Well I'm sure the only reason the three people reading this blog haven't been DEMANDING a Doctor Who
review is that they'll have realised a two-part opener meant no review until the second week. Definitely
not that everyone forgot I actually do them, or doesn't care or anything like that. Nope. So,
"The Impossible Astronaut"/"Day of the Moon" and I see a couple of changes to the opening titles since the Christmas Special - the thunder and crackling lightning sound effects have been rearranged so they're correctly timed to having three names in the opening credits, and the logo has an added BBC emblem and flashing light on top of the TARDIS.
Even bigger changes come after the credits though. Things start as a new series should, with a lot of hectic fun (that, it turns out, the Doctor's been having without his companions) and Steven Moffat gets Matt Smith out of his clothes once again (Arthur Darvill next pls, The Moff.) But more so than last year, the bulk of the two-parter has a very new feel to it, as if the series is growing in a new direction. When it was first revealed Doctor Who
would return in 2005, there was speculation that Russell T. Davies would take it in a more adult, dark direction, in the way that the Battlestar Galactica
reboot veered away from the cheesy original. Instead it successfully returned as the king of family shows and while I don't think Moffat (who's repeatedly said he thinks it's specifically a kids' show) has moved away from the core audience of children, the two-parter feels a lot closer to US shows like that (and not just because of the location shooting, which I think is used to just the right effect without being overdone.) Certainly I'm not the only person to see some of The Gentlemen from Buffy
in the design and movement of The Silents; I was also getting a bit of an Angel
feel from the story although that might just be because the final scene was set in a dark, dirty alley, which is where every episode of Angel
Seasons 3 and 4 seemed to begin and end.
I don't think Moffat could have taken the show in this direction and still kept it true to itself without Matt Smith. It's not even about being a good Doctor or not, I think even the biggest fans of David Tennant's version would say that Ten was too emo to carry this off without the show losing its sense of fun (Exhibit A: "The Waters of Mars.") I don't think Eccleston would have been the man for the job either. The Eleventh Doctor, like the Fourth (the last time the series became best-known for its horror-movie influences) has the impish sense of fun, unstoppable energy and slightly autistic disconnect that means when things get dark he doesn't get dark with them.
The biggest development in the script is how sophisticated some of the storytelling is. For all that The Silents may have similarities (of the something-in-the-corner-of-your-eye variety) with other Moffat monsters, the most important thing about them is the fact that when you're not looking right at them you forget about them completely. In "Day of the Moon" especially this is reflected in how the story's told. Where in the first episode we mainly see what happens from an outsider's point of view (Amy has encounter with a Silent in the White House loos; turns away and forgets it) in the second we get the characters' perspective (Amy is walking through a room in the orphanage; suddenly her hand lights up to alert us to an encounter she, and we, are no longer allowed to experience first-hand.) Given how much of what happens in this story remains unresolved, this leaves so many places that could be revisited, like in last year's finale. Did anyone else think there was something odd in Rory's impatient, repeated "Doctor, I know" when they were discussing how to save Amy? It felt like it should be alerting us to something that never got revealed (yet.) While Frances Barber's blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo is clearly
something we'll be seeing again from a different perspective.
For all my gripes about RTD he did a lot of great things when running the show and one of the best was solidifying something that, amazingly, had never been done in the original run: What a regeneration looks like, which for the first seven times was left to the directors' discretion. Anyone who's familiar with the modern show knows that when a Time Lord "dies" he explodes in a burst of fiery energy, just as they know what the TARDIS looks and sounds like when it lands. The special effects people will of course refine the look as their software improves (in fact I wouldn't be surprised if there's been almost imperceptible improvements since the Eccleston -> Tennant one) but I somehow can't see anyone deciding to one day make it, for example, blue. It's something that RTD himself used to good cliffhangery effect in the Master's Jacobi -> Simm regeneration, and that his successor uses twice here. First in the failed regeneration of the older version of Eleven, and finally in the beautifully-done twist as the little girl lights up a back alley. Jenny? That's my personal hunch since The Moff was the one who wanted her kept alive, although an Amy/Rory child who'd been somehow turned into a Time Lady by exposure to the TARDIS isn't entirely out of the question. Obviously a lot of people like the idea that the identity of the little girl, Amy's child and River Song are all one and the same because it's nice and neat but for the moment I prefer to treat them as three separate questions. Throw in the identity of the Doctor's killer and you could have four questions with the same answer (River's reaction when her bullets fail to hit the spaceman is "No, of course not" as if she'd been there before - although then why shoot, except perhaps as a sort of reflex?)
This has ended up a very long review so better mention Mark Sheppard before I stop - rather neat that the actor who's the standard British guest star in American genre shows gets to swap things round a bit and play an American in a British show. I like that Moffat obviously predicted the audience's debate between Parts 1 and 2 over whether Canton's illegal marriage would have been to a man or someone black, and resolved it by revealing it was both. Not everything quite worked (if you're scribbling on your body, is your own face really such an obvious place? Were Amy's clothes really so binding she ran out of skin she could actually see in the course of one encounter with a ceilingful of Silents?) and a lot of this story's success will ultimately rest on how well the many remaining loose ends are tied up, but standing on their own they impressed me a lot. I think the sheer amount of unfinished business should
be a negative but the fact that the solution to the immediate threat was so clever (using The Silents' powers of post-hypnotic suggestion against them) was enough closure for the time being.