Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Don't You Forget About Me

STORY 218: DAY OF THE MOON (The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon)
I can't remember a time when Doctor Who opened with a two-parter (certainly in the revived series), so Day of the Moon may be a unique moment.  It already is historic in that it's the first time a Doctor Who story was filmed in the United States (though technically speaking, the First Doctor story The Gunfighters was the first one to actually take place in the U.S.--Tombstone, Arizona to be exact while Doctor Who: The Movie aka The Enemy Within, set in San Francisco, California it was actually filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia).  For the longest time I approached Day of the Moon Parts 1 & 2 with great trepidation.  I can't give a specific reason as to why I was so afraid of this two-part story.  It might be because it is a two-part story.  It might be because now we must contend with River Song (Alex Kingston) becoming a Doctor Who icon (whether I want her to be or think she should be or not).  It might be because of all I've read about what the story is about.  Well, I must now overcome my fear, and face Series/Season Six of Doctor Who.

First, a brief housekeeping detail.  I've opted to name the two-parter Day of the Moon because to call it The Impossible Astronaut Parts 1 & 2 might lead to confusing it with another two-part story: The Impossible Planet Parts 1 & 2 (The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit) emphasis mine.  Since I refer to the former by one title, and that title is The Impossible Planet, having another story called The Impossible This-That-Or-The-Other would be a bit chaotic in my view.  Therefore, Day of the Moon it is.

Amy Pond-Williams (Karen Gillan), her husband Rory (Arthur Danvill) and the Legendary Legend of Legendness, Dr. River Song (Alex Kingston) have all received invitations to meet up with The Doctor (Matt Smith).  They meet up in the American West, where after a lovely picnic a figure dressed as an astronaut rises from the waters.  This figure, recognized by The Doctor, shoots him twice.  The Doctor begins to regenerate, but another shot stops him cold...literally.  The Doctor, the Last of the Time Lords, is dead.  If that isn't enough, another strange figure comes upon them.  This is Canton Delaware III (William Morgan Sheppard).  He too has received an invitation, specifically Invitation #4.  The Williams have Invitation #3, River has #2, so who has Invitation #1?  Wouldn't you know it...Who has Invite #1. 

Actually, a younger version of The Doctor, fully alive and fully jolly to see his old friends again, unaware that his older self (who still looks like his younger self) has just died (and gotten a Viking funeral sans helmet with horns).   The Doctor is reluctant to join them on some mysterious errand by some mysterious figure, but Amy convinces him to trust her.  With that, it's off to 1969.  They arrive in the Oval Office, where President Nixon (Stuart Milligan) and a younger Canton Delaware (Mark Sheppard--William's real-life son).  The President has been receiving strange phone calls on his direct line.  The voice is that of a child, asking for help because 'the space man' is after her.  The group, along with Delaware, go to Cape Kennedy and all make contact with The SilenceThe Silence is an alien group that has lived on Earth for as long as humans have been here, but whom humanity is not aware of because as soon as you turn away from them, you forget they are there.   While being pursued and pursuing The Silence Amy tells the Doctor she is pregnant.  A figure dressed in an astronaut suit appears, and Amy fires, not realizing until she shoots that inside is...a little girl. 

Day of the Moon: We jump forward to where Delaware is pursing all of the travellers.  He shoots Amy in Utah, River in New York City, and Rory in Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona.  It does look like Delaware is hunting them down, especially since The Doctor is locked up at Area 51, but it's all a rouse.  The Doctor now realizes that The Silence are an occupying force, so there must be a revolution against this enemy that people cannot remember.  The Doctor hits upon a brilliant idea--all tied to the Moon Landing on July 20, 1969 (Happy 42th Anniversary, by the way).  One of The Silence has been captured and taken to the special prison formerly for The Doctor at Area 51, and with Richard Nixon's help (being Commander-In-Chief has its privileges), and the worldwide attention of Neil Armstrong's historic first step, The Silence unwittingly aid in their own destruction.   Now President Nixon is asked to help Agent Delaware by allowing him to marry the...person...he loves (and yes, black), River and The Doctor share an intimate moment (much to his surprise), and the Williams rest sure in their own love.  We end Day of the Moon Parts 1 & 2 with the most extraordinary sight...a little girl in New York City six months after (making it January 1970) begins to regenerate...

Perhaps it's just bad timing, but I had the (mis)fortune to watch Day of the Moon Parts 1 & 2 AFTER watching Transformers: Dark of the Moon even though the latter premiered AFTER the former (Transformers III on June 28, 2011 and Day of the Moon Part 1 on April 23, 2011).  Therefore, the fact that both stories revolve around the Lunar Landing is just bad coincidence.  That, however, can't escape my flashing back to other stories while watching the Steven Moffat-penned two-parter. 

Part 2 involves markings on the Companion's skin that will help them remember when they've encountered The SilenceMemento, anyone?  Actually, in retrospect the strange markings on their bodies was reminiscent of oddly enough, The Impossible Planet Parts 1 & 2 (The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit). The Doctor is sealed in an impregnable (no pun intended) River Song might ask, have we done that yet?  Oh, yes...The Big Bang Part 1 (The Pandorica Opens), which was written by...Steven Moffat.  River Song comments how her timeline and The Doctor's are going in opposite directions--by the time he meets her he knew her less and less.  Has this now turned into The Curious Case of River Song Button?  Finally, a child calls for help.  Empty Child Parts 1 & 2 redux? I leave it up to the viewer as to whether or not these same thoughts entered his/her mind while watching, but I couldn't shake them from mine while watching Day of the Moon Parts 1 & 2.

You may have noticed that I have been particular about how I write the villain's name.  I think this is because there is an attempt to convince me that The Silence is perhaps on an equal level with the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Master, or the Weeping Angels as these giants of Doctor Who monsters.  That would be pretty high billing for any monsters from the revived series, especially on their debut (and apparently farewell) story.  The Silence were good, even possibly great monsters--perfectly capable of sending small children behind the sofa.  However, there's just something within me that rebels against being all but ordered to accept any new character/species as ICONIC from the get-go (which is why I have never warmed up to River Song--however, given that Moffat created her that might account for his push to make her a nearly-mythic Doctor Who character.  Granted, I have yet to see Forest of the Dead Parts 1 & 2.  For reasons too long to go into, I'll just say that between Love & Monsters and The Waters of Mars I boycotted Doctor Who.  To reveal more would be like Song says, "Spoilers", but I digress).  With that in mind, I take a slightly mockingly reverential tone towards The Silence, but that isn't to say they weren't effective.

Far from it: The Silence looked terrifying (a tremendous compliment to the make-up department) and the fact that these villains are forgettable (in a roundabout way) is simply a brilliant idea.  Still, I am at a loss to understand why there's this idea that The Silence are one of if not the most terrifying monsters ever on Doctor Who.  Really?  More terrifying than the Daleks?  The Master?  The Black Guardian?  I beg to differ.  The Silence are yes, a clever idea, and yes, well done.  But the most terrifying?  Of all time?  I don't know if they'd make it high on my list of Doctor Who monsters (or on it at all), but no, they wouldn't make it in the Top Ten.  Sorry.

Another brilliant moment is when our perceptions about Agent Delaware in Part 2 are completely spun around.  How The Doctor is able to defeat The Silence is good, even clever (although again, my mind wandered a bit into the end of the film A Face In the Crowd where the main character's destruction was aided by it being televised).

Another plus is the Space Man rising from the waters and going down again.  Toby Haynes not only got the visuals down so well (the terror in the NASA warehouse to the open spaces of Utah) but directed some wonderful performances out of both regulars and guests.  Gillan's heartbreak at seeing the Death of Doctor Who (does that sound familiar to Whovians, I wonder) is so beautiful.  The younger Sheppard was spot-on as the strict and efficient FBI agent (I'm going to throw in some debatable points--since he travelled with the Doctor in the TARDIS, does that make Agent Delaware a Companion?  Discuss among yourselves). 

It was good to have moments of humor (when Amy, Rory and River appear in the Oval Office, the Doctor introduces them as The Legs, The Nose, and Mrs. Robinson respectively), but there were moments of bad humor (the entire opening sequence from the Restoration period to a song-and-dance with Laurel and Hardy). 

Now, however, on the whole the things that I disliked about Day of the Moon Parts 1 & 2 outweigh the things I liked.  I wasn't convinced that Milligan was Richard Nixon.  Granted, doing a successful version of President Nixon is difficult (I've always suspected that when people think of Nixon, they think of a Rich Little impersonation of Richard Nixon), but Milligan didn't sound anything like the President and barely looked like him.  Truth be told, I though Stuart Milligan looked more like Steven Moffat than Richard Nixon. 

Also, I think the entire subplot as to whom Agent Delaware wants to marry is downright bizarre.  I'm going on a limb to say that it may have to do with Moffat and Haynes and everyone else being British.  Let's put some things in perspective.  The Stonewall Riots were only a month old when Apollo 11 took off, so while it is highly likely that Agent Delaware would have been fired for "the love that dare not speak its name", not even the most progressive politician at that time would have even imagined allowing a same-sex wedding,  or even a civil ceremony.  It is highly probable that Nixon would have restored Agent Delaware to his position (maybe even allowed a secret ceremony--if any modern-day President revelled in secrecy...) but to my mind, I didn't understand why this subplot was thrown in.  Was it make a point to Moffat's American 'cousins'?

You also have some other odds and ends.  For example, there's a quick appearance by a woman with an eye-patch saying to someone off-screen something about Amy still dreaming.  Not a fan of having things barely introduced just to put them in for future reference.  Same goes for mysterious little girls (both in the space suit and pictured with Amy).  Granted, it's a nice twist, but I prefer stories that stand on their own and not just serve as trailers for future stories.  This thing about every season having to be about ONE thing (from Bad Wolf in Series One to The Crack in Time in Series Five) is off-putting to me.  Finally, the little girl at the end regenerating.  Given the dialogue, she knows how to regenerate.  How would she know that...unless she's done it before.  Again, Doctor Who is going to have to have a giant pay-off when all is revealed (not that My Mysterious Doctor portrait didn't do a good enough job of revealing too much already).

Day of the Moon Parts 1 & 2 is suppose to be about a world post-The Doctor.  He got a Viking funeral, after all.  Think of it: the Doctor...dies!  He actually dies, only to come back minutes later.  Sorry, but another movie came to mind: Back to The Future, when Doc Brown doesn't want to know his future, but somehow still manages to change it.  Wonder if the same holds true for our Gallifreyan hero.  The Doctor obviously knows who has killed him since he recognizes the face, but frankly it is too early to speculate about anything: the regenerating child, the Doctor's killer, anything involving River Song. 

Finally, I had issues with both the pre-and-post-credits in Episode One.  We start with Amy narrating an introduction as to how she and Rory ended up with The Doctor.  Was that necessary?  Have we had a Companion introduce us to how he/she ended up with the Doctor before (at least on television).  Again, was it necessary?  I also thought the tribute to Elisabeth Sladen could have been better.  Granted, I am aware they were pressed for time, but couldn't you have at least given us a full-screen in color? 

Again and again, there is goofy and there is downright idiotic.  So far Smith has kept a good balance, but now he's starting to lose it (in more ways than one).  When you hear characters ask, "Doctor who?" at least twice one wonders if the people behind the scenes are taking things seriously.   

On the whole, Day of the Moon Parts 1 & 2 was a good way to open Season/Series Six, but to my mind, it doesn't have the legendary qualities it so nakedly (pun intended) aspires to.  I have found two-part stories to be uneven: the first part is fast, exciting, and the second becomes a bit of a let-down.  Day of the Moon didn't suffer the sophomore slump (to its credit).  It isn't up there among the greats, but I thought it a good story.  However, it didn't send me over the moon.   


Next Story: The Curse of the Black Spot 

Yes, one CAN see the resemblance...

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