War” and decide if you still want to watch “Let’s Kill Hitler” and “The Wedding of River Song”.