Thursday, 5 May 2011

On 5.5.11 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments
After an incredibly long wait of an entire four months since the charming Christmas special, Doctor Who returned to British television this April with the opening story of Matt Smith's second series as the universe's hottest Time Lord.

Series 6 opened, unusually, with a two part story. In The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon, the Doctor, along with companions Amy, Rory and River Song, visited the United States of America, 1969, where they investigated mysterious phone calls to President Nixon and encountered a mysterious race known as the Silence.

Though this adventure had a self-contained story, with the heroes leading a revolution against the Silence, many dramatic plot elements were set up to be developed in later episodes. I feel that this is a strength of Moffat's era compared to the 'monster of the week' approach of the Russell T Davies years, with the inter-story mysteries (indeed inter-series, with the Silence having been hinted at throughout series 5) adding an extra layer of excitement. Day of the Moon ended with not one but three semi-cliffhangers hinting at exciting things to come and leaving questions in the viewer's mind. The Silence, seemingly being set up to rival the Daleks and the Cybermen for iconic status, may not have have reached this pinnacle yet but were indeed scary and unique - I can't wait for them to cross paths with the TARDIS crew again.

I enjoyed the character development in these episodes. The conversation where River opens up to Rory about the Doctor knowing her less every time she meets him was a particularly well-acted, emotional scene which showed that Doctor Song is more than just a catchphrase (it is starting to get annoying whenever she says "Hello, sweetie!" or "spoilers"). The romance between her and the Doctor is working for me much more than that between Rose and the Doctor ever did. She's in many ways his equal, a fellow explorer, with an air of mystery around her. Well done Steven Moffat; a few years ago I would have thought that a Doctor/companion romance could never work. Also, regarding the Doctor's awkwardness when she kisses him - he's an inspiration for socially uncomfortable nerds everywhere (David Tennant would have just gone for it, the suave populist bugger).

The main characters were generally acted quite well. Matt Smith has definitely become my favourite Doctor, with his eccentric mannerisms. I especially like his Sherlock Holmes-style moments of great detective work, such as working out exactly where in America the mysterious phone calls were coming from - the character of the Doctor should be about solving problems using intelligence rather than violence (that said, he did cause a bit of genocide, Mad Men style, at the end).

Amy's pregnancy (or non-pregnancy) is another intersting element added to the mix, with the negative consequence of inspiring hundreds of morons on the internet to come up with ridiculous theories regarding the baby. Personally, I think Amy will give birth to herself, which makes sense because of the timey-wimey, and then regenerate into Rory, thus becoming both of her own parents. The TARDIS crew hiding secrets from each other - not only this, but also having seen a future Doctor seemingly die - adds a gripping tension to the dynamic that's not been seen before.

There were a few weaknesses in the plot's structure. Although it's always nice to see a bit more naked Doctor, I don't see how the opening scenes of The Impossible Astronaut were at all relevant to the story. The Doctor helped some people escape from a concentration camp, which is a message through time making Amy answer the mysterious summons in her post? Hmm.

Also, the pace of the story made a few small details unclear. Could someone explain how Rory and River escaped from the tunnels? How did the Doctor eat, drink and, you know, toilet during those three months tied to a chair? Important stuff. Despite these occasional issues, I did find it impressive how many enjoyable moments were included in the two episodes.

Another possible criticism is that perhaps Moffat relied too much on his own tropes, things we'd seen before: the message on the wall, the Pandorica-alike prison box, the mysterious child's voice on the phone; all these elements did seem a tad unoriginal. Some may go as far as to criticise the repetitive use of complicated timelines in Moffat's recent episodes, but I quite like this - why shouldn't a show about time travel explore its consequences? OK, all this "timey-wimey" every episode may get tedious, but the next four episodes from other writers should give enough of a breather.

The setting of America was used very well. I highly praise director Toby Haynes for achieving some gorgeous wide shots of the Utah desert. With the story travelling to a variety of iconic American locations, this setting added an epic sense of style and grandeur which ensured the series kicked off memorably. Americana was well incorporated into almost every scene and the story drew from a variety of well-known American media - aliens resembling "grays", a haunted orhanage, one scene reminded me of The Silence of the Lambs, another of Mad Men - Doctor Who plagiarism-lite at its best! The guest cast that this setting allowed was awesome, especially Mark Sheppard as Canton (I knew he was gay long before it was revealed, by the way) and the crazy orphanage man. Also, it turns out that Richard Nixon works surprisingly well for comedy, being the centre of some of the story's genuinely funny moments (well done if you picked up on the subtle joke where the Doctor inadvertently causes the Watergate scandal).

As a series opener, The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon perhaps lack some of the originality and fairytale quality of last year's The Eleventh Hour, which remains my favourite opening story, but nevertheless are an eclectic bag; fast-paced with funny moments, scary moments and, indeed, moments of emotional reflection, amongst constant changes of setting. This worked splendidly well to draw in the viewer and get the series off to an exciting start, though I would like to see a change of pace in future episodes, with deeper exploration of a variety of settings. Thus, while I thoroughly enjoyed the opener, I am avidly looking forward to The Curse of the Black Spot. A base under siege story - with pirates! Yo ho ho!


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