Doctor Who 6.08 – Let’s Kill Hitler

Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Richard Senior

After summoning The Doctor to find out how goes his search for Melody Pond, Amy, Rory, and The Doctor find themselves hijacked by Mels, childhood friend of Amy and Rory.  The destination: Germany 1939. 

"Ah, but I knew you would replace the gun with a banana so I went back in time and had the man who GREW the banana genetically engineer a banana gun..."

 “And the penny drops.”

Oh, where to begin.  Let’s start with the positives.  I really, really wanted to love this.  Is it truly a positive if I’m appealing to my own good intentions?  Probably not.  Regardless, I don’t want to spend my reviews of Moffatt-Who talking about how the show isn’t as good as it once was or how we are now watching spectacle rather than actual drama.  I’m afraid that if I complain about the show too much that I will be forced to decide whether or not to keep reviewing it.  I’d certainly hate for people who read this blog  to say “why do you even watch the show if you don’t like it?”  But after Let’s Kill Hitler, I feel more excited that this block of episodes has more non-Moffat stories.

Sorry, let’s start again.  I loved seeing Amelia Pond again and thought the flashbacks were quite fun.  The scene where Amy accuses Rory of being gay was amusing.  Sure, the scenes screamed retcon and you knew that Mels would be important in some way, but they were fun enough to make me dismiss the obvious.  I liked the robot.  I liked the idea of a group of time travelers feeling some sort of temporal obligation to bring judgement upon war criminals.  It is an interesting idea that, on its own, could have created a compelling story that gave rise to questions about justice or vengeance, and whether or not punishing “dead people” (as the Doctor accused them) is entirely ethical, and where does The Doctor come off criticizing them anyway?  Yes, good idea and good potential.

But instead, we have River Song.  Instead we have a type of conclusion to the long-running River Song arc.  The first reaction to this episode was that it was quite abrupt.  Sure, in real-time, we have been waiting all summer to discover how The Doctor’s search for Melody Pond went.  But imagine the future, when people sit down to watch series six on DVD.  In this future scenario, the amount of time that passes between episodes  is only as long as it takes to switch your DVD.  Thus, you find out that River is Melody, then about three minutes later you get Melody Pond, super weapon, killing The Doctor and running amuck in Nazi Germany.  As much as I’ve been concerned about the story-arc’s affect on the pacing of series six, I think that this episode kills all the dramatic tension of the search and what happened to Melody between her time in the space suit and her time in this episode.  It is possible that Moffatt is planning more “timey-wimey” storytelling, but I’m not sure he is and, quite frankly, I think it is becoming increasingly unnecessary.  More often than not his scripts are less about telling a good story than they are about being clever and having funny dialogue.  They are about keeping the audience on their toes and tricking us, confusing us, pulling the rug out from under us.  Moffatt is obviously having a lot of fun, and that is great, but I’m starting to wonder if he is telling good stories, or just showing us cool set-pieces and giving us clever dialogue.

Melody Pond is supposed to have been raised as a super-weapon.  She is supposed to kill The Doctor.  And yet, all it takes is one meeting between the two of them for The Doctor to break her programming?  She kills him then saves his life just because he is interesting?  I suppose it is possible that we will revisit this idea, that perhaps she really will “kill” The Doctor and that her conditioning hasn’t quiet been broken yet.  But on the topic of death . . . .

My second realization was that regeneration is becoming a magic wand, and that regeneration itself is being completely neutered as a concept.  Sure, The Doctor can’t really die because practically: the show would end, and he can regenerate into a new body and have a new personality.  But that new body and personality mean that regeneration is a type of death and an old friend is gone.  But over the course of Cymru Who’s existence, we have found that wounds incurred during the first few hours of regeneration will heal, Time Lord body parts can absorb regeneration energy and thus negate the need for regeneration, regeneration energy can give someone super-powers which allow them to fly and shoot lightening from his or her hands, and, finally, that another Time Lord (or Time Lord-Human hybrid) can channel regeneration energy to heal the wounds of another Time Lord, possibly burning out remaining regenerations in the process.  This was the explanation for why River Song didn’t regenerate in Forest of The Dead, and I understand that.  But it also means that death in Doctor Who is even more meaningless.  I’m sorry, but where I’m concerned, Melody using her remaining regenerations to save The Doctor is a cheat.  I was half-expecting the revelation that The Doctor was a Ganger and, frankly, I would have found that more interesting.  How many Doctors are running around out there?  Why did The Doctor send a Ganger instead of arriving himself?  But no.  Magic wand.

All this said, I’m glad that we seem to be filling in the gaps of the arcs that have been with us since Moffatt took over the show (well, since series four, technically).  While this episode failed to excite me to Doctor Who’s return, I am happy that Moffatt’s name will not be appearing on very many episodes in the next few weeks.  As The Doctor said near the end of Day of the Moon, I’m ready for adventures.  I’m ready for something not so arc-driven.  I’m ready to see something new and different, anywhere in time and space.  I want to see something imaginative.  I certainly hope I’m not asking too much.

6.06 – The Almost People

Written by Matthew Graham
Directed by Julian Simpson

Ganger Jennifer continues to rally the other Gangers to revolt against the humans.  The Doctor learns to work with his Ganger and must confront some prejudices from Amy.

“Reverse the jellybaby of the neutron flow.”

Sorry about the delay.  Living in North America, I was made to wait until BBC America aired The Almost People.  I understand their decision, although I must say that with the advent of TiVo and DVR, it may have not been the most ideal decision from the fan perspective.  But, I am now only a week behind the rest of the Who-viewing world.  Although, since the mid-series finale just aired in Britain, this means another week of avoiding most Doctor Who sites.

I almost feel as if I have less to say about this episode than the previous.  I liked The Rebel Flesh and I liked The Almost People.  However, I think that the conclusion of the incident at the mining facility (I can’t quite bring myself to say this episode was a conclusion of the story) is rather overshadowed by the revelation that Amy was a ganger.  Immediately the mind races to process what was just revealed and what it says about all the preceding episodes.  I am left with more question and find myself working hard to appreciate The Almost People for what it is.

Don't mind this. We just pile the story filler in the corner. Hey, wait until you get to the end of the episode!

My biggest fear when the announcement was made that the season would be split into two parts, a fear heightened when Moffat said this would help to eliminate ‘filler’, was that the arc would become more important than individual stories.  To me, the attitude Moffat expressed seemed to support the idea that the season arc is what Cymru Who is all about, and individual, stand-alone stories are the fugue between big ideas and revelations.   This attitude bothers me because I want to see each story succeed or fail on its own merits, not in how it is connected to the season arc.  I have been getting a long-time friend caught up on the Matt Smith era because he liked The Eleventh Hour and because a girl he knows loves Doctor Who.  This past week we watched Victory of The Daleks, and while I defended the episode in my review, I couldn’t deny how incredibly dull and uninteresting the story is.  I considered not subjecting my friend to the story because I rightly intuited that he wouldn’t care for it, but Churchill and Bracewell reappeared in The Pandorica Opens, and that would have been mildly confusing.  On top of that, it was the explanation for the Dalek redesign.  It is irritating that such a mediocre story is actually quite important to the mythology of the Moffat era.  I can only hope that Gatiss’ next contribution to The Eleventh Doctor, to air later this year, will be a vast improvement.  Gatiss can be rather hit or miss with me, and he seems to be stacking up the misses lately (at least where Who is concerned.  I’m loving most of his non-Who work.)  I’m a bit concerned for the future because I can’t be the only one who thinks Gatiss is the heir apparent to Moffat’s throne.

Apologies.  Back to the topic at hand.  I must say that the moral compass of this episode seems a bit off.  That and the pacing.  We spent much of this story being told that The Flesh were sentient, they were just as human as the humans.  They are important.  Then, The Doctor seems to kill Ganger Amy.  While perusing various review sites, it seems I may have missed a bit of dialogue about The Gangers being connected to their original subjects and if that connection was severed, then they would lose their form.  I’m assuming that was the gist of it.  If this was the case, then perhaps that line wasn’t made entirely clear.  My wife didn’t catch it either, and it seems other people missed it as well.  Especially when Ganger Jennifer continued to function quite well (and psychotically) when the real Jennifer died.  Are we to assume that the Ganger connection with the original continues after death?  And yet, we have every indication that Ganger Amy had a psychic connection with the original, so are these two separate connections?  We are also told that the TARDIS somehow stabilized the forms of the remaining Gangers.  So this works until the Sonic Screwdriver cancels out the effect, I suppose.

I guess I would say that the resolution was a bit too tidy for me, then grossly overshadowed by the cliffhanger.  The pace that I enjoyed so much in the previous episode was completely turned on its head in this one as it tried to get a lot of material in to the story.  Ultimately, I think I just come away from it thinking that it wasn’t bad and it certainly tried hard and came close to succeeding, but in the end I wish it had been better.  I suppose I’m blaming the cliffhanger.  And the more I think about it, the cliffhanger comes completely out of nowhere.  About the only “clue” I can find that Amy was a Ganger was in her complete prejudice against Gangers, sort of a “she doth protest too much” vibe.  But in reality, the reveal was sudden.  In that regard, it feels a bit like a trick, and while that works for some people, how much better if we were able to figure it out for ourselves?  The Doctor knew Amy was a Ganger and it seems Rory may have known as well.  This means the entire season had our characters knowing more than we do.  But in general, the audience likes to know more than the characters.  The audience likes to figure things out before the characters.  The best surprise reveal Cymru Who has done to this point was the revelation that Professor Yana was The Master.  This worked for two reasons.  First, the elements were introduced in a separate story, and that story was allowed to breathe and function on its own.  Human Nature / Family Blood was a good story and rather self-contained.  It had a distinct beginning, middle, and end.  The second reason the reveal worked was because it became apparent about half-way through Utopia that Yana had a secret.  Then we see the fob watch.  The audience figures out the reveal before it happens.  Neither of these things happened in The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People.  These two episodes were not allowed to really work on their own merits, submitting instead to the cliffhanger.  The cliffhanger was not something that had distinct clues to help the audience figure it out beforehand.  Instead, it was a trick played on the audience and the story serviced the reveal.  No wonder Moffat was so upset about spoilers.  If these reveals are the major points of his story, if we take away the lure of the spoiler, is there anything left?

6.04 – The Doctor’s Wife

Written by Neil Gaiman
Directed by Richard Clark

After receiving a Time Lord distress call, The Doctor and his assistants travel to a pocket universe on a rescue mission.

“Are all humans like this?  Bigger on the inside?”

I liked it.

Okay, I acknowledge that I need more.  Evaluating this story on its merits rather than its hype is, I think, the only fair thing to do.  Twenty years from now, when Doctor Who is no longer on our screens (Pessimistic?  Perhaps), the only way to experience this episode will be via whatever digital format we will have, and the hype will no longer be a factor.  So, ignoring the hype and the somewhat easily decoded identity of Idris*, how does the episode work, especially in the larger context of Who?  I think it works quite well.  It expands a bit on the basic origin of The Doctor, but doesn’t really reveal too much, primarily operating to confirm a fan theory, or at least, a theory that I have had for some time, namely, perhaps The Doctor doesn’t so much control the TARDIS as the TARDIS controls him.  The implications are rather interesting, a creature that exists at all points in time and space that guides a mortal that, while being mysterious and knowledgeable in his own right, is still finite (depending on which lifespan of the Time Lords you accept in your personal fan-cannon).  And, as Gaiman says in an interview where he describes scenes that were cut, this same creature leads The Doctor to situations so that he and the companions can put things to rights.  On some level, the TARDIS is somewhat more God-like than The Time Lord ever was.  How well they must have worked together in the McCoy era.

Patchwork people . . . Hints of Brain of Morbius.

But like her stolen Time Lord before her, she has become human.  The Doctor’s Wife is to The TARDIS what Human Nature was to The Doctor, only in her case, she doesn’t forget who she was, she merely has to learn to operate as a new entity.  Which leads to a sensory overload as she attempts to cope.  But cope she does and she quickly learns why The Doctor picks up his “strays”.  Humans are bigger on the inside.  They remind him of The TARDIS . . . so much potential.

This is what Neil Gaiman does when he plays in other peoples’ universes.  Like Alan Moore before him and Grant Morrison (one of my favorites) after, Gaiman takes established characters and mythologies and mines their back catalogues for interesting concepts or ideas, while staying faithful to the current incarnation of what he is writing.  He can bring a new way of looking at an old thing.  Whether the character of Matthew in Sandman or the Batman mythology in Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, Neil Gaiman is often able to distill a mythology to its essence and write it in such a way as to be at once faithful and fresh.  Often with large amounts of fairy tale added in.

Ah, fairytale again.  Who better to write in Moffat’s pseudo-fairy tale era than Neil Gaiman.  With stories that have distinct fairy tale qualities (Stardust, Sandman: Dream Hunters), Gaiman has proven he can write quite comfortably in the genre.  In truth, he can evoke a fairy tale feel better than Steven Moffat (he understands the Rule of Three).

I found the episode quite touching, much like Time Crash, exuding a love of Doctor Who but with more substance.  The Doctor and The TARDIS have, in some way, consummated their partnership, and make no mistake, it is now a partnership.  Even some of my quibbles about why The Doctor would prolong looking for the mysterious girl from Day of the Moon is now answered, in part, because The TARDIS knows the proper time for that confrontation.  Other adventures are more immediate.

And as a final word, I have to share that my wife really enjoyed Matt Smith in this episode.  While she has enjoyed his performance off and on, this was the first time where he felt like The Doctor for the entirety of the episode for her.  And I would have to agree.

Woman with an Eye Patch, Pirates last week, Corsair this week. Doctor Who Pirate Agenda?

*A play on the word TARDIS.  Surely I’m not the only one who wondered.  It was much more fun to speculate Romana or The War Chief, but keeping with New Who building major revelations on its own mythology, the “old friend with a new face” could only be The TARDIS, unless you count The Master as a friend, or believe that Donna can now regenerate.  And would the return of Donna really be that satisfying?  After what they did to her?

6.03 – The Curse of the Black Spot

Written by Steven Thompson
Directed by Jeremy Webb

The Doctor and his assistants arrive on the ship of pirate Captain Henry Avery, a ship that is being menaced by a Siren who marks her prey with a black spot.

“My ship automatically noticed-ish that your ship was having a bit of a bother.”

If my perusing of the internet is correct, it would seem that at one point the follow-up to The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon was to be Neil Gaiman’s episode.  This would have made quite a bit of sense as Gaiman’s episode is highly anticipated due primarily to the much-hyped mystery of Idris’ identity.  Thus, it makes more sense to maintain the momentum of the bold and cocky series opener with Gaiman’s story than with an episode that is rather pedestrian in comparison.  Ultimately, it just doesn’t seem fair to The Curse of the Black Spot.  Granted, it was probably going to be lost wherever it was placed in the series, but this particular placement doesn’t do it any favors.

That said, I found this episode to be a nice space to breathe after the rushing around in the previous story.  Sure, there was a lot of rushing around in this one, but the settings were fewer and the fact that much of the story took place on the pirate ship really made the episode feel as if the scope was much smaller.  Given the virtually intimate feel of this story (compared to the bombast of the previous), I’m quite interested to see how the BBC America ratings progress from here.  FLASH!  BAM! in episodes one and two.  Then we scale it back a bit for this third episode.  But don’t go away, America!  We have Neil Gaiman next week.  Perhaps that is the real reason for slotting this story here.  It might keep the American (fanboy)s watching because we are dangling the carrot of Neil Gaiman and Idris.

Sorry.  Digressing.

As I said, a nice, relaxing story after the Moffat Madness.  We return to the pseudo-historical format, which means there will be aliens menacing the pirates or, in the case of this episode, alien technology menacing the pirates.  Kudos to Steve Thompson for going with a hopeful “menace” rather than a malicious one.  This was possibly the least predictable element of the episode, but still well within the bounds of the pseudo-historical rulebook.  That said, as decent as the episode is, there are a few problems.

Don't Blink - or I might disappear completely (and never be found).

Is it just me, or did one of the pirates disappear from the armory?  Toby cut one, forcing him to stay, but we don’t see him again until the end of the episode.  Did Thompson forget about him?  Did the director and editor not catch this?  Was a scene cut?  I hate to say it but this took me out of the story for a few minutes.  Even as the ship was being buffeted by the storm, I was straining to see if there was just one more pirate in the background rather than feel excitement and anxiety over whether our characters could escape The Siren.  Sadly, there wasn’t a lurking pirate.  He was forgotten.  Maybe he was a Silent.

Second problem, dramatic-tension CPR scenes are becoming quite the cliche.  As near as I can tell, the only way to make them work properly is to make them a character moment.  The Curse of the Black Spot certainly sets this up.  Why should Amy, rather than The Doctor, resuscitate Rory?  Because Rory trusts that Amy not give up whereas The Doctor might.  However, when the time actually comes to resuscitate him, she does give up.  One of the more effective ways to treat this scenario was in the first season of LOST when our hero Jack must resuscitate Charlie, a character who’s heart had stopped.  The scene is very tense and continues way longer than expected, and this is with a character who we hadn’t seen die already in the show (unlike Rory).  Even when Kate pulls Jack away, he cannot give up, and continues to pound on Charlie’s chest.  In the end, Charlie is revived (sorry for the spoiler, but it’s hardly the most revealing spoiler for LOST).  For Jack, this was a character moment, illustrating in action that he is a man that cannot give up, he commits to actions even when they appear foolish.  In The Curse of the Black Spot, it seems rather contradictory that Rory would place his faith in Amy’s stubbornness, only to have Amy prove that faith misplaced.  I don’t believe the scene was played properly and that the tension was entirely gratuitous.

Another issue:  why was the Siren not able to save the crew of her ship?  Had she not yet been activated?  As near as I can tell, and it doesn’t seem this was explicitly stated in the episode, the crew died of an Earth virus before the Siren started gathering humans.  Thus, she didn’t have any information to work with.  Perhaps if she had started gathering humans first, she could have saved the crew.  I think this was implicit in the episode, but I’m not entirely sure.  I’m going with it, however, because it makes sense to me.

In discussing this episode with my wife, she expressed her joy to see how all the characters have settled into compelling and interesting people, how their interactions are fun and enjoyable to watch.  All the characters have done this except for The Doctor, who she finds less interesting and, quite frankly, less Doctor-ish.  And I agree with her.  While she didn’t entirely buy Matt Smith’s performance in series five, she did enjoy it.  But this series, we both feel that he seems off.  For me, it is hard to not be reminded of the Lawrence Miles assertion of Matt Smith as Jar-Jar Binks when you see The Doctor making an icky-face when he realizes he has alien “boogies” on his hand.  But I also wonder if Matt Smith has made a decision regarding how he is playing The Doctor this series due in part to the opening episode and the death of The Doctor.  The Doctor we met that was 1100 years old seemed more like The Doctor from where we left him in series five: older, more mature, and just a bit tired.  But that is not The Doctor that we have now.  The Doctor we are watching is two hundred years younger, and in order to convey that, Smith has rightly had to dial-back his performance a bit, make The Doctor a little more innocent.  And yet, I think he may have gone too far.  The Doctor seems to have regressed a bit too far, to a point prior to The Pandorica Opens, and possibly to a point prior to The Beast Below.  I think he is playing The Doctor much too innocent, quirky, and wacky.  So, is it a deficiency with Smith, with the director of this episode, or with Moffat?  Who is dictating the performance more?

But enough criticism.  I enjoyed viewing this episode.  It was a nice break from last week.  I’m just a bit sad that this episode will most-likely be forgotten in the rush and hype from the “bigger” episodes this series.  It probably won’t stand out because it is perfectly average.

Next Week: The Space Pirates . . . in Space!

Series 6.02 – Day of the Moon

Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Toby Haynes

The Silence have infiltrated all nations and use post-hypnotic suggestions to manipulate humanity.  How can The Doctor and his assistants end a centuries-long occupation by a hostile alien force?

The X-Files: The Next Generation

 Rory: What kind of doctor are you?
River:  Archaeology.  Love a tomb.

It is hard to not see further influences of The X-Files on this story.  In the two part stories, The X-Files would often give a re-cap, then take us either to a completely different location with totally new characters, or jump ahead to some other incident our characters are involved in, only to catch the viewers up later.  As mentioned previously, Doctor Who has entered modern sci-fi storytelling.  And to a degree, it is what Doctor Who would be if it were created now.  It it’s own way, Moffat Who is serialized.  Old Who was also serialized, actually more-so than series six.  But that was storytelling at the time, drama told over successive parts.  Moffat Who is following that pattern, but it is doing so according to modern television.  Shows like Lost, The X-Files, and Babylon 5 are the modern form of serialized storytelling.  While there is the appearance of stand-alone stories in Moffat Who, in reality there are none.  Even in series five the stand-alone stories either had a opening segment or closing segment that connected to the series arc.  Moffat Who is more arc driven that RTD Who.  As series five is, I think, a transitional series (from RTD to Moffat

Try not to get any on you.

Who), series six will be full-blown Moffat era, Moffat in its purest form, if you will.  Thus, I think we will see episodes more closely connected to the arc.  If this theory is correct, we shall see it in the next episode.  All that said, I can see why people wouldn’t like it.  Pseudo-serialization aside, this is a far cry from the feel, look, and tone of the classic series.  Even the storytelling is quite different.  And I think the demographic for the show is not the family viewing that many would say it is.  Sure, there is no sex and the language is mild, but the show is darker, scarier, more complex (both narratively and conceptually).  I think the demographic is more firmly rooted in adolescents, established fans, and possibly people who like “cool, dark stuff.”  This is Doctor Who that can take root in American television.  This is Doctor Who that can appeal to the modern science fiction television viewer, but not necessarily to the person who watched old Who.  But I also think I would be unwise to judge the rest of the series based on these two episodes.  I look forward to seeing what the next few bring, and who knows, we may get some great stories that are less Moffat-y and more traditional.

The Eleventh Doctor is not an authority figure.  Evidence is two-fold.  First, he needed Nixon to travel with him to command people.  Second, Amy specifically says The Doctor is her friend, her best friend.  This is rather interesting as I’m not sure how many previous companions would describe their relationship with The Doctor as friendship.  Sarah-Jane Smith, perhaps.  Maybe Jamie McCrimmon.  But overall, The Doctor has maintained a certain distance.  As I mentioned in the previous review, Moffat Who is “The Doctor mucking about in time and space with his friends.”  This bears out here.  Sometimes he is a bit manipulative as well.  But it is all about friendship now.  I can see some objection to this, but in reality, I’m not sure it is a horrible thing.  I believe that The Doctor is going through a bit of an existential crisis, albeit an unconscious one.  Without the identity of being a Time Lord, a designation that is largely meaningless in a universe without Time Lords, The Doctor can now choose what it means to be a Time Lord.  He last did this in The Waters of Mars, and the universe (well, Adelaide) slapped him down for it.  He cannot resurrect Time Lord society in and of himself.  Thus, being the last of the Time Lords is merely a designation but not any type of identifier.  He can either go around being moody and sulky (which the Tenth Doctor was not above doing) or he can redefine himself.  He has no people to react against, no one to run from.  He can choose to be who he wants to be, providing that his choice is to not be a Time Lord.  Thus, The Doctor is no longer the man he once was.  Unless The Time Lords return, he can’t be.  With this in mind, it is fairly significant that we end the episode with a scene where a little girl regenerates.  This girl is possibly the daughter of Amy Pond, perhaps from a timeline that could be but as of yet is not.  Are The Time Lords returning?  And if so, will the be the original Time Lords or a rebuilt race.  Perhaps The Doctor is, to quote Obi-Wan Kenobi from Timothy Zahn’s Heir To The Empire, “The last of the old, the first of the new.”

The dynamic of the companions are interesting in this episode.  Yes, we have the reaffirmation of Amy and Rory’s love and I hope we have no more of the love-triangle issue, especially now that we have strong confirmation that River is not just teasing The Doctor.  There is no room for the triangle with a romance on the horizon.  In the earliest incarnation of the show, the companions had to fulfill the following roles:  they needed to ask questions, they needed to be rescued from danger, and one needed to be a fighter.  The first two were usually done by the female characters, while the male companion would be

"I've got your back, sweetie."

the fighter.  Day of the Moon gives us that dynamic.  Amy needs to be rescued.  Rory and Canton asked the questions, and River Song played the alpha-male fighter.  I enjoyed this dynamic and while I know we won’t see River in every episode this year, I enjoy a character that can fight, when needs demand, and not be lectured about it.  The Doctor always wants to find a way other than violence, but let’s face it, so many of the stories end in violence, even in the classic series.  Sometimes it’s like the Billy Jack films, which often preach non-violence and tolerance, but in the end, Billy Jack isn’t a half-breed Native American, ex-green beret martial artist just to make him an interesting character.

River Song’s story will most-likely end this series.  Too much attention was drawn to Silence in the Library last episode.  Too much attention was given to the emotions River has toward The Doctor and how from this point on (from her perspective) they no longer have a relationship.  From The Doctor’s perspective, however, it is beginning.  Narratively, I think her story is close to its end.  This story was possibly the most I’ve enjoyed her character.  She was finally given some emotional substance rather than being a temporal gimmick.

I guess they did technically fall.

While I loved how The Doctor defeated The Silence, I don’t think they are gone.  We still don’t quite know how The TARDIS was hijacked.  We know that it is connected, in some way, to The Silence, but we don’t for sure know if The Silence were involved.  The only clue we have is the voice that said “Silence will fall.”  Perhaps The Silence were like many occupying forces, they were, by their sheer power, holding another force back.  Perhaps something or some one wanted The Silence to fall, wanted The Doctor to defeat them, so this other force could move in.  Pure speculation, I know.  We also don’t know why The Silence wanted the girl.  This really is like The X-Files, lots of questions.  Unlike The X-Files, however, I think Steven Moffat has an ending in mind.  Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying the ending will be satisfying.  I hope it will be, but I’ve been burned by other shows that appeared brilliant, but dropped the ball in the end.  I’ll wait and see for Moffat’s era.  On further reflection, however, I think my major hope for the return of The Silence is due to how they were not fully fleshed out.  I mean, we had an entire series (five) building up the threat of The Silence, and they are defeated in two episodes by a post-hypnotic suggestion delivered via television broadcast.  We still don’t know what their motivation was, why they were manipulating humanity, where they came from, and how they related to the exploding TARDIS.  I have some speculations on this, but they are merely speculation based on the barest clues given in this episode (and I think calling them clues is being rather generous).  I want The Silence to return so they feel adequately threatening.  And again, I think they will return.  The build-up in series five is screaming that this story is not over and this is a feint on the part of Moffat.  Why do the fish-people from Vampires in Venice mention escaping The Silence.  Shouldn’t they have forgotten The Silence when they turned away?  Did they develop their own ways of remembering or do The Silence only affect humans, making them less than parasitic and more symbiotic?  When the TARDIS is hijacked, we are told “Silence will fall.”  Who said this?  If The Silence hijacked the TARDIS, why would they predict their own demise?  Or are they being clever about their own name?  Perhaps their marketing division came up with a war chant that is broadcast when they invade.  “You are being invaded by The Silence.  Please remain calm.  Silence will fall.”  No, we will see them again.

In all, though, I’m quite excited.  The final shot of the regenerating girl makes me very excited.  I’ll admit that while I enjoyed The Deadly Assassin from oh, so long ago, I didn’t like the definition it gave to The Time Lords.  I liked when The Time Lords were mysterious forces that we never saw, something that The Doctor was cautious about.  Robert Holmes did a great job of building their society, but it took away the mystery.  RTD gave the mystery back by killing them and writing about them cryptically.  Steven Moffat may be rebuilding them.  Then again, rebuilding The Time Lords might be too big a plot development.  Again, The Doctor rather needs them to be his old self again, as he doesn’t have anyone to react against, but I think the show does well by not having the convoluted, and occasionally dull, Time Lord continuity.  I would love to be able to speculate more on what Moffat is doing here, but I really don’t have enough to work with.  I’m just glad that the mystery of The Doctor’s death at the beginning of the series is still an unknown.  It seemed too much to deal with that, The Silence, the mysterious girl, and introducing the show to old fans and new.  Once more, series five was the transition, and we are now moving forward into Moffat’s era.  It should be an interesting journey.

Series 6.01 – The Impossible Astronaut

Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Toby Haynes

**Spoilers**

The Doctor has invited three of his closest friends to reunite in for a picnic.  But when The Doctor is killed, Amy, Rory, and River must join with a slightly younger version of The Doctor to find out why he was killed.

Utah almost looks like another planet.

 “That‘s okay.  You were my second choice for President, Mr. Nixon.”

There is a certain amount of analysis for this episode that will have to wait until I have seen the next episode.  The story is incomplete, and thus it is hard to really determine how well it works.  Sorry, can’t sing it’s praises at the moment.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t somewhat compelling.

The opening of this story, while setting up the mystery, felt like a primer on the show.  I can’t help but wonder if this is due to the huge push by BBC America to introduce more Americans to Doctor Who.  There is very little reference to previous (Moffat-era) continuity, instead having only the basic indications of what the concept of Doctor Who is.  And what a distillation it is.  I don’t quite say this admirably.  Based on the opening, Doctor Who is a science fiction show about a humanoid alien that mucks about in time and space.  Sometimes, he has friends along.  If the opening three minutes of the episode are indeed a type of introduction, then this is Steven Moffat’s thesis.  This is how he sees the show.  This is what Doctor Who means to him.  This is the type of story we can expect from his era and this season.

Doctor Who as a franchise truly can be anything, it truly can go anywhere.  But under each era, it is extremely limited, and under Steven Moffat, it will only tell one or two types of story.  In a way Moffat is a bit like Agatha Christie, not so much a murder mystery writer, but a writer telling stories where the details are important, they are clues that are given to the viewer to solve a mystery, a mystery that may not have the final clue until the last few moments of the story.  He is very good at this type of story.  But it is virtually the only story he can tell.  Gone is adventure and a sense of wonder.  And Doctor Who is no longer a children’s show because a) it is too scary, and b) children don’t read Agatha Christie-style mysteries.  They read adventure mysteries.  Stories with a sense of wonder.  The Impossible Astronaut is a fun story in places, it is fun to try to piece together the clues, to meet old and new characters.  But there is no sense of wonder, there is only a pressing need to solve the mystery, to survive the danger.  We want to see how The Doctor will get out of this one.  If you are looking for curiosity, wonder, or new worlds, this may not be the era for you.

He is watching us all grow up.

Does this mean I hated it?  By no means!  I’m eager to see where the story goes.  As I said before, I want to see how The Doctor gets out of this one.  But I now fully understand that I have to match the new paradigm in my expectation of Doctor Who.  For some reason, this has been a hard adjustment.  One of my nieces used to have difficulty pronouncing my name.  I found the mispronunciation endearing.  But as she grew older, she started pronouncing my name correctly.  Sometimes, I miss the way she once talked, but she is growing up.  I’m sure it will also be hard to see her grow into her teenage years and become an adult.  But change happens, nothing remains static and it doesn’t mean I will love her any less.  Doctor Who may never tell the types of stories it once did.  Each era is a product of its time and television continues to evolve.  In order to take advantage of the new advances in technology and in order to compete with other shows, Doctor Who must change and evolve.  And while it may do a very good job of telling the stories that it currently tells, it may not go back to telling stories with the sense of unpredictable wonder of The Hartnell Era or the world-building of a Robert Holmes or Chris Boucher story.  We may not see the visions of technological horror of Gerry Davis or the B-movie quirkiness of Terry Nation.  It is sad to see these things go, but it is also astounding that this show continues to survive and thrive and reflect the changing face of television.  If nothing else, Doctor Who provides a fascinating history into the development of the television medium.

Okay, right.  Enough eulogizing.  Moving onward.  I have to ask how much time has passed since The Big Bang and The Impossible Astronaut.  As we left series five, we knew that whatever gained control of the TARDIS was still out there.  There was that creepy voice that kept insisting silence would fall.  The Doctor seemed quite insistent that they track this down.  Then we had Amy and Rory take a honeymoon and almost crash at Christmas.  Now we are in series six.  Has The Doctor been stalling?  I would hope not because that would be extremely careless.  Whatever gained control of the TARDIS could, conceivably, do so again.  But maybe the passage of time isn’t important.  Maybe there will be answers to this question in the next episode.  As I said, hard to really review the merits of the story when it is incomplete.

The Silence courting rituals prove somewhat ineffective on human females.

I like the look of The Silence.  Anything based on Edvard Munch’s The Scream is going to be rather cool and creepy.  Does Steven Moffat have a fascination with impressionists?  Regardless, The Silence, at this point, are visually interesting and much more chilling (and better named) than The Floof.  Yes, we have Moffat once more mining his back catalogue, taking The Floof from a short story called Corner of the Eye, which was published in the 2007 Doctor Who Annual.  Tall, mal-formed bald men in suits are much more frightening than short, bald men in suits.  But what is more striking about the look of The Silence is their resemblance, not to Munch’s The Scream, but to the grey aliens in alien abduction tales.  Intentionally or coincidentally, Steven Moffat has tapped into a healthy dose of twentieth century American mythology in The Impossible Astronaut.  Starting with The Silence, they have large, hairless heads and cavernous eyes that could be mistaken for black bulbous ovals.  They are tall and thin (greys tend to alternate between tall or short, but they are always thin) and dressed in black.  The suits themselves, offering a juxtaposition with the alienness of The Silence, bring to mind images of the Men in Black.  Add to this the idea of American deserts and space suits and I would say that Steven Moffat is intentionally drawing from the alien mythos as built on by shows like The X-Files and movies like Men in Black.  Alien abduction stories, primarily due to The X-Files, are a part of the American mythology of the late 20th century.  Other elements of this

The Truth is Out There, Doctor

mythology, though not necessarily linked to The X-Files, are Richard Nixon (a controversial figure in American politics) and NASA.  It makes perfect sense for Steven Moffat to attempt to invoke these icons of American pop-cultural identity.  I’m curious to see what other images he might bring out in the next episode.  And perhaps he is right to remind American viewers of The X-Files.  At its height, it was one of the most popular and influential science fiction shows produced by American television.  Both The X-Files and Doctor Who have monsters and (at least under Steven Moffat) horror, and both have recurring mythological stories (or arcs or mytharcs, whatever terminology suits you).  Perhaps this is the ideal segment of the American audience to lure to Doctor Who.  While certainly not as dark as The X-Files, it could touch a common narrative format.

River Song and Rory have a good scene together where she laments her relationship with The Doctor.  She even speculates that when she finally gets to the point where The Doctor no longer knows her, that she will die.  It may be interesting, when all is said and done, to watch the River Song episodes in River’s chronological order.  Moffat may indeed be hoping we do it.  Perhaps he indirectly referenced Silence in the Library because he wanted us to revisit it.  Notice, both this story and Silence in the Library had space suits, even if one was futuristic.  Or maybe I am over-analyzing.  Regardless, I’m starting to doubt my most-recent River Song theory.  I’m now not so sure she is manipulating him at The Doctor’s (future version) behest.  She seemed too sincere when talking to Rory.  I am, at the moment, out of ideas.  Hopefully we will find out soon.

In this episode, Amy said multiple times that time can be re-written, and each time, River rebuffed her.  At one point, River even said that only some moments in time can be re-written and that The Doctor told her this.  This is very interesting because in series five, The Doctor was quite astounded when he realized time could be re-written.  So, either one of two things is happening.  Is Steven Moffat backpedaling?  Or is River telling us something that The Doctor is yet to learn?  Keep in mind that if The Doctor told River that only certain moments in time can be re-written, that this information is coming from The Doctor’s future.  So, if The Doctor currently thinks that time in general can be re-written, can we suppose that something will happen to change that?  And even more outrageous, could River Song’s life, as we have seen it, be re-written?  Ah, speculation.

Where does this leave us?  What pieces do we have to work with in order to speculate on the conclusion?  I said there would be spoilers, I suppose I need to provide some.  We were very deliberately not shown who was in the space suit at the beginning of the episode.  At the end, we were shown it was a little girl.  This could have been done to keep the reveal a surprise, but it could also indicate that the person in the suit at the beginning of the episode is not the person we see in the suit at the end.  There is a storyline in Babylon 5 where a space station, once thought lost, returns.  It is temporally displaced.  During the investigation we see a figure in a space suit.  Usually something bad would happen when we see him.  We find out, in a later season, that depending on when the suit was seen, there could have been different people in it.  I see no reason to assume at this point that a little girl killed The Doctor in the opening sequence.  It is entirely possible it is The Doctor himself and the scene where he finds a space helmet and puts it on could be foreshadowing.  That’s the thing about foreshadowing, you sometimes can’t see it clearly until the story is over.

And speaking of killing The Doctor, The Big Bang gave us a scene where The Doctor appeared from 12 minutes in the future and “died”.  In truth, he wasn’t dead, just seriously injured, possibly about to die.  I assume the reboot of the universe healed him.  Regardless, what we think we saw was not the reality of the situation, and this could be playing out again.  For Amy, River, and Rory, however, this does appear to be reality.  Amy fired the gun in the cliffhanger, presumably at the girl in the space suit (although the cliffhanger was deliberately shot to obscure the target).  It is entirely possible that Amy is setting up the sequence of events that lead to The Doctor’s death.  This possibility has yet to be discussed among the leads, but if they do, it could suddenly turn in to The Space Museum.  I somehow doubt The Silence will be as funny as The Moroks.

We have very little to go on regarding The Silence.  We forget them, even after we see them.  The Silence in the bathroom told Amy that she “will tell The Doctor what he must know and what he must never know.”  This echoes The Beast Below, when Amy chooses to forget about The Star Whale, she decides something for The Doctor to keep him from making a decision.  This idea is at play again with Amy, River, and Rory, only this time it involves The Doctor’s personal timeline.  Somehow, I doubt it will make him any happier or more willing to accept things.