The Eleventh Doctor’s first two seasons were complicated. Really complicated. Even now, when the answers have been revealed, it’s still tricky to follow – and, actually, have all the answers been revealed? Not entirely sure. However, the start of the next season headed off in a different direction. The producers for the 2012 half-season set out to make mini-blockbusters – five big, standalone movies. And they had titles to match.
To fans – especially fans who have grown up with Doctor Who – story titles eventually become meaningless. A title is merely a label that represents a certain story, it’s not something that is analysed. But when you look closer… The Wheel in Space! Oh wow, space is so exciting, and on top of that there’s going to be… a wheel. Oh. The Leisure Hive – where bees relax? Black Orchid – OMG I can’t wait to see the one where the Doctor tackles some flowers! Then of course there are all the ‘name’ titles which are merely the monster or planet or something which means nothing to anyone out of context – The Krotons, Meglos, Castrovalva, Kinda…
British readers will probably be aware of an advertising campaign for a woodstain product that had the slogan ‘it does exactly what it says on the tin’, a phrase that has now passed into everyday usage. Season 7A is the Ronseal season.
Up first: Asylum of the Daleks. Now there’s a title to intrigue. Power and Evil – well, yes, Daleks need power and are evil, perfectly adequate titles. Planet of the Daleks! Yes, OK, it’s a planet, there are Daleks. Destiny or Revelation or Remembrance are not the most exciting, action-packed words. But asylum. Oooh. It speaks to you of Victorian horror, of madmen in straitjackets gibbering through cell bars. Put that together with ‘Daleks’ and the viewer is already hooked. Then on to the story – well, a twist is a powerful thing in the movie business, and here was a twist and a half (warning: spoilers, sweetie). Jaws dropped all over the land when the new companion seemingly turned up months early, and then she turned out to be a Dalek, and then she died. Wow.
Snakes on a Plane. I mean, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. Has there ever been a title more likely to appeal to children? Children love dinosaurs. Children love spaceships. But to put them together… In the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, six-year-old Calvin draws dinosaurs in rocket ships; it’s clear that nothing could top this in a boy’s imagination. The worldwide phenomenon of Steve Cole’s Astrosaurs books show how appealing the idea is to children everywhere. In the whole of Doctor Who, there has never been a more wow-that-sounds-amazing, blockbuster-y title. There are dinosaurs and they’re on a spaceship. That’s all you need to know.
Next up is A Town Called Mercy. With a title like that, could anyone doubt this was going to be a Western? And a town called Mercy? Well, if this had been a Terry Nation script you’d know it would indeed be a merciful town populated with merciful people, but it isn’t – so will this turn out to be ironic or a literal name? In any case, it conjures up images of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood bestriding the silver screen, heaven for any child who’s ever put on a plastic sheriff’s badge and played cowboys.
Slightly confusingly for genre fans, The Power of Three is a phrase strongly associated with the US witch-trio show Charmed, and as a title doesn’t quite draw the crowds in the same mega-movie way as its neighbouring episodes. Amid a series of all-action blockbusters, however, it serves as a chance to catch one’s breath, to focus on Amy and Rory and what happens to the Doctor’s companions, building up the emotion and the anticipation for their last hurrah…
The Angels Take Manhattan. From the Muppets onwards, many have attempted to take Manhattan on screen. But this is no Broadway show, this is the America of pulp fiction and film noir, and hold on a minute, that title says ‘Angels’, which means it features the scariest Doctor Who monster for decades. Then it only goes and turns the Statue of Liberty into a Weeping Angel! Amazing blockbuster set-piece or what?
So The Power of Three served as a breathing space amid the blockbuster movies. What we didn’t know then, but which makes a lot more sense now with hindsight, is that this semi-season acted in the same way for the Eleventh Doctor’s era as a whole. No one can sustain a breakneck pace for ever, there has to be a time to rest amid the twists and turns of complex story arcs. This was our breathing space before embarking on another breathless journey through the story of Clara to the Doctor’s regeneration – because the countdown to fifty is nearly at an end…
1. “It’s a dream, Oswin. You dreamed it for yourself because the truth was too terrible.” The devastating revelation that soufflé girl isn’t human any more – but we know the Doctor will never forget her. Asylum of the Daleks.
2. “Don’t you see? Violence doesn’t end violence, it extends it, and I don’t think you want to do this. I don’t think you want to become that man.” The Doctor preaches peace to Walter. A Town Called Mercy.
3. “Don’t despair, Kate. Your dad never did. Kate Stewart, heading up UNIT, changing the way they work.” A million fans cheer as they learn that UNIT runs in the family – Kate is revealed to be the Brigadier’s daughter. The Power of Three
4. “What the hell are you doing?” “Changing the future. It’s called marriage.” Together forever – Amy and Rory plunge to their deaths from the roof of the Winter Quay building. The Angels Take Manhattan.