I had the very good fortune to watch the first episode of the new series of Doctor Who at Easter Con, with hundreds of other fans, all laughing and enjoying themselves. It was a fun episode, but even with the excellent setting, I was not as thoroughly whelmed as I would have liked to have been.
The following contains spoilers.
The Impossible Astronaut
We open with the companions being drawn together by mysterious invitations and a mysterious stranger in a spacesuit killing the Doctor, shortly after Amy sees a distant figure and seems to forget him when she looks away. An old man drives up, seeming to know what it’s all about and calling himself ‘Canton Delaware’, but says that this is the last time that they will meet, even though no one remembers having met him before. Amy goes into grief-mode whilst Rory and River go into prevent-this-fucking-happening mode. For some reason Amy is mad at them for this. Then a young version of the Doctor shows up completely oblivious to what’s happened, and the companions decide not to tell him. Nonetheless, they persuade the Doctor to go back in time to 1969 in the hopes of finding out WTF is going on, because they believe they will meet a younger version of Canton Delaware. They home in on Canton (played by the wonderful Mark Shepard) as he is called in by President Nixon, who has been receiving odd phone calls from a small child. The Doctor persuades the president he is working for Scotland Yard, and they whisk Canton away to try and find the child. Along the way Amy, Rory, and River all see mysterious alien figures that look like Greys dressed up in Men in Black suits. They instantly forget them the moment they look away. The episode ends on a cliffhanger as the person in the spacesuit appears and Amy shoots them… it turns out to have been the little girl.
How it left me
The opening might have been effectively heart-wrenching for small children, but it fell flat for me. Let’s be honest: we know the Doctor’s not going to die at the start of the very first episode without considerably more media fanfare. That said, I can still be sold on some Doctor-peril if it’s well-done, and I’m afraid this just wasn’t doing quite enough. Amy as the face of True Grief just seemed petulant.
But then the episode got going, and I have to concede that there were some nice moments. The concept of this particular alien is quite effective. Of course, it’s very Blink-esque: you-only remember-it-when-you’re-looking-at-it is very similar in terms of both trope and effect to it-can-only-move-when-you-re-not-looking-at-it. You want to keep your eyes on a fucker like that, and the tension for the audience is great. There was nicely balanced both terror and humour in the moments when the companions (especially with Rory and River) visibly shit themselves encountering the Greys-in-Black, then turn, smile, and say ‘Nope! Nothing!’.
It was a nice episode, but not a stella episode. I did not feel compelled to write a review in the aftermath of Easter Con.
The Day of the Moon
Fortunately, the second episode gave everything the first was lacking. This was great fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
We pick up the story three months later. The companions have apparently been fighting the Greys-in-Black for some time. They’ve taken to marking themselves when they see them to let them know, as they won’t remember. They’re also apparently on the run from the US government, although we don’t know why. In turn, they are each captured and apparently killed, except for Dr River Song, who steps backwards out of a window on a tall building, as she is wont to do. Their bodies are dragged before an apparently captured Doctor as he is sealed inside a high-tech prison (for which there is no explanation as to how humans have that tech). Fortunately, it seems that Canton has only pretended to be amongst those hunting them down, and Rory and Amy are not really dead. They all escape in the TARDIS and rescue River Song from her fall.
There then ensues a hunting down of the lost child by Canton and Amy whilst the Doctor, River Song, and Rory do… something at NASA. Canton and Amy find the child (who isn’t dead after all) along with a whole lot of Greys-in-Black. Canton captures and wounds an alien, then tapes it saying how dangerous it is, and how all humans should kill it on sight. Ultimately, the Doctor ‘defeats’ them by slipping this footage into the Moon landing film. It’s not really clear why he had to mess around with a rocket, rather than a TV station, to do this, but the effect is very nice. As one of the most viewed pieces of film in human history, it’s incredibly effective as a thing to embed with a subliminal message to mankind, a message that says to kill all Greys-in-Black on sight.
Meanwhile, and on the side, Amy-plot has been getting interesting. Amy has told the Doctor that she thought she was pregnant, but she isn’t anymore. She also finds a picture of her holding a baby in the children’s home where they find all the greys and the spacesuited child. Perhaps most interestingly, before she enters the child’s room, she appears to be looked in on by futuristic attending physicians who remark that ‘she’ is probably just dreaming.
What I thought of it
This was the good shit. As mentioned before, although the trope is familiar, I like these aliens. If they have another monster along these Blink-esque lines I’ll start to get irritated, but these guys are cool. I think they particularly stand on their own two feet due to the beautiful interweaving of homages to sci-fi classics. I am a long-term fan of The X-Files, and I very much enjoyed the reference of Amy and Canton walking around a poorly lit dilapidated building in trousersuits with torches. Especially as Amy’s red hair was clearly styled to be subtly suggestive of Scully. Similarly, dressing up the Grey-a-likes in black suits with white shirts and black ties was a savvy move for a Men in Black reference.
I also thoroughly enjoyed River Song in this episode. I know she’s slipped from beloved to reviled, but I still think the character has a lot going for her, and has at worst been ill-served by some of her writing. Over use of ‘Sweetie’ and emphasis on a certain smug attitude was off-putting in the second weeping angels story arc and did her no favours, but I loved her in the original Silence in the Library plot, and I really can’t say much against her, here. She kicked butt, and it was awesome, but all the more so because her plot is a fundamentally sad one, in this arc, and it is dealt with in a smart and understated way. She reveals that her encounters with the Doctor are not so much hap-hazard as backwards – she suspects (as we know to be true) that her last meeting with him may be the death of her. She dreads the day when he does not know her. We didn’t know she felt this way in the Library, but she must have. We see, here, that the beginning of her relationship with the Doctor must be the last, for one of them. In this episode, they kiss, and as it is the first for him, it is clearly the last for her. Her realisation of this is very well handled, very sad, and very tactfully contained. Two thumbs up for the River Song plot from this corner of the Internet.
Speaking of the Silence in the Library, did anyone else think the coincidence of ‘the Silence’ as the name for the Grey-a-likes was interesting? Obviously we recall it from last series, where it was assumed to be connected with the crack and the end of the universe, but I’m intrigued at the thought that the vashta nerada might be involved, too.
This was a story full of hooks. The Doctor and River, the silence, Amy and Amy’s potential baby. The child (whether she is Amy’s or not) seems to have some of the properties of Time Lords – namely, regeneration. Also, the machines of the Silence are reminiscent of the primitive time machine the Doctor ran across in the last series in The Lodger – I’m glad that thread wasn’t simply left dangling. I’m intrigued as to what they will do with it. I wonder if the Time Lords are trying to come back? Is the small girl an existing Time Lord that we are familiar with, or something else? Who is River?
It is all so tantalising… let’s just hope he closes some of the loops, this time.