Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon written by Steven Moffatt and directed by Toby Haynes

This story in a nutshell: Doctor Who finally takes on the moon landing...

Nutty Professor: So it looks like the Doctor has been having a wealth of solo adventures without Amy and Rory whilst they enjoy their honeymoon. These days he is practically unrecognisable from the sexless geek we travelled with for so many years – not only does he have ladies lusting after him all over the universe but can now be found stark bollock naked beneath sheltering beneath a woman's skirt. Imagine that being Hartnell! Much more successful is the Doctor waving from inside a Charlie Chaplin movie – watching his delight as he dances away with one of the greats is sublime. Let's not beat around the bush the Doctor suggesting he has had enough of travelling and being murdered and burnt is a massive game change for the series that only comes along once in an era (the Doctor’s introduction, revealing the Time Lords, exiled to Earth, the discovery of the Time War, etc). It would be nice if the outcome had been as monumental as this story is keen to suggest but ultimately this is a hollow threat that only serves to frustrate because it could never be answered in anything but a narrative cheat. Who does the Doctor trust more than anybody? I clapped when Matt Smith came innocently strolling out of the restroom with a straw hanging out of his mouth, undoubtedly the Doctor. You feel really sorry for the younger Doctor who mournfully sulks when nobody seems to be happy to see him and refuses to be manipulated. Love the Doctor mouthing ‘sorry’ for breaking into Apollo 11 to Nixon. His flirtation with River has been taken on a whole new level and I felt very uncomfortable when he was clearly as randy as a dog dry humping his owners leg when she is about to murder a bunch of Silence. I wish Moffat would just get it all out of his system with a DVD and a packet of kleenex before sitting at the typewriter. This rampant, horny Doctor is quite distasteful and spoils a lot of the work that Matt Smith is doing otherwise. As a reward for all his good work he gets his first (and last) snog with River. I really loved the image of the bearded, helpless Doctor inside the prison, left to rot because he is so dangerous. I'm uncomfortable with the idea of him telling everybody on Earth to rise up and kill the Silence - he knows what a murderous bunch we can be and that in some cases it will be quite, quite vicious. This can be skipped over by saying they deserve it and they did it to themselves but like in Remembrance of the Daleks when the Doctor (supposedly) destroyed Skaro he is ultimately the tool of their destruction. Surely there was a better, less genocidal solution?

Scots Tart: Immediately it feels as if Moffat is trying a little harder to make Amy more approachable. Her and Rory are at the bar supping cokes whilst the parents catch up. The Doctor is inextricably woven into Amy's life from childhood so when it appears that he has been murdered she is devastated which won me over more than any of her material in the previous year. Amy swearing on fish fingers and custard is a lovely touch. It would appear that Moffat has to go to some lengths to torture Amy in order to make her appeal since the sequences in and around the orphanage really put her through the wringer and I was behind her every step of the way. Her deathly scream as the door closes on her is disturbingly memorable, the juxtaposition of her being in the child’s bedroom and her shriek of pain suggests the agonising pain of childbirth. A portent of the future? It's irresistible to want to talk about future developments revealed in The Almost People but I wont except that Day of the Moon’s Amy scenes takes on a whole new meaning when you understand what is happening. Needless to say she isn't exact herself here.

Loyal Roman: Arthur Darvill has subtly changed his performance as Rory since his character-changing act as the loyal Roman in last season finale. I'm still not sure why he is back as a human after the universe was rebooted by Amy simply willing it to be so (The Big Bang has some serious problems, narratively speaking) but I am glad he is because his presence now tempers Amy rather than making her more acerbic (as it did last year). Gone is the ridiculous buffoon who trips into trouble and in steps a mature and engaging Mr Pond. Astonishing that it is Rory who holds it together and sends the Doctor respectfully on his way and not Amy. He walks from the TARDIS a pasty, bony British man begging not to be shot. When Rory turns on the Doctor and tells him that Amy always knows he can hear her and that he will always be coming from her a new understanding builds between them. He has reclaimed his wife now and the Doctor is the outsider. Which is how it should have been all along. We ache with sympathy for Rory when he listens to what he thinks is Amy telling the Doctor that she loves him. He admits in a quiet moment with the Doctor that he remembers every second of his 2000-year vigil waiting for Amy. I still don't understand that either.

The Only Water in The Forest is...: I love how River has invisibly become a series regular and her escapes from prison are skipped over so effortlessly nowadays. Why do his companions give him such a hard time these days? Her cold anger towards the Doctor when he turns up after his death is fierce - doesn't she know how timey wimey (grr) his life is these days? Her mastery of the TARDIS consoles makes me laugh every time. The scene between Rory and River is exceptional and all the more powerful because the story stops trying to impress for a second and just enjoys a moment of character between them. When you discover later that this is her father it takes on even more meaning. With some horror River realises this is the first time the Doctor has kissed her and that this will be the last time she kisses him. I might object to their lip-locking but that is a poignant realisation. River told Rory that she was scared that one day the Doctor wont remember her at all and from her perspective that will be their last meeting – she’s off to the library next where the tenth Doctor won't know who she is.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A Time Lord’s body is a miracle. Even a dead one.’
‘Even by your standards this is cold…’
‘You were invaded a long time ago. America is occupied.’
‘Welcome to America!’ – how else would Canton greet the Silence but pumping lead into them?
‘You’ve just raised an army against yourselves and now for a thousand generations your going to be ordering them to destroy you every day.’

The Good Stuff : The trip to America was worth it, this is some of the most awe-inspiring location work the series has witnessed in its 50 year history. Look at that Ariel shot of the bus as it stops in the sun kissed desert backed by Monument valley. That's feature film quality. The astronaut in the water is exactly the sort of weird juxtaposition that Doctor Who gets away with where few other shows would. Whilst I object to the idea of the Doctor's death scene being posed if it is never going to be followed up satisfactorily, the realisation of the moment itself is astonishing with some dramatic handheld camera work to give it some edge. It was daring to suggest that this was the Doctor's death scene, to see him shot once to trigger a regeneration and again to murder him during it. Beautiful imagery haunts the Doctor's wake as his burning pyre is released on the water at dusk. If you are going to have a story set in the White House (and why not – to see Doctor Who aping The West Wing is a personal dream of mine) you need actors as strong as Stuart Milligan and Mark Sheppard in the lead roles and they acquit themselves beautifully. Odd that the long shots of the Silence should be so ineffective because the masks are one of the most butt clenchingly scary things we have ever seen in Doctor Who. I love the sequence of the poor woman who succumbs to their sizzling fingers in the toilet, Doctor Who is trying to be properly scary again. The idea of a monster that you forget the second you look away is another smashing Moffatt concept to chill the blood – how do you know if this monster is behind you if you cant remember them? Brrr... It looks as though the ship in The Lodger was the property of the Silence, linking these stories up. The fact that Doctor Who can feature a scene of one of the regulars potentially shooting a child is remarkable and shows just how far the show has to go these days to shock its audience. A friend of mine said she was bored in the middle parts of this episode but was gob smacked by that cliffhanger. It is particularly grim when we realise later this year that Amy almost murdered her own child. I know this is going to make me sound like a screaming hypocrite (wait until you read the paragraph below) but I love the opening teaser to Day of the Moon despite the fact that it is leaping about like a flea on a griddle. It has a formidable narrative drive to it as the Doctor’s friends are captured; features some astonishingly gorgeous location work (the swoop over the mountains, the long shot of Rory at the dam) and clever ideas (the prison, River landing in the swimming pool). Doctor Who has never felt more like a movie (even when it was a movie) and it’s glorious to bask in how expensive and epic it all looks. At this point season six genuinely feels as though it is going to be EPIC. I love stories that suggest the passage of time (Marco Polo, The Romans, Trial of a Time Lord) and the Doctor’s beard and Rory and Amy on the run suggest a wealth of ‘in between’ adventures. Let's count the wonderfully scary clichés in the orphanage scenes – lashing rain, lightning, a scary old man, bloody writing on the wall, squeaky doors, an empty staircase, a child’s bedroom, a rocking horse moving on its own…it is fantastically scary stuff. Love the zoom from the shuttle with the Doctor enmeshed in its workings. How creepy is that moment when Amy enters the room in the orphanage and suddenly she is covered in black counters? It brings home the conceptual horror of the Silence in one small but undeniably creepy action.  Just how many times has Amy tried to escape that room? The glistening, creaking Silence hanging from the ceiling is one of the ickiest Doctor Who moments ever. It might be completely out of place (but no more so than Rose appearing at the end of Partners in Crime or in other quick shots in series four) but the shot of the eye patch wearing woman saying ‘I think she’s just dreaming’ in the wall is wonderfully bizarre. Moffat uses the Moon Landing media splash to expose the Silence – they are hardly the brightest of nasties if they are taken in by the Doctor's manipulation when the whole world is watching. After a manifest of gay characters in the Davies era, Moffat trumps him by producing one of the most well rounded, likeable and smart characters in Doctor Who who just happens to be gay. The regeneration scene at the close is a deliberate appetite whetter. It did the trick with me.

The Bad Stuff TIA: I don’t want to sound like I don’t want clever television or to have the narrative spoon fed to me but Steven Moffat needs to calm down on these location swapping teasers that eat up so much budget but only tell a fraction of the story. It was glossy and wonderful in Time of Angels, clever and clarifying in The Pandorica Opens, but here it is starting to feel as though this is the only trick that Moffat can pull off in his teasers. Anything that is this expensive should not feel pointless. Sometimes I wonder if Moffat stresses the discontinuity of the Doctor’s life just so he can keep using the phrase timey-wimey – what is wrong with a crisp, linear narrative? The sort he employed so successfully in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances? Can the show be too clever for its own good? I certainly felt during the first episode that the leaping about was squeezing the life from whatever plot was trying to breathe out. To have River’s Time Travellers Wife relationship entangling with the Doctor’s possible death enmeshing with Amy’s potential pregnancy sees a set of distinctive regulars that are twisted up in a bit too much plotting. Whatever happened to simply travelling off to the next destination? All we need is Rory to reveal that he isn’t real and you would have a et of regulars who are only interesting because of complicated character narratives rather than simply being well written and engaging. There was once a time when Doctor Who was inveigled into plots by the cleverest of means but simply dumping the TARDIS in the Oval Office is unsubtle and the Doctor simply mouthing his way into a position of power is unconvincing. The child on the tape channels the Empty Child but it’s nowhere near as scary. Sometimes this story is trying so hard to have significance at a later date that it struggles to find an identity of its own. Certainly I recall this two parter as one that is very much ensnared in the retarded plotting of this season rather than a story in its own right. That's probably why I don't revisit it very often. ‘Night terrors with a hotline to the White House’ – as an explanation for why the President is getting the phone calls from the little girl this is a little ambiguous. The Silence have been influencing human history since the very beginning and as a result I am starting to wonder if we actually achieved anything as a species with all these aliens piling up to take credit for our leaps in evolution (the Daemons, the Jagaroth, the Silence – do they take it in turns?).

Musical Cues: The music for the Matt Smith era continues to impress with a lovely Southern American twang to some of the series themes and some touching chorals during the Doctor’s funeral.

The Shallow Bit: Needless to say Rory and River as the Nixon’s aide and secretary both look gorgeous in their unusually formal clothes.

Result: An expensive attention grabbing two parter with a wealth of beautifully realised and memorable scenes. However it is far from perfect and The Impossible Astronaut is unhappily one of the most awkwardly paced and frustratingly plotted Doctor Who episodes of all time that holds its audience at a distance by trying to be too clever for its own good despite the astonishing sequence of the Doctor’s death. Regardless of strong performances and witty lines by the end of the first episode I was distinctly unengaged simply because the plot progression was so haphazard and frustrating. It almost feels like Steven Moffat is trying a little too hard to live up to his own reputation of being a clever sod. Day of the Moon is far more attractively written with less emphasis on continuing plot threads and more interested in having an identity of its own. Amy’s visit to the orphanage is the first truly scary set piece of the era and I love pretty much everything about the insanely creepy Silence creatures. Everything builds to an exciting and (here’s that word again) clever conclusion but one that leaves more questions lingering than delivers answers. This is a deeply flawed two parter but has too many fantastic scenes to deny it some praise and for all it's narrative problems it does manage to grab your interest and hurl you into the new season with some confidence. River is still welcome, Amy seems so much more likeable, Arthur Darvill is finally given material that shows what Rory is made of and holding it all together is Matt Smith’s phenomenal performance as the Doctor. The Impossible Astronaut earns a 6 and Day of the Moon a 8 so overall this schizoid stunner gets: 7/10


Richard S. said...

Well, it does answer the matter of Neil Armstrong's words...

"That's one small step for KILL US ON SIGHT man..."

David Pirtle said...

I liked the second episode much less than the first one. The whole pretending to hunt down and murder the companions and imprison the Doctor was just padded, fake drama with zero point or payoff, unless you count the existence of the 'dwarf star cell,' which could have been introduced with far less nonsense. After all, the president's working with them.