Friday, July 01, 2011

Everything Under The Sun Is In Tune, But The Sun Is Eclipsed By The Moon

Thoughts on the Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon two-parter. Not a bad couple of episodes - the Wouldn't It Look Cool If tumour is still in evidence, probably inoperable by now (qv episode 7); and perhaps Moffat is playing the I'll Explain Later card just a leeeetle too much; but it has a clear and coherent theme, that of conspiracy theories, so at least there's something clear and coherent about this story.

Consider: it includes grey bobble-headed aliens, Area 51, subliminal messages coded into TV transmissions, the once-popular idea of a Hollow Earth, the Moon landings, Men in Black (both US agents and the grey aliens), faked deaths, Nixon's paranoia... perhaps just a touch of von Daniken as well? They're all crammed in there, so it's no accident if this looks like someone's attempt to knock off pay homage to The X-Files - someone's worked very hard to achieve that result.

So our heroes wander around America, blurting out the unbelievable truth, before finally seeing off the Silence in an appropriately conspiracy-ish way, by subliminally programming humanity to kill them on sight. (Ah yes, that's another one - The Manchurian Candidate.) So, um, I realise the Silence themselves very conveniently said the words, but that's a little discomfiting, isn't it - the Doctor using the human race as his mind-controlled assassins? OK, the Doctor's wiped out alien factions before, but he doesn't usually get an entire species to do it for him. I mean, he actually induces systematic xenophobia in the human race so that they'll commit genocide on his behalf. Perhaps this bit of the story might belong in the Gaping Depths of Horror.

I have two other concerns with this story, and the first and more predictable is that it shows the Doctor palling up with Richard Nixon. More to the point, it portrays Nixon as a lovable old goof and goes so far as to actually have the Doctor tell him to trust no one and tape everything, essentially laying the blame for Watergate on the Doctor's shoulders. That's probably a set-up that sounded funny to Steven Moffat, but I wonder if he ever thinks through the full unsavoury implications of some of his jokes. I thought the same about the most recent charity skits, which we are Not. Going. To. Discuss, and I suspect this is something endemic to Moffat's writing, that he loves a joke but has no way of gauging how appropriate it actually is in a given context. Which was paradoxically a good thing when it came to Coupling, I suppose. Well, anyway. It looks iffy to me, and the "Hippy!" "Archaeologist!" exchange in the first episode looks like exactly what it is, a worthless token effort to acknowledge those nasty moral issues one certainly wouldn't want to examine in the innocent venue of Doctor Who (qv the waste of airtime that was Victory of the Daleks).

My second concern is that we don't actually have any real idea of the Silence's motives. Granted, we might expect them to turn up again later in the series, presumably around the same time that we deal with the Doctor's supposed assassination, and perhaps then we might find out what they're actually up to. Apparently they have an interest in Amy, although given later developments, we may look at her kidnapping in a new light. We may ask whether they're in league with Evil Eyepatch Woman, although they may just as plausibly be working against her. All we're given for now is that they're a kind of cultural/technological parasite, although that isn't applied consistently within the story - they need the humans to create a spacesuit, but they're then going to modify it with their own gonzo alien technology? Perhaps it's more of a symbiotic relationship - the Americans seem to have got hold of some dwarf star alloy somehow, even before they've landed men on the moon. All the Silence seem to be getting in return, apart from the spacesuit, is a lot of shabby second-hand suits.

Still, they do arbitrarily blow someone up, just so that we know they're not nice.

Some other observations:

It's nice to see the production team getting more use out of their American locations than they got out of filming in Dubai two years ago.

It may be a bit late to talk about Moffat Who eating itself - one look at Silence in the Library should remind us that Moffat Who was eating itself before Mr Moffat had even taken over as Who's showrunner - but let's have a shout out for a malevolent spacesuit, an ominous tape recording of a child's voice, and of course that perennial favourite, the child in danger. We'll be seeing some more of that last one as the season arc unfolds.

Let's talk about the Doctor's apparent death. No, obviously Steven Moffat isn't going to literally kill off Doctor Who. And while he went to great lengths to assure the genre press that he really wasn't bluffing this time, and he really was totally going to kill off a lead character... I mean, come on, this is Steven Moffat we're talking about here. The man's cheapened death in his stories to the point that it's given out free in cereal packets. (And the fact that the second episode opens with the other three leads carefully staging their own faked deaths is highly suggestive.) It's a given that he had his fingers crossed behind his back, but will subsequent episodes give any sort of clue as to what he might have in mind?

Hmm, could Henry the mild-mannered janitor really be Hong Kong Phooey? "Could be!"

My only other thought at this time is that that beard kind of suited Matt Smith. I was hoping, as a beardy m'self, that we might have a bearded Doctor for at least some of this year, but alas...

What'll that be then, a 7 out of 10? It's not really an 8, but it probably deserves more than a 6... so a 7 it is.


Christopher Pittard said...

I think we largely agree here - a pretty good first episode, followed by a good looking but ultimately nonsensical second. A couple of points - by which I mean horrible weaknesses - which are worth mentioning:

1) What on earth is happening in the opening sequence, when our heroes are running around various bits of America and being tracked down? Why did they all split up? How does Amy get to be running through the Utah desert? I mean, on a purely practical level, how? That place is big - she wasn't just breaking cover from the local WH Smith, for instance. And why is such a convoluted cover-up even necessary when Denton already has the backing of the president himself?

2) Why is Amy scrawling reminders ON HER FACE? Short of the back of her head, that's the least useful place to put them. But I forgot, part 2 is about looking good rather than making sense.

3) The conclusion. You've already, and rightly, noted the quite dubious moral implications of this. But again with the dull practicality - I don't really see how the Doctor's plan here resolves the situation at all. Getting humanity to declare war on an enemy is one thing, but actually winning it is something else. I really suspect this is Moffat thinking lazily that the US=guns and television (and, given the geographically unlikely opening sequence, his idea of the US is indeed very lazy). If you don't have guns and you don't have television, then you're screwed, this seems to say. At least, you're screwed inasmuch as the Silence represent some kind of threat, and this wasn't even that clear (except that they look kind of scary. Odd looking people? Shoot 'em on sight. Again, good moral message there). Part 1, I give an 8; part 2, a 5. Which adds up to a generous 7 overall.

John Toon said...

You raise some good points, Dr P. In answer to all three: you're right, it doesn't make a lot of sense, does it?

I really should have included your point 1) in m'blog post, if I'd only remembered - it is a sterling example of flying completely in the face of all established sense within the story, just for the sake of having a few minutes of showy runaround.

See, this is the Wouldn't It Look Cool If tumour that I've diagnosed. Its fell work is not yet done, but I think its most extreme symptoms to date can be seen in the 7th episode.