Sunday, May 29, 2011

"The Almost People"

Well, at least Matthew Graham's absolved himself of "Fear Her". This conclusion improves upon "The Rebel Flesh" in a number of important ways, although it continues to make some of the same mistakes. The character development and thematic content are improved but the story becomes pretty insubstantial and they still can't get the companion balance right. It also concludes with a cliffhanger which, while an impressive spectacle, emphasises perhaps more than ever how stealth-soapy this series has been. Nonetheless it's probably one of the best episodes so far along with its prior episode but is similarly hampered by the occasional dryness of the plot, although there's a fair bit less faffing around in this one than there is in the pevious part. It certainly fits the inconsistent and never-quite-right mood of this series pretty well.
So first of all we have a duplicate Doctor, which can be done well in situations like "Meglos" and can be done abominably badly in scenarios like "Journey's End". This one is an example of how to do a duplicate Doctor properly, and seeing Matt Smith getting to act with himself is a pretty impressive dramatic opportunity and one he fulfils with his usual aplomb. There's some weird stuff in the pointless section before the titles, however, involving a lot of needless screaming and dramatic chords from the Ganger Doctor for essentially no reason. While it's nice to hear the Fourth Doctor's voice, and to know that Tom Baker recorded that line especially, and not especially nice at all to hear the Tenth Doctor's voice, it seems pointless. He has different vocal chords. Why would his Ganger need to deal with the regenerations or whatever as well given that it's based on the Eleventh Doctor's genetic structure, which would be unique to him? It's also a bit duff that he's given the "Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow" line as a nod to the Third Doctor because while I know it's a sort of lame Who in-joke it's just a bit of a clunky and rather unsubtle reference to give. I did like the slightly misquoted First Doctor line, however. Anyway, the interactions between the two Doctors are really satisfying to watch and when it turns out that they pulled the old switcheroo on Amy, if we really want to stretch the friendship, it was reminiscent of some of the manipulations pulled by the Seventh Doctor.
What about our valiant companions, however? Well last week it was all about Rory with Amy frustratingly sidelined, so this week they bungle it yet again and make it all about Amy with virtually no Rory. It's nice to see Amy's offhand prejudice against the Gangers emphasised but Rory starts to just seem gullible. Nonetheless Amy's interactions with the Doctors are good and it presents an interesting argument in regards to how people will tend to favour what they consider truth even when the distinction is barely relevant. I did notice, however, that Amy barely interacts with the other characters at all and she seems weirdly distracted from the action, mostly just worrying around the Doctors when not looking for Rory. It's a bit of a strange incongruity and it kind of reinforces the feeling this episode has of being slightly fractured.
That notwithstanding some of the others get their time to shine. I'll deal with Jennifer first, because unfortunately she is a complete ham and cheese sandwich and all her rubbish about war and "it'll destroy them all" and all this sort of cackling-villain absurdity, coupled with that incredibly irritating accent, make her very hard to take seriously. Her motivations seem so abstract and idealistic as to be unbelievable and while it's nice to see the role of antagonist shifted to her from the increasingly grounded and ultimately rather interesting Cleaves it's done in a fairly silly way, especially when she turns into a big monster which briefly, mid-transformation, looks like the Spitter from Left 4 Dead 2. The CGI's pretty atrocious and I don't know what it was really needed for unless they realised they'd done a whole parter without any visibly-recognisable villains and panicked that having action figures of all the workers in those power-armour acid suits weren't going to sell enough on their own. Speaking of which, it looks so lame when, having marched up to the door in slow motion in their acid suits with the poles raised like standards and so on, the Gangers stop in front of the closed door, notice it's closed, don't even bother testing it, shrug their shoulder and walk off. The absurdity is reinforced when once the group inside have conveniently escaped they then manage to easily ram the door down.
Anyway, now that I've dealt with the annoying one, what about the two stiffs? First off, there was Buzzer. Who on earth made the decision to waste Marshall Lancaster in this story? Why did they throw him away on a handful of lines and no good chance to interact with a Ganger of himself? While he does get the occasional funny moment he just feels like an arbitrary thug and his presence is disappointingly limited. As for Dicken... wow. I mean seriously, this guy was completely pointless. He even loses his sneeze, his one character trait from the previous episode, and does absolutely nothing except sacrifice himself for basically no reason to slow Monster Jennifer down so that various duplicates can have a massive chin-wag at the second door. Even his Ganger is only purposeful so that Ganger Jimmy doesn't have to admit to being Flesh when they make the story public. Didn't Dicken have any reasons to want to be accepted either? His character is not developed in the slightest and his presence is virtually needless.
Jimmy, alternately, gets to do more good stuff here. It's especially good when Ganger Jimmy sees his son and decides to halt Jennifer's plan, presumably to save the "real" Jimmy, and while I think human Jimmy's death scene was dragged out a bit too much nonetheless it was good to see the fulfilment of the Ganger's claims to humanity and parenthood from the previous episode come through. Isn't it convenient, though, that the acid crisis he ran off to stop seems to just stop itself while he's cradling his primogenitor on the floor? Nonetheless it's done well and it's a good way of developing the theme of what it means to be human substantially more. It seems to have been a big thing in Moffat Who so far, with Bracewell and Auton Rory fulfilling similar roles. Cleaves is also developed much more effectively than last episode, translating smoothly from a bothersome obstacle to a much more balanced and interesting character due to her continued interactions with herself. We probably would have benefited from seeing more of that in the previous episode. It does, however, make Ganger Cleaves' sacrifice seem a bit unnecessary and I think Cleaves would have been a good character to have had return to society with a Ganger duplicate. The fact that no duplication exists at the end of the story I found to be rather frustrating and I think it would have been a much more challenging notion if they'd had at least one pair have to deal with some kind of consequences at the end.
As I said at the beginning, however, there are parts much like last episode where it can feel dry or dull, not helped by the uniform orange jumpsuits, dim lighting and dreary stone interiors, as much as I'm sure this was to an extent deliberate. The plot just isn't as snappy as it could be, and at times it cuts too often between Rory stumbling around, the humans with the Doctors and Amy, and the Gangers having repetitive discussions about survival or tapping at computer screens. I almost feel like it was a good idea which could have been done in one episode. Altogether "The Rebel Flesh" and "The Almost People" are about the length of an average four-part story of the Classic Series and while they have some reminiscent aspects in terms of atmosphere and storytelling they lack the richness and complexity of narrative which a good Classic Series story could often manage. It's probably not helped by the small but still partially underused cast and the rather limited objectives of the episode. What everyone's trying to achieve certainly seems to become very vague, abstract and slightly irrelevant by the end and when the TARDIS, and hence the end of the story, just spontaneously shows up from conveniently sinking through the right amount of acid into just the right tunnel you can't help feel like the episode has been trying to get its point across without bothering to express it through an interesting story with distinct parts. It's not helped that the whole issue of Rory's compassion and concern, which was so played up last episode, is given relatively little attention, and his feelings of betrayal or their consequences are not exactly dwelled upon with any great focus. Once again it's a tick for message and a mostly a tick for character but the story box isn't checked. A relatively neat point of comparison is, say, "The Robots of Death", which does all three of those things, or to give a more modern example, say, "The Beast Below". I think it's often in the nature of these New Series two-parters to drag a bit, and I think Moffat has the right idea where he makes stories like "The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang" and to a lesser extent "The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon" where while the story is relatively continuous the two parts are radically different. It's interesting to note with that in mind that "The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone", while a Moffat two-parter, is a bit dry and padded out like most New Series two parters tend to be.
Regardless, it's a good conclusion to the previous episode and together they form a relatively high point for this series. It's just a shame they couldn't have been a bit pacier. We're still having an awkward time of it this series and while I hope things step up I'm rather worried that at the end of the year it'll be this episode and the one prior, despite their noticeable dryness, which we'll look back on with slightly forced fondness.

Friday, May 27, 2011

"L.A. Noire"

No, it's not a scathing critique of an episode of a TV show I purport to love. It's a video game review! L.A. Noire is, of time of writing, basically the "next big thing" and is getting a lot of attention in the game community and elsewhere. It's pretty innovative as they go, combining the popular open-world sandbox gameplay typical of its publisher, Rockstar, with the normally rather niche concept of the detective game. It's set in Los Angeles in 1947 and you play (mostly) as Cole Phelps, an uptight by-the-book detective newly promoted to the ranks after returning home from the Second World War. Over the course of events you work several desks within the police department, investigating Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson cases. You get called out to crime scenes, have to find evidence, interview witnesses and interrogate suspects, and often you'll get involved in shootouts with crooks or car chases with felons hell bent on escaping justice.
It's an interesting game in that unlike most sandboxes you're on the side of law and justice, so while it's certainly possible to drive recklessly and damage public property you are also protecting the public and so you can't just run around killing people in a wanton fashion. Nonetheless the huge world map and its enormous levels of detail greatly enhance the realism and sense of place in the game. You won't find many cars on the road if you're called out to a scene at 4AM, for instance, and you experience a wide variety of weather during various cases. The city has apparently been recreated from thousands of photographs of LA from the period and it certainly seems evident in how incredibly full and devoid of placeholder or repetition the streets are. Similarly, entering buildings reveal clearly lived-in, believable environments with discarded clothing, full drawers, an immense variety of patterns and styles of architecture and products, photographs, paintings and so on. It's obvious that a great deal of care and attention has been put into building this game's setting. Everything is accompanied by a period soundtrack heavily composed of Jazz and scores reminiscent of old-timey films, as well as genuine contemporary songs and programmes on the radio when you're driving any of the game's hundred real cars. In this sense it's an extremely impressive game, and one of the biggest points in its favour is just how very atmospheric the whole thing is. It really feels like 1947 LA, from the fashions and speech patterns to the heavily war-related themes and the numerous nods to broader historical events.
The story can be frustrating at times, however. While the cases themselves are internally quite interesting and can be even moreso when, normally at the end of a desk, cases begin to be linked together into an overarching narrative or in relation to a wider crime spree, there are several strange incidents. Perhaps the most notable of these is the point at which Phelps elects to cheat on his wife with the German femme fatale Elsa. This happens with little to no explanation for why it occurs and is present in the story regardless of the choice of the player. There are implications in the one major scene featuring Phelps and his wife that the trauma of the war has left him in a state where he no longer feels for his wife but we see nothing of his home life and while his hard-assery can be argued as deriving from the guilt he felt as a result of his brutality and ruthlessness during the war it leaves a fair bit to be desired in terms of believable character development. Too much is left to the imagination and it feels rather jarring and incongruous. A similar narrative issue results from the fact that with three cases remaining in the story the player switches to controlling non-police investigator and Phelps' old war rival Jack Kelso. While Kelso himself is an interesting character and playing as him can come as a welcome relief after having to participate in the downfall of the increasingly unlikeable Phelps it feels as if we are alienated from the original structure by the end, almost as if we are playing a different game. Similarly while Phelps and Kelso both fulfil the traditional Noir style, more or less, in being the one or in this case two "good men" in a corrupt world they lack the smoothness and charisma of great Noir protagonists like Philip Marlow or Holly Martins and in Kelso's case we simply don't spend enough time with him to fully get to grips with his character. Nonetheless the minor street crimes which you can help solve during the course of main cases do reinforce the sense of the 'Mean Streets' but again these are not present when playing as Kelso and towards the end of the game the actual detective work seems rather sidelined in favour of action-packed car chases and gunfights. The motion capture and the acting are all very good and work in the favour of enhancing the story and the believability of the world, however, so it's ultimately a bit of a mixed bag. Additionally, the storyline, like many crime dramas, becomes a bit bogged down with names, locations and faces you're supposed to be familiar with across an overarching plot but might start to become confusing if you don't pay detective-like levels of attention to the various persons of interest in the cases. It really doesn't reward a particularly casual approach, although I suppose this is arguably a point in its favour. Nonetheless it can become irritating when the cops all start discussing some case or suspect, sometimes even ones which are part of a backstory in which you yourself were not involved, and you're expected to keep up with what's going on and immediately rush off to question someone about people or events you may have forgotten in the intervening time or not actually experienced firsthand.
I suppose this leads us rather neatly to the gameplay. Apart from the fairly unchallenging task of walking out of the police station at the beginning or your assignment and driving your car wherever you want to go it's essentially divided into three components, which are clue-finding, interrogation and action sequences. Now that I mention it though, the police stations themselves can be annoying, especially when you're dumped into a new one you've never entered before at the start of Vice and Arson desks and are expected to know the way out or where the interrogation rooms are based on squinting at tiny little in-game signs which are not easy to read on a normal low-def TV. Anyway, moving onto the main activity of the game I'll mention the action sequences first as they're not as ubiquitous as the other two components and are arguably less important. Fighting is pretty good, and generally happens with guns. You take cover, lean out of cover to shoot the bad guys and nab weapons from dead enemies. One bothersome element of this is the awkward behaviour of the minimap during gunfights, which shows your enemies as red dots but doesn't seem to orientate in the direction you're pointing so that often you have to judge the position of crooks based on the direction your character is pointing in cover rather than where the camera is facing, which is difficult because the camera likes to give you a nice dynamic side-on of your Hat Man while you're lurking behind crates and concrete columns. Nonetheless you regenerate healthy pretty easily and once you get the hang of it it's pretty fun. Again, it's really just one of those things which requires patience. Fistfights are also quite enjoyable, as you both put up your dukes like you're in a Victorian bareknuckle arena and do the diarrhoea dance until you take a pop at your enemy with your huge manly fists. You can also dodge, which looks pretty bad-ass if executed properly, as well as take out your enemies with a big whack or a headbutt if you've done enough damage. One annoying thing I would mention, however, is that (on the Xbox 360 at least) you have to hold down the left trigger to stay in "Brawl mode" or whatever it is called or otherwise Phelps will stand there like a lemon getting hit. It's pointless since there's nothing else you can really do in the fistfight situations anyway and it can be rather frustrating the first time you enter one as a detective when you haven't been in one since a single incident as a patrolman in the tutorial section of the game several cases earlier and have forgotten what to do.
The much more irritating action element are the car chases. While it's quite cool to hare down the street with no regard for traffic laws while your partner fires a handgun wildly out of the passenger side window and shouts encouragement, let alone permission, for you to ram the fugitive's car keeping everything under control can be quite difficult and the runners seem to have pretty perfect steering until the point where the game elects that the chase has gone too long and has your criminal get hit by a tram or something. For your own part it's easy to gun at top speed after the bad guy, thankfully with a siren you can blare so that civilians get out of your way, and then immediately crash into a tree, barely-visible chain-link fence or inexplicably rock-solid hedge and have to restart the chase from the beginning. Even in a chase you have to be reasonably slow and cautious. I guess it's just another way that the game rewards patience but it can seem like a stretch when, after an enjoyable but inevitably fairly staid investigation, a bit of white-knuckle rubber-burning can seem like a welcome relief yet you still have to tone it down if you don't want to have to repeat the sequence several times to get it right. What's more, if you fail the same action sequence several times the game rather condescendingly asks you whether you'd not feel a lot better if you just skipped the whole thing and moved onto the next cutscene. It's a not entirely subtle way of the game suggesting that you're impatient, uncoordinated or both. That notwithstanding when it does come together it can be pretty fun, and both the same complaints and same compliments can be offered to the on-foot chase sequences. There are also related stealth sections where you have to follow a suspect without drawing attention to yourself and these can be frustrating for similar reasons in that you can't get too close or too far away or cause any ruckus, and while that's all fair enough it'd be a lot more reasonable if suspects didn't somehow notice you running a red light two blocks behind them or adjusting your fedora from your stalker nest behind a parked car at the other end of the street. Again, there are times when the game seems to cross the line from encouraging patience to being fairly arbitrarily fiddly and reliant on trial-and-error tactics to reach the goals.
What about the investigations, then? Well there's clue finding for a start, which normally involves ambling around a crime scene which can be littered with debris, footprints, dead bodies and so on while 'evidence music', often a rapidly repetitive series of low bass notes, plays in the backround. Phelps will look at everything from victims' wounds and the contents of their pockets and wallets to footprints, blood spatters and dropped items to completely unrelated pieces of junk like discarded beer bottles and the decorations in people's houses. Everything with which you can interact is indicated by a musical chime and a vibration of the controller, so while there can be obvious sources of evidence it can also be the case that you end up just brushing up against every solid surface in the room hoping for vibrations until the evidence music stops, indicating that you've found everything there is to find. Of course you can turn these options off so that the game doesn't tell you what's active and what isn't but it doesn't change the fact that you're not really left to draw your own conclusions, which is something I'll discuss further in the interrogation section. It's entirely possible to miss or ignore evidence if you so wish and this can affect the case later but often you can't progress further until you've found everything. There is also one moment, in the final homicide case, which relies on you identifying landmarks using rather literal references from Shelley's "Prometheus Unbound" and if you haven't encountered those landmarks in your exploration of LA up to that point, resulting in them not being marked on your map and therefore the corresponding descriptions, or the fact of their mere existence, not being obvious, you literally just have to drive around doing nothing for several minutes until Phelps figures it out for himself.
The problem is that the cases inevitably drive towards a pre-set conclusion, and while sometimes there can be two suspects from which you have to choose the game essentially tells you where to go and what's going on. Of course there are obvious lines of inquiry in a real case but at the same time it can feel like you're just going through the motions, steering Phelps between a series of pre-set incidents with your own impact on how they play out feeling increasingly limited as the game continues. It's not helped by the fact that besides having to choose one suspect or another to charge the only other consequences of a given case are a ranking based on how much evidence you found, how many interrogations you got right and how much you minimized costs to the department. It's all seems rather forced and odd that the game keeps tabs on how much of the evidence you find as some of it is certainly less relevant than others and surely in a real case conclusions could be drawn from a variety of sources. It's not helped by the interrogation system. Every time you question a suspect or witness about an issue pertaining to the case, you have to choose three responses to their answer. You can elect truth, essentially accepting their testimony, doubt it if they seem to be hiding something or are obviously lying, or lie if you have a solid piece of evidence which blatantly disproves their statement. At the end of each interrogation it tells you how many questions you got 'correct'. Am I the only person to whom this doesn't make much sense? How can a question be right or wrong? Often it's very unclear which option you're "meant" to pick or, in the case of lie, which particular piece of evidence of several seemingly relevant ones you should choose. It's not helped by the fact that sometimes when a witness just seems to be holding back and you want to give them a nudge in the right direction and pick doubt Phelps flies off the handle and starts hurling threats and dark insinuations at them. It's also frustrating that people who are doubted when they're telling the truth, for instance, always always become super defensive and are never intimidated or apologetic. Surely a lot of these average joes and young people would be quite scared of police questioning? There's also the fact that if you accuse a suspect of lying they inevitably go "Where's the evidence?" like they're the voice of the game telling you what to do next. They never just get flustered or don't know what to say. It gets even weirder when you pick Truth and it's the wrong choice and witnesses make these weird cryptic remarks about you being naive or that essentially you're doing something incorrectly, and often what 'Truth' actually means becomes pretty fuzzy. Often the only difference between Truth and Doubt is that in the former Phelps is fairly friendly and in the latter he starts chewing the carpet. You often have to judge statements based on facial reactions which are well captured using the motion scan technology employed in the game but even these can be misleading or difficult to read. Again, it encourages patience, although sometimes it can still be irrational or confusing and the 'correct question' can seem very arbitrary.
Ultimately I think L.A. Noire is a step in the right direction. While the detective work itself can feel rather restrictive and limiting at times and the story and characterisation occasionally feel overcomplicated, vague or fractured, it's compelling and incredibly atmospheric and its relative novelty and exciting case narratives cause its good points to generally outweight its more frustrating elements. What it arguably does best is make a very strong and critical message about the aftermath and consequences of war for the individual and I would propose war as really its central theme. In this way if none other it could be recognised as a work of art. Games in the future need to build on this game's aesthetic and intellectual quality with innovative and artistic gameplay and if it's true that a sequel might be in the works we can only hope that something truly phenomenal could be built on these rudimentary yet nonetheless inspiring foundations.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"The Rebel Flesh"

"It was like a boring episode of the Classic series," argues one of my esteemed colleagues in Doctor Who fandom, and that's a pretty concise summation of this first part. The good points are that it actually has a bit of a science fiction concept for once, which we haven't really seen this series, that the Doctor has been toned down a bit again, that Rory gets plenty of time to shine and that it takes itself seriously enough to not seem self-parodying, unlike other recent episodes. The bad points are that the science fiction concept is far from fresh or innovative, that the plot is rather predictable, safe and quite slow at points, that the secondary characters and the setting are not amazingly well developed, that Amy is clumsily sidelined and that the general scenario is one we've seen in New Who two-parters many times before.
I'll start with the bad points, I suppose, in an effort to end the review on a positive note. I suppose to people who go into the show just expecting silly run-arounds and broadly-drawn emotionality the idea of replicants receiving identities must seem a pretty novel one but to any sci-fi audience worth its salt it all seems terribly old hat. Didn't Blade Runner do this? Didn't Star Trek do this? Indeed, didn't Doctor Who do this during the Classic series? "Spearhead from Space", anyone? Maybe it's been too long since these ideas were refreshed, and that makes their presence here seem more reasonable, but at the same time there's not much in the way of discussion here. The Doctor and Rory think the Gangers deserve to live, Amy and the orange jumpsuit cyphers are pretty iffy about them, and that's about it. It's not really presented in a very challenging way. Compare this to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? where killing androids, living things with their own identities, can be a way of life, and a profitable one at that, where they aren't seen as living things in need of protection or monsters but rather are completely denied their subjectivity by society who sees them as objects. We get the idea that the Gangers are tools or vehicles but it's never really played up in a challenging way. Maybe if one of the Gangers had casually been killed by Cleaves after the Solar Storm and the rest of the human crew didn't bat an eyelid it would have been more effective. Perhaps then the Doctor could have sided with the Gangers and they had to fight or negotiate their way out or something, I don't know. But no, instead, after a lot of faffing around in the middle where nothing really happens, Cleaves kills Ganger Buzzer and everyone's very shocked and the Gangers and the humans decide to 'go to war' or something which all sounds implausibly melodramatic from these stoic Northern and Scottish people. This sets up the showdown for next episode where presumably the humans and the Gangers will slowly be killed off through a number of encounters and so on. This effectively encapsulates my second bad point too, that the plot is safe and familiar. They had a chance to do something new here and they didn't. It'd be nice to see these clones try to integrate into society or something for once. The middle drags a lot as well, and while the opening is rather brisk and nice and the ending is reasonably pacey there seem to be large chunks in the middle of the episode where it mostly just has various characters wandering around not doing very much. Is it worth noting that the writer of this episode was Matthew Graham, who also wrote "Fear Her"? This isn't nearly as padded out but you can still feel those heavy areas where the characters seem to be twiddling their thumbs a bit.
This neatly segues into my discussion of the characters introduced for this episode. Jennifer's the token wet fish, Buzzer and Jimmy are the belligerent dudes, Cleaves is the textbook ruthless leader and Dicken's only character trait is quite literally that he occasionally sneezes. Now we do get some insight into Jennifer through the ganger but she's so mopey and desperate and pleading that she's more annoying than anything and she just feels like the arbitrary sympathy character until she turns nasty at the end. Hopefully that's developed properly in the next episode. Cleaves reminded me of Thawn from "The Power of Kroll" for some reason because she seems to hate the Gangers for basically no reason and is a motiveless authority-based antagonist. It's also amusing to watch the scenes where every time it cuts back to her she seems to have her mouth twisted into a different position of distaste. On the other hand the commentary by Ganger Cleaves on her human version are rather intriguing and we could have used some more of that, just as it would have been effective to have actually shown the search being conducted by Jimmy and Ganger Jimmy together. As I've said Dicken seems to be there solely for the sake of an extra body although I imagine the sneezing will play a role in the next episode and Marshall Lancaster, one of the best performers from Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, is rather wasted in the inconsequential role of Buzzer. He just comes across as a stereotypical money-grubbing slightly grumpy Northern bloke. The characters just aren't very lively and it reinforces the bland, grey atmosphere of the setting, although I'm not sure if it was intentional. I suppose ordinary people just aren't very interesting. Speaking of the setting, though, as I've said it's not very well developed either. We know we're on an island somewhere and seemingly in the nearish future but apart from that it's all pretty vague and it gives a rather unpleasant sense of absence. What's the acid for? Why are 'solar tsunamis' happening? How was the Flesh technology developed? I would argue that all this dreariness and vagueness in character and setting is meant to reinforce the themes of identity becoming a grey area and so on but I think that would be drawing far too long a bow; what's more likely is that we just don't have an amazingly strong script.
This brings me to our main trio. The obvious star of this episode is meant to be Rory, and it shows. Arthur Darvill does compassion well - he knows what it's like to be an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation. He also knows what it's like to be a facsimile of himself, having been an auton. His performance is incredibly naturalistic, and he gets some very funny and endearing moments which have been denied to him in previous episodes. It's really the solution to what I've been talking about in earlier reviews this series. Here a companion is being given a proper role, not just being a plot device or a source of cheap gags. You'd think I'd be overjoyed with this, but they fumbled it a good deal in dealing with Amy. She's barely present in the episode, with what seems like a handful of lines and virtually no involvement in the plot, spending most of her time just looking for Rory. It also becomes implausible to think that Rory would go running off to help a Ganger and ditch his wife when he's been so uxorious in the past, and unless this is some fresh character development, and while it's nice to see him not being clingy, it seems like a very inelegant way of playing up his role. They seem to be struggling with making the husband/wife companion dynamic work. It's a step in the right direction but they really need to be doing this with both Amy and Rory.
What about the Doctor? Well as I mentioned he's been reined back a bit in this one, and you can tell that it's when the silliness has been toned down a tad and the eccentricity's less arbitrary that Matt Smith really gets his time to shine again. His character in this one is much more consistent with last series and his commanding presence and great endowment of the Doctor with inner strength and conviction are once again evident. He does get to be funny, true, but the humour's been toned down to an appropriate notch and there's a bit more gravitas. The pointless rambling and rapid-fire hand-wavey explanations are gone and it all feels much more true to the Eleventh Doctor we came to know last series. I hope he sticks around. I also hope they use this Ganger Doctor well, although honestly, who didn't see that one coming?
Overall the lack of flippancy and silliness benefits this episode a great deal compared to recent offerings but at times it seems to overstep the mark a bit too far and it can feel a little dry and stale. It captures some of last series' sincerity but could have been a bit more interesting. These stumbles don't stop it from being a step in the right direction, but the rather noticeable change in tone does tend to reinforce the wobbliness of this series. Moffat had better have something amazing waiting in the Doctor's apparently-fatal future...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"The Doctor's Wife"

Moffat's big gun this series besides his own script-writing weight was the fact that this episode was penned by none other than Neil Gaiman, who in a big first for the New Series is actually a science fiction and fantasy author rather than just a sitcom or soap writer with delusions of grandeur or a BBC hack. That being said, it doesn't mean this episode is a masterpiece or anything, and a lot of its kookiness is fairly predictable. I think some part of me really wants a good talkie episode and you'd think they'd use Gaiman for that but a lot of this involves manic rushing about and breathless scares so that's so much for that, then. Am I being unnecessarily harsh? I don't know. I just feel like Moffat's team has let me down somehow this series. Of course The Smith hasn't, and Karen Gillan hasn't, and I can't imagine a world in which Arthur Darvill could ever disappoint anyone, but I almost feel like Moffat pulled out all the stops to carry people over from the previous era last series and now he's kind of content to let the show wallow in self-indulgence and banality. None of this is to say that "The Doctor's Wife" is bad; it's certainly better than last week's offering. It just feels a little dull and kind of like it's insisting on itself a bit, as if personifying the TARDIS, having a couple of weird, creepy people speaking in funny accents, getting the Doctor to make some cheeky jokes and having a red herring 'recovery of the Time Lords' plot hook somehow will just instantly make everyone fall in love with the episode. The design comes from the Tim Burton school of grit, Idris aka The TARDIS looks like a friendly version of Bellatrix Lestrange, and Rory has yet another fake/imaginary death for the bajillionth time. Can't it happen to Amy for once? I guess they really want to hit us over the head with the whole 'Amy cares about Rory' thing so they keep having to pile on the hastily-aborted grief. If something happened to Amy, like it did in "Day of the Moon", we'd expect Rory to be pretty cheesed, but apparently Moffat and co believe that we're not certain of Amy's fidelity yet or something.
It's nice to see the corridors of the TARDIS even if they are extremely bland and kind of claustrophobic; it would have been even better if they'd shown us some of the other rooms but I guess the budget only extends so far. It's also nice to witness the deletion of the uninspired Eccly/Tennant console room for the sake of a relatively minor plot point. It seems odd that House wouldn't be aware of the hard-wired emergency programme of the TARDIS, though, or that he didn't shut it off when he turned off the other safety precautions, but there's a fair whack of hand-wavey in this story. In fact in many ways it feels like a Classic Series story of a good four episodes or so crammed uncomfortably into a straining forty-five minutes. There are a lot of ideas here about how House fixes people, about Aunt and Uncle and Nephew, who Idris is, why House eats TARDISes, who House is and what his motivations are and so on, but they're all kind of swept under the carpet as the story rushes to its climax and it feels like this episode had more potential than just the Doctor getting to have a flirt with his time machine. I'd even go so far as to argue that giving the TARDIS a face and a human identity was the least important or even the least meaningful of the avenues of thought in this story but obviously as I've already attested they want to play the character drama angle up pretty hard in this series. Indeed I almost thought of this story at one point as sort of the Eleventh Doctor's "The Girl in the Fireplace" only, y'know, with an infinitely superior Doctor and companions and believable character dynamics.
What about this Time Lord thing, though? The term 'Time Lord' gets thrown around in this episode like it's going out of fashion and the Doctor's convinced he's found 'the Corsair' and a bunch of other chappies whose names presumably start with 'the' and end with increasingly esoteric titles. Surely 'the Corsair' would be some kind of Time Lord pirate? Perhaps one who used his TARDIS to board other people's ships and so on? That could have been cool. But no, rather it's all just a trick and we're supposed to be excited that we've seen the return of the message box technique the Second Doctor used in "The War Games". I guess that's kind of cool, but really why bother? They could have saved time exploring something interesting without having this whole 'maybe some Time Lords are still alive' malarkey, and it just seems like a cop-out to play it up so much only to then simply ditch the entire thing and rapidly forget about it. The bit where the Doctor builds a TARDIS console room was kind of cool and seemed reminiscent of what the Third Doctor was up to in "Inferno" but a lot of these little continuity nods don't really seem to serve much purpose. All the episode really cares about in the end is how much the Doctor loves the TARDIS and how at last the TARDIS gets to say the same thing and while it's all deeply touching and so on it doesn't half leave me feeling a little bit unsatisfied. As I keep saying, there was more to be done here but it was just abandoned for two of Moffat's loves - one we've seen since the beginning of the New Series, which is to say cheap horror gimmicks, and one which seems to have developed recently, which is to say this kind of awkward sentimentality he's started playing up. Matt Smith plays it well so it doesn't come across with the same kind of wet melodrama in which a Tennant sob story would wallow but it still seems kind of limited and safe compared to the challenging issues we could be exploring in these stories.
I suppose some mention must be given to the House, who is a reasonable villain and whose voice acting is pretty good but as I've said we are given virtually no indication as to his motivation as an antagonist or why he does anything and he starts to feel pretty arbitrary by the end. They do a good job of characterising this faceless villain in a way which seems interesting but we really needed more; again, this was probably something which could have been explored if the whole Time Lord diversion had been removed. Again the phrase 'murder your darlings' comes into my head and it seems like a lot of the ideas which Moffat and Gaiman probably thought were dashedly clever and special were really prioritising hype and suspense over telling a complete story. Oh, and whose idea was it to have yet another Ood villain? I notice they didn't even bother explaining how Ood are easily mind-controlled in this one; can't anyone see what a wasted opportunity it is by consistently having the Ood as enemies of the Doctor rather than his allies? His appearance also feels, in many ways, like a pointless nod to stories gone by and the Doctor's completely nonchalant remark about "Another Ood I've failed to save" only serves to reinforce how little we care by this point. You may as well have had a mildly placid Dalek as the servant for all we're meant to care about Nephew's destruction. How does House mind-control people anyway? It just keeps coming back to the limited explanation present in this episode; in many ways the story and the mystery becomes completely derailed for the sake of the Doctor-TARDIS interaction scenes.
As I keep saying this series Amy and Rory don't have nearly enough to do, spending most of their time running around or having mental games played on them and their relegation to the level of plot contrivance to get the Doctor into action is fairly disappointing. At least they're kept together in this one. Also, why does the Doctor not even care about who Idris was before she was shunted out of her body and replaced with the TARDIS' 'Matrix' or whatever? House says "Goodbye, Idris," in a particularly scathing tone of voice at the end and it feels like there was meant to be something there which we didn't find out about. I'm led to believe that this episode was heavily rewritten due to budgetary constraints and it kind of shows. Idris/The TARDIS also said something about "The only water in the forest is the river," at the end, presumably some kind of reference to River Song and perhaps the last name 'Pond' as another water source. So, resorting to dropping RTD-style cryptic phrases are we Moffat? The deliberate speculation fuel is tiresome in the extreme, much like the heavy-handed pieces of dialogue between Amy and Rory which keep being inserted about the future Doctor's death in "The Impossible Astronaut". Speaking of which, I wish the Doctor would stop using the term 'impossible'. With everything he's seen you'd think he would have abandoned the concept by now. What's more, Tennant didn't require much more than the sight of someone patting their head and rubbing their stomach or doing a reverse park to start shouting "Impossible" like he had some kind of Bewilderment Tourette's, and I'd prefer not to be reminded of his mannerisms. Back in the day the Doctor used to rock up and suggest improvements to some machinery and all the gormless humans/humanoid aliens would say it was impossible or call him a genius. Are we really supposed to believe any of the hand-wavey fairy-story silliness which goes on in the New Series is impossible, or feel any kind of suspense in these situations, when it seems like wishful thinking is everything the technology of the future needs to function? What this distracted me from, though, is this dropping-little-clues thing Moffat has fallen for, and you can tell he's just waiting for people to start arguing on the forums and stuff. It's populist and moron-pandering and honestly I expect better of him. The revelations at the end of this series will have to be mind-expandingly amazing to reconcile me to any of this.
I've probably been more negative than I honestly feel. I enjoyed this episode, and while a lot of it left me feeling disappointed and unsatisfied there were times when it made me laugh, and Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are as watchable as ever. I just feel like the spark which invigorated the previous series got lost somewhere and Moffat's fumbling around in the dark trying to relight the candle. He got Neil Gaiman in to help him look but their combined efforts really didn't achieve much more than a kind of low flicker. It's worth watching, and fans will probably appreciate some of the references, but there's just so much more which could be done here and it's the wasted potential more than anything which grates on this episode and the series as a whole thus far.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"The Curse of the Black Spot"

Sometimes reviewing Doctor Who is a challenge. It's not always astoundingly easy to heap praise upon art, or offer constructive criticism to a solid piece of work, and it's especially hard to be funny about what you admire. It's for that reason, I suppose, that my reviews of the previous series of New Who were not as verbose as those which came before, because being what I, with blatant passion, basically consider a thirteen episode borderline masterwork, I was often pressed for things to say. Occasionally, as I pondered what to write about a game-changing televisual experience like "The Eleventh Hour" or "Amy's Choice", and in times since, I would think to myself that if there was anything I would miss about Tennant and RTD it would be how unbelievably easy it was to review the episodes because practically every week we were being served up unsalvageable piles of plotless, unscientific, melodramatic populist drivel which it was both simple and fun to absolutely destroy. Moffat and co must have been listening to these mutinous thoughts with some kind of mind-eavesdropping device from one of those 'dark fairy stories' because they kindly offered up "The Curse of the Black Spot" for my examination.
I'll get straight to the point now. This episode is a mess. It's astoundingly derivative and unoriginal, the dialogue and characterisation are sloppy and the plot has more holes than a pirate ship after being on the receiving end of a full broadside. The writer of this episode, Steve Thompson, is to my surprise the same person who wrote "The Blind Banker", the serviceable second episode of Moffat and Mark Gatiss' currently-running Sherlock TV series, and if anything is obvious it's that he should probably stick to longer-format works, and more realistic genres like detective fiction, rather than trying to tackle forty five minutes of sci-fi.
Once again, for the millionth time, we have some kind of alien creature which looks like a nasty thing from folklore showing up and terrorising people in the past. It's mind-numbing that they just can't escape this trope. The explanation for the Siren is fair enough, if a little rushed and predictable, but there are some weird things. Why can't it cure people? For the sake of dramatic tension, apparently. Why does it go all red and demonic when people try to interfere with what it's doing? Lack of imagination, I suppose. If it takes people to its sickbay by touching them, how come the Doctor, Amy and Captain Avery don't end up there straightaway when they get touched? Who knows. How does it travel through reflections? Possibly on wishful thinking, because no science holds any of this episode together. The Doctor rattles off a lot of guff about colliding realities and mirrors which is basically meaningless and it sounds a lot of the time like his dialogue was being written with Tennant in mind, especially when he says "Sister, you are good!" to the Siren.
Amy and Rory are again, and astoundingly for the two other stars, woefully underused, and apart from some pointless swordfighting with Amy and some cheap anaesthetised laughs from Rory that's about it. Why do Amy and the Doctor feel the need to drag Rory all the way from the hospital bed to the TARDIS before performing CPR? The whole 'CPR' thing is so unimaginative that I can't believe it was used, especially for the protracted bit before Rory coughs the water up. Is he just going to keep getting sort-of killed? They really need something fresh to amp up the drama here, and while I suppose they have it in this story Moffat's running with the little girl and so on it seems like in the filler episodes they don't really give a damn.
That's what this episode feels like - filler. Why did Henry Avery become a pirate? It's not really clear. He likes gold, apparently, but he seems like such a nice guy his lust for treasure doesn't fit at all. Is he really a murderous cutthroat? He doesn't seem to give the Doctor too much trouble. His son also serves as one of Moffat's Arbitrary Annoying Children and I wish to say no more of him. Incidentally, is it really plausible that a seventeenth century ship captain could ever really figure out how to pilot a futuristic alien spaceship, and incidentally, how did they get it moving if it was stuck, thus becalming the pirate ship and the TARDIS?
There are a couple of other weird plot holes too. The greasy-haired pirate who wants to scarper gets slashed by Toby, the little kid, in a needless act of unpleasantness, and tries to barricade the door. However, when Avery and the Doctor show up a few minutes later, he's completely vanished. Where did he go? Is there a scene missing? It's never mentioned. And if the magazine on the ship is "as dry as a bone", how come there's a huge, full barrel of water in there, and why does Toby take the lid off? Speaking of which, wasn't there meant to be only one barrel of water left on the ship? Because they open another one on the deck to let the Siren out towards the end. It's blatantly lazy and inconsistent and devoid of any kind of explanation.
A lot of the lines Hugh Bonneville gets saddled with as Captain Avery are absolute ham and cheese of the most elevated denomination, going on about "ships laden with treasure" and calling people "scurvy dogs" or "bilge rats" or whatever, although he does his best with what he's given, and the 'walking the plank' scene is so needless as to be borderline parody without being aware of the fact. It's like they wanted a pirate story but they blew the budget going to America so they couldn't afford a big pirate battle or anything so just stuck in some guff with Amy waving a sword around and a bunch of guys with beards and tricorns guffawing. They also totally missed several opportunities to make some kind of 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' reference too. It's also astounding how for almost the whole episode they do such a good job of holding Rory back from approaching the Siren yet repeatedly when the injured sailors are confronted by her the most that happens is the Doctor or Avery paws ineffectually at one of their coat tails for a brief second while staring gobsmacked at the apparition. It's never explained how or why the Siren takes the TARDIS, either. The whole episode is absolutely full of random incidents to cause strife or drive the plot forward with absolutely no explanation or rationale behind them.
The problem is that there are some good ideas lurking back here somewhere - the Captain torn between his reputation and his greed, the medical program carrying out its function without thinking (albeit very similar in many ways to the plot of "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances") and the implications of that kind of utilitarian attitude, Amy and Rory's relationship and so on, but they're all so hotch-potch and insubstantial that they ultimately can't be reconciled into any kind of meaningful or even interesting structure. Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are of course all doing their very best with what they're given, and as I've said Hugh Bonneville's performance is as strong as you can expect with such a lamentable script. The whole thing was in dire need of editing and its overall cheapness and lack of polish make me wonder if the division of this series into two parts caused Moffat to focus on two things, which is to say his own story arc following the little girl and the Silence, and the presence of Big Name Neil Gaiman as a writer for an episode, and permit the remainder to just be quickly-churned-out irrelevant pap. It's just so average and flimsy that it's really quite valueless, and the galloping plot holes in particular make it a very dubious offering. It's really a shame, because this is probably quite obviously the bottom of the heap for Matt Smith and Moffat's run so far, and it's disappointing to see this get through in such an incomplete and unsatisfying state in what has otherwise, up to now, been a pretty impressive tenure.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

"Day of the Moon"

Another installment of "Moffat Mystery TARDIS Theatre 11000", this episode is where things really get confusing. Before I forget, as if I'd seen a Silent, I'm going to list all the unanswered questions of this episode: Who are the Silence? What do they want? Why do they have some kind of fake TARDIS? Why do they need Amy, and why is she in a photograph from 1969? Why do they need a regenerating girl? Why do they need a space suit powered exoskeleton life support? Why do they need to keep the regenerating girl in the space suit powered exoskeleton life support? How is it that the regenerating little girl can regenerate? Who is the woman with the metal eyepatch Amy saw through the door? Is Amy pregnant, or isn't she? Who knows, and with a story which furnishes us with far more questions than it does answers I think it's pretty conclusive to say that Moffat is going for the hype angle in this series, trying to rope people in with mysteries and little clues. At least they seem to be maintaining some kind of narrative arc, which is much more effective than dropping buzz words, but it's pretty irritating when all these seeds of doubt have been sown and then the Doctor decides he wants to go have adventures instead. Adventures are one of the fundamental principles upon which Doctor Who operates, so don't turn them into frustrating road-bumps obstructing the fulfilment of a story arc purely for the sake of hype. It's manipulative of Moffat, and while it's a much less vacuous and condescending form of manipulation that the emotional tripe the previous era loved it's still the altar upon which artistic credibility and meaningful representation is sacrificed.
Doctor Who is science fiction, and science fiction is meant to have a point. Moffat sees it as a 'dark fairy tale', but if you read The Brothers Grimm or something they're meant to have a point too. Any kind of speculative fiction is best employed if it gives its audience something upon which they can reflect, and it's wasted if it only serves as a backdrop for soapy character drama, child-terrifying and cheap laughs. We know Moffat loves scary aliens which prey on fundamental human fears, we know he loves romance and we know he loves flirty humour. It's for this reason that he needs to restrain himself. The phrase 'murder your darlings' is meant to be the piece of advice that often the parts of an artwork of which you're the most smugly proud are probably the worst ones and that you should probably eliminate them, but with no one but himself to edit Moffat doesn't have to worry about that too much and it's starting to show. The superficial details are reasonably fresh and interesting but behind it all are concepts and tropes which are starting to become unoriginal.
Canton gets the feds to build the 'perfect prison' for the Doctor out of Dwarf Star Alloy blocks. It's a nice reference to "Warrior's Gate", but didn't the Doctor have the perfect prison built for him not four episodes or so ago (all things considered) and he used that to help him too? If they'd done a little lampshade hanging and had the Doctor remark upon this fact it might have seemed a little less noticeable but as it is it just seems repetitive. Speaking of which, three months have passed. What have Amy, Rory and River been doing? They're running around the place, yes, but for what purpose? Why did they leave the warehouse instead of confronting the astronaut? All we see is some grainy flashback quick-cuts of the team scarpering. Wasn't Rory being attacked by the Silence at the end of the episode and River had to go to his rescue? Guess they just offed them and bailed. Did the Doctor never think to ask why Amy shot the astronaut? When did they decide to all go running around America (on foot yet only caught by the entire FBI three months later, no less - maybe Canton was hamstringing his own investigation?), and if they're 'killing' Amy and Rory, why do they have the Doctor locked up in Area 51? Again, I guess it's Canton's doing, but the big leap between the previous episode's cliffhanger and this one's opening is rather jarring. It feels like Moffat couldn't be bothered resolving the plot of the last one so he decided to start a new plot with similar elements but a lot of the actual storyline junked for the sake of the Doctor simply overthrowing the Silence. They get completely distracted from the little girl and the astronaut. I guess these are threads Moffat intends to pick up later but it really is quite incongruous when you think about it. What evidence does the Doctor have for wiping out the Silence, anyway? He says people have suffered, but how does he know? They're forgetting everything. And while the post-hypnotic suggestion explanation is a reasonably elegant one, is it really morally acceptable for the Doctor to turn humanity into genocidal killers? Besides, what happens after, say, the guys in the bar have killed their Silent? Do they bury him somewhere and then forget all about it and find mysterious alien blood and grave dirt all over their clothes and just shrug it off or something? If Silents can fry people with electricity, how do unarmed humans pose any threat to them? Why did they kill Joy in the previous episode, incidentally? Again, we know so little about the Silence, their motivations and their biology or nature that it's really impossible to say, and the fact that Moffat is seemingly leaving these questions to be answered later makes the plot of this episode seem pretty shaky on its own. It's bold of him to craft this story arc, there's no doubt about that, but you have to wonder how much he's really going to salvage at the end of the day and how much will be swept under the rug for the sake of narrative convenience and the 'rule of cool'. We're sort of encouraged to accept the problem posed by the Silence without really knowing why.
That being said, the memory loss stuff is done pretty well in the story, with it seeming like things happen in the blink of an eye. It effectively renders the viewer's confusion as equivalent to that of the characters until the explanation begins. The whole thing with the recordings are a little underused and slightly redundant though. All it really serves is to create some dramatic tension when Amy is captured and they recover her recorder and Rory thinks she's 'fessing up her love for the Doctor. Also, the Doctor's line that "it defaults to live" sounds incredibly hand-wavey and convenient and really should have been noted in passing substantially earlier, before it became relevant, to make it sound like less of an arbitrary plot device. The Doctor says they need to find the girl to figure out what's going on, but that's just abandoned so they can go storming in just as the Doctor said he wouldn't do moments ago.
All this being said, it's by no means a bad episode. It's just kind of flimsy and exploitative, cloaked in darkness to give it a facade of meaning. Grit and horror get used more and more as a kind of insulation to give mere entertainment a pretense at artistic credibility when really something like Doctor Who could be going so much further towards exploring ideas. Nonetheless, the performances are all very good, although I still think Moffat is continuing to write the Eleventh Doctor as a little too facetious without the refreshing weariness of last series and unfortunately River is rather smug. The flirting between her and the Doctor is cause for a bit of awkward shuffling too, although the Smith's motions of discomfort during the kiss are fairly spot on. It's just a shame that it looks like Moffat's really aiming for the romantic line, which seems kind of pointless, unless this is another piece of misdirection. Amy's turn to be extremely frightened is done well and her joking around about 'Time heads' at the end is pretty funny. Similarly, Rory gets to be both funny and serious and does both with aplomb, especially when pretending to be a Presidential aide and when he's talking to the Doctor about Amy. The only problem is that, as with the previous episode, there are so many characters that there just isn't enough time for all of them and Amy and Rory in particular are pretty seriously underused considering how interesting their characters are and the great quality of their performance. Canton's pretty good; he gets some funny roles, although after the orphanage part he seems to kind of mysteriously disappear until the scene in Nixon's office at the end. Nixon himself is kind of pointless, a historical celebrity of the most needless kind, and the moments where he walks in with 'Hail to the Chief' blaring inexplicably almost serve as a self-parody of the show's predilection for these historical caricatures. He doesn't really feel angry or greasy enough to be Nixon; he just seems like a nice, albeit conservative, kind of Apple Pie American. I guess the episode suggests that the Doctor's somewhat responsible for his later paranoia and trust issues but it's not really played up in any meaningful way and it seems like he only serves to get the Doctor out of awkward situations with the authorities, which could have been circumvented if Moffat hadn't wanted the Doctor to get captured for the sake of laughs anyway. The NASA lecture theatre scene could have gone and they really didn't need to leave the Area 51 prison - surely the Doctor could have patched that Silent up. Really there was no need for Nixon, but again a tight, concise narrative doesn't seem to be one of Moffat's highest priorities right now. The inevitable gay joke about Canton wanting to marry a 'he' is stupid too. As if anyone in 1969 would even suggest such a thing, even if they were gay. It's just so obvious and predictable and pointlessly cheeky that it serves no purpose rather than arguing for something, and it would have been so much more effective if it had just been him wanting to marry a black woman and had been treated with seriousness. What if Nixon had denied that suggestion? Might have been a bit edgier than a cheap gay joke. At least Nixon's reaction is reasonably plausible.
All in all it's a pretty decent episode and as a follow up to "The Impossible Astronaut" it's probably on par, although the narrative shift and the huge amount of unanswered questions can make it rather unsatisfying viewing. If you look behind all the bits where the Smith is making you chuckle or Amy's being a hotty ptotty or Rory's being basically awesome, or the cleverness of the memory loss and the Doctor's trick to beating the Silence at their own game, it's all a bit full of itself and not exactly an amazingly strong tale. Good thing we're back to general adventuring huh?
Oh, and Amy seems to have Schrödinger's womb. I don't know how Moffat intends to make uncertain pregnancy, surely one of the most cliché and soapy dramatic devices possible, into something fitting for Doctor Who, but if it's in any way related to this apparent Time Lord child then I daresay it'll end up being far more for the 'wtf factor' than any kind of groundbreaking storytelling.