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.

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