Warning – Some very minor spoilers for The Hand of Fear, and The Androids of Tara. Major spoilers for important bits of series five, six, and seven.
Also major spoilers for The Tomorrow People episode, Hitler’s Last Secret.
Well, after a big gap, here is part three of my investigation of Steven Moffat’s story arcs. Part two dealt with the first story of Series Six, and originally this part was to deal with the rest of that series, until I realised how overwhelmingly convoluted and inconsistent it was. So now this bit will take us up to the penultimate story, and part three will be all about The Wedding of River Song.
(Late edit – Grant commented that I was applying a level of scrutiny that most stories wouldn’t hold up to – and he’s right. So in order to be sightly fairer, I have coloured the bits that don’t really relate directly to the story or character arcs but are in fact individual episodic or story flaws. So if you’re just interested in the arc bits, ignore the rest.)
So, after events in Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon we get various cameos with Madam Kovarian, and then we get The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People. It’s a story about how Gangers are really, really honestly living sentient beings after all, and killing them is wrong, wrong, so terribly wrong.
That ends with the Doctor choosing to kill the Ganger of Amy.
He say he needed enough information to block the signal to the Flesh. The Doctor has already waited through a few stories previously, so it’s a bit off that once he has confirmed the Ganger origins and that Amy is a Ganger, he pretty much immediately chooses to kill her, rather than keep her alive and try to track the signal animating her.
But it was a nice, cool, shock ending. One that helped make the Doctor look, at best, like a massive, unfeeling hypocrite. At worst he’s a murderer. Would the Doctor have dispatched an actual living being like that? Oh wait, he spent the last two episodes arguing that the Gangers were real, living, feeling beings, so the answer must be yes.
I think it would have been more shocking if they way came up with to deal with Ganger Jennifer, that also took out the Gangers of the Doctor, Cleaves, and Amy. There’s a lot of drama to be had from that, especially if it turns out the Doctor didn’t know for sure, so he’s almost as stunned and shocked as Rory. And it avoids turning the Doctor into a cold-blooded killer.
But that’s not as cool or surprising, and one should always jettison good character stuff for cool.
So then we come to…
A Good Man Goes to War
Wonderfully cool opening! The Doctor just blowing up the cyberfleet feels a bit over the top, but it’s still pretty amazing as openings go. In truth, it’s an uncharacteristically brutal act by the Doctor – they don’t even get a warning, and it’s not as if they took Amy – but given the circumstances I can put up with it. Plus it indicates that the Doctor is willing to go all out. 
Rory visits River to ask for her help and she says, “This is the Battle of Demon’s Run. The Doctor’s darkest hour. He’ll rise higher than ever before and then fall so much further. And I can’t be with him till the very end… …Because this is it. This is the day he finds out who I am.”
We get to see the military operation at Demon’s Run, and naturally in the middle of a big speech about how their going to kill him, the Doctor turns up. Now, given they seemed determined to kill the Doctor, why did no-one fire as soon as he first appeared? Or why didn’t the Headless Monks zap him? The Colonel ever aims a gun at the Doctor’s head and then… tells the Doctor to come with him, rather than just shooting him then and there.
Illogically, rather than just lowering their weapons, the soldiers are ordered to disarm them to show the Monks they mean no harm, leading to them losing control of the base as all the Doctor’s mates appear. Vastra comments that they’ve taken Demon’s Run without a drop of blood spilled, and says to the Doctor that he’s never risen higher. I can think of a few instances, but I’ve seen all his stories, Vastra hasn’t. Plus blood was spilled, but not by them, if you want to get technical.
Rory and the Doctor talk about Amy’s Flesh avatar . “So her Flesh avatar was with us all that time. But that means they were projecting a control signal right into the TARDIS, wherever we were in time and space.”
Doctor – “Yeah, they’re very clever.”
I could forgive a bit of hand-waving like this, except this style of hand-waving is now the norm.
It’s odd he didn’t choose to even attempt to track a signal that is strong enough to penetrate the TARDIS anywhere in the universe, at any time, even in the space/time vortex. Obviously because a signal that powerful would be impossible to track, unlike the signals of varying strength he so easily tracked in stories like The Abominable Snowmen, Pyramids of Mars, Earthshock, Attack of the Cybermen, Dragonfire, Rose, Army of Ghosts, and The Stolen Earth, to name a few. 
Also, how does blocking a signal allow you to track it? Surely once the baddies knew the signal was blocked, they’d stop sending it.
Lorna Bucket tells us the Headless monks aren’t alive and don’t register as life forms… So why does shooting them seem to kill one earlier? Then the Headless Monks attack. Why? The attack achieves nothing. They’ve fooled the Doctor and gotten away with Melody, so why bother attacking? It seems pretty pointless. Unless…
Oh, maybe they were just really determined to kill the Doctor! Oh wait… no… no one even tried to kill him before when he was a sitting duck on the stage. In fact he was standing right next to some Monks. So that can’t be it.
Also, Dorium says that the Monks are using their attack prayer. How do they do an audible attack prayer when they have no mouths or heads? The twist at the stump of their neck doesn’t look like it’s made to let any air through, and their vocal chords are gone.
I can think of one way they could do an audible attack prayer, and all I’ll say is Le Pétomane would be very impressed.
The Doctor realises that River is Melody. So technically, the Doctor rose higher than ever before, fell farther for all of five minutes, and then was kind of okay again. If you’re going to create a big terrible sad moment, don’t undo it within a couple of minutes. It cheats the big moment of all that matters. I’ll come back to that in The Name of the Doctor.
Also, the Doctor running off to find Melody is crap. There’s no reason for it, especially given the current circumstances. Leaving Amy and Rory hanging is extra crap. They’re basically in mourning for their daughter. It doesn’t matter that they’re about to find out she’ll be okay – for a given value of okay. At that point they are devastated and their one hope, best mate, and the indirect cause of all that has just happened to them and their daughter, suddenly runs off and leaves them.
This is the same Doctor that, shortly beforehand, was all in the Colonel’s face about trying to get to him through the people he loves. He has a funny way of showing he loves Amy and Rory, leaving them confused, broken, and distraught.
Let’s Kill Hitler
In the recap we get the Silent saying “Silence will fall.” So we’re bound to find out what that actually means really soon, right?
So, Moffat is great at peppering stuff ahead of time because he thinks all this stuff through in detail. Really he does. Honest. True dinks. And that’s why earlier in this season we had that one line with Rory and Amy wondering how Mels was doing.
Oh, except we didn’t, did we?
In this episode the Doctor claims temporal grace was a clever lie when we’ve seen it at work before.  Let’s be charitable and put this down to the Doctor having not gotten it fixed. Otherwise it’s Moffat having yet another cheap shot at the writing and concepts in the old show, because his are so much better. And there’s never any plot holes or inconsistencies in his work, and anyone who thinks there is is stupid.
The Tesselecta disguised as a janitor made a lot of noise turning its head to look the officer walking past him. Bit of a giveaway. 
So the Tesselecta crew copy Erich Zimmerman, who is guilty of Category III Hate Crimes. They take him on board and let the anti-bodies kill him. But there’s no mention of dates prior to this. What if they take Zimmerman before he’s meant to die? Surely the first thing they should check after his name and crimes is when he died? What if his place is taken by someone even worse, who kills more people? Ones who weren’t meant to die?
The Tesselecta crew attack Hitler, then panic about it being 1938, saying they need to go later in Hitler’s time stream. It appears they didn’t check the date after all. Sooooo… how many years early might they have been responsible for Zimmerman’s death? How many people who shouldn’t be alive will be? Or how many people will die who shouldn’t? Seems like a rookie mistake of the highest magnitude, one that could have massive temporal consequences. But let’s ignore that.
The Tesselecta crew not only know about the Doctor, and the TARDIS, but they know what TARDIS stands for and that it’s a Type 40, Mark 3. From Gallifrey. And they know it’s been stolen. Really?
Damn but the Doctor Who universe has gotten small now.
Everyone knows everything about the Doctor, and the Timelords, and it seems like pretty much anyone can project or receive signals sent from one end of time and space to the other. Not to mention the fact every other race or villain seems to have some sort of temporal ability.
Now once Mels is River Song and has faffed around about her appearance for a bit, she tries to kill the Doctor as soon as she gets a gun. Why didn’t she shoot the Doctor back when she first pulled the gun and wanted to get in the TARDIS? Because she’s not rude? Really? Her excuse for not killing him sooner is she’s not rude?
I’ll pay that.
One of the Tesselecta crew says, “Time can be rewritten. Remember Kennedy.” Really? The Doctor’s death is a fixed point but Kennedy’s isn’t? Oh piss off! It’s a cheap shot.
This seems a good place to digress briefly to talk about the way Hitler is treated. There are some that feel the jokey nature of what is done with him in this story is in poor taste. I don’t have an issue with it. The way I see it, Hitler would have hated it. Neo-Nazis would hate it. There is a long history of using humour to help cope with the horror of what these people are about. Hell, Warner Brothers Cartoons featured Hitler a few times. And Hitler himself is played straight here, it’s the situation and reactions of those around him that is played for laughs.
And trust me when I say, the handling of Hitler in the Tomorrow People story, Hitler’s Last Secret is vastly more offensive in so many, many ways, on so many levels. 
I like the Amelia Pond voice interface. Shame the Doctor couldn’t make it look like, say, Idris.
So, these inbred idiots in the Tesselecta copy Amy, suck up Amy and Rory, and then teleport them to where they might be killed by the anti-bodies, rather than to the control room or some other spot. They then get saved with moments to spare. Good thing the anti-bodies are slow, otherwise the dopey Tesselecta crew would have murdered more people they shouldn’t have.
River killed the Doctor “On the orders of the movement known as the Silence and Academy of the Question.”
The Doctor asks Tesselecta Amy – “I’m dying. Who wants me dead?”
Tesselecta – “The Silence.”
Doctor – “What is the Silence? Why is it called that? What does it mean?”
Tesselecta – “The Silence is not a species. It is a religious order or movement. Their core belief is that silence will fall when the question is asked.”
Doctor – “What question?”
Tesselecta – “The first question. The oldest question in the universe. Hidden in plain sight.”
Doctor – “Yes, but what is the question?”
Tesselecta – “Unknown.”
River turns up in the TARDIS and says, “I seem to be able to fly her. She showed me how. She taught me. The Doctor says I am the child of the TARDIS. What does he mean?” This goes against what we were told in The Big Bang, where River says the Doctor taught her to fly the TARDIS, but then again, River does have to lie about some of the events in the Doctor’s future.
So, years of brainwashing to kill the Doctor are undone by Mels finding out that the Doctor loves River Song, and that she’s River Song? Years of brainwashing. That was not undone by 12 or more years around Rory and Amy, with Amy constantly saying how wonderful the Doctor was.
River uses her regenerative power to heal the Doctor. Given we saw the Doctor get a new hand because it was within fifteen hours of his regeneration, there’s no reason to doubt that this is doable. So long as they don’t go on to use regeneration energy for broken bones or anything it’ll be okay.
River kisses the Doctor. I hope she’d remembered to wash off the poison lippy!
In Closing Time, the Doctor is on his farewell tour.
A sweet, funny and enjoyable story, ruined by the story arc element grafted onto to the end with all the grace and subtlety of an elephant’s trunk to a kitten.
During a quiet moment with Craig the Doctor says, “Silence will fall when the question is asked. I don’t even know what the question is. I always knew I’d die still asking.”
Madame Kovarian turns up and talks to River who doesn’t recognise her because ‘they’ve been far too thorough’ with her dear little head. River turns and sees two Silents and asks what they are. “Your owners,” Kovarian replies. When River asks Kovarian how she knows who she is, Kovarian states “I made you what you are. The woman who kills the Doctor.”
Of course we come back to the big problem here – We know that one way or another, the Doctor is not going to be dead at the end of all this, so the pay-off is unlikely to ever match the build up. A cliffhanger works because you’re only wondering for a little while how the character is going to get out of trouble. Saying again and again for a whole season, that the Doctor’s going to die is a problem because no-one seriously believes it, so it has no real drama.
Really, the only way to pull it off would have been to actually kill the Doctor, than have a version from an alternate reality turn up, or have Amy believe him back into existence again, or something.
Next up – series six, part three!
1. At least, he’s willing to go all out when it comes to non-humans. A big deal is made that he takes Demon’s Run without a drop of blood being spilled. There may not of been blood spilled, but there was Ganger Amy’s goo, and goodness knows how many thousands of Cybermen were killed, just to make a cool point.
Now, if it had been made clear that these Cybermen were actively at war or something, I could have accepted it. But no, let’s make the Doctor all cool and badass (and I use the American spelling there deliberately) because that matters more than him being a moral character that we can look up to. BACK TO POST
2. Here Mr. Moffat, I’ll do your work for you.
Doctor – “Yeah, they were very clever. They actually used the TARDIS itself as a carrier for the signal. Meant they could project it anywhere and I couldn’t track the source.”
It’s not much of an explanation, but it’s way better than what we got. Give me for than a minute or two and I might be able to tweak it into something better. BACK TO POST
3. The Hand of Fear is the story when we got to see it in action. BACK TO POST
4. Look, I know it’s poetic license, but this sort of thing has always annoyed me. And the Tesselcta is a particularly bad example. It’s not even consistent, making loud whirring noises in some scenes, being completely quiet in others.
It’s been an audio staple of film and television for years. You have an android that can pass perfectly as a human being, but as soon as we know it’s a robot, the sound design changes so it makes whirring sounds every bloody time it moves. It’s so crap!
They subverted this trope beautifully in The Androids of Tara, where the Doctor realises someone is an android duplicate when he hears a subtle mechanical sound – one that we never heard. BACK TO POST
5. In this story we find out that Hitler was actually Neebor from the planet Vashir. He’s a shape shifter, and a psychopath. Kids around the world start wearing Nazi uniforms as part of a fashion trend, unaware that they’ve been genetically predisposed to do this so they’d be ready when Neebor, as Hitler, returns.
At the end of the story, we get the line, “Well, now that Neebor has been packed off to the Galactic Federation, it’ll be quite some time before he’s able to get up to any mischief again.” 6 Million people murdered – that was mischief! And at the end of the story one of the characters jokes that he’ll now only follow one dictator – John, the Tomorrow People leader.
Then they all give him a Hitler salute, start laughing, and we go to the credits. BACK TO POST
I honestly feel like you’re actively looking for ways to get annoyed by the series now. You’re applying the sort of scrutiny that pretty much 75% of the series would collapse under.
You’re probably right, though the vast majority of this are things that struck me on a first viewing, but there are three things contributing to this level of scrutiny.
1. The series had never been set up and presented as a show full of clues and hints that will pay off to the careful viewer before now. Even Russell Davies just gave us a name-check, without much in the way of other clues, that wouldn’t pay off until the final episode where he said, “It referred to this all along!”
If you’re writing a series as a mystery or a puzzle, you’re asking the audience to pay close attention. You’re saying, “I’ve thought this through, it’s worth your time to watch closely.”
2. This season was the first ever season of Doctor Who when, by the end of it, I honestly didn’t care any more. I didn’t hate it, I simply didn’t care what happened to any of the characters. Even season 24 at its lowest point didn’t stop me caring about the show. So it’s hard not to critically examine it to figure out what went so hideously wrong. And mostly what went wrong was the arc and variable characterisation.
As I said, a lot of these things hit me while I was actually watching it. They kept jerking me out of the show mid-episode.
3. Last but by no means least, was Moffat’s comments implying that people who thought his work had plot holes were stupid. It was egotistical, rude, dismissive, and insulting to a fair portion of his audience.
As far as I’m concerned, the moment he came out with that, he was inviting even closer scrutiny, since the implication is that no, it all hangs together if one looks closely enough. So now I’m really looking closely. There’s plenty of stuff I let pass previously because it didn’t tie directly to his arc, but now he’s essentially challenged us to find flaws in the writing.
I’ve only left in a bit of stuff that I would have jettisoned otherwise.
1. I might have dropped the cyberfleet stuff.
2. The bits about Demon’s Run staff failing to kill him when they had the chance and all the Headless monk stuff would have gone or been reduced.
3. I would have lost most of Tesselecta and Mels bits.
Yes, that would have gotten rid of a chunk of the article, but the arc stuff is still a huge friggin’ mess.
The actual truth is, I really, really wanted him to prove me wrong when he finally wrapped up the arc. I wanted him to rub my nose in it and say, “Look see? There’s a few rough edges, but it does all hold together.”
I would have loved that! I would have been really happy to say that wow, I was so wrong, and that Moffat had produced a truly brilliant run of Doctor Who that was unlike any other in terms of story-telling complexity and ingenuity. I would have been happy to publically apologise, because I’d be able to go back through this stuff with fresh eyes, ooh-ing and ahh-ing as I saw the hints and clues I’d missed, and be able to enjoy it anew.