Saturday, April 30, 2011

Day Of The Moon: Neil Armstorng, Astronaut, He Had Balls Bigger Than King Kong

'I put everything back as I found it. Except this. There's always a bit left over, isn't there?' Previously on Doctor Who Amy told the Doctor that she was pregnant. Store that little titbit of information away in the back of your head because it might come in useful one day. A bit like remembering where you were on 20 July 1969 when Buzz Aldrin said 'Tranqulity Base, the Eagle has landed,' and Neil Armstrong cocked up his lines for Houston and the world. (Me, what can I tell you, dear blog reader? I was in bed, as it happens. It was 4am UK time and I was five!) 'Apollo 11's your secret weapon?' River Song asks the Doctor early in the episode. It isn't, replies the Time Lord. Rather, Neil Armstrong's foot is. That's one giant bit of podiatry for mankind, that is. So whilst The Doctor finds a way to aid in the space program we're left with all of the questions that we asked last week about the opening episode. To wit, 'is it any good and does it all make any sort of sense?' And, to be honest, the answer isn't all that much clearer at the end of Day of the Moon as it was at the end of The Impossible Astronaut. Yes, we get the basic idea. The Silence have been on Earth for millennia, letting humanity get on with all of the boring malarkey like existing, developing, creating, procreating et cetera. And they've just sat there watching. Like voyeuristic parasites. Invisible. Intangible. Just beyond the corner of your eye, as it were. 'They edit themselves out of your memory,' notes Rory. 'This world is ours,' one of their number tells Canton. 'We have ruled it since the wheel and the fire. We have no need of weapons.' That's all the splendid Canton - Mark Sheppard on top form again - needs to hear. 'Welcome to America,' he says, shooting the alien in the knackers. Manifest destiny, that.

But, hang on, before the spine chilling Silence has been heard in all its cold war glory first we've had a whistle stop tour across the US - to Utah, Nevada, New York (so good they named it twice) and Arizona. All right, it's not quite as geographically accurate as '(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66' but give them a bit of credit for trying. Let's remember a recent American vice presidential candidate wasn't even aware that Africa is a continent rather than a country. We had stunning set pieces, a bearded caged Doctor in chains, strange facial markings, apparent executions, apparent suicides, lines of dialogue like 'they're everywhere!' and 'there's always a way out!' There was scope, depth, pace, excitement, frivolity and metaphor. And that's just in the pre-title sequence. If there's one thing that you have to admit, even if you're the bigger, loudest voiced naysayer on the planet, it's that Day of the Moon starts with a bloody great bang. But then, so - admittedly - does a puncture. Thus, any review of the episode must focus, primarily, on what happens later. And what happens later is ... Doctor Who, yet again, bites off almost more than it can comfortably chew, does a tightrope walk along the edge of abject chaos, almost falls flat on its face two or three times and then gets to end, gives a little bow, blows the audience a kiss and performs a triple salko-with-pike for a dismount. Yes, it was that good. It almost wasn't, I'll feely confess. There's a point mid-episode when I genuinely didn't think they were going to pull it off. Everything was moving just that bit too quickly, there were things that still hadn't quite made sense. Then it clicked. This happened around the time that Rory had his glorious moment of bravery and anguish and he and The Doctor had their first, proper, heart-to-heart since Cold Blood. 'This is their empire. This is kicking the Romans out of Rome.' 'Rome fell.' 'I know, I was there.' 'So was I.' Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill are brilliant in this sequence and, from that point onwards, the episode couldnt' - and didn't - fail.

'We're not fighting an alien invasion, we're starting a revolution,' The Doctor tells his friends near the start of the episode. It's the kind of thing that Patrick Troughton's Doctor might well have said (and Sylvester McCoy's actually did). This is, it would seem, the only way to stop an enemy which has been, in Rory's words, 'ruling the world with post-hypnotic suggestion.' There are a series of fabulous scenes as Amy goes undercover as Canton's FBI partner (Agent Scully to his Fox Mulder, complete with the suit and the red hair). The sequences of Amy wandering around a run down orphanage are like a little horror movie all on their own, with surreal elements that make the audience question exactly what is real and what isn't. The terrifying imagery which accompanies Amy's 'behind that locked door' scene in the little girl's bedroom includes some of the scariest, darkest and - in one sense, most shocking - concepts that Doctor Who has ever (and possibly will ever) do. A nightmare of cracked mirrors and broken symbolism. Huge and overwhelming. Potentially game-changing. Karen Gillan is great here, giving whole and satisfying lie to all those who find niggling fault in her performance.

In the middle of such a dark, claustrophobic, womblike atmosphere it's extraordinary that the episode could find moments of humour. 'What about Doctor Song? She dove off a rooftop,' Canoton informs The Doctor. 'Don't worry,' he replies, 'she does that!' Actually, River gets many of the funniest lines in the epiosde, notably 'my old fellah didn't see that, did he? He gets so cross.' It's impossible - unless you're a professional misanthrope, of course - not to love Rory's bumbling, Sam Seaborn-style breaking of NASA's lunar module model when he's accompanying the president on his unexpected - TARDIS - trip to Houston. (Since we're doing oblique West Wing crossover points here, River as CJ was a pretty big turn-on too. I'm sure there'll be fan-fiction being written as we speak.) There's something wonderfully witty about the way in which The Doctor uses television as his method to save the humanity from having their brains interfered with. That's two fingers up to those who accused television of being the destroyer of intellect rather than one of the saviours of it. A message that being an iconoclast isn't, automatically, a bad thing. Nigel Kneale would be very proud. River's annoyed response to the Doctor stating the obvious when they're in a room full of angry Silence is - deliciously - 'there's a reason why I'm shooting!' 'This is my naughty friend River,' says The Doctor. 'Nice hair, clever, own gun!' 'What kind of Doctor are you, exactly?' asks an impressed Rory. 'Archaeology,' she replies. 'I love a tomb!' And, best of all, there's The Doctor's assurance to President Nixon that no one will, ever, forget Tricky Dicky. 'Say "Hi!" to David Frost for me!'

'I'm waiting for you to run. It'll look better if I shoot you while you're running. But then, looks aren't everything.' The episode is also, implausibly, a love story. A deep and torrid love story. And a beautiful one at that. 'I love you. I know you think it's him, you think it ought to be him, but it's not. It's you!' Rory, wavering between desperately concerned and admirably stoic and Amy, managing to make the word 'stupid' into a term of genuine, emotional endearment. 'It's a figure of speech, moron!' Rory remains the most likeable character in the show in many ways because of his unyielding conviction that his only reason for accompanying The Doctor on his travels is to make sure that Amy is not put into the way of danger. Well, not much anyway. Nothing that she doesn't, willingly, throw herself into. The moment when Rory tells The Doctor 'She can always hear me. Wherever she is she always knows that I am coming for her, do you understand me? Always' is almost too powerful. Too emotionally draining to an audience not really that used to such naked displays of devotion. It's heroic and selfless but it's also intimate. Things that should, probably, be said in private spilling into the public domain. By contrast, The Doctor seems to be a bit confused by becoming exposed of such romantic notions. His awkwardness when being kissed, hard, on the lips, by River is a reminder that whatever else The Doctor might be, he is not human. He has a perspective which exists in a realm far beyond mortal comprehension. He is, like the chap once said, like fire and ice and rage. He's like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He's ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and can see the turn of the universe. And ... he's wonderful.

'I! See! You!' Silence will fall, we were promised what seems like a lifetime ago. And, in this episode, we see it happen. Both literally, and in a quite literal sense, metaphorically too. In a pyrotechnic overload, the 'super parasites' are vanquished by the hubris of their own words. Although, not before The Doctor has the opportunity to deliver another like atom bomb of wisdom. 'What's the point in two hearts if you can't be a bit forgiving every now and then?' And a precise little essay to the President on the dangers that still lie out in the vastness of the universe. How long have they been here, asks Canton? The Doctor's reply is chillingly opaque. 'As long as there's been something in the corner of your eye, or creaking in your house, or breathing under your bed, or voices through a wall.' The direct references to The Eleventh Hour may, or may not, be deliberate but there's certainly a vaguely circular feeling to this two parter which recalls Matt Smith's debut story. The point at which reality and illusion do battle. All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream.

There will be those, of course, who will complain that the episode was too densely plotted. Too 'complicated.' I get that. Some of those might even use the standard 'classic Who was never this confusing' argument - presumably ignoring The Celestial Toymaker, The Mind Robber, Inferno, The Deadly Assassin, Kinda, Castrovalva, The Curse of Fenric and all of those other memorable examples of previous production teams going for something a bit more adventurous and outré. Ultimately, the only real answer to such charges is to note that, if you want your TV spoon-fed to you, then there are less challenging alternatives. Perhaps you'd like to tune in forty five minutes earlier and check out Don't Scare The Hare instead, for instance. That might be more to your tastes. There remain questions to be answered, it's true. Quite a few questions as it happens. More than, perhaps, the average viewer might have expected: What is really going on with Amy? Is she pregnant or not? What was that whole 'No, I think she's just dreaming' non-sequitur about and who was the face of the woman in the door? Is the Doctor still destined to die? If he is then who is in the Impossible Astronaut spacesuit? What's the deal with River Song? Who is the 'good' man she's going to kill? What part does she play in the Doctor's future? Is it her in the suit? Is it Amy? Why does the little girl have a photo of Amy in her bedroom holding a baby? Is she Amy's daughter? Is she The Doctor's? Is she Amy and The Doctor's? Then, there's the biggest unanswered question of all? Why is she, apparently, regenerating at the end of the episode? 'Incredibly strong and running away, I like her,' The Doctor notes. Before adding 'I have the strangest feeling she's going to find us.' Stick that away in the back of your mind too, dear blog reader. But remember, the obvious conclusions to some or all of these questions might not, necessarily be the truth. And, to be honest, one would expect at least some of them not to be. Since if there's one thing that Steven Moffat seldom indulges in it's writing The Bleeding Obvious. 'Anyone in the mood for adventure?' The Doctor asks Amy and Rory at the climax. I think, after such a grippingly complex first couple of weeks we could all do with a bit of buckle and swash to get our collective breath back. As it happens ...

Which leaves us with yer actual Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day. Where's it coming from, Black Grape?