- The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon
Spoiler Zone

Doctor Who

Shhh! Spoilers!

Well, it certainly was a wild way to open your new season! The Doctor it would appear is dead, killed by the mysterious astronaut, River Song definitely seems to his (future) wife, there’s an enigmatic little girl would may or may not be in the space suited figure that slays our Time Lord hero, and Amy would appear to be potentially pregnant (and I’ll explain that later). Last summer, Moffat promised us that the mid season finale would be a “a game changing cliff-hanger that will change everything” and Series 6 of new Who has clearly begun with the kind of almighty set-up that such an epic storyline would need...

Now first of all, let me nail my colours to the mast (Getting ahead of yourself there Mr Jim, the pirate ship’s next week! – Ed) – this brace of episodes really impressed me. Cunningly plotted and equally packed with scares and wit, this opening stories hits all the right marks for what I want from Doctor Who. But aside from all of that, I have nothing but admiration for the Grand Moff for kicking off the new season at the level most other series only climb up to for the closing episodes.

For example, the final cliff-hanger in Series 4 was the Tenth Doctor seemingly exterminated by the Daleks. However being an RTD story there was a convenient deus ex machine suddenly popping up in the form of some hitherto unknown wrinkles in the regeneration process to quickly tidy it up. However Moffat has significantly raised the stakes – the Eleventh Doctor is dead with no hope of regeneration and, more to the point, rabbit-from-the-hat solutions just aren't his style.

So therefore, I wasn't at all surprised that the Doctor’s demise wasn’t reversed by the end of Day of the Moon. However from sampling various reviews here and there across the net, it would seem a fair few were somewhat disgruntled that everything wasn't neatly tied up. Well sorry folks, we’re in a new age of Doctor Who now where’s there’s going to be proper story arcs, with episodes linked by a lot more than just dropping in a token reference here and there. And this is a good thing! No, honestly it is! Let’s address the various concerns...

The one I'm hearing the most is that “it’s going alienate causal viewers”. Well despite the now annual exercise in lazy journalism that claims that Doctor Who is falling in the ratings, if you visit the Doctor Who News page which regularly reports the stats, you’ll see that the figures are actually very, very healthy. Yes, the guesstimated overnight numbers are lower than usual but that is a combination of hot weather and both episodes falling in Bank Holiday weekends. However the properly calculated figures are a different matter demonstrating that the show is respectably holding its own, competing with those ratings heavy weights, the soaps, gaining a large share of the viewing audience and scoring very high on audience appreciation.

And all of this despite being screened after the TV train wreck that is Don’t Scare The Hare - if you are looking for a show that is really is well and truly failing, seek no further!

Plus The Impossible Astronaut is well on the way to breaking the record for most watched/downloaded show in iPlayer history and Day of the Moon in just fours days has clocked up over a million plays – and that’s nearly double the hits the Royal Wedding has got.

So can we finally put this one to bed? Next time some idle fuckwit at the Daily Mail or whatever starts bleating about how Doctor Who is dying, just remember there’s more chance of finding a Yeti in the loos at Tooting Bec than discovering a true fact in such vacuous scare-mongering rags!

But the figures, which you can check for yourselves, also effectively counter the other most heard complaint about Series 6 “that it’s getting too complicated for ordinary viewers”. As I stated in my review of Day of the Moon, we forget that the general public like serials; those oft despised reality TV shows only succeed because they are edited to make an on-going story line. And soap viewers are used to dealing with the kind of labyrinthine continuities that rival the complexities of the Marvel and DC Universe. So I doubt that more closely linked stories in Doctor Who are going to prove too much of a problem.

And it’s also worth paying close attention to what Mr Moffat says in the interview linked above. He clearly says that the epic cliff-hanger he’s planning is possible because of the two halves structure of Series 6. He understands very well that setting up big mysteries that don’t get resolved for ages is a sure way to alienate viewers.

For this whole business of long story lines in genre shows causing the ratings to haemorrhage like an impaled Cyberman in The Five Doctors isn't down to the general populace being too thick to appreciate scifi or any such nonsense, it’s due to shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica treading water and testing even genre fans’ patience by not developing the on-going plot lines swiftly enough. Now I'm not saying they were terrible shows here, but I can understand why viewers drifted away after being kept dangling for so long at certain points in their histories.

Rather there’s a fine balance between developing a satisfying story arc and telling individual stories, and Moffat understands this well. Consider, for example, how the last season played out – instead of the Cracks just being a repeated visual equivalent of past seasons’ catchphrases like ‘Bad Wolf’ or ‘Mr Saxon’, we actually continued to learn more about them and what they signified steadily throughout the series. So it’s safe to say that more will be revealed in the coming weeks and there will be some answers to the big questions by the June break rather than a big reveal in the final episodes in the autumn.

Now with all of that out of the way, let’s move onto the meat of the episodes themselves. Now to address another common issue, quite a few folk have remarked on the swerve Day of the Moon opens with – we rapidly jump from the cliff-hanger to ‘Three Months Later’. And naturally this has prompted a good deal of head scratching. Yes, the episode does give you enough detail to work out that Canton hunting down the Doctor and his friends is a ruse to fool the Silence, however many have felt that it was insufficiently explained.

And initially this was my reaction too. However having seen the rest of the episode and discovered exactly what is resolved, I’d have to say that why this start is a little jarring, it’s fairly clear that this missing chunk of time is going to be revisited later in the season. Remember how in the Weeping Angels story last year, we had the mystery of the Doctor’s reappearing jacket and the revisiting of those scenes at the conclusion? Well I think Moffat is doing much the same here as there is a lot still to be explained that we can’t pick up from Day of the Moon...

...The big one being the Doctor’s Area 51 cell being made of dwarf star alloy. Now this is an alien material and there are questions therefore on where it came from. Viewers with long memories may recall that the Tenth Doctor chained Father Of Mine with chains made from this substance in The Family of Blood, but long-time Who watchers will be thinking of the Tom Baker era tale Warriors’ Gate...

Now in this story featured a race called the Tharils, who could cross time lines at will, and also looked like contemporary popster (and later urban reformer) Daryl Hall … Well, it was the ‘80s!


Daryl Hall

Daryl Hall

A Tharil

But aside from cheap gags, the point of mentioning this tale is that it might have a clue or two for the current story line. You see the Tharils could cross time lines at will, and where being enslaved to use their innate abilities to power spacecraft across hyperspace. And they were being contained by dwarf star alloy which inhibited their abilities to cross into different dimensions of space-time. Furthermore this whole adventure took place in another universe called E-Space. Now obviously all of the above raises some interesting possibilities for resolving the Doctor’s apparent death...

...But of course it might not! It could just be one of Moffat’s call-backs to the classic series – the Doctor’s mention of being present at the Fall of Rome wasn't just a bit of showing off; he was there and we saw this in the William Hartnell adventure The Romans. But certainly there will more detail on the dwarf star alloy I'm sure. Moffat plays a long game!

Amy’s pregnancy is a case in point. Of course, there’s the obvious possible foreshadowing in Amy’s Choice in which one of the dream realities has her with child (quick aside: the mysterious Eyepatch Lady in Day of the Moon says “she’s still dreaming” - does this signify the hand of the Dream Lord at work?). But there’s another more sneaky reference in The Hungry Earth - if you care to recall the Silurians had sucked Amy down to their city and then scan her… And this is what results...

Yes, that is a heart beat appearing when they scan her stomach! Now I clocked this at the time and expected it was setting up getting her out of harm with the old “we will not hurt you as you have young” alien cliché, but the story didn't belabour that old saw and I promptly forgot about it… until last week that is!

You see, looooooooong game! Therefore the missing three months in this opening tale isn’t sloppy writing like RTD resurrecting the Master with a load of never to be explained smoking potion hugger mugger, it’s a deliberate omission; a piece of narrative sleight of hand.

Now I'm not going to speculate on the many mysteries this story presents. There are endless theories online as to what the regenerating child is, who River Song is and how the Doctor will escape – my favourite is the tongue in cheek suggestion made by Mike in the Bigger on the Inside podcast that River Song is the TARDIS - but as the wonderful Nuts4r2 sagely remarks in his own reviews of these episodes, it’s almost pointless to speculate as we don’t have enough pieces on the board yet. However I do think it’s worth mentioning the fact that the TARDIS scanner can’t seem to decide whether Amy is Pregnant or not. And this would suggest that perhaps the time-lines are currently in flux...

Similarly I'm not convinced we’ve seen the last of the Silence. For a start on a technical note, just having the Silence turn out to be just some skull faced aliens in suits is too much of a let down. Admittedly they were superbly scary but not quite big or bad enough to justify the previous season build up. And I'm not sure they are the Silence – they may be part of it but they are not the full deal. Remember what they say to Amy - “You are Amelia Pond... We do you honour... You will bring the Silence...”

Perhaps we should be calling them the Silents… And also bear in mind that we never did discover what their plan was. And certainly they didn't build the mystery ship we saw in The Lodger or the dwarf star alloy – they definitively state that they use the technology of other races.

It’s an intoxicating brew alright! But the big questions aside, I’ll wrap this rambling up with a final point. If you have any doubts about Moffat’s plotting, consider how clever the resolution to Day of the Moon was. An on-going problem in the Doctor Who universe is that present day Earth has to remain very close to our own real-life continuum yet you have to wonder after all the invasions why the world in the series hasn’t become an alternate universe where every one knows that aliens are real. Yet for this most virulent infestation presented in this tale, Moffat has a very intelligent twist – we repelled the Silence but because of the way they operate no one remembers doing it. It deftly presents a global threat without destroying credibility or continuity, and is also wonderfully ironic dramatically.

Now next week, it would seem we have something of breather with a high seas adventure featuring “a stroppy, homicidal mermaid”. But I’m not ruling out a few more clues surfacing amid the cutlasses and tricorne hats! And if not, who cares – it’s the good Doctor tangling with pirates and Lilly Cole! All board? Yes, indeed!

JIM MOON, 6th May 2011