SPOILER ALERT: While there are no “direct” spoilers about Doctor Who in this article, these shorts are from Season Six and as such I am not careful about what information I reveal.
I finally caught up on Doctor Who three weeks ago, and I’ve run into the same problem I always run into when I catch up on my favorite shows: waiting for the new season to start is driving me nutso. In the mean time, I have rewatched season five and six about thirteen times and am gorging myself on Doctor Who Confidential, crying myself to sleep every night and wishing for a TARDIS so I could go forward in time to the beginning of Season Seven. (Complete disclosure, this would probably not be the first thing I did with the TARDIS, nor would it be the last…)
In the mean time, there are plenty of youtube videos and fanfiction to keep me busy, but nothing has been quite as satisfying as the “Night and the Doctor” shorts, extra mini-episodes on the Season Six DVDs. I was introduced to the shorts by a fellow whovian and good friend of mine who kept insisting I watch them when my Hate for River Song’s character wouldn’t budge, no matter how much the show insisted she was a relatively good chick. I’m still not her biggest fan, but now…I guess I get it.
One of the things I love about Doctor Who is how obvious it is that the people making it love it just as much as we do, and the “Night” shorts are further evidence of that love. Every season, in fact, has extra short videos on the DVD, and you can just imagine that they were created out of a desire to keep developing and playing with the characters. This series, for instance, shows what the Doctor does while his companions sleep. They’re mostly fluff, but they do endear the characters that much more and reveal tiny fractions of the Doctor’s life that we don’t get from his grander adventures.
That’s not to say that the shorts have no substance to them, though you don’t have to see them to understand the show itself. In the second short titled “Good Night”, Amy talks to the Doctor about how she can remember both her timelines–the first from before Big Bang Two and the second, the one she is living now, from after. He starts to answer the question, but instead insists she go buy her previous self an ice cream cone. While he does mention River in the first episode (titled “Bad Night”), the third (“First Night”) and fourth (“Last Night”) revolve entirely around her. At one point there are three different versions of River and two versions of the Doctor, all on the TARDIS at once. The titles refer to where each version of River is in her time stream; as it turns out both her first date with the Doctor and her last technically occurred on the same night–a night both return to frequently.
Stephen Moffat, who wrote four of the five shorts (“Up All Night”, written by Tom MacRae, features Craig, Sophie and Stormageddon) employs a storytelling technique with which he loves to torture us; something we like to call “emotional whiplash”. One moment the Doctor–tuxedo and top hat and all–is laughing and joking about, the next he’s got those sad puppy eyes and he’s reflecting on how River will have to die soon. This is where I started to understand River, what she means to the series and more importantly what she means to the Doctor. She represents to him, perhaps more than any other companion, everything heartbreaking about his relationship with the human race.
If I could only describe these shorts in one word, I would use the word “balance”. Viewed in succession, the series starts out at the height of ridiculosity (that’s a word now. Making up words is cool.), and ends with sobriety. Amy stars in the first two and River in the second two–balancing out the Doctor’s past with his future. The final episode, too, may seem like a throw-away, though it brings the story back down to Earth, adding another balance between the Doctor’s life in the TARDIS (space) with his affinity for returning to our planet. The entire arc shows just how complex the Doctor’s life is, even at night while everyone else is sleeping.