DR WHO: “a pile of good things and bad things”

This afternoon marks the end of season 31 of DOCTOR WHO, or season 1 of the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) if you are watching it on the BBC. Bookmark this column for a few weeks if you are watching on BBC America or elsewhere around the world. No spoilers (sweetie) for tonight’s finale, but potential spoilers for earlier episodes this season after the jump.

First, Matt Smith has been the best doctor since, well, whichever the first doctor you saw first as a kid (that would be Pertwee for me). It’s amazing that a year ago, fans wondered if they could ever replace David Tennant. And now, the Tennant seems like a distant memory (perhaps feelings have been tempered given his mostly-underwhelming last episode). The Tennant era featured the occasional references to earlier Doctors, but not to the level there were this season. And Smith has done a great job of evoking the feel of Hartnell or Troughton or Davison. Steven Moffat may be putting the words in Smith’s mouth, but the actor is the one pulling it off.

Second, Moffat is only one season into his tenure as showrunner, but, for the classic WHO fan, it’s been a renaissance of both old references and capturing the feel of the old series without just bringing back classic monsters. Look at the recent Silurians two-parter. Yes, this is the just the latest monsters resurrected and given a new coat of paint, but the episodes had so much more. There were so many nods to the classic Pertwee era show: the sympathetic monsters, the plot involving drilling, a small British town and a conflict where the humans weren’t 100% in the right.  You can see Moffat’s love of the show coming through in every episode, even if they were not all winners.

Third, maybe the best thing Moffat has done so far is make the show scary again. His episodes written for Russell T. Davies had moments of fright (the kid in the gas mask, the skeletons in the spacesuits) but this season, just about every show has some kind of dread, be it from the monster of the week or the season-long arc involving the cracks in time.

Fourth, it’s great that Moffat continues to go out of his way to say DOCTOR WHO is a family show meant for kids. It seems hammered home in the Confidentials each week, when Moffat calls it a kids’ show or there are clips from some press event for an auditorium filled with kids. I don’t think Moffat wants to run off the adult fans of the show, but it’s clear they are not the targeted audience. Of course, the show wouldn’t be the massive ratings hit it is in the UK without kids and parents and DR WHO nerds all watching the show.

Fifth, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) is easily the best modern companion. Some on the internet complain about her acting (presumably not caring she’s still a relatively new actress), but her fiestiness and determination are the hallmarks of a classic companion. And thankfully, apart from one kiss (perhaps motivated by a near-death experience), there have not been the kind of romantic undertones that often weighed down the Tennant era shows.

And now… the season finale….. Your last chance to avert your eyes.

We’ve known for a while that something isn’t quite right about Amy, time-wise. The timeless old English village where she lives seems off, and not just from the absence of ducks in the duck pond. She doesn’t remember things she should. And there’s the crack in her wall.

Rich hinted it would be important to re-examine the season premiere. And there are a number of things in the episode that, in hindsight, are curious. There are the chirping birds, which must be important, given how often they’ve been heard over the season. There’s the “prison” on the other side of the wall. Whose eye is that anyway? The missing rooms and the perception filter (a term used repeatedly over the season) are here.

“The Pandorica Opens” certainly … um… boxed in our protagonists, both literally and figuratively. There were plenty of clues dropped about how The Doctor might get out of his dilemma. Not as many for poor Amy and Rory and River. And what of the Alliance, perhaps the most tenuous collection of villains since the Sinister Six or Injustice Gang. You can probably take bets in England on which baddie will be the first to turn on the group (the Daleks are likely even money).

My one fear about the season finale is what will probably be the inevitable backlash if Moffat doesn’t answer all the clues that have been dropped. As we have now seen with LOST, science fiction fandom can be demanding lot if their particular dangling plot line isn’t resolved (Dharma food drops, Hurley bird, outrigger shootout). Let’s hope Whovians are a more forgiving lot if the duck pond mystery isn’t answered for example.

Let the countdown to season 32 and/or the Xmas episode begin.