Wednesday, June 04, 2008

When you were young and your heart was an open book

I'm saving "Carried away by a moonlight shadow" for next week, chiz chiz.

So, the annual Moffat story comes around, and sure enough it's better than the rest of this year's offerings so far, but still... only a high 8 from me. As ever, subject to re-evaluation after the second part next week. It's not that it did anything badly, it's that it didn't do enough of it.

Consider the Empty Child two parter from waaaay, way back in New Who's first season. By the time the cliffhanger came round, things were just getting going, and I for one couldn't have said for sure what was going on. It maintained a level of mystery and intrigue through to the end.

This week's cliffhanger could have similarly raised the mystery and piqued our interest as to what was going on (and was presumably meant to), but in fact having Donna's face appear on one of the Library Nodes just confirmed what Mrs Toon and I had both guessed about twenty minutes earlier, the first time someone mentioned the 4,000-odd Library victims being "saved". Yes, "saved" in the same way all the other Node faces were "saved", i.e. to memory.

(Cue argument about how exactly teleportation (fictionally) works, but non-SF-fan readers may take out a subscription to the New Scientist if they really care and SF-fan readers will already have heard it before. The idea that people's bodies can be "recorded" as digital information is at least as old as Star Trek, and though practically it may seem unlikely, aesthetically it's just one step on from the old SF idea that people's minds are just organic computer programs.)

The mystery of how the young girl in (apparently) the present day relates to the Library, initially very intriguing, seems pretty obvious by the end even without the visual clues - the Library logo on the floor, the computer name "CAL" on the psychiatrist's briefcase - and the carnivorous shadows themselves aren't mysterious, they're just something for the Doctor to defeat at the end of the story. (Hopefully without a cheesy closing montage of shadows shot in Cardiff centre for the benefit of the slower viewers, coughcoughBlinkcough.)

Bearing in mind this is only the Grand Moff's second two-parter, and it might therefore be too early to look for patterns, it is perhaps worth noting the familiar elements of the cliffhanger - our heroes penned in by a dehumanised figure that repeats the same phrase over and over and over again. This time there's the added twist of a second dehumanised figure - the Donna Node - repeating its own phrase over and over and over again. It lends a peculiar rhythm to the cliffhanger, but I can't say that it does much for the tension, just having someone lurching towards you endlessly repeating themselves. You might as well be watching an existentialist farce. Admittedly it's the stuff of my nightmares, but I like to tell myself that's down to a deep-rooted horror of banality (insert your own ironic observation here) rather than just some freaky bit of my own id.

Other Who fans may feel that it's the winning formula for the end of a Who episode, but I'm finding it a bit old and a bit tired. The obvious precedent is the Daleks shouting "Exterminate" five times without actually doing anything, and I've long since had enough of them. Still, it'll give kids something to do in the playground, which is presumably the intention.

Where this episode scores highly is in ideas. The Nodes of course, piranha-like dust motes hiding in the shadows, the data ghost scenes. Even the love interest the time-travelling hero hasn't met before, while itself an idea old enough that it's made it into the literary mainstream (qv The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger), is new to Who and played very well. (Would Mr Moffat do the obvious thing and kill her off next week? Surely not?)

And there are at least still a couple of questions we can't yet guess the answers to. Why should the Vashta Nerada have become so aggressive in this one particular place? Why a young girl in the present day? And why does Mr Lux have such a blatantly symbolic name?

1 comment:

Ben said...

I hadn't thought to look for patterns, but now you mention it ... there are thematic similarities, aren't there? I suppose if you know something works, you repeat the formula. (Hence Helen Raynor basing her second "aliens invade earth with an implausible plan 10 times more complicated than it has to be and the doctor semi-sacrifices himself to save the day" story on the wild success of Daleks in Manhattan.)

I saw the Moffat name in the titles and a warm fuzzy glow spread through me. Then, frankly, it started to slip away as I watched and thought "just what the hell is happening?" But it came back. I think it only went away at all because the current series has got me out of the habit of having to think and pay attention.

It was Colin Salmon delivering his "nightmares are real" line that got me hooked. I for one welcome our Moffat overlord.