Saturday 30 April 2011

Day of the Moon. Review.

Dr Who, Day of the Moon, Area 51
Part 2 of The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon is probably the greatest second episode ever made in the history of Dr Who.

Unfortunately the BBC didn't bother to transmit it and leapt straight to broadcasting Part 3 instead, leading to probably the most confusing opening sequence in the history of Dr Who, as, several months on from last week's cliff-hanger, we now find the Doctor a prisoner in Area 51 as his companions flee Canton and his FBI mates, only for it all to turn out to be a put-up job to throw the bad guys off the scent.

Even having seen the thing twice now, I'm still not totally sure what was supposed to have happened in the gap between the two episodes or whether there was really any point to the prolonged opening sequence. Surely, having fled the scene, straight after the Amy/Spacesuit Girl shooting incident, they could just've got in the TARDIS and set their plan into motion immediately? You know, the one about stopping the aliens?

Still, it did at least give us the comedy highlight of the episode as the TARDIS appears from nowhere to catch the plummeting River Song in its swimming pool.

Dr Who, Day of the Moon, Amy Pond at the children's home

Having done their little run around, our heroes set off to find the girl in the space suit, a quest that takes them to a disturbing children's home. It's these scenes where, shamelessly borrowing its feel from The X-Files, the episode's at its best, thanks to the creepiness of the place and the hapless proprietor who keeps leaving himself warnings to flee the building but then forgets he's the one who wrote them. All the while he blames it on the non-existent children while the place crawls with monsters. In the end, it's all resolved with the Doctor using Neil Armstrong's moon landing to turn the Silence's powers of post-hypnotic suggestion against them, and the world is at last safe for Nixon to run in its best interests.

In truth, the sudden jump from the events of last week's episode to this week's made Day of the Moon feel more like a 45 minute epilogue than an actual continuation, though, in its defence, time seemed to fly by while I was watching it.

On the other hand, that was partly because it felt like there really wasn't enough time to fit in everything it was trying to, as mystery and obfuscation were piled high onto each other like the world's tallest Knickerbocker Glory of Intrigue. It's fine to cram plenty of elements into an opening episode - that merely makes us curious to see how things turn out - but perhaps not so wise to try and do so for the resolution. We did at least, I think, discover that the Spacesuit Girl is (possibly) Amy's daughter and that the Silence want her for... ...erm something.

But if the episode was perhaps an instance of trying to over-pack its suitcase, there was one instance of over- packing that was a triumph of audience manipulation and that was its last scene, in which the young girl, now free of her space suit, turns up dying on the streets of New York, only to start regenerating. How could anyone not want to continue watching the rest of the season after that bombshell? It seems Amy's fears about her future children being affected by her time in the TARDIS has proven to be justified.

One moment that did stick in my mind amid the confusion, was the scene where Amy's exploring the children's home, only for a woman to momentarily appear at a window and say, "No, I think she's just dreaming," before vanishing. Leaving aside the fact it felt like something straight out of Ashes to Ashes, it raised a reminder that the last time we saw Amy pregnant was in last season's Dream Lord episode. With the TARDIS scanner unable to ascertain whether Amy is or isn't really pregnant, does this mean that everything we've been seeing since is a dream? It could explain an awful lot.

On the River Song front, I've now come to the conclusion that it was her past self, in the spacesuit, who killed the future Doctor in The Impossible Astronaut. Mostly this is because when she shot the departing astronaut, and it didn't work, she said, "No, of course not." This'd make sense in terms of River and the Doctor never meeting in the right order. After all, if you shot your past self, it'd presumably have no effect, as killing your past self would mean your present self no longer existed and therefore wouldn't be around to shoot its past self. It'd also explain River being in jail for killing, "The best man I ever knew."

I could comment on the Doctor's odd lack of curiosity about the strange TARDIS he keeps stumbling across but I suspect that he's more interested in it than he's letting on.

Saturday 23 April 2011

The Impossible Astronaut. Review.

Dr Who, the Impossible Astronaut, Part 1, promo

There're a million and one reasons not to listen to Talksport. The latest and best is that a couple of days ago its TV critic declared The Impossible Astronaut to be too clever and complicated and said the show should get back to doing nice simple stories about the Doctor fighting monsters.

Like anyone who expresses an opinion about anything on that radio station, he was completely wrong, because The Impossible Astronaut's simply the best Doctor Who season opener since the show first returned in 2005.

While season launchers for Nu-Who have traditionally been light, straightforward romps designed more to ease you comfortably back into the show than challenge you, The Impossible Astronaut throws twists, turns, revelation, obfuscation and confusion at you from the start, as Amy, Rory and River are summoned by the Doctor to witness his death at the hands of what seems to be an astronaut, only to then go on to meet his earlier - still living - self before going back to 1969 to help Richard Nixon.

Richard Nixon has a problem.

Richard Nixon has lots of problems. Chief of which is that he's Richard Nixon. But this time, it's not one of the obvious ones that's causing him grief.

You see, the President keeps getting phone calls from a little girl who says she's being menaced by a spaceman. The quest to find her takes the Doctor and his pals to a building near-ish to NASA HQ and leads River and Rory to an underground chamber that looks suspiciously like the interior of the ersatz TARDIS from last season's The Lodger. Interesting that those controls look like they'd work best for creatures with sink plungers rather than hands?

Meanwhile, in an attempt to save the Doctor from his future death, the pregnant Amy shoots the little girl they went there to rescue.

Dr Who, the Impossible Astronaut, a Silent
Intermingled with all this are The Silence, a race of aliens in suits who you can only remember if you're looking at them. Why they're in the habit of wearing suits, I don't know but, as with Buffy's Gentlemen, the sight of a skinny, wrinkly monster in a suit and tie's oddly disconcerting and, even as a jaded adult, you can imagine just how unsettling they could be to younger minds.

This is by far the most ambitious opener since the show came back, ever more deeply entrenching the mythology Moffat's been building up for a long while now. I complained in my last post that in the early days of his first season in charge, Moffat had at times seemed too keen to replicate the Russell T Davies style, as though scared to shock the audience with anything too different but, here, all spiritual ties with that era are well and truly cut. He's showing the difference between himself and Davies in full, as we get the sense of the show as a sort of Rubik's Cube, with the pieces ready to slot into a place we can't yet imagine. Whereas RTD's story arcs often felt bolted onto the Doctor's stand-alone adventures, with Moffat - like the concept of time travel itself - they're hard-wired in so tightly you wonder how they can ever be disentangled.

River Song:
"Easter Island? They worshipped you. Have you seen the statues?"
Matt Smith is of course excellent, as he's been from Day One, and Alex Kingston manages to make what could've easily been an obnoxious and off-putting character in River Song strangely engaging.

That's not to say there aren't some concerns. Nothing's perfect. Not even me. As we all know, at times Moffat's palette can seem narrower than it is long. As so often, there's a little girl, there's a menace with a face hidden behind a mask, and of course there's River Song, escaping from jail for the millionth time. There's also the problem of just what Rory's there for. He's an endearing character but he doesn't actually do anything.

I was also uncomfortable that the only character in the whole episode who 's treated with total disrespect by everyone around him just happened to be black. This might be coincidental, just a quirk of casting but, given America's racial politics of the 1960s, it did feel somewhat uncomfortable to watch him being portrayed as an over-excitable block-headed fool.

Still, overall, the thing was great and you don't know how relieved I am to be saying that. After the Christmas Special, I had fears of starting off my blog with a great big thumbs down. That would've seen me agreeing with someone from Talksport. And we all know that that way lies madness.

Thursday 21 April 2011

Steve Does Dr Who - An Introduction.

Elisabeth Sladen, Sarah Jane Smith, publicity photo
Due to the death of Elisabeth Sladen just days before the new series was due to start, Circumstance has made this a strange time to be launching a Dr Who based blog.

I can't deny that Sarah Jane wasn't one of my favourite assistants. For all the talk over the years of her being the first feminist companion, my main memories of her from my childhood are of her tripping over things, being carried around unconscious half the time and possessing what seemed like an inability to meet a grassy embankment without rolling helplessly down it.

None of that of course was Lis Sladen's fault. Like any actor, she was stuck with the script she was given and, in the 1970s, the Doctor's assistants were often given scripts that didn't best serve them. I remember Louise Jameson's anecdote about taking every new script she was given and going through it with a Biro, crossing out all the screams.

But, whatever my doubts about Sarah Jane's original characterisation, Lis Sladen was a part of the show's history for a long long time and always came across has having a certain civilised quality. Plus, there's no denying the Sarah Jane Smith we got in the Sarah Jane Adventures was far closer to the character we'd always been told she was than the character she'd once been.

The fact that Sladen had seemed to be in perfect health and defying the years with consummate ease only served to make her death all the more shocking and saddening, rubbing in that it wasn't only Lis Sladen who died that day, it was a small part of our childhood, the part that believed that, with a police box and a screwdriver, time itself can be defied.

Sadly, time can't be defied, it rolls endlessly on, ultimately crushing all in its path. The death of Elisabeth Sladen forced us all, however subconsciously, to confront that.

But if time must travel ever onwards, so must this blog. I've not exactly set myself the most arduous of tasks. Each week, as soon as I've had chance to watch it twice, I'll review the latest episode, and no doubt annoy you by saying your favourite episode of all time is terrible and your least favourite episode's a masterpiece.

That's the funny thing about consensus - there isn't one.

For instance, I have to own up that I was planning to launch this blog after the last Christmas special but, unlike a lot of people, I really didn't like that special. I didn't feel I needed another retelling of A Christmas Carol, and the sight of Katherine Jenkins crooning at a shark was when I started looking at the clock and wondering how much more of it we still had to endure.

I'd also had problems with the first half of the previous season, as Steven Moffat seemed to be trying to still give us Russell T Davies' Dr Who instead of his own.

Happily, things picked up in the second half of that season, and, once the truly dreadful Silurian two-parter was over, it was all plain sailing, as everyone concerned seemed to find their feet and their feel. All I can hope is that, with a full season behind them, Moffat and Matt Smith have fully made the show into a pair of shoes that fit those feet like a glove and will use them to tread the path of total consistency.

Who knows; we might even finally get to find out who River Song is. I'm betting she's an agent of Omega but, then, none of my guesses about the show and its future developments have ever proven to be right. So, what do I know?
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