Goodbye, for now, Series Six, we hardly knew ye. Younger blog-readers may be perfectly used to a mere thirteen week season, but from 1970 to 1981 we typically got new Doctor Who 26 weeks of the year (40-odd weeks a year in the sixties!). And for Peter Davison’s three years, 1982-1984, we got the same number of episodes, albeit in a twice-weekly schedule. Sure these were 25 minute episodes for the most part, but still – a new episode of Doctor Who 26 times a year!

In the late eighties, the number of episodes was slashed to 14, but still at 25 minutes, so about half the number of new minutes that we get today, and it may therefore seem churlish to grumble, but grumble I will. It’s been less than two months and suddenly my Saturday nights seem empty and grey again. Boo! Splitting the season has the advantage of broadcasting six episodes in the more-traditional autumn months but the wait for September will be agony!

Still, at least Moffat and co gave us plenty to go out on. This was full of incident, character and delightful touches. Beginning with a hugely enjoyable pre-credits sequence with Amy talking up Rory who then proceeds to exceed even her prodigious description of him, by busting into a set of extremely glossy-looking Cybermen and delivering an explosive message from The Doctor while dressed as Roranicus Pondicus and waggling a sword. “Don’t give me those blank looks!” Ha!

Next, Moffat keeps The Doctor off screen for half the episode (shades of The Christmas Invasion) but keeps him firmly in view since he’s pretty much all anyone talks about. Moffat attempted – possibly misguidedly – to top Rusty’s “companion army” in The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End with a “monster army” in The Pandorica Opens, dragging out of storage every serviceable monster costume since 2005 and having them form a slightly absurd and fanwanky alliance to kill The Doctor. This time, he’s done both at once, with a companion army formed of old monsters. But he’s smart enough to give most of them a cheeky twist. So we meet Madame Vastra, a Sherlockian Silurian living in lesbian sin in Victorian London. We encounter Commander Strax, a Sontaran warrior who approaches his new vocation of nursing with exactly the same bombast and bluster that the stumpy clone-warriors generally bring to vanquishing Rutans (“I am capable of producing magnificent quantities of lactic fluid!”). And we get the return of big blue Dorium Maldovar from The Pandorica Opens, now fleshing out both his name and his personality.

Arthur Darvill, as noted, gets to play Rory with considerably more nuts and panache than usual – although he still (delightfully) fumbles his sonic-ing of the door to Amy’s cell. Even Danny Boy – the magic laser-equipped World War Two space flying aces – suddenly seem like a good idea and not blitheringly stupid when deployed out of the blue like this. Only Pirate Captain Boring and his moppety son remain resolutely lacking in any interest whatsoever. What a waste of a classy actor like Hugh Bonneville.

That lapse aside, throughout this episode, Moffat showcases his two great strengths as a writer and as a Doctor Who writer in particular. Much has been made of prolific Who-scribe Robert Holmes’ line in the cast-iron classic The Talons of Weng-Chiang, “I was with the Filipino army at the final advance on Reykjavik”. In this single throw-away from The Doctor in response to the villain’s challenge about how he can know so much, Holmes conjures up a brief glimpse of a whole other world, history and culture. We don’t know all the details, but we strongly suspect that they are all there, and this makes everything feel so much more credible, tangible and complex.

In the same way, Moffat’s easy and unfussy reuse of the religious army motif from the excellent The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone opens a window into a universe in which worship and warfare are identified (as has generally been the case in human history until very recently, Moffat points out). Casual references to praising costing more, the attack prayer, level one heresies and the papal mainframe herself tell us tantalisingly little but add untold depth and richness to the narrative fabric.

Only partially successful in this context are the headless monks – maybe a case of Moffat’s love for Doctor-Who-as-fairy-tale pushed a little too far? And the narrative seems unsure about whether the contents of their hoods should be a surprise or not. On the one hand, the rest of the marines look thoroughly startled when Colonel Manton dramatically exposes them (revealing a slightly wobbly appliance balancing on a diminutive extra’s head and shoulders). On the other hand, we’ve basically seen what’s under there through the eyes of The Fat One (“we’re the thin fat gay married Anglican marines – why do we need names as well?”) and, well, they’re called The Headless Monks, for fuck’s sake. What else could have been under there? Well, The Doctor obviously and that wasn’t much of a surprise either.

But what happens next is glorious stuff. “Please point a gun at me if it helps you relax,” crows The Doctor, dramatically returned to the centre of the narrative at his most playfully heroic. Colonel Manton is very, very well drawn here. An intelligent, possibly sensitive man, with a clear mission and a moral purpose, who makes the best decisions anyone could under the circumstances and who is still completely and totally outwitted by The Doctor in under four minutes. What follows is the outstanding scene of the episode, possibly the series, as The Doctor dubs him “Colonel Run Away”.

Matt Smith, who has previously been captivating, mercurial, whimsical, moving and enthralling is nothing short of mesmerising in this stunning exchange, surely destined to become a classic. If someone who vaguely remembers the one with the giant maggots asks you what the new series is like, you need do little more than show them this single two-minute scene. “Oh look, I’m angry. That’s new.”

This also brings up The Dark Doctor, a figure which the series has toyed with since day one. Much has been made of the original Doctor’s “crotchety”, “anti-hero” status but series creator Sydney Newman was well aware that a successful long-running series could not be based on this and on viewing the unbroadcast pilot had the Doctor’s performance toned down for the real first episode. “Old man still not funny enough,” he fumed in his notes to producer Verity Lambert and director Waris Hussein. The Doctor quickly became a much more benign figure and this trend increased over the next ten or so years, during which The Doctor quickly became a benevolent uncle instead of a mysterious and aloof outsider. Sure, he had occasional moody or sombre moments, but these were rare and fleeting. The Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, had a few more of these, but under producer Graham Williams, these vanished again, replaced by a lot of rather self-indulgent undergraduate humour, and then with Peter Davison, The Doctor became more straightforwardly heroic than ever before.

But the production team suspected that a darker vein could be mined for dramatic effect. Their first attempt was so hopelessly botched, I can’t even begin to recount it here, but a slightly less crass version was begun with Sylvester McCoy in the last years of the Classic Series, before the show was axed and the experiment terminated – at least on TV. In the original novels which filled the void while the series was off-air, this vision of The Doctor as arch-manipulator, one step ahead of everyone else, and playing companions and villains alike eventually became overwhelming and pretty soon the pendulum swung back the other way with later Seventh Doctor adventures and pretty much all of the Eighth Doctor original novels and Big Finish audio plays depicting a Doctor who just liked careering around the universe fighting monsters because it was fun.

It’s this sense of fun which Russell T Davies first chose to emphasise when the series triumphantly returned in 2005, but by making The Doctor now the Last of the Time Lords, a new darkness was allowed to bleed in as Eccleston’s intense Ninth Doctor struggles with survivor guilt and so the pendulum swings back and forth between The Blithe Adventurer and The Lonely God, depending on the demands of narrative and variety.

Part of this is a new (and welcome) devotion to reality since the series returned in 2005. Issues which were previously ignored are now being addressed and often used as the foundations for new stories. If you uproot young women from their lives and take them on a tour of the universe, they will be missed. If you fight alien invaders on planet Earth they will be noticed. And if you fight every alien menace in the universe and always win, then your reputation will spread. Sure, the series also feels free to ignore these elements when it suits (especially first contact) but the notion that The Doctor is known, famous, feared is certainly interesting and logical. It’s also dealt with much better here than in The Pandorica Opens (sufficiently that I don’t mind the repeated motif of an evil alliance forming to create the perfect trap for the hated Doctor) and in general this is so much better than the way in which the Sixth Doctor was portrayed essentially as a member of a galactic rotary club, a universe in which everyone had heard of Time Lords and was sort of vaguely impressed but regarded them fundamentally as self-important nuisances rather than near-omnipotent and aloof figures of tantalising mystery.

The question is – can the series survive this deconstruction of its lead character? Moffat is smart enough to know there are some conundrums which are only interesting when they are unanswered. Susan, the First Doctor’s granddaughter notwithstanding, The Eleventh Doctor simply answers “no” when asked point-blank whether he has any children. (Notice the Gallifreyan collar notch in the back of his cot?) But equally, he knows that if he never answers any questions, pretty soon we won’t be tantalised so much as lost. Or even worse, Lost.

So, here come the answers – or at least the answer – we’ve been waiting for since Silence in the Library. River Song is Melody Pond, Amy and Rory’s daughter, conceived (“they don’t put up a balloon”) on board the TARDIS in flight. It’s a testament to just how good this episode is that I’ve written nearly 2000 words already without even alluding to this revelation, because really it isn’t the point at all. Point or not, it’s still handled with tremendous skill. This is Moffat’s other key strength as a writer – his ability to hide secrets in plain sight. As with the TARDIS being something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue in The Big Bang last year, he gives us just enough that we kick ourselves when we see the revelation, but not enough for us to be able to work it out ahead of time. Melody = Song. Pond = River. This may not have been planned as far back as 2008 but he certainly had it by the time of The Eleventh Hour.

But many, many questions remain – how does The Doctor suddenly know where Melody is? Where, in fact, is she? Is she – as many assume – the regenerating child who found herself in America in 1969? What will Madame Kovarian do with her next to complete her transformation into a weapon? Is there any connection between her and The Silents? And so we return to my first point – the sheer cruelty of making us wait another three or so months to find out the answers.

These have been a very strong set of episodes, but I remain slightly disquieted by the tension between the fundamental Doctor Who adventure-of-the-week format and Moffat’s new serialised approach. Would he have been happier plotting out a genuine 13 part narrative – 24-style? Watching episodes 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7 consecutively there’s a very strong narrative arc that works extremely successfully. What’s confusing and distracting is that the two more-or-less stand-alone episodes are such polar opposites in terms of quality. If the propulsive series-spanning story is going to grind to a halt for a week, then it needs to be for something as magnificent as The Doctor’s Wife. It can’t be for plodding run-of-the-mill stuff like The Soggy Pirate Rubbish or whatever it was called.

A few final quibbles from this episode. I assume The Doctor was joking when he said he could speak baby – god help us all if the TARDIS translation circuits start translating its every half-formed thought. Why are we saying “avatar” now and not “ganger”? Did Moffat not read Matthew Graham’s scripts? What on earth was going on with that here-today-gone-tomorrow forcefield around the TARDIS? Very weak.

And finally… “Let’s Kill Hitler”!?

Over all though – five stars, no question.

Now, I’m going to rewatch Silence in the Library to try and fill in some time until September. Still, there’s always Torchwood I suppose.