Doctor Who: S6x01 and 02 recap – The Impossible Astronaut/Day of The Moon
Warning: to quote River Song, “Spoilers.”
Steven Moffat has a reputation for scaring the bejeezus out of his audience. Moffat, much like Stephen King, terrifies us with ordinary things: a child seeking its mummy, a loud ticking in a room with a broken clock, stone statues, shadows, a crack in the wall, and now – The Silence.
“Silence will fall.” “There were cracks in the skin of the universe…Through some, we saw the Silence and the end of all things.” The fifth series of Doctor Who was laced with references to the Silence, or is it, “Silents?” (NB: The credits of both The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon list, “The Silent.”)
We thought we knew what, “The Silence,” was. The cracks in time erasing the whole of space and time, radiating outward from the explosion of the TARDIS, causing the universe to fall silent.
When the Doctor was shut in the Pandorica, and the universe began collapsing with the explosion of the TARDIS, the silence falling in the universe fit with what we knew then. What we didn’t know was what caused the TARDIS to explode, and what the origin of the Time-Ship in, “The Lodger,” was.
Never let it be said that Moffat doesn’t know how to do storyline continuity, or at least, how to integrate new stories into his continuity. He’s also got a lead-foot with the Nightmare Fuel.
Creatures that you forget the minute you’re not looking at them, that seem to be a cross between dementors and the classic Greys from alien abduction stories and sci-fi, and which hearken a little too close to home for anyone who has dealt with the effects of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia?
Steven Moffat knows how to get under the skin of his audience and set up house there.
I’m going to predict now that not only is Moffat setting up the overall arc for this series, there may be story threads that carry us through Series 7, particularly since Matt Smith has already signed on for the next series.
There are so many tiny moments that could easily be taken as unimportant, but every second of both episodes is either driving the plot forward or teaching us more about these characters.
The cold open of The Impossible Astronaut tells us that Rory and Amy have been waiting for the Doctor to turn up for two months. The Doctor has been popping up in absurd situations through history, and Amy thinks he’s trying to get their attention. Then, a card bearing coordinates, a date and time, is delivered. In the 51st century, at Stormcage containment facility, River Song gets one, too. They arrive as instructed by the TARDIS-blue invitations, and find the Doctor.
As they sync diaries, we see River’s delight that this is her Doctor. They have a shared history this time. The Doctor says, “I’ve been running, faster than I’ve ever run. . . now it’s time for me to stop.”
A picnic, and, “Space, 1969,” are the only clues they’re given as to why they’ve been called to, “Nowhere: Middle of,” as Rory called it. During their excursion by a lake, the Doctor divulges he’s, “Eleven hundred and three,” which is significantly older than the last time Rory and Amy had seen him. Amy sees a figure standing in the distance, and then appears to immediately forget it. We see a man get out of a truck, and then a figure emerges from the lake.
“Whatever happens now, you do not interfere,” the Doctor instructs them, before approaching the space-suited figure. “It’s okay, I know it’s you, ” he says. The astronaut shoots him. We see the familiar glow of regeneration energy, and then another shot.
There is no coming back from this. The Doctor is dead.
The man approaches, with a canister of gasoline, and they burn the body to prevent it from falling into the hands of who-knows-whom.
Canton Everett Delaware III, has an invitation, too. River notices they’re numbered. Who has number one? The three of them return to town, trying to work out the puzzle. River and Rory talk it through, but Amy says, “Will you two shut up? It doesn’t matter, he’s dead. . . You’re still talking but it doesn’t matter. He’s dead,” and Karen Gillan makes us feel the horror and devastation Amy is wracked by.
Imagine the shock when the Doctor walks through the door, “Even by your standards, this is cold,” says River, right before she slaps him. She covers, to avoid telling him and creating the potential for paradox. The three of them are burdened by the knowledge, and the Doctor knows that something’s up. They’ve told him, “Space, 1969,” and about Canton, but he’s not interested in going anywhere without knowing why.
There’s a sense of the purely-ancient aspect of the Doctor, in Smith’s performance, the bitterness and cynicism that hearken back to the Dream Lord of S5x7. The coldness as he refuses to trust River, and the wariness as he tells Amy to, “Swear to me on something that matters,” speak to how isolated the last of the Time Lords really is. An oath taken on fish fingers and custard convinces him to put, “my life in your hands, Amelia Pond.”
We’re introduced to Canton of 1969, and Mark Sheppard brings a laconic capability, and a sense of someone who is the equal to the Doctor in his disdain for the status quo, to this disgraced ex-FBI agent, summoned to the office of President Richard Nixon to investigate the mysterious call for help from an unknown child.
Amy sees another figure, and again, immediately forgets it when it’s out of her sight. She feels ill, and is taken to a restroom. Her next encounter with the Silent, is even more horrifying, because it knows her name, orders her to tell the Doctor, “What he must know and what he must never know,” which she also forgets, except for the compulsion to tell the Doctor something.
Accompanied by Canton, the TARDIS’ occupants head to Florida, the origin of the phone call. They discover evidence of aliens, but even as they encounter the Silents, they don’t remember.
When River and Rory go to explore tunnels beneath the building the TARDIS landed in, River also feels sick, the way Amy did. We get a glimpse into River’s biggest fears, and what her life with the Doctor is like, approaching each other’s timelines from the opposite direction.
Amy confesses to the Doctor that she’s pregnant, and we see the astronaut once more. Amy picks up Canton’s gun and fires.
Day of the Moon picks up 3 months later, right in time for the launch of Apollo 11.
Canton Everett Delaware III is hunting them down. Amy, then River, then Rory, all covered in hash-marks, all running from the Silents, all appear to die. The Doctor is imprisoned at Area 51, and the perfect prison is being built around him.
There’s more to the situation than meets the eye. An elaborate plan, nano-recorders embedded in their hands, and an orphanage run by Dr. Renfrew, whose exposure to the Silents seems to have pushed him past the borders of sanity, all unfold at a gallop in Day of The Moon.
What is important to know about S6x02, isn’t that the Doctor foils the Silents by using their own powers against them, but to know that every single detail of this episode, as in The Impossible Astronaut, could be important.
The questions are being raised for a reason. The space suit, and Amy’s disembodied voice, as the nano-recorder implanted by the Doctor is ripped out and left with a live feed when the Silents take her from the orphanage, correlate to the events of Silence in The Library/Forest of The Dead.
Echoes, post-hypnotic suggestion, dreams – what’s real and what’s not? Amy in searching the orphanage and finding a nest of the Silents, hanging from the ceiling like bats, also sees a woman who says, “No, I think she’s just dreaming,” and finds pictures of a child, including one of herself holding it. Is it the little girl in the spacesuit?
The Silent itself says, “Silence will fall,” or is it, “Silents will fall?” They’ve been influencing human history for millennia, but why?
Did they really hold Amy captive for days? “You are Amelia Pond. . . We do you honor, you will bring the Silents, but your part will soon be over,” as the Silent tells her. Why? And who or what is the little girl?
By the end, when we’ve learned that Rory does remember waiting for Amy for two thousand years, we’ve watched the TARDIS scan Amy and show that she both is and isn’t pregnant, we’ve seen the Doctor’s first kiss with River, (which may be her last,) and the little girl in the spacesuit has begun to regenerate, we’re fully aware that we don’t know nearly enough to draw conclusions.
This is Steven Moffat at the top of his game, using every thread he’s ever laid throughout the last five series of Doctor Who, to weave a tapestry of terror.
The child who may not be a child. The spacesuit that may or may not be empty. The shadows and things seen out of the corner of the eye. . .
More importantly, this is Steven Moffat setting up a resonance chamber in his assembled leads. River and Amy, mourning for the same man, and both in love with men who are impossibly ancient. Rory and the Doctor, both insecure in what they know about the women they love (will love,) and yet, Rory knows more about River, just as the Doctor knows more about Amy.
In part one, we see Alex Kingston and Karen Gillan carrying the emotional weight of the story, in part two, Arthur Darvill joins them in shouldering that burden of conveying what it means to have the fate of the world in their hands, while they each struggle with their own fears. Still, at the center of it all is Matt Smith’s Doctor. Confident and vulnerable, cold and giddy, curious and running in denial, awkward and flirty, and beneath that, this is always the Time Lord who values humanity, (or the alien equivalent,) above all things.
Toby Haynes, in directing these opening episodes, has proven, as he did in directing the fifth series finale episodes, (The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang,) that he has an eye for the cinematic scale of Doctor Who, without forgetting that it is the story and the characters that make us care about what we see on the screen. He invests each shot with meaning, and draws performances from his cast, that are among the best on television. The only quibble I have, particularly with the scope of these two episodes and the density of narrative threads, is that they really must be seen together. The week between episodes diminishes their impact somewhat, unless a viewer watches The Impossible Astronaut again directly before watching Day of the Moon. It’s a small criticism of what may be the best series opener of any program currently being broadcast.
I suspect that in five weeks, there will be howls echoing across at least two continents. Moffat will be praised and cursed at the mid-series cliffhanger. In utilizing both longer sub-arcs, (this series will have three two-part episodes,) which Doctor Who had always used prior to the 2005 reboot, and an overarching arc for each series, (so far, as showrunner, he has also extended that arc into the next series,) Moffat is making a statement about what his tenure as head writer and executive producer of Doctor Who will bring. We thought we knew what that meant at the end of last season, but I’m confident that we’re going to learn quickly, not to take anything we know for granted.
I can’t wait.
(Doctor Who S6x03, The Curse of The Black Spot, airs Saturday, May 7th, on BBC One and BBC America.)
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