The wife and I are latecomers to the Good Doctor. Various mentions from friends like Zen, Davida, and Cat, had left me for years intrigued about the series. Knowing, however, that it has been going on since sometime in the 18th century (no, not really, but for a *really* long time) made ever getting into it seem daunting.
Last year sometime, Zen encouraged me to start with Season 1 of the new series. Though continuity-wise Chris Ecclestone’s Doctor is the “Ninth” regeneration, the series has the air of a “reboot,” a Doctor for a new TV generation. Russell T. Davies and crew assume very little of the audience and draw in newbies like us effortlessly.
I watched the first four or five episodes, enthralled. T watched the first and was interested, but distracted by other things. I waited, because I thought it would be fun for us to have something to watch together other than The Last Man on Earth (also fucking brilliant, BTW.) Our TV tastes often run along different paths. She likes TLC and HGTV, I’d rather watch Mad Men or the Blacklist. So finding something we can enjoy together on the tube is always very nice.
So maybe four or five weeks ago I watched another episode and mentioned to T that she needed to get into it. So on a Saturday we started the series over from episode 1 and by Sunday had gotten through 8 episodes. Since then we’ve binged 2-3 a night most nights and a few more on weekends. Last night we just watched the Season 6 mid-season finale, A Good Man Goes to War, which puts us roughly halfway through to catching up with the rest of the world.
It has a mind-bending moment at the end, which I’ll get to in a few minutes. But it got me thinking about some of my favorite, gasping or choking up moments since we’ve started. Five of them really stand out for me. Needless to say, that if anyone is out there who is even less caught up than I am, massive spoilers follow.
5. Song of the Ood – Season 4, Episode 3
In the episode Planet of the Ood, the Doctor and Donna find themselves at a “processing center,” where Ood servants (already seen in a previous episode) are, as they discover, created by lobotomizing Oods and robbing them of their individuality.
When their telepathic link is restored with their collective mind (a giant brain, basically) at the end of the episode, they join their minds in song, writing Doctor-Donna into their song as a hero for the rest of time. The moment when they are singing in peaceful triumph is heartbreakingly lovely and unexpectedly moving.
4. Vincent’s Legacy Revealed – Season 5, Episode 10
Playing on the idea of Vincent Van Gogh as both a unique artistic visionary while struggling with severe mental illness, the episode Vincent and the Doctor follows the Doctor and Amy as they try to save Vincent’s village from a monster that only Vincent can see. In reality, Van Gogh was not appreciated until after his death, and never knew that he would be considered one of the world’s greatest artists.
In the story, along with being derided for being a ne’er-do-well, he is also blamed for bringing disaster on the village as people become victims of this unseen monster.
Vincent and the Doctor discover that it’s really not an evil beast, but a lost and frightened creature. Vincent is forced to kill the beast to save the Doctor and Amy, and it’s not a moment of triumph, but regret.
But what really does it for me is that, at the end, the Doctor decides Vincent deserves a bit better. He takes him in the TARDIS to Paris, to the Musee d’Orsay, where Van Gogh’s paintings are on exhibition. During the sequence, Vincent watches as children and adults admire his paintings, while the exhibit’s curator waxes eloquent on Vincent as the greatest artist who ever lived. The scene is so deeply moving, done well without being overdone, and I shed a few tears myself.
3. Don’t Blink – Season 3, Episode 10
The episode Blink is the one episode my friend Zen warned me about. It’s always dangerous to set up someone’s expectations so high. In this case, it wasn’t high enough. I think what’s brilliant about this episode, now that we have 70+ episodes under our belt, is that it really has it all. It has suspense, an unusual enemy, and time travel is the key to everything.
Even more interesting is that the Doctor and Martha have relatively little to do in this episode. They are on the outside, with only his messages, planted through clever time travel and planning, providing the help that Sally Sparrow (a character who really needs to show up again sometime!) needs to escape the Weeping Angels.
One of the brilliant moments in this one, for me, is when you discover that her missing friend is the “grandmother” who sent the message with her grandson, and the revealing letter she manages to get to Sally years later to let her know what happened and about the happy life she ended up leading in the past.
The other is, of course, at the end, when Sally spies the Doctor and Martha outside her shop and delivers the folder and manuscript of the conversation that he’ll need to make everything happen the way it did. Mind-bending and brilliant.
Just This Once – Season 1, Episodes 9 & 10
In this two-parter, The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, the Doctor and Rose find themselves in WWII London in the midst of the Blitz. In the midst of the terror of war, people in the area are terrorized by what looks like a child in a gas mask that goes about in the shadows chiming, “Are you my mummy?”
The entire story is chilling and brilliantly crafted. But what makes it one of my favorites is what happens at the end.
Within the world of the series, the Doctor is often accused of letting the people around him die, whether friend or foe. And he is affected by this. He knows it, and while it rarely can be helped, he despairs at the wreckage and loss of life he leaves behind.
As this story wraps up, the Doctor discovers that the culprit is a “nanogene” that is essentially an alien substance that makes a DNA template of the victim and uses that to restore and heal living beings. Once the nanogene has the correct template, he releases it to heal all of the affected people. He realizes that “just this once” (!) the solution means that nobody has to die. He doesn’t have to kill anything to fix the problem. He has to heal them, each and every one. Giddy, he celebrates “Just this once, everybody lives!” It’s so beautiful, so affirming.
Then, just when you think nothing can go wrong, you cut away to Captain Jack, who has rescued everyone else by stowing a German bomb on his ship and carrying it into space. There’s no way to escape. He’s going to die. Jack mixes a drink to enjoy his final moments alive. The Doctor’s joy we just shared is tempered as you wait for Jack’s end to come.
And then “WHOOSH-WHOOSH!” There, in the back of Jacks ship, the TARDIS appears and they escape. Everybody lives!
Just this once.
The Only Water in the Forest is the River – Season 6, Episode 7
Oh boy – this is my favorite moment so far. In this episode, A Good Man Goes to War, the Doctor calls in many debts to raise allies to rescue Amy and her (and Rory’s) baby, Melody Pond.
An enemy soldier, a young woman named Lorna Bucket, who as a child had a brief encounter with the Doctor, sympathizes with the imprisoned Amy. She gives Amy a prayer leaf she stiched with Melody’s name embroidered into it in the language of Lorna’s forest-dwelling people.
Near the end, after we learn that Amy’s baby is still held by the Eye-Patch woman, River Song appears and reveals her true identity to the Doctor, who then leaves to find baby Melody. At gunpoint, Amy demands River reveal what she revealed to the Doctor.
River explains that the TARDIS translation effect works more slowly on written languages than spoken ones. She hands Amy the prayer leaf and says that Lorna’s people don’t have a word for “pond.” The letters start to transform in Amy’s mind as River says, “The only water in the forest is the river.”
The prayer leaf says, “River Song,” and River says to Amy, “It’s me, I’m your daughter. I’m Melody.”
Even now the hairs on my arm and neck are standing on end recounting this. It is a brilliant moment, well prepared in the writing and overwhelmingly delivered in just the right way.
River Song had already become one of my favorite characters, so enigmatic, mysterious, brilliant, beautiful, and compelling. But this is over-the-top and a testament to what I’ve come to love about this series.
There are many, many more wonderful moments that are exciting, funny, moving, heartbreaking, and more: the death of Madame de Pompadour, the Doctor falling in love, living an entire, wonderful life, then giving it up before it ever began, Rose learning her father was a bit of a cad, learning who was imprisoned in the Pandorica… And I’m glad we’ve got so many seasons still to come.