Season 32 Episode 2 – Day Of The Moon, by Steven Moffat

May 1, 2011

Review by Martin Odoni

It’s not often that someone as difficult to please as me will say this, so enjoy it while it lasts…

This was terrific. No I mean it, it was fabulous stuff, best I’ve seen in years.

All the good qualities about the The Impossible Astronaut are retained, while its handful of flaws was mercifully absent. I’m quite serious when I say it’s one of the best Dr. Who stories since the revival. It was a packed plot, full of mystery, real terror, interesting character development, exciting moments, poignancy that was moving but wasn’t laid on with a trowel, a remarkable resolution, and an enthralling, dark edge that the modern series rarely manages to pull off successfully. It’s the best story, in my mind, since Blink at the very least, and possibly even going back to Dalek in the Eccleston season.

The dark edge made it feel like it could have been written by Bob Holmes at the peak of his powers in the mid-1970’s. Canton, as established in the first part, is a ruthless, harsh character, and yet one who has a very courageous sense of right and wrong. Those with such a strong idealism tend to be all the more ruthless. Therefore, his apparent slaughter of Amy, Rory and River at the beginning seemed scarily convincing. And that was just the prologue! Three central characters supposedly dead two minutes before we’ve even reached the titles, and the story gets darker and scarier from there.

I still think the Silence are somewhat derivative – the way the creature growls, “Silence, Doctor!” mid-way through the story could have been lifted from any of a dozen Tom Baker stories – but at the same time they are one of the best variations on the idea so far, and another example of Steven Moffat’s amazing capacity for making the audience paranoid. We could have encountered these creatures a thousand times in our lives and we’d never know. You could have been confronted by one just seconds ago, and as soon as you turned back to face the screen once more, you wouldn’t be aware any more. Indeed, they might be standing behind you right now…

Hell, maybe they are from the Baker era, in a sense. I mean, the Doctor might have encountered them a thousand times before, and he wouldn’t know. What planets might they be in control of? They might be what gave Davros the idea for the Daleks, they might have given Omega and the Time-Lords the secrets of travelling through time. And no one would ever know. The more you think of it, the more possibilities there are. This really has the potential to reimagine and rewrite the series history in a completely legitimate way. Their relationship with humans and their ability to control human minds is very reminiscent of the Kromaggs from Sliders, which again makes them seem derivative, but they’re far more effective. The notion that they’ve been secretly running the world for thousands of years, like some kind of extra-terrestrial Illuminati, makes them far more frightening, even if I still don’t find their appearance particularly scary. One sticking point is that this does seem rather to contradict City Of Death, where it was suggested that the Jagaroth was the alien entity that was guiding the advancement of human science and technology. (I suppose it’s entirely possible that the Jagaroth was made forcibly unaware of the Silence when it encountered them as well…)

Either way, the scenes where Amy is captured are as chilling as the ones when she was nearly killed by an Angel in The Time Of Angels. The way the tallies on her skin keep increasing in number shows that the scenes last a lot longer than we see, potentially days. This is underlined by the intern’s belief that the year is 1967, and not 1969. So much of his memory is being cut away from him that he has fallen two years behind everyone else.

Rory’s insecurities about Amy and the Doctor are still there, although his insistence that Amy knows that he is always coming for her shows that he is becoming a good deal more assertive. It is somewhat forced possibly, and it has very little to do with the story itself, but Arthur Darvill once again plays the vulnerable side of the character so well that you almost fail to notice how crowbarred-in the lines are. And River’s despair at realising that her days with the Doctor, just under way from his point of view, are nearing their end for her, was really saddening. Alex Kingston’s broken expression as the Doctor departs in the TARDIS is some of the best facial acting she’s ever done in the role – for just a moment I really believed it. That she and the Doctor are living their relationship in reverse is something of a side-scraping retcon – it was previously established that they were encountering each other in a jumbled-up order, not in reverse – but it does in fact make it easier to ‘anchor’ their relationship in our thoughts better, and it seems that Kingston’s own performances are benefiting from that as well; she now has a clear idea of what stage of River’s life she is meant to be portraying. Matt Smith also again demonstrates why he’s so much better at the part of the Doctor than David Tennant – if DT was still there, can you imagine the bellowing, eye-watering roar of self-righteous outrage with which he’d have delivered the line, “And it still wont be enough…” The gentle, soft whisper with which Smith delivers it instead is so much more subtle, although it might have been even more effective if he’d delivered it in a slightly gruffer pitch. But not loud, that’s what matters. Sinister menace is not directly proportional to number of decibels. Also, another honourable mention for Stuart Milligan who again portrays the insecure, ingratiating quality of Richard Nixon really well. He gets the toothy grin of Nixon absolutely spot-on.

The writing is as sharp as Moffat can get, and this means the tone of the episode is refreshingly non-zany. There are still some funny lines in there, but for the most part they’re gritty, which is how they should be, rather than smug or screwball, which too often is how they turn out in other stories. Especially punchy examples of one-liners-to-relish are in Canton’s more ruthless moments, such as, “It’ll look better if I shot you while you’re running… then again, looks aren’t everything!” and *BANG!* “Welcome to America.” (Appropriate dig at the National Rifle Association.) Other gems in the script include, “These [body-bags] could really do with air-holes!” – “Never had a complaint before”, “Rome fell.” – “I know, I was there.” – “So was I.”, “I think quite possibly the word you’re looking for right now is, ‘Oops.’”, and  “Love a tomb!” (which would explain why River seems to enjoy increasing the number of potential occupants rather too much).  “Is this really important flirting, because I think I should be higher on the list right now?” was perhaps a little too close to the self-conscious sarcasm the modern series is prone to, but it was still amusing instead of smug. The Doctor’s non-reassuring attempt to reassure Nixon at the end was truly hilarious. Hasn’t quite mastered how this ‘bedside manner’ thing is meant to work, has he?

The resolution is absolutely brilliant. It’s another huge-scale, the-whole-population-of-the-Earth-does-the-same-thing-at-the-same-time idea, but it works because it’s not something they do consciously. It’s a fabulous idea of using the rise of television, the enormity of the moon-landing in the history of the human race, and also the hypnotic powers of the Silence against themselves, to give the humans the power to eliminate masters they aren’t even conscious of. There are a couple of flaws in the idea though; surely when the humans gun down the Silence, the dead bodies would still be there afterwards. And yet there’s never any sign of them. Do people forget the creatures are there even when they’re dead? Also, didn’t the creature Canton shot down survive? So can we be sure that human weapons are actually capable of killing the Silence? Still a great idea though.

Only downsides to the story are that the implants in the hand are a bit deus ex (forgivably so though, as their abilities aren’t exactly overblown), and River gunning the creatures down by just turning round and round on the spot while pulling the trigger was a bit Flash Gordon. It certainly makes the Silence look a bit rubbish if they can get blown away so easily, especially as they appear unable to hit a barn-door with their own powers.

There are several mysteries that the episode doesn’t explain, but we’ll probably get there later in the season. Why did the Silence need a spacesuit? Who was the woman with the eye-patch whom Amy briefly saw through the door? How come Amy appears to be both pregnant and not pregnant at the same time? Who is the girl in the spacesuit, and how does she have the power to regenerate? If the girl is a Time Lord, can she be the off-spring of the Doctor’s and Amy’s future selves? In which case what will happen to Amy’s marriage to Rory? And to River’s romance with the Doctor? Getting quite soap opera-ish again in fact, but at least it’s in an interesting way rather than in the soppy gushing way it did when Rose Tyler was around.

Anyway, let’s have more of Canton! He’d make a great addition to the TARDIS crew.

All-in-all, an absolute feast of class, showing that the modern series has the potential to be the best thing on TV, if it can just reach this standard more consistently. It’s certainly a terrific confirmation that both darkening the tone, and altering the running order by allowing the season to open with a two-parter, was the ideal way to freshen things up a bit. It’s also one of those rarities in that part two really improved on part one – no sign of the old ‘Episode 3 syndrome’ here. This episode on its own gets a 9 out of 10. And in fact so does the two-parter as a whole, as it rises above the sum of its parts.

So the mighty Moffat is back on form with a triumphant flourish, and the new season has made an even more promising start than the previous one. Now, here’s hoping it doesn’t fall away like last year. For instance, I’d be quite grateful if next week’s offering isn’t just a lazy attempt to cash in on the hype of the latest Pirates Of The Caribbean movie…

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