The "childhood fears" and "parenting" theme in Matt Smith's (#11) Doctor Who
It's the morning after the showing of Season 6b episode 12, Closing Time, and for the fourth time this season we are shown a dad finding his fatherhood to be with his son. Makes me long for a father who would have done that, but let's not take that detour. Each of the three episodes would appear to be "standalone", as does Closing Time. At first glance they don't seem to be part of the overall season arc, but when there's four episodes with similar themes in the same season we have to pay attention and take a look. Especially when the season also contains portrayal of the twisted childhood of one of the most enigmatic characters ever in Doctor Who history, River Song.
That is; the repeated theme of father-son redemption and bonding has a strong presence in season 6b. Strong enough that it must play a role in episode 13. The tail end of episode 12 was itself a longish trailer for episode 13, and we're obviously going to revisit the "Kill the Doctor" scene on the beach of that lake in Utah. It appears almost certain now that the "adult River Song" was the occupant of the astronaut suit and hence there may be an aspect to this story about a redemption of River Song?
Let's review the episodes
The Curse of the Black Spot: A pirate ship in the 1700's captained by the infamous Henry Avery. Avery's son was a stow away on the ship, causing Avery to get mad at the son and rejecting the son. Later in the episode there is a redemption between them. Avery and his son end up with a space ship with which to roam the stars.
The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People: One of the staff of the acid factory that's the focus of the episode has a son he cares about deeply. In the episode factory workers use synthetic people to do their work. The "real" version of that father dies during the conflict, leaving the "synthetic" version of the father to be the Dad of that little boy. The pull of fatherhood was used as a key element in resolving the crisis, as the Doctor staged his son's love and joy for the synthetic dad as an element in getting the synthetic dad to end the struggle in the episode.
Night Terrors: A young boy and his fears are presented as one of the scariest places in the universe. There is strain between the father and the boy, because of the terrors, and because the father was thinking to send the boy away so experts could help the boy. This set up a conflict of rejection (as in the Black Spot) and the story's conflict was resolved when the father broke through the rejection, broke through all the horror creatures, went to love the son, and during their embrace all was set aright again.
The God Complex: The only child in this episode was the young Amelia Pond who developed an affection for the Doctor that later grew to emotional attachment. She had developed a childhood faith in the Doctor that he always comes back, that he always fixes things, and that the safest place to be is in his presence. The end of the struggle in the episode came with the Doctor breaking that faith, so she can more clearly see him for who he really is. The story doesn't quite fit the redemption drama, but is interesting nonetheless.
In A Good Man Goes To War we saw the Doctor's baby crib. His own childhood gets mentioned a couple other times. In Night Terrors he starts reeling off a very strange list of childhood stories, and in Closing Time he spends some quality time with a baby talking with it about his own childhood.
Last winters Christmas special, A Christmas Carol, portrayed a bitter old man, who's an iron fisted magnate ruling dictatorially over a planet full of people. The people are kept in a Dickensian grueling struggle for life, hence the name of the show. In order to resolve the episode's crisis the Doctor decided to pop back and forth across this magnate's entire lifetime introducing changes in his life to attempt to change who he became. The story's resolution came when he brought the 10 year old version of that magnate face-face with the bitter old man version of himself, and they had a deeply moving emotional resolution.
This begs a question in my mind whether redemption of childhood wounding is going to be a significant part of the closing of Season 6b? It's almost certain this story arc will extend beyond the end of season 6b into season 7, which itself will contain the 50th anniversary season.
For example an element in season 6a/6b is how the Doctor, a word that's supposed to mean Healing, is in actuality a warrior and that death and destruction seems to follow in his wake everywhere he goes. Perhaps the root of this conflict in the Doctors identity is in the Doctor's childhood?
In A Good Man Goes To War we saw him brought face-face with this truth about himself (we'd seen a similar revelation of this in Stolen Earth / Journey's End). We were promised in A Good Man Goes To War this revelation would bring him deep into despair and into his own dark side. This didn't start being portrayed until The Girl Who Waited / The God Complex. Also present is the religious order known as The Silence who is working with Madame Kovarian (the eye patch lady) to kill The Doctor.
In other words we see that the Doctor has a conflicted identity. Is he a Healer or a Warrior? Events have shoved him into exploring who he is, his goals in life, his effect on those around him, and the emotional weight of the death and destruction that follows him wherever he goes.
The elements we've seen are the Doctor's childhood, his adult life pattern of warriorhood and death and destruction, as well as redemption of childhood wounding through love. It suggests there may be a healing coming up soon, that Love may be the resolution of the Doctor's death scene we saw at the beginning of the season. But from whom?