Of the five items on the Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) category for the Hugo awards, there are three episodes of Doctor Who. I recently received season six on DVD for my birthday, which means I’ve been able to watch and rank all three.
Third Place: A Good Man Goes to War
I feel like this should have been the best of the three episodes. The setup was there: Rory and the Doctor have to rescue Amy and newborn Melody from a heavily guarded space station. To paraphrase River Song, this was an episode that was supposed to show us the Doctor’s finest moment, and then his darkest.
I wasn’t feeling it. It felt like the show was trying too hard, and cramming too many plot revelations into the episode. The Doctor was certainly clever and efficient, and it was interesting to see him calling in debts and putting together an interstellar A-Team. The Silurian and her human companion were my favorites. But it all felt rather by-the-numbers.
There were some great moments. Badass of the Year award goes to Rory for the scene when he marches onto the bridge of a Cyberman ship. I liked the “Melody Williams” vs. “Melody Pond” exchange between Amy and Rory. And I think it’s good for the show to explore the consequences of the Doctor’s “Basically, run…” reputation. But ultimately, while it was a quick-paced and exciting plot, I think that worked against the emotional side. It never stopped long enough to let me feel.
Second Place: The Girl Who Waited
I loved the central problem of this episode. After arriving at Apalapucia, we discover the planet was quarantined due to a disease that kills two-hearted species within a day. Through timey-wimey manipulation, they split off multiple timelines that allowed the sick to live entire lifetimes in that day, while healthy people could look in on them. Amy accidentally enters an accelerated timeline, and lives 36 years on her own before Rory and the Doctor find her. And since the robotic doctors would be deadly to a human, Amy spends those 36 years fighting to survive…
This was a “smaller” episode than “A Good Man Goes to War”: just our three main characters and a bunch of robots. I loved seeing Karen Gillan’s older, harder version of herself, complete with armor made up of the shells of old medibots, armed with a sword and club, and even her own cobbled-together sonic screwdriver probe. I loved seeing how she changed, and her hatred for the Doctor who once again failed to return for her. I loved that she stopped waiting for rescue, that she saved herself.
The last ten minutes or so were incredibly powerful. The Doctor can yank young-Amy from the timestream, but it would erase old-Amy from existence. I loved that old-Amy didn’t want to die. The moment when the Doctor shuts the TARDIS door on old-Amy was brilliant. I love that the show didn’t take the easy way out, that the Doctor knew what he had to do and did it. It showed the alien Time Lord side of him in a way I hadn’t seen in a while.
I did have some nitpicks. How did Amy learn to make a sonic screwdriver or a katana capable of decapitating a robot? What’s with this season trying to bypass the Doctor’s regenerations? (The plague would kill him permanently. Another episode referred to his regenerations being “offline.” Huh???) But overall, I thought it was a very good episode.
First Place: The Doctor’s Wife
I loved it. The plot itself was pretty typical — sentient superbeing called the House lures the Doctor past the edge of the universe in order to feed on the TARDIS. But first House has to remove the TARDIS’ matrix, and tucks it into a human form.
The relationship between the Doctor and Suranne Jones’ personified TARDIS was amazing. I loved their early conversations, when her perceptions were out of synch with normal time. I loved the history between them, and their obvious joy in one another. I loved the smaller moments, like when the Doctor is looking out at ruined TARDISes and seeing the parts he can use to rescue his friends, and Jones’ character points out that she sees the corpses of her sisters.
It was the ending that pushed this into the number one spot for me. Because a human body can’t hold the energies of a TARDIS for long, as we learned back at the end of season nine. And that means the Doctor will never again be able to talk to and interact with his longest companion the way he has in this episode.
In those last minutes, when he’s all but begging her not to leave, you see just how powerfully lonely a man the Doctor really is. It’s heart-wrenching, and it’s some of the best acting I’ve seen from Matt Smith so far.
For the Doctor Who fans out there, what do you think? Agree or disagree, or is there another season six episode you’d rank higher? (I haven’t seen the final few episodes of the season, so please don’t spoil those for me…)