Sunday, May 1, 2011

Doctor Who - "Day of the Moon"

Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) does her best Dana Scully imitation in "Day of the Moon".
Photo Credit: BBC
Review by David Lowbridge

‘Doctor Who’
Season 6 – Episode 2
“Day of the Moon”

“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” So said Adolf Hitler, but I imagine a similar mantra was adopted by Russell T Davies during his tenure as the Doctor Who show-runner.

Doctor Who is founded on a colossal lie after all; that this is a science fiction show. The fact that our favourite Time Lord is more human and certainly more humane than most carbon-based bipedal lifeforms, is tacitly acknowledged by all, if not openly. The stories can be typed according to which genre they ape; the horror episodes, the action episodes, the disaster episodes, and so forth. With notably few exceptions, sci-fi amounts to the details; the settings, the modes of transportation, the hair-dos. Sci-fi is the sprinkles on top, made palatable by metaphor (see what I did there).

Davies did a great job of making this supposed sci-fi relatable, more ‘kitchen sink’. Now though, I’m having trouble connecting on any level. This disturbs me frankly, as I have loved Who since its resurgence back in 2005. I flirted with its younger incarnations, largely because my parents were both huge fans as children and we watched lots of re-runs over the years. We watched the first of Davies’ run as a family, expecting a disaster. We were instantly smitten with Eccleston’s portrayal and everything else, but chief of all the quality of the writing. Since then, we’ve remained loyal, conveniently forgetting the odd terrible episode (“Fear Her”, “Voyage Of The Damned”) and forgiving the more-indulgent-than-eating-a-whole-pack-of-profiteroles instalments (“Journey’s End”, “The End Of Time”).

But now I’ve hit a rough patch. The rest of my family have already filed for divorce. I’m in the counselling stage and I desperately hope I can save our relationship, but it’s not looking good. The reason? Irreconcilable differences in plot mechanics.

The first time I suspected Moffat of cheating on me was following “The Pandorica Opens”. I was genuinely baffled as to how he would write himself out of the hole he’d dug for himself. “The Big Bang” that ensued was a total whimper for me because he lied his way out of it in the first five minutes. Not only did the “deadlocked” Pandorica get opened with a sonic screwdriver (which we had known since Eccleston’s time could not open deadlocks) but the screwdriver was delivered to Rory by a future Doctor who couldn’t have existed because he was still trapped in the Pandorica. You might accuse me of being hung up on details, but any narrative relies on logic. It doesn’t matter how fantastical your yarn is, the audience will buy into it as a long as you lie convincingly and, more importantly, consistently. Needless to say, “deadlocked” has subsequently become a dirty word in my household.

Last week’s “The Impossible Astronaut” was impossible to follow without getting bogged down in the mumbo jumbo. I didn’t care what happened to any of the principal characters and we’ve seen each of them die at least once in the last twelve months so the Doctor’s ‘death’ was met with complete indifference on my sofa, and the ripped-off-from-Buffy bad guys certainly didn’t cause us to seek refuge behind it.

I was preparing to give up for good on the strength, or lack thereof, of this week’s episode. I’m happy to report that I shall continue trying to make this work, at least for another five weeks. “Day Of The Moon” was sufficiently coherent to be sporadically amusing and exciting, if not very satisfying.

The children’s home sequences were arguably the most effective, largely because they were comfortably within the idiom of the ‘haunted house’ story, complete with Hammer Horror thunder and lightning.

But for every bunch of flowers there’s a black eye waiting to be explained. There are more questions posed than answered by The Silence. Why did they need a spacesuit? Foremost in my mind, however, is can we really have been kept waiting a whole season for these guys? There’s the lie again; something Earth-shattering is promised and the pay off is, well... okay I suppose. And why did the Doctor arrange his own death last week? Are we really expected to wait until the mid-point of the series, or longer, to discover why? How much patience does Moffat credit us with? More importantly, will we even care by the time we get there?

I was the first to defend The X-Files and Lost, shows which developed a ‘mythos’ (or, another dirty word in my house, ‘lore’) which made it trying for the die-hard fan, let alone the casual viewer to enjoy them. However, both shows disappeared up their mythological backsides long before they finished and I fear that Who is heading in a similar direction. This would be fine if it was cult viewing, but here on the BBC it’s a staple of Saturday night television, the only glimmer of greatness amongst a gamut of gameshows relying on abusive amounts of canned applause to persuade viewers that someone out there is having a good time. They even use an animated Matt Smith in their ‘idents’ as if to say ‘everyone loves Doctor Who so love us too’. Perhaps an international audience without the cultural baggage of being brought up with the BBC will be more forgiving. For this Brit, however, it feels like Doctor Who ‘date night’ is becoming something to almost dread, the potential for disappointment being so great.

I’m looking forward to next week. It looks like a straightforward pirates and killer mermaids story, as you do. And the week after it’s Neil Gaiman’s go; a perfect fit for Who if ever there was one. He specialises in the off-kilter rendition of everyday. The title worries me however: “The Doctor’s Wife”. I sense a lie coming; let’s just hope it’s big and simple enough for us to believe in it.

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