Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon

If I've complained too loudly about invasion-of-earth season openers which plagued the Russell Davies era, this story smashes the formula to smithereens. For one, it's scary: the Silence are as terrifying as the Autons and Adipose are laughable. Two, it's lengthy, the first two-parter to launch a season. Three, it doesn't find the Doctor fending off an alien invasion, but rather leading a revolution, for the aliens are already well ensconced and in control. Four, no time is wasted bringing out the big guns: the Doctor is killed seven minutes into the story, and while we can almost guarantee this will be undone by the end of the season, the message is loud and clear. Moffat isn't messing around. He's giving it to RTD fandom right up the ass and down the craw. The Eleventh Hour may have proven he can do something good with fluff, but now he's bidding the fluff adieu, and indeed treating the premiere like a finale. It makes me wonder what the real finale will be like.

The Moffat trappings are evident everywhere, from little child in jeopardy, to creatures you shouldn't look away from, to deadly forces clothed in astronaut gear, to abandoned gothic structure with large shared bedrooms, to despairing voices crying pitifully from one-way electronic devices, and some critics have charged that he's just recycling The Empty Child, Blink, and Silence in the Library. It would be disingenuous to retort that Moffat does this all so well that the self-plagiarism doesn't matter. Truthfully, the formula is getting old. But I won't pretend to dislike the execution. The best scenes come with Dr. Renford at the orphanage, as we find there are thankfully no children in this thrice-damned place whose walls are smeared with red warnings, "GET OUT", "LEAVE NOW", and kept by a mentally absent doctor. I actually find this institution more disturbing than the hospital in The Empty Child, and so whilst Moffat is clearly riffing himself, he is arguably improving on at least some of his material... but he can only get away with this for so long.

He is also creative as ever, which ends up saving a terribly rushed final act, and one that sees the Doctor heaping verbal diarrhea on the supposedly fearsome Silence who just stand around staring back at him. Indeed, his motormouth tactics hark back, alarmingly, to the atrocious technobabble climax of Journey's End, but there are thankfully no deus ex machinas here; the Doctor brilliantly uses the power of suggestion against the hypnotic wielders, who end up ordering their own execution over TV. And there is the added gem that the moon-landing video contains footage we never remember seeing -- and which further explains the pause in Armstrong's "and one giant leap", as if something is interfering with his memory. On whole, it's not the best resolution I could have hoped for, but at least logical, unlike the telepathic miracles which brought down Last of the Time Lords.

Richard Nixon is of course a highlight, and Moffat deserves a gold star for using a widely despised president to help save the world. It's amusing when he justifies the Doctor's breaking and entering of Apollo 11 with the quip, "I’m sure he had a very good reason for that," and outright hilarious when the Doctor advises him to record everything that happens in the Oval Office. He resembles the real Tricky Dick about as much as Churchill did in Victory of the Daleks, which is to say, so close and yet so far, but no matter. The scenes in the Oval Office are enjoyable, and Amy's encounter with Silence down the hall in the bathroom utterly terrifying.

The Doctor's decision to mercilessly wipe out the Silence is consistent with his moral compass, though at first blush it contradicts his peaceful approach in The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. But the Silurians are true natives to Earth, having just as much claim to the planet as humans, whereas the Silence came as invaders, even if the invasion is long past (since "the wheel and the fire"). That he uses humanity to wipe them out shows he is still at home being a revolutionary from time to time, though he is crueler than usual, not giving the Silence any chance to flee, perhaps on account of the fact that they (like the weeping angels) are just too dangerous to play fair ball with.

If The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon plays like a finale in terms of drama, it insists on what it really is by throwing down puzzles and leaving them unresolved. Amy espies a mysterious woman with an eye-patch in the abandoned orphanage; Amy is pregnant or not; the girl inside the astronaut suit may be her daughter, or River's, and is apparently a Time Lord; the Silence needed a spacesuit for the girl, but it's not clear why; for that matter, it's still not even clear who the Silence are, and whilst they've spelled their own destruction, it's a sure bet they'll be back this year. As for River Song, we've been promised an account of her this season, but for now we only get a kiss: the first for the Doctor, the last for her. A full stage has been set for season six, which could really take us anywhere.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5.


Anonymous Doug Chaplin said...

I have taken up your Facebook challenge to say something about these episodes, but I have rather more reservations than you do.

Blogger Mark Goodacre said...

Good review, Loren, though I don't accept that praising seasons 5-6 means denigrating episodes from the RTD era. The number one thing in reviewing an episode for me is re-watch value. And I really want to keep re-watching these two episodes, as I do the best of five, i.e. Eleventh Hour and the Big Bang.

I think I share some of Doug's qualms, though, not least because I can imagine the backlash when the media decide that these are two complicated for kids to follow. But so far, so good -- the critics are loving the series and ratings are holding up.

And the other side of all that: my kids were 7 and 10 when Doctor Who came back in 2005. They are now 13 and 16. That can be a time when people drift away from things that matter, like church and Doctor Who. But Moffat's exciting stories are keeping their interest going, which is great.

To stick my neck out: I think that the regenerating girl will be Amy. She'll regenerate into young Amelia Pond. I think the little girl has to regenerate into another little girl because it'll look bizarre for her to regenerate into an adult. And the only little girl that would have the wow factor would be Amelia. We don't know any other little girls in the series so far. I am almost always wrong on predictions, though, so you can guarantee that she is not Amelia!

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

@Doug: You make a good point about the zillions of unresolved issues, and I partly agree: it would have been nice to get some payoff in this story. For instance, we could have learned more details about the Silence themselves, which is the matter at hand. Other things like Amy's (non?)-pregnancy and the Doctor's death will come later, and I didn't expect otherwise.

@Mark: I'm amused by your comment on Doug's blog, when you say that you "loved every minute of these two episodes and agree with practically everything [Doug] says", but that's plainly not true, for Doug doesn't share your high level of enthusiasm, nor even my slightly lower grade enthusiasm for that matter. In any case, the last thing we should be worried about is over-complications. There were stories in the classical era far more "adult" and complex than The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon (think Warrior's Gate, Ghost Light, etc. -- some of the very best classics), and that's precisely what I loved about Doctor Who as a kid. We shouldn't underestimate children; many of them like being challenged this way. If we have to err on the side of dumbing down to the lowest common denominator (Rose, Partners in Crime) or well-crafted, intelligent scripts like this one, it's definitely the latter which are superior.

I like your idea about Amy, but yes, I suspect we'll all be getting a surprise here.

So this story looks like a clean 5 for Mark, a 4 for me, and I'm guessing about a 3 or 3.5 for Doug. Good discussion.


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