Monthly Archives: May 2011

So what the hell do we call these things?

A Trekkie born and raised like myself is used to calling each weekly installment of the series an “episode”. Traditionally, these are self-contained narratives, although two-part episodes are familiar to fans of the series, often spanning two separate seasons.

With Dr. Who, however, things get a bit more complicated. An Unearthly Child, for example, aired over four separate dates. Now, following the Trek paradigm, we might call these “episodes”. My colleague adopted this in his first review. The problem then becomes: what do we call the larger stories of which these are components? “Serials”? “Story Arcs”? The BBC DVDs call them “Stories” (urgh). And if we call the larger narrative an “episode,” what of the component segments? Anyway, I thought the best way to answer the question is to take a poll. What should we call the smallest aired segment of each of these stories (e.g. the four parts of An Unearthy Child)?


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Mithradates reviews The Daleks

Hello again. We seem to have gotten out of order here — my colleague was reduced to such a state of torpor after watching The Daleks that he pleaded an inability to write on the topic. My reaction was much more positive, so I have taken it upon myself to set down a few words on the series. I will focus most of my discussion on the first two episodes, as they set the tone for the whole thing.

What set The Daleks above An Unearthly Child for me was the keen air of foreboding that it established in the first episode. The TARDIS flies out of control and ends up in a mystery location. Not even the Doctor knows exactly where or when they have arrived. Susan reports that all environmental sensors check out normal. Except that we see the radiation detector rapidly increasing after Susan looks away from the display.

A brief exploration outside leads to the first mystery: the explorers discover a dead forest, turned entirely to stone. In addition, they find a strange creature, made of metal — a robot? If so, who made it, and why?

The Doctor and Ian look at the mechanical lizard

The second mystery comes when they reach the edge of the forest, and look out over a strange city, unlike anything any of them have seen before. Like the forest, it appears completely lifeless. Unlike the forest, it is clearly made by intelligent beings. Who constructed it? What happened to them?

The Doctor’s curiosity is piqued. This is the first glimpse we get of the irrepressible curiosity that will become the Doctor’s hallmark, and a clear change from the grumpy Doctor of the first series. Unlike An Unearthly Child, when he was trying to keep Ian and Barbara from nosing into his business, the Doctor is in his element here, even if he sorely misjudges the danger of the situation.

On the way back to the TARDIS, Susan lags behind, and becomes alarmed when she feels somebody touch her from behind. We see a shadow, flitting out of the shot. Who is it? Is it one of the builders of the city? An ally, or an enemy? The mystery deepens when the rest of the party discovers a mysterious box lying on the ground outside the TARDIS, containing a number of glass vials. What could they be for? Were they left there deliberately, or dropped accidentally? Is there a connection with Susan’s visitor?

The fourth plot point comes when the team return to the TARDIS. After messing about with the TARDIS’ controls, the Doctor announces that one of its components is damaged, and that mercury is needed for it to become operable. Only we have seen the Doctor remove the component from the TARDIS, deliberately sabotaging it. It is clear that the Doctor does not yet trust his companions, and is willing to behave selfishly to meet his own priorities.

The Doctor and his companions then proceed to the city, which appears to be completely deserted. The floors are smooth metal, apparently bearing a consistent static charge. Why? The set designers did a bang-up job here, creating an architecture that looks truly alien. The doors are not sized nor shaped for human entry, and there appear to be no stairs or definable spaces, just elevators and corridors. While wandering through the maze-like interior of one building, Barbara becomes trapped in a room, which turns into an elevator, carrying her downwards, to a fate unknown.

While searching for Barbara, the Doctor, Ian and Susan find a room containing scientific equipment. Finally, something the Doctor can understand! Unfortunately, the message is deadly: the planet is bathed in radiation, and the party has only a short time to live. Shortly thereafter, they finally meet the inhabitants of the complex: a strange group of beings who call themselves the Daleks. For fans of the series, this moment is pregnant with ill omen.

What are they? Robots? Or living things within a shell? Their voices suggest the former, but the Doctor and Ian find out the latter is true.

The Doctor & friends meet the Daleks for the first time.

So at this point, we have encountered an amazing number of plot twists and developments:

1. The dead forest and its mystery.

2. The dead city and its mystery.

3. Susan’s visitor

4. The strange box found outside the TARDIS.

5. The Doctor’s treachery — does it conceal a hidden agenda?

6. The odd alien architecture of the city — what does it indicate about those that built it?

7. The imminent threat of death by radiation poisoning.

8. A new and powerful enemy — the Daleks.

This is a very high level of suspense-building, and it is done masterfully. We don’t know how, or whether, these things interrelate, nor their true significance. The rest of the series is dedicated to tracing the web of clues introduced during the first two episodes. Now, my colleague will say that the denoument was a bit tedious. There is, I admit, a lack of tightness to the remaining five(!) episodes, and a certain amount of dramatic padding. (Really, being captured and escaping not once, but twice?). As well as some unfortunate wardrobe choices:

When you've endured generations of radiation poisoning, fashion sense is the first thing to go.

All that aside, however, the sheer brilliance of the beginning is easily enough to put The Daleks above both An Unearthly Child and Edge of Destruction.

Verdict: Acquittal!

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Lime reviews Edge of Destruction: “What’s going on here?!”

Doctor Who is about two things: (1) a really cool time-traveler and his really cool time machine; and, (2) the stand-ins for the audience, or the Companions. Edge of Destruction, in two quirky episodes, gave us the Companions, as we know them today. Here’s how, and why you must watch Edge:

1. Small budgets do wonders for artistic creativity. The 7-parter The Daleks, featuring miniatures, metal-ish Dalek corridors, explosions, and several Daleks themselves, had gone over-budget. And the production team faced another impending 7-parter, Marco Polo–a costume drama, also with miniatures and elaborate sets (and one of the “lost episodes“). Budgets were tight. Series script editor David Whitaker was tasked with writing a two-parter on the cheap.

Whitaker also faced another problem. Unearthly Child and The Daleks portrayed The Doctor as fiercely distrusting of Ian and Barbara, his “kidnapees.” If Who was to have any legs, this dynamic had to end: somehow, that plotline needed to disappear to both permit further character development, and to free up script space for more engaging and ambitious ideas.

Whitaker’s solution was a product of tight pursestrings and deference to the preceding two serials. But, it was genius. Using only the TARDIS set and the cast of four regulars, Whitaker penned an amazing two-part story. None of the cast knew of the budgetary origins of the spartan script, though Jacqueline Hill guessed–incorrectly–that the Marco Polo costumes simply weren’t ready yet.

And so the cast threw themselves into the script with gusto. As written, it risked becoming little more than an avant-garde moody-artist piece with disjointed, stilted performances. As acted, it’s very satisfying, from Ian’s dazed recovery in the beginning, to Barbara’s strong performance overall and particularly in her substantial speeches (directed at the Doctor) in both episodes, to the Doctor’s transformation from possibly malignant manipulator into the “protector of companions” we have today.

One additional note: it’s interesting that Peter Brachacki, designing the TARDIS control room, made one of those budgetary constraints calls that carried through to today’s TARDIS. He saw a 3″ piece of molded plastic with a repeating pattern of round holes. He liked it so much that he had that very same piece of plastic photographed and enlarged, and printed: it became the 2-dimensional console room walls of roundels, repeated and modified for the next half-century of Who. Now that’s cool. And, again, it was initially simply “on the cheap.”

2. Barbara vs. The Doctor, or, The Birth of the Companions. The audience is roped-in with Ian’s incredulous outburst, early in the first episode, just under ten minutes in. We’re yanked into the story because Ian’s disbelief exactly mirrors what we, the audience, are thinking: why are the regulars passed out, draped over the TARDIS console and floor? Is this performance art?

Barbara immediately takes the baton from Ian, and carries it through the remainder of Edge. She, as Ian, and as the Companions always do, is the conduit to the audience–she’s us. She immediately assumes care for the Doctor, waking and comforting him, and calms the unbalanced Susan. We cheer as she forcefully rebuts the Doctor’s unreasonable accusations against her and Ian. Her fiery rejection of the Doctor’s suspicions presage the final, seminal scenes of episode two. It must have been a recognition of Jacqueline Hill’s strong performance in rehearsals, and it was a smart move, that several of Ian’s lines were transferred to Barbara.

Finally, it’s Barbara that solves the underlying mystery: she pieces together the clues and saves the day, only moments before total annihilation. The scenes that follow witness the birth of the modern Who Companion. Barbara stares into space, hurt by the pain the Doctor inflicted on all of them; and when the Doctor formally, if stiffly, acknowledges his debt to her saving the TARDIS, Barbara flinches, and bolts from the room.

But the Doctor, in a new and significant turn of character, pursues her. He sits close to Barbara on the couch–the gap between the characters is finally physically narrowed. He explicitly admits his failings–and narrows the psychological gamp. He, in essence, tells her that by learning from Ian and Barbara, he has finally discovered himself. And so the rift from the first episodes is bridged. The Doctor now is not mistrusting, distant–but is the Doctor, grandfatherly, self-admittedly flawed, and protector of his companions. This is the birth of the Companion.

The physical closeness continues: he offers his arm, and he and Barbara walk to the console room. And the Doctor even offers his arm, or hand, to Ian–it’s hard to tell if it’s a Hartnell flub or improvisation–and they walk out to join Susan for a snowball fight. And this new dynamic is our dynamic today: Doctor as protector of companions, as grandfatherly figure. When you watch the concluding scenes of Edge, you’ll see the birth of modern Who.

3. “My machine can’t think!” The second innovation was equally a product of budget. Constrained to the TARDIS as the only set, and the regulars as sole cast, Whitaker needed dramatic tension. Whitaker’s brilliant solution was to bring the TARDIS to life: the eerie poltergeists plaguing the TARDIS, we learn, were the TARDIS itself leaving clues for the crew. The TARDIS doors open and close by themselves in response to the crew’s actions; the scanner displays the same sequence of images, repeated several times; the “fault locator” lights and warning bells activate, inexplicably, every 15 seconds; the TARDIS causes physical pain to the crew, but only when they approach certain parts of the console; the TARDIS displays misleading indicator lights on machinery that is otherwise working perfectly.

It’s the origin of the idea that the TARDIS is alive. Directly from Edge we get the power source that’s “held down” by the time rotor, the “heart of the TARDIS,” that reappears in Arc of Infinity, Terminus, Boom Town, and Parting of the Ways. We get here the first indication that the TARDIS is sentient, that the TARDIS has mind of its own, revisited en force in The Doctor’s Wife. Interestingly too, we get the first inklings of the Matrix: in Edge, just after Susan drops the bomb that she and the Doctor had, earlier than Unearthly Child, visited the planet Quinnis “in the fourth Universe,” we learn that the TARDIS records all the Doctor’s journeys. This returns in Trial of a Time Lord.

4. The Doctor’s crazy-manic love of science. It’s telling that Sydney Newman required Verity Lambert to subscribe to “New Scientist” and read it, monthly. One directive of early Who was to feature science front and center, and be educational.

Here, the Doctor’s turnaround involves a lengthy speech by Hartnell–the first such speech by the Doctor–about… science! It begins with the Doctor leaning back against the TARDIS console, the lighting strikingly altered for the scene–the Doctor lit in dramatic chiaroscuro–and the camera slowly tracking towards Hartnell (this was before the BBC had zoom lenses).

Hartnell was nervous about the speech’s length, famously forgetful of his lines. But it’s a fine performance: you can almost see hubris and the hunger for serious actor’s cred in his eyes during this soliloquy. He deserves it: it’s a memorable speech, and it conjures images of Baker’s toothy grin and wide eyes wondering at some scientific anomaly, or Tennant’s luscious drawl at a newly discovered alien species, “awwwwww, you’re beautiful!”.

Hartnell thus delivers, and we get the paradigm for future Doctors’ zealous-manic love of all things science.

5. Who trope: the unintended consequences of small actions. Whitaker had one final puzzle piece to place: if the TARDIS was the fifth cast member, what caused the chain of events? Whitaker’s answer, human, or unintentional error, was brilliant and is one of the repeating and often most successful themes in Who. The cascading consequences of small, unintended errors underlies some of Who‘s best episodes, including one of my favorites, Gridlock, but also The Doctor’s Daughter and many others.

So Edge is weird, quirky, but it’s uber-cool.

A few final observations: (1) it finally fully dawned on me in watching Edge the extra bells and whistles from the interior of Hartnell’s TARDIS that were transferred to Eleven’s: the bulky rectangular grid of square panels that disappeared in Who’s early years, reappears beautifully in Eleven’s console room. And as I’ve noted before, there’s the hanging thingie of concentric circles that’s Hartnell era, as well as the faux CRT scanner that is so steam-punk lovely. (2) first true on-screen date with the Doctor’s Wife (well, they’re going out, but before both sides realized it was a date, you know, a sorta Emma and Mr. Knightly thing going here). (3). The Daleks, the 7-parter just preceding Edge, introduced the Doctor’s longest standing enemy and gave us the words “Skaro” and “Thal.” Edge, in contrast, is the avant-garde moody art piece that gave us a sentient TARDIS and the modern Who companion. Edge: for depth of substantive impact on Who history, it’s the hands-down winner.

Who Verdict: Acquittal. Watch!


Filed under Dr. Who, William Hartnell

Mithradates: Unearthly Child

Howdy folks. I’m Lime’s erstwhile interlocutor. Like him, I grew up on the third, fourth and fifth Doctors. In effect, my exposure has been limited to what has shown on American TV. I have watched some of the newer episodes with Eccleston and Tennant, but don’t get BBC America. I never saw an episode with Patrick Troughton (unless you count The Five Doctors) until a couple of years ago; my first William Hartnell serial was late last year. So I’m going into this without a lot of background. I happen to be a huge Trekkie, so may be making lots of references to that series in my reviews.

Unearthly Child was unexpected in some ways. When watching Tom Baker and the TARDIS, I always figured in the back of my mind that the sets and special effects (even the theme song) had changed since the series began. After all, John Pertwee had a futuristic car that disappeared in later episodes; I figured there were lots of such tweaks and changes from Doctor to Doctor. And there were so many references to the bum chameleon circuit that I thought it must have worked at one point. So I was unprepared to see the same old TARDIS that I was familiar with (granted, with a few small differences).

This Doctor is very different than the ones I grew up with. Baker, of course, is archetypal for many of my generation, so much so that the newest Doctors mimic his manic personableness. Pertwee was more restrained, of course, but even he was something of a man of action. Hartnell, however, appears in this first serial as a bit of a misanthrope, finding strangers unwelcome and wishing above all to be let alone. He also has much less of a moral compass, as seen when he looks ready to kill the caveman Za after he is incapacitated by a wild animal.

As for the episode in general, my response was much less favorable than my colleague. I felt Ian and Barbara didn’t react quite realistically to being brought across time and space, and subsequently being captured. Neither seem the least concerned about missing their classes or getting fired from their jobs, although such mundane concerns would come quickly to my mind. Conversely, Susan seems very excitable for a girl who was raised by the Doctor.

I also found the caveman plot rather tiring. Of course, I happen to be an archaeologist, so I am sensitive to anachronisms. Granted that the cavemen are a bit more sophisticated than is typical for the 60s, but nevertheless they are clearly anatomically modern (as implied by the original title, 100,000 B.C.) Humans by that time had long mastered the use of fire — it beggars the imagination to conceive of a tribe that has lost the ability to make it. More significantly, they are depicted as being unsophisticated to the point of being rather child-like. There is no reason, however, to think that early humans had social lives any less rich, or language skills less developed, than people in more recent times.

This would be tolerable if it didn’t make the whole drama somewhat farcical. We have four modern humans held prisoner by a group of about a dozen primitives, none of whom exhibit much intelligence. It diminishes the suspense for me markedly. In this respect the next serial, The Daleks, is a considerable improvement. Moreover the second half drags too much, padded as it is with a recapture (a failing also seen in The Daleks). Nevertheless, the curiosity value was high enough to keep me watching even through the slow patches.


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Lime reviews Curse of the Black Spot: “Captain! What’s our next move?”

The Who Verdict on Curse of the Black Spot is in: acquittal! Spoilers follow: proceed at your peril!

1. “What made you do it? What made you turn pirate?”. Curse is, as many have noted, a Who on Splenda after the Rockstar Soda hyper-caffeinated episodes we saw in Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon. But that’s only in comparison. Curse is also a lovely, character-driven episode, with the character-driven elements impeccably placed to draw us in.

And the character-driven highs are held aloft by some nice tension. All before our first shot of pathos only 13 minutes into the show: (a) we lose an off-screen crew member in an already skeleton crew: (b) we lose a second crew-member on-scene and see the enemy in full glory; (c) the monster of the show, the Siren (Lily Cole), comes for Rory, and makes to attack Amy; and, (d) the crew is scared to death by a leech. The first character scene, with the little boy, is a surprising tear-jerker; barely a quarter way into this show some are calling “lite,” we care about this scraggly Captain (Hugh Bonneville) and the little boy (Oscar Lloyd).

The second dose of pathos comes half-way through the episode again with the Captain and the little boy: and again it is small, intimate, lovely, and it opens up a significant question about this relationship–reprised later in a nice moment between the Doctor and the Captain, topsides. This question is finally answered in an action scene, with most of the remaining crew members, where it all comes together. (I believe one pirate’s fate was left on the cutting room floor, but who’s counting.). And of course the answer sets up the catharsis in the episodes’ final minutes quite nicely. So again, Curse is small, but it’s tightly and coherently written. It focuses not on our time travelers, but on the Captain and the boy. (And the kid, Oscar Lloyd, simply shines–he’s fantastic. As is Hugh Bonneville. Another inspired round of casting, after Mark Sheppard last week as Canton Delaware.)

2. “Two cars parked in the same space.” But that’s not all, folks. Curse isn’t relegated to the two non-time traveling protagonists: it’s also about two cars, parked in same space–not an infrequent plotline in the Whoniverse. (See also Inferno, Battlefield, Rise of the Cybermen, inter alia.) As the Doctor explains his newfound TARDIS troubles, she “can’t see because it thinks the space doesn’t exist.”.

The Curse of the Black Spot was meant to be Series 6, Story 9. But the move to Story 3 must have worked perfectly, in Moffat’s mind, and if my hypothesis is correct about the season. Why? Foreshadowing. The idea of parallel universes will, I suspect, play large in this series. After far too much perusal of the evidence thus far spread out by the Moff, I expect parallel universes to be the key to understanding the arc.

It’s just circumstantial evidence, but circumstantial evidence is enough to convince me. I suspect the Doctor that died in The Impossible Astronaut isn’t our Doctor, but either (a) a Doctor from an alternative universe whose timeline is running the same direction as River Song, or (b) an amalgam of the Doctor and some big bad like Omega (see Arc of Infinity or the excellent audio drama Omega). Whichever one it is (or even a third), I think Beach Doc is really dead.

And that’s the simplest explanation, which in reality would be favored (don’t bother me with trivialities: this is only tv you say?): the Beach Doctor, whether amalgam Doc/baddie on a good day, or an alternative/parallel universe Doctor, needed to save the universe from the crossovers between universes, so set up the meeting and his own death to save both universes. Tragic, the more so if and when we realize what really happened.

Amy’s Choice then becomes almost a parable (more?) of what’s happening now: if they die in the dream (that is, in the the other world), you’re fine in the real world–but what happens when you cease being able to tell the difference? Don’t forget, Amy was pregnant in one of those worlds too–but now she’s both pregnant and not. And in Vampires of Venice, Rory understood the TARDIS a little, mentioning he’d studied all about FTL travel and parallel worlds. And of course Signora Calvierri, speaking of her race fleeing the Silence/Silents (but which?), spoke of cracks, some as big as the sky, and seeing through to parallel worlds. No, the roads have led to this parking lot, and the lot is now full: twice over. (I love a show with a canon big enough to encourage this sort of irresponsible but irrepressible speculation.)

I half expect that Amy is supposed to tell the Doctor about his future because that’s the only way the Silents/Silence/our Big Bad/whomever can ensure the Doctor and his future self “merge,” or to avoid the Doctor sealing off the cracks between the universes once and for all, or because it will somehow cause a greater rift, furthering our baddies’ ends (that the Silents demand that Amy tell the Doctor “what he must never know” sounds pretty portentous.) That is, I expect that first Impossible Astronaut scene, the immolation and somber sunset on the beach in memoriam to a Time Lord, will one day become more poignant. It was a pretty significant death–and perhaps (well, with Moff this is expecting a little too much) it will even close out this series or make the half-way point. I think we’ll be back on that beach.

3. “Things can suddenly change when you’re least expecting.”. The Doctor asks: “who are you, Henry Avery? …How did you end up here with rogues?”. The captain: “I’ve set my course.”. And the Doctor: “things can suddenly change when you’re least expecting,”. And I think that’s the theme of Moffat’s second series, season 6. Moffat’s grand scheme was to, I suspect, lead us to think that Season 5 was about several things–the alliance of baddies trying to trap the Doctor and ruin the universe with cracks, and the Doctor foiling their plans with River’s help by sealing the cracks and “rebooting the universe.” But as I mused before, I’m not sure that’s what it was about at all. I think that was merely prologue.

Similar to the “two cars”/two realities issue, I suspect that River will, indeed, surprise us. Her being the wife of Omega or Other is a favorite theory I’ve heard. (And who wouldn’t be thrilled by Sherlock‘s Benedict Cumberbatch emerging either as a multi-episode or recurring Omega?) River’s encounter in Impossible Astronaut with future/Beach Doctor lends some circumstantial evidence to the alternate/parallel universes theory too: in a complete turnabout, this Doctor broke out an identical “TARDIS diary” that was being completed, and he had shared experiences with River (“Jim the Fish”), indicating timelines that aren’t getting progressively further from each other, but share a common direction. If Beach Doctor was our Doctor, 200 years hence, River would scarcely know him.

But she knows him well, and they swap stories. No: unless I’m missing something, this cannot be our Doctor. Which leads me back to the alternate universes idea: she’s traveled with this other Doctor–or it’s really a Doctor-Omega/pick your baddie amalgam. Perhaps she’s a baddie too. Now that would be a change from what most expect–and a delicious one. And of course River fulfills the “prophecy” by emerging from the lake to, or being complicit in, killing the Doctor/amalgam Doctor.

(Or the little girl, Amy, or some nefarious other suited baddie, pulls the duty.)

That’s admittedly only my latest theory. But tea leaves are in support. There are also abundant alternate theories out there, each with merit: River will turn out to be our Doctor’s wife; River is Amy’s daughter (which I could see happening); & many other variations. Cheers to all of them. I’ll just say I’m licking my lips at the return of the wonderfully deep Who lore that underlaid the series for three-odd decades. It’s wonderful stuff. Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey, anyone?

4. This is the second story with a “prequel,” the first being Impossible Astronaut. Unlike the first episode’s prequel, you’re missing little if you miss this one: this one is nice, but tells us little we don’t discover during the episode: primarily we learn that the ship has been becalmed for 8 days.

5. And some new and old questions: (a) The previously mentioned eerie twittering sound in the TARDIS is now joined by at least half of the roundels in a lights-out or lights-flickering state. Why? Symbols of something big happening? Signs of simple disrepair in the TARDIS? Merely Moffat’s symptom of an episode-specific rift in Curse? (b) The Doctor’s tie here is red–my understanding of one theory is that Eleven’s tie was blue in the “past” episodes.

And then there’s just the wonderful fluff. I count five: (1) we learn that in Eleven’s TARDIS, there is not only the previously mentioned swimming pool and library (the latter officially portrayed in the BBC Adventure Game TARDIS), but now we also know about a kitchen and three loos (see also the wonderful TARDIS chase scene in the Fourth Doctor story Invasion of Time); (2) Amy’s performance is stellar, from swashbuckling start to the finish, saving Rory: it has been a hard-earned trust, but from Amy’s, well frankly, shallow beginnings, we can now plainly see new depths in her feelings for Rory, the more so after last week’s “stupid face” confusion and late-episode righting. And Arthur Darvill, again, is great. (3). The finale, the pirates traipsing off to actually visit what the Doctor and Captain mused about way back when, standing on the ancient vessel and staring at the double stars–a very nice touch, when paired with the Captain/son denouement. (4) The Rat-faced creatures’ uniforms read “D.I.H.S.”. A joke? A clue? Some spin on R.O.U.S.? (5). Nice touch, VR consent form! Future of the law!

Who Verdict: acquittal!

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Lime reviews: Day of the Moon

So, I’m about to pass judgment on Day of the Moon… What’s the Who Verdict? Let me run through a few salient issues that spring to mind after watching this one twice:

1. Beautiful production values, but the energy devoted to the shock & awe surely has both benefit and cost. Who now rivals in pacing and intensity the best of Lost and 24, gripping shows in their own right. Who has never looked this good, but it has also never depended so much on CGI and visual spectacle to make its case. Plot and acting, not one-liners and flash, used to be far more leaned on as regular train-drivers. That’s all changed. Not completely, but the balance has palpably shifted. If Who doesn’t lean as heavily on the same canon and plot values it used to, one worry is that the show can continue with the same vigor, while leaning so heavily on quips and flash. We shall see. The same beloved characters and backstory are always available for the writers, so the momentum is indisputably on the show’s side.

2. Whether the love triangle (quadrangle?) and the related confusion over the Time Lord-ness of the young girl are (a) based in fact–that is, do the Doctor and Amy have a thing, or do the Doctor and River have a thing, or both?; (b) is Amy really pregnant?; or, (c) is this all based on misdirection? I’d love to dismiss all of the first options, but Moffat has proved, not least in Girl in the Fireplace, that romance and the Doctor are squarely set in Moffat’s scriptwriting boudoir. So I expect Moffat to tease us more as to the various possibilities, then tie them up one way or another.

Some or all of it may be resolved as misdirection, though. Amy may not be pregnant: as the character most directly tied to this “crack” in he wall, she could be a living link between two different universes: one where she’s pregnant, one where she’s not. Rory, after all, admitted in DOTM that sometimes he still remembers waiting, as an Auton, for Amy–sometimes he doesn’t. So perhaps he too is crossing universes. And the Doctor-River relationship may end before it starts (well we know it does, but in a different way!) River kissed the Doctor in DOTM, River being younger than we’ve yet seen her, and the Doctor was taken aback at the kiss, and River acted as if it was the first time the Doctor had been taken aback. So the next time the Doctor sees River, two possibilities: either it’s the first time River kisses the Doctor and the last time the Doctor kisses River–or we it gets drawn out. Moffat’s track record favoring hopeless and tragic situations would suggest the former… but we’ll see.

3. How important are the Silents? And is it “Silence will fall” or “Silents will fall?”. Clearly Moffat has been planting clues about the presence of the Silents in multiple episodes–one-off frightened looks by the main characters that are then shaken off and normal dialog resumed–since early in S5. But we’re told the Silents have none of their own technology. The FAUXDIS of the Lodger thus isn’t of Silent origin–where’s it from? (Could it be River’s? The Doctor mused in DOTM that he was about to find out how the Lodger FAUXDIS became abandoned, and River meets the Doctor in reverse order…) And the door to the room in the orphanage which had a small window, and then didn’t, reminded me strongly of the upstairs illusions in the Lodger. A FAUXDIS in the room? Could explain how Amy suddenly found herself in the FAUXDIS itself. But then the TARDIS materializes in the FAUXDIS? Been seen before, hasn’t it? Logopolis, The Time Monster… And the teaser for S6, Space and Time. Recursive loops do wonders for time. Wibbly wobbly, all that.

And so while the Silents were apparently present throughout S5 and are the front and center enemy of these two episodes, terrors of this magnitude in Who–recursive loops, attempts to build TARDISes, killing Time Lords to steal their regenerations, blowing up stars or the universe, and cracks in space and time–have been sins of the greatest order, reserved for the worst of enemies. Not that new enemies can’t be created, but the worst of the worst have included Omega, the Master, the Black Guardian among others. And so I suggest that the Silents are not the big bad we’re looking for. (But for an alternative view, jump over to The Edwardian Adventurer.) As a matter of fact, what better MacGuffin than a race of easily dispatched Silents to distract and please and inhabit the FAUXDIS when the real Silence is trying to simultaneously build that same FAUXDIS and possibly escape through a crack in the universe into our own Doctor’s universe? Remember, the Doctor saw nary a single death caused by a Silent, and Amy presumably forgot the one she saw: so planning all this after noticing a massive infestation and the kidnapping of Amy, to genociding the Silents out-of-existence, doesn’t strike me as the Doctor’s typical M.O. when he’s not under the influence, so to speak.

4. Unresolved matters, new mysteries, and Moffat-isms I need to itch: (a) the eye-patch lady at the door who exclaims, “she’s still dreaming.”. Who is dreaming–Amy? This smells of the little girl in Silence in the Library, doesn’t it? (b) Amy wandered into the orphanage, saw some peculiar graffiti, and confidently called the Doctor to announce that yup, the girl and the Silents had been there. That’s not an impossible narrative leap, but it smells just as probably of Silent psycho-suggestion to get the Doctor, a companion, or the TARDIS in the vicinity of Renfrew, the orphanage, the little girl, &c. (c) What’s the incessant eerie clicking sound seeming to come from the console in the TARDIS? When did it start? It appears constantly in Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon, but I don’t recall it ever happening inside the TARDIS except maybe in the dream sequences of Amy’s Choice. Is it something with the TARDIS? The Silents? Just incidental creepy sounds? (d) What to make of not just one fact that most commentators note but, in conjunction, two: Amy’s on/off pregnancy; and Rory’s comment that he has a Schrodinger memory too: on being a Roman, he says “I don’t remember it all the time. It’s like this door in my head. I can keep it shut.”. (e) Humanity decided suddenly to go to the moon because the Silents needed a spacesuit? Really? (f) Was it our heroes’ idea to build the perfect prison around the TARDIS, or was it the Silents’? Because we only see the TARDIS decloak inside the prison–not dematerialize.

And this one feels big: (g) Why did River seem completely unsurprised by the FAUXDIS in Impossible Astronaut? She wasn’t phased at all, but went straight to the control panel–what did she operate at the control panel? And she quickly identified the sound from the FAUXDIS as an alarm. She almost acted as if she knew what the FAUXDIS was. How? See my musing above: is it her ship? (h) The Doctor asked for the Silents’ total surrender and wanted to drive them off earth, and was complicit in their total destruction, despite them only killing one person (in the White House loo), which Amy didn’t even remember? Really? (i) Renfrew: bow tie? (j) When the TARDIS seemed to travel from inside the “perfect prison” to Florida at about six minutes in, there was no dematerialization sound. (k) Were there too many sets of stairs in that orphanage? (l) Why did the Silence identify our heroine not as Amy, but “Amelia Pond… We do you great honor. You will bring the Silence.”?

I was wrong that the season premiere would introduce a classic “big bad” like Omega. A quick reintroduction at the end, a la the Master by RTD, would have whet the appetite for more and carried through the season. But I remain convinced: the Silents seem like bit players in a bigger game. Moffat knows that Big Bads are the stuff Who is made of. I think it’s just matter of time before we’re all bowled over by this drawn-out homage to either a new Big Bag–or the reintroduction of an oldie, but very very goodie, Big Bad. I can’t wait.

5. Regeneration Follies. I’m with the growing choir: Moffat, this one-note regeneration song is getting old. (See this brilliant post from my good friend over at Confessions of a Neo-Whovian.) Change is good, but some things: well, they must change, and not remain absolutely static. So it is with the Doctor’s regenerations up to RTD: each had slightly differed, some greatly, depending on the circumstances of death.

That is, until now: and now we get Highlander-esque, boring, shooting golden pixie dust from the sleeves and collar–each and every time. No, there need be no rhyme or reason to regeneration: there wasn’t for three decades, and it kept a healthy dose of mystery to the show, to Time Lords, and to what the next regeneration would bring, and how. It’s very odd that in wanting to nod to the show’s past repeatedly (the stream of images in Eleventh Hour, for example), this prime feature of the show–regeneration–has become a predictable and boring sequence. Mr. Moffat: bring back the uncertainty, the freshness, to regenerations to Who!

6. Finally, TIA and DOTM were unapologetic plays for the American audience. For France, City of Death gave us the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. The S6 opener was a full-on play for the nation. (a) it gave Nixon an out, surely something that will make Americans chuckle in the expansion of Nixon’s fictional boundaries from source of shame to good dramatic and comedic character. American appreciation for turning their shame goes a long way. (b) No less than the President endorses the Doctor. (c) America is called again the most powerful country. Shucks, thanks, Moffat.

And then, there was so, so much to simply love. Let me count the ways. “Zero-balance dwarf-star alloy”: pure Who technobabble–not classic or “nu,” but just plain old Who. I adore River Song. Casting Kingston was a stroke of genius, and the writing is equal parts Time Lord (see Romana) and modern heroine for our times (or baddie–my mind’s still open for what she turns out to be). I eat up the mysteries that Moffat sets up, many of which may go nowhere, but seem to lead somewhere: the very secret of past Who and Tolkienesque success. And, I love that Moffat is so possibly playing not only with modern sci-fi tropes, but also simultaneously with established Who. I’m not yet certain that Moffat sees any break in Who from classic to old–I think he’s one of the true believers in Who continuity–I have a sneaking suspicion we’re in very, very good hands.

Verdict: Full Acquittal. Watch now!


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