‘Doctor Who’ – ‘Day of the Moon’: One small step

Senior Television Writer
04.30.11 101 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Doctor Who” coming up just as soon as I open all the doors to the swimming pool…

“Then why did the human race suddenly decide to go to the moon? Because the Silence needed a space suit.” -The Doctor

The thing you have to understand about “Doctor Who” is that it’s a children’s show. It’s swell that we grown-ups watch and dissect it, but at its heart, it’s designed to make young boys and girls want to peek out from behind the sofa cushions as they wait to see how the Doctor and his companions will outwit the latest terrifying monster.

And the thing you have to understand about Steven Moffat is that he thinks children are clever enough to keep up with an awful lot of complicated storytelling. Because, boy howdy was “Day of the Moon” a particularly knotty piece of narrative, even by Moffat’s usual standards.

We open by skipping three months past last week’s bananas cliffhanger for a series of unexplained events that seem even more insane: Amy is a fugitive from the law, being hunted by a body bag-wielding Canton Delaware, now apparently working for the Silence. After a brief, non-explanatory flashback to the Cape Kennedy warehouse, we race out to Area 51, where the Doctor is bound and bearded(*), then to New York so that a fancy-dressed River can do a reverse dive off a skyscraper, then to Glen Canyon Dam to see Canton apparently gun down fugitive Rory.

(*) Had it been established in the good old days that the Doctor needs to shave?

And when it’s all revealed to be part of an elaborate plan on the part of the Doctor and Canton – an excuse to get all the enemies of the silence protected inside an impenetrable box (which in turn is hiding the even more impenetrable TARDIS) so they can finally strategize – it’s with such astonishing briskness that I had to applaud both the cleverness of the plan and Moffat’s refusal to slow down the ridiculous narrative momentum so he can hold the audience’s hand and explain things to them.

In fact, there’s precious little explanation in “Day of the Moon,” which is less the conclusion to a two-part story then half of an extended prologue to what promises to be one of the more heavily-serialized “Doctor Who” seasons yet. We know that the Silence have been secretly manipulating human history in order to get a spacesuit for the girl, but we don’t know exactly who the girl is – though the final image of the episode pretty strongly suggests she’s somehow a Time Lord. (Jenny from “The Doctor’s Daughter,” perhaps? Moffat did ask Russell Davies to not kill her off, after all.) The Silence also turn out to be the forces behind the events of the previous season(**), but we still don’t know what the agenda was there or why they would want to crack the universe into pieces. And we don’t have any explanation yet of how Amy can simultaneously be pregnant and not pregnant, other than our own wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey guesses. (Are there two timelines happening at once? And, if so, is that how they’ll undo the Doctor’s murder from last week?) Nor is there any kind of clue about the woman with the high-tech eyepiece who Amy briefly sees through a window at Graystark Hall.

(**) An enterprising “Doctor Who” fan went back through season 5 to try to catalog moments that seemed odd at the time, but now are pretty clearly supposed to be examples of Amy or someone else briefly seeing the Silence and then turning away and forgetting before they can say something. I don’t know if all of those were actually meant to be appearances by the Silence – nor whether she missed others – but that’s still some impressive planning work by Moffat and company.

But if Moffat explains little, we can have confidence that answers will be forthcoming eventually – and that, in the interim, the man who loves constructing these elaborate puzzles is also one hell of a showman.

As I wrote last week, Moffat seems to have emptied out his specific bag of tricks for this series by now – all the coping mechanisms for dealing with the Silence felt similar to gimmicks used in many previous Moffat episodes – but he continues to use those same tricks in such clever combinations, and with such technical flair, that I’m not tired of most of them yet.

Take the long sequence at Graystark Hall. Again, Moffat’s done the whole “don’t look away” gag several times before, but tell me you weren’t stupendously creeped-out when Amy found herself locked in the room with all the aliens hanging upside down from the ceiling, or even just from Canton’s interactions with the brain-damaged caretaker.

Or take the Doctor’s appropriation of Neil Armstrong’s famous message as a tool to drive the Silence away from Earth. Humanity uniting behind a single message isn’t a novel “Doctor Who” solution – Russell T. Davies used something similar for the Doctor and Martha to defeat the Master in “Last of the Time Lords” – but the Doctor using a great moment in history as a tool without ruining the moment itself is still so damn fun.  

Outside of more location filming (which continued to look spectacular) and the focus on American history in general, there wasn’t a ton here that felt new compared to last season, or to Moffat’s episodes in the Davies era. But with Matt Smith at the controls of the TARDIS, and Steven Moffat at the controls of the series itself, novelty matters far less than execution. Too. Much. Fun.

Some other thoughts:

• Not only did the Doctor not mess with history, but as often happens, his travels wind up shaping what we know of as history. He’s the reason why there’s a brief audio glitch midway through Armstrong’s speech, why Nixon became so paranoid, why he began recording all conversations in the Oval Office, and even why he agreed to be interviewed by David Frost.

• There was so much plot this week that I feel like the return of the Rory/Doctor tension over whom Amy loves more, and for what reasons, was a bit undercooked. It’s an important part of what the current TARDIS roster is about, but this was the one rehash of familiar material that felt a bit obligatory this week.

• Speaking of recycled materials, not only is the idea of an alien race subconsciously manipulating human history not particularly new (Vonnegut’s “The Sirens of Titan” is all about this), but the “Doctor Who” franchise itself has what seems like a dozen different underground alien races who claim rightful ownership of the Earth. Did the Silence and, say, the Silurians ever get into a turf war below the surface over who’s in charge here?

• When I interviewed Matt Smith in New York a couple of weeks ago, he said that he thinks Moffat uses River Song to live out some of his fantasies. And certainly, there are worse fantasies to have than being a bad-ass, gunslinging time-traveling archaeologist. I also like how Moffat keeps coming up with excuses for River to make various spectacular entrances into the TARDIS, here with her landing in the pool in the nick of time.

• Hands up, anyone who assumed that the mystery about Canton’s dismissal from the FBI had to do with gay marriage in 1969.

Finally, while we’re all now on the same page in terms of getting the episodes on the same day, I want to remind you that this blog’s No Spoilers policy extends to the previews for both upcoming episodes and the one that shows clips from the entire season. No matter how much was shown on either the BBC or BBC America, we are NOT going to discuss any of it in the comments, and any comment including reference to that stuff will be deleted. Period.

What did everybody else think?

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