It was the season when Steven Moffat stopped worrying what anyone else thought, and made his era his own.
For those of us outside the UK (eg. in New Zealand), this was really hammered home by the weekly opening monologue that the original BBC viewers had been denied…
Amy (V/O): "When I was a little girl, I had an imaginary friend, and when I grew up, he came back. He's called the Doctor. He comes from somewhere else. He's got a box called the TARDIS that's bigger on the inside and can travel anywhere in time and space. I ran away with him. And we've been running ever since."
There - it's not a show about a Gallifreyan from a junkyard any more. It's this new thing.
I guess it's difficult to review the series without looking at its story-arc. It begins with the Doctor's future death, introduces a terrifying new race, and - impressively - answers more questions than it asks.
I'm still unclear on River's history though. While growing up on Earth unaware that she was being raised by the Silence, and by Amy and Rory who were unaware that they were also raising her, with whom did she live? Although raised to kill the Doctor, she's fallen in love with him. Although raised to kill the Doctor, in the end the spacesuit she did it in could have contained anyone, and indeed he could have just been shot by a Silent without any need of an outfit, or a specially-trained assassin.
Explain later? He'd better.
And shooting such an unshootable target as the Doctor (witness all the soldiers who don't make any effort to in A Good Man Goes To War) with one or two simple gunshots is a bit unimaginative. How about a line of armed spacesuits emerging from the lake to surround him, each containing River at different point in her timeline, and all of them unable to later remember it? More leaning out from a spaceship above him to make sure he doesn't escape in that direction? The same below him under the sand, given the Silence's precognition of exactly where he will be standing at that moment in recorded history? He should at the very least writhe and suffer in agony at such a brutal assasination.
Nah, she just shoots 'im. Pfft.
Yes, it is a shame that episode one only mostly makes sense in the light of episode 13, but 'mostly' is a much better adjective to be using than the 'hardly' of the same dynamic last season. Just what motivated Canton's certainty of the Doctor's death in The Impossible Astronaut? Or River's statement after failing to shoot her younger self "No, no of course not"? Those statements seem to be going somewhere that the series didn't ultimately lead. Much like the prison behind the crack in Amy's wall in The Eleventh Hour, which twelve weeks later was flatly contradicted by The Big Bang.
At the outset, I was quietly hoping that this entire season might continue to unfold this single fascinating storyline about the terrifying Silence, but what we actually got was a six-part story spread-out among several self-contained ones.
Not to say that those shorter stories have been bad - The Doctor's Wife was great. A Christmas Carol and The Girl Who Waited were awesome! Night Terrors was simplistic but highly watchable in its execution. The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People (my least favourite story) and the self-conscious God Complex had bad points which were at least balanced by some good ones. And then bringing up the rear was The Curse Of The Black Spot, which just had very little going for it.
Many of the attempts to tie these independent episodes into the broader storyline have been tenuous at best, typically by just featuring the Doctor looking seriously at a TARDIS monitor in the final shot, and as such I found these one-offs a bit of a waste of time. Night Terrors and The God Complex were both about fear itself, a thematic clash which was an arguable goof on the part of the producers, although not as big a howler as their then rearranging the episodes to air them almost together!
All in all, this has definitely been a significantly better series than the last one though, and easily the best since the show's revival. It's all-time high point would have to be the central Let's Kill Hitler, which despite not delivering on the promise of the title (it barely even features the Führer), was a thing of joy start to finish. Something of a counterpoint to the misery of all the horror on display in other episodes.
It has also been the most prolific TV series that I've ever seen, barring the news. In addition to last season's computer games and his crossover appearance in The Sarah Jane Adventures: Death Of The Doctor, the Time Lord has broken through his own horizons by expanding into an insane number of minisodes, guest appearances in other programmes and, via the theatre, even this world. And all this in addition to his regular haunts of books, CD adventures and comic strips. (Now if only he can meet the gang from K9...)
If the series continues to thrive and improve at this rate, then the next season but one (coincidentally the fiftieth anniversary when I suppose we'll get to Trenzelor) ought to be amazing.
A Christmas Carol
Space / Time
The Doctor Who Experience
The Crash Of The Elysium
16th National Television Awards
Script To Screen 2011 / Death Is The Only Answer
The Impossible Astronaut / Day Of The Moon
The Curse Of The Black Spot
The Doctor's Wife
The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People
A Good Man Goes To War / Let's Kill Hitler
First Night / Last Night
The Gunpowder Plot
The Girl Who Waited
The God Complex
Children In Need 2011
Up All Night / Closing Time
The Wedding Of River Song
The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe