1 May 2011

Doctor Who - The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon

For me the new series of Doctor Who began at Eastercon, watching on a big screen in a room with 600 people.
Watching with fellow fans is a fun experience. Just like going to the cinema, the experience is heightened by the reactions of others. This is especially true when those others are as appreciative (or probably more appreciative) as you are. Admittedly there was a guy with a rather large head sitting two rows ahead of me, but even that was not a major problem.

I should say that this post will be fairly spoilerrific, so if you haven't seen either of these episodes and you don't want to know what happens then stop reading now.

The Impossible Astronaut

Oh look, it's an impossible space-thingy title. Perhaps this was a clue that it's a two-parter, like David Tenant's Impossible Planet/Satan Pit. Of course I didn't realise I was watching a first part until the credits rolled. Surely that wasn't 45 minutes, it barely felt like half an hour! It is true that time flies when you're having fun.

The series opener was fun, I enjoyed it. Admittedly a week later I find I am having a little trouble remembering exactly what happened and -perhaps more importantly- why.
I know that one of the complaints levelled against RTD was that the episodes and plot arcs weren't clever enough, that there was a limited amount of build-up (presumably ignoring the phrase-of-week tatics employed with Bad Wolf and Doctor/Donna). Here Moffat unequivocably shows us that foreshadowing does not scare him. Except that thinking about the wider implications of this episode scares me slightly.

The first scene was all good, silly fun, with an angry Charles II storming down a corridor after the Doctor. Brilliant stuff! Although I was slightly disappointed that this meant the scenes in the BBC trailers were not part of a full episode set in Stuart England. I like Stuart England, Stuart England is cool.

Rory, Amy and River are summoned to America for a picnic. America is good, it's got lots of big, impressive scenery. However this picnic is interrupted, not by ants, but by an astronaut who kills the Doctor. This is alarming, but hopefully not too terrifying/scarring for the kids, because clearly all is not as it seems.
The Doctor's oblivious reappearance in a diner reveals that the murder takes place 200 years into the Doctor's own future - do you see how scary this amount of foreshadowing is! The amount of planning this requires (or seems to) is mind-boggling! It also suggest Time Lords don't age that fast, which makes sense as William Hartnell's Doctor must have been a good few hundred years old.

The death of the Doctor sets up an interesting dynamic among the TARDIS crew as River (who knows how these things work) must stop Rory and an emotional Amy from telling the Doctor what they witnessed. For once the Doctor is not the one with all the information, he doesn't have the biggest secrets, and -although he would understand it- there is a sense of collusion among the human characters.

Following what few clues they have the TARDIS sets off for 1969 and tracks down Canton Everett Delaware, the fourth witness of the Doctor's death, and the only one who seemed to have the slightest clue what's going on. A younger Canton (old/young Canton are played by father and son) is in the Oval Office, discussing mysterious phone calls received by President Nixon from a little girl scared by a spaceman.
The appearance of the Doctor in the midst of this serious, all-American thriller scene is hilarious. As is his request for Jammy Dodgers and a fez.

Amy's encounter with the mysterious alien in the White house loos is well done. The look and manner of the Silence is suitably scary, like greys but gribbly. I suspect that if I hadn't been in a room with 600 other people I might have been creeped out, but there's safety in numbers so the fear wasn't really present. The Silence are ingenious creatures, literally out of mind when out of sight, it's a superb defence mechanism.

The mysterious phone calls lead to Florida and a familiar-looking control room full of various kinds of alien tech. The team have further encounters with the Silence and discover the long-time nature of their presence, though only the audience is aware of the implications of the centuries-old tunnels.

Amy's pregnancy revelation is not only ridiculously timed, it was also clumsily introduced and smoke-screened.
Women on TV (especially recently married ones) are never ill for no reason, they are always pregnant. I suspect that this is in a BBC handbook somewhere! I've seen it so often that I feel like groaning whenever it happens. I suppose the fact that there was a married couple on the TARDIS meant that the kid issue would come up eventually, but I thought it might take a little longer. There are reasons for getting married that have nothing to do with procreation, or is that just me?

The ending, with Amy shooting the spaceman she believes caused/will cause the Doctor's death, is exciting. Amy has not always been a brilliant character, but in this episode she stands out as much as River when it comes to taking action.
When the visor goes up and she realises she has shot a little girl her look of horror is understandable. It's one hell of a cliffhanger.

Day of the Moon

3 months later. 
We're thrown back into the action as Amy, Rory and River are hunted down by agent Canton. The scenes jump back and forth, it's fast-paced and exciting. Amy runs down a dusty, desert highway surrounded by massive, almost-martian, rock formations. It sure beats running down corridors in Cardiff.
Does this deadly hunt have anything to do with the five-bar gate tallies that cover their arms and faces? Even the ever-elegant River ruins her formal look with black arm-markings.
Meanwhile a beardy Doctor is held captive in one of those big military installations that Americans presumably build for holding aliens. A box is being built around the imprisoned Doctor, does this seem familiar to anyone else? Wherever there's a box it seems like he's inside it.

Canton brings in body bags containing Rory and Amy, luckily they're alive and the whole thing has been a ruse to create a space where the Silence cannot observe them. An invisible TARDIS is hidden inside, and the group use it to catch River, who has done her usual trick of throwing herself off something, secure in the expectation that she will be caught. Will we be seeing more of this?

We are finally given some explanation of what's been happening. The Doctor and his companions are aware of the Silence and how they operate, though we don't know how or why they know this. The tally marks are a way of tracking Silence encounters, and the Doctor gives each of his allies a nano neural transmitter/recorder which allows them to document encounters and leave themselves messages. All very smart and sensible.
Thus equipped the team split up to hunt for clues. The Doctor goes to tinker around with Apollo 11, which does not amuse NASA. Amy and Canton go to an orphanage to find out where the spacesuited girl came from.

We get no information about what happened after Amy shot the little girl. I can understand the instinct to keep things moving and not get bogged down with exposition, but the cliffhanger from the previous episode is never actually resolved. While there's plenty of Silence-based gaps in memory, it does seem a bit of a cop-out to completely ignore a cliffhanger.

The orphanage is really creepy. The warden has clearly been damaged by many memory drains, and is operating on Silence instructions without the slightest clue. He is a puppet man and you can't help but feel sorry for him.
Exploring upstairs, tally marks seem to materialise on Amy's arms and face. This is eerily reminiscent of  the black writing that appeared on characters' skin in 'The Impossible Planet' and 'The Satan Pit'.
Amy finds the little girl's room in a bizarre and unexplained bit of dream-logic, that I'm not entirely convinced I didn't just imagine. (Did anyone else see that woman at the hatch that wasn't there later?)*
Amy is shocked to find a picture of herself with a baby among photos of the little girl. Her earlier revelation that she was mistaken when she thought she was pregnant seems like yet another smoke screen. Then the spacesuit girl arrives, so presumably Amy failed to shoot her. There are creepy echoes of 'The Empty Child'. You know the girl isn't going to say "Are you my mummy?" but that's certainly where my mind went.

Amy is captured by the Silence, and Canton learns that bullets injure them. Rory and River fetch President Nixon to get the Doctor released from NASA custody. Later Nixon appears from the black box the Doctor is supposed to be trapped in. Nixon-ex-machina is born.

The little girl escapes from her space suit and presumably flees. The suit turns out to be a mobile prison, enhanced by all sorts of alien tech. Clearly the girl is important somehow. There follows some days of planning and researching and setting stuff up, while an increasingly upset Rory listens to his wife's fearful voice over neural transmitter.

Eventually the Doctor sets things up so that the Silence end up ordering humanity to kill them every time the moon landing is broadcast. This cleverly uses the nature of the Silence against them. However it does rely entirely on the injured Silence captive saying something stupid before the moon landing happens. What if it had just sat there, y'know in silence, what would they have done then? For episodes that seem so well-planned and clever this does seem like a big dollop of dumb luck.

Amy is saved. River shoots a lot of Silence in a totally kick-arse way. Everyone gets away in the TARDIS. The little girl is apparently forgotten, even though she is yet another scared child that the Doctor said he would help.
The epilogue is clearly there to tease us. It was cool, but basically a massive tease.

This two-parter episode was very coupley - perhaps not surprising given Stephen Moffat is the man who wrote Coupling. I found that I felt bad for Rory and River, the other halves.

Rory -wearing rather wonderful serious, 60s specs- declares his commitment to Amy and his determination to not rest until she is safe. Then he is led to believe that in her last moments she is thinking of the Doctor, not him. I think I said "Poor Rory" about three times.
The Doctor brings up Rory's 2000 year wait for Amy when he was a plastic centurion. Rory remembers this, sort of. I have no idea how this works. I can't remember quite what happened with plastic/non-plastic Rory at the end of the last series. If anyone wants to explain it to me in the comments that would be helpful, there may be follow up questions.
The revelation that Amy was in fact talking about her husband is welcome, if a little contrived.

It's River I felt really bad for. At the end she gives the Doctor a passionate kiss, which understandably confuses him. He says that they've never done that before.
He shouldn't have told her, because now she knows that was their last kiss. It's confirmation that she's close to the day when he sees her and does not know her, the day she has been fearing throughout their relationship. And while it's all very well for us and Doctor, who have plenty of River Song encounters to come, she now knows she's coming to the end of their time together.
What we have just seen is, from her point of view, the death of their romance - and that's heartbreaking.

A lot of threads are set up in these episodes, many are left loose. Presumably they relate to the threads still left from the last series. It's fun and enjoyable, and the plot arc is all very clever (or it had better be, because a lot of expectation has been built up here), but is it too much?
Don't get me wrong. I'm really enjoying Who at the moment, and I enjoy a good plot arc. However I have the horrible feeling that I'm going  to have to do research online to remember what's going on.

* Edited to Add:
I didn't imagine it! I rewatched part of the episode on BBC3 after posting. Also the Telegraph reviewer mentioned the eye-patch woman too. I think it was just that that bit seemed so random, even in comparison to everything else.


  1. Re - Rory. What happened was that the Universe blew up so it sort of never happened. The reason he remembers is that Amy managed to pull the Doctor out of nonexistence with memories the Doctor planted as he left the Universe, leaving the realities of the old Universe and the new a little mixed up in places.

  2. Thanks.
    I had the feeling it was something like that. It was kinda confusing at the time and I didn't remember it clearly anyway.