Day of the Moon
River: Your future is my past, your firsts are my lasts.
Production Code: 2.2.
Doctor Who Season: S32 (Ep2).
Story Number: 214b. (Footnote ).
Again – wow…
The scene of last week, in which River and Rory share their problems of being in the orbit of the dazzling Doctor, was just the beginning – these two characters and their dilemmas provide the heart of this story, a story with a lot of plot crammed into it, but which still manages to let these characters shine. Almost every scene in this episode is propelling the plot to a new startling direction, some partly-resolving some mysteries in small ways, some creating new mysteries, though it’s not just the plot of the two-parter but the larger plot begun a season ago with The Eleventh Hour.
A review in four parts.
AN AWFUL LOT OF RUNNING
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
David Bowie, Space Oddity.
Canton bagging up Amy was a surprise, (as were the apparent demises of River and Rory), though there’s not long to ponder just exactly what’s going on, as this week’s pre-credits sequence is exhausting in its rapid twists and turns and compressed storytelling.
Quite how 1960s America has “Dwarf Star alloy” walls (see also Doctor Who Warriors’ Gate and The Family of Blood for this substance) is explained by the fact that this is Area 51 of alien conspiracy theory lore (and they’ve presumably harvested various alien technologies). It’s a bit “The X-Files” (or if you prefer, very “Dark Skies” which was kind of like a ’60s-set X-Files). Those shows, this story – and the recent Doctor Who animation Dreamland – are all inspired by the “Roswell Grey” aliens of popular culture. As well as being a version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, that’s what the Silence are modelled on.
MULDER AND SCULLY
Commencing countdown, engines on
David Bowie, Space Oddity.
The X-Files. It took the “FBI agents investigate weird Americana” baton from Twin Peaks and ran with it. It also, along with handful of other TV dramas (NYPD Blue, Homicide: Life on the Street, ST: Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5) that sprang up about the same time (1993), carried on an innovation for TV drama that began the previous decade with the groundbreaking Hill Street Blues: that of the story arc across seasons of a non-soap TV drama. (The exact difference between TV soap operas and other TV drama is beyond the scope of this review.) Television dramas were no longer just one-off stories each week but a season-long (or more) serial.
It’s appropriate that Amy and Canton should echo The X-Files‘ Mulder and Scully here, as Doctor Who seems to be transmuting with this season into a drama that’s much more story-arc-focused. Of course Doctor Who has done season-long serials before (The Trial of a Time Lord) and when it began seasons featuring serials spanning seven weeks or so were the norm. Across the 1970s and 1980s though, separate stories of 100 minutes told across four weeks was mainly the format of Doctor Who.
With the 21st Century revival of Doctor Who, the TV landscape meant that stories across four weeks would be an oddity, and the basic episode unit broadly doubled in length to 45 minutes, telling mainly completes stories, to reflect what was expected of a primetime drama, though the inclusion of a few two-parters each year kept the idea of the traditional Doctor Who cliffhanger going. Doctor Who in the noughties did have a glimmer of the “story arc” about its seasons, though it was mainly character arcs and thematic motifs that tied everything together. Doctor Who this year though, to use the language of The X-Files, does seem to have its very own “mytharc” episodes now (this jargon meaning the episodes when Mulder and Scully weren’t simply investigating a “monster of the week”), while keeping the notional number of formal two-parters.
The tally marks that – that, if this was “regular” televisual language, spontaneously – appear on Amy’s face provide what could well become an iconic image for Doctor Who, one that indicates the presence of the Silence. It’s a similar but simpler visual motif to the one used in the film Memento, in which the main character’s inability to form memories of recent events hampers his investigation, and he illustrates his body with what he knows. Just as that film presents its plot in unorthodox ways, avoiding contiguous events presented onscreen, so does this Doctor Who episode, to show the effects of the memory-edit from the characters’ perspective – first Canton in the TARDIS debriefing, then Amy.
The Doctor has a master plan, which he’s formulated during the 3 months indicated by the pre-credits sequence – which is a mystery to the audience by the end of the pre-credits apart from the fact that, tantalisingly, it features “Neil Armstrong’s” foot. It’s an amusing scene with Nixon extricating the Doctor from the Apollo mission security but the funniest line of the story is down to Rory’s delivery of the line “America salutes you”, as the Apollo mission people gaze on in wonder and confusion and disbelief.
While half the TARDIS team are away on this mission, Amy is captured by the Silence (and there’s also the introduction on another strand of the ongoing plot, a frankly baffling moment showing a woman peering from a hatch in a door – a hatch that promptly vanishes).
BLACK BOX RECORDER
”Tell my wife I love her very much”
David Bowie, Space Oddity.
From Rory providing the funniest line of the story in a previous scene, to Rory providing a stunning and powerful line:
“She can always hear me, Doctor. Always. Wherever she is. And she always knows that I am coming for her, do you understand me? Always.”
With the waiting for the rescue attempt to begin, there are wonderful scenes between the Doctor and Rory, and the audience is led to believe that Amy’s heart is choosing the Doctor over Rory, even though “Amy’s Choice” seem to be resolved by the happy occasion of the wedding last season. Nearer the end of the episode this is all clarified as not being quite what the audience and Rory think.
The plot-threads that began with The Eleventh Hour continue as the Doctor learns that he is up against “The Silence” (and there’s black-and-white flashbacks to The Eleventh Hour and The Vampires of Venice which mentioned the Silence). The mystery of the spacesuit is partially solved as it seems the Silence have gone to all the trouble of inspiring the moon landing so humans create this particular spacesuit type – so the Silence then use it as part of an a larger exoskeleton technology, a suit for the mysterious girl: who seems to be, somehow, Amy’s child from her pregnancy which was announced last week. (That is one extraordinary plot summary there.)
Meanwhile the mystery of “Why do the TARDIS team need a black box prison anyway?” is possibly (possibly!) answered by Canton using the space (combined with the video-phone) as a black box recorder. It’s also a handy Area 51 prison for an actual “Grey” (not that anyone bar Canton remembers what’s inside).
THE TOMB OF THE SILENCE
David Bowie, Space Oddity.
All three actors that have portrayed the Doctor so far in the 21st Century version of the show provide a “Doctorish” character for the screen – Matt Smith’s Doctor however, while being a wholly new Doctor does seem to have echoes of the Classic era of the programme. This portrayal is an anchor to the past, a reassurance of continuity in a show which is actually transforming in quite radical ways. River and the Doctor emerge from the TARDIS to save Amy, and their flirting over their mission plan is something that would seem astonishing in another Doctor’s era, but seems like a natural progression in the story-so-far of the Eleventh Doctor and River.
All the Doctors of the past are fast-talkers in some way, ready to bamboozle their foes with a stream of words. No change from the norm then as far as that aspect of the show goes, though now there’s “back up” in this situation provided by River’s space-pistol – it’s not the first time the Doctor has a companion ready to combat the monsters with more than words (Ace her attitude to Daleks for example), though this scene does take it to a new level. It’s not clear exactly what the Doctor’s adding to the melee with his Sonic Screwdriver beside a green lightshow, though there’s an opportunity for Moffat to recycle his “what actual use is the screwdriver in this situation” joke from The Doctor Dances.
River Song. The first time the Doctor meets River, it’s the last day of her life – and they it’s forwards and backwards from the couple from that moment. (It’s actually more complicated than that – some future Doctor meets River for one last time just before the end of her life and that first meeting with the Tenth Doctor, and there’s the Eleventh Doctor at the age of 1103 crossing River’s path.) River’s sadness at knowing the day will come when the Doctor doesn’t know her at all is based on the idea that’s there is essentially two different arrows of time for the two characters though, passing in opposite directions. There’s a “tiny death” here as she realises that it’s her last kiss with the Doctor – and his first kiss with her.
So some of River’s mystery unfolds – they do seem to be an actual couple, and Doctor Who the programme seems to be again moving in uncharted territory. This is one of the few scenes that actually “completes” any sort of tale with this two-parter (the tale of one of River’s lasts, foreshadowed by last week), but it doesn’t mean this two-parter is unsatisying – it’s a thrilling installement of a new form of Doctor Who, one which the viewer trusts most of the dangling plot-threads of will be resolved with the larger serial of the season.
With this story, mystery of what “Silence will fall” actually means has, seemingly, partially been answered (at least what the Silence is), though how that phrase connected to the TARDIS exploding (The Pandorica Opens) remains a mystery.
The Doctor gets to acknowledge it’s the appearance of the “TARDIS” from The Lodger, as he’s the one character in the story who would actually recognise it – this thread is woven into the Silence ongoing mystery.
As the mysteries that will presumably be resolved this season (or next?!) accumulate, this season’s first story ends as the previous season’s first story ended: with the TARDIS screens displaying a clue to the forthcoming season. The audience are, unlike Amy, privy to whats on the screen, only this time it’s the alternating pregnancy, rather than the crack-waveform of The Eleventh Hour.
Or rather it doesn’t quite end on that scene as there’s a coda scene which is one big new mystery.
The story Amy’s Choice last season – with the characters alternating between seeming realities, of Amy being pregnant, then not-pregnant, now seems even more significant to this new era of Doctor Who.
Rating: 5/5 (for this part of the story, previous ep 5/5)
and for the whole story, 5/5.
Footnotes (and links)
The story number 214b signifies it’s the second part of this Doctor Who story. Without onscreen titles indicating episode-numbers of stories, it’s down to the “To be continued” and “Previously” to clarify when exactly a “story” continues and ends.
A defining characteristic of the TV “soap opera” is that they tend to be broadcast every week of the year. It’s how the BBC categorises dramas such as EastEnders – “Continuing Drama”. However in the Sixties Doctor Who was virtually never off the television screens with a break in broadcast of a month or so.