“Doctor Who” Review: “Day of the Moon”

If you’ve seen tonight’s episode of “Doctor Who,” you hopefully know why I decided to hold off offering my thoughts on last week’s premiere until now. In every conceivable way, the two are companion (pun intended) pieces. “Day of the Moon” functions as an hour-long answer to the questions posed in “The Impossible Astronaut,” even while opening up a dozen or so more headscratchers at the same time. Such a ratio might annoy were not the show in such capable hands. Not only is tonight’s episode a continuation of last week’s edition, but it’s clear that Series 6 is itself a direct continuation of Series 5.

Series 5 posed two big mysteries: the cracks in time and The Silence. That series chose to directly deal with the first, but it’s also clear that they were laying groundwork for the latter. Often times, huge mythological mysteries get delayed due to poor planning, but it seems Stephen Moffat planned a multi-year arc from the get-go. That arc not only involves The Doctor himself, but Amy, Rory, and River as central players in this extremely long, extremely twisty, extremely bendy, but altogether thrilling plot.

day-of-the-moon.jpgThe complete implosion of time and space is scary enough. But the thought that one’s own time in space isn’t actually one’s own is somehow scarier. Just how scary indvidual episodes of “Doctor Who” can be is a matter of personal taste, but somehow Moffat seems to specialize in putting things on screen that give me both the heebies AND the jeebies. The Weeping Angels tapped into something primal in me, to the point where I can’t watch episodes involving them in the dark. The Silence looks visuals a bit like The Gentleman from the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episode “Hush,” but while taking voices is plenty freaky, taking away personal will is far scarier for me.

I just don’t like mind control, period. It bothers me as a human being on a fundamental level. The idea that my thoughts don’t belong to be makes me want to mark up my body the way that The Doctor’s companions do in the three months after the events seen in “The Impossible Astronaut.” I don’t like R-rated hypnotists, I don’t like The Borg, and so naturally I straight up freaked every time someone in these past two episodes looked away from The Silence and instantly forgot them. Things didn’t get better for me as the episode gradually revealed that The Silence, not unlike the aliens in “The Event,” have been pushing humans gradually to greater technological heights in the name of nefarious purposes. (So sorry about comparing “Doctor Who” to “The Event.” Won’t happen again.)

But as much as The Silence’s modus operandi dried my throat, The Doctor’s ultimate way to banish them (at least for the time being) was so damn clever that I nearly had tears in my eyes watching it unfold. It’s one thing for the show to say The Doctor is the smartest man in the universe, but it’s another thing to convincingly write him as such. But by slipping in a subliminal message to the most watched television event this side of O.J. Simpson’s Bronco chase, The Doctor managed to use The Silence’s greatest strength against them. It was so simple, and yet so unpredictable.

It also did something else exceedingly clever: it tied the world of the show into the world on the other side of the television. Some science fiction functions as a clear metaphor for our own society. But other science fiction places itself directly into our society. Both serve as social commentary, but the latter offers the added thrill of thinking that what transpires onscreen isn’t a fictionalized version of a recognizable Earth: THAT’S OUR EARTH. The Doctor’s scientific judo not only leveraged The Silence’s biggest weapon, but also made it that much easier for audiences to identify with the stakes at hand in the show. A point in contrast: I love J.J. Abrams’ shows, most of which portray a world that 1) has similar characteristics to one another, and 2) are much cooler than the one in which I live. I call that world Earth-J.J., a place in which The Hanso Foundation exists alongside manuscripts by Milo Rimaldi. I loved that world, but never felt it was actually my world. Tonight’s “Doctor Who” put the action in my world, and I’m excited to have that extra layer between me and the show eradicated.

Then again, a hallmark of the last two seasons has been the way in which the relationships on the show serve to draw people in past the time-travel mojo and into the hearts of the characters onscreen. What the show did in the final two episodes of Series 5 with Rory is nothing short of miraculous, taken the recent trend of hapless companion boyfriends and turning him instantly into an iconic, epic, romantic character. Rory the Nurse? Eh. Rory the Centurion whose voice Amy always hears? Hell yeah. Cementing his role as equal to, if still different than, The Doctor gives his role this series added heft. Sure, he’s still got slightly lingering doubts about Amy’s affections through these first few hours, but they seem to be quelled by the end of “Moon.”

doctor-who-dark-of-the-moon-review-20110430100352293.jpgBut can you blame any lingering doubts? The Doctor isn’t just a Time Lord: dude’s a player, and he’s basically the alpha and omega for any girl that says she cherishes a man’s personality above all else and actually MEANS it. His relationship with River Song twinned the Rory/Amy stuff during these two episodes, albeit as the depressing B-side to the Phil Spector-esque track for the newly married couple from Wales. I don’t pretend to understand exactly how The Doctor and River are working their way from opposite ends of the spectrum, but Alex Kingston plays the melancholy of her Benjamin Button-esque romance with The Doctor with true heartache and a palpable sense of tragic inevitability.

Now, how does this all tie in with the picnic in “The Impossible Astronaut”? This is a very “Princess Bride” type of argument, where it’s both so completely obvious that the person that kills the Doctor is River that it can’t POSSIBLY be right, unless of course the show WANTS me to think it’s IMPOSSIBLE, and oh look, I’ve poisoned myself because both cups were lethal. I do love that we’ve seen the end of the story as well as its beginning, as the ties directly into the phenomenon experienced by the pair. Then again, what we’ve seen there isn’t exactly the be all and end all, either.

After all, we’ve yet to discuss perhaps the craziest aspect of the two-parter, something perhaps more dangerous than The Silence itself: Amy Pond’s time lord daughter. At least, that’s what I’m calling the girl now, a girl whose exactly relation to Amy, The Doctor, and The Silence is yet to be determined. It’s a creature that shouldn’t exist, and yet does, a duality reflected in The Doctor’s vacillating sonogram aboard the TARDIS. The child, much like The Doctor’s “death,” is real, but also isn’t fixed. Both exist, but neither are the sole reality. Just as someone used Amy Pond’s childhood memories to lure him into the Pandorica in Series 5, someone may be using her now as a weak spot in The Doctor’s armor. (There’s a LOT of “lost” footage with Amy’s time with The Silence, both locked in that room in the orphanage and in their ship. Look for that to get filled in later on.)

But I’m content to let this story come to me, as it seems in such capable hands that I find myself not fretting what I don’t know so much as happy to know I will eventually find out. Last year’s episode “The Lodger” looked like a singular lark at the time, but now seems to have taken place inside a freakin’ Silence spacecraft. If that type of thing is important, then everything is important. And it’s fantastic to see such attention to detail in every episode. (Check out this list for more examples of Series 6 set-up.)

This is master storytelling told at an incredibly high and incredibly consistent level. We are all The Doctor’s companions now. And we’re better for it.

One Comment

  1. Matt
    Posted May 1, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Is it just me or did this feel a lot like an episode of Lost. Between the break-neck plot speed, the mysteries being introduced that won’t be solved until later, and all the crazy things being thrown at you (there’s a woman in a cell with an eyepatch…huh?), it reminded me of vintage Lost. And now there are even fans going back over previous seasons to see if they can find examples of the Silence mythology.